THE POTTER’S NOTCH PREDICAMENT
It was cold during the winter in Potter’s Notch. Damn cold. It was cold enough to freeze some body parts off a brass monkey. Potter’s Notch was one of the coldest places in the nation. Snuggled in a remote area among the Green Mountains of Vermont, it also had the per capita highest rate of hearing loss. The citizens of “Potty” (as they affectionately called their historic village) were not aware of this until a recent study by a group of Audio Anthropologists from Yale University came to town. They spent three weeks interviewing, testing, measuring, harrumphing, and recording data seeking a causal relationship between the cold climate and the high rates of what they called Auris Diminicus Syndrome (ADS).
For most of those three weeks, they relied on standard social scientific procedures and came up bupkus. Not until second-year doctoral candidate Phyllis Smart asked long-time town resident Pete Bowker a direct question, “Sir, do you know why this town has such a high rate of hearing loss?”
Pete put his right hand up to his ear, cupped it toward Phyllis, and said, “Say what?”
Not surprised, Phyllis asked again, speaking louder, this time adding, “Do you?” at the end to emphasize her question.
“Sir…may, I call you, Pete.”
“Okay, Pete. Can you tell me why there is such a high rate of aural deficiency in this town?”
Pete cupped both ears toward Phyllis and said, “Say what?”
Phyllis took a deep breath and tried, unsuccessfully, not to roll her eyes and repeated the question more loudly.
Pete answered, thoughtfully, “Sure.”
Phil took another deep breath, leaned closer toward Pete, and enunciated clearly and slowly, “Do…you…know…why…so many…people here…are…DEAF?”
Pete took his hands away from his ears and said, “Yup.” Then he took a roll of Necco wafers from the top pocket of his bibs and offered it to Phyllis.
She took a red and a green wafer since Christmas was only two months away, popped those in her mouth, pointed to the bench in front of the hardware store and said, “Let’s sit down for a few minutes,” expecting to work her way out of this predicament.
Pete wasn’t sure what she said, but he didn’t often get to sit with a pretty girl like Phyllis, and when she sat—he sat.
Phyllis took a tablet out of her bag and quickly typed in the question: Do you know why so many people in Potter’s Notch have significant hearing loss??? Using three question marks to add weight to her request.
Pete had never seen a tablet before, but he knew how to read. He pursed his lips, nodded twice, and said, “Yup. It’s from the contest.”
Phyllis’s eyes widened, her brows shot up, and she typed again. What contest???
“The frozen ear contest.”
Now we’re getting somewhere. Phyllis hid her surprise and typed: Can you explain that, please???
Phyllis stopped breathing, closed her eyes, pinched the narrow place at the top of her nose, took a deep breath, and started again. Pete, would you please explain to me in detail about the “contest.” Please???
“Sure.” Pete offered the Neccos again, and Phyllis took a black one because that’s the way her mood was heading. Pete continued. “It started back in the winter of forty-eight…”
Phyllis touched his arm and stopped him, then wrote on the tablet: 1848???
“Nope.” Pete held up both hands fingers fully extended, flashed that then held up nine more digits.
Phyllis shouted, “NINETEEN FORTY-EIGHT?”
Pete heard enough to respond, “Yup.”
Phyllis quickly typed: Great, please give me the details???
“Well, I was only six, but from what I remember, it was because Charlie Smite bet Harold Townsend a dollar.” Pete sat back, satisfied with his oratory, and crossed his arms over his chest.
Phyllis was growing weary, but in the interest of science and to satisfy her curiosity, she soldiered on, writing again. What was the bet for? Please describe it fully, as much as you can remember.
“Well,” Pete uncrossed his arms and put his hands on his knees. “Charlie…” He stopped and knitted his brow, trying to sort through the facts. “As far as I remember, I’m pretty sure it was Charlie who started it.”
Phyllis was beginning to shake. “PETE, PLEASE TELL ME THE WHOLE THING!” Her amplified speech could be heard across the street.
“Sure. I’m gonna say it was Charlie…pretty sure. Well, he bet a dollar that he could leave his ears exposed to the winter cold longer than Harold.”
Phyllis quickly set up a new file on her tablet and entered that information, then shouted, “WHAT HAPPENED?”
Pete offered the Necco roll again. Phyllis declined, Pete took a green one, put that back in the roll, took a brown one, folded up the paper top, put it back in the center pocket of his bibs and said, “Charlie won the bet, but they both ended up a little deaf.”
Phyllis quickly added this data into the file and asked Pete. “IS THERE MORE TO THIS STORY.”
Phyllis closed her eyes and repeatedly flexed her fingers, wanting sorely to grab Pete by the bib straps and shake out a complete answer. After a deep breath, she turned again to the tablet, saved the file, and typed in a new question: I need FULL details of the contest. Is this ongoing? She stopped and looked at Pete, who seemed puzzled. She typed again: Do the people of Potter’s Notch still have this contest???
“Sure.” Pete smiled at her, thinking that was the answer she needed. The look on her face said otherwise. Pete continued, “Yup. Every winter, we do that. I was the oh-nine winner. Cold enough to freeze the…uh, it was pretty darn cold. Got the dollar framed. It’s hangin’ on the wall next to the parlor wood stove. I haven’t had good hearing since then.”
Phyllis reached deep inside to find some sympathy, put a hand on Pete’s arm, and said, “I’m very sorry for your loss.”
Phyllis quickly typed: I’m very sorry for your loss.
That surprised Pete. “I didn’t lose, I won the dollar. It’s framed.”
Phyllis pursed her lips, gritted her teeth, and thought of her next keyboard question. Do you have hearing aids?
So, you’re only deaf in one ear? She held the tablet in front of him.
Pete shook his head, held up two fingers, and said, “Nope, two ears, one aid. It works pretty darn good. I didn’t bring it today. Didn’t think I’d be talkin’ to anyone.”
Phyllis was curious, thinking about the aids that they tested in the lab at Yale and the extravagant cost of them. Pete didn’t look like he had a lot of dollars to spend and apparently wanted to preserve his contest trophy. She needed to get more information. What model of hearing aid do you have?
“Harper’s. They’re the best, better than Denison’s.”
As a second-year grad student, Phyllis thought she knew all the latest models, but had never heard of these. She typed, I’m not familiar with these models are they available locally?
“Well, Harper’s is, that’s why they’re the best. Denison’s is over near Danton beyond route seven.”
“CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR DEVICE?” Phyllis’s frustration was showing in her raised voice volume.
“Like I said, I didn’t bring it today, but yeah, it’s simple. Look here comes Ed Preston, see he’s got one. He won in seventeen. Darn cold that year, too.”
Phyllis looked in the direction Pete was pointing and saw a man approaching on the other side of the street with what looked like a plastic gallon milk jug with the bottom cut out pressed to the side of his head.
Pete yelled. “Hey, Eddie!” The man turned his head, so the jug’s open end was facing the voice, smiled, waved, and changed direction, crossing the street toward them.
Pete stood up with his hand outstretched. “This is my pal, Ed, he won in seventeen. Ed, this young lady is Phyllis, she’s from Yale. That’s somewhere down south. I think it’s in Pennsylvania. She’s a hearing doctor, come up here to do some research.”
Phyllis stood up, speechless, and put out her hand.
Ed gripped it lightly with his left hand maintaining the head-side jug with his right and said, “Pleased to meet you, Phyllis. I skied at Vail a couple of times. It’s in Colorado. Nice powder out there.” Ed removed the jug from his ear to reach deep inside and wiggle an index finger in the canal.
Phyllis saw the baby bottle nipple affixed to the narrow end of the jug, said a few kind words and left to find Professor Barrett and the rest of the team. She explained the data she’d collected and told them she had a severe headache and was going back to the motel and lie down.
On the way, she stopped at the Olde Tyme Village Spirits Shoppe and bought a bottle of Jagermeister. She had no further predicament.
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About the Author
Ed N. White is a Luddite sympathizer who struggles with the modern world. That is why he writes fiction. His latest endeavor, Miss Demeanor, The Case of the Long Blonde Hair, written under the pseudonym Celia J., is the first volume in a middle-grade mystery series. It is available at Histria Books.