YES SIR, ONCE UPON A COW

Papa, Pop-Pee & Mr. W

Papa had very little free time when he was still actively working full time on the farm. It was truly an “early to bed and early to rise” with a couple meals in between life which occupied his days. As his life’s progression pressed upon him and an unofficial retirement was thrust upon him, boredom sought to become his companion. He spent many long hours sitting on our front porch with only the positioning of his arms and head changing periodically. Sometimes he’d sit upright with his hands clasped behind his head, looking off into the distance seeing something I either couldn’t see or was not allowed to see. Other moments he’d sit with his clasped hands resting on his thighs with his head bowed. I’d asked him once if he was praying or if he was sad and he’d pull me inside his arms and say, “neither.” He’d say he was “just studying on things.” I wish now that I had pressed him on what things he was studying. The conversations we might have had if I had been older and had the foresight to enter into what could have been wisdom-filled conversations.

Apparently, Mother had been watching Papa, (her father), studying also. She had the wisdom and forethought that most loving mothers and daughters possessed. Somehow, without asking she diagnosed and prescribed the prefect solution to Papa’s doldrums and she did so without ever saying a word to him or asking his permission because he would have surely vetoed her machinations. Papa had begun to sink deeper into loneliness and isolation. One would think that loneliness automatically sought company, but too often it is quite the opposite. As loneliness becomes a constant in life, it seems to create a natural vacuum of isolation and that isolation becomes a door in which to hide behind or to keep others away. Mother was simply unmatched in reading the needs of those she loved. So, her solution was to call Pop-Pee and invite him to spend the morning indulging in all the coffee and Pound Cake he could handle while whiling away the morning playing Dominoes with Papa.

Pop-Pee & Mr. W

Pop-Pee was the most prickly, grumpiest, lovable little curmudgeon ever to travel the Piney Woods. Born 57 years before me, we were equals in our desire to keep all out except for some family and close friends. Neither of us cared much about making new friendships and was ill at ease with strangers, well, I was ill at ease whereas Pop-Pee simply preferred not to be bothered. A man of very few words but spoke volumes with his expressions. However, none of those expressions said, “Let’s get to know each other.” If he had not known you or your family for decades, there was no need for him to get know you. Even though he wasn’t easy to get to know, once you were reluctantly allowed to crawl underneath his heart, you belonged to him. Standing just barely Five feet four inches, with rich, dark brewed coffee-colored skin, Pop-Pee was a walking, talking enigma.

It was an exercise in futility to attempt to win an argument with Pop-Pee, simply because he wouldn’t argue. He had one pat expression that closed all attempts at reasoning, “No such a thing!” If there was anything or statement of which he did not agree, he would simple utter that phrase and the conversation, for all intents and purposes, was over. No matter the correctness or the logic, it did not matter to Pop-Pee, it was simply, “No such a thing.” The good Lord himself might surely have been stymied and confounded by his own little servant’s resoluteness and outright stubbornness. But stubbornness and all aside…Pop-Pee was my very dear friend. Afterall, how many five-year olds could boast of having had such a wonderful relationship with their very own leprechaun?

Pop-Pee had an insatiable love of all things sweet. His favorite meal replacement was a Honey Bun, which is a fried yeast pastry, containing cinnamon and a sugary glaze. Vanilla ice cream and Pound cake elbowed for second place in his junk food life. Each of these items contained more than a fair share of dairy products, either eggs, milk or butter…none of which Pop-Pee, supposedly, would allow past his lips! So, it was with a smile of resolution when we would serve him heaping helpings of Foremost ice cream sitting atop an inch-thick slice of Mother’s heavily egg and butter laden Pound cake. Everyone else within our family accepted this idiosyncrasy of Pop-Pee’s, everyone except me. I was the child Mother always described as one who would argue with a signpost; my response to that was, “But, Mother, if the signpost is wrong, shouldn’t we argue?” Well, Pop-Pee was my living and breathing signpost. You could present a fact, but the signpost would not change itself, neither would Pop-Pee.

“Pop-Pee, this cake has 10 eggs and a pound of butter,” I challenged him once. “No such a thing,” he answered. “Yes Sir, it does. I got them from the hen house yesterday for Mother and she put them all in the cake!” “No such a thing!” “And Pop-Pee, there’s milk in the ice cream.” “No such a thing,” he had mumbled while shoveling another spoonful of cake and ice cream into his mouth. I don’t know which one of us was more exasperated with the other. Ten out of ten times I would finally just stare at him with all manner of disrespectful thoughts filling my head and he would sit and smile his very tight and contained smile while meeting my stare head on. In all the years that I’d known Pop-Pee, I had never known him to lose himself in laughter, but he always had an ever-present, mischievous twinkle in his eyes. He lovingly put up with me being five and I accepted that he was just addle-minded where butter, milk and eggs were concerned but that bit of oddness was not enough to toss him aside, actually it made me adore him all the more, he changed for no one. We loved each other, that Old Man and me.

I didn’t know Mr. W as well as I knew Pop-Pee but since Pop-Pee allowed him into his small circle of friends then he was O.K. with me. Mr. W was tall and slender, at least he was taller than both Papa and Pop-Pee. Mr. W had a complexion almost completely opposite of Pop-Pee’s, and that was about the extent of my knowledge of him. He was the quietest one of the three and had what I considered to be a sadness about him. There was nothing of which I had any personal knowledge that would account for my assumption of Mr. W and I never had reason to changed it.

Pop-Pee and Mr. W lived less than a half country mile from each other thereby, once a week for at least 2 years, perhaps 3, on Monday mornings, Pop-Pee would pick up Mr. W in his circa 1949-50 Ford sedan in order to compete in a Domino Marathon which took place on our front porch, mostly rain or shine. With Pop-Pee driving at his break-neck speed of 20 mph, the normally 5 to 10-minute trip would take 20 to 30 minutes. But, to compensate for the minutes lost to the drive-time, Pop-Pee would pick up Mr. W at 7:30 in order to reach our farm by 8:00. Mother made sure to keep the coffee hot.

Three of a Kind & Big 6 Down!

Regardless of how long it took them to arrive, Papa had begun to look forward to this break in his interminably long week. There was no need to urge him to rise and shave. He was washed, dressed and prepared to meet his buddies with no prompting whatsoever. He took charge of moving the little wooden table from its resting place in our hallway onto the front porch. He also made sure that the 2 ladder-back, rawhide bottomed chairs were placed at the table along with a wooden bench. All were placed at the far end of our comfortably, shaded front porch. The position he chose held a perfect vantage point to not only greet visitors but also to see any visitor’s advancement toward our property.

In spite of their ages, these elderly men did not dawdle or toddle. Their steps were firm and assured even if their strides were shorter. They would exit from Pop-Pee’s sedan and exercise in a bit of stretching and once all of their bits fell back into place, giving thanks to gravity, they were fully ready to “sit” again and devote themselves to the little domino table.

***

There were no kindergarten classes offered within our school district therefore, school did not begin for us until the age of six, generally speaking. Because of that minor detail in our educational system, I was on hand to witness the slow motion Big 6 Domino Marathon. The game that separated men from boys. The game that allowed for “trash-talking” which held no real danger of being interrupted by fisticuffs. It was a game that challenged one to not only determine which dominoes where being held in the opponents hands but to also anticipate 3 or 4 moves in advance and calculate how the dominoes you held could either end the game quickly by sewing up the game (blocking the board whereby no moves where possible) or by setting up a play whereby dominoing (playing all the dominoes in your hand before your opponents) is assured and scoring as many points as possible while also garnering the points of the other players by counting the actual spots of the dominoes they were left holding. Dominoes is not a simple game of chance; it is indeed a game of mental skill. Scoring is not always the ultimate goal but playing while hopefully, allowing your opponent little to no opportunity to affect the gameplay is ideal. There are many fine nuances to the game of Dominoes, one should not conclude that it is a simple game of matching spots. I would even venture to suggest that the game of Dominoes is the Poor Man’s Chess.

It goes without saying that I was thoroughly fascinated by both the game itself and the manner in which it allowed for opposition and camaraderie, simultaneously. I stood between Papa’s legs, watched his plays and learning the game. I had not yet learned to count beyond 20, but by George, I learned to count the spots on the board and to multiply by 5 all without realizing that these three old gents had taught me third grade math science before I’d learned first grade math skills. I became so adept at the game that often, even after I had started school, I was often absent on Mondays in order to provide a partner to one of the Three. At five, I was officially adopted into the Three Old Men Club and nothing or no one, not even Mother, could challenge my right to sit at their little table! I had full and complete Club rights with the exception of being able to partake in their leisurely cups of coffee…but I did have my own slice of Pound cake. My love of Pound cake goes arm and arm with my love for those Three Old Gents, Dominoes and trash talking.

They taught me so many life lessons without seeming to do so. Beyond the very early and advanced Mathematics education, I learned that men naturally responded in a positive way when spoken to in a particular manner. (It has worked when I’ve applied it in marital situations, but I’ll admit, that it generally grates against my nature, so I only use it when the situation absolutely calls for it and eye-rolling at myself always follows.) I learned that the type of women men generally appreciated laughing with, sharing jokes with and flirting with were very different from the women men ultimately trusted to prepare their suppers and with whom they preferred waking up. Actually, I learned that there was a difference between sleeping with and waking up with a person. Ok, so I learned that waking up with a person was a longer commitment than sleeping with a person, the fine points of which took a decade or so to understand. I learned that Miss Maude, Miss C and my Mama were the kind of women worth waking up to. I didn’t know if either of these three men went to sleep with anyone they didn’t wake up with, and I didn’t yet know how that would be possible but at this point in my life, I prefer believing that they never did, (ok, that eye-roll thing just totally happened without my permission)! Now, the woman who enters the next paragraph, I sort of believe was not the type of woman that any of them would have preferred to wake up to.

Very vividly I recall a Sunday afternoon in the spring of 1960. Unexpected visitors stretched the confines of our farmhouse to its limits. People occupied the TV area, watching and listening to Dizzy Dean and Pee Wee Reese calling play by play of some baseball game or another. Every available space around our huge kitchen table was occupied with one person even sitting in the window which opened to the back of the table. The back porch didn’t escape occupation either, it was mostly taken over by kids of my sister and brother’s age. Even a couple of the bedrooms had become refuge for those who couldn’t force a fit into the TV room or the Kitchen. Only the front porch was spared overcrowding and that’s possibly because Papa and Pop-Pee had staked their claim on that particular territory while sitting at the little domino table, preparing for a three-person game, me being the third person. I found their company infinitely more appealing and chose to remain with them and there I stayed until a mid to late fifties, more than ample, more than full-bodied female walked out onto the front porch without invitation and began talking to Papa and Pop-Pee, ignoring me altogether. I suppose Papa believing something untoward was about to or could happen, sent me on an errand to bring back a glass of water. The female had planted herself firmly within the front doorframe thereby blocking my exit back from the kitchen onto the porch. Undaunted, I backed up two or three steps and entered my Papa’s bedroom which was situated directly off the front porch and had two tall and low hung windows which opened unto the porch. I stepped out of one of the windows just in time to see the female lift her very large dress which revealed fold after fold after fold of wobbly flesh producing a full-frontal visual attack upon both Papa and Pop-Pee!

(I’d since learned that she gained great, howbeit sad, pleasure from the shock value of her actions.) I was dumbstruck! I wondered who and when would someone on this heretofore sacred ground punish this woman for doing something so unholy! I wasn’t allowed to even get out of the bathtub without being fully wrapped, neck to knees! I wondered if she wore no panties because there were none large enough to contain her. Thank Heaven and guiding Angels that her many folds prevented anything else from being revealed! I looked desperately toward Papa and Pop-Pee who were not aware that I had returned to the porch from behind them. Would they chastise this woman? Papa pursed his lips tightly, tilted his head to the left as he squinted and looked askance toward the floor. Pop-Pee came as close as I’d ever seen him come to laughing aloud! Other thoughts were niggling at my mind trying to make sense of this scene playing out in front of me, but my thoughts were interrupted by Pop-Pee’s voice addressing Papa, “Well Bob, have you ever seen anything like it?” Papa, with his head still down and without missing a beat replied, “Yes Sir, I have…Once Upon A Cow!

I can’t be sure she heard Papa’s comparison of her exposed body parts to that of a cow, (Papa long before had a successful career as a butcher, so I trusted his assessment), but her dress went down immediately and she left the porch without delay. Her attempt to either seduce or shock was lost upon those old gents and with that vision, my first and final lesson in “it takes all kinds,” was complete, nothing more needed to ever be added. I didn’t understand all or even most of what had transpired in front of me that day but seeing Pop-Pee almost fall to open laughter made me giggle then and has each and every time that day has come to remembrance and the few times of which I’ve come face to face or face to tail with a bovine of a particular weight, I’ve picked up where Pop-Pee left off and let rip sinus clearing laughter!

It was all so much more than Dominoes and I’ve never found another club worth joining. My Grandmother’s acknowledgment that no one is ever dead who is remembered gives me satisfaction that The Three still lives:

Papa 1881-1968 Pop-Pee 1897-1979 Mr. W 1899-1990 Me 1954 – Still living to tell their stories

Papa, Pop-Pee and Mr. W, I know you don’t like playing a three-person game so save me a seat at your table against the day when I’ll join you again, when our game can resume and remember…No Cows Allowed! I’m sending each of you a table full of my thanks and twice as much of my love.

Just sign me…The Fourth Member of your Three Member Club. ❤️

!Safer at Home!

Thinking of the Thousands, young and old, lost to Covid-19

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