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Growing Up Country

(Editor’s note: This is the eighth installment in a series written by Baxter Jones about his early years. The stories were written about 15 years ago. Jones passed away last week.) 

Charlie Boy lived at Taylor with Mr. Jim and Hargess Hamilton. He was born to one of the tenant families and was  a big, strong man and also severely retarded. The Hamilton family had given him an old tenant house to live in and had, as best they could, seen after his needs over the years.

Charlie was capable of doing very simple jobs, such as loading and unloading hay, carrying in firewood, etc. Charlie could be seen going to Oxford or Water Valley, always pulling this homemade wooden wagon. He hauled a mixed bag of materials on this wagon, none of which was for rhyme or reason. If Charlie liked it, and if it would fit on his wagon, he would haul it. He had nails driven on the sides of this wagon so he could hang pots and pans, or anything with a handle. The best thing that Charlie had going for him was the fact that everybody within a 20-mile radius of Taylor knew him and knew that he would not harm them.

If Charlie got caught out, somebody would feed him and let him sleep in the barn. He would show up in our back yard, pulling that 500-pound wagon, and yell, “MIZ JONES, MIZ JONES, CHARLIE BOY HUNGRY” (he had a voice like a bull) and Mama would find him a piece of corn bread or an ever-present baked sweet potato, and he would be on his way. 

He would sometimes come down the levy, hollering at the top of his voice or singing an unknown tune or lyric. He was disarming, when you knew him, and I can only imagine what a stranger would have thought. I never witnessed this, but many people had—Charlie would get his wagon stuck, and then whip and cuss himself like he was a team of mules. Mrs. Bryan, who was in her  nineties and a landmark of Taylor, told me that Taylor had just gotten a new Methodist Minister, who saw Charlie Boy for the first time, and  he had stuck  his wagon. She said his first service was started by: “To all you fine people of the Taylor Community, I want to tell you that I may have indeed witnessed the devil himself this morning.”

  Daddy made me a very simple toy—a molasses bucket lid nailed to a stick. I had this small iron ring, which had been the rim for a small wheel of some sort. I pushed that wheel up and down the levy, and Charlie Boy saw it, and had a fit over it. He wanted to trade me his wagon and his wares for it—the trade was a no-go. Daddy came up and put the trade down, and besides that I couldn’t have pulled the wagon.

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Some of the old mule barn is still there, but recently, the roof fell in, and I remember when the city ordered the rest to be torn down and removed. It is what should have been done, but it was kind of sad to see the old landmark go. It was located in the alley adjacent to Billy Moorehead’s hot house. Mr. Wiley Johnson was the proprietor, and he made his living buying and selling horses and mules. He had a small coral there, and it was a popular place for the men to visit on Saturday—a good place for the men to get away from the women folk for a little while, and have a little nip. 

There was a lot of talk, and a lot of spitting snuff in all directions. It could get a little hairy for a little guy wandering around. The men would look in these horses or mule’s mouths, check their hooves, etc. At times, Mr. Johnson would lead the animals around and take bids. It was on one such occasion that daddy bought one of these mules.

When they brought him to  our place, he was fine, romping in the pasture and checking out the other animals. Daddy was out of town, doing carpenter work with Uncle Earl, Uncle Clarence, and Uncle Hugh (Mama’s brothers). This mule began acting very strangely, as if he could not see well, or at all. He would just walk into the side of the barn or the fence. 

Mama had Uncle Robert come by and give his opinion. He told her that we had bought a “moon eyed” mule and that he would go blind on each full moon. Sure enough, it was a full moon, and after the full moon had  passed, the mule went back to normal. Mama and Daddy talked it over, and daddy traded the critter back to Mr. Johnson for what did not appear to be a great deal, but Mama said it was good riddance.  NOW, REMEMBER THAT WE ONLY KEPT THIS MULE DURING ONE MOON PHASE, AND I CAN ONLY ATTEST TO WHAT I SAW, and I have  never heard of a “moon eyed mule” since that time, nor have I known anyone who knew of one. However, I do remember very well this happening and if I encounter one of those “I’ll tell you one better than that boys”, I can head them off.

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  From time to time, Daddy would give my sisters, Nolie and Peggy, a  heifer that they could groom, feed, and take care of. When they marketed these animals, they’d get to keep all the money that the animals sold for. On one occasion, Daddy gave each of them identical black pigs. Since it was going to be hard distinguishing whose pig was whose, they tied a red ribbon on Nolie’s pig and a blue ribbon on Peggy’s. 

Nolie went out one day and discovered that her beautiful little pig was dead. She was devastated over her loss, since she had become very close to him. When Peggy was perhaps 50 years old, she confessed to Nolie that it was really her pig that had died, and she’s swapped the ribbons. Years later, I don’t know if Nolie has completely forgiven her for this yet.

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A little black puppy of unknown origin showed up at our house one spring day. He looked like he could have some terrier and maybe some feist blood, but overall, his heritage was questionable. He was so cute and I was smitten with him. 

Mama finally caved in to my begging and told me he could stay. “Blackie” and I became constant companions. I had a red wagon that Santa Claus had brought me, and I wanted to haul Blackie in my wagon, but he was a reluctant rider, and he didn’t  know about balance. He had a tendency to get to one side or the other, and cause the wagon to tip  over. For lack of knowledge about dog training, I tried a very simple approach. 

When Blackie would fall out of the wagon, I would dunk him in the cattle’s water trough. Every time he fell  out of the wagon, his fault, my fault, nobody’s fault, – I would  dunk  him in the water trough. It wasn’t long before I could run with the wagon, turn curves, whatever, and he was right in there like a Harley rider. 

Every time someone would come by the house, I would demonstrate Blackie’s talent. People were amazed. It is only now that I disclose my secret training method. In spite of the fact that I had very badly mistreated Blackie, he loved me more than anything in the whole world. 

I think it was the next summer that David accidentally ran over him with the hay wagon. I was sitting at the edge of the field and Blackie ran for all he was worth, jumped into my lap, look up at me to save him, and passed on to whatever place God has prepared for great little doggies. It was like he could reach heaven if he could just get to me. 

This was one of the most devastating things to  happen to me in my young life. No doubt there were lots of other regrets, as well as sadness. How I would have liked to have held him, squeezed him and told him I was sorry for dunking him in that watering trough and that I loved him. Daddy wrapped Blackie in a good flannel shirt, and we buried him on the bank of Camp Ground Creek. 

I guess you could say that in the maybe 18 months of our young lives that we shared, I taught Blackie how to ride a wagon, but he taught me some things about life, dying, love, and how to appreciate a good friend.

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  One summer afternoon there was a terrible storm. I was watching the ongoing lightening, thunder and a downpour, through the back screen door, as was my sister, Peggy. 

There were two mules, Blue and Julie, real close to the house—maybe 20 yards away. Blue appeared to be leaning against the fence, and Julie was standing close on the other side of him. Suddenly, the whole back yard lit up in blinding light, and the noise almost burst my eardrums. 

Both mules went down like you had hit them in then head with a sledge hammer. Blue, who apparently got the full blast in the wire fence, was dead as a hammer. Julie, after a while, got up and appeared to be all right. However, the first time Daddy plowed her and she got hot, she keeled over dead. Apparently, we weren’t very far  out of harm’s way, as Peggy’s nose was slightly touching the screen door and it was burned.

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