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Outdoors with Larry Dablemont: The green groundhog

Mont Cleary was not well-liked. Folks said he had killed a man in the ‘40s after a poker game on the river by pushing him over a bluff.

            Argis Blackfern was a good old boy that everyone in the pool hall liked and had fun with. Argis, who was known as Argie to everyone, was mentally slow, but happy. I think he was the one who ate a whole jar of mayonnaise after Rube Wallace bet him a dollar he couldn’t do it in less than a minute.

            Argie’s old mother came to the pool hall once madder’n hell because Argie had come home in his socks! Mont Cleary had taken his boots in a bet of some sort. They were nearly wore-out boots, as I recall it, who would want ‘em?  Mont did just because he could laugh about Argie walking around in socks with holes in them. 

            You might remember me writing about how Argie came into the pool hall once limping badly. Someone asked him why he was limping and Argie replied that he had gravel in his boot. When asked why he hadn’t removed it, Argie replied that “he jest hadn’t had the time.”

            Well as it came to be, that worthless Cleary had won five dollars from Argie in a bet and was laughing about it. The unbalanced young man never had much money and the whole thing angered Doc Dykes and Jerald Jeffries, two of the more intellectually-advanced members of the front bench regulars in dad’s pool hall. 

            Argie had come in one Saturday evening in the spring, telling a story about how he had seen a beaver run under his mom’s barn. Ol’ Mont bet him five dollars it wasn’t a beaver, so on a bright Sunday evening he and two or three of his ne’er-do-well buddies went out to Mrs. Blackfern’s barn with Argie. They found a pair of groundhogs feeding out around the jonquils and emerging clover. Mont yukked it up about how he had won five dollars from Argie and it angered Doc and Jerald enough that they cooked up a plan.

            The following Saturday, Jerald gave Argie a hundred dollar bill and told him to wait ‘til Mont got there and swear that he had seen a bright green groundhog emerge from under his mom’s barn on St. Patrick’s Day.

            Things pretty much went according to plan after that.  Doc Dykes hoorahed the story of the green beaver. Mont joined him of course, as Doc bet Argie100 dollars that there was no such thing there at the barn. As he had been instructed to do, the  befuddled Argie said little and took out that hundred-dollar bill, and Doc produced his. Jerald was to hold the money.

            Mont was suckered badly that day, begging to add his 100 dollars to the bet as all the front bench regulars whooped it up and slapped their knees and laughed derisively. Now Jerald held three 100-dollar bills and Doc and Mont decided that when they took Argie’s 100, they would split it 50-50. But if Argie could in fact produce a green woodchuck sighting, he got the whole 300.

            The trap was set. I don’t think it could have gone any better. Argie just kept his mouth shut and Doc and Jerald said that if, before church the next morning there was no green groundhog to be seen, Argie lost the bet and Mont and Doc would be 50 dollars richer.

            Doc of course, was the brains of the deception and he couldn’t have prayed for it to go better. On Friday, Jim Splechter and Ol’ Bill Stalder went out and live-trapped a groundhog under the widow Blackfern’s barn. They spent a considerable time there, having coffee and a slice or two of her oven-baked sweet-tater pie and flirting with the old widow. That gave a young groundhog time to emerge from beneath the barn to go in the trap to get the carrot it was baited with. And he was caught!

            On Saturday, the week after St. Patrick’s Day, Ol’ Bill handed over the live-trap cage and after a good spraying with bright green paint, they had the green whistle-pig that would cost Mont Cleary a hundred dollars.

            Sometimes though, perfect plans go awry and when Doc and Jerald and Mont and Argie and a half-dozen of the pool hall’s front bench regulars went out on Sunday morning to witness a green groundhog…he had escaped from the pen inside the barn. Doc and Jerald had forgotten that there are two things woodchucks can do…dig and chew!

            How much of a barn floor can a woodchuck chuck, if a woodchuck wants to chuck wood under his pen?

He was gone! Mont was ecstatic as they walked out of the barn with Argie’s head held low and Jerald fishing in his pocket for the 300 dollars, of which he only had two.

            And then came the miracle still talked about today. It was Ol’ Jess Wolf who saw it and exclaimed, “Looky, Yonder!” And there, well below the barn in the creek bottom, feeding amongst a patch of clover 400 yards away was a bright green groundhog.

            There almost was a fight, as Mont figured things out, but there were too many there for Mont to whip, so he just resolved that he had been tricked and cheated, flamboozled and deceived!

            Doc got his 100 dollars back and Argie got Mont’s 100 dollars, probably the most money he ever had at one time. The groundhog eventually got the green paint to wear off, I guess. One of the front bench regulars said that they saw him before it did, on the other side of the crick downstream a ways in Morley Ryker’s field. Morley’s son hunted groundhogs in the summer and the family ate them. They all chuckled when they thought of Morley’s son shootin’ and bringin’ home a somewhat-green groundhog.

            But I’ll bet a hundred dollar bill that none of that family would eat a green groundhog! It’d be sort of like shooting a sacred white buffalo!

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