*Many years ago Daddy told me a story about a prank he and his brother played on their Daddy. I thought it was funny. This tale is a fictional adaptation of that story. So, I thought we’d have a little Friday fun! (Dessert)*
Folks called him Cooter Bill, had since he was born. His sister had looked over the edge of the bed and said, “Now, ain’t that a little Cooter Bill.” Maybe she was tryin’ to say he was cuter than his brother, Bill. But that ain’t what come out; so, Cooter Bill (Cooter for short) stuck. If Cooter meant rascal, then it was the perfect name for him. But if he was a rascal it was only because his older brothers made him one.
Cooter locked eyes knowingly with his brother, George. It was time.
Daddy straightened his back, removing the long reins from his shoulders, looping them over the handle and across the wooden braces. He unhitched Cooper and left the plow mid row to lead the mule down to the barn for some water and a rest. Cooter knew Daddy’d go in for dinner, the midday meal, before headin’ back out to begin plowin’ the ground to get it ready for the corn and peas he planned to lay in the soil this year.
It was almost early spring. For this one-horse farm, or mule in this case, that meant work from sun up to sun down. For Cooter and George chores included slopping the hogs, cleaning the pig pen and helping Daddy whenever he needed it. Today, however, they just couldn’t get their minds wrapped around the idea of work. The sun was shining today. There was not a cloud in the sky, and it was warmer than it had been; yet still chilly enough to contribute to the boys’ anciness.
They had slopped the hogs just after breakfast but got distracted when they saw the girls come out to scatter feed for the chickens. Cooter and George ran right up into the big middle of those hens, causing the fowl to panic and scatter like the beads from Maggie’s necklace Martha had broken last week.
The girls yelled for Mama but before the words were out of their mouths the boys ran for the barn. The corn crib was empty right now because of the season, but there was old husks and some stray dried kernels and silk left behind. Cooter was sure they’d have to clean this crib the closer it got to the gatherin’ season.
Suddenly a snake slithered out into the light, keeping close to the wall. He was movin’ fast, but George moved faster. He grabbed a hoe and pummeled the snake in the head with the flat backside of the hoe. He killed the reptile without relieving the creature of its head.
That was when the brilliant bit of mischief struck them! Daddy didn’t like snakes. To say he was afraid may not be respectful, but it would not be an overstatement either.
“Cooter, give me that yo-yo string from there in your pocket.” George commanded.
Cooter placed a protective hand over his pocket. “I paid a nickel for this yo-yo. If I give you my string my yo-yo won’t work and I ain’t had it very long.”
“Now listen here, your gonna git your yo-yo string back. I’ll make sure of it.”
“Okay, but, well…. You promise?” Cooter asked doubtfully.
“Cooter, just give me that dadgum string!”
Cooter slowly fished the yo-yo out of his pocket and handed it cautiously to George. George removed the string from the yo-yo and tied one end around the snake, just behind its head. Then they waited.
After Daddy set Cooper to restin’ he went on inside. Now was the time. The boys walked casually to the field, pretendin’ they weren’t up to no good. They reached the plow and set to business. Cooter laid the grey barn snake right against the plowshare while George found a place to tie the other end of the string. They tossed some dirt over the snake and then stood behind the plow to make sure it was well hidden. Then they backed out of the row pullin’ dirt along with them to cover their footprints.
They were halfway between the field and the house when Mama yelled out the door, “Boys, get yourselves washed up for dinner. Your Daddy’s ready to eat.”
Daddy always got to eat first anyway. Mama fixed him a plate and put it in front of him before any of the kids got to sit down to eat. Today there was fried chicken, speckled butter beans and buttermilk biscuits that mama had turned out onto a plate from the cast iron skillet.
Daddy spooned a good helpin’ of chow chow over his beans, split his biscuit into and spread some fresh butter that Mama and the girls had churned earlier this week. He then drizzled a tablespoon of the thick espresso colored Brer Rabbit Ribbon Cane Syrup right out of the tin can, which was never absent from its position in the center of the table. This was his mealtime ritual. Upon completion of this predictable routine he would commence to eating as Mama sat a tall glass of cold buttermilk beside his plate.
Cooter and George ate in anticipation. However, they knew that Daddy would take a nap or listen to his favorite show on the radio before headin’ back outside, so they chewed their food slowly, enjoin’ every bite of the meal set before them. When they were finished, they raked what few scraps they had remaining on their plates into the slop bucket Mama kept in the corner of the kitchen countertop. They reckoned that the pigs might starve to death were they solely reliant upon the scraps from their plates alone.
The idea of taking a nap didn’t sit well with the boys, but Mama made all the kids lie down after lunch to “settle their food”, she said and to give herself some small time in the day in which she knew exactly where each of her children were. It was a bonus, too, that they were all quiet at one time. Try as they might, each and all fell asleep…. usually. Today was an exception. Cooter and George did not want to miss Daddy’s discovery. So, when Daddy headed back outside the boys weren’t far behind.
George trailed behind his father and volunteered, “Daddy, let me go git Cooper for ya.”
“Alright. That’d be a help.”
George retrieved Cooper and helped Daddy hitch him back up to the plow. With that job done Daddy threw the reins back over his shoulders. “Yhee!”
As Cooper took off down the row, Daddy guiding the plow to make straight furrows, the boys stood just at the edge of the field watching. Little by little the snake was uncovered, and just as planned the snake moved as though it were still alive. It crawled deceptively between Daddy’s legs as he walked . It took seconds for Daddy to notice and milliseconds for him to jump clean away from that plow, across the previously plowed furrows and over to the edge of the field.
Cooper spooked and took off, still hitched to the plow that was dug into the dirt. “Hee Haw! Hee Haw!” The plow flipped. Cooper’s legs became tangled in the leads and more panicked Hee Haws ensued. Daddy ran back into the field to get Cooper calmed down, the boys right behind him.
With Cooper calmed the evidence of the prank lie in plain sight still tied to the yo-yo string. No one was laughing. Daddy had said quite a bit during all the ruckus. It didn’t escape the boys that Daddy would be in trouble if Mama’d heard all he had to say. But they wouldn’t be tellin’ her anything.
But right now Daddy wasn’t saying a word. He headed to the water bucket sittin’ on the ground at the edge of the field, picked up the tin ladle and drank deep, never taking his eyes off the boys. He was angry. The boys could see it rattlin’ around like the jangle of Mama’s pressure cooker.
They took off runnin’. Daddy took off after them but then pulled up short, tired and out of breath. “You boys gotta come home sometime. Or yer gonna git hungry. Know this…your gonna git a whoopin’. It can be now, or it can be later, but it’s gonna happen.”
The words trailed after them-a promise. But they had decided on getting’ a whoopin’ later. So, they kept runnin’.
Cooter knew that the chances of him ever getting his yo-yo- string back was slim to none, but he also knew that even though they would get a thrashing Daddy would laugh with them later about the whole thing. This was not the first practical joke they’d played on him and it certainly would not be the last.
Daddy was a hard man. The boys figured one had to be hard to make a livin’ off the land. Both knew that farmin’ was not what they wanted to do when they grew up. George wanted to be a lawman like Wyatt Earp. Cooter didn’t know yet, but he thought being the boss was the best idea, no matter what he did.
As Cooter and George hid in their favorite hidin’ spot in the barn they didn’t think about the fact that Daddy knew exactly where they were. They were too busy planning their next prank. Then they talked about what it’d be like to live in a big city and have lots of money and never have to farm again.
“I bet Wyatt Earp never had to slop hogs.” George thought.
“I heard that Texas is the place to get rich.” Cooter proclaimed with a knowing nod. “Black Gold rains from heaven. I could get me some of that and just tell other people to plow my fields for me.”
But deep inside they cherished their roots, their beginnings, knowing that their years of hard work tempered with laughter had made them who they were and who they were to become. It had certainly made Daddy who he was.
Cooter remembered that Brer Rabbit said, “Everybody’s got a laughin’ place. Trouble is most folks won’t take the time to look for it.” Old Brer knew where his laughin’ place was. It was the briar patch. Now the briar patch was for certain not the most comfortable place in the world, but it was home. It was where things were familiar and where he felt safest.
Cooter knew where his laughin’ place was too; and just like Brer Rabbit’s place, it was not the most comfortable place in the world, but it was home, where things were familiar and where he felt safe. He knew it with all his heart when he laughed with his brothers or his daddy. He knew it years later when he laughed with his children and then his grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
His laughin’ place was family.