A True Story from the Civil War

They were Alfred Ferguson, 1822-1906, and Sarah Elizabeth (née) Prance Ferguson, he of Warren County, MS, and she of either Kentucky or Tennessee. During the civil war, Alfred was in his 40’s but he was stove up, and not able to fight; he was at home, near Vicksburg, with his wife Sarah Elizabeth, when General Ulysses S. Grant arrived to surround and blockade Vicksburg. This was a very dangerous time, especially for Rebels of fighting age, crippled up or no. Alfred was out gathering firewood when Union soldiers caught him and brought him, a prisoner, back to where General Grant was. Sarah found out about it. She immediately dug up the things she was hiding from the Union troops: sugar, ham, bacon, flour, syrup, etc. etc. She cooked all night long with the help of her servants, who were still loyal to her.

The next morning, she saddled up two mules. She rode on one. The other, she loaded with all the food she had cooked, including fried chicken. These were all things for which people were being killed, you understand. If anyone had stopped her, she could have been killed just for the biscuits alone. Anyway, she met the sentry at the Union camp and told him she had something for General Grant. General Grant was stunned when she said she had brought the General his breakfast! He hastened to make her welcome and help her down from her mule. As he was helping her down, she added, “But there is just one thing, General – I am used to having my crippled husband eat with me. Would you mind fetching him from among your prisoners that he may breakfast with us?” Yes, ma’am! So Alfred ate with his wife and the general. You realize, of course, that the Rebels would have shot her for this, just as the Union soldiers might have shot her themselves for the food if they were scoundrels.

After the meal, Sarah Elizabeth Ferguson gets up and says, “Now General Grant, my husband is just another mouth for you to feed. I now have an extra mule, the one I brought your breakfast with. Why don’t you just let me load up my husband and we will go and trouble you no further.” And that is exactly what happened. Against all the odds and all the laws and rules, and probably his own lieutenants, General Grant let this Southern lady take her husband home. True love knows no bounds.

The reason I know about this is that Sarah Elizabeth Prance Ferguson was my great-great-grandmother.


Dad’s Stories: Lessons from the Military – Part Two

    A P-38 Over Germany

A P-38 Over Germany

While in the Air Force, Dad solved all kinds of mechanical problems. His mechanical ability was off the charts. He taught those under him how to use their tools properly, ways to work more safely, and many little tricks of the mechanics trade. He posted up bright yellow sticking paper all over the place where his crews worked. The little signs had just one word: “THINK” in black letters an inch high. In other words, think before you act. Dad’s troops kept a low accident rate because Dad admonished them to be careful all the time.

One day, in Tehran, a Air Force major came in for a landing too hard. He smashed the jet’s landing gear to bits, all three wheels and their struts. Dad thought this particular major had potential, so he rescued him. Dad ordered replacement parts for three complete sets of struts and wheels. He named three different other jets as needing one set each. He installed the new struts and wheels on the wrecked jet, and soon it was flying again. The reputation of the major was saved. That major went on to be a general, and near the end of his career got the high honor of being commander of the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. Moral: always try to make your officers look good!

Dad made many Iranian friends in Tehran. It was one of these Iranian friends that taught Dad how to cure amoebic dysentery. He told Dad that plain unflavored yogurt with live culture, unpasteurized, would heal up one’s stomach. And so it did. Friends can be more valuable than money. When Khomeini came to power, many of Dad’s military friends in the Iranian Air Force were brutally killed. It made him very sad, but there was nothing anyone could do.

Dad served with distinction in many countries. He served several years in Germany, served a year in Saigon, and fixed big bombers in Guam. He had a great tour in Thailand. He served in Virginia and lots of other bases stateside.

He was once made Chief Aircraft Inspector for all the Air Force bases on the whole eastern seaboard. At one base, a colonel was escorting Dad around the hangar where aircraft were being repaired. Dad noticed that one jet had been jacked up with a jack under each wing, so that work could be done underneath. He inspected the shear bolts, and to his horror saw that the bolts were not case-hardened steel. They were steel, but not hardened. He told the colonel, “Colonel, you had better see that those shear bolts are changed out immediately with case-hardened bolts.” The Colonel pooh-poohed that suggestion, and Dad just made a mark on his report and they kept walking. About 15 minutes later, they heard a terrible screeching sound. The jacks had fallen downward, collapsing with a thunk. The jet’s wings were perfectly impaled by the jacks, just as Dad had warned.

During the Cuban missile crisis, America had every jet we had up in the air flying sorties over Cuba, and over the Russian ships going in and out of Havana. One certain type of jet kept flaming out above 35,000 feet, and no one knew why. The plane would fall, reach a lower altitude, and suddenly it would catch and run all right. No one could figure it out. There was a big meeting of engineers and designers, and they were scratching their heads when Dad knocked on the door. He said, “I think I’ve figured out the problem. There is a tiny spring that controls the flow of fuel in each wing. When it gets way below freezing at that altitude, the little spring is too weak to operate. If we place another spring inside of it, though, it should stop the flameouts.” They tried it, and voila! The difficulty disappeared, and the aircraft were put back in operation again. Sometimes the higher-ups need the lower-downs to solve problems.

Back at the start of his career, Dad had been invited to go to Officer’s Candidate School. However, it turned out that he was color blind. He couldn’t tell red from brown. However, as an enlisted man, he went as high as he could go, to Chief Master Sergeant. He became close with generals everywhere he went. They depended on him. He knew the Chief of Staff of the Air Force well. I don’t know if it was that general or not, but some general near Washington, D.C., was having some trouble, and Dad solved his problem. It seems there were two huge refrigeration units which were all worn out and not functioning very well. It was a mess. The general had tried every way he knew how to get them either fixed or replaced, with no luck. Dad commiserated with the general, then excused himself. That same day, Dad went to an Air Force supply depot, and with his skills with paperwork and knowing how the system worked, got the depot to deliver two new units. The old units were removed and the new units were working before the sun went down. I think it’s pretty obvious that I spent a lot of time prying these stories out of Dad. I got a million of them! I will end with just one more.

There was a large Air Force base in Tacoma, Washington, back in the 50’s. Dad invited my brother David and me to come see him and take a tour of the World’s Fair and the newly built Space Needle. We did go to the Fair and the Space Needle, but Dad also took us on a tour of the Air Force base, which was even more exciting. It was a base for the Strategic Air Command, that is, a SAC base. The base was a center for managing the radar for the Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line, a part of NORAD (North American Air Defense Command). There was a multi-story building made of concrete that looked like a huge concrete cube. It had no windows, in case of atomic bomb attack. The very latest computer equipment filled many floors inside this concrete cube of a building. They had a big expense with air conditioners to cool the computing units down.

We got to see one floor which was filled with tech sergeants sitting before computer screens. They were monitoring every single plane over the northern part of the U.S. They had laser guns. When you pointed the laser’s little light at a dot on the screen representing a plane, a little list came up telling you the name, type, destination, weight, speed, and so on for each plane on the radar. One of the guys let me do this. He told me that they had one program which taught you how to aim with the laser gun. There was a girl from Tahiti or somewhere doing the hula, and if you could hit her belly button with the laser gun, her grass skirt would fall off! About that time, Dad said it was time to go. I never got to see that dancing hula girl. But I never forgot about her, either! I feel sure that somewhere, in some cubicle, right now a tech sergeant is pointing his laser gun at an old computer screen and aiming…!

Dad’s Stories: Lessons from the Military – Part One

Image                My dad served in the United States Air Force for 30 years. Before he died, he and I talked a lot over the years, and that is where these stories come from. In World War II, he was a sergeant in charge of maintenance of P-38s. He crossed over the next day or so after D-day, and fought in the Battle of the Bulge. The picture above is famous; it was in all the papers at the time. It was cold. Dad is standing in front of a taxiing P-38, apparently motioning the plane to continue. Actually, however, he is yelling at the lieutenant piloting the P-38. Dad is throwing his arms forward, telling him to stop, because the pilot was about to nick the nose of Dad’s parked P-38. Dad didn’t know about the picture until much later. And the pilot did nick Dad’s plane, and Dad did chew him out for it!

Dad had great mechanical aptitude. Upon entry into the Air Force in Biloxi, his tests scored so high that they immediately promoted him and sent him to an aircraft maintenance school in Colorado. One day the professor gave each student the challenge to do something to a motor to keep it from running, something that other students couldn’t figure out. No one could figure out what Dad had done, not even any of the professors at the school. With a crowd around the motor that Dad had put out of commission, they finally asked him what he had done. Dad licked his thumb, reached over to the distributor cap, and erased a pencil line of graphite which he had placed just so. Immediately the motor came to life. The pencil line had shorted out the motor. That got people’s attention. It is why he was a master sergeant the day he crossed on D-2.

On Utah beach, gun battles were still going on while soldiers and cargo was unloading. A German tank exploded near enough to Dad that his running ability increased dramatically! In the sand, he found a German New Testament and kept it in his pocket all through the war. Later, in the Battle of the Bulge, the blitzkreig was terrifying. In a foxhole at one point, Dad prayed that if he lived and had sons, neither of them would ever have to fight in a war. Neither my brother nor I have fought. I became a pastor, and my brother served as an intelligence officer.

Dad worked around the clock to keep the P-38 “Tank Killers” flying. He recalls being ordered to sleep for four hours once. He was so tired that when he woke up he hadn’t even moved his body. The blood had drained to the lower parts of his body, so that when he sat up, and the blood flowed, he felt simultaneously faint and his front was warmed.

Once Dad fell out of a cargo plane that had just landed and hit a bump on the runway. He injured his leg, and was sent off to a field hospital. The doctors made everyone undress, including taking their pants off so the patients wouldn’t wander around. Dad took off his pants, but hid them under his mattress. When a German Stuka dive-bombed the hospital, with a near miss, there were men running half naked in every direction wearing nothing but hospital gowns! Dad was the only one with both pants and shoes on.

Dad’s favorite thing was aligning the guns on his P-38. He would taxi it over near some woods, put up some targets, and sight in the guns. Knowing in great detail exactly how the plane worked, Dad was sorely tempted several times to just take off and circle the base and land.

When they had to travel, they used 10-speed bicycles. As the war continued, Dad spent some time in Belgium and Holland, and made a lot of friends. Dad was working one day with his crew fixing his P-38. A jeep rolled to a stop and General George Patton got out. Patton appreciated the Air Force for the cover they provided to the Army. Dad took his own tin cup and filled it with fresh coffee from a makeshift 5-gallon tin with the top cut off. He gave it to Patton, who sipped as he talked. Dad kept that cup and brought it home with him.

After the war, Dad farmed for a few years, and then re-entered the Air Force. He served in many places, including Tehran, Iran. Shah Reza Pahlavi was still in power. America and Iran were allies in those days, against a Russian takeover. When Dad arrived, he was a chief master sergeant, an E-9, and he was in charge of the entire base’s aircraft maintenance. The men were sloppily dressed, and half the aircraft were lacking parts and could not be flown. Dad went to work.

He ordered everyone up at dawn for calisthenics his first day. Then Dad said, “Tomorrow, if everyone is wearing their proper uniform, the calisthenics will stop; otherwise, they will continue.” Next day, and every day thereafter, the troops were in uniform.

He overheard a lieutenant chewing out a private in front of others. He invited the lieutenant into his office, and said words to this effect: “Son, I advise the general in charge of this base. If I see you chewing out another troop where anyone else can hear or see you, I will make sure you are on the next flight to Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage, Alaska.” The lieutenant got the message – and so did the captains, majors, and colonels. Moral: never publicly embarrass a man.

He taught his people how to get things done. No one knew how to order parts for their downed jets. They were calling Denver, the national supply depot, instead of going through channels. Dad taught them how to do the paperwork and where to send it. Soon all the jets had their parts, were running, and back in the air.

He took Air Force volunteers out into Iran’s back roads and made swing sets. Kids are kids everywhere. Dad would find a small village out in the countryside, bring about three Air Force trucks loaded with his crews, and build swing sets on the edge of town. The kids would gather to see what was going on. When the swing sets were finished, the kids were thrilled. Often the village chief would invite the men to a meal afterwards. Dad’s guys brought the cold beer. They all sat down on Persian rugs, outdoors in a big circle. Delicacies were brought to Dad and all his crew members as they listened to Persian music play and drank their beers. This is how Dad learned to eat goat’s eyes – you can’t turn the chief of the village down when he offers you something so grand as the eyes of the goat!

The Great Mississippi River Flood of 1927

Starting around August of 1926, heavy rains began to fall over the middle of the United States. The rains continued straight through into May of 1927 — ten months’ worth. As the waters rose, the authorities on both sides of the River began to set up patrols. Men with shotguns and lanterns patrolled along the roads atop the levees, spaced apart about 100 yards. They were making sure someone from the other side of the River didn’t come and blow the levee. They were also watching for boils – places on the outside of the levee which had been weakened by the river and made to bleed water. If a boil was not tamped heavily with soil and sandbags, the River itself would break the levee. People began to flee out of the Delta. Cars and trains were full of people making their getaway.Image

On April 21, 1927, the levee at Mounds Landing on the Mississippi side gave way. About 12 miles north of Greenville, a boil had caved in. It finally measured three quarters of a mile in length. There the levee was ripped open and away, 100 feet deep. The waters flooded over and through the side of the levee, destroying it.

The flood wound up covering over 23,000 square miles in southern Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Louisiana. Chicot County in Arkansas was covered completely except for a few acres in the northwest corner. Washington County in Mississippi was completely covered. It rained 8 inches the day the flood hit Greenville and Lake Village. In areas nearest the levee, the flood waters reached a depth of 30 feet. There would be around 700,000 refugees in all. It was not until mid-August of 1927 that the waters receded, leaving a massive muddy Delta behind and much work to make it livable again. Reports gave the total dead as near 250.

My great aunt Mattie Bergman told me of the day the flood hit Greenville. The water entered town, running down the gutters as if it were nothing more than the accumulation of the rain that was falling. In a matter of minutes, however, Auntie said it covered the intersection of Shelby Street and Washington Avenue. She saw it happen. Soon all the streets were flooded with a few inches of water, which kept rising steadily until it rested about 16 feet deep in some places down to about 10 feet deep in others. When I was a boy of 9, around the year 1955, Auntie showed me the marks plainly left on all the large trees at that height, at 236 South Shelby.

Auntie said that people abandoned the first stories of their homes and office buildings. Small fishing boats were at a premium, putt-putting up and down the spaces between houses and helping people escape. Greenville was simultaneously in a panic and yet made strangely calm by the water everywhere. Animals fled. Snakes and fish began to make their way into houses and buildings.

Simultaneously, the waters arrived from Illinois and went down the right hand side of Missouri, flooding the right hand side of Arkansas.  On the Arkansas side, the River had formed Lake Chicot naturally 600 years earlier. However, the flood waters rose and joined with Lake Chicot to flood Lake Village and the surrounding area to a line running through McGee to Montrose and into Louisiana. I wish I had stories to tell about the flood in Lake Village. Perhaps my classmates have some stories to tell. I plan to ask.

Meanwhile, people had been escaping since before the waters arrived. My father was 5 years old at the time. His father and mother, his brother James, my Dad, and other relatives, climbed onto a train in their little town of Rolling Fork, heading for Hollandale and points east, away from the flood. The coal burning train, loaded to capacity, barely made it over the railroad bridge on the far side of Hollandale. It kept going all the way to Nettleton, in east Mississippi, where we had relatives in the hill country. Another train, behind Dad’s, didn’t make it over the bridge. The bridge crumbled under the pressure of the flood waters and the people on board the train went in the water. Many perished. Something similar happened in Natchez. In the picture below, the flood has risen up to the roof of a freight car on the railroad right-of-way.Image

In Greenville, and in other river towns, the black population was treated very badly by the whites in authority. Not allowed to escape, they along with poor white plantation workers were conscripted illegally into repairing the levee. They were worked around the clock, and one man was killed by a young, immature white policeman because the man refused to be pressed into labor to unload food for the black population. William Alexander Percy, who later wrote  Lanterns on the Levee, was chairman of the Red Cross in Greenville at the time. (You can see the Red Cross relief camps in the map of the River above, marked by red plus signs.) He spoke to a packed black church filled with angry black men next day. He said the policeman was in jail and would be tried. He also said, “Every white man in town regrets this from his heart and is ashamed.” He also chided the blacks for not being willing to unload the free foodstuffs for their own people, which whites had provided for them. However, the whites were never forgiven by the black population  —  both for the killing of one of their own, and for forcing them into labor, never mind who the food was for.

That killing had two effects that changed politics in Mississippi. Formerly the black population was Republican, the party of Abraham Lincoln. First, after the cruel treatment by whites in authority during the flood, who were Republican, the black population began a trek to the northern states in heavy numbers. Second, they also switched to the Democrat party, and remain faithful to the Democrats to this day. Race relations were severely damaged if not destroyed because the flood brought out the worst in many.

The flood also brought out the best in people of both races. In spite of everything, blacks and whites gained a new found respect for each other. William Alexander Percy and people like him prevented many of the Ku Klux Klan from gaining political office in Washington County. Finally, President Hoover sent loads of salmon, which put an end to the dread disease known as pellagra. The salmon caused people to heal from their skin and stomach troubles and caused their minds to clear from the deficiency in niacin. All these ailments had been caused by the pellagra. Hoover also sent alfalfa seed to restore the land and provide food for livestock. Alfalfa is still harvested to make hay in our region. People began to be able to make a living again.

The straightening of the River: My mother’s father, Guy Drew, was the first CPA in Mississippi. He owned a powerful motorboat. It had two 90 horsepower engines. However, no one in their right mind would be on the River that day. Poppa Drew drove my mom, age 4, and her older brother, Guy Jr., along the Mississippi levee to the spot where engineers were going to dynamite the levee on purpose. It would make the River’s waters flow faster and therefore recede faster. The River made big loops, curving back on itself. I am unclear on exactly what stretch of the River this dynamiting took place, but it did take place, not only near Greenville but in Natchez and Vicksburg and New Orleans. My mother saw that a trench had been dug connecting the top and bottom of the loop where the River came closest to itself as it doubled back. The trench was a mere three feet deep and hardly much wider than that.

My mother watched as the engineers blew the top of the levee. Water rushed down the levee into the trench, gushing along like a liquid avalanche, melting the levee. In minutes, Mom said she saw whole trees flying through the air. The River poured over its banks and tore itself a new bed where before there was only that little trench. They must have blown the levee at the bottom end of the loop as well, because in no time the River ceased to flow around the loop and went rushing straight in its new path.  As a result of this shortcut for the River, I think Lake Ferguson was formed, but I’m not certain it was Lake Ferguson. Anyway, it straightened the River. It was the most violent thing in nature my mother had ever seen, or ever would see.

LV-09 Lake Shore 33The ’27 flood is part of the history and heritage of everyone born in Chicot County and Washington County.  Lake Chicot, alongside Lake Village, is the largest oxbow lake in North America. I am closer to Lake Chicot than to Lake Ferguson beside Greenville, where I was born. That is because I spent the 8th through the 12th grades in Lake Village, living on the banks of Lake Chicot. The name Chicot is French for “stubby,” or “stumpy,” reminding those who live there of the many stubs or knees of the cypress trees, with their wooden knees which stick up along the lake shore. All is peaceful and quiet in those waters. Kenny Tillman came back from a fishing trip once, along about 1963, after catching a ten pound bass in Lake Chicot. If you asked him nicely today, he might tell you where he caught it.

As a boy in the Scouts in Greenville, I went on many camping trips on the shore of the River. Waves lapped ashore just as they do along the Gulf Coast. The breeze at night would blow off the mosquitoes if you put your sleeping bag near enough to the shore. Above were the stars. Behind was the woods. Along the side was the River. Tug boats pushing barges would go past every so often, flashing their train-like headlights along the banks. Their powerful diesel engines sounded exactly like those of diesel locomotives. Finally we would drift off around our campfire with the distant sound of whippoorwills in our thoughts. Old Man River was letting us sleep.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Ed Frank, Wine Maker

Pop liked beer. He also chewed Red Man tobacco. After he had his one beer for the evening, he would sit in his recliner and use a beer can opener to punch the can two or three times more, to use as a mini-cuspidor –  a beer can spittoon. When in the car on the highway, he used the beer can; however, on the ranch he would spit out the window. He warned us to roll up the back window behind him, to keep the spit from coming back in the car. I was fortunate never to get hit by what my lawyer kin on the Drew side would call a “miasma of effluvium.”

Pop liked wine. Unwilling to buy it from a store because of the expense, Pop resolved to make his own wine. He went to see some of his many friends in the Italian community of Lake Village – I can’t remember if it was the Fortes, or the Pieronis, the Scucchis, or the Santinis. They sold him some wooden barrels, or told him where to order them (I don’t remember). These wooden casks were about twice the volume of a 55-gallon drum, about five feet high and very big around. They had two-inch bung holes on the side, stopped with large wooden plugs. He ordered some pinot noir grapes from California, which arrived in 30 or so crates. But first he had Mr. Dennis, my brother David, and me to dig a wine cellar for him.

We dug an 8-foot deep room under one corner of the house. We shored up the walls, and put concrete on the bottom, but it was still just a big dirt pit with steps down to it, absolutely nothing fancy. Pop had the barrels put in there, strung up some lights, and then invited the Italians over.  I say Italians with the deepest possible respect. Those men were master wine makers, all devout Catholics, and people who made the town run. I say this even though a couple of them had flasks of Old Crow in their hip pockets.

The fun began. Humming, joking and laughing, cheeks and faces glowing with good humor, the Italians brought the crates of grapes over to the barrels and dumped the grapes inside, still attached to their stems. They poured massive amounts of sugar into the barrels. They then invited me, owing to my long legs I suppose, to pull a Lucille Ball and trample out the vintage where the grapes of Pop were stored. All I remember is that it was pleasant to the feet. I can’t remember if my legs were stained or not. They showed Pop how to seal the lids, using paraffin and copper tubing and glasses of water. Then they disappeared, still singing and laughing. They knew how to put happiness into the atmosphere!

Three months went by. Then the Italians came back.  This time they brought big beaten copper and tin bowls or pans, three feet wide and about eight inches deep.  The flasks were in the hip pocket again, of course. Down into the cellar we all went, in a procession. Pop was there and the Italians kept up a steady stream of instructions to him. They gave me a wooden mallet – might have given my brother one too, for the other barrels. An Italian held a big copper pan under the bung hole and instructed me to knock out the plug on my barrel. Whoosh! Out came the wine! It was raw and sweet and the air was filled with the smell of wine. This was the first wine.  My feelings of camaraderie and friendship with those wonderful old men grew by leaps and bounds: I was a junior third string assistant wine maker!

This first wine was poured, most of it, into other waiting barrels. More sugar was poured into those barrels and stirred. Then those barrels were sealed. This was to become the second wine. The first wine, of which Pop kept some to sample, was strong, what Jesus called new wine. It had a sweet fruity taste, and a powerful kick.  The Italian gentlemen left, telling Pop he could handle it from now on, and to call them if he needed guidance.

After another three months, we got the second wine. This wine was more like champagne. It was not sweet, exactly, but was very bubbly and smooth.  Its kick was not so hard as the first wine. It was more gentle, and much to be preferred over the first wine. Pop had ordered some bottles and caps and a cap press, and we had fun pouring the second wine into bottles. Pop put the caps on. We filled up cardboard boxes with the bottles, and stored them in the wine room, what we began calling the cellar. We still had barrels of first wine and second wine, left to age. We would go down from time to time to check on the barrels, and you could see the little bubbles coming from the coiled copper tubing out of the casks and into the fruit jars full of water: blurp, blurp…blurp.

I thought I could drink the second wine like soda pop. I recall one of the two times I ever got drunk. It was due to my drinking the champagne-like second wine. For the first and only time in my life, I laid down in bed early after supper and kept very still to keep the room from tilting and spinning.

Years later, in college, I went to one (only) college party where they drank rather heavily. That was not for me, I decided. I limited my drinking to when I was writing papers for my classes. I would open a bottle of Liebfraumilch or Cabernet Sauvignon –or, when I was broke, Ripple. I would sip the wine while writing my papers. It calmed the anxiety and enabled me to concentrate.

I may as well tell you the rest of the history of my drinking. I really didn’t make a practice of drinking in college, not beer, wine, or whiskey. I wasn’t interested. However, I came back from Bolivia a few years after college, and I was upset by the rough experiences there. Mad at God. I took some off-campus courses from my seminary, and spent a year working at Jacob Schmidt Brewery. There I worked in the pump room, which pumps beer up to the fillers. My room was kept at 35° and held 13 huge tanks the size of railroad car tanks. Each was filled with different beers, still full of live yeast and unpasteurized. Everyone’s favorite beer was called Schmidt Extra Special because it had 12% alcohol instead of 6%. The bosses and managers would come visit me from time to time. I would go to the Extra Special tank and turn a metal spigot, filling a bottle with this perfectly cold and fresh 12% beer for them.

Finally, after a year in the brewery, I had an experience with God. I quit the brewery, went on a two-month mission trip with my wife to Puerto Rico, and returned to seminary. I graduated and spent seven years as a pastor in Mississippi. My only other experience with wine or any alcoholic beverage began after those seven years. My wife and kids and I went to Santa Marta, Colombia, to be church planting missionaries with South America Mission. While there, the other missionaries were in a quandary. Who would go buy the wine for holy communion at our new church? Being the one supposedly with the most experience with wine (probably true), I was sent. First time, I bought a bottle of Mogen David wine. However, the Colombians in our worship service complained afterward. They said it was disrespectful to the Lord to serve such cheap wine for communion! So missionary Wally went back to the liquor store and, in front of God and everybody, bought an expensive bottle of wine for the next time. I don’t remember what I bought, but that was the last complaint I got out of the Colombians about the wine. Since 1985 when I returned to the States, I have had no alcoholic drink of any kind, with only three exceptions.

Twice, I took communion in the Catholic Church, once in Greenville,  and once in Okolona, both in Mississippi. The Greenville priest warned me not to do it again, while the Okolona priest begged me to come partake. The final taste of wine in my life was several years ago at Annual Conference in Jackson. The bishop of the United Methodist Church in Mississippi, Hope Ward, had invited an Episcopal priest to come have communion with us, and out of hospitality, there were two serving lines for communion. One served wine, the other grape juice. Needless to say, I chose the serving line with the wine. And it was definitely not Mogen David.  I remember that it was exceedingly fine.

I close with a short piece from the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám, a Muslim mystic. He compares the intense mystic joy of communing in the presence of Allah, with drunkenness. I don’t believe in Allah, but he does. In this short piece he is advocating that one should spend more time in that joy. It sounds like he is advocating for drunkenness, though he is not. It goes like this:

Ho, a cup, and fill it up! And tell me it is wine,

For never shall I drink in shade when I can drink in shine;

Speak, for shame, the Loved One’s name,

Let vain disguises fall;

Good for naught are pleasures hid

Behind a curtain wall!

A Cowboy’s Life in Arkansas – Part Three

     Mrs. Thudium had a four-inch deep white rug — Mrs. Thudium owned several square miles of prime farm land and cattle pastures. Pop managed her 2,500 plus cattle. Mrs. Thudium hired me the summer after I graduated from Lakeside High School, paying me the goodly wage of $5 a day, $25 a week, for working from sunup to sundown. On Saturdays, I was invited to her house to receive my pay, which she always gave me in crisp new $5 bills. Mrs. Thudium was a very rich, eccentric lady. She was very mysterious to me. She had a house full of servants. One helped her with her rose garden. Another guarded her house at night with a .22 rifle. The guard was half blind and very old, but he was a favorite of Mrs. Thudium until the night that he saw what he thought was a burglar. “Halt, or I’ll shoot!” He shot and wounded the burglar, who turned out to be an expensive bronze statue on the back side of the house.

Mrs. Thudium had a cook and also had a black guy, in white pants and a white shirt, who lisped and who brought Mrs. Thudium’s meals to her in her bedroom. Her bedroom had a 4-inch thick white Persian rug of untold value. She invited Pop and me into her bedroom, to sit on her couch and chat. I always took my shoes off before entering and stepping on that rug. She called for her lisping guy to bring her my pay envelope, and talked to me about her cattle in the meantime. The guy came in, prissing as he walked, and sucking on a pencil in his other hand. “Get that pencil out of your mouth!” barked Mrs. Thudium. “Yes, ma’am,” said the guy with the lisp, hanging his head in shame. I held still and didn’t make a sound, for fear I would burst out laughing.

     We started at 2:30 a.m. and worked cattle all day. —  It takes from sunup to sundown to work 500 head of cattle, and more than that if you have a lot to do to them. When we got 500 head which had not been worked to prepare them for shipping to the feed lots, Pop called for an all day work day to get’er done. Up at 2:30 a.m., eating breakfast at 3:00 a.m., driving out and saddling our horses by 4:00, we were in the pastures and moving the cattle just as it got light enough to see.

We used bull whips. I learned to make my own. They were 16 to 20 feet long, made of four long plaited strips of leather, and tapered. David and I both got very good with them and could pop a flower off a bush ten feet away, easy. We cracked them like rifle shots over the cows to make them go when we herded them toward the lot where the squeeze chute waited. We popped their behinds to make them go, too, and hollered at them: “ho, ho, ho, ho, ho….get on, cow…ho, ho, ho…hey-oh, ho, ho, ho…move, cow…!” and so on. David and I became wiry and tough from those summers working cattle. Our butts got hard, and we lost all the hair on the insides of our calves and thighs, from the constant rubbing against the saddle. The movement would tighten the hairs on our calves into tight little painful balls. I’d shave them off.

We drove the cattle down the sides of the pastures to a central location where we had many pens, all leading to the cattle chute. We counted them as we put them in the pens. Then we opened the pens up, one by one, and ran them through the chute. A cattle chute is simply two fences made out of half-crossties with about three feet between them, making an alley way which leads to the big metal cage at the end. Once in the cage, which we called a squeeze chute, the cow’s head and horns were allowed to pass through an opening in front and an iron gate was closed behind them. A lever was pulled to lower an iron bar on the cow’s neck, pinning the cow in place. Another lever was pulled to move each side of the cage against each side of the cow, pinning them inside.

This particular day, we had the veterinarian there. He stuck a needle in their necks to draw blood into a vial, to test for Bangs disease. Meanwhile, we gave the cattle their shots, made them swallow boluses of medicine to kill stomach parasites, dehorned them if they needed it, or castrated them to make them into steers so they would fatten better. Then we would release the cow, and head the animal back to a large pasture to rest and wander on back from where they had been taken.

I was working the back end of the squeeze chute. Someone would poke the cow with a “hotshot,” an electric shocking device run on batteries, and the cows would move into the squeeze chute. I would push the gate shut and pull the lever to squeeze them on each side. In less than a minute, the cow was treated and released, the front was closed again, and another cow was let in. Then I got my finger caught in the track of the rear gate as I pulled the lever to squeeze the cow!

     I was too chicken to get my fingernail drilled. —  My fingernail turned black with blood instantly. Pop nonchalantly pulled out his pocket knife and said, “Come here, Bump, and I’ll fix that for you.” What? What? I thought. Pop, seeing me hesitate, explained that he would twirl his razor sharp knife in the center of my hurt fingernail, and this would let the blood out. It would also instantly relieve the pain. But I was chicken! I didn’t want that knife point twirling on my fingernail! I said, “Never mind, Pop, it doesn’t hurt that bad. Quickly I moved back in place and let the next cow in. Pop looked knowingly at me and said, “Okay.” I hurt like crazy for the next six hours, but breathed a sigh of relief because Pop was willing to forgo fingernail surgery. A few days later, the nail came off. But that’s enough about the fingernail, except to say from that day to this, through many mashed fingernails, I have always elected not to drill. I’m still chicken, you see.

A Cowboy’s Life in Arkansas – Part Four

     The Brahman bull disliked  his bangs test.  — On the same day my fingernail didn’t get drilled, in the middle of the afternoon this huge Brahman bull (pronounced “Bramer” where I come from) came through the chute. We got him in the squeeze chute just barely because he was so big. When the vet put the needle into his neck, that entire bull, about a ton’s weight, began doing his best to get out of that iron cage and shake that needle out of his neck. When he finally ran out of steam, I had opened the back and let the bull rampage backwards into the wooden fence part of the chute. He managed to flip over on his back somehow before he stopped, exhausted. We got a tractor, a different tractor, and roped his horns and drug him out, whereupon we decided we were done with Mr. Bull and let him go. We didn’t want any more of him just as badly as he didn’t want any more of us.

     A Santa Gertrudis bull climbs a 10-foot high fence. — While I was in college I heard of an incident involving a Santa Gertrudis bull, larger than the Brahman bull. Mrs. Thudium had bought him to breed her cows. He came by rail to the train station in downtown Lake Village. Bud, Lee Everett, Dennis, Pop, and some other hands were there to welcome the bull and get him into the horse trailer waiting for him. One problem. The bull didn’t like the pen when they let him off the train. The pen consisted of full crossties driven into the ground fairly close together. To these stout creosote poles, one foot by one foot square by about 14 feet high before being planted in the ground, was attached very heavy square wire. This bull glanced at this ten foot high fence and decided to climb it. And that is what he did, leaving the fence and the pen totally in ruins. It took Dennis, Bud, and Lee roping the bull together, leading him back down the street to the horse trailer, and then an act of Congress to get that bull into the trailer. They were smart enough to let him calm down somewhat before attempting to get him into the trailer.

     My Catahoula dog grabs a bull by the nose. — Backing up to when I was still in high school, I want to tell another bull story. Not a cock and bull story; a true story about another big bull. I think he was a Charolais.  Big and mean, he was part of a herd we were moving from one pasture to another. The bull kept breaking for open ground, not liking being herded. There was only one problem for the bull – my Catahoula dog was helping with this short cattle drive from one pasture to another.

I owned, was given by Pop to take care of, really, a full bred Catahoula dog. These dogs, said to originate from Catahoula Parish in Louisiana, are trained to drive cattle. Originally known as Catahoula curs, they came from England where they were known simply as curs. As Wikipedia tells it, “the word ‘cur’ referred to a certain British purpose-bred, short-tailed cattle droving dog known only from historical records.” According to Pop, my particular dog came from Australia. I guess it was taken there from Britain and used to drive herds there. Anyway, back to my story.

My dog pestered the bull so much that the bull would chase him, and the dog would lead the bull right back into the herd. Finally the bull figured out that the dog was keeping him from escaping. He charged my dog, but this time my dog, whose name I forget, just hunkered down and waited. When the bull arrived, traveling full speed, and lowering his head to horn my dog, my dog reached up and grabbed the bull’s nose just as pretty as you please. That huge Charolais bull went airborne and did a complete flip, landing on his back. I am not completely sure of this, but I don’t think my dog’s feet even left the ground.  Mr. Bull landed, WHUMP.  He laid there a minute. Then he rolled over, stunned. He got to his feet slowly. This time, he trotted his big self back to the herd and just moved along with the rest. And that’s no bull!

A Cowboy’s Life in Arkansas – Part Two

     Driving a John Deere tractor and bush hogging — Another summer job was bush hogging, clearing pastures of small thorn bushes and trees that will begin to grow in a cow pasture unless you trim them back. Bush hogging was easier than squatting in the sun and painting the bushes and trees, one by one, with 2,4T – a chemical now known to be dangerous to breathe. The work began at dawn. First I would attach the bush hog. Then I would get on my back and clean off the blades and check the belts, and take a grease gun and fill all the grease ports.  I would open the petcocks on our old green John Deere tractor, move the flywheel right to the edge of its spinning spot, and then heave it with all my might. On the sixth or seventh try, the motor would catch, I would shut the petcocks, and start bush hogging.  Around 9:00 o’clock or so, I would take off my shirt for the rest of the day. I was as brown as a board those days. Later, last year in fact, I got a melanoma on my back. To remove it, my surgeon cut out a chunk of flesh three inches long, two inches wide, and two inches deep in a V-shaped trench.  I no longer go without a shirt in the sun.

     I prayed  for a cloud.  — Cowhands don’t just wear cowboy hats to be in style. The hats keep the sun off in the summer, and are made of straw. Nowadays a straw one will cost you $50 or so. In the winter, you want a felt cowboy hat to cut down on the cold and protect your head from rain and such. A Stetson brand cowboy hat can run you up in the hundreds of dollars nowadays. Whether riding herd on our horses in the pasture or driving the tractor bush hogging, our hats shaded our eyes but didn’t keep us cool. Only a passing cloud could do that. Perhaps my becoming a pastor has something to do with all the times I prayed for a cloud, and one came up and I felt cool breezes in its shade.

More about cowboy hats — We wore them out. The hats would fall off and get stepped on by the horse. Somehow they always fell into cow manure. Same with the more expensive felt hats in the winter. Every pasture was loaded with cow manure; it was just part of the ambiance. In the summer, we used our hats to hold dewberries, which we picked to supplement our lunch in our saddlebags. We used our hats to slap the rumps of cattle. We sweated into the hatbands till they changed to a darker color. We got tiny blood droplets on our faces and hats when we were de-horning. We threw our hats into the dust or they got knocked off when we were trying to throw down a cow that we had roped. Our cowboy hats were just dirt-, mud-, and blood-stained work hats, which we would dunk into water and let them dry occasionally as a way of cleaning them. We loved our hats in a rough sort of way, and worked on them till their shape was just right. In those days, we didn’t break them down front and back as is the style now. They got that way by being worn, not by being shaped.  However, we did curl the sides so that when we ran on our horses, or loped as we called it, the hats didn’t fly off. We didn’t have any neck strings to hold them on. We just jammed them down so they wouldn’t come off, then took off at a gallop. If the wind whipped them off, which practically never happened, we’d just go back and get them.

     At 3:00 a.m., many mornings, a  cattle truck needed  unloading.  —  Many times, Mom and Pop would come in from a cattle sale a hundred miles away. Pop bought cattle to order for men out west who owned large feed lots where they fed out cattle for slaughter. Mom and Pop would come home to Lake Village, having been to Senatobia or West Point in Mississippi or Crosset in Arkansas. Around 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning, the cattle truck would arrive at our cattle barn and the driver would call Pop. Mom, Pop, my younger brother David, and I would get dressed and go to the cattle barn.  We would help Pop sort the newly bought cattle into pens, then go back to bed. Later, usually on a Saturday during the school year, we would work these cattle through a cattle chute we had in the barn. We would worm them, give them shots, dehorn or castrate as needed, and then turn them out into a pasture to rest and heal up for the long trip out west. This was a regular part of life for us.

     A calf is born in the middle of the night.  — I well remember one particular night when we had to pull a calf. It was around 1:00 a.m. when the call came from Mr. Dennis, Pop’s foreman. There was a young heifer whose hips were too narrow. We would need to help him “pull” the calf. We got out in the pasture, using the headlights of Pop’s truck, and Dennis reached inside the cow and attached two loops of rope around the front feet of the calf. That was hard work, because the calf was a breech birth. Finally, with the little hooves inside the rope loops, Dennis, Pop, and I tried to pull the calf out. No luck. We had to get the calf out or else the heifer would die, so Dennis went and got the tractor. Which tractor? None other than the green John Deere of bush hogging fame, of course. We hooked the ropes to the tractor and pulled the calf out. I’ll spare you the details. The calf was not breathing. Being a Boy Scout, I asked if I could give it artificial respiration. Mr. Dennis allowed as it was too late, but I wanted to try. I straddled the calf and compressed its tiny chest, then raised its front legs to pull air in. I did that for a good 30 minutes, but it was to no avail. Poor little calf. My mind was filled with thoughts of that calf the rest of the week.

     Milking at 5 a.m. against Mrs. Cow’s will  — During the fall, I played football. I would get home from football practice around 4:30 p.m. or so and go straight to the refrigerator. I would drink around half a gallon of milk at a time. One day, Pop let me know that he had gone to the pasture and brought me a middle-aged Jersey cow whose calf had been sold to someone else at the sale barn. Her bag was full of milk. Pop thought it was time I milked a cow since I was going to put him in bankruptcy at the rate I was consuming milk. Next morning about sunrise, still sore from football practice the previous day, I was out in the small barn back of our house.  First I had to catch the cow, against her will; then tie her up in the barn and put ropes up to hold her in place. She was wild as a loon and certainly didn’t like me messing around near her back legs. For three mornings in a row, I got a half a milk bucket filled only to have that old cow sling her tail around and put a streak of cow manure in the bucket, which I then had to wash out really well, or as we say in the country, real good, and start all over again. The day Mrs. Cow put her foot in the milk, I let her go and stalked back to the house. I said, “Pop, I have decided that I will be drinking a lot less milk in the future.” Pop grunted, and just said, “I’ll have Dennis come and get the cow, then.” And that was my lesson for the day, before I even got to school. As I have said before, Pop never laid a hand on me but he still taught me a lot.

A Cowboy’s Life in Arkansas – Part One

     This will be a hodgepodge of cowboy stories. If you ever wondered what it is like, these stories should give you an idea – at least, what it was like in the 60’s, around Lake Village, Arkansas.

     Christmas day riding herd — My stepfather, Ed Frank (Pop), asked me and my brother if we would ride herd on some cattle, about 200 head or so, on Christmas day.  We knew Mr. Dennis and the other hands badly needed a day off. We had opened presents on Christmas Eve. We knew there would be no pay, but we said yes. The cattle had been let out onto a large soybean field. It was cold, but the sun was out. The cattle grazed on the beans left on the harvested bean field, which had no fences on two sides. They weren’t interested in wandering, but they still needed to be watched. Pop took us and the horse trailer to the field and let us and the horses out. We saddled up. Each took one side of the field, about a half mile apart, and began what David and I called “watching cowtoons.”  It warmed up later in the morning. We took off our coats. Pop came with sack lunches, including some Christmas cookies he had baked.   I remember taking Tiger’s saddle off and stretching out on his back, one leg draped over each side, and watching the clouds.

     February, 13°,  throwing bales of hay in the snow — We loaded a pickup truck with around 32 bales of hay for the cattle. You have to tilt the bales just right so that from the rear of the truck, the hay forms a diamond shape. Mr. Dennis, Pop’s foreman, drove the truck from the barn to the pasture. Snow was on the ground, about 4 inches deep, and the cattle were lowing, just like in the Christmas story. They were hungry and came toward us. David and I perched on top of the bales. We would pull one string off and throw them over the side of the truck so that the square bales popped open. I had on an old canvas jacket that had belonged either to Todd or Don, Pop’s boys by a previous marriage. The wind was blowing slightly, but it went right through that thin shell. Cowboying can be cold work.

     Tie down straps and drowned  horses — One year in the spring, the Mississippi River flooded its banks. The River filled the area between its shores, now under water, and the levees. This land is called condemned land, because it is too liable to flood for anyone to think of building a house there. It is mostly woods, and some people who lived near the levees rented the condemned land for their cattle. However, when the flood came up one night, the next day the cattle were in danger of drowning. Many found spots of high ground, along with deer and other critters. Many cattle also drowned, along with other wild animals.

The owners of the cattle sent their cowhands on horses to herd the cows off the condemned land, now flooded. The cowhands put on tie down straps from their bridles down between their horses’ front legs to keep the horses’ heads from raising up and bonking their riders on the chin. Once in the flood waters, though, the horses panicked and threw their riders. They couldn’t lift their heads up high enough out of the water to breathe. Many horses died, much to the sorrow of the owners and the cowhands. Several of the cowhands lost their jobs owing to the lack of cattle, and the lack of horses. We heard of it and were angry and sad.

     Cleaning out a double decker cattle truck in the summer sun — There is a restaurant called The Cow Pen as you leave the Greenville bridge behind you and enter Arkansas. It serves steak and good Mexican food and is a first class restaurant. Many people from both Greenville and Lake Village know of it and eat there. When I was in high school, the Cow Pen was still a real cow pen, with a small lot fenced in where the owners had 18-wheeler cattle trucks unload cattle onto a ramp built from crossties. The ramp is all that is left, with the restaurant leaving it up as adding color and giving the restaurant its name. However, when I was there early one very hot summer day, there was a cattle truck parked on the gravel in front of the ramp. It was a double decker, meaning that it had two floors inside. Each floor had been full of cattle. The trailer was empty except for four inches of sand on each floor. The sand was wet with urine and other leavings of the cattle. It stank. My job was to shovel all of it out on the ground and take a long hose and clean the trailer until it sparkled. The only way to do this was to squat with a feed shovel, about the size and weight of a snow shovel, and get after it. I finished around 3:00 o’clock in the afternoon. If I had ever missed unloading hay in the snow, that was the day! When I got home, I drank kool-aid the rest of the day and after supper until I got re-hydrated.  I was rarely so glad to see my bed and crawl in it!

Ed Frank, Cattle Order Buyer

My stepfather, Ed Frank, was a cattle order buyer. He got phone calls every night from owners of feed lots, places where cattle are fed grain before being taken to slaughter. These owners would order, say, 80 head of Angus cattle between the ages of this and that, weighing between umpty and umpty. Pop, as I called him, would go to cattle sales all over Mississippi, Arkansas, and sometimes Louisiana. He would buy what they ordered. Mom always went with him to share the driving. Later, either that night or the next day, big 18-wheeler cattle trucks would arrive at our own cattle barn, where Pop would enlist Mom, my younger brother David, the truck driver, and me to unload the cattle. Pop would post us at different gates and separate the cattle he had gotten for, say, the Minneapolis feed lot into one pen, and the cattle for a Wyoming feed lot into another pen. This sometimes happened in the middle of the night, and we would all get up and go unload cattle, then come back yawning after an hour and a half, and go back to sleep.

Unknown to any of us, Pop had dyslexia. He was brilliant in many ways, but had trouble telling his left from his right. He used a cattle sorting whip – about five feet of stiff plastic woven around a plastic rod, with about a foot of it left at the end to “pop the whip.” Pop would often point to the left, but yell at us, “Put them in the pen on the right!” Not knowing what to do, we would ask, “What?” By that time the cow was upon us, and Pop would yell “Shut the gate! Shut the gate!” It’s hilarious now that I know what the problem was, but at the time it was just frustrating that I couldn’t understand what Pop was wanting.

At the cattle sales, local farmers would bring their cattle in for sale. Mom was so good at understanding the auctioneers that she often worked in the cattle barn’s office, writing out the tickets for which cattle were bought by which order buyer for what amount of money. Meanwhile, Pop would sit down near the front of in the big room where the cattle were brought in one at a time for sale. There was a small half-circle cattle pen with a dirt floor in the front. Surrounding this half-round pen were risers, bleachers, or benches on which sat the farmers who watched their calves and cows, steers and bulls being sold. Pop and the other order buyers sat right on the edge of the selling pit. He could guess the animal’s weight most times within 5 or 10 lbs. He guessed my weight within 2 lbs. just about every time when I asked him. Also, he had to do math in his head so he would know if the price per lb. would be low enough so his customer back in Wyoming or Kansas would make a profit. Knowing the price of feed, the weight of the animal, the age of the animal, and several other factors, Pop could do the multiplication and division in his head and know how much per lb. he could offer when he bid.

Often the farmers in the back rows looking down would try to up the bid. They would sneak their hands up and bid on their own cattle, trying to up the price and their profit. Pop was wise to this. Once he came home from West Point and Mom told on him. When the farmers bid him up he would go along for a while, and then stop bidding, forcing the farmers to buy back their own beef at too-high prices. Pop would just turn and smile at them! It didn’t take long for the farmers to leave the bidding alone.

Our freezer was filled with choice cuts of steak. We had steak most nights for supper. It got so that I was thrilled when we got hamburgers, I got so tired of eating steak. Pop kept about 500 head of cattle himself, which he used to fill out the orders for his callers. If a steer got horned by a bull and had to be put down, Pop sent the animal to the butcher in Lake Village. The meat would be aged about 10 days in ultraviolet light to tenderize the meat. Every so often, we would go to the butcher and cart home several boxes of t-bone, ribeye, and so on. We always had the meat cut from 3/4” to a full inch thick.  Now that I can’t afford steak every night, I miss it. I try and order steak every time I take my wife out to eat. Usually, at most restaurants, the meat is cut too thin and is not of the extremely high quality I got used to as a young man. Pop would get the skillet hot, shake some salt in it, and sear the steak first one side and then the other. All we could eat.

Pop was born and raised in Oklahoma. As a young man, he sold mules and horses in Arkansas, then devoted himself to buying beef for the big feed lots. As an Oklahoman, Pop had his own special pronunciation of many words, and he had many original sayings. My mother used to write Ed’s sayings down for her own amusement. I wish I had that list! I only remember two. Pop used to say of a creek that it was “deep enough to swim a horse.” This tickled my mother. Once Pop got frustrated with Mom writing down his slaughter of various words, and said to her, “Martha, there is nothing wrong with my pronounce-y-ation.” The only one who could keep up with Pop in the incorrect pronunciation department was our foreman, Dennis Jackson. When Dennis was going to Prysock’s Landing to get fishing equipment, he would say that “I’se goin’ to Mr. Peroxide’s.”

Pop had a very dry wit. They say trouble comes in threes. When Mom reached for the refrigerator door one time, it came off in her hand. Pop said nothing. Later that same week, out in the cattle barn, Mom opened a cupboard door to get something. It screws were loose, and the door came off in her hand. Again Pop said not a word. Finally, that Saturday, they were in Senatobia or Greenville or someplace in Mississippi. The cattle sale was over, and Pop was talking to another order buyer out in the gravel parking lot. He asked Mom to put his cattle whip in the trunk of the car. Mom opened the trunk door and something made a breaking sound, source unknown, as if a piece of wood got crunched or something. Pop turned to his friend and said, “It’s hell having a strong woman.”

How Mom wound up doing all the driving. Everyone who owns land knows about opening and shutting gates. When out on the ranch (or cattle farm) Pop liked to do the driving. He had back trouble and hip trouble, and he wanted either Mom, David, or me to open and close the gates we went through. However, this all changed one rainy day. It happened like this. But first a little background.

Mrs. Thudium was a wealthy lady who owned several square miles of rich farm land. She also owned around 2,500 head of cattle, which she paid Pop to manage. In the summers, she paid me five dollars a day. Every Friday she got her staff to hand me an envelope with five crisp brand new five dollar bills. Okay, that’s enough background. This is why they were driving down this particular road.

So Pop was driving down the side of one of Mrs. Thudium’s big one-square-mile cotton fields. It was the dead of winter, and the muddy dirt road stretched for a good two miles ahead of him and Mom. It was less road and more mud bog, with water standing everywhere. Pop went slipping and sliding along down this muddy mess. He needed to see how the cattle were doing in a pasture further down the road. He got stuck several times, always maneuvering out, except for one truly horrible spot. He was stuck, and stuck good.

Mom said, “Ed, let me drive.” Pop didn’t know it, but Mom had won the state driving championship in her youth. She came back from Jackson with a trophy. Pop looked at Mom and said, “Fine, you try.” Here they are in the middle of nowhere, rain pouring down, woods on one side and a ploughed field on the other side, and mud underneath. Mom gets behind the wheel, backs up somehow out of the furrows of mud, and proceeds to drive without getting stuck the whole rest of the two miles to the pasture. Mom got out and opened the gate in the rain, and went to get back in the car on the passenger side. Ed just sat there, rolled down the window, and said, “You go ahead and drive.” Not another word about it did he speak, but from that day on, Mom did ALL the driving EVERYWHERE!

Pop loved my Mom. He also loved my brother and me. He taught me how to work long and hard. I loved him and I miss him now thEd with fishat he’s gone.