A noted polymath, Benjamin Franklin was an American statesman, author, oilfield pumper, printer, politician, postmaster, musician, satirist, diplomat, scientist, inventor, farmer, and also my neighbor. I studied him in depth at school then later he’d stop by our house to stash his beer. See, he’d buy a twelve-pack of Wiedemann in town, suck down five or six, then leave the rest in our refrigerator because his wife was a teetotaler who sold eggs on the side.

After Mom left, Dad used to send me and my older brother Richard over to their house on our bicycles with empty egg cartons to refill and Mrs. Franklin always said, “Careful you don’t break any before you get home.”

And Richard always said, “We ain’t broke none yet.”

One Monday morning during summer break, Mrs. Franklin hauled my brother and me to her church for Bible School, but luckily we were able to hide from her the rest of VBS week. I don’t think Ben ever went to church, but I can’t say for sure. From what I could piece together, Ben Franklin dropped out of school at age ten and became a printer at age seventeen. He was a Mason and a scientist and an expert at Chess, though he always just played Dominos and Rummy at our house.

He invented the lightning rod, bifocals, a flexible urinary catheter, and the Franklin stove he used to heat his own house. He’d been the first Postmaster General and I always heard he invented an odometer for his mail delivering carriage, but when I knew him he drove an old Volkswagon. He showed up one time when Dad and Richard and I were camping down at the river, and got his little car stuck and we had to stop fishing and pull him out with Dad’s pickup.

Later that evening, Ben Franklin walked up behind me on the river bank and when I drew back to cast my rod I hooked his hat, then slung it out in the water. Dad barked at me, “Watch what you’re doing,” but later after Ben left Dad said, “That old bastard shouldn’t have been bungle-assing down there behind you guys anyway.”

I always remember him drinking that cheap Wiedemann beer. Once my brother snagged one from Ben’s brown paper sack in our fridge but then we both spit it out in the kitchen sink.

Franklin organized our town’s Volunteer Fire Department, signed both The Declaration of Independence and The Constitution, and, one winter night, he stopped by our place, weaving and wobbling. We had a sick calf out in the barn and Dad had this brown medicine from the vet he kept in an old bourbon bottle to make it easier to pour down the animal’s throat. He had used half the bottle and was contemplating doctoring a second calf when Ben Franklin stumbled in the barn door.

Dad said, “We’re kinda busy right now,” and stepped on out in the barn lot to holler at Richard. All of a sudden, Ben grabbed that whiskey bottle off an old barrel sitting there and chugged about half that medicine. I didn’t say anything and neither did he. He just coughed and spit and wiped his mouth before heading back out to his car. When Dad came back inside and realized what had happened he laughed until he had to dry his eyes with his handkerchief. He said, “Well, that ought to clean out his system.”