“Boomer” Winfrey

Varmint County Correspondent

Halloween is now just a memory, along with the biggest trick of them all – Election Day – and things are beginning to get back to normal here in Varmint County. Of course “normal” is a subjective term. There is nothing ever quite “Norman Rockwell” normal about our quaint little community.

Take the furor that occurred on Election Day over at the Stinking Creek precinct. This year, election officials were trying to enforce the state’s new voter ID law, requiring voters to present a state or federal government photo ID card in order to cast a ballot.

Fortunately for several members of the Hockmeyer clan, the law doesn’t require the ID to be a current valid document. As a result, Curley Hockmeyer, Travis Hockmeyer and six other cousins who all had their driver’s licenses suspended for various infractions were still able to vote by presenting their old license cards.

Aunt Mertie Hockmeyer was turned away because she has no ID of any kind, nor does she have a birth certificate and is not even sure whether she was born in 1902 or 1912. Several of her kinfolk were prepared to start a scene, but Mertie talked them out of it.

“Boys, it don’t matter none, anyhow. Come to think of it, I haven’t registered to vote since Calvin Coolidge was President and I gave up votin’ after that Roosevelt feller won his third term,” Aunt Mertie recalled.

Just when it appeared that the poll officials would get through the day with no major problems, old Silas Hockmeyer showed up and presented his photo ID.

“Silas, this isn’t a government photo ID. You can’t vote with this,” precinct supervisor Philbert Pinetar proclaimed.

“Is too a government photo ID. Lookee right there. That’s me in uniform and it says “United States Army Air Corps!”

“There ain’t no such thing as the United States Army Air Corps and that photo don’t look a bit like you.”

“Course not. I was 27 when that was taken but it’s a photo of me and there was too an Army Air Corps in 1918 when this ID card was made.”

You’ll have to fill out a provisional ballot until we get this sorted out,” Philbert explained.

“This here is your provisional ballot,” Silas countered, touching the handle of the pearl-handled .45 he always carried strapped to his waist. “I’ve voted in every presidential election since Woodrow Wilson whupped William Taft and I aim to vote in this one too.”

Philbert could find no fault in Silas’ logic that he would either be allowed to vote or he would shoot the voting machine. The World War I card was accepted.

Most folks in Varmint County could care less about national politics. The local races were all decided back in August and that is the only election that means much to Varmint Countians. “We’re only concerned with the politicians if we can look ’em right in the eye,” Elijah Haig once explained. “Those that are out of gunshot range don’t count for much.”

Of course this year the womenfolk of Varmint County rebelled against the good ol’ boy crowd and elected a group of “kinder, gentler” politicians to office, led by former Lady Viper basketball coach Gabby Aslinger.

Gabby was promptly invited to join the political roundtable at one of Doc Filstrp’s poker gatherings, where she cleaned the boys out of $980 while sharing her aspirations for a better Varmint County.

A couple of weeks later, Clyde Filstrup Junior, who lost his re-election bid for County Mayor to Gabby, returned from a European cruise with his wife Matilda.

“I suppose my place at the poker table has been taken by Gabby Aslinger?” Clyde asked his cantankerous father.

“Yep. She played a hand or two with us the other night,” Doc replied. “But I imagine we can find room for you at the table. You don’t win a whole lot, son, and after Gabby cleaned everybody out, we’ve desperate for somebody with money to burn sos we can get a little back.”

“That leaves me out. Matilda burned up all of my money shopping in Paris and Barcelona. I’ll have to bury half the town to pay off the credit card bills.”

Clyde was, of course, not joking about the “burying” part, since he is Varmint County’s only mortician.

“Well, I figured you left the funeral home in capable hands while you and Matilda were off hobnobbing around Europe. Didn’t Frog and Reverend Paul handle several funerals while you were gone?”

“Frog” is Kermit Fogerty, Clyde Junior’s assistant undertaker and chief embalmer. Everyone calls Kermit “The Frog,” both because of his name and the fact that he bears a passing strong resemblance to the Muppet character.

Reverend Paul is the Reverend Paul Preston Pillsbury, pastor of the Third Primitive Baptist Church of Upper Primroy and a “professional mourner,” more or less, who works at the funeral home comforting loved ones, rehearsing pallbearers and recruiting whatever type of music seems appropriate, whether an organist, gospel singers or a Bluegrass band.

“Frog and Reverend Paul handled six funerals while we were gone,” Clyde Junior told Doc. “Made some pretty good money off most of ’em, although I’m having to let “Pig” Aslinger pay for his granny’s funeral on time. He’s been laid off ever since that golf course and country club over at McCracken’s Peak filed for bankruptcy.”

“I thought Pig was the golf pro over there?”

“Yeah, he was. Why do you think they went bankrupt?”

“But all the funerals won’t pay for the damage to my caskets from the haunted high school fiasco,” Clyde complained. “I should have known better after the last time.”

“The last time” was that little incident two Halloweens ago when Clyde’s middle daughter Stephanie was captain of the cheerleading squad at Varmint County High. To raise money, the squad sponsored a “haunted high school” in the abandoned Primroy Elementary School and talked Clyde into loaning them several new caskets for decoration.

Unfortunately, one of the caskets that the cheerleaders and football team picked up contained the mortal remains of Carlisle McCracken, a man so ugly that the kids thought the corpse was a zombie prop dummy, until Stephanie climbed in the coffin to have her photo taken with the zombie.

After a two-year hiatus, the haunted high school was back this year. With Clyde’s youngest daughter Valerie now a member of the cheerleading squad, Matilda again pressured her husband into loaning some of his expensive caskets for décor.

“Just make sure you check the coffins and don’t take one of our paying customers over there this time,” Clyde instructed Frog Fogerty and Reverend Paul.

Unfortunately, for all concerned, some of the cheerleaders got the idea of asking Fire Chief Stanley “the Torch” Aslinger for some help in creating special effects. Stanley decided to use a couple of the coffins as “portals to Hades,” complete with fake flames licking around the edges of a dark stairwell leading down into the bottomless depths of the coffin.

Stanley’s special effects worked perfectly, without incident, and the haunted high school went off without a hitch. Except when Frog and Reverend Paul retrieved the coffins to return them to the funeral home. Stanley had not yet dismantled his special effects, which were a bit too realistic if you know what I mean.

Frog unloaded the first casket and returned it to the display area where he opened it up for closer inspection by any prospective clients. Flames immediately began licking out of the sides of the coffin.

“Gawd, Reverend, git me the fire extinguisher! Them kids done booby-trapped this casket!”

The flames were an optical illusion rigged up with some mirrors and one of those ten-dollar “lava lamps,” but Frog and Reverend Paul didn’t figure that out until after they had doused three caskets with fire extinguishing foam and a couple of shovelfuls of sand from a kitty litter box.

“That foam is highly corrosive, and it just sort of cooked that kitty litter into the finish on those caskets. I’m gonna have to donate them to the county for pauper’s funerals,” Clyde told Doc.

“Well, you should be able to write that off your taxes as a charitable contribution, but since you’re in such a dire financial pinch, son, we’ll waive the usual cash only requirement to join the poker game. I think everybody will be willing to take your marker. We can all use a little funeral insurance these days.”