My friend Cletus has a gift for plausible explanations. I guess that could come in handy at times, but I can’t say for sure. A few weeks after Christmas he stopped by to show me his lump of coal. Then he told me a story from childhood which may be true but seems a tad unlikely.
Cletus was born in 1952, as was I, so we have some memories in common. We both fondly remember the thrill that came when the mailman delivered a new Sears & Roebuck catalog. From little boys wanting Roy Rogers outfits to grandmothers shopping for pressure cookers, the possibilities were as limitless as their dreams.
For Christmas of 1959 seven-year-old Cletus surprised his mother with a gift from Sears & Roebuck. The 50-foot rubber water hose was jet black with light gray stripes and guaranteed never to kink. The high-end water hose was impressive enough that Cletus had little doubt it was the finest one in their community. He was, however, concerned his thinking was a sign of having too much pride and considered asking the preacher’s opinion. But Cletus remembered a sermon about being accountable for what we know, so he decided it might be safer to live with uncertainty.
The other water hoses his family had were cheap, old, and too stiff to loop into a tight circle. They were all the standard green color but generously accented with black electrical tape wrapped around pinholes. When a leak was too big to tape, his daddy would shorten the hose. He’d cut off a section right above each major trickle until what was left was not long enough to reach from the barn faucet to the cows’ water trough.
At that point his father would save the little hose remnant on the back wall of the shelter by wedging it between the corrugated tin sides and the tall creosote poles. Cletus’ daddy often said, “As sure as you throw something away that’s when you’ll need it.” He didn’t know when or why they might have a use for those miniature hoses but figured It didn’t cost anything to keep a good supply on hand.
Cletus’ mother was tickled about her fine new water hose with the lifetime guarantee. She mentioned to Cletus it would last longer if it was protected from the weather, knowing he might think it odd she was putting it on the front porch. Cletus wondered if she placed it there so the neighbors would see it but thought it best to explore that matter discreetly.
“Do you think we’ll ever get a faucet in the front yard?” he casually asked. His mother didn’t answer but began beating the creamed potatoes more aggressively than usual. The clanging of the masher hitting the sides of a metal pot prompted him to leave the matter alone. The next day she moved the water hose to their backyard faucet.
About a month before Christmas of the following year, Cletus was stretched out on the den floor in front of the TV watching Superman. He was flipping through a Sears & Roebuck catalog and paused where he had no business in the women’s lingerie section. He sensed a presence in the room which he thought might be the Holy Spirit. Then he wished it were.
“Mama,” he said without looking up, “I had planned to order you something nice for Christmas, but it might be best for you pick it out.” He closed the catalog, stood up, and handed it to her. “You can have that ten-dollar bill y’all gave me for my birthday,” he said, knowing she wouldn’t spend over five.
“So how did things turn out?” I asked, after he paused as if the story was over.
“On Christmas morning Mama unwrapped what she’d ordered and acted totally surprised. She said, ‘Oh my goodness, Cletus, you shouldn’t have spent so much!’”
“All ten dollars?” I asked.
“Every penny,” he responded with a hint of lingering remorse.
“I’ll bet she ordered lingerie,” I said with a grin.
“Nope,” said Cletus. “She got another top-of-the-line water hose plus a decorative metal hanger. It looked so good on the front porch that when Valentine’s Day came around Daddy gave her a faucet.”
Cletus’ story seems a bit improbable, but I’ll admit he has a gift for plausible explanations. I guess that could come in handy at times, but I can’t say for sure.