The winds were fierce. Tree limbs scattered along the street. Wet piles of leaves seem to know how to associate with each other as they lay there saying nothing in particular just wondering why their green lives ended so suddenly.
“There’s no picture tonight”, Lonis Ladner, my father-in-law shouted. He was upset because he was going to miss the evening weather. Promptly at 6 pm all activity ceased in my wife’s household. No bathroom breaks, no cooking, and absolutely no talking. None. He had to hear the weather. These were the days when there was no Weather Channel and no weather radio blaring out urgent meteorological alerts. Jim Cantore wasn’t born. But, good old Nash Roberts on channel 6 was there and you dang sure better listen to him. For Lonis, Nash was the greatest human in the world.
I once mistakenly asked if I could have a refill of my soda during the agricultural report section. My shocked wife got bug eyed. My mother-in-law, Tecia, put her hand over her mouth, and the old man bit his cigar it two. I had broken a sacred ritual. In Ancient Rome if the priest skipped a single word the entire ceremony had to completely begin again. In “Ladnerville” (my designation for the home my wife grew up in) there was no do over and the vital words of the weathercaster were lost for all time. The old man didn’t speak to me for a week.
I loved my in laws. They were wonderful to me. At first I was referred to as “that boy”, then “that Teel boy”. I graduated to “Wes” upon our marriage. I had arrived. Upon the birth of the first grandson I became “son”, a true form of endearment which I valued. I still remember the day I asked to marry his daughter. He was sitting on the porch and I sat near him and asked his permission. Not a word in response. We sat there. Still no word. After a silence that I thought lasted hours he got up, said OK, and left the room. When I reported the encounter to my bride to be she was thrilled.
“ But, honey, he didn’t say yes.”
“Yeah, babe, but he didn’t say no either.” She was excited. I was bewildered. Ladnerville at its best.
There are, according to my father-in-law, two kinds of Ladners: Teacher Ladners of which they were included, and Bootlegger Ladners of which they were not. Of course, there was Uncle Oswald who ran a little store with a giant still upstairs. I guess he didn’t count. Once, I was treated to Uncle Oswald’s Christmas Brew. I was not advised to carefully sip it. My tongue was on fire and my stomach felt as if someone poured gasoline down it and lit a match, which was close to the truth. Moonshine is clear and does not mix with coke, orange juice, or any other substance known to man or redneck. It sort of floats there with a distinct line separating shine from cola. All the stirring and shaking in the world won’t help. Neither will all the pepto bismol.
As the fuzzy pictured refused to clear, frantically he fiddled with all the dials and then went outside to further investigate. “Damn it. The damn rain blew over the damn antennae.” No one had cable tv and at the time satellite tv was unknown. On a good day their set could pick up two out of the three local networks in range. Lonis was not a cursing person except when it came to Ole Miss losing a football game or not being able to see the weather.
He taught school for 36 years and Tecia for 43 and they still managed to farm 100 acres dedicated to vegetables and the cows. His cows were more like pets. They would come to him when he called. Once we were eating roast beef for supper. I didn’t know Lonis had one of his cows slaughtered. As we ate he sadly commented, “This was the one with the white spotted face.” He then put down his fork and couldn’t eat another bite. I did the same thing. My wife cried, “Not that one, daddy.” I don’t want a close personal relationship with the food I eat. Eat all your food kids and remember that’s Jim the carrot there. No.
Out came the ladder and the chain saw. He was determined to cut off the broken limb hampering the reception. I was detailed to hold the ladder. Up he went. Revvvv, revvvv and a cloud of exhaust. You ever enjoy slow motion? Nowadays, the camera slows down the long pass and the receiver just barely lets the ball slip from his outstretched hands. Lonis made a cut into the limb. As I watched, the large limb twisted around and pirouetted down in a spiral headed for the antennae. In slow mo speed a person’s mind is tricked into thinking you can reach out and stop the action. But, you can’t. I could see Lonis’ mouth moving as his cigar fell out plummeting to the ground The flimsy aluminum antennae crumpled and imploded onto the roof. All this time the chain saw roared and Lonis’ mouth never stopped moving. I cannot read lips, but 30 feet below I knew every cuss word he was saying.
My wife and mother-in-law heard the racket and came around to the side of the house. I was laughing so hard my eyes teared up and I fell down to my knees screaming and hysterical with laughter rolling into the ditch full of water. Lonis saw me and I believe it made him cuss more. He called down damnation on the saw, the antenna, the limb, the roof, and perhaps on me too. He made his way down from the ladder and threw the saw on the ground stalking back into he house. I was still laughing like a hyena. We dared not enter the house. After 20 minutes he came out and said to me, “Fun’s over. Get in the truck we’re going to buy a new antenna”, and we did.
In the fall Ole Miss plays football (sometimes). Ladner family ethics demand the attendance at some, if not all, such events. Lonis was a great fan and we went to many games. The rain fell harder and harder as we were beating LSU. We sat in the stands soaked, despite the rain gear and garbage bags covering our feet. Lonis turned to us and said, “Can you believe all these jackasses sitting out here watching this game and getting wet?”
“Ok, let’s go, daddy.” My wife said.
“Go now, are you crazy. We’re only behind two touchdowns and a safety. We got this. Sit tight.” And we did, but we didn’t “got this”. We lost. Only one thing was worse than Ole Miss losing a football game – Mississippi State winning one.
On the way home Lonis pulled over and we went into a small roadside cafe. He was not above savoring pickled quail eggs, tripe, hogs head cheese, fried squirrel and other delicacies. He spotted a jar of peppers and ordered one with his meal. As soon as we got our plates he slipped the pepper into his mouth and chewed.
“That’s a hot little son of a bitch.” He yelled out.
“Lonis!” Hush up. His wife whispered.
“Damn, that thing is hot.” He shouted again.
Everybody in the little cafe was looking our way. Foolishly, he drank down a glass of water which magnified the pepper’s intensity. We knew not to laugh. I was choking to the point I bit my cheek.
Johnny Bull was my father-in-law’s favorite bull. He was quite tame, never minding if the kids were placed on his back to ride and coming when Lonis called. He would eat corn cobs from your hand, although he trapped my wife in the corn crib once because he insisted on more being fed more corn.
Our son Ryan was maybe three years old. Lonis and I had him in the field with us when suddenly he looked over at Johnny Bull and asked, “Pawpaw, what is that under Johnny Bull?” At first we didn’t know what he meant until we realized Ryan was eye ball to, well ….. We suddenly understood. “Pawpaw,” Ryan demanded as he squatted down and peered under Johnny Bull, “What is that hanging under Johnny Bull?” We started laughing. The more we laughed the more inquisitive Ryan became. “Why won’t you tell me what is under Johnny Bull?” He would not stop asking and we could not cease laughing.
When we somewhat recovered Lonis said to him, “Go up to the house and ask your grandmother. She knows.” Off he went to the house a few feet from the field. After a minute or so we saw the back door open and Tecia, my mother-in-law, was standing there shaking her finger at us. We became uncontrollable.
I was blessed to have two wonderful people in my life. There are many stories about terrible in-laws. Mine were special. My mother-in-law would cook any dish I ever wanted. My father-in-law was my hunting buddy. I never had a cross word with them. They were friends, not just relatives. Tecia showed me the power of unconditional love for children. Lonis taught me how to be a grandfather. I miss them still. I always will.