Rufus Gomiller, The Bravest Man I Ever Knew
The bravest man I ever knew, and not one I read about in a book or saw in a movie or on television was Rufus Gomiller. He was even braver than my daddy who held that title until the Sunday afternoon the pipes under our house “busted.”
“Looks like we are going to have to call somebody,” my dad said looking sad faced as the two of us shined our flashlights around under our house. What had been a dry and a good place to sneak into when we played hide and seek had turned into a swamp. When I saw a snake skin go floating by in the water steadily pooling and spilling out of the door to the crawl space I was glad I was a kid.
Snake skins equal snakes. That doesn’t take too much algebra to figure out.
“Rufus Gomiller is a rat killer,” my uncle Earnest chirped from the front porch when my dad was going over the list of possible plumbers who might answer their phones on such a perfect afternoon when there were fish to be caught and ball games to be watched. My uncle worked for the newspaper. We had to keep quiet around him and his children. My aunt was the only Lieflinger who could keep a secret and not go making up stuff. She was my dad’s sister and the one who suggested calling Rufus Gomiller. She and Rufus had dated in high school, another reason my uncle didn’t like him along with the fact that Rufus Gomiller was rumored to be worth millions if not billions.
And to keep peace, Rufus Gomiller was the last plumber my dad called. Rufus didn’t answer but one of his kids did. She said Rufus was busy draining a septic tank and would be there as soon as he could break free. With water spilling out of the busted pipes and creeping up the foundation of our house dad and I took one last look at the situation. I expected to see an alligator swim out of the swamp the dusty shadows and cobwebs under our house had become.
“All you need is some ‘Magic Mix’,” my other uncle said he had shown up with his flash light too. My father reminded him that, ‘Magic Mix,” was what he had used the last time the pipes under the house sprung a leak and the time before that too.
And something else I learned that afternoon was that as inconvenient as it was for us to have to borrow the neighbor’s bathroom, it was even more inconvenient for them. I think if it had been just our family the neighbors would have kept answering the doorbell and showing us to their toilet. But that day we had company, a house full, aunts, uncles, cousins, and some people we didn’t even know. It was my grandma’s birthday and we were having her party at our house. Not a good idea as it turned out. She had taught nearly thirty generations of children in our town their colors and their ABC’s at the elementary school. People just kept showing up and us with a natural disaster happening right under our house.
My uncle, our Mayor, called the man from the public works who stopped by long enough to admit that he didn’t know where to get started at even turning the water off that was starting to spill into the yard, rats and all.
“Probably been going on for a while,” he said looking skeptical when my dad told him that Rufus Gomiller was on his way. Then I heard him tell my dad that he wouldn’t have called that crook and to keep his eye on him and to watch him close. My uncle, our Mayor, said the same thing. Only he was quiet about it.
I was beginning to believe this Rufus Gomiller was a bad character, and even more so when my uncle the lawman searched his memory out loud for possible warrants he might have for Rufus Gomiller. This was followed by my other uncle, the town’s attorney, recollecting the times he had seen the, “leak fixer,” in court.
“Well he’s the only one who answered,” my dad apologized not able to hide the desperation in his voice as he watched my mom serving up the hot dogs and hamburgers he was supposed to be grilling.
“And he stinks too,” my other uncle who works at the bank added when it was his turn to say something. That was about the time Rufus Gomiller’s old rowdy service truck puttered up in the yard before roaring to a stop.
I expected to see a cross between Dracula and John Dillinger climb out of that big rusty pickup, windows down, and a half a dozen little Gomillers riding on the back, two of which I recognized from school. Susie and Sam, the twins, a boy and girl, who even though they got the best grades had to eat their lunch by themselves and got picked on. They still smiled all the time. I guess when your dad is a millionaire and maybe even a billionaire you learn to smile even when you get picked on and have to eat your lunch all by yourself.
Well, anyway Rufus Gomiller turned out to be neither Dracula nor John Dillinger, but instead just a working man trying to put bread on the table for the brood of helpers who followed their dad across the yard carrying his tools, most of which he didn’t need. He didn’t even take a flashlight under the house or the ‘Magic Mix,’ my uncle tried to hand him. Flashlights just wake up the snakes and spiders and rats and let them know where you are he explained and as for the ‘Magic Mix’, he said he drank that with his breakfast in the mornings. And I believe he was being truthful. The man wasn’t a liar. I was a child back then and you can’t fool a child or a dog.
After working his way past my Uncle Earnest and his questions about his taxes and what they said about him and the cute little waitress down at the diner, straight faced and serious, Rufus Gomiller headed for the swamp under our house.
“Just let the man do his job,” I heard my aunt say and then my grandma and then my dad and then a chorus of people when folks, mostly my uncles, insisted on speculating on what the gnarly old plumber with bushy eyebrows was doing under our house.
Then after what seemed like too long for him to be under there and us not be worried the leak stopped. We could flush the toilet again. And in a little while he crawled out wet as fish and smiling his Rufus Gomiller smile.
A second wave of fear filled my father’s face as he followed Rufus to his truck with his checkbook. Dirty jobs aren’t done cheap.
I tagged along and so did our dog Ajax who had taken a liking to Rufus and his children and looked as if he wanted to leave with them. I held him back still in awe of the rather strange looking man who had braved snakes and rats and possibly alligators to get us squared away.
“Seeing how its Sunday, and that little lady taught me to read,” he said pointing to my grandma who waved back at him from the crowd that had her pinned down and blowing out candles, “Let’s let this one be on the house.”
I couldn’t believe the big man who was soaked head to toe in whatever stuff had floated up under our house. My father couldn’t believe it either as he shook the calloused hands of Rufus Gomiller. I shook Mr. Gomiller’s hand too and so did my mom, who brought him and his children some birthday cake.
Yes. There is no doubt Rufus Gomiller was the bravest man I ever knew. I even used him as an example in a high school paper I had to write on courage. I got a “C,” on that paper which is better than the “F,” I got when I used him again as an example of bravery in a paper I wrote for a college class. The “C,” I understand but I have never been able to figure out how I got the “F,” out of such a good story. It must have been my writing, is the only thing I can figure, but don’t blame my grandma, she did the best she could, with me not being an easy child to teach.
This is a story I wrote as a tribute those who teach.
Edward Reed copyright 2018
This is a work of fiction all created in the imagination of the author. Any resemblance or similarity to persons living or dead, situations or events is purely coincidental.