Monday, April 17, 2006

Living In The Past Again

Well Jay, I finally figured out the name of the song we used to sing in the back of the pickup truck. “Wild Thing” by The Troggs. There was another one also: “Lil Red Riding Hood” by Sam The Sham & The Pharoahs. It took several weeks but then I wasn’t concentrating on remembering the entire time. It’s best sometimes to allow these memories to arrive on their own without forcing the issue.

The nice thing about remembering is that it gives a date to the event. So many years from my past don’t have numbers in them. I remember events, I remember songs that were playing in the background when events happened. I’m terrible with dates though. So anytime a date can be verified is a personal triumph.

The year would have been 1966. We were 11 years old. The farm truck that carried us into town for baseball games was probably a ’57 Chevy Apache. Or was it a Ford? I perfectly aware of the differences, thank you. The problem is I was surrounded by farm trucks in those days—and rode in the back of most of them either on asphalt or dusty dirt back roads. The reason I put that year on the truck is the fact that only the bosses and owners drove new trucks. The farm hands that I grew up around drove older vehicles.

My Dad drove his ’48 Chevy fat fender until the early 70’s when he finally bought a newer used truck. Hauled cotton-trailers to the gin for all those years and never put a dent on it. 6-cylinder 216 engine. Probably put well over 300,000 miles on it. Cattle whip resting on the back of the seat. A tool box ever-present in the bed. There was probably never a time when you wouldn’t be able to find some baling wire in the back; no farm hand was ever without baling wire, one of the handiest repair tools ever.

One of the hands my dad worked with was “Ol’ Henry”. He drove a Studebaker pickup. Seventy years old and still working in the fields. He never minded being pestered by kids. He would brace on his omnipresent shovel and spit brown tobacco juice between sentences, raising little clouds of dust every time he spat.

Hobbs (his first name) was another hand that worked on the same farm with us for many years. Now Hobbs was one of the most interesting (and loved) characters of our out-of-the-way existence. A wiry man, he didn’t really dress like the typical farmhand, wearing cowboy boots instead of round toe boots. I only saw him a few times without his cowboy hat on. He spoke Spanish just as well as English and we always wanted him to speak more of it. Dad, being raised with the guttural German sounds, always admired the lilting smoothness of Spanish. The topper was, he always addressed us kids as “Mr. Lyndon” and “Miss Teresa” and such. No one else in my memory ever did that; we loved to see him show up on the yard knowing what his greeting was going to be.

Hobbs was also a colorful man. He smoked. He drank. He had a common-law wife. All of the things that were preached on weekly at our church. You wouldn’t know it though except for the rare incidents. The only time he ever missed any work was when he was waiting in jail for my dad to bail him out. And there were hints of an actual wife somewhere and a stormy marriage that may have been the reason for his travel to our neck of the woods. But all we ever saw was the gentleman who said “How’s it going today, Mr. Lyndon?”

God rest you Mr. Hobbs.


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