THE USUAL NOTE FROM LB: From the summer of 2002 to the spring of 2010, Gwen the Beautiful and I were the proud and often exhausted owners of a beautiful Ozarks property we called Cloud Creek Ranch.
In many ways, the ranch was paradise. But it was a paradise with a price that started going up before we even knew it existed. Here’s another Monday musing about our adventure and the lessons we learned.
Oh, and if y’all detect any irony, please believe me when I say it comes straight from the universe and not your kindly Uncle Larry B.
by Larry Brody
Big doings up here on The Mountain last weekend.
It was Burl Jr. the New Caretaker’s 23rd birthday, and everyone gathered in the Annex for some whoop-de-do.
We had Burl Jr., Tera (his Twin Flame), Burl Jr.’s parents, Burl Sr. the All-Time Best Farmer in Paradise County and his wife Margie, and a couple dozen of Burl Jr.s’ friends and cousins.
Gwen the Beautiful and I were there too, of course. Her contribution to the festivities was a chocolate layer cake with a plastic Elvis on top of it in honor of Burl Jr.’s ambition to become the next big Rock God.
Burl Jr. sang and played the guitar. I joined in on drums. Tera made like Linda McCartney on the keyboard. A good time was had by all.
Well, almost all.
What Burl Sr. had was a problem.
He spent almost the whole time on his cell phone. Listening to someone who wouldn’t stop talking. Toward the end of the celebration I found him sitting outside at a picnic table. A frowning Margie sat nearby.
“I don’t know, Bobby,” Burl Sr. said into the phone. “I just don’t know.” And he shut it with a sigh.
“Well, I know,” said Margie. “He ain’t staying with us, no matter how much he cries.”
Then she saw me, and her voice grew less harsh. “Larry B’s a man of the world. Tell him what’s going on.”
Burl Sr. was uncomfortable. But he also needed to have his say.
“That was Bobby, my old high school best friend. Fifty years ago, understand? We did everything together, him and me. But after graduation we took different roads.”
“Bobby was always restless,” Margie went on. “Paradise wasn’t big enough for him. He had to go to the city. Be a hotshot in Little Rock.”
“Little Rock didn’t agree with Bobby,” Burl Sr. said. “He picked up and went west to Oklahoma City. Then Albuquerque. Then some skiing place in Colorado. Made a lot of other stops in between.
“No matter where he went and what job he got, Bobby stayed restless. Every once in awhile he’d wake up, decide he hated his life, and move on. Leavin’ wives and kids and homes and bank accounts behind.
“Bobby started with some promise,” Burl Sr. went on. “He was the smartest boy in school. His first job was managing a Greyhound bus station. Twenty-five years ago when he called me to shoot the breeze he was being paid by the hour to pump septic tanks.”
“And this time? Tell Larry B about this time,” Margie said.
“Now he’s calling from Springfield, Missouri. Saying he ain’t worked in three years. He’s got diabetes and they just cut off one of his legs. They’re taking the other one next week. He’s married again, to an ole gal who’s been supporting them by working at the Waffle House. She doesn’t want to do it any more. She wants him out”
Burl Sr. paused unhappily. Margie filled the gap. “Bobby’s calling because after he gets out of the hospital he’ll be nothin’ but a homeless cripple, with no love and no money and no friends to coddle him. He’s lookin’ for someplace to land.”
“Us taking him in would be the right thing to do,” Burl Sr. said. “The charitable thing.”
“It’d also be the biggest chore I ever took on,” said Margie. “Me taking care of a man I never even liked. Mr. ‘I am the Smartest’ Bobby and his ‘nuthin’ here is good enough’ ways!”
She looked straight at me. “You’re a man of the world, Larry B. What would you do? Would you take him in?”
I looked at the two of them. Thought about the consequences. Saw the pain in the faces of Burl Sr. and Margie. Considered the pain Bobby, who I don’t know, had to be feeling as well.
I thought about times when I’d been in their position, and what I’d done…and what I might’ve done instead. About what was right in the eyes of the universe. And what was wrong when you had to live with it in the world.
And all I could say was, “I want to help you. I’d love to help you. But I can’t.”
“See?” Margie said. “Those’re the words. Those’re the words you say to Bobby next time he calls!”
That wasn’t what I’d meant. Not at all.
But as they say about the weather in these parts: “Guess it’ll have to do.”