Jul 21 2011

My Little Town 20110720: Budge and Lyda Porter

(9 pm. – promoted by ek hornbeck)

Those of you who read this regular series know that I am from Hackett, Arkansas, just a mile or so from the Oklahoma border, and just about 10 miles south of the Arkansas River.  It was a redneck sort of place, and just zoom onto my previous posts to understand a bit about it.

I rarely write about living people except with their express permission, and will have to make no exception for that rule this time.  As far as I know, they did not have any children, but I could be wrong, and if others who knew them know better, please correct me.

They were a nice couple, and the lived directly across the street from Ma.  Budge (I NEVER knew his real name) was sort of a shade tree mechanic.  Lyda was a gossip.

They were about Ma’s age, take a couple of years.  Budge mostly pumped gasoline, changed oil, and sold soft drinks.  His “garage” was just a long wooden building with an office with a fan and a pop machine in it.  He did have sort of lift and a grease pit.  He sold the Texaco brand of gasoline, and depending on the year it was from 20 cents to 33 cents per gallon.  The old phrase, “Gimmme a dollars’ worth!”, actually meant at least three gallons at the time, and sometimes five gallons!

His garage was sort of a watering hole (soft drinks only, as Hackett was dry) for the old men to meet and swap stories.  It was not as nice as John’s place, but it was OK.  He had a bench outside of the front door, and the old men would smoke and chew tobacco there from time to time.

He had another mechanic to help him from time to time, Cliff Bailey.  He was a nice old guy, but never talked below a shout.  Cliff had skin cancer, mostly on his forehead and ears, from years of too much sun exposure.  In those days the treatment of choice, after excision, was massive X-ray therapy.  I remember one week that after his treatment he was red as a beet, with some really serious burns from the treatment.  Although X-ray treatment is still used for some skin cancers, the dosage is much better controlled these days and such burning is rare.

One day I needed some limestone for a chemistry experiment, and his driveway and parking lot was lined with it.  I started to pick up a piece or two, but he stopped me and said that those were the ones upon the old men spat their tobacco filled saliva, and took me to the back of his lot to get clean ones.  I appreciated that.  I said, “Thank you, Mr. Porter!”  He immediately told me to call him Budge after that.  So I did.  Ma did not like it very much, because she insisted on me calling elders by some sort of title and then their last name, but Budge talked to her (they were quite friendly) and said that he preferred for me to call him that.  Ma was OK with it, and from that time on, he was Budge to me.

He was a horrible mechanic!  He was good at pumping gasoline, and perhaps for installing new bulbs that had been burnt out or changing tyrs, but he was no mechanic.  Back in those days lots of people still used inner tubes for automotive applications, and Budge was good at patching them.  He used the old hot vulcanization process, where the patch was glued to the tube and then sat alit.  The patches had a pyrotechnic composition on the outside of it so that it actually bonded to the rubber of the tube by heat.  My friend and I were hanging out there one day and a guy brought in a tyr to have the tube patched and Budge broke the tyr from the rim and took the tube out so find the leak.  There were so many patches on the tube that it was almost entirely red!  (The tube was black, whilst the patches were red).  My friend and I laughed for days over “patching the patches.

One day the local school system brought a bus in for some minor electrical system repair, and Budge “fixed” it.  I was sitting across the street on Ma’s front porch, and when Cliff and Budge were finished, they tried to start it.  Immediately smoke poured from front to rear.  Budge had succeeded in shorting out the entire electrical system, and they had to get a completely new wiring harness because the old one was fused beyond repair.

He had a soft drink cooler of the design where the bottles were supported vertically by the ring below the cap.  There was one gate that would unlock when you put a coin in the slot, and you had to move bottles around (sort of like those puzzles where you move the numbers around to get the correct sequence) until the bottle that you wanted was exposed so that you could bring it up the gate.  Those machines had a real design flaw in that if you took a stick, you could keep the gate open and empty the entire cooler.  I never did that, but it was possible.

Lyda was sort of nice, but was a horrible gossip.  Any and everything that she could say to the negative about folks, she would.  She always sat in her swing on her front porch, facing east but with a large roof over it, waiting for people to come by and gossip.  She and Ma were friendly enough, but Ma knew how bad she was to gossip to kept her conversations with her to the weather and the like.  Ma was not bad to gossip at all, unusual for an older lady in a small town.

My father had a really mischievous friend from Louisiana who worked for the same company.  Fox Temple was really horrible, but he knew how to play Lyda perfectly.  I think that Dad put him up to this. He drove into town and parked into the station to get gasoline.  I do not remember why Fox was in town, as his sales territory was further to the south than Dad’s.  It may have been that there was a regional meeting, because that sales region of Dana Corporation was based in Fort Smith.

Any time a stranger showed up, Lyda was off the porch and to the station to see who her or she was and what her or she wanted.  Fox told them that he worked for Dana and that he knew Dad.  Lyda asked him what he was doing here, and he said that he had come to town to get Dad’s sales records and trip reports so that he could take over the territory.  Lyda asked what happened to Dad, thinking that he might have gotten a promotion, I suppose.

Fox made up a long story about how Dad was finally let go for not being productive (actually, Dad was the top representative in the region), wasting time, going hunting when he should be working, and so forth.  He piled it on thick!  Fox was a consummate liar.

“I KNOWD IT!, said Lyda!  He ain’t worth nothin’!”  She shot a BIG wad of tobacco when she said it. Lyda was not known for good grammar.  Fox come to our house after he had done the deed and told us what her reaction was.  This happened early in the afternoon, and by nightfall everyone in Hackett had heard that Dad had been fired.  Lots of folks were not unhappy to hear it, because our family was very well to do as far as Hackett went.  Mum and Dad always had nice cars, and so did Ma.  We lived in fairly nice houses, even by today’s standards.  Most folks in Hackett were dirt poor, lived in substandard housing, and drove wrecks.  I guess that they liked a little schadenfreude.

Well, after a few days it was evident that Dad still had his job.  He still had the company car with the personalized license plate “DANA” on it, and still went to work.  Lyda had been flimflammed by Fox, and she knew it.  But what could she say?  Having to face Ma every day sort of was uncomfortable for her, because she knew that all of the family knew that she was the one to spread the rumor, at least at first.

Mum did not have much use for Lyda even before then, and even less afterwards.  She just avoided dealing with Lyda, but Ma lived across the street from her so they had to interact a little, at least.  Lyda never learnt the lesson not to gossip, and continued to do so until her death.

Well, that is it for Budge and Lyda.  They were typical denizens of My Little Town.  If you have recollections about your youth and the people in it, please let us know in the comments.

Warmest regards,

Doc, aka Dr. David W. Smith

Crossposted at Daily Kos,

Docudharma, and


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