A Hog a Day Part 6

We were sitting around the fire one Saturday night in Mr. Grady Rose’s sitting room.  The only light came from the fire.  All the little kids lounged on the floor in front of the fire, pleasantly tired from an afternoon of play with full bellies. Mr. Grady looked like a gray-haired bear in overalls, not so tall, as burly and powerful. I loved hearing him talk about raising his boys. “I had to kill a hog a day to feed them boys. I told ‘em lot’s of times, ‘Them that don’t work, don’t eat.’ I always go to bed real early and am up by four. That’s the way I was raised. I can’t sleep past four, even in the dead of winter even if I ain’t got a bunch of cows to milk. I used to be out milking while Bessie cooked breakfast. Now I just sit and watch her. Anyhow, one morning up in January, them boys decided they wadn’t getting up. Bessie called ‘em once and they didn’t make a peep. I give ‘em just a little bit and hollered for ‘em to get up. Then I headed out to milk, ‘spectin’ to be right behind me when I noticed, they ain” got up yet.

I hollered up the stairs for ’em. One of ‘em got smart and hollered back ‘We ain’t getting up yet.  Ain’t no use in gittin’up at four just to sit around waitin’ for daylight.’

That got me hot.  I ain’t raising no slackers.  I went straight out to the barn and come back with the plow lines.  I brung ’em back in there and gave one or two licks over them boy’s quilts and they come flying out of that bed just a hollerin’.  All four of ’em was fightin’ and pullin’ each other back trying to git outta my way.   I didn’t have no way of knowing then on account of all the racket, but the deputy sheriff had just raised his hand to knock on the door.  Them four boys busted that front door down and gave him a good stompin’, trying to git away.

He grabbed up his hat, took off runnin’ the other way, jumped in the car and took off.  Turns out he was comin’ out to give me a summons for jury duty.  He went back to town and told the sheriff he wadn’t goin’ back.  Them folks was crazy out there.”

 

 

He Axed for It

Man splitting log in half for fire wood with ax

Man splitting log in half for fire wood with ax

It’s hard to imagine why, but all Billy asked for that Christmas was an ax. Maybe he was remembering the year before with Evil Larry. That’s not a typical item for an eleven-year-old to ask for, but he stuck to his guns. The ax was his only request. Christmas morning he got up to find the tree mounded up with presents, but no ax shaped gifts, though it’s hard to imagine how one might expect to see an ax wrapped. After a few tension filled minutes of searching, he spotted the old broken ax that had been lying out on the wood pile the night before. Whoever was playing Santa tricks hadn’t even bothered to buff the rust off the head or knock the dried cow manure off the cracked handle. It lay carelessly against the brick hearth where it had been tossed at the last minute. Bill was sick. He looked at Daddy’s stern face, “You didn’t really think you’d get something dangerous as an ax, did you?” His Christmas was ruined. Daddy let him suffer a minute of devastation before pulling the age old trick. “Well, if you look behind the tree, you might find…………” Of course, it was the ax of his dreams, complete with a bright red bow, probably the only ax delivered that Christmas morning. He was delighted! He had to hang around long enough to open the rest of his gifts, including the obligatory item he needed, new shoes for school. He endured a safety lecture before bursting outdoors to try his ax.

He had a glorious time for several days, chopping everything in sight. After he seemed like he might have the essentials down, Daddy put a pretty sharp edge on it, thinking he understood the danger now. Big mistake. He just had time to build up a little confidence. He took a whack a log. It rolled. He whacked again. It rolled again. He steadied it with his foot this time. Hitting his foot with a glancing blow, he was horrified to see a cut on the side of his show. Knowing there was no way to hide the damage to his shoe, he headed for the house, ready to face the music, ax still in hand. He came into the living room. “Mother, I cut my new shoe.”

She blanched. “Did you cut your foot? Take off your shoe and let me see!”

“No ma’am! I just cut my shoe, but you can take it to the shoe shop and get it sewn up.”

“Don’t worry about that. . Just take off the shoe and let me see about your foot!” He should have left it on. When the shoe came off, it looked like the side of his foot came with it.  Blood gushed all over the floor. “Oh, My Lord! Somebody get me some towels! We gotta get to the doctor!” My aunt and her boys were there. The women scooped him up, Mother holding pressure, and my aunt driving. In the brief time they were gone, her four-year-old twins were skating around in the huge puddle of blood like they were the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall. Thank God, Daddy met them just down the road and he and Mother took Billy on to the doctor to be stitched up. This freed Aunt Esther up to come back and clean up her little hellions and their blood bath. Amazingly, he’d sliced neatly through the ball of his foot, missing bones and tendons. Though he had dozens of stitches, inside and out, it healed beautifully, with no problems.

Later that evening, he lay on the couch, foot elevated on a pillow. He’d had pain medication and finally felt well enought to eat. Mother felt awful for him, so had made oyster stew, his favorite. She brought it to him on a tray table, so he could eat without moving. That would have been wonderful, had she not maneuvered just perfectly and whacked him directly on his bandanged foot, rewaking his screaming pain.

Our budget being what it was, that shoe did go to the shoe shop to be mended. Bill was restricted to crutches, so Mother borrowed a set from a friend. The fly in the ointment, was that one of them lacked a safety tip. Mother really meant to get a replacement, but time got away from her. It probably wouldn’t have mattered except for the ice storm the night before he started back to school. He hobbled out toward the bus, managing pretty well till he hit a patch of ice with that slick crutch tip. He went flying head over rear, landing in icy mud, skidding the rest of the way to the bus. For what it was worth, he got an extra day of vacation.

Recently, I asked Bill why in the world he’d wanted that ax. We had just moved onto a farm of one-hundred twenty acres, all uncleared.  Daddy set to clearing the land, he cut the trees and it fell to me and Billy to pile the brush.  Naturally, Daddy didn’t let us near the power saw.  Billy wanted the ax so he could clear the smaller stuff and avoid some of the brush piling.

Hard Time Marrying Part 15

!fireplace-3She had supper ready when Joe and the boy came in.  She’d cooked beans on in a cast-iron pot hanging over the fire and baked cornbread and some sweet potatoes in the coals, pleasant work she was accustomed to.  Joe’s brows lifted when he saw supper and bowls and cups out on the table.  She crumbled cornbread in a cup and Joe poured buttermilk over it for the baby before lifting her to Anya’s lap.  They all fell to with an appetite. 

“My name is Anya, not Anna.  I’ll stay and earn my keep till I can manage, but I ain’t no whore.  Don’t come sniffing around me.  I don’t want to owe you nothing.  I’m gittin’ better so I can do for the baby and tend the house, but you need to keep the boy with you.”  She looked him fiercely in the eye.

Joe looked her and raised his voice.  “I’ll thank you to call me Joe.  Don’t you think I could’a already done hurt you if I’d wanted? I don’t want nothin’ more from you than you take care of yourself and the baby.”  He dropped his voice, speaking more to himself.  “I been getting along without a woman for a long time, but I ain’t fell so low I got to take up with a stringy, beat-up neck bone like you.”

Poor Joe was unaware her hearing had improved and was surprised to have a hot sweet potato hit him in the jaw.  “I’ll thank you to keep a civil tongue in your head,” she warned him through clinched jaws. 

“Yes, ma’am.”  He muttered.  “Beggin’ pardon, ma’am.  No call for me to be spiteful.  We are both in a pickle and battling ain’t gonna help.”

“You keep to your place and I’ll keep to mine till I can do better.”  The tension eased a bit now they understood each other.

They passed the evening watching the children at their play.  Joe had brought them a kitten from the barn.  The boy teased it with a bit of string, delighting the baby girl.  Joe and Anya caught themselves laughing at it a time or two.

“What’s the boy’s name?”  This was the first time it had occurred to her to ask.

“I don’t know.  I just been calling him boy.  His mama was sick when she got here and never told me nothing.  She died the next day.”  He stared into the fire.

“You mean these ain’t your young’uns?”  She was incredulous.

“No, I don’t know nuthin’ exceptin’ their mama up and died soon’s she got here.  I’d send ‘em back to her folk if I knew who they was.  She come with nuthin’ but my letter, a bundle of clothes, and these young’uns after I wrote off for a wife. I buried her out in the mesquite and tried to take the kids back to Talphus fer the town or the church to do for ‘em and them miserable bastards run me off like a scalded dog.  When I got back after doing chores that night, you was up in the house lookin’ at the baby.  I thought I’d done buried their mama alive.  It warn’t till just now the coyotes dug her body out of the grave till I knew you warn’t the woman I married.  Oh, Lordy.  I don’t know why I ain’t left well enough alone.”

 

Hard Time Marrying Part 11

 

Fatigued almost beyond bearing, Anya’s head felt as though it would burst.  Her jaw ached and blood drained from her left ear.  Her stepmother, Bessie had deafened her right years ago, but now she’d developed a deafening roar in her left.  Barely conscious, she struggled to maintain her death grip on the cow’s halter and half-walked and was half-dragged the final half-mile to the barn. Though she couldn’t hear it, the farm dog barked at her staggering approach, but for some reason didn’t offer to bite as she struggled to the barnyard. Instinct alone guided her into the barn where she collapsed on the haystack.  Old Bossie followed her in and was grateful of the opportunity to get her feed early.  Hay drifted over Anya as she slept, keeping the secret of her presence, though in her decreasing consciousness, she had no concern for anything.  Unaware of anything except pain and fatigue, she slept late into the next day.

Anya’s mind was foggy when she awoke, only aware of pain, hunger and thirst.  The beating she’d taken left her deaf and confused. She did vaguely remember trying to fire the pistol, but nothing after that.  Her raging thirst drove her from the barn.  With the pain in her jaw, eating would not have been an option.  She made her way toward the cabin, seeking water.

Had anyone been there to see her, she’d have been a horrifying specter as she fell against the door.  Wakening to find Jack licking the blood from her ear, she managed to hang onto the wall and table till she got to the water bucket.  Slaking her thirst, she dropped painfully to the cabin floor, unaware she was in the world.

 

 

Awesome Life Down on the Farm: You Gotta Have Guts

Farm BoyDaddy 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. Continue reading

Joke of the Day

A city boy decided to quit the rat race and bought himself a farm, which included a few sows. He wanted to breed the sows, but had no idea how to go about it. His neighbor volunteered his boars for the job, and told the city boy to bring them over in the pickup the next day. In the afternoon when he went to pick them up, the city boy asked how he would be able to tell if the sows were impregnated. He was told to look and see where they were early in the morning. If they were up on the hill, they were pregnant; if they were in the sty, it hadn’t worked. The next morning, he leapt from the bed and looked up the hill, but alas the pigs were down in the mud. Grumbling, he loaded them back into the pickup and headed for the neighbors. The following three mornings were just the same; he would leap from the bed, look up the hill, find the pigs down in the mud and have to return them to the neighbors to let the boars have another shot at them. On the fifth morning, he looked up the hill, and there were no pigs. He looked down in the sty; still no pigs. He called to his wife, “Where the hell are the pigs today?” Amid hysterical laughter, she managed to choke out, “They’re down in the truck, and the big one is honking the horn!”

This reporter gets this lead on this story about this really special pig. So he goes to interview the pig’s owner for the evening broadcast. He drives to the house, knocks on the door. The man opens the door and invites him inside. The reporter says, “I understand that you’ve got a very special pig here.” The man says, “Special? Hell son, let me tell you some stories about that pig.”
“About ten years ago, I found this pig by the roadside. He had dropped off of a pickup truck, and left for dead. So I went and picked him up and nursed him back to health. About two years later the whole family was asleep, and the house and barn caught on fire. The pig busted into the window, woke me up, and told me the house was on fire.  ” The reporter is stunned. “You mean to tell me that that pig can talk?” “Hell, yes, he can talk,” says the farmer. “This pig is helping to perfect the cold fusion process, and he’s on the lecture circuit, making $10,000 per speech.”
The reporter asks the farmer hastily, “Can we go see this miracle pig now???” The farmer replies, “Sure we can.” So they go out into the farmyard, and there, sitting on the fence smoking a cigarette is this pig missing one front leg and one hind leg. The pig says to the reporter, “Hello there. Beautiful weather, isn’t it? I haven’t seen weather this pretty since I was sailing the Barbados…” The reporter is too stunned to respond. He drags the farmer back into the house, and says, “Dammit, you’re right. The pig can talk!!!” The farmer says, “See, I told you.” Then the reporter says, “I’ve just got one question. What happened to his legs?”
The farmer says, “You see, son, a pig that smart, you just CAN’T eat him all at once.”

Lovely Old Barn

Old barn

Though my father saw a barn a’building, I saw a cathedral of rough-hewn lumber rising in the lot behind our house. Mr. Bradley, a crotchedy old grandpa in khakis, showed up about daybreak every morning for coffee, then shuffled on to his barn building. He and a helper worked all day till Daddy and a couple of his buddies took over and worked on as Continue reading

My Dad’s Early History

family3Back row Unknown 2nd Geneva, Edward, 1st Bill, Bessie Swain.

Bill Swain, my dad was born in 1924, fourth of seven children born to Eddie and Mettie Swain.  Eddie’s father, Thomas Swain owned a blacksmith and farm and was fairly prosperous.  His business was lost during the depression.  As he lay on his deathbed, in his delirium, he kept telling  his family he had hidden money under his bed.  None was ever found.  Poverty-stricken like so many others, Eddie made his way as a sharecropper,  moving farm to farm, hoping for greater opportunity.

Sadly for the family, Eddie died after four years of suffering with a brain tumor, leaving Mettie with five children under sixteen.  Much of the last couple of years, Eddie was either hospitalized at the Confederate Memorial Hospital in Shreveport, Louisiana, or in his mother’s care at her home.  His mother was willing to care for Eddie when he needed her, but did nothing for Mettie or the children.  The only help Mettie could count on was from her brother.  Brother Albert provided her a house and garden place on his farm when she wanted it.  Mettie was restless, sometimes moving away.   Bill was thirteen when his father died, Edward, sixteen.  Both boys had already taken to working away from home, more for something to eat than money.  They knew they needed to “get their feet out from under Mama’s table.”  If they didn’t havea place to live and work, they’d take a day’s work at a time, for what they were fed the day, or if they were lucky, a bag of meal, a half-bushel of beans, or some corn to bring home.  Bill lived most of the time with his Uncle Albert, taking work on other farms as well when he could get it.

Bill snagged his first paying job at fifteen as night-watchman on a drilling rig.  He was big for his age, able to pass for eighteen.  The site wasn’t too far from home.  He get hungry and slip home nights for something to eat.  From there, he went on to construction and operating heavy equipment, which he did till he went in the Navy during World War II.  He enlisted in the Navy, because he never wanted to be hungry again.

to be continued

Poverty, One Thing Money Can’t Buy

Old Mother HubbardLearning to get by was the best thing that ever happened to me.  Growing up on a farm, the second of five children, I learned responsibility, despite my best efforts not to.  We were all needed, just to get back.  With stock to feed, hay to make, gardens to care for, there weren’t too many idle moments.  That was before helping Mother in the house, Continue reading