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Monday, September 20, 2010

Strawberry Picking

When I was in the third grade we moved to Arkansas where I grew up into adulthood.  We lived on a farm and though we didn’t move around we did the same type of work usually associated with the term “migrant workers”.  In fact we often worked in the fields right beside migrant workers who came to our area during the early spring growing and autumn harvest seasons.  My family had no way to make a living other than farm labor. 

After a long winter with no work because of the season and no money except what little was still left from the autumn season which was usually nearly nothing, the first work any of us could find in the spring was strawberry picking.  There were several farms within a couple of miles of where we lived at that time which had 20 to 30 acre patches of strawberries.  So we picked strawberries each spring to get some money for food and necessities. We were paid $.05 per quart to pick them.  A quart box for picking strawberries was a small, paper thin wooden box with a wire rim on top.  They were equivalent in size to the green plastic ones you can buy in the grocery store today. The farmer provided quart containers and carriers with handles that would hold 10 to 12 quart boxes. Most pickers would take 4 to 6 carriers and drop them on the row they were going to pick berries from as they walked to the other end of the field.

I hated this work with a passion! I was tall even at that early age so I had to bend over from the waist and stay bent over or kneel down in a squat to pick the berries which grow close to the ground.  The berry plants grew out into the middle between the rows so you couldn’t pick from your knees without crushing the plants and unripe growing berries. You also had to walk very carefully to keep from stepping on the plants as you walked up and down the rows.  It was often necessary to slide your foot under the plants that had grown out into the center just to have a place to stand or step. You would get in trouble and often yelled at by the farmer if you damaged the plants or ripening berries while walking through the berry patch. You also got in trouble if you were caught eating berries. The farmers we worked for would fire you if they caught you eating the berries! Perhaps that is why I don’t really care for strawberries even today.  

If we worked very hard, and the berries were good, we could pick 100 quarts or a little more a day. That was five dollars for a ten hour work day.  To be able to do that we had to stay bent over picking without any rest breaks except for lunch time.  After just a little while your back would feel like it was breaking and your head would start to swim, but all you could do was stretch a little and go back to picking. I guess we would have starved if we hadn’t picked strawberries but I think I would have been willing to become a little thinner and pick fewer strawberries.

How do you think the strawberries you buy at the market today get picked? There are no automated strawberry pickers.  There are people today who are still living and working very much like I did when I was eight years old and the work is no less back breaking. I have seen TV stories of the berry patches in California today and they have wider rows with growth control fabric so the berries don’t grow into the middle of the rows now. At least you can kneel and pick today.  

The house I lived in at that time was not much but most of us today wouldn’t even store our riding lawnmowers in the shacks some of these people live in today, if they have even a shack. Many of them sleep in abandoned buildings, old cars or if they have a car of their own they sleep in it, often the entire fmily.  You can take it from me; today my family and I would have to be a situation that was near starvation before I would willing go back to those days. I don’t want to pick strawberries. Good old days, I don’t think so!

Every human deserves a descent place to lie down to sleep at night. They deserve to have safe clean work environments. They deserve enough pay to live on and take care of their children.  Little children eight years old should not have to work as hard as the adults in the family just for the family to survive. 

Ok I will get off of my soap box and end this by saying “I hope you have a very enjoyable dinner; with strawberry shortcake for desert.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Why I Hate Cold Weather

From the time I started the third grade until I went away to college at nineteen I lived in northeastern Arkansas. We had moved around a lot during my younger years but had finally settled near a small town when I was in the third grade and stayed there until I finished the sixth grade.  We were, I guess, following my father around as he moved from place to place but he disappeared when I was nine never to be heard from again so we finally settled down and lived in one place. When I was twelve we moved to a new community onto a farm that my mom’s brother, my uncle rented and farmed.  We worked for him as farm laborers and lived in a house on one of several forty acre plots of land he rented.  The house we lived in had four rooms, a living room, kitchen, my bedroom and my mom and sister’s bedroom.  This house like so many in that country and at that time was built very cheaply and was called a “clap board house”.  A clap board house is not constructed in the same manner as we think of wood frame houses being built today.  It didn’t have wall studs with some type of siding on the outside and wall board on the inside; it had only a single wall.  The builders, usually the farmers who owned or rented the land, would take wide cypress boards and nail a two by four across the top, middle and bottom of the boards then raise the wall and prop it up until another wall could be built to join the first one at the corner so that each wall supported the others. All of the walls were built and raised from the floor of the house that was already in place. Once all the walls were up the ceiling and rafters were built and roofed with corrugated tin. Where the wall boards joined the builder would nail a strip of cypress about two inches wide on the outside of the wall to cover the joint between each wall board.  These houses had only a single wall not an inside and outside wall, the inside of the outside wall was what you saw when you were inside the house.  Most people who moved into these houses would nail cardboard from boxes on the walls to cover the inside then paste wall paper over the cardboard. It didn’t look that bad when it was finished but being a single wall there was no insulation factor.  It was hot in the summer and cold in the winter. The houses were built from cypress freshly cut at a sawmill and as the lumber dried it shrank. There were cracks in the floor that you could see through to the ground under the house. Linoleum floor covering was generally used to cover most of the floors in a house.  The strips on the outside of the walls would come loose as the lumber shrank and you had to keep nailing it back down to keep rain from getting through the wall cracks and soaking the cardboard you had nailed inside.

We had a hand operated pitcher pump in the back yard where we pumped our water into a bucket and carried it into the house.   The bucket would sit on a wash stand, just a simple table to keep the water bucket, wash pail, soap, towels and whatever else to wash and dry your hands and sometimes your entire body. During the cold winter months we took wash pan baths, standing usually naked with a wash cloth and washing all over.  Only once a week did we carry a number three round galvanized wash tub, about three feet in diameter, into the house and fill it with warm water as it sat by the heating stove so we could take a “Bath”.  Because the house was only heated by a stove in one room the males and females in a family were very careful to stay away from the doorway so the other person could bathe in private without having to shut the door and freeze.   We had an outhouse some little distance away from the house for the other necessary functions.

Our living room had a stove in which we burned wood or coal to heat the house in the winter.  When it was very cold each night was a ritual.  I would pump fresh water for the evening and morning necessities.  You didn’t use water unnecessarily because every drop had to be pumped and carried. I would fill all of the necessary containers then pump a final bucket full.   By lifting all the way up on the handle of the pitcher pump I would cause the pump to loose its prime and allow the water to go back down to underground water level.  If I forgot to un-prime the pump after using it at night it would freeze and the next morning I would have to heat water and pour it into the pump until it had thawed so it could be primed again.  Needless to say you didn’t forget to un-prime the pump often because it was so hard to get it thawed out the next morning.  The pump and pipe it was attached to were metal standing three feet tall out in the cold.  We would use the water, carried into the house in a bucket, to bathe from a wash pan with wash cloth and soap. Before going to bed each night we would fill a tea kittle about half full of water so it could be heated to prime the pump and fetch fresh water for morning baths and cooking.

All of this becomes memorable but when you consider that this clapboard house with no insulation in the walls or ceiling got very cold during the night when the fire in the stove died down. You couldn’t stay up all night to keep the fire going.  My mom and little sisters slept together and I had my own bedroom.  We all slept in our bedrooms under so many quilts that it was almost impossible to turn over during the night.  Your nose would freeze if you slept with you head out from under the covers.  The weight of my quilts was so great that in my early teens I began to have regular nightmares about being squeezed to death.  I would wake my mom moaning and screaming in my sleep even though her bedroom was on the back of the house and mine was in the front.  I can not to this day sleep with my head under the cover or sleep under more than one cover.

Every new cold morning was an ordeal.  My mom, bless her long suffering heart, would get up and build a fire in the pot bellied cast iron stove then wait until the kitchen and living  room had warmed up to wake us.  We would then grab our cloths and run in our underwear to the stove to get dressed. I was twelve and my sisters were six and five, immodesty was not an issue we were family.  After I was dressed and on my way outside to take care of the necessities I would light a burner under the tea kettle.  The kettle was always left on the stove the night before with a couple of inches of water in it. While I was outside the burner would thaw the ice which had frozen in it during the cold night. Yes it was so cold at night in the house that the water froze! When I had hot water I would take the kettle of hot water and the water bucket out to the pump. All the water left in the bucket at the end of the night would be frozen solid so there would be several inches of ice in the bottom of the bucket.  I used the hot water to prime the pump and a little to loosen the ice from the bucket.  I would then dump the ice on the ground and pump a fresh bucket of water and also fill the kettle.  After throwing the prime on the pump I carried the water into the house for our morning pan baths and cooking. The school bus would stop and we would be off to school.  This ritual occurred every day during the really cold spells.  When it wasn’t so cold the ritual continued, just without the ice.

One winter the cold went on and on for almost a month with out ever getting above freezing temperatures even during the day. I remember the pile of ice circles from the frozen water bucket was about three feet tall and four feet in diameter, it even became a game for me to stack the new ice circle each morning in some unique way.

Ok you are thinking OMG what a poor family. Yes we were poor. We lived three miles from town and didn’t have a car, TV, telephone, indoor plumbing.  However many of our neighbors lived in the same type houses and even if they had phones and cars they still lived much the same as we did.  We knew we were poor because there were people living in our community who lived in brick homes with all the accompanying conveniences; everyone was not at the same level as us and some of them made it know to people like us how they felt about the poor. We grew up living very differently than most of the world lives today.  However there are still far too many people living today in conditions as bad and often much worse than what I experienced in my youth. Good Old Days?  You can have them! I have no desire to go back to that place or time.  Do you understand the poverty, health problems, starvation that too many of the people in our world today suffer?  How could you? You can sympathize, donate money and time or anything else, but understand, how can any of us understand the day to day existence these people suffer when we have never experienced the conditions?  Can I understand?  Maybe a little but that time for me is far removed in time and distance.  Even though I have not forgotten the poverty and other things the life of poverty denied me, my life was far easier than that of many of the people today. In closing, my life was not all bad; there were a lot of good things in my young life, my mom being the first and best. 

My Aunt Blanch

We all have things we remember about our relatives and neighbors as we were growing up.  Those memories vary all the way from fun, kindness and love, to intimidation, fear and anger.  My Aunt Blanch falls in the first category.  She and Uncle Byrd lived in town. Can you imagine having an aunt and uncle named Blanch and Byrd, two strange names for two lovely people? My mom, sisters and I lived just a half-mile east outside of town.  Since my family had no transportation other than walking it was often up to me, from the age of eight to the age of twelve to walk into town to pick up groceries or what ever was needed. We moved away when I was twelve to another community five miles east.  The grocery store I went to was on Main Street.  It just so happened that Aunt Blanch and Uncle Byrd lived on the street before you got to the grocery store and only a couple of blocks off of main street. You could often see Uncle Byrd sitting on Main Street next to the old railroad tracks, near the grocery with the other “old” men but you had to go to their house to see Aunt Blanch.  Some times, if I wasn’t on a time schedule, I would walk over to their house and say hello to her.

Aunt Blanch was my fathers’ older sister. She had never had any children of her own but she seemed to love all children and I remember that she was one of the most genuinely nice ladies I had ever known.  She would come out onto the porch when she heard me knock and sort of reach for my face with just a light touch, as she would rest her hand on my shoulder.  She would always sort of cock or lean her head to her left side and smile.  This was always her greeting to me and it was always done with a smile.  She would ask me how I was, how my mom was and if my sisters were all right.  She would offer me something to drink and some times a little snack of something home made.  We would sit on the porch and chitchat about family, farming, weather really just about anything that interested us. Can you imagine an eight year old and what was then to me an old lady, chatting.  It worked and we both enjoyed it.  Sometimes we would go inside and she would play the piano for me.  She played by ear, I never saw her with a sheet of music, and I could have sat all day long and listened to her.  She knew a wealth of songs by heart and she played everything with an old time ragtime or boogie rhythm.  It was absolutely mesmerizing to watch and listen to her play that piano.  I believe she could have played professionally during the roaring thirties when ragtime music was so popular.  She was always so kind, so sweet and so much fun.

I now live over two hundred miles from my old home town where Aunt Blanch lived, Uncle Byrd passed away many years ago, and I seldom get there to see anyone.  Just a couple of months ago my wife and I had to go to the area for a funeral for an uncle from the other side of the family so while I was there I dropped in to visit with Aunt Blanch and her sister Mildred who then lived together.  They live together in the old home that my grandmother and grandfather lived in when I was a young boy living next door to them with my mother and sisters.  We had a good visit and Aunt Blanch played the piano for us, just as well as she ever had.  My wife was amazed at the way she played with the ragtime beat and how well she played the piano especially since she was then ninety two years old.

A while back I received an e-mail from my cousin who lives next door to my two aunts informing me that Aunt Blanch had passed away.  As I sat and thought about how glad I was that I had been able to visit her just a short time ago I was saddened to think of such a kind, gentle person being gone out of my life.  Then I realized that she would never be gone.  I will always be able to picture the gentle touch to my cheek, the hand on my shoulder, the tilted head, the smile and all of the kindness she showed to me when I was a small boy.  I will especially be able to hear her play that piano.  As I get older I realize how many of the really important memories in a person’s life are composed of things that at the time seemed so insignificant, a gentle touch, a smile, and a kindness.  I hope someone somewhere someday will be able to remember me with just part of the good thoughts that I have for my Aunt Blanch.  I really wish I had a tape of her playing the piano.

I Remember Living In Panama

I was around two when we moved there and about five when we came back to the states.  We went at the end of World War II because my father was stationed at an air force base in the Canal Zone.  We lived in a two-storied apartment, we had the bottom floor and other families lived upstairs.  There were lots of American families with children living there. It was one of the really good times in my life because later I lived in rural areas where there were few playmates.
Near my house were numerous coconut palm trees.  There was a local native who came by regularly to harvest the coconuts.  This guy was simply amazing to a young boy.  He had a little two-wheel cart in which he carried the coconuts he harvested. It was odd to watch him push his cart along the streets because his shoes had the ends cut off of them. Now I don't mean he just had holes in his shoes, he had the entire end of his shoes cut off, sole and all, and he didn’t wear socks so as he walked along his toes were sticking out of the end of his shoes all the way up to the ball of his feet.  He carried a large machete like knife on a string hooked to his belt.  The coconut trees were probably fifteen inches in diameter and had trunks which were curved like the letter C. It was like the wind had blown against them from one direction all of their years as they grew.  The native would pull his cart up to one of these trees and then just walk up it.  He would grip with his hands around the tree and with his butt stuck way out he gripped with his bare toes, his shoes still on his feet, and just climbed the trees like a monkey.  When he got to the top he would hold on with one hand and cut the ripe coconuts off with his knife letting them fall to the ground, then down he would come just like he went up.  He would pick up the coconuts and put them in his cart and go to the next tree.  I would follow him watching, thinking that every tree would be the last because it seemed that he was doing something that was humanly impossible. He had to fall and I intended to be there to see it when he did.  No human should have been able to climb a tree like that but he never fell and he always smiled at me when I followed him around.  He didn’t cut all of the coconuts from the trees, only the ripe ones and they had to be just the right color.
We had a Mango tree in our side yard and the black ladies who worked on the base as maids and housekeepers would stop and pick up the ripe mangoes and eat them right there under the tree.  There were large colorful Macaws or parrots living in the trees on base and one in particular lived in a tree near a men’s barracks building. The men who lived there had made a pet of it even though it was not caged and taught it to say a number of words which really fascinated this young boy.  I got in trouble a number of times when my mother came looking for me and caught me under his tree trying to get him to talk.  You see the words the men taught him to say were not, in my mother's opinion, appropriate for a very young man to listen to and repeated visits to the tree caused me to learn another use for the limbs of trees other than parrot’s roosts, switches.  Panama and the military base was a very unique and interesting place for a young man to grow up.

I remember the bay also.  The house we lived in was only about two blocks from the bay.  The street that circled the bay was cobblestone and made the base housing form a circle that followed the bay.  There was a stone wall that went straight down into the water and you could walk along the street and look down into the bay and see all kinds of neat ocean creatures.  There was a huge Manta Ray which made the bay his home and watching him move through the water was like watching a blanket on a cloths line wave in the wind, except he had a long tail.  Near one end of the street the wall ended and the water, at low tide was very shallow so you could wade and find all kinds of things to catch to look at or just to marvel at.  Often the bay was full of jellyfish.  I don’t know what kind they were except that they were white and had long hair like tentacles hanging down.  Because, I guess, they had stung me on more than one occasion I would catch them in a bucket and take them up on the hot cobblestones and watch them melt away.  When I think back on this it makes me feel like a little cruel boy who would pull the wings off of house flies, which I never did, but at the time I don't remember thinking there was anything wrong with it.  There was a large pile of rocks in the middle of the bay that were out of water at low tide.  One day, probably at the time of a very low tide I was able to wade out to the rocks to investigate.  Being four or five years old I guess I didn't reason that the water would come back up so fast.  Several hours after I had gotten to the rocks the tide had risen to the point that I was sitting on the last rock on the top of the pile wondering what to do.  I could swim, dog paddle that is, but didn't think I could swim all the way back to the street.  Boy was I happy to see two men and my mom coming in a boat to get me.  Boy was I sorry when I got home.  It seems that Mom had been looking for me for hours and I had "forgotten" to tell her I was going to the bay.  Regardless of the fact that in a short time I would have probably drowned, the Mango Tree provided the means for mother to remove her frustrations over me being "lost and or drowned" and remind me that it was my responsibility to tell her where I was going.  I stood up for dinner and did not forget my responsibilities for some time to come

I Remember Stupid!

I don’t remember his name, I could look it up in my past student records, but his name doesn’t really matter, he called himself stupid sometimes and the other students called him that all the time.  He was a LD (learning disabled) student. I didn’t know what his learning disability was because I didn’t look up his student records, I never looked up my students records because I didn’t want them to prejudice me against or for the student.  When class started he began to follow his usual path with any teacher new to him, he told me later that was his normal behavior, by being loud, obnoxious and saying stupid things he could avoid having to answer questions. I don’t think he really tried to say stupid things, I think his brain just sparked and his mouth opened and it rolled out without any conscious thought. He was the kind of person who would have told his father that his mother was having an affair with the milkman without ever thinking about the consequences. I never was a teacher who relied on referrals to the office or physical punishment for offenses in my classroom. I simply let any problem student know that I was as quick with my criticism as my praise.  Stupid soon learned that it was not in his best interest to speak out in an inappropriate manner in my class and we were able to proceed with class in a normal fashion.

My teaching style had always been more of a discussion type than lecture or textbook oriented. I was actually a vocational technical teacher. I had always accepted students in my classes who were academically underachievers, many of them having poor reading skills.  I was teaching life skills so it was more important that the students be able to perform in the real world than in a traditional academic environment, after all how do you teach a non reader?  Not by sticking their head in a book.  This style suited the Learning Disability type student because they could achieve and learn without a lot of reading. 

Stupid didn’t have many student friends.  His mouth generally caused him to be the brunt of much ridicule, jokes and even hostility by other students. He was the type of person that other people love to torment, verbally at least.  Due to the way he had started out in class he had already established that reputation with the other students and I had as much trouble keeping them from verbally responding to him as I did initially keeping him from making his inappropriate statements.  When someone would make fun of him, his standard answer was that his mom and dad couldn’t read and they had done OK, so he didn’t really need to go to school anyway.  Not long into the class however a change began to come over him. One day we were discussing learning disabilities, which was a subject area I always covered early in class; so that I could be sure that students who had disabilities  understood that it was a physical disability and not a mental one. I also wanted the other students to understand and maybe have a little more tolerance and acceptability.  We were discussing dyslexia and suddenly Stupid spoke out, as always, and said “that is what I have”. I asked him how he knew, had a teacher told him?  He said no, he had just figured it out because every time he saw a word with the letter O and the letter F together in it they would be reversed.  He explained how “of” looked like “fo”, how “for” looked like “ofr” and how several other words appeared to him.  He asked why no one had ever told him that dyslexia  was what was wrong with him and he got quite upset.  I explained to the class by writing a long sentence on the board with several examples as he would have seen them rather than how they were actually correctly written, asking him or guidance in my writing.  I explained how difficult it was to learn to read when a teacher was telling you that “fof” was “off” but to you it was “fof”.  When I finished my example he spoke out quite adamantly stating that he had always thought he was stupid and that everyone else saw things just like he did.  I explained to the class that the LD was a problem with the brain processing what the eye saw rather than what was actually there and was not at all an indicator of intelligence.  I explained that LD took many forms; in some the brain only remembers well what it hears, making it difficult to learn in a noisy environment and then explained other variations of learning disabilities.

Suddenly Stupid wasn’t stupid any longer.  He started listening and paying attention.  He asked me for help and I gave him some simple reading exercises to help him learn to read by compensating for his disability.  It was a little late in his academic career, he was a senior at that point, but he went after it like a Chicken after a June Bug.  The real noticeable change came in my class.  Since it was a discussion class I normally asked questions and called on or allowed students to volunteer answers. I always phrased the questions so the students had to think to come up with the right answers even when the concept was a simple one. We were not dealing with what two plus two equals but with such things as - What do you say to an employer when they tell you are being laid off.  Suddenly Stupid began to amaze the other students.  I would ask a complicated question and he would raise his hand, and he would have the right answer when most of the rest of the class was at least not sure.  He always had the right answer. He had gone from being stupid to being smarter than most of the other students in the class, at least in their eyes.  It surprised the other students and I think it even surprised him.  He began to think instead of just opening his mouth.  Eventually I had to ask him to limit himself to three answers a day because it had gotten to the point that when I asked a question the other students would literally look to him for the answer.  He was destroying my technique with the other students.  I asked him to write his answers to the questions and I would give him daily extra credit even if the spelling was not correct.

His sudden outstanding performance had another fortunate consequence for me as a teacher of that class.  After things settled down and all of us had adapted to the new personality in our class the other students actually began to try harder.  I guess I will never know if they did this because they didn’t want to be shown up by someone they had thought stupid and discovered wasn’t of if it was because they saw him achieve success and wanted a little of their own.  I do know that that class developed into a very enjoyable teaching and learning experience.

I haven’t kept up with him; last I heard he was a journeyman in one of the skilled trades, carpenter, plumber or one such trade. I do know that several people changed their opinions about stupid that semester. I also know that Stupid was far from stupid.

Starting the Third Grade for the Third Time

Many of us know the traumas of changing schools; lost friends, fear of new children, teachers and the different ways in which all schools operate.  I went to 12 different schools before I finished the third grade so when I say “starting the third grade” here I am talking about the third time I started at a new school in the third grade.  I went to schools in Panama, California, Arkansas during my first three years of education.  There was not a logical sequence to this schooling at all, I actually left school in Panama, went to Arkansas, then California, then Arkansas, then California, then Arkansas for the final stay.
When we made the final move to Arkansas we moved into a two room clapboard house that was a quarter of a mile off of the paved road where I caught the school bus.  A clapboard house is one with only an outside wall. The inside of the outside wall is the inside wall.  They nail a two by four across the top, middle and bottom of the wall then put it in place with the other walls.  We had a water pump and an outhouse in the back yard and no electricity.  I did my lessons by the light of a Hurricane lantern filled with kerosene. The house was in a corner of a forty acre cotton patch that belonged to my mom’s brother.  The school was a two room school house with two outhouses (girls and boys) behind the school. There were two teachers, the first had first, second and third graders; the second teacher had the fourth, fifth and sixth graders.  I don’t remember much about the lessons except they seemed to me to be chaotic.  What I do remember was that one of the favorite games for the larger children at recess was “Put him on the outhouse”.  There was a boy who was as large as an adult so you could not tell his age and he was very mentally deficient.  The other older children would give him a switch and point one of the younger students and say, “Put him on the outhouse!”  Now I watched this several times and marveled that such small children could jump so high but I finally understood when it came my turn.  Took me three jumps but I grabbed the edge of the roof and pulled myself up after receiving about ten welts on my back and legs.  The teachers didn’t do playground duty so no adult ever saw these games.  We all knew to keep out mouths shut at school and at home or we would get it again.  Needless to say I didn’t much care for this entire experience so I was glad when I learned that I would be starting my third school in the third grade when we moved one weekend.
The new house was great, it was also a two room clapboard house that belonged to my father’s brother but it was twice as large as the old one and it had brick siding (a tarpaper covering the outside with brick imprint in the gravel on the surface)  and it was right on the paved road.  It was also just a quarter of a mile from town.  We now had electricity but still had the water pump and the outhouse but it was a definite step up. I must tell you that there were a lot of people living in the same conditions in that part of the country so it didn’t seem so strange to a third grader.
Well I started school; I had to walk the quarter mile to town then five blocks to the elementary school. The school was on the back of the second block off of Main Street so you could get to the back of the school and the playground by cutting through an alley between two houses. I had no problem walking to school. It was after all the late 1940s and people never heard of child abductions or molestation back then.  However, when I got to the end of the alley and looked at that huge two storied brick school house I froze.  I just couldn’t go in and face all the new children I saw on the playground.  I simply turned around and walked back home.  That is I did until I thought about it and decided I would be in big trouble if I went home.  So I walked to the ditch that our house sat beside and the spent the day throwing rocks at bottles, birds, whatever a third grader does to pass time.  This routine went on for about a week; I would get ready, walk to school, look at the children on the playground, turn around and walk back to the ditch.  I think I really tried each day to get past the end of the alley but I just couldn’t do it.  On my last day of playing hooky I was walking back through town when an arm shot out of this car parked at the curb.  The arm grabbed me by my hand and this voice said “Where are you going boy?”  Oh my god it was my father and I was caught.  I stammered something about hating the school and not going to go.  He asked me how long I had been playing hooky and where was I going.  So I told him since the first day and where I went and what I did. Well when you are in the third grade you don’t make those kinds of statements, at least I couldn’t to my father.  He took me by my arm and literally kicked my butt every step of the way back to the end of the alley by the school then shoved me toward the playground.  That is probably an exaggeration but it is the way I remember it, booted four blocks. He told me that what I had gotten was nothing to what I would get if he ever caught me playing hooky again.  As I walked crying (who wouldn’t cry after being booted in the butt for four blocks) across the play ground a little girl about my size was sitting on the merry go round and she asked me “Why are you crying little boy?”  I nearly screamed “Because I hate this place and I hate you!”
Well it turned out that I stayed in that school until I completed the sixth grade and wound up being one of two boys who led the playground games.  I ended up loving the place and just a couple of years ago I went back to take a look at the old two storied school house.  It was gone and there was a park where it had been. The little girl became one of my best friends and it hurt me tremendously when I learned years later that she had committed suicide.  I was in my thirty’s by then but actually thought at the time “Did I start her mind down that track with my first unkind statement to her.”  Ridiculous I know but that is what I thought at the time. The other boy who was a leader on the playground became my best friend.  We remained best friends up until he died in an auto accident.
So I guess the moral to this story is everything you fear is not bad.  Also do your best to think and say kind words because harsh words and thoughts may come back to haunt you.

My Pet Pig Sam

Grandma's sow had a new litter of pigs.  The sow had more piglets than she had spouts, teats to feed her litter with.  I had watched the birth and her caring for her piglets. However she had this one little runt piglet that was not doing well mainly because he was the runt and his brothers and sisters kept him crowded out of the dining room. My grandma told me that she was going to have to dispose of the runt because it was going to starve to death.  I had been watching the sow and baby pigs for several days and had already developed an attachment to the little runt, he was the only one that the sow would allow me to get close to.  When my grandma gave me the sad news I asked her right then to give the runt to me.  He was so small he would fit in both of my hands and I was only ten or eleven.  I brought him home in a cardboard box grandma had given me.  My mom got me a baby bottle with the warning that I had asked for him so I was the one that was going to care for him, not her. From that point our adventure began.  We made food for him from powered milk, eggs and molasses. We were very poor but we had chickens so the eggs were free and grandpa raised sorghum cane and made his own sorghum so that was also free and powdered milk didn’t cost much. As I began to feed and play with him a transformation took place.  He grew and began to get fat like a normal piglet.  I named him Sam.

Sam began to grow and when he got just a little larger I learned that he would play with me.  He loved to be held and be petted. He would lie upside down in your lap and let you scratch his belly for as long as you cared to.  He loved to play tug of war with your fingers which at that time was ok because he didn’t have much in the way of teeth.  He never hurt me or got very rough.  He seemed to know just how hard he could bite and how hard he could tug on my fingers without causing an injury.

It has been said by some that pigs are smarter than dogs.  To this day I believe this is probably true.  Given attention and affection my pig Sam developed a personality that was unique.  He followed me every where I went.  He would nudge my leg when he wanted to be petted.  If he could not find me he would begin to squeal.  If you have never heard a pig squeal it is a sound that is very quick to grab your attention.  Many were the times that Mom would holler "Go get that pig so he will shut up!"  He did not like it when Mom made me put him in a pen by the back door instead of by my bed at night but she quickly taught him not to squeal, it took just a few swats with her hand.  He was clean, did not smell and over all was a cleaner, better pet than a dog. Yes I did let him in the house to play with and to sleep in a small wire pen by my bed.  I know, he was a pig but he was special.

The problem is people don't eat dogs, they do however, eat pigs.  We were a poor family and the time came when Mom said "You have to sell him, He weighs two hundred and fifty pounds, I can't afford to feed him pig food and, we don't have enough scraps to keep him healthy!"  My tears and pleas were in vain! Mom talked to grandpa and he came with his pickup and loaded him up.  Sam actually jumped off of the back porch into the back of the truck to get in with me and grandpa took him away.  I never knew where he really went, whether to become a breeder or to be meat I just knew that grandpa took him to the sale barn where they sell livestock. My grandpa told me that there was a good chance he would be bought for a breeder boar because he was such a fine looking hog. Regardless I still missed him terribly.  I had the best clothes for school that year that I had ever had, I guess mom must have felt a little guilty.  I didn't enjoy those new clothes though; I couldn’t forget where the money had come from.  Maybe having raised and loved Sam at such a young age is why today I still find myself wanting a pet even at times when my life style tells me that I don’t really need one, and why I find it so hard to part with them what ever the circumstances. A pet become a part of you when you invest time, effort and love in them.

The Old Grouch

When I was a young man I once worked for a construction company.  I started as a laborer and worked my way up to being a carpenter.  The company was started by a man who was notorious as a real grouch to work for, he never hesitated to let you know if he didn’t like the way you were doing something.  His sons had taken over the company when he retired, and every one in the company including his sons called him the “Old Man” some even called him the old grouch. Everyone who had worked there for very long, even his sons, talked about how their father was such a stickler about people working hard and doing things the right way the first time with no excused mistakes. 

The company started building a large, expensive house one spring.  I was assigned to work as a carpenter on this one. This new house was out in the country just a couple of miles from where the old man lived.  Most of us who worked for the company were very intimidated when he started showing up every morning to observe us at work.  He would drive up just after we had started work.  He would get a lawn chair out of his truck and sit in the shade of a large oak tree in the front yard. He would sit there and watch with an occasional journey through the house to see what was going on inside.

Every day at approximately ten minutes to 10:00 A.M. he would get in his truck and leave, only to return at 10:00 A.M. with soft drinks and snacks for each man who was working that day.  He never asked what you liked and wouldn’t take money for the refreshments but simply sat with us as we took our morning break, saying little.  At 11:45 A.M. he would leave to go home for lunch, only to return around 12:45.  He would repeat his morning routine each afternoon.  He never asked what you wanted to drink or for a snack until after he had bought it the first time.  He would then ask if it was ok and if you told him you preferred pepsi to coke he would always get you your preference from then on.  After one break he would know and never forget each mans preferred drink.

One morning, several weeks into the construction, I was working in what was to become the living room in the front of the house.  I was framing the opening for the picture window.  When you frame a window you have a king stud which is the full length stud on each side of the window. Inside that you have the queen stud which sits on the window sill and supports the header over the window.  As I was measuring and cutting my pieces for the window frame I had cut the queen stud for one side of the window off too short, it happens sometimes even with the best carpenters and at that time I was still a beginner.  I laid that mis-cut queen stud aside, measured and cut another one.  When I placed it in the opening I found it was too short again.  Disgusted over making the same mistake twice, especially with the old man watching from the shade in the front of the house, I threw it aside and reached for another.  When I turned around to measure again the old man was standing with his elbows resting on the windowsill. I thought “Oh No”. He said. “ What’s the matter son?”  I said.  “I’m stupid, that’s what’s the matter, I cut two of these queen studs off too short.”  He smiled and said.  “ Son the man who doesn’t make mistakes is the man who is not doing any work.”  Without another word he turned and walked back to the shade tree and sat in his lawn chair.

I cut the stud right the third time. I have never forgotten the old mans words.  Over 40 years have passed but his wisdom still applies to you and me. The only way you will not make mistakes is if you do nothing, and in most cases that in itself will be a mistake. I have made a lot of mistakes, but I have also done a lot of work.  That day over 40 years ago I quit trying to make excuses for my mistakes and started taking credit for them.

My Great Aunt Sally

When you are young, around nine or ten, you think anyone grown up is old.  Aunt Sally wasn’t old she was ancient.  To me then she seemed about a hundred sixty. I don’t remember for sure but she must have been actually about half that.  Aunt Sally lived next door, just across the field, from me.  She was actually a great aunt on my father’s side of the family who lived with her son and his family.  They had a son just a couple of years younger than me so I spent quite a bit of time in their home. When you live in the country your choice of playmates is more limited. On those rainy days when young boys couldn’t go outside and even sometimes just because, I would sit and talk to Aunt Sally.  She was a very nice person, very tolerant of young people and actually had an outstanding sense of humor.  Aunt Sally had been a young girl when the Civil War was winding down so she had seen a lot of things that were simply foreign to a young boy.  She had an outstanding memory and could really tell a story in a way that would capture your attention and hold it.  She had seen this country when it was covered with huge trees, when there were few roads, no automobiles, no telephones and no electricity.  I would sit in the floor beside her big easy chair and listen to her tell stories of her early years.  She told stories about the mountain lions that killed their livestock, hard to believe then when they could only be found in the 1950s in the Far West part of the US. She told stories of cutting down huge oak trees and sawing them up, by hand, into lumber to make houses and barns. They used two man crosscut saws, adze and axes to do all the work since there were was no power to run a sawmill. She told stories of wild hogs, cattle and horses living wild in the woods and the problems they caused. These were animals that had escaped from their owners and gone wild. She also told stories about the Civil War.  She didn’t see any actual battles in the part of the country where she lived but she saw lots of other things that related to the war.  She told of relatives who went to war and never came back.  She explained how the relatives of lost Civil War veterans felt never knowing if their loved ones were alive or dead often for years after the war.  She told of bandits and raiders from both the South and the North coming and stealing livestock and anything else they could carry off.  Luckily she was young enough that she was never subjected to rape or beatings but she saw them and heard about them at her young age.  As I sat and listened to her I could feel the pain and fear that she still felt at 80 plus years.  She actually at one time saw the real Quantrill Raiders of historic fame in the US, and told how kind and considerate they were compared to some others who came by. She told of the coming of roads, electricity, tractors, power tools, the automobile and the changes that they brought.

As you grow older you begin to realize your past experiences have taught you lessons that you didn’t realize at the time you were learning. Perhaps that realization could be called acquiring wisdom.  One of the things I came to realize was there is a wealth of information that our older citizens have to share with us.  Later while studying history I remembered many of the things she had told me. My history lessons in school came alive for me because of her stories. Thanks to Aunt Sally I learned to listen to my older friends and relatives.  Over the years I have learned many things that have never been written down in a textbook.  I have, probably in part because of Aunt Sally, often made friends with people much older than myself.  I have enjoyed sitting with these older friends and family and asking questions about what they saw as they went through their life.  Sometimes you sit and talk to one of the elder who doesn’t seem to have it all together anymore but if you really listen you still hear things that you can’t read or learn about anywhere else.  All of our history isn’t written down and never will be. Some of the best stories historically were never written down.

I often think about Aunt Sally when I tell my young nieces and nephews about remembering seeing gravel roads get paved, the first televisions, having party line telephones, Levis and the first McDonalds.
I may not be wise but I understand more because Aunt Sally taught me to listen to my elders but.  Try it; you might be surprised what you learn.

Grandpa Charlie

He was my fathers dad and he was old, ancient to me as a child.  He never said a lot to anyone but somehow you just knew that he was a very kind person.  They say that the first time I saw him I crawled up on his lap and started eating out of his plate.  There is an old rhyme," I eat my peas with honey; I've done it all my life.  It makes the peas taste funny but it keeps them on my knife."  Grandpa ate his peas with his knife, without honey, and I marvel to this day when I think about it.  I would sit on his lap and he would take his kitchen, case knife, and scoop up his food with it and carry it to our mouths without dropping a morsel.  He would use his fork but only to guide his food on to the knife.  I guess he learned to do it from his father who came from Germany and stayed in the US when his family went back to Germany at the start of the Civil War.  I have eaten at the same table with Europeans in my later years and they always remind me of grandpa because they use knifes move their food around and to push it onto their forks where we Americans only use knives to cut our food.  I have never seen anyone as skilled as Grandpa Charlie however. 

Grandpa had a small wooden stand built out by the highway in front of his house where he would sell the watermelons he grew in his “watermelon patch.  I was at least twelve years old before I figured out that he knew my cousins and I stole his melons to eat on hot summer days.  He never said a word about it even though he would get really angry when he caught strangers in his patch. 

During his last few years he was nearly blind and he had a big old yellow dog named Butch.  Butch was just a mongrel but he was round as a thirty-gallon barrel, with gray hair.  He was totally devoted to Grandpa.  Butch waited by the back door where Grandpa always came out of the house then followed him every step he made as he walked around the home place. Grandma said Butch was fourteen years old.  He was almost as blind as Grandpa was, you could tell because he always ran into things.  Every day Grandpa and Butch would wander around the farm, about 200 acres of row crop with two home places, one with a barn.  He carried a cane but didn’t use it as a blind person would and he didn’t really need it to walk, he just carried it.  I would follow them around as they walked from place to place on the farm.

Grandpa and I would talk as we walked and sometimes he would ask questions about the state of some particular object.  This went on several hours every day that weather allowed and I knew they could not see like I could so it made me wonder what they were looking at. I often thought that maybe I just couldn’t see what Grandpa Charlie was seeing.  I think sometimes that I began to learn to see things in a different way by watching my namesake at his musings. 

I remember his funeral.  It was very traumatic for me because of how close we had become and how much I loved him. It was my first experience with death first hand and I didn't do to well with the experience. At first they brought him home to lie in state.  He was in his casked in the living room and the house was filled with friends and relatives. We sat there all day and all night with him laying there. The next morning they came and took him to the funeral home for the days services.  As he was laying in state in the local funeral home his sister, an ancient woman, to me at least, came to the coffin and raised the veil.  She then proceeded to reach in and kiss my Grandpa.  I freaked and ran outside.  My mother had to force me to go inside again. To this day I have this thing about touching the remains of a friend or loved one when I have to say goodbye to them at a funeral home.  One little event in your memory can affect your perspective and behavior forever, at least it has from my own perspective.

It is over sixty years later now but I can still picture him eating with his knife, waddling around the farm with that old dog and laying in the casket.  What I really remember is one of the most genuine kind, loving people I have encountered in my life.  How many people do you know who would have that much patience with such a young impulsive, inquisitive boy?  I am grateful to be named Charles after my Grandpa even though I have never used that part of my name.  It is my own memory trigger of a wonderful man and our good times together.

The Redwinged Blackbird

When I was in my early teens we lived at a crossroads.  You could go five miles west to one town, three miles north to a second town or six miles east to a third town.  In other words I lived in the center of nowhere.  During the spring and summer one of my favorite pastimes was to walk the mile to the Cocklebur ditch and go fishing or just hang out.  We were poor farm laborers and other than raising chickens to eat, which we raised from the egg, the fish I caught in the ditch was about the only meat available unless I could trap or shoot a rabbit once in a while.  My mother saw my trips to the Cocklebur ditch as adding to our diet.

One spring day as I was walking along the side of the highway I noticed this Red-Winged Blackbird.  How can you keep from noticing something that flies over you and then continues to hover there.  This type of bird will try to attract your attention to itself so you won’t notice its nest.  Now I had grown up with this type of bird around every summer so there was nothing exceptional about this particular one except that I noticed that it had a feather missing from its right wing leaving a very noticeable space when it hovered over me. The bird had nothing to fear from me since we didn’t eat black birds and we definitely didn’t eat their eggs.  All spring and summer I observed this particular bird because of the space in its wing as it would hover over me as I walked along.  It wasn’t the only Red-Winged Blackbird that lived along that stretch of road but all of the rest of them looked alike with nothing to distinguish one from another.  He or she was very distinctive.  This type of bird is migratory so when late fall and winter came I continued my walk to the ditch to fish but there was no Red-Winged Blackbird to keep me company on my walk.

The next spring was a carbon copy to the last one for me.  I guess when you look back after more than fifty years they all really seem to be very much the same except for those few outstanding occurrences that cause you to remember a particular time.  The astonishing thing that created this memory for me was that my Red-Winged Blackbird was back.  Nesting in the same little tree, in the same spot, I know because the same feather was still missing from the same wing. This sent me to the library to discover that migratory birds generally return to the same place each year.  However I had thought that if you pulled a feather out of a birds wing it would grow back.  My Mom informed me that was generally true unless the feather socket is damaged.  She had experienced this with the chickens she had raised.  So I knew I had the same Red-Winged Blackbird and it seemed very special to me that the same bird would fly over me all spring and summer each year.  It seemed almost like every time I walked to the Cocklebur ditch I would be met by a friend.

Eventually the bird didn’t return.  Your guess of what happened to it is as good as mine, but each year I would look for it as spring began.  It was my friend for four or five seasons.  To me it is one of those memories which reminds me of the slow easy times of spring and summer, walking along in my own world as I headed for my favorite pastime, fishing.  It dates that particular period in my life and gives me a nail to hang my memories on.

I Remember the Owl

One day the electric men came by and trimmed the limbs away from the electrical wires on the big tree in front of my house.  While they were trimming they found an owl's nest in a hollow of the tree and gave me a half-grown baby Screech Owl.  It was very pretty and really seemed quite tame.  I guess I thought if a baby owl was so tame and such a neat thing to have then a big owl would be even neater.  I was nine or ten years old so I had the normal “Huck Finn” inventive mind, which allowed me to come up with a plan. 

I didn’t have any rope, so I made a rope out of strips of ripped up rags.  I tied this to the baby owl’s leg, leaving enough of a loop in the rag rope that he could sit on top of the fence post and still reach the ground without hanging upside down.  I then sat him on top of the fence post in the front of our garden behind my house. We had two big trees in the side yard, the one the owl had come from and another near the back of the house.  I sat by this second tree with Mom's broom cocked over my shoulder waiting for the big owl to come get the baby.  My ingenious plan was to wait until the big owl came to get the little owl then while she was busy I would capture her between the broom and the ground.  I reasoned that I could hold her there until I could get control of her and tie a rag rope to her leg also.  I realize as you read this you can see all kind of holes in my plan, however try to remember some of your own plans when you were that age before you call me stupid.  Near dark she came flying around the house and saw her baby.  She landed on a fence post in the back of the garden, took off again and disappeared.  I waited, bent over with the broom cocked and ready by the tree.  Suddenly something hit me, very hard, on top of the head!  The owl had flown around the house, swooped down on me from behind and struck me with her closed claw feet as she flew by above me. 

I danced and waved the broom at her as she sat back down on the back fence post again then I immediately vacated the premises for the safety of the inside of the house as she took off in flight again.  The next morning the baby was gone from the fence post and was never seen again.  I do not know if she carried it back to their nest or where it went but I was soon to learn that she was not done with me. 

All summer the owl would suddenly appear as if from no where, always when it was near dark and strike Mom or me more often Mom than me, on the head.  You never saw the owl coming, only going away after the knock on the head.  If we ever saw her first before she struck we knew to get in hiding either in the house or the hen house.  We had a lean-to back porch roof on the back of our house and sometimes if we were standing under that roof she would sweep between the roof and us and get in her strike.  Boy, did I catch heck from Mom all summer for the trouble I caused and for the knocks on the head she got.  Every time she got thumped on the head I think I got thumped on the bottom!  It helped me to remember that things don't always turn out like you plan and you usually must live with the consequences

I Remember The Rats

Now don't shudder with revulsion!  We lived in a small two-room house close to a ditch which is an old creek bed that had been dredged out for drainage. The house was built on ten-inch diameter cypress logs laid lengthwise on the ground instead of being set on blocks.  Over time these logs had settled, causing the house to sit almost on the ground. It was just an old farm shack.  It was what is called today a clapboard house, it had one wall, not an inside and an outside side wall, just one single thickness of wall.  The outside of the boards was covered with small strips of wood and the inside of the same boards was covered with cardboard and wallpaper. The whole house was built with single thickness, walls, floors and ceilings. There was no insulation or even air space since the wall was one single board thick. It is difficult to describe, I guess you could say it was just like a barn.  Needless to say it was not a warm house in the winter so a fire was kept going in a pot bellied stove all the time. We lived there from the time I was eight or nine until I was twelve, four or five years.

During the winter the rats would come from the woods on the ditch and burrow under the house because it was warmer than living in brush piles in the woods.  Now you think that rats are only found in places of filth and poverty, well we had the poverty but there was no filth.  My mother was one of the few people I have known who could keep dirt clean.  These rats were just the garden-variety woods rats that live in the wild all over the world.

Every winter it was a battle between the rats and me. Now I am talking some big rats.  One night mom left a head of cabbage on the table. A rat dragged it off the table on to the floor, all the way across the floor to their hole.  When it wouldn't fit through the hole, they ate it during the night, through the hole, from under the house, until it was almost gone at which point we discovered the theft.  They would carry off anything that even faintly smelled of food so you had to be careful and not leave anything lying out at night.  My mother and two small sisters slept in the front room, which was where the pot-bellied stove was.  I slept in the back room, which was both my bedroom and the kitchen.  The rats could chew a hole through the floor in one night, remember the house had only one floor nailed to the logs supporting the house not a floor like we have in our houses today.  The house had also sunk into the ground over time until it was so close to the ground that during rainy times when you stepped from one room to the other water would slosh through the boards. You could nail a jar lid over the hole and the next night they would chew another hole somewhere else.  Now sleeping and listening to chewing rats doesn't go together so I would leave one hole uncovered.  We had one single light in each room, hanging by its own twisted electrical wire from the ceiling with a pull string to turn it on and off. I had lengthened the string on my light to reach the footboard of my bed.  Each night I would lay in bed waiting with the lights off, listening to the scurry of little rat feet in my kitchen, bedroom.  When I thought they were far enough away from the hole I would jerk the light string thus turning on the light.  As the rats would scurried to their hole to escape the light I would shoot them with my BB gun. I don't remember ever killing one of them, they were just too big but I guarantee I was a good enough shot to hit them as they ran.  Can you imagine any mother allowing a young boy to shoot a BB gun in the house?  Well think about it!  Rats are smart.  As long as I kept up my nightly vigil they stayed wary and would only ventured so far from their hole.  If I became lax and didn't shoot at them regularly they would become bold.  If they couldn’t find any other food they would climb into our beds and chew on us.  Each of us was bitten at some time while we lived in that house.  I know, yuck!!  Don't judge too quickly. 

A lot of people lived in that part of the country in the same impoverished conditions. Thus has ever been the plight of migrant and non-migrant farm workers so our situation was not that unusual.  We didn't really notice that we were that poverty stricken, at least at seven years of age I didn't notice. My mom probably did since she had seen better times.  I don't remember the poverty as such or the rats as that bad.  I remember the trust my mom placed on me to do this small task and that it was kind of fun.  In perspective bad times can have their good points after the fact even if they are difficult to see at the time they occur. Things we consider bad now were not necessarily bad at the time they occurred, just a matter of perspective.

My Nicknames

My mother named me Byron.  This is not a difficult name to pronounce.  Try *By*, the opposite of hello and add *Ron*.  However most of the people in my life have had difficulty pronouncing my name (Baron, Barum, Barin, Brian, Byrum etc.).  As a result I have lived with numerous nicknames that have been given to me by different groups of family, friends or acquaintances because they had problems pronouncing my real name.  I have been “Bear”, after the nickname they used for Sony Liston the world champion boxer in the 1960s. Sony Liston was the World Heavy Weigh Champion who lost to Cassious Clay (later know as Muhammad Ali).  The relative who nicknamed me “Bear” said Sony and I were big enough to go “Bear hunting with a Stick”.  I was ‘Heir Schneider” nicknamed after a dwarf actor in the movies during the 1950s thanks to my school friends.  I don’t even remember the name of the show this actor appeared in back then when all TV programming was black and white.  I have been “Barny” to my extended family for the last 21 years because a 3 year old niece decided that was what she would call me, probably because her father’s name was Brian and she couldn’t get it straight that Brian and Byron were not the same.  I was also “Horseweed” to several of the neighbors who lived in my community during my early teens.

I lived a half mile from the Cocklebur ditch and I regularly supplemented my family’s diet with the fish I caught there.  During the hot part of late July and early August the favorite fish bait, red worms would become difficult to dig, as it usually became very dry.  This didn’t slow me down since I had discovered that there was a tall rough textured weed that grew all over the area in uncultivated areas like ditch banks, fence rows and around old buildings.  During my travels over the years since then I have found this weed growing all over the United States and I have made use of it numerous times, often to the amazement of other dedicated fisherman.

If you look at the base of the stalk of this weed during late July and August you will find that many of the weeds have acquired residents.  A grub will develop inside and near the base of the weed and is evidenced by a bulge in the stalk with a round hole at one end of the bulge.  Some stalks become apartment houses with two to four bulges, thus numerous grubs. The grubs do not seem to cause harm the weeds. By first pulling the weed then using a sharp knife to split the stalk of the weed you find the bulges that are occupied.  I found that if I split the stalk just enough to verify that one of the grubs was home then closed it back I could harvest eight or ten grubs at once without the need for any other container to keep them in since they would stay home if not disturbed.  These grubs were white with a very tough outer skin.  They were about an inch long and just under a quarter of an inch in diameter, the perfect bait for bream and sun perch.

After harvesting my bait I would then take my place sitting with my legs hanging off the old one lane wooded bridge that crossed Cocklebur ditch with my grub apartments stuck in a coffee can, a five gallon bucket of water and my cane pole.  The fish loved the white colored grubs and with their tough outer skin you could often catch numerous fish on one grub.  I would catch 20 to 50 fish depending on how many people my mom planned on feeding that day. Each one would go into my bucket of water to stay alive until cleaning time.  It was often just a matter of maybe 30 minutes to catch all the fish we needed that day.

As I would sit on the bridge the local neighbors would drive across and often stop and ask how the fishing was.  The local barber who lived just a couple of miles down the road was one of those who often stopped to chat.  He of course asked me what I was using for bait and after explaining and showing him my grub apartments he went to work at the barber shop and told everyone what he had discovered me using for bait.  I didn’t know what the weed was called but evidently he and his customers, all farmers, did.  Thus I became Horseweed and a lot of local farmers became horseweed grub fishermen.  For years that is all many of the local farmers called me and of course by then I had learned that often the nicknames I was given were not usually negative but were even often endearing.

I learned to take whatever name I was given in stride as long as I personally didn’t find it derogatory.  It really didn’t matter what they called me, they were talking to me and knew I existed as a unique individual.

Fish Traps

I was around fifteen and we lived in the country on a farm.  My mom, sisters and I were farm laborers for my mom’s brother, my uncle.  We were very poor but so were a lot of other families in the area so we weren’t alone.  Since we had limited finances I often supplemented our diet by hunting rabbits and fishing in the Cocklebur ditch which was about a half a mile from our house.  In summer it was fun and not a problem.  You didn’t even have to have a fishing licensee until you were sixteen.  In winter it became harder since the fish went to the deeper water and were harder to catch.  It was also harder to stay outside with a fishing pole long enough to catch enough for four people to eat.

I decided there had to be a better way.  Using some old one-inch by three-inch welded fence wire I made a fish trap.  The trap was about eighteen inches in diameter and four feet long. It had a flat end made of the same wire on one end and a cone shaped wire end in the other. The opening in the wire cone was about four inches in diameter and about eighteen inches from the end of the trap where the cone was fastened.  The fish would swim into the hole suspended in the center of the trap but couldn’t find the hole to swim back out. I cut an opening in the side and covered it with a larger piece of wire formed to fit the round shape then hinged it with bailing wire on one side and a tie wire on the other so I could open it to get the fish out. I fastened a piece of straight wire to one end of the trap so you can pull it to the bank of the stream to remove your fish without having to wade into the cold water.  The holes in the wire were small enough that nothing was really trapped unless it was large enough to eat.  Throw out your trap and come back in a couple of days.  My better way worked great.  All I had to do was throw the traps out into the stream with the open end pointing up stream so the fish would swim into it as they swam down stream.  We had a regular supply of fish to eat even during the cold winter months. 

I would go to the ditch near dark every other day and empty the trap, keeping enough fish to eat and releasing the rest.  The only problem with my new system was that it was illegal!  I wasn’t selling fish or keeping more than we needed to eat so I didn’t really think about it being wrong. 

There was an open, flat 80-acre field between the ditch and our house, a distance of half a mile.  When you stood on the bank of the ditch you could see anything that was coming toward you and the trap was placed in the ditch on the north end of the field so it was a quarter of a mile off the paved road.  I guess the game warden had boated down the ditch at some time and seen the traps lying in the clear water.  He evidently wanted to catch the lawbreaker more than he wanted the traps removed.

One evening, just at dusk I walked down the paved road and then north to the end of the field.  As I was walking north along the ditch I noticed a truck, as it parked and turned off its headlights on the paved road by the bridge.  It had come from the east, the other side of the ditch, so I didn’t think anything was wrong. I didn’t think much about it until I saw another vehicle’s lights coming toward me on the dirt field road that ran on the north end of the field.  I hid in the bushes that lined the bank of the ditch and watched to see what was going on. The game warden, had parked on the road had started walking through the field along the ditch following me!  I was boxed in by the person walking and the vehicle coming toward me on the field road! I didn’t know then who it was but would find out later that evening.  I crouched in the bushes and tried to decide what to do. It was dark enough to be hard for them to see me if I sat still but light enough to see someone moving in the open.  If I ran north they might be able to see me.  I could get away if I could out run the person walking but the other vehicle driving down the field road could go back to the highway and come back down the every field road, one every quarter of a mile all the way  to town, which was three miles north of where I was.  I couldn’t cut across the field and go home because they would know where I had come from.  I definitely couldn’t go south!  I was trapped!

There were no access field roads on the other side of the ditch for over a mile.  It was December and freezing cold.  I needed to catch fish to eat but I sure couldn’t afford a fine from the game warden.  The ditch was only a little over waist deep to me in that spot and I could reach the water and wade it without them seeing me. I had waded it during the summer so I knew how deep it was.  I crept through the brush, down the bank, removed my shoes, socks and jeans and shirt and jacket.  Holding my clothing above the water, I waded across the ditch in my underwear.  It was so cold!  I could hardly catch my breath.  I wanted to scream from the cold water but if I did they would know which way I had gone. When I reached the other side I crept up the bank through the bushes until I was in the field on the other side.  Putting my cloths on my wet body and now dirty feet was not fun but I was able to warm up pretty quickly.  I thought I would run north now that I was on the east side of the ditch.  However, as I sat there thinking I realized that there was no way the game warden was going to wade that cold water even if he figured where I had gone.  I was relatively safe where I sat and if I stayed crouched over I could move behind the cover of the brush on the bank. 

In a few minutes I heard the vehicle driving on the field road stop and soon could hear men talking.  I couldn’t hear everything they said but enough to understand that they couldn’t figure out where the man with the fish traps had disappeared to.  I could hear them looking through the bushes and then could see their flashlights moving north in the next field.  I ran the half mile south back to the road, crossed the bridge where the game warden’s truck was parked then ran a half mile south along the bank of the ditch to get away from the road. I was by then south of where they were looking for me.  I then followed the tree line in that field back to the gravel road that came back north to my house.  I was home, cleaned up and watching the movement of the flashlights out the windows before they gave up and drove off.  They came to every house in the neighborhood (4) then to our house.  When they honked their horn Mom went out to see what they wanted.  They asked her if she had seen any strangers walking the fields or roads in the last hour.  Of course she didn’t have to lie when she said no.  I wasn’t a stranger. 

A couple of days later, during the day, I walked along the edge of the ditch with my shotgun looking for rabbits.  When I got to the path that went to where my traps had been I went over the bank to look.  They were gone of course and I breathed a sigh of relief. That was not the end of my fish trap days.  I built another trap, placed it in a different location and used old moss woven into the wire to camouflage it.  We still had fish but I learned to be much more careful where I fished and how I went to the location.  Was I a crook, I guess so.  Did I think I was?  No!!  I could keep all the fish I caught during the summer on a fishing pole.  What was the difference in using a trap?  To me there was no difference.  I was feeding my family.  Should a fifteen year old have to take the responsibility to feed a family?  If it is necessary, Yes.  I have, however, on other occasions during my life remembered the feelings I had that evening while being pursued by the authorities and it has never been difficult for me to resist the impulse to do illegal things. Was it because of this incident?  Maybe.

How I Passed High School Typing

As I sit here and type I am reminded that I only passed high school typing by jumping in the lake.

I lived in a small town, population 1400 at its largest. We had the largest graduating class in the history of the school. We graduated 66 students and my class rank was 33rd.  I was not a prize student. Our class sponsors decided that they would sponsor an activity for the class so the men sponsors organized an over night camping trip to a large lake about 30 miles from our school for all the male students.

I was just barely making a grade of low C in typing class and my typing teacher was one of the class sponsors. I guess my big fingers had trouble with those small keys, or like today when my brain works faster that my fingers and I have to keep going back to remove the letter for the next word that I have typed before I get the present word done.  Well, you could not go back with the old manual typewriters so I always had mistakes and the goal was to type the lesson mistake free and in a certain time.

We went on our camping trip with four man tents borrowed from the Scout Troop. We cooked on an open fire and had our adventures in and around the lake all day, then off to bed on the ground in the tents. Around 3 AM in the morning I decided that I would try to play Taps on a bugle that one of the students in my tent had brought. Please note: I can not play any musical instrument; never have never will!  You can well imagine the horrible racket I made with that bugle while everyone was trying to sleep at three in the morning.

My typing teacher came out of his tent and hollering "Stop that racket, I am gong to kill the person responsible for waking me up!!" Then he saw me and said  “Snider either go jump in the lake right now or fail typing!” I jumped in the lake at 3 AM!!  It was cold and sort of frightening but I just did what I was told.
Later back in class at school he laughed and asked me “Now there is no way I can fail you in typing class is there?” My answer “NOPE!!”  True Story, every word, I swear! I just thought I would share this so you would know what a labor of love, and I do mean labor, typing the things you read is for me.