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I did not like school when I started in the first grade at Stem. Not the study and learning part, but all the new foods at lunch, and all the girls.
On the very first day, I chased a girl named Ella all around the classroom. She and I spoke of this just a few years ago. That first year, I fell “in love” with a blonde classmate named Diane Jost. I proposed to her and she accepted after only knowing her for a couple of months. Before the end of the school year, she moved away and I was heartbroken. Soon I fell in love with another classmate, Linda Bowling. This lasted for several months, until I told Mama about Linda. She said, “you can’t marry her because she is a distant cousin.” Her grandfather and my grandmother were brother and sister. Does that make us kin?
One of my favorite foods at school was apricot halves, with a dollop of mayonnaise and grated cheese on it. I was always eager to try new food. My teacher was Mrs. Murdoch. The state mental institution was named after her husband, Dr. Murdoch. I had good friends in school, but my best friends were Booty Boy and his family, who lived in a tenant house on the farm.
One of the most amazing feats I ever saw was Booty Boy, Elleck and Nelson were walking on their hands -- almost as good as they were able to walk on their feet. Erba Lee couldn’t do it, as hard as he tried, because his feet were so large. He could not balance himself upside down. Booty Boy could walk on his hands all over the yard and could even walk up and down steps.
Booty Boy’s sister Suzy Mae was an entrepreneur. A salesman came by every so often and sold her stale candy at a cheap rate. She would keep the candy locked up in an old wooden footlocker. She would sell candy to her brothers, her sisters and anyone else who happened by. I even bought a piece of candy every once in a while. One piece was a flat bar of coconut that had colors of the rainbow on it. I seldom had candy in those days, and even though it was stale, it was good. My Aunt Julia was visiting from Washington D.C. and she gave me the nickel to buy it. Erbe Lee never had money to buy Suzy Mae’s candy and he always begged her for it. One day when she was picking beans, he busted open the lock on the footlocker and sat there beside it and ate about sixteen candy bars, leaving the wrappers right there on the floor. That was the last of Suzy Mae’s candy business. I think she would have killed her brother if someone hadn’t stopped her.
Mr. Mangum, who owned the farm, was a very likeable man. He owned a general store in Stem, and Daddy and I often stopped by to see him. He was always very nice to me. He would often give me candy when we were in the store. Years later, Mama told me that Mr. Mangum had lost his only son in WWII, and he had asked Mama if she would sell me to him. She said he told her he wanted a son again, and that he would pay well for me. She refused. I’m sure many years later, after my antics as a teenager, she wished she had taken him up on his offer.
During the tobacco curing season, late summer and early fall, we would put sweet potatoes in the hot coals of the wood flu. These were always good. One season, we had some new people helping with the tobacco. They had a boy that was a year younger than I. We had found a nest of Japanese hornets in the base of a hollow tree, in the edge of the barn lot.
We started taking turns running by it while throwing a rock at them. He stumbled and fell right beside the nest. The hornets were all over him. He was stung many times and “messed in his britches.” That night, Daddy burned the nest.
Living on the farm, with farm animals having babies all the time, you would think I was aware of where they came from. I had not actually seen a cow, dog, cat or pig give birth to babies. I didn’t see that until I was seven or seven and a half. So when I was around five or six, and our cat had kittens, I asked where they came from. I was told that she “found them.” I asked where she “found them” and was told “in the woods.” This must have been the usual answer when a child asked adults where babies came from.
I was at my Granddaddy’s (Lee Wilkins’) house shortly after our cat “found” her kittens. He told me his sow pig was going to “find” some baby pigs soon. The next day, I spent several hours walking around, in his large hog lot, trying to see if I could “find” the baby pigs before the sow did.
A couple of weeks later, I spent the better part of two days in the woods, trying to “find” puppies. No luck. But our dog “found” them the very next night.
Jerry Dean of Granville County has shared many of his childhood memories with the Ledger, which have also been shared with our readers. Look for more of Dean’s recollections in future editions.