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)

Wasper Warriors


Wasper Warriors

James R. Aist

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 resources were at hand. These particular adventures took place when I was about 8-10 years old.

One of the most exotic and creative “games” we came up with was what we called “fightin’ waspers.” Now, we were already into sneaking up on large 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.

That is, until the Johnsons invited my family to enjoy Sunday dinner with them. After dinner, old man Johnson asked me and my next-older brother, Johnny, if we liked to fish. Well, of course we said, “Yes.” “Come with me”, he said, “and I’ll get you some great fishing bait.” So we followed Mr. Johnson out to his barn, where he fetched a long ladder and placed it against the barn near the edge of the roof. Johnny and I were confused at this point, wondering how he was going to get fishing worms from way up there. As Mr. Johnson began to scale the ladder, we stepped up closer to get a better look, and then we saw it…a dinner-plate sized wasp nest tucked up under the roof and literally covered with big, black “German waspers.” There must have been a couple hundred wasp larvae in that nest that would make excellent fish bait, but how was he going to fetch it for us without getting seriously peppered with nasty wasp stings? Without hesitation, Mr. Johnson calmly reached up with his left hand, snapped the stem of the nest, held the nest out to one side and gently shook off all of the wasps. Once the wasps had all flown away, down the ladder he came, unscathed, and handed the nest to us. Needless to say, we were dumbfounded. “How did you do that without getting stung”, we asked? “It’s easy”, Mr. Johnson explained, “All you have to do is move slowly so the wasps won’t attack you, and hold your breath so they can’t sting you.” Now that didn’t sound quite right to us, but we saw it happen right before our eyes; not one sting! “Are you kidding us”, we asked, to which he relied “No, I’m not kidding at all; I’ve done this many times without getting stung, but you have to do it just as I said.”

Well, it didn’t take long for us to put this new information to good use. How could we come up with a plan to, finally, take on the waspers and emerge victorious? First, we needed a “hand weapon”, just in case we wanted to actually engage the wasps in combat.  For that, we would cut small persimmon saplings out of the pasture field, trim off the lower branches, hold the stems together in our hand for a handle and flail at the attacking waspers to knock them to the ground, where we could then stomp them to death. That should work. Then, after our twisted little minds had mulled it over for a while longer, we came up with the following rules of engagement: 1) decide beforehand whether we would either all stand still and let the waspers fly past without trying to sting us, or, instead, strike them down with our hand weapons 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 rocks 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 same thing (freeze or fight) each time we engaged the “enemy”, no matter what.

So, it came time to give this plan the “acid test”; we were finally going to play “fightin’ waspers!” Sensing it would probably be safer to start by just standing still (we weren’t yet fully convinced that holding our breath would really work), we set out to find a small wasp nest to attack (fewer stings if this adventure went south on us). With our hand weapons at the ready, we hurled stones at the target nest until…BAM, bull’s eye. Instantly, a dozen waspers came right at us. We “froze” immediately, arms to our sides and stiff as a board, hoping, nay, praying, that Mr. Johnson was right, and the waspers would leave us alone if we didn’t move. And, sure enough, they all flew right by us as if we weren’t there! Needless to say, we were relieved and very proud of ourselves for displaying such courage in the face of danger (Never mind that we stirred up the danger ourselves; hey, this was Cypress Valley, where you either get bored to death or you stir up some excitement for entertainment.)

Feeling more confident and cocky than ever, we decided that it was time to take it to the next level and actually fight the waspers.  So, we found another small wasp nest (we were not dummies, despite what you may be thinking right about now), struck it with a rock, took a deep breath, held our breath and swatted at the angry waspers with our hand weapons as they came at us. One by one we knocked waspers to the ground, stomped them to death and then waited for an oppurtunity to catch our breath and continue the fight. When the skirmish was finally over, we had killed about half of the dozen or so waspers who had left the nest to engage us. And even though several of the waspers had actually struck us to sink in their stinger, not one of us reported getting stung. Holding your breath really does prevent stings, just as Mr. Johnson told us!

Well, those successes established “fightin’ waspers” as a permanent part of our repertoire for dispelling boredom in Cypress Valley. Many a time we would summon Herman Lee, Tommy Joe, Fred Ray and 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.

And now, for this story’s “grand finale”, I will relate the most spectacular and amazing encounter of all. It was late August, and we were nearing the end of the “fightin’ waspers” season. I was in the back yard and just happened to glance across the well-grazed pasture field when I spotted it. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Right there in the middle of the pasture field was a lone persimmon tree about six feet tall with a dinner plate-sized nest covered with the large, black German waspers! It must have been there all summer, growing larger and larger, so how in the world did we not see it before?! We had never attacked such a large nest, and it was so far into the field that in order to get close enough to hit it with a rock we would have to walk right out into the field and become prime targets for dozens and dozens of angry German waspers. So, which would it be; leave it alone because of the real and present danger of  getting covered with nasty wasp stings and, instead, just revel in our prior victories that season, or…or, crown our already impressive summer campaign with a truly mind-boggling battle, the mother of all wasper battles, as it were? Well, needless to say, we chose the latter. This nest was just daring us to try and conquer it, what with it’s “in your face” location and all, and the only way we could emerge from this challenge with a story to tell was to attack. And attack we did, but with a unique strategy that would address the unique demands of this particular nest. Actually fighting such a large hoard of winged, oncoming abdomens loaded with formic acid would be virtual suicide, so we decided to not even try that. Instead, we would walk to just within striking range, throw rocks until we finally hit the nest, fall immediately to the ground facing the nest, lay still and straight (presenting the minimal possible target size to the oncoming waspers) and hold our positions – no matter what – until all of the waspers had passed by.

Slowly, then, we walked toward the nest, picking up suitable throwing rocks as we went. When we were within throwing distance, we began to hurl rocks at the nest, one at a time. The first two chucks were so far off the mark that I began to wonder if we would be able to hit it at all. Then, summoning all of my strength (and luck), I gave the next rock a powerful heave (if I do say so myself), and…Bam, it struck that big nest smack-dab in the middle. Immediately 20,000 (OK, maybe it was “just” 200) vicious German waspers rose from that nest in unison, like a dark cloud, and suddenly I was no longer convinced that this was a good idea after all. Wisely, I reminded the others that our only hope was to stick with our plan, because in that open pasture field, there was, literally, no place to hide and no way to outrun them. So we hit the ground, facing the nest. What happened next was quite unexpected, immensely terrifying and wonderfully spectacular.

The cloud of waspers leveled out about three feet off the ground, forming a flat line of ferocious fighters arranged wingtip-to-wingtip and heading right for us. (It was hauntingly like the infamous German “blitzkrieg” of WWII; they were, after all, German waspers!). As they came closer and closer, they held this amazing formation perfectly, and I began to wonder if, somehow, this was their plan to punish us if we dared to attack their well-placed and well-guarded position. When they were about half way to us, we began to hear the beating of their collective wings making a low-pitched, very intimidating, humming noise. That’s about the time our bodies wanted so bad to bolt and run for our lives that it was all our minds could do to prevent them from doing so. Surely they had “made” us and were about to give us the licking that we deserved. But hold our positions we did, and as the well-disciplined, angry air corps passed over us, we braced ourselves for the worst. Then…nothing happened; they all just flew right over us, as if we weren’t even there. We waited for about another 30 seconds, and then we looked back to see where the waspers had gone. Low and behold, they were all clustered together in a tight ball in another persimmon tree that was about 100 feet behind us. We looked at each other in amazement and agreed that that was a very close call, but we won! Now, we had to come up with a way to retreat from the battle scene without attracting their attention and inciting another attack, perhaps with a less agreeable outcome. So we rose slowly to our feet, paused for a moment, and then circled nonchalantly way around to one side, ending up at the barn, safely outside of the purview of the ball of restless, and still-angry, ball of waspers.

Now, I will admit this may have been one adventure that was seriously ill-advised, but, WOW, did we have a story to tell this time!

DISCLAIMER: You know the drill … “don’t try this at home” … “only for trained professionals” … “not responsible for accidents” … “blah, blah, blah.”

(For more TRUE TALES, click HERE)

Who’s Guilty?

Who’s Guilty?

by Guest Author, Angie Brown

Mr. Callahan, a physical education teacher, was standing below the upper hallway talking to other teachers when a large piece of chalk hit him directly on the top of his balding head, with such force as to bring tears to his eyes. With a shocked look on his face, Mr. Callahan raced up the stairs, passing pretty Miss Gertie Levelle, the school’s top student, who was on her way down the stairs. As he reached the top of the stairs, he confronted a group of boys milling around in the hallway. These students had assembled in the upper hallway and were waiting for classes to start.

“Who dropped that chalk?” he roared. No one answered. Yanking a note pad out of his coat pocket, he said, “I want names.”  Hurriedly, he wrote: Frederick, Finley, Cassidy, Holson and Green.  “I want you fellows in the Principal’s Office after classes.  Every one of you,” he ordered.  The bell rang and the students began filing into their respective classrooms.

One of the group, Rob Finley, a druggist’s son, spoke up first, “I guess we’re in for trouble.”  The town lawyer’s son, Sam Frederick, had thoughts a little more serious, saying “I sure don’t want any black marks against me.  I’m gunning for a scholarship.” John Cassidy, the well-fed lad whose parents operated a local restaurant, had a more optimistic feeling.  “It can’t be all that bad”, he said, “You know how Callahan makes mountains out of mole hills.” Eric Holson was a preacher’s kid and was rather worried.  He said nothing, but when he related the incident to his parents, his father promptly gave him one of his sermons. The farm boy, Russ Green, didn’t like being detained, but, as he was one of the group, he had to go along. Needless to say, the boys weren’t anxious for classes to dismiss.

After school, the boys seated themselves in the Principal’s Office and the door was closed.  The Principal, Mr. Bigalo, said, “I have here a report from Mr. Callahan that someone deliberately dropped a large piece of chalk on his head this afternoon.  I ask the guilty one to step forward.”  There was shuffling of feet, but no admission. The Principal continued, “Gentlemen, you may not think this is a serious matter, but dropping even a small item like a piece of chalk on a person’s bald head can be a painful experience.  There is tremendous force there, as was proven by Mr. Callahan’s reaction.  We’re not going to let it happen again.” Still, there was no response. The boys were kept waiting about an hour.  Finally, Mr. Bigalo said, “Tomorrow you will all come again, and every day, until the culprit is found.  You may go.” The boys left, grumbling to each other on their way out.

Now, just prior to the incident, pretty Miss Gertie Levelle, arms bulging with books and paraphernalia, had walked to the end of the upper hallway and adjusted her load on the top of the railing. On her way to the Home Economics Room for her sewing class on the first floor, she was hurrying down the stairs with a better grip on her belongings, when Mr. Callahan came running up the stairs to confront the boys. During the sewing class, after cutting out her cloth, Gertie was ready to mark her corduroy fabric.  As she spread it out, she looked around for her marker, but couldn’t locate it anywhere. “Miss Jordan,” Gertie said, “may I borrow your chalk.  I seem to have lost mine.  It was a brand new piece, too.” Miss Jordan was about to open her desk drawer when she suddenly stopped, thought for a moment and said, “Gertie, I think I know where we can find your new chalk.  Let’s go see Mr. Bigalo.”

And the moral of the story is…things aren’t always as they seem.

(For more short stories by Angie Brown, click HERE.)

Déjà vu All Over Again…Almost!

BonnieDéjà vu All Over Again…Almost!

James R. Aist

If you have cats, you know that they are consummate creatures of habit. And it is often said that they usually forget things after a few weeks. Well, this true story may well be proof positive of those two kitty characteristics.

It all happened on Snyder Hill, just a little southeast of Ithaca, in upstate New York, about 15 years ago. We had two cats, Bonnie and Clyde, but we had to let Clyde “go” because he became mean and unruly. That left just Bonnie, whose personality blossomed after Clyde’s departure, especially her assertiveness. And it was a good thing, too.

One hot summer evening (yes, it does occasionally get hot in upstate New York, believe it or not), Bonnie and I were in the living room when we heard a neighborhood cat let out a menacing verbalization that can best be described as a long-drawn-out, blood-curdling “scrowl.” When this announcement was repeated, it became obvious to both of us that this intruder was approaching the living room window, which was open, with only the window screen between us and him. So, Bonnie took it upon herself to fend off this intruder at all costs, and she began to answer his threats in like manner. As he got closer and closer to the window from the outside, so, too, did Bonnie get closer and closer to it from the inside. Now, both of these ferocious beasts were exchanging the most insidious of threatening insults with seriously hurtful intentions. Suddenly, Bonnie jumped up onto the back of the couch with her face just inches away from the screen. I knew that something violent was about to come down, so I summoned my wife, Janet, to come quickly, so she wouldn’t miss out on the ensuing encounter.

Just as Janet entered the room, the intruder leapt onto the screen with a fierce scream and a menacing glare on his face. In a split second, Bonnie joined him on the screen in like manner. I am constrained to relate exactly the “words” that were rapidly exchanged between the two cats suspended in this pose for a few moments, but suffice it to say that there was no love lost between challenger and defender. Then, realizing that there was no way that he was going to get at Bonnie with the screen separating the two of them, the would-be intruder gingerly relinquished his grip on the screen, dropped to the ground…kerplunk, and slinked away into the night. Convinced that she had won the day, Bonnie then abandoned the screen and returned to her place in the living room, as proud as a peacock. And we, too, were quite impressed and proud of our vicious little attack cat.

But, that’s not the end of the story, not by a long shot. Fast forward a few months. It’s now Fall, the nights are cold, the screen was up and the glass sash was in its lowered position. The evening began innocently enough, but we were in for some exceptional entertainment. Bonnie and I were, once again, in the living room when we heard the same neighborhood cat let out a menacing verbalization that can best be described as a long-drawn-out, blood-curdling “scrowl.” When this announcement was repeated, it became obvious to both of us that this intruder was, once again, approaching the living room window, which was now closed, with only the window glass between us and him. So, again, Bonnie took it upon herself to fend off this intruder at all costs, and she began to answer his threats. As he got closer and closer to the window from the outside, so, too, did Bonnie get closer and closer to it from the inside. Now, both of these ferocious beasts were exchanging the most insidious of threatening insults with seriously hurtful intentions. By this time, I was already saying to myself, “No-no-no, surely he wouldn’t, not with the glass in place now. I don’t know if I can survive the intensity of the ensuing laughter if he were to do that again.” But, just in case, I beckoned Janet into the living room once again, so she wouldn’t miss out on the fun. Anticipating what might be coming, we were already about to burst out in laughter when, low and behold, it happened.

Bonnie jumped up onto the back of the couch with her face just inches away from the glass. As anticipated, the would-be intruder leapt onto the glass with a fierce scream and a menacing glare on his face. In a split second, Bonnie joined him on the glass in like manner. I am constrained to relate exactly the “words” that were rapidly exchanged between the two cats suspended in this pose for a split second, but that pose didn’t last long. Like Wiley Coyote who, chasing feverishly after the Road Runner, failed to make the turn just before the cliff and was briefly suspended in mid-air before crashing to the ground…kuh-thump, so, too, these valiant feline warriors seemed suspended in time for a brief moment before the reality of gravity set in, and, bug-eyed and terrified, they came crashing (more precisely, sliding rapidly) down. At this point we were so consumed by uncontrollable laughter that we had zero concern for Bonnie’s well being following her fall. But, not to worry, we finally regained our composure to find that the couch was soft and had afforded her a perfect landing place. I can’t say that the other cat fared as well, though.

And that was the last we heard from this unwelcome, wannabe intruder. I guess his memory must have lasted more than a few weeks that time!

(For more True Tales on my website, click HERE)