Synopsis: Some ambitious newcomers find out about River Avenue merchants.
My wife June and I enjoy secret, devilish activities. To name a few—we produce the best corn whiskey, run the loudest newlywed shivarees and plan the most elaborate scavenger hunts.
We are also passionate about our San Angelo. The town disguises us as ordinary store operators most days. But we tease when we can and we love to joke—particularly with tenderfoots.
Newcomers, especially, don’t know what hit them when we welcome them to town. We take it upon ourselves to roll out the red carpet with frolic.
Therefore, when the Majors arrived in March of 1885, we received them with our usual audacity. They didn’t seem to appreciate our bluntness. In fact the duo stubbornly snubbed us.
We wondered if we had overstepped our bounds. Had we made a grave mistake? I thought.
Because as it turned out, they were our landlords—they were owners of all the businesses of our street, River Avenue. Once we realized their importance, we tried our best to be mild mannered. However, after they had been in town a week, we realized how little we knew about them. And we wondered what they might think of us. Do they like us, or not? I reflected. Will they renege on our lease?
We desperately wanted to know their personal facts.
“Do the Majors have any children?” I asked June after she returned to our store, from a visit with ladies, including Cheri Major.
“Oh, I don’t know. She hemmed and hawed around every intimate question we asked her.”
“Does she think you are nosy?”
“Perhaps she alludes that I’m a gossip. She might be taking precautions, just in case,” responded June. “Have you found out anything about them by talking to Cleo Major?”
“Nothing so far, but I’ve invited them both to the shivaree for the Templeton’s tonight. Maybe they’ll warm up to sharing their family life with us after we toast the bride and groom.”
“Let’s hope so,” sighed June.
The shivaree in the street went as planned. There was bell ringing, beating of pots and pans, pounding on the door, yelling, and the stomping of feet. Cheri and Cleo were in the boisterous group, too. But they were obviously not accustomed to the misbehavior kicking off the Templeton’s married life.
The newlyweds probably had been settled in bed with plans of hanky-panky when they were interrupted; for Mr. Templeton (half clothed) came to the front door to ward off the crowd. But, he was then captured and his head was dunked in the horse trough—much to the dismay of his robed, crying bride. Cleo and Cheri didn’t think well of it either, if the horror on their faces was any indication.
I slung Mr. Templeton on my shoulder and carried him to the nearest outhouse. Then I nailed the door shut with him inside. When five minutes of angry pounding had elapsed, we men jubilantly released him—happily hoisting him up on our shoulders—and brought him back to his bride.
June had since circulated glasses of our corn whiskey to the crowd. When all were equipped with our brew, toasts to the bride and groom erupted. Subsequently, everyone went home to leave the lovebirds alone.
As Cleo, Cheri, June and I walked in the dark, I asked, “Are your relatives still in San Antonio?”
“Why do you want to know?” Cheri invoked.
“That’s not important right now,” Cleo added.
Uncomfortable silence followed.
Finally, “To be honest, we just don’t like small talk,” Cleo concluded as they entered the Nimitz Hotel.
So, as June and I went on to our home above our store, we shook our heads in amazement.
“What is it with that couple?” she asked, dumbfounded.
The next evening, June and I were talking.
“Mr. Major wants all the merchants of our street to support each other. So, he asked me to invent two scavenger hunts for his tenants on the avenue. The north-side-street merchants will have clues for the north hill of the Twin Mountains. The south-side merchants will be looking for the same items on the south hill of the twin peaks,” I said.
“Oh wonderful. We didn’t scare the Majors off with the shivaree last night. And you are so talented with making riddles for scavenger hunts. He will really respect you, if he doesn’t already,” June said.
“Yes. I hope so. I’ve already chosen the items to be hunted. The list includes: a feather, a fossil, a yucca seed, an arrowhead, a y-shaped branch, something orange, amber sap, a thorny twig, a spider web and fire. According to the boss, the team that finds all ten the quickest will win a sash and a round of drinks at the Red Saloon.”
June asked, “Do you need any help with the riddles for the ten things?.
“I don’t think so. But listen to this riddle for fire. ‘What grows when it’s fed and dies when it drinks?’”
“That’s a good one, Edward!”
“And June, ‘What is a house of earthen string; its owner has a biting sting?’”
“The spider web!” she replied after a little bit of thought.
I was glad it wasn’t too hard.
Accordingly, I came up with eight more difficult riddles as clues for the hunt.
My wife and I still knew nothing about the lives of our landlord. Nonetheless, we hoped that the puzzle might be solved when the shopkeepers enjoyed the catered picnic after the hunt.
During the next week, Mr. Major arranged for several wagons to transport the vendors to the twin buttes, located eight miles southwest of the courthouse. June made the sashes for the winners.
He paid me five dollars to come up with the clues and plant some arrowheads and fossils on the hills. I made the Morse Code Flags (to relate progress to Mr. Major) for both teams. I also trained Jake of the South and Louis of the North on usage of the flags.
Our landlord would be watching the activities while at the foot of the hills. To win, a team would have to be first in making fire and turning in their nine items to the chief.
On the day of the event, the Majors, June and I greeted our business neighbors when they reached the camping spot between the two hills. The caterers had set up everything very elegantly. It was clear that the Majors were extremely wealthy people.
My friends, as two teams, climbed their respective hill with a sealed clue-envelope and two code flags per team.
Mr. Major and I were excited about the teams. I worried that I made the clues too hard—or too easy.
The caterers were scurrying around making sure everything was just right. Ice blocks from Abilene kept the beer kegs and fried chicken cold.
During the competition June, once again, tried to tap Mrs. Major of information about her family. “Everyone likes to talk about their children,” she exclaimed to me the night before.
June is persistent, I thought.
Cleo Major was using his binoculars to check on the flagman of each team. South had found eight and had fire’s smoke. North had found seven and had not made fire yet. Within thirty more minutes the south team was cautiously making its way down the hill with all nine of its items. When it seemed that South would win, smoke rose from the north hill, too and their flags denoted ten items found. It became a slip, sliding race to the bottom of each hill. All members of the two teams were running neck to neck towards Cleo.
Amongst the chaos, June came rushing toward me flapping her arms up and down to get my attention.
“They don’t have any children because they’ve only been married a month,” she gasped for breath. “They were nervous about our reputation for pranks so they have kept quiet about themselves,” she shouted.
June’s yelling somehow got everyone’s attention. It got relatively quiet as all the team members were just as curious about their proprietors as June and me. It seemed that no one had really gotten to know them.
Cheri also ran—running to her husband, with tears streaming down her red face.
“Our secret is out!” Cheri said to him quietly upon his embrace.
The Majors looked horror-struck.
I calmly got Mr. Major’s attention with my somber face. “I would never prank my landlord, sir,” I exclaimed (with my crossed fingers carefully hidden behind my back.)
“We respect your wishes and will not have a shivaree for you,” I continued.
Cleo consoled Cherie as best he could.
With June at my side I said, “Let us truly welcome you to San Angelo with a toast of cold beer.”
All of the teams, by then were down the hill and were no longer concerned about the contest. Most had been curious about whether or not their leases would be renewed, too.
Moments later, with beers in hand, everyone faced the Majors with admiration and respect.
After the salute, Mr. and Mrs. Cleo Major unexpectantly awarded all their tenants one month’s free rent.
There was a big hooray. Then everyone ate and had a great time for the rest of the time on the prairie.
It was that day, that June and I finally understood the elusive Major puzzle.
Decoding the Majors had been no minor feat.