During the thirty years I lived in South Florida, I met my share of “characters.” In retrospect, though, none of them could beat the dyed-in-the-wool, stubborn, independent and odd Yankees I have known in Connecticut.
I was one of those kids who walked a rural mile to school each day so I became well acquainted with the neighbors along the way. The farmer just up the road had a Polish surname beginning with Gud but was widely known as Johnny ByGod because of his colorful language after a bit of drink. Evidently his driver’s license had long since been surrendered because he drove his ancient tractor to the local package store for his Saturday night supplies. Sometimes he brought his hired hand along for the ride, perched on a fender. This elderly gentleman, known only as Adam, lived in a tiny building on the property. My father said it had previously been a smokehouse. The idea of someone living in a “dollhouse” where sausage was once made fascinated me and my siblings.
In the summer, we sneaked onto Johnny’s property to filch grapes, cherries, or wild blueberries. If he caught sight of us, he came storming out of the worn-out farmhouse, cussing at the top of his lungs and brandishing a hoe or some other farm weapon. That just added to the adrenalin rush of the adventure, as we sprinted barefoot across the back fields. For some reason, he never turned us in to our parents. We assumed he just forgot all about us when he awoke from his hangover. Later, I thought because he was widowed and childless, he took grudging pity on us . . . kids just being kids.
Johnny ByGod once drove up to his north field after he and Adam had imbibed more than a bit of Saturday night cheer. Adam, seated precariously on the metal platform of a vicious-looking piece of farm equipment trailing behind the tractor, slipped beneath the machinery and was left bloodied by the side of the road. My mother, a stringer for the city newspaper, wrote about the “unfortunate farming accident” and no criminal charges were filed. Johnny never threatened us with a hoe again, though.
When my husband and I moved to Litchfield, our realtor recommended a local attorney to handle our closing. She said he had a long history with the town and was an old-fashioned country lawyer. Luckily, he wasn’t charging by the hour, because he liked to spin some good yarns. He told us a story about Ben Franklin’s son being locked up in the old Litchfield jail for being a Tory, then followed that up with the lengthy narrative of how he sued his own brother who ended up in that same jail. He also sued his church, but claimed “No hard feelings. I’m still good with God and they still let me go to church.” He nearly sued the USPS when they refused to deliver mail to his home because he’d hogtied the box to the mail pole with sharp wire and the carrier was leery of being cut.
Although definitely up in years, he was sharp in mind and tongue. When his secretary facetiously complained about getting the three of us our third round of coffees, he told her “You should be grateful just to work for me!” When we needed an intermediary for a tenant dispute, our feisty attorney lambasted her with photos I had taken of the damaged wall in one of our bedrooms as though accusing her of major crimes. She was soon apologizing and writing us a check. He declined to bill for that service, saying he did it “for the fun.” He was a curmudgeon and a bit of a terror, no doubt, but the church, the same one he had sued, was filled to capacity at his funeral . . . and everyone had their own story to tell.