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From the mouths of babes . . .

Special note: This is not a Once Upon a Time story—this is a now story.

Somewhere near the approximate center of the Kingdom of Texas lies an area with beautiful lakes, open spaces and stately homes, and in that area there lives and loves a royal family that includes two of my royal grandchildren, a handsome prince and a beautiful princess, Prince Winnon and Princess Tracie. These children are young and bright, budding intellectuals following in the footsteps of their grandparents, both paternal and maternal, and their mother and father and their grandparents are very proud of them.

This posting revolves around the fact that the royal children are not wise in the ways of the world, particularly in the language of the realm but they are gaining in wisdom, in no small part because of their predilection for asking endless questions in their efforts to add to their accumulated knowledge—they want to know. Both are being schooled in fine public institutions and both are quick to learn. However, in their quest for knowledge they sometimes ask unanswerable questions, and tend to give memorable answers to others’ questions.

One shining example involves the Easter bunny, as told by Tracie’s mother. At the wizened old age of five years, Tracie had a question and answer session from the back seat while her mother was driving. She asked if the Easter bunny was real, and her mother allowed that he is as far as she knew. Tracie said that she believes the bunny is a girl, and asked how her mother knows that it is a boy.

The mother’s answer was that she just always thought it was a boy. Tracie then asked how he picks up the eggs, since he has no hands. With a weary sigh, her mother said that she had never been sure of that point either. Tracie closed the discussion by saying that she  thinks he just puts the eggs in the basket and runs around shaking them out on the ground so the humans can pick them up. I consider that explanation just as plausible as any I’ve heard or read.

Just a couple more Tracie-isms:

One day a prekindergarten Tracie entered into a conversation between her mother and the piano tuner. She appeared from her room with felt-tip marker colors all over her face, arms, hands and clothing and her mother asked, Tracie, who did this to you? Tracie, reluctant to admit that she had done it to herself but knowing instinctively that she couldn’t blame it on her mother or the piano tuner, confessed that her brother Winnon did it.

Her mother reminded her that Winnon was in school and couldn’t have done it. With wrinkled brow, Tracie took a long moment to consider that fact and finally responded with a crestfallen Oh, and returned to her room—that Oh said it all.

One morning while Tracie was helping me prepare breakfast by placing bacon strips in the frying pan, she told me that she wanted to be a vegenarian. Thinking that she meant vegetarian, but knowing that she liked bacon and other meats, I asked her why she wanted to be a vegenarian, and she replied, Because I want to work with all kinds of animals, and then I realized that she meant that she wanted to be a veterinarian.

Tracie’s brother Winnon asked her, while they were enjoying bacon with their breakfast, if she knew that bacon comes from pigs. Tracie considered that information thoughtfully for a long moment, then held up a strip of bacon and told her brother, forcefully, that it did not look like a pig.

And now for a few Winnon-isms:

In an English class, Winnon’s teacher asked him to construct a sentence containing three verbs. He submitted the following sentence, structurally and grammatically correct in every respect and in accordance with the teacher’s request:

A turtle eats, pees and poops in his cage.

One cool day Winnon emerged from the family’s backyard pool and entered the house to warm up, and exclaimed to his mother that his nuts were freezing. His shocked mother asked him where he had heard that word and Winnon, suspecting that he had committed a faux pas and expecting the worst, said that he didn’t remember. He probably heard the word at school but didn’t want to implicate one or more of his friends. His mother explained to him that the term nuts, although quite descriptive in nature, should not be used to describe those components of the male physique, at least not in conversations among genteel and well-educated people.

A pre-school Winnon and his mother were traveling in the car and his mother said they would have to stop at a station to fill the car’s gas tank, and Winnon asked why. She explained that if the car ran out of gas they would have to park it somewhere. Winnon said Oh, and then they passed an automobile dealer’s location that sported acres of new and used automobiles, and Winnon asked whether all those cars had run out of gas.

There are many more Tracie-isms and Winnon-isms lurking in the wings, and the count is growing steadily. I have implored their mother, my princess daughter that lives and loves in that land of beautiful lakes and open spaces, to document those –isms voiced in the past by her children and those –isms that will undoubtedly appear in the future. Many are classic, and all are well-worthy of documentation. Art Linkletter many years ago, and Bill Crosby more recently, were correct in saying on their television shows that Kids say the darndest things!

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

 
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Posted by on December 15, 2010 in Childhood, Family, Humor, Uncategorized

 

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Dempsey and his dad . . .

Dempsey was one of my many first-cousins, born in 1928, the younger of two sons born to Ellie, one of my mother’s sisters. Aunt Ellie was married to my Uncle Esker, a hard-working land-owner that lived with his family in a rural area some five miles south of Vernon,the county seat of Lamar County, Alabama. He  was a highly successful landowner, farmer, store keeper, blacksmith, syrup-maker, grist mill operator, auto mechanic, self-trained veterinarian and a husband and father.

He died under the wheels of a farm tractor, his head crushed by the lugs of the left rear wheel with his younger son, a boy of ten years, at the controls of the tractor. For the edification of anyone unfamiliar with lugs, they are the huge metal spikes on the rear wheels of some tractors, designed to allow the tractor to find traction in mud and loose soil. One can still see highway signs in rural areas prohibiting vehicles with lugs from operating on paved highways—for obvious reasons, of course. Those spikes can cause significant damage to asphalt pavements and bring death to living flesh, whether animals or humans.

It was an unfortunate and horrible accident, and it was impossible to know with any certainty how and why it happened. The tractor had a power take-off, and its broadband drive belt was hooked up to operate the grinding machines of grist mill at the time. Families came from farms and small communities from miles around to the grist mill with wagon loads of raw corn and grains and returned home with cornmeal and flour. The old-time tractor had no starter—its engine was started by a hand-crank from the front, as were many vehicles in those days, a procedure that often required two people for success—one to turn the crank and the other to operate the throttle and choke to provide the proper mixture of gasoline and air to start the engine.

Obviously the gearshift had to be in neutral when the engine started—otherwise the tractor would lurch forward  when the engine started, with predictable results for the person cranking the engine. The tractor should have been rendered immobile—that is, secured with safety chains or with barriers in front to keep it stationary while it was hooked up to the grist mill—it was not secured in any manner.

This was an accident waiting to happen, and it  happened. The tractor was not secured, and when the engine started the tractor was in gear and it lurched forward. My uncle slipped and fell and the left rear wheel crushed his head. His son either failed to place the gearshift in neutral before signaling his father to turn the crank, or by accident put the tractor into gear after the engine started, and before his father could move out of harm’s way—he was said to have died instantly.

I don’t know my uncle’s age or the year he died. There is no record in the Social Security Death records because this was just a short time after Social Security was established in 1935—I doubt that my uncle ever had a Social Security number. I was a little feller at the time, somewhere around five or six years of age, but I have vivid memories of my uncle’s  casket in my aunt’s house—the casket was closed, for obvious reasons. His casket was one of three  that I remember seeing in that same room in a period of perhaps five years  when I was a small boy. The others were those of my grandmother (my mother’s mother) and another uncle, one of my mother’s brothers. The life and unusual death of my mother’s brother is recorded in one of my postings. It involves my uncle, another patient in the asylum and a metal bedpan. Click here for that story—it’s worth the read.

In those days the deceased lay in state at home for a time, at least overnight, before being interred. This gave friends and relatives time to bring in flowers and food for the family and for the other mourners, and to tender their respect for the dead and condolences to the grieving family members. There were lots of flowers and lots of food at Aunt Ellie’s house—my uncle was a highly-respected man in the community, very active in his church in addition to his business activities, and people came from many miles around to attend his funeral.

I had big ears when I was a little boy—still do, as a matter of fact. I don’t mean that my ears are larger than normal—they aren’t. It’s just that I am unable to tune out conversations around me. I dislike dining at cafeterias because I am tuned in to every conversation at every table within earshot, and that becomes a bit overwhelming. As I moved around at my uncle’s wake, in the room and through the house and on the porch and in the yard, anywhere that mourners gathered, I gleaned information from people talking in low voices about the accident, going over the details and wondering how such a thing could have happened. I took in all the solemn voices and speculations and conclusions, and because I am blessed—or perhaps cursed—with a fairly decent memory, I have retained many memories of the event.

One of my most vivid memories of my Uncle Esker is of his huge barn across the highway from his house. I went with him one morning to feed the animals and to see the foal that he told me had been born the day before. It was a beautiful colt, brown with white markings. I stood in awe of the foal and my uncle asked me if I would like to have one like that. I answered in the affirmative, of course, and he told me that the colt was mine, but that I would have to wait until it grew up a bit before I could claim it.

No way—I claimed that colt that same day, and I could hardly wait to tell all my friends about my pony. I was the only kid in my circle and on my block and maybe in the entire city of Columbus, Mississippi that could claim to be the owner of such an animal, and I got as much mileage as I could with the information. My uncle died soon after the gift was made, and since he and I were the only ones that knew about the transaction, I laid no claim to the colt but I still feel, even to this day almost three-quarters of a century later that I once owned a beautiful white-faced and white-footed pony—that’s a very satisfying feeling—not many kids can make that claim!

I was not around Dempsey very much, and I didn’t know him well. I have no way of knowing how well he coped with the  knowledge that he was complicit in his father’s death. He died in 1977 at the age of 69 so whatever he felt and how he coped with his part of the accident is of no consequence now. We were four years apart in age, and few ten year old boys have much in common with six year old boys. I may have seen him three or four times in later years, but it would have been for very limited periods. The only concrete knowledge I have about him is that he worked in Birmingham, Alabama for Bama Foods, a company that produced jams and jellies for home and commercial consumption, as did most of my relatives from that period. I and my family have used their products for many years and I can highly recommend them—and no, I do not have any stock in the company!

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

 
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Posted by on September 25, 2010 in Childhood, death, drivers, Family, food, funeral

 

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Cowpies and Chinaberries—a 1942 video game

Cowpies and Chinaberries—a 1942 video game:

FROM WIKIPEDIA: The fruit of a Chinaberry tree is a berrylike, round fleshy fruit. It continues through winter and contains a stone with one to six seeds inside. The berries are yellowish green turning to yellowish tan.

On color I am somewhat in disagreement with Wikipedia—a full grown Chinaberry is very hard and green—not yellowish green, but green green—I should know, because I have a close association with Chinaberries—a history, so to speak. I agree that the berry turns yellowish while still on the tree and softens with age, and predictably, with that softening it becomes ineligible for Chinaberry pitching. On further thought, it’s been years since I’ve seen a Chinaberry, so it may be that today’s berries are in fact yellowish green, perhaps due to global warming caused by Al Gore.

As a young boy I lived with my family—mother, sister and stepfather—for several months near a railroad stockyard for animals. I lived near the stockyard at two widely separated times in different rental houses for several months each time. Shipments of cows and horses were held in the stockyards for a brief time waiting for transportation by rail to some destination, whether to auction, to pasture or to slaughterhouses. The holding pens were fenced with steel posts and pipes rather than wooden posts and railings, and the top pipe, or rail, of the enclosure was the perch on which Chinaberry-pitching contestants sat for the competitions.

A special note: When I googled the word stockyard, I was rewarded by the image on the right. It does not seem to be related to stockyards in any way, but I decided to share it—go figure!

Having arrived at the pen with pockets filled with Chinaberries, a contestant could choose to stand on a lower rail and pitch, but was then constrained to lean forward over the rail for balance, or hold on with one hand while pitching with the other. For most contestants, that stance proved to be a distraction. The more effective pitches were launched while straddling the top rail at a right angle to the target, or while seated facing the target. The latter position was, for obvious reasons, far more comfortable than the straddle.

Multiple contestants were not necessary. I can remember many hours of competing against myself—yep, I was always the winner, never a loser, in such contests—that’s just the way the game worked. That’s the way I believe life should work but, as opposed to Chinaberry pitching, I don’t always get my way.

Our targets were cowpies. A definition of the term is probably unnecessary, but I’ll define it anyway. Cowpie is a euphemism for the fecal matter excreted by a bovine animal, whether male or female, and on that note one must needs witness the excretion to determine the animal’s gender—the sex of the bovine cannot be determined by the nature of the cowpie—diet and approximate age and size, perhaps, but not gender—not even by the most knowledgeable rancher, veterinarian or Chinaberry pitcher.

There are various other euphemisms  for bovine excrement. They include terns such as cow flop, cow plop (from the sound of hitting the ground), cow hockey, cow dung, cow stuff and some terms that are not readily accepted in mixed company or in the presence of one’s parents. As an aside, a bovine sometimes continues its forward motion while “going to the bathroom.” This produces a trail of cow flops, or plops, that decrease in size as the motion progresses. Counting the separate flops was routine by country boys—the trail with the greatest number of flops won any bet that was waged. In any game of Chinaberry pitching, accurate hits that stuck to the small ones counted more than hits on the larger ones.

Overhand pitches thrown on a level trajectory may have been accurate, but the ability of the berry to stick to the target was minimal, and did not get the job done. The missile had to come down on the target as close to a ninety degree angle as possible. The berry was held delicately between thumb and forefinger and the hand drawn back toward the shoulder, lining up the berry with the target, squinting with one eye and sighting with the other, just as a firearm is aimed by a marksman, then propelled upward and outward to produce an arc that would enable the missile to drop downward onto the target. The farther away the target, the farther back the hand was drawn in order to provide the necessary momentum. This procedure was variously called a pitch, toss or throw.

Part of the scoring included the distance from the point of release to the target—distance was necessarily an estimated figure—as one might imagine, walking to measure the distance was somewhat perilous, especially if one had just come from church and was wearing one’s Sunday shoes—you know, the ones in brown and white with long laces that, unless carefully tied, sometimes dragged along the ground when one walked. And in the rush to claim the greater distance, a misstep was not only possible—it was highly probable—bummer!

The sport of Chinaberry pitching required considerable finesse, comparable to the sport of darts but far more challenging. The ultimate skill one could demonstrate was to nestle the berry on a thumbnail with the tip of the nail placed at the junction of the first joint of the forefinger at the halfway point, then snapping the thumb up to propel the missile towards its target—this was called a “flip.” Since the berry was traveling at a greater speed than the overhand throw, more altitude had to be factored into its trajectory to provide the proper angle to allow the berry to drop nearer to the perfect ninety degree angle. Following release of the Chinaberry, the thumb would be straight up and the forefinger would be pointed straight at the target—at this juncture most contestants vocally reproduced the sound of a firearm, something such as pow or bam. Well, not always vocally—these were boys, and as they say, boys will be boys! In either case the intent was to irritate and distract one’s competitors—the louder the better, particularly in instances of non-vocal sound reproduction.

One’s position on the top rail was important, whether in a straddle or seated facing the targets. the right angle was the safest position, but the face-forward with both feet on the same side had much to recommend it, although in the heat of competition the possibility of falling backward was more pronounced.

And here I hasten to add that horses have nothing to contribute to the game of Chinaberry pitching—without going too far into detail, I’ll just say that it doesn’t work, and anyone familiar with the difference in cow dung and horse dung  will understand (we referred to the horse dung as road apples). The horse provides a target for Chinaberries, of course, but a hit, however expertly aimed and accurate, bounces off and leaves nothing to prove the accuracy of the hit—unless ones opponent happens to see the hit when it occurs. Conversely, the cow plop clings to the evidence—or vice versa—and the accuracy of the toss, or flip, can neither be denied nor overlooked.

In 1942, Chinaberry pitching was the closest thing we boys had to today’s video games. I specify boys, because I have no recollection of any girls having shown even the slightest interest in the game, neither in Chinaberries, stockyards or cowpies. Bummer!

And in order to close this posting, I’ll quote that immortal couple Archie and Edith Bunker of television situation comedy fame with the title of their signature song, “Those were the days!”

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

 

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