Monday, July 19, 2010

The Bull & The Potato Masher

In the early 1980s, around 80-81, my family and I lived in a little house up Johnson Holler near Franklin, WV. It was the only time in my life I'd lived in the eastern side of Pendleton County. I had not yet started kindergarten, and was only around 4 years old.

The house we lived in was above the natural spring about a hundred feet, just past the fence and gate where the timber rattlers sat coiled on the rocks. They had bodies sometimes ten feet long and heads the size of a man's fist. The house had no running water, except when it rained, and then it came pouring through the kitchen ceiling. On drier days my mother and Aunt Tam, who lived with us, would carry water up the hill from the crick below the house.

There was a giant apple tree in the backyard that my brother and I played under with our dogs, Boney and her puppies. Mom said we often had more fleas than the dogs, but when you're 4 and 3 years old you don't notice. There was also an old cellar that I didn't like to go into because there were giant spiders and snakes inside it, and an outhouse no one would use because it was full of giant black centipedes.

It sounds rather hellish, and in some ways it was not ideal. Like most places though, we made it our home with creativity and talent - and one thing we did have was a beautiful garden. Rows and rows of corn, beans, tomatoes, cucumbers - all to be harvested in their time and canned for winter. The fence around the garden was as run down and old as the house, but my father and his brothers had fixed it up the best they could to keep the neighbor's cows out of it. It worked, mostly.

One specific memory I have is when my brother and I were playing under the front porch of the house (it was built high because of the slant of the hillside, so there was room under it for us to play in the dirt). We were having a high old time, when we suddenly heard my mother screaming and yelling cuss words like a drunken sailor. We ran around the corner of the house, and there was Mom running out into the garden. Apparently the neighbor's bull had broken through the fence and was eating the beans.

But there went my mother, potato masher in hand (she'd been making mashed potatoes for dinner) into the garden screaming and cussing that bull. Of course the bull didn't pay any attention to her yelling and cussin', but he sure did notice when Mom whacked him across the rear with that potato masher!

With a beller and a snort, that bull ran out of the garden, with Mom still chasing and cussin' him. It was a true David and Goliath moment. She'd saved the garden - and the fence was fixed later that evening where the bull had broken in. I asked why Aunt Tam didn't help Mom chase out the bull, and that was when I found out about my aunt's cow phobia. And still I ask, "Why would anyone be afraid of a cow?"

I'm not sure what happened to the original, but years ago I bought myself a similar potato masher that I keep in my home office/library. The picture above shows what it looked like. You might expect that to be in my kitchen, but I think it fits better among the books - because it too is carrying one heck of a good story!

2 comments:

Matthew Burns said...

I think it is a stretch to call that enclosure around the garden a fence! But other than that, this is exactly how I remember it. I think Aunt Donna has the "bull" potato masher now.

Jason Burns said...

I was unaware that Donna had the masher. I'd expected it to have been lost/destroyed by now. Interesting. And yes I agree about the fence. Mom, Dad, and I went up Johnson Holler on this past 4th of July and there's not much left of the place. The house is completely fallen down, the cellar is all but gone, and there's maybe three fence posts left around what was the garden. About the only thing that still looks the same is the big old apple tree.