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The Story of Haybaler:
A Saga of Generations
Bradly Jay Keller, M.D.
Copyright © 2015 Bradly Jay Keller
All rights reserved.
Cover Photo and Design: Geneva Z. Bailey
Ebook formatting by www.ebooklaunch.com
Table of Contents
1. The Land
2. Early Years
4. Squirrel Hunting
5. The Wheat Harvest
7. Viet Nam
9. The Crossroads
10. Returning Home
11. The Golden Fleece
12. The Deed
13. Cutting Firewood
14. First Love
15. A Passing
The story begins with the land and every creature great and small that is fortunate enough to live there. From the cradle to the grave, all our relationships are like a great play, divinely supported by day and night, upon this terra firma which we call home. So the story is told…
Haybaler’s family had lived on Acorn Ridge for so many generations that no one could remember how the land was originally purchased. And no one had ever seen a legal deed to prove rightful ownership of the land. Since early statehood the story was told that Haybaler’s Great Great Grandfather Jebediah Stiles won those 40 acres of untamed hill country in a back room poker game. “He won it fair and square,” the locals always said in a deep Texas drawl. The story of that fateful poker game had become a local legend, which defined many lives.
How could that be true? Well, in those days a back room poker game on a Saturday night was a serious affair. Things would always start out in good spirits, with the men laughing and pouring each other shots of moonshine whiskey, but as the poker hands are dealt and played, there are inevitable winners and losers. Sometimes, when a man is liquored up, he wagers an entire week’s worth of pay and suddenly loses it all. This can create scenes of dreadful anger and regret, as drunkenness overtakes civility and composure.
Down a country road outside Pleasanton, Texas the weekly poker game was always held in the back room of a derelict country bar, which the town’s folk whimsically called, The Country Club. It was located just across the county line, a fact which gave people the idea that it was somehow outside the long arm of the law. Thus, lawless behavior was the norm. The building was neglected and sitting in the middle of a weed choked lot. It was a haphazard construction of weathered boards held together by rusty nails and gravity. The cedar shingles of the roof unerringly leaked with every thunderstorm. It was more of an old shack than a proper building, which made it perfect for the rough company that frequented the hill country bar. Preachers and lonely wives said The Country Club was a portal of hell, and those who frequented the place had traded their last vestiges of humanity for a gallon of moonshine whiskey. It was probably true.
On one fateful Saturday night at The Country Club, there were five men seated at the round card table and many others standing in the room watching the game. They were all drinking moonshine, and every man wore a pistol. Some holstered their gun, but others preferred to hang their weapon recklessly between blue jeans and a leather belt. After a while it became clear that winning and losing was no laughing matter. As the night wore on towards morning, the harsh cigar smoke became thick and the moon drifted low in the night sky. Any man that still had his wits about him would be thinking it was time to leave.
After many hours of hard drinking and playing poker it came down to the final hand of the game. The cards had been dealt and the bets had been placed. Laughter had been replaced by rough talk, their voices sounding like wild dogs growling in a dark den. The room had become uncomfortable with a suffocating summer heat and thick humidity. It’s the kind of summer heat you cannot escape, as clothing sticks to your back with every move. Try as you may, the Texas heat finally overcomes the will to fight it. In this heat and humidity the stench of drunken men sweating alcohol out of every pour of their skin was overwhelming, to all except those who were too drunk to notice. You could hear the shuffling feet of the men that were standing, or left standing, as most of them were staggering drunk by this late hour, and some had fallen out. The men had become as derelict as the building they frequented.
Then, with unusual bravado, Jebediah Stiles threw a handful of gold coins on the center of the table to call the others and raise the bet. No one expected this to happen. However, it should have been no surprise, as Jebediah lived the life of a real cowboy, and he was not about to let this game slip away from his grasp. He always stood proud and tall, and he was a staunch example of the cowboy way. Nonetheless, there were startled expressions around the room at the sight of those gold coins. In a drunken stupor, one man’s cigar dropped from his gaping mouth and had to be quickly stomped into ashes on the wood floor. The reckless ash from one hot cigar could have burned down the entire building, like so much kindling.
Those glittering gold coins, proudly thrown upon the table, were the prize heirloom of the Stiles’ family. They were rumored to be Spanish gold coins stolen during the Spanish-American war. They say old Jebediah brought them back from his days as a member of Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders. Jebediah never spoke much of his fighting experience with the Rough Riders, except to say that the Americans had won the war. Whether stolen or rightly owned, the gold coins were a war memorial of great value.
Every man in the room bristled with desire at the sight of those gold coins, tossed with a heavy crash onto the wooden poker table. At that moment they were like a den of drunken thieves, intent on stealing from one another, each one hiding behind the assumed safety of owning a gun. No one could imagine how much those gleaming gold coins were worth. Was Jebediah calling everyone’s bluff with such a handsome wager? All the players folded then and there, except one, Mr. Samuel. Being a garrulous and insincere man, he could not stomach this unexpected trump. Rather than fold, he called Jebediah’s hand by barking loudly in front of every man present, “I’ll call those gold coins with my 40 acres on Acorn Ridge.” He glared harshly at Jebediah, while a line of greasy chewing tobacco dripped from the corner of his stained mouth onto his sleeve. Nervously, he loosened his sweat stained collar.
There was a long, tense silence. None of those men had ever seen anything like this happen before. The stakes had never been this high. All eyes were on Jebediah and Mr. Samuel’s cards. With fevered brows, the two men stared at each other with unforgiving intensity. His hands trembling, Mr. Samuel slowly laid his cards face up on the table revealing 2 pair, queens and aces. Old Jebediah grinned and calmly set his cards face up, as well. Mr. Samuel took a gasp of air when he saw his opponent’s hand. Jebediah was holding a full house, a pair of deuces and triple nines.
The rest of the men pushed back from the table and waited. A moment like this could mean anything, including drawn guns. You could hear Mr. Samuel’s coarse breath heaving through his clenched teeth. His eyes and face were fiery red, as if some devilish creature had suddenly inhabited his mind and body. A heavy sweat popped out of his furrowed brow and ran down the lines of his deeply grimaced face. Mr. Samuel’s trembling hand slowly inched towards his holstered pistol.
At the last moment, Mr. Samuel slammed the table with his clenched fist and blasted the room with horrible cursing, the likes of which surely came from the depths of hell. His rage was so complete that spit and tobacco juice sprayed in every direction from his furious mouth. In that moment, extreme rage had overcome reason and he was like a wild animal that had become deranged and ou
t of control. He could not back out of the deal, but he expressed his vile words openly, and without regret. Jumping up from his chair Mr. Samuel screamed in a violent voice, “You can have the land, but I’ll be coming around to get my moonshine still before the next full moon!”
In terms of back room poker law, those 40 acres on Acorn Ridge now belonged to Jebediah Stiles. No one would ever dispute this, nor would they ever speak of it, save in hushed rumors. Jebediah Stiles and Mr. Samuel avoided speaking to one another for many years. Of course, Mr. Samuel never came to get his still, which had been hidden away in those pristine hills for decades. Mr. Samuel had used the property on Acorn Ridge as a concealed location to operate the still, but he had never actually lived on the land. Mr. Samuels let go of the land, but he was never able to let go of the resentment. His mind seethed with a desire for revenge.
An exceptional property, the 40