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Authors: Lois Lenski

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BOOK: Corn-Farm Boy
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He stood still, trying to sense what had happened. “Somebody ran over him, with a car or a truck,” he said. Was it one of the truckers? No, they had gone home before he started out. It was some car going by.

“They could have missed him!” he cried out in anguish. “
They just wanted to hit him!

Then suddenly, Dad was standing there beside him. He had walked past the white object in the road.

“I thought you must be in trouble,” said Dad. “I saw the tractor stopped out here. Did you get along all right?”

Dick sniffed once or twice. “Oh, sure,” he said.

“What's the matter, boy?” asked Dad.

“Look there.” Dick pointed.

“I saw it,” said Dad. “Too bad.” Mark Hoffman picked the dog's limp body up and laid it in the ditch. “I'll come back for him later. Hop on, I'll drive you back to the house.”

Dick hopped on the tractor and caught hold of the fender.

“We'll have to think of the others,” Dad said. “Don't break the news too quickly. They're fond of the dog too.” He started the motor.

Mom was waiting at the door. When she saw Dick's face, her heart fell. “Oh, I just knew something would happen,” she began. “Did you have an accident? Are you hurt? What's the matter?”

“I'm all right,” said Dick in a lifeless voice.

Mom turned to Dad. “What's he crying about?”

Dick turned angrily. “I'm not crying!” he said.

Wilma and Raymond and Margy all stood listening. Dad tried to tell them gently. Finally he had to come right out with the truth. “Oh, Popcorn's got run over,” he said.

The news stunned them all. Mom spoke first.

“Margy,” she said, “before Dick left, didn't you bring Popcorn in the house like he told you to?”

“Yes,” said Margy. “Popcorn jumped up on the table and watched Dick go. Then he ran to the door and whined, so I let him out.”

There was no use scolding Margy now. It was too late.

“He must have followed you, Dick,” said Mom sadly. “He always liked to be with you.”

“I'll go out and bury him,” said Dad. “Want to come along, Dick?”

“No,” said Dick. “
And don't tell me where.

Wilma ran upstairs crying. Raymond began to talk about the rats and mice Popcorn had caught at the corncrib.

Uncle Henry breezed in just before he left to go to town. Dick was lying on the couch on the porch.

“Well!” said Uncle Henry. “I'm proud of you, Dick! It takes your old Uncle Henry to manage things. If I were around here all the time, I'd make a man of you yet. You could be driving that tractor all the time and be a big help to your Dad.”

“He's not old enough to be a hired man, Henry Shumaker!” said Mom with spirit. “And when he is, you'll pay him for his work.”

“Why, Bertha, he drove that tractor to town as well as any man could do it,” said Uncle Henry. “Brought it home without a scratch on it.”

“What did you expect him to do, bring it home in pieces?”

“Now, Bertha,” began Uncle Henry. “I'm only saying I'm proud of the boy. What's wrong with that?”

Dad came back in. He had heard Uncle Henry's loud voice. He took Uncle Henry in the front room and told him what had happened.

Uncle Henry came back, filled with apologies and solicitude. He sat on a chair by the porch couch and told Dick how sorry he was. He asked him, “Can I get you a new dog? How would you like a boxer? Or a Dalmatian?”

Dick shook his head.

“I'll tell you what,” said Uncle Henry. “Now that I've sold my corn, I'll have a little extra spending money. How would you like a bicycle—a nice big new one, with all the latest trimmings?”

Dick thought for a minute. Then he spoke “No one can love a machine like the flesh and blood of a puppy.”

“You don't want a bike then?” asked Uncle Henry.

“No,” said Dick. “Nor your tractor either. I don't ever want to drive it again.”

CHAPTER X

Market Day

“When do we start?” cried Margy, jumping up and down.

“At six-thirty in the morning,” said Mom. “We'll have to get up at five to get the chores and the milking done before we go.”

“And we'll stay all day?” asked Margy.

“Yes, it will be late when we come home,” said Mom.

To sell or not sell the hogs had been a big question. Every day Dad listened to the market prices quoted on the radio. In August the price of hogs had dropped, so Dad decided to hold them until it went up again. Now, in the last week of September, Dad and Uncle Henry decided to sell, and the truckers had come with the trucks.

Outside by the hog-house, Dick and Wilma were helping to load. The March hogs were fat and sleek now and up to market weight. To push them, Dick had been feeding them an extra ration of soaked corn morning, noon and night. Every day Dick had watched them grow fatter.

The truck stood ready by the loading chute, but the hogs were contrary as usual. Buster barked loudly while Wilma and Dick herded them into the hog-house, where they were penned in a small place as near the chute as possible. Then Dad opened the door so they could go right up the chute. But it was no easy task. The hogs did not want to go. They wanted to dash back to the hog lot and clover pasture. Did they love their home and hate to leave it? Dick wondered.

A trucker came up with an electric buzzer and after a touch or two, the hogs began to move. Another trucker came over with a six-foot pole to prod them.

“You don't need to hit them,” shouted Dick. “See! They're going up all right.”

Dad had a piece of soft harness leather in his hand. He slapped the hogs gently as they passed by. Dick mopped the perspiration from his forehead. Which one was Squeaky? Where was she? He could not find her. She was as big as the others now and they all looked alike. Crowded side by side in the truck, squealing loudly, he could not tell one from the other. Perhaps it was just as well. He did not want to see her anyway.

When both trucks were filled, twenty-five to thirty hogs in each, the drivers drove away. The yard seemed empty and quiet when they were gone. The hogs would have a night journey to the stockyard.

The next morning, the whole family was up at daylight. “Market day”—a trip to the stockyards in Sioux City—was a special occasion, a family occasion. The cows were milked and turned out to pasture, chickens fed and watered and feed for the day put out. The younger hogs left behind were fed and watered. Breakfast over, the family changed clothes. Dad put on a new work shirt and overalls. He was afraid he might ruin his good cloth suit while handling the hogs. Mom and the girls put on their dress-up clothes. They wanted to look well dressed in the city. The boys wore freshly ironed shirts, clean dungarees and jackets.

It was a forty-mile drive and Margy thought they would never get there. Sioux City looked enormous to her when they reached it at last. Margy had never been to the big city before. She began to ask questions. Why were the houses so close together? Why were the stores so tall? Where were all the people going? Mom laughed and had a hard time answering.

Dick kept telling her, “This is a
city
, Margy. This is a
city.

Dad drove into the city from the east. He had to cross two bridges over the Floyd River, a tributary of the Missouri. Dad spoke of the floods of the previous spring.

“Every trucker has to watch the rainfall,” he said. “He doesn't want to be caught on the wrong side of the river with a load of stock. He may be marooned at an oil station for days before he can cross the bridge. That's no fun.”

“Where's the stockyard?” asked Dick.

“It's located right between the two rivers,” said Dad, “the muddy Mo and the Floyd. They just try to drown out the yards every spring at high-water time. Sometimes the truckers have to drive through water up to the hubcaps on their wheels to get here.”

“I suppose the river is always trying to reclaim its old channel bed,” said Mom.

“That old Missouri is always flooding,” said Raymond. “Remember last spring?”

“Oh, don't talk about those terrible floods,” said Wilma.

The Exchange building to the south loomed up large as they drove toward it. Meat packing plants could be seen across the Floyd River. Cattle yards were on the right, and beyond them the sheep barns.

“Is
that
it?” asked Margy, pointing.

“Can't you
smell
it?” asked Dick, teasing.

“Is that where we're going?” Margy went on. “I thought we were going in a store to buy me a new dress.”

Mom laughed. “We'll have to sell the hogs first.”

“You can call it your
hog dress!
” said Wilma, laughing.

“Are you going to get a new
hog shirt
, Dick?” asked Margy.

“I don't know,” said Dick. “Ask Mom.”

Dick and Raymond were excited by seeing trucks on all sides, loaded with stock. There were trucks filled with cattle, sheep and hogs going in and empty ones coming out. There were tractors hauling hay in to feed bunks. The air was filled with a combination odor of soap, hay, barnyard manure and chemicals. Dad drove into a special parking place for out-of-town patrons. A man with a cane indicated where he should go. They all got out.

“We made it,” said Dad, looking at his watch. “I told Uncle Henry we would be here by eight o'clock.”

They went into the Exchange building and waited for a while, but Uncle Henry did not come.

“He must be waiting for us in the hog barn,” said Dad. “Let's go out there.”

“I'll stay here in the lounge,” said Mom, “until you get through and can take us downtown. It's dirty out there—and we have good clothes on.”

Mom hung back, but Dad coaxed her. “Come on, Bertha,” he said. “Come and see our hogs for the last time.”

“Well—as for me,” said Wilma, “I won't waste any tears over them.”

“We'll take the catwalk,” said Dad. “It leads to the hog barn.”

“I want to walk on the catwalk,” said Margy. “Do they sell
cats
here too?”

Everybody laughed.

They all started up the stairway and followed a covered passage, high enough for trucks to pass underneath. From this elevated boardwalk, with a railing on each side, they could look down on hundreds of pens of cattle. Waves of noise hit their ears—the bawling of cattle, calves and steers, the squealing of hogs, the bleating of sheep and the shouting of men. All was noise and confusion.

“Is this the catwalk?” asked Margy. “Will the cats chase me?”

But no one paid attention to her, there was so much to see. Below them in the cattle yards, men in bright wool jackets and knee boots, riding sleek riding horses, with whips in hand, were driving cattle through alleys into pens. Men's voices calling “Hi-yah!” “Hi-yah!” echoed back and forth. The cattle lowered their heads, dodged this way and that, but finally entered their numbered pens. It was like a rodeo in miniature.

“Say, Dick,” said Raymond, “let's you and me stay here and watch the cattle. Say—they sure are bringing in some beauties. Look at that bunch. Those'll be
prime
and top the market sure.”

“I want to see our hogs sold,” said Dick.

“Aw, stay here with me,” begged Raymond. “What do you want to go in that stinking hog barn for?”

“I've
got
to see our hogs sold, I told you,” said Dick. “I'll go with Dad.”

“I'll stay with you, Raymond,” said Wilma. “I'm sick of hogs. And I can keep my clothes clean up here.”

Mom, Dick and Margy followed Dad. They entered the second floor of the roofed-over cement hog barn and walked through a long alley. All hogs were received on the ground floor, and kept there over night until assigned to pens upstairs. Dick noticed a large sign and read it aloud:

“USE CANVAS SLAPPERS

Leave canes, whips, clubs in office.

Refrain from kicking hogs.

Use poles only for sorting.

Prevent bruises. Save Meat.

That sounds like you talking, Dad,” said Dick. “Those truckers of ours had buzzers and poles. They ought to get canvas slappers to use.”

“Bruised meat brings a lower price,” said Dad.

“How do you know where to go, Dad?” asked Dick. “How can you ever find our hogs when there are so many thousands of them?”

Dick stared at the strange hogs in pens on all sides. More and more hogs were being driven in from incoming trucks.

“I'll find ours,” said Dad. He located a man from his commission company who told him where to go.

“Here they are,” said Dad, “but Uncle Henry is not here.”

“Are these ours?” asked Dick.

“Henry promised to be here at eight sharp,” said Dad. “We had forty miles to drive and he comes only half as far. Yet we beat him.”

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