Before going on, I need to take a moment to pay tribute to Kenny’s dad, Jim. His approach to life was certainly different, and although he had the capacity to draw an occasional oath from a minister, I think anyone that ever met him, liked him!
Jim had a sense of humor that would test any friendship, but you couldn’t stay mad at him for long. He would go to unbelievable lengths for a practical joke, and could derive as much pleasure from being a victim of a well planned prank, as he could from executing an intricate gag himself (well, almost as much!)
The most noteworthy joke I can recall, was one which took shape spontaneously, with no planning whatsoever. About a year after Ken and his family had moved to California, two visitors arrived from Indiana, separately, but almost simultaneously. One, a cousin named John, had departed the Indiana homestead suddenly, right after a non-fatal shooting of a young fellow that made the mistake of compromising the reputation of one of the Burke girls. The other, a guy named Mike, was a “city cousin”; pretty much ignorant of the ways and customs of his country kin, and more than a little nervous about the few he had heard of. He wasn’t very popular with the family, and his appearance in Calexico initially dismayed, and then overjoyed the majority of the family.
Jim immediately saw the potential of the situation, because this Mike was notoriously gullible, and had never met Cousin John before. So he quickly dispatched a couple of his boys on errands, setting his plan in motion.
Kenny and I were out in the shop, working on the Falcon, when he got wind of what was getting ready to happen. He wouldn’t tell me anything, so I was somewhat taken in, too, although knowing Jim, I had a feeling something was going on.
We were all standing around outside the house, where Jim was grilling some mountain oysters, and the city cousin was there, too. Jim artfully brought the conversation around to “the feud”, which while fictitious, apparently was entirely believable to their guest. During the banter between the boys, all of whom should have received Emmy Awards, the scenario slowly unfolded that one of the Burke clan had recently gone home and killed two of the rival boys, which had sparked renewed combat. Mike was eating this up, probably getting a vicarious thrill out of the story, and eager to be part of the clan.
After about a half hour, a car suddenly barreled into the ranch, and Kenny’s brother, Jimmy fell out of the car, bloody from head to toe, and promptly “died” in Jim’s arms. The performance was so good, even I was beginning to think it was real! Jim picked up Jimmy and carried him into the house, while shouting instructions to the rest of the boys. Suddenly, guns began appearing everywhere, as they readied for a fight. Mike was starting to look mighty uncomfortable, and then Jim tossed him a rifle, and told him to either help out, or get out! He looked like he’d rather be sick than anything else, but he took cover behind a car, and tried to look as mean as everyone else. Jim stuck a .45 in my hand, winked at me, and said, “You’re like one of the family…you might as well get blooded right now!”
Suddenly, Kenny, Jim and brothers-in-law Donny and Al started shooting toward one of the barns. Somebody hollered, “I think I got the sonuvabitch!” and they rushed in that direction, laying down a curtain of lead.
Mike was a pale green about then, and looked like he’d rather be anywhere but where he was.
When a few more shots had been fired in the vicinity of the barn, everyone suddenly emerged, dragging a “wounded” John, who Jim kept hitting and kicking all the way to the yard, amidst cries of “Shoot him”, “Hang him” and “Kill the sonuvabitch!”
When they got near the front of the house, it was as though Jim suddenly remembered that Mike was still there, and he walked toward him, reloading his shotgun. “You don’t need to be here to see this. Git!”
Then he turned back, grabbed John by the throat and threw him behind the pump house. He raised his shotgun, said, “This is for my son, you piece o’ shit!” and let go with both barrels.
John flew out from behind the pump-house, his entire front a bloody mess. He bounced once and never moved.
By paying attention (and more than a little luck), I was able to dodge out of the way as Mike puked all over the trunk of Donny’s Plymouth. He ran to his car, leaped in, and punched it out of there. About three car lengths along, he slammed on the brakes, threw the rifle out the window, and punched it again.
As he disappeared over the horizon, John got up and asked for a beer.
And Jim chuckled that he was pretty sure Mike wouldn’t ever darken their doorway again.
I suspect he was right!