The Gene Gnome Project

Donald Shephard

Newtonia had two parallel populations, the one of Pumpernickel and some scattered farm families, and the other of the gnomes led by Hob, Nob and Glob-the-Obese. The contrast between these two groups was striking. Pumpernickel slaved away milking his cows twice everyday of every year starting at the age of fourteen and ending only when they pried his stiff, cold fingers from Rosie’s teat at the ripe old age of eighty-four. That is to say Pumpernickel was eighty-four and not Rosie’s teat. Lest I sully the good Pumpernickel’s reputation, not a particularly difficult thing to do in his earlier years but tougher to prove in his later days, I should make it clear that Rosie was one of his cow’s. Lest I sully Rosie’s reputation for those of you who remember her tutelage of Maisy the daisy-eating heifer who swallowed Metro-Gnome, the metro-sexual gnome, I must explain that the particular Rosie, who had the honor of the last grasp of Pumpernickel at the time of his last gasp, was in fact the great-great-grand-daughter of the Rosie of the afore-mentioned incident. Thereafter Rosie had a left hand bend in her right, front department.

Now, there had been tremendous changes in the world during Pumpernickel’s milking career. He was one of the last dairymen to try a milking machine. He was the last farmer in the three counties of Sheepshire, Elseshire and The Rodings to purchase a tractor. A stoically patient mechanic delivered the machine to show Pumpernickel how to drive the new-fangled thing. Between the morning and the evening milkings, Pumpernickel began to plough Duck Pond Field. All went well in the beginning but as noon approached and his hunger rose, his training went the way of the mechanic and left him completely. As he neared the pond, he muttered his usual “Whoa, Beauty. Whoa, Beast.” which would normally have allowed his team of shire horses, the black “Beauty” and the white “Beast”, a brief rest while he raised the plough. Not having ears, however, the tractor proceeded apace. He hollered a mighty “Whoa! You damned dog meat!” and pulled sharply on the steering wheel as if it was the reins just as he and the tractor sank into the dank waters of the pond.

The life of the gnomes of Newtonia was dramatically easier than Pumpernickel’s. They were idyllically happy by nature. They required nothing that was not readily available. They gathered their food with a minimum of labor. They took whatever milk they needed directly from Pumpernickel’s cows. One duck egg fed a family for a couple of days. A quick hack with a sharp chisel slit a gunny sack as if a rodent had gnawed it, and out poured enough grain for a year. The plentiful elderberry bushes in the hedgerows provided a good red wine to wash down all their food. But those same changes in what we humans like to call “civilization” also impacted the little people of Sheepshire, Elseshire and The Rodings.

It is one thing to dodge a cow on those rare occasions when one of them is foolish enough to run. Glob-the-Obese had been knocked sideways into Sunday by Maisy’s swinging udder as she gadded about one fine spring Saturday. Such accidents were rare and resulted in more ribbing than damaged ribs. It is quite another thing to deal with machinery. The ever-inquisitive Hob had been shocked to have his hat sucked off by the milking machine. Although they tried the combined weight of Hob, Nob and Glob-the-Obese to wrestle it out of the vacuum tube, they failed and the machine shuddered to a halt. That malfunction was the last straw for Pumpernickel. He threw the machine on the scrap heap and returned to hand-milking until his very last pull.

The attraction of the tractor and the duck pond made it apparent that Hob, Nob and Glob-the-Obese would have to negotiate a second treaty before a gnome was seriously injured by Pumpernickel’s erratic driving. The first treaty had addressed the matter of cows inadvertently eating gnomes in lush green pastures. The gnomes and the cows eventually made a covenant but this second venture at diplomacy would entail talking to Pumpernickel, a being of the human kind.

This put Hob, Nob and especially Glob-the Obese in a pickle. The gnomes would have to draw attention to themselves, which in turn would shed light on their activities. Our three worthies held a village conference at which many heroic suggestions were made. Unfortunately each proffered idea cast Hob, Nob and Glob-the-Obese in the role of heroes and not the villager making the suggestion. The triumvirate met in private. They sought inspiration in the most elderly of elderberry wines. They even tried to reach their feminine sides with the less potent but more subtly flavored elderflower wines. They were vexed, perplexed not to mention stressed by the seemingly impossible task before them. In fact, they were so stressed that Glob-the-Obese went off his food. His wife, Ab, tracked his abstraction for a week before she spoke with her father, the venerable Ob, and her sweet mother, Phab.

“Not eating!” They exclaimed in unison.

“What have you been feeding him?” asked Phab.

“How are the children misbehaving?” demanded her father.

“How’s your love life?” queried Phab, rather bluntly.

“And does your husband know?” joked her father as he ducked away from Ab and caught Phab’s fist in his ear.

“I do have a suggestion,” said Ob, rubbing the side of his head, “We need an arbitrator.” Ab at first thought that her paternal parent was referring to someone who treated arbors, that is, a kind of tree surgeon.

“An arbitrator,” explained Ob, “is a go-between. He can talk to Pumpernickel and refer to the villagers of Newtonia only as ‘my clients’. That way, the dairyman never sees us. That way we can continue to live our happy lives the way we always have.”

“But who will we choose?” mused Phab to Ob. Her husband pondered for a while. Ob pondered so long that he fell asleep.

“Gene Gnome,” said Phab in answer to her own question.

“But Gene is a gnome,” cried Ab, “we are back where we started, and why Gene Gnome anyway?”

“You remember why Gene is always referred to as Gene Gnome? “ “Ah! Yes! When he was a whippersnapper he slid down the flagpole beside the village cricket pavilion and tore the codpiece off his breeches. Who could forget his high pitched wailing as he ran home,” said Ab absentmindedly reliving the occasion.

“Ever since then he has had the deepest voice in the village, making him sound so much like a human that we call him Gene Gnome to distinguish him from them,” Phab reminded Ab.

“You have a plan don’t you Mum?”

“Indeed I do,” said Phab.

Later that evening, Gene Gnome, having smoked six pipes of tobacco in succession to enhance his resonant bass voice, positioned himself on Pumpernickel’s cottage roof next to the drainpipe. Hob and Nob had moved the lower end of the pipe to a spot beside the arbor at Pumpernickel’s backdoor. When the good farmer stood at the arbor entrance to take a last look at the sky to judge the weather for the next day, Gene’s voice boomed down at him.


The poor man jumped, turned around in a circle and shook his head.


His eyes bulged, his pulse raced, sweat oozed down his back.

“The tractor is an instrument of evil, Pumpernickel. Give it up, you must never drive again, Pumpernickel. Stop driving it and your ducks will lay more eggs. Stop using it and your cows will give more milk. Bring Beauty and Beast back from the pasture and return to the natural order of things.”

Truth be known, Pumpernickel hated infernal machines. He was easily persuaded to return to the days of talking to his horses rather than cursing the unfeeling, wheeled thing.

Peace and harmony returned to Newtonia. Glob-the-not-so-Obese had to give up a portion of his diet to allow Gene’s prediction of improved production on the farm. There were three results from Glob’s new diet. The first was Pumpernickel became prosperous. The other two came about because Glob was smaller and more energetic. Very soon after this project Ab was expecting twins who would be forever linked to the incident known throughout Sheepshire, Elseshire and The Rodings as the Gene Gnome Project.

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