By: Wayne Brown
Like many of his generation, my grandfather on my mother’s side, was a farmer. He and my grandmother spent the most of their married life on a small 70-acre farm in central Mississippi. The farm was home to a small herd of cows, a dairy (at one time), a flock of laying hens, and fields of corn and cotton. It was a life that my grandparents dearly loved for they knew none other in their upbringing.
My parents had given up farming when I was at the age of four. They moved to a nearby small town and my father looked for work among the businesses there. At the time, I had a younger brother who was four years my junior. Four years later, we would be joined by a sister who would wrap up our tidy little family of the 50’s.
Typically, my mother’s family had a family get-together every other Sunday at the farm. The ladies would spend hours creating this gigantic Thanksgiving-like meal and then we would all eat like pigs headed to slaughter prior to settling in for an afternoon of sitting around and just enjoying each other’s company. By the time we had aged a few years, my brother, Larry, and I were not real keen on these Sunday visits but had little choice but to make them enjoyable. That usually meant some form of mischief would transpire in the time we spent there.
This particular incident of which I write must have taken place around the time that I was about 12 years of age and my brother was eight. My mother had to have some surgery so she left us with the grandparents at the farm for two weeks while she had the surgery, made her hospital stay, and then got a head start on the recovery before we showed up. For two weeks we lived in almost totally isolation out in the country over 15 minutes from our home and mostly bored out of our minds. For kids of 12 and 8, two weeks is an eternity to spend away from your friends and activities you would normally be enjoying at home.
My grandfather, they called him “Mr. Billy”, was not a real patient man and possessed a bit of Irish temper by virtue of his ancestral heritage. When he would get really mad about something, you could almost see the fire fly off of him like sweat. He was all business most of the time and mostly focused on his work there on the farm. My mother has warned us that he had a leather razor strap and was known to use it. My grandmother, “Miss Joicy” was permanently joined at the hip with the kitchen. She created stuff in there that could make a grown man cry and beg for more. It was the one place she always seemed to be and usually up to her elbows in a big pan of flour making dough for biscuits, pies, or dumplings.
We were a few days into our stay with the grand parents when the event occurred. It started out rather innocently as my brother and I got out of our beds and dug into the breakfast awaiting us in the kitchen. Grandma’s kitchen was always warm and it always had some good smell coming out of it. On this day, she had baked some big “cathead” biscuits for our breakfast. My grandfather has long since consumed his sopping the biscuits in hot syrup mixed with homemade butter…the kind that will clog up your arteries. In her large pan of flour was a bit of dough she had left over from the biscuit making and I soon heard Larry asking if he could have it. Of course he could and Larry was soon in my face showing me the dough and spouting off about the fact that he had it and I didn’t. This activity continued throughout the morning.
By the noon hour, my grandmother had turned out another delicious, hot, meal to feed Mr. Billy when he came out of the fields for his midday nourishment. Now Mr. Billy had a routine that he followed religiously in his noonday ritual. First, he ate his meal cleaning up the plate and only stopping to ask why we boys had not managed to clean ours. Then, he would go into the living room and turn on the small black & white television to watch the farm & market report which was broadcast as a part of the noon day news on the local channel. It was here that he kept up with the price of things like feeder cows, pork bellies, and soybeans. All this seemed a mystery to us boys but he seemed to understand it and he wanted it quiet while he was watching. Of course, that was the one thing we could not seem to deliver.
Oh, and let me mention that final step in this daily ritual. When Mr. Billy watched this program, he watched it while lying on his back on the floor rest up against a straight-back chair that he had turned over. He rested a pillow under his head and normally fell sound asleep in this position right after the report on hog prices. He would nap for a half-hour or so before arising refreshed to return to his chores. So it was on this day.
Remember that ball of biscuit dough that my brother had mooched off my grandmother earlier in the morning? I figured you would! Well, my brother and I had tossed that dough around most of the morning, rolling it in our hands until it was now in a perfect round shape approximating the size of a golf ball. We had long since run out of uses for it and were totally bored with just tossing it back and forth between us. The time had come for new ideas.
It was about this time that we spied Mr. Billy fully-engaged in his noonday nap on the living room floor. He was done with the farm & market report and now deep in his nap process sleeping with a light snore with his mouth hanging open, much like a baby bird waiting for its mother to feed it a worm.
Now, my brother Larry is a born stinker. Evil thoughts just come to him naturally so the instant that he spied my grandfather there on the floor, he went into action. He ran right over and stood above him with the ball of dough and held it as he stood over Mr. Billy. The dough ball was poised about three feet above his open mouth. Now, at our age, we could not help but question whether or not a person hold a ball of dough the size of a golf ball could, on the first try, hit right smack dab in the middle of that open mouth. We wonder as to whether you could do it on the first try because we pretty much figured that we weren’t getting a second one…if you know what I mean.
Now, Larry stand there with ball poised; one eye closed as he aligns the ball of dough and the open mouth ever so precisely. We were biting our lip to keep from giggling as he made the final adjustments. Then, I nodded and winked and he released the dough ball crisply not wanting to disturb the delicate alignment of this moon-shoot trajectory. At that moment it was as if everything moved into slow-motion. The ball of dough fell away from his hand on the course. No one moved; both of us stood with our eyes frozen on that falling ball. Down, down, down, it went until suddenly it was in the hole! This was the precise second at which slow-motion stopped.
As the ball of dough entered Mr. Billy’s mouth, he must have been on an up stroke in his breathing rhythm for it was sucked into the cavity as if suctioned down a sewer drain. The dough immediately went to the back of his mouth and totally shut off the flow of oxygen to his lungs. He sat up from his sound sleep like he was spring-loaded to the erect at the waist position. He had no idea what was going on so his ability to react was somewhat stymied. He tried to speak but nothing came out except some muffled, moaning sound that was foreign to the ears of my brother and me. Foreign mind you, but not such that we did not rapidly begin to understand. It was in that moment that both of us suddenly came to the realization that a razor strap awaited our little asses in no short order.
While Mr. Billy was feverishly attempting to clear the dough from his throat my wide-eyed brother yelled, “What are we gonna do?” I took one look at my grandfather’s eyes which seemed to be bulging at the moment as his face turned blue and replied, “Run!” With that we both hit the front screen door in a wild run shove and pushing to get out ahead of the other. We ran off the porch and into the yard. I pointed for my brother to run down the road to the south. I would go north. He could not chase both of us and I was praying that he would go after my brother because I really didn’t think I could outrun an old man as mad as he must be at the moment.
We both ran a safe distance up the road and paused to listen. There were no sounds or voices calling. To this day, I am not sure how Mr. Billy lived through that stunt. As he fumbled and bugged out his eyes, no doubt he was totally deprived of oxygen. My brother and I had read it as a fit of rage and took our departure quickly. The only reason I figure that I am still here today to tell this story is that my grandma Joicy must have intervened and helped him clear the dough from his throat. She had a way of calming him down when he got too wound up. By the time we gathered up the nerve to return to the house, Mr. Billy was back to work in the fields.
The event was never spoken of again but my brother and I still have a good laugh about the day that we got Mr. Billy right in the kisser on the first try with that ball of biscuit dough. Sometimes we even imagine that this is the very thing the Pillsbury Doughboy would giggle about when he was poked, but, sadly there is no confirmation of that fact and the Doughboy is long since gone.
No doubt this single brush with a ball of biscuit dough was the closest that Mr. Billy had ever been to death at the time and certainly as close as he had ever come to killing a couple of idiots in the same day.
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