November 22, 2014

PLACES I’VE PLAYED: When good boys do bad things

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By Bill Skiff

THE APRICOT ADVENTURE

My buddy’s grandmother was a wonderful cook. She baked delicious pies. My favorite was apricot.

Grandma used dried apricots for her pies; she kept them in a glass jar with a tin screw top. The jar was stored in her pantry. We were not allowed in the pantry—for good reasons.

One day, we developed a strong hankering for dried apricots. We shinnied up the porch pole, crawled across the floor, opened up the pantry window and climbed in. After filling our pockets with the dried fruit, we reversed the process and headed for the barn to devour our spoils. After a while, the dryness of the fruit gave us a huge thirst. We went to the watering trough for a drink. Our stomachs were soon filled with cool spring water.

One does not have to be a chemist to know what happens when dried apricots are combined with spring water: soon our stomachs were so tight you could play Drums Along the Mohawk on them.

As we rolled around on the ground in pain we experienced the price of breaking and entering.

THE LAUNDRY LESSON

The wife of Dad’s hired man was mean—at least, as 8-year-olds we thought she was. She lived in the tenement house next to ours. My buddy and I liked to walk through her yard on our way to the sugarhouse. She would yell and scream and tell us to stay away from her house and her yard. It made us mad.

One day, as we watched her leave the driveway our eyes drifted over her yard. We spotted her newly washed sheets hanging on the line. We had the idea that perhaps another laundering might be in order. We walked over, pulled the cloths off the line and threw them in the brook. Then we stomped them down to the bottom where they came to rest among the mud and stones.

After the second laundering, we ran into the barn, climbed up into the hay mow and hid. As we sat there joyfully, fear crept in, as we knew it was only a matter of time before Mother’s voice would pronounce our fate. It came: “Billy, you come down here right now, and I mean right now.” Mother could dish out quick and timely justice.

We learned it is better to leave drying laundry alone than to get hung out to dry together.

 

SUGAR SHACK SIGHTINGS

One summer, I had a job working for Jimmy Beard who owned a hardware store in Jeffersonville.  Jimmy hired me to stock shelves and wait on customers. I received $10 a week for my services.

When payday came, I never seemed to have any money to take home. I always needed to pay off a bill for some item I had purchased during the week. One week it was a Remington 22 rifle.

I became a good shot—and was always looking for new targets. One day, I began taking interest in an air vent that protruded out of our hen house roof. The angle provided a challenge, but soon I could hit it with regularity. Not the safest target in the world, but it was fun hearing the ping as the vent was contacted.

One day, I decided to play army. I went up on the hill and dug myself a WWII foxhole. Then, I sighted across the hill at the smokestack of the sugarhouse. It was a long way away, but I had seen John Wayne do it. He sighted his rifle to allow the bullet to travel in an arc to reach the target.

After a few practice rounds, and some angle adjustment, I could hit the stack most of the time. It was fun to hear the sound of the rifle followed by a few seconds of silence before the ping as the smoke stack was penetrated—again, not the safest target in the world.

All went well until sugaring season came around. One rainy day while Dad was boiling, he noticed the sugarhouse roof was leaking. When he looked up, he saw a series of small holes around the base of the smokestack. It didn’t take Dad long to put two and two together and come up with 22.

Another month spent in purgatory, to say nothing of losing the use of my favorite rifle for the summer.

 

SKUNK SCENTS

Like most farmers in the 1940s and ‘50s, we piled our trash in the shed during the winter and took it out in the spring. One day, I noticed a skunk was living in the shed. He was crawling all around looking for food. I decided to use my new 22 to eliminate the problem.

As I sneaked into the shed, I saw him about to crawl into a small barrel. I crept up the stairs leading to the storage room and looked down. There he was checking out a morsel of food. I aimed my rifle down and fired. I missed—but he didn’t.

They say if you get sprayed by a skunk in the face it improves your eyesight. I can vouch for that: I could still see all those people standing so far away from me.

I ate my supper in the barn that night (Mother wouldn’t let me in the house). I had to throw away all my clothes, including my Johnson breeches. I suffered through a couple of baths in some combination of tomato juice, and, I think, kerosene. I also was not popular at school for a few days. Who would want to go to a dance with a skunk?

They say let sleeping dogs lie—I say that goes for skunks, too.

Bill Skiff grew up on a farm between Cambridge and Jeffersonville. After a career in education, he now lives in Williston, where he is a justice of the peace and Fourth of July frog-jumping official. In “Places I’ve Played,” he shares his experiences of growing up in Vermont. Comments are welcome at [email protected]


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