Mr. Jug, Tar Baby and the Stuck Cow
Copyright © G. Wasdin All rights reserved.
“Hey, it’s Mr. Jug,” I shouted as I slid quickly but carefully from my perch in the gnarled old dogwood tree in my grandmama’s front yard. I’d gotten many a scrape shinnying down a tree too fast and besides I’d spotted Mr. Jug first and had a head start, so I could afford to take a little time to spare my epidermis.
A dusty old truck sputtered and puffed its way into the drive, clattered across the cattle gap and then coasted to a stop as I, my brother and cousins bunched up around the driver‘s window.
“Mr. Jug, Mr. Jug, can we go with you to feed up, please!”
“Pleeeease, please, please, pleeeeeeeeease,” I begged alonged with my
brother and cousins.
The five of us kids were “beside ourselves,” as our mamas would say, as we danced around the truck with anticipation of a ride around the farm with Mr. Jug cast as an overalled, straw-hatted chauffer.
The old, bulbous-fendered truck was or at least had been black and was nicknamed “Tar Baby,” I guess because it had the somewhat rounded profile popular in nineteen forty-something and it was black, like tar. Maybe someone had resorted to hitting it when it wouldn’t run properly and like Tar Baby in the classic childrens’ story, Tar Baby the truck “didn’t say nuthin.”
“Weeell,” said Mr. Jug with a drawl befitting his Southern, country, farmhand self, “Y’all gonna hafta ask yer mamas first.”
We took off for the house.
“Get down, Mr. Jug,” my grandmama called as she pushed open the screen door, just in time for a small flock of grandchildren to rush inside.
Cousins, Aunts, Uncles & Grandparents. Oh, MY!
The large, homey den was occupied mostly by two couches, a recliner, a rocking chair, an overstuffed armchair and a padded window seat. All seats were occupied with the exception of a conspicuously empty spot on the largest sofa where Grandmama had been sitting.
Four aunts and the matriarch of the family, Grandmama or Mama Opal as she was known to the daughters-in-law, had been busy catching up on each other and their families and oh, okay, a little bit of gossip. The four uncles, brothers, were mostly catching naps, rousing for an occasional interjection into the conversation when someone’s facts needed correcting. The patriarch of the brood, Papa or Daddy Willie to the daughters-in-law, was kicked back in his recliner and snoring quietly, peacefully.
We older kids, exempt from afternoon naps unlike our younger cousins, were “encouraged,” rather forcefully I might say, to “play outside.” But now, with the arrival of Mr. Jug, we were inside and hopping up and down while begging impatiently for permission to “go feed up with Mr. Jug.”
Aunts were jumping up and shushing children while groggy uncles were complaining because some had lost their comfy wife lap pillows. To add to the chaos, Papa had jumped up, startled awake by the noise, and was shouting, “Opal, what on earth is all this racket!”
Now came more cousins, miniature versions, filing in from the hallway, rubbing their sleep-swollen eyes. They too joined in the begging to go. Where they didn’t know, they just knew they didn’t want to be left out!
Nothing Like a MoonPie!
Coca-Cola and Moon Pies
Varoom! Every child froze, silenced by the unmistakable sound of Tar Baby roaring to life. The truck began chugging slowly past the feed lot fence. Reanimated, the kids’ begging intensified. Aunts, uncles and grandparents comforted the small fry, trying to distract them from the imminent departure of their elder cousins.
Older cousins all of a sudden became dramatically uninterested in any hint of stepping foot outside and agreed enthusiastically to Grandmama’s suggestion of gathering around the breakfast room table for an afternoon snack of Coca-Cola and moon pies.
Little ones focused on food and drink while the five of us escaped quietly through the back door muffling our giggles. We were giddy with the anticipation of feeding up with Mr. Jug and Tar Baby, and we were feeling pretty smug for outsmarting our youngers.
Our feet barely touched the sandy soft dirt of the driveway as we fled the house and made our way around the oil house and gas pump to the side door of the barn. We could hear the feed mill grinding away inside. We stepped up one by one onto the feed room’s high threshold which was worn into a smooth shallow curve from years of use, then jumped down to the dirt floor.
The dusty-sweet smell of freshly ground corn welcomed our arrival. Shafts of pale yellow sunlight filed through the cracks of the barn walls in an orderly fashion highlighting ribbons of dust which danced and swirled like millions of miniature ballerinas.
Talking was out of the question with the noise of the feed mill reverberating through our bodies and we held our ears and grinned. Mr. Jug pulled the lever on the side of the power box and suddenly there was a juxtaposition of extreme quiet. Mr. Jug looked at us with a question in his surprisingly bright blue eyes.
“We can go,” I volunteered to his unspoken question.
“Awright then,” Mr. Jug countered, “hope me load these sacks if you ain’t too puny.”
“Hope” was Mr. Jug’s word for help. My Papa said it that way, too. Papa also would say that he “wed the fence” instead of he “weeded the fence.” It was funny to us kids to think about marrying a fence but of course, we knew that wasn’t what he meant and he would have thought us quite sassy in an impertinent kind of way for correcting his old-fashioned manner of speech.
Then an outsized amount of pulling, pushing and straining commenced as we moved the heavy croaker sacks across the floor, over the high threshold and into the wooden bed of the pickup truck. I use “we” loosely as in, “We killed a bear, but Papa shot ‘em.” That was one of my maternal grandmother’s favorite sayings. The truth be known, Mr. Jug would probably have been better off without our “help” as he was more than likely handling the weight of the feed compounded by our counter-productive maneuverings.
A Feed Mill on a Much Larger Scale than Ours
- Feed Mill Equipment - Feed Equipment
Feed Mill Equipment - Feed Equipment: Glossary and layout of all feed mills equipment
Not the Flat Woods
“Okay you young’uns git in and set yerselves close up to th’ cab.”
I bounced my barefooted self up onto the open tailgate and then stepped gingerly across the wooden boards of the old pickup’s bed. Those boards could be a minefield of nasty splinters and the last thing I wanted was my daddy playing surgeon with one of my toes. His answer to most any skin-related malady was his trusty and unbelievably sharp pocket knife. Got a boil, daddy would lance it, suffering with an ingrown toenail, daddy would cut it right out, caught a splinter, daddy would dig to China to get it! Of course, all of these procedures were properly set up with the sanitizing of the ‘scalpel’ and the surgery site with a flaming match and rubbing alcohol respectively. But I had landed splinter-free at the front of the truck bed and I plopped down in the corner on top of a nice cushy collection of empty feed sacks.
Ah, the pleasure of riding in the back of the ancient pickup truck as it chugged purposefully out of the farmyard drive and into the road on this gloriously sunny, late Sunday afternoon. The motion-induced breeze teased playfully with my straight, dark brown hair. I closed my eyes and savored the earthy smells surrounding me: acrid manures, sweet grasses, mealy feeds, sweaty children. The truck slowed.
“Y’all hold on tight back there,” called Mr. Jug as he applied the ancient brakes and geared the truck down and with a crunching, grinding protest it squealed to a stop.
We had to be coming into my most favorite pasture. I opened my eyes just as the truck turned off the road and stopped in front of a patched-up, old gate. Yep, it was my favored field. Though most of our area was known as the “flatwoods,” this section of land had a rolling quality than made it look like mama’s Christmas green tablecloth when she would first fling it across the table and it would undulate across the surface before settling down flat on the table. This pasture was caught in a constant state of Christmas-tablecloth-undulation and it was beautiful!
While I was mostly daydreaming, my brother had jumped out of the truck bed and laboriously pulled the gate open. Mr. Jug then ground the truck into low gear and drove slowly through the grassy portal.
Closing the gate proved to be even more labor intensive as ancient, rusty hinges allowed the gate to sag and scrub across the ground. Mr. Jug opened his truck door with a raucous creak and stepped spryly back to the gate to assist my brother and to make sure that the opening was closed securely. Nobody wanted to chase cows on a Sunday afternoon!
More About Flatwoods
A Country Roller Coaster
Tar Baby eased along the sandy ruts defined on either side and in the middle by grassy green. Honk. “Honk, honk, hooonk,” the old truck blew it’s invitation to the cattle diner. Pulling up to a stop at the two metal troughs, the truck shuddered as Mr. Jug cut the engine.
The lumbering, mooing cows began to move a little faster. They were coming from all quarters of the lush pasture.
Mr. Jug dragged a heavy sack of feed out and across the tailgate. He then expertly distributed its contents evenly into the two troughs just as the first bovine arrived.
All of us kids except my brother stood respectfully in the bed of the pickup. We didn’t want to risk being stepped on by one of those hooves. Brother Joey, though, was brave and sure as he sprang down and hollered, “Co-ee, co-eee, co-ee.” I think that’s cow talk for hurry up and get on over here before the food runs out. The cows were coming thick and fast. Joey declared he could “see better” from the truck and he jumped into the pickup bed without wasting any time.
Mr. Jug seemed unperturbed as cows closed in on him. He just slapped a hindquarter here and there and made a path through the mooing mass back to the truck. Throwing the empty feed sack into the truck and warning us once again to sit up close to the cab and hold on, he eased himself into the truck and slammed the door.
Now the really fun part of the ride would begin. The five of us cousins hunkered down and held on tightly as Mr. Jug made a wide turn around the milling bovines.
The wavy terraces of the pasture descended to a small pond and the ride down might be likened to a roller coaster, albeit a comparatively slow-motion one. We kids grinned widely at each other as our stomachs flipped and flopped with the trucks descent. Though the carnival-like ride was short, the entertainment waiting below the pond dam kept our anticipation high, but our noses were about to be tormented.
There’s nothing like the smell of a hog pen. It’s just nasty and that’s all there is to it. How could something so foul-smelling and dirty yield such tasty treats as cracklin’s, sausage, pork chops, barbeque ribs, bacon and ham? But we were soon distracted by the sounds and sights greeting our ears and eyes.
Hogs and pigs were already in a frenzy alerted by the early “seating” of their cattle neighbors. We laughed hysterically as the pigs splashed and slid in the mud and over and under and on top of one another squealing, grunting and oinking. It was messy, noisy and comical. What a show for just the cost of a portion of corn! Mr. Jug made short work of hog feeding; no one liked to linger at the hog pen, especially in warm weather.
Swine feeding completed, Mr. Jug once again clambered into the truck, admonished us for safety’s sake and urged Tar Baby up the terracing of the pasture. In a jiffy we’re back on the road to our final feeding-up destination.
Black Angus, Our Kind of Cattle
Our ears perked up as we heard the desperate sounding moos over Tar Baby’s engine! That was the sound of a cow in trouble.
Mr. Jug had heard it too and he made the left turn into another pasture and over the cattle gap with teeth-jarring speed. Double-clutching and picking up speed Tar Baby huffed and puffed to try and keep up with the demands of the accelerator pedal.
Once again a not-so-pleasant smell announced our location. Farm ponds in the summer, especially when it had been as dry as this one, could put out a fishy stench. This pasture, as with most on my Papa’s farm had the requisite body of water known as a pond. Sometimes not much more than glorified puddles, they came in handy for watering livestock, fishing and the occasional swim.
Tar Baby skidded suddenly to a stop. Mr. Jug yelled, “Hold on young-uns!” But we needn’t have been warned. Our eyes were wide from the combination of the distressed cow protestations and the uncharacteristically rough ride so we were already holding on for dear life. This was not our usual “feeding up” experience. All the better for our adventurous spirits!
Now that we were safely stopped, the situation was revealed as we stood in the truck bed and craned to see over the cab.
I don’t know where the “grass is greener on the other side of the fence” saying came from but whoever came up with it must have had or known cows. This particular cow had decided that the weeds in the ditch adjacent to her field looked more appealing than anything in her huge, luxuriant pasture. She had managed to get her head through the wire fencing; her huge, fuzzy cranium was now trapped and the more she pulled the more distraught she became. Her bawling was pitiful; the saliva dripped from her mouth and her eyes were wild with fear.
Mr. Jug had stepped out of the truck and opened the passenger side door. This was not the first time he had encountered this problem. He was bent over rummaging around behind the seat whose rusty springs were now revealed. With a grunt of satisfaction he straightened and produced a huge tool with long handles and a set of short, sturdy, sharp blades on the end. It’s a bolt cutter said my cousin Louis with pride in his technical knowledge of all things tool related.
Surprisingly the cow had calmed down, probably too tired to protest any more or maybe she knew help was on the way. Joey leapt out of the truck and followed Mr. Jug over the fence. They quickly freed the subdued bovine by cutting some strands of wire to enlarge the hole. She trudged off unsteadily after giving Mr. Jug and Joey a suspicious look as if they had been the cause of her imprisonment rather than her liberators.
Now I understood why Mr. Jug allowed used hay baling wire to lounge around in the bed of the truck. A few strands of silvery-gray wire and the trusty pliers that were always in his back pocket were all he needed to quickly and neatly patch the hole from which he had just freed the discontented cow.
Feed troughs were then duly filled for this herd and Tar Baby headed home. Five dirty, contented children settled in for the short ride.
Copyright © G. Wasdin All rights reserved.
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