Diana Flatrock’s mother, the former Estelle Flamingo, was from out of town, way out of town. She’d met the confused, uncharming floriculturist who was Arty Flatrock at a Fourth of July Jaycees picnic, and conceived her only child by him the same night, under the fullest of full moons. The baby’s name, like the relationship, came to Estelle in the guffawing arms of whimsy. It was the beer. It was that damned moon.
Estelle and Arty had consummated a malt-augmented patriotic lust in quick-march time under the stern cast-concrete eyes of Diana the Huntress.
Goddess of the chase.
Goddess of chastity.
Goddess of the moon.
They obtained legal sanction for such activities a short time later.
Estelle hadn’t been invited. She didn’t even know what day it was when she was ejected from her bus. Seems she had been searching her purse for a misplaced ticket across two states and ten counties, when the bus driver finally got fed up and pulled over at his regular stop. Number twenty-seven of forty two, in front of Daigle’s Drug Store.
“End of the line for you, maam,” he said, unceremoniously placing her rope-wrapped bag on the sidewalk. “This is as far as you go without a ticket. I been as patient as I could, but these other folks, they pay to ride.”
“Aw c’mon, Mister,” she said, looking around her, “I got no more money, and I don’t even know where the hell I am.”
“Blue Moons, Texas, maam. Stop twenty-seven,” he announced, closed the door, hit the accelerator, spun the wheels. He was back on schedule and looking forward to retirement.
As the cloud of dust settled, and the distant grinding of a fourth set of gears signaled that the driver was beyond the range of additional pleas, Estelle peered at the small cluster of one- and two-story buildings that was downtown Blue Moons. She stood on the center line of Highway 31, and did not feel compelled to move. There seemed to be no traffic to threaten her reconnoitering position. Behind her, the recently re-carpentered facade of Daigle’s Drugstore framed a window layered with a confusing mix of items offered for sale: colored tubes of bone & joint liniments, family-sized cans of Draino, a vast assortment of get-well and condolence cards, a dozen rolls of long-expired 35mm film stock, rock-hard pastel jelly beans by the pound, Overwate-Kit’n cat food by the bag, Modern Farm Implement magazines (the front cover of the issue on display was graced with an overall-clad starlet emoting her country-girl heart out to a belt-driven roto-tiller), and rubber-banded clusters of miniature American flags.
It was those little flags taped to the four corners of the window that made Estelle notice the recurring tri-color motif.
On either side of Daigle’s, like-colored bunting covered the two stories of the Planters Bank & Trust and the wide-porched Village Hall. Across the street Whitsell’s Sav-Mor Hardware Store and The Claire de Lune movie house were decorated with woven red-white-and-blue crepe paper chains. The theatre’s marquee held a life-sized film poster which prominently hawked a well-known British actor’s sensitive portrayal of American president George Washington.
The possibilities of the day’s identity within the contemporary American calendar began to narrow, and when Estelle factored in the scalding sun and the echoing sound of repeated sousaphone flatulence, the date became apparent to her.
“Hellsbells, it’s the Fourth of July,” she announced to the empty street.
She’d hit it on the patriotic nose.
The oompah music was in the company of most of the town’s inhabitants in Miller’s hayfield, a block from where Estelle stood next to her worn Samsonite life-in-a-box. She decided that since her only other alternative was to remain alone, hot, and hungry in an unknown street, she’d head toward the music, and that she did.
The field often served duty as the village’s outdoor gathering place, when it wasn’t head-deep in thick, unbending stalks of sharp-edged Johnson grass. For three days prior to the event Jerry Miller drove his Allis-Chalmers tractor around and around the field, all the while dragging a large, wheeled, surgical-looking apparatus. Half a ton of rusted steel and even bigger than the tractor that pulled it. As he had done three times a year for seventy years, Miller closely followed the perimeter of the ever-shrinking rectangle that was the uncut plants, turning corners with a right-angle precision a tank battalion would have envied. The ever-hungry machine that he pulled ate the grass, chewed it up, and evacuated large, regularly-formed, wire-bound droppings out its rear end at short intervals. Village employees -- as payment for the use of the field -- loaded the results of the mechanical digestion onto wagons and carted them over to Miller’s place for storage. The bales were now ripening in tall fragrant columns in Miller’s barn, his herd of grazing Guernseys lifting their noses and lowing every time the breeze brought them the delectable scent of their winter meals.
The field was left with that sweet pastoral perfume, too, exciting the close to three hundred people that tramped across the bright green space eating and drinking and laughing and spitting and farting in time with the music, all on the Junior Chamber of Commerce’s nickel. In the center, a large open-sided circus-style tent, courtesy of the funeral home whose name was festooned on the black canvas peaks in bright gold lettering, sheltered the thirteen atonal members of the Blue Moons High marching band and their audience, those melody-impaired residents for whom the summer sun carried no blessing of tan.
Alongside the tent was the field’s one permanent resident, a cast stone statue of Diana, the goddess of hunting, donated by the members of the Blue Moons Gun & Tackle Club. Jerry Miller was president and founding member. Ten years earlier Jerry had suggested and promoted the purchase of the statue to celebrate a particularly good deer season. He did have another, more self-serving agenda, though none of the other Gun & Tacklers suspected, even as they chipped in.
Jerry Miller, also filling the second Village Alderman’s seat (and often voting for both himself and full-time Laundromatist Leonard Ponder), was looking down the road to retirement. He figured that sooner or later the village would become a city and the city would buy up his lot for a full-blown City Park. He’d vote for it himself. What with statues and celebrations and the like already in it, the deal was as good as done.
Nobody would say a word.
But Blue Moons unfortunately did not boom as Miller expected. The village remained a village, and only helped mow his field once a year, despite his machinations. The free hay hauling and the baler-scarred Diana were the detritus of old man Miller’s urban dreams. It was only recently that the village librarian discovered that Diana was also the goddess of the moon, making her something of a double town namesake.
That she was also identified with sexual matters, they’d just as soon ignore.
Diana ruled the festivities with an especially powerful sway the year Estelle showed up. The whole town could feel it coming. It was a scientific fact. The Farmer’s Almanac trumpeted that year’s Fourth of July as coinciding with the night of the full moon. And as in every year, the Fourth of July was already Cancer’s featured attraction, as noted prominently in the Once-in-a-Blue-Moons Weekly. The paper would have been forced to close without its listings of horoscopes, even though the whole village knew the publisher’s wife Edna Mergenthal clipped them at random out of the Shreveport paper and added her own comments. Every lady who left the BM Beauty Shop could quote the week’s lines by heart:
Cancer. Emotional, receptive, intuitive Cancer is ruled by her mistress moon. The 2d is a good day for mailing chain letters (take that to heart, Annie Smith!). Shellfish continue to hold significance in real estate matters. Balance your checkbook before the tenth. Look for that Mr or Mrs Right under the night sky. Keep your hands to yourself as Venus comes to bear, and we know what that means, all you bachelors. Drink lots of liquids after the 15th. Potatoes offer special opportunities for the wary. If you are born under this sign: your oldest child will need dental work. Check right upper molars.
So, that year it was moons all round. Folks decided it was alright to plan on going just a bit wilder than usual. They looked forward to it. They had an excuse for advancing the party. The barber shop was full of drunken anticipation from late spring forward. As they lost their hair in short rhythmic snips, the boys regaled each other with tales of how messed up they were going to get when the day rolled around. They were ready.
On the morning of the Fourth, the mayor himself had driven the beer truck through a shallow ditch and onto the grass of Miller’s field. The giggle-and-belch-filled vehicle formed the base of a U whose legs were made up of table upon table of foodstuffs historically designated as appropriate for that particular federal holiday. You got your basic mustard-swimming weenies toweled in white-bread buns. You got your corn on the cob, salmonella-laced potato salad, canned pork & beans. You got your assorted burnt mammals and fowls, each unrecognizable piece further disguised with a sweet blackened honey-&-tomato-based crust. You got your watermelons. You got your apple pies and ice creams. You got that beer.
Oh, you got that beer.
The festivities saved, and changed the course of, Estelle Flamingo’s life as soon as she set her first foot on old man Miller’s fodder field. There was Arty Flatrock, dead drunk at one in the afternoon. And proud of it.
“Here ya go, sweet lady, lemme put yer bag down right over here,” he said, pouring most of his quart of Pearl Draft onto Estelle’s precious suitcase. “Nobody’ll bother it here, nope, I’ll be watchin out fer it too hey yer not fum aroun here are ya fum Longview maybe?”
“Smackover. Arkansas,” she replied, eyeing the cold beer and the hot dog remains that decorated Arty’s undershirt.
“Know right where tis. Smackover, kinda inna middle somewhere. Wellnow ain at sumthin. Everbody hear that? Our lil celebra-tation gittin so famous folk comin here allaway from Smackover Arkansas. Like my lil darlin here... uh, baby... whuzyer name?”
“Estelle. Is the food free?”
The next thing Ms Flamingo knew, she was pregnant, married to a three-hundred-pound florist, and learning to cook a Beanie-Weenie Casserole. She had died of a common cold, magnified by a combination of indignation and boredom, some six years later.
Leaving her daughter’s upbringing in Arty’s hands.
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