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The Kinfolks

by Allen Rolf

In Geneva, where I grew up, the Hobbs had more kinfolks visitin' than anybody! They'd come all day long in sedans, pickups, coupes, even motorcycles raising big clouds of yellow dust. Mostly, they'd stop at the China Lady's Grocery to get directions, then roar up the hill to where Big Hobbs and Little Hobbs lived in an old clapboard house surrounded by a rickety fence.

Menfolk sittin' in the cool shade of the Owl Tavern porch playin' checkers would laugh and say: "Well, there go some more of those .... kinfolks. Lord, do they have a lot of 'em!"

Bernice, Big Hobbs', daughter was in my grade and I guess you could say she was my best friend even though she was a girl. She didn't have no mom. Her mom run off with a travelin' preacher to Dallas, so she lived with her daddy, Big Hobbs, and her granddaddy, Little Hobbs.

Big Hobbs was as big as a fifty-five gallon whiskey barrel and Little Hobbs was just a spriggy twig of a man. When they came down the road together, Little Hobbs always walked on the shadow side of his son. Both wore bib overalls and chewed tobacco, otherwise you'd never figure them as father and son.

Big Hobbs and Little Hobbs were hog farmers. Their house was raised up on concrete blocks and within the fence that surrounded it were fifty or sixty OIC's, big pink pigs, with a wallar-hole right by the back door. When the kinfolks drove up, the pigs would come out from under the house let out a terrible scream to let the Hobbs know they had company.

Big Hobbs had an old IH truck with high side boards and both doors missing. He picked up garbage in town and fed it to his hogs. He had a couple of big barrels that he would dump the vegetables and meat scraps in and then build a fire beneath it. Bernice's job after school was to feed the fire with wood chips from the E.L. Bruce Company. I would help her. We'd sit and talk until the vegetables and meat started to boil. When that happened, we'd have to shoo the hogs away because they could smell the food and would come up lookin' for a handout. The smell always made me hungry. It smelled just like the vegetable soup my Ma made.

When the brew cooled there would be three inches of fat on top and the next day when it started to sour the barrel would be crawling with maggots. The pigs ate the stuff anyway, noisily screaming for their position at the trough.

One time when we were feeding the hogs, Big Hobbs asked me if I would like a souvenir. I didn't know what a souvenir was but I said yes, anyway. Big Hobbs pulled out his pocket knife and reached down and whacked off a bore's tail and gave it to me. I thought it was a nice souvenir, but Ma made me throw it away when she found it in my pants pocket.

Down behind the house, there was an old sinkhole where me and Bernice used to go swimming in the summer. Little Hobbs had bought a Sears-Roebuck pump and run a pipe down to the sinkhole to pull water through the back window of his house. The Hobbs were the only ones in Geneva who had running water in their house, even though they still had an outhouse like the rest.

On summer days, Bernice and I would lay on the limestone shelf by the blue water of the sinkhole. Bernice had a two-piece pink bathing suit Big Hobbs had found in the garbage. We would lay on a big towel together and look up at the fluffy clouds floating by. Bernice would tell me about us growing up.

"Allen," she would say. "when you grow up I bet you're going to be an airline pilot and fly one of those big silver two-motor jobs over at the airport. You'll have a blue captain's suit and a hat with gold braid."

That sounded nice to me. I liked to hear Bernice talk about how it would be when we had grown up.

"And me, Allen, you know what?" She had told the story a hundred times, but I always listened. "Well, I'm going to be a famous movie star and live out there in Hollywood. Yes sir, 'cept I won't be Bernice Hobbs, my name will be ... let's see ... Cassandra Wolverton. Yep, that's what it'll be, Cassandra Wolverton.

"And you know, Allen, you'll be sittin' down there at the Roxy and all of a sudden there I'll be right up there on that big silver screen. You'll say: 'Gosh, that's Bernice Hobbs and I knew her as a girl. Now she's a big movie star by the name of Cassandra Wolverton!'"

I would lay there staring at the fluffy clouds and see it just like Bernice described it.

"Then, Allen, I'll call you up one day and invite you to Hollywood. You can fly your silver plane out there and we can sit on the side of a real pool ... a big pink one shaped like a heart ... and I'll have a little silver bell that I can ring.

"I'll pick up the bell and the butler will come out with a big silver tray with Grapettes and fresh little fig newtons.

"I'll say: 'Allen how about a Grapette and some cookies?' Yep, that's what I'll say after I catch that bus out to Hollywood and become a big star!"

I liked the way Bernice described it. I could always see that pink heart-shaped pool and the big silver tray with Grapettes and fig newtons up there in the fluffy clouds.

Once a month, Miss Figbee Morgan, the social service lady, would come to Geneva. She would always stop at the China Lady grocery and buy a Coca Cola, pacing up and down the isle in front of the check-out counter trying to get some information on Big Hobbs. She didn't like Big Hobbs and had in mind yanking away Bernice and putting her in a foster home. Miss Morgan would sip her coke and fire questions at the China Lady.

China Lady would just smile and bob her head. "No speakee English ..... No speakee English," she would chant.

Finally, Miss Morgan would storm out of China Lady's store and hop in her black coupe and rush up the hill to the Hobbs house in a cloud of yellow dust.

Big Hobbs would often be sittin' in his old car seat in the shade of the porch when she arrived.

"Why, howdy, Miss Morgan," he would call as she got out of her car and slammed the door. About that time all the pigs would come a running and making their usual ruckus and Miss Morgan would stop at the gate.

"Mr. Hobbs," she would scream above all the noise, "I've come to talk to you about your daughter, Bernice."

"Well, that's mighty nice of you, Miss Morgan," Big Hobbs would reply, aiming a casual stream of brown tobacco juice toward the gate.

"Mr. Hobbs, you have simply got to do something about your daughter. She's running the neighborhood like a wild indian with no supervision and without any mother at all. What do you plan to do about it?"

Big Hobbs would chew this tobacco and slowly give the matter some thought.

"Well, I tell you ma'm that little girl of mine is a find healthy little critter, well fed and bright, and, if I kin say so, well mannered. Don't rightly think she needs no ma right now!"

Miss Morgan would really start to fume. "That poor child living in deplorable conditions like this? What do you mean she doesn't need a mother? Mr. Hobbs you mean to say that it's fine for her to live here .... here with a bunch of pigs?"

Another squirt of tobacco juice would be aimed toward Miss. Morgan. "Ma'm, if I kin say it, my hogs are well fed, bright, and well mannered, too. Ain't no one ever brought one back because the bacon tasted bad."

Miss Morgan would throw up her hands in despair, jump in her black coupe, and roar back down the hill. Yellow dust would fly.

Big Hobbs and Little Hobbs were well respected in Geneva. If the place had been big enough, one of them surely would have been mayor, or somthin'.

When the Bethel AM&E church had their homecoming every year, Big Hobbs and Little Hobbs would always barbecue a pig for the affair, even though they weren't members of the congregation. In the winter when the weather got cold, the Hobbs always made sure everyone had enough wood chips from the E.L. Bruce Company and on the way home from his garbage run each day Big Hobbs would stop and give people some of the day-old bread he had collected.

The Hobbs were most appreciated at Christmas, though. The day after Christmas, Big Hobbs would make a special run in his IH to the Sterling Store and collect all their broken toys. He's bring them home and Bernice, me, Big Hobbs and Little Hobbs would fit the broken toys together and then give them to all the kids in Geneva.

Aside from Miss Figbee Morton, the social services lady, there were two people who didn't like the Hobbs. I suspect that is where the trouble might have come from.

Beside the house, Little Hobbs had a big butane tank that the butane man would come and fill each month. The butane man would have to park his truck close to the fence and pull the hose over the fence to the butane tank. Of course, all the hogs would come running, making noise, and nuzzling the butane man as he pulled the hose across the yard.

Big Hobbs didn't mind the butane man kicking the nosey hogs out of the way, but one day the butane man kicked Sunshine, Bernice's pet pig, in the side. That was enough for Big Hobbs.

"Hey, you just kicked my little girl's pet pig," cried Big Hobbs.

The butane man came back with a couple of cuss words and that brought Big Hobbs off the front porch, his jaw really chompin' at the tobacco. The butane man backed up quick, but he never liked Big Hobbs after that.

One afternoon when Big Hobbs was playing checkers on the porch of the Owl Tavern he got into it with Chummy Corbett who worked at Davis Rubber Company. It was pay day and Chummy liked to spend his pay check drinking beer and showing out, then go home to his wife and kids drunk and broke. Chummy liked to fight when he drank.

He swaggered up to where Big Hobbs was playin' checkers, took a swig from his quart of beer, and burped right in Big Hobbs' face.

"Hey, pig man," he bellowed, "what you doin' in here playin' checkers? Why don't don't you go slop your hogs?"

Big Hobbs didn't even look up. "Chummy," he said, "maybe you ought to go home and take care of that nice little wife of yours and buy some grub for your kids."

Chummy leaned over and whipped the checker board clean. Without a word, Big Hobbs got up and took Chummy by the collar and pitched him right into the middle of the street. Chummy's quart went rolling across the dust leaving a little pissy trail.

Some say that's what started all the trouble. I had joined the Air Force and was stationed in Germany. Pa sent me a newspaper clipping about what happened.

The first clipping I received was about about how the Feds had raided the Hobbs' house one morning and confiscated an 80 gallon copper still, six barrels of mash, and 200 gallons of corn whiskey.

The article told how the Hobbs had made the illegal moonshine and then thrown the mash out the back window to a hog wallar so the smell would be hidden, and how they had pumped water from a nearby sinkhole, and heated the still with butane.

About two months later, Pa sent me a second clipping that read:

"Today, Judge Andrew B. Burgeon, 2nd District Federal Court, dismissed all charges against Alvin C. Hobbs and his son, Timothy B. Hobbs, both of Geneva. In rendering his decision, Judge Burgeon made this statement: 'Both defendants have openly admitted their bootleg activities and there can be no doubt of their guilt. However, Mr. Hobbs Sr, at the age of 83, has been making illegal whiskey since he learned the art at the age of 8 from the famous Jack Daniels of Kentucky. What justice can be served in condemning these men to prison for the remainder of their lives when they followed a pursuit in which they made a few hundred gallons of moonshine a year, and, as I understand it, very good moonshine at that?"

So that was the end of the matter. Judge Burgeon gave the still to the state and the Governor put it on display at the State Capitol, and Big and Little Hobbs went into forced retirement.

Nobody would talk to Chummy Corbett after that, the China Lady suddenly learned to speak English, and Miss Figbee Morgan made her peace with Big Hobbs and got him on food stamps and welfare. The Hobbs sold all their pigs and the yard grew up in hog weeds and the traffic through Geneva came to a near standstill.

What about Bernice? Well, she never did make it to Hollywood. She married a hog farmer over near Rison and I hear they have a whole parcel of kids. Folks tell me, her husband has more kinfolk than anyone. They come all day long in sedans, pickups, coupes, even motorcycles raising big clouds of yellow dust.

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1998 Allen Rolf