When I was a little boy, I used to follow Uncle Curt through the rows as he plowed. He had a huge work horse named Huey P. Long that you could plow without lines he understood the commands so well: get up, gee, haw, whoa and back up.
Uncle Curt delighted in snatching horse flies off Huey P. Long’s rump. It was a sight to behold for a young boy to observe the skill my uncle plied as he captured the pests and sent them to bug heaven with a snap. Uncle Curt hated horse flies more than the devil hates conversions and the big horse seemed deeply grateful for his master’s diligence.
I really liked it when we got to the end of the last row, because my uncle would pick me up and put me on Huey P. Long’s broad back. My legs went almost straight out. He would disconnect the plow and leave it under a little shed at the edge of the patch and I would ride the big horse all the way back to the barn, where Uncle Curt would disassemble the complicated harness. I would sit on a hay block while Huey P. Long got toweled off and brushed out. He would also get a little reward--a coffee can half full of sweet smelling feed.
Then, my uncle and I would sit on the front porch of the dog trot house (the kind of dwelling with a breezeway through the middle of it) and cool off. Aunt Sarah, Uncle Curt’s sister who lived with him, since both their mates were deceased, would bring us each a glass of cool water and a fruit jar full of watermelon hearts from the icebox. This refreshment was welcome after a long spell in the Louisiana sun. Uncle Curt would take off his straw hat and empty the sweet gum leaves he kept in it as insulation and fan us both with it.
Uncle Curt was a talker. I remember listening to adult conversations between him, my parents, and a couple of aunts. These people knew politics, baseball and scripture very well. They listened to news programs regularly and read the newspaper front to back. They could even recount what happened to Dagwood or the Katzenjammer Kids in the funnies.
Once on the way home after a visit, I asked Mother how far Esconcern was from the farm. “What, child? How far is what.” I explained that I kept hearing Uncle Curt and other relatives say “As far as Esconcern.” Then Mother got it. “No, son, we are saying, ‘as far as that’s concerned’.” I appreciated the clarification, but never understood the functionality of such an expression in a conversation. I preferred my vision of the city of Esconcern, perhaps just over the Texas border.
Uncle Curt died of cancer in a nursing home in Haynesville, Louisiana when I was a young adult. We went to visit not long before he passed away, and he was just as talkative as ever, and just as knowledgeable about news and sports. When he looked into my eyes that day, I knew that this enemy of horse flies was going far away, even beyond Esconcern.
Daniel G. Ford, Ph. D.