Daddy loved home remedies and dosed his kids and livestock readily. Mother did run interference for us on cow chip tea and coal oil and sugar, but did let him load us with sulphur and molasses for summer sores. We never got summer sores, probably because we reeked so much we didn’t tempt mosquitoes. I do appreciate Mother for putting her foot down when his ideas got too toxic. No telling what kind of chromosome damage she saved us.
The livestock was not so lucky. They got drops of coal oil for pneumonia, distemper, to bring on labor, and as a tonic, should they be so foolish as to look puny. Daddy hung ropes with black oil soaked bags for cows and horses to rub against as protection against insects, which they gladly did. When a cow got bloated from green hay, he inserted an icepick in her distended belly to release gas. She ceased her moaning and resumed cow business as usual, grateful for the relief.
Farm kids grow up with a lot of responsibility. In addition to our daily chores, Daddy left us other jobs to do before he got home from work and started on his farm day, expecting us to figure things out without explanation, not always the best plan. When my brother Billy was around eleven, Daddy remarked that the old hound dog nursing eight puppies was off her food. He told Billy to go pour some syrup over her feed(country for dog food) so she would eat better. Bill got a jug of syrup and headed out the back door. After a while, he came back in, smeared in dog poop, with shirt torn, scratches and bite marks from head to foot. “Boy, what in the world happened to you?” Daddy asked, incredulous at the sight.
“Oh, I was putting syrup on that old dog’s feet and she tore me up. She dragged me through the dog yard fence and all over the dog yard, but I did finally get syrup on all four feet.”
As I said, Daddy frequently set us to tasks with inadequate instructions. On one occasion a sick duck foolishly allowed Daddy to spot him. The specific instructions to my brother were, “Go out there and get that green-headed duck staggering around out back, and knock it in the head. No wait, first pour a couple of drops of kerosene down its throat.” Billy picked up the kerosene and was gone a few minutes. When he returned in a few minutes, my dad inquired, “How’s the duck?” He was obviously surprised Daddy would even ask, knowing he’d sent him out to knock it in the head. Daddy didn’t mean to tell us to do anything twice.
Bill replied, “Well, it’s dead.”
Daddy said, “You didn’t give it the kerosene?”
“Sure I did,”said Bill, “and then I knocked it in the head, just like you told me to.” Even Daddy had to admit, clearer instructions would have been better.
We butchered a beef late one Saturday evening after Daddy got home from work, finishing really late. Our place was the last house next door to a huge nature preserve. To Daddy, this meant, “not private property,” a perfect place to dump off guts. He told my brother to load the mess into the ancient farm truck and dump it near Peter Spring Branch, a couple of miles back in the woods. (Yes, he was underage for driving but did drive the farm truck on the farm and in the woods. It was the sixties in the South.) It was way too late to haul it off that night. Then he remembered the truck was broken down(as it often was) and left the nasty mess in a tarpaulin-covered wheelbarrow and told Billy to dump it first thing in the morning. He didn’t change his earlier instructions, assuming Billy would understand he didn’t expect him to push a barrow of guts a couple of miles. Wrong!!
We got up early the next morning. Billy and the wheelbarrow of guts were gone. An hour passed…no Billy. My mother got mad when he was gone past time to get ready to church. We went on without him, much to my envy. He still wasn’t home when we got home after noon. Something was obviously wrong. He would never have voluntarily stayed gone past Sunday dinner. Mother was really worried now.
Finally, after two o’clock he came into view pushing the empty wheelbarrow, circled by flies and trailed by all the hounds in the country. He was covered in blood, guts, mud, and vomit. He had wheeled the guts the entire two miles over muddy roads, through deep ditches, and rough terrain, pestered by flies and dogs to the original site Daddy indicated. The trail was so rough, his load dumped several times, making a horrible job even worse. He didn’t dare not follow his orders, so he picked the stinking guts up every time they dumped, fighting dogs and flies for possession of the prize, vomiting as he scooped them back in the barrow.
He was sick the rest of the day, not even able to eat Sunday dinner. If he did fake misunderstanding as I suspected, just to miss church, he was welcome to all the gut-hauling he wanted.