Old Man Hillen

“Are you gonna pay for that gum?”

Phyllis and I turned to see Billy’s cheek bulging. His eyes got big and a stream of purple drool ran out of the corner of his mouth. The three of us stood horrified before Old Man Hillen, the proprietor of the Variety Store. It was obvious the sour old geezer took no prisoners where pilfering children were concerned.

“Spit it out.” Phyllis demanded, her face as hard as the old man’s. She hurriedly paid for our purchases as Billy and I beat her out the door. We knew there would be Hell to pay. Phyllis aligned herself with our parents and could be depended upon to report any infraction. This one was huge.

The situation was made more ominous since our business in the first place was the purchase of Mother’s birthday gift. The three of us had walked to the Variety Store after school. Mother was to pick us up. The wait seemed endless, knowing the catastrophe that was brewing.

“Billy Ray stole a piece of gum!” she exploded before she even got the car door shut. “Mr. Hillen made me pay for it!”

Mother was appalled. “Oh no. I hope you’re ashamed of yourself. I’m gonna have to tell your daddy about this.” A pall hung over us, dreading what was to come.

Justice was swift and sure. Daddy was enraged as he railed at Billy, before strapping him with his belt, then pausing before giving him a few more. Worse yet was the pronouncement that they’d be going back tomorrow for Billy to apologize and make it right. It was a terrible night at our house. No one escaped Daddy’s black mood.

Daddy was waiting for Billy when the bus ran, always dependable when punishment was due. He led the small boy into the Variety Store and announced to Mr. Hillen, “My son has something to say to you.”

Humiliated, Billy managed to stammer an apology.

Rather than accepting Billy’s apology, the hateful old man launched into a tirade against thieving kids and the way sorry parents were raising them. Daddy was infuriated and told him they’d made it right and he wasn’t listening to anymore of his mouth. They left. We never went back in that store.

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A Hog a Day Part 9

Daddy took pride in being strict.  “Spare the rod and spoil the child.”  He was certainly never accused of spoiling the child.  Many times I heard him say there wasn’t a kid or an animal he couldn’t conquer.  During his hog-hunting days he acquired a hog-dog he was incredibly proud of.  Sutter was a black lab/Catahoula Cur mix.  When sicced on a herd of hogs, Sutter plunged in and fearlessly latched onto the hog’s ear not to be dislodged until the hunter dispatched the hog.  The poor hog couldn’t slash Sutter as long as he hung on to the ear.  The dog was in the greatest danger of being bitten as he rushed the hog.   Hog-hunting was dangerous for men and dogs.  I’ve seen Daddy stitch his cut dogs a few times.  He  required stitches a time or two, but splurged on a doctor for himself.

Sutter worked cows with Daddy. One day, he chased a calf and pinned it to the ground where he held it by a mangled ear.  Expecting a kill, he wouldn’t release it.  Daddy pulled him off the calf, tied him off to a small sapling, and pulled off his belt to strap to him.  He got a couple of licks in before Sutter changed his belief system.  The enlarged dog ran Daddy up the sapling where he clung just out of the dog’s reach.   At six-foot three and two hundred forty pounds, Daddy was imposing on the tree.  It dipped from one side to the other as Daddy bounced side-to-side just beyond the snarling dog’s jaws.  I wondered if somebody would have to shoot Daddy if Sutter latched onto his ear. After a few minutes, Sutter’s temper cooled and he wagged his tail when Daddy spoke to him.  Daddy climbed down when Sutter seemed to have forgiven him.

Sitter was a very valuable dog.  Instead of shooting him as I expected, Daddy took the reasonable attitude that he’d handled things badly.  He and Sutter worked it out and the dog concentrated on hogs from that time forward.

Maybe I should have run Daddy up a tree.

How to Get Your Yard Work done in Three Simple Steps

My dad had a fool-proof plan to get his yard-work done easily and painlessly (for him).  Let the leaves and tree debris pile up pretty high in the fall and spring.  Mention casually a couple of times, “You kids are gonna’ have to clean up this yard in a few days.”  Let a couple of days pass so they hope you’ve forgotten or gone blind.  Come home from work on Friday afternoon in a jovial mood.  This works best if you are normally a real grouch.  It’s best if one of your brothers is visiting and your kids ask to spend the night with Cousin Becky, Susan, or Joey.   Implement step #1 

“No, Y’all  have to clean the yard tomorrow, but they can stay with you if they want to help.”  

He was serious about them staying, always hoping to get a little of work out of them.  Even though there were no Einstein’s in our family, no cousin was ever that dumb.

“No, I am not staying!  I don’t   wanna’ clean the yard!”  They were in the car before the screen door slammed. 

Traitors!

Step #2   The next morning he’d roll us out at six am, anticipating a good day.  We didn’t talk much at breakfast, especially avoiding the words yard, sweep, work, and leaves.  It’s amazing how often a word jumps out when you are studiously avoiding it.  “Billy didn’t LEAVE any jelly for me.” 

“Don’t worry.  You’ll get all the LEAVES you want today.”  He made crappy jokes, playing on our dread.

Finally, he’d push his chair back, “Time for the friendships to end and the work to begin.”

I would have enjoyed flailing the genius from whom he’d picked up that cruel witticism.  He routed us into the one-acre yard where the lecture began.  “Now, get the wheelbarrow, rake, and yard broom.  I want all these sticks picked up first.  Then one of you can rake, the other sweep and the other pick up the leaves and haul them back yonder to the burn pile.  Now, I mean for this yard to be clean when I get home.”   

With that, he was off to whatever he had planned that day.  The task looked endless, with drifted leaves from dozens of trees, shrubs, and fallen sticks.  I would have gladly traded places with Sisyphus and his rock.

We had to fight a while before we got started.  Phyllis was the oldest, so she commandeered the yard broom, the prize implement.  Billy and I got stuck with the rake and wheelbarrow for loading and hauling leaves.  Of course, we had to fight a while before we made a good start.  Mother usually brought the little girls out and redirected us before she got back to her work of the day.

Step #3   Cleaning that yard would have been a huge job for a yard-proud person.  Three fighting kids cleaning a yard didn’t go that well.  The first time or two, we were of the mistaken belief we could make a pathetic excuse and get by with a half-done job.  Daddy was of the opinion that no well-balanced kid could get through a day  without a good whooping, anyway, so he was happy to oblige.  He frequently quoted, “I might as well whip y’all first thing in the morning and get it over with.”  A few stripes paid off handsomely in the next day’s efforts, and he had the satisfaction of knowing he hadn’t “spared the rod and spoiled the child.”  We were motivated to do the job right.      

Yes, indeed, Daddy knew how to get his yardwork done in three easy steps.  Just so you know, I am not advocating this plan.  

Hard Times With Mettie Knight Swain

family3

Five of Maw Maw’s seven children.  My father, Bill Swain is the little boy with wet pants holding the cap.  One more child was born after this picture was made.  It is likely someone just happened by with a camera and snapped this shot. Continue reading

Instrument of Torture

I grew up way back in the 1950s and 1960s before the days of “Time Outs.”  I think I would have loved time out.  My parents had five wild kids.  They were partial to the time-   honored switch and belt system.  If Mother wasn’t too serious about the point she was making, she was fairly likely to pull the plastic fly swat off the nail by the stove and give us Continue reading