Spring planting…this story is about one day in the life of a preschool boy on a southern cotton farm…
From atop his favorite fence post perch, a sprightly rooster thrust forward his head and let go a cock-a-doodle-do that could be heard for miles around. Prancing around on his pinnacle, the feathered patriarch owned the new day and the entire cotton farm he crowed over. He would be certain that every living creature had acknowledged his wakeup call; hence, he rang out again and again.
Soon the morning sun would be peeping over the tall pines neighboring the east, glittering and twinkling through their easy swaying boughs. The year was nineteen hundred and forty-six, and for many it was the first day of spring planting in the rural south.
A bare foot and tow headed boy ran recklessly around and around in front of the seed
shed located beyond the farm house from the main road, chasing after hovering bumble bees. They were bees that more often than not hover around rough mill sawn wood structures in the spring, searching for a suitable plank to bore a hole into and put up their nests. The boy intended to catch one of those bees and fly it around, that is, after tying the cotton twine in his pocket, to one of its rear legs. A yellow cur followed him matching every step and sometimes causing the boy to stumble, if the bee suddenly turned back on him. He kept his ball of twine for just such emergencies, twine or cotton thread that is, that was thrown back on the freshly plowed ground by his father and two older brothers as they unraveled it from the tops of cottonseed and fertilizer bags, before dumping the contents into the cotton planter bins.
Earlier that morning the boy had bounced up from his stool near the living room hearth, in response to his mother in the kitchen calling ‘breeakfaast’, and ran ahead of his elders to the table. He hopped upon a backside bench running the length of the table and slid down into his place in the middle, between his two brothers, once they were seated. He sat down with his feet tucked underneath his buttocks and settled back on his heels, waiting for the rest of the family and looking wide eyed at the steaming buttermilk biscuits and brown gravy.
The boy’s father seated himself at the end of the table, his mother pouring him coffee as he began buttering a biscuit. He glanced at the boy’s two older brothers and said to the eldest, y’all start bringing them sacks of seed and fertilizer up to the front of the shed while I go down to the barn and bring up the team and wagon. We’ll be able to plant twenty acres in four days, as long as we can ford the creek.
After breakfast the two older brothers, obeying their father’s instructions, headed out to the seed shed to move the sacks up front for loading. The boy was already there squatting down tying his twine to the leg of a wiggling bee, that he had just knocked senseless out of the air with an empty grain bag. He stood up and waited for the bee to recover and fly again, with the ball of twine clutched tightly in one hand and choked around his outstretched index finger on the other. The reduced bee had been busy checking out a suitable plank for boring when the unsuspecting assault occurred.
The boy’s youngest brother called out that he had uncovered a bed of mice under the seed bags and that he, the boy, needed to come a running if he wanted to see the nest. Now, the boy wanted to get at them mice, but he was busy working his bee and just could not spare the time, so he ignored his brother’s yelling and continued tormenting the bumble bee. He soon learned that he could steer the bee by simply pulling on the string in the opposite direction that he wanted it to go. He was steering his bee around when his father came up from the barn driving the team and wagon.
His father pulled the team up in front of the seed shed, climbed down over the wheel of the wagon and started inside; but, suddenly turned and asked the boy if that was a white faced bee that he had caught. Sure is, replied the boy, it’s the kind that don’t ever sting. That so, replied his father and went inside the open front shed.
The boy had noticed the mules nervously prancing around inside their chain traces when the tethered bee flew too close by. Since any kind of excitement was fitting to him, he decided to see how close he could fly his bee to one of the mule’s head. He was tickled when the beast started rolling his glaring eyes around and lowering his ears, so he gave the bee a free reign and stepped closer to the animal’s head. Suddenly the bee disappeared, and the boy soon realized that it had flown right up into the deprived creature’s flaring nostril. He gave the tether a good quick tug attempting to retrieve it from the brute’s nose, but the string end snapped back and landed on his arm with only the bee’s leg attached. A rodeo bull might not have caused as much uproar of jumping and kicking and braying as the team shot out from the shed and off down the farm road dragging the wagon into one ditch, then out and into the other, with sacks of seed being propelled out of the rear gate.
The two older brothers had burst out of the shed running frantically after the team and
wagon finally overtaking it a good half mile down the road on a heading for the creek. They caught up with the tail of the wagon, crawled onto the bouncing run away and gathered the lanyards from the front bench seat, finally pulling back on the lanyards and whoa-in the team to a stop another half mile down the trail. They finally turned the team around and began back tracking, picking up the bags of seed along the way. The boy’s father was standing out front of the shed, watching at the exhibition and scratching his head, saying, “what in the devil got into them stupid mules.”
Oddly, the boy was no where to be found. But, if one with a keen eye had glanced in the direction of the apple tree in the corner of the orchard some distance away, one would have seen a very small boy sitting a ways up into the tree on an outstretched limb, winding up a ball of cotton twine with a bumblebee’s rear leg still attached and watching every move made back at the seed shed.
Once he had convinced himself that everything was back to normal at the shed, the boy slid down from the apple tree and moseyed back over to see for sure. The wagon was loaded and the cargo was being lashed down securely. Afterwards the boy’s youngest brother meandered over next to him and whispered in his ear that he had seen what had spooked the mules. He whispered to his little brother that if he obeyed him and did everything he told him to do, that he might not tell their father. The boy tightened his lips and whispered back that he best not say a word. Just be careful, said his youngest brother, because if you throw anymore rocks at me, I’m a telling.
The April sun had climbed over the tops of the pines when the caravan pulled away from the seed shed and headed down the valley trail toward the creek crossing some two miles away. The boy’s father sat with the older brothers on the driver’s bench seat with the boy perched on top of the cargo, a cotton planter trailed behind. The yellow cur ran along out front, chasing after and inspecting everything he encountered.
From his seat on top of the wagon the boy could soon see the creek first and he could see that it was swift and muddy with debris and tree limbs floating fast down stream. As they approached the creek and commenced the steep descent into the crossing, the teams hooves dug into the muddy ruts and then commenced slipping, causing them to resist the crossing. The boy’s father was slapping the team’s rumps with the plow lines and shouting commands to keep them moving toward the water. The frightened creatures were swinging their heads around with mouths open and tongues dangling as the downhill force of the heavy wagon began forcing them into the water. Both of the boy’s older brothers had scrambled back to the rear wheels and were pulling with all their might on both wheel brake poles to hold the loaded wagon back and keep it from over running the already frightened team. After much yawing and hawing and slapping with the lanyards from the boy’s father, the team finally settled down some and began edging their way into the swift current toward the gap on the other side of the creek, that appeared to be steeper yet. The crossing was about one hundred and twenty yards of limestone bedrock across and some fifteen to twenty yards wide with some holes eroded out on the upper side.
The boy looked back and saw the yellow cur run down to the waters edge, as the wagon load of supplies began inching along the crossing, he ran back and forth alone the shoreline smelling of the water, apparently rallying up courage and then suddenly jumped into the rolling stream, full steam ahead, and commenced paddling across. The boy watched as the current swept the dog so far downstream that it was hard to see him, but he was sure that he would make it across.
The muddy water was beginning to seep into the rear of the wagon bed as it entered the main stream. The boy’s father had suspected that might happen and had had the two older brothers to lay down a waterproof tarp on the bottom of the wagon before loading the supplies. Now the rushing water rose up on the sides and ends of the tarp causing it to hug the supplies.
The boy could feel the back of the wagon drifting around downstream with the planter and soon the team was pulling too far upstream of the regular crossing path. One of the eroded out holes in the limestone floor lay just upstream of where the team was trying to go and the boy’s father was fighting with the plow lines trying to pull them back in line with the crossing, but the team plowed on upstream and now the wagon was crosswise in the ford. The boy heard a big splash and looked to see his father in the water up to his arms and making his way up the swift current beside the nearest mule. He grabbed the animal’s halter and began pulling and jerking its head back around in an attempt to straighten out the caravan when suddenly the right front wheel fell into the hole with a loud bang and a big jolt. The team stumbled and panicked as they attempted to maintain sound footing. The boy’s two older brothers had jumped into the stream also and had made their way down into the hole behind the stuck wheel and were reaching their arms ran through the spokes and lifting up as they pushed forward. But now, one of the terrified animals had jumped over and out of its trace chains and was astraddle the wagon’s tongue. The other poor critter had stepped out of its chains and was turned around, trying to go in the opposite direction. The boy’s father was still in front of the wagon pushing and slapping the mule that was astraddle the wagon’s tongue trying to coax it off and back into its trace chains. Meanwhile the oldest brother had literally swam out of the hole and made his way around to the animal that was turned backwards, pushing its rear around and back alongside the wagon’s tongue and into its trace chains. Now the team was finally, once again, in their regular pulling position and calmed down somewhat.
From his perch on top of the supplies, the boy had noticed the cur standing on the bank; swinging his tail and watching the debacle patiently. Now, that the team was again properly hitched and pulling his two older brothers were back in the hole with the right front wheel, lifting on the rear of it, and pushing forward with all their might as it eased up and out of the hole. A few seconds later the rear wheel dropped into it, but the team pulled it out with the help of the boy’s father pulling on the team’s bridles and the brothers pushing on the rear. The trailing planter was still drifting downstream as it pivoted around on its hitch at the rear of the wagon, but straightened up once the caravan came into shallow water and out onto the steep embankment leading out of the crossing and onto the cotton fields. This story will be continued…part 1 of 2