Tie Rod was sitting in the truck draining a can of Vy-eenies out the window onto the parking lot of one of those fancy chain restaurants he had just refused to go in with his better 75 percent because he went in there once and the waiters came around and surrounded somebody just trying to eat and sang. Tie Rod will not go back into a restaurant where they sing to you. If the food was any good, they would be too busy to sing.
He was a little nervous about making the Big E mad, especially now that it is the second anniversary of that woman in Johnson County hitting her man with a 41/2-foot Christmas tree, and stobbing him with the star of Bethlehem. In Tie Rod's habitat, "stabbing" has still not replaced "stobbing." Big E keeps a copy of that story on her mirror, and is plenty big enough to hit somebody with a tree, and Tie Rod figured she was in that restaurant building up compression. If she starts for that tree, he's heading for the barn.
Courtship for Tie Rod had been like getting Vy-eenies out of a can. After you get the first one, the rest are pretty easy. But each year at Christmas, he tries to get Big E just mad enough so she will not go with him to Figgy Pudding's annual Nogfest but not mad enough to insert him with the Star of Bethlehem.
Figgy brokers clean urine from Utah, and her party is the main social event in Tie Rod's life. Last year, he almost achieved his goal of almost getting drunk at the party and was kegged out and missed the blind taste test at which the Grand Champion and the Third Place winners were both on parole. Worse, he missed the wet T-shirt contest. His third cousin, whose left and right bosoms are different sizes, came in first and third, but the moisture caused the microphone she was wearing to mess up, so here comes Unite in one of those vans driving by to see if she was all right.
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A lot of Figgy's customer base have perished as 27-year-old heart attacks. When the mountain people see a funeral announcement of a 27-year-old having a heart attack, they know Figgy has lost another party-goer.
But the death of "Dr. Don" Bevins is what will ruin the mood this Christmas. Dr. Don was a wild looking guy who started out in radio and ended up on cable and who thoroughly loved Tie Rod's kind and filmed thousands of hours of authentic mountain culture. He archived the real, present-day mountain culture — people skinning animals, making stuff, parading; people strong, alive though dying, with musical language which often violates what education has made official.
Dr. Don was loved by those too blessedly ignorant to have learned shame. They repaid him by making him an icon, a legend, and Dr. Don didn't mind that at all.
Tie Rod thought to himself that the wonderful old mountain ways and their chronicler had died about the same time, and that Dr. Don went on because there just wasn't much use for him any more.
About then, his wife and four red-shirted youths surrounded his pickup and proceeded to sing Happy Birthday to him, and it not even his birthday. Big E had used the money she put back to buy Tie Rod a Swiss Army knife to hire the waiters to come out and sing and get even with him. Then they went back in, tracking Vy-eeny juice.
Larry Webster is a Pikeville attorney.