Monday, November 12, 2012

The Panic of 1837-Willie Porter

Hi Everyone.  Me again.  The Historical Society just announced an exhibition of Mudgap’s own local storyteller, Willie Porter.  We don’t have recordings of Willie himself but several old timers from Camp Rockman remember Willie’s tales about his Uncle Nap and bring them alive for our microphones.  To publicize the exhibit we’re posting one of Willie’s shorter performances, first published by the Lodestone Chronicle on President Martin Van Buren’s birthday in 1966.  Herewith, “The Panic of ’37,” by Willie Porter.

            The Baldwin Mogul locomotive rattled over Hobo Hill and shrilled to a stop beside a red lettered sign: “Excursion Train Owned by Lownde Salvage Yard.”  From within the Independence Day crowd a fanfare of flamboyant whiskers spotted the engineer dismounting the cab.  “William Cody Porter?”
             Swirling vapors billowed away.  “I’m Willie Porter.”
            “I’m President Martin Van Buren and I have a bone to pick with you.”
            Willie’s gesture was interrogative.
            “ You Porters are named for famous people, right?  George Washington Porter, Andrew Jackson Porter, Napoleon Bonaparte Porter, your son, Teddy Roosevelt Porter, and your grandfather, Martin Van Buren Porter.  Don’t deny it.”
            Willie wobbled his feet as if standing uncertain ground. He was certain of the year, 1965. “Are you a ghost?”
            “ A ghost?  Here’s what I am.”  Van Buren moved closer.  “You tell frontier stories about your Uncle Nap, right? “
            “From my Grandpa Marty,” Willie nodded.
            “One about the Grand Canyon?”
            Willie flapped his elbows up and down like a pumping bumbershoot.  “Where Uncle Nap rides down on his old mule, Gracie, and hollers, ‘Here we come!’ and hears the echo four days later, coming back up? “
             Presidential muttonchops fluttered.  “That’s me, Porter, an echo.”
            Willie knew that didn’t make sense.  “Echoes repeat what’s already been.  You never rode a train to Mudgap, New Mexico nor talked to me before.”
            “Ah!  Words!” Van Buren shivered his sideburns in the dry mountain air.  “It’s the spirit that echoes, not your paltry creature snatchings.”
            Willie shifted one steel-toed shoe a few inches. 
            “Your Grandpa Marty was named after me.  Right? And you joke about it.  Right?”
            “You say, ‘Not the best Porter naming because Van Buren was called Martin Van Ruin after the panic of ‘37.’ “
            Willie rose onto his toes and scrunched his shoulders.  “That’s the way Grandpa Marty told it.”
            “Are you sure it was him?”
            Willie shrugged his guilt.  “Maybe it was Grandma Harriet.”
            “I knew it.  An educated woman,” Van Buren accused, expanding with supernatural pliability.  “And did she mention me organizing the Democratic Party to counterweight the slavery question?”
            “LBJ’s party?  Claims to be the most hopeful sign since Christ?”
            “Well, he’s a Texan.  I never wanted them in the Union anyway.  And this New Mexico, Polk’s work.”
            “She said you were against Lincoln.”
            “Did she tell you I formed the Free Soil Party to settle slavery without a war?”
            Willie flared his right elbow out to get perspective on this idea and sidled his feet a little.  “Sounds like someone’s shining up his history.”
            Van Buren’s muttonchops disheveled as he grabbed Porter’s shoulder.  “Porter!  I’m trying to help you!  Truth only matters to the living.  We exanimate can’t escape it.”
            “Well, I…” The moment swerved.
            Willie’s son Teddy rushed onto the platform with the whole family. “Dad!  How was the run from Las Cruces?”  The Salvage Yard’s clamoring tribe blundered behind him, a manifold of peculiarities including Willie’s old boss, Ruel Lownde, plus relatives and workers.
            “Dad, who were you talking to?” Teddy asked.
             “President Van Buren,” Willie asserted.
            “That’s who I thought it was!” cried Ruel’s eccentric cousin.
            Teddy laughed.  “I don’t think we have time for one of your stories today, Dad.”  He led the crowd to the Fourth of July celebrations at Arrieros Park.
            Ruel Lownde whispered to his old friend. “What’d Van Buren want?”
            “Something about truth.”
            “Truth,” Ruel nodded.  “It’s fragile but enduring.”
            Willie sneaked a glance visioning splendid side-whiskers in a sun-glared coach.  Teddy was right. There wasn’t time for one of his stories today.