Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Iron Horse Takes Uncle Zeke’s ‘Don Quixote’

Iron Horse Takes Uncle Zeke’s ‘Don Quixote’
The Life and Times of Reuben Blake

by David Parmer

Uncle Zeke, the noted newspaper columnist from Posey Run, which he dubbed Buzzardtown, used a writing technique which created larger than life characters to convey humor. Perhaps Reuben Blake was Uncle Zeke’s ‘Don Quixote’ in order for Uncle Zeke to tell the tale of life in Orlando during its days of prosperity, as well as castles and iron horses.
As Don Quixote tilted with windmills, Reuben Blake tilted with iron horses. The iron horse which Reuben Blake challenged happened to be a locomotive of the B & O Railroad and the field of battle was just north of Orlando on the Oil Creek line. Unlike Don Quixote, Reuben Blake came out second best against the iron horse. Reuben expired as the result of his wounds of battle on January 27. 1937. He was laid to rest in the Orlando Cemetery.

Reuben makes his appearance in Uncle Zeke’s world when Reuben became a “candidate for governor of Three Lick run.” Uncle Zeke urged the voters to “vote for him.” Vote for Reuben they did. Uncle Zeke announced that “The buzzards met the other day and elected Reuben Blake on the first ballot as chief for the ensuing year.”

Reuben Blake endured many adventures in the Buzzardtown Tales. Using other parties to convey the quixotic tales, Uncle Zeke reported that “PidHenline said that ‘Reuben Blake was slapped and scratched senseless a few days ago by a big hoot owl. But finally Reuben got even with it. After shooting it three times, he jumped on it and kicked the life out of it. Reuben says owls had better stick to their own business hereafter.’”

Reuben also went on knightly hunting expeditions in search of dragons. Uncle Zeke reported that “The other night while out hunting Reuben Blake caught a raccopoleposcut. Reuben is the man it is claimed ate nine pounds of honey at one mess, besides a pint of young bees, has chewed a carload of tobacco at one time, and can strike ten tons at one stroke with his fist.” During his nightly adventures, Reuben puzzled about another strange after-dark phenomenon. “Reuben wants to know who charges the lightning bugs batteries and why they carry their headlights on their tails.”
To the right is William Rufus Blake and his wife Bessie (Cole) in later years. To the left is Reuben's buddy Erse "Pid"Henline at an earlier date.

Like Don Quixote who had a trusty steed, Reuben also had a companion-like mule. Uncle Zeke observed that “Reuben Blake has swapped his mule to Alva Barnett. Reuben, who bears a close resemblance to his quadraped friend, says it was like parting with a twin brother, but it was necessary to let him go.”

Just as Don Quixote took Pancho Sanza to his bosom as a faithful companion, Reuben also had his true and faithful friend. Uncle Zeke reported that “From all appearances, C. E. Scarff and Reuben Blake have become fast friends and lifetime pals.”

Uncle Zeke also observed on Reuben’s knightly dress and appearance. “Reuben Blake and a few others are using moth balls in his whiskers to keep out smut and other vermin.” In a July 1928 column Uncle Zeke reported that “Someone said that Reuben Blake is still wearing his gum boots.” And those gum boots were not helpful, when on a hot July day, “Reuben Blake froze one of his feet. On the same day (Sunday), Jack Sam [Posey], got sunstroke groundhog hunting.”

Sundays were important days for Uncle Zeke. Reporting on Reuben’s astute observations he stated in 1927 that “Christmas came on Sunday, the new year comes on Sunday, my birthday comes on Sunday, the Sabbath comes on Sunday, and Reuben Blake says he honestly believes that Easter comes on Sunday.” Christmas was also a day to ponder. Uncle Zeke noted that “Its only a month until Christmas. I wonder if it will come in an aeroplane or by radio. Reuben Blake thinks it will come in a Ford.”

Food also was a subject foremost in the mind of a knight as well as Reuben Blake. Uncle Zeke, speaking of the traditional feasting bird, noted that “Reuben Blake’s Christmas turkey that he claimed was so fat starved to death one day last week.” Reuben surely liked his molasses also. Uncle Zeke mentioned Reuben’s adventurous trip to Riffle Run to search for the magic elixir. “Reuben Blake was on Riffle Run one day last week to see about some cane seed. He figures to do a little farming this year.” And, laying the source of the tale again to Pid Henline, Uncle Zeke said that Pid Henline informs us that "Reuben Blake has at this time one bushel of cane seed which he expects to plant this spring and he thinks it will take about three pecks more to plant his patch.”

His crop of seed grown molasses must have been successful because Pid Henline in July 1928 said “Reuben Blake will begin making molasses next week in order to get through before the [Thanksgiving] holiday.”

Another bit of evidence of a knight-like appetite to fuel his adventures was revealed by Uncle Zeke, “Reuben Blake, after eating a dozen roasting ears, three pounds of honey, six large red ripe tomatoes, two pounds of butter, and a fried chicken sliced up raw, said he didn’t know what he would do for a square meal.” And, ever the gourmet, “Reuben Blake says 'Sweetened hamburgers are not quite as good as honey.'”

Reuben Blake, besides his knightly adventures, had to do more mundane tasks such as prepare his fields to provide sustenance for his adventures. Uncle Zeke chronicled that “Reuben Blake declares that when he gets two more hours grubbin’ done, it will make him three hours for him this week in the grub patch.”

Reuben also craved high adventure according to Uncle Zeke. “Reuben Blake says he wouldn’t mind riding in an aeroplane if it wasn’t for going through the tunnels.”

And ever-harping on Reuben’s knightly attire, Uncle Zeke said that “Someone said that one of Reuben Blake’s gum boots froze solid.”

1. The Spanish author, Cervantes, in the early 1600s, created a character, Don Quixote, to serve as the central figure of his famous novel about a man suffering from delusions. Don Quixote, who came from La Mancha, a section of Spain , read so many tales of a chivalry in the Middle Ages that he came to believe himself to be a medieval knight. Don Quixote, along with his faithful companion Pancho Sanza, went from one chivalrous adventure to another in his quests. Don Quixote eventually regains his equilibrium and dies.

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