Column: Ingenious; inventive if needed

The pros and cons of human ingenuity and the stories it has inspired.

Mexican Mike enjoys pancake breakfast. Below

Mexican Mike enjoys pancake breakfast. Below

Stories have been written about the pros and cons of human ingenuity. A man feared  his son wasn’t ready for life because he hadn’t dealt with crisis or adversity. It’s true of many kids today.

To test the lad, the father sent him to chop wood in the forest. “Take the ox and cart to haul the logs,” he said.

It was likely to break down at any time. That was the plan.

“If you have problems,” the man said, “just call my old friend, Ingenuity. He’ll be around to help you out.”

“Ingenuity?”  The boy hadn’t met him, but wasn’t worried.

On the road recently to the Cariboo with Big Buddy, I met another ingenious man along Hwy. 8 to Spences Bridge – en route to Horsefly to hang out with rancher and horse whisperer, Russell Kast, and to check out the Mt. Polly disaster site near Likely, two years earlier.

A little community hall was open. Some shade and coffee. At a table of preserves, a First Nations woman offered some white grapes. “Sweet. Make a good wine,” I said.

Jim, a thin, grey-haired fellow, overheard me. He pushed a basket of golden plums my way. “Try these,” he said. “They’d make good moonshine.”

Jim’s tale unfolded in Alberta decades back. An ingenious fellow, he’d made a still with copper tubing and a kettle. “My basement was full of moonshine,” he recalled. “Made with plums, peaches, pears.” Best I ever made was with bananas – 190 proof,” he waxed nostalgically.

That’s 95 per cent alcohol; enough to make you blind. “Held a match to a teaspoon,” said Jim, proudly. “Flames a foot high.”

I wondered if Jim had a still in his basement now.

“Nooooo, not now,” insisted Jim.  “Don’t do that anymore.” He began to explain.

“One day, three cops knock on the door looking for somebody. Wanted to know if anybody’d seen this fellow around. Had a description, no picture. My wife and me weren’t gettin’ along good then. She was living on the top floor. Me, in the basement, with my still. Anyhow, she says she hasn’t seen nobody like the guy they’re lookin’ for, but they could ask her husband. He’s in the basement, she says. Go on down.”

Jim emitted a deep sign. “Well, I’m sunk into a soft chair, half cut, when this cop asks, ‘What are you making there?’ ”

“Distilled water,” I said. “The cop opens a mickey and gulps down half of it. Best damn distilled water I’ve ever tasted, he says. How much?”

“It’s not for sale,” stammers Jim. “That’s illegal!”

The cops told Jim they’d be back in couple of days with a van for everything he had in the basement, and again just before Christmas. Upstairs, in an envelope, they’d left him $8,000. The white lightning, Jim figured, would have fetched six times that.

When the cops returned at Christmas, Jim told them he hadn’t made any more moonshine, and wouldn’t be making any for the New Year’s party they wanted it for.

They didn’t believe him. “It was true,” said Jim. “How did I know the money wasn’t marked,” I said. “I don’t want to go to jail.”  Someone once said never underestimate the ingenuity of fools.

That boy I told you about earlier didn’t have any trouble chopping trees and loading them up, but when he set off for home, an axle on the cart gave way. The boy didn’t know what to do. He began to panic. He remembered his dad’s advice to call on his friend, Ingenuity, who he assumed would be nearby. The boy shouted, “Ingenuity, yo, Ingenuity … where are you, friend?” More in a bit.

After we set up my tent trailer at Mexican Mike’s RV Park and Road Kill Grill in Clinton, Mike shut down his ride-on mover and wandered over for a chin wag.

He started out selling vegetables from a lot covered with tall weeds. “Couldn’t make a living that way,” he mused. “But cowboys like beans and ribs.” His chuckwagon grill and park is full tonight, the result of cleverness combined with Mike’s unique personality. A showman who understands what makes folks smile, his gags border on outrageous. “They think they’re having all the fun,” he says, “but I’m having more.”

Later, he welcomes a retired couple at dinner. “Who’s this you’re with?” says Mike to the man.

“It’s my wife, Mary.”

“Sure it is,” says Mike. They laugh.

When Ingenuity did not emerge from the woods to fix the axle, the boy decided he had to do it himself. He unloaded the cart, used his ax to shape a new axle from a log, secured it to the wheels, reloaded the cart, and headed home, pleased with his own cleverness and self-reliance, but determined to tell his dad that his pal, Ingenuity, was no help at all.

We, however, know the truth. Necessity is the mother of invention. If you doubt this, just ask Ingenuity. Next time, Polly Lake and Russ, the horse whisperer.