The ter­ri­ble deeds of child­hood

Calhoun Times - - OPINION/COMMENT - Jerry Smith Weekly colum­nist

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.”

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