AUGUST 2019 - THE HUNDRED DOLLAR BILL


Norm Witherspoon is another of the jokesters we have around Lakeport. Both Norm and I need glasses. The reason I say this is because of what happened to me one summer years ago when I sold my hay. In early summer hay becames my life. Every year my wife and I had to sell the grass hay we grew on our back field. Anyone, who has any kind of animal, shops around when the hay comes into season. That includes the people who own cattle, horses, mules, goats, llamas or yaks and any other herbivore that folks have a mind to raise as pets or for market or for both. They look for good hay at the lowest price. By ‘good’ hay I mean hay that is cut before it goes to seed, doesn’t have star thistles in it and is a nice mix of brome, oats, clover and other good stuff that grow in grass fields of Northern California. My customers were no different. All the farmers, who cut hay, alfalfa, clover and grasses of any sort, had a bumper crop that year. The rain came just at the right time and Bob, my hay guy who cuts and bales my hay, cut it at the right time. I was proud of our hay. A hefty crop of hay is a good thing. It also creates problems. It was good because I pulled nearly 400 bales from my back eleven acres. It was bad because everybody in the county who sells hay had a good crop also. They are my competition for selling the hay and it is fierce. I had to sell my bales for $8.00 each to pay Bob’s cost for the cutting, raking, baling and stacking and still clear a dollar or two for my profit and work. I considered that my grass hay was the best in the county but these wooden headed, money thrifty farmers didn’t care for much except the price. I looked over my list of customers from the previous year and started calling. One of the first persons that I called was Norm Witherspoon. That customer lives a couple miles down the road. I didn’t know him very well since our paths don’t cross often, except to meet him the year before when he bought a few bales from me. Norm was in his sixties. He was skinny as a fencepost and as energetic as a jack rabbit. His smile engaging, and he smiled all the time. The fact that he had no teeth except for a worn molar or two and was unshaven just mades him all the more genial and cheerful. When I told him my price he said, ” I just bought hay for $5.00 a bale.” “Where?” I asked. He told me. An enterprising fellow in Redwood Valley owns his own equipment and he can afford to sell cheap. Norm said, “But you’re a neighbor. I have a hundred bucks to spend. I need a few more bales for my goats and my cow.” “Great,” I said. “When do you want to pick it up?” “Any time’s okay.” “Fine,” I said. I needed the money to pay my taxes. “How about right now?” “I’ll be right over,” he said. Twenty minutes later Norm and his sidekick, John; a burly sweaty fellow in his fifties and tattooed over every part of his chest that I could see and wearing a cutoff sweater that was emblazoned with a faded symbol of the San Francisco Football team; pulled up to the drive. I got into Norm’s truck. John followed us in his beat-up Ford pickup. Down my hay road we drove into the field. Charley had stacked most of my bales in the main field, but we had to drive into the smaller field this side of the creek. Charley’s baler couldn’t get across the creek to the smaller field so those bales were lying loose in the field. “I’ll discount these bales for fifty cents off. That makes it thirteen bales for a hundred dollars and I’ll throw in a free one.” “Great,” Norm said happily. We loaded eight of the bales on his pickup truck and the rest on his friend, John’s truck. I gave Norm a receipt and he handed me a hundred-dollar bill, which I stuffed into my pocket quickly to prevent the wind from taking it away. I was thankful that I was able to make a hundred dollars so soon. It was only later when I got to the house and gave my wife the bill when the fun began. “Did you look at this bill?” she said tightly. “Why yes," I said,"It’s a hundred-dollar bill.”​ “Where’s Ben Franklin?” she asked me sweetly, handing me the bill in her outstretched hand. It was a brand new bill and it was a pretty green like it was supposed to be. But, instead of Ben’s face in the center there was a cowboy on a bucking bronco. There was small lettering beneath the horse and rider: CELEBRATING FIFTIETH ANNIVERSARY OF THE KELSEYVILLE RODEO – SOUVENIR OF LAKEPORT’S PIONEER DAYS. I needed glasses and I didn’t wear them that day. To straighten this out I looked up Norm's address. I guessed Norm Witherspoon lived somewhere near Charley on East Road. Into my truck I jumped and went roaring down the road to find Norm and my hundred dollars. I had never been to Norm’s place before. I found his mailbox. His drive way was closed by a fourteen-foot cattle gate. The gate was latched with a heavy iron chain that held the cattle gate shut. Beyond the gate at the top of the rutted mud road a few hundred feet away I saw a house. There was a bunch of poor looking buildings and a falling apart house trailer. That’s where I went looking for Norm and my money. Unchaining the gate I drove in. When I got to the top of the hill a tired old fellow came out of his house trailer with a quizzical expression. I couldn’t tell if it was Norm or not. I called to him. “Norm, is that you?” His response was to point to the creek and the lowland in back. “Witherspoon’s over there in Skunk Hollow.” I had picked the wrong fork in the rutted clay road. I jumped into my truck and turned the ignition switch. Nothing happened; there was no juice. The battery was dead as a doornail and wouldn’t turn over. Being stalled on this rutted narrow road in the middle of a country junk yard was not my idea of fun and adventure. I was parked at such a weird angle that a tow truck couldn’t get at me to tow me home and I had to find Witherspoon to get my money. It occurred to me that it might be a bad battery connection. Hands shaking with nervous energy and anxious for what was beginning to be a nightmare, I found my thirteen-millimeter wrench and took off the clamp to the negative connection of the battery. It was white with battery acid corrosion. I cleaned off the post and reamed the inside of the connection clamp and put it back on. Hoping against hope, I got in the truck, turned the key in the ignition. It started. Now all I had to do was to find Witherspoon and my money. Backing and turning on the narrow space took five more minutes. All the while I listened to the faltering engine. It sounded l like it was ready to stall at any second. I think the jarring over the ruts had moved the idle adjustment to make it stall unless I revved it up all the time. At last I got the truck turned around. Careening down the road, in constant danger of breaking my axle from the rocks, pits and bumps, I took a hard left across a small ditch and I had come (by the sign on the side of the road) to Skunk Hollow at last, if you could call that muddy cow path a road. A hard-right curve and I came to a bridge across a small creek. The truck is a one-toner and I was sure the planks would never hold the weight of my truck, but I made it. There ahead, a thousand feet away I saw the Witherspoon Ranch. Well, it was hardly a ranch. It was a collection of small enclosures for the goats, some pigs, and a few cows. The house was an add-on of rooms covered with a makeshift roof of sheets of galvanized metal. Norm’s farm resembled a medieval walled and moated castle more than anything else. The trees and the creek were his protection against surprise inspection from the law who might be interested in his crops. With a thump over the last hill, I had arrived. There was Norm with a smile on his toothless face waving to me. Norm lived with his goats, his pigs and his cattle. He didn’t work, and I suspect that his gainful occupation, other than the run-down farm, was an acre of ‘special’ Herbs that grew between his corn rows. Planting them in the ten-foot corn stalks made it hard for the planes flying over the valley to spot; those busybodies were always watching for these particular ‘special’ plants. That was also probably the reason Norm’s wallet was always filled with hundred-dollar bills. Lots of people around Lake County like that particular herb, I guess, and it must be a good money crop… unless you get caught. Norm came to the open window of my truck. I held up the funny money in front of his face. He gave me a benign and toothless smile of wonder and surprise. He said, “I gave you the souvenir I got from the feed store in Kelseyville. My gawd, I’m sorry you had to come all the way over here. I didn’t know I gave you the wrong one.” He smiled again. “Sure looks real, don’t it?” In the next instant he had opened his fat wallet overloaded to bursting with real hundred-dollar bills and gave me one. “Can I have my souvenir back?” he asked. I was tickled to finally have my money. He was happy to get his souvenir counterfeit bill and I was relieved to have a real one at last. I never worked so hard for a hundred dollars in my life.

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