Somewhere around 1500 A.D., give or take several hundred years, some folks went around Europe bragging they could change iron into gold. People called them alchemists and the practice of their art alchemy.
Alchemists were con artists who got their money up front and bought fast horses.
Let the record read, I’ve never called Jimmy D., my middle brother, an alchemist. I did, silently, question his belief that an ordinary file used to sharpen hoes could be magnetized by the charge from a 110-watt electrical wall outlet. In fact, I still think, on that notion, Jim is two sandwiches short of a picnic
I don’t think Jim’s inflated ego returned to normal after his FAA Milk Tasting Team won the Texas Milk Tasting Championship at Texas A&M in ’53. That championship permanently inflated his ego; it deflated my ego but not permanently.
Am I saying we should lay all the magnet business off on Jim’s milk tasting success? No. However, I will always maintain it was a factor.
It was mostly because of my blood connection to Jimmy D. that FFA advisers Billy Conner and Sterling Beckham bribed me to uphold the Hatley’s milk tasting reputation by giving me a Jersey heifer from the Kiwanis Dairy Initiative.
Conner-Beckham dropped me like a hot potato when my tasting team came in 65th out of 69 teams at A&M.
My heifer did a purple ribbon at the county fair. At 15 months old, she was four months pregnant. The judge was mystified at what gave my heifer a “mature look beyond her years.” I didn’t know either until she had her baby, gave milk for two months and quit. She was a looker, not a milker.
The night of the magnet experiment kicked off with the Mervin Chester Family coming to see us so the parents could play 42. Mervin rolled his ’49 Chevy close to the house and parked it with the bumper almost touching our front steps. He brought with him his wife, Marie, and three pretty daughters, Vonda, Katie Ruth and Patricia.
Mervin’s wife, Marie, had a Cajun look — raven hair, dark eyes, bountiful chest. As manager, daddy had legal authority to appoint Marie official scorekeeper for the Dike baseball team, which he did. Momma didn’t like that appointment one little bit; she was jealous.
Few people knew at the time Mervin Chester had a rich political future. He went on to win several elections for Road Commissioner of Precinct 3.
With our parents playing 42 in the next room and with me and the three Chester girls for an audience, Jimmy showed us a copper wire and a file used to sharpen hoes, shovels and posthole diggers. When Jim said he was going to wrap the file and plug it into a 110-watt wall socket, I should have used my son’s very first words, “Hoe it!” (“Hold it!”)
But in front of three girls, I couldn’t bring myself to speak. Also, on my behalf, let me remind you electricity was completely new to all of us, the Hatleys and the Chesters.
Using a hammer and a brickbat, Jimmy flattened both ends of the wire, wrapped the file with it, and plugged the contraption into the wall socket next to the kitchen.
A loud cracking, snapping sound ran through the house; lights went out. In the dark you could smell rubber burning. Then, the lights came back on, giving off a dull, supernatural glow. It was scary.
Even before Daddy yelled, Jimmy struck out through the front door to borrow new fuses to get the electricity back on. In mid-gallop, Jim slammed into the bumper of the Chesters’ ’49 Chevy. From the bumper collision, he spun off toward the corner of the yard where he fell. His moaning and groaning led me to him. I yelled for Daddy, and together we stood Jim up on his good leg.
By then, Mervin had joined us. “Jap, take that boy to see a doctor tonight.”
“Naw,” Daddy told Mervin, “He’ll walk it off.”
“Walk it off? There’s a half inch dent in my bumper. No telling what the damage is to Jimmy D.’s leg.”
A week later, when the leg turned green, we took Jim to see Dr. Hanna. After looking at the X-rays, Dr. Hanna said, “There’s a break in that leg you can drop a match stick through.” Jimmy wore a plaster cast for two months.
Some years later, I asked Jim if he had paid Mervin for the bumper. You have to admit the question is funny; Jimmy didn’t see the humor. In fact, for a second, I thought he was going to pop me one.
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