Another story from my great-grandfather’s youth:
It seems as though there never was such an opportunity for the study of wild life as there was in the summer of 1867, especially in the hay field. There was no limit to the creeping, flying, stinging, buzzing, jumping, gliding, running things.
We sometimes read about a general gathering of all the wild things. Well, this was one such a case. Perhaps a constitutional convention or ecumenical council was being held in that hay field. In the work of getting the hay off the ground, I feel safe to say that at least every sixty seconds, some live thing was in evidence.
There were meadow mice with bob-tails at one end, and little half-hid eyes at the other. Now and then there were house mice, and deer mice — sometimes called kangaroo mice — with a little white belly and a long tail. They jumped like big grasshoppers. There were frogs, green or moss-colored, little fellows with stripes, big ones with spots and stripes, all cold, wet, and clammy. There were hoptoads and snakes, striped snakes, beautiful emerald green ones, and water snakes whose homes were in the small creek that is crossed by the road half a mile south of the Beebe school. The snakes were in the grass after the frogs and mice. Some of the water snakes were quite large. Perhaps they were milk snakes. They were yellow and brown.
One time, I saw a very dark brown one which had a white ring around his neck, going like blazes with his head held nearly a foot high.
These were the conditions when we went to rake up the hay.
This was before horse rakes were in general use, and we went after the hay with hand rakes. It was spread out, covering the ground thickly, and it was good and dry. Was haying hot work? Well, yes. The writer, the kid in this case, taking the first place, was barefooted, and dressed in short Kentucky jean pants, a hickory shirt, a straw hat, and a coat of tan. I raked what I could at one rake, throwing the raking, a small windrow, to Charley, sixteen years of age, who also was without shoes, and who wore long loose pants, a hickory shirt, a straw hat and a smile. He in turn, raked his hay and mine, to Chet, eighteen years of age.
Now Chester was more particular than we were, and wore a pair of shoes. He was that finicky that he did not want to have mice and snakes crawling over his bare feet. Some folks are so particular!
Then came my great grandfather, bare footed wearing jean pants, a hickory shirt, and a stovepipe hat, just such a one as President Lincoln is often pictured as wearing. He always wore it to church at Mygatt’s Corners, to prayer meeting at the Lake Shore Church, to Racine, to milk the cows, or to dig potatoes.
Well, here we were, all lined up when what must have been the bishop of the synod came along. He was a whopper. I. had raked him up to Charley. His snakeship crawled partly through Charley’s windrow, right over his bare feet, and passed on. Charley made a slash at him, regardless whether he broke his rake or not. All at once, Charley let out the most agonizing howl I have ever heard. He dropped his rake, made a grab for his lower pant leg, gave another yell, made a grab for higher up.
This is what had happened: A great cold, wet, clammy, spotted frog had made a jump, and had landed up this loose pant leg. Charley, not seeing it, thought, of course, it was a snake. He became somewhat excited, evinced his emotional nature, and yelled some more. He seized his leg below the frog, which gave the batrachian a good vantage point from which he made another jump, cold and wet. The frog went up across the parallels of latitude promptly. A yell! There was enough sound to make several welkins ring if any were around, but who could blame Charley! Across the Tropic of Capricorn went the frog. More ejaculations! Up to the Equator! Oh, oh, and at this time the way that young man proceeded to arrive from the interior of those jeans was most abrupt, to say the least.
Of course, we were all frightened at such yelps and howls, for Charley was not given to such emotional acts, and nothing short of something serious could induce him to such a performance. But when that cold, wet thing jumped out we all felt better. So much so, that Chet just lay down, regardless of consequences, and rolled and screamed. Grandfather’s stove pipe hat came off, and was waved as only a man loving a joke could wave it. I got my tee-hee in, and Charley made a kick at Chet, made a pass at me, and wanted to know what I was laughing at. He seemed to be peeved at something as he lit out for the house.
Always anonymous, always voluptuous.