Start With a Rabbit, Come Home With a Cow

A typical day in Furnace Village

My old man was quite the horse trader, but he never limited himself to the equine breeds.

I’m about twelve years old and it’s a chilly fall morning. “Get up, Pete”, says Avery, Sr. He always called me Pete because my mom wanted to name me Peter, but dad insisted I be named after him. In exchange for her acquiescing, he proceeded to call me Pete all my life.

Into the broken down “car of the day” we stumble, but only after putting the large white rabbit dad had acquired for small money in a cage in the area of the jalopy that in another’s vehicle would be the space for the back seat. Dad was a used car dealer among other trades and his cars were frequently used as trucks to haul animals and other fine goods he’d acquire in a day.

To the first small farm homestead we go. Dad is still cold sober, but he’ll cure that malady soon enough. His esteem went to the Swedes and Portuguese, both of whom he held out as paradigms of the best in humanity. Of course he held little positive feeling for those of color or the Jewish faith. He simply reflected the prejudices of the day. This is all strange, because some of the Cape Verdians were darker of skin than the African American folk. No matter, those Cape Verdians were not “negros”. It was not so much skin color with dad as it was a cultural thing, I guess. Thanks to my mom and the gentle Mr. Charles Hinds, I did not fall victim to those same prejudices, but that’s fodder for another story.

On this day we wind up first as the guest of a short, rugged man in his mid forties of Portuguese extraction. Dad’s rum soaked stogie, unlit as usual, dangles from his lips; the farmer spits tobacco juice into the cow stalls.

The day starts poorly for me as I slip and fall on the slick cow manure. “Son of a b-----“, I exclaim without thought. Dad’s reprimand is followed by an explanation to the farmer that I have not been brought up to use such language. I wipe myself down as best I can and reeking of the pungent odor of the excrement of a bovine quadruped, we saunter out to the well. It must be all of 8 a.m. by now. The host pulls the bottle of homemade wine by a stout twine at its neck from the well that is situated under a fine grape arbor. The drinking and the bargaining begin. Dad and I leave with a stunted goat in the rear of the car after about an hour of wine, jovial conversation and hand shakes. Dad assures our host again that we shall return. The farmer knows he has the better of the deal and is glad to know that such easy marks will be back to be fleeced again.

And so it goes through the day; one farmer after another taking advantage of dad, plying him with drink and flipping one dollar coins in the age old game of “matching”. Somehow dad keeps winning. This comes about mostly because he keeps “doubling up” and has more money in his pocket than his challenger. At days end we wind up with maybe $10 “flipping winnings” and a small, but healthy calf worth ten times the value of the rabbit we started with.

His constant advise was to “sell for a living”. He’d buy and sell all day, if he could. I recall the time he came home with the old car loaded with rubber boots. He had bought out a complete warehouse of the things it appeared. Hundreds of boots, but not a matching pair amongst them. Perhaps they were “seconds” of the manufacturing process. He paid next to nothing for them. We kids were then put to work making as close to matches as we could of the multiple sizes and shapes. We filled a whole chicken house with the galoshes. Luckily the boots were all black in color. We had another advantage. Let’s say a man had a size nine right foot and a ten on the left – no problem. We could meet that need. And sure enough, the old man took the slightly differing rubber footwear out to the bars and sold them for 50 cents a “pair”. He knew the local farm folk could care less about such niceties as boots that truly matched.

And so he went, buying, selling, drinking and prospering his way to a pretty good fortune at a young age. While he bought some stocks, he really was a real estate investor. He owned the land that eventually became the rear property of where is now at the Five Corners. Shaw’s could not build there without our land and my mom eventually turned a good dollar on dad’s foresight.

I recall those days in Furnace Village vividly.


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