It was a hot summer, and the sun beat down mercilessly on us as we hauled hay. I was young, so it was my job to roll the bales into line to keep a steady stream of them moving to the conveyor that carried them up the side of the truck. There my two older brothers stacked them until the truck was full.

Each time a truck was loaded, we would take a water break. In the searing heat my shirt was quickly soaked with sweat, and the water was very welcome. But way too quickly the next truck would arrive, and we would head back to work.

Each night we would put four gallon jugs half filled with water into the freezer so that the next day the ice would keep the water cold as we worked. But as the temperatures climbed over 100 degrees, the amount of water we consumed increased dramatically. We kept refilling the jugs, and the ice disappeared quickly, leaving water that was cool at best, and warm most of the time.

For that reason, as we finished the last load each evening, I always looked forward to pulling into a small rest stop outside of the town where we weighed our hay. There was an old hand pump there. Pumping it was fun in itself, but even better was the ice-cold water that flowed from it.

Quite often we would put our whole head and chest under and let the almost-freezing water cool us down before we would gulp from the enormous stream that poured out of it. We would take turns pumping and drinking until we could barely waddle back to our waiting truck.

Then, one day, as we drove up to make our regular stop, we found the road into the rest stop roped off with a sign that said it was closed. At first we thought it must be something temporary, but as the days passed with it still closed, we began to fear that it might be permanent.

We talked to our father about it, and he told us there had been a story concerning it in the paper. We retrieved the paper, and he read it to us, confirming the rest stop would remain closed.

The story in the paper said that one night during the previous winter, a drunken man had stopped at the rest stop. Along with the wonderful pump, there was a dilapidated old outhouse. Because of the shape it was in we almost never used it, and I’m sure no one else did either, unless they were desperate. But this man, in his intoxicated state, decided to do so. When he did, he lost his wallet down the ten-foot-deep hole. Being inebriated, and not thinking about the depth, he decided to reach in and see if he could retrieve it. In his tipsy condition he lost his balance and plunged headfirst into the hole.

He nearly drowned before he got upright, but, even after surviving that, the top was too high for him to reach, so he was stuck there. The waste was a mixed blessing. The heat from it was barely enough to keep him from freezing to death, but he was still cold and extremely miserable.

Luckily, the next day, an observant motorist realized that the man’s car had been there for a long time, and decided to check to see if something was wrong.

The man survived, but sued the state, not only for the ordeal he had been through, but for the humiliation he continued to face as the story got out, and he became the butt of many jokes.

My dad wrapped up the story. “The state kept the rest stop open while the lawsuit proceeded, but when the man won a substantial settlement, they made the decision to close it permanently.”

“Man, that really stinks,” one of my brothers said.

And it’s true, it did stink, but probably not as much as the man that fell into the hole.

 

Daris Howard, award-winning, syndicated columnist, playwright, and author, can be contacted at [email protected]; or visit his website