Milk Maneuvers, Piglets, Warts, and Love

Donald Shephard

In the immediate post-war years, there was a Mr. Pete Tuller in the village of Upper-Piddlington-By-The-Roding who delivered his milk, or rather the milk of his cows, from churns strapped on either side of his horse-drawn cart. Pete Tuller was as morose as Eyore in Winnie the Pooh, definitely a sadsack. For many years, this man claimed that the reason his milk curdled so quickly was that my dear, old uncle Fred Plinge, E.P.N.S. , had walked through the meadow while his cows were busily chewing the cud. His sheer, unmitigated, unparalleled ugliness had ruined the milk's chances of a long life. At that time there were a lot of young widows gradually putting their lives back together having lost their husbands during the war. Two of these widows were the, shall we say, comely sisters Mrs. Underthetable and Mrs. Overthechair.

Upon hearing this tale of woe from the dairyman, Pete Tuller, the sisters were vehemently defensive causing eyebrows to rise and tongues to wag in the village. These defenders of Fred's good name suggested that the cows had not been out of their stalls for the best part of a long winter. Unfortunately, whenever Mrs. Underthetable was aroused she misspoke referring to my uncle as Pled Fringe and to the dairyman as Teat Puller. These slips of the lips did not get by the village gossips, the Biddy's, who were also single but more interested in teas than in teasing men. The depressed dairyman retorted that the very image of Fred in a bored cow's mind could turn the milk to buttermilk overnight. Some cooler heads questioned the wisdom of these outbursts of the sisters but, I am sure, Fred handsomely rewarded one of them although I cannot now say for sure whether it was Underthetable or Overthechair. Perhaps, with a little luck, it was both.

In Fred's defense, laying aside, as it were, the good sisters, it should be noted that this same dairyman produced ever increasing amounts of milk from a steadily diminishing herd of what appeared to be immortal cows. He did this until a Milk Marketing Board inspector with, I must say, very little imagination, fined him for watering down the milk. Perhaps this is not very convincing evidence that my beloved uncle was as ugly as sin. I can see a trial lawyer now, puffing out his chest and demanding of Fred as he stands in the dock, "And when did you stop curdling the milk?" Yes, I see your point, insufficient evidence.

Allow me to try another track. Earlier that same year, Mrs. Nottonyore broke the village record for consecutive weeks of hiccupping. It seems to me in retrospective that she may have been trying to perpetrate the old ruse, "Not tonight, dear, I have a hiccup". Be that as it may, it was not until Fred peeked into her bedroom window to see such a strange phenomenon that she stopped cold turkey, in a manner of speaking. Well, you say, that could just be a coincidence but, everyone in the village believed it including Mr. Nottonyore, which was very fortunate because he came through the back garden gate just as Fred was withdrawing from the front. A peculiar juxtaposition to Fred's way of thinking.

Wait, there are other things which illuminate my argument that Fred was ugly. As you know, food was rationed in England both during the war and for nine years afterwards. Some of the more imaginative Madison Avenue admen must have begun their careers describing the alleged meat during those days. I am very proud to announce that the Heimlich Maneuver was invented by my dear, old uncle Fred Plinge, E.P.N.S. as a result of the vicar's wife choking on pieces of unmasticated animal anatomy. His method was to thrust his face right in front of the chokee and cause instant regurgitation. It was called the Heimlich Maneuver in an attempt at onomatopoeia, Fred being not quite so free of formal education as people believed. Modesty prevented my uncle from marketing his photograph to be used by restaurants across Europe in case of the " Blue-Faced Syndrome," as it is called in the trade.

It is one of life's greater coincidences that a little known Austrian doctor with a propensity for grabbing people from behind, also fumbled onto a cure for this malady while dining with a Wagnerian diva of gargantuan proportions who may well have stimulated him to excel himself. In the interest of clarity, I shall digress from my digression and explain that the name of this good Austrian doctor has been erroneously given as "Hindlich", "Heinelich", and "Heinelidt." These aliases have been variously translated as, "Deer liker", "I'm licked" and "Hindsight", the last a rather unfortunate description from the good doctor's point of view since his profession was that of a proctologist.

Now, to return to the subject at hand, I have faithfully told you that my dear, old uncle was so ugly when he curdled milk cured hiccups, and invented the Heimlich Maneuver. As you know, I have been perfectly honest with you. Let us continue along these lines of building trust in my veracity. (Veracity, by the way, apropos of nothing, is just outside Edna, Oklahoma.) I want to clearly label this next piece of evidence as apocryphal. I believe it, but then I believe in fairies, ghosts, gnomes and pixies. I do not necessarily expect you to believe in them. However, if you like me, believe in these, shall we say, manifestations of humanity, then I am bound to give you this last piece of evidence in order to fulfill the requirement that I tell, not just the truth, but the whole truth about Fred's ugliness and his dealings with the supernatural and the afterlife.

It is said that my dear, old uncle was so ugly he could raise the dead. This characteristic was first attributed to him after he successfully revived what was apparently a frozen piglet by tucking it into his armpit. You should realize that Fred loved pigs with a passion that anyone, who has watched piglets popping out of there mama like peas out of a pod, must surely understand. He loved to watch their birth, their long, languid love making, but he hated their quick, vicious fights. The state of British piggeries was somewhat primitive in those days as the pigs were always given leftovers; leftover food, leftover land, leftover buildings. They were the neglected children of British agriculture much to the delight of the Danes who provided a large ration of the traditional breakfast of bacon and eggs.

Anyway, Fred first warmed the piglet back to life when he was in elementary school. You do understand that it was Fred and not the piglet who was in school, don't you? Good. Consequently, it will not surprise you to learn that he was known as "Pig-pits Plinge" for many years and, in fact, only the other day, I was asked by an encrusted old friend of his, "How is Pig-pits these days?" Do not confuse this nickname with that of his American cousin "Pork-belly" Plinge of the Chicago branch of the family tree.

Further evidence of this resuscitative ability emerged as my dear, old uncle matured. Fred, in turn, himself had a dear, old uncle Mordecai William Plinge, who supposedly died at the ripe old age of ninety-six. I say "ripe" because he was a man of discerning bathing habits. He took a bath once a week whether he needed to or not. One week he washed up as far as possible and the next he washed down as far as possible. On the third week he washed "possible".

Fred's uncle, Mordecai, was laid out in the front parlor of the cottage he shared with the three widowed sisters, by the midwife and mortician of Upper-Piddlington-By-The-Roding. This estimable personage was no less than Mrs. Frontispiece, so named, according to Fred, because there was a three second warning between the time her advance troops entered a room and the time her very formidable face followed. When my esteemed relative went to pay his respects to his even more highly esteemed uncle there were the three maiden aunts all draped in black sitting in the front parlor. The room was full of the smell of lavender water, smelling salts, aspidistra pots and Mordecai's forever dead pipe. The lace curtains refiltered the light that shone down through the leaves of an ancient Royal oak tree. The steady, interminable clicking of the ornate French clock on the mantelpiece held time in suspension. A discerning visitor may have noticed a faint hint of that lovely fortified and fortifying wine, Madeira, in the air. Fred, quite understandably, was in no condition to notice such subtleties at the time.

Just as Fred edged over to take a last look, Mordecai, sat bolt upright in his coffin, spitting and snorting, complaining that that was the worst whiskey he had ever tasted. Unfortunately, the widowed aunts created such a flap that Mordecai, not liking the three to one odds, thought better of returning to his life amongst them and passed on to his maker once more. While it is true that not one of his widowed aunts can testify because they are all now with Mordecai's maker, or preferably in heaven, there is still extant evidence that the raising of the dead occurred in real life, as they say. If you look, as I did when so very carefully researching this history, in the archives in the Upper-Piddlington-By-The-Roding village hall you will find the account books kept by Mrs. Frontispiece. It is there that, even today, you will see that she charged double for Mordecai William Plinge.

"To two wads of cotton, sixpence," in the morning "To a quarter pound of tea, tuppence," and then again, tellingly, "To two wads of cotton, sixpence," in then afternoon. You do see, don't you, that this completely substantiates the claim held for years by his widowed aunts that he had raised Mordecai from the dead, albeit for only a few minutes.

No doubt you are convinced by now that my dear, old uncle was ugly, but the curious among you, and I am sure that there are some very curious ones among you, will be wondering in what way is he ugly. People are all more or less hirsute. There are two thriving industries in the world based on this fact. Certain manufacturers are concerned with those people who wish to be less hairy, while the other group purports to assist those who want to be hairier. The hairy humans of the world constantly produce the unwanted hair giving job security to the many hair -remover industry workers. The unhairy amongst us rarely succeed in growing anything but older and poorer thus giving prosperity to the snake oil manufacturers. Fred has long been satisfied with his hirsute body. He had gained instant understanding from his Sunday School teacher , who seemed to be completely devoid of hair, either by his own design or by Mother Nature's. When the Sunday School teacher read the passage about Esau being "an hairy man" Fred understood.

On several occasions his beloved mother, Myrtle, had walked around to the other side of him in search of a face which only she could love. This was not very surprising given his propensity from an early age for amorphous clothes. I am also an hirsute fellow with tufts on my cheeks just below my eyes and wiry hair which takes its own direction according to some unfathomable, random code. The backs of my hands are covered with hair as are the first set of knuckles but Fred is a mammoth in comparison. Hair clogs his ears and nostrils, and curls around his fingers down to the nails. His feet and toes are similarly protected. Once, in somewhat less affluent times, he shaved his feet in order to get into a pair of shoes two sizes smaller than usual. The bushiness of his eyebrows is noted for its attraction to the Mystle Thrush as a nesting site. For the most part his mane is red, but a closer inspection reveals a rainbow of hues. This is why he likens it to Joseph's coat of many colors. He is, in a sense, fortunate in this coat because it covers a multitude of scars each of which I will tell you all about some other time.

Besides being hairy, we are all to some extent asymmetrical, which means, for those of you who lack a classical education, that we are shaped like donkey's to one degree or another. In Fred's case his ears were a dead give away. You will recall, as some professors like to say, that his ears were hairy. Additionally, they were outstanding in many ways. The warts, which we will discuss from time to time as we proceed with this anatomical description, were also hairy. He once told me that a doctor with the Household Cavalry had diagnosed the warts as Epidermally Protrusive Neural Synapses and called it some kind of hyphenated syndrome. I privately suspect that the good doctor was a veterinarian. Fred's warts, looking as they did like rose colored mohawks, may well have been the inspiration for the famous parrot-heads of London in the 1980's, who made money charging tourists to pose with them for photographs to be sent back to the congregation in Hogwallow, Tennessee; Omygosh, Oklahoma; and Tenacity, Texas, among other cultural centers of the world. In fact he received a substantial but erratic income from the royalties earned from these, shall we say, styles for most of that decade.

Another trait which Plinge shares with the donkey species is very long, quite white eyelashes. They were the envy of any girl who was fortunate enough to get close to him. Now I do not wish you to blindly take my word for this. It should not be assumed that you are in the least gullible, politicians and tele-evangelists notwithstanding, so next time you see a donkey stop the car. Call the donkey over to the fence and look at its eyelashes. Marvelous things these eyelashes, your wife or girlfriend or anyone else with you, who happens to be of the female persuasion, will be envious. Should anybody in the vicinity question you as to your purpose just tell them that you are admiring the eyelashes on their donkey as per my instructions. Note, and note very carefully, that this is not the time to be scientifically correct and refer to the beast as his ass.

We were discussing his ugliness, Fred Plinge E.P.N.S. The point about his nose is that it has none, point that is. Once, in his Hollywood days, he tried to hire it out as the star of a B movie called" The Blob from Outer Space that Stole Christmas in Spanish Harlem", a movie that mercifully few of us remember. Unfortunately for Fred at the time, but no doubt to his everlasting relief afterwards, he was displaced by Errol Flynn with Ronald Reagan in a supporting part, as it were. You may want to remember these tidbits of information as they could well be on the very next game of trivia that you play, but I do not guarantee it.

There is no knowing now just how many times the great Plinge proboscis has been broken. As a small child in school he thought that the playtime bell was one and the same with the bell that rings to define the beginning of a boxing round. There was a circular area under the school's ground floor where a group of urchins fought away their leisure time. It was some weeks before someone explained that there were alternative pastimes, but by then his outward appearance had been changed for good or at least for ever. His nose now meanders down his face like a river as it delays its approach to the sea by every possible means. His nostrils, recall their hairiness, are like two great red oxbow lakes discarded off to the side and having a life of their own.

The other asymmetries of Fred's face are the normal ones all of us share. His teeth are imperfect but white as the driven snow after a minimum of traffic has passed over it. His eyes are not quite level, not crossed exactly, blue and lively as Blue Tits in spring.

Lack of uniformity racked Plinge's body. His legs seemed to have followed different genetic codes, perhaps one from Myrtle and the other from his father Herbert. He never decided which was out of whack, the left shorter one or the right, longer one, and so he favored neither of them. An imponderable question that. Certainly if his left leg was longer he would have had to dig a hole for it because, as he so correctly pointed out, his left was firmly on the ground.

He had some muscles which I seem to lack entirely. One was an oyster shaped muscle on the inside of his forearm which had developed from hand milking cows for many years. This muscle may have disappeared from medical texts by now having atrophied from neglect. The other unusually large muscles he sported ran from his hairy underarms, where he had raised pigs, to his waist. An amazed tailor once remarked on these muscles while fitting Fred for a rather handsome pinstriped suit for a pseudo-society wedding. When asked about the particular exercise which developed these areas, he shrugged and ruined the man's careful stitchery.

By now you will have noticed that the above-mentioned relative has not led a monastic life. You may well be wondering how such an ugly man could attract members of the opposite sex, if you will pardon the use of such a forthright phrase. It is as if there is a toggle switch to Fred's looks. When somber, serious, or even merely sober let alone dour or angry he was indeed, in fact, indubitably ugly. His asymmetrical, warted hairiness could be whelming. But when he smiled, Ah! when he smiled, the sheer uninhibited joy was infectious and pervading. Nobody escaped its warmth and charm. One of the games of the children of Upper-Piddlington-By-The-Roding was for Plinge to pretend grouchiness and the little ones to conspire to make him laugh. My trick was to look cross eyed at my sister, who to this day giggles at silly faces. Her merriment would start us all laughing which delighted Fred and he smiled.

This great, warm, gaping grin of his can melt the hardest heart and heal the deepest wound. It is a dangerous weapon should it get into callous hands but, as I have said, Fred is absolutely honest and would never dream of abusing such a natural gift especially to take advantage of the weaker gender who outlive us by twenty years. On the other hand, whenever any gentle woman has convinced herself that she has fallen madly in love with him, it has been against his heart-felt beliefs to disillusion her by withholding his smile or anything else she may have reasonably expected to desire from him.

Plinge's beauty then, is in his smile, his old world manners, his immovable honesty and his delicate care not to hurt anyone or anything. His warmth is legendary, many an old biddy will smile now if you return to the village and just whisper the word "Plinge" in her ear as she dreams wistfully and whimsically over a nice cup of tea or, better yet, a hearty pint of stout ale. She may well remember the too short time in her far off youth when she might have found happiness with Fred, but chose another path never to return, but never to quite forget either.

No man should have his loves catalogued and published like so much gossip in a society column, tabloid newspaper, or scandal sheet. It is none of your business how many or how few ladies loved and lost my dear, old uncle Fred Plinge, E.P.N.S. and yet I must at least hint at a few of his romances. Plinge, above all else, loved life, especially young, innocent life. Within this huge, all-consuming love, there were enclosed some particularly hot spots. It is impossible now, without actually asking him, to tell which was his greatest love, and yet perhaps that is a nonsense question. How can a man determine which of his children he loves the most? One may be easiest to deal with, another may have caused the most trouble and now be the cause of the most pride, and yet another may be the most successful but necessarily the happiest. It is not possible to choose. Neither could Fred have chosen between his children if he had produced any.

My uncle had no children and yet he was surrounded by them. They climbed over his garden fence to see him, they listened to his tales by his fireside, they worked beside him in his garden, they helped him in his wood shop, and they came to him for food when the cupboard was bare. All-in-all children behaved as their parents would have wished them to behave. Fred, of course, had the advantage that he could send the little monsters away whenever they crossed the line of kindness which was the rule of his domain. My dear, old uncle not only loved children but he was also heartily amused by their antics. Small things became great adventures for the imps who hung around his house at every available moment. There is a large amount of the six year old in him still.

The second manifestation of love which is evident in Plinge, is his communion with animals, recall the piglet , as he did. I have heard it said by the Biddy's in the village that his affinity for creatures of all shapes, shades, and sizes arose because he was closer to them in ancestry than the rest of us. True, there is something bestial in his visage; true, his way of life is very close to nature; and, as I have already admitted, he certainly is "an hairy man"; but, nevertheless, he is more full of humanity, kinder and in many ways more civilized than those who make that suggestion. The most wonderful example of his complete attachment to animals was his relationship with his donkey, Threnody, who will be featured again later.

Marriage to my dear, old uncle's way of thinking, is a magnificent institution which he endlessly recommends to those of you who are familiar with institutions. There is no evidence that he has any first hand experience of it. Although he claims a great deal of second hand knowledge of the custom, he has never admitted to anything underhand. There is the possible exception of Gertrude who may, at least in her own mind, have been married to Fred on several occasions. Now, as you all know, logic is based on mutual assumptions. If, for example, you perceive the color of a dandelion color to be green, and I perceive it as red, then we cannot deduce the color of the sun. If, on the other hand, we agree that buttercups are yellow, then we can say that since buttercups and the sun are the same color it follows that the sun is also yellow. This simple agreement on what is yellow cannot be easily proved. We must take it on faith that what I have perceived as yellow is the same as what you have perceived as yellow.

If something as simple as the color of wildflowers is in doubt then surely it is not difficult to see that the matter of the alleged marriage between Fred and Gertrude has a veritable lace curtain of loopholes. Gertrude's logic was simple and rather akin to my mother's statements on marriage as a prerequisite of childbirth. Gertrude's logic followed these lines. Virgins have not made love. Married couple are not virgins since they have made love. Ergo, she and Fred were married. Unfortunately she applied the same logic wherever she found herself on travels and whoever happened to be entertaining her at the moment.

I am so glad we have had this little chat. Everything I have said is true, of that there can be not the smallest shadow of a doubt in the farthest reaches of the most cynical of minds. The inescapable reason for the truth of this story is that my dear, old uncle Fred Plinge told me so himself.

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