In this next chapter of the backwoods novella BAT IN A WHIRLWIND, Ben travels to Little Rock to a state conference and enjoys socializing with the other 4-H County Champions.
To read BAT IN A WHIRLWIND, Chapter 6. A CHEER OF CHAMPIONS, right click here and select “Open,” or to download as a free pdf file to read at your leisure whenever, select “Save Target (or Link) As.”
BAT IN A WHIRLWIND
Excerpt from Chapter 6. – A Cheer of Champions
The big banquet room was full of long tables with white tablecloths and chrysanthemums with some kind of silver leaves. Mr. Lacey and Miss Mannis sat at a table with the other adults, and we found places near the back corner of the room. Right away I saw that the leaves were just legustrum leaves painted silver, like those big bushes back home in our yard. It was an interesting idea that maybe we could use in our café.
In a minute, a young Negro in a white jacket brought our plates. He was real handsome with his skin so black. He saw me looking at him and gave me bright smile, reminding me of that waiter in Atlantic City. The dinner was turkey and dressing with sweet potatoes and green beans. You’d have thought it was Thanksgiving.
Leroy looked at the waiter suspiciously and when he was gone, leaned over to me and said seriously, “I sure hope he didn’t stick his finger in my food.”
Shocked that he’d even think such a thing about a fellow waiter, even if he was a Negro, I remarked as sternly as I could, “I wouldn’t worry about that none.” Then I gave him my turkey, explaining about Catholics fasting on Fridays.
They gave me blank stares. Leroy protested, “But you ate a hamburger for lunch.” Awkwardly I explained how it was only a venial sin because I’d forgotten.
Annette [This is a real, live girl and not the TV star.] looked surprised, laughing uneasily, “You mean forgetting’s a sin?” Fortunately the program started right then, and I was saved from any more religious conversation. Trying to explain sins like this was pretty hard.
A guy up in front of the room bellowed through a microphone, “Ladies and gentlemen!” A tall kid said a strange prayer—about all kinds of things and lots of “for Jesus Christ’s sake.” It was all I could do to keep from giggling because that was the way Daddy always cussed. Then a man with wire glasses gave a speech about striving for excellence that lasted until dessert, which was scrumptious lemon chiffon pie.
The State 4-H Secretary, a curly-headed girl, recited all the “equal training of the head, heart, hands, and health” stuff, and then three kids sang “Danny Boy,” one of my favorite songs, of course. It got me all sentimental missing my buddy. The two girls and a boy harmonized and sounded especially nice on the line, O come ye back when summer’s in the meadow…
After two more speeches on something or other, a man read off the names of all the County Champions and said what we were Champion for. You had to stand up so everyone could see you. It was sort of monotonous, so I wondered what a bunch of champions is called. How about a cheer of champions?
Pretty quick the man called my name over the microphone, adding, “For raising a prize-winning Poland China shoat.” I stood up waving ironically to the folks, and it was great the way they all looked at me with admiration. Or maybe they were just impressed by my resemblance to Abraham Lincoln. When I sat back down, I fell into a trance of words bouncing off the walls, names of people I didn’t know and wouldn’t remember.
At long last they let us out of the banquet room, herding us over into the ballroom for something called a Share-the-Fun party. They passed out sheets of paper with lists of careers. You had to meet enough people to get a new acquaintance’s autograph by each one on the list. Leroy signed up with me first thing on the line for welder. Naturally I signed his by nuclear scientist, which was at the top of the list.
With everybody asking, I quickly got bored always wanting to be the same thing. So I’d just pick one, like game warden, grocer, farmer, or fireman. If I chose something already taken, they’d just rush off for someone else. It was a fun game pretending that I passionately wanted to be a dairyman. Once I even tried nurse, but the girl looked at me like I was crazy. So I admitted it was a joke and said what I really wanted to be wasn’t on the list: King. She added career no. 23: Ruler – and a line where I signed “Benjamin I.” Then I started adding careers all over the place, architect, poet, Senator, and such.
Finally they announced a dance, and a band of five kids banged around on the stage adjusting the microphone, blowing on it, and saying, “Checking, one, two, three,” just like professionals. First they played “You Ain’t Nothing But a Hound Dog,” but the boy wasn’t very good at imitating Elvis. He couldn’t really sing worth a hoot either.
When the music started, we were supposed to dance with the person next to us. Well, right then I was talking to a nice guy named Jerry who wanted to be a police officer. We laughed and had to look around for some girls. I found one named Sheila Renfro with buck-teeth, and she turned out to be a pretty good dancer.