When last we left you, dear readers, Herman Ragwell, field operations supervisor for the U. S. Census bureau, was trying to figure out a way to get a head count from Haig Hollow.
His problem was magnified by the fact that every census employee working in Varmint County had resigned rather than take the assignment.
Herman then turned to the power brokers of the county, the crowd down at Doc Filstrup's weekly poker game, for help. Doc's solution was to suggest that Penny Haig, former Lady Viper basketball star and granddaughter of Elijah "Big Poison" Haig, be hired as a census worker and sent to Haig Hollow.
Penny agreed, and Herman took on the task of personally training her as a census enumerator. When the day then came for Herman to send Penny out in the field, he also was required to accompany her for a field observation, to make sure she did her job correctly. This fact caused Herman Ragwell no small amount of anxiety. Having heard the rumors about Haig Hollow, Herman was unable to hold down food for two days before the scheduled observation trip. He also was able to muster only two hours of sleep the night before, interrupted by nightmares of being cooked slowly over the open fire of a Haig moonshine still.
On the appointed day, Herman drove over the rough gravel road leading to the Haig Junction General Store. He arrived early, half an hour before Penny was due to show up, and walked into the ancient wood frame store building to find a cold drink.
"How much for this bottled Coke?" Herman asked the proprietor, a toothless relic named Jay Lee Lowe.
"That'll be a dollar." Jay lee replied.
"What about tax?"
"Tax is included.
"I'll have one of these bags of chips too. How much do I owe you?"
"Oh, and a candy bar."
"That'll be another dollar."
"Is everything in here priced a dollar?"
"Yup. Too much trouble to figure them pennies up," Jay Lee grunted.
Herman then walked outside and took a seat on the liar's bench, a cushioned church pew salvaged from Sweet Gum Flats Primitive Baptist Church when the roof collapsed a few years back.
Another ancient relic of a human being, wearing bib overalls and packing a four-ounce plug of tobacco in one side of his jaw, took a seat on one side of Herman. Another local, a somewhat younger man sporting an oil-stained white T-shirt and dirty jeans of an indeterminate color, sat down on the other side of Herman.
"Hullo, Gopher. When did'ya get out?" the older man asked the younger.
"Sunday night. My six months was up Saturday but that danged Judge Harwell was off shootin' golfs and wouldn't sign my release until Sunday."
"What does a golf look like, anyway? I shot near everything that moves in these here parts, includin' some revenooers, but I never shot me one of them golfs. Never seen one that I can recall."
Spitting a stream of tobacco juice that neatly landed on the floor, the bench and Herman's boots, and missed the brass spittoon by a foot, the older man then focused his attention on poor Herman.
Cocking an eye, the relic asked, "You're not from these parts, are ye, young feller?"
"Uh no, I'm ah, Herman Ragwell, from over in Burrville. I work for the U.S. Census Bureau."
"The guv'mint? You're from the guv'mint! The last guv'mint men we had in here are buried up yonder on that-thar knob."
By this point Herman was sweating profusely and moving dangerously close to soiling himself when Penny Haig drove up in her grandpa's 4WD pick-up truck.
"Hi, Mr. Ragwell. Hope you haven't been waiting long!" Then, noticing Herman's pale color, she added, "Uncle Colby! Cousin Gopher! Have you been picking on my boss?"
"Heh. Just havin' a little fun with this flatlander here, Penny. Nothin' serious."
"I've half a mind to tell Grandpa on the two of you! You'll think nothin' serious when he's through with you."
"Now, Penny, we was jus' messin' around a little. Kind of a friendly little Haig Hollow welcome, you might say," Gopher whined. "Here, let me clean that backy juice off yore boot there, mister."
Apologies accepted, Herman quickly jumped into the truck and off the pair went, bouncing over a road that quickly deteriorated from gravel to rutted dirt to a boulder-strewn streambed.
"I thought we might stop and interview Uncle Silas Haig and Aunt Loweezy first. They're kind of off the beaten track a little and nobody else lives up this road," Penny explained.
"III ccaan seee whhh," Herman replied, finding it hard to talk for the bouncing of the truck. Soon they pulled up to an ancient, two-story log cabin that pre-dated the American Revolution. Sitting on the porch was another relic, sporting the bib overalls that appeared to be a uniform of sorts among older Haigs.
Penny began by introducing herself as a Census employee and assuring the old man that everything he said was confidential when he cut in.
"Cut out the danged foolishness, Penny. I know who ya are and ennything I got to say can be repeated, If'n not, I won't say it."
"Uncle Silas, I got to do this right. It's my job. Now just answer the questions, OK? Do you or anyone else usually live here?"
"You know dern well we lives here, girl! I been livin' on this spot since 1921 and before that my daddy lived here ever since General Lee surrendered."
"Would you give me the full names of everyone living here on April 1?"
"That would be me, Silas Bureaugard Haig and your Great Aunt Loweezy. She ain't got no middle name."
"I do so have a middle name, you old toad. It's Loweezy Mae Haig, dear," an equally ancient woman spoke up from the shadow of the doorway.
"Thanks, Aunt Loweezy. Uncle Silas, can I have your age and date of birth?"
"I'm 97. I was born July 4th, 1912."
"And Aunt Loweezy?"
She's 94. She was born, uh, let's see. Loweezy, was that May 12 or June 12?"
"I'm waiting, you old goat. We only been together 79 years. When's my birthday?"
"It's uh, May 12, ain't it? I just bought you a new dress a couple weeks back."
"Maybe it is, maybe it ain't. That's up to you to recall, old man.
"It's June 12, dear," Aunt Loweezy whispered to Penny. "He forgets every year and I ain't gonna tell him no diff'rent. This way he buys me two new dresses to make sure he's covered."
The rest of the interview went off smoothly, then it was time to move on to the next house. "I know we ain't supposed to have nobody with us that ain't with the Census, Mr. Ragwell, but I reckon for this next stop we ought'a take Granny Haig along."
"Why is that and who is Granny Haig?"
"We need to go up on Brogan Flats. It's up on a bench halfway up Flatiron Peak where the Brogans live. They married into the Haig clan and moved in up there about a hundred years ago, but they don't mix much with other folks, even the Haigs. They never even came down to watch me play basketball."
"Is it safe?"
"It will be if we take Granny Haig along. Aunt Matidy Brogan is the elder up there and she's Granny's daughter.
"Who is this Granny Haig? Is she your grandmother?"
"Nah, she's my grandpa Elijah's grandmother, my great-great grandmother. She's 118 years old, give or take a decade."
So it was off to Elijah "Big Poison" Haig's home in the heart of Haig Hollow to pick up Granny. Coming around a curve in the road, a stately antebellum mansion came into view, surrounded by magnolia trees with a front porch held up by massive white columns.
"Somehow I expected something . . . more rustic," Herman commented.
"Oh, we used to live in that little cabin over there," Penny replied. "Then Grandpa sold his Haig Hollow spring run moonshine to the Air Force as a jet fuel additive and he decided to build a home like the one the Haigs used to have down in Louisiana before the Civil War. Granny wouldn't move in. She stays in the old cabin."
The two drove over to pick up Granny Haig, who emerged from the cabin carrying several baskets of aromatic baked goods.
"If we're going to visit Matilda, I'm a'taking her some of my huckleberry pies and cherry dumplins," Granny said. "Matilda don't get down here much and she loves my pastries."
The pick-up's transmission whined as the truck climbed one switchback after another toward Brogan Flats. Halfway up, Herman's ears popped as the truck drove into a layer of low-lying clouds. Shortly the trio emerged from the fog to level off on a grassy flat high on the flank of Flatiron Peak, Varmint County's highest point.
Spread out before them was a collection of log cabins and wood frame shanties stretching over a mile along the side of the mountain. Over to one end, a crowd of 200-300 people was collected around a white church with a single tall steeple.
"There's Aunt Matidly now. Looks like she's gathered everyone on Brogan Flats to greet you, Granny."
"I sent word we was coming, granddaughter. Told her you wanted to count the Brogans for the Census and she should make sure everyone is here to be counted."
"Well, that's not quite what we planned. We usually just go to each house and knock on the door. That way we can get the addresses right," Penny explained.
"No need for that, dear. The Brogans are all lined up for you to interview, in order of where they live, with all the children and grandchildren right there with them. You just go ahead and start your interviews while I visit with my little girl awhile."
Of course Granny Haig's "little girl," Aunt Matildy Brogan, is the 98-year-old matron of Brogan Flats. Only Penny and her Haig relatives refer to her as "Aunt." To the Brogans she is "Granny Brogan" and her word is the law on Flatiron Peak. In no time at all, Penny had managed to count all 316 Brogans and add nearly 50 houses to the census maps, along with new addresses never before recorded anywhere.
"I'm not sure about these addresses - 101 Brogan Flats Lane, 102 Brogan Flats Lane and so on. Are they official?" Herman asked Granny Brogan.
"They are now. We never had addresses before. The mailman just leaves mail for Brogans down at the Haig Hollow Post Office and we send down once a week for all the mail order catalogs, letters from young Brogans off in the army somewhere and the like," Granny explained.
"What about E-911? Didn't they come up here and map this community?"
"What's E-911? One of them new crime movies on the television?"
"Never mind. It's not important," Herman replied. "You have television up here?"
"We're private but we're not backward, boy. We got satellite TVs. We generate our own 'lectricity from those four windmills you see over there on the lip of the mountain. They also run the pump that brings water up from the deep well for the Brogan Flats Utility District and the hydrants for the Brogan Flats Volunteer Fire Department."
On the way down the mountain, Penny stopped at one more house perched on a narrow shelf overlooking a 400-foot cliff.
"This is Cousin Justine Haig's place. He moved here temporarily after Hurricane Katrina destroyed his home in Three Hole Swamp back in Louisiana. He liked it so much he decided to stay.
"Cousin Justine, it's Penny. I'm workin' for the Census and need to count you as part of our population for Haig Hollow," Penny yelled through a small slit in a massive, locked front door.
"Penny girl, I don't want to have no part of the federal guv'mint. I ain't surrendered yet," Justine replied from behind the door in a thick Cajun accent.
"Well, what if I put in the notes that you're still considered a citizen of the Confederate States of America. Will you let me count your family then?" "What you need to know, girl? I be proud to be counted."
"Did I pass the observation, Mr. Ragwell? Am I hired to do the Census for Haig Hollow?" Penny asked as she maneuvered the pick-up around the narrow curves leading off Flatiron Peak.
"Penny, I can't imagine the job going to anyone else. Nobody else could do this and survive to tell the tale.