THE THUMPER LETTERS- The 51st Wisdom of Godfrey

Four years of writing Godfrey’s story, I was beginning to consider myself, if not glib, at least rarely at a loss for words. This is one story, that has taken me ages to articulate, how utterly stupid it feels, to want to crawl under an old turquoise chair, and hope never to be found…

Without Godfrey, I had no one to face the many spiders that lurked in the mailbox, located in the lobby of our apartment building, “Tara”, under the bug chandelier. I had our post delivered to the luggage shop, but now and again, it would be stuffed under our door by the ever so nosy landlady, MrsFeerce, thus the first letter came, addressed- W Thumper Odd…

The first one came, in lady like handwriting, stamp placed neatly, not stuck on askew. Sent from an address back east, I reckoned from my brother Cudberth, a joker about-er, or someone equally imaginative, but who?. Perhaps a convoluted  prank from Godfrey’s sister Alice, when I opened the letter, and read of the sender’s spleen, the vile of cold weather, gruesome surgical procedures, described in details, it just did not ring of Alice, hopefully far away in Wales.

I thought of Alice’s friend, Nudge Giggleswick, using terms like “Green Pain”, and write soon, for I am sick, love Mother Mcrea. I binned the prank letter, and carried on with my day.

Soon another Thumper Letter came, within in it two holy cards, more woes and ill humor, rumors of a tumor, and a photo of an elderly lady smiling in a door. Addressed to W Thumper Odd, I did not think it was a good prank anymore.

So I wrote in reply, Dear Mother Mcrea, whomever you may be, writing me of rashes, dry funeral sandwiches, your every malady, how proud you were last Sunday to see me smiling on T.V. I do not have a clue who you are, and why you call me Thumper when you write, but this is indeed very funny, so Alice, Cudberth, Nudge, whomever you are, well played, and good night.

My dear, have you been bonked on the head?  Mother Mcrea in her next letter said. Dutifully she wrote her Thumper, boils, in grown toe, I would reply in my letter, describe the nasty parts that pained me so. She never questioned my descriptions of crepuscular afflictions when I wrote a completely awful letter, only sent her love, and hope I would “soon feel better” , my son.

Came the day…my husband Garnet reported, “I just met the very large chap from 301, moved in recently, name of Mr Waldick Odd”. “Football Player, size of a Clydesdale, seemed quite jovial-said just call me Thumper.” Garnet stood laughing on our landing, imagine that, another person name of Odd in our old building”

Mortified, lower than the effluvium  neath pond spawn. I said nothing, lower than beet root grows, I did nothing. I learned to listen for Thumper’s heavy boot trod in the halls, for he took the stairs, skipping every other. And neatly, and quietly, under his door, went the Thumper letters, whenever one came from his dear, bewildered  mother.

It was Godfrey, all his brief life sought the wisdom, by his own definition. I oft summoned his memory, when in times of joy, or rare days at their worst, and with “The Thumper Letters”, I have added this wisdom, his 51st.

The 51st Wisdom Of Godfrey states- “When you have made an utter twit of things, apologize once if you were silly, rude, or not nice. Apologize once, dance the hurt away twice, offer the hot, roasted Haggis thrice, offer the Haggis thrice”

 

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SLIBBER SAUCE- AND OTHER STORIES

Worzel here, of late banished to blanket and turquoise chair, felled by a mardy nettercap of a cold, now that I can again see, I have carried on sorting Godfrey’s sister Alice’s fertilizer sack of memoirs, here are a few gems…

AUNTS IN THE GRASS- All photos are old, Alice swore, by the time you get done a roll, and develop film where allowed in a store. In Godfrey’s story, he possibly mentioned we had many aunts, here is a photo from Empire Day, 1956, he was four, and our many aunts out on the grass.

There were “Tugs of War’, and bands and parade, medals on chests of silver and brass, on the sunny domain they posed in the grass.  “We had the buxom aunt, two bickering ones, we had the perpetually pregnant aunt, the deluded one with the angelic son, we had aunts Lefty and Blue, (not really aunties, who knew?).

I was ten, I chased my brother Godfrey with beets in a pan, seeking solace mid our aunts in the grass he ran. Passing aunt Mavis, a prankster like me, and Gertrude who oft put him over her vast knee, caught was Godfrey, squeezed by great aunt Dot, the one who got married a lot…

I chased my brother Godfrey with beets on Empire Day,  chased him with auntie Cynthia, same age as me, past our aunts in the grass, and into the outhouse, we chased Godfrey.

PLATYPUS-   As this life I have near lived out has been ridiculous, grant please that in the next, I may return as a Platypus. To paddle neath the moon in a warm southern pool, and if anyone dares grab my tail, surprise them with offensive, fishy Platypus stool.

SLIBBER SAUCE-From Godfrey -“I  could smell the loneliness of cats, in the reek of hot, dry grass, passing Pettigrew’s  place where little else grows. Knowing Ma was not home and tea would be- Prepared By Alice, beets and Slibber Sauce. Never Haggis or potatoes, or even over rabbit, Slibber Sauce, how did your older sibling prepare it?

Using oil from sardines as a base, fat from the lid of dog food tin if she dared it. Memories clatter inside me, now I am much older, those long walks home, on days that could not be wetter or colder, Alice in apron down to her knees, blending Slibber Sauce, with old morning oatmeal, and blue bits scraped from the cheese.

“She made me peel beets that were scalding hot, I’d try to sneak off, but always got caught.  “Slibber Sauce , said Alice, will make you healthy and tall, with curly hair like I  have, so eat, Slibber Sauce poured over the beet”.

“I am strong, healthy, and though no hair ever curled, avoiding beets I am a roamer of the world”.”I dislike beets, vociferously, with Slibber Sauce especially.

RAISED BY VOWELS- From Godfrey-“ Raised by vowels”…he oft chuckled, now I understand what he was trying to say…as I lay here wheezing, pen in hand this winter Sunday…  

       Godfrey told me once, ” I call out to anyone who was raised by vowels,”who learned their letters as Alice and I did when very young. From a calendar in our cottage hung- beyond smoke stained walls, and damp valley gray, the pictures on it places we would see “one day”, promised our old Ma.

“I spoke Welsh as a child, I was raised by vowels, oh, there were consonants to, verbitage all about me in song and poetry”. “The flap of wash hung to dry in the breeze, drumming of guttersnipes feet chasing me”. “Sitting on Grandma’s ample knee, tracing the letters on her tobacco tin, where my penny for sweets was hidden”.

“I stood before my class to read aloud, a poem I’d written. “Raised By Vowels”. Read, “I shall tell a story from Sunday School, my sister Alice brought home, of being raised by vowels in ancient Rome”. “Everyone laughed, teacher threw chalk at my eight year old head”. “A note was sent to my Ma- Mrs Dyzfbr, your son is odd, it read. “I would like to discus this matter with you”. Ma boxed my ears, sent a note in return,” Indeed he is odd, and raised by vowels, no point in discussing it with you”.

Godfrey spoke for all who were raised by vowels…now I understand, life spent pen in hand. He was an odd young man, his poems were pleas….for understanding..for whirled peas…

TWO FOR THE ROAD- TO APPLEBY FAIR- From Worzel

   When I was eight, I recalled to Beatrice, my younger brother Cudberth and I ran away from home, a spat with our stepmother, that resulted in “Mrs Gibberflat ” scorching the green beans. We were reported hitchhiking west of town, our few belongings in a lunchbox. Along came the entire family, to our dismay…but she was not angry, Mrs Gibberflat took us all for ice-cream…. Did you and Godfrey ever attempt running away? 

Well, thought back Beatrice, the summer we two were eight, was full on ponies, and fun times exploring. Yes, we did run away, it was my bright idea to run off and be gypsies, my gentle mum’s greatest fear. “Lets run off, I suggested to Godfrey, “run off together to Appleby Fair.” “Our ponies will carry us safe over the hills, where gypsies gather each summer in Appleby, oh Beatrice, cried Godfrey, “I cannot wait, though Ma may notice I’m gone, and we are only just eight.”

“I packed a billy-pot, blankets, and bread to toast over the fire at tea. “Godfrey brought Haggis, stuffed in a sack, an onion, and left a note for his Ma” “Godfrey has gone with the gypsies, and will not be back.” “He left it where Ma sat to knit, so she’d find it”.

“Godfrey’s grey pony was eager to ride, my wily old mare refused to be caught”. “We bribed her with carrots, and chased her down the high hedge row, with the help of Old Man Pettigrew, we chased her up  the low meadow, and when finally we caught the bay mare, thanked the deaf farmer for his directions, “Go far up the great north road” “Old Man Pettigrew knew, knew the way to Appleby Fair”.

” It rained, the rain ceased, the sun warmed shaggy coats and wet manes.” Our clothes also damp, by eve found a soft spot to camp, “we were not afraid, round the fire we made, toast and Haggis were fried” “We will build a gypsy “Bender”, dance nightly round our fire to high, soaring ember, and never have to do our own wash”  “This in his sleep, dream muttered Godfrey”.

“I woke to warm pony breath in my hair, slightly less bold, as I weed in a field, in dawn cold”… “my bay mare was nowhere in sight, she had lit out for home in the night”. “We walked and rode, rode then walked, as Godfrey’s pony was not balky or mean”. “At hungry mid day, we found ourselves, on the High street of Skibbereen.”

“At Bagg, Greede, and Grab Grocers, the chap with a very large wen on his chin was quite surly” “I had twenty three pence in my grubby hand, he had no patience for children, and an accent we could not understand”. “He sold me a tin of Spam, and one dry bread roll, though I asked him for two”. “I cheeked him as we were shoved out the door, I believe he said, “I get the dog after you”.

On the steps of “The Swing In Inn” we sat, pony tied in the shade to a tree, we’d snitched apples and candy from a market stall, where the fruit seller chased after Godfrey”. “But mostly the town folk smiled and waved, we ate apples and Spam as they came and went from the bar”. “We laughed at the thought, of never doing our own wash, when down High street came the roar of “Garply”…”Godfrey’s mother’s Morris Minor, decrepit old car”.

Do you remember perhaps one day of childhood, an adventure golden, above any other? . “Sweet scent of first cut hay reminds me, of early summer on the road to Appleby Fair, and the fact that we never got there”. “Garply passed us raising dust, my mum sat on the crate seat beside”. “By instinct I climbed the nearest tree, Godfrey fled for to hide”. “Mum stood laughing beneath my tree, threatening to fetch a saw if I did not come down”. “Godfrey was dragged out from under the pub, we were the talk that day, of Skibbereen Town”.

“And thanks to Old Man Pettigrew, and return of the home loving mare, our parents knew where we could be found, on the road to Appleby Fair. “Also “The Mossman”, Father Flagonmore, reportedly saw us on the Batley River Shore, “removing stones, rather than throwing them in”-“Odd behavior indeed, he noted for two such urchin children”.

“My Ma said not a word to me, nary a slap I received”, years later, recalled Godfrey. “All Ma did was serve beets, in” Slibber Sauce” for the rest of summer, beets breakfast, lunch and tea”.

My mum walked the weary pony back, as we two were stuffed in that awful old car”. “Now, as I look back it only seemed a long way, everything when you are eight is so big and far”.

“Said Godfrey, many times since I have slept in snug “Bender”, danced round the fire to high, soaring ember, noted sidewalks are the same, be you hobo or posh, but I never did make it to Appleby Fair….and have always, always had to do my own wash”…

THE HAGGIS IS GONE- And Beatrice’s Song- From Worzel

They teased him about his dread of beets, they teased him about his lack of teeth, they teased him about his ragged clothes, they teased him about the dented car his grouchy mother drove…Beatrice spoken softly of the childhood she and Godfrey shared as we explored the Welsh countryside in her equally decrepit vehicle. I was a prairie girl, knew the cold, but never the cold of the piercing, damp wind off the mountains, that cleared the fog and coal smoke, the blowing snow just long enough to reveal the magic of a castle, then veil it again, this modest and mystic treasure of a land. It was not until my third visit to Sonsie Farm, and the old puce house, that Beatrice shared more of herself. Propped against the canoe in her sitting room, and two dead plants was Godfrey’s old “Chupa Street Guitar”, dusted, with shiny new strings. Beatrice explained, “Sugar Mulgrew has taught me three chords, “I have always sung while shoveling manure, and have written a bit down, would you care to hear it? “indeed , yes, I told her, indeed.

  THE HAGGIS IS GONE- The haggis is gone, for there is no more, only beets and sardines, in the country store. And the store is far, far miles away, no haggis left, now many a day. The haggis is gone. Oh the track it climbs, round roots and stone, over ridges it winds, my boots are worn, the nights are cold, and though I dislike towns, it’s where haggis is sold.    Now down to the meadow, in the shady lea, where the cows have been, comes sweet memory..on the summer green, rest your bonnie head, as I spread cold haggis, over fresh rye-bread.       But the haggis is gone!, still I recall your face, the poems, the stories, and your old suitcase, and our childhood shared, love was all we knew, we could not be broken, me and you. But the haggis is gone, and the trail ends to, and I’m at a crossroads, it is winter dawn, with this dented guitar, for the haggis is gone, for the haggis is gone….

( The cows like this one, Beatrice smiled)  BEATRICE’S SONG- When was it you last saw Godfrey, was he up the high country when summertime came?  Asleep in the sun or did you pass on a switch-back?, or a cold morning campsite heading out bound again…Was it in autumn you last walked beside him?, down to the orchard the crisp, fallen leaves. Sit on his strong shoulders to reach those last apples, frost melts on the branches, runs cold up your sleeves.             Was it deep winter you last laughed together? Late nights over coffee by wood fires glow, let the snowdrifts fill in our tracks to the highway, talk of places he’d been and new places to go. Mt Thimbleweed, Smell Fox, Yampa Valley, Dragon’s Bay, all the way to the wild Otago.  What of the mornings I still hear his singing? And as hot afternoons fade dusty to eve, trout rise lazy in the cool of the stream bed, their ripples his laughter, I have to believe.    When was it you last saw Godfrey? was he up the high country when summertime came?  Turnberry Canyon, Holyoak Clearing, the rough scramble down to the wild Tasman Sea.    (I to, enjoyed it Beatrice, I to).    From Worzel.

BENTLEY SHLUNDER TELLS HIS STORY- In a letter to Worzel

The summer of poetic infamy, it came to be known over the years, as his legend was formed. Godfrey never set out to “Create A Nuisance”, it was the summer before I met him, he had landed in Canada after a long sea voyage, and wanted to sit in the shade and talk..so he did. Mr Bentley Shlunder surprised me with his account of the events.

We knew each other briefly, and so long ago, but I never forgot him. I will not glorify the memory, or say in some large way it changed my life, was an inspiring or profound experience. I am thankful for the wisdom though, I carried home end of that long ,hot summer to Paducah, from Godfrey I learned to see life lived from both sides of the fence.

I recall that he disliked beets, set up a table neath a tree in a park, with a sign inviting anyone to sit and talk for free. My Auntie Harriet Bridges-Shlunder was owner of the tree that so much talking took place under.

Down beyond the yard across the fence, she complained that “The poetry I hear all day is utter nonsense” They have a table in the shade, and oh the music they have made!! There’s a kettle boiling on the fire, there is laughter, there is Scrabble being played.

I was only twelve that year, to Worzel wrote Bentley the nephew, I had just discovered music and was forming my own world view. I’d be packed home to Paducah in a heartbeat if Auntie only knew, that there was poetry inside me and I disliked beets to.

It was never a large group, never rowdy or loud. All ages I recall, Aunt Harriet considered them an “Unsavory Crowd”..A grizzeled Wino sat beneath the tree, and a girl not much older than me sprawled on the grass creating art. A hippie couple dispensed free hugs, a public display of affection muttered Auntie, there was a shabby old woman, her belongings in a cart..there was the odd young man, Godfrey.

He sat playing Scrabble, chin in hand, sun bleached hair long, tied back with a plaid band. He plays intently with “The Free Advice Wino”, Larry, focused on the word he has just spelled- BEEFLY- “use it in a sentence I hear Larry laugh. “Beefly, the cow paused in thought on the zig of her cow path”. Proudly read Godfrey.

Nobody missed me when I climbed over the fence, and crossed the cool, wet grass on bare feet to talk with the vagabond Godfrey…Aunt Harriet left a strip of pure white down one side of her acutely dyed red hair, she could, if she wished to, appear quite tall, not truly mean, she did have a pinched tight, when annoyed, Persian Cat glare.

Godfrey called over the fence to her, the tree is rooted your side of a fence, but on the shady side we have music and dance. “Will you join us for talk and tea? I am cooking Haggis tonight, my old Ma”s recipe. I stayed late at the table, they shared dinner with me, was at dawn the cops came, they took Godfrey away, ending the summer of poetry and song.

Beyond the smoke that rose and swirled, the last song that I heard was one of hope and courage for a tattered world. Yes I was very young, and was packed home to Paducah, I remember the big old house though, two blocks from the sea, recall the sweetness of the homemade popcicles Aunty made for me. And I remember to an odd young man, he disliked beets, sitting at his table neath the shade tree.

THE WORLDS GREATEST PLUMBER- And Other Stories By Godfrey

Godfrey oft enjoyed recalling the time, “I hitch-hiked with an anvil up quite a steep incline” “Those sweet days with Jasper, my gypsy friend, out on the high Pigroot road. We lightened the wagon there to ease Paddy’s load up the climb. “I with the anvil hitch-hiked behind, with her cat in a crate, a bale of straw and my suitcase off to the side. “Had any cars passed, I may have quick caught a ride, but none did all day”. Until I met Carlotta the climber, heading the other way.

“She did not question the anvil or the cat, or the bale of straw upon which I sat..in the back of her Bongo Van strewn with blankets soft, “I was a happy vagabond when Carlotta dropped me off”.

Ernest Lee Sincere believed in The Lord , he talked of Him for hours, and though very rarely bored, it was the longest hitching ride I have ever survived..”I was ready to repent my loathing for beets when Ernest finally pulled off to the side” “With a handshake and smile, he handed me a $10.00, and said “Thank you for listening to a boring old man”.

..On a rainy evening, south of Omarou, stopped for me a Morris Minor- a 1952. The nice lady driving, Willadee, turned to me and asked, “Godfrey, are you afraid to die? She explained that her brakes often failed and she did not know why”

“It was quite a ride, with a one lane bridge, fuel tankers, a loose horse and several tunnels”. Indeed no one died, we got safely to her house which had an odd car shaped dent in the side.

When I traveled with my pink bike, I meandered off track, seeking a lighthouse miles from anywhere. I met The Worlds Greatest Plumber at such a spot remote, there was no one else there.

“Worlds Greatest Plumber” I read in faded paint on his truck door. Ward Rambutan introduced himself as plumber no more, I am retired and wander free like you. “No more leaky pipes, no nasty blocked up loo. “He asked me do you like pears or tinned Spam meat? “Will you join me for Penguin Eggs boiled on the beach?

“No thank you said I,( Penguin eggs and beets make me reechh”) “so I shared the Haggis I had brought from town, and The worlds Greatest Plumber and I sat on a log and watched the sun go down”.

“I found a higher wisdom in people I meet, out on the open road, avoiding all things beet. Plenty to do while waiting for a ride, like snoozing in the shade, or drawing with a stick in the dirt by the roadside.”Find a warm place to sneck in for winter. Dream of the warm nights of summer,

“I remember with affection Carlotta the climber, and my deep conversation with the Worlds Greatest Plumber.  From Godfrey.