Shortcutter

I know some strangers around these parts might look at Vernon Pritchard sitting on his porch all day, whistling and whittling, and think that he’s the laziest, most worthless cuss in Coosawhatchie County.

But I know that ain’t the truth. Vernon’s just real efficient, see? He’s a regular shortcut king, doing more in an hour than the rest of us get done in three full days. So the way I see it, once Vernon’s finished all of his business real quick like, well, then why shouldn’t he just whittle the rest of his day away? I would, if I was a shortcutter like him. But I ain’t.

Vernon, though, he is a shortcutter. He’s got a gift the rest of us lack. We all go into the barns at dawn every morning and before the rest of us have gotten one cow milked, Vernon’s got his whole herd out to pasture, teats as empty as Jesus’ tomb. By the time we’ve got our tractors warmed up and ready to work the fields, Vernon’s back in his yard, cleaning the chaff off the chassis.

He can eat a whole dinner — steak, potatoes, corn, beans, biscuits and a boat of gravy — in the time that most fellows spend tucking their napkins into their shirts to keep from getting stains on their overalls.

He’s just real quick at doing what has to be done, and when his chores and obligations are all tended to, well, what else do you expect him to do but sit out there and whittle, his grey beard flecked with aspen chips, his mottled bald head glistening in the afternoon humidity.

His eyes are a bit rheumy of late, but I never seen him cut himself. And the things he carves? Lord have mercy, I’ve seen him cut a scale model of Solomon’s Temple out of a sassafras limb in the time it takes me to oil the blade of my pocket-knife.

Sometimes, though, I got to admit that Vernon’s shortcutting gifts kind of spook me some. Like take his family: his wife Ginny Mae gave birth to eight children in three years. Not a one of them was a twin or triplet either. And then there was the time that Silas Canadys, the train station attendant, had his stroke and Vernon drove him seventeen miles to the hospital in Pocotaligo — where Doc Lester swore he admitted him as the church bells rang in three o’clock, even though everyone seemed to think that Silas had fallen just as the 2:54 train from McPhersonville had pulled into the station.

But we all learned a long time ago not to ask too many questions, since obviously Vernon’s paying his own price for his shortcutting ways. I mean, who would believe that gnarled old gnome on the porch, fingers flying over that cherry-wood lion he’s carving, is only 24 years old?

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