Become a Fan
By Brenda M Weber
Friday, July 23, 2004
Rated "PG" by the Author.
Just one man living in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan
Zzzzooommm – the cars buzzed by the old man, nearly striking him. Horns from swerving cars and trucks were honking. People’s heads were turning to look, in bewildered disbelief. “Get the hell out of the road old man!” Not too many people in the Upper Peninsula suffer from road rage, but this went beyond that.
Here was an old man in a raggedy plaid shirt, holes in the knees of his pants, duct tape wrapped around the toe of one slip-on tennis shoe, a tattered cap tilted sideways on his head. It had some kind of beer emblem on it, most likely he was under the influence of it right now. He had a long handled garden shovel slung over his shoulder.
He had parked his 1984 pick-up truck beside the road, actually it looked more like he had just made a half-hearted effort to get out of the way of traffic, the rear-end was sticking out considerably. The doors were about to fall off from gaping rust-eaten holes that had begun an attack on the hinges. There was no tailgate to speak of, just a makeshift rope tied end to end, resembling a tailgate net.
The truck bed was littered with junk. Beer cans, pop cans, fast-food containers, several milk jugs tied together, a beat up gas can with a stick wedged in for a cap, a set of deer horns, tools everywhere.
There was an old broom sticking in one of the holes on the side of the box. All that was left were a few strands of straw held together by the wire encasing it. What is the object of that?
Hooonnnkkk - “What the hell are you doing old man?”
At least he had had enough sense to get out on the ditch side; the door was still wide open. Sitting patiently on the seat was a black Lab, waiting for his master to obviously regain his senses. Every few seconds his head would turn as he followed a slow moving vehicle passing by. The dog was oblivious.
As I drove by I took in the situation that was both dangerous and humorous. Only in the UP. I caught a glimpse of the old man when I drove by. He looked my way with a half shit-eaten grin on his whiskered face. I noticed the stubbed cigar in the side of his mouth, held by his teeth when he grinned. He had the kindest eyes.
Tathump – What the hell was that? I knew I had hit something, drove over something small. Looking in my rearview mirror I saw what it was. While I was busy looking at the old man, I hadn’t noticed the dead raccoon in the road, and about twenty feet away, a porcupine. Roadkill. I also saw the old man raise his fist at me, yelling something inaudible. I think he even flipped me the bird.
Without thinking, I pulled off a safe distance on the side of the road; I didn’t need anyone mad at me too. I was set on finding out exactly what this old man was doing endangering peoples lives. Shaking his fist at me, who did he think he was? This old man should be in a home somewhere. Where were his children? Didn’t anyone watch out for him? What the hell was he doing with a driver’s license anyway? He’s a danger to society and maybe himself.
By the time I parked and started walking back to where the old man was now bending over the carcass of the raccoon, he was already yelling and muttering, “Young people, who the hell they think they are? Don’t they have any respect anymore? Who raises these kids? Don’t they know anything? Where do they learn how to drive?”
As I reached the old man, he was busy scooping the dead animals into his shovel. “Haye,” I said, “What are you doing?”
“What does it look like I’m doing young lady?”
“Well, it looks like you are causing problems for everyone driving by here.”
“Are you a cop?”
“No, but I’m sure someone is going to call one.”
“Well good, maybe then someone will listen to me.”
“Old man, I don’t know who you are but you can’t just leave your truck like that and walk into the road the way you are.”
“Who says I can’t”
“You’re going to get someone killed, or someone is going to run you over.”
“Ain’t never killed no one in my life.”
I could see this conversation was not going anywhere. The old man, I noticed, was starting to breathe heavily and as I looked at him, his eyes were watering, nose running snot onto his mustache and spittle from the cigar was trickling down his chin. Why did I bother to stop? Who is this guy?
I decided to make sure he got back to his truck safely. Vehicles were still zinging by the fairly busy highway. Now people were looking all the more curious, putting me in the same category as this old man who seemed three cards short of a deck. To take some of the burden off him, I grabbed the shovel and started down the shoulder of the road, dragging it behind me. “Come on old man.”
“Names Bud, Bud Wheeler.”
“I’m Jacki, come on, I’ll help you with this.”
We must have looked a sight, the old man that looked like he came from a shack in the woods, and me in a dress and high heels. With each step I could feel the points of my heels sinking into the dirt and loose gravel. I knew I was leaving a trail of little holes behind me. I laughed out loud. What was I thinking?
We got back to his beat-up old truck and I surrendered the handle of the shovel to the old man so he could heave the dead animals into the back of his truck. While he did that I caught the faithful expression on the face of the dog who was watching our every movement.
“What’s the dog’s name?”
I could tell the dog was friendly so I walked around to the open door, patted him on the head, and said, “You ought to keep a better eye on your master Brute.” His heavy tail slammed against the dash acknowledging his understanding.
The old man came around to stand by me. I looked at him and said, “Mr. Wheeler, it might not be any business of mine, but what the hell are you doing out here?”
“Come on young lady, I’ll show you. You get in your car and follow me. I’ve got something to show you.”
I never hesitated. I knew the man was not a threat, only to himself maybe. My curiosity had gotten the best of me anyway; I wanted to know his story. I wanted to see how he lived, where he lived, if he had family, and most important, what the hell he was doing with those dead animals.
I followed the old man down the road about a mile, took a right off the highway, traveled down a long winding road, hit a narrower graveled road, and made a left down a hayfield road. There, in the middle of nowhere, along the Manistique River was a one-room shack. It was surrounded by apple and cedar trees. Hanging from every possible well-angled branch, was a bird feeder, humming bird feeder, suet bag, or some kind of animal carcass in various states of decomposition. Jesus, this man could be a serial killer and I wouldn’t know it.
As I stepped out of my car, I felt a sense of peace. The only sounds amidst the humming breeze were the twitters, chatters, cheeps, and whirs of the squirrels and birds that flitted and jumped within the trees. This man’s home was a quiet refuge and I began to look at him from a different perspective.
“C’mere young lady, I’ll show you what I do with these animals.”
As I entered the shack, I was amazed at the cleanliness of this old man, given his way of dress and the truck he drove. In one corner was an old hardwood table full of every shape and size of bone imaginable. I spotted a pile of long spiky things. The old man caught my questioning look, and picking one up handed it to me.
I noticed several pelts stretched and nailed to boards leaning in another corner. The old man explained how he made a salt mixture to cure the pelts. Several coonskin caps were perched on wood blocks on another table. His workmanship was exquisite. This old man was born far behind his era.
He proceeded to explain to me how he collected dead animals off the road, skinned them, and hung them in his trees to let the birds pick them clean. He then lets the sun bleach the bones to a glistening white. The process amazed me. He disassembles the skeletal remains and makes jewelry out of the odd shaped and various size bones, even the penal bones were made into necklaces. He jokingly told me about fooling the young whippersnappers by telling them they were whistles. The porcupine quills, he cuts the pointy ends off and strings together in the form of a neck chocker. This old man is amazing.
“Cup a coffee?”
“No thanks, I don’t drink coffee?”
“No thanks, I don’t drink.”
“No, I’m fine, thank you.”
“Mr. Wheeler,” I said, “tell me about yourself.”
“My friends call me Bud.”
Bud proceeded to tell me about himself. He had come from a family of fifteen. His parents had emigrated from Canada back in the late 1800’s. They came from an Indian heritage. He had joined the Army when he was fifteen, fought in both WWII and the Korean War, married, raised a family, and proceeded to outlive all his relatives.
His siblings had all died at various ages, some from natural causes, others from various diseases. His children had all died from car accidents, cancer, or drinking ailments. Now, he was just a lonely old man.
“I make jewelry to supplement my pension and keep myself busy.”
“I think it’s wonderful!”
“I never kill any animals myself, unless they’re injured or wounded. Mostly I pick up the dead animals along the roads.”
“Where do you sell your stuff?”
“There’s a lady I know who has a shop.”
“Bud, it’s fascinating what you do, but it’s also dangerous.”
“It’s even more dangerous for those animals to be left lying in the road. A friend of mine got killed when an old lady swerved to miss a dead fox, run him right off the road and he hit head-on into a pine tree.”
“I’m sorry about your friend.”
“Best friend I ever had.”
I wondered at the simplicity of this old man. He appeared to be happy and very content with his lifestyle. I doubt if he ever hurt anyone, and he would probably give the shirt off his back to someone in need. I could tell he had morals and showed a reverence for nature. He made use of everything from the dead animals, even considering the nourishment of the birds that picked at the bones. He was a combination of Yule Gibbons and Grizzly Adams, a most enchanting mixture.
With that shit-eaten grin he handed me a newly varnished bone necklace, of course it was made from penal bones. I regretfully said my good-byes to Bud, promising to visit him again when I got the chance. I was lost in thought until I reached the highway. As I was preparing to pull out onto the main road, I hesitated a bit at the stop sign. An oncoming car made a wild swing out into the other lane. The teenager zoomed by me. Shaking my head, I looked down the road again to see if it was clear, that’s when I noticed the dead cat laying in the road. Another road kill.
I got to noticing more and more dead animals that motorists, both experienced and reckless, run down. Usually when I go for a drive, the only attentions they are getting are the ravens, hawks, and an occasional bald eagle picking at their bones. The UP roads are riddled with road kill. That’s a laugh – there are road kill t-shirts, road kill cafes, road kill recipes, and road kill songs. He’s a real road kill man, driving in this road kill land, how many road killers do you know…
I decided from then on, to carry a shovel with me, take the time to stop and at least push those dead animals off onto the shoulder of the road so no old lady had to swerve and try to miss it, or an anxious teenager did not drive over into the other lane to avoid a dead animal, and when I had even more time, pick them up, put them in my trunk, and take them to my friend Bud. He’s a real road kill man, living in this road kill land, picking up the road kill with a helping hand…
copyright Brenda M Weber 2004
Site: Brenda M Weber's Books
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