Our family gathered for the Memorial Day Holiday at my brother Bill’s home. He bought the family farm after my dad’s death. Naturally, the house has gone through lots of changes. We had no air conditioning, so we relied on open windows and the attic fan for cooling. The breeze it created helped some on blazing summer afternoons, but we could always cool off by lying on the cool tile floors. In fact, you’d wake up chilled After napping on the floor, even on a hot day. It was a pure pleasure to lie in bed covered only with a sheet and feel the draft sail over. Quite often, it would get so cool the fan had to be turned off before morning.
Our home place was known as “The Old Coker” place for the man who’d homesteaded it after the Civil War. It was originally one-hundred-sixty acres, a quarter section. At one point, the owner mortgaged forty acres to by a dynamo to furnish power to the house, and lost it to the bank when he couldn’t repay the loan. My brother was recently able to buy back that forty acres, so many years after it was at last intact. The house was built in the shade of three majestic oak trees. One of the heirs told Daddy he’d helped his father plant four oak saplings with he was just a little kid. The next year he was playing with a sling blade and carelessly chopped one of them down. He said his daddy wore him out. They never did get around to planting another. The three remaining oaks were past their prime when we moved there. Over the next few years, all three had to come down bit by bit. After my brother got the place, a tornado snapped off the last one, dumping it on the house. Fortunately, no one was hurt, and the house was restored.
A locust thicket had to be cleared where the house now stands before building. Those locust thorns could be an inch and a half long and easily pierced shoe leather. Worst of all, they could rotate and two thorns could go through a shoe, one through the side and another through the bottom, pinning the shoe on. There was no question of hauling a kid to the doctor every time a foot was impaled foot on a thorn. There as always one of us hobbling around with a foot wrapped in a rag waiting for a thorn to fester up and work its way out. Mother would have us soak our thorny foot in warm salty water several times a day to help the thorn work its way out. Sometimes, budget permitting, she’d wrap a piece of salt over the puncture wound. After about a week of misery and soaking, the thorn would come skeeting out with a rush of pus. What a relief…until the next time.
God help the careless kid who let Uncle Edward find out about a thorn. He was famous for going after them with a pocket-knife. He did do the courtesy of wiping his knife point in alcohol, then pouring the wound full of alcohol post-surgically. One year when the fair to town, Bill was determined to go, so he forced into on a shoe and close moved on the bus with the rest of the kids headed for the fair. He stomped around on that sore foot all day. When he got home and peeled the tight shoe off, the thorn had had enough pressure to come shooting out. When Bill saw it sticking out of the hole, he thought he was about to step on another thorn.
Free range was still legal in Bossier Parish in the nineteen sixties. That means live-stock was free to roam at will. Homeowners had to fence cows out of their yards. Drivers were at fault should they hit a cow meditating in the middle of a dark road at midnight. There were surprisingly few accidents. You DON’T want to hit a cow, horse, pig, mule, or goat. Farmers branded or marked their stock to identify them and tried to keep up with where they were grazing. It was common to hear two old geezers exchanging information about where they’d see so where they were grazingand so’s cows today. More than the ne was shot contesting ownership.
The point of that explanation was to lead into this burning story. Daddy didn’t get a yard fence built for a few months after we moved in. Late one evening, a group of cows gathered in the shade under the huge oaks and weren’t bothered at all by the house that had mushroomed since their last visit. We chased them off, but they ambled back after we’d we turned on the attic fan, turned out the lights and gone to bed. Not long afterward, gnats starting biting. It was horrible. The bites burned like fire. It turns out, the fan was sucking in gnats off the cows lounging the cool just outside our windows. The fan went off. Daddy set the dogs on the cows, and fired off a few shotgun blasts. The cows ambled off, taking their gnats with them. Mother sprayed the house with bug spray, and eventually we scratched ourselves off to sleep. Daddy got the fence up as soon as possible, but in the meantime, he trained the dogs to chase the cows off.
This barn stands behind the house now. The barn was the heart of the place when I was a kid. We were free to play in the barn in all weather, as long as we didn’t tear up the hay. We were never stuck in the house. Even in a cold, driving rain, we’d put on our coats and raincoats and head to the barn, where we stayed till Mother called us in. The dogs slept in the barn. We’d see them headed that way as soon as it was dark. Should a car pull up, they’d come barrelling out of the barn to check the visitor out.
Daddy had a nice stock pond built behind the barn. We were free to swim and fish in the pond at the end of our days of farm work. We’d never heard of contracting disease from pond water, so we never did. On occasion, a snake could be seen skimming across the water, but it didn’t worry us. They seemed to worry more about us than we did them. No one was ever bitten. Since my brother got the place, he’s built and stocked a second pond, which he generously allows the family to fish. You see my sister, Marilyn, here with a six and half pound has she snagged today.
It is nice to spend a day at home again. I am glad the farm stayed in the family. Thanks for a great day, Bill. Your daddy would be proud.