Clevus had always enjoyed a certain reputation in the town of Contentment.
As a child, he was known to be mean as a snake (if said snake was having a really bad day.)
As a teenager, he and Aunt Ginny nearly came to blows a few times over who would rule the young Vernon children after their parents died. Aunt Ginny won that one, and became the only person (other than his future wife, Eleanor Grace) that Clevus was afraid of.
As a young man, he was a frequent prankster. He was also the subject of much prayer, as his favorite thing to do was to worry the mess out of the local preachers. If a snake was found behind the pulpit, or an angry cat released at just the wrong time during a sermon, folks all looked for Clevus.
He was a man of legendary proportions, and this was before he got converted at the Harley Riders for Jesus Revival and became a missionary for them.
He was a star football player for Coach Shug at Auburn. Even grudgingly admiring Alabama fans said he could have been great if he’d chosen the ‘right’ team to play for.
After that, Clevus was president of the People’s Trust and Savings Bank by the time he was 25. When he was 30, he ran for mayor and won against the long–time incumbent, Berney “Hawhaw” Wambles.
Clevus was also quite proficient at siring children. Before they were done, he and Eleanor Grace had three sets of twins, two sets of triplets, a boy and a girl. When Clevus thought his wife was out of ear-shot, and the subject of his offspring came up, he’d just grin and say, “She sure does make pretty litters, don’t she?”
When Eleanor Grace was around, he blamed the whole mess on not having easy access to a television during the early years of their marriage–so there wasn’t much left to do for entertainment.
Clevus was tall, strong, sometimes short tempered, and none of the men in the town cared to take him on. No one even dared to curl a lip at him. That is, until Bruno Jeffcoat came to town in 1973.
No one knew what Bruno’s sainted mother had fed that boy, but by the time he hit puberty he was like a tank. Folks said he could pull a tree up by its roots. He liked to show off and have heavy stuff laid on him to show how much he could take. He’d do exhibitions to show his strength. One person said they’d seen him have a fire truck roll over him, and it only hurt the fire truck.
He was a maverick, a modern Samson, with no pesky Delilah hanging around with scissors.
Bruno came to Contentment in May of 73. He drove a car so broken down, some folks wondered if he was moving the car like Fred in a Flintstones cartoon. Surely the smoking, shuddering thing was not running itself.
There were great holes in the seats and floorboards. Most of the windows were knocked out. The tailpipes let out this blue stinky odor that put people in mind of a sewage plant. And the engine make a ‘clickety-click’ sound that made folks think of a time bomb.
Here Bruno came, in this ridiculously ailing car that seemed too small for a man of his stature. Bruno parked it right in front of Clevus’ bank. Not because he was going to go in there to start up a new account, either. It was market day, and that was the only parking place that was open to him.
Bruno was hungry and saw the Milbanks Country Cafe from the road, and decided to try it. He ignored the politely lettered sign in front of his car that said “For bank customers only, please.”
He went into Milbanks, and some folks later said he ordered up half the menu. He said he was hungry, then set out to prove it. Bruno sat there and shoveled food in like eating was a new concept for him. This did Ednera Bell Millbanks’s heart good at first.
Then, after he cleaned his plates for the second time and asked for more, she got a little nervous. She wasn’t sure if she had enough food prepared to meet this giant of a man’s needs.
Bruno was halfway through his third plate when his stomach told him to slow down. He cleaned his plate, out of respect for Ednera Bell and then paid for his meal. He gave many compliments to Ednera Bell and lingered in the cafe, sipping cold iced tea. This was likely because it was one of three establishments in Contentment that had air conditioning.
He started talking to Ednera Bell’s husband, Marv “Killer” Milbanks and said he planned to stay in Contentment a while. He asked about clean and cheap accommodations. Marv was telling him about Prissy Gail Sanders rooming house, when Clevus came into the store.
Now, folks of an active imagination might have likened this to the beginnings of a wild-West shoot-out. For the uninitiated, it very nearly was. You see, Clevus came out for lunch, and saw Bruno’s stinky, hole-filed car where his customer’s cars should be.
He didn’t like it one bit.
Clevus decided to start searching for the scoundrel who had parked the eyesore car there. Inspired, he tried the cafe first.
The two men sighted each other like two alpha male coon dogs. They were similar in stature, both strongly built, and both were very territorial.
Never mind that Clevus had been born in Contentment, and had plans to someday (a long time from then) die there. Bruno Jeffcoat was in town now, and he planned to claim all the town fire-hydrants for himself.
Clevus took on the countenance of a banker who was about to call in a bad loan. He walked up, his face a study of “I’ve got to do this for your own good, boy” and went almost nose to nose with Bruno. “I spect you’re responsible for that trash heap of a wrecked car out there, ain’t ya, son?”
“Suppose I am? What’s it to you?” When Bruno said this, he succeeded in surprising Clevus for the first time in a long time. Every other man in town, well, they wouldn’t have desecrated Clevus’ parking spots to start. They had more sense than that. But Bruno, as he was about to prove, wasn’t most men.
“It’s my business, partner, because that there” Clevus said, pointing at the wall as if the bank could be seen through it, “Is my bank. Those spaces are supposed to be for customers only. Now, if you plan to come open an account after you finish here, why, that’s fine. But if you don’t plan to, you need to get on and park somewhere else.”
Bruno’s brows furrowed, as he considered his options. “There ain’t no other place for it. You see how busy it is today.” He said, his voice taking on a tone of negotiation.
Clevus wasn’t having it.
Clevus looked at him as he would one of his numerous, often erring children. “That’s a mighty good excuse, but it ain’t holding. What if a real, good customer wanted to park there? They’d be blocked, wouldn’t they? So, why don’t you go out there and move it, before I have to move it.”
His tone made the air crackle with something that got everyone’s attention. Both Marv and Ednera Bell froze and looked on in half-frightened anticipation. A few late diners who had gotten what was left after Bruno ate held their forks, spoons or what have you in mid-air and just stared.
Bruno thought some more, and shook his head. “I ain’t gonna do it.”
Clevus gave him a big grin, “Alright.”
He walked out of the cafe, like a man on a mission. Bruno, now overwhelmed with curiosity, followed him, practically dancing around him, saying repeatedly, “Whatcha gonna do, tough guy, whatcha gonna do?”
Clevus, silent as the night, went up to the car, and gripped the bumper, about to give it a big pull.
The bumper came off in his hands.
Clevus scratched his head, beginning to sweat from the heat. “How in the world did you get this thing into town?”
“It’s my business.” Bruno exclaimed. “Now, you need to put that bumper back on, or pay someone to fix it.”
Clevus gave him another smile that was closer to a snarl. “I ain’t gonna do it.”
The two men circled each other, like two angry bulldogs. Then, Clevus stopped. “Boy, if you’re going to stay in this town, you’d better get clear on a few things. This ain’t no way to make a first impression.”
Just then, Bessie Ann, Clevus’ sister came running around the corner with Georgia Grace. Apparently someone had gotten on the pay phone at the diner and told the family what was going on.
Then, they called a few other people.
About twenty folks ended up around them, like they were watching a human rodeo. The two men kept circling each other, each one waiting for the other one to throw the first punch.
“I want you out of my parking place.” Clevus thundered. “I’ll pull off more than your bumper if you don’t get that wrecked up piece of junk outta here.”
Before Bruno could say anything else, someone from the crowd hollered, “Wrassle for it!”
The two men stopped dead in their tracks, and both looked in the direction of the suggestion. As with any great idea, everyone wanted to take credit for it. Soon, even Clevus two sisters were chanting, “Wrassle for it, wrassle for it.” No one had seen a good fight in a long time.
Right then, Eleanor Grace stopped up short in her red impala with four of their kids buckled in (the other ten were in school), and jumped out.
Somebody had called her too.
Eleanor Grace, truth to be told, was always the one with the most business sense in the family. And she had a capital idea.
“I ain’t never seen such a mess. Fighting over a parking place?” She called out. Her tone made Clevus as meek as a bunny rabbit, and it seemed to take the fire out of Bruno too.
“Okay, you boys wanna wrassle, you do it down at the farm center, and we’ll sell tickets to benefit the Daughters of the Confederacy. Let him leave his car there till he checks into the boarding house.”
“But Baby,” Clevus started protesting,
Eleanor Grace walked up to him, in battle pose, and the great man fairly quaked in his shoes. “Don’t you ‘But Baby’ me, Buster. I done told you how its gonna be. Now, MARCH!”
Clevus began to march. Bruno stayed still.
Eleanor Grace waved her fist in front of his surprised nose. “You don’t understand plain English? Do I have to tell you again?”
As Bruno later told it, her tone reminded him of his own sainted mother, Lila Beth Jeffcoat, who, like Eleanor Grace was about five foot two, and could terrify him and his gang of brothers just by waving a walking stick.
He went and checked into the boarding house. When he got back, the car wouldn’t start until he pounded the hood a few times. He went to the area where the boarding house guests parked, off of Main Street, polluting the air as he went.
The night of the match was that Friday. Eleanor Grace, trailed by most of her children, arranged it all. She negotiated everything, right down to the color of trunks both men would wear. She got the Farm Center to print up tickets.
In a matter of hours, they were sold out. Somehow folks from Montgomery and Huntsville even found out and came down to get a few seats.
Clevus finished his work week wondering again and again why he had married Eleanor Grace. The night of the match, he meekly got into some bright orange trunks sewn by his sister, Tully, and went down to the farm center to meet his fate.
Even Brother Holland was there, even though he greatly disapproved of the wrassling of anything, except perhaps of the devil. He and his wife sat on ring-side so as to see if there was a need to convert any of the out of town referees.
Bruno came marching up to the ring, wearing trunks that were, to everyone’s shock loud plaid. Tully smiled meekly when questioned, and said, “Well, I thought we’d need a way to identify him after Clevus gets through with him.”
Now, what Bruno might not have known was that, at least in Contentment, wrestling or ‘wrassling’ wasn’t just between the two participants. The whole crowd often got involved. If someone didn’t agree with a call the referees made, some folks might even try to wrassle the referees, sometimes with words, sometimes with fists.
Not only that, the house-wives often considered such events as the social events of the season. Bessie Ann, Clevus’ younger sister was briefly between husbands, and felt like walking on the wild side. So, she went over to the next county, and got her hair bleached an unnatural shade of blonde.
She came back with a mini-dress that resembled something she’d seen on Bewitched, and really went all out with her make-up. Too far out, said Aunt Ginny. But Bessie Ann was not to be dissuaded. She got her a ring side seat right next to Brother Holland, who was clutching his large King James bible, and searching the crowds sternly for potential converts.
The bell sounded, and the two men laid in to one another. Clevus flung Bruno, then Bruno flung him back. Eleanor Grace, free of their 14 children for the evening, stood up on a chair and hollered at her husband. “Git that boy!” She yelled. “Git him or you don’t come home tonight!”
Clevus, shocked, looked at his wife to see if she was serious. Bruno saw his opening and flipped him again. The crowd yelled, moaned and hissed. Bruno was about to try to do it again, when Bessie Ann, unseen by anyone, climbed into the ring, crawled on all fours and bit Bruno hard on the ankle.
The wrassling match became a battle of three.
Bruno respected women, but he drew the line at biters. He started to lift her in the air to put her not so gently out of the ring. That got Bobbie Ray, and Johnny Paul in the ring, ready to defend their sister, Then, Bessie took a bite out of Bruno’s arm. The struggle was getting heated.
The referees, both burly men, who moonlighted as bouncers at the Howling at the Moon Club, started pulling people who didn’t belong in the ring out of it. Last was Bessie Ann who bit one referee and kicked another in his unmentionables. The one who had nearly been unmanned gave up, but the referee who had been bitten started trading words with Bessie Ann.
Aunt Ginny clapped her hands over her ears and started praying out loud. She sure hadn’t taught her niece the words coming out of Bessie Ann’s pretty mouth, and she didn’t want anyone to think she had.
Clevus and Bruno stood watching in shock as two deputy sheriffs finally separated Bessie Ann and the referee. Clevus looked at Bruno and slapped his shoulder. Bruno rared back as if expecting an attack. Clevus shook his head. “What in the heck are we fighting about, Hoss?” He asked.
Bruno considered it a minute. “Well, it started with the parking place.” Then he ducked, as one of Bessie Ann’s high heeled shoes came flying at the other referee. She was back in the ring again.
The sheriff’s deputies, who had come to watch the match, not to work, grumpily pulled her back out.
Clevus got Bruno’s attention. “How bout if I help you get that car looking decent?”
Bruno considered it. “Sure. Okay,” He said. He put out his hand for Clevus to shake.”Hey, I don’t know why I got so hot with ya, Man. I like to work on cars.” Clevus accepted the handshake.
“Do you like to fish for Bass?” Clevus asked, “I got a good Bass boat and Mulberry River is full of ’em.”
He stepped aside, as Bessie Ann came rolling up, wrassling the referee for all she was worth.
“Sure do, Man,” Bruno said, “I used to catch the biggest durn fish you ever saw up near Birmingham, where I’m from.”
Clevus scratched his chin. “You like football?”
Bruno laughed out loud. “Yeah, but I get into a lot of fights. Most of the folks in Birmingham like the Crimson Tide. I hate ’em. Give me a good game with Coach Shug any day of the week.”
The two men smiled at each other, and without another word, stepped out of the ring. With Bessie Ann’s antics going on, no one noticed.
Clevus took Bruno to the Howling at the Moon Club and they took turns buying the beer and flirting with dancers. Bessie kept on fighting until she knocked the referee out. Some folks thought it was the best money, entertainment wise, that they had ever spent.
Bessie had two shiners the next day, but the referee looked much worse. Something about being beaten half silly with a high heeled shoe often had that effect on a man.
Clevus and Bruno finally gave up on his disabled car, and Clevus gave Bruno a loan at the bank to get a new pickup. Bruno had gotten a job at the mill by then, and could make the payments on time, which greatly pleased Clevus.
And, to the end of theirs lives, Bruno and Clevus were, after that confrontation, the very best of friends.