Bruce Patterson: The Anyhow Saloon

Anderson Valley

Old Henry never thought he’d ever get snake bit enough to have to endure forty-two days hunkered down inside his backwoods cabin under a near-on relentless barrage of rain, hail, sleet and snow. There was wet snow dropping from the sky like bullets; snow falling in downward spirals like mortally wounded bi-planes; snow howling sideways and, now and again, fat snowflakes gently floating through the redwoods to silent landings all shoulder-to-shoulder and butt-to-belly. Then the next morning them poor snowflakes would get themselves bushwhacked by a good old-fashioned, shutter-banging, tree-slapping, gully-washing rainstorm.

No Siree. If old Henry had’ve wanted to winter up in Alaska, he’d’ve moved to Alaska by golly. He hadn’t set down stakes in the redwoods just to have to sit and stare out his foggy window at them shivering half to death.

The other day a Great Blue Heron landed in Henry’s yard and got his big webbed feet stuck in the mud. Henry watched out his window as the poor fellah furiously flapped his wings trying to unstick himself, and then strained to lift up one foot and then the other. Having no luck either way, the heron finally got to just standing there perfectly still as if, reconciled to maybe having to stay put till spring, he decided he may as well get some hunting in.

Not willing to leave the poor fellah to his fate, and after deciding he couldn’t very well lasso him and yank him loose without hurting him, much less dig him out by hand without getting his eyes plucked out for his trouble, Henry chose to go outside to try’n scare the fellah free, herons being bashful of people and all. So Henry showed himself and, seeing this towering, ungainly biped waddling his way with its skinny wings flapping and him honking like a goose, the heron shriveled his webbed feet, gave his wings one powerful downward whoosh, jerked up his knees into his chest, got airborne and raced away on the wind like he’d wasted enough time already.

Now there was a break in the noon clouds, a spot of blue, and Henry got to scratching the bottoms of his itchy feet. If the trail was too slippery to saddle up his clumsy young gelding, Henry could damn sure walk down the mountain his own self. In need of human company, a stiff drink and a jug of moonshine to go, Henry gathered himself up for the two mile hike down to old McGimsey’s place there at the bottom of Beebe Crick. Henry grabbed up his 12 gauge into the crock of his arm, loaded his coat pocket with extra shells, stuck his long-barreled Colt .45 pistol into his belt (the bears had taken a powerful dislike to people) and, after stepping off his squishy, waterlogged porch, took a moment to breathe in the still, weightless air. After blinking at father sun shining above the trees, Henry started off on his trek. Keeping his footsteps quiet and his eyes peeled, he was hoping to bag a turkey or grouse to take home for supper. Although he’d settle for some quail or a loose chicken or two.

The trail down was god-awful slippery, especially seeing how his boots were caked with mud even before he’d left his yard. Then wouldn’t you know it that Henry hadn’t got but halfway there when it got to raining again. You know, just on the chance he’d started missing it. His mood shifted from fowl to foul, and he started stewing over the damned goody-two-shoes teetotalers who’d brought on Federal Prohibition and all the trouble they’d caused him these years. It was a crying shame when a man had to work an hour just to get up the money to sit for an hour sipping shots of raise-your-eyebrows moonshine. Then Henry figured a man had the right to pick his own damned poison in this here free country, and nobody trusted teetotalers to be telling them what to do and to be peeking over their shoulders.

Folks drank whiskey to have fun, blow off steam, loosen their tongues and temporarily let go of some of their built-up social inhibitions and workaday habits of mind. So how you supposed to trust a fellah that don’t trust his own self to bust loose every once in a while? Then these damned Bible-thumpers telling folks what they can and can’t do and the how much, the pert-near and the wherefore—how you supposed to trust Bible-thumpers that don’t even know their own Scripture? Demon Rum in a pig’s eye. Every damned fool knew Jesus turned water to wine.

Strategically located on the abandoned toll road that used to connect Yorkville to Hopland—no reason for the folks in one settlement to take the trouble to get to the other—McGimsey’s place was a hillbilly version of a big city speakeasy—a “speak loud,” you could properly call it. A homesteader’s cabin equipped with a redwood slab bar, a half-dozen upended pork barrels with two liddle-biddy tables and stools set in the front corners, a potbellied stove steaming in one back corner and an oak keg of beer standing up in the other, the establishment was presided over by old man McGimsey. With his clean white collar, string tie and extravagant handlebar mustache, old man McGimsey gave the place a civilized air. It was civilized, too, seeing how McGimsey offered not just homebrew, moonshine and jug wine but genuine Canadian whiskey if you had the money and the hankering.

When Henry walked into McGimsey’s the place was full of the usual fellahs. As usual they were gabbing about the nasty weather and, them being up to that, they were trying to go each other one better. Old Emmett was bragging about how he saw a flock of wood ducks trapped in the torrent and getting washed away down Rancheria Crick. Hearing them poor terrorized ducks desperately quacking for help was enough to bring a tear to Emmett’s eye as he waved them goodbye. And that led to talk about how the otters had taken to wearing mud-flaps, the Ki-oats raincoats, exhausted steelhead trout up on the river bank panting and slobbering and the wooly caterpillars that, taking a peek outside at the pitiless weather and refusing to become butterflies, had given up the ghost and were rafting away on sticks.

The conversation rolled around to the woeful pilgrims who, driven mad by cabin fever complicated by severe cases of the dwindles, had packed up their bags and made off south for places like Sand Dune Summit, Fireweed Junction, Cactus Patch, Bone Dry and Glaring, Arizona.

And wouldn’t you know it that, just when everybody was cackling and just as warm and happy as a litter of pot-bellied puppies, in out of the un-blue stepped a deputy sheriff. Wearing a wide-brimmed Stetson hat, a long coat, spurs and a gun belt, the sight of him struck everybody speechless.

“What ya’ll think you’re doing in here?” The deputy wanted to know, eyeballing old McGimsey standing behind the bar.

“I was about to ask you the same thing,” McGimsey answered just as cool as a cucumber, keeping his hands in plain sight. “We’ve ain’t ever had no deputy walk in here before. How’d you find us? What’ll it be?”

The eyes in the back of his head telling him he’d do well to act neighborly, the deputy asked what was for offer and, after McGimsey told him, the deputy dropped two-bits on the bar and ordered a shot of Canadian. They got to talking and it turned out the deputy was up from Hopland on the trail of a rustler. Except, what with his head start and the weather blurring their tracks, the deputy didn’t figure he’d ever catch up to him or his four skinny heifers. Still he was obligated to try and so he reckoned he’d best get back at it. Not wanting to sit his horse lopsided, the deputy ordered a second shot of Canadian and tossed it back to get himself on an even keel. He bid his farewells and cautiously made for the exit.

“Say there, deputy,” McGimsey called after him. “You wouldn’t be tempted to go and tell what you saw here, would you?”

The deputy stopped, turned around and slowly shook his head. “I don’t reckon anybody would much care anyhow.” Then, glancing around the room and touching his finger to the brim of his hat, he said, “You gentlemen enjoy your afternoon.”

And that’s one version of how old McGimsey’s place got to be known as the Anyhow Saloon.
Originally published in the Anderson Valley Advertiser

Bruce (Pat) Patterson is author of Walking Tractor: And Other Country Tales. Image Credit: © Bruce Patterson