Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Mr. Hughes and Dad

My father owned a pawnshop for many years. He liked to refer to himself as a Jewish pawnbroker although his Southern Baptist upbringing contradicted that claim. He wore a pendant for years that boasted the Star of David on one side and St. Christopher on the other. He said he was just trying to cover all his bases and according to his mother-in-law he needed all the help he could get. But that’s another story.

My dad was a colorful character and I think the main reason he enjoyed his entrepreneurship so much was that it afforded him the opportunity to be the main act on his own center stage. Since he was always performing he acquired quite the following of groupies. There were a few dubious characters that showed up from time-to-time to be entertained by the wit and sarcasm of my father but there were also some characters equally colorful in their own right.

One such character was Robert, a full-blooded American Indian of extreme short stature who was a highly decorated veteran of Vietnam. Robert, alias Jerome, alias Geronimo, was also a victim of alcoholism and became a regular in the pawnshop when he was in-between jobs and sobriety. Dad would often find work for Robert, who also resembled a troll doll with the wildest mane of jet-black hair I’d ever seen. It was curly and stood about 2 feet straight out from his skull. One of the jobs my dad hired Robert to perform was to drive my mom around in their old white Cadillac. Robert’s duties involved picking Ms. Earl up at her house and driving her to church for her ladies circle meeting. What a sight they were. Robert, with only his wild main of hair visible over the steering wheel and my mother, prim and proper Ms. Earl, in the back seat. My mother was way too sweet and polite to be anything but gracious to her unusual looking chauffeur but secretly admitted she wanted to kill my father. She adamantly declared she neither needed nor wanted a driver and she sure as heck didn’t want him taking her to church for all her lady friends to see.

Another of my dad’s regulars was a man named Leonard Hughes, known only to me as Mr. Hughes. He was an old cowboy small in stature standing no more than 5 feet 5 inches in height. He had a rugged, weathered face but the gentlest blue eyes that sparkled when he was spinning a yarn. He was so petite that he once loaned me a pair of cowboy boots to wear to a high school howdy hop and they rubbed blisters on my size 6 feet. Mr. Hughes was also a true southern gentleman. He never used profanity and was always soft spoken. His gift as a storyteller was just one of the attributes that attracted my father and together they could spin a tale totally off the cuff. They would develop their stories on the spot feeding off the vivid imaginations of one another.

On one extremely hot August day in Oklahoma a young man came in to the pawnshop and while my father was completing his pawn ticket Mr. Hughes approached the counter carrying a large bag of pennies. Barely looking up my dad inquired, “What, more pennies? How much does that make now?”

“A little over a thousand dollars worth so far” replied Mr. Hughes with just the tiniest hint of a grin.

Barely glancing up my dad asked,” Well, are you going back for more?”

All the while the young customer was becoming obviously interested in the conversation between the two men.

“I’m going back as soon as I can get a truck and some shovels. There are just too many of em to pick up by hand.” answered Mr. Hughes.

Mr. Hughes was now pouring the contents of the bag on the counter. While the pennies rolled across the counter the young man could no longer resist the bait and inquired, “Uh, where did you get all those pennies?”

Now it was just a matter of reeling in the fish.

“Didn’t you hear about that that armored plane flying down by Lake Murray?” asked my dad. “It was so weighed down with money that it couldn’t get any altitude. The pilot had to make a quick decision to lighten the load or he’d have to ditch the plane. So he just started tossing bags of pennies out of the plane and now they are scattered all around the lake.”

Picking up the lead Mr. Hughes added, “There must be at least fifty thousand dollars in pennies down there. I’m getting a truck and going back for more.”

By now this kid is about to soil himself with sheer excitement. He asks the two older men for directions and nearly forgets to take his pawn ticket on his way out the door leaving the two storytellers to gloat over their sheer cleverness and quick wits.

Now it was probably 110 in the shade that day and these two old tricksters had just sent some gullible kid out to gather pennies from a lake shore nearly 100 miles away. Forty-five minutes later they were still enjoying the success of their tag team prank when the same young man came running into the shop to ask if they might draw him a map of the exact location.

My dad noticed that the young man had pulled up out front in a dilapidated truck hauling a flatbed trailer loaded with young kids and one old woman sitting on a lawn chair. Each of them had a shovel in one hand and a pail in the other.

Now, it’s true that Mr. Hughes and my dad loved a good joke but they were neither heartless or cruel. There was no way they were going to send a bunch of children and an old woman on a wild goose chase in that heat. Of course they later admitted had it just been the kid they might have drawn him the map.


Arkansas Patti said...

What a wonderfully funny yet sweet post.
Those characters would make Damon Runyon totally envious.
Very well told.

kenju said...

WONDERFUL POST!! If you have more stories like that, you should write a book!!

oklhdan said...

Thank you both for your encouragement! I've never shared stories before starting this blog and your kind words are so appreciated.

Anonymous said...

I first became acquainted with your ability to write via the Elder Storytelling Place.
I enjoy your stories and agree that you have a knack for writing, and encourage you to continue.
I too have submitted, and have had a few stories published at Ronnie's site.
I do not have a blog, nor have I set up an account at Google so use anonymous to comment.