Part of each summer “vacation” was spent visiting “The Mother’s side of the family” which included The Other Grandmother (“Gramma Brown”) and Grandfather Brown (“Pappy”) as well as various cousins who still lived on farms near Hopewell and
Hamilton Church and Brody's Store, about ten miles away from the hamlet of Walnut -- still without electricity, plumbing or bathrooms.
These relatives all lived off the produce grown on their farms with only cotton as a cash crop. They drove dilapidated old trucks and cars with rusted out spots, bare tires, and failed brakes on red dirt and sand roads that were a slew of mud in the winter and a cloud of dust in the summer. They worked
all day and all night six days a week – but never on Sunday, unless it was an emergency and it was sure that neither certain neighbors nor the Preacher would ever know.
Vacationing with these relatives meant sharing their work as well as their play – so The Orphan hoed the grass from cotton, corn and vegetable fields, picked cotton, gathered corn and vegetables, fed and milked cows, plowed with and fed mules, baled hay and shoveled the manure from the barn to be carried
to the vegetable garden to fertilize. The Orphan became very strong and broad of shoulder.
Since The Orphan was not sentenced to do farm work full time, farm work was somewhat fun. However it was also neat to leave the farm – somewhat like being released from prison, The Orphan imagined – and return to his home on Trimble Place to do The Orphan’s kind of work. This was another form of
indenture, but at least The Orphan was paid for this type of work.
On the farm, there was always church on Sunday. On some Sundays, after a trek of three miles took everyone from Pappy’s House to Hamilton Church, it was just Sunday-Go-to-Meeting with Sunday School taught by parents, lots of singing and a huge lunch set out on tables made of rough planks laid on sawhorses
and covered with tablecloths.
On other Sundays, though, there was “…Preaching…” by Brother Mulligan, a nomad who wandered from rural church to church. These Sundays were much less fun.
The Orphan thought that Brother Mulligan was a bug-eyed red-faced raving lunatic, who stood on a pulpit waving his arms and shaking his fists as he screamed and thundered sexually explicit dirty stories about something called Sodom and Gomorrah in so lurid a fashion that some of the matrons in the
congregation would suddenly moan with closed eyes and clenched toes while shouting,
The Orphan thought that such a profession could have been a great way to avoid work but decided it was not a thing his stomach would allow.
The Sunday treks themselves were fun – especially when the vehicle came to the levee (dam) that contained Yow Pond and Sally (Gramma Brown) would yell,
“…Charlie (Pappy), stop here and let me out…”
And Pappy would always say,
“…Now Sally, I’m not going to drive off the levee and you know you will get your Sunday shoes dusty…”
But Gramma Brown always prevailed and, after Gramma disembarked, the vehicle was driven safely to the other end of the levee where it awaited the completion of Gramma’s walk. After the re-embarking of Gramma, the vehicle would continue on to the church. This same conversation and scene would be repeated
on the return, unless it was dark.
Some of the houses and buildings on the surrounding farms had been there since The Civil War (called “The War Between The States” in Mississippi) and imparted an eerie feeling of antiquity to The Orphan.
Farm school vacations were arranged around the farming times – planting in the spring and reaping in the fall – so when the Orphan was at the farm during their summer school time, The Orphan sometimes also attended their school. The farm school, taught in the Hamilton Baptist Church (named Hamilton School
during the week), had twelve grades in one room with only one teacher – a very different world from that of The Orphan’s school in Memphis where there was a teacher for every grade.
The Orphan was not only the eldest son of Muddy and The Forbidding Giant; he was also the eldest grandchild of Gramma Brown and Pappy. The agrarian part of the family felt that The Orphan’s presence was important, particularly as The Orphan became more and more an alien city boy. The agrarians were
concerned that The Orphan would lose his roots.
However, it was not all work or school on the farm.
There was also play with many adventures. While on the farm The Orphan stayed mostly with the one-year younger cousin James Edward McKee, a mile away from the abode of Gramma Brown and Pappy.
The Orphan and James Edward stalked the nearby branches (creeks) and streams looking for quicksand while pretending to be explorers and eating wild grapes and muscadines (“muskydines”).
They waded in the streams and built sand and stick dams in them to make deep-water pools (as you will see soon, a very wise, unknowingly forethoughtful move), and generally, since they always went “…bare-footed…” ended the day with exceptionally clean feet and occasionally with wet “overhalls.”
Occasionally, The Orphan and James Edward would invade watermelon patches on neighboring farms, “confisticate” some watermelons, cool them in the stream and return later to eat only the hearts –watermelons were plentiful so the duo disdained eating the less desirable parts where the seeds were.
Invading the watermelon patches of Uncle Edward or Pappy was forbidden, plus it would have been stupid: it was too easy to get caught. Besides, there was little adventure in invading the watermelon patches of Uncle Edward or Pappy.
However, there was definite adventure in raiding nearby patches. One grumpy farmer with absolutely no sense of humor (or other sense either) did not approve of the duo confiscating his watermelons – so the duo had to sneak through the woods to the back of his watermelon patch, where they found an
enormous watermelon that he was saving for the seeds.
The duo lusted after this melon and summarily confiscated it.
As the duo crept away with their prize, there was a shout and a shotgun blast that caused the duo to flee pell-mell. The Orphan was using both arms to carry a watermelon the size of a wild pig, and as the duo ran downhill The Orphan rammed a hornet’s nest with his head – knocking the nest to the ground.
The hornets did not approve of the duo’s behavior any more than the farmer did and decided punishment was in order. The duo now realized that even greater speed was urgently needed and, since the going was downhill, moved with great leaps and bounds.
The duo and the hornets arrived at the dammed-up stream simultaneously (observe the value of fortuitous foresight). The duo could immerse in the dammed-up deep water while the hornets could not. However it appeared that the hornets’ Plan B was to keep the duo immersed indefinitely. Finally, after much
splashing of water on the hornets they drowned or gave up. The wet duo, leaving the floating watermelon to cool in the deep water surrounded by dead and dying hornets, trudged back to James’ home.
Lo, the irate farmer, complete with shotgun, arrived at James’ home, met with James’ Mother and Father and requested the pelts and scalps of the duo.
A settlement was reached where the duo kept their scalps and pelts and had to do extra work without pay (which was not out of the ordinary). The irate farmer made it quite clear that should any future need arise to fire the shotgun, it would not be aimed at the sky.
In his fury he never asked where the melon was.
The duo, much later, after a superb watermelon repast, collected all of the seeds in a bag and left them on the porch of the irate and humorless farmer.
No thank you was ever made.