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.)

Wait for It, Wait for It…OK, Now!

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Wait for It, Wait for It…OK, Now!

James R. Aist

This true-life experience happened when I was about four or five years old, and my family was living in central Indiana, near Marion. We were living in a large, stately, red brick farmhouse with tall, white pillars in the front and a long driveway lined with stately white pines. Daddy had been hired to manage this attractive farm property, which we called “the Love Farm”, after the original owner. Out back was a large barn used to store hay in the loft and to house animals and farm machinery on the bottom floor.

For some time I had been longing to climb up the ladder inside the barn and explore the hayloft, but I was forbidden to do so, because it was at least 10 feet high above a solid concrete floor. If I were to fall through the large hole that had developed in the hayloft floor, I would surely be seriously injured or even fatally wounded, according to Mama anyway. Then one day I came up with a brilliant idea: I would get my older sister, Carol, to accompany me in my adventure and make sure that I didn’t get close enough to the hole in the floor to fall through it. Voila! Problem solved. (For some reason, Mama agreed to this arrangement.) So out to the barn we went, where I promptly began to scale the ladder, with Carol watching closely. About half way up the ladder I began to get second thoughts about this adventure, because it began to dawn on me just high up 10 feet really is! And that hard concrete floor would not be a particularly hospitable landing pad should I, in fact, accidentally fall through the hole, Carol’s watchful eye notwithstanding. However, I was too far into the plot to quit now and have to suffer the embarrassment of returning to the house a failure, especially with an eye witness present to tell the story. So, I gathered my courage and scaled the rest of the ladder without further ado. At the top I crawled onto the hayloft floor, stood up victoriously, and began to walk around and explore the corners and edges of the hayloft to see what was really up there.

Nothing much of any real interest was there, so I approached the hole cautiously to look down at Carol and tell her I was done and ready to climb down. But, as I looked down over the edge of the hole, I got dizzy from the height, lost my balance and went hurtling down through the hole straight toward the concrete floor 10 feet below; “Carol can’t help me now!”, I thought to myself. As I was falling, I saw myself getting closer and closer to impact. It was terrifying. Then BAM, I hit the floor, landing perfectly flat, belly side down. By this time Carol was running toward me in a panic to see how badly I was hurt and console me until help could arrive. As it turned out, I had, miraculously, suffered only a slightly cut lip – no broken bones, no bruises and not even any scrapes from the impact!

I was so frightened by the fall that I was about to break down into full-blown bawling and crying, with tears, when Carol arrived to console and comfort me. But just then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw Mama running toward me calling out to us in fear of the worst. So, now I had a dilemma: do I start crying now and waste my tears on Carol, or do I hold off until Mama gets here so she can do the consoling and comforting instead. Well, that was a no-brainer. So I puckered up my face, held my breath and waited for Mama to arrive. Then I let-er-rip. Good choice; I was rewarded royally for my patience. After all, Mamas always trump big sisters when it comes to giving consolation and comfort. You just have to muster enough self-control to get the timing right!

Now, you may wonder, as I do, how I could have escaped such a fall with only a slightly cut lip. Think what you will, but I am convinced that, on that day, I put my “guardian angel” to the test, and he passed with “flying” colors (so to speak!).

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

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)

Joys without Toys

Joys without Toys

by Angeline Brown, Guest Author

Where they lived, just within the city limits of Olean, New York, all they had to do was cross the road, walk through Ward’s meadow, trudge across Rusnick’s apple orchard, and “presto”, they were in the woods. The children would often go this way to pick Violets, Trilliums and May Apples in the Spring. Later in the growing season, they often stopped to pick a handful of Choke Cherries. A few would do, because the mouth puckered and felt shrunken from the slightly toxic taste.

They climbed the first hill, which brought them to the stone quarry. It was time now to sit down and throw pebbles to the bottom of the rocks. They made a pleasant echoing sound in the stillness of the woods as they careened from rock to rock on their way down. After a momentary rest, the children continued up the tower line.

This way lead on up, higher and higher. At this point, they stayed alert. Bears were seen here a time or two. Reaching the top provided a wonderful vantage point for observation. From there, they could view much of Olean. They picked out streets and buildings in the city, studying and surveying the whole scene all at once. They were always amazed at the vastness of this view, from the north hill all the way around to the southern boundary of the city.

The children explored the area, wandering to the East and to the West, stopping to make a dam in the pure, running brook. It trickled slowly over stones, making a wide channel to walk across and cool their bare feet. They found crabs (crawdads) under rocks and frogs waiting to catch insects. There were also many other interesting things in the woods: ferns that grew knee high, fragrant honeysuckle bushes, and mosses that looked like green velvet. Vines twisted around tall trees, high out of sight, and many hemlock evergreens held tiny, baby cones that were being rocked to-and-fro on the branches by a gentle breeze.

Going to the other side of the hill, they found the remains of a dwelling: just the shallow cellar with part of the wall intact. Later they learned it was a home that had burned down about a hundred years before. Also visible nearby were some rotting fence posts and a dilapidated gate, which probably kept a horse or cow enclosed.

Walking down to a point near the bottom of the hill, they found an overgrown path and a water hole with water still trickling in from a spring higher up. Continuing down the facsimile of a path, they saw flying squirrels leaping from tree to tree and chattering noisily, warning others about the intruders.

On towards the road, they encountered an elderly gentleman working in a large garden. He was dressed in blue overalls and a straw hat, and pushed a cultivator. He stopped and mopped his brow. “Hello,” he called. “Hello, Mr. Curtiss” replied the children. They recognized the man; he often walked along the road to the garden. They visited for a few moments, and then walked to the road towards home.

This way proved to be a lot longer than the shortcut they had taken earlier. Along the way, the children noticed a herd of Holsteins in Malone’s pasture and the large, unpainted barn that housed them, plus a couple of dogs that gave them a friendly greeting.

Passing a few more country homes, they reached their own road. As they caught sight of their house, they could almost smell the cabbage rolls that were cooking on Mom’s stove. Home at last, after a long afternoon. With a surge of fresh energy, the youngest child bolted through the door, yelling, “Last one in is a rotten egg!”

(For more short stories by Angeline Brown, click HERE)