Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

Glade Sun

April 30, 2014

Abacus Column: The World’s Greatest Gamblers

CROSSVILLE — They were an amazing pair of siblings. Lester von Rippenthofen and his sister Lily had long been considered the greatest gamblers in Fairfield Glade, if not Crossville and all of Cumberland County by the time they were barely out of puberty. They were the youngest of a family tree that stretched back at least several centuries, and they came by their talent easily and naturally. The earliest Rippenthofen anyone could recall was Casanova de Seingalt Rippenthofen. He was reputed to be one of the best gamblers and most accomplished figures of his time. Later came “Wild Bill” von Rippenthofen to the Old West. He was a spectacular gambler, who unfortunately met his demise during a cattle stampede. During the 19th century, Manfred von Rippenthofen became the World War I “Ace” of the family tree until his unfortunate demise in an airplane incident. Manfred, better known as the “Red Barron,” had children who immigrated to the United States and Cumberland County; their offspring were the infamous Lester and Lily Rippenthofen.    

Lester and Lily were the greatest gamblers of their notable family tree and very possibly The World’s Greatest Gamblers. They were lightning quick and fearless in their chosen sport; this, despite the fact that they did not gamble for fame or fortune. Like The Great Houdini or Evil Knievel, they gambled merely to uphold their family honor and reputation, and they gambled with their lives! You see, Lester and Lily are squirrels.

Individually, they were the scourge of Fairfield Glade; in particular, upon their chosen fields of sport that was Snead or Greenwood Roads. They would wait motionless in the center of the road or off to one side at a strategic location just over a rise or below a slope until an automobile or truck approached. Then, at the very last second, they would dart out or among the wheels of the vehicle as it passed. It was said that both Lester and Lily were capable of performing the incomparable figure eight where they would circle each tire and cross their own path in doing so before a car had passed. Other squirrels had tried to emulate them; even chipmunks attempted to follow their example. It soon became evident that Lester and Lily were of a different, more eloquent breed; and chipmunks? They just never had the legs to compete. 

Like all great athletes, Lester and Lily practiced constantly. They strived for perfection and were forever devising new wrinkles and tricks to avoid the passing tires or to increase the blood pressure of the unfortunate motorist. It was early spring of 2014 when they first attempted their most amazing accomplishment. The double figure eight had been Lester’s idea; they would practice on the adjoining fairways and woods until they had mastered their latest dance of death. Both siblings would perform a figure eight, crossing in the exact middle and emerging unscathed on opposite sides of the road.

They tested the gambit on slower moving, and I dare say, slightly more elderly drivers. Some drivers nearly ran off the road, others laughed at such sport. They were now ready to test their daring on the general population of residents. The initial trial runs electrified the squirrel population on both sides of Peavine Rd. Anything was now within the realm of the possible. It was akin to the first four minute mile, crossing the Atlantic in an airplane, scaling Mt. Everest or landing on the moon; all at the very instant that Lester and Lily performed the first double figure eight in Monday morning traffic. By that Friday, they had scared the wits out of a dozen drivers. It rained on Friday; it always seems to rain on Good Friday. Lester and Lily were poised just below the crest of Greenwood hill for their first adventure of the day; my wife and I traversed the road at our usual jaunty pace and had begun our decent of the hill when they broke from both sides like Olympic divers in unison. They easily circled all four tires and crossed in the middle. The gravel on Greenwood is a bit thin in spots and the road base was slick as Lester dug his paws in for the final leap away from the rear tire. The leap was a bit short and while Lester had made merely a slight slip on the shiny surface, the rear tire caught his bushy tail in its tread and added an extra circle as Lester spun around the tire 360 degrees from a clean figure eight.   

It was the end of two fabulous careers; Lester and Lily would go down in squirrel sports history as the greatest escape artists of all time. To a squirrel, a healthy tail is paramount to balance and dexterity and Lester had no feeling in his tail. Lily could not continue without her brother; the thrill of competition had faded. They both retired, married; and here is the ominous news – both Lily and Lester’s wife, LaDonna, are both with child; a new generation of von Rippenthofen’s will soon ply the roads of Fairfield Glade.

There are morals to this story for all. “Don’t gamble with driving or you could lose your tail,” comes to mind. “Gambling with money or life is not sport; nor a means to an end,” is another example. You may see other moralities in this sad story. All I can advise is, drive carefully; Lester and Lily’s progeny will soon be challenging the extraordinary accomplishments of their parents in Cumberland County, TN.

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