By Mel Tharp © 1986
Issue: July, 1986
Whoever gave Elba, Kentucky its name in the first place must have been someone with either a vivid imagination, or a flair for historical irony. It was difficult to see how anyone could draw a correlation between this back roads community and the island of the Tuscan archipelago where Napoleon was exiled in 1814.
It seemed somehow fitting that Les Tucker would open his general store in a community with an exotic name like "Elba." Les was renowned for his sense of humor. Les was a good business man, but he never allowed his commercial enterprise to interfere with his capacity to perceive and appreciate a good practical joke.
Tucker's Grocery was not your everyday country general store. In addition to hardware, household goods, seeds, livestock feed and farm implements, the store carried a good line of fresh produce and meats. Les also ran a creamery sub station where he bought whole milk from the farmers, tested it for butterfat content, and shipped it on to the main creamery in Indiana. He also bought fresh eggs and live poultry.
It came as no surprise to anyone that Les's son, Boots, inherited his father's sense of humor. When Les and Boots weren't playing jokes on some customer, they were poking fun at one another. One afternoon, Les played an elaborated joke on Boots with his entire stock of alarm clocks.
Wednesdays were generally slow, and on this particular day, Les announced that he was taking the afternoon off to go fishing. Boots was happy to be left in charge of the store. He liked to talk and joke with the drummers, and there was always a chance that one of the local farm girls would come to the store for some thread or a can of baking powders.
At any rate, Les took off on his fishing trip, but not before leaving Boots an unusually long list of things to be accomplished. Leading the list was "dust the shelves," a chore Boots thoroughly detested. He reluctantly set about the dusting, however, hoping to be interrupted by a customer. He hadn't made more than a few desultory swipes when the silence of the store was shattered by the sound of an alarm clock.
It was several minutes before Boots found the offending timepiece secreted between some layers of dry goods. He breathed a sigh of relief and opened a bottle of Lemon Sour in an effort to soothe his frazzled nerves. Then, again came the grating demand of Big Ben. This one had an especially irritating sound that literally assaulted the nerve ends. This one had been placed in the bottom of a slop jar. The pot was setting on one of the highest shelves in the store. The slop jar was made of enamel which acted as a resonator, causing the sound to amplify throughout the store.
It didn't take Boots long to figure out that he had been taken. The alarms had been planted around the store and set to go off at 15 minute intervals. Boots tried to ignore the alarms. He went out and sat on the front porch. But on this Wednesday, business was brisk. Boots was forced back into the store to wait on trade. Between serving customers and tracing down screaming alarm clocks, Boots had a hectic afternoon.
To add to his chagrin, Boots was caught in an especially embarrassing circumstance. He had just silenced one alarm clock found in some boxes of women's undergarments. He was busy fumbling through some more lingerie, hoping to catch the next clock before it went off. Suddenly, he sensed that someone was standing behind him. He turned and found himself eye to eye with Ann Hayden, a local girl whom he was trying to get up the nerve to ask for a date.
There was a knowing twinkle in her eye that said it all. "I'm sorry to disturb you, Boots," she said in a condescending manner. "If you'll get me a can of Horlick's Malted Milk Powder, I'll let you get back to whatever it is you're doing."
"I was trying to find an alarm clock," Boots said weakly. He was clutching a petticoat in his fist.
"Of course, I understand," Ann said knowingly. Her leer and tone of voice indicated that she had formed some strong opinions about what Boots did for recreation. She paid for her malted milk and hurriedly left the store, glancing back over her shoulder as if she expected to be attacked by this pervert.
Boots survived the afternoon. Happily, there was no inimical aftermath to spoil the congenial relationship between father and son. Boots never got mad. He did vow to get even.
It was about this point in time that Fuqua Bus Lines started a bus service in the area. The bus made a daily round trip from Henderson to Owensboro. The bus ran through some winding back country roads, stopping at farmhouses and country stores along the way. It was a boom to people living in the area; many of whom had no transportation of their own.
Les was quick to seize upon this economic opportunity. Tucker's Grocery was already noted as a good place to get a snack. For the munificent sum of 25 cents, you could get a generous slab of bologna, cheese, a 16 oz pop, a bag of peanuts, and a moon pie. The mustard and soda crackers were thrown in as a bonus.
With the inception of the bus service, Les was quick to expand his sandwich counter into a kind of country smorgasbord. The table was simply a crude trestle fashioned of rough boards laid across sawhorses. But it was truly a table fit for royalty. The boards sagged under the weight of luncheon meats, cheeses, hams, potato salad, baked beans, and various other goodies.
A trip to "Tucker's Trough" became a kind of tourist attraction. People would drive from surrounding counties for a meal at "Tucker's Trough."
The introduction of bus service to Elba came about the same time Boots started to get interested in radio. It all started when he sent off for a "Build It Yourself" home radio receiver. Les passed the whole thing off as passing fancy. "If Boots ever so much as picks up a jay bird squawk on that contraption of his," he vowed, "I'll build a gold ladder to the moon."
But Boots surprised everyone by building a set that would pick up local stations within a 100 mile radius. When the atmospheric conditions were right, he could even pick up Chicago National Barndance or the Grand Ole Opry.
Boots progressed rapidly in his knowledge of radio and communications. Whenever he could find someone to lend him an ear he would expound for hours on how radio waves were launched like waves from a rock being tossed into a pond: Few people cared to lend an ear. Just as Boot's knowledge of radio grew, so did the fame of Tucker's Trough.
It was inevitable that the reputation of Tucker's General Store and Bus Depot should reach the ears of the Board of Directors of the Fuqua Bus Lines. The board deemed it fit and appropriated that someone from the honored group should make the trip along the route to appraise and evaluate the facilities along the way. These people were skeptical by nature, and were inclined to believe that nothing was ever as good as it was reputed to be. There was, they firmly believed, a fly somewhere in Tucker's Trough.
The note Les received in the mail was terse and to the point. It stated simply that on a particular date, a member of the Board of Directors of the Fuqua Bus Lines would be on a tour of inspection of facilities along the route. What this note did not mention was that this inspecting party would be none other than Miss Margarita Fuqua, the sister of the esteemed president of the company.
Les never gave the matter any undue thought. He simply made plans to restock his buffet and reap the profits. A good meal would be sufficient to send the company representative back to sing the praises of Tucker's General Store and Bus Depot.
Boots was oblivious to the impending visit of the representative. He did have some ideas about surprising some unsuspecting guest on the Saturday that the bus carrying the representative was scheduled to arrive.
Holding only a slightly lower niche in Les's esteem than his store and deli, was two sanitary structures built out back of the store for the convenience of his patrons. The two three holers were painted a pristine white and were cleaned and disinfected regularly. Les pointed with pride to these bucolic comfort stations.
Also for the convenience of the customers, Boots had used his communications skills to rig up a paging system in the store. He could call out the arrival and departure of the buses in addition to letting patrons know when their grocery orders were ready.
Boots was constantly rigging electrical paraphernalia around the store. So Les paid little attention, when on the Friday afternoon preceding the visit of the company VIP the following morning, his son spent several hours running electrical cable to one of the outside facilities.
Saturdays were always big events in Elba, but Les had done himself especially proud on this day. The buffet had been moved out under some shade trees to await the arrival of the 10 o'clock bus. The field adjacent to the store was already full of cars and road wagons. The good people of Elba were out in force to meet their visitor and to make a favorable impression for the community.
The bus was on time. The coach screeched to a stop in front of the gas pump and the driver cried out in a stentorian voice, "Elba, you'll have 30 minutes!"
The passengers were no doubt eager to get out, stretch their legs, and charge the food laden tables. They respectfully waited, however, for Miss Fuqua to disembark. The Lady Fuqua appreciated this deference from her fellow travelers, and for a very good reason. She had ate a hearty breakfast that morning. The jouncing over the rough country roads had left her in dire need of a comfort station.
Les was there to greet Miss Fuqua. "Welcome to my humble establishment," he said, doffing his hat in a courtly manner. "After you dine, I'll be gratified if you would inspect my facilities."
Miss Fuqua was a buxom, dowager like lady. She was a person of dignified, no nonsense bearing. She had a reputation for dealing sternly with anyone who raised her ire. "Thank you, Mr. Tucker, but I'll be obliged to first inspect your sanitary facilities." Without further ado she marched off in the direction of the 'LADIES.'
Meanwhile, Boots was conspicuous by his absence. From his vantage point in the cream station, he was watching the restrooms. His trap was baited and bugged. The day before, he had rigged a small speaker under the seat of the privy. Boots stood with microphone in hand, awaiting his victim.
Suddenly, Miss Fuqua came into view, and Boots tested his mike tentatively. Quickly, she entered and closed the door. Boots waited several seconds, then, in an irritated, somewhat pleading voice, he barked into the mike, "Lady would you please move over to the next hole? I'm trying to paint down here!"
Miss Fuqua was stunned momentarily. Then, pandemonium broke loose. The door burst open and the lady came out charging, screaming and pulling at her clothing in an effort to make herself presentable.
Women seem to have a way of rushing to the defense of their own gender. They gathered around Miss Fuqua to soothe her and to apply first aid to any wounds she might have incurred into when she finally regained her power of speech, she shrieked, "There's a man in the restroom!"
Now the men went into action. An impromptu posse was organized to seize and do justice on this vicious voyeur. Alas, however, the peeping Tom had flown. A thorough search revealed that the scoundrel had made his escape.
As soon as Boots learned the identity of his victim, he did what so many good politicians do. He sheltered the people from the truth. He joined the search and even got down on his knees and scrutinized the ground around the outhouse for footprints.
Once Lady Fuqua regained her composure, she was in no mood for a trip to Tucker's Trough. She directed the bus driver to reload his passengers and continue on to the next stop. She inferred very strongly that in the future, the bus would be giving Tucker's a wide berth. This wild, heathenish community was not even safe for a lady to stop to attend to the demands of nature.
Matters of simple economics, however, have a way of taking precedence over indignation. Initially, Miss Fuqua wanted to terminate Tucker's affiliation with the company. After a look at the financial reports, however, cooler heads prevailed. Tucker's Grocery remained on the route.
Months passed before Boots got around to telling Les the truth about the peeping Tom. Les said he suspected that Boots was at the bottom of the whole business from the beginning. After awhile, he started to take credit for being an accomplice in bugging the john.
"Humor is the good natured side of truth." Mark Twain.