• Branson Hart

Bisbee's and Blacksmiths

One of the best things about living in a small town like Fordsville (“Pop. 900” according to the sign at the city limits), was the slower pace. It was so slow we were several decades behind the Big City folks.

In the very early sixties, my Grandparents’ house did not have in-door plumbing, mail was not delivered to your home, and you still talked to a real human being whenever you picked up the phone. That person could be the operator or a neighbor on the party line. For all the young people, before the time of cordless phones and cell phones and even phones that came in colors other than black, we had party lines. Several houses would be connected to the same phone number. When you picked up the phone to call someone, you might stumble in to the middle of someone else’s conversation. If your call was important enough, you could beg forgiveness for interrupting and request the use of the line. Most times you got it.

I love telling people about the things I saw as a child that they have only read about in history books. For instance, I was a frequent visitor to the blacksmith shop. I am not talking about a specialized shop that catered to horses and farms. I am talking about a shop that could make or repair anything made of metal or leather that you managed to break or lose. He only worked on one item of mine, but it was one that was mightily important in my manhood development. He fixed my toy gun holster.

I had an exact replica of a true western six-shooter, except it was way smaller and did not hold bullets or any projectiles. But, it was made of metal and the plastic handle looked like real wood, so it was close enough. I also had a real, authentic, western, leather holster for it. The holster was attached to a real, western, leather belt with a real, metal, silver(ish) buckle. My holster was not glued together. It was not even sewn together. It was held together by metal rivets. After several million quick-draws, one of the rivets popped out and the gun would no longer stay in the holster. My Father, possessing a remarkable gift for reading my various mood, was able to discern from my ear-splitting screams that I was upset.

“What’s wrong now?”

“MA GU WON (sniff, sniff) Sta ‘n Ma (sniff, sniff) holster.”

Taking the holster from me, “It’s just a popped rivet. Come on.”

And just like that, we walked across the front yard, across Main Street, up the road by my Father’s gas station, past the old depot, and right into the blacksmith shop. The blacksmith was a giant of a man. Well, to be truthful, all adults looked like giants yo me then. My Father explained the situation and the blacksmith agreed to repair it. It took a couple of days to get my holster back. The blacksmith was a busy man back then. When I did get it back, it had extra rivets and the leather had been polished so it was even more western than ever.

Another thing I love to talk about is the roaming tent show, Bisbee’s Comedians. Basically, it was a traveling vaudeville show. It came to Fordsville every year during the summer and stayed for a couple of days before moving on to other small towns like Calhoun, Dawson Springs, or Hartford. They would pull into town at the high school and set up a huge tent. The rowdies and a few local men hired for the run of the show set up rows of folding chairs and raised a stage at one end. My friends and I would always get there early and get seats right down front.

The show consisted of a two or three act play, usually a comedy mystery. Singers, comedians and magicians performed before the play and during the intermissions. I remember only three of those acts. There was the torch singer who embarrassed the heck out of me when she came to the front of the stage directly in front of me and sang a love song to me while kneeling to touch my face. Yuck!!!

I remember the magician although I do not remember his name. I would watch him as close as I could, but I never did figure out how he got out of that box and all the way to the back of the tent in one second. And, of minor importance but still something that impressed me, it was the first time I ever saw a Tuxedo (tails none the less) in real life.

Uncle Cyp was the man or, more accurately, he was the Master of Ceremonies. He was plastered with Clown makeup all over any exposed skin. His clothes were raggedy, and his affect was perpetually sad. During the intermission, he would do a standup routine. The rest of the time, he would lurk around the wings and provide color commentary on other acts. He would also star in the play. His jokes were G-Rated, or at least so disguised kids never understood them. During the play, he threw pies and sprayed seltzer at almost everyone. If it was an especially good night, the citizens of the front row, aka the kids, went home with shaving cream stains on their clothes and seltzer water in their hair. I consider Uncle Cyp, like Camus, Dickens and Twain, to be one of the shapers of my current personality. OK, maybe not up to the same level as Twain, but a notch or two above Dickens. Camus runs a distant fourth...a very distant fourth...strike Camus altogether.

All of this was done not on a movie screen and not on television, but right in front of me. I could reach out and touch it or, in the case of the torch singer, it could touch me. Cotton candy and popcorn smells hung thick in the air. Colored lights and over-the-top costumes saturated my eyes. I was nearly deafened by the screams, the howls, the applause, and the always out-of-tune brass band. The taste and smell of the cotton candy and popcorn fulfilled what was left of my sensory needs. And most importantly, once I left home to head out to the tent, I never heard a phone ring once.

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