Sunday, January 10, 2010


[Continued from Part 1 above.]

“Good afternoon,” he said in a way that was more a question than a greeting.

“‘Afternoon,” I answered, looking down into the cook-pot. Ten to twelve dollars in change lay at the bottom. “You’re collecting for a monument?”

He nodded.

“What’s it for?”

“The Legend of Cordes Junction,” he replied cryptically.

“What is the Legend of Cordes Junction?”

“The woman buried under us,” he answered.

Ordinarily a statement like that would have sent me off in the opposite direction at once, but something about him set me at ease. The old man didn’t strike me as being delusional or dangerous, but rather intriguing, with what appeared to be a genuine melancholy reticence.

“Who is she?” I pressed him.

“Myrtle the Turtle,” he said almost reverently. “But you won’t find that name in the records, or any mention of her burial site for that matter. As far as the county health officials know, she died an’ then just disappeared,” he said in a hushed way, as if we were commiserating over a secret – a secret I was not privy to. And then before I could form the next question he answered it, and many more. The old man released the story as if it had been held captive in his throat just waiting for me to come along and produce the key. Apparently I had done my part, and now with the Legend of Cordes Junction unlocked, I had but to receive it.

“In Thirty-five this wasn’t no freeway like it is now, but Cordes Junction was about the same; a small joint where mostly some older folks were retired to get away from the hustle an’ bustle of Phoenix.

“There was a young hellion come through one day ‘bout dusk, an’ he was liquored up to the gills. Now he wasn’t a bad kid, really, but he was needing a good deal of discipline an’ guidance. His mother did all she could but he didn’t have no pa, so he got to runnin’ purty wild. He was nineteen; already been mixed up with the law. Robbed a filling station jockey, an’ was bein’ just a reg’lar tough. Well now, he didn’t mean to do it, un’erstand, but like I said, he’d been pulling at the cork some, an’ all hellbent-for-leather to meet up with this gal he’d been seein’ out near Happy Jack. So he’s goin’ too fast an’ with the sun the way it was, he veers off the road some and he struck this little girl with his automobile. Well, he killed that little girl in an instant – she was the godchild of an old woman named Myrtle who lived in these parts.

“Well, this time the young hellion got what he had comin’ to him; this time they sent him to the Florence State Prison for a good long while.

“For years them retired folks had been complaining ‘bout the speed an’ recklessness of the automobiles going up the highway through Cordes Junction. Now with what happened to her godchild an’ all, ol’ Myrtle got on a crusade about it. Before long, she got all them old folks in the area together an’ they march in to see the state troopers. Well, they only got so much manpower to go ‘round, they say, an’ they can’t spend all their time at Cordes Junction.

“Ol’ Myrtle’s madder’n a wet hen, an’ she tells them troopers she’s gonna handle the problem in her own way. So she organizes them retired folk into a reg’lar military kinda chain-a-command. I mean, they had colonels, an’ captains, an’ lieutenants – the whole thing. They took over control of the highway from just after Bumble Bee to ‘bout a quarter of the way to Camp Verde. You knew you was gettin’ on to Cordes Junction ‘cause some old man or lady’d suddenly pull onto the highway an’ slow that traffic down to a crawl. I mean, they was all retired, an’ weren’t doin’ anything else all day. An’ besides, it was somethin’ they all believed in. Yes, sir, some young tough’d be flyin’ along makin’ good time when all a sudden he’s behind a head of gray hair an’ can’t get outta second gear to save his life.

“‘Course now, that young man in prison, he never meant to hurt nobody, really, an’ he felt real bad ‘bout what happened to that little girl. So, he began writin’ letters to Myrtle from prison, tellin’ how he felt so bad, an’ repentant an’ all. Well, after ‘while, Myrtle comes to Florence State Prison to see that boy, an’ they get to talkin’. She writes back a few letters an’ eventually opens up her heart an’ finds a way to forgive that young man.

“By now, them old folks have made a real reputation for theirselves. Local county people took to callin’ ‘em ‘Myrtle’s Turtles’; an’ I’m tellin’ ya, son, she had them Turtles real organized. They had the whole bit of highway they patrolled divided into sections, an’ ever’ Turtle was responsible for a different stretch of road. Why, if some speed demon managed to get aroun’ the first Turtle, there’d be another one up the road a-piece who’d jus’ pull out an’ take over. There weren’t no point in fightin’ it; fact is, ever’body knew jus’ to figger on a top speed of twenty miles an hour in an’ aroun’ Cordes Junction.

“At the end of the day, them Turtles would meet up at this old cafe – it ain’t here no more – but they’d drink coffee for hours an’ laugh an’ swap stories ‘bout all them frustrated leadfoots they’d downshifted all day long.

“After a couple years, that young man in prison, well, he got hisself into a position where he was able to get his hands on tobacco, an’ wine, an’ whiskey - secret-like. Things that was hard to get in the slammer, he managed to get smuggled in, an’ sets hisself up in business, sellin’ them luxuries to prison-mates. Purty soon he built up a tidy little piece of change. Then he went an’ donated ever’ penny of it to Myrtle. She found some fancy two-way radios that she was able to get for them Turtles. With all them Turtles able to communicate to each other now, it just got derned impossible on that road.

“I tell you, Myrtle gave them old-timers a real purpose in their lives. They was havin’ fun an’ doin’ some good, too. Why, in four years there weren’t a single auto accident aroun’ Cordes Junction. No accidents, but a reg’lar stream of complaints was bein’ sent to the state troopers; an’ there was nothin’ but out-of-towners layin’ on horns aroun’ the Junction. You never heard so much horn-honking in yer life! There weren’t no speeding tickets bein’ wrote up neither, an’ them cops weren’t none too happy ‘bout that. They was always threatenin’ to do somethin’ ‘bout the traffic tie ups, but they never did. ‘Cept a couple times them Turtles got wrote up for drivin’ too slow, but they didn’t care one whit ‘bout that; they’d jus’ go right back to what they was doin’.

“Then in Thirty-two, ol’ Rawghlie Stanford got hisself elected Governor, an’ it jus’ so happens that ol’ Rawghlie’s the son-in-law of one of Myrtle’s Turtles. Someone must-a put a bug in that Governor’s ear, ‘cause he sent word to them troopers not to interfere with the current flow of traffic in Cordes Junction. That’s just how the Governor worded it, too: ‘the current flow of traffic.’ Them Turtles all gotta real kick outta that.

“Then one day an automobile accident happened. First one ‘round Cordes Junction in half a decade. Ol’ Myrtle herself was tryin’ to keep a leadfooter behind her and lost control of her car – it was a ‘Aerodynamic’ Hupmobile, Thirty-four. She was so proud of that car. Anyway, she took out nearly a quarter mile of old man Spendley’s fence. Well, that was that. Ol’ Myrtle said her eyesight wasn’t so good anymore, an’ thought she was maybe gettin’ a little long-in-the-tooth for it all. Now, she never said it, but I always figgered ol’ Myrtle got to thinkin’ ‘bout her accident with old man Spendley’s fence, an’ ‘bout how her godchild got killed, an’ it kinda shook her up. If somebody else’s godchild been playin’ nearby that fence . . . well, you see what I’m sayin’.

“When Myrtle decided to quit it just kinda took all the spunk outta ever’one. Some kept up the patrols for a little while, but it was all over an’ done purty soon.”

The old man quit talking abruptly, like a music box that has wound down to a stop. He stared out at the traffic coursing the highway, seemingly as oblivious to my presence as I was to that of Jonathon and Marcus, who were now standing beside me.

“What happened to Myrtle?” I asked, having been too captivated to let it end there.

“Oh, she died,” he answered, still eyeing the road. “A few years later. Just old age, I guess.”

“But…” I hesitated. “You said she’s buried right here?”

He nodded his head without visually acknowledging me. “Friend of hers found her in bed one day. She’d passed on in her sleep. She had some kin in the East who was gonna have her body shipped back there for burial, but Myrtle’d often said to her friends how she wished she could be buried in her car at the Junction when her time came. So, the Turtles hired a man they knew with a backhoe to come out one night an’ dig a big pit. They worked all night digging, an’ ever’one was sweared to secrecy. They all pushed the car in. Myrtle was behind the wheel. Nobody ever spoke a word ‘bout it again. There was no records an’ so the secret became a mystery, an’ then the mystery was forgotten. Ever’one connected with it is gone now, so I figger it’s safe to say.” He wound down to another stop.

“How is it you know so much about it?” I asked.

Suddenly I existed for him again. He turned toward me, pierced my eyes with his, and asked, “Son, have you ever seen the prison down in Florence?”

“No,” I answered.

“I have,” he shot back, and winked, I thought. Or maybe he smiled, for an instant – I’m not sure – but an indescribable feeling came over me.

I stood there for some time and said nothing before I realized we were both played out. Involuntarily, I reached into my pocket and peeled forty dollars off my folded bills and dropped them into the cook-pot at the old man’s feet. He smiled and nodded, and his wolf-dog seemed to be smiling, too. The old man silently mouthed the words “Thank you”, before turning back toward the highway once more.

I put one arm around each of my sons and guided them to our car.

“Boys,” I said, with contrived enthusiasm, “you know that steak dinner we were going to have tonight? Well, I think we’ll just skip it and have a real rugged, outdoor, he-man cookout with hot dogs and cowboy beans and marshmallows instead. What do you think about that?” I never heard my sons’ answer.

There is still no monument in Cordes Junction, and the inhabitants I recently spoke with have no knowledge of a legend connected with the place. Research I undertook at an Arizona library neither substantiated nor disproved any aspect of the story.

There seems to be three possible theories that explain the old man. The most abstract of these is that he didn’t exist at all. I’ve long been fascinated by the longevity of certain stories, fables and myths. How they can survive through the ages is astounding. Admittedly, this sounds a little crazy, but I’ve often considered the concept of stories and fables as being living entities. As such, maybe they are endowed with the same primary instinct of self-preservation that man possesses. Is it possible that stories are self-perpetuating? And that the story of the Legend of Cordes Junction created the old man and his wolf-dog as thought forms in order to present itself to my sympathetic ear? Perhaps the old man was simply a convenient vehicle by which the story could disseminate itself, and thus be preserved and guaranteed life.

Claire, who is a practical woman and much more down-to-earth than I am, believes the old man was just a panhandler. I certainly couldn’t dismiss this idea. If he was a panhandler, however, he had the most inventive and entertaining modus operandi I’ve ever encountered.

Lastly, it is possible that the old man was who he claimed to be, and what he told me was entirely true. Perhaps Myrtle and her Hupmobile really are buried in an unmarked grave beside the highway in Cordes Junction, Arizona, and the old man passed away before he had collected enough money to build the monument he envisioned. I suppose I’ll never know for sure. Still, whether it be fact or fiction, history or tall tale, the Legend of Cordes Junction remains the most memorable
steak dinner I never ate.

--- The End ---

Well, that’s the first take on this story. Maybe someday, if I ever feel up to all that typing, I’ll try posting the second version of The Legend Of Cordes Junction, which I very cleverly call “The Legend Of Cordes Junction; Version Two.”

~ Stephen T. McCarthy

YE OLDE COMMENT POLICY: All comments, pro and con, are welcome, however, ad hominem attacks and disrespectful epithets will not be tolerated (read: "posted"). Besides, I "sort of do debate martial arts", so there would be weeping and gnashing of teeth. In other words, don't make me have to come over there - I'm just too tired. Play nice.


arlee bird said...

Okay, I can see how this tale might have originated after going back to review the Christmas tree post. But it does seem like a somewhat odd tale. Maybe because I'm picturing it to be really about you and you having these two little boys. I want to see version 2 now to compare before I say much more.
I looked up Cordes Junction on my National Geographic road atlas and it is not there, although Arcosanti is. But I see several Google entries including information about vacationing in Cordes Junction. What are they thinking?
Then from the U.S. Department of Transportation there is a Cordes Junction Interchange
Environmental Assessment which seems to validate some of the facts of the story. Oh dear.
My word verification code was "STHRIM" as in South Rim of the Grand Canyon perhaps -- it just keeps getting creepier.

Stephen T. McCarthy said...

rLEE-b ~

>>[But it does seem like a somewhat odd tale.]<<

Well, it comes from an odd writer. But you being somewhat of a David Lynch fan, I would have thought this would have been somewhat up yer alley. Although it ain't nearly as odd as Lynch's stuffs. (Perhaps it wasn't odd enough?)

>>[Maybe because I'm picturing it to be really about you and you having these two little boys.]<<

Well, ordinarily the reader doesn't know much if anything about the writer of a story he or she happens to come across. I think you needed to read it as if you found it published in some magazine and you knew nothing about Stephen T. McCarthy.

>>[I want to see version 2 now to compare before I say much more.]<<

Well, you probably won't be saying much more then for a long time (if ever), because I don't know that I'll be posting version 2. If so, it won't be for some time. That's a lot of "copying", which is quite a drag for me (it's on paper, not in a computer file).

>>[I looked up Cordes Junction on my National Geographic road atlas and it is not there, although Arcosanti is.]<<

Yup, it should be showing up just below Arcosanti. But then what do you expect using National Geographic materials? N.G. is still trying to sell the masses on the false idea of Darwinian Evolution. They're not a sound, trustworthy source. "Cordes Jct." shows up just fine on my Triple A Road Atlas.

>>[But I see several Google entries including information about vacationing in Cordes Junction. What are they thinking?]<<

Ha!-Ha! Now THAT'S funny!
"Like dust, scorpions and rattlesnakes? Like nothing better to do all day than drink malt liquor and watch the truckers earn their paychecks? Then come vacation with us at Cordes Junction! Make a reservation today with Willie's Hole-In-The-Wall Motel - We'll leave the heat on for you!"

~ "Lonesome Dogg" McME