“Boomer” Winfrey

Varmint County Correspondent

There’s no way of ever predicting what is going to happen next, here in Varmint County. We are such an odd assortment of mischievous rogues, ex-moonshiners, star athletes, corrupt but inept politicians and plain, good folks, that anything is liable, and eventually bound, to happen.

But one thing is certain, following the local elections in early August – things will never be quite the same again. 

Caleb Hockmeyer, hanging out down at Wimp Pennywell’s barber shop waiting for his semi-annual beard trim, pretty well summed up the feelings of many of the men in the county.

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

Caleb was, of course, referring to the election results, but I’m getting ahead of myself. Back in early spring I reported that a group of Varmint County ladies, calling themselves the “Jones Girls” after fire-eating union organizer Mother Jones, got together to talk politics. 

They decided it was time for women to take the reigns of power away from the collection of corrupt, silly, but always entertaining men who have run Varmint County for the past hundred years or more, most recently from the smoke-filled back room at Doc Filstrup’s clinic. 

My own boss, War Whoop & Exterminator publisher Virginia Hamm, was one of the leading instigators of this nefarious plot, so the boys at Doc’s poker table assigned me to spy on their planning sessions. The Jones Girls had nothing to hide, as it turned out, and invited me to sit in on their meetings as “one of the girls.”

Their first challenge was to persuade women to run for office who were well-known and popular enough to have a chance of winning. Clyde Filstrup Junior, the County Mayor, was the primary target, and it was agreed that former Lady Viper basketball star Penny Haig, despite her youth, would have the best chance of unseating him.

Penny, however, had no interest in getting involved in politics. With her promising career cut short by injuries, she had taken extra classes and summer school, graduated early from college, and wanted to become a coach.

“I’ve got it!” Matilda Filstrup exclaimed. “Gabby, why don’t you run against my husband Clyde and let Penny take over as coach of the Lady Vipers?”

“Gabby” is Gabrielle Aslinger, coach of the Varmint County girls’ basketball team and daughter of local character Archie Aslinger. Next to Penny Haig, Gabby is probably the most well-known woman in the county, having coached the Lady Vipers to a dozen regional championships and a couple of state titles.

“I don’t know, Matilda. What do I know about running a county or dealing with a bunch of good old boys on the county commission?”

“What does Clyde know about running a county?” Matilda replied. “And if we’re successful in getting other women to run for commission seats, a lot of those good old boys will be cooling their heels down at Smiley’s Pool Hall instead of the courthouse.”

Matilda Filstrup, the mayor’s wife of twenty-seven years, was the most enthusiastic proponent of electing a woman to her husband’s office. In addition to wanting more women involved in local government, Matilda had an ulterior motive.

Two years ago, the Filstrups celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary. Matilda had anticipated the moment for several years, as Clyde had promised, on the occasion of their 20th anniversary, to celebrate the silver anniversary in five years by taking Matilda on a trip to Paris and a Mediterranean cruise.

“Then Clyde decided to run for county mayor and won. When our anniversary date approached, he told me, ‘Honey, you know I can’t just up and leave the county without leadership for nearly a month. I’ll buy you a nice coat instead, and we’ll take our trip when I’m finished with politics.’ He ain’t never going to be finished with politics unless I finish him, and I want my trip to Paris while I’m still young enough to enjoy it,” Matilda told the other girls.

After some thoughtful soul-searching, Gabby Aslinger decided the time was right for her to hand over the coaching job to a new generation and also do something new. She agreed to run against Clyde if Penny Haig would accept the head coach’s job at Varmint County High School.

“I can’t believe you want me to take your place!” Penny exclaimed. “I’d love to try coaching the Lady Vipers and it would be fun coaching my kid sister, Chloe, during her senior year.”

“Well, I can’t promise you the job right now,” Gabby explained. “But if I win the election, I’ll have to resign as coach, and as county mayor, I guess I’d have some influence with the school board on who they would hire to replace me.”

“Grandpa Elijah will sure vote for you, and if any Haigs vote against you, he will probably have them expelled from the family, or fed to his pet alligator,” Penny chuckled.

So, by early July the campaigns were in full swing. Gabby was running for county mayor while three other Jones Girls sought seats on the county commission: Julie Ann McSwine, one of lawyer McSwine’s four ex-wives, reputed witch Camilla Clotfelter and Mary Ann Botts. Mary Ann was running for the unexpired term of her husband, Melvin Botts, who resigned in December when his hearing began to fail.

“Everyone used to call Melvin ‘Doctor No’ because he wouldn’t vote to spend a plugged nickel. Well, I’m in favor of upgrading our schools, patching some of these potholed roads, and giving county employees a long-overdue raise. You can just call me ‘Missus Yes,’” Mary Ann declared.

Camilla’s cousin, Toony Pyles, was up for re-election to the state legislature, but had no opposition. Camilla, although she constantly denies that she has inherited any witchcraft powers from her granny, the late Cordelia Clotfelter, is widely suspected to be behind an incident down at the state capitol. 

One of Toony’s rivals in the legislature, while making a speech condemning a bill she had sponsored, suddenly lost all of his hair. It just fell out in bunches each time he uttered a word against Toony’s bill to regulate mountaintop strip mining for coal. The poor man, suddenly stricken bald, stumbled from the room, screaming, “The witch has cursed me!”

Predictably, Toony’s bill passed unanimously. Also predictably, nobody stepped forward to oppose Toony Pyles in either the primary or general election, allowing her time to get out and campaign to get her cousin Camilla elected to the county commission.

As the date for early voting approached, Clyde Filstrup and his cronies around Doc’s poker table pulled out all the stops to stop the Jones Girls Express. 

“Archie, you need to see your daughter and talk some sense into her. She doesn’t really want to get into politics. It’s a dirty business,” former county judge Colonel Hugh Ray Jass told his longtime fishing buddy and sidekick.

“Sorry, Judge. I done talked to Gabby about it. I told her she was stepping out of her league getting involved in courthouse business, but she wouldn’t have none of that,” Archie Aslinger replied.

“She told me, ‘Daddy, if it’s so lowdown dirty, why did you spend so many years helping Judge Hugh Ray and being at his side constantly while he was in office?’

“I told her that the Judge needed somebody there to keep his feet on the ground when he got to feeling uppity, and somebody at his side who would tell him the truth, and not just what they thought he wanted to hear.

“‘Well,’ Gabby told me, ‘If I win, I’m going to need somebody at my side who will tell me the truth. Are you going to be there for me the way you were for Judge Hugh Ray Jass?’

“Sorry, Judge, but my little girl needs me. I’m going to go out and help her win this election,” Archie announced as he excused himself from the table.

“Clyde, Archie’s bound to get every pool shark, moonshiner and fisherman in Varmint Count voting for his daughter, and Penny Haig will lock up the vote for Gabby in Haig Hollow. You’re on your own,” Hugh Ray sighed.

And so it was. The election wasn’t even all that close. Gabby Aslinger is now the new Mayor-Elect and will take office in September, while Julie Ann McSwine defeated Barney “Buck” Holsapple over in Pleasant View and Mary Ann Botts easily won her husband’s vacated seat. 

As for Camilla Clotfelter, she was embroiled in a hot three-way contest with Hiram “Little Hair” Pennywell and former school superintendent Will U. Reade for the two commission seats from Lower Primroy. The week before the election, poor Will accidentally bounced a check to WVMT Radio, home of Gospel Music and full sports coverage, and the station pulled all of his political ads.

Three days before the election, Will hosted a barbecue cookout at Mud Lake Marina and the pork ribs turned out to be bad, sending over a hundred potential voters down to Doc Filstrup’s with food poisoning. The next morning, Will tripped while reaching to hug a baby in front of Smiley’s Tobacco Mercantile and sprained his ankle.

“That’s it. I’m withdrawing from the race while I still have my hair!” the hard luck candidate announced. Hiram and Camilla finished one-two to complete the sweep of local political races by women candidates.

An exhausted and defeated Clyde Junior stumbled into his home shortly after the polls closed, to find his wife preparing to go out the door.

“Honey, I’m off to Gabby Aslinger’s victory party, but you’ll find a pot roast in the oven and fresh cherry cobbler on the counter next to the sink. I figured the least I could do is fix you a nice meal.”

“Matilda, you know I love you, darlin’. Why would you do this to me, celebrating my defeat by that Aslinger woman?”

“Well, Clyde, sometimes we girls just have to stick together. Oh, by the way, there’s some brochures on the coffee table from cruise lines, and a travel guide to Paris next to them. Tomorrow we can talk about what you’re going to do, now that you’re not going to be county mayor anymore.”