A lesson on keeping your mouth shut
I came of age in the 1960’s and early 70’s. It was a time of great upheaval and change in America. I saw the events of this time one by one on TV – the assassinations and an unpopular war that brought down one president followed by the political underhandedness that brought down another.
We always laughed that in Southwestern Louisiana, the wild 60’s didn’t get to our area until the 70’s. The age of long hair, rebellion, and rock music washed over our part of the state during my high school years. Looking back, it’s still hard to believe that I once took part in a student strike that shut down our high school for two days… It was a strange time in history and I’m glad I was there to experience it.
The following story, from the early 1970’s is one of my personal favorites. It was told to me by my great friend and college roommate, Terry “T-Bone” Perkins. It concerned an incident that happened with his uncle. Terry swore it really happened and it’s just too good not to tell.
The Perkins family was longtime residents of the Pitkin area in Vernon Parish. It is a beautiful area of Louisiana dotted with small farms, country people, and miles of pine forests. The people of this area are good folk – wonderful to have as friends and always ready to help.
However, the people of this area are not anyone to fool with. They are fearsome enemies when crossed. I learned this lesson clearly during my years as a basketball
player and later as a coach. When you came into the Pitkin gym, you’d better be ready to play hard and fight your way out win or lose.
My story concerns four guys who could attest to the wisdom of leaving those Pitkinites alone.
Terry’s uncle, Donald Perkins, was well known throughout our area because he operated the sale barn in DeRidder. For those of you not cultured, the sale barn was where weekly animal auctions took place. At Miller Brothers auction barn, this was always on Tuesday. The intersection of LA 26 and US 171, where the old sale barn was located, would always be crowded on Tuesdays with trucks and trailers and cowboys everywhere.
. . . And in the middle of this dusty noisy scene would always be Donald Perkins.
On the day of this particular story, Donald Perkins was traveling through Alexandria with a load of cattle. As usual he had on his cowboy hat, the truck window rolled down, and a big chew of Cotton Boll tobacco in his jaw. He tapped his brake as he approached a red light on Alexandria’s main highway, MacArthur Drive.
As he came to a stop in the right northbound lane, he was joined by a car in the adjacent left lane. It was a loud Dodge Charger. Back then these powerful cars were called, “Muscle cars.” Usually fueled by a large V-8 engine and a four barrel carburetor, they were full of power, painfully loud, and ready to roll.
Little did we know that these types of cars were dinosaurs being encountered by the coming ice age of the gas shortages of the mid-1970’s. Their low gas mileage in the shadow of the long gas lines took these classics out of production.
In this particular red Dodge were four guys – not just any guys, but hippie guys. They were long haired, with scruffy beards, sporting sloppy clothes. The guy on the front passenger side wore a sleeveless cut off t-shirt and a smart aleck sneer as they pulled up beside the cattle truck.
Two distinct cultures were meeting side by side on the pavement of MacArthur Drive. There was definitely no love lost between these two opposite sides of dress, attitude, and values.
Because there were four of them, the hippies bravely began to make fun of the short red-faced cowboy sitting in the dented truck pulling the trailer load of lowing cattle. Their comments were slightly restrained, but Donald Perkins heard enough to know they were making fun of everything about him, his truck, and his load.
Fortunately the light turned green and the Dodge Charger, with its loud glass-packed dual exhausts, roared away. Donald and his loaded truck took off much slower.
As fate would have it, the next red light caught them both. As you can probably guess, they were once again side by side with three cars in front of each one. The Dodge arrived there ahead of the cattle truck, so the four hippies had plenty of time to get their one-line zingers ready for the cowboy. Since the previous red light, they had laughed enough about the cowboy that they felt free to direct their sarcastic remarks directly at Donald Perkins.
As I told you earlier, men from the Pitkin area are not the enemies you want, as these four hippies in the Charger were soon going to find out. By now he had heard enough, so Donald Perkins killed the engine on his truck and reached back behind him on his gun rack.
From the gun rack he pulled down a weapon.
But it wasn’t a shotgun or rifle…Instead it was a cattle prod… Or what we call in our part of Louisiana, a “hotshot.”
A hotshot is a thin pole about the length of a walking stick. On the pointed end it has two metal electrodes. When the end of this instrument is pushed against something that is conductive, a sharp jolt of electricity is given off.
The hotshot is a prime tool for any serious cattleman. It is effective in controlling and moving the biggest and most stubborn bull or cow. The jolt it gives does not cause injury or long term damage, but its shock will quickly and completely get the attention of even the rowdiest animal.
Now I know you’re ahead of me on my story, so let’s get back to Donald Perkins. He stepped out of the truck and approached the carload of rowdy animals. The guy on the front passenger side had his arm propped up on the door. Donald Perkins later related that when he stuck the guy in the armpit with his hotshot, “he bleated like a goat.”
In quick succession he managed to stick of them all at least once. With all of the hollering, cussing, and scampering around, he wasn’t sure, but thought he got the two on the passenger side a couple of times.
The Charger was fenced in by vehicles ahead, on both sides, as well behind, so there was no place for the car to escape. Just then, the light finally turned green, the cars ahead moved off, and the hippies in the Dodge sped off, probably not slowing down until they got across the Red River and into Pineville.
I’ve told and retold this story hundreds of times since the day “T-Bone” Terry Perkins acted it out in detail for me. Most of my stories have some spiritual lesson, but I’m not sure about this one. Well, I guess it’s a lesson to keep your mouth shut and mind your own business, especially if you’re parked next to a cowboy with a loaded gun rack.
Donald Perkins has been dead for many years now. But in my mind he is still alive – standing in the traffic lane of busy MacArthur Drive wielding his weapon like a skilled swordsman through the open windows of the hippie car.
…And probably somewhere in Rapides Parish, or maybe up in Pollock … or down in Bunkie, some forty-something guy will read this story… and he’ll feel a twinge of remembrance…. Maybe a sudden catch under his right arm, or a jolt in his memory, as he remembers that day on the four lane in Alexandria… when the crazy cowboy attacked him and his buddies with that strange instrument that stung.
Yes, he’ll remember that day… forever “branded” in his mind… when he
was stuck by the hotshot from the short cowboy from Pitkin… (“That’s Pitkin, Louisiana, boy… And when you say it, say it with respect) …where the men are strong, the women are all beautiful, and you don’t make fun of a man’s cowboy hat, his truck, his cows, or his chew of tobacco.
Donnie Perkins, Donald’s son, sent me this message: “You got everything right in the story except for one detail. (I should know, I was in the truck that day.) My daddy never chewed tobacco.“
Thanks Donnie for that note.
And thanks Donald Perkins for a good lesson on “Even a fool is thought to be wise when he is silent.” It’s a lesson those hippies learned, and an example for all of us.
“Branded” is a favorite story of our readers from the book, Wind in the Pines. Visit http://www.creekbank.net to learn more.