“Boomer” Winfrey

Varmint County Correspondent

The political scene remained calm here in Varmint County during the holidays, the courthouse virtually reeking with peace on earth, good will toward men and falalalala spirit. That turned out to merely be the calm before the storm, however.

In the county commission’s first meeting of the new year, new Mayor Gabby Aslinger took her first stab at getting an ordinance passed to limit the hiring of family members for county jobs. That is quite a challenge, as nepotism has been an institution around here since the first High Sheriff, Hugo Lowe, built the first jail out of logs and tar pitch and hired his brother-in-law, Cleotis Pennywell, to build it and serve as jailer.

Cleotis stole so much money from the county coffers that he also ended up being the jail’s first resident.

But Gabby is determined to put an end to all this tomfoolery once and for all, once she can find enough honest office holders to support her ideas, and pigs learn to fly.

To that end, newly-elected Commissioner Julie Ann McSwine made a motion at the meeting to pass an anti-nepotism ordinance. Commissioner Mary Ann Botts seconded the motion and Gabby then opened the floor up for “comments or debate.”

Not a single male member of the county’s legislative body had anything to say or any questions to ask, so the other female on the court, Camilla Clotfelter, observed that too many qualified young people have to leave Varmint County to find jobs because unqualified relatives hold all the government jobs.

“Toady Perkins has been in charge of the county garage for fifteen years, first when his daddy Pothole Perkins was Road Superintendent, then after his brother Peavy won the election,” Camilla reminded her fellow squires. “Toady just hired his cousin Kermit as chief mechanic over Casper Reade. Casper recently came home after serving two tours of duty in Iraq as chief mechanic in the motor pool. Kermit can’t change the oil in his own car.”

“Whoa, young lady. Kermit’s bound to know something about motors. Didn’t state troopers bust Peavy and Toady last summer for running a chop shop out of the county garage?” Hiram Pennywell chuckled.

“Yeah, he knows how to steal a car and take it apart, not exactly qualities we need to keep the county’s trucks running.”

When nobody else offered comments, Gabby called for a vote on the anti-nepotism motion. The three female squires all voted “yay,” the seven male squires all voted “nay.” End of round one.

“The next order of business is that it’s time for the county commission to elect a chairman,” Gabby announced. “I’ve served as interim chairman since Mayor Clyde Filstrup Jr. left office but you need to vote to keep me in the chair or replace me at this meeting.”

“I nominate Mayor Aslinger,” Camilla announced. Both Julie Ann and Mary Ann seconded the motion.

“I nominate Phineas Hockmeyer,” Hiram Pennywell cut in. Four or five male squires quickly offered their seconds, hurrumphs and “Here-heres” to the chorus.

Gabby smiled. “It is generally customary for the commission to elect the County Mayor as chairman,” she noted. “But, I can understand ya’ll not wanting a woman to sit up here and run your little dog and pony show.

“That’s fine with me,” she added. “Just remember that under state law, if the county’s chief executive isn’t chairman of the legislative body, the chief executive has veto power over any legislation that is passed.”

“Uh, what did she just say?” Squire Corney Potts asked Philbert McSwine, the county attorney.

“She said that if you don’t elect her as chairperson, she will be able to veto anything you all pass that she doesn’t like,” Philbert explained.

 “But we can override a veto with a simple majority,” Buck Wilbury observed. “Don’t give her much power at all.”

“That’s true,” Gabby replied. “But I can wait until after the meeting to veto your action. That delays your overriding vote for 30 days. That should be just enough time to let the public know about whatever it is you boys are trying to pull over on them.”

Defeated, the good old boys gave in. Phineas Hockmeyer declined his nomination and Camilla’s motion to elect Gabby passed unanimously.

While Varmint County High’s former basketball coach was finding the going a bit rough in the courthouse, the Lady Viper’s new coach was having her own share of headaches at the gym. 

January is of course, basketball season in Varmint County. Boys’ coach B. O. Snodgrass, fully recovered from bypass surgery, is back on the sidelines while former Lady Viper star Penny Haig has taken over Gabby’s old job.

Penny has found her greatest challenge to be coaching her kid sister, Chloe, now in her senior season as a Lady Viper. In many ways the two could not be more different. Penny was a 6´6˝ post player who set state records for blocks, rebounds and points scored. 

The greatest challenge her coach faced was to convince Penny to play more aggressively. She simply wasn’t mean enough when she first joined the team, and opposing players fouled her constantly. 

Little sister Chloe, on the other hand, is just that – the little sister. A pint-sized guard standing 5´5˝ on tiptoes, Chloe broke her sister’s record for points scored in a single game – in her freshman year.

Chloe proved to be such a deadly shot from three-point range that opposing players again resorted to fouling her to stop the onslaught of points. Chloe, however, proved the polar opposite of Penny. When she would take a hard foul, she would get mad instead of even. In addition to setting state records for scoring average, Chloe also set a record of sorts by being tossed out of 16 of her team’s 24 games for fighting.

In desperation, Coach Gabby told Chloe before the big game with Burrville, “Just shoot the ball before you cross the mid-court line. They won’t be expecting that and won’t have time to come back and foul you.”

That strategy worked fairly well, although Chloe’s shooting percentage suffered from such long range, where she could only connect on about 50 percent of her shots.

New coach and big sister Penny hoped to find an answer for her baby sister’s temper.

“Don’t get mad. Get even,” Penny advised. “Every time they foul you on a three point shot, you get three free throws. You get so hot under the collar that you miss too many free throws and that leads ’em to foul you even more. 

“Let’s see if you can’t set a state record against Burrville for points scored off free throws, and foul out about half of their team in the process.”

The strategy worked. Little Chloe finished the home game against Burrville with bruised ribs, a sprained pinky finger, a black eye and several cuts and lacerations. Burrville ended the game with four players while Chloe scored 55 points, a record 46 of them from the foul line.

Penny had kept her sister in the game, but was near tears when she helped Chloe apply ice packs to all the bruises and cuts afterward.

“This isn’t the answer at all. They’re not just fouling you out there, they’re beating you to death,” Penny sighed.

“Now you know why I get in fights. They’re trying to hurt me, get me out of the game.”

“Yeah, but if you fight, they get you out of the game, too. Let me think about this some more.”

The following week, Varmint County traveled to play Hawkinsville High, one of the roughest bunch of rednecks in the conference. In her freshman year, Chloe was tossed for fighting at that game. In her sophomore year, she was knocked unconscious and had to leave the game with a concussion while the Lady Vipers lost in overtime.

In her junior year, Chloe tried shooting the ball before reaching mid-court and that worked for a half. Then the Hawkinsville players began fouling her as soon as she touched the ball. Hawkinsville was also notorious for home cooking, as the officials were terrorized by the crowd, at least one-third of them convicted felons.

On one play, Chloe was pounded to the floor as she released a shot. The shot went in from fifty feet out, but the official wiped off the shot and called Chloe for a foul. Chloe, predictably, got herself tossed from the game.

Now, it was Penny Haig’s turn to deal with her baby sister’s Hawkinsville dilemma. Having grown more aggressive during her years as a college player, Penny came up with an answer. “Little sis, this is one time you will still be on the court at the end of the Hawkinsville game. I promise you.”

As the two teams were finishing warm-ups, Penny approached her opposite number, Hawkinsville Coach Toby “Shotgun” Shaughnessy.

“Shotgun, nice to see you again. Last time we met I was still playing and you had your post player try to cut the legs out from under me, I recall.”

“Nothing personal, Penny. Just good old fashioned hard-nosed basketball,” Shotgun replied with a wide grin.

“Well, nothing personal here either, but the first time one of your players lands a hard foul on my little sister, I’m going to walk over here and break both your [expletive] arms.”

“They’ll throw you out if you touch me,” Shotgun whined.

“Yeah, but it will be worth it, you little worm. You’ll look funny coaching the rest of the year with both arms in casts.”

To make a long story short, Chloe finished the game, scoring 42 points as the Lady Vipers rolled over the Hawkinsville Lady Hornets 88-53.

Mayor Gabby, who attended the game, approached her replacement coach afterward. “I don’t know how you did it, Penny.”

“Had a little talk with their coach. He can be reasonable if you talk to him just right,” Penny said, barely hiding the grin.

“You don’t suppose I can convince you to use your powers of persuasion on our county commission.”

“Only if you promise to bail me out of jail,” Penny chuckled.