When I was a kid, it wasn’t uncommon for men to remain bachelors or widowers as they went through life, nor was it considered unusual for widows not to remarry or even for women to remain single, becoming the old maids some folks used to joke about. These days, it seems rare that anyone remains unattached for life, maybe because fornication and even sexual perversion are not only tolerated, but openly encouraged. That gives single folks a heap more options than they had in the old days. I prefer the old days.
Just here on Tick Ridge, I can recall six old bachelors and one old maid, all living within about half mile of one another when I was a kid. Coming east on Tick Ridge Road, the first old bachelor (Widower? Divorced guy?) lived just off the road about 75 yards in a little two room shanty with no running water and an outhouse. Like a lot of semi-recluses, he had a reputation for enjoying beer. I remember Dad and I cutting up sawmill edgings and slabs about 16 inches long and filling the 15 foot long bed of our truck until the tall heap pile of wood would barely stay inside the two-foot sideboards. Then, we’d haul it out to bachelor number one and throw it off into a big pile directly before his front door. At the side of his shanty was a similarly shaped pile of quart beer bottles coming up to the window sill.
The Second old bachelor lived back the same two-track farm road, nearly a quarter of a mile further, in an old one room log cabin with a porch on opposite sides and a cellar underneath. Like the first, he had a cistern and an outhouse. He was a divorced fellow who was on the lam from his ex-wife’s lawyer, so he could avoid pay alimony and maybe child support. He was an avid gardener who grew all his own fruits and vegetables, plus made tool handles and did a little blacksmithing to pick up some spending money. He didn’t own the little farm that he lived on, or the cattle in the pasture; he just lived there rent-free, or may even was given a few dollars a month to keep an eye on the place for the barber in town who owned it. Like the first bachelor, this guy liked his beer, too, but he was much neater than the first. Instead of letting the bottles pile up around the cabin, he dumped them over the pasture fence, down over the hill out of sight and into the back of our woodland.
Bachelors three and four were father and son, both divorced and living in a strange little five room house, further out the main road, that looked like a 1940’s gas station more than a house, though it wasn’t and never had been. Both men picked up work as they could and spent it all on groceries and beer, their only expense, except just enough electric for lights and a refrigerator. Their dogs shared the house with them, so both men were sort of fuzzy around the edges. They pulled their water from a cistern, peed in the yard and took a dump, when the need arose, in an outhouse that had seen far better days. After the older man died and the younger one hit 55 years of age, he got a job with the school board, so he could get in enough time to draw a little Social Security when he hit 65. The neighborhood joke was that folks thought you had to tire before you could RE-tire. He never lost his love for beer, but in the last few years of his life, a woman in a white Cadillac picked him up every Friday evening and brought him back every Monday morning. For some strange reason, he always smelled like a rose on Fridays and took a change of clothes in a paper bag when he left. The bottle dump at that place was a couple hundred yards over the hill, though they might pile up by the back porch until there was enough for a wheel-barrow load.
The old maid and bachelor number five actually lived together, not because they were “living in sin” (Now THERE’S a phrase you don’t hear anymore!), but because they were sister and brother living in their old home place. They lived the next place after the home just mentioned. Neither one of them drank in the beginning, but they were friends of a sort with the other five bachelors who did, so the bachelors would sometimes stop by and visit. Bachelors two and four, visited especially often, as they seemed somewhat interested in the unwashed old maid. There was no need of the old gal going unwashed, but she had dozens of cats and seemed to have developed their distaste for getting wet. Like the other homes mentioned, they had a cistern and an outhouse.
Bachelor number six lived a short distance further out the county road in what was either a skinny two room shack or an old trailer with boards nailed over it. He, too, had a cistern and an outhouse. I was in the shanty once as a kid and saw my first picture of a nude woman there. It wasn’t from a magazine, but a photo of a good-looking naked woman sitting on a boulder the size of a small house, somewhere out in the woods. It was tucked into the corner of a mirror sitting on dresser in his front room. I took a good look when his back was turned and decided that he must have gotten around some when he was younger. He never let bottles build up around the place so, since he didn’t have a car, I suspect he threw them over the fence into the neighbor’s woods.
When the bachelors 1 through 4 and 6 would visit one another, beer was always on the menu. Little by little, beer was brought into the home of the brother and sister as well, since the fifth bachelor eventually developed a taste for it. I never heard that the old maid touched the stuff. Bachelor number one was the oldest and the first to go, then bachelor number six, followed by number four. Bachelor number two eventually drank enough beer that he married the old maid and, knowing that three is a crowd, the brother eventually got an apartment in town where he died a few years later after a drunken tumble down a flight of stairs. Bachelor two, married for many years by that time, finally succumbed to old age as did bachelor number four. The old maid lived for many more years, making enemies and causing trouble in the neighborhood in her old age. But she, too, finally left this life.