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Series: After The Honeymoon - #7
Folks, this morning I want to share with you a story I came across awhile back. It’s written by a woman named Patricia McGerr and it’s called “Johnny Lingo’s Eight Cow Wife.” Now don’t get all upset by the title but listen to the deeper message that comes through the telling of this story.
This is how it goes … When I sailed to Kiniwata, an island in the Pacific, I took along a notebook. After I got back it was filled with descriptions of flora and fauna, native customs and costumes. But the only note that still interests me is the one that says: "Johnny Lingo gave eight cows to Sarita’s father." And I don’t need to have it in writing. I’m reminded of it every time I see a woman belittling her husband or a wife withering under her husband’s scorn. I want to say to them, "You should know why Johnny Lingo paid eight cows for his wife."
Johnny Lingo wasn’t exactly his name. But that’s what Shenkin, the manager of the guest house on Kiniwata called him. Shenkin was from Chicago and had a habit of Americanizing the names of the islanders. But Johnny was mentioned by many people in many connections. If I wanted to spend a few days on the neighboring island of Nurabandi, Johnny Lingo could put me up. If I wanted to fish, he could show me where the biting was best. If it was pearls I sought, he would bring me the best buys. The people of Kiniwata all spoke highly of Johnny Lingo. Yet when they spoke they smiled, and the smiles were slightly mocking.
"Get Johnny Lingo to help you find what you want and let him do the bargaining," advised Shenkin. "Johnny knows how to make a deal."
"Johnny Lingo!" A boy seated nearby hooted the name and rocked with laughter.
"What goes on?" I demanded. "Everybody tells me to get in touch with Johnny Lingo and then breaks up. Let me in on the Joke."
"Oh the people love to laugh," Shenkin said, shrugging. "Johnny’s the brightest, the strongest young man in the islands. And for his age, the richest."
"But if he’s all you say, what is there to laugh about?"
"Only one thing. Five months ago, at fall festival, Johnny came to Kiniwata and found himself a wife. He paid her father eight cows!"
I knew enough about island customs to be impressed. Two or three cows would buy a fair-to-middling wife, four of five a highly satisfactory one.
"Good Lord!" I said, "Eight cows! She must have beauty that takes your breath away."
"She’s not ugly," he conceded, and smiled a little. "But the kindest could only call Sarita plain. Sam Karoo, her father, was afraid she’d be left on his hands."
"But then he got eight cows for her? Isn’t that extraordinary?"
"Never been paid before."
"Yet you call Johnny’s wife plain?"
"I said it would be kindness to call her plain. She was skinny. She walked with her shoulders hunched and her head ducked. She was scared of her own shadow."
"Well, I said, "I guess there’s no accounting for love."
"True enough," agreed the man. "And that’s why the villagers grin when they talk about Johnny. They get special satisfaction from the fact that the sharpest trader in the islands was bested by dull old Sam Karoo."
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