Saturday, December 26, 2009

Two Mile Cornfield part II

   This is my second installment of stories about my mother's childhood in northern Arkansas.

The Two Mile Cornfield – Part II

            Cozette woke up early the next morning to the wonderful smells of side meat, fried eggs and freshly baked biscuits.  She looked out of the tent and realized that it was barely daybreak. Grandpa Enos was sitting on a small log, cooking at the camp stove. He looked over at Cozette’s head peering from the tent and nodded a good morning to her.  Cozette quickly got dressed, then asked Grandpa Enos what she could do to help.

            “You could take that water bucket to the creek and fill it.” Grandpa said, pointing at a wooden pail. “Hoeing corn is hot work and you’ll be glad to have the water close by.  Why don’t you bring one of the milk jugs back with you so we can have some cold milk with our breakfast.”

            Cozette carried the wooden bucket down into the ravine to Cunningham Creek to the place where they had put their milk.  After she had filled the bucket with cool water from the creek, she picked up one of the earthenware milk jugs and carried them both back up the ravine to their camp.  By the time she got back to camp, breakfast was ready.  Two fried eggs, two biscuits, a large slice of side meat, and a glass of milk.  Grandpa had cooked a lot more than they would eat for breakfast as he was also cooking their lunch at the same time.  He sliced the left over biscuits and made sandwiches with fried eggs and side meat as the filling. The biscuit sandwiches were put in a pan and carefully put back into the metal can that was their larder.  After breakfast, the remaining milk and the larder were returned to the creek to keep them cool.

            They were hard at work on Uncle Don’s cornfield by 6:00 am.  Grandpa Enos worked on one row while Cozette hoed the next row over.  The corn was already about two feet high.  The rows were three feet apart, just enough room for a horse to walk between the rows pulling a cultivator.  However, the cultivator couldn’t reach the Johnson grass that grew in the row itself in between the corn plants.  The only way to get rid of the Johnson grass was with a hoe.  Cozette worked hard to keep up with Grandpa Enos.  It was hot dusty work hoeing corn and Grandpa Enos had been right about the water bucket.

Finally, at about 11:00 a.m. Grandpa Enos said it was time for lunch.  Cozette headed back to the creek to fetch the biscuit sandwiches from the larder along with the milk.  As she was leaving, Grandpa Enos pulled out his file and started to file the blades on their hoes.  Grandpa was very fastidious about his tools and sharpened the hoes every morning and again during lunch.  When Cozette returned they found a nice shady spot to rest while they enjoyed their lunch.  By noon they were back at work in the cornfield.  The day seemed to drag with the hot sun beating down on them. Finally, Grandpa stopped and pulled out his pocket watch.  “Its almost three o’clock” he said. “We’ll quit work at three.”

As they walked back to camp, Grandpa reminded Cozette that they had other business to tend.  “Don’t you think we ought to take a look at our trot line?” Grandpa Enos asked. “I suspect we may have some fried catfish for supper.  Besides, we can do a swimming lesson. I suspect a cool swim would feel pretty good after a hard day of hoeing corn. Let’s stop by camp and get your swimming clothes.”

Cozette felt a little worried about the swimming lesson, but she knew she would enjoy cooling off in the river.  She couldn’t wait to wash off the day’s accumulation of dust and sweat. When they reached camp she quickly changed out of her cotton flour sack work dress into a pair of her brother Jimmy’s old jeans and a short-sleeved shirt. Grandpa Enos’ swimsuit consisted of the same blue work overalls he had worn all day, but he did take off his long-sleeved work shirt.  Grandpa’s face and hands were brown as an Indian from working in the sun every day.  The contrast was stark between the dark tan on his hands and face and the white skin normally covered by his shirt.

They walked down to the river and walked along the bank until they came to a place where there was a large sand bar not too far from shore.  The sand bar was curved on the ends and a deep pool had formed within the arch..  The water was normally fairly swift in that part of the White River.  The water rippled over the curved ends of the sand bar, but then slowed to a lazy current as it entered the deep pool.  The water didn’t pick up speed again until it reached the end of the pool.  This pool of slow deep water was about ten feet across and twenty feet long.

“This is the perfect place for your swimming lessons,” Grandpa Enos exclaimed! “It’s deep enough for you to swim, but there isn’t much current.”  After I take my boots off we’ll wade out and get started.

As they waded out into the river, Grandpa Enos explained what he had in mind. “We’ll start out teaching you to float.  It’s really not hard.  Once you learn how to float, it’ll be durn easy to learn you to swim.”

Grandpa Enos had Cozette lay back in the water while he supported her head with his hands.  “Take a big breath and hold it. Then you just spread out your arms and legs and arch your back a bit and you’ll be floating before you know it.” 

            As Cozette lay in the water she realized that she was floating.  Grandpa Enos had lowered his hands and let her float free.  She continued to float and gently drifted with the current down to the end of the pool.  As the current picked up where the pool ended, Cozette put her feet down and stood up.  “You’re right Grandpa!  That wasn’t so hard after all.”

            Cozette waded along the edge of the sand bar back up stream until she got back to the place where the slow water began. This time she took a deep breath and lay back in the water and floated all by herself.  She floated down to the end of the pool a half a dozen times.

            “You seem to have a good handle on floating now,” Grandpa Enos said.  “That’s pretty good for your first lesson.  We’ll have you swimming by this time tomorrow. I don’t know about you but I’ve worked up an appetite.  I think it’s time we checked out the trotline and see if we have any fish.”

            “Thanks, Grandpa” Cozette murmured as they waded back to the bank. “I’m glad you’re learning me to swim.”

            A short time later they had walked back up the bank to where they had left Van Haney’s boat. They pushed the boat back into the water and Grandpa held the bow steady while Cozette stepped into the boat.  Grandpa gave the boat a shove into the current as he stepped in and sat down at the oars.

            “I’ll handle the boat and you can check the lines, “ Grandpa said as he rowed towards the little island where the end of the trotline was tied.  As they reached the end of the line, Grandpa rowed just enough to keep the boat in place while Cozette started pulling up the trotline.  The first three hooks still had the bait, the fourth hook was empty, but the fifth hook had a nice two pound catfish firmly attached.

            .  “We’ll have catfish tonight!”Grandpa Enos hollered.

            Cozette worked the hook out of the catfish’s jaw and slid the catfish onto the stringer.  She continued checking hooks until she got to the end of the trot line.  They ended up with a total of three catfish on their stringer.  When they reached the shore, Grandpa held the boat steady while Cozette jumped onto the bank with their catfish.  He  pulled the boat up onto the bank before he turned his attention to cleaning the catfish.  Grandpa’s experienced hands made quick work of the catfish and they were gutted and cleaned in a matter of minutes.

            When they reached camp, Cozette changed out of her wet swimming clothes back into her work dress.  Meanwhile Grandpa Enos started the fire and set to work on making supper.  When Cozette emerged from the tent, Grandpa pointed over at the catfish.  “I think we have more than we need for tonight,” Grandpa said.  “Why don’t we eat the two smaller ones and you can take the big one over to Van Haney. Be sure to tell him that we really appreciate the use of his boat.  I’ll have these two skinned and cooking by the time you get back.”

            Cozette picked up the stringer and slid the two smaller catfish off onto a plate.  She then set off for the Haney house.  Van Haney was sitting on his porch when Cozette walked up with the large catfish. “I got something for you Mr. Haney”, Cozette cried out as she walked up and handed him the catfish.

            “Well bless my soul,” Van Haney replied! “It looks like you two did alright on your first day.”

            “We caught three fish,” Cozette said. “Grandpa is frying up the two smaller ones.  He told me to bring you the big one and to thank you for the loan of your boat.”

            “Thank you for the fish and you are most welcome to the use of the boat”, Haney said. “ I hope you do this well every day.”

            By the time Cozette walked back into camp, the fire had started to burn down to good cooking coals.  Grandpa Enos had mixed up some batter for corn bread and was just putting it into his oven to bake.  With the cornbread out of the way, Grandpa started to fillet the catfish, carefully peeling the skin away from each fillet.  He put some cornmeal onto a plate, added a little salt and pepper, and rolled each fillet in the cornmeal until it was fully covered.  Granpa then scooped up a large glob of lard onto his skillet and set it on his “stove” next to the oven.  It wasn’t long before the smell of cornbread and sizzling catfish wafted on the air.  

              Twenty minutes later, they sat down to a wonderful meal of fresh raw milk, hot cornbread, and fried catfish.  As Cozette savored the taste of the catfish, she thought about the day. It had been a long hot day with lots of hard work, but she got to cool off in the river and had learned how to float.  The catfish and cornbread seemed to top it all off. Hard work was all right as long as you had good company and a good meal at the end of the day. 

1 comment:

  1. wow....a good way to live, I think....and now I think I need to make fried catfish and cornbread....