Boomer Winfrey 

Varmint County Correspondent

For the past few issues, we’ve reviewed the colorful history of Varmint County, from the county’s founding father (literally), Revolutionary War hero and bigamist Lewis Lowe, to the arrival and subsequent feuding of the moonshining Haig and Hockmeyer clans, to the good ole boy political elite that ran the county for three decades from the privacy of Doc Filstrup’s weekly poker games.

I say “ran” in the past tense because the times, they are a’changing, as the old song goes. Caleb Hockmeyer pretty well summed up the feelings of many of Varmint County’s men folk while waiting for his semi-annual beard trim down at Wimp Pennywell’s barber shop.

“My pappy used to say that when they gave women the right to vote, they voted in Prohibition, closed all the bars and the country went to hell,” Caleb lamented. “I guess we’ll all be eating brimstone around here before long.”

This comment was made over three years ago, when a slate of female candidates decided to challenge the male dominance of local politics, but the groundwork for this revolution was laid several years earlier, way back in 2008 when a gregarious grocery store clerk named Petunia “Toony” Pyles decided to run for the state legislature.

Toony ran a cash register at the local Shop-A-Lot and as a result knew everybody in the county. She also knew whose daughter was having a baby, whose son had scored a touchdown in the Friday night game, and even whose husband was cheating and with whom. She was free with congratulations, condolences and friendly advice, and everybody loved her outgoing nature.

What inspired Toony to run for office remains a bit of a mystery, but she did, and won decisively when the three male candidates split the vote. She quickly became a folk hero of sorts down at the capitol. Her first week in town she whipped two muggers, beating them senseless with a bagful of groceries.

Having run as an independent, Toony was initially left off of most influential legislative committees, but at the first meeting of the one committee to which Toony was assigned, she brought in a pan of her famous blueberry muffins. In short order the Speaker of the House was bombarded by requests from other committee chairmen, asking that Toony be given seats on their committees as well.

Instead of costing taxpayers for a hotel room every week, Toony stayed with her cousin Prudence, who had a job in town with the Southern Baptist Convention. Another of Toony’s cousins was Camilla Clotfelter, who you might recall is suspected of inheriting her granny Cordellia Clotfelter’s powers of witchcraft.

Camilla has objected to this reputation, arguing that neither she nor her granny were witches. Her plea of innocence took a beating during Toony’s first year in the legislature, however, when Representative Hiram “Highwall” Higginbotham rose to speak against a bill sponsored by Toony to regulate mountaintop strip mining.

While Hiram was speaking, his hair suddenly began to fall out, tumbling in clumps to the polished marble floor. “Representative Higginbotham, it appears your mountaintop has been removed,” the chairman observed as the now bald legislator bolted from the room.

Toony has experienced no problems winning re-election every two years, as few serious challengers appear eager to test the theory of whether she has a witch in her corner.

Then, a few years later, Toony’s success led to a fateful meeting of Varmint County’s prominent females on the night of Doc’s poker party. My boss, War Whoop & Exterminator publisher Virginia Hamm, organized the get-together. Former Sheriff Smoky’s wife Belinda Bandit, the only woman on the county commission, along with Toony, her cousin Camilla, Lady Viper basketball coach Gabby Aslinger, Clyde Junior’s wife Matilda Filstrup and three of Philbert McSwine’s former wives were among the attendees.

The good ole boys at Doc’s had gotten wind of the gathering and dispatched yours truly to go spy on the ladies. Expecting to be turned away, Virginia instead invited me to join them. “Tonight you’re one of the girls,” she quipped. “You can go back and report to Doc, Clyde, Hugh Ray and the rest if you want. We have nothing to hide.”

They had decided to call themselves the “Jones Girls” after old-time union organizer Mother Jones. The governor of West Virginia once invited Mother Jones and a group of miners’ wives to come into a closed meeting of politicians and mine operators, announcing, “Come in ladies, we have nothing to hide.”

“Ladies, hell,” Mother Jones replied. “God made us women. The Rockefeller gang of thieves made the ladies!” 

That should have been a warning shot of things to come. The Jones Girls decided that the males had dominated and mismanaged the political machinery of Varmint County long enough and it was time for a change.

 County Mayor (formerly called County Judge) Clyde Filstrup Junior was up for re-election in the summer, along with all members of the county commission. It was agreed that the females would find a suitable challenger to Clyde. Matilda declined the invitation to run against her own husband, but promised to work for any woman that wanted to challenge him.

“I can’t believe you would campaign against your own husband, Matilda,” Toony Pyles proclaimed.

“I’ve got my reasons, girls. Clyde promised to take me to Paris for our silver wedding anniversary, but when the time came he had been elected Mayor and said he couldn’t take off a whole month from his office,” Matilda explained. “He said he’d take me when he retired from politics and bought me a coat instead. The only way Clyde is going to retire from politics is if the voters retire him, and I want to see Paris while I’m still young enough to enjoy it.”

The Jones Girls decided to approach Penny Haig, the 6’6” former basketball star, about running against Clyde. Despite her youth, Penny, just finishing her senior year in college, was without doubt the most popular woman in Varmint County. She would have no part of politics, however, determined to pursue her dream of becoming a basketball coach upon graduation.

Instead, Lady Viper Coach Gabby Aslinger, whose daddy Archie is one of Doc Filstrup’s poker night regulars, was convinced to retire from coaching and run for Mayor. Penny, it was decided, would come home to take over coaching her old high school team.

In addition to Gabby, three more Jones Girls would try to join Belinda Bandit on the county commission. Toony’s cousin and suspected witch Camilla Clotfelter, Julie Ann McSwine, one of Lawyer McSwine’s four ex-wives and Mary Ann Botts all announced as candidates.

Mary Ann ran to fill the unexpired term of her husband Melvin “Doctor No” Botts, who resigned when his hearing began to fail. Doctor No gained notoriety for serving 16 years on the county court without once voting “yes” to spend a dime. 

“If I win you can just call me Missus Yes,” Mary Ann told everyone. “I believe we need to patch up potholed roads and have decent schools for our kids, and those don’t come without spending a little money.”

To make a long story short, with Archie working his cronies in the pool halls and bars, Penny Haig turning out all of Haig Hollow, and Matilda Filstrup campaigning against her own husband, Clyde Junior never had a chance. Likewise, Gabby’s friends all won their races for the county commission.

The only female with serious competition was Camilla Clotfelter, who was in a three-way race for the two commission seats representing Lower Primroy. Her opponents were incumbent Hiram “Little Hair” Pennywell and the popular retired school superintendent Will Ulysses Reade.

But the week before the election, Will accidentally bounced a check to WVMT Radio and the station pulled all his political ads. Three days before the election, Will hosted a barbecue cook-out at Mud Lake Marina, but the pork ribs turned out to be bad, sending over a 100 potential voters down to Doc’s clinic with food poisoning.

The next day, Will reached out to hug a baby, tripped and sprained his ankle. “That’s it! I’m withdrawing from the race. I should have known better than to run against a witch,” poor Will announced.

When December rolled around, folks got a kick out of one float in the Christmas Parade that year. Gabby and the four female commissioners rode together in a sleigh, dressed in Missus Claus suits. Archie Aslinger was dressed as Santa, but instead of riding in the sleigh, Santa wore an apron and labored over a fake cook stove. 

The message was clear: a new day had come to Varmint County. But winning an election was one thing, changing Varmint County’s political culture would be something else. Gabby’s first priority was to put a nepotism policy in place that would bring an end to elected officials hiring their family members.

Of course everyone in Varmint County is related to everyone else, so “family member” had to be tightly defined. However, three attempts to pass an ordinance failed, with the good ole boys on the commission voting as a block against any changes to the present policy, which was no policy at all. 

Two years later, the Jones Girls tried again, this time in a race that would have shaken Varmint County politics to the core. For nearly a hundred years the office of High Sheriff in Varmint County was the exclusive domain of the Bandit clan, until Sheriff Smoky threw a monkey wrench in the works by siring only girls. 

One of those daughters, the attractive but tomboyish Stephanie, tried running for her daddy’s office when he retired but lost to Smoky’s Chief Deputy Hiram Potts. (The Sheriff, it turned out, had secretly campaigned against his little girl, considering the job too dangerous). 

Hiram ended up hiring Stephanie as his Chief Deputy and within a year they had fallen in love and were married. All was well for a number of years but then Stephanie discovered that the night shift wasn’t all that her husband was supervising.

Stephanie caught Hiram carrying on a little affair with former cheerleader Isabelle Pinetar, meeting up with her occasionally at a houseboat at Mud Lake Marina. The irate wife tossed Isabelle in the lake and warned her husband that he was allowed this one transgression.

“I’ll forgive you but I won’t forget, and I will teach you a lesson about keeping your vows,” Stephanie told her cowed husband. That lesson, of course, was that Stephanie ran against Hiram for Sheriff in the next election. 

Hiram tried to dampen his wife’s enthusiasm by telling her that she would have to resign as Chief Deputy if she planned to run for Sheriff. Stephanie simply pointed out that Hiram could pay all the household bills out of his salary for the next three months and she would go back to being a “good little housewife.”

This time the female revolution fell a little short, as most Varmint County males consider the office of High Sheriff to be strictly a man’s profession while many of the female voters in the county were simply not in the habit of voting when the Sheriff’s office is on the ballot. 

Encouraged by Sheriff Hiram Potts’ success in fending off his wife’s challenge, some of the good ole boys, led by Clyde Junior, are plotting in this election year to, as they put it, “Take back the courthouse.”

It should be an interesting summer here in Varmint County, to say the least.