Take a chance. You never know where some mild obscurity will lead you, what strangely interesting stories you might uncover on that meandering journey from Hither to Yon. Especially at 2 a.m.
Our journey begins this past Thursday. Mr kk and I decided to go on a little day trip, visit the Menards store out by Jackson, Michigan; check out their outdoor sheds. (For those of you who are unfamiliar with Menards, it’s kind of like Home Depot, only bigger and better). They sell all kinds of cool stuff. We ended up finding a Rubbermaid 7 x 7 shed, on sale for less than $600–we’re kicking that around. We did buy four large bags of cheese popcorn, a dehumidifier filter, and two 40 lb. bags of cat litter for less than six bucks each–a great deal.
We left there happy.
Then, we started meandering, as we had planned to do. It was cool, breezy and drizzly all day. We kept our windows cracked and the heat cranked. Our van quickly became slick with mud, not that we cared. I’d brought our Michigan atlas, and expertly steered us down back roads, past farms and fields and woods.
It was on one of those roads–actually, more like a muddy two-track–that we came across these weird round green things scattered on the side of the road. Big round fruit, with skin like a . . . brain. We’d never seen anything like it. I climbed out and grabbed one up, and we continued on our merry way.
It was late when we got home; later yet when I finally got myself nice and cozy. I opened my laptop and googled “persimmon.” That’s what mr kk swore that weird thing was. Mr kk was wrong. The grapefruit-sized oddity I hefted in my left hand looked absolutely nothing like a persimmon. Not knowing what it was, I googled “fruit that looks like a brain” and there it was: Maclura pomifera, commonly called Osage Orange; aka, hedge apple.
A monkey ball, which was hilarious, especially at 11 p.m. And really interesting. Which is why, at 11:30, instead of sleeping I sat cross-legged on my bed, hunched over my little laptop, reading all about monkey balls which, I found out, have suffocated livestock (when the fruit gets lodged in the esophagus), may or may not be poisonous; and are believed by some to cure cancer.
And that’s not all. I also found out that Maclura pomifer‘s ash makes exquisite pottery glaze, that the Osage Indians used the branches for their bows, that that the wood has a really high BTU rating. Not only that, it’s nearly impervious to insects, and the branches sprout thorns and hence, used to be used as barbed wired is used today. All kinds of nifty stuff about monkey balls.
On this website: http://carrollscorner.net/oldtimerecipes.htm , I found reference to the monkey balls’ insect-repelling qualities:
OLD-TIME KITCHEN HINT: Place a fresh hedge-apple in bowl & put in kitchen dry goods cabinet. It keeps the weavels from getting into the flour, cereal, etc.
As an added bonus, I found this (cracked me up, although, at that late hour, it didn’t take much):
FRUITCAKE RECIPE– Read Carefully
1 C water 1 C sugar
4 large eggs 2 C dried fruit
1 tsp salt 1 tsp baking soda
1 C brown sugar lemon juice
1 FULL bottle whiskey
Sample the whiskey to check for quality. Take a large bowl. Check the whiskey again to be sure that it is of the highest quality. Pour 1 level cup and drink. Repeat. Turn on the electric mixer, beat 1 cup of butter in a large fluffy bowl. Add 1 tsp sugar and beat again. Make sure the whiskey is still OK. Cry another tup. Turn off the mixerer. Break two eggs and add to the bowl and chuck in the cup of dried fruit. Mix on the turnerer. If the fried druit gets stuck in the beaterers, pry it loose with a drewscriver. Sample the whiskey to check for tonsisticity. Next, sift 2 cups of salt. Or something. Check the whiskey. Now sift the lemon juice and strain your nuts. Add one table. Spoon. Of sugar or something. Whatever you can find. Grease the oven. Turn the cake tin to 350 degrees. Don’t forget to beat off the turner. Throw the bowl out the window. Check the whiskey again. Go to bed. Who the hell likes druitcake anyway–
The monkey ball trail slipped into a darker place, as trails often do when traversed at ungodly hours. I sat in the dark, raptly reading an incredible tale rife with hate, vengeance, and–
Yep, you guessed it.
It was the late 1800s. A young black man had the misfortune of walking past a group of raucously drunken soldiers from the Fourth Kentucky Regiment. The soldiers, including one Lt. Ethelbert Scott, hooted and hollered at the man; then, somebody threw a monkey ball, which hit our hapless traveler and who, in turn, heaved a rock, which hit one of the soldiers in the ear. All hell broke loose. Soldiers had to be physically restrained at the behest of one Col. David G. Colson, lest they murder our beleaguered friend.
Thus began a feud between Colson and Scott, culminating two years later in a crazy-ass shootout in the packed lobby of a prominent Kentucky hotel. Colson was wounded and Scott lay dead, along with two others in what was called the Colson-Scott Tragedy. 20 to 30 shots had been fired by the two men in a matter of seconds. Colson died two years later from a bullet fired from Scott’s gun.
The story was absolutely riveting, so much so that I found myself wide awake at 2 a.m., seriously contemplating whether or not I could actually write a novel about it, which just goes to show that when you follow the bouncing monkey ball, you never know where you might end up.