An ode to labor of hate ...
MONDAY is Labor Day, Sept. 3, 2018 ... and memories of my boyhood years, when my dad considered raising a sometime rebellious son had to be paid for in service to the family survival, come calling.
IT IS A bitter December morning and Dad has hired one Durd Davis to help me cut firewood. Which leads me to one end of a two-man cross cut saw. It’s hard labor at its worst.
We’ve just put a big red oak on the ground and begun the process of working it into firewood lengths when Durd, who stutters a bit, stops and lets loose with a few words I quickly translate ...
“George! If you don’t quit riding that saw, I’m gonna tell your daddy and he’ll whip your butt!!”
For you late bloomers, riding the saw on a two-man cross cut meant you were just going through the motions and the guy’s arms on the other end were screaming for relief. Knowing the swiftness if not always fair punishment of my dad’s disgust, I quit “riding the saw.”
But glancing down the mountain toward the road, I see a big, black Buick going by and tell myself “I’d sure like to go where that Buick’s going.”
MY GRANDFATHER, James Houston Smith, had a lovely farm, some 180 acres across a valley with mountains on either side. In the years we lived in a four-room house there (no lights, no water) I was a victim of childhood abuse before childhood abuse was a crime.
It is way down in the fall and I’m bent in the shape of a question mark picking cotton. The rows of “white gold” seem to stretch into infinity and restful twilight is at least a month away.
And I flat-out hated picking cotton. Most I ever picked in one day was 96 pounds. I was really proud of that until Dad found three large rocks in the bottom of the sack.
With apologies to Merle Haggard:
“Tulare dust in a farm boy’s nose,
“Wondering where the freight train goes,
“Standing in the field by the railroad track,
“Cursing the strap on my cotton sack ...”
The nearest railroad track is a lonesome whistle in the night some three miles to the east, but ...
Glancing toward the road I see a big black Buick going by and tell myself “I’d like to go where that Buick is going.”
THE HOT August sun is blistering the back of a 12-year-old who is an unwilling “slave” on his grandfather’s farm.
We are on a small hill where some three or four acres of kudzu is waist deep. My grandfather is slicing at its base with a two-mule mower. There’s never been a mower that could cut kudzu clean, which made pitching the mowed kudzu high into a two-mule wagon driven by my dad as miserable as a two-hour sermon on Sunday.
I’m walking along with a pitchfork pitching, or trying to. Often, about halfway up the swing, a vine uncut stops the fork of kudzu dead. Bare to the waist, I am covered with kudzu, but it will be another half day before I can head for a nearby creek and relief from the burning misery of “haying” kudzu.
Which brings to mind that World War II is NOT over; kudzu came to this country from Japan.
Glancing toward the road I see a big black Buick going by and tell myself “I’d sure like to go where that Buick is going.”
THE MORAL of this morning’s sermon? Big black Buicks, in the days of my life as an abused boyhood, were chariots headed toward paradise.
I never so much as got a ride in one.
And tomorrow, Labor Day, 2018, I’m gonna pull down the shades, lock the door, set the AC at 65, and I ain’t coming out ‘til sundown Tuesday.
Labor of love? Humbug!!!