Horse Farming Days

Johnny Shaw’s two draft horses clip-clopped down the tree-lined driveway, past the white farmhouse, down the county road to the field; the old wagon laden with several years of accumulated chicken manure.  My brother and myself, knew what came next.

The wagon had to be unloaded the way it was loaded.  In other words, Johnny didn’t have a new-fangled spreader, like everyone else.  It was labor intensive, the chicken manure handled twice.

Farming went mechanized, during and after the war.  Johnny Shaw didn’t get the memo–or more likely, was just stubborn, set in his ways.

Our formerly white tee shirts, were now shades of gray.  The smell of ammonia was hard to ignore on that hot, humid, summer day.  Riding to and from the field refreshed with cooling breezes.

I don’t remember how many trips were made back-and-forth.  There was no goofing off this time.  Johnny stood watch nearby, he wanted his money’s worth.  Locusts and crickets chirped their afternoon tunes, when around six in the afternoon, Johnny announced, “that’s the last scoopful, the one we’ve waited for all day.”

It was hard, dirty, smelly work for ninety cents an hour–much less than the prevailing wage.  The big lunch had to be worth something–however.  Cleaning chicken houses, was immediately scratched off our career choice lists.

 

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“MOMISMS”

There were the usual admonitions.  “Wear clean underwear in case you’re in an accident.  Don’t make that face–it might stick that way.”  She had some unique expressions.  “Pass the gravy, Navy.”  “Don’t stinch yourself.”  Some of them forgotten or their meanings lost.

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“Mom, some men, like Uncle Harvey don’t have any hair–why?”

Mom ignored the question as long as she could.

“Mom, Mom, daddy’s got lots of hair.  Mr. Wilson’s got a little bit of hair.  Why is that?”

“Why, why?  What, what?”  Mom mocked in frustration.  “I don’t know.  Maybe it’s because they scrubbed their heads with a wash rag.”

For most of my life, up to young adulthood, I was very careful not to shampoo my hair with a washcloth.

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Editor’s Note: I’m on the left, in the above picture.

Sitting Still In Church

The pictured church from Cades Cove, without the cemetery and deer, closely resembled the church in my story from two years ago.   

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I was a fidgety, skinny kid–couldn’t sit still.  When I tried, my legs would swing.  Since they didn’t yet reach the floor.  I may have had ADD–who knows?  When the good reverend’s Sunday sermons ran long, there were always kid games; done discreetly of course.

Even with the windows opened, it was miserable in summer.  That’s when the paper fans came out–compliments of local funeral homes.  It seemed to me–the efforts taken to waggle fans back-and-forth, cancelled out the benefits.  The two front doors were left open.  Bugs and birds often joined the proceedings.

Father was a strict disciplinarian; his firm fingers turned my buzz-cut head around in an instant, with firm warnings.  “Turn around.  Sit still and pay attention.”  Fear of the coal shed hung over my head like the sword of Damocles.  I was convinced it was used as a whipping shed for unruly children.

Our little, white clapboard country church, was heated by two pot–bellied “Round Oak” stoves–manufactured in Dowegiac, Michigan.  There were oak leaf embossed silver-trimmed rails below the stove doors.  Were these foot rests?  I didn’t really know.

Brother Harold kept the stoves stoked for Sunday services.  Church faithful were addressed as brothers or sisters in Christ.  Brother Harold also worked as custodian at a local high school.

An oak “regulator” schoolhouse clock tick-tocked on one wall; a table up front, near the piano, had an antique Tammany Hall bank.  When coins for missions were deposited, the cast iron, brightly painted man in a suit, bowed his head in thanks.

My parents seemed old.  The rest of the church members were older still.  We four children were the youngest in attendance–unless there were visitors.

Sister Eunice was a sweet old soul, and mentally challenged.  She had episodes of jealousy and suspicion–which made others avoid her.  Her ill-fitting dentures, clicked like castanets, added to communication difficulties.

Once, when mother was to be away for teacher’s institute, Sister Eunice offered to babysit the four of us.  Mom had misgivings, but Sister Eunice insisted.  Mom relented and hoped for the best.

I hope when I reach the Pearly Gates of Heaven, the mayhem of that day has been long forgotten.  Things got completely out of hand.  Away from church, we weren’t the little darlings she expected us to be.  I deserved to be sent to the coal shed.

Sister Eunice was upset the entire day, until mom arrived.  We apologized, but the damage had been done.  Sister Eunice never volunteered for babysitting duty ever again.

Across Thy Prairies Verdant Growing…

Clear-channel 50,000 watts of all-night radio, broadcasted across the vast Midwestern prairie and beyond.

John McCormick, “the man who walked and talked at midnight,” was there for our listening pleasure; with the best music and conversation to keep us company.

McCormick had a deep-timbered voice, that either soothed, or lulled listeners to sleep.  That was his job, I supposed.  I would have preferred raspy-voiced Wolfman Jack.

“We’re gonna’ play more music for you–all night long!  Can you dig It?”  Interspersed with a few Wolfman howls and I’d stay wide-awake.  Dad wouldn’t dig any of it.

My job was to assist with loading and deliveries.  More importantly, to keep my father awake on his all-night delivery route through four Illinois counties.

It seemed odd to me then, dad being such a firm disciplinarian, to see him kibitzing with  guys at the full-service, Standard Oil station, on a busy corner in Springfield, Illinois.  He was obviously a regular visitor.  It was around eleven, the station brightly wrapped in neon–topped with trademarked red torch.

An experience, not unlike seeing one of your teachers, away from school.  Refueled, candy bars and coffees in hand, off to the second, and most important stop.

The blue and white Chevrolet, faithful beast of burden, loaded past midnight; after the State-Journal Register’s press run.  There’d been a delay–probably a late-breaking story that couldn’t be left out.

Worried my father would fall asleep at the wheel, thus killing us both in a tragic accident, I kept talking.  Awkward talking–so awkward, it was more like an interview than normal father-son conversation.

“How many miles does this truck have on it?”  I asked.  “It’s got 127,000 miles right now,” Dad answered.

“That’s an awful lot of miles.”  I surmised.  “It’s all highway miles,” Dad answered.  “That makes a difference.  This route covers 200 miles per night–give or take.”

“What were the worst weather conditions you’ve encountered?”  I asked–not in exactly those words.

“Ice and snow–I’ve had to drop off on the shoulder to gain adequate traction.  There was more traction on the grass and gravel, than on the road; but, I made it home safely.  It was almost noon–barely time for a nap before starting out again.”

The next question was risky, but I went for it, anyway.  “What were some of your biggest boneheaded mistakes?”

“I missed some stops and had to go back.  Then, one night I accidently threw a delivery right through an unopened screen door.”

Route 66, blue highways, towns that railroads, interstates forgot, passed by all night long.

That night may have been the source of dad’s war story about a ride to Chicago, cruising at 80 mph on Rt. 66, in a Chrysler Airflow–after hitching a ride.  That struck me as daring–even though it happened before I was born.

Winter sun rose as we arrived home, just in time for a bite of breakfast, light conversation with mom, then straight to bed.  It had been a good night, we’d arrived well before noon.

 

Image, Standard Oil Indiana, from blogsite: PleasantFamilyShopping–

 

 

 

“MOMISMS”

Bill, Jerry, Mom & George

“Mom, some men like Uncle Harvey don’t have any hair–why?”

Mom ignored the question as long as she could.

“Mom, Mom–daddy’s got lots of hair.  Mr. Wilson’s got a little bit of hair.  Why is that?”

“Why, Why?”  “What, What?”  Mom answered in frustration.  “I don’t know.  Maybe it’s because they scrub their heads with a wash rag.”

For most of my life up to young adulthood, I was very careful not to shampoo my hair with a washcloth.

*******************************

Editor’s note:  I’m on the left, in the above picture.

SITTING STILL IN CHURCH

DSCN0377

I was a fidgety skinny kid–couldn’t sit still.  When I tried, my legs would swing.  Since they didn’t yet reach the floor.  I may have had ADD–who knows?  When the good reverend’s Sunday sermons ran long there were always kid games; done discreetly of course.

Even with windows opened it was miserable in summer.  That’s when the paper fans came out–compliments of local funeral homes.  It seemed to me–the effort taken to waggle fans back-and-forth, cancelled out the benefits.  The two front doors were left open.  Bugs and birds often joined the proceedings.

Father was a strict disciplinarian; his firm fingers turned my buzz cut head around in an instant with a firm warning.  “Turn around.  Sit still and pay attention.”  Fear of the coal shed hung over my head like the sword of Damocles.  I was convinced it was used as a whipping shed for unruly children.

Our little, white clapboard country church, was heated by two pot-bellied “Round Oak” stoves–manufactured in Dowagiac, Michigan.  There were oak leaf embossed silver trim rails below the stove doors.  Were the rails, foot rests?  I didn’t really know.

Brother Harold kept the stoves stoked for Sunday services.  Church faithful were addressed as brothers or sisters in Christ. Brother Harold also worked as custodian at a local high school.

An oak “regulator” schoolhouse clock went tick-tock on one wall; a table, up front, near the piano, had an antique Tammany Hall bank.  When coins were deposited, the cast iron, brightly painted man in a suit, bowed his head in thanks.

My parents seemed old.  The rest of the church members were older still.  We four children were the youngest in attendance–unless there were visitors.

Sister Eunice was a sweet old soul, and mentally challenged.  She had episodes of jealousy and suspicion–which made others avoid her.  Her ill-fitting dentures, clicked like castanets, added to communication difficulties.

Once, when mother was going to be away for teacher’s institute, Sister Eunice volunteered to babysit the four of us.  Mom had misgivings, but Sister Eunice insisted.  Mom relented and hoped for the best.

I hope when I reach the Pearly Gates of Heaven, the mayhem of that day has been long forgotten.  Things got completely out of hand.  Away from church, we weren’t the little darlings, she expected us to be.  i deserved to be sent to the coal shed.

Sister Eunice was upset the entire day, until mom returned.  We apologized, but the damage had been done.  Sister Eunice never volunteered for babysitting duty ever again.