The broken tractor looked like a rusty milk cow standing in the middle of a big bush. Splashes of flaky brown, black and red covered it all with some rust splotches as big as both of your hands put together. We all played on it growing up–it had been an airplane for some, a race car for another, a police car, a rocket ship, a tank, a bulldozer. Children have a way of making something useful out of the useless. Why it wasn’t hauled off, I’ll never know. Things were just built around it as time went by and the children grew older. Gardens were planted, pets were buried, sheds started, fences moved, the ground cracked and turned to mud but still the rusty milk cow remained.
July afternoons always smell like vegetables to me. Our garden was a little ways from our back porch. Rows of tomatoes, green beans, cucumbers, yellow squash and watermelons made the air feel kind of itchy. Sometimes we planted corn on one row and the stalks stood high above everything else in the garden. Maybe that’s why they call it silver queen corn.
We had a dog named Elvis that never did anything but eat and sleep. Sometimes he wouldn’t move all day long even if you walked real close to him. One afternoon Grandma put a plate of hot biscuits in the kitchen window so they could cool and they fell out on the ground. I’d never seen a dog run so fast. Elvis ate ten of those biscuits and peed on the other two. I guess things like that just come natural to a dog, so he never got in trouble.
My sister Clara loved going to the picture show in town. She would wear her hair in a ponytail when she did her chores on the farm but come Saturday night, she sprayed half a can of sticky stuff in her hair and got all painted up like an Indian chief. Grandpa said she was going to join a war party at the Red Barn—that’s the dance hall where Clara went every other Saturday. It really was a barn but inside there were tables and chairs instead of horses and cows. I liked it when Clara sprayed her hair all up. It reminded me of red cotton candy but Grandma called it a beehive. After Clara married Billy from down the road, she always had her hair in a ponytail.
A baby bird flew into our screen door one day and just laid there. Grandpa said not to touch him or he couldn’t go back home. So I just watched him twitch and shake for about five minutes. He would open his eyes and shut them over and over like he was trying to fall asleep. Elvis would eat him if he didn’t get up so I poked him real soft with a little twig and he flew up in a tree.
My brother Mack would send us postcards of the beach or the mountains because he was traveling around in the Army. I sure liked looking at the one of the beach and decided to build a beach just for fun. We had cornfeed that I thought looked like sand so it worked perfect for the beach. After seven bags, I had part of our pond looking just like that postcard picture on our refrigerator. Grandpa came down to the pond where I was building a sand castle. He was carrying a switch and yelled some words that had God in them but I don’t know what all he said because I was running away from him at the time. I guess the beach was meant to stay far away. If you could bring it home, it meant trouble.
One day Grandma showed me some pictures of some children. The photographs were real thin and had wavy edges with the year right in the middle on the bottom. She said some were of her and some were of Grandpa. I never thought Grandpa ever looked much different. She said everybody was a baby at one time but I thought he had come out wearing boots and overalls from the start.
*Photos by Chip Millard