Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Crippled Worms

We drove out to see Aunt Virginia and Uncle Henry today. Although not related by blood, they are what we call "love kin," which is actually the best kind. You get to choose them, not inherit them. We lived across the field from them when we were children, and spent many hours running from our house to theirs. Now pushing 90, but with the energy of an 18 year old, Uncle Henry runs a thriving worm business, manages a small herd of cattle, tends a massive vegetable garden, and in his spare time is renovating his wife's ancestral home. It's not hard to find their house. Just drive out Hwy 72 towards Rock Hill and look for the crutch stuck in the ground with the "Worms for Sale" sign nailed on it. The crutch, a relic from the years Uncle Henry spent working at the hospital, was in perfectly good shape, and he-of-the-generation-that-never-wasted-a-thing found a perfectly good use for it. We keep telling him nobody is going to buy those crippled worms. His business, however, has survived, even thrived during the worst recession (depression?) since the big one in '29. He undercuts the competition, and swears his worms are healthier. I'm not sure how one measures the health of a worm, but his methods are working, and in spite of the sign, I haven't found a crippled one in the batch. His worms are bred, hatched, fed, and nurtured in old sinks and tubs from the hospital (as well as the occassional discarded freezer). The meticulous and time consuming process requires a special diet of water-soaked newspapers and worm mix (can't disclose the secret recipe). He checks them, feeds them, turns them and waters them on a daily basis --almost as much trouble as those cows. The mature, fat, wriggly suckers are bundled into cups, covered with compost, and neatly stacked under the crawl space of his house, waiting for the local fishermen to bite. A note on the crawl space door reads "Worms $1.75 a cup. Leave money in the envelope." He operates on the honesty policy. I kid you not! He actually leaves change in the envelope in case someone comes with $2.00 and needs a quarter back! The amazing thing is, in the 25+ years he's been doing business this way, he's only gotten stung once or twice. Even then, it was just someone taking two cups of worms but only paying for one, never someone stealing all the money in the envelope. Fishermen are typically liars, not thieves. Besides, who would ever want to admit they had caught "the big one" using not only a crippled worm, but a STOLEN worm at that?

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