Hush Little Baby…Uh-Oh, Run!

tobacco-barn

Hush Little Baby…Uh-Oh, Run!

James R. Aist

This true story is one of my earliest memories, having taken place when I was just three years old and my older brother, Johnny, about four and a half. We spent a lot of time playing together, so what happened to one of us usually happened to both. The year was 1948, and we lived on a dairy farm in rural Maryland. To supplement the family income, we grew and processed tobacco on the farm and then sold it at a local auction.

It was early Fall, time to harvest the tobacco and hang it to dry in the tobacco barn. For this, it was customary in our region at that time to hire temporary farm help, so this particular year we hired a young “colored” couple, let’s call them William and Mary, who had a small baby boy, probably about six months old. Well, one afternoon this couple drove their black Ford Coupe into the barn to keep it cool while they worked on the tobacco and the baby slept peacefully on the back seat.

Out of curiosity, Johnny and I decided to mosey on down to the barn and find out for ourselves what the heck they were doing. There in one corner of the barn they were, William as skinny as a rail and Mary almost as wide as she was tall. They were standing at a work bench with their backs to us, busily slicing off the green tobacco leaves from the stalks with machetes and hanging the leaves on slender poles for drying. We had never seen such really big, long knives!

After a few minutes of watching them do the same thing over and over again, we got bored and decided to entertain ourselves by playing tag around the car. It was so much fun that we began to laugh and giggle loudly as we chased each other round and round the car. Mary heard our noise and turned around, machete in hand, and warned us to be quiet, because the baby was sleeping in the car. To make sure that we understood the gravity of the situation, she (jokingly) promised to cut off our heads if we wake her baby up. Well, that put the fear of God in us, but we were, nonetheless, confident that we could play quietly enough to keep our heads attached.

After a quick peek into the back seat of the car to verify Mary’s story, we were right back at it, very quietly at first, but gradually louder and louder as we were pulled increasingly into the joy of the game, oblivious to the sleeping baby in the car. Next thing we knew, there came from the car the ominous sound of a baby crying, softly at first, but quickly rising to the amplitude of a full-blown tizzy-fit. Whereupon, we froze in our tracks and looked straight at William and Mary. What was she going to do? By that time she had already swung around, waving her machete in the air, and she was coming right at us scolding angrily, “I TOLD you not to wake up my baby!”

Well, Johnny and I were convinced that we were about to be murdered right then and there, and so, without the need of prior survival training, we instinctively began to run lickety-split out of the barn and toward the house, yelling repeatedly at the top of our lungs, “Mama help, she’s going to cut our heads off, she’s going to cut our heads off!” We ran like the wind all the way up the farm road to the long, wooden gate, at which point we each took a “rut” and dove under the gate. Picking ourselves up, we looked back, only to see Mary in the farm road, chasing after us, (innocently) waving her machete in the air and yelling, “Y’all come back, I was just kidding, I’m not going to cut your heads off, I was just kidding!” Well, that just convinced us all the more that she really was going to cut our heads off (What would you think?). So, we continued our flight toward safety, still yelling, “She’s going to cut our heads off, she’s going to cut our heads off!” By the time we reached the front yard, Mama had heard the ruckus and was out the front door to rescue us. After enjoying the humor of the situation for much too long, she hugged us and reassured us that Mary was not really going to cut off our heads, and that she really was just kidding all along. Needless to say, Johnny and I were very glad to hear that, and Mary was relieved to be exonerated!

And that’s why I survived to tell this terrifying tale. As it turns out, William and Mary were the nicest folks you would ever want to meet, but for a couple of minutes there, it sure didn’t seem like it to Johnny and me!

(For more of my TRUE TALES, click HERE)

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