Dad Gumm

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Dad Gumm

James R. Aist

“Not yet I ain’t!”, he said…

This story will require a brief introduction to a colloquialism that I grew up with in Arkansas.  When someone had tried and failed at something (for example, shooting a squirrel that was climbing up the side of a tree), they might say something like “Darn!” or “Dag nabbit!” to express their disappointment. Or, they might instead say “Dad Gummit!” or just “Dad gum!”

With that, let me tell you my version of a story that originated with my brother Johnny. At the time, Johnny was an undergraduate at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville. He was enrolled in a class on folklore, and was required to research and submit an original essay on local lore in northwest Arkansas. So, Johnny decided to visit and interview, impromptu and unannounced, some of the old-timers in the area to find out what words of wisdom they might be willing to share with him. One day he was driving along a rural, dirt road looking for someone to interview, when he rounded a bend and saw the perfect prospect: an old man sitting in a rocking chair on the front porch of his old log cabin, high on a hill. This appeared to be just the kind of old-timer that Johnny was looking for.

So, he pulled into the dirt driveway, drove up the hill to the cabin, and began the interview. “Good morning”, says Johnny. “Howdy there, young feller”, replies the old man. Johnny then proceeds to begin the interview. “My name is Johnny Aist, what’s yours?” With a slight grin on his face, the old man replies “My last name is Gumm, but most people around here call me Dad!” Instantly recognizing this clever reference to a local colloquialism, Johnny grins accordingly and then continues the interview. “Tell me, Mister Gumm, have you lived here all your life?”, he asks. To which Dad Gumm replies, “Not yet, I ain’t, but I ain’t never lived nowhere’s else neither!”

And that’s when Johnny knew that he had stumbled onto a gem of an old-timer who was just the kind of guy he was looking for help him get an “A” on his research project!

(To read more amazing short stories on this website, click HERE)

Shields Up, Fire at Will!

Shields Up, Fire at Will!

James R. Aist

If you are old enough to have been a fan of the Three Stooges slap-stick comedy series, the title of this article may have reminded you of the episode where the Stooges are armed for battle and someone gives the command, “Fire at will”, to which one of the stooges responds, “Which one is Will?” Well, this article is not about the famous Three Stooges, but it is about four not-so-famous child “stooges”, including myself, who lived so far “out in the sticks” of rural, central Arkansas that we had to invent games to entertain ourselves during the long, hot summers when school was out. And, to do so, we had to use whatever was readily available, which wasn’t much. [For example, you may enjoy reading also my account of “Wasper Warriors” (click HERE)].

This particular game we dubbed “Corn Cob Fights”, and it was practiced briefly when we were about 8-10 years old. Since we lived on a farm, raised a few pigs and had a dairy herd, there was no shortage of corn cobs and burlap feed bags. It wasn’t long before I realized that these were all we needed to create a new fighting game when we grew tired of playing “Cowboys and Indians.” The burlap bags made suitable shields when supported by a straight stick passed through one end, while corn cobs were readily obtained from the filthy, disgusting, germ-infested ground inside the pig pen. The fact that these corn cobs, because of their nasty origin, made terrifying projectiles when thrown, just made the game more exciting to us. (Remember, we were boys, we were bored, we were only 8-10 years old, and Mamma didn’t always know what we were up to!)

So, we collected our corn cobs, constructed our shields, decided on the ground rules and selected the venue: one team would defend the barn’s hay loft by “firing” corn cobs through the open door in one end – an opening that was used to pass hay bales into and out of the hayloft — and the other team would stand on the ground and try to “pick them off” by “firing” corn cobs when they appeared in the opening to “fire” corn cobs at us. The burlap shields were used by the ground team. This seemed innocent enough at the time. I mean, what could possibly go wrong?

To start the fight, we chose sides, with two friends on each side. Tommy Joe was on the loft side, I was on the ground side, and we took our respective positions about 25 feet in front of the barn. The loft team fired first, suddenly appearing in the opening, launching their filthy missiles, and quickly dodging back behind the barn wall to safety. We easily dodged their reckless, return rounds with shields up, and then fired back. But, alas and alack, they could much more easily protect themselves than we could, because they could retreat quickly behind the wooden wall of the loft when we fired at them. After a few, futile exchanges, it occurred to me that I would have to come up with a new strategy, if we were ever going to emerge victorious over these lofty fiends. So, I took note of the time it took for them fire again after firing at us: it took about two seconds for them to reappear to fire back.

With that time in mind, I fired into the opening, waited two seconds, and then aimed and fired again where I expected Tommy Joe to appear just as my ordinance arrived. And, wouldn’t you know it, my new strategy (can you say “trickery”) worked perfectly: Tommy Joe popped his head out just in time to be smashed in the face by my filthy, airborne corn cob! I was astonished at this development, because the odds of actually hitting my target must have been at least a million to one! Then I heard Tommy Joe begin to cry, and I saw blood on his lip. “This wasn’t supposed to happen, not really”, I thought to myself. Then Tommy Joe complained loudly, through his tears, that I had cheated, to which I shot back that there were no rules in this game against trickery. For some reason, Tommy Joe didn’t seem to be comforted by my retort. Go figure. Then it hit me: “What if he tells on me, and what if he gets infected from the filthy corn cob? This could very possibly not end well for me.” “Oh, why did I ever invent such a game in the first place?” I asked myself, with sincere regret in my heart.

Well, Tommy Joe and I had been friends for a few years already, and when he had calmed down, he realized that his injury was never intended to be an outcome of this game. So, we agreed to never play the game again and moved on. Nevertheless, I must admit that I still admire the clever creativity that went into my trickery and the skill with which I pulled it off. Still, I am glad that I had the presence of mind to not suggest that we go for “two out of three” as a way to, somehow, console him. You see, sometimes it’s best to just keep your mouth shut and walk away!

(To read more of my short stories, click HERE.)

Lazy Day Destinations: The Ball Field

evening-shade-ball-field-001

Lazy Day Destinations: The Ball Field

James R. Aist

Growing up in rural Arkansas left me with many fond memories of favorite places, especially when it was summer vacation, and I could just pick up and go by myself, or with a friend or two, on a hot, lazy summer afternoon.

The Ball Field

When I was around 12 years old and my family lived in Evening Shade (the real one, population 315 at the time, not the fictional one on the TV sit-com), one of my favorite destinations was the ball field. I loved baseball more than any other sport, even hunting. Fortunately for me, little Evening Shade had a fairly well-developed ball field (see photo at upper right) that served mainly as the venue for the men’s softball team. Most of the time, however, it was available for me to spend quality time alone on a hot summer’s day, secretly imagining myself as a big league baseball player when I grew up. To get to the ball park, I turned right toward town, walked straight through town, kept going until “town” turned into “country”, and I was there, in only about 10-15 minutes.  Watching the local team compete against nearby teams under the lights was only one of several ways I made memories there.

Bobby Johnson

One day I happened to be at the ball field when our team was having practice, in preparation for an upcoming night game against Ash Flat. As I began to watch, I was hoping that Bobby Johnson would be there. Bobby was a really big man, about six feet four inches tall and weighing 240 pounds, all muscle and bones. A few weeks before, at a home game, I had seen Bobby hit a ball harder than anything I had ever seen before. Bam! It was a sizzling line drive that sailed right over the center fielder’s head before it even began to sink to the ground. I wanted to be able to hit a ball like that when I grew up. And he could throw the ball so hard that no one wanted to catch it.

Anyway, back to the practice session. The guys decided to take a break and just have some fun for a few minutes. Bobby usually played first base, but he decided to take the mound and show off some of his “stuff” by pitching overhand to anyone who would dare to step up to the plate. He would buy anyone a large Coke if they could hit one of his pitches. What happened next was almost beyond belief. Bobby began to throw “roundhouse” curve balls. These pitches were coming so fast and curved so much that it was as if the ball was coming right at the batters from third base, at 90 miles an hour, audibly hissing (I kid you not!) all the way to the plate. That was enough to make them all bail out of the batters box before the pitch even got to home plate.

Needless to say, Bobby was the only one to enjoy a large Coke that day!

Toss-n-Hit

Most of the time though, the ball field was deserted, so I would bring along a baseball and bat to play toss-n-hit for a while. I would stand at home plate, hold the bat on my shoulder with my right hand, toss the ball high into the air with my left hand, grab the bat with both hands and then swing at the descending ball with all my might. I tried my best to hit a liner like the one I saw Bobby hit, but I just didn’t have the physique to take it to that level…yet. Nevertheless, I did hit some very impressive (to me) liners and got to experience that indescribable feeling when bat meets ball solidly with a loud “CRACK”! I’m sure some of you know, from personal experience, exactly what I’m talking about. Hitting the ball like this was fun, and I’m sure it improved my “ball-bat” coordination, but there is an obvious down side to playing ball this way: you always have to retrieve the ball yourself, and that dilutes the fun and gets boring pretty fast.

Good memories, though.

One in a Million?

But there was a memory I made at this ball field that was not so good. One late afternoon as I was on my way home from visiting a friend who lived just beyond the ball field, I decided to pause and “while away” some time; there really wasn’t anything better to do in sleepy little Evening Shade anyway. But, without my ball and bat, I thought, “What can I dream up to do for a few minutes on a vacant ball field? Oh, I know, I’ll practice throwing…rocks. That should be innocent enough to keep this preacher’s kid from getting into any kind of trouble, right?” So I collected a handful of stones and began chucking them, one at a time, at the wooden light posts that supported the light banks used for night games. I must admit that my aim was pretty good that day, and it wasn’t long before I got bored with the light posts and wanted a greater challenge, one that better suited my superior throwing ability. Just then my gaze rose all the way up to the light bank in right field. “No, you wouldn’t dare”, I thought, “What if I actually hit one of the lamps and broke it; then what? I would really be in big trouble, if anyone found out that the preacher’s kid did it!” After a brief pause, I swear I heard from the devil himself, “Hey, don’t sweat it. You’re good, but you’re not that good. The likelihood of your actually hitting a lamp is probably one in a million. Just chuck a rock or two at the light bank, and go on home knowing that you learned your limits today.” Well, with that seemingly solid advice in mind, I took a stone, wound up, and hurled it hard at the light bank, confident that I wouldn’t hit a lamp. But, alas and alack, this wasn’t my lucky day. The stone took off from my hand and headed straight for the light bank, and one in a million soon became one in one! The stone went straight into one of the lamps, which exploded with a loud pop, sending millions of glass shards raining down to the ground.  Suddenly, I was gripped with fear, and terrifying thoughts went racing through my mind, “Is anyone out and about?”, “Did anyone see what I did?”, “Did they recognize me?”, “Will they tell Daddy what I did?” But, thankfully, there was no one in sight that day. After all, this was lazy, little Evening Shade on a lazy summer day. “Besides, those lamps are always getting mysteriously busted, are they not?”, I reasoned, “So, I’ll just slip quietly away, and no one will suspect that this innocent little preacher’s kid broke this one.”

And I did, and, to my knowledge, they didn’t. But from then on, every time I went to the ball field and saw this very same broken lamp, I was reminded of my dirty little secret. Hey, you’re not going to tell on me, are you? Didn’t think so.

(To read more of my short stories, click HERE)

Bumblebees? Surely You Jest!

Bumblebees? Surely You Jest!

James R. Aist

“Some people live and learn; others just live.” – Gene

In an earlier story (click HERE), I introduced a childhood activity that we called “fightin’ waspers.” Growing up in the early-to-mid 1950s in Cypress Valley, Arkansas – one of the more rural areas of the state – did not afford much opportunity for the more standard kinds of leisure recreation, to put it conservatively. We lived on a dirt road off of a dirt road, and our friends were few and far between, literally. Consequently, we were often left to dream up novel activities to entertain ourselves, using whatever meager resources were at hand. This particular “adventure” took place when I was about 8-10 years old.

One of the most exotic and creative “games” we came up with to counter the boredom was what we called “fightin’ waspers.” Now, we were already into sneaking up on large “hummingbird” moths feeding on flowering shrubs and smacking them down with home-made ping pong paddles, or “snapping” them with home-made, woven “whips” constructed from cotton string. But we didn’t dare mix it up with our local wasp population, because we didn’t know how to make such an endeavor end well for us.

Not to worry, though; help was on the way. Through the intervention of a family friend, a Mr. Johnson, we learned that wasps cannot sting you while you are holding your breath. Well, it didn’t take long for us to put this new information to good use. But, how could we come up with a plan to, finally, take on the waspers and emerge victorious? After our twisted little minds had mulled it over for a while, we came up with the following rules of engagement: 1) decide beforehand whether we would either a) all stand still and let the waspers fly past without trying to sting us; or, b) strike them down with hand weapons fashioned from small persimmon bushes and try to actually kill as many as we could when they attacked; 2) walk along the dirt/gravel road looking for suitable wasp nests in the bushes lining the ditch, and then throw stones at them until we hit the nest, causing the wasps to “explode” off the nest looking for an enemy to attack; 3) always hold our breath, just in case we were attacked, despite all of our precautions; and 4) everyone will do the exact same thing (freeze or fight) each time we engaged the “enemy.”

After numerous successes, “fightin’ waspers” became established as a permanent part of our repertoire for dispelling boredom in Cypress Valley. Many a time, Johnny and I would summon Herman Lee, Fred Ray and/or Danny Lee to come over and play “fightin’ waspers” with us. And, as God is my witness, I can recall only two or three times anyone got stung, and that was only because they happened to take a fresh breath at just the wrong moment during the fight. Amateurs!

But this, admittedly risky, game took a turn for the worse one fateful Sunday morning. Tommy Joe, Herman Lee, Fred Ray and Danny Lee had joined Johnny and me at our house to “chill” until it was time to walk over to the local church for Sunday School. Now, Tommy Joe had heard about “fightin’ waspers”, but he had never actually participated in any of our wasper fights, and he didn’t know the rules. For some reason, while we were waiting in our living room to walk to church, Tommy Joe asked if we could play “fightin’ waspers” right then and there. When I heard him say that, “Satan entered into me”, and I devised a sinister plan to play a practical joke on Tommy Joe. Boys will be boys, you know.

So, I explained to Tommy Joe that we didn’t have time to roam the road-side looking for a suitable wasp nest, but there is a bumblebee hole (nest) – in the road embankment almost directly across the road – that is easy to find. “But”, I explained, “we only fight waspers, because bumblebees are so big, fly so fast and pack such a wallop in their stingers.” I was sure that would end the conversation. Not to be denied, however, Tommy Joe insisted that he wanted to fight the bumblebees anyway. So, thinking that he was really just bluffing, I led Tommy Joe through the front screen door and out into the front yard to show him the bumblebee hole. Without hesitation and to my surprise, Tommy Joe picked up a stone and proceeded to hurl it at the hole. By that time I was running like the wind back toward that screen door and the protection it would afford.

Alas and alack, and as luck would have it, Tommy Joe’s aim was true, and out came the bumblebees, mad as a hornet (so to speak)! Next thing we knew, Tommy Joe was making a bee-line (pun intended) for the screen door too, yelling and screaming and flailing his arms in panic. Once he was inside the house, we quickly gathered around him to see if he was alright. Well, he was not alright, not at all. A bumblebee had “nailed” him right on the tip of his nose, and his face was already beginning to swell up and turn red. The pain must have been intense, as he was crying and holding his hands to his face. This ruckus attracted the attention of my Mama, who rushed into the room to assess the situation. The moment she asked, “What in the world is going on?” I realized that this was not going to end well for either Tommy Joe or me.

With “such a cloud of witnesses surrounding me”, I had no recourse but to tell the truth and face the consequences. The exact sequence of the ensuing events was like a blur to me, but Mama dealt appropriately with me, making several swift and strategically placed contacts with my rear end, before driving Tommy Joe home and apologizing profusely to his Mama for what had transpired and for the now fully inflated, beet-red face of her poor little boy. And, much to my chagrin and regret, that was the first and the last time Tommy Joe was given permission to attend church with us. Go figure!

To this day I feel really bad about this – perhaps somewhat innocent – practical joke I played on my friend, Tommy Joe. If there is a moral to this story, I suppose it would be to carefully think through a practical joke before you set it in motion. Or, perhaps better yet, don’t set it in motion at all, because it could turn out to be a serious and irreversible disaster, as this one did. That said, “Y’all have a ‘fun-filled’ day, now, ya hear?”

(To enjoy more of my short stories, click HERE)