Our nearest neighbors on the Goding Road were the Porter family which was comprised of five children and a mother. It was generally rumored around town that each child had a different father but that didn't matter much to us kids. We were just happy to have some other kids to play or fight with other than our own brothers and sisters.
|Martha Stevens-David with her first of three books: 'Autobiography of a Simple Soul'.|
It was a love, hate relationship at best. We would get along quite well for a while and then someone from one side or the other would do or say something the other ones didn't like and the war would be on. I remember one particular disagreement as though it happened yesterday and it will stay locked in my memory till the day I die because of my part in it.
It was a sultry, August day in Aroostook County and the yellow and black striped bumblebees were buzzing through the waist high grass looking for late summer flowers. The sky overhead was a clear, crisp blue and off to the west, the beginnings of thunder clouds were gathering on the hazy horizon. My two brothers, Jake, Bub and Helen and I had agreed to meet with Annie, Donnie and Dickie Porter in Uncle Hal's unmown hay field, halfway between their house and ours.
In this field, directly behind our house, there grew a weed that we'd named "Indian Tobacco." Nobody rightly knew what it really was but it grew about four feet high and at this time of the year, it turned a dark, reddish brown and was covered with hundreds of dried, flat, brown seeds. My brothers, Jake and Bub, used to strip off the dried seeds, put them into pieces of paper, usually torn out pages of a catalog or one of Uncle Hal's fishin magazines and roll them up and smoke them. On this day, Jake and Bub had agreed to show Donnie, Dickie and Annie how to smoke this "tobacco" in their homemade corn cob pipe.
At the appointed time, the three of them came running through the tall grass to meet us in the field behind our house and we all sat down on the dry ground near the Indian tobacco plant. Jake, being the oldest and most experienced in smoking, grabbed the plant and broke off a piece. He pulled the dark brown weed quickly through his fingers and stripped off all the rusty brown seeds which were clinging to the withered stalk. He cupped his left hand and deftly dropped the palmful of seeds into the bowl of the corn cob. Then he pressed his thumb down into the bowl of the pipe and packed in more of the seeds.
With much production, he lit a match and stuck it into the pipe and sucked on the stem a couple of times. The crudely, carved bowl of the pipe glowed a deep red as the dry seeds caught fire and burned. He let the sulfurous looking, yellow smoke curl out of the corner of his mouth and up around the edge of his freckled-spattered nose as if smoking a pipe was the easiest thing in the world to do.
However, if we'd looked at him more closely, we would have noticed the tears gathering in the corners of his bright, blue eyes. This "tobacco" was ungodly strong and usually after having tried it once or twice, most kids in our neck of the woods didn't care to try it again!
Donnie was very impatient to learn how to smoke and he reached out, wrenched the pipe out of Jake's hand and immediately thrust the stem into his mouth. He didn't hesitate even for an instant to get used to the stuff and he took an extra long pull on the pipe. As his unaccustomed lungs filled with the burning, acrid smoke, a look of complete horror came over his face and in an effort to expel the choking smoke from his lungs and trying desperately to catch his breath, he dropped the pipe on the dry ground. He fell into a violent fit of coughing and retching and after a few minutes, with tears streaming down his face, Donnie sat up, spat a mouthful of saliva into the grass and wiped his mouth on the back of his arm.
Jake and Bub, having been down that road many times before, were bent double with laughter and this made Donnie furious. He grabbed the still smoking pipe, stood up and heaved it away into the tall, dry grass that surrounded us and then he stood there glaring down at the rest of us. Jake, finally stopped laughing and looked at him and then we realized that flinging the pipe into the grass had been a terrible mistake. The pipe was still lit and it would be like looking for a needle in a hay field. We all stood up and shielding our eyes against the glare of the mid-day sun, scanned the grass filled land around us.
It didn't take us long to find it though because a little puff of smoke told us exactly where it had fallen. We all raced towards it but it was already too late. The fire, whipped by gusts of the westerly wind, spread with amazing speed. We began stamping furiously trying to put it out before it spread further and after what seemed like an eternity, we finally succeeded in extinguishing it. We threw ourselves down in the charred grass, wiped the sweat from our faces and tried to catch our breath.
"Jayus Donnie, that was smart, real smart!" Jake snarled. "Yah nearly burned down all of Uncle Hal's hayfield!" "Well, why didn't yah tell me that the tobacco was so friggin strong?" Donnie demanded. It was jist about then that we heard a yell from the direction of our house and we knew we were in deep caca.
Our kitchen window overlooked the field we were in and the smoke had not gone unnoticed by mother. She came out of the house on a dead run with a broom handle in her hand and demanded to know what tha hell we were doing. We all took off in separate directions with the Porter kids heading for home as fast as their legs could carry them. My brothers headed for Les Page's apple orchard and that left my sister, Helen and me to go home to give mother the "good" news about what we had been doing when the fire started.
We walked slowly because we knew what was going to happen when we got there. To put it this way, mother believed in the old adage, "Spare the rod, spoil the child! She didn't spare the rod and we weren't spoiled either!
When Jake and Bub finally ambled home later on that afternoon and had received their just reward, we all agreed that if it hadn't been for Donnie, we wouldn't have been in this friggin predicament. Mother had so many kids that she never grounded us to the house but she sure had tanned our little butts till they glowed in tha moonlight!
We'd already had our punishment but it would take at least a week, before the Porter's got theirs. We didn't have a phone and neither did they and our mothers usually only got to see each other once a week when they went grocery shopping into town on Saturdays. It was decided by all us Stevens' that we had to have some kind of revenge and we set about planning it to the nth degree.
We thought and thought about how to exact the ultimate revenge and it was me who finally came up with the best idea. I think that the world leaders could have taken diplomacy lessons from us because we decided to propose a false peace not unlike many currently being used by feuding nations around the world today.
Our family well was located about five hundred feet down a narrow path in a field from our house and we'd built a small shack near it with pieces of wood stolen from the Newell Smith barn next door. Jake and Bub had found an old oil drum and they "borrowed" some of dad's tools to cut an opening in the top of the drum to stick the stove pipe in. Next, they cut a large rectangular hole in the front of the barrel to stick the wood into and we had ourselves a pretty reliable wood burning stove.
We scrounged around in McNally's dump and came up with enough pots and pans so that we could light a fire and actually cook some food. Because Uncle Hal's potato fields were all around us, stolen potatoes were our main ingredients to cook with.
On rainy days, after we'd driven our mother half crazy, we'd go down to our shack. The boys would sneak off to Uncle Hal's field and steal enough potatoes for me to make potato soup. Or, mimicking Mother, I'd peel and slice them and cook them on top of the barrel stove until they were crisp and brown, sprinkle a little salt on and we were good to go. We ate them until they came out of our ears and considered them to be the most delicious food we'd ever tasted.
The Pentagon had nothing on us when it came to planning an attack either. We had everything figured out right down to the smallest detail the night before and just before lunch the next day, we sent Bub up the road to the Porter's house. It was his job to convince them to come down to our shack to eat "peace" soup with us because we missed them and we were really sorry and we wanted to bury the hatchet.
Once Bub was on his way through the tall grass to the Porter's, I went to our house to get some salt, pepper, onions and a piece of salt pork from mother. I filled a battered old pot half full of water, then diced the potatoes and onions and added them to the pot along with the salt, pepper and the piece of salt pork. When these were nearly done, I added a cup of macaroni and we had what mother had always called "poor man's soup." Even though the ingredients were rather simple, it really was quite delicious. However, on this particular day, to exact our final retribution, I decided that we should add one extra ingredient, a dried, minced up dog turd.
When the soup was about done, I poured half of the soup into one beat up aluminum pot and put it on the back of the barrel. That soup was to be "ours." I next chopped up the dried dog turd into very small pieces and added it to the rest of the soup. I placed this chipped blue enamel pot back on the stove next to our pot to let it simmer. This pot of soup was to be "theirs."
Jake went to keep watch and it wasn't too long before we saw four heads heading in our direction through the tall grass. Jake let out a whoop of joy when he saw the Porter's with Bub and he came running to let me know that everything was going exactly as planned.
I ran into the shack and poured the "good" soup into a chipped blue bowl and set it on the table. Then, I went outside and told Jake that the blue bowl was for us and the soup still in the pot was for our "enemy." Jake looked at me with his blue eyes shinin and nodded that he understood, then we went outside to greet our arriving guests.
We stood around and made small talk for a few minutes and then, as arranged, Jake went into the shack to get the soup. He came out with three chipped cups and handed one to Annie, Donnie and Dickie. Then he went to get ours. We all slurped and chewed and sat anxiously watching to see if they noticed anything "different" about their soup.
Everything went as we had planned. They slurped down the soup and said it was delicious and could they have some more. It was then that Jake, his bright, blue eyes sparkling with excitement and revenge, danced around in front of the Porters and announced what we had done. It had the desired effect! The Porters jumped up and threw down their cups! They staggered around clutching their stomachs and gagging. We all yelled and shouted joyously, very happy in our triumph over our enemy. Jake and Bub danced round and round them chanting, "Froggy ate ah dog turd!" "Froggy ate ah dog turd!"
After the Porters had staggered off through the tall grass towards home with threats of retaliation trailing in the air behind them, we collapsed onto the ground in fits of laughter. My brother Jake looked at me with a wide grin on his freckled face and said, "Boy Toots, that was the best idea ever! I'm so glad you thought of it! I couldn't wait to give them that blue, bowl of soup!" At first, I wasn't sure of what I'd just heard and I looked at him in horror as the impact of his words sunk in. He looked at me and the grin faded from his freckled face. "Yah did say to give them the blue bowl of soup didn't yah?" I gasped and shuddered and shook my head. Jake, the excitement quickly fading from his eyes, looked at me and said. "Oh Jaysus Toots; you mean we drank tha wrong soup? Ours was tha one with the dog turd in it?" I nodded, too nauseated to speak. His face suddenly turned white and the freckles stood out on his nose and cheeks. We sat and looked solemnly at one another. Our little sister Helen, looked at us with her big brown eyes and asked in a trembling voice, "Are we gonna die?" But we didn't have an answer for her.
We spent the rest of the afternoon down at the shack, drinking vast amounts of cold water from the pump, discussing the pros and cons of telling our mother what we'd done. It's very difficult to go to your mother who was well-known for killing you first and askin questions later and say. "Um, Mother, I was, ah, wonderin, what would happen if you accidentally, um you know, happened to eat some dog shit?" You'd have to be crazy right?
We finally decided against telling her what we had done because we figured our chances were better of not dying from eating dog shit but if we told our mother what we'd done to her best friend's kids, we certainly would die because she'd kill us!
"Anyway," Jake reasoned, "There can't be too much that can happen to us. We might have a stomach ache or the runs for a couple of days." After all, hadn't we jist spent several weeks down ta Aunt Cassie's shoveling cow manure on her garden plot? If the cow manure hadn't killed her when she ate the cucumbers without washing them first, then we'd be all right too, we figured.
Need-less-to-say, it was a very subdued bunch of kids who finally straggled home for supper that night. Mother took one look at us and our decided lack of appetite and commented to Dad, "I sure hope they aren't all coming down with a bug of some kind!" If she only knew!
Martha Stevens-David Column Magic City
The Most Recently Republished Articles include:
The Manure Spreader
Childrens Stories include:
See also Vengeance is Mine a short mystery novel published at Magic City over 4 days.
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