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In the Barnyard
 
A compilation of stories from the Kentucky childhood of
Robert W Courtney
 
Of Swings, Stings, and Snakes, I Sing
 

"Of Swings, Stings and Snakes, I Sing.

When you grow up on a farm, insects and such are constant companions.
Doesn't mean ya gotta like 'em.
If you have looked at that work of Art that I call a sketch, or a
"skitch" in that backwoods accent we all had where I came from, You can
see where I annotated "swing set" in the Barnyard..
Now why would such a sofistkated (I spell it like I sez it) guy like me
make sitch (uh huh) a row about a swing set?
Well, I'll tell you.
I can barely remember when Dad put that swing set up. And as to why, I
can only assume (and you know what asummin' can gitcher) that he did it
to keep my sister and me out of the way. so we didn't 'bug him" Pun
intended as you will see, soon.
Ok, I will try to stop with the accent stuff, but I can't guarantee it
won't sneak back in. But before I do, I just have to make a note of this.
In the movie "O' Brother where art thou", the song when the white sheets
were doing their marching, the singer was singing an old bluegrass song.
And one of the lines was is "carry me over to another yair". This is
what I am talking about.
By the time I was 25, I had traveled all over the world and lived in 7
different states. I had picked up MANY accents. Yet, to hear my father
say "yair" (rhymes with "lair") for year, was a wake up call. It is the
poster child for that ol' time Kentucky dirt farming, back roads
speeching, and farm boy accenting. Just saying.
I know the swing set didn't just magically appear because in the darkest
reaches of my conscience, I THINK I can somewhat remember Dad digging
the holes to put the swing set legs into to prevent it from tipping
over. Good thing because Betty and I wore that thing out! It was a
quality set, and we tested it daily.
Dad was well experience at digging post holes as it seems he had to re
fence every farm he ever had. Since fence posts were expensive, he used
yellow hedge trees to make his own posts. The same "hedge" that bear
hedge apples. The Hedge was plentiful in Kentucky and Missouri. And the
"apples" were sure fun to fling at each other, or a dumbass cow/pig.
Chickens? Not so much. They die too easy.
Hedge is VERY insect resistance and once cut and cured a season, can put
up with a lot of years of weather. The only problem is, to put up a
fence 5' high, you need a 7' post. It's HARD to find a hedge tree with
straight 7' trunks. It why they call it a "hedge" tree. It spreads out,
not up.
I spent most of my farm life seeing these crooked posts with fence wire
stapled to them. Good to keep the animals end, but not too purty. Or,
now that I think of it, maybe they WERE pretty purty. After all, they
were set by my wonderful father.
The swing set was pretty stable although if we did manage to get it
rocking, Dad would just tamp the legs down, again.
The swing set was called a swing set because it had two chain held
swings and a "see-saw" thingy on one end. I really liked that seesaw,
but when you put two big kids on it and get 'er going, it can put some
serious stress on the whole set.
I can remember learning to use my legs and butt to get the swings going,
and used that knowledge for the good of humanity when I was flying high,
shootin' down Nazis planes. Yeah, shootin' was a big deal to the boys my
age in those days. Not so much nowadays.
Injuns, Nazis, tanks, airplanes, machine guns, all were a common sight,
drawn on the papers and tablets a boy carried in those days. Lotsa
bullet trails leading to holes on stick figured "men" Some with Nazi
helmets, some with a single "feather" protruding from their heads. The
Chief got full headdresses of course, and there were even some arrows
sticking out from the ground, and some sticking out of stick figures
laying in odd angles on the page. Nope, no one sided massacres in MY
drawings. Kill them all and let God sort them out! I will have a story
on the shooting subject, soon.
So pretending to be in a fighter plane while swinging high was not a
stretch of the imagination to a young boy growing up on a farm in the
50's. Especially the ones like me that didn't have a lot of human company.
We had some SERIOUS swings at the elementary school I went to. The swing
set we had at home was maybe 6 1/2' high, so it did limit how high you
could swing. but, at school? The chains on those frames were 8-9 feet
long. And being a boy, getting those swings up even with the top frame
and jumping out was the dare. And I took it as often as I could Jumping
out at 10-12 feet off the ground with the momentum required to get it
there was a thrill you could not miss! I have landed 25-30 feet from the
swings! This shows how these things can bring the "stupids" onto a young
boy. Until you actually hurt yourself, you just don't think it can
happen to you. I never did REALLY hurt myself, but I was there when a
kid I kinda knew (he was in another class at school) jumped out and
broke a leg. A compound fracture of his lower leg and an ambulance was
called. The school was an hour away from any real hospital. And in those
days, being an hour away was a luxury. I knew some folks that had never
stepped foot in a hospital because there just wasn't one close enough to
do any good. Not even when they were born, that was done in an old
farmhouse! Ahhh, those were the days.
Anyway, no self respecting farm boy would pay attention to a little ol'
compound fracture. Pfffft. Especially when it wasn't HIS compound fracture.
I may have stopped swinging as a young adult, but I never stopped
jumping until I was a MUCH further along as an adult. And I don't mean
just physical jumping. Sometimes it wasn't the best idea, but THAT never
stopped me.
A few things about that swing set in our Barnyard. The "legs" were made
as an "A" frame. Most stand alone swings sets are. The peak of the "A"
as seen from the side, may had been 6-7 feet, To 6 and 9 year old kids,
That was HIGH. The "A" had a brace about halfway up that stretched
between the legs. This brace was strong enough to hold the kids who
could climb onto them. As a six year old, I actually had much further to
climb than Betty as she was three years older and three inches taller.
Plus, I outweighed her quite a bit, so my little muscles were strained
when I had to pull myself up.
Funny thing about that height thing.
We came from strong human stock, but, my mother's family were petite.
Dad's was just short. Mom reached 4'10" as an adult. Dad got to about 5'
6 1/2". I was actually taller by a half inch as an adult!
Betty's height gene kicked in before she hit puberty, and I don't
remember her being much taller than Mom. So while she was taller when we
were young, I gained the height advantage later. And I can't remember
when I didn't have the weight advantage. The nicest way to say it was, I
was big boned.
As Betty and I were busy wearing out that swing set (it took about four
years to do it), one summer, a couple of colonies of Yellow Jackets
decided to make their homes in the top tube that the swing chains were
attached to (and don't forget that see-saw, I loved that thing!).
Yellow Jackets. Of all the wasps and hornets that seemed to coexist with
us on that farm, the Yellow Jackets were the most dangerous. They are
very aggressive, and attack at the slightest transgression. And when
that swing set became unstable from the legs getting loose in their
holes, the movement was all the transgression they could stand out of a
couple of little farm kids.
The first time we got run off the swing set, it was right at the middle
of summer. It just didn't seem so hot to a six year old then as it does
it does to this 60 year old, today. Plus, the swing set was in shade in
the morning hours. Quite a popular hang out for the "swing set" set (Now
THAT was funny, I don't care who you are!). We were massively abusing
that swing set (swing set set, I kill me!), when we first noticed the
buzzzzz. We saw the wasps before they had a chance to draw blood, and
managed to instantaneously transfer our young bodies to another
location. This was 6 years before Star Trek (Einstein had said
Instantaneous Transposition was possible, and we proved it).
Dad was in the fields and mom didn't do barnyard, so Betty and I had to
figure this one out for ourselves.
If you have read the other stories in this series, you probably already
know who came up with this brilliant idea (Hint, 1st initial is B).
It was decided that we use brain instead of brawn (one of us had said we
should just go play Army or sumthink, uh uh, that would never do said
the other one of us). We would SMOTHER them to death!
Apparently Bett... er .. one of us, had thought of the fact that the
swing support tube was open at both ends. We could carefully climb up
onto the braces of the legs carrying small chunks of wooden 2X4's. Then
clap the wood chunks over the tube ends, and hold them until the air ran
out and the Yellow Jackets were dead. Hmmmm...and ...hmmmmm. Eureka,
that just may work (emphasis on the "may"). So I ran down to the wood
pile where dad put pieces of wood planking for projects around the farm.
Dug out two small 2X4 chunks while keeping my eyes open for snakes. For
some reason, snakes loved that wood pile. Maybe because the field mice
loved it too? Anyway, we'll talk about the snakes, later. Thus the title
of the story, blah...blah Snakes....more blah.
I hurried back to the farmyard where Betty was waiting.
Funny how THAT worked out.
Anyway, we waited until there were no pissed off wasps flying around the
swing set. Then we crept up to the side frames and very carefully
climbed up onto the braces. Wouldn't do to stir them up. They were about
to Rest In Pieces, HAAAAHAAAAA, or at least I thought at the time. I
hate to say it, but I could hardly wait to show those so and so's whut fer.
Once in position, the "one of us" said NOW and we clapped the 2X4 chunks
onto the tube ends.
Now, one thing we hadn't discussed was just how long it would take to
smother the Yellow Jackets to death. Maybe if we had the internet back
then we could have made that determination before we clapped the chunks
onto the tube openings. And of course, if we had researched that 1st,
there would be no story as it was a bust from the beginning. Of course,
that would not have been any fun for the "one of us", and the other
"one" of us would not have hurting later on.
So, we held those chunks for about as long as a 6 and 9 year old could
stand it, oh, maybe 2 minutes. When the "one of us" figured it was done,
the one said, OK. We dropped the 2X4's and started to climb down. About
the time the tube received fresh air and sunlight from the removal of
the 2X4 chunks, the whole colony of Yellow jackets flew out, seriously
PISSED! I actually had a bunch fly right in my face. I figured out two
things right then.
1. Yep, they could fly and sting at the same time.
2. I really needed to practice getting off that swing set much faster.
Betty didn't need to learn either thing. By the time I got off and could
get moving, she had already turned the corner by the Barnyard gate,
about 30 yards from the swing set.
Luckily, as usual, I was wearing jeans, so no story on how many stings I
got on my white, smooth, butt skin. But believe me, the wasps made up
for it on my nearly shaved skull, purty face, and my bare arms. Even a
few through my t shirt. WOW, did that hurt! I was screaming so loud, Mom
had come out the back door when I hit the open gate. Betty was out of
sight, and I never knew what she did as I was too busy slapping my body
like some fool on Hee Haw., and hurting like the devil had stuck his
fork in me. And like sticking a fork in me, I was done. At least for
that day.
When Dad got in from the fields, and when it was obvious I was not gonna
swell up and bust from the stings (luckily, they didn't get my eyes,
though from what I read, they actually do go for the eyes when they
swarm in anger), he then used his favorite technique for wasps. A tin
can of gasoline.
Dad would throw a tin can of gasoline on a wasp nest in a heartbeat (He
didn't much care for stinging things, either. I wonder if he was slow
getting off a swing set, too?). Then, like a good neighbor, he would
would run like the wind. And back in those days, he could literally run
like the wind. Things change, but it was wondrous to watch my father, as
young man, run short distances. He wasn't fast, he was sudden. When I
heard that statement applied to me years later, the image of Dad running
from a gas attack on a wasp nest came to mind. The actual image was the
time he gassed the nest (and it was a Yellow Jacket nest) under the eave
of our house, then ran. You see, gasoline kills wasps and hornets on
contact. But, you gotta get 'em all or they will attack. Only defense is
to get away. Funny how in the cartoons, the chased character always
jumps into a pond. Uh Uh, ponds are just too scarce for that tactic in
real life.
Me? In those days, I would have been delighted to see a match thrown on
it, too. But, considering it was under the eave of the house, it's a
good thing my ideas weren't paid much mind to by Dad.
Smart man.
In my time on that farm, I had been stung by several types of insects. I
was once stung by a Honey Bee. I didn't know at the time that they could
only sting once, then died. I would have felt vindicated if I had known,
though. I didn't see it die, but for the second or two it took for the
pain to set in, watching the embedded stinger that was hanging from the
wound, pulsate a couple of times, was just plain Creepy.
By that time I had seen the War of the Worlds (1953 version, not the
2005 version), The Thing, and even The Invasion of the Body Snatchers at
the drive-in.
The drive-in was dad's favorite away from home entertainment, right
after a good 16 hour day in the fields (and I am NOT joking, he loved to
work. Me? Not so much) and during the summer, we went 2-3 times a month.
Usually got a bag of burgers (a dozen 19 cent belly busters) and a
chocolate shake on the way. Then a coke, hot dog, popcorn, and a BIG
Dill Pickle after the movies started. What wondrous nights at the
drive-in, watching my favorite films (Science Fiction, although Dad
liked Westerns), playing on the drive-in playground with complete
strangers until the 2nd movie started when we had to go back to the car.
Betty would fall asleep. Me. uh uh. I savored every minute and would
only fall asleep on the way home.
And to this day, I still watch HG Wells, War of the Worlds, 1953 version
at least once a year, and ALWAYS enjoy it. I still laugh when the token
Hispanic extra says about the first perceived Meteorite landing spot
(actually an alien spaceship), "This would be a great place to put up a
Burrito stand". HILARIOUS!!
Mom had to use tweezers to pull the stinger out of my arm.
I was also stung by a Bumble Bee. Don't let ANYONE tell you a Bumble Bee
won't sting. I am here to tell you that they DO! I caught that one on
it's bad hair day, I guess. It stung HARD, not like that feathery tough
of a wasp (feathery at first, that is).
It was like getting hit on the ear by one of those Hedge Apples (see how
I brought that back full circle?). And the ear is what I mean. that
sorry so and so stung me on my right earlobe. And it swelled up so big,
you would have thought I was in one of those African tribes that put the
wooden plates in their lobes. Bigger and bigger plates as time goes on
until the lobe rubs the shoulder. I seen that in an old copy of National
Geographic. (I think it was the copy I kept hidden in the outhouse. It
was easy to keep things hidden there. Under all the other magazines and
catalogs). It sure felt like my earlobe was rubbing my shoulder, too.
Of course, when you have no neck like MY male side genes gave me, maybe
that's not so unrealistic.
My youngest daughter, though beautiful as she is, was called "baby no
neck". Once. Although it's actually funny, I put an end to that right
then. No way was I going to allow my daughter to grow up with such a
nickname. And stomping a mud hole in someone for saying such a thing is
not a problem for me.
We also had these little bee like insects that just loved human sweat. I
don't think they stung, they bit. Hurts like the dickens for a few
minutes. What were they? I have no idea, but we called them "sweat
bees". Pretty catchy, eh?
And brother, if you have never got a hunk taken out of your hide by a
BIG Horse Fly, you haven't lived. On a cattle/horse farm that is.
Everyone should experience a good 'ole Horse Fly bite. Make a MAN outta
ya, after you get done whining about it. It freaking HURTS!
Now for that "Snakes" in the story title.
In Kentucky, we have a several of species of snakes. Most are not
venomous, but some are. There is the ever present Copperhead, the
Eastern Diamondback Rattler, Water Moccasin, and a couple of others.
Even the Coral snake in some places, although I personally have never
seen one.
But on first glance, it doesn't matter.
For some reason, I am extremely jumpy around a snake. Not cautious, but
jumpy scared. I see a snake ANYWHERE, and you remember that Einstein's
Theory of Instantaneous Transposition I mentioned earlier? Which by the
way has been proven. I have actually seen the phenomenon in Boulder CO
by watching electron flow on an Electron Microscope. Amazing. Does kinda
throw a wrench into the Electron Flow theory and even both Theories of
Light! we'll see where it goes.
That's the only way I can describe it. One second, life is A-OK and the
sun is shining warmly on my face, look, snake....BAM!! I am 40 yards way
and have no idea how I got there. At that point, if I need to do so, I
can go back and do the snakey thing. But, I am in a different world for
a few seconds. Too weird.
BUT, I know how I got this way.
Mom.
Mom had a similar reaction to snakes, except she didn't run, she grabbed
anything at hand and beat the snake to death, All the while, not even
being conscious she is doing it. I think I was always kinda scared she
might confuse me with a snake and Katy Bar the Door. An ungrounded fear?
Eh, not so much. I'll talk about that in another Story Series. An
unbearable thought, nevertheless.
When I say grab anything at hand I mean it. Shovel, axe, tobacco
stick... what, you never seen a 80 lb 4' 9" woman pound a snakes head,
until it was unrecognizable, with a 1" thick Tobacco Stick? Where have
YOU been?
Well I have, and not only was it not purty, it was pretty scary.
On 4 occasions in about the same number of years on that old farm in the
50's, I have seen this play out, right by the front step of the porch of
that old farm house. But, as far as I know, only one was a Copperhead,
the rest were black snakes or garden snakes. As I said, that just
doesn't matter. Poisonous or not, your ass a snake, you got the same
treatment from mom.
So now, when I do the Zombie thing when I see a snake, I wonder if it's
because of the snake, or is it the vision of a berserk, petite lady,
pounding the snake's head to mush. Or maybe I can hear the sound of a
Tobacco Stick swinging behind me as I run.....?.
As I said, doesn't matter to me, it is what it is.
Of Swings, Stings, and Snakes, I sing.

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