dark night when people were in bed,
Mrs. O'Leary lit a lantern in her shed,
The cow kicked it over, winked its eye and said,
There'll be a hot time in the old town tonight.”
—from a popular song in the late 1800's.
Like trying to nab a whip snake in saw grass. That's how futile Hooter's attempts had been trying to find a bolt to replace the one he'd lost from Claire's fireplace insert. He'd taken it out trying to extricate crayons that some of Bugsy's younger pals had shoved into the vents.
When Claire asked him how it was going, Hooter answered the only way any decent man could: “Just fine.” Then he packed up his tools and left the elusive crayons and insert a screw short of complete.
After all, this was no ordinary day. Hooter had an appointment to keep with a jeweler by the name of Horace Tallman. Hooter's long-time pal up north, Sammy Beaver Teeth, had recommended this connection as the tops in quality and price when it became apparent that Hooter was doing more than thinking of—gasp—asking Claire to let him be her husband.
How Sammy knew this undiscovered diamond broker wasn't exactly clear; but Hooter knew by experience that Sammy knew lots of folks like that.
So it was that Hooter found himself knocking on the door of a dilapidated Air Stream trailer that most would term nothing more than a sheep wagon, roughly halfway between Spur and Goodnight as the crow flies.
Inside, though, Hooter was shocked to find the trappings of elegance, complete with a small chandelier. Tallman himself, looked like he ought to be from first avenue or fifth, wherever the upper crust dwell.
“You can't put a price on love, sir. Any lady would count herself as lucky to have her finger adorned by any one of these rings,” beamed Tallman. When he saw Hooter's eyes wander first toward the smaller stones, he added, “Of course, the luckiest ladies of all are those whose betrothed understand that this is a once-in-a-lifetime purchase.”
“One would certainly think that, wouldn't one,” replied Hooter uneasily. He'd thought the same thing when he'd bought a ring for his ex-wife Sherry, a ring by the way that she had flung into the Red River even though Hooter was still making payments on it.
Consequently, just standing here with the mission to buy a ring in order to (gulp) ask Claire the big question made Hooter feel like he was getting sat down on a bareback with no rigging.
“Mr. Beaver Teeth informed me that you are an astute buyer of quality,” urged Tallman. “And, I'm sure he told you that I only deal with such clients…”
Hooter was thinking Sammy must have mistook his belief in a top-drawer saddle and mount to mean that he was willing to go the extra the mile on all of his purchases in life.
“…Given that, I'm sure you're more than familiar with the four ‘C's of diamond buying,” continued Tallman.
“Umm, sure,” said Hooter weakly, then with more strength and a grin, “But you know, it's just like buying and selling cattle. I find that the same terms can mean different things to different people. What say, you tell me exactly what those four C's mean to you and how you'd suggest I consider them in my procurement decision.”
“Certainly,” said Tallman, warming to the task with an elegant flourish of his manicured hand over the display rack. You have clarity, carats, color and cut. My suggestion is to first ask yourself whether you are willing to sacrifice size for quality. If so, you should concentrate on clarity, first, followed closely by color, which in essence answers your questions about the cut. Then, you find the size within those criteria that meets you budget.”
Hooter arched an eyebrow, mistakenly thinking that he was beginning to understand the game. “Well, I want the clearest and brightest diamond you've got.”
Tallman's smile lit his show room like a new sun as he unlocked a velveteen chest about the size of a decent sized toolbox. “These, sir, are my very best—only the top of the line in every category.”
Hooter chose a medium-sized one that looked large enough, yet not like too much. He was peering at the stone through Tallman's loop when the jeweler told him how it cost. The stone dropped from the tweezers and clattered across the display case.
“Sir,” scolded Tallman, “I must ask you to be careful.”
“Sorry ‘bout that…this weather gives this hand the fits. You know, I remember Claire telling me that her first husband, may he rest in peace, had bought her a ring that was so special she was afraid to wear it half the time. For the sake of comparison, let's look at the second-tier rings in this other case,” smiled Hooter.
“I assure you sir, this is nothing second-tier about any of my diamonds.”
Which is exactly what Hooter had hoped the man would say. “Poor choice of words, no offense meant.”
As Hooter browsed the selection, comparing how different ones looked and how much they cost, Tallman chatted away like a contented magpie. He asked about everything from Claire's name, to her history, to Hooter's plans for the future. Finally he asked, “So, when will you be popping the question?”
Lost in thought between three rings he'd narrowed his search to, Hooter replied, “I'm thinking O'Leary Day, but if not then, Valentines Day.”
“Excuse me sir, did you say O'Leary Day? I don't believe I've ever heard of that occasion before.”
It dawned on Hooter this was the first person outside of the planning committee back home that he'd had a chance to bounce the notion around with.
“Well sir, I assume you're familiar with Groundhog's Day, when that little Yankee gopher named Phil comes out his hole and predicts the length of winter based on whether or not he sees his shadow?”
“Incidentally, do you realize that ever since that whole celebration in Pennsylvania began, ol' Phil has only not seen his shadow 14 times out of 117 years? Well, there are nine years early on where there is no record, but still.”
Had you known Horace Tallman better, you might guess that he was beginning to grow the slightest bit uneasy with his new client, the way his eyes grew wider and started to bug out slightly.
“Ahem, no I didn't realize that sir. In fact, I didn't no such a record existed. And, I've certainly never had the pleasure of meeting someone who knew what the precise record was.”
Pride was beginning to fluff Hooter's feathers a bit. “Well, you'd be surprised how accurate that little fuzz ball is when you combine his predictions with the tide tables in the Almanac, then adjust for the Chinese calendar.”
Tallman was beginning to count the rings in his rack to verify their safety.
“But, you wanted to know about O'Leary Day,” continued Hooter.
To say that Tallman was sorry he had inquired would be akin to saying that General Custer regretted successfully finding his way to Montana.
“Actually, it's Mrs. O'Leary Day,” explained Hooter. “And this year will be the first one, celebrated on February 2, just like Groundhog's Day. We figured it would be easier for folks to remember that way.”
“Well, you probably know the story about Mrs. O'Leary's old milk cow kicking a lantern over in the barn and starting the Great Chicago Fire in 1871?”
“Far as I know, no one ever proved the truth of that conclusively one way or the other, but the anniversary of it did spawn fire safety and prevention week.”
Tallman furrowed his brow in confusion, becoming caught up in the dichotomous conversation, despite his best efforts. “And you, where you're from, there was a major fire started by a cow that you want to commemorate?”
“Well, Delmar Jacobs' barn burned a few years back, went up like a year-old Christmas tree dipped in high octane. But we figured it was his still that got away from him. He'd never admit to it, though…Apache Flats, by the way, Apache Flats is where I'm from.”
“I'm afraid that I'm not quite following you sir.”
Hooter was holding the two rings he'd culled from all of the rest, weighing the pros and cons of each in his mind. “Well you've heard about that dairy cow from Canada that ended up with BSE in the United States last December?”
“Uh, yes. But I don't see…”
“Well sir, with all of the wonderment about opening the border back up to Canadian cattle, we got to thinking—the boys back home and me, that is—that we might draw attention to the need for abundant caution, as USDA is fond of saying, by having Mrs. O'Leary Day. See, we paint the Canadian maple leaf on the side of an old milk cow, turn her lose in a 30-acre trap. If she finds the hole in the fence, then we're predicting at least six more months of the border being shut down. If she doesn't, all bets are off.”
“But I don't see…”
“We even have a theme song. Part of it goes:
One sunny day when we were supposed to be awake,
A Canadian feed company made a mistake,
The cow found a hole in the border, winked and spake
There'll be a hot time in town from now on.”
Look up the definition of flummoxed in the dictionary. That was Horace Tallman. Utterly speechless.
“Besides,” continued Hooter. “You figure Mrs. O'Leary's cow knocks over the lantern in 1871, right? Punxsutawney Phil cranked up his predictions in 1887, just 16 years later. Seems like there might could be a connection there, don'tcha think?”
Hooter had made up his mind. He was just about ready to tell Tallman when the weary, worried looking jeweler reached into the velveteen chest for the diamond Hooter had been looking at first.
“Sir, I'll let you have this one for the same price as either of those. I'm convinced your soon-to-be wife needs it worse than I do.”