Averyell A. Kessler
My grandfather WG was a master storyteller and trickster. I received assurance this week when I leafed through one of his old photo albums. I found it in a forgotten blanket chest under a stack of aging sheets, saggy pillowcases, and a multicolored hooked rug. What a discovery! Inside, I saw a “Citation” for bravery under fire from the Sons of Fun Organization. The citation proclaims:
“This is to certify that W.G. Avery, having successfully completed our course in advanced insanity and made a damn fool of himself in front of a live audience, is hereby awarded an honorable degree of Dr. of J.B. (Jerks Berserk) and is now a life member of the International Association of Merry Screwballs.” There is a blurry signature at the bottom, as well as an illegible date. I’ve found no evidence of the Merry Screwballs. No doubt they’ve disappeared into the murky past.
One thing is sure, WG loved playing tricks. Most were gentle, inoffensive, and harmless and his victims enjoyed being fooled just as much as he enjoyed doing it. He described many of his adventures in amusing stories, gleefully embroidering each with dialogue, hand gestures, and additional observations he pulled out of thin air. His timing was impeccable and he knew how to create suspense and kiss it like a long-lost love. He was fooled only once. I wasn’t there, but he told me about it. As I expected, it happened at Stockett’s Stable and involved Onie Frisco, a first class hunting guide, breeder of red bone hounds, and perpetual employee at the stable. He was also fallen victim to WG’s tricks many times.
Stockett’s Stable at the far end of High Street was a whirlwind of activity during daylight hours. After the sun set, it was a different world. I was there once at night, riding in my grandfather’s top-down Chevy convertible. The darkness was primeval, as thick as tar. A flock of water oaks stretched their ghostly arms over the front gate covering it with Spanish moss and blotting out a spray of stars overhead. I heard night creatures scrabbling in the underbrush as we clanked over a cattle guard and entered the stable yard. Inside, it was silent and abandoned – no cars, no horses, no humans. The barns were closed for the night, and the dogs settled in their kennels. I thought it was haunted, but WG loved this place, and he wanted to show me his old stomping ground. This was where his gang met on weeknights to hunt racoons roaming the banks of the Pearl River. They called themselves the Mendoza Club and named their dogs after their wives. (No one told that tale and the word b—— was forbidden). Onie Frisco was an essential part of the hunt; he could out-shoot any man in the club and managed the dogs with ease. WG parked, lit an El Trellis Triangle and said, “Listen up. I’m gonna tell you about the time Onie Frisco fooled me.” As always, I listened.
The night’s hunt had been unsuccessful. Although the dogs cornered a skinny coon at the top of a tall loblolly pine, he clawed his way into the adjacent trees and escaped before the first shot was fired. After the Mendozas packed up and drove home, WG and Robert relaxed in the clubhouse watching Onie build a fire in the small fireplace grate.
“Bad luck, tonight,” WG said.
“Can’t win every time,” Robert replied.
“It’s getting’ cold,” WG continued. “Wish I had a cup of coffee.”
“I could use one too.” Robert answered. “but kitchen’s closed.”
Onie dropped a handful of pine knots onto the struggling fire and watched it burst into flame. “How ‘bout I go in the kitchen and make us a pot,” he said.
“Know where the cook keeps the coffee?” Robert asked.
“Yep,” Onie replied. “I might put in a drop of Jackie D too. ”
He returned minutes later carrying two steaming mugs filled to the rim. At first, Onie’s concoction was too hot to drink. WG held the mug in both hands and tried to cool it with his breath. Robert had a different opinion.
“This smell funny,” he said. “Not like usual.”
“Seems a little swampish to me,” WG said. “What’s in this coffee Onie?”
Onie smiled and swallowed a laugh. “My special touch,” he answered. “Nothing like it. Go on, taste it.”
“Alright Onie,” WG said. “If you say so.” He raised the mug to his lips and took a deep sip. The next moment his lips puckered and he spewed out a flying arc of brown liquid. A cough rose in his throat, and he was unable to speak. His mug crashed to the floor.
“What the hell did you pour in this coffee?” Robert roared. He tossed his coffee, mug and all, in a trash barrel near the club house door. “It’s not Jack Daniels!”
“Didn’t pour in nothing,” Onie answered, as he winked at the truth. WG was already walking toward to kitchen.
“Ok, Onie. I admit it, you fooled me,” he said. “What’d you do?” He lifted the lid of the coffee pot and looked inside. One of Onie’s hunting boot socks floated to the surface, blessing remnants of coffee with muddy specks and particles of fresh grass. The aroma was unmistakable. Onie laughed, wheezing hard and slapping his hands against his knees. “Like I say, didn’t pour in nothing.” WG swallowed the bitter taste on his tongue and laughed too. The trickster had been fooled.
“So, that’s the story,” WG said, when he finished telling the tale. “I tasted a boiled sock.”
“Did anyone else ever fool you?” I asked.
“Nope,” he answered. “Never did.”
“That’s the Onie I know?”
“There’s only one Onie,” he replied. “Never another like him.”
“There’s only one you either,” I laughed.
“I reckon so,” my grandfather answered. “Make sure there’s only one of you too.”