Jersey George

WHAT brought Jersey George this far north, full a hundred miles from the nearest boundary of New Jersey, was a mystery to all his neighbors. We suspected, however, that it was the tang of our local cider after it turns the Volstead corner. The apples of our section are not quite what they used to be, as eaters and keepers, but their juices seem more potent than ever. Or perhaps it is merely that, under pressure of legislation, the more painstaking of our neighbors has developed a superior technique in the care of those juices.

George has been here twenty-eight years, but he remains alien to this day. Ours is not easy soil for newcomers to take root in, and George has never made an effort to fraternize. He never even married. Though working this farm or that on shares, hardly ever on one farm two seasons in a row, he continues to ‘bach it.’ Now ‘baching it’ on a farm is a near approach to penal servitude; one goes forth to toil on store doughnuts, lunches on bread and a can of tomatoes, and returns at nightfall to cold potatoes and cider. Perhaps it is this diet which preserves George’s stringy, martial figure. But the life is so unnatural that he who follows it is an everlasting affront to the marital norm, especially in a country with its full share, perhaps more, of spinsters who would really enjoy ‘doing for’ a man. Especially a handsome, oldish fellow like George, who wears the neatest moustache in the township and who manages, by some miracle, to look distinguished in any attire. Perhaps his charm is that he always wears gloves and never overalls.

He remains single, independent, unassimilated, and relatively dudish.

Moreover, he glories in his differences. He is forever flaunting his native State in our faces. The first time he cut our hay on shares, I encountered this Jerseymania. When the long rope passed the corner of the hay barn, a roller had become dislodged and the rope rasped on the building. After the first trial George looked with disgust at that corner and said: ‘Oh boy, we do some better than that in Jersey.’ I replaced the roller, and we proceeded, but I noticed that the native son who was handling the team swung those patient brutes around at a lively pace, so that George, who was working the loader, had to keep pegging. Still, on the way back and forth from the field, George always found breath for a few words on the excellence of Jersey. One of these remarks seemed to me singularly inept. ‘Oh boy,’ said he, as he slapped his neck, ‘you ought to see the horseflies in Jersey.’

In the course of this haying operation George used our rake, and when our own fields were clean he went on haying half the countryside with it. Not that this mattered, for the rake is practically indestructible. It came to me with the place years ago, and my researches on its frame indicate that it has been doing duty more than forty years.

Still, a venerable object like that deserves consideration; it is something to be able to say, in our conservative neighborhood, that one owns the oldest implement in the township. Therefore I resented George’s taking our equipment home with him for the winter.

One day in early spring, when a late thaw had hardened the road in that direction, I drove up after it. ‘George,’ I said sternly, ‘you have lived here long enough to know that we respect property rights, no matter how they do in Jersey.’

George was offended, not by my heat against him, but because of the slur cast on Jersey. His moustaches bristled.

‘Son,’ he said, ‘I admit I’m in the wrong about that shaky old rake, but it’s been a hard winter and I’ve had the lumbago ever since Thanksgiving. Hardly crawl to the woodpile and back again. Oh boy, we don’t have no such winters down in Jersey.’

I had nothing to say to that, so he rolled on.

‘No such winters and no such lumbago. And no such consarn over a rusty old rake.’

‘Jersey justice,’ I said, ‘is famous for its attention to detail. A man reared in Jersey should set a good example to his benighted brethren. You’ve been here twenty years longer than I have, but I had not been here a month before I understood that there is one thing these people insist on. Any man here will lend any tool he owns, but he insists on having it back. I’m here for the rake, not because it is worth a dollar or two, but to keep the countryside safe for lenders and borrowers. I figure we’d all be worse off if we could n’t borrow from one another.’

‘That’s true,’ said George, ‘but down in Jersey —’

‘George,’ I asked, ‘would you mind telling me why you don’t go back to Jersey? You’re not getting anywhere here. Everyone’s against you, and a year or so on a farm seems to be your limit.’

George swore beautifully and at some length to the general effect that it was none of my business. At length he tamed down to this: ‘If you knew, you’d tell.’

‘No,’ I said, ‘I would n’t tell, but I might give you the carfare back to Jersey if that seemed worth while.’

‘It wouldn’t. . . . You want to know? why I left Jersey. All right, I’ll tell you; it’s nothing ornery. I left Jersey because there was n’t any horse farming in my part of the country any more; it all ran out to truck and wops. I landed here among these damnation Yorkers. This is good country for grass; it is, you know. I like the country and the horses and everything except the people — and maybe I like them better than I seem to. Only’ — here his fine gray eyes glinted gayly — ‘I keep ’em at arm’s length. Maybe they’re better than I am; but they’re not my kind. Dutchy. Thrifty. Always remembering what’s theirs. Everyone married or thinking about it. . . . But horses — horses is the same everywhere. Go or come, I always got a couple of good teams. I don’t need much else. . . . But that Jersey talk of mine is just to keep up my spirits. At my age a man gets to thinking — he gets to thinking about things he should n’t. So I rouse myself that way.’

I apologized over a glass of shockingly strong cider, fizzed up with something or other.

The next time I saw George he was inspecting a garage built by one of our most careful workmen. ‘Oh boy,’snorted George satanically, pointing to a two-by-four, riddled by knots, ‘you could n’t get away with that down in Jersey. They’ve got building inspectors down there.’

The carpenter replied belligerently, and George retreated, occasionally turning to loose a Jersey jeer — an old, lonely man, but with his flag flying. He will probably go on flying it after he reaches the poorhouse, which seems predestined to be his last abode but one.