‘Howdy, neighbor’: a changing routine

Photo courtesy John M. Motter
Pictured from the left are the wife of J.T. Martinez; Fred Harman II, creator of Little Beaver; former County Judge J.T. Martinez, father of Emmett Martinez; and Emmett Martinez

Have you ever been confronted by a friendly “Howdy, old-timer” from someone you met in a public place, maybe the supermarket? Used to be when I heard that greeting, I’d look around to see who they were talking to. No more. These days, I don’t bother to look around. There has been a kind of metamorphosis to the “howdy, neighbor” greeting process round here. Used to be, 40 or 50 years ago, you’d look forward to meeting friends every day when you went to check the mail. That was when Dick DeVore was postmaster and the post office was located on the southeast corner of 4th and Lewis streets. That building is still on that corner, but a few years went by and they built a new post office across the river, where it is now. About the time they built the new post office, I noticed that folks in my age bracket were meeting regularly at the prescription window at Jackisch Drug, where Ben Larry or Emmett Martinez were filling pill bottles at an ever-increasing pace. Last month, I noticed the “howdy, neighbor” routine had changed again. In the first place, I wasn’t seeing many of those old-timers any more. Most of them were gone. In the second place, I’d reached a point where I’d look, then think “Do I know him or her?” and act like I did just to be safe and not hurt anyone’s feelings — or, worse, appear to be suffering from a loss of brain power. You might have guessed, the place to meet old friends now is in waiting rooms found at the doctor’s office, or the clinic, or the emergency room at the hospital. That happened to me about a month ago when I was waiting to get something or other fixed. It was the first cold night of the season and people were walking around blowing on their hands, trying to keep warm. I was sitting there, legs crossed, wondering if the receptionist remembered what I came in for. I made eye contact with man across the room who was also trying to be a patient patient. His sleeves were rolled up and his hands decorated with calluses, so I figured he was the kind of guy I’d enjoy talking with. “Remember the good old days when getting’ up early and milking the cow was a pleasure because it was the only morning chore where you could keep your hands warm?” I asked in my most “howdy, neighbor” dialect. “Oh yeh,” came the answer accompanied by a knowing grin that seemed to sprout from some long-forgotten storage bin in the back of his head. Together we reminisced, picturing the cow’s head in the stantion while her long, black tongue greedily licked up the coffee can full of grain dumped in the trough; squatting on the three-legged milking stool with the shiny old bucket between our knees and our forehead buried in the cows flank while her fly-swatter tail slapped us on the back of the head; and squirt, squirt, squirt, the two-handed rhythm of squirting the warm milk into the bucket, interrupted by an occasional creamy stream aimed at the mother cat mewing under the cow’s belly. More memories followed, such as finding and milking the goats and my senior year at Grants Pass High School (1952) in Oregon when I worked in a Golden Guernsey Dairy morning and night the whole school year, except for Sunday nights. The job paid for my first car, a 1936 Ford sedan. More next week.