Rex was older than me, and Mike younger.
One afternoon that last summer, before I began first grade at Lulu Johnson Elementary School, we all went to pick cotton. I suppose I should be grateful that I had this highly-touted southern experience, but what I learned was this:
Picking cotton sucks.
A cotton-field in summer is no picnic. It’s hot as hell. Plus, the cotton is prickly and tough, and you’re supposed to put it in a bag. What kind of bag? We had gunny sacks.
Are you familiar with a gunny sack? Do you know how scratchy a gunny sack can be? We young boys, shirtless, wearing cut-offs and tennis-shoes, fought those gunny sacks. Drag it on the ground, it itches your hand. Throw it over your shoulder, it scratches your hide!
And cotton is heavy.
All in all, those stories you’ve heard … about the happy pickaninnys, singing and toting those sacks of cotton … I’m pretty sure that’s all crap.
This was just another of the adventures that Mrs. Miller arranged for us boys. I suppose I should be grateful. Some of our outings are still with me.
One roasting summer day, we drove to the ice house.
You see, at that time, there was still an ice-man who came around with blocks of ice. He had a horse, which pulled a wooden wagon with walls and a back door. Inside the wooden wagon were large blocks of ice, which he delivered with deadly-looking metal tongs. This was for people who had ‘ice-boxes’ rather than electric refrigerators, and it was also for people who wanted to make home-made ice cream.
We’d asked Mrs. Miller where the ice-man got the ice.
“Let’s go see,” she said.
That afternoon we drove forever out into the mysterious countryside, and along an eternal flat road in the middle of nothing, where in the distance we saw a large unpainted wooden building. We arrived. On the building, a fading sign said, “ICE.”
Inside we were shown a cold, dim room with huge blocks of ice. A mountain of blocks of ice. Of course, looking back, now I wonder: Where did the ice come from?
Another time, we went to a fourth-of-july cookout at the Henrietta Country Club, where I won a prize.
And another day we went for a picnic and a swim with friends of the Miller’s. These people had a farm, and a young boy named Alf, who was a year older than Rex. After a swell picnic, we all went down to the tank, a kind of pond, and wearing our cut-offs, in we splashed. The water was muddy brown, but cool and refreshing. “Don’t step in any holes!” called Mrs. Miller.
We had a great time.
For a while.
Until somebody asked, “Where’s Alf?”
We were hustled out of the water while the grown-ups splashed in. Mrs. Miller brought us back up to the house, and soon after, we left, quietly. After returning to her house, I heard her on the telephone.
Finally, they had found Alf.