Attila the cat…


and the big burnout…………

TC and I like t’ got ARRESTED T’day……..

It’s been a long winter, and we aren’t out of the woods yet, to be sure. Nevertheless, we’re enjoying a tease of spring weather this week and I wasn’t about to spend the day on my sternsheets. I looked out the window at the river and noticed a few dark spots on the ice that indicated small areas of new open water. TC was sitting on a patch of ground where the snow had melted off down by the waterfront where we usually spend our mornings during the warm seasons. I went downstairs and rapped my knuckles on the slider that opens out on to the deck. TC rolled his head around and squinted at me.

“C’mon……..let’s hit the road”, I said out loud. As if he had actually heard me, he eased his hindquarters to the vertical and meandered up the yard toward the house.

“Kibbles ‘n bits, kibbles n’ bits….”, I chuckled to myself. I once made the mistake of chanting that rather apt ditty when he could hear me, and he wasn’t pleased. One should never irk a cat.

Backalong, I guess it must have been October or November, just on impulse one day I picked TC up and tossed him into the cab of my truck when I had to make a run to the Post Office. He was frantic. He shredded the seat and left scars on my shins that would make one of them South Pacific islanders jealous. In any event, we made it to the Post Office and back in short order. He didn’t speak to me for three days, which is about two and a half days longer than a cat’s normal give-a-damn span, so I was impressed.

Funny thing is, a week or so later I come out on the stoop on the way to my truck and there he was sitting on the hood like he’d been waiting. As soon as I opened the door, in he jumped without so much as a by your leave. Well. Guess he wanted to go. Finestkind.

Ever since then, TC has been my sidekick in the truck as well as down by the water. Might try to turn him into a righteous mariner this summer if I can get the b’ot running.

So this morning, TC and I waddled out to the 4 X 4 and headed down the driveway for parts unknown and unplanned. He reminds me of a critter I had about 30 years ago named Rasputin. From the time he was a kitten Rasputin would ride anywhere with me, and his favorite spot was my left shoulder. He liked to face backwards so he could look out the truck window at where we’d been, and we’d get all sorts of funny stares from other drivers. Especially those looking back at me in their rear view mirrors. TC likes to ride on my shoulder, too, but he prefers to put his bung up against the back window and watch where we’re going, which provides me with a stream of pretty amusing facial expressions in my own rear view mirror.

I looked to the right. TC looked to the right. I looked to the left. TC looked to the left. “Clear to take off,” I mused.

I don’t know what possessed me. The sunny day and balmy 45 degree weather, the clear path with no traffic, the little patch of road sand in front of the house…………I don’t know. Whatever it was, I flexed my fingers around the wheel, shoved the gearshift into first, took ‘er up to about 2500 rpm, and popped the clutch.

TC dug in his claws and stuck his pucker to the back window like barnacle on a wooden boat and let out a hiss as the big red truck came out of the driveway sideways spewing blue smoke and gravel and setting up a cacophony of V-8 abuse and tires long past any hope of gaining traction. I glanced in the rearview mirror at the ever-lengthening ribbon of black, barely visible through the thick smoke, and chuckled an odd combination of latent adolescent pride and more timely grey haired embarrassment over the whole thing.

Ralph was sitting at the corner store sucking on a cup of coffee and negotiating a fistful of Twinkies when I topped the small rise just down the road from my house. Ralph is the Fannyflame, Maine Police Department, Animal Control Officer, Assistant Fire Chief, half owner of Pete and Ralph’s Exxon and Used Auto Parts, and plays the organ at the Fannyflame Community Church on alternate Sundays. Our eyes met just as I muttered something that sounded an awful lot like TC hissing, and TC spat out something that sounded an awful lot like…….honest to God……….”aw shit!

Ralph set the styrofoam cup of coffee on the roof of his car next to the magnetic blue light he had stuck out the window a minute before and strolled over. He wiped his mouth on his sleeve and spat to leeward.

“Mornin’ Bood………”

“Mornin’ Ralph.”

“long wintah…….”

“Yup………kind of hopin’ things will lighten up a bit now that…….”

“WHAT’S YER FRIGGIN PROBLEM, ENNAWAY….!?” He bellowed. So much for the banal small talk.

Ralph stooped over and looked in the window, noticing TC for the first time.

“Well, I can see yer friggin’ cat don’t think much of yer shenanigans neither,” he scoffed. I hadn’t noticed before, but I became aware of the warm feeling moving slowly down my neck and under my shirt. And the smell. Two inches from my nose, TC’s golden eyes drilled into mine steady as she be. The message he communicated was crystal clear, and I’ll tell y’ whut, mistah man, it weren’t nawthin outta the New Testament.

Ralph reached around to his back pocket and whipped out his black book, but before he could get his pencil to work he started to giggle. He made another couple of tries and, slapping the leather booklet against his leg, he shook his head and looked at me.

“You git home, and when you finish yer laundry, mistah, you best give that friggin’ cat a big can o’ tuna fish because his loose cannon just saved you about $300,” he scowled.

“Honest Ralph, I don’t know what got into me,” I offered half heartedly. “I haven’t done that since I peeled two Goodyears and a differential off’n my father’s 1958 Ford………”

“Git,” Ralph huffed as he snagged his coffee cup from the roof of his cruiser and ducked to sit down.

TC continued to glare, unmoving, claws fully extended.

It wasn’t long before TC was posted by the canned goods in the pantry and I had a load of laundry churning away in the old machine by the back step.

It occurred to me that I still hadn’t gotten down t’ the Post Office yet and I wondered if the cat would want to go along for the ride, but I figured I’d best not even suggest it at the moment…….

 

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Attila the Cat…


and the spring thaw ….

TC, aka “Attila the Cat“, was perched on the arm of the rockin’ chair that sits by the slider, looking out over the deck and the frozen river. From that vantage point, he could just see over the snow drifts which would block his view if he tried to look out the sliding door from floor level. He winked at me and chirped a greeting as I squinted in the early dawn light and stumbled toward the bathroom.

I thought of the day the previous winter when TC had suddenly appeared out on the deck, walking gingerly across the crust that had formed a’top the two feet of spring snow there. He’d found a way to travel under the barn, around the back of the house, and up onto the deck, by hugging the foundation, walking under the shelter of the wrap-around walkway, and taking advantage of a hole in the snow that had melted away between two of the steps leading down into the yard. He was obviously quite proud of himself as the deck had been inaccessible for the previous five months due to snow and a steady westerly off the river that rarely dips below 20 knots between November and April. We lock the slider at Thanksgiving and our two feline residents have to learn to use the kitchen door until spring brings a thaw and the snow melts away.

Anyway, the Missus was there at the time and she said TC just sat there pleased as could be, giving her that cocky “so THERE” look when all of a sudden the thin crust let go and the only thing visible of TC was the tips of his ears sticking up through the hole in the snow. He rescued himself instantly, of course, just as he did the day he tried to pounce on a frog and did a header into the river, and the first thing he did as he clawed his way back to what he probably hoped would pass for a dignified posture on TOP of the snow was to glare towards the sliding door windows to remind the Missus that any hint of laughter….or even mild amusement, for that matter….was completely out of the question. “Don’t even f——- THINK about it….”, that look seems to say. Too late. She was doubled over, tears streaming down her face.

TC being TC, he simply locked eyes with her, snorted his little feline stream of invective, squatted on top of the snow, and left an impressive editorial right there where we would be doomed to see it on a daily basis until the thaw or one of us would care to struggle around the house through four feet of crusted over snow to remove it. One just does NOT laugh at a cat, and TC, aka “Attila the Cat“, was no exception.

Anyway, my trips to the can annoy TC. He can’t understand why I, an otherwise apparently reasonable human, would insist on urinating into his favorite water dish, and he always follows me to see if perchance I might have mended my ways and installed a proper litter box in the corner.

This morning he just sat there, however, and gazed longingly out of the window. I completed my mission and heard him huff his disapproval as I returned to the living room and stood next to the chair. I reached down and scratched his head while I joined him in visualizing my lawn chair down there at our Mornin’ Sittin’ & Thinkin’ Spot by the riverbank. The snow was still three feet deep down there that day, but I could just make out a hint of the tell-tale footprints on the crusty surface. TC has been checking it out, too. He was as anxious for spring as I was…………..

Upriver, I could just make out the dark water where the channel was gradually opening up and moving our way through the thick ice that had formed since the previous November. In another week it would be open, if we got another warm spell, and then it would be time to park the hip boots by the cellar stairs again. It was almost April and there was still six feet of snowpack on the ground up-country and up-river. I remember having a feeling we were goin’ to get wet that year, and I was right. That was the spring we lost our furnace and the river got up to the third step from the top down cellar.

 

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Mahlon spins a motorcycle yarn…


but Clive ain’t bitin’…

Mahlon was one of the local dairy farmers that liked to stop in at the Dingleberry Bog Diner after chores. Coffee had a way of gettin’ cold, n’ eggs got a dite crusty, while Mahlon, Clive Meader, and Harley Fenstermacher worked on gettin’ each other riled up. The rest of us just came in to watch the show.

There was one mornin’ when I was sittin’ on my third stool from the low tide end o’ th’ counter n’ got caught between Mahlon and Clive as they set into one-uppin’ each other. It was rapid fire. Clive’s mouth wasn’t even closed yet after spinnin’ a whopper and Mahlon would launch into a riposte, as they say. Had to time my sips o’ coffee n’ shovels full of eggs so as not to meet up with any hand-talkin‘, or punctuation, especially on Clive’s side. I was about t’ give up n’ move over t’ Harley’s table when there was a break in the action n’ everyone just sorta set there all quiet like. Evidently, Mahlon had indicated by dippin’ his head and showin’ the palm o’ his meat hook that he was about to deliver a coop duh gracie or somethin’ like that. They’d been goin’ on about motor vehicles they’d owned in their younger days…or more likely n’ not, ones they’d just wished they had, n’ then made somethin’ up about ’em…..

“….I had me one o’ them old Indian motorcycles way back in the day,” he started, leanin’ back on the countertop on his elbows, squintin’ his beady eyes, n’ lettin’ the words ooze out real slow like syrup. Now, Mahlon had one o’ them coastal Cornish type accents y’ could cut with a knife if it was sharp enough, and he knew how to get the most bang for his buck out of it when he wanted to. When he’d let on t’ Selma that her biscuits “….wuz some GOO-ud”, y’ knew he was up t’ somethin’.

“…. one o’ them with the side shift and suicide clutch….,” he continued. “Me and Kelsey brought it down from Island Falls…” He sat back up straight with his farmer hands coverin’ his knees, looked around t’ make sure everyone was payin’ attention. This kind o’ thing was theater for Mahlon….n’ he liked t’ milk it dry.

“Stahted t’ git daaaahk by th’ time we got down by Millinocket…,” he drawled, “…that machine din’t have no seat, y’ know, so Kelsey, he set on them handle baaaahs…..n’ I’d look around him….”

“We’d look for a caaah t’ git in front of so we could ride in thay-yuh lights………,” Mahlon paused n’ looked around again. ………‘cause it didn’t have no light NEE-thah.”

I thought I heard Clive….he was settin’ on th’ other side o’ me….I thought I heard him mumble somethin’ ’bout it “…gettin’ deep in hee-yah,”……

Mahlon went on “…..Every once in a while, one of ‘em would turn OFF somewheres… all of a SUDDEN like, and there we wuz, cuttin’ down th’ hot top at a righteous clip….in the DAAHK! Gawddamn! Kelsey’d have to fish the flashlight out of his pocket some quick! I didn’t think we wuz gonna make it………”

Mahlon looked at Clive n’ broke into a mostly toothy grin….”

Clive took a slow draw on what was left of his coffee as he locked eyes with Mahlon. He looked over at Selma, standin’ behind the counter holdin’ the coffee jug…

“….coffee wuz some GOO-ud this mawnin, Selma…..”, Clive said as he slid off the stool n’ walked out th’ door.

 

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About horses n’ horseflies…


and flyin’ over Pearl…

When I was livin in the woods down to Puckahbrush Gore, I’d hear my neighbor hollerin’ and barkin’ commands to his big Percheron draft horse over by the ridge two or three days a week, . Sometimes he’d spend a week or so just walking around the six hundred acres he’d inherited from his Uncle Theo, marking trees and making note of things he’d like to come back and take another look at one day. His name was Harper, but most folks just called him “Bear”, and I got to hangin’ around with him from time to time. I used to walk with him when he’d go off markin’ trees t’ get to know his land, and that man taught me more about the woods than a library full of books ever could have. He also taught me a thing or two about horses, too, usually by lettin’ me find stuff out for myself the hard way, though.

I’d been around a few horses over the years, but I’d been around a few preachers too, and that didn’t make me an expert about or a best friend of neither.

Now, I don’t recall Pearl’s exact vital statistics, but a good Percheron draft horse will go 15-18 hands, run 2500 pounds or so, n’ leave a hoof print as big as a dinner plate on the ground or on you if y’ get in the way. Pearl was a full grown mare.

I only handled Pearl a few times, and that was just because she was being tolerant, I’d bet. There was this one time when Bear was getting’ ready to head off into the woods with Pearl to start twitching out some rock maple he’d been layin’ down for a week or so, and I was going with him. It was one of them hot n’ sticky days n’ the bugs were ’bout as thick as mud. Bear grabbed a bottle from the shed and handed it to me.

“Here,” he grunted, without looking my way. “Slosh some o’ this on and make sure you get it in your ears or them black flies’ll get in there and nip ya good.”

I looked at the old glass milk bottle with the rag wadded into the neck of it. The stuff inside was black as tar, and it looked like there was nearly as much on the outside as there was on the inside. It stunk to high heaven, like a mix of old pine tar and that dead chipmunk I found jammed in the rain barrel overflow one time.

“Don’t worry ‘bout your clothes…,” he said, lookin’ over at me while adjusting some of the gear he’d been putting on Pearl. “You ain’t plannin’ t’ wear them friggin things to church or nuthin, are you?” Bear grinned and spat into the bushes.

Then it was time to make sure Pearl didn’t get eaten alive as well. The no-see-ums and other things were already swarmin’ about her head causin’ her to snort and flick her ears. The big mare wasn’t being particularly cooperative though, so Bear asked me to grab on to her bridle and hold her head down for him so he could spray some of the smelly stuff in her ears. He’d pulled the old rag out of the neck of the bottle and replaced it with some kind of a pump rig. Now, keep in mind this was a Percheron horse, not some County Fair pony ride, so I had to reach way up high to hold the bridle. Bear grabbed her starboard ear, gave a squirt with the bug spray.

Pearl’s nostrils, parked between my forearms about a foot over my head, doubled in size so I could see right up inside of her head as she reared back with a jerk. My fingers jammed up under the snaffle bit, my elbows locked straight out, and I watched the top o’ Pearl’s head fly under me in a blast of hot, wet air as she snorted and launched me over her back.

I picked my self up off the ground behind Pearl, coughing in a cloud of dust, spittin’, and wiping horse snot off my face while Bear held his sides in pain, roarin’ with laughter. Pearl danced a couple of steps sideways and snorted again.

“Now for the other ear,” Bear said with a smirk as I walked back around to Pearl’s social end.
“Sure,” I answered, spitting into the middle of a nearby road apple Pearl had dropped earlier. “How ‘bout if you hold her this time and I spray….?”

 

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How the Bear came to Puckahbrush…


Uncle Theo’s legacy…

They say y’ wouldn’t know it was there if y’ didn’t know it was there. Right past one o’ them big rocks the glaciers left behind, but before where that brookie stream goes through a pipe under the road, there’s an old tote road that hasn’t been used much for about fifty years, ‘cept by the folks who live at the far end of it. Cuts back the better part of a mile to a place called Puckahbrush Gore. I was one of the outsiders that lived there for a time backalong when “droppin’ out” t’ live in old school busses, yurts, n’ whatnot was all the rage.

Fella named Harper lived down the path a ways, and he was one of the first people I met when I set down there..

Harper was a quiet sort, and everyone just called him “Bear”, mostly because he was big and bushy. Never seen a red haired bear, though, and he did have red hair! They say he hadn’t had a haircut or a shave since he got back from Viet Nam in the mid-Sixties, and I believed it. Big mop of wavy red hair pulled together down his back like a horse tail and a full beard with nothin’ showin’ but his eyes and his teeth.

Bear lived in a little one room cabin he’d built when he first showed up in Puckahbrush. I heard nobody even knew he was there for about three or four months, ‘til he showed up at Clem’s store to buy some chewin’ tobacco one day. I guess his family had owned half o’ Puckahbrush, or at least lived there for almost two hundred years, but was mostly forgotten about as people died off or moved away. The story was that not long after he come back from the war he had an uncle died and left him a trailer down on the coast, pretty much the only kin he had and he didn’t really know him all that well.

When he was goin’ through Uncle Theo’s stuff he found papers sayin’ the old man owned a piece of land upcountry in Puckahbrush Gore, so he drove down to the County Courthouse to check it out. He was some surprised to find out old Uncle Theo’d owned nearly a full section up there, back on an old tote road that was mostly grown up with scrub and popple.

Bear put a few necessary things together and headed for Puckahbrush in his old truck. He was a woodsman by trade and heritage, and once he’d hiked in and checked out the part of the property he could get to, he decided to settle in and call it home. He figured it was his, so he didn’t need to ask anybody’s permission. That came back to bite him later on, but that’s another story.

It took him about a month to clear a trail off the old tote road big enough to make it passable with a four wheel drive and to set up a camp to live in with Pearl while he built a decent cabin with a sleeping loft and a backhouse. Pearl was his nine year old Percheron, and he used her to twitch logs out of the woods. Bear didn’t like skidders. Said they tore up too much ground for his taste. Besides, he worked alone doing what they called “selective cutting”, so a good draft horse was the ideal partner for him. Once he got the cabin finished and moved in, Pearl got the camp shed all to herself for a stable.

After about a year, Bear married a woman he’d met while checkin’ out Uncle Theo’s property down by the coast, and by the time I met him they had a couple of towhead boys looked like they were sure to be as big as their father someday. Nice family. Bear and I got to be good friends, since my land abutted his along the tote road, and he was kind enough to twitch some cedar poles from down by the bog at the back of my land for me to use for sills when I was building my own cabin, but that’s another story, too.

 

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Junior Fessenden’s Store…


and the thorn in Thelma Thistle’s backside…

Sunday a week ago the Missus and I decided to take a ride down to the Cove for the first time in more than a year. We’ve been pretty comfortable up to Fannyflame North and haven’t seen much reason to go anywhere else. But, she wanted to stop in at Selma’s for a pint of clams and catch up on the gossip. I figured I wouldn’t mind spinnin’ a few yarns with Bisquit and the boys down to the Bait Shed ‘ennaway, so off we went.

There was a new store by the landing with a big yellow ‘n blue sign on the front declarin’ the presence of “Junior Fessenden’s Oar House”. The Missus didn’t think it was a bit funny, but I did. Junior, who was a couple of grades ahead of me at the Cove Middle School, not only makes some of the finest wooden punts downeast of Boothbay, but I guess he’s developed quite a reputation for hand-made oars and paddles as well. The summerfolk from away are snappin’ ‘em right up, according to Junior.

Junior’s store was all the talk down t’ the Bait Shed.

As usual, Old Thelma Thistle was raising a stink at the town office demanding that he change the name, but everyone knows she has it in for Junior ‘ennaway.

It’s been thirty years since Junior Fessenden broke wind at Farley Thistle’s funeral, but Widow Thelma Thistle remembers it like it was yesterday. She isn’t about to forget, and everyone knows the only reason old Thelma’s still alive anyhow is she’d vowed to live long enough to unfurl a fair spinnaker when Junior gits laid to rest himself……… 

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Ruell Fenstermacher’s Finestkind Woodpile….


and things that go bang in the night…

Life is good, but I sure recall harder times down by Mudclam Cove when I worked stern and bagged bait on Harley Fenstermacher’s lobster bo’t. That was back in the Sixties when gas was twenty cents a gallon, before the Ay-rabs did a heads up, kicked everybody out, traded their camels in on Bentleys, and everybody went nuts for awhile. Heating oil once again began to live up to the old moniker of “black gold” and wood heat came back into vogue some quick.

I was thinking about those times the other night when it was cold and still, and the smell of creosote kind of hung in the air. People are burning wood again this year.

Ennaway, Harley had a brother named Ruell who built some of the finest workin’ watercraft to be found between Kittery and Eastport. He lived in the back of his shop down on the Point, not too far from his other brother Biscuit George who was one of the laziest men to be born in those parts for as long as anyone could remember. Folks used to say he represented the shallow end of a gene pool that wasn’t much more than toenail deep to begin with.

Ruell liked to throw a stick of dry hardwood into his home-made box stove and settle back for a nap in the old recliner he’d pulled up next to it, so along with bedding down the Sindy Soo IV and repairing some 400 lobster pots the previous winter, he’d laid down and put up about 5 cord of good rock maple and oak to dry over the summer so he’d have plenty of good firewood ready when the snow flew again. He was some proud of that woodpile.

One day when Ruell pulled on his barn boots and went out to grab an armful of wood off the pile out behind the shop, he noticed a bit of a dip in the tarp covering the far end. He walked through the knee-deep snow to the spot and pulled back the weathered cover. Sure enough, it looked like someone had carefully helped themselves to a dozen or so sticks of Ruell’s best dry maple and tried to fix the tarp so as to cover the empty spot. The last night’s snowfall had weighed the tarp down, though, revealing the crime.

Sonuvawhore!” Ruell spat, scanning the area for evidence of the culprit’s retreat. The new snow had covered any footprints that might have been left behind. Over on the other side of the ravine, he could see smoke curling neatly out of Biscuit’s chimney, but then, there was smoke coming out of the pipe on top of the Eugley place too, as well as over to Booger’s trailer and Eunice Breed’s house. No tellin’.

He gathered his wood and stomped back to the shop, swapping his boots for a vintage pair of sheepskin slippers on the way in through the mudroom. Like Harley, Ruell was a forgiving sort and usually didn’t stay mad long. He figured if someone needed firewood bad enough to steal it, then they were welcome to it as long as it didn’t get to be a habit. Of course, he suspected Bisquit, and that did stick in his craw a bit because, in Biscuit’s case, it would have been pure laziness instead of need. He wouldn’t tolerate any such shenanigans from Biscuit, even if he WAS his brother. He settled back in the recliner and went to sleep.

A few days later, after a ten inch snowfall the night before, he found another dip in the tarp down where he’d stacked the 2 year old oak.

“That does it,” he growled, squinting at the curly-cues of acrid smoke floating out of the neighbor’s chimneys, especially Biscuit’s. He carried an armload of sticks into the shop and strode with a purpose and clenched jaw out to the locked storage shed where he kept stuff he didn’t want in the house or didn’t need very often. There was a musty old cot in there where his second son Maylon by his third wife’s sister Verna from out on the islands stayed when he came ashore every year or so, but that’s another story……

He rummaged through boxes and crates, sputtering and grumbling like an old bear. “I’ll find out who’s filchin’ my goddamned wood I tell you what’s the goddamn truth mister man! Yessah!………” He found what he was looking for in a box of gear he and his other brother Pebbles used to use when they went night fishing on the County Line Pond before the wardens cracked down and started checking the records down to Farley’s Hardware and Farm Supply on the Damariscotta Road to see who might be buying an unwarranted amount of dynamite during trout season. He selected a two-inch hand-auger from his workbench and picked up a nice piece of oak from the woodpile on his way back to the shop.

Thirty minutes later, he put the “Have-a-nice-day” stick of oak back on the woodpile and replaced the tarp. The bung plug in the end of the stick had been sawed off clean and was hardly noticeable unless you knew it was there. He looked from Biscuit’s cabin to Booger’s place and then scanned Eunice’s chimney and the others. “One o’ you bahstids is gonna learn to keep yer friggin’ fists outa my woodpile, I’ll tell you what’s the truth….” He spat before walking back into the shop.

About two days later, after a good snowstorm, Ruell found out who was helping himself to his wood. Biscuit swore up and down he’d been borrowing wood from Eunice and would never think of treating his own brother that way, which Eunice denied, explaining she’d bought all of her wood from Booger. Ruell asked Booger about it but Booger swore he’d nail a pig’s head to Ruell’s shop doorjamb if he ever accused him of thievery again. They still aren’t talking, last I heard. The Eugleys let Biscuit live in their chicken coop until he got his own place rebuilt, and Ruell never did find out who had been stealing his wood.

But even after nearly thirty years, I hear it ain’t never happened again.

 

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