"Paul Arness! Dinner now. You get on here to the table, sonny!"
Young Arness strode to the table with a hint of the swagger he'd display long years later at the billiards tables. He'd just made, he felt, a helluva deal, and his confidence was not diminished one bit by how very quickly he'd given in at the schoolyard that morning.
Mother put down fried corn pone a.k.a. johnnycake, the delicious fried cornbread made without any milk or eggs, and consisting of just cornmeal, salt and oil. Fresh green beans blessed the table along with-could it be? Turkey pot pie! Would wonders never cease?
"Everyone, dig in," said Papa Arness. "Hold it there. Grace first," said the elder of the little clan. The four children and mama joined papa in bowing their heads.
"Lord, bless this house. Thank you, Jesus, for this marvelous food. Bless it to our bodies. Bless mother for her industry, and bless these children. Even little Paul," finished dad with a wink at his oldest boy.
"Why, Paul Arness," began mother's chide to her husband, although it soon dissolved to a smirk. "Y'all eat up well and then Paul, you and papa can chat."
Young Paul snatched at the delicious heaps of food at the table as did his siblings, barely mindful of the fact that he'd done some unknown wrong, it looked like, and would face judgment in the early evening.
Following the wonderful meal, the children dutifully cleared away the dirty dishes and utensils and put the uneaten bits of food in the icebox. "I've a surprise for you kids now, fresh strawberries, and a bit of cream on top," said Mrs. Arness. "First, papa and Paul need to talk. Don't you, papa?"
"Yes, dear," waved papa as he strode from the room, Paul just behind. Papa sat down in the modest living room, tousled a hand through his salt-and-pepper hair, and then smiled across the sofa at his namesake and near lookalike, Paul Jr. "Well, son? What did you have to say for yourself?"
"What do you mean, pop?" asked 10-year-old Paul in reply.
"Why the switch out?"
"Switch out? What do you mean, papa?"
"Now look, Paul, I work hard at my job, darn hard, you know? Your mother and I have made many sacrifices for all of you children. We tuck a little bit away all the time. Things have only been a dash easier since the war ended. There's talk of prosperity in this country now, but who can say?" Papa's expression grew far away.
Young Paul looked at his father blankly in response before his dad came to himself then continued, "Er, what I mean is to scrimp and save to send you to school with a jar of fresh cold milk and you come home with an empty pickle jar instead. What gives?"
Now the little light that had danced about Paul's eyes all afternoon dimmed. "Oh, Dad, all the other kids at school drink pickle juice almost every day. I brought the milk to school today, and I, uh, and I..."
"Traded your milk jar for a pickle juice jar so you could fit in." Paul's dad finished the tale.
Paul's further chuckled for a moment, clucked his tongue and paused thoughtfully before continuing. "Oh, son, listen to me carefully. There's no shame in being poor, no, although there is little honor in it, I think. This is a poor town and a poor school and most of the kids most everyday drink pickle juice instead of milk..."
The Southern factory town where Paul's dad labored was a bit far from cattle ranches but there was plenty of pickles and pickle juice to be had in the city.
"...But while I don't want you bragging about any sudden wealth around these parts, don't you be ashamed if your folks worked their tails off to do right by their children."
The senior Arness waited and watched as his words sank in. Paul's countenance lifted and brightened a bit. "I see, dad. Thanks."
His dad now fallen silent again, Paul stepped off and began to run back to the kitchen for dessert. "Just a moment," his dad said. He then delivered Paul the maxim that would ultimately define him as a young man, and ultimately as a pool player, one of the greatest pool shooters the world would ever know.
"Paul Arness, Jr. Don't ever think for a moment that being different is anything to feel ashamed of. The best at anything, the best of the herd, they are different than all the other cows, right? Or pickles in the pickle juice jar, son?" He winked at the boy.
"Yes, pop. Thanks, pop."The Killer And The Mosc, Part I: 13-Rack Ride
The Killer And The Mosc Part II: Roll Two Million Balls
Part III: Pickle Juice Paul
Part IV: Arness Gets A Taste
Part V: Ralph Greenleaf Kicks Willie Mosconi's Tail
Part VI: Mosconi's Madness, The Fire Down Below
Part VII: The Old Man's Three Rules Of Great Pool
Part VIII: The Men In Town To Clash
Part IX: Stand And Fight
Part X: Showdown On Cloth
Part XI: Cue Ball Killing It
Part XII: Willie's Best Bank Shot
Part XIII: Crushed, Snookered, Busted
Part XIV: Rolling Loose
Part XV: Swing And A Miss