Jeff County, 1966
By Jim McCrary
I suppose it was spring 1966 that one of us saw an empty farmhouse up in Jefferson County and stopped to talk with the farmer who owned it. The house was about 10 miles up the Welman Road. The owner was an incredible man, whose name I won't mention. And that is really out of respect. We rented the house and settled in.
There were three of us, "Bob," "Crag" and I. Bob showed up in Lawrence from Vallejo, California. Vallejo was then a pretty rough town, and Bob had been a cop there. He once said, while driving through north Lawrence, "If you don't think I was a cop, dig this," and proceeded to stop the car in the middle of a block, throw it in reverse and back at full speed down the street, around the corner, backwards through an alley and around another corner. All in reverse. Whew. "Only cops know how to do that!" he said. "And, by the way, McCrary, don't bother asking why I left Vallejo." Never did.
Years later we visited Vallejo and he took us on a tour which ended up at a bar owned by Gabby Hayes--yeah, that Gabby Hayes, oldtimers! Crag was sort of a techno-hippy. Smart, inquisitive and interested in a lot of stuff which was futuristic at the time: wind power, solar power, chemical power. Drove a '49 Nash.We were pretty visible, living on the main road between McLouth and Oskaloosa. There was a good stocked pond and a huge mulberry tree in the yard. Came home one day and Crag was studying the tree, which was full of fruit.
"Think I'll make some wine," he said. He went in the house and came back out with a bunch of bedsheets, which he spread out under the tree, walked over to the Nash, which had a stout front bumper, backs up a bit and floored it into the tree. Goddamn berries fell like hailstones onto the sheets. Simple enough, and the wine was good! He was that kind of guy.One day we sat on the back porch and he was reading The Adventures of Don Juan.
"McCrary, get a shovel and let's go." We walked out behind the barn to the landlord's feedlot, where Crag starting looking at plants. "There's one," he says. "That's jimson weed." He thumbed through the paperback and found the page he was looking for.
"Sit down, McCrary--we gotta pray and than dig up this plant." Okay. And we did. He cleaned up the root, threw it in a pot of boiling water and we waited. Then we drank the tea. Whoa!Long story short--some time later the three of us were driving over to Oskie. Bob says, "Does it seem to anyone else that we are driving under water?" No one answered.
A few minutes later Crag slowed the Nash and finally stopped the car. He opened the door and we all leaned over to see if he was puking (as in peyote). Nope, he just leaned down and put his palm on the gravel road. "Damn," he says. "This is weird. The road is still moving and we are standing still."
He was right, and for a while we watched the earth turn. We made it to the North Side Tavern in Oskaloosa well before closing time and sat quietly sharing a pitcher of red beer as we all considered chemically-augmented physics. Don't exactly remember how we met the Sheriff. He may have been a friend of the landlord and "just stopped by." He was a great guy and knew what was going on for sure. We were all out in the yard working on an old Ford pickup, had a wooden slat bed on it.
Sheriff came up and joined us standing around the truck. He was asking about the landlord, shooting the shit. We were a little nervous, and our stress level rose when the Sheriff pulled out a pocket knife, reached over the edge of truck and started flipping pot seeds out of the bed with the knife blade. Sheriff didn't say anything about the seeds.
"You boys stay outta trouble now," was his parting comment, and we took it as a message--not to quit harvesting, but for Christ's sake clean the truck afterwards! And we did. For the most part.Once coming back from a run up to Tama, Iowa (probably a Sunday beer run) I made the mistake of tossing a Coors can out the window of the car and ended up in the Oskaloosa jail for a while, waiting bail.
The jail was on the town square then, and I was exercising my First Amendment right by yelling out out the window: "Free all political prisoners!" Sort of an agitprop performance, I thought.
Sheriff was coming back from the cafe and looked up and said, "McCrary, shut up. You ain't a political prisoner. You are a litterbug." Five minutes later he stopped by the cell to hand me a package of Bugler, some papers and a sandwich.
My sentence was a choice: either pick up litter along 59 Highway or pay a fine. I opted for the fine, since the thought of walking down the highway in overalls with hair down to my ass seemed like being a target. Sheriff retired couple years later and I saw him one day in downtown Lawrence. "Heard you retired?"
"Yeah," he says. "Too many of them Posse Comitatus nitwits moving into Jeff County."
George Allen was our closest neighbor, lived across the pasture and down a gravel road. George was Kickapoo, probably 80 years old then and half-blind from glaucoma. Lived in a small bungalow with a younger woman who watched after him best she could. George had a son and daughter, as well. He sort of befriended the local hippies, made trips to Lawrence to party and attended some of the Big Eats. Mostly, though, he danced, and was known and highly respected on the pow-wow trail throughout Midwest.
We had the honor and pleasure to drive him to Oklahoma or Iowa for dances. George's wife had recently passed away, but he kept her long braided pigtails and wore them when dancing. He had a sawed-off 9-iron with a eagle feather attached to steady himself. He was a great person. On his property, back by the fence line, there were a few pot plants growing, and he kept the herb he harvested in a coffee can next to his wood stove which sat below a framed copy of an old beer advertising print of Custer's Last Stand-but this print showed a few Indians on horseback staring down at ground littered with US Calvary sprawled about full of arrows and quite dead.
Looking back, now I realize that, along with once in awhile grabbing a handful of herb and throwing it in the stove, he also made tea. Ahead of his time or not, he knew that cannabis worked for his glaucoma. We white guys wouldn't know that for a few more years. George also used to show up at our farmhouse late at night wearing a ballcap and long greatcoat accompanied by his pair of greyhounds. They were trained to chase coyotes. He would turn them loose, pull a half-pint out of his deep coat pocket and invite us to join him.
That we did. The greyhounds chased the coyotes--and vice versa--for hours. "They're over by the Brody place now," George would say as we listened to the yips and yowls. It was great entertainment for all involved. The greyhounds would amble into the yard after a couple hours and George would head on home with the dogs behind him. The coyotes would yip for a while, but the dogs were done for the night.
Never did figure out how any of this really worked. Didn't matter. Still doesn't. We did what we did and survived. No harm done in that. Now off to bed, kiddies.