The terrible deeds of childhood
Don’t we all remember the late Art Linkletter and his segment on his TV program and later his book by the same name of “Kids Say the Darndest Things?” May I suggest that nearly all families can readily affirm, “Kids do the darndest things?”
Events of recent days lead me once again to lean on Mike Colombo’s borrowed quotation in his Rome-News Tribune column when he said, “As one gets older, one gets more autobiographical.” In simple expression that simply means older people have a greater tendency to tell about the people and events from the years long in the past.
These words are written on Tuesday night. Early on Wednesday, I will head to Thomson, Georgia to attend the funeral of Harold Smith, a first cousin with whose family I spent many days in the hot summers of the middle and late 1940s.
As many Facebook users know, I have already posted the fact that I received the news of Harold’s death while in Alabama last week visiting my daughter’s family, whom for various reasons I had not seen since last Thanksgiving. I take this opportunity to express my appreciation to all those who posted warm and touching messages of comfort on my Facebook page.
The few days since hearing the news have allowed me to reflect and consider the many days of wonderful experiences spent in Tifton with Harold, his family and all the other families of my dad’s brothers and sisters. My dad had died of pneumonia in Tifton after he had taken my mother and one-year old sister Jackie there for him to make a crop with his brother. That was in 1938 and times were hard. The twins, Kayanne and I, had been left in North Georgia with Mama and Daddy Foster, my mother’s parents.
Moving off the farm down in the Lily Pond area in 1945 allowed for me to go to Tifton in the summer and work in the tobacco and watermelon fields with the five male first cousins around my age. Harold was one of those cousins. My dad had 11 brothers and sisters. Oddly, there were not as many first cousins as one would think. Only my dad’s sister Helen and her husband Howard Thomas of the Corinth Baptist Church area, where they are buried, had as many as four children. A first-cousin’s reunion some 10-years ago in Tifton saw only a few of us gather. And that was the majority of all the cousins.
With all that said, I now go back to the beginning and deal with two facets of my opening remarks. First, there is the autobiographical part and then there is the “kids do the darndest things.” As I reflect back on the wonderful days of those summers spent with cousins in Tifton, I remember things we did that demanded whippings of the greatest degree. And my recollection allows me to say those whippings were administered.
We all know the story of the Running of the Bulls in Spain each year. Let me call this segment of terrible deeds of childhood “the running of the mules.” Gathering the tobacco from the field to the curing barns demanded grown men gathering the ripe leaves from the tobacco plants (that process was called “cropping’). All of the young fellows could work by driving the tobacco sleds pulled by a mule. The men would put the pulled leaves in our sleds and when we were full we would go to the tobacco barns were people (mostly women with diligent and nifty hands) would string the tobacco onto the tobacco sticks to be put in the barns and cured by heat.
One day after going to the house for lunch and the men headed back to the field, us boys hitched our mules to the sleds and headed that way. The area was about 10 miles south of Tifton near Lennox. From the house to the fields today would involve crossing I-75. Anyway, we had seen horses run forever on the Saturday Cowboy movies and we decided to race our mules back to the field. I don’t know who won but I know when we got to the location of work our mules were soaked with white-lathery sweat. One mule collapsed to its knees from pure fatigue. It was obvious no mule was able to work that afternoon. With looks of contempt our uncles ordered us back to the barn area. It was there we received the “beating” very much deserved.
That was one of the terrible deeds. The other involved the filling up of the well one Sunday in the corner of the field where my 80-year-old granddad was raising some 30 acres of watermelons. You have never seen the pile of watermelons near that tenant house waiting to be loaded the next morning. One melon was dropped in the well; the sound demanded another, and then another until finally water was running out of the well.
It was lunch the next day before I heard the grownups speak of that well. We had gone our merry way after the incident and had forgotten about the deed. It was something one person would not have done but six boys together did a terrible deed. I will always hear the heartbroken tone of my granddad as he said, “I don’t know who did that terrible deed but you just can’t make me believe my grandsons did it.” We broke the old gentleman’s heart. My heart hurts as I think about his hurt.
Oh, did I say my Uncle Buster (Harold and Bernard’s dad) bounced us off every wall the next day? We deserved it.
I love my cousins. There is a good ending to this story but as noted before, “I see my time is up.”