Don't get them started on ducks Tale of 'Peanut Man': At the mere mention of mallards, an old waterman and his wife launch into an unhappy story about a 'sneaky' salesman.

On the Bay

January 26, 1996|By Tom Horton | Tom Horton,SUN STAFF

A photograph of ducks in a net published with the On the Bay column in yesterday's editions should have been labeled a 1963 file photo.

The Sun regrets the errors.

IT WAS a rainy, winter evening several years ago, about this time of year, that I passed with an old waterman and his wife.

I had taken some pains to win their confidence in previous meetings, and this night the dam had broken, and the tales of their lives and times rolled out in a rich torrent.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

Until I mentioned ducks -- the shooting and trapping of them, to be specific.

A pall fell on the room. You could hear her rocker creak, the loudest sound in the world.

When we finally, painfully, resumed, this is the story they told me, about a go-round with a person they called "The Peanut Man."

*

SHE: This island has always been gettin' in trouble over ducks, and I don't know why, because nobody ever did waste none over here, which would be the only crime.

Now B (gesturing at her husband), he thinks everybody born was naturally honest and square, and he would invite a rattlesnake in for dinner.

And one day he comes home from Crisfield with this man who is lookin' for a place to room, a salesman sellin' peanuts, he said.

I had an old coil refrigerator back then and I was cleanin' it, and I had been workin' in crabs and had my old crabby dress on, barefoot.

And I said, I'm not runnin' no boardin' house and you're not a-stayin' here. Oh, I thought even then he had a sneaky-peeky look to 'im.

But noooo. Come right on in, says ol' B. Well, we put 'im up, and B and our son-in-law, they took him out on the Bayside fishin' -- on the Sabbath, which we never done -- and they loaded him up with rockfish long as your arm.

And eat! Why, he went for them rockfish and dumplin's I made that night same as a hog; boy, that bastard could wad it in.

Well, before long he says, Hey, is there some way we can get some ducks? Claimed he wanted 'em for a friend in the hospital in Cambridge.

I said to my husband: Don't you get him ducks. We got no ducks, we don't catch no ducks, we don't tangle with ducks.

Oh, why sure, says he; we can get a mess from a neighbor, and down they went to get a mess from Billy, who was a-trappin' 'em. B never even saw them ducks, but he went along. Our son-in-law paid $7 for them.

Well, when it come time for him to leave, my husband wouldn't charge that peanut man a brownie. Our little girl wanted a transistor radio, and he give her $20 and said, that's for that radio for Christmas. We put it in the Bible to keep.

And we saw 'im no more that winter. Then in April, B was just back from oysterin' up the bay, and right around daybreak -- it was rainin' and a-blowin' -- come a knock, two men at the door with guns all strop around their hips.

I was a-swellin' up, mad, 'cause I knew they wasn't here for no good, but oh, yes indeed, come on in, come right in, says B. Well, they just set there and wouldn't say nothin' straight, and finally I said, stop a-yarnin', what are ya here for?

And then he hands B this summons. It was a paper he couldn't understand, but I looked at it and said, my dear God, the name on here ain't the same, but this is that peanut man. Noooo, says B; but it was.

*

HE: They carried us to Salisbury -- we had to tow them actually, 'cause it had breezed up too much for their little boat to cross to the mainland.

The state's attorney there advised us to get a lawyer. Charged with sellin' ducks, we were.

Well, Millard Tawes from Crisfield was gov'nor of Maryland then, and we growed up together, drank whiskey together, you know, and he lined us up with his campaign manager, this big shot lawyer in Balt'mer, Herbert R. O'Conor. Take 'im a box of soft crabs, Millard said, and that's what we done.

We got up there to the [arraignment], in the federal courthouse in Balt'mer, me and my son-in-law, and this is what I told that judge:

Your honor, I always been taught to treat everybody alike and help those come to me in trouble, but if that peanut man come to my home like he did this past fall, I'd give 'im these five bones right in the eyes.

We fed 'im, cooked for 'im, took 'im fishin' and give 'im the best bed in the house, and this is how he's treated us.

Asbury, lives down the road from us, he was there, and he said Billy Graham couldn't told a better story than I told on that stand; but I weren't scared up there one item in the world.

I mean, I went aboard of that stand; I said judge, do you believe there's a just God? He said, why? I said if there is, he'd kill that peanut man a-settin' right there.

That ol' judge, he said I can't find these boys guilty, and we thought that was all there was to it. But them feds got a new judge and a new trial, and they told our lawyer if we'd plead guilty, they'd go light on us.

My son-in-law, he pled guilty. I said I wouldn't do that for every son of a bitch in Balt'mer City. Before it ended, we were both out a hundred bucks apiece.

It was maybe the next year after that and she was here alone, and I brought a man by, it was Eddie from the next town, and she knew 'im, but she didn't recognize 'im; and she said, he's not a-comin' in, and she wouldn't let 'im in.

Well, that's what that peanut man did to us.

*

And both of them started up again, talking for all they were worth. But we never did get back on ducks.

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