Saturday, 23 August 2014


They say that appearances are everything; always look your best and people will think the best of you... Or so the saying goes. But appearances aren't always what you think. There are a lot of men who look their best at all times, not a hair out of place, footware that's so shiny one would swear that he was in the military; a wardrobe that rivals the American Gigolo,

But under the surface lies the real man. Oh he's got personality that can charm a dozen women into the sack but it isn't long before that polished exterior cracks and the real person steps out. After taking the woman for everything she has--and often leaving a kid or two for souvenirs, he's out the door and on his way down the road where he gets polished up again to make his move on the next one.

I believe that the British term for that type is Alfie.

Still it is necessary to look your best when looking for a job, or playing the field, either in the nightclubs or on the internet, as appearances are still a necessity. Of course a little common sense should be practiced as it wouldn't be all that necessary to dress up in a suit and tie if one is applying for a job cleaning out sewer systems for eight hours a day.

But there are times when appearances might not be the best way to judge a person. What if it simply doesn't matter how you look? What if you had it made so well that people would show you every courtesy if you looked like a tramp? JC once told Mattie that when (more like if ) he finally had it made in the shade, he'd head uptown clad in lounging pants, bathrobe and slippers. Everyone would greet him as if he was their best friend.

It's doubtful that Mattie agreed, or Kammi for that matter because both laughed almost as hard at him as they did when JC tried to don his old motorcycle jacket.

There was a story that was told at the old coffee shop a few years back that had almost everything to do with appearances and what could happen if one acted too quickly. We'll begin this story near the end and work our way forward:

Police Chief West was summoned to the station late one night. Two of the duty officers had picked up a vagrant and required West to conduct the investigation. West showed up, clad in lounging pants, moccasins and a--jacket, and walked through the cell block. All he saw was a couple of drunks in one cell, sacked out in the bunks, sleeping off whatever it was they were on at the time, and a couple of cells over sat an old man, clad in a moth-eaten wool coat, ragged pants and worn out rubber boots that were liberally coated with cow manure. The old man was so disheveled and filthy that he made the two drunks appear well-groomed.

West merely gave the old man a cursory glance then headed up to the front desk where he was greeted by the duty sergeant. The two arresting officers were there as well and they came right up.

West gazed at them quizzically. 'Do you know who you've got locked up back there?' he asked reasonably.

The officers shrugged. 'We just saw him walking down the street on the south side of town,' said the first patrolman.

'Did he say anything?'

'Mostly muttered,' the second officer said. 'We fist thought he was drunk but we couldn't smell anything, other than he missed a date with a bar of soap a long time ago. We just brought him in here to get him off the road. It's quite chilly out there tonight.'

'Do you know who he is?' the first officer enquired.

'Sure do,' West responded. 'He probably couldn't talk to you because he likely hasn't got his teeth with him. He's on the downhill side of ninety and he's a little shaky. But let me tell you something: That old man could cut a check for a million dollars and wouldn't have to go to the bank to clear it. He owns in the neighborhood of fifty thousand acres of farm and ranch land south of here.'

The officers were incredulous. How could a disgusting old man like that be a multi-millionaire? He didn't look like he could afford a downpayment on a free meal but here, Chief West was telling them that they had just arrested one of the richest men in the country for vagrancy.

Back in the days before the First World War--the Great War to some--the Canadian government came out with The Homestead Act, a deal (some called it a bet) whereas for the princely sum of ten dollars you could receive a quarter section (160 acres) of land. The only catch was that the homesteader had to prove up on it; break and plant so many acres per year, and commence building. If he defaulted he would have to move off and the land would be turned over to another homesteader.

Well, Mr. Rheinfelter, the old man in the holding cell, had come from somewhere in Minnesota and made his way to Alberta along with other homesteaders. They settled in the Jefferson region near the international boundary and proceeded to put down roots. The only difference between Rheinfelter and the rest of the homesteaders was that Rheinfelter had a little bit of money. He bought a quarter section and proceeded to break sod and prove up. Soon after, a neighbor fell upon hard times and had to leave for something more attainable than scratching a living out of that unforgiving prairie. Mr. Rheinfelter offered to buy the neighbor out with a generous offer to assume the debts plus cover the neighbor's initial expenses.

The neighbor was ecstatic. He was ready to sign papers immediately and wasted no more time loading up his family and heading for the bright lights of the big city where he and his family would live happily ever after, or so to speak. A short time later another neighbor decided that he wasn't cut out for this farming stuff either so he approached Rheinfelter and got the same generous, life-saving bailout. It wasn't long before Rheinfelter accumulated three full sections of land; he was on his way.

Then came the guys who fell upon hard times but wanted to keep farming. All they needed was a little boost of capital to cover expenses, for a short term anyways. The banks weren't all that eager to lend money to farmers but Rheinfelter was. Of course the collateral was always the land; if the farmer defaulted, measures were taken to foreclose thus forcing the farmer out of his only home.

I might add that there were a lot of farmers that Rheinfelter helped out who were able to pay the loans back and stay in business.

Enter the Thirties--the Dust Bowl--a time when it got so dry that the grasshoppers had to carry a lunch. Farming methods at the time left a lot to be desired and with the drought, the parched land began to blow, drifting like snow around buildings, abandoned vehicles and farm equipment; it buried fences and the fences that were built atop where the old fences had been. Heart-broken farmers often packed up and left without a word while some at least attempted to sell their farms for whatever they could get. Some offered their farms to men like Rheinfelter for as little as a dollar an acre with nothing down and so much a year. That helped grow a lot of empires in the south.

You would think that people with Rheinfelter's means would tend to dress up and show off a little but Rheinfelter, and his two sons, who were schooled on the same tight-fisted methods of the old man; use only what was needed and nothing more; new clothes were frivolous when what they already wore covered them properly. They ate like homeless people, sometimes having nothing for lunch but stale bread sopping up the morning's bacon grease in a frying pan, and washing it down with black coffee that was far stronger than anything the airlines could serve.

It's amazing that they found women who would put up with their miserly practices but oftentimes, especially during the hard times, their wives traded their wanted luxuries for security and simply put up and shut up.

The Rheinfelter empire grew throughout the Second World War and well into the fifties before things began to slow down. But then, Rheinfelter, and even his sons were beginning to feel the effects of age. One of the boys became so crippled (mostly from malnutrition) that he had to be hoisted up on the tractor, or swather, or combine, where he would spend the entire day before he was hoisted off at day's end.

Obviously they were all accustomed to hard work and could be found in the fields working almost around the clock. And so it wasn't surprising that the old man was found walking along the road into Lethbridge late one evening.

He was hauling grain in one of the big trucks he owned. Unfortunately he had run out of gas and since this was long before the age of cellphones, he was walking into the city to find a payphone so he could call his boy (collect of course, and if you finished the call soon enough there was no charge at all) to come out and bring some gas.

But the police found him first, out in the cold, clad in dirty dilapidated clothing, staggering (because he was crippled) like a homeless wino. I'm sure that old Rheinfelter was enjoying himself immensely, especially when the police chief told those two officers who they had arrested.

They say that you can't take it with you, and obviously, even Rheinfelter knew that. In the end he wasn't all that stingy as he left a five-million dollar endowment to the local university and community college. One thing you've got to agree with is that he didn't die broke. But was he really that happy?