Chapter 3 -Best Buds

pigTelling stories was a good pastime as we sat waiting. Helped the time go faster, it seemed. Reminded me of other times we perched on an old fence.

“Hey Mikey!” I yelled his way. “Remember those pigs we used to watch roll in the mud? They were so funny!”

“Yeah, Frankie,” he laughed. “We even named ‘em. Ol’ Joe was the meanest, I think.”

“Remember that day we rode Ol’ Joe?”

“Whew!” Mikey let out a whistle, “still got a scar on my left leg ‘cuz of Ol’ Joe!”

Pa could never quite decide what to do for a living. First it was chickens, then cows. The summer before, Pa figured he would breed pigs. The wooden fence behind the shack was already there to house the pigs. It got pretty muddy in that pen, but the pigs loved it. The pig idea did better for Pa than the cows. He tried to raise cows during the summer of the big drought – the big Dust Bowl, some called it. Our family was too large and too poor to afford feed. When the watering holes dried up and no grass was left in the fields, the cows died of starvation. The pig-raising idea didn’t last long either, but we enjoyed them while they were there.

I chuckled again remembering the day Mikey and I sat on the fence and watched Ol’ Joe, the fat pig, and Gus, the spotted pig, run around and around the pen. I shook my head as I remembered the crazy antics of that day. We were lucky to be alive.

“Mikey! ‘Member how I said, ‘Jump off the fence and see if you can catch Ol’ Joe?”

“See if you can jump on Ol’ Joe!” Mikey corrected. “And I waited and waited until Ol’ Joe was closest to the fence and then I took a dive right onto that mean old pig! It squealed like I’d poked him with a stick! I about lost my balance when he jerked sideways and took off running around the pen,” Mikey laughed.

“Ol’ Joe didn’t like his rider too well, huh, Mikey? He kept bumping the fence trying to knock you off. It wasn’t long before you were in the mud.”

“Yeah, but I got back on. I wasn’t afraid like you!” Mikey teased.

“I wasn’t afraid! It just took me a while to get on,” I defended.

I had waited for Ol’ Joe to come back around, but the hog eyed me with suspicion. I threw down a corn cob to bait the spotted pig we called Gus. He was almost as big as Ol’ Joe, only a little slower. Gus saw the cob and started towards it.

“We both rode, remember? I jumped on Gus and grabbed his ears and you got back on Ol’ Joe. We raced round and round the pen! Those pigs tried their best to bump us against the fence to knock us off. Never heard such squealing and oinking going on in my life!”

We laughed as we thought about fun times. I shifted my weight to the other leg so it wouldn’t go to sleep and scooted up a little more.

“I thought you were a goner that day, Mikey.”

“Yeah, me too. Our fun ride became scary in a hurry when angry Ol’ Joe smashed my leg against the fence. It scraped up my leg pretty good, and knocked me right into the mud hole.”

“I saw right away that your jeans were bloody and I knew that pig had hurt you bad. Ol’ Joe saw the blood too. The mean stare in his eye looked like he was headed for the kill. He was one mean old pig. It was lucky you fell into that mud hole. The mud stopped the bleeding a little, but not enough; the other pigs already had scent of the blood. They all ran straight towards you!” I shook my head at the gruesome memory.

“I’m glad you were there for me Frankie. You are always there for me! ‘Member how fast you hopped off Gus and ran over to me?” Mikey hopped off his fence post to demonstrate, ran over by me, then picked up some mud as he spoke and threw it over the fence. “I was still in the mud hole; couldn’t move my leg. You picked up handfuls of mud and slung it at the other pigs trying to surround me. ‘Let’s get you outta here Mikey,’ you told me, ‘cuz those pigs will bite you good!’”

“Yeah, I wasn’t sure that was true, but that’s what Pa told us. Didn’t he say they would eat us? I watched the pigs get madder by the minute. I’ll admit it. I was scared. I pulled you up by the sleeve and told you to move fast!

Mikey chuckled again and hopped on the fence rail beside me. “I screamed pretty loud ‘cuz my leg hurt mighty bad, and you just kept pulling me, dragging me to the fence.”

“I had to get you out of the way before Ol’ Joe took a chomp out of your foot. If only Mama hadn’t seen us.”

“Something made her glance out the back window. She saw us hurrying to get out of the pigpen and onto the fence.”

“She met us at the door and she didn’t smile at all, did she?” I chuckled.

“’Boys, ya’ll go out back and pick yoreselves a good slender twig from the willer tree.’ That’s what she said. She didn’t look mad or nothing, but she sure didn’t smile either.”

“Yep. Little did we know what we were in for, huh, Mikey?”

“Yeah, you got that right. Our bottoms weren’t ready to ride those pigs again for a real long time after our meeting with the willow sticks!”

“Yeah. After the time I stuck the pie tin in my backside and Mama hurt her hand, she found the willow sticks made a bigger sting on our legs.”

We fell quiet again, thinking about past events. I patted my brother on the back. Just two years apart in age, Mikey was my best bud. I was thankful for my brother. Mikey was also the accident-prone kid in the family. If there was an accident going to happen, it would probably happen to him. If he didn’t bump his head on the cupboard occasionally, he fell down or got a stick poked in his eye. He smashed his finger in the door once and almost took it off. Still has a strange-looking mashed-up finger to this day.

2014-01-20 14.40.49Mikey and I did everything together. There were woods out back to hunt and a little pond down the road for some great bullhead fishing. The hill on the back dirt road was great to slide down in the winter. We even dug a fort in the woods for our hideout when we played cowboys and Indians.

The fort, our hole in the ground covered with brush, was the result of digging for treasure. We overheard Pa telling a story about a bum burying something in the woods, and we just knew it had to be hidden treasure. Mikey and I found a spot we thought would be the perfect hiding place for a treasure and dug down so deep we could almost stand up in the hole. That’s when we struck something hard. We were so excited! We thought we struck a treasure chest full of gold.

“We found it, Frankie!” Mikey shrieked. “It’s gotta be the treasure chest!”

We dug some more and kept hitting the hard object. We brushed away the dirt as fast as our hands would allow, and attempted to unearth the solid object beneath our shovels. It was flat and hard, a kind of dark grey color. The more dirt that was brushed away, we realized our treasure wasn’t a gold-filled chest; it was just a plain old flat rock.

I looked at Mikey with an “I-told-you-so” look as our enthusiasm faded.

“Oh well,” mused my always-objective brother, “at least we can really hide in our new fort now.”

“Leave it to you, Mikey. Who cares if we didn’t find the treasure? You are right. We have a special place all to ourselves. Bet we can even bring some blankets out here. We have a solid rock floor now. It will make a good, cool hideout. This will be our secret place.”

“Yeah,” Mikey agreed. “Good idea, Frankie! Let’s get some pine branches and cover it up, so no one sees it.”

Mikey loved secrets. In the next few weeks, we gathered loose boards to put on top of our hideout, and then covered it with the pine branches. The best part was that no one knew about it except for Mikey and me. We stored flashlights and some jerky, apples, and crackers for snacks. Logs became stools. It was a great get-away, nice and cool on those hot summer days. We loved to camp out.

There were so many adventures to find in the woods. It was our second home in the summer. We often spent all day with our BB guns hunting birds, squirrels, or chipmunks, and no one thought to look for us. Mama knew we were safe, and besides she had her chores and too many other kids to care for. She never worried. She knew we’d come home if we got hungry enough. Pa figured we were too young to do the hard chores, and he had Guy to help him, so he didn’t care where we were either, as long as we kept out of his hair.

It was a game, you know, sitting on the fence. We made it be. Our fence-sitting stories just helped pass the time. Pa would be back soon. He promised, and most of the time, he kept his promises. So we played our games and told our stories while we waited and wondered where he was.

Read Chapter 4

Chapter 2 – Fence Sittin’

Boy on fenceIt had only been a few weeks since Mama left us. Pa had lined us up on the fence that night too. It was an awful night. One by one, he made us perch on our post. The shack was way too crowded as it was. Guess he figured the kids wouldn’t be in Mama’s way when she gave birth if we were outside on the fence. He was really nervous that night. I could tell by the way he chewed on his mustache and paced the floor.

“Now, jes’ set out here a spell,” he ordered. “Soon ya’ll have yorsef a new brotha’ or sista’! I’ll come an’ tell ya’s; then ya’ll kin come back in. I’m gonna go find someone to help yer Ma now.”

He went into town to find someone to come help Mama deliver the baby. I hoped Pa would hurry. I knew something was wrong – dreadfully wrong as we listened to Mama’s screams and pitiful cries of pain. But we were told to sit on the fence and wait – wait until we were told we could go inside. So we sat and waited and talked and played games and thought. Besides, if we were loud enough, we wouldn’t hear Mama’s cries. Fence-sitting gave us lots of time to think.

I was the third born of seven. Big brother Guy was the oldest, soon to be fourteen; Dolly was twelve. I sat next in line, then Mikey, my best bud, sat on the other side of me. He was nine. Past Mikey sat the twins, Jesse and Josie, age six, and then baby Gracie, who couldn’t perch herself on the fence. She was only four. I was named after my great-grandfather Timothy Franklin, but everyone called me Frankie. I was almost ten and a half.

Guy was the thinker, the take-charge sort of guy. He was strong as an ox, and almost as big. He was smart, too. We all looked up to him when we needed help. I admired Guy a lot and wanted to be just like him. My older sister Dolly was quiet and pretty, slender and tall like Mama. She had Mama’s eyes, the color of a clear blue sky and Mama’s silky blond Norwegian hair. Dolly was a hard worker too; she had to be in order to help Mama with all the other children. I was born a few years before the Great Depression. Mama always said I was so independent because I was born on Independence Day, July 4, 1926. My best bud and younger brother Mikey came along two years later. Things started to get very crowded in the little shanty we lived in. We learned to live, eat and sleep in cramped quarters and make the best of it – or hear the worst of it.

The twins, Jesse and Josie, were nothing alike – in looks or personalities. Josie was quiet and shy; she wouldn’t hurt a fly. Jesse, on the other hand, liked to think he could do anything at anytime, anywhere. He was loud and proud of it. Truth was, most of the time he was just a loud-mouth boaster. He wasn’t as brave as he let on; he really needed his twin sister to balance him. Mikey and I teased the daylights out of Jesse and the little girls, but we wouldn’t dare cross Guy, and well, Dolly was just too nice. Besides, she would tell Mama.

Jesse made a good target more times than not. He loved cold tea with lots of sugar. So one time Mikey and I got the idea to put salt in his tea instead. We changed the sugar for salt in the bowl, and invited Jesse to have a nice glass of cold tea. Jesse put one teaspoonful after another in his glass. Mikey looked at me cross-eyed, and I almost doubled over to hold back a giggle. Chuckled to myself as I thought of it all over again. Jesse only took one drink – but it was a huge gulp – and spurted it back out in an instant – all over the floor. Mikey and I ducked out the door, but Mama knew what happened. She wasn’t too happy with us, but we laughed until we cried as we watched Jesse sputter and spit all over the floor. He didn’t get over that one for a long time.

My daydreaming on the fence was interrupted as Jesse coughed again and poor little Gracie let out another whimper. She was the youngest. Now she shivered; her tiny body shook as the wind assaulted her. She had the saddest look on her face, and dared herself not to cry. I was real worried about her. I tried not to think about it, but it wasn’t working. I could still hear her small shaky sobs through the howl of the wind. We had to get her off this fence post into some warmth.

Why wouldn’t he let us stay inside out of the wind? Why did he lock us out? Anything would be warmer than out here. Pa told us to sit tight until he came back, and we all knew we’d get paddled or more if we moved too far away from our assigned posts.

The old shack had been a great deal, or so Pa thought. It was small, but at least it had three bedrooms plus a barn out back. Even had fencing already made for the animals he hoped to raise someday. We all looked forward to our own room with a real bed to sleep on. The lean-to only had one bedroom, and that had been Mama’s and Pa’s. Guy, Dolly and I had to sleep on the floor. But even the new shack became small when more kids came along. I think that’s when the fence-sitting started; every time Mama had another baby, we ended up waiting on our wooden post.

The rickety fence crawled its crooked path around our small acre of property – not too high that animals or kids couldn’t jump over; it was just a property marker. Broken in places, the logs that had slipped out of their sockets lay rotting on the ground. There was one good stretch of seven or eight posts in back of the house where it seemed we ended up whenever we were not allowed in the house.

And that last night? Well, Pa was too drunk to know what he was doing. He wasn’t thinking too straight when he left. He just locked up the place and told us to sit on the fence and wait. We knew we best obey or suffer the consequences from a drunken lunatic. He usually came back after a couple hours. Truth was, Pa never did come back that night.

Read Chapter 3

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