Trippin’: Roads, Rails, and Mountain Trails
Episode 44, July–August 1972
Early in July, I was hired at Nick’s Fruit Stand, situated on the steep hill between Quincy and East Quincy. Nick was a Texas-born, heavyset good-old-boy who knew his produce and liked to keep country-western music blaring from the stand’s radio. I was hosing off the front pavement when I first heard Meryl Haggard’s song Okie from Muskogee.
Meryl sang about how he and his kind didn't smoke marijuana or burn their draft cards like us hippies. For him, a true American got their kicks from booze and the flag. Now, you’d think a self-respecting long-hair like myself would take offense but I actually loved the tune. I grooved on the sound and the clever lyrics, even if the singer was a bit misguided. Country music had always warmed my heart. And the words of this song tickled my funny bone!
Nick’s neck was redder than a bishop’s cap, but he had a heart of gold. Doug Waters, my neighbor Willy, and I helped Nick build an addition on the fruit stand to house his stuffed polar bear. We called it the shrine to the beast and spent several weeks on the project, when not busy stacking produce and helping customers. Often, Nick would work alongside us, and whenever he'd jerry-rig something, he’d tip his cowboy hat and say, “That’s the way we used to do it down in Texas.”
When Nick arrived from the valley with a truckload of watermelons, it was a highlight. He’d taught us how to throw the melons without rolling them. Nick would toss a melon from the truck to Doug, who'd toss it four feet to Nick’s son Henry, who'd toss it another four feet to me. I'd move fast, stacking it on the stand in order to be ready to catch the next melon coming down the line. We'd get a rhythm going with few casualties. But we could never avoid dropping a couple of them. When we were finished, Nick would dissect the cracked melons with his “Arkansas toothpick,” a seven-inch Bowie knife he carried on his hip.
Nothing beats fresh watermelon on a hot summer afternoon.
When I wasn't working the fruit stand, I had plenty of chores at home. My cat, Vernap, had given birth to kittens the previous fall, the first of which she deposited on my pillow. Trust me, you don’t want to wake up to something like that! My trailer was packed until Mama Vernap disappeared into the woods with her young.
Even without Vernap and her brood, Jodi’s animal family was going through a population explosion with summer kittens, a third dog, and a milk goat named Betsy that she inherited from a nursery school. Jodi’s animal collection kept me busy with new challenges. I needed to build a stall for the goat in our small shed and a spacious pen beside it.
But the fun had just begun!
Betsy had been a school pet for five years and she’d never been milked. So milking her proved to be a rodeo every time. I'd tie her to the gate of her stall, but she’d buck and rear and kick and holler and never fail to get a hoof in the bucket—if she didn’t knock it over. Sometimes she'd catch me with one of her vicious flying hooves.
Milking became a twice-daily battle between man and beast. I tried tying her neck and one of her back legs up to the gate so she couldn’t move around much. But she would wrestle, squirm, and lash out with her free leg, and she always found a way to keep harvested milk to a minimum. And I didn't even like goat's milk! The only ones benefiting from this crazy endeavor were the eleven cats feasting on the spilled spoils.
Yes, I said eleven!
I hated the milking ordeal, and the process bordered on animal abuse. For both reasons, I resigned as chief milkmaid. Jodi tried her hand at it for a short time, but soon agreed it wasn’t worth the pain for man or beast. So we let Betsy dry up.
Her orneriness earned her a life of leisure.
To be continued...
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Trippin': Roads, Rails & Mountain Trails
In book 2 of his Hippie Adventurer Series, Rich takes us on another wild ride during the 1960s as he and his faithful canine companion, Charlie, hitchhike, hop freights, work in an Alaskan gold mining camp, and manage a Sacramento Valley cattle ranch.
A Message from Rich
Trippin’ is my gift to all of you. For me, the ’60s were a heartfelt time of growth, exploration, freedom, and brotherhood. I hope to impart a truthful account of what it was like to live as a hippie in that wacky, magical era. Enjoy the journey!
To receive episodes delivered directly to your email box, sign up HERE.
If you haven’t read the first book in the Hippie Adventurer Series, the award-winning Groovin’: Horses, Hopes, and Slippery Slopes, you can find it on Amazon and Audible.
1A. Escape from Heavy Caverns