College Life in Minnesota

Learning new skills: I entered Macalester College, St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1964. I learned that none of my Mississippi winter clothes were going to work at -30°, much less at -60°. I learned that it can feel like nice spring weather in February if it accidentally goes up as high as 10° above zero. For a study break one morning, I went outside in shirt sleeves and tossed a football around with some guys in the relatively warm air. It felt fine. I learned to use the space between the outer window and the inner window of my dorm room as a miniature deep freezer for my ice cream. And I learned it was not so easy to make A’s as it had been in high school.
Country boy meets city slickers up north: Being a Mississippi bred country boy in a high class northern college made me a genuine hick from the sticks. I was among a bunch of high toned, well-dressed city people, who asked me mock seriously if there was indoor plumbing and electric lights where I came from. But I didn’t care. It was like permanent Christmas for me. The cold, the five-foot deep snowdrifts, the ice-covered trees, and gorgeous girls everywhere kept me in a constant romantic frame of mind when I wasn’t frantically learning how to study. I learned that northern girls didn’t like having doors opened for them. It just made them suspicious! During my freshman, sophomore, and junior years, I also slowly learned that not all gorgeous girls are nice. I got my good taste in members of the opposite sex the same way everyone else did, through the school of hard knocks.
I slowly learned how to speak northern. They clip their vowels. They don’t say good morning; they say “gdmrng.” When the president of the college gave his welcoming address, he sounded like a machine gun to me. I understood about half of what he was saying. They said anything good was “neat.” And when they said yeah, they pronounced it “y ah” – which is from the German, Finnish, Swedish, and Norwegian ja. They didn’t say “Are you going with me?” They said, simply, “Are you going with?”
I learned things that my mom had tried unsuccessfully to teach me. I learned that it is not a good idea to wash your dirty thick red floor rug in the same load as your nice white underwear. That is, unless you like undressing in the basketball locker room in permanently stained pink underwear where the other guys can see and be amazed. I also learned that I should have paid more attention when Mom was teaching me to iron my own clothes.
While there I learned, when you go ice fishing on weekends for Northern Pike, you had better bring working gloves. Northern Pike have teeth. You can see 30 or 40 feet down through the ice to the bait on your hook, and you can watch the pike back off and cock himself like a gun, then hit the bait in a blur. Well and good. But when you pull him to the surface through your hole in the ice, you better get the hook out as fast as you can and then throw him out on the ice before he tears your hand off. In the cold air, he freezes stiff in about a minute. I also learned that it is not a good idea to walk on an iced-over lake if the ice is less than a foot thick.
Dumb freshman pranks: I learned that if you smear peanut butter on someone’s lightbulb, after a while it begins to stink and they can’t figure out where it is coming from. I learned to lock my small one-person freshman dorm room if I didn’t want to find it filled to the ceiling with wads of newspaper. I learned that when the rest of the guys on your floor want you to come watch Star Trek in the rec room with them, they will resort to anything to get you to unlock your room – including shooting lighter fluid under your door and lighting it.
More silly college guy stuff: Dayton Hall, a guys’ dormitory, elected one guy of their own as a very special guy. The poor guy was from Canada and no one could figure him out, so they elected him Snow Queen. It was not a hate crime, either; they did it all in good fun. Another guy used to wait on his balcony overlooking the sidewalk outside the college fence. In the fall as junior high school came into session, he dressed in a yellow raincoat with a yellow raincoat hat even though it was not raining. He put his feet in a bucket of water and smoked a big cigar, and sat on the balcony about twenty feet up. As the junior high girls went by in their uniforms, he would cackle and say, “Hello, little girl. Would you like a cookie? Would you like a nice cookie, little girl?” Then he would give an evil laugh. Because this was a more innocent time, he got a big following among the seventh and eighth grade girls every afternoon. He would throw cookies to them, the idiot.
Now to the good stuff. Living off campus in my sophomore year made a lasting improvement in my prank learning curve. Four of us guys lived in a single room in a big house. The rent was reasonable when split four ways. Ross D. and another guy pulled a triple prank on one of our room mates. I was an innocent bystander, but was in on the jokes. Our highly esteemed victim room mate was named George. George was of German nationality, and Ross decided to break him in to the ancient American custom of a short-sheeted bed. Ross shorted George’s sheet. He put a tape recorder under the bed, which he turned on while George was brushing his teeth. When George tried to get in his bed, he found that the covers looked normal, except he could only get his toes into his bed about two feet. Then the sheet, which was folded, ended. Frustrated and angry, George began to curse. Fluently. Finally, Ross pulled out the tape player and played it back for George. Ross finally got George into a good humor before we turned out the lights, by promising to buy George’s lunch the next day in the campus cafeteria.
Next day Ross bought George a nice big expensive lunch. Ross knew that George liked to smoke a cigarette after meals. He had removed George’s cigarettes from his coat pocket in advance. When the meal was over, George couldn’t find his cigarettes so Ross offered him one of his. On about the fourth draw, the cigarette exploded with a very nice bang. George threw it down and yelled, “Son of a ….!” – but fortunately Ross threw his hand over George’s mouth in time to keep things suitable for a G audience. The entire cafeteria of several hundred students applauded and whistled and laughed. Ross didn’t know quite what to expect of George, but somehow George held it together. George wasn’t exactly sore; he did, however, become very wary of Ross.
The next day was day three. In line on the stairs at the cafeteria, George wouldn’t stand next to Ross. Ross managed not to show any particular emotion except pleasant acceptance. Suddenly, though, the girl which the 2,000+ student body had elected Snow Queen, i.e. most beautiful, left her spot in line, stepped down to where George stood, grabbed him, and bent him over backwards. She laid a kiss on him so profoundly that it seemed it would never end. She stood him up, totally stunned, and went back to her place in line. The entire line, most of whom had been there the day before for the exploding cigarette, howled with appreciation.
George raised his hands for quiet. There was a hush. “ROSS!” George shouted. “YOU ARE FORGIVEN.” The applause in the stairwell was deafening. The moral to the story, of course, is well known: not all college education occurs in class rooms!

Life at Lakeside High School – Part Three

08 Lamar Dingler Field     Coach Lamar Dingler and Coach Bud Crawley worked us over in football practice the month prior to school. August is hot in Arkansas. We always started with calisthenics, which involved the side straddle hop, pushups, and lying on your back while hoisting both your feet sky high and then down again without touching the ground, over and over, until finally the command to “Hold!” was given. Groaning and yelling, we held’em. And held’em. And held’em! As practice ground on, we would get our hands stepped on, or spiked; noses would be bloodied; and there was a lot of flying through the air and getting hit. If it rained, we played in the mud. If football didn’t toughen you and make a man out of you, nothing would. I never lettered in it, but I was there for the practices. They called me Spider, due to my long legs and arms.

One day during practice, something amazing happened.  Coach Clary stopped the 8th grade practice and took his boys over to the fence to watch the senior practice. The first string was playing the second string, and their hits were violent enough to make their pads clack loudly.  I hadn’t heard that kind of sound even in games. Coach Dingler called everyone to him. We removed our helmets and took a knee. He said, “If you boys play in a game the way you just did in practice, you’ll win every game the rest of this season. That’s all.” The magic words, “That’s all!” We couldn’t believe it! We got up, looked at one another, and walked slowly and thoughtfully to the showers. It made an impression.

In our senior year, we played one game that we won by a seemingly impossible stunt. We were behind and the game was about to end. We were about on the 50 yard line. When the ball was snapped, Dempsey Allen, a halfback, ran without the ball sort of stumbling along up the middle of the field. He didn’t run at all like he was going out for a pass, and he wasn’t blocking anyone. The other team’s boys ignored him, therefore. Bo Denton, playing quarterback, was now just about covered with defenders and was about to be sacked, when he lofted the football high, as in basketball, toward Dempsey. Dempsey leaned his head back, still facing the goal line, and the ball sailed over his head and into his waiting arms. He put on a burst of speed and was across the goal line before the other team knew what hit them. This may happen in the pros from time to time, but as far as I’m concerned, Bo Denton and Dempsey Allen invented that play for all time. You should have heard the crowd roar.

One of us, named Tommy, was shy and had a speech impediment, but he was a demon on defense. He was a farm boy, and he knew how to use his hands to peel off players and get to the ball carrier. He was a valuable player. One day, Tommy got a bad burn on his back in practice, scraping a large area of skin. After practice Coach Dingler brought him into the training room. Coach held up a bottle of a dark liquid called “Toughskin” and asked Tommy if he would like some on his wound. Tommy said yes sir. Coach warned him it would sting and feel like it was burning, but Tommy didn’t care, and said to go ahead. Coach applied it and Tommy was stoic about it, but afterwards, Coach asked Tommy how was it. Tommy replied – and this went all over the school immediately because some of us were listening – “Pooty hot, Toach!”

Although I was third string, Coach Dingler took time with me. I played end, but I was getting run over on the sweeps over my position. Coach told me how to stand and how to push down with my hands to flatten the opposition. It worked!

     We had been practicing football for nearly two hours one very hot afternoon.  We were doing extra point blocking practice, which meant play after play of everyone hitting their guys on the other side. We had had tackle practice earlier, resulting in assorted cuts and bruises. We were hot, grimy, sweaty, and very, very tired.

Wilson Bynum began to croon, quietly so just the players could hear, “Graaaaaaaaaaaape Ssslllluuuuuuuuuhhshshsh.” “Graaaaaaaaaaaape Ssslllluuuuuuuuuhhshshsh.” “Graaaaaaaaaaaape Ssslllluuuuuuuuuhhshshsh.” We all knew that Coker’s Dairy Queen had big cold grape slush drinks. We had all had one. They were sweet, tasty, delicious, etc. etc.  Some of the guys started to moan. Others started telling Bynum, “Shut up, Wilson!” “You’re killing me, Bynum!” We could hardly concentrate on our assignments. Some of us were laughing. Finally it was over. Coach Dingler just said, “That’s all.” That was the signal to head for the showers. One guess where a lot of us went!

Image     Coker’s Dairy Queen was THE meeting spot in Lake Village for students. Everything they served was good. Cherry coke was ‘in’ along with Bynum’s grape slush and other flavors of slush as well. In the summer, when school was out, you would always find some of us across the road from Coker’s at the city dock, swimming. The bottom was solid mud, and it was not too deep for a fair way out into the water. Girls would lie on the dock and sunbathe, making it a guy magnet. This was before the state park had built its wonderful swimming pool. I know it’s changing the subject, but I recall seeing Earl Bennett – or possibly it was Earl Bell – doing this incredibly complicated dive from the high diving board. Never knew whichever one it was had it in him!

The Pearls of Debonair Knowledge, or PDK, were a sort of sorority among the girls at school. They wore silver circles pinned to their blouses and dresses. There was an initiation day at the beginning of the school year, when girls would come to school with their clothes inside out, teeth blacked out, and their hair an awful mess. They would scrub the sidewalks with toothbrushes and generally face all kinds of embarrassment for the day. Although none of us guys could be sure, not even of what the initials “PDK” stood for, we had our guesses. We guessed that PDK was a sorority promoting chastity. Several of the lady teachers wore those silver circle pins. I never heard a girl pooh-pooh the PDK, not even if she was not a member. They were respected. They never lost their air of mystery, either. If anybody can tell me more, I’d like to hear it!

Life at Lakeside High School – Part Two

Mrs. Sherrill continued to have her woes with our class. She had us come up with little speeches one day each week, I think on Mondays but am not sure. Might have been Fridays. People would talk about their pets, or their trips, or about something they read in the papers. It gave us practice speaking, she said. It was Earl Bell’s turn. Earl recited the following story in a very sincere voice. He told us earnestly, in more or less these words: “It was reported yesterday in the Tokyo Times, and picked up by the AP news network, that there was a death in Japan three days ago. Mr. Yakko Fushiyama, age 46, slept soundly through some local volcanic activity. When he arose from his bed and went to the door, he stumbled and fell 4,000 feet to his death. The volcano had grown during the night and left Mr. Fushiyama’s house on the edge of a precipice.” Earl sat down to a hushed room. We all hunched our shoulders and waited for Mrs. Sherrill to explode. Instead, all she said was, “Excellent report, Earl Bell. I will expect similar quality in your future reports.” That was it.

Mrs. Nancy Dingler was the wife of Coach Lamar Dingler. Just as Coach Dingler was a very accomplished football coach, Mrs. Dingler was a highly intelligent and very educated French and English teacher. She was very cultured for rural Arkansas, and just a tiny bit eccentric. I worked afternoons at Hunter’s Pharmacy, and sometimes when she was shopping there, I overheard her talking to the things she was going to buy. This, however, is not really strange when you consider how many people talk to their plants at home. What I really enjoyed about it is that she was speaking in French. Since I was one of her students, she just might have been pulling my leg. I really think she was. She saw I was close enough to overhear. She actually prepared me well for college French.

     Some entertaining things happened in Mrs. Dingler’s French class. The one I recall the best happened between her and John Sloan. Hard to believe, but it happened just this way, as if they had planned it. I did a cartoon commemorating John’s quick thinking:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mrs. John Fish was our science teacher. She taught chemistry, biology, physics, geometry, and zoology under the heading of science. She got me good once. She was teaching on the Coriolis force, and from that she said it explained why lost people wander in great circles: in the northern hemisphere, clockwise, and in the southern hemisphere, counterclockwise. I disputed this, saying that I could understand why water would drain into a hole clockwise or counterclockwise, but not someone just walking. “Stand up, Wallace,” she ordered. I stood up. “Turn around!” she commanded. I turned around. “Now, which way did you turn around?” she asked. I had turned clockwise. I was well and properly caught, and sat down without a word, but you could have seen my red face glowing in the dark. It didn’t matter that she cheated; she had clearly outsmarted me, Mr. Egghead. I am certain that my being humbled was most satisfying to all the B and C students in class. I would have chuckled myself, if only it had happened to, say….well, to Mrs. Fish, in reverse. It tickles me now to remember how quick was her wit and how perfect was her timing.

Mr. Forrest Clary taught algebra I and II and trigonometry. He was also the 8th grade football coach, and outside of school he was an Assistant Scoutmaster. He knew that I had been fooling around during recess and lunch memorizing pi. One day he took pity on his algebra class and said that students would earn one point on their midterm exams for each ten places of pi they could write on their test sheet. I felt like he was daring me, so I set out to memorize as many places of pi as I could. I can still rattle off a bunch of them from the top of my head. Pi = 3.14159265358979323846264338327950…. and so on. I’ve forgotten the rest. Anyway, when the test day came, I wrote down the answers to the test and then wrote down pi to 500 places. I got my paper back, with a score of 150. Mr. Clary wrote a note across my work, saying he was not about to check my work. I can’t tell you how satisfying it was to me then. Now, I look back and think what a jerk I was – why spend my time on pi when I could have been going out with girls! I ask you!

Mr. Raymond Clary points rt     Mr. Clary was an entomologist in the summer, and also knew just about every plant by name. He taught us a lot in Boy Scouts about woodcraft and camping skills. The biggest thing he ever taught me, however, came about this way. We were camping on an island in Lake Chicot. It was connected by an isthmus to a levee road splitting Lake Chicot in two. It was just right on which to have a campout, and so we did. There was a very large sandbank near our campsite, and it was a magnet for many of the boys after they had set up their tents. Several dug caves. A few boys tried to dig a tunnel connecting their caves, making a horseshoe-like tunnel. The rest of us had left, but several boys remained behind to dig. Suddenly one of the boys came running and told Mr. Clary that the tunnel had collapsed, and one of the boys was buried in it. Mr. Clary called to one boy to get a shovel and come running. Then he went to the sand embankment where the collapse was and asked where exactly did they think the kid was buried. They showed him. He looked at us and said for us to be quiet. He lowered his head and listened. We waited to see if he would hear anything. Suddenly he said, “Dig here with your hands, fast!” They did. The boy arrived with the shovel and we began to dig in earnest, being careful to remove sand from above so as not to hit our buried friend. Mr. Clary caught his arm and pulled him out so he could breathe. He was choking and sputtering, but unharmed except for the greatest scare of his life. None of us could quite believe how close he had come to dying. I think what I learned was either “look before you leap” or “be prepared.” I know that it made me more careful for the rest of my life.

Life at Lakeside High School – Part One

944159_10200592883857983_160167303_n     I entered the 8th grade at Lakeside High in Lake Village, Arkansas, in September, 1959.  I was 13. I had just spent my first summer on horseback or at cattle chutes, working cattle. I didn’t know a soul, whereas 99% of the class had gone to school together all the way from kindergarten. I soon met some interesting characters, both among the girls and the guys. I spent five of the happiest years of my young life at Lakeside. We had an excellent sports program: football, baseball, basketball, and track in the summer. We had wonderful teachers – Mr. Clary, Mrs. Fish, Mrs. Dingler, Mrs. Mansur, Mr. Bruce, Coach Crawley, Mrs. Chitwood, Mrs. Lewis, Mrs. Kutait, Mr. Willis, Mrs. Crawley, and several others. The problem came from those who they had to deal with – namely, US.

     We had an eighth grade English teacher named Mrs. Sherrill. She was in her 80’s, was a little bit deaf, and more than a little bit blind. She put Sue Pittman in charge of her desk, to bring her things. She sat on a bench placed on the radiators by a window, and would call, “Gwendolyn, bring me my ruler!” Sue hated her first name. She would bring Mrs. Sherrill the ruler, whereupon Mrs. Sherrill would bellow, “I believe there is a disturbance in this room!” Sure enough, there was. Walter Claud had stolen a girl’s bobby pin and inserted it between his desk top and its laminated surface. He would pluck it and it would sound: SPRRROOOoooooiinnnnGGGGG! Mrs. Sherrill: “I believe it’s coming from near you, Earl Bell!” “No ma’am, Mrs. Sherrill, I am pretty certain that was Walter Claud.” Mrs. Sherrill: “Was that you making that noise, Walter Claud?” “No ma’am, Mrs. Sherrill. I believe it came from over near Earl Bennett.” About then Walter would make another SPRRROOOoooooiinnnnGGGGG! Mrs. Sherrill: “Earl Bennett, I believe it is YOU!” “No ma’am, Mrs. Sherrill, it wasn’t me, I’m innocent, Mrs. Sherrill!”

Sherrills Angels 01Mrs. W.P. Sherrill in classSherrills Angels 02

Mrs. Sherrill was actually a kindly and generous person, but out of her depth with the clowns we had in our class. She would struggle to get up. She would place her hand on my left shoulder and finally get to her feet, waving her 18” ruler as a threat. “Earl Bennett, it WAS you! Get up this minute and go to the principal’s office, and I mean right now! Leave so fast that you take the door with you!” At which point, Earl Bennett got up and went out the door. In about 40 seconds he returned with a screwdriver. Mrs. Sherrill: “WHAT do you think you are doing, Earl Bennett?” “Mrs. Sherrill, you told me to take the door with me and I’m getting it loose so I can take it.” SPRRROOOoooooiinnnnGGGGG! Walter let out another good one. Mrs. Sherrill, apoplectic, sputtered “Get out!” and sat back down, making me wobble in my chair as she descended to her bench. Earl Bennett disappeared, no one knows where, but it certainly was not in order to go to the principal’s office. She sweated a lot and was fierce all the time, but most of us really loved her. She cared about each of us. And that is why we drove her crazy. And that is also why we dedicated the 1964 Lakeside High School Annual to her.

     Because I played sports, I made friends among the guys. Because there were only 50 in our class, the same guys played all the sports: football, basketball, track, and in the summers, baseball. I played all but baseball; I was busy working cattle in the summers. The other guys my age playing basketball in our senior year were John Sloan, Pete McGee, Earl Bell, and Bo Denton. John Bell played one year. John Bell could jump almost as high as other people’s waists. His brother, Earl, had a special “Montrose” shot with the basketball. Earl would galumph to about where the three point line is today, bouncing the ball with both hands every step. He would jump in the air, bending over backwards, and hurl the ball in a straight line at the goal, crying “Shooooooooooot…..TWO!” The amazing thing was how many times he made it. This was in practice time, of course, and when Coach Crawley wasn’t there yet.

Coach Crawley was a good coach, and short but amazingly strong. Coach taught history class. More than one male student, pestering the girls and not paying attention, would find Bud Crawley walking in their direction saying, “I said be quiet.” Then he would pick up the desk chair with the boy in it with one hand. Holding the boy a good foot over his head, Coach would add, “….and pay attention.” Believe me, they paid attention!

One thing Coach Crawley did during basketball games which tickled us all had to do with his towel. Whenever the referees would make what Coach considered a stupid call, he would throw his towel as high toward the gym ceiling as he could. He never hung it in the metal rafters, but almost. He did that because if he hollered out his disgust, he would have gotten a technical foul. I saw him do it a hundred times and every time it struck me as funny.

Doyne Loyd was a year ahead of us. He was a senior when we were juniors. I will never forget one shot he made with another guy in hot pursuit. Doyne leapt at a dead run right before going out of the corner of the court, and made a jump shot into the basket from way beyond what would be called the three-point line today. Swish! All net. He was falling backward as the ball left his hand. Man!

Dickie Jarboe was two years ahead of my class, and I got to play with him a couple years before he graduated. Dickie’s finesse came right under the goal. He would charge down the court full speed. Arriving at the goal, Dickie would make an impossible shot with either hand. He would offer it up under his pursuer’s nose. Then he would pull it back – all this in midair – as his pursuer swatted at the ball and missed, usually fouling Dickie. Then Dickie lofted the ball with lots of spin as he went under and past the goal. The ball would skid off the backboard and fall in the basket just about the time Dickie landed five feet away, out of bounds. Two points plus a free throw.

I played in most all the games from the ninth to the twelfth grade. I was one-eighth inch shy of being 6 feet 6 inches tall. Once I scored the free throw that tied the game. In overtime, just before the buzzer, I made the shot tying the game for the second time, and then got a free throw so we won by one point. In the bus on the way home, I complained, “Well? Isn’t anybody going to thank me for winning the game for us?” “NO,” came back the answer: “We all scored, you dummy. WE won the game, not you!” “Well, then, can anybody at least share a half a peanut butter sandwich with me?” “NO!” ….I still love basketball. And I miss being on the court with the guys mentioned above, and with the guys from my own grade: John Sloan, Pete McGehee, Earl Bell, and Bo Denton.

Our cheerleaders nearly made us lose some games, they were such a distraction. They were all beautiful beyond dreams. They really did care about us, really watched our plays, and absolutely motivated us. There were times when it was hard to concentrate on the game, they were so good-looking. (We had a whole bevy of gorgeous girls in our class. I can be forgiven if I favored the girls who led the cheers for us.)

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 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!

The Farm Boy and the Redhead

    There are two people in particular from my high school days in Lake Village whom I wish I could remember better. One was a farm boy. The other was a redhead.

    The farm boy always used to outrun me in track practice every afternoon before school let out. He was a big rawboned farmer’s son, Tommy was his name I think but am not sure. He didn’t ever play football, or basketball, probably because he had to go home and work on the farm. But he was in P.E. class and Coach Dingler would match him up with me because we were very close in speed, even though he was much bigger in the chest and arms and legs than me. (In other words, I was skinnier!)  He looked like Lil’ Abner standing beside me; I looked like Jeff from the cartoon strip “Mutt and Jeff.” Jeff was the tall lanky one; that was me, at 6’5”.

                I recall this particular day when, after many defeats by him, I finally beat him in a foot race. A red letter day for me. He always ran barefoot and he always beat me, up until this day. He always beat me in the quarter mile run by about two or three steps, and this particular day I remember I asked Coach Dingler what I could do to beat him. I was afraid of Coach Dingler because he was a man to be feared and respected. He had trained several boys who went and played for the Arkansas Razorbacks football team.

                However, I really wanted to win one race, and I asked him. Coach said I should do two things: first, take off my tennis shoes and run barefoot; second, run it like a hundred yard dash – all out, every step of the way, no resting in the back stretch. As we got ready to run, Lil’ Abner Tommy looked at me and grinned. That grin said, “I’m still going to beat you.” He stood at the line; I got down in starting position.

    Coach fired his starting pistol. Just Tommy and me, him in his hardened bare feet and me in my … bare feet. I recall thinking that I was planting each foot as hard as I could, writing my reputation and my name with every step, making every step of that run just as hard and fast as I ever had in my life. On the back stretch we were even, but I was on the outside and he was on the inside. As we came into the final stretch he was exactly one step ahead of me, but I had a clear and straight path to the finish line. I passed him and finished just two steps in front of him – as it happened, the last time I ever raced him. I still remember Coach telling me I had a time of 58 seconds, my fastest time in the 440 ever in my life before or since. I nearly passed out but didn’t lie on the grass. Tommy did. I never hurt so much after a race, nor felt so good inside.

 

    The  redhead,  whose name I can’t recall, was a girl from Eudora who transferred to Lakeside High in our junior or senior year. Eudora is only about 16 miles from Lake Village where we attended high school. I guess her parents moved to Lake Village. She had red hair and made a wide swath, as I recall, through the boys in our class. Or maybe it only seemed that way to me. I thought she was cute. Unfortunately for me, I was still scared of girls and didn’t  ever try to ask one on a date until college.

    Anyway, this redhead from Eudora was making many of the boys crazy, I imagined, and was really nice, I thought – but I can’t remember her name. I do recall, however, that once Lakeside played basketball against Eudora, which was unusual. And I remember making this shot from a fair distance from the goal.  It was sort of a twirling combination hook shot and fingertip roll. It put us ahead, and Coach Crawley hollered for joy and actually pounded me on the back at the next time out. I looked up and there she was. I was not previously sure whether she was for Lakeside or Eudora, but she was sitting with her Eudora friends. My making my one and only cool move in the game was against her precious Eudora. It ended any nonexistent chances I might have had with her! I mean, I saw it on her face and it was over for me before I ever even spoke to her! She moved away shortly after, and that was that.