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Jawbreakers, bubble gum & molested chickens

World War II was over—the bombs had eradicated Hiroshima and Nagasaki and large segments of their populations, and neither my stepfather’s carpenter talents nor my talent to deliver newspapers were needed in Tennessee. The modular homes were being disassembled and the areas where hundreds of families had been living would soon revert to the wild. We left Happy Valley, Tennessee and returned to Mississippi because my stepfather had recently bought a 40-acre farm, complete with a skid-mounted grocery store with one manually operated gasoline pump, a small house, a large barn, a chicken house and an adequate outhouse.

His purchase included one milk cow, one white mule, one brown mule and a motley flock of chickens—White Leghorns and Rhode Island Reds with a sprinkling of speckled hens. The flock was serviced by one lone rooster, a Rhode Island Red, hence his name Red.

Oh, and one more item concerning the chickens. Several of the hens were in poor physical shape. I learned soon after we moved to the farm that the hens had been—ah, had been subjected to—uh, ah, okay, I’ll just come right out and say it—they had been sexually molested, presumably by that dolt of a teenage farm boy in the family that previously owned the farm.

That was a presumption voiced by my stepfather, except that he didn’t use the term sexually molested—many of the words he used to explain the physical condition of the hens and to express his displeasure were limited to only one or two syllables. I’ve often pondered on that presumption, wondering and speculating on whether he arrived at that conclusion from reading, from other conversations or from experience—my stepfather grew up on a farm in Alabama.

I never knew, and I definitely was unwilling to question him. I’ll get back to you later with more information on that, so stay tuned. Until then, I’ll close that portion of life on the farm by saying that my stepfather put the hens out of their misery with blasts from a 16-gauge shotgun, after which the carcasses were buried far from the house, feathers and all, except for those that were scattered by the pellets.

There were no cats, an absence unusual for a farm. Also included in the purchase were two small terrier dogs, a pair that served no useful purpose and came to an untimely end through action taken by my stepfather soon after we took residence on the farm, again with the 16-gauge shotgun.

Also included in his purchase of the farm, to my dismay, were several acres of unpicked cotton. For the edification of those familiar with Roy Clark’s song in which he sang proudly that he never picked cotton, I am here to tell you that I have picked cotton and I didn’t like it. Early in cotton season, pickers were paid a penny a pound to pick, and later in
the season when the bowls were sparse and farther apart, pickers earned
two cents a pound.

I strived mightily to pick a hundred pounds in one day, but never made it, no matter how early I started and how late I stayed in the cotton field, and no matter how many times I peed in the cotton sack, an time-honored country-boy scheme to add weight to his pickings. Another way to increase the weight was to start picking at or before good daylight and pick frantically while the dew was still on the cotton, thereby adding the weight of the water—not much, but pennies went a long way back in the good old days.

One penny would buy a cigarette, two crackers with one’s choice of cheese or bologna or sausage, and a plethora of penny candies—an all-day sucker, a jaw-breaker, one piece of bubble gum or one stick of gum, a small handful of jelly beans and one’s choice of various individually wrapped candies such as Tom’s Peanut-butter Logs.

I have a vivid memory of reading a newspaper article saying that the price of cotton paid at auction was forty-one cents a pound, a total of $205 for a 500 pound bale. I was brash enough to ask my stepfather why he paid only two cents a pound for pickers when he was getting twenty times that amount, and he treated me to a prolonged lesson in economics—that effectively broke me from asking any more questions.

I have many more stories to tell about my brief life on the farm. One involves a beautiful cross-eyed redhead, another a tree filled with turkeys and still another of a wild cat I captured and thereby indirectly caused his death, so stay tuned—there’s more to come.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

 
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Posted by on March 22, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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A shaggy dog story . . .

My mother remarried when I was nine years old, and for the next six years, for varying periods of time I had the privilege of living under the auspices of a stepfather. Those periods varied because several times during those years, for one reason or another, he banished his new family to other pastures. I suspect that each time he had accumulated enough of a grubstake to make it on his own for awhile without having three millstones around his neck, namely a wife and two children, he would precipitate a ruckus that would drive us away, in one instance a ruckus that included these remarks:

“Come on back to the house, kids, I won’t hurt you,” a sentence shouted from the front porch to the two children standing out in the road, poised to run. That supplication was followed by a louder and very sinister shout. He said very forcefully, “I’m going to get my shotgun,” and with that exclamation he disappeared into the house and the two kids disappeared down the road. That was the only time my sister ever managed to outrun me—she managed that by running so fast that she kicked up gravel in my face—yes, Virginia, it was a graveled road. I may possibly be exaggerating a bit, but only a bit—that she outran me is factual—I can neither explain nor deny it. We ran a short distance on the road alongside a pasture to a point where the woods began, then plunged into the forest and hid in the bushes and the underbrush.

And now I will leave my legions of viewers in suspense, undoubtedly wondering what started the fracas and how that episode turned out. I’ll finish that story in another posting because it was not the original subject for this posting, my shaggy dog story.

This is how it began:

My stepfather mandated that everyone in the family be gainfully employed, a mandatory requirement that extended to animals. He allowed no pets—no cats on the hearth and no lapdogs—he felt that if an animal did no work it was not entitled to be fed, and that included human animals. He would feed and groom, and if necessary medicate, a working dog but only as long as it produced. If a watchdog didn’t bark to ward off intruders, it shortly disappeared, ostensibly a runaway. If a hunting dog slacked off noticeably in its production of game, whether rabbit dog, squirrel dog or bird dog, that dog would also disappear and be labeled a runaway.

I have a memory, one dear to my heart and closely held, of a particularly lovely autumn day in the sovereign state of Mississippi. On that day I went squirrel hunting with my stepfather. We were accompanied by a small black-and-white female Cocker Spaniel named Lady, a beautiful little dog my stepfather had borrowed from a fellow hunter. The dog’s owner claimed that Lady was the finest squirrel dog in the state and perhaps the finest in the entire nation. At my stepfather’s request, the owner left her at our house some weeks before the scheduled hunt, and my stepfather courted her religiously during that period—he petted her and groomed her and hand-fed her, constantly assuring me that Lady, or any dog, would work best for a person they loved and trusted.

From this point on, the posting will be brief and brutal . . .

We entered the woods with Lady and began the hunt. For those not versed in the intricacies of squirrel hunting with a squirrel dog, the dog is trained to range far and wide through the woods to pick up the scent of a squirrel on the ground, then follow that trail to whatever tree the squirrel has ascended, and bark furiously until the hunter arrives and blasts the squirrel out of the tree. Our little hunter, however,  stayed right at our feet, so close that we had to walk carefully to avoid stepping on her, and she completely ignoring my stepfather’s exhortations to, “Hunt—hunt, damn it, hunt!”

He finally spotted a gray squirrel running along a high branch, and when it stopped to check us out my stepfather downed it with a blast from his 16-guage Browning, and with that roar our squirrel dog disappeared—we never saw her again. We tramped the woods for hours, but no amount of calling, whistling and cussing (that’s southern for cursing) could bring her back. The calling and whistling soon tapered off, but the cussing went on for an interminable length of time.

I was not privy to whatever agreement my stepfather reached with the dog’s owner, but armed with the knowledge that owners of great squirrel dogs take great pride in the dog and therefore sometimes place an inordinate value on it, I suspect that my stepfather paid handsomely for not returning Lady to her rightful owner.

That’s my shaggy dog story, and I’m sticking to it.

 
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Posted by on February 13, 2010 in Humor

 

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