Amtrak Tea Bags

Silliness and hysteria run rampant in my town, but Mr. Henry adds a little perspective.

November 2001

Sundays are usually pretty calm around my town.

I was coming back from my weekly Krispy Kreme run when I noticed Leroy's truck still parked in front of Bill-Fred's. I figured he must have had a bit too much last night, and somebody drug him home. This was not a good sign. Leroy doesn't make a whole lot of sense sober, and a few beers can make him downright silly.

Sure enough, when I got close to his place I saw Leroy out lyin' in the grass next to the railroad tracks. He had his old rifle next to him on one side, and Wild Dog was sleeping on the other side.

Wild Dog sleeps under Leroy's trailer, and Leroy feeds him, and Wild Dog follows Leroy around everywhere, but Leroy steadfastly denies any ownership interest. That's why the poor animal doesn't have a proper name, since Leroy won't claim him and everybody else defers to Leroy.

Miss Yvonne says Leroy has a fear of commitment, but I think he just has a fear of vet bills.

Anyway, I stopped and went over to check on Leroy, but then I saw Mr. Henry walkin' down the tracks and he got to Leroy first. Sunday mornin' is a good time for Mr. Henry to make his aluminum can runs, since a lot of folks like to tidy up in case the preacher drops by in the afternoon. And of course, Leroy's place is always a good place to start collecting.

Mr. Henry saw me, and waved at me to hold up. Then he crept up and leaned over Leroy. He yelled "A-RABS IS COMIN'! A-RABS IS COMIN'! A-RABS IS COMIN'!"

Wild Dog, not being burdened with a hangover, woke up in a flash and headed south, howling and whining. Leroy was just a bit slower, but he jumped up hollerin' "WHERE?, WHERE?, I'LL GET 'EM!" and reached for his rifle. But he only got a handful of white rubber boot, since Mr. Henry had taken care to firmly put his foot over the gun to prevent any unfortunate incidents.

Once he figured out what was goin' on, Leroy started fussin' and carryin' on, but Mr. Henry was laughin' so hard Leroy couldn't stay mad long enough to do any damage. I came on over to listen to the discussion.

"What you doin' out here, Leroy?", said Mr. Henry, once he could stop laughin'.

"I saw on TV about them Amtrak attacks, and I came out to the tracks to defend my country!", said Leroy, as he tried to look fierce and determined.

"Well", replied Mr. Henry, "I think you got a few facts confusicated there. And there ain't been a passenger train down this line since the Central shut down in '53. Why you so scared?"

"I ain't scared! I'm an armed citizen, bein' prepared and observin' like the General Attorney wants!"

Mr. Henry seemed to change the subject. "How'd you get home last night, Leroy?"

"I was gonna drive, but Fred took my keys. I probably coulda made it OK, but he got Willy to drop me off anyways."

"And what's that in your shirt pocket?", innocently asked Mr. Henry.

"My pocket? Nothin', just my cigarettes."

Mr. Henry shifted to his public pontification stance.

"Well, it seems to me......" as he turned around with his arm in the air "that SOME PEOPLE......" as he paused and briefly looked at Leroy and dipped his arm toward him just a bit, "get all flusterated about things what most likely ain't gonna happen at all."

Wild Dog by then had come back and sat down next to Leroy, giving him a bit of moral support.

"And then....", continued Mr. Henry, "they don't pay no attention to the things that really MIGHT do 'em in, things they could actually do somethin' about." And then he stopped and looked at Leroy real steady like.

Leroy developed a sudden intense interest in pattin' Wild Dog on the head, and looking around every which way except toward Mr. Henry. I felt sorry for him and went over to try and take off a little pressure.

"Leroy", I said, "I really don't think we have to worry about a terrorist attack around here. Terrorists want to get attention, and they concentrate on famous symbolic targets. And we're a little short of that kind of thing in this town."

Leroy thought about that a minute, then said, "We got the 100 year old rose bush in Miss Lucy's front yard!". Then he winked at me. Twice.

If you're not from around here, that requires two explanations. The rose bush is easy. It's been in Miss Lucy's front yard since long before she moved in, and in fact nobody in town can remember when it wasn't there. Since nobody in town is over 100 years old, it just makes sense to call it the 100 year old rose bush.

The wink thing is a bit more complicated. Everybody always winks twice when they mention Miss Lucy, due to her scandalous reputation. But it's all a big misunderstanding from a long time ago.

When Miss Lucy's husband Matthew found out she was goin' to have their first baby, he went out and bought her a real nice '56 Chevy Bel Air. She kept it real clean, and they got nice clear plastic seat covers and a set of racing pillows for the rear shelf.

One day she drove over to pick up her cousin Billy at the train station. He had just got out of Navy boot camp, and was his way home on leave and wanted to spend a day with Miss Lucy and Matthew. He took one look at the car and asked if he could drive. Miss Lucy was pretty swole up by then and could hardly fit behind the wheel anyway, so that sounded fine to her.

On the way back they were so busy catching up on family news that Miss Lucy was a little late in tellin' Billy to turn right at the flashin' yellow in the middle of town. Billy stomped on the brake and swung the wheel, but he really should of just gone around the block.

The turn sent Miss Lucy slidin' across the seat, and when she put out her hand to catch herself she gave Billy a bodacious static shock from those seat covers. This startled him so much that he hit the gas, and looped the Chevy broadside across the road. They were laughin' so hard they didn't notice that every lunch customer at the Mayflower Cafe was lookin' out the window to see what all the tire screechin' was for.

Matthew thought it was pretty funny, too, as soon as he made sure the Chevy was OK. But then the phone calls started, and a bit of his usual good humor went away with each one. By the time the fifth person called to tell him about his young wife cavortin' with that sailor, sitting on his lap and lettin' him drive her car, Matthew was borderline hostile.

And when the Preacher called to invite him and Miss Lucy to come in for counseling, Matthew was downright rude. That's probably why the next Sunday's sermon was about the importance of marriage vows, and the sin of pride that makes people unwillin' to admit when they have a problem, and why you shouldn't fuss at people who are only trying to help you out in the first place. Matthew and Miss Lucy didn't go to church too much after that.

I suppose people tend to see what they're looking for, and once they've seen it they don't bother to look for anything to the contrary. After four children, six grandchildren, five more Chevvies and a Toyota, Matthew and Miss Lucy are still doing just fine. But folks still wink.

Back at the tracks, I had just about convinced Leroy that CNN was not going to cover our 100 year old rose bush, when Wild Dog suddenly started barking up a storm and lit off down the tracks. We haven't found any thing else he's good at, but he does do a fine job of barking. That's probably why he and Leroy get along so good, they're a lot alike.

Then we saw what Wild Dog was after, it was a raccoon walking down the tracks. Raccoons usually display a lot of discretion, and seeing one out in daylight at all is unusual. Plus, this one seemed to view Wild Dog as a target, not a threat, and ran at him hissing and snapping.

This was not in Wild Dog's game plan, but he recovered, made a hard right turn, and commenced combined circling and barking operations. As the raccoon lunged at him, their combined track moved off the railroad embankment and into the tall grass next to the woods.

Leroy called out, "That raccoon's crazy!"

Mr. Henry waited a few seconds, then said firmly, "Worse than crazy. Worser, worser, worser."

Then a strange thing happened. Mr. Henry's face sorta twitched, and a voice I'd never heard before came out of him.


Well, I was flat on the ground before it occurred to me that even around here, wild animals don't generally carry firearms. I cautiously raised my head a bit and looked to my left, and was relieved to see Leroy down as flat as I was. We both got back up and brushed ourselves off, and did our best to pretend nothin' had happened.

Then we noticed Mr. Henry had disappeared. Leroy's rifle was gone too.

We could hear the raccoon and Wild Dog chasin' each other, but they were still off in the grass and all we could see was the tip of Wild Dog's tail flashin' around from time to time. We looked over toward the woods, but Mr. Henry had simply vanished without a trace.

A few minutes later, a single shot rang out. The hissing and snapping stopped. The barking stopped too, as the sudden noise sorta destroyed Wild Dog's macho pretensions, and he scurried back behind Leroy without a sound.

We didn't see Mr. Henry come out of the woods, he just suddenly appeared in front of us. He was carrying the rifle casually by the small of the stock, and it seemed like a part of his arm, swinging from side to side as if watching the path ahead.

Then he went over and stood right in front of Leroy, who seemed to straighten up in spite of himself. Mr. Henry swung the rifle up and slammed the bolt back, sending the spent cartridge flying. He glanced at the breech, then tossed the rifle straight at Leroy.

The new voice said, "Clean this rifle, soldier! It's a disgrace!"

Leroy's mouth opened and I expected his usual back talk, but then I heard the second new sound of the day: "Yes, Sir!"

Leroy turned around and headed for his trailer, and it almost looked like he was marching. Even Wild Dog seemed to hold his head up a little higher as he trotted beside him.

I headed back to my truck to get the shovel, since you don't leave a rabid animal unburied. I picked up a few of the Krispy Kremes as well. When I got back Mr. Henry was back to his usual self and his usual voice. He was sitting on a rail and inspecting the cartridge, but his eyes lit up when he saw the doughnuts and he put the round in his pocket.

After we finished eating, I asked Mr. Henry, "Why'd you do all that? It was Leroy's rifle and Leroy's dog, he could of handled that poor raccoon."

"He might of missed," said Mr. Henry. "When somethin' needs killin', it's a serious matter. You don't send for the amateurs, no matter how many bumper stickers they got."

We got up and headed out to find and bury the raccoon, Mr. Henry leadin' the way.

After a bit, I said "Mr. Henry, I've been around guns and hunters all my life, but I've never seen anybody move and shoot like that. I know I couldn't."

He stopped and looked back at me, and thought for a little while.
Then he said softly, "Be thankful you never had to learn."

And we went on down the tracks.