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!

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)

Mamma Makes a Mohawk Mistake….Or Does She?

Mamma Makes a Mohawk Mistake….Or Does She?

James R. Aist

On our way from Maryland, where I was born, to Arkansas, where I grew up, my family lived three years in central Indiana, near Marion, because Mamma had relatives in the area. Daddy had sold his share of the tobacco and dairy farm in Maryland to his brother, and in Indiana he worked three different farms that were owned by others, and we lived on them. Daddy was hoping to use the money from the Maryland deal to buy a new farm and get a fresh start. But, in the meantime, we were trying to get by on a shoestring, so to speak. The first of these farms was where this true story took place.

My brother, Johnny and I were about six and five years old, respectively, and a couple of cute little towheads we were, if I do say so myself.  Summer came, and it was time to have our hair cut shorter to coincide with the warmer weather in store. To save money, Mamma was the family barber, cropping off our hair with a pair of mechanical hand-held clippers. She did a right good job of it too, if I may say so. That is, until this particular haircut.

Mamma said that she would cut it any way we wanted it, and asked how we wanted it done. Now, somehow, Johnny and I had found out about a new haircut called a “Mohawk”, and, in our opinion, that was the haircut to have. So, we told her we wanted a “Mohawk.” She looked puzzled, and asked “What’s a Mohawk?” We explained that a Mohawk is the hair style worn by Mohawk Indian warriors, and it looks really neat. You just cut off all the hair as close to the scalp as possible, except for a two-inch strip right in the middle where you leave it about an inch or two long, running from the forehead, over the top of the head and all the way to the back of the neck. The strip of longer hair in the middle is then trained to stand straight up, like a Mohawk warrior’s. To make sure there was no confusion, we used hand gestures to illustrate: leave a strip of long hair right in the middle and cut the hair on both sides as short as possible. Mamma repeated it back to us, and everything seemed to be in order; we were going to get Mohawk haircuts!

Or so we thought. She started with me first, and her first cut was right down the middle, instead of anywhere but the middle! I yelled “What did you do? I wanted it cut just the opposite of that!” She seemed confused and surprised that she had gotten it exactly backwards, but there was nothing she could do to make it right, now. After Johnny and I had finished objecting loudly, Mamma asked “Well, what do you want me to do with it now?” Having been left with no attractive alternative, I grudgingly replied, “There’s only one thing you can do now: just cut it all off as short as the middle, and we’ll have to go around looking bald-headed all Summer!” So, that’s what she did, looking a bit too self-satisfied to suit me. Now Johnny and I were only 17 months apart in age, and we were used to doing things together. So, when Mamma was finished “shaving” my head, he opted to have her do the same with his, so that, at least, we would look alike. Needless to say, Johnny and I both went around all summer looking like bowling balls instead of Mohawk warriors!

We never did find out for sure whether or not Mamma really did misunderstand our instructions for a Mohawk, or if she was, instead, thinking it would be a clever trick to play on us to make the first cut down the middle just to see our reaction. What was clear, though, was that she didn’t share our chagrin when her “mistake” was discovered. But I must confess, in retrospect, that before long Johnny and I grew to like the shaved-head look; we thought it made us look even cuter than ever! And maybe, just maybe, that’s what Mamma had in mind all along.

(For more articles on TRUE TALES, click HERE)