Day the Mules Went Crazy
by Jim Foreman
Crazy Walter wasn't really crazy in the way that most people think crazy people should act; like talking to imaginary friends, setting fires and killing cats. Those doctors with funny names and leather couches could probably rattle off several important sounding medical terms for what was wrong with Crazy Walter but everyone around Stinnett knew that when he got struck by the lightning bolt, it simply burned off all his hair, knocked his brain out of gear and left him talking like a duck. No matter how hard teachers and his parents tried to get his brain back in gear and going again, he was never able to get past being a six year old. He looked more or less normal except that the lightning bolt turned his hair bright red and made it stick out in all directions. He looked like one of those cartoon characters who had just stuck a finger in a light socket.
After a month or so his hair began to grow back and he quit talking like Donald Duck, so everyone thought he was going to be just fine. It wasn't long before the teachers realized that he wasn't learning how to read, write or add numbers like the other kids. At the end of the year, he was still a happy little boy on his first day in school and there was nothing to do except make him take first grade all over again.
At the end of the next school year, Walter still hadn't learned a thing but since it was school policy not to keep a student in any one grade for longer than two years, they promoted him to the second grade. I don't know if that policy came about because the teachers couldn't stand any kid for more than two years or if they thought that no matter how dumb a kid might be, he was bound to soak up enough after two years to go on to the next grade.
His parents figured that he would grow out of being struck by lightning in the same way kids grow out of stuttering or wetting the bed, so the kept sending him to school with the hope that if he went there long enough, he was bound to start learning something.
I caught up with and passed Crazy Walter at around the fourth grade. All the rest of the kids were about ten years old while he was at least sixteen and twice as big as the rest of us. The fourth grade was also where we met Mrs. Weaver. I don't know if there was a Mr. Weaver but if there was, I certainly pity the man. If she had a husband we never saw or heard of him. After having her as a teacher for a year, I don't think there was a man alive who could put up with her.
Mrs. Weaver was not only the homeroom teacher for the fourth grade but also taught what she called Music Appreciation in high school. I don't know how anyone could appreciate the stuff that she tried to cram down us because as my daddy always put it, "If you can't dance to it, it ain't music." For kids who thought that The Wabash Cannonball was the national anthem, trying to get them interested in music composed by old men with long hair and funny names was next to impossible.
I don't know where Mrs. Weaver came from but it certainly wasn't from Texas or any other place where normal people live. She talked and acted like one of those rich old biddies you see in the movies. She smoked cigarettes in a long holder like President Roosevelt and used words that none of us understood. Whenever she was particularly displeased with us, she would stamp her foot and call us Filthy Little Urchins. We all knew what filthy was but we had to get a dictionary to find out about urchins. It said an urchin was a spiny creature that lived in the ocean. We decided that if something lived in water, then how could it be filthy. Anyway, being called names, especially ones we didn't understand, didn't bother us all that much because most of us were used to being called much worse names that we did understand.
Every time that Walter came into her class, he would say, "Hore thar Miz Weaver, I hardly reckanosed you."
Mrs. Weaver would always correct him by stressing each syllable in each word, "Hello there, I hardly recognized you."
Walter's instant reply was always the same, "Aw shucks, Miz Weaver, you know who I am. I'm Walter."
This would send all the kids in the room into screaming fits of laughter and Mrs. Weaver into a fit of scolding us by saying, "I certainly do not see anything amusing about that."
Since Walter was always so disruptive in class, Mrs. Weaver made him pull his desk up beside hers so she could keep him under control. One day she was writing something on the black board and as she bent over to write at the very bottom of the board, her rather broad posterior became too much of a temptation for Walter. He pulled a rubber band cut from an old inner tube out of his pocket, then he stretched it out like he was going to pop her on the butt.
When everyone in the class began to snicker, Mrs. Weaver turned around to see what was going on. By the time she turned around, Walter would hide the rubber band. He had done this three or four times when the rubber band broke and he really popped her a good one. She jumped straight up into the air, let out a screech and slapped him across the face so hard that he still had a red hand print on his cheek when school let out.
A man came to the school one day to test everyone to find out how well they could see and discovered that Walter was blind as a bat. He concluded that the reason why Walter couldn't learn to read and write was because everything was just one big blur to him. He fixed him up with a pair of glasses with lenses so thick that they looked like they were made from Coke bottle bottoms. Evidently he could now see a lot better but his field of vision was rather narrow because he had to move his head back and forth in order to zero in on whatever he was looking at. He might have been able to see better with the new glasses but he still couldn't learn anything because his brain had been permanently knocked out of gear.
The three most important things in Walter's life was a pet monkey, an old yellow dog named Bill and a bicycle that he got for Christmas. The monkey had escaped when a carnival was in town and after they left, Walter found it hiding in a tree. The monkey had been trained to ride on the back of a dog like a little jockey as part of the show, so it was only natural for him to jump right on Bill's back. Bill didn't take too well to having a monkey on his back at first, but he finally got around to accepting it. Walter's mother even made the monkey a little jockey suit and they would dress him up when he rode on Bill.
Crazy Walter rode a bicycle everywhere he went and could pedal about as fast as most people drove in those days. Walter liked to race up and down main street on his bicycle. Bill, with the monkey clinging to his back, would run along beside him.
One Saturday morning they were doing their usual thing on main street when an insurance salesman driving through town in a big old Hudson got so interested in the strange sight of a monkey on a dog chasing after a wild looking man on a bicycle that he ran off the road, knocked the porch off the cafe and crashed into the side of Lawyer Tate's brand new Packard.
Shorty Braxton was the only witness to the accident and the insurance salesman figured that nobody would believe a cripple, so tried to say that it was all Walter's fault for attracting his attention and he shouldn't be held responsible. After Shorty told what had really happened, Lawyer Tate decided that since the insurance salesman didn't live there, he wanted him to pay for the damage on the spot or else leave his car as security. When the insurance man couldn't come up with the money or an insurance policy to cover the damage, Lawyer Tate had Ed Bebedorff drag the Hudson across the street and store it on his vacant lot. It's too bad that the salesman didn't buy some of his own insurance because he couldn't pay for the damage and Lawyer Tate had the Sheriff auction off the Hudson to pay for the damages.
When the war started, Walter went down to the post office and registered for the draft along with all the other young men in town. A few weeks later, he received his induction notice and reported for his physical examination. Everyone in town was surprised that he even got a draft notice considering how goofy he was. Evidently the Army doctors were in a bit of a hurry that morning and the examination consisted of little more than bend over, spread your cheeks, turn your head and cough. The next thing Walter knew, he was on a bus headed for Fort Sill, Oklahoma for basic training. As he was boarding the bus to leave, his dad who had served in World War One, told him the secret for getting along in the Army, "Keep your mouth shut, your bowels open and don't volunteer for nothing."
A month later, an Army Corporal delivered Walter back home with his hair buzzed off and wearing an Army uniform with no insignia or buttons on it. His pants kept falling down because they even kept his belt. Walter told everyone that he was going to be an airplane pilot and they had just sent him home until they could find an airplane for him to fly. Every time that an airplane flew over, Walter would run outside to see if it was coming for him.
Walter said that he really like being in the Army because they fed him all he could eat, gave him his own gun to carry, blew whistles a lot and told him everything to do. He said that the only time that they really got mad and yelled at him was when he accidentally shot a man named Lieutenant in the leg. He liked being in the Army so much that his mother sewed new buttons and his dad's old Sergeant's stripes on the uniform that they sent him home in and he continued to wear it all the time.
One day Walter saw a convoy of Army trucks coming through town so he stood in the middle of main street and saluted each vehicle as it passed. When a Captain in a Jeep spotted him, he stopped and told Walter that he was out of uniform. Walter replied, "No Sir, I ain't out of my uniform, I'm in it."
Shorty Braxton was drinking coffee in the cafe and saw what was going on so he came to Walter's rescue. If he hadn't, Walter might have ended up back in the Army again.
In those days whenever people heard any airplane, especially one that sounded big enough to be an Army airplane, they would rush outside to watch it fly over. Everyone could tell from the sound of the engine that the airplane was in trouble. It was coughing, sputtering and backfiring; then a stream of blue smoke began to trail from the engine. They watched as it banked left and disappeared behind the depot. A few seconds later a big ball of black smoke rolled into the sky. Everyone in town rushed down to the railroad to see the airplane crash. The plane had crashed in Cletus Fenno's cow pasture, slid through the fence and into Mrs. Rucker's chicken house, killing twenty-three of her best laying hens.
The pilot told them what happened, "The plane was on fire and I had to crash land in a cow lot next to the railroad tracks. As soon as the ship stopped sliding, I was out of it like a shot because I figured that it was going to explode any second. As I ran from the plane, some guy with bright red hair and wearing an Army uniform with Sergeant's stripes ran past me and jumped into the cockpit. A few seconds later the gas tanks blew. He didn't have a chance."
The Army finally paid Mrs. Rucker thirty dollars for the chicken house and a buck each for the laying hens that they killed but refused to give Walter's folks anything for him. They said that it was his own fault that he jumped into a burning airplane.