Whoa Nellie!

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Whoa Nellie!

James R. Aist

Growing up on a small dairy farm in central Arkansas in the early 1950s sure had its moments, some more noteworthy than others. I was the youngest of four brothers, and I was, at times, eager to be like my two oldest brothers. They were more involved in manly, farm activities than I was, and I envied that.

We had other farm animals besides 40 milk cows and a bull. Of particular interest to me were our two horses. One was a run-of-the-mill work horse, a brownish stallion we called Tony. Tony was large and strong, and he had an attitude. He was so dangerous that Mama and Daddy would only let my two oldest brothers ride him. And that was fine with me, because I was afraid of him. But I still wanted to ride a horse, like my oldest brothers did.

Now the other horse was a beautiful black mare. I don’t remember her name, so for purposes of telling this story, I will refer to her as Nellie. She had a much more gentle spirit about her than did Tony, and she was much less dangerous to ride. So, about the time I turned eight years old, I was given permission to ride her.

At first I would ride her bareback, because it was difficult for an 8-year-old to saddle her up. The first time I rode her she seemed OK with me on her back, but she showed some reluctance to follow the “instructions” I gave using the reins. She wanted to go where she wanted to go, not always where I wanted her to go. Nevertheless, the ride ended without incident, and I enjoyed it. I can ride a horse…Yee-Haw!

With one successful ride under my belt, I was eager to ride again, still bareback. This time I felt more confident and relaxed, so I decided to not try and dictate exactly where she went, but to just enjoy the thrill of riding a horse without the hassle of controlling it. What could possibly go wrong, right? Now there was a large oak tree in the pasture field where I rode Nellie, and she and Tony liked to spend time under its shade during the hot summer days to keep cool. So, I was not surprised when Nellie made a bee-line for that tree, using a slow, steady gait. I was enjoying the ride so much that I didn’t notice the low-hanging limb directly ahead in the direction Nellie was taking. I can’t explain why, but when I did spot that limb, I just assumed that Nellie would navigate around it, for my sake. She was, after all, a gentle, kindly beast, right? Well, I was about to find out that Nellie had a mean streak in her. As we approached that low-hanging limb, I noticed that Nellie was still heading straight for it. Then I noticed that the limb was lower than I had first thought it was. Then I noticed that I couldn’t duck low enough to miss that limb. Then I noticed that Nellie was ducking the limb. Then I noticed that the limb hit me in the chest. Then I noticed that I was flat on my back looking up at the tree. Then I noticed that I was unhurt. Then it occurred to me that Nellie did that on purpose! Do you have any idea what its like to be outsmarted by a horse and end up flat on your back? Well, I do. Fortunately, no one was watching; I checked.

Because I am not one to give up easily, I purposed in my heart to ride again, this time with a saddle firmly in place to help prevent a repeat of the previous incident. And I was going to make the most of it this time; I was going to ride Nellie at full speed, just to find out how fast she could go! So, up the driveway and down the road we went, in the direction of the graveyard. (OK, I know what you’re thinking, but no, the graveyard has no particular significance to this story. I am, after all, sitting here writing this story, am I not?) Anyway, I had a plan for getting Nellie to open up and run like the wind: I would ride her slowly about a quarter of a mile toward the graveyard, stop, turn her around toward the house, then back her into the ditch so she would have a good place from which to launch, then kick her sharply in the abdomen with both feet while yelling “HEE-Yah!”, and then hold on for dear life.

Everything was going perfectly according to plan until I got her backed into the ditch. Then, as I was about to “spur” her into action, she suddenly shook and squealed and took off for home lickety-split, as if shot out of a cannon! I was both surprised and terrified at first, but I soon realized I could hold on. So that turned out to be a most thrilling and exhilarating experience, and I enjoyed it immensely. That is, until I realized that Nellie was now leaving the road at full bore and heading across the lawn and Mama’s Irises, straight toward the milk barn. She managed to come to a screeching halt in front of the barn, and I was unharmed, again. I can’t say as much for the Irises, however. Mama came running out of the house demanding to know why I had ridden right over her Irises! Of course, I had no defense; Nellie goes wherever she wants to. Mama soon cooled down and opted to let me live to ride another day. Just not through those Irises!

All things considered, it was quite a successful escapade for me, despite the surprises. I had achieved my main goal, and let me tell you, that horse could flat out run!

After Word

For many years, when I would cogitate on this thrill ride at the expense of Mama’s Irises, I couldn’t figure out what it was that had spooked Nellie in the ditch. Then one day I put two and two together: in those ditches along the dirt road we lived on were many wasp nests hanging from the bushes growing there. And those nests were crawling with wasps, just waiting to attack and sting any creature clueless enough to disturb them. And that day, Nellie just happened to be that creature. That’s my story, and I’m sticking with it!

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

Driving the Farmall…Just a Little Bit Too Far!

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Driving the Farmall…Just a Little Bit Too Far!

James R. Aist

Growing up on a small dairy farm in central Arkansas in the early 1950s sure had its moments, some more noteworthy than others. I was the youngest of four brothers, and I was, at times, eager to be like my two oldest brothers. They were more integrated into farm operations than I was, and I envied that.

Between our house and the milk barn was a beautiful winged elm tree, in front of which we routinely parked our tractor, an IH McCormick  Farmall. By the time I was about 8 years old, I had figured out that this Farmall was my ticket to farming manhood. Consequently, I looked for every opportunity (excuse) to operate that vehicle for any reason my parents would allow. I started by running errands with it to the corner store and back for some essential food items Mama needed. Mind you, this was safe, because we lived off a dirt road off another dirt road, and any traffic on that road was the talk of the day. Then I graduated to hooking our two-wheeled trailer to the tractor and delivering hay to the cows in the pasture field near the cow lot, in the winter time.

Well, by then I figured I had come a long way toward qualifying for some serious farm work with the Farmall. I had executed countless errands  and chores with it, with nary a mishap. Then I began to observe how my oldest brother, Art, liked to show off his skill with the tractor: he would race down the driveway toward the tree to park it as usual, but then, at the last second, he would stop suddenly, just as close to the tree trunk as humanly possible without hitting it. I was very impressed. And I figured that if I would do the same with the tractor, then I might just get myself that much closer to being allowed to do some real farm work with it. It would be as a right of passage to manhood, I reckoned. I could hardly wait for Mama to ask me to drive the tractor to the store and back again; just wait ’til they see what I can do with it! No need to practice, man, I was ready!

Well, the big day finally arrived, and off I went, head held high. On the way back from the store, I rehearsed in my head exactly how I would pull off this impressive maneuver. So, I turned into the driveway and prepared for my approach: I had to be fast enough to be impressive, but quick enough to stop just in time, like Art. And I pulled it off just as planned…except for one little detail: if you release the clutch before the engine stops turning over, the tractor will lunge forward a little bit. Sadly, that little bit was supposed to be the distance between the tree trunk and the tractor grill when I was done parking! Consequently, I ended up ramming the front of the tractor into the tree trunk, denting the grill and breaking the radiator hose. There was steam everywhere! Thankfully, the tree wasn’t injured, but I can’t say as much for my ego.

Needless to say, my little scheme backfired on me, and it was a good while before I was entrusted with any real farm work. Dag-nabbit!

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.)