Ben Franklin chewed Redman tobacco and ate Granny Smith apples and corn on the cob with no teeth or dentures of any kind. He owned a Minneapolis Moline tractor which had died just shy of making it into the barn and, though people were constantly asking to buy the machine, Ben turned down all offers and left it sitting out there in the weather to rust.

Mr. Franklin’s face still appears on the $100 bill, but he didn’t look anything like that when I knew him. Back then, he wore khaki pants and blue work shirts and, in the wintertime, buckle-up galoshes and one of those old Sergeant Schultz hats with the earflaps unsnapped and flopping like the ears on a cartoon dog. Actually, now that I think about it, Ben looked exactly like Schultz from Hogan’s Heroes.

He could play the fiddle and harp and sometimes, in the summer, he’d come over and sit under our shade trees out back, slurping Wiedemann from the can and picking my brother’s cheap guitar. Ben had all the digits on his right hand, though only the thumb and pinky on his left, but he’d jam a little glass medicine bottle on that pinky and just wail away.

At his funeral, someone asked how Ben Franklin lost those fingers and I said, “Got em chopped off working in the oilfield.”

“No, he didn’t,” my brother said.

“He did too,” I insisted. Ben had pumped all those wells out by our house. I’d always see him driving down the lease roads to the pumpjacks.

“But that ain’t what happened,” Richard said. “He was cutting a board with a power saw out there in his garage and reached underneath to see if the blade was going all the way through. Guess he found out, huh?”

Dad smiled at me and said, “Yeah, that’s how he did it.”

I stood there dumbfounded at the casket, feeling much the same way I had a few years before when I saw Will Rogers’ smashed-up typewriter on display at the Will Rogers Memorial in Claremore, Oklahoma. It had been in that fatal plane crash and I said, “Wonder what ol’ Will was typing right then, right when his plane was going down?”

“It was probably just packed in there with his luggage, man,” Richard said. “What’s the matter with you?”


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