Guess Who I Ran Into On My Way To Work!

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Guess Who I Ran Into On My Way To Work!

James R. Aist

Better safe(er) than sorry!

If you have ever tried to maneuver your car on “black ice”, even on a straight, level road, you should be able to fully appreciate the encounter I am about to share with you. However, this road was covered, not by frozen rain (i.e., black ice), but by a thin coating of fresh snow that had been thoroughly packed down and smoothed out by early morning traffic and then lightly “lubricated” by a layer of thin water created by brilliant sunshine melting the surface of the packed snow, resulting in “white ice.” In this case, however, there was no caution sign.

Here’s what happened. We lived in a very rural area not far from my job at Cornell University. It was a beautiful winter morning, very cold, but caressed by brilliant sunshine. My neighbor across the street had just pulled out ahead of me to drive to his work, also at Cornell. Ours were the only two houses on our road. As I left my driveway heading to work, I began to enjoy the beauty of a light snow that had fallen overnight, now sparkling in the sunlight. Once I turned onto the main road, however, I soon realized that the road surface was “as slick as deer guts on a door knob”, at least as hazardous as black ice. This was white ice!

That’s when I slowed down as an extra precaution, knowing that my braking time would be greatly increased. Then I began to ponder the situation that could develop up ahead, where my neighbor would have to stop ahead of me at a “T” intersection. But, I reckoned he was far enough ahead of me to clear the intersection before I got there, so I relaxed a bit. Then I rounded a corner and could now see all the way to the “T” intersection, and it was not good. My neighbor had stopped at the intersection alright, but he had to wait there for another neighbor coming from his left to clear the intersection before he could turn right and get out of my way! I was already going very slow, but I began to decelerate further, just to be sure I wouldn’t rear-end my neighbor before he could turn right. As I drew closer and closer to the intersection, I became increasingly aware that there was a good possibility that I was going to run into my neighbor on the way to work. That realization inspired me to begin lightly pumping my brakes to get as much traction as possible without fish-tailing out of control, and, hopefully, to avoid a very embarrassing collision on a clear day on a straight, level road with only three cars in sight.

But alack and alas, I was just a teenchy bit too late with the brake pumping, so I began to steer ever so slightly to the left, in hopes I could slip around him to the left and stop before hitting the ditch on the other side of the cross road. And, I almost made it. At a speed of about two miles per hour – it was like slow motion – I clipped his left-rear bumper with my right-front fender. Then, as a result of the impact, I finally stopped, now quite embarrassed to have to look my neighbor in the face after what had I had just done!

The good news is that my neighbor was kind and gracious toward me. He simply popped his bumper back into place and drove off to work, no problem. I, on the other hand, drove off to work with a dent in my right-front fender the size of a volleyball. But, we both got a good chuckle out of this bazaar encounter. After all, how often do you run into your neighbor on your way to work?

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

My Favorite Pie that Wasn’t!

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My Favorite Pie that Wasn’t!

James R. Aist

When Daddy became an ordained Methodist minister in Arkansas in the mid-1950s, and I was about ten years old, our family became increasingly familiar with the tradition of churches having pot-luck dinners on the grounds after the morning worship service. This transition delighted me no end, because I had already developed a lust for food, especially of the sweet varieties. There was a plethora of different foods to choose from while filling your plate and no limit to the number of times you could return to the food tables for more! Consequently, I became most interested in going to church when I knew there would be a pot-luck dinner afterward. (Hey, cut me some slack; I was only ten years old!)

Speaking of desserts, Mama did a lot of cooking for us, and she was quite good at it. My favorite of all of her culinary creations was her lemon meringue pie; it had just the right combination of sweet and tangy with a gentle taste of lemon, and it always seemed to disappear from the family dinner table far too quickly to suit my taste, so to speak. So, I always looked forward to visiting the dessert tables at the pot-luck dinners to search out and sample the lemon meringue pies on display there.

On one such occasion, I reconnoitered the dessert tables ahead of time, and to my great satisfaction and anticipation there were a half-dozen beautiful and inviting lemon meringue pies just waiting for me to chose one to begin with. The “blessing” was asked, and I hurriedly filled my first plate with fried chicken, fried okra, tater salad and “poke salad.” After dutifully cleaning this plate, I moved on to what I considered the main course: desserts. Eagerly I rushed to the lemon meringue pies, looked them all over carefully, and chose the one most closely resembling the ones my Mama usually made. I was salivating as I drew aside to begin my conquest.

But, instead of the blissful, sweet and lemony satisfaction I was anticipating upon my first mouthful, I was met with a strongly sour, rather sulfurous sensation that nearly gagged me! “What kind of lemon meringue pie is this?”, I thought to myself. “Is it even lemon meringue? What am I going to do now? I don’t want to make a scene by spitting it out in plain sight, but there’s no way I can swallow this bite, much less eat the rest of the piece!” I looked around, desperately searching for a tree I could discreetly get behind and clear my mouth without being noticed. Having found one, I then needed to find a way to ditch the remains of that vile pretender without incident. Thank God there was a trash can handy, off to one side! I quickly made use of it and proceeded to rinse out my mouth with sweet tea, again and again.

The shock of that horrible experience was so severe that I was not sure, at first, if I was up to trying a different piece of pie. But my hankering for lemon meringue pie soon brought me to my senses, and I was soon rewarded richly for my bravery (with a different pie, of course!). And what was the lesson learned? Things are not always as they seem!

You may be wondering what kind of pie looked to me like lemon meringue and made me gag. I don’t know, but my best guess is that it was either a pie crust filled with deviled egg filling and topped with meringue, or some version of vinegar pie topped with meringue. Got any ideas?

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

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!