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November 28, 2022

How The Twister Came To Kansas

By David Lignell

A grizzled stranger, his hat speckled with rain drops, settled in among the regulars at a local saloon. Before long, he heard them arguing about who lived through the worst twister ever. He smiled.

"I can't lay claim to the worst twister ever, but I know how the twister came to Kansas."

At this the regulars laughed, but the stranger continued above their din.

"Some years ago, an ugly black sky came a twisting and rumbling across the Kansas plains like some scorned spinster," he said, riding his stool as if in full gallop. "I was trapped in the midst of the Flint Hills on my pony Marley." He eyed the bar flies hovering around him.

"By and by," he continued, "the she hag grew in intensity and pelted us with enough cottonwood seeds to grow our own forest. And then we saw him."

"Saw who?" asked Katie Brown, a friendly local who had placed a hand on his shoulder, the nub of her cigarette burning between nicotined fingers.

"Big John Ketchum, blacksmith of Belchwater Canyon. Biggest and strongest son of a black bear you'll ever see. I was struggling with Marley to find shelter, and Big John was in the midst of the winds and debris, leather chaps and all, and fixing his great bellows toward the plains."

Even the bar keeper stopped toweling the glasses to listen.

"Then it happened. The wind stopped, the dust, everything. Marley looked around at me mightily confused. Well, then, as I was dusting off my vest, just as quickly as it had ended, the infernal winds started again and I was pert near blown to the heavens. I was tossed hither and thither, and if I hadn't of held on to Marley's reins, I would have surely atoned for my sins that day before Saint Peter himself." The stranger took off his slouch hat and scratched his wispy hair.

"Go on, what happened next?" said the bar keep.

"Mighty grateful for a sarsaparilla," the stranger said.

The bar keeper turned toward the fountain to pour him a drink.

"Well, this occurred as regular as a politician blowing promises to the poor, and then it hit me. It all had to do with Big John. Yep, every time the wind blew, he was a pumping on his bellows, and every quiet spell, he was holding the bellows nozzle level to his eye pondering if it were clean yet. Now every dog has his limit of play and I had had enough. Just as the giant man positioned the bellows to pump them again, I drew out my Sharps carbine, took careful aim, and squeezed the trigger. A great retort ripped across the prairie and Big John dropped his bellows. Then he snapped an angry look my way."

"What ever did you do?" Katie raised a hand to her mouth.

"Nothing," said the stranger. He swilled his sarsaparilla.

"Nothing?" a regular asked.

"Big John was running straight for us, gulping up large swaths of land between great strides, the pounding of his feet causing gravel and dirt to pour from the hills around us. Within seconds, he had scooped us up in his palm and brought us high to his face. Marley let out a few butt apples from his hind side at the sheer height.

"'Now what did you go and shoot at me for?' His voice shook both of us like the rumble of thunder on a wooden porch.

'Dad burn it, John. You're causing quite a ruckus out here.'

'I don't know what you're cackling about. I'm just cleaning my bellows and minding my business, and you go on and shoot at me.'"

"Well, then, I sought to smooth things over and continued for some time to explain the tie betwixt his great bellows and the black dust twisters that stirred the plains, and how poor Marley and me was fending for our lives because of it. After a while he cooled down and talked about how he'd been forced to move from town to town because of folk tetchy about his cleaning his bellows and all. He thought he had a home here because the townsfolk in Kansas were the friendliest anywheres. He ended by saying that he was careful to clean outside of town, so as not to bother folk. I took some pity on him then. After all, the Good Book teaches us about helping others, and other such good deeds. So I told him this ..."

The stranger stopped to sip on his drink. The regulars huddled in close.

"'Big John,' I says, 'you always have a home here.' This brought a tear to Big John's eye and I was afraid of getting flooded out now, so I added a piece about that while this was all fine and good, he couldn't go around cleaning his bellows willy nilly. 'Big John,' I says, 'You're apt to hurt your townsfolk that way. How about you do it only on rainy days when most folk are inside anyways? You can still belch out that air in the plains and prairies, because there are only a few of us diehards traveling thereabouts anyways. That way, anytime it rains, say real bad like in a storm, we'll be warned of your cleaning and the twisters that follow.'"

"Yep, that's all it took and we were at peace then. To this very day, the kin of Big John continue their proud trade as blacksmiths. And the only time they clean, per our agreement, is during the sorriest, stormiest days of the Kansas season. And that's how the twister came to Kansas."

The old man bid his new friends a fond farewell. The rain increased and he knew it was only a matter of time before Big John's kin began cleaning their great bellows.

-- Dave Lignell

Article © David Lignell. All rights reserved.
Published on 2008-07-28
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