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Authors: Lois Lenski

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BOOK: Corn-Farm Boy
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“You should stay away from gopher traps,” he told Chippy. “I'm sorry I had to hurt you, but your leg will heal quicker now.”

Dick heard voices and the dogs' barking. A tractor came into the barnyard. He looked out and had a surprise. There was Mom driving, bringing in the wagonload of oats. She had a checked blouse and her slacks on. She wore a big straw hat. Raymond must have coaxed her out. Mom liked to go outdoors, but did not get the chance very often. She liked to brag about how strong she had been as a young woman. She could carry a bushel basket of oats on her shoulder; she could milk twenty cows.

The girls jumped off the oats wagon.

Dick decided he would not show them his new pet. He would not even tell them about Chippy. Yes—Chippy was a good name. He went back in and looked at his new pet. He decided Chippy was still too weak to have visitors. Margy came in for a minute.

“Hey, punkin,” Dick called. Before he knew it, he had told her.

“How do you know what to feed it?” asked Margy.

“I just guess at it,” said Dick. “I just follow my own notions.”

But Margy was not interested. She ran out again. Dick could hear the girls playing on the loading chute. They climbed over the sides, up through them and jumped off the high end. Both dogs, Buster and Popcorn, jumped with them. The girls laughed and squealed as they jumped.

“They're worse than pigs,” said Dick to himself, “the way they squeal.”

Dick remembered the sows going up the chute. Last week, after the young pigs had been weaned, Dad had sold the sows. They were all gone now—Susie and Grandma and Lady and Spotty and Mrs. Hog and the other unnamed ones. Dick had watched the men prodding them with poles and electric buzzers up this same loading chute and into the waiting truck. He had hated to see them go, knowing only too well their destination—the stockyard. They would soon be ham and bacon on breakfast tables all over the country.

Dick felt sick at the thought. Mom never guessed why he had stopped eating bacon for breakfast so suddenly. Dick could not tell anybody that he was homesick and lonesome for the old sows. How the kids would razz him if they knew! Nobody liked hogs—really
them and tried to understand them as he did. Everybody made fun of them, or thought of them in terms of weight and dollars. Dick puzzled about this. A hog could not help its shape or its habits. Why did it have to go through life the butt of jokes? Why was not a pig or a hog as good as any other animal? Why should it not receive the same care and understanding? Why was a hog always an outcast?

Dick heard the girls. They were in the hog lot now. What were they doing? Starting the chores? Not likely. Was Margy showing them the runt, Squeaky? Nobody but Dick could tell Squeaky from the other pigs now, she had grown so large. The boy heard giggles and laughter and loud screams from the girls. He heard the pigs squealing. What
they doing? Dick strolled out.

The pigs had been chased off to the farthest corner of the lot. There they were scratching their backs against the fence posts. Beside the hog-house, on the cement feeding floor, the girls were roller skating. They had only one pair of roller skates for the four of them. Donna Ruden had brought hers over. Donna and Wilma each had one roller skate on one foot. The other foot skated on two dried corncobs. Rita Hass and Margy were using two dried corncobs under each foot. It was fun. They placed a long row of cobs four inches apart, then, with arms outspread, started skating on them. The cobs rolled under their feet like rollers under a moving house and had to be constantly replaced. The girls fell often and jumped up laughing.

“I can ride as fast as they roll!” called Rita.

Before he knew it, Dick was laughing. He went to the barn and got out Raymond's old stilts. He would have some fun too. He came out on the stilts and surprised the girls by walking across the hog lot.

“See my new crutches!” he cried.

The girls laughed. Rita now had a red rubber ball that she was tossing to Popcorn. Dick went after the ball and gave it a sideswipe with his stilt whenever he could. At last he had a tumble. He fell on the rough thick bed of dry corncobs that covered the hog lot.

Wilma came running to see if he was hurt. But he got up, brushed himself off and said, “I've got to go see my chipmunk.”

?” cried Wilma. “You got a new pet, Dick?”

“Yes, he has,” piped up Margy, “and its name is Chippy.”

“Oh you, shut up, Sassy Brat!” scolded Dick.

“Are you talking to me or to Popcorn?” retorted Margy.

“To you, and you know it,” said Dick. “Guess what I did!”

All four girls were listening now.

“I amputated a chipmunk's leg.”

“You did?” cried Donna. “Oh, I don't believe you. Why didn't you let me watch?”

“Gee,” said Rita. “He talks just like a doctor.”

“‘Doctor Dick'! That's his nickname,” said Wilma.

“Hey, Doctor Dick,” demanded Rita. “You going to be a horse doctor?”

“I would be if there were a few horses around,” said Dick. “I'd rather doctor horses than machines. Come and I'll show you my new pet.”

“Oh, I don't want to see it,” said Rita. “Is it bloody? The sight of blood turns my stomach.”

Donna began to boast. “It doesn't bother me. I'm going to be a nurse when I grow up.”

“And take care of horses?” asked Margy.

“No, squirt—people,” said Donna.

They went in the barn and the girls crowded round. Dick opened the box and lifted Chippy up for them to see.

“Isn't he cute?” they said.

Dick was disgusted. “You girls think everything is
” he said.

“Will you teach him tricks, Doctor Dick?” asked Donna.

“His leg's got to heal first,” said Wilma. “Even I know that much.”

“Can Chippy sleep with me?” asked Margy.

The other girls laughed.

“No,” said Dick. “He's going to stay here in his box. As soon as the skin grows over his leg, I'll let him go. Chipmunks don't make good captives. He probably won't eat much in captivity. If I kept him too long, he would starve to death. It will be safe to let him go in about a week, I think. Then he can take care of himself.”

“Just hear that smart Doctor Dick!” giggled Rita. “He knows all about pets, don't he? But why bother with a pet, if you can only keep it a week?”

That night there was great excitement at the house. The girls cooked squaw corn for supper. They fried bacon in slices and put in onions for flavor, then added several cans of cream-style corn. When it was brown and sizzling hot, they served it on toast to the family. Even Mom said it was good.

After supper, the girls had a long argument about who was to sleep together. They changed the arrangement several times. Finally it was settled that Wilma and Donna would sleep on the floor downstairs instead of the folding couch on the porch. The floor was more fun! Margy and Rita would sleep in the girls' bed upstairs. Wilma set the alarm clock to go off at midnight, when they were all to get up and exchange places.

Mom and Dad and Raymond and Dick went to bed at the usual time. So did the girls, but not to sleep. There was a great deal of giggling and running around in bare feet. After Dad called out several times, the girls quieted down. But the alarm never went off at midnight, so they did not waken. Early the next morning, the girls on the floor downstairs heard a noise. Wilma got up and tiptoed into the kitchen.

“Come here Donna,” she cried. “It's Peter Rabbit—he's in the breadbox.” Donna came to see.

Wilma got the rabbit out and Peter went hip-hopping across the linoleum floor. The girls went back to bed. Donna felt something at her feet—and there was Peter. The girls took him in bed with them and his soft fur tickled their stomachs. They giggled.

Upstairs Rita heard the giggling. She pinched Margy and asked, “Are you awake?”

“Ye-s,” said Margy in a sleepy voice, half-awake.

“Hear those kids laughing down there?” asked Rita. “I want to find out what's going on.”

Rita sneaked down the stairs and Margy followed.

“It's Peter!” cried Rita. “He's in bed with them.”

The rabbit jumped out of the bed. Margy ran and caught him. With Peter in her arms, she ran up the stairs. Rita came behind her. The girls below made a fuss because their pet was taken away. Upstairs Margy and Rita took Peter in their bed, but he would not stay there. He hopped out into the hall. Just then they heard a door snap shut.

They went to look, but could not find the rabbit anywhere. They even looked in the hall closet, but he wasn't there. The girls downstairs did not have him either. Peter was gone.

“I know where he is,” said Margy. “He's in the boys' room. Dick's got him. Every pet I get, Dick always steals it.”

Rita and Margy pounded on Dick's door.

“O. K., Doctor Dick!” they cried “We'll get even with you.”

Just then Mom came to the bottom of the stairs and called, “Breakfast is ready, everybody!”


Picnic in the Grove

“Mom!” shouted Dick. “Here comes the grocery truck!”

“Help me get the eggs out, Dick,” said Mom.

Dick and his mother brought several cases of fresh eggs up from the cellar and took them out by the house-yard gate. The grocery truck drove in. It came once a week and was driven by two young men, Arlo and Leo Kibler, from a neighboring town. Mom did most of her trading with them, because she could not drive a car and go to town regularly.

“Hi, fellas!” cried Dick.

Arlo and Leo jumped down from the cab and opened up the three big doors on the side of the truck. The inside of the doors was lined with racks for groceries. On the roof of the truck were large square salt blocks for cattle, and an array of striped watermelons. Behind the cab was a refrigerated cabinet where perishables were carried.

“Buy me candy! Buy me an orange! Buy me an apple!” cried Margy.

“Run and get my vinegar jug, Dick,” said Mom.

Mrs. Hoffman looked over the groceries and picked out what she needed—spices, dried beans, lemons, rice, flour and canned goods. Leo counted the eggs she wanted to trade and figured out the cash she owed to settle the balance. Dick held up the gallon vinegar jug at the spigot of the four-foot vinegar barrel in the rear, while Arlo siphoned it off.

But Mom and Leo were looking over the watermelons. Leo picked out two large ones and guaranteed them ripe and sweet.

“For the picnic!” cried Dick. “Gee, you boys came just in time.”

Dick carried the watermelons to the cellar, while Mom and Margy took the groceries in the house. The grocery truck drove off to other farms down the road.

That night it was very hot and close, so no one slept much. As early as four-thirty in the morning the sun was shining brightly. Dad came to the foot of the stairs at five-thirty and called, “Dick! Raymond! Time to get up.” Dick shook himself awake and went out to help Raymond do the milking, while Dad did the morning chores. Popcorn ran up and down the stairs, barking loudly and waking everybody up.

“Oh, I'm so happy!” Margy went dancing around in her nightgown. “Today's the day of the picnic!”

“Go back upstairs and get dressed, Margy,” scolded Mom.

It was the Fourth of July. Uncle Henry and Aunt Etta and their children had come the evening before. Betsy and Patsy were twins, thirteen, Earl was nine and Denny three. They were to stay two days and two nights because Uncle Henry was taking his vacation. Mom put Uncle Henry and Aunt Etta on the folding cot on the porch, the twins took the boys' bed upstairs, and the boys had to sleep on the floor in the upper hall.

All morning everybody was bustling around, getting ready for the picnic. It was to be held in the only shady place—the grove. Mom made four pies—two pumpkin and two lemon. Wilma boiled potatoes and made potato salad. She helped Mom get all the other things ready. Betsy and Patsy tried to help, but were always in the way. Margy took Earl and Denny outside and played with them.

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