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Parched peanuts and skin crawling . . .

In the fall of my sixteenth year I lived with a farm family in the rural western central area of Alabama. Their farm was one of the Reconstruction era land parcels that were passed out after the end of the Civil War. It originally consisted of 40 acres and a mule, and in 1948, having passed down through some four generations (not of the same family, of course), still boasted the same 40 acres and a mule—not the same mule but one that, without a doubt, remarkably resembled the original, with the same long ears and same surly disposition, but with the same desirable work traits.

The family was comprised of four souls—the wife (my first cousin), the husband (not related to me or to his wife, other than by marriage) and two sons, both under the age of five years. My mother had decided that it would be beneficial for me to live with them and help out around the house and the 40 acres, and in return for that help the family would house me, feed me, clothe me and educate me.

Such a deal!

I arrived on the farm with a small metal trunk, a pitifully small amount of clothing and a pedigreed  pit bulldog named Buster, a fine and faithful companion, registered with the American Kennel Club as Mars but my brother, the original owner, had named him Buster. I inherited Buster when my brother returned to active duty with the U. S. Army after an absence of several years. My trunk, my dog and I joined the family on the farm in September after the school term had begun.

No mention was made of my being enrolled in the eleventh grade, and I happily maintained my silence. The helping out, however, began immediately. A trip to the nearest town some five miles distant to a dry goods store outfitted me with two pairs of overalls—one pair to wear and one pair to spare, and a pair of sturdy work shoes known as brogans. Some folks referred to them as clodhoppers, and some applied the same term to the wearers of such shoes. Perhaps some of my readers are unfortunate enough to have never worn overalls and therefore may be unfamiliar with such garments. If that be the case, those readers can click here for a detailed description. That posting also tells a story featuring a blue-eyed snake.

And now to my original reason for this posting, namely the parching of peanuts and situations related thereto. The term parched in regard to peanuts may be unfamiliar to some—perhaps roasted would be a more familiar term. On many cool fall evenings and cold winter evenings, the family gathered around an open fireplace and ate parched peanuts. The peanuts, having dried since harvested, were placed on a shallow metal roasting pan and roasted in the shell in the kitchen stove oven, and afterward the pan was placed on the fireplace hearth to keep the peanuts warm and accessible. One needed only to scoop up a handful of peanuts, then sit back, shell and enjoy.

The lady of the house, my first cousin, had a habit of rustling among the peanuts searching for those with scorched shells, saying that they had more flavor. Her moving the peanuts around on metal, with her fingernails sometimes coming in contact with the metal, produced a really irritating sound, one that, as the saying goes, made one’s flesh crawl, a phenomenon that I communicated to my cousin.

I told her that I wished she wouldn’t do that, and she said, “Why not?’ And I took the bait she offered—nay, I took the bait and hook and line and sinker. I said, “Because it makes my flesh crawl.” Her immediate response was, “How did your butt smell when it passed your face?”

Bummer!

Pretty funny, huh? I plotted and schemed for the next several weeks, doing anything and everything I could to produce a sound that would make her flesh crawl, and I finally hit on one. I was cleaning a mirror—voluntarily, and by briskly rubbing the clean glass I made a loud screeching sound and she reacted as I hoped she would. She told me to stop doing that, and I asked her the same question she had asked me. I said “Why?” and she predictably said that it made her flesh crawl.

Oh, boy, oh boy! I said, “How did your butt smell when it passed your face?” She snapped back, “It smelled like it had been licked—how did it taste?”

Bummer again!

I left the family and the farm in late December and traveled some 35 miles by bus to visit my mother and sister in Mississippi. I returned early in January, and en route on my two-mile walk on the graveled road from the paved highway to the farm, I stopped to visit an aunt that lived in the house of my birth. She told me that my cousin’s husband had killed my dog soon after I left for Mississippi.

None of the family was home when I arrived. I packed my belongings and started dragging the trunk  back to the paved highway to wait for the next interstate bus. Luckily a neighboring farmer came along in his Model T Ford and gave me and my trunk a ride to the highway—had he not come by I would probably still be walking—that trunk was pretty heavy, what with the brogans and overalls.

There was a reason my cousin’s husband killed my dog—not a reasonable reason—but I’ll save it for a later posting of some of my exploits—and my exploitation—while playing the part of a farm boy. I have never been back to the house since that day, and I never saw the husband or the two boys again. I trust that they fared well and are still faring well—unless they grew up to be like their father.

I know he died many years ago, but I never knew how the boys may have fared in their lives. Many years later I saw my cousin briefly, just long enough to learn that she had divorced her husband  shortly after I left, and a few years later met and bonded closely—I mean, like really closely—with another woman and eventually became a suicide, taking her own life with a firearm. I don’t know how the other woman fared, nor am I curious about it.

There are many more titillating, interesting, educational, emotional, humorous and fascinating tales I will tell concerning my brief sojourn as an indentured servant on an Alabama farm, but I’ll save them for later postings.

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

 
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Posted by on March 28, 2010 in Childhood, Family, Humor, Writing

 

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Sid, Looney and a Model T Ford . . .

In my posting of A shaggy dog storyclick here to read that story— I left the viewer in suspense, with me and my sister hiding in the woods early on a cold winter morning beside a gravelled country road after Papa John, our stepfather, shouted to us from our front porch, saying he was going to get his shotgun. At the time we were standing in the middle of the road in front of our house, driven by fear that stemmed from an incident that occurred in the kitchen a few minutes earlier. He called to us to come back in, that everything would be alright, that he was not going to hurt us.

We never knew whether he actually got the gun. Our mother later said he did not, but her testimony in such instances was not very reliable. In any event we took no chances. We fled into the woods and remained hidden while Papa John and our mother drove back and forth on the road calling to us, saying that everything would be alright, to come out and go back to the house with them.

Being sound of body and reasonably sane, we silently declined and remained hidden, prostrate among the trees and undergrowth, until the sound of the car faded towards home. We then came out on the road and started our long walk toward town, some twelve miles distant. Every time we heard an auto approaching—the road was graveled, remember—we took to the woods again and remained there until the vehicle passed. We followed that in and out strategy until we heard the distinct put-put-put sound of a Model T Ford, and we were reasonably sure of its occupants. As the auto neared we came out on the road and flagged it down. The Model T was owned by Sid and Looney and occupied by the same. The two men lived a few miles from us and passed our home daily on their way to work in the city.

In retrospect, I believe they constituted a domestic couple, joined by forces that were not suitable for discussion in the company of children, particularly in our part of the country in that era. Regardless of their various preferences, they obligingly took us aboard and carried us to the edge of town. They either knew our problems and were sympathetic, or perhaps simply had no interest in knowing why two kids were in the woods instead of being on a school bus. They asked no questions and we volunteered no explanations, and they dropped us off on the outskirts of town near the lumber yard where they worked. My sister and I then walked a short distance from there to the home of an older sister.

And now for an explanation of this episode. The reader will have to take my word that the story is true, because I am the only person extant. I am the last one standing of those involved in the proceedings. All are gone. I have my opinions of the direction each took, but I’ll keep those opinions to myself. Trust me—the story is true in every detail.

My early morning tasks while we lived on the farm included interior as well as exterior duties. The interior duties included emptying chamber pots—that’s an acceptable synonym for slop jars, items used at night by the family because we had no bathroom and the necessary was set well behind our house—an outhouse, so to speak. Other interior tasks were building fires in three places—one in the room I shared with my sister, one in our parent’s bedroom and one in the kitchen stove. This allowed my sister and my mother to arise to a warm room, and my mother to a hot stove, ready for our breakfast preparation. As for our stepfather, that worthy arose to a warm room, dressed and stepped into a warm kitchen and sat down to a hot breakfast—he remained abed until breakfast was on the table.

My outdoor tasks included feeding a mule, formerly one of a team but the other died. He leaned against the barn wall on a cold night and died, an event that warrants its own posting. To continue: I slopped the pigs (slopping means feeding, a term applicable only to pigs, an unpalatable nomenclature but one that was in general mode at the time), I carried in wood for the kitchen stove and coal for the fireplace, I hand-pumped water into a huge iron kettle for our livestock, and I cleared the barnyard of any offensive material—dung—that had accumulated so my mother could make her way to the milking stall without stepping in something. Yep, her husband—my stepfather—was really solicitous of her well-being, at least in that instance.

Picture this:

On my return to the house into the kitchen after finishing my outdoor chores, I asked my mother for some of her hand lotion—my hands were reddened and chapped from the cold. I posed the question just as Papa John entered the kitchen and he said—these are his exact words: What are you, a cream puff? My sister, aged 13, entered behind him and said, Well, you use a lot of talcum powder when you bathe, and he slapped her, a blow strong enough to slam her against the kitchen wall.

My sister bounced off the wall and attacked him—she applied the fingernails of her right hand to Papa John’s left cheek and plowed four red furrows from the corner of his eye down to the corner of his mouth—I tend to believe that his eyes were the target and she missed. He cursed, raised his fist and moved to strike her again just as my mother was moving toward the table with a pan of biscuits fresh from the oven. She told him, Don’t hit her again, John, and in order to protect my sister she dropped the pan and stepped in front of him shouting, Run, kids, run outside.

And we ran—my last memory of that tableau was that of hot biscuits rolling everywhere on the kitchen floor. I ran out the front door and my sister ran out the back door. We met in front of the house in the middle of the road and waited for further developments. That’s when Papa John came out to the front porch and told us to come back in, that he would not hurt us, that everything would be alright. We refused to comply—that’s when he threatened to get his shotgun, and that’s when we headed for the woods at top speed.

Now you know the rest of that story.

 
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Posted by on February 25, 2010 in Family, Humor, kitchen appliances

 

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