Naps, Short Cuts And Caves, The Boys Didn’t Have To Work Hard To Find Trouble
(Editor’s note: This is the 13th installment in a series written by Baxter Jones about his early years. The stories were written about 15 years ago. Jones passed away in March.)
Daddy required a 10 or 15 minute nap after lunch. It amazed me that he would wake up after this period of time and be ready to go back to the field. Several times, I accidentally woke him up and he talked to me pretty straight about this. Then it happened a couple more times, also accidentally, whereas, he took the strap that he sharpened his straight razor with and popped me good with it. I don’t think I woke Daddy up anymore, accidentally, or otherwise.
One Saturday afternoon we were pulling corn down below Mac Wiggins’ house. I drove the Allis Chalmers tractor, which was hooked to a very large mule wagon. What you did when you pulled corn was make piles wide enough apart to pull the wagon in between and pitch corn into the wagon from both sides. Daddy and David did this as I pulled from pile to pile. On this particular afternoon we had a tremendous load of corn on that wagon and were almost through.
Daddy said, “I’m going on to the house. Just pull the corn into the barn and leave everything, and you can go to town with your friends tonight. Oh, by the way, don’t try to come across the slough.”
Even in my tender years, I probably would have taken bets that my hard-headed brother would have to come across that slough. All we had to do was follow the regular road to the barn, leave everything, and David could clean up and be gone to town. But, you see, cutting across the slough was a shortcut, and if things went well, you could probably save five minutes.
Where the road led through the slough, there were steep sides in and out. We made it across the marsh, but when the tractor started up the other side, it sat straight up. This was a very dangerous situation, and the only thing that kept the tractor from falling back on us was the wagon tongue. So, we very carefully dismounted the tractor, which was standing straight up and resting on the tongue of the wagon, which was nearly up to the axles in mud. We had to walk to the barn, harness up Frank and John, tell Daddy what had happened, and ride the team back to the ugly scene.
We hooked this team of big mules to the front of the tractor, and righted it. David got the tractor going, and I led the team to level ground. So by the time we put the tractor, corn and mules away, it was about ten o’clock on Saturday night. Daddy had calmly observed the incident, and had kept his cool throughout, but Bro didn’t say anything more about going to town tonight.
Daddy told me that when they were little boys, Van Cooper bet a couple of boys a nickel that he could poot anytime he wanted to. They put up their nickel and said, “okay so poot,” and Van said, “I don’t want to” and took off running with their money.
Follow the leader was also a big thing with these boys. He said that one time Batte Miles dived off into an old slough, which was thought to be deep but was not. He stuck up in the mud and they had to haul him out, pump water, mud, and leaves out of him, and they really feared for his life. When he finally came around, and drew his first clear breath, he said, “ I betcha can’t nunna y’all do that.”
I’m getting ahead of myself, but I must mention my friend, Hoyt Rushing. Hoyt was, for a period of his life, janitor of the Camp Ground School. He had his appendix removed when he was probably still in his thirties, and the doctor told him to go home and take it easy, which Hoyt did to the letter.
He never hit another lick of work in his life. When anybody asked him what he was doing, he would say, “I can’t do any work, I’ve been punctured you know.” As I write this, I can see Daddy mocking him. Hoyt was married late in life to a lady that God must have hand picked for him. I suppose that they pawned their resources and they lived in the old Rushing homestead. I used to stop by and visit with them in the summer when they were on their big shaded front porch. Conversations were something like this, “Me and the old lady have about decided that we’re just going to give up that coffee, it just gets higher and higher, so that folks can’t afford to buy it.” Noticing that both of them had a big dip of Garret in their lip, I asked Hoyt, “But what about that snuff Hoyt? It’s going sky high.”
“Yeah….but you see….you just gotta have that.” Some folks thought that Hoyt didn’t have all that was due him in the intelligence section. I’m not so sure that he wasn’t smarter than those of us who made that judgment.
While I’m ahead (this is when we lived on old Hwy 7 at “Dead Man’s” Curve), I want to tell you a story about my cousin, John Prince, and myself and the “miner’s cave” that we dug in the deep cut in the railroad right-of-way, just north of the old Hwy. 7 overpass. I’ll never know what possessed us to start such a project. If we had been required to work like we did on our own, we would have thought we were badly mistreated.
The sand clay bank is still there, even though the railroad is only talked about in old men’s stories. I recently went to look at the spot that almost did us in. We had found an old shovel in the barn, and a couple of five gallon buckets. We would alternate with the shovel, loading the buckets and carrying the dirt outside. I remember that we worked feverishly, as if we were to find some kind of treasure back in this hole. I think that we may have gone as far as 15 to 18 feet back in this bank, when one day we were resting, and gloating about our outstanding construction, just lying on our backs, and enjoying the cool sand.
John called my attention to a crack without alarm. As we lay there and watched that crack, it began to grow, and we talked it over and decided that maybe we should get out, which we did rather hastily. The instant we evacuated the cave, the bank that was maybe forty feet high came down with the force of probably a hundred tons of sand and clay. Not only did this old bank almost claim our lives, but we would probably never have been found. We decided not to tell of this venture, as it may have limited our actives in the future. However, we were much smarter boys after we saw what happened—the Lord wasn’t ready for us yet, and we weren’t ready to go.