Saturday, April 18, 2009

The Penman, a tri-county mystery!

The counties of Gates, Williams, and Haters, Minnesota of the late twenty-century bore witness to unrelenting competitive clashes of the fair-haired viking-Valhalla descendant youth. Gasp. These were no mere beauty pageant song and dance 4-H club style competitive affairs. The terror of the counties were only partially athletic or scholastic. The competition, really, the true competition was something of an artistic-communicative pursuit: namely that of the penmanship contest.

There would be cries. Howls, if children could fathom howls. No one who inhabited these now desolate counties would deign forget, though pray they could, the famed tri-county penmanship affair of '87.

Bullfrog. The unwilling, and oftentimes sickly hero of Haters was ostensibly "educated" in a no room school house of Haters County Minnesota. Birthplace of no less than 7 famed civil-war generals, and 1 impossibly brilliant Julliard-educated modern dance phenom, who from out east brought back the written word. This was the first proper teacher since the founding of the county in 1865, following the murderous and bloody Battle of Appomattox.

The school had no funding and very little in the way of supplies. Corporations from the surrounding counties donated what supplies they could not sell: one-offs of envelopes with no adhesive, crayons with no color, glitter-glue which would not sparkle. And how did little Bullfrog Jr. learn to compose his name, you may be wondering? He learned on misaligned castoff one ply paper. It is a fact: Bullfrog wrote diagonally; the school could not afford properly lined paper.

It surprised many that Haters county even chose to send any competition to the county seat in Williams. For decades, the tri-county Penmanship contest was a rout, with the youth of Williams taking home top pen year after Viking year. Spectacular, brilliant draftsman were these people of Williams. An old wives tale recorded by anthropologists of the region records that the Williams kids began writing before they could even speak. Many of the finest calligraphers from Hallmark (of the Hallmark Greeting Card outfit) hailed from Williams County, Minnesota. Those who went to work for Fodors, illustrating travel maps as cartographers literally put the tri-county region on the map.


Bullfrog's family wept on the day he reported to his first day of book learning. He was an asset on the farm. Before Bullfrog ever uttered his first words, he was shoeing cattle, moving pigs, and ferreting out pig iron. Which is to say, in a unique and unremarkable way, this young individual was essentially a child prodigy of the low country farm region, an area so isolated on all sides by expanses of rock and Mississippi river that one could not get a decent paper or book for miles and miles--this seemed to matter little--"print" was thought by many village elders to be the latest in a series of fads from New York.

She was that rare breed of dancing teacher whose aptitude, grace, and skill far surpassed her ability to teach; her Julliard Mentors seriously counseled her from pursuing teaching, she could not, under any circumstance be dissuaded, for she had made a promise to her younger sister, Abeline (or Abie, pronounced, "AB"): she would bring "the outside" back to Haters.

The outside, in their first woman-to-woman talk, was busy; colorful, it shuffled, like a scared pack of mules. The people in the cities would dance all night, and in the city, it did not get dark, for there were lighted streets. Abie was enamored with this news, and they talked late into the night, Bullfrog downwind, listening from an open window.