A sad and instructive tale

Harry Drabik

Long back when the Twin Ports bloomed with winter time guests jamming into cramped tenements to escape a worser fate trapped in small frame icy iceboxes along the big lake’s shores comes a melon and collie story of two sorry shackers.
Actual lee, these shackers (often called bachelors on a count of not dooming innocent womens to endure their awful fate) were in the better or summer time of their tough times lives living somewheres not so high on the hog in a place called Dar-Kula Bay, which is middlin to say and rarely spelled same twice. Even though we don’t know exactly where, no less there they were shacking on the bay.

Shackers of the bachelor type were seen allover them days as men so fond of and kind toward women they left them alone out of purest benevolence of the heart. And anyways, unless a woman was of the stuff of Anna or Dorothea dumb-brave enough to slug and slam her way through cooking pies for ungrateful bums, a loggers’ camp was no place to be unless rough company and bad odors held appeal beyond explaining.

Our two shackers were of a different bent as them days same as ours people went, can you believe, in different directions all the time, it was a sight.
The Dar-Kula duo did herring choking (at times called underwater fencing, the type done without foils) and salting for shipment along with dragging popple sticks for rafting (sounds like fun but isn’t) to places Twin Ports way where dirty sticks were turned into things lots nicer than two shackers would have whittled (or use for that matter).

Who were these shackers, none other than Emil and Jon who you never heard of and probably would have avoided meeting on account of manners and odor, theirs considerably more than yours. We got that straight.
But don’t be sour on them because they meant well, usually or some of the time at least, and were awkward around anything decent.
Some accounts said they were humble and kind and quite religious come to monthly shaving, a great savings on blades. Others say less kindly things referring perhaps to some other unfortunates of similar name who were drunks and unreliables and not good for much other than doing what they were doing, which wasn’t much but was enough, we guess, to get by on.

If you’re modest shackers, very likely the only way known to get by in the shacking world, you do not need much. A shack, after all, gets its name from not being a house or even a lowly shed while keeping its dignity as being neither coop nor sty.
Shackers have their standards but have no scruple against use of drift scrap washed ashore all nice and clean or stray popple sticks escaped from being digested into mill paper at the paper mill.
Scrounging was a shacker’s life ripe with, among other ripeness (I typed ripemess by mistake but decided to put it back, so there it is and don’t try to stop me) the joy of finding a three-leg chair to fetch home for jackknife carpentry repair. There, good as new except for looks and a mean wobble to keep a seater alert.

Our shackers was no different than the general run scraping by doing whatever until winter might force them to the Ports or one of the smaller places where the pneumonia (in them days known widely as the “bachelor’s final friend”) would send them onward. Scrawled driftwood planks don’t endure long as chiseled stone, making poverty disappear despite being real and pervasive far back as anyone’s able to tell, I guess.

But we’re not there at the end yet, and at this rate will be a welcome relief, won’t it?
Shacking, by shacker principles was either working at some task or shacking inside the shack; means sitting because as working economists they didn’t need to stand much and knew fully well they could do that at need by stooping through the doorway to the outside.
Shackers were meager as their shacks. Being much built of scrap I’d bet you’re not familiar with a lived-in shack. Like plank grave markers they’re easily gone. But there they were once whence and I’m wagering you see the connect between shackers then and homeless now, but not exactly the same. Different drugs for sure.

Emil and Jon worked to sustain their habit of beer and vanilla extract. Work cheap, paid cash, they went straight for the local store for supply including bread (no oven in a shack, you see) and onions (a particular fondness for) to spice up salt pork vittles, an unhealthy diet that keeps you going until it kills you.

Unimportant as they were, shackers were part of the overall, so when no one saw either for a week it was decided someone should go see what’s up or wasn’t. A scent of smoke came from the shack stovepipe as visitor knocked and was told “Come in” to a space smelling not at all fresh.
Managing not to gag, visitor said “We been wondering about you.” “Emil’s been sick. Been feeding him coffee and toast.” Past tense was correct as the bread crumb and coffee dribble seen on a corpse.
Visitor, in a tough spot and a worse way, spoke in terrified sympathy (try that combo) “JON, Emil’s dead!”
Jon was having none of that malarkey. “NO-NO,” he shook his grizzled head in bold disagreement. “He’s done this before.”
You know it. I know it. The visitor knew and smelled it. Emil had not done THAT before. He’d not left, not broken the hardship bond of shackers getting by on little and expecting less.
Jon was abandoned, alone knowing it was unlikely anyone would want anything of his. The sheet metal stove maybe because it was fairly new, but nothing else because there wasn’t much else.
Jon would shuffle to town that winter to wait in a hotel room for his friend, the bachelor’s friend.
The End.