Daddy had always wanted a place in the country, but was overwhelmed at the magnitude of work facing him on that totally undeveloped acreage. It had been homesteaded and farmed shortly after the Civil War, but hadn’t been under production for many years, long enough that most of it was covered in mature timber. A tangle of locust trees was matted over the old homeplace beneath three huge oaks. Though we worked hard at clearing and burning the growth, locust thorns worked up through the ground and pierced our feet for years to come, even through our shoes.
There was more work than one man could do, so Daddy hired Mr. Floyd to help harvest the timber and clear the land for pasture.. All that timber would finance the payments on the place and make improvements. Mr. Floyd lived on the fringes of society getting by on odd jobs. Mr. Floyd was unkempt, rarely bathed, and kept to himself, but had a reputation as a hard worker, He lived in a shack in the woods with his brother, who didn’t manage quite so well. Daddy couldn’t afford to pay Mr. Floyd much, so they worked out a deal on a small wage, meals, and lodging in our fine school bus camper. When Mother got a whiff of Mr. Floyd, she told Daddy the camper was dead to her after that.
So, Daddy set the camper up on the far edge of his place. Mr. Floyd moved in with instructions to leave propane off since there might be a leak. There shouldn’t be a problem anyway, since he’d be taking his meals with us. Mother put some old bedding in the camper and Mr. Floyd moved in. The next morning, he showed up for breakfast before daylight. He didn’t was his hands, just dove in to the biscuits, grits, and eggs. His manners served as lessons, thereafter. “You’re eating like Mr. Floyd.” He didn’t hog the conversation. He was too busy with biscuits.
The men went to work right after breakfast. It was early summer, but hot as blazes. When they came in for lunch, Daddy pointed out the bathroom so Mr. Floyd could wash up. He wasn’t worried about that. He took the the chair Mother had offered him for breakfast nearest the window. Daddy always sat at the opposite end of the table that got the best breeze from the attic fan. He sat downwind of Mr. Floyd just long enough to get a whiff of seasoned body odor marinated with the piquant aroma of fresh morning sweat the fan pulled over our guest before jumping up. “Here Floyd. Sit here. It’s the coolest spot.”
Mr. Floyd also taught Mother to cut the cornbread before putting it on the table when he reached for the plate and broke off a big piece before passing it. Phyllis and I both declined cornbread and passed it right along. I didn’t keep up with who else was feeling picky, but there was a lot left after lunch. None of us kids ever learned to enjoy Mr. Floyd’s company, but he was a necessary evil.
One night, over in the winter, long after work was finished, we heard what sounded like a sonic boom, which was surprising to hear at night. A few minutes later, Mr. Floyd knocked on the door. The boom had come from the camper. Mr. Floyd had run low on wood for the heater and opted to use the propane stove, instead, the very same stove Daddy had warned him not to use because he suspected a leak. Mr. Floyd had lit up a cigarette before bed and came near burning himself up. It’s bad he got some burns, but good he didn’t gas himself. He was done with the camper after that, so that’s when Daddy let him work out a deal for a 1953 Chevy Sedan Daddy could spare.
The camper was deemed unfit, not only because Mr. Floyd blew it up, but because his strong smell lingered. You can’t get rid of a fifty dollar just because of that. A farm can always use storage. Daddy pulled the camper up behind the house to use for feed storage and a place for the dogs to sleep. Mother was furious to have it so near her new house. From that time on, whenever Daddy had no particular place to store something, it went in the camper. It wasn’t long before the dogs were crowded out of the nice smelly bunks. Whenever they could, the chickens slipped in and helped themselves to the chicken feed and tried to set up housekeeping. Rats also liked chicken feed. Black snakes love eggs, so between the smell, spooked chickens, rats, and snakes it was fairly unappealing.