The White Rabbit and Orrie’s Gambit from The Last Grand Adventure
Replenishing our hay supply was uppermost in my mind as our wagon rolled into Goldfield. And so, we stopped at several places of business to inquire about buying some alfalfa and we were given directions to the home of Orrie. (No last name given.)
Luckily for us it turned out that Orrie’s home was close to ‘The Glory Hole,’ a small shop off the main street of Goldfield, where we were scheduled to do donkey rides and old time photos in the morning, and the home of Connie Gates where we were expected for dinner that evening. So, we stopped at Orrie’s first and dickered to buy two bales of hay from Orrie who turned out to be a big man in his seventies, dressed in blue jeans, a stripped flannel shirt and a white cowboy hat.
After we came to an agreed price Orrie stumped around the side of his trailer to show me which bales to take from his hay stack and introduce me to ‘King,’ a bay gelding standing in a paddock all alone near a little, old, blue Datsun pick-up truck. Before I loaded the hay I took the time to go into the paddock and scratch the horse’s neck up under his mane and visit with Orrie for a while. Before I left him I invited him and his family to come down to the Glory Hole for their portraits on the morrow.
An hour later we entered the front door of a bright pink house with gingerbread lace on the eves, and the aroma of home-made bread fresh from the oven reached out and smacked us in the face as we entered causing our tummies to growl in earnest.
Connie introduced us to her husband Ken, a construction worker, mentioning that we were the people from Death Valley that she had told him about. And then we all eased back into their living room chairs to talk.
Ken started the conversation by telling me that he had been to Death Valley National Park recently for a family reunion. His family had all gathered at one campsite so that they could eat together when two park rangers came along and decided that there were too many people in one spot. Those rangers, according to Ken, waded in to disperse the crowd with hands on their guns! And, threatened the dumbfounded family with jail if they did not scatter!
Just as Ken got to the end of his story, a white rabbit hopped into the living room and did a jig on the carpet at Ken’s feet. Carol rubbed her eyes with her fists and declared, “I feel like Alice in Wonderland! Now, where has that rabbit come from?”
Connie laughed and explained that ‘Pinkie” the rabbit was a housebroken pet that was used to coming and going about the house and the yard. And that he always came in to the living room in the evening to beg a carrot.
As Connie went to get the said carrot, Ken told us about another of their unusual pets; a mallard duck. A drake called Peeps. He was born a runt with a broken leg. During his infancy Connie carried him around in one hand on a paper towel while she did her housework and took him with her everywhere she went. When he’d wiggle, she’d put him down, and so he was soon housebroken.
Ken laughed as he remembered, “That duck grew up believing that he was a dog! He would run and play with the dogs. Peeps (that was his name) would grab a dog’s tail and the dog would play ‘crack the whip’ with him.”
Connie added, “It was the closest he ever came to flying!”
Time flies swifter than that crippled duck with his beak fastened onto the tail of a spinning dog – especially when one is having fun and that evening with the Gates family sped away on the wings of laughter and tall tales.
Business at the Glory Hole the following day was very slow. We only sold about three photos and five burro rides. I may have taken a nap if Orrie hadn’t showed up at noon. He climbed out of his old blue pick-up and presented me with the gift of a pocket knife.
He must have observed that I was surprised, for he stoutly maintained, “Anyone who likes my horse is a friend of mine!”
Carol fetched a chair from the wagon for Orrie and we all sat and sweat together in the glare of the full sun.
Orrie told me that he was seven years old when his dad died and that soon after that dreadful time he traded his bicycle and five dollars in nickels and dimes for a black mare that was starved almost to death. He never got to ride the mare. His mother wouldn’t allow it. She had a neighbor take the mare and sell her for $2.50. (That was back in 1916 and a man would work all day for $2.00)
Orrie’s Uncle Ed took notice of the affair and when Orrie turned thirteen his uncle bought him a gelding with a split hoof that had been used on a racetrack. Orrie packed his clothes and left home aboard the gelding later that same year.
Every job that came his way was hard labor. He shoveled coal at ten cents a ton, carried railroad ties, did shovel and wheelbarrow work at a mine, shod horses, worked in construction and carried pianos.
“I’ve fought as hard as I’ve worked!” Orrie declared to me. “I’d go everywhere with straight razors in my boots and a pick handle in my hand. I’m a freeborn American citizen, and I don’t have to take nothing off nobody!”
There in Goldfield, on that hot afternoon, Orrie showed me how he hid his money close against his skin in a bandage with an iodine stain on it. And he explained how his fighting tactics had changed now that he was an old man. “When I’m threatened now,” he said, “I sputter, ‘Don’t hurt me, I’m just an old man,’ while I pull a handkerchief from my shirt pocket, to wipe my eyes, like this…”
Suddenly I was looking down the bore of a handkerchief wrapped derringer pointed slightly out of line with my head. Carol gasped. I grinned. The gun wasn’t pointed exactly at my head and I was pleased at the cleverness of the trick. (In my opinion it is important that every man be able to protect himself and his family from those that would do them harm.)
Orrie grinned back with pleasure when he saw that I approved, and he placed the derringer in my hand so that I could examine it more closely. We talked a bit about the small gun of large caliber and I returned it to him.
Before he re-wrapped it he shook out the white handkerchief and told me. “When we were children on the desert we would tie a rock sling into the corners of our handkerchiefs and throw the homemade parachutes up into whirlwinds. The parachute that went the highest was the one that won.”
He dropped the gun back into his shirt pocket, and stood up ready to leave us. “I’ve got to go check on Kate, my neighbor lady,” he explained. ” She fell off a step and broke her leg the other night then dragged herself into her car and sat there all night. When I found her the next morning I asked her, ‘Why didn’t you yell or use the car horn to get my attention?’
“You know how she answered me? She said, ‘I didn’t want to run down the battery!” I just shook my head I have know people like that: they would rather die than ask for help. Even from their friends.
Now friend, you may think that I shouldn’t be telling you about Orrie’s secret of defense and I wouldn’t be telling you his secrets if Orrie still lived. But, as we were nearing the end of the journey that this book documents, Connie Gates found us again and told us that not long after he came to see us with his gift of the pocketknife Orrie moved away from Goldfield, and he died two months later.