It was a beautiful morning. Grandfather and I were going to town to pick up feed for the chickens and hogs. It was a typical trip, he and I talking and hanging out. Those were some of my favorite times. When we arrived at the feed store, finding a parking space was hard. We parked in the back and walked around to the entrance.
While we were waiting, a woman walked into the store. As she approached, she and grandfather exchanged pleasantries, and we continued to wait. The two of them started a conversation. Grandfather’s entire demeanor changed. He stood there with his hat tilted back and leaning like he was 19 again. He told me to go sit in a corner or somewhere and I walked a little way away.
I was standing there wondering if I should tell grandmother about this brief incident. A few minutes later, I received the answer to that question.
They continued to talk, and both were all smiles. Suddenly, my grandfather’s false teeth shot halfway out of his mouth. As they were passing his lips, he caught them. He pushed them back in, never looked at the lady again, tipped his hat, and walked away. He paid and came over to get me off the floor; I had collapsed in uncontrollable laughter. There was no need to tell grandmother anything. He had already had enough aggravation for the day. We did not stop at McDonald’s on the way home. For the first time, it was a silent ride home. I never mentioned that to anyone until I told my kids about growing up on the Homestead.
It was just about night when grandfather discovered that several of the baby pigs were out running around. There was a terrible thunderstorm going on, with lightning flashing all around. I stayed out there with my grandfather to help catch the pigs and put them in the other side of the pen. Grandfather grabbed the last pig and went to put it in. There was a loud roll of thunder with lightning flashing throughout that instant. While that lightning was flashing, the pig bit Grandfather’s hand. He dropped the pig and said he got hit by lightning. When he looked closer, he looked at me and said, “the pig bit me”. We both laughed a little as lightning flashed again. We headed for the house. I was thinking how horrible it would be if we got hit by lightning. At that moment, a major flash of lightning lit up the sky. I am not sure who it scared more, me or my grandfather. What I know is that we both walked a little faster to get inside.
The Chicken Coop
Walking into the chicken coop was an everyday event to collect eggs, which was often uneventful. Move the chicken if she was still sitting there and take the eggs. Now, where the problem came in, was not realizing that a particular chicken was protecting her eggs because she was in the hatching process. So, walking into the coop was fine, but as you went from nest to nest, she would puff up a bit. When you attempted to take her eggs, it was a full assault. That chicken would do her best to kill you. Dancing up one side of your head and down the other. If you did not keep a chicken’s wing feathers clipped, they could fly, which made the matter worse. Now you had a pissed-off bird who had every intention of clawing your eyes out. So, I learned, if a chicken was still sitting on a nest, she got a pass. It would have been hard to explain that a chicken whipped your butt.
The Hog Gate
The Hog Gate was just that. It was the gate that opened and gave us access to the woods where the hog pens were. To the four of us, it was far more than that. We would spend hours running in those woods. I still think it was a miracle that none of us ever sustained any actual injuries. So, on one of our ventures, my older brother and I had taken the shotgun into the woods to see if we could see any squirrels or rabbits that we might harvest.
On the way into the woods, one of us brought up the subject of a bear, and what we would do if we saw one. So, I said you have the gun, so you would have to shoot it. That conversation morphed into a few scary scenarios. Now, let’s cut to the road, which was about 600 feet to the left of us. The road was just far enough away that we could barely hear traffic through the trees. Whoever was driving this car had stopped. I do not know if they were racing someone or just spinning their wheels for the fun of it. Now, cut back to the woods. All I can think about at that point was “Bear”. I am looking as far as I can in every direction. The driver hit the pedal and his tires started squealing. Now I love my brother, and in any situation, I would defend him to the death, except that one. My mind did a millisecond analysis and all I could imagine was a bear charging. So, I was sitting on the back porch, out of breath. My grandmother came out and wanted to know why I was out of breath?
“I thought a bear jumped out while we were back there hunting.”
She looked at me and said, “where is your brother?”
“I left him, I don’t know if I meant to, but the next thing I knew I was sitting on the back porch.”
“You need to go make sure he is okay!”
She was right. I should never have left him, but when the mind tells the feet to run, you run. So, I look up and see my brother coming out of the woods. He looks at me and asked, “Where did you go?”
“I thought that loud noise was a bear, so I ran.” “If it had been a bear, you would have just left me like that? It was a car peeling out on the road!”
With all the sincerity in my heart, I looked right at him and said, “We were talking about a bear, and then a loud noise exploded all around us, and yes, yes, I left you. I can’t fight a bear, and all I could do was pray that you made it out.”
I don’t think he ever took me hunting with him again, which was fine with me. The next time it might be a bear and we ignore it, and then what, nope.
We were all out in the yard playing when we spotted a snake in the grass. When we approached it to see what kind of snake it was, the snake made a run for it. My brother started chasing the snake. As he was running, he picked up a metal bucket in the yard. Just as the snake would have reached heavier cover at the edge of the property, he threw the bucket with such force that it chopped the head of the snake off. Even now when we talk about it, it is a badge of honor for him. We saw very few snakes after that; I used to think there might have been a witness, and word got out around the woods to stay out of our yard.
We were throwing knives one afternoon to see who was the most accurate and if we could make the knife stick in whatever we were throwing at. So, we did that for a while. When that game lost its appeal, we threw it a few more times. Then, as fate would have it on the last throw, one knife got lost in the grass. For what seemed like forever, we searched for that knife. We never found it. Well, at least not that day. We were running around barefoot, having a ball as usual. Ron stepped down and hit that knife. It split the heel wide open. That took some country doctoring from grandma to stop the bleeding. At least we found the knife.
Before my grandfather passed away, one of the last things he did was to purchase a male rooster, hoping to impregnate the chickens in the coop. Well, this rooster seemed a little off from day one. It was a vicious little bird. It would sit under the edge of the house just out of view, so when any of us would come out of that side door, that rooster would attack the back of our legs. This happened often. We went to grandma and told her what the rooster was doing. She looked at us as if we were crazy, and she was very clear that we were to leave that rooster alone. We started using the back door to avoid this psychotic rooster. Then, as fate would have it, grandma came out that side door. Now, this rooster must have had pent-up frustration because we knew better than to come out that door. Grandma came out that door one afternoon, and the rooster hit the back of grandma’s leg, and all we heard was her scream, “Get the gun!”
That was a task all four of us were eager to carry out. It gets a little strange, at least to the four of us. Let me say this first. They gave us the okay to assassinate this feathered ninja. The rooster seemed to hide somewhere. We looked under the house; we checked the woods behind the chicken coop, no rooster. So, the next day, the rooster is running around the yard. My brother got the gun and shot that little ninja. Feathers went everywhere. The bird lay there, dead or dying. One of us threw the rooster over the fence. So, it pleased us that the bird was dead. We were trying to come up with something to do. One of us noticed the body of the rooster had disappeared. That created a bit of a frenzy in us because if this bird survived, what was its next move? We never saw the bird again, and soon he became just another story on the Homestead.
One afternoon, our friend Thomas came to play with us. Everywhere Thomas went, his Collie was at his side. That was the first time I saw the way a dog was a part of his family. We chained our dogs outside and had a doghouse to sleep in. I realize how cruel that was now, but it was a standard practice where I grew up.
We lived across the street with an immense piece of farmland. We played a game to see who could jump the huge ditch that separated the field from the road. The winner would be the one who jumped the furthest from the point of takeoff. We played that game for a while. Each time we would spot a car, we would step away from the side of the road. Thomas would call his dog to his side, and when the car passed, we started up again.
About thirty minutes later, someone spotted a pickup truck in the distance. We all went over to our yard. However, the dog stayed on the opposite side of the road. We worked the dog up from running around and playing with us. The dog was far enough off the road and he stayed on the dirt. He would be fine. That was not to be. Just as the truck reached us, the collie made a break for us. The truck hit him and kept on driving. We were all mortified by the situation. The dog was lying on the road. The dog let out a growl, jumped up, and started running right at us. We scattered. The closest thing to us was granddaddy’s truck. We might not have made the leap onto the hood if it were not a desperate act. However, this dog had a crazed look in its eyes. The Collie dropped dead a few feet away from the truck, dead. Thomas was inconsolable. We got a shovel and buried the dog between the peach trees. My brother said a few words over the grave (granddaddy was a minister). We walked Thomas halfway home. He never stopped crying from the moment they hit the dog. I now understand how he felt. If something like that would happen to Nessie (chocolate Lab), it would be a horrible loss. I think of that accident often; I wonder what became of Thomas. He never visited us again.
It was raining hard one afternoon. We had the bright idea of playing in the rain. It was fine while we were just chasing each other around the yard. Then someone had the bright idea of getting mason jars to throw water on each other. I mentioned it was raining, right? Well, you can almost imagine what came next. We started running toward each other. Once we came face to face, we were to throw the water at each other. After the fourth or fifth time around the house, my jar slipped from my hand, hit my brother’s jar, and a piece of the glass put a large gash on his stomach. That ended that game. Running around in the rain was one of those childhood things that was so liberating. Now some curse the days when it rains. Maybe I will take a walk in the rain one day soon if there is no lightning.
Our ventures were not always that innocent. Momma’s best friend lived down the road from us. She was one of the kindest and most loving women I ever knew as a child. Her husband was the owner of the field we were jumping back and forth into where Thomas’s dog died. Near their house, her husband had a barn with his tractors. If we went for a joy ride on one of his tractors, it would be a great idea. We snuck into the barn and picked the one we thought might be easier to handle. We got the tractor started, but we could not figure out how to drive it. We gave up and walked home. As they say, no good deed goes unpunished. Geniuses that we were, we left the tractor running. An hour later, there was a knock on the door. It was the farmer. He either saw us or deduced that it was us. He informed momma what we had done. By now, we are already trying to pack a few things and leave. The thing that made the danger of what we did sank in. if we had gotten the tractor to move forward, it would have destroyed his barn. At that moment, I wished I was the baby. Why? By the time she got to number four, my thinking was her arm would tire. The worst thing you can do is embarrass your parent. Before momma finished with us, I thought I saw her switch hands. She did not get tired. That was the last time we ever did anything like that. That is another good reason to discipline your kids. We achieved one and done; it cured us.
© Q. Javon Overton 2020