Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Welcome to the Beaver Trap

The trap was sprung cleverly. "Is there a Jesse James Museum in Saint Jo, Missouri?" the older woman asked. I thought it was one of those ready reference questions that is the bread and butter of deskslavedom, so I pounced. As I typed away, tracking it down,* the iron jaws of the trap snapped and I was a goner. She knew there was. She just wanted to talk. You see, her great grandmother lived RIGHT BEHIND the Jesse James house at the time he was shot by the coward Robert Ford. I know! Can you believe it? The bullet practically hit her! I learned this and many other fascinating things in the following eternity, including Mr. James' many acts of kindness and benefactions to the portions of the populace who weren't bankers or customers of banks or soldiers on the Federal payroll. She told me of the wizened widow who let Jesse, whom she thought was a simple traveler and not a wanted desperado, water his horse at her farm. In this story, he was alone and not with the other members of his gang-- you know: the ones who had a penchant for shooting bystanders during the course of their robberies. She gave me a great deal of extraneous detail about this widow and her farm, and the clean-cut young man who needed to care for his steed. I guess this adds to the truthiness of the fable. The young man listens to the widow's sad tale of not having enough money to make her payment on the farm, and how far behind she is and that the bank is going to take it all from her. The young man is moved and pulls a fat wad of cash out of the saddlebag. He gives it to the widow (of course she was a widow). And it's not just one or two payments, maybe enough to get current with the man. It's enough money, in fact, to pay off the entire note. As tradition dictates, the horrible bank man was coming to foreclose on her that very day. The young man told her several times to make sure she got a receipt that said Paid in Full on it. He rides off. The bank guy, whom I imagine looks like a cross between Snidely Whiplash and the moneybags guy in Monopoly, comes and demands payment or else the poor widow (husband killed in the Civil War) will be disposessed. She pulls out the aforesaid fat wad, hands it to Snidely and demands her receipt that says Paid in Full. Well, sir, wouldn't you know it, but as the nasty bank dude rides back to town (in a buggy pulled by a fine team of horses) he is stopped by a well-dressed young man who robs him.

My mind fogged over as I saw the punchline slowly making its way toward me. Wouldn't the old lady get suspicious about somebody who resembles the guy on all the wanted posters--you know, the one who has a big bounty on his head--having a ton of cash on him? Wouldn't the law have come by to ask the widow a few questions after she suddenly has a lot of money after not having any and the money gets stolen by a guy who fits the description of the guy they're hunting for? Her mouth moved and moved, and I thought of the beaver in the trap. True, I was not suffering any actual physical pain, but the impulse to gnaw off something so that I could escape was very strong.

*On the grounds of the Patee House Museum at 1202 Penn Street, Saint Joseph, MO 64503.
Summer hours: Mon-Sat, 10am-5pm
Sun: 1pm-5pm
$3.00 for adults, $2.00 for senior citizens, and $1.50 for students. Kids 5 and under are admitted for free

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