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So there I was, spending another beautiful summer day cutting grass. Having finished the back, I started along the side of the house and toward the front. And there she was. Standing on the side of the road by our mailbox, a girl looking to be about my age, which was 11 at that time, was watching me. She was about as tall as I was, kinda thin and had long, straight brown hair tied back. It hung down to her butt. She was wearing a simple cotton dress that came to just above her knees and a raggedy pair of tennis shoes. I stopped the mower near her and said "hi".
"Hi", she answered.
"Ya want sumptin"?
"We just moved in across the road".
"Yeah, I know. What's your name"?
"Why they call you that"?
"Cause when I was a kid I used to think I was Hopalong Cassidy".
"You still think that"?
"Course not. Hey, want some cold lemonade"?
So, we went into the kitchen. Mom and granny were bustling about doing some baking. I introduced Kelly, got two clean glasses and poured out our drinks. Mom sat out a plate of fresh baked cookies. When we finished, we walked out into the back yard.
"I love to climb around in old barns. Can I see yours"?
So we walked down to the barn and went inside. On the right side were some horse stalls. On the left, the milking parlor. In the middle we parked one of our tractors. A long workbench was on one side holding a gazillion tools and parts. This is where Big brother Ike and dad did most of our repair work. On the wall by the horse stalls a homemade wood ladder led up into the loft.
"Can we go up there"? Asked Kelly.
I let her go first and as I looked up, I saw she wore no panties. This whole day was starting to look better and better.
Our loft had baled hay on one end and loose straw by the ladder. I often came up here just to be alone for awhile. After spreading out an old blanket on a thick layer of straw, we got comfortable and talked awhile. It wasn't long before we were engrossed in exploring each other.
"Well, what the hell" boomed a loud voice. We both jumped and I nearly wet myself. The voice belonged to big brother Ike. He stepped off the ladder onto the loft and stood there with his hands on his hips, grinning.
"I better go", said Kelly, and she quickly covered herself and started to go.
"Now hold on a bit. I'm not going to tell anyone. Hell, I come up here and do a lil' entertaining myself once in a while. Hop, you better finish the mowing before dad gets back from town". Ike had been in the workshop by the house and saw us head for the barn. I'm sure he knew all along what was up. He kept his word and never told anyone.
Kelly scurried off and never came over again. She still spoke to me, if I saw her someplace. Two years later her dad was found in a field, dead from a heart attack. They moved away after that but I sometimes think of her and wonder what happened to her.
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One summer morning in 1954 found me in the workshop. I had just finished oiling the old iron monster lawn mower and sat down in one of the old chairs to let the dew dry off the grass a bit. Dad had gone off in the truck earlier. I must have dozed off. It seemed someone was calling my name. Was I only dreaming? A loud "Hop, get yer butt out here and help me unload this thing", jarred me awake.
Walking out of the shop, I noticed dad standing beside the truck. What was noteworthy was, he was grinning. Dad never grinned, except when he was fishing. I was immediately suspicious. As I approached the truck, I looked in the back and there sat the most eye popping, heart stopping sight I ever saw. A brand new, shiny red and black, rubber tired, gas powered lawn mower with a genuine black cast iron Briggs and Stratton motor. Did I mention, it was brand new? We hardly ever bought anything like that new but it still had all the tags attached, fluttering in the breeze. The new mower was a reel type, like our old mower but had a motor and was self propelled.
I must have been giggling as I helped dad unload it and sit it gently on the ground. I was still giggling as dad started telling me how to care for and maintain the machine. "Shut up with the giggling and listen", he growled. Then dad went into his litany of instructions.
"This lever here on the left side of the handlebars is the clutch. Pull it back to take the mower out of gear, so to speak. Throttle is on the right. Open it a bit to start. That tab on the motor is a choke. Pull out to start, push in after motor runs a bit. On the front of the motor is a spigot. The top plug is for checking and adding the oil. The bottom plug is for draining the oil to change. Check the oil every use and change it every third use. Keep the air filter clean too". I already knew about all that stuff from hanging around big brother Ike since I was old enough to crawl, but I politely listened.
We gassed the mower up and I pulled the recoil starter rope a few times. The motor sputtered to life. Pushing the clutch lever forward, I started mowing laps around the back yard. I think I was giggling again when mom and sister Angel came out of the back door and stood by dad watching. Angel said something to dad and he waved me over.
"Let Angel try it awhile", said dad.
Angel opened the throttle and was jogging around the back yard, grinning like a possum as she guided the machine.
"Hop, I want you to show Angel everything I showed you about care and maintaining that thing. You'll need to do a tune-up and change the drive belt occasionally for her. I want you to see if she'll take over your mowing chores. I need you for other things, with gramps gone and Ike in the army". It slowly dawned on me how ironic this was. All my mowing life I dreamed of a gas powered lawnmower and now that we finally got one, I had to give it up to Angel.
There was no problem getting Angel to take over my mowing chore. Angel was what you would call a well fed farm girl. That's what you would say if you were smart. Because, if Angel heard the words "chubby" or "fat", you would have to fight her. Angel knew she could easily have a weight problem, but she worked hard at keeping her weight down within acceptable limits. She looked on lawn mowing as an exercise session.
The ancient iron wheeled lawn mower was retired to a corner of the shop, where it sat until dad sold the farm and bought a house in town. A date was set for a farm auction. It lasted two days. A church sold lunch and drinks to those attending the sale. The mower was drug out and sold along with a couple shovels and an old axe, for fifty cents. Some nerdy looking guy from town bought it. He sand blasted it, painted it colors no mower was ever painted and sat it beside a flag pole in his front yard. But that was not the end of the old machine. A few years later I visited my younger brother Daryl. He said he had something to show me. There, in the back of his garage behind a sheet of plywood, sat the old iron wheeled monster. Daryl had stolen it from the nerd's front yard. My lil' brother was one of us after all.
We blasted off all the hideous paint, varnished the wooden handle and painted the metal parts with a flat black paint. Daryl agreed to keep it for me. He still has it as far as I know.
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My tenth year was the year of my first deer hunt. I wrote about that but I don't think I told you how I nearly missed out. It was getting along toward Halloween. Gramps was spending some of his spare time in the workshop melting lead, pouring the molten lead into a slug mold he made himself. When the homemade slugs cooled gramps would load them into the paper 16 gauge shot shells that fit his old single shot shotgun. The loaded shells were put into a canvas shoulder bag or pouch and left on the workbench. And that was the beginning of my troubles.
Dad's most favorite thing to do, besides fishing, was to attend farm and household auctions. Most of our machinery was bought at these sales. Dad would often buy whatever guns were offered. That's how we ended up with so many. I mentioned how we had a shotgun stashed in most of the outbuildings. Well, a ten year old boy finding a bag of ammo just has to shoot some of it. I really didn't think gramps would miss a few shells. Trouble was, gramps kept his gun in his room and I couldn't get at it without being seen. I checked the gun in the workshop. It was a .410. The big barn was a 12 gauge. The garage, BINGO. A 16 gauge.
So, one saturday morning I set out for the back pasture with gramps' bag of freshly loaded slugs and the garage gun. Adjoining part of our back pasture was Elmer Tess's place. He had a large field full of big orange pumpkins. Anxious to see what one of these slugs would do to a pumpkin, I loaded up and touched off a shot. A miss. I moved closer, picked out a small pumpkin and fired again. SPLOOSH! The pumpkin exploded like a big orange hand grenade when the big, soft hunk of lead smacked it. I loaded and shot again. KAPOW! And again, on and on with no thought about how many shells were left, until I found the bag empty. Uh oh. Gramps was going to be plenty mad. Worse yet, the field around where I was standing was littered with pumpkin guts and chunks. I had let myself get out of control, again.
I start back to the house, wracking my brain for a way to explain the missing shells. Turned out, I needn't have bothered. As I started for the garage to put the gun back in it's place, I noticed the sheriff's car parked in the shade of our back yard. The whole family was sitting around talking to sheriff Hagan. All eyes were on me as I walked toward them.
"Hi Hop, where you been"? Asked the sheriff.
"What you been doin".
I could tell by the look on the sheriff's face he was enjoying watching me squirm.
"Know anything about pumpkins Hop"?
Here it come.
Then the sheriff told me that Elmer Tess had heard the shooting and watched me kill his pumpkins from a patch of brush. Elmer called the sheriff and he stopped at the house to await my return. So, sheriff Hagan put me in the front seat of his car and we went over to Elmer's place. Elmer was a pretty laid back guy. I apologized and Elmer mentioned he still had five or so acres of pumpkins that escaped being murdered and maybe I could help pick and load them, to be sold in nearby stores. No pay of course. I agreed and one more job was added to my list of chores. The sheriff took me back home and stayed for dinner. He and dad had been friends since they were boys. I don't know what the sheriff loved most, mom and grannies cooking or gramps's fruit jar whiskey. He helped himself to plenty of both.
So, I endured being called "punkin" by the family and gramps loaded more slugs and made me shoot at old coffee cans to prove I could hit something smaller than a pumpkin and I got my first deer later that year.
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First Deer Hunt
When my dad came home from WW2, I was about 5 1/2 years old. I have no memory of dad before then. He enlisted right after Pearl Harbor. I was a bit over 1 year old. When he came home, dad and my grandparents pooled their money and bought a farm.
The huge old farmhouse was plenty large enough for dad and mom, gramps and granny, my big brother Ike, Lil' brother Daryl and younger sis Angel. I must have been about ten years young when gramps decided it was high time I contributed something to the family larder. He was going to teach me the art of deer hunting. As he put it, 'He ain't gittin any smarter. Best teach 'im now afore he gits too dumb to learn'. Gramps was a gruff old codger but could be as soft as warm butter on occasion.
Our farm only had about an acre or two of trees and brush in the back where our land joined a cousin's farm. Cuz had about 200 acres of nice woods. They didn't like us much so we couldn't hunt there. Except Ike. He was 10 years older than I was and pretty much hunted wherever he wanted. So, we headed for a very large tract of timber along a river.
Gramps and Ike scouted the area earlier. They hunted here near every year so they knew the lay of things. Being next to a river meant it flooded every spring so a game trail that was there last year may be changed this year.
Anyway, we got there before daylight. Gramps led the way to a spot along a game trail where a tree had fallen, catching it's top in the crotch of a neighboring tree. the fallen tree formed a natural ramp up into the standing tree. Gramps told me to get my butt up there. When I got settled he handed up our one gun and climbed up, settling himself next to me. Ike went on to another location.
We only brought one gun, gramp's 16 Gauge single shot shotgun. He said he would get his deer later, this was my hunt. Gramps had loaded his own shells with his home made slugs. He made me shoot out behind the barn, at empty coffee cans until I could hit one each shot at about thirty feet. 'You ain't gonna shoot at anything past that', he advised.
I'll always remember his words that cold fall morning. 'Don't move from now on. If ya gotta look, just move your eyeballs. Don't scratch, whisper, fart, nothin. Squirrels'll be runnin 'round all over. Fergit them. Any deer will be on that trail right under us. Point that gun barrel down and wait. 'member, if ya move, I'll knock ya right outa this here tree'.
I don't think I ever sat so still so long. What seemed like hours later, I felt gramps poke my arm with his finger, ever so slightly. I strained my eyeballs to the side. Nothing. Other side. Young buck, standing in the trail looking down it our way. My heart was going pitty- pat like a jackhammer. Buck looked to the side, then, satisfied everything was ok, he trotted our way a few steps. I waited. He passed under our tree. Gramps poked me again as buck stepped on by. I brought up the gun, cocking the hammer and aiming, all in one quick, smooth move, just as gramps taught me. I didn't even feel the recoil but I still see the buck drop in his tracks, relieved that he didn't run for miles to die somewhere that night like gramps said would happen if I made a bad shot. We climbed down to look at the buck. The slug hit him at the base of his skull in back, killing him instantly. Gramps gave out his cackling laugh and slapped me on the back so hard I almost puked.
Well, we drug buck out of the woods to our truck, hung him in a tree and removed his entrails. Then we sat in the truck to wait for Ike. Gramps rolled two cigarettes, handed me one then brought out his fruit jar of evil tasting whiskey from under the truck seat. We talked and celebrated until we heard a shot. That would be Ike. Gramps always said one shot means deer. More than one shot means the hunter missed. So, three happy hunters headed for town. Our town had a locker plant. They would process your animals as you wanted, package the meat and place it in a locker you rented. You could come and get any meat when you wanted. In later years we would buy our own freezers.
At this point in my life, I think I would give all my tomorrows just to relive a few old times.