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)

A Harrowing Experience

English: Harrowing to incorporate straw near T...A Harrowing Experience

James R. Aist

We were living on a dairy farm in Cypress Valley, a very rural, unofficial community in central Arkansas. It was 1955, and I was 10 years old. My two oldest brothers had been allowed to do real farm work – i.e., working a field with serious farm equipment attached to a farm tractor – for several years. I, however, being only 10 years old, was allowed to do only lesser tasks that don’t really qualify one for manhood, as defined on a working farm. I could drive the family’s Farmall tractor down the dirt road to the General Store and back to pick up a few groceries, I could hitch a small, two-wheeled trailer to the tractor and distribute hay to the cows in the winter time, and I could help out in the milking parlor, “cleaning” the floor, mixing and “serving” dairy feed and operating the milking machines. But all of that is what makes you a farm boy, not a man, like Daddy and my two oldest brothers.

For some time I had been asking Daddy to let me work a field. I’m not sure that he knew why I was so eager to move up to field work, but I wanted to complete the “right of passage” to manhood, and it meant a great deal to me at that time. So, finally, Daddy agreed that I was ready, and he assigned me an entry level task to get started. I was to drive the tractor across the pasture to the woods, where I would find an “undeveloped” farm road leading to a small field nestled in the edge of the woods. This field had been plowed recently by one of the farm “men.” My task was, more specifically, to connect the two-wheeled “field harrow”, which had been left at the edge of the field, to the tractor, lower the tines of the harrow, pull the harrow across the field to reduce the large clods and clumps of soil left by the plow to a fine consistency suitable for planting, raise the tines and then pull the harrow back out of the field and across the pasture field to the main barn for storage. That sounded simple and straight forward to me, and so I set out to “git ‘er dun.” Finally, I was going to become a man!

Or so I thought. Everything was going according to plan until it was time for me to pull the harrow out of the field and between the two trees that defined the path to the farm road leading to the pasture field. Oh, wait, did I fail to mention that the harrow was ever so slightly wider than the tractor? Well, I found that out as I was trying to clear the two trees guarding the exit to the farm road. Apparently, I did not take the perfect angle in my approach to the opening between the two trees, and, sure enough, I managed to get the harrow lodged between the two trees as I attempted my get-away. Upon realizing what I had done, panic set in immediately. Can I manage to get the harrow dislodged and pull it triumphantly back to the barn as if nothing had gone wrong, thus sealing my membership into the coveted manhood fraternity, or would I have to leave the harrow stuck between the two trees and slink back to the barn with only the tractor, like a defeated dog with his tail between his legs? Well, try as I may, I could not free the harrow. After all, I was only 10 years old, and the harrow was definitely in the category of “heavy equipment.”

My return to the main barn was, to say the least, deflating and embarrassing. Daddy had to retrieve the harrow, and I was still not a man. And the worst part of it was that I had proven to the whole family that I was still only a farm boy! Then, to make matters worse, Daddy had just received his first assignment as an ordained Methodist Minister, and we moved away from the farm before I could get another chance to earn my manhood badge. But then, with time, I managed to get over it…or did I?

Postscript: I’ll bet that when you read the title, you didn’t see this coming!

(For more short and/or humorous stories, click HERE)