Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Ghost of Old Man Laverne's Revenge

It all began in John Johnson's field a few miles out of Laverne, Minnesota, where that giant turnip of his got growing to the shock of the whole world. Laverne is 20 miles east of Sioux Falls, where Old Man Laverne, founder of the town and first pioneering settler of this lush river valley, had first come into the land by way of South Dakota, ever thereafter cantankerously stating (to anyone who really didn't care to hear) the outlandish claim that his homestead was in South Dakota, and not Minnesota. For many, this brought to mind another peculiarity of Laverne's, being the way he never did call his farm a 'farm', but instead always said it was his 'ranch'. His "ranch". That was always prime fodder for a grand old laugh. A wild west cowboy from Minnesota, is it? One old wag from around the cracker barrel at Pete Petersen's dry goods store in town is historically recorded to have said, "He might as well have tried that in Wisconsin."

It is by reason of this background that not a few old residents in and around the town have for years refused to call Laverne "Laverne," so long as Laverne was refusing to call Minnesota, "Minnesota."  So, they just call it 'town', as in, "Going into town, Ma." Some don't even bother with that and just say, "beer joint." Or "barber shop." Because any fool knows you don't go to a barber shop out in the middle of a corn field. It just goes without saying, if you can say it, without saying, "Laverne".

The Johnson farm is part and parcel, rock and rill, hillock and 'crik', the original homestead of Old Man Laverne, and with each passing day there are more denizens of the area who surely believe that the giant, stadium-sized, ten-story tall turnip growing out in that field must be what they've come to call "the ghost of Old Man Laverne's revenge." And the more that monster vegetable was seen to grow and expand daily, threatening to claim the ground of every farm around, the countryside came to be engulfed by crowds of curious on-lookers; foreigners from so far away as Sioux Falls with buffaloes on their license plates. That was not the end of it. Afterward, they came from Fargo, Minneapolis, and Duluth. The bigger it grew, the further away from whence they came; Chicago, St. Louis, Milwaukee, New York and San Francisco, and before it was over, London, Tokyo, Paris and Beijing, China.

Sven Swenson was on the scene of the turnip the day it had expanded to the extent of stretching his pasture fence bordering on the Johnson place, pulling out his posts--pop! pop! pop! all on down the line. He was standing there, squinting in the sun, looking upward to the towering top of that turnip, hat off in hand, wiping brow-sweat to his sleeve and saying to another neighbor, Ole Olson, "I tell you, Ole, by the looks of the way that thing's a growing, it won't be but a couple weeks fore it's plowed through town and gone clear over the South Dakota line."

"Be soon on its way over there to Sioux Falls," said Ole. "But did you ever find out what John Johnson's been usin' for fertilizer?"

"Buffalo Chips," declared Sven. "He gets 'em by the truck-load off that pre-serve they got up there at Blue Mounds."

"Where they got that buffalo herd up there?" asked Ole.

"You betcha," said Sven.

And they went on talking about it, as was the whole world when two weeks later, the newspapers came piling off the presses to declare in two-inch banner heads, "Laverne Turnip Crosses South Dakota Line!" The article beneath, and all the television news commentators were now reporting that the Pentagon had been brought in to the matter, right after the Department of Agriculture had thrown up its hands. When the U.S. Army with a convoy of trucks and artillery had arrived to set up a bivouac here in the Pebble River Valley, as anyone could see, the situation had come nothing short of critical, a 'national emergency', as State of Minnesota Assemblyman Knut Knutson was calling it, declaring from St. Paul, the day Johnson's turnip expanded over the border to South Dakota, "This looks like a job for the Department of Homeland Security, the EPA and by golly, I hope not, but, well, I hate to say it, the UN.? But let's not let the turnip get before the horse--or the cart. Either one."

There were reporters from all the major news services in the world standing behind those barricades the Army had set up to keep people safely away from the constantly expanding outer contour of the turnip. Wolf Blitzer was there on the scene conducting an interview with John Johnson and his neighbors, Sven and Ole. With microphone pressed before the harried, perspiring faces of the three farmers, addressing them all at once, the man from CNN was saying, "At the risk of sounding like we just fell in here off the turnip truck, I must ask what are local folks saying about this agricultural monstrosity?"

"By Golly!" said Ole.

"Yah," said Sven.

"Yah sure!" said John Johnson, nodding to affirm the views of his neighbors.

"You betcha," said Wolf, trying to go native, and pressing for more, "But you, Mr. Johnson, that is your turnip is it not?"

"Sure was," said Johnson, "till it got off over the state line into South Dakota. Now it's hard to say who it belongs to. Man in the Moon by this time next week by the look of it."

Wolf stepped in. "Sounds like a job for the ICC."

"Or NATO," said Sven Swenson.

"But you, Johnson, do you really believe this fable we've been hearing from some of the townsfolk; what they've been calling 'the ghost of Old Man Laverne's revenge?"

Johnson, taking his eyes back down off the height of the turnip to the crisp clipped bearded face of Wolf said, "Though that should not be repeated above a whisper, I wouldn't put it past him. No sir."

After a knowing wink aside to the international viewing public, Wolf said, "But it was after all you who planted it, which rather ties you in to the ah . . . conspiracy, don't you think?"

"No, because like my neighbor Sven Swenson here's been trying to tell me, I must have got my turnip seed mixed up with the rutabaga. He says judging by the size, it's more like a rutabaga."

"Yah," said Sven, "because who ever saw a turnip that big?"

"True enough," said John Johnson. "And come to think, it is out of the same seed stock from Old Man Laverne's farm. That I will admit."

"You never told me!" said Ole.

"Wasn't your business," said Johnson.

"Well, I'm jiggered," said Ole. "The curse was right in the germ, waitin' all this time to come out like a three-eyed cat. And it's the same family line by marriage between the Luvernes and the Johnsons, of course."

"So it is a conspiracy!" cried Wolf.

"Hereabout," said Sven Swenson, "we call it marriage."

"You could say it comes to about the same thing though," said Ole.

"Why sure," said Johnson. "Ya see, Old Man Laverne's my great, great, granddad on my mama's side, Frenchmen, that lot. And though he never had any use for Norwegians, his daughter found a good one!" Johnson and his neighbors broke out laughing as though they'd been enjoying that one for the past three generations.

"A good Norwegian?" asked Wolf.

"No, a good use for one," said John Johnson with a wink, as his merriment was soon joined by the thigh-slapping hilarity of the rest.

"Ah. Yes, I see." said Wolf, "But for the enlightenment of our viewing audience, you could say, could you not, now that your turnip has invaded the South Dakota border, well then, in a very real way, the Old Man Laverne's revenge is complete, seeing his old er . . . 'ranch', has now been annexed to South Dakota, making good on his storied old claim?"

"By golly," said Ole Olson.

"Well, I'll go further than that," said Johnson.

"Yes?" said Wolf. "The public is waiting."

"Well," said John Johnson. "You betcha!"

Wolf turned full face to the camera saying, "And that is the news for now, from here on the scene of the turnip ranch. Back to you, Atlanta."

While the military was getting set up with the artillery and batteries of Sidewinder, Patriot and Cruse missiles, a large group of protesters were beginning to make their presence known by way of their signs, their songs, their bull-horns, their fancifully dyed hair and their Birkenstocks. The local population who were quite happy to see the presence of the military, in hopes of saving so much of Minnesota as was left, were not so overly impressed by the antics of the protesters.

"Bunch of dad-burned, barefoot turnip-huggers!" groused Ole Olson as he, Sven and John Johnson now spoke with FOX news about the situation, while they watched a young man in orange, braided hair and many rings dangling from his ears, nose, brow and lips go by bearing a sign, to wit, "Don't Tread on the Turnip!"

Shep Smith of FOX presented his mike, asking, "So what is your view of their position when these protesters say that shooting Patriot missiles at the turnip will increase global warming?"

"I'm not too sure about it!" so said, John Johnson.

Shep, in an attempt to be fair and balanced, objectively pursued the matter playing the Turnip Hugger's advocate. "And when they say that the oxygen this turnip is putting to the atmosphere from all that foliage of turnip greens up there could close the Ozone Hole, your answer is . . . ?"

"I wonder how much turnip it might take to close their pie-hole," said Ole. "That's about what."

Just then they were interrupted by a commotion over near the barricade. "Follow me, boys!" declared Shep, motioning to his crew.

A Five Star General, Lance O'Leary by name was armed with a bullhorn pointed upward upon the glistening white globe of the turnip and he was giving orders. "This is your first warning, whoever you are up there, to come down immediately before we are forced to take stern measures!"

Mrs. Ole Olson having now come to her husband's side as they both neared the barricade was heard to cry, "Landsakes! Why, I never in my life!" She turned away shielding her eyes. "What's that on his naked back?"

"Looks like some ratty old Sears & Roebucks mail order git-box to me," said Ole.

Shep Smith, mike in hand a few paces away from them began to address the camera, "Folks, it looks like the military has a situation on its hands. There is a young man with rock climbing gear -- try to get the camera on him up there, Frank -- attempting to scale the face of the Turnip. Yes, he is driving pitons, hooking ropes, he has a guitar on his back -- wait a minute. Something coming in here." An aide was handing Shep a slip of paper. "Yes, the man has been identified. It is Spike Spiderman a Minneapolis coffeehouse entertainer, and sometime public event streaker who has been arrested numerous times for singing the blues in the nude, during half-time at ball games, downtown parades, political rallies and whatnot. Yes, and by the looks of him now, the only thing he has to cover him are his tattoos, his rings, his Birkenstocks equipped with cramp-ons, and that guitar on his back."

Mr. and Mrs. Nels Nelson, neighbors to John Johnson on his north boundary were now standing with the Ole Olsons, when there came a thunderous sound, as the earth beneath them began to heave. Mrs. Nelson and Mrs. Olson were screaming. The barricade ruptured as the turnip was now seen to be visibly in motion of its expansion. The people in a panic took flight as the missile batteries and artillery mounts were up-ended. Screams and howls of human terror were dampened under a groaning and grumbling come up from the ground, cracking as it shook; earth and stone being plowed out of the way by the rising girth of the turnip.

Within 24 hours, it was over. Just . . . over. And done. Or, as the Frenchmen like to say at the end, "FIN." The third planet from the sun, had been replaced by a turnip; a very large turnip to be sure, but yes, just that, and only that--except for three people: there was Spike Spiderman, plus Mrs. Ole Olson and Mrs. Nels Nelson, both blonde, both buxom, both in their mid-thirties, and both of whom had become entangled in rising adventitious roots as the turnip came up, bursting the ground from beneath their tennis shoes. Happily, the atmosphere of earth had been taken over by the turnip. And due to the way the crown of the turnip had come to replace the North Pole of the earth, all the encumbering foliage was frozen and broken away, sent off as space junk, jettisoned from the turnip by the turbulence of such cataclysmic, high plasma winds as had been electromagnetically generated during the transformation of Earth to Turnip.

Now, it was time for mankind to have a fresh start on Turnip, with all the turnip food and turnip juice three lucky people could use, while they worked their way south toward what might be seen for the Florida or which is to say, 'South Beach' of the turnip, where the weather would be mild and sunny, and they could relax by the shore of a turnip juice sea, look up at the stars by night and listen to Spike Spiderman play his low-down, butt-naked, nitty-gritty, "All I Got is These Darned Old Raggedy Birkenstocks Blues."

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