It's no exaggeration to say "Mousie" of
Bath County is a genius. Nor would it be going too far to say what the world
needs now is more Mousies.
Omer Banks "Mousie" Crouch was born the
year Al Capp first published the comic strip Li'l Abner, which stamped the image
of the ignorant Kentucky hillbilly upon the minds of "educated" Americans.
It stuck like bare feet to flypaper, one of the worst stereotypes ever perpetrated
on the Commonwealth.
The Beverly Hillbillies had its smash hit-and-run
on national television, and currently CBS is about to have a field day with
what it calls The Real Beverly Hillbillies. New Age, woebegone Appalachians
will be flown out to California to be treated to a mansion with maids and butlers,
luxury cars, and a concrete pond or two. The national audience, ever ready for
new Peeping Tom entertainment, will pump up the ratings. It suggests much about
I'll not be watching.
I'd rather be in the company of Mousie Crouch, youngest
of 10 children born to Leona Davis and Curn Crouch in a three-room house with
a deep fireplace "way up a holler." The holler is at Prickley Ash
Creek in the vicinity of Peasticks and White Oak Creek in Bath County.
"I like to do a man right," says Mousie
as we sit and talk in his small engine repair shop in what he calls Walnut Holler,
just to the north and over a couple of hills from Sharpsburg. He farmed for
20 years and says, "I started out at two dollars and a half a day, sunup
to sundown." He married Beulah Manley. They had two daughters, one who
grew up to become a teacher and the other an artist. Then there were 20 years
in a road contractor's shop where Mousie was a welder and a mechanic.
The best way to describe Mousie today (Mouse after
you become better acquainted) is to say he's kith and kin with almost anything
that has a fuel line, carburetor, cylinder, battery, or blades that turn.
"I can't fix it all, but I do my best,"
says Mouse as he sits "in retirement" on top of a battery charger,
a recent bargain he hauled in from a tool sale. I'm comfortable sitting on a
hay bailer seat welded to the top of a five-gallon milk can.
"I want it to be right when it goes out,"
says Mouse, who simply won't work on something that's past fixing. He can listen
to an engine and tell you right away whether it's worth saving.
Mousie Crouch didn't make it past the sixth grade.
"Geography and English didn't blend for me." He says the teachers
were good, but he was more interested in numbers and how things worked. Besides,
it was more than a mile walk just to get to the school bus.
The late Al Capp and CBS might choose not to believe
it, but Mousie Crouch has what he unashamedly calls a gift, including the natural
ability to pick up a guitar, mandolin, banjo, or Dobro and play from the bottom
of his heart. The gift, not delivered until after the sixth grade, includes
a patent prospect for a potato digger and a tool for removing a kitchen faucet
without busting your knuckles.
Before I could leave and go back to Plum Lick, Mouse
wanted to show me his two-vine grape arbor. "I think it's done better this
year because of the drought," he says. "Here, taste these blue grapes."
They were just right. So were the end-of-season
blackberries and raspberries. So were the Red Delicious and yellow golden apples.
I was glad when I asked Mouse what he would do if
CBS offered him a chance to go to Beverly Hills to live in a mansion and eat
fancy food. He said, "I don't think I'd want to do that."
I wouldn't either.