Wally was the kind of carefree bachelor who gives carefree bachelors a bad name. An unkempt, frequently unshaven little man, whose normal daily attire consisted of a dirty undershirt stretched over a potbelly and tucked into grimy bib overalls.
I best remember Wally as a part of the Main Street culture in the little town where I grew up. At least 20 years the senior to most of the kids who hung around King’s service station (the local hangout), he was the go-to guy for items not legally available to juveniles.
A veteran of World War II, he oft times repeated the vow he made while peeling potatoes in the south of France: “If I ever get out of here, I’ll never work again.” To my knowledge, he never violated that solemn promise.
King’s was an establishment specializing in a variety of goods. The usual services – gas, oil and tire repair – were available, as well as some more specialized items.
Wally was a regular at King’s. He had his favorite chair from which he would orate on every subject from politics to farming methods. The fact that he never farmed and didn’t make a practice of voting didn’t dull his arguments. An added benefit was the money he saved by bumming cigarettes from everyone who walked through the door.
Just to the west of King’s stood the infamous Farmers’ Café, a typical small town tavern dispensing liquid refreshments, along with a variety of card games. It was here where Wally would set up shop when not at King’s. He could be found at the far north end of the bar in close proximity to the cribbage board.
For it was at that cribbage board where Wally attempted to make his livelihood. In spite of a limited education, his counting skills were without equal when it came to moving the pegs on the board. He would rattle off points much like an auctioneer recites bids. If he erred in the count, you could bet it was to his benefit.
Andy was the café owner and chief bartender. He ran an honest place and did his best to keep Wally under control. Unfortunately, Andy was often too busy to restrain Wally from temptation.
Ironically, one of Wally’s most prosperous endeavors turned out to be at the expense of Andy.
The café was housed in one of Slater’s oldest buildings. It sat on a slipshod foundation with a dirt crawlspace basement. Because of its primitive condition, the basement was rarely visited. Andy took advantage of this by hanging a bucket on a beam in the basement directly below where he often sat. Unbeknownst to any of his clientele, he would drop every 50-cent piece he took in through a slot.
Several weeks after Andy started his new saving system, he noticed an unusual amount of business coming to the café in the form of 50-cent pieces. At first he welcomed the glut of shiny coins as a real boost for his savings. Then it dawned on him. Most of the business was coming via Wally. He was spending money like it was falling from the heavens.
A close inspection of the basement brought about two startling discoveries. The first being a large hole in the stone foundation leading to the outside — and the second was a nearly empty bucket.
Several attempts to catch Wally in the act proved fruitless. He had evidently realized that Andy was on to him and had returned to his former ways.
Andy eventually had the old building torn down and a new one built. It had no basement.
Ed Rood is the former publisher of the Tri-County Times.