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Authors: Lois Lenski

Corn-Farm Boy (17 page)

BOOK: Corn-Farm Boy
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“Let's pull him out,” said Ted.

Ted grabbed the snake by the neck and gave a pull. The snake slid back and left him empty-handed.

Elmer turned to Dick. “I bet you're afraid to pick it up.”

They waited until the snake's head appeared.

“There! Grab it,” said Elmer, “unless you're a sissy.”

Dick moved slowly. He picked the snake up carefully. He drew the long body slowly out from its hiding place. He carried it into the empty corncrib and laid it gently on the floor. Popcorn came in and began to bark. The snake started hissing. It struck once or twice but missed the dog.

“I'll get my shovel,” said Ted. “I'll kill it for you.”

“I'll get my club and help,” said Elmer.

Quickly Dick grabbed Popcorn up in his arms. “You mustn't get snakebit, you Twerp.” The snake began to move. “Hurry now, quick,” said Dick to the snake. “This is your only chance to get away.” The snake slid down a hole out of sight.

“Where's the snake?” asked Ted, returning.

“Oh, it got away,” said Dick. “It was a harmless bull snake. It will do away with a lot of mice and rats.”

“Where's the snake?” asked Elmer, coming back club in hand.

“It got away,” said Dick.

“Say, boys,” said Ted. “Want me to show you how to make a cornstalk fiddle?”

“Sure,” said the boys.

But Mr. Heiter called Ted and he had to go back to work.

“Wait till corn picking time,” he said. “Stalks are too green now. You can play a tune on it, too.” He went around the barn.

The boys liked Ted, for he was full of ideas.

Dick turned to Elmer. “Did you ever eat a grasshopper?” he asked.

“No,” said Elmer. “Whoever thought of such a thing?”

“Well, Ted told me once if I'd eat a grasshopper, he'd eat one too.”

“And did you?” asked Elmer, laughing. “I bet a dollar you did, stupid.”

Dick would not say yes or no. Elmer kept pressing him. At last he admitted, “Oh, it was Ted who backed out on it …”

Suddenly a terrific clatter was heard. The two boys ran back to the sheller. Jay Hintz whirled around, thinking something had gone wrong with the motor. He stopped the engine quickly and stared in surprise. There was Dick's mother. She had brought a metal bushel basket and was holding it under the spout to fill it with corncobs. They made a loud clatter as they hit the metal of the basket.

“I need a few cobs for the kitchen stove,” Mrs. Hoffman explained.

The men laughed.

“Help yourself,” said Jay. Then he added, “Just like a woman to scare us to death. I thought my sheller was exploding like an A-bomb! Now, why couldn't she take them off the cob pile?”

“Dick,” called Mom, halfway back to the house. “Come and help me.”

“I wonder when we get something to eat,” said Ted Sanders. He looked toward the back door.

“Here comes lunch,” said Grandpa Shute.

Dick and his mother and Wilma brought out a midmorning lunch. Jay Hintz stopped the sheller and Dick passed meat sandwiches and doughnuts around. Wilma poured hot coffee in paper cups. After a short pause for eating, the motor was started again and the men resumed work. As the trucks became filled with the shelled corn, the truckers drove them off to town.

At noon, the men stopped for dinner and a good rest. Up back of the house, they took turns washing hands and faces in two enamel basins on the bench. They pumped cold water from the cistern pump. They slicked up their hair before a small wall mirror on the porch, using comb and brush in an oilcloth pocket there.

Dick came up while the men were washing. Ted Sanders had his hair all slicked up nicely, when suddenly a shower of cold water poured over him. The water bucket and dipper fell to the ground with a clatter. Ted mopped his face with the towel and looked around to see who had thrown it. Dick stepped behind Grandpa Shute. The men all looked innocent. Then they broke into a roar of noisy laughter.

“That's one on you, Ted,” said Bill Heiter.

“I was just needin' a cold shower to cool me off,” drawled Ted.

“Guess who did it, Ted,” piped up Elmer Ruden.

“Never mind, his time's comin',” said Ted.

Dick washed up and went in with the men to the long table.

“Oh, look at our big farmer here!” cried Uncle Henry. “When are you going to do a little farm work and earn your salt, Dick? Are you sure you scooped enough corn to deserve a fine dinner like this?”

“I didn't scoop any,” said Dick. “I just—”

All the men were looking at him. His face turned red.

“Sit down, Dick,” said Dad quietly. “There's a place beside Elmer.”

Dick sat down and Uncle Henry took the place next to Dick. The men began to talk. Mrs. Hoffman had plenty to eat—a large platterful of pork chops, several bowls of mashed potatoes and gravy, coleslaw and mixed salad, pickles and fresh fruit, fruit gelatin and freshly baked rolls and butter. Mom waited on table, keeping the dishes circulating and the men's plates filled. Wilma poured iced tea into their tall glasses.

Dick was hungry and ate fast. He was thirsty too and reached for his glass. He took a big swallow—then looked at the contents of the glass. It was not brown like tea. It was some thick white stuff, but it wasn't milk. He tried to spit it out, but his mouth was filled with bubbles. The more he tried to get rid of them, the more bubbles he made. What did it taste like? Soap! That was it—SOAP!

“What the heck!” mumbled Dick.

“Oh, you took the wrong glass,” said Elmer. “That was intended for—”

With one look at Ted, Dick jumped up from the table and ran outside. He had to rinse his mouth many times before he got rid of the taste of soap flakes. Loud guffaws came from the dining room. Dick did not go back to the table again. He knew the men would razz him if he did. Mom brought his plate to the kitchen and he finished eating there.

“I never did a thing to Ted, Mom,” said Dick. “I never threw that water on him, but I saw who did it.”

“Oh, Ted knows your Uncle Henry did it,” said Mom. “Don't worry, he'll take care of
him
all right. Too bad you got hold of Uncle Henry's glass by mistake.” Then she added, “They like their little jokes.”

After dinner the men went out to work again. The time for joking was over and they were serious again. The shovels scooped the ear corn into the noisy machine as before. Ted Sanders kept promising Dick a raccoon, but none turned up. Buster and Popcorn got tired and ran off to rest in the shade. Dick wandered away. The excitement had all worn off. He was tired but did not like to admit it. He strolled over and looked at the hogs. He spotted Squeaky in the bunch. She was well again now and as fat and frisky as the others. That medicine from Doc Musfelt had saved her in the nick of time.

In the barnyard Russell Ruden sat on Uncle Henry's tractor with a flare box wagon behind. He was starting off to town with a load of shelled corn. Uncle Henry stood talking to him. As Dick passed by, Uncle Henry called him over.

“Bet you'd like to be sitting up there on my tractor and driving to town like Russ, wouldn't you, Dick?” asked Uncle Henry.

“I sure would,” said Dick.

“I'll stay here and scoop corn and let you take it in, Dick,” said Russ.

“Dad won't let me drive,” said Dick, turning away.

Russell started his motor and drove off.

Uncle Henry looked at Dick and said, “Don't you like that nice little tractor of mine any more, Dick?”

“Sure I do,” said Dick. “I've never seen a better one.”

“When are you going to start being a farmer, Dick?” asked Uncle Henry. “I'm serious about this. At your age, your brother Raymond was driving farm machinery just like a man. Aren't you tired of just standing around all summer and doing nothing? Do you like being a sissy? I should think you'd want to be your Dad's right-hand man.”

Dick winced. “I'd sure like to, Uncle Henry—” the boy began.

Dad called just then and Uncle Henry went over to see what was wanted.

Dick stood still, thinking. He wondered if Uncle Henry was right. Maybe he wasn't trying hard enough. Maybe it was all Mom's fault—telling him not to do this and not to do that and keeping him a baby. Maybe if he tried harder, his muscles would get stronger. Maybe he could forget that old rheumatism and do all the things that other boys of his age could do. Some day he would just like to show everybody he was no sissy.

In midafternoon, Dick came bursting into the house.

“Mom!” he called. “Uncle Henry says I can drive his new tractor to town. I'm to take a wagonload of corn in.”

“No!” said Mom. “Is Uncle Henry crazy?”

“Dad said I could,” insisted Dick. “The truckers went home early and there's only one wagonload still to go. Dad and Uncle Henry both said I could take it.” He turned to Margy. “Keep Popcorn in the house, will you? I don't want him to follow me.”

Mom said nothing. Margy ran to bring the little dog inside. Mom went to the door and watched. She held her apron to her lips, as she watched the boy drive out the lane. Then she turned back to her work with a worried look on her face.

Dick looked back at the house once. He saw Popcorn looking out of the window of the front room. He smiled to himself, “That little Stubby Tail!” he said. “He wants to go along with me.” Dick knew the dog had climbed on the chair and jumped up on the table by the window to look out. “You little old Pie Face! You little old Dumb Do Do—I wish I could take you along with me, but I can't. Goodbye, little Fella, I'll be back soon. You just be a good Stubby Tail and wait for me.”

It was good to be driving a tractor again. The sun was hot and bright and Dick could feel it through his cotton shirt. He liked the vibration of the machine. He liked his high perch up on the seat. He had forgotten how wonderful it was. He felt like a king coming down the highway. Wild doves and other birds on the fences and telephone wires scattered and flew away as he came by. He saw several young rabbits scamper off into the bushes.

But he knew he must keep his eyes on the road. He had perfect control of the tractor and was determined not to start dreaming. The road was plenty wide enough for passing other cars, so he was not afraid at all.

“A guy's just got to watch out,” he said to himself sternly. “It's only when you are careless that accidents happen.”

The elevator stood at the end of Main Street, so Dick did not have to drive where all the cars were. Unloading did not take long, so he was soon on his way home again. It was easier than Dick had thought it would be. The setting sun threw its slanting light across the rolling landscape, lighting the patchwork fields of green and gold with brilliance. The cornstalks, tall and stately now, were bending under the burden of a heavy crop. Dick was conscious only of a wonderful sense of well-being.

His legs did not ache at all. The hot dry sun of summer was helping him. He was better—he would soon be well again. Then he could do all the things that Raymond did so easily. He could prove to Uncle Henry and Elmer Ruden that he was no sissy. He could grow up to be a farmer the way Uncle Henry wanted him to. He could drive a tractor as well as Raymond, as well as Elmer could. He knew as much about a tractor as anybody. He would never tip one over again.

Looking ahead, he saw what looked to be a white newspaper lying in the road.

“Somebody must have dropped one,” he thought. “That's funny. Who would drop a newspaper in the road?”

When he came closer, near the bridge over the creek, he pulled up. He stopped the tractor and got off. He walked ahead to look. Then he saw that it was not a newspaper at all.

It was a little white dog lying there, with brown spots on its head. It was Popcorn, a beloved dog with dozens of nicknames—Shicklegruber, Twerp, Hot Dog, Dumb Do Do, Stubby Tail. He looked at his pet for a long time, but he could not go near him. Tears came to his eyes, but he brushed them away, saying aloud, “That's for babies!”

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