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
Some people have a tough time finding acceptance. Sometimes it’s easy to figure out why. Take Chet the Unhandyman. I’ve known him for fifteen years and the only person I’ve ever met who can stand him is me. Chet is sarcastic, arrogant, and lazy as a copperhead at Christmastime. In fact, I’m hard pressed to explain why he’s still living at the ranch. I think it’s because he represents the dark side I’ve always been afraid I had.
My friend Billy from Abilene is another story. For the life of me, I can’t figure out why he’s not the most popular guy in town. Billy’s got what I would’ve thought it would take to be Mr. Ozarks Cool. He’s smart and easy-going. Casual. He can talk, but he can listen as well. And he’s as respectful as all get-out.
Billy’s been here for almost twenty years, with his own successful little Electronics just around the corner from the town square. But one day when I mentioned to my neighbors that he’d offered me a terrific deal on the latest Widget they all looked doubtful.
“I wouldn’t be too sure about anything coming from Billy,” said Buck the Ex-Navy Seal.
“If that’s what Billy’s asking you can probably get it for less somewhere else,” said Tyra at the Dry Cleaners.
“I don’t trust that boy,” said Brenda the Blonde.
“Why not?” I said. Brenda’s answer was a shrug, and the others couldn’t quite come up with the reason either. “There’s something,” Tyra finally said. “It’s hard to pin down.”
But I wanted to pin it down. So I went straight to Billy from Abilene himself. I found him in the square, taking pictures for the Chamber of Commerce to use to promote the town. “A lot of people here don’t seem to trust you, Billy,” I said.
Billy lowered his camera. “So you noticed that? I dunno why folks feel that way. I follow the Three Rules.”
“Sure. The ones the good old boys told me about when I first came from Abilene.” And quickly he rattled off the Rules, one by one:
“’It’s okay if you’re stopped with a truckload of whiskey, but don’t get caught with any drugs.’
“’Never give the big eye to another man’s wife no matter how hard he looks at yours.’
“’Before every election bring a sack with a hundred dollars in cash to the County Judge as a campaign contribution. If he loses, bring another sack to the winner and tell him it’s for next time.’
“I stick to all three,” Billy went on. “Can’t imagine what I’m doing wrong.”
Billy went back to his picture-taking. I walked over to the nearby antique shop to talk to his neighbors, my friend Sweet Jane. “What’s the story on Billy from Abilene?” I said.
“I don’t trust him,” Jane said.
“Well, you know he’s not from around here.”
“Jane,” I said, “he’s been here longer than Brannigan has. And Brannigan’s your boyfriend!”
“Oh,” Jane said, “I don’t trust him either.”
This wasn’t going where I’d hoped. “Jane,” I asked her, “do you trust me?”
“Sure,” she said.
“Why? I’m not from around here either, and I’m newer in town than either Billy or Brannigan.”
“That’s true,” Jane said. “But there’s something about you that’s different…”
“What? What is there about me that you trust?” I was really pushing hard.
Jane wiped a spot off an oak table she had for sale, then turned back to me.
“Gwen,” she said.
“That’s right. I trust you because I know your wife—and she’s my kind of woman.”
“And Billy’s wife?”
Jane shook her head. “We’ve had our disputes.”
There it was. Acceptance in this neck of the woods wasn’t about personality. Nor success. Not even about how well you followed the rules. “The real way men are judged here is by our wives?!”
“You’re lucky,” Jane said. “In the old days you would’ve been judged by your cattle.”
“I don’t have any cattle.”
Jane was still talking. “…And now that we’re talking about wives, I’ll let you in on why I don’t trust that rat Brannigan,” she said. “Because no matter how many times he’s said ‘I love you’ he still won’t talk about me becoming his wife!”