Uncle Romulus Tales
I. November 1998
Tails and Tales Retold
By Uncle Romulus
Brer Elephant and Brer Donkey were quarreling. This was not unusual. They were not getting along very well now. Once upon a time they could have a beer after work and tell jokes, but their sense of humor had been strained ever since Brer Fox began telling Donkey that his friend was out to get him. You see, Brer Elephant used to be considerably smaller, but now that he had grown larger than Donkey, it was easy to believe that he was now rather dangerous.
They were quarreling about the Briar Patch, something neither knew much about because it was too thorny to go into. (After Elephant had thrown Brer Fox into the Br=ar Patch, they both believed that Fox had come out of it less thorny than he had gone in, but they still had strong feelings about the place.). Elephant said that the Starrs in heaven had told him to throw him in, but Donkey replied that all his astrological surveys had indicated that the animals wanted to avoid Gore and Mayhem for another two years. Elephant didn=t Quale at this at all, though he didn=t lose his Doleful expression. He had taken a bath at Whitewater and caught a slight cold. When Elephant sneezed, even a little cold seemed like a big thing.
Donkey told Elephant that he only took a one-sided view of things. Elephant conceded that anything he stepped on generally had only one-side left, and tusks were not the best tool for the delicate investigation of such matters. (He even flattened taxes.) However, Donkey found it useful to scape up whatever Elephant left behind, to see if Fox could use it to make friends among the other animals. This annoyed Elephant, who said that Fox never had an idea of his own, but knew how to persuade the other animals that Elephant=s droppings were a grand feast of his own concoction.
Donkey said that Elephant should not say bad things about Fox, only about the Grinrich who stole Christmas from Fox by quitting the story early. Elephant said that the Grinrich was not that bad: AGod said, let Newt be, and there was light.@ Donkey snorted that Elephant couldn=t tell the difference between a proton and a photon. Elephant trumpeted, ANewt, Newton, New. Stop splitting hares.@
At that, they both fell silent for a moment, thinking about what had happened to Brer Rabbit on the way to the Peach Patch. He had been fooling around, singing a little too loudly, AI=m peachy, I= m peachy, Nix on you, Nix on you,@ when he was judiciously snared by Uncle Sam=s trapper. Rabbit hadn=t understood what had happened at firstCFox had said that Sam Dashed off a resignation, but to be careful until Elephant fell into his trap. (Elephant was too nearsighted to even notice the danger and too big to be stopped, so he just walked right through it even though Donkey was shouting at him that he had been caught, that he was supposed to realize that he had been caught.) Rabbit was so unhappy that he asked for his mommy, but right away he accepted Elephant=s invitation to go shopping, to replace the Red China (Indonesian pattern) that Fox had sold to buy his little white house. Later Rabbit called Fox a creep and told how Fox had suggested that he and Rabbit share a secret and not let anyone else know about it, but that Fox had not said to lie about it, whatever it was, though it seemed to have more to do with calling Aunt Kitty (Miss Pussy) than anything else. It was not even clear who was foxy, Fox or Rabbit. In any case, Rabbit was literally torn in two by indecision. It was, by all accounts, a bad Tripp.
Elephant couldn=t waste any more time. He had given Donkey rather more than promised, and Donkey had refused to talk about the central matter, whatever it was, but just complained that it was not fair to talk about Fox. This reminded Elephant that he had tied Fox to his tail somehow and was supposed to drag him off somewhere, but he wasn=t quite sure where. Donkey could only shout, ADon=t sit down! Fox isn=t there, but don=t sit down anyway.@
What did we learn from all this? First, that Elephant= s tale was too thin to tie Fox to, and Elephant couldn=t see back there well enough to know whether Fox was really still tied on or not, or even if he was fit to be tied, and that Donkey is related to Br=r Mule, a mixed breed with an ass=s head and a horse=s behind.
II. November 1998
Tar Baby Blues
by Uncle Romulus
Brer Elephant was mighty unhappy. Brer Fox was teasing him all the time: "How about another Big Mac, fat boy? Think healthy, get educated, have a good time!" Brer Elephant knew that there was something wrong and if he could ever get his hands on Brer Fox, he'd find out what it was. But Brer Fox was too quick for him. He'd skip out of the way and yell, "check your grandfather's trunk!" Brer Elephant would go up to the attic, but there was never anything new there.
Brer Fox just went down to Whitewater, sat on the little rock, leaned back in the shade of Stonewall and laughed hilariously. Most of the animals in the forest admired him, because he could get away with tricks that they had always wanted to do themselves, but lacked the nerve to try. Brer Fox, knowing this, teased Elephant's moralizing ways all the more. Elephant, who never forgot anything, remembered times that other animals had followed Fox's ways, to their great harm, because they were not as clever enough to cover up their tracks.
Brer Elephant thought and thought about ways to trap Brer Fox, but nothing worked. He'd almost get his foot on him, when, gee willy, Fox would slickly slide out from under. Then, one day, behind the trailer park Elephant saw Fox caught in a tar baby. Brer Fox was covered from head to tail, so badly entangled that he couldn't even move.
Brer Elephant waddled over to his tormentor and asked how he ever got himself into such a mess. Brer Fox whined and moaned how foolish he had been: "I know I shouldn't speak to strangers, I know I shouldn't touch, but I just can't resist a blue dress and a good cigar."
Brer Elephant could not contain his joy. He practically danced tippy-toe around his prisoner, humming to himself ideas about what he could do to him. Brer Fox listened, breaking in from time to time to say, "You're right, I've been a baad boy, and anything you do is no less than I deserve. But, pleas, don't throw me in the br'ar patch." Elephant would dance some more, and Fox would say, "Ah really didn't put ma paw there, Ah really didn't get stuck on the tar baby, not legally at least. In any case, it's not enough to be mad about. Ah may've used por judgment. You'r right to be angry. Do anythin' yu want, but don't throw me into the br'ar patch."
Brer Elephant thought and thought, trying to figure out what Fox was saying, till he finally persuaded himself that if Brer Fox hated the briar patch more than anything he could think of, that's what he'd do. So he got out the video camera to record throwing Fox into the briar patch. To Elephant's surprise, even though Fox landed on his head so hard that he could only see Starrs, he limped away alive. (Fox clearly lacked the agility of Brer Rabbit, though he had tried to emulate him in so many ways.) Nevertheless, later, when Elephant showed the video to his friends, Brer Fox just laughed and laughed.
Brer Elephant grew madder and madder. But not long afterward when Brer Elephant had Brer Fox trapped in a corner and was ready to squash him flat, Brer Fox just spoke up right smart: "Jumbo, get it through your thick Hyde, if yu don't give me all you' money, I'll say that yu are keeping it for yurself!
Brer Elephant thought and thought about this, then began to worry that the animals would blame him for being selfish. Finally it came to him that last time, when he did what Brer Fox didn't want him to do, it turned out wrong. So this time he'd fool him, he'd do want Brer Fox wanted. He gave him his money and let him go. Brer Fox laughed and laughed.
You'd think a Georgia boy would've heard this story before.
III February 2004
More Tales from Uncle Romulus
Brer Elephant and Brer Donkey were talking about the future of the Briarpatch. It had been under Brer Elephant’s supervision for three years now and it was getting beaten down. Brer Donkey complained that ever’ time Brer E lied down, some place got smashed up. Brer E replied that he laid down, not lied down, and that when he was horizontal and comfortable, it was not Brer E, but Brer W.
Brer Donkey, who y’all remember had the head of an ass and the rump of a horse, but couldn’t remember which part had run the Briarpatch before and which was in the Senate, was looking among the various Brer Foxes to do ‘is work fur ‘im. Donkeys are smart. Overload them with, say, ideas, and they balk. Much better to find some little fox willing to get into the thorns. Unfortunately, them foxes is real smart. Not only can they set Tar Babies for W to get entangled in, but they laugh when Brer Donkey gets smeared, too.
Now, once upon a time this was the job of Brer Rabbit, but he vanished in a Bimbo Eruption and hasn’t come back yet. So getting W out of the Briarpatch was up to one of four foxes, two ancient ones worn out from years of hunting and two so new they ran around in circles, sniffing and barking, but not quite knowing what they were making all the noise for. The youngest got the swiftest start, but he ran out of breath between Iowa and New Hampshire; the oldest quit next, having run out of Bagels in Delaware. Them remaining two, one old, one young, could only agreed on one thing—the Briarpatch had to get rid of its thorns. Everybody who got into the thorns came out saying that they needed universal health care.
Now, y’all know how hard it is to get Brer Elephant to move. Without a mouse, it is practically impossible! That was the youngest fox’s brightest idea—to start a campaign with a mouse—but he made too much noise one evening and that was it for him. You know that foxes are by nature sly and quiet. For noise you want Brer Donkey, and foxes who make half-asses of themselves aren’t quite up to the task.
So Brer Donkey recruited another fox, one who used to work for W in Old Europe, but got mad when W began to think more about New Europe. He was a general contractor, and planned to use dynamite to remove’m, just like he got them Serbs out of Kosovo in spite of Old Europe. But he wasn’t very dynamic, and the other foxes fought back. Now d’ya remember the new fox I di’n’t describe a whil’ back? He was a trial lawyer, who said he’d file an environmental damage suit ‘cause W was ruining everythin’. Unfortunately, W was too big to fit any one suit, so this fox had to run around the South looking for newer and bigger ones. He stirred up a lot of game, but that one old fox, an antique Patriot, kept picken up all the chickens. In the end them foxes were quarreling so much amongst themselves that they forgot all about Briarpatch—‘cept that now they was all aga’n it—and Brer W he jus’ laughed and laughed.
Brer Donkey was so irate over the situation that he began to stutter, "I rate, irate, iraq." But Brer W made it up to him: They’d meet in November in Florida and have a beer. That’s mud in your eye, which is better than finding an elephant in your bathtub—or wuz that Johnny A from the Show-me state?