Monday, June 30, 2014

Ross Harwood's Blind Cattle

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Part Two
Over the next few years we would see Ross out and about, always wearing the same i64147_27766-mid-weight-duck-insulated-waist-zip-coverall_largensulated coveralls regardless of the weather, his pith helmet, boots and his machinery changing color with the season. We would pith.helmet (1)encounter him at night, suddenly seeing him in our headlights, driving without his lights on, two wheels off the pavement, two wheels on, creeping along like some kind of garish 'possum.
Dad had thirty acres of the most beautiful corn on the south-west part of Grandpa's eighty. It was about the best ground that we had and we'd planted it at exactly the ideal time, and the weather had been just right for growing. He went to inspect it incessantly, his one perfect field. On the fourth of July, his birthday, I went with him to see his corn one more time. Grandpa had a contrary wether outside the fence, so I stayed to help get it back in whilst Dad went to see his field.
Cow in the cornfield 2When Dad returned, he was livid with dismay. Ross's cattle had tramped the fence and were stripping his corn. "Locks a-missy! Hell fire and damnation!" he said, looking away at his field. He took a champ on a timothy stem, flinging it aside.
"We don't need the corn that bad," said Grandpa, shuffling up.
Within the hour, Dad had been to see two or three of the neighbors who farmed close by. One of them, Jack Best, came with us to see Ross. We turned into Ross's lane between hedges grown wild with mulberries, carefully straddling the ruts and gullies as we climbed to the house.
The grand fronted Civil War era brick house rose at the crest of the moraine with all-pictures-11851neglected majesty, its windows looking out across the front yard which was now a hawthorn and blackberry thicket to rolling pastures that once were. We parked beside the kitchen at the back. Dad and Jack stepped through the vines imagesasmothering the porch and knocked at the pink and blue door. The pink and blue piano stood resignedly, its keyboard facing the vines. The windmill beyond the sheds squawked in spite of the still air. A starling gave a breezy whistle. Dad knocked again. They slowly stepped off the porch and hesitated, Jack idly pushing at stones in the gravel with his toe, Dad glancing at the sun, kneading his watch to the top of his overalls pocket.
"Yea?" said Ross, stepping into the doorway without his pith helmet, steadying himself against the piano. His face was white as a pupa behind its egg crusted bristles. His gum boots, their blue paint crackling and peeling at the ankles were fastened mercilessly to his filthy coveralls with yards upon yards of adhesive tape. "You'll pardon me, but I've been blacked out for a few days. I couldn't manage to get to town for my insulin until yesterday evening," he said, catching his balance.
"Did you know that your cows are out?" said Dad. "They've been all through our corn. They've been over on Jack's some, too."
"Ain't surprised. Pasture's all petered out and I haven't had the strength to feed 'em for a spell."
I looked into the kitchen as they talked and nearly reeled from its fetid reek. I held my breath and peered in again. Its floor was stratified with banana peels and flattened ice cream cartons, mired in a blackened goo better than a foot deep, as though it were some ghastly calf shed with more than a year's accumulation of manure. The kitchen stove and a kerosene heater stood anchored in the mire like oriental furnishings in some lost corner of Hades. Jack read my face as I stepped back off the porch, giving a slight grimacing wink and shake of his head.
"I ain't able to he'p," said Ross, "but if you ones could round 'em up and take them to the packing plant, you can divide up what they fetch. I hope it covers your corn, Harry."
Jack and Dad decided to get some hands and run the cattle back onto Ross's place and corral and load them in his barn lot. Word was sent out by telephone and after dinner we joined a sizable party of neighbors and their hired hands at the edge of the Whisnand Woods. We took out a large section of fence next to the corn and started our drive.
We learnt several things right quick. The herd simply could not be driven. They went insanely wild as we closed in, running every which way, breaking blindthrough our line repeatedly and unpredictably. Dad and Jack had been puzzled by Ross's inability to say how many head he had. It was now quite clear that he had neglected his herd for years, allowing them to inbreed. Most of them were blind and over a third of them were bulls of various ages.
I was at the edge of the trees when a bull and three heifers broke and came my way from the corn. As I was clapping, waving my arms and hollering, I heard sticks snap right behind me. I wheeled about to find a dozen or more of the brutes coming straight for me at a dead run out of the timber. I remember a fleeting glimpse of the trunk of the tree next to me and I recall watching the beasts thunder by beneath the limb I was standing on, but I remember nothing at all of my climb. I wasn't about to go back down the way I had come, either, for my sudden refuge turned out to be an old honey locust tree, bristling with sharp spikes all over the trunk which was also smothered in a mantle of poison ivy vines.
By and by Dad came to my aid, parking his tractor under my perch. He stood on the seat, steadying me as I dropped onto the hood. "Don't you reckon that this is a poorly chosen time to watch birds?" he said.
The men milled about at the edge of the corn, visiting and spitting. "We're not a-getting anywhere this way," said one.
"No. Not when the help is a-trying to go to roost with the owls," said another.
"I don't see how we're going to get anywhere without horses, do you Harry?" said Jack.
The next morning I flew through my chores. I had scarcely begun doing them when Dad took off for the Whisnand Woods. After what seemed like a small eternity, I finished up, put a drawbar and clevis on one of the tractors and drove after him.
There were pickup trucks scattered all along Grandpa's lane when I got there. The pasture looked like a fairground with neighbors and hands milling about several small tractors and5328856497_115e32eea3 the large cattle truck from the Charleston Packing Plant. Whilst everyone visited, waiting for the horsemen to arrive, I marveled at the tree I'd been up the day before.
The voices picked up, accompanied by the clank and rattle of iron. The first two horse trailers had arrived. The two drovers began saddling their horses. In spite of their riding boots and chaps, they didn't look much like Hollywood cowboys. One wore a St. Louis Cardinals baseball cap and a t-shirt with a picture of a belted Hampshire hog on it. The other fellow did wear a white hat, but it was made of straw and had International Harvester stenciled on it. Each of them had a cheek stuffed tight with tobacco.
They were off directly, in pursuit of some cows in the brush at the edge of the woods to the south. Dad and I each followed with a tractor and several passengers apiece. It didn't take long for each drover to run a cow-brute into the open and rope her, but it was an ordeal Credenhill19July2011-006getting them hitched to the clevises on the tractors, for upon being roped, the cows went wild, dragging the horses about. My cow broke her rope and hied off into the brush again, horses in pursuit. Directly, she was re-roped, bellowing and snorting, throwing her head about. This time, a hand managed a hitch knot which wouldn't cut the rope, feverishly tying, mindful of his dear fingers. "All right! Take up the slack! If she comes for ye, switch off the tractor and get under it right now!" he hollered, springing aside with a wave.
She was the one who took up the slack! She gave the tractor a hair raising jerk as I got under way. She bolted from side to side at first, causing the tractor to sway and labor. She growled through her froth, stiff-leggedly planting and sliding her feet like some furious dining room table.
They were struggling to load Dad's creature as I approached the truck. She fought, blind pink eyes rolling, muzzle a-froth all the way up the chute. They pulled with ropes through the slats on the sides of the truck as they prodded at her flanks and rump. At last she lurched into the truck. My brute began her ascent much the same way , except that half way up, she decided to climb over the sides. She nearly made it before lying down, refusing to move.
The drovers kept all the tractors and hands busy throughout the morning, even whilst changing mounts. The loading chute was what slowed us, so they called for another truck to cut loading time in half. To my surprise, the bulls were the easiest to load. Some ofF100407MS81 them would give in and walk, with only occasional attempts to bolt. Yearlings weren't too bad either, but it was the cows who fought us relentlessly, especially if they had calves.
A little past one 'o clock, the cloudless sky began growing dark. "What the dickens is going on?" I said to Bill Hall, a fierce old man with a couple of teeth in his mouth to match the two fingers he had left after a corn picker accident.
"Ain't ye heard?" he said. "That's the eclipse. We're supposed to have a solar eclipse."
"Aw shit!" I said, I wish I had a cardboard box and some white paper and tin foil."
"What on earth for?" he said, fixing his steely gaze upon me.
"So I could look at the eclipse."
"Well look at it then!" he said. "You'll miss it if ye don't."
"That's why I want the box. I don't want to burn my eyes."
"Experts!" he said with a brown spit. "For Christ's sake! Is that what they teach you at the Lab School? Now don't get me wrong. I'm right glad you're a-going to the Lab School. But them experts don't want you to wipe your ass unless they say it's all right."
"But they say..."
"Of course they do! They can't feel important unless they can demand you heed their narrow minded judgment, if ye know what I mean. They've got to have you a-stepping in time to their dance. Men have looked up at the sun for thousands o' years to get the time 'o day. How many blind farmers do you know? You'll miss out if ye let them keep ye from looking.
"I'd better get this here rope," he said, looking up at a thrashing heifer.
I felt sheepish, still afraid to look up at the eclipse. As it grew light, I finally plucked up the courage to glance up at the sun as the last fragment of black slipped off the orb.
The following January, Ross burnt up in his house. The local paper allowed him the dignity of printing a picture of his charred torso being removed from the hot ashes with a manure fork.
Tom Phipps

Friday, June 27, 2014

Ross Harwood Goes Mad

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Part One
On an unusually hot and humid day, the last week of June, I got permission to stop at Bill Richardson's store for an ice cream bar and a bottle of soda pop on my way to Grandpa and Grandma Phipps's. I leant my bicycle against the store's brick tar paper wall under a rusted Coca-Cola thermometer. A Massey Harris tractor and cultivator, it's shiny shovels wound with morning glory vines, stood by the gasoline pump. A house wren sang out its declaration. The screen door whispered a squeak as I stepped inside.
"Why there's ol' Tom," said Mr. Richardson. "What can I do for you, this fine sub-zero day?"
"I'd like an Eskimo pie and a seven Up."
"That would be twenty cents. Go h'ep y'se'f."
"How are you folks a-coming with your cultivating? You 'bout to get 'er all laid by?" said Jim Best, a fellow who farmed directly west of us.
"Dad thinks we're 'way behind," I said, dangling my hands in the icy water of the soda pop cooler.PrinceAlbertB
"Well we're better off than we could be, the year a-being what it is, but I really don't need to be a-sitting here," he said, carefully shaking some Prince Albert into his folded cigarette paper. "How much rain did you all get over here two nights ago, Bill?"
"Three tenths."
"Boy. That was the spottiest rain. We didn't get quite a tenth," he said, licking the paper. He struck a match. A cicada buzzed its pulsing song in the maple branches over the store. The coolers and freezers rattled and hummed quietly.
I sat down at the far end of the bench from Jim, savoring his tobacco smoke, chasing my dribbling ice cream with my tongue. After a while, Mr. Richardson stood up from his keg of nails, picked up my dimes and dropped them into the cash register, returning to his seat with a newspaper. Above the shelves of laundry soap and cereal, the Pepsi girl, reposing on the sand in her pink bra and pedal pushers, waved from her faded poster.
92870.1941.cadillac.series.61A 1946 Cadillac quietly drove up and parked beside the tractor. It was painted all over with aluminum and pumpkin-orange colored house paint, even its tires and parts of its windows. A man wearing insulated coveralls zipped up to his chin and an aluminum painted pith helmet shuffled into the store and up to the counter.
64147_27766-mid-weight-duck-insulated-waist-zip-coverall_large (1)"Morning Ross," said Mr. Richardson. "What do ye need?"
"Couple Co'Cola," he said, scarcely moving hispith.helmet bristly lips.
"Am I in your way out there, Ross?" said Jim.
"No-no. Don't need no gasoline," he said, scratching around in his coin purse. By the time he laid out his change and turned to shuffle to the soda pop cooler, his odor had filled the store. It was vaguely like that of a sugary sour slop bucket heating on a stove.
Mr. Richardson traded glances with Jim, then rose and immediately propped open the back door with a flat iron.
Ross sat between Jim and me with his two bottles of pop.
"What've you been up to this morning, Ross?" said Jim.
"Cultivating."
"Looks like you've been a-painting," he said, nodding at Ross's aluminum painted overshoes, fastened to the legs of his coveralls with hog rings.
"Oh I have been, but that was yesterday."
"You paint your car again, this year?"
"Yeap. And my tractor. It needed it. I even had enough left over for my piano."
"Your piano?"images
"Sure. It sits out there on the porch. It needed it."
"Looks like you got your hat and boots, too," said Mr. Richardson.
"Of course," said Ross. "They ought to match, oughtn't they?" He certainly had them there. For a mid_IMG_6306moment all was quiet except for the wren and the cicadas. Ross unzipped his coveralls, spread out his collar and poured Coke all around his neck and collar bone.
Jim leant forward, looking at Ross. "You must be pretty hot," he said.
"Tolerable hot," said Ross, stretching his chin to one side to slop on some more.
Mr. Richardson lowered his newspaper and stared agape, shifting his eyes to Jim.
Jim grinned with raised eyebrows, searching for a reply that wouldn't quite materialize. "Well Bill," he said after a spell, "I'd better get back on the cultivator."
"I followed him outside with my cupped hand full of ice cream that had thawed whilst I was struggling to get used to Ross's bouquet.
"Say hello to your folks for me," he said, starting his engine.


I wiped my hands in the grass beneath the Kool penguin and the Philip Morris buss boy, forever waving in rust-streaked competition from the wall. I mounted my bike and pedaled to Grandpa and Grandma's.
I found Grandpa under the shade of the big black locust outside his work shop in the orchard, running the treadle of his grindstone, sharpening a hoe.
"You wouldn't believe what I just saw Ross Harwood do," I said.
"I just might," he said, stopping the stone.
"Ross came into the store and poured Coke all down his neck."large-vintage-coke-coca-cola-sold-here-metal-steel-sign-796-p
"You mean the outside of his neck?"
"Yea. Almost the whole bottle."
"Well if that don't beat the bugs a-fighting," he laughed, wiping his chin with the back of his hand. "That's a new one, all right. But I've seen him do similar, many a-time.
"Years ago, when Ross was still a young fellow, he was a-helping us put up the silo at the cattle barn, over on the east place. He was a-running the rope with one of the mares, a-hauling up concrete blocks to us. He'd be ready for to send up a load before we were, nearly each time, so he started building a hog shade over in the corner of the barn lot. It was just perfect for an old sow and her litter. He even wired up gates around it.
"When we took a break at about eleven, he scattered straw under it and then crawled in on all fours. The hands were a-watching him, kind of amused. He didn't say a word to anyone. He'd lie still, then he'd wallow and thrash around and lie still again, just like an old sow and her pigs.
"Ross ain't stupid. He's just stuck on making himself the brunt of his own jokes. The more of an audience he has, the harder he'll work a-clowning, that a-way. He's been doing that almost the whole time he's been grown."
"You mean he was normal once?"
"Yea. At least he didn't seem too queer whilst he was a-growing up."
"So he just got that way gradually?"
"No sir. He changed right now." He paused, straining to pull his leg off the grind stone. He scratched his head and replaced his cap as he studied one of his ewes coming up for a drink. "Nope. All of a sudden. He lived with his folks, right where he lives now, straight south. He even went to college at Eastern. I don't remember what he studied, but I reckon he did all right. he put in nearly all of four years. He'd room at a boarding house through the week and then ride his horse home and farm on the weekends.
"Well he had a sweetheart up there, some young lady from Windsor, if I've got it right. And they were engaged to be married. He was home one spring weekend, out in the field a-harrowing. His mom come out where he was a-working with a letter from his fiancée which said that she was a-marrying some other fellow.
"He went mad right then and there. He ran his team and harrow off into the brush, tangled them up in some wire fence and beat the holy daylights out of them. They were a nice gentle young team of Clydesdales, too. Just as sweet as ye please. They'd bought them from us. The mare's legs were so badly cut up, she had to be destroyed.
"Well, he left his team and ran off into the timber and was gone for days. And when he finally showed up, he didn't act right. And from that day to this, he's been just as odd as odd can be. When his mom died, he boarded off their dining room, parlour and upstairs with her things in it, and has let everything else run down ever since."
Tom Phipps

Monday, June 9, 2014

That Old Ox Yoke Downstairs

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Grandma poured some tea from her cup to her saucer as Grandpa removed his napkin from his collar, all eleven white hairs on his bald head a-fly.
"Grandpa?" I said. "Where did that old ox yoke in the basement come from? It was your granddad's, wasn't it? Was it your Grandpa Phipps's?"
"Grandpa Phipps used oxen every now and then for heavy work such as hauling gravel and one thing and another, so I expect he had at least two or three yokes. He died before I was ten, so I don't know what became of them. A lot of people used oxen back then. A yoke of oxen won't quite out-pull a good big team on the start, but if it's a right smart heavy load, a team o' draft horses will tire out and the oxen will just keep a-going."
"How much could they pull?"
"Oh," he said, pausing to wipe his mouth one last time, "you can take one of the tractors with a two bottom plough and break about ten or twelve acres in a day, you know. Now if you hitched a good big team of fresh horses to the draw bar of the tractor, the team could pull the tractor backwards for several rod before they'd give out. That same team and another 'n' to spell them off could plough, oh maybe four acres in a day with a walking plough. They wouldn't be able to keep going with a two bottom, if you hitched them up. But now a team of oxen, I don't think could pull a two bottom tractor backwards, but they'd be able to pull a two bottom plough all right. In fact, they'd be able to take it and plough maybe half to three quarters of an acre in a day with it. Course, nobody ever pulled a two bottom plough with oxen, at least not in this neck of the woods. Now that's what that yoke downstairs was used for." He paused, fiddling with his bib overall pocket, fishing for his twist of tobacco.
Grandma began clearing the table. "What are your folks a-doing this morning, Tom?" she said.
"Dad's a-pruning apple trees. I don't know what Mom's a-doing."
"You have any more ewes to lamb?"
"One. Joanie. She really looks like a butterball. She always does though, and then has just one lamb."
Grandpa broke off a piece of his twist and loaded his cheek with it. He pushed back his chair a bit. "Now that's what that yoke downstairs was used for," he said. "Grand-dad Balch, he'd 'ave been your great-great grandpa. Bill Boyd Balch was just a little bit of a fellow. I don't think he was much over five foot. He had a real deep voice and he had a long white beard which went down below his belt buckle. And he had a brown stain that went the length of it, down from his mouth. He wore a wide heavy belt and his boots went 'way up above his knees.
"Now you never did get to see the old big bluestem prairie grass which grew all over. Any place theah wasn't woods it grew. It was so tall that if you stood up in a buggy, you could scarcely see over it. The buffalo had paths tramped down all through it. And when the English first came, everyone would turn his cows out to graze in it. They'd put bells on each of them for to be able to locate them when they'd bring them in of an evening. Everyone had to build his buildings before he could manage to put up fences, so everyone branded his stock with ear notches and turned his animals out into the grass, like a great common.Working on the Land
"Well that's what that yoke downstairs was used for. The big bluestem sod was heavy and tough, and an ordinary team of horses and a walking plough couldn't get through it. Grandpa Balch had a great big old prairie plough. It had one bottom with a share which probably didn't cut more than a foot wide, and it had a big wooden moldboard. It had a beam on it, oh I'd reckon it was twenty-four foot long at least. The last I saw it , it was up again the fence next to the old scales, over on Dad's."
"What ever happened to it?"
"Theah was a racket to it?"
"What ever happened to the plough?"
Oh! I wouldn't know. Your uncle Hen farmed there for pret' near thirty years. It was just old junk at the time, I reckon.
"Well Grandpa Balch would use it , a-going around a-breaking the heavy bluestem sod for people. He went all over. He ploughed all around here, and between here and Palestine, and he broke ground all around, up north o' town. He'd plough for someone and hear about somebody else a-needing ploughing done, then he'd go plough for them, just a-hopping around that a-way."
"Did you ever see him do it?"
"Once or twice when I was real little. He'd have three yolk of oxen hitched to the plough. he didn't have any lines. He'd just say gee or haw and crack his whip in the air to the opposite side of the heads of the lead team of where he wanted them to go. It was the longest dag-goned whip ye ever saw. It would reach from the back of the plough clean to the lead team. He'd get to the end and stop, and they'd put their heads down to graze, and he'd take the butt of his whip and shove each yoke forward to let the air get to just ahead of their withers whilst they rested. Then he'd give each one of them a real quick pet or a scratch, and then he'd crack his whip to turn them and go on. he'd have another three yolk a-resting whilst he had the three on the plough, and every couple of hours he'd change them and spell off the ones which had been a-working. He'd do, oh maybe half an acre to an acre a day that a-way.
"Now this don't sound right to people these days, but theah used to be these little rattlesnakes, about a foot or eighteen inches long, which used to be thick in places in that tall grass. I've heard time and again that when everyone had first come here, they didn't think anything at all about killing a half o' dozen or so of the little cu'ses in the morning, a-hoeing in the garden. Anyway, Grandpa would have to watch right close, 'cause every now and then whilst he was a-ploughing, one of them would grab onto the hide of an ox and just hang there, a-working its mouth. The old ox'd get to kicking and he'd take the butt of his whip and knock it off right now, or it would make a pretty mean sore. That's also why I'd allow that he always wore them heavy leather boots up over his knees.
"Now his great-grandad, James Balch, would tell about when they had the first horse collars. Up to his time, all the ploughing was done with oxen..."
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"And I know two fellows, slow as a couple of them," said Grandma.
"I guess I'd better get to clearing sticks out of the yard," I said.
"I reckon you'll see my crocuses and daffodils, but you mind my lilies a-coming up when you go to cutting."
"Yes ma'am," I said. And I went out to see if I could start the lawn mower.
Tom Phipps

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Spotlight Author Blog Tour with Bill Ward, Author of ENCRYPTION

Am I an Author or a marketing consultant?
I now have two books published and am beginning to feel comfortable calling myself anAuthor Photo author. Then again, am I truly an Author or have I become a marketing consultant? I have spent at least as much time marketing as writing over the last 8 months. I have discovered it is an unavoidable necessity if I am to sell books!
Although I knew it wouldn’t be easy to sell my books, I have to admit I thought it would be a bit easier than the reality. And I am a very experienced sales and marketing man. It must be very tough for those new authors who don’t have a similar background. So be prepared for a great deal of hard work once you have finished writing your book. Believe in your book and don’t think negatively about the need to market your book. The reward of selling books and reading positive reviews is just the best feeling in the world!
I have heard a few writers say they can write but don’t have a clue about selling. I recall a joke I heard a long time ago which I can fit to the situation:
Writer: I can write but I can't sell anything.
Writer's wife: Hell you convinced me to marry you, so you can definitely sell!
Marketing is not trying to get someone to buy something they don’t need or want! However, it is making potential customers aware our book exists and why it’s a great read.
Most of us don’t have a large budget for promoting our new book. Fortunately, there are a large number of free sites such as Rave Reviews Book Club, Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads where we can grow awareness of our book. Remember though, you have to contribute something if you want to receive something back! Don’t expect to sign up with details of your book and then just sit back and wait for the sales. Contribute to discussions and help promote other authors. As you become better known, so will your books.

Author Bio
Bill has recently retired from the corporate world and has finally fulfilled his lifelong ambition to become an author. He has written two thrillers, Revenge and Encryption, with the expectation of many more to follow.
Bill lives in Brighton, UK with his German partner and has seven daughters, a son, two horses, a dog and two cats!
Encryption can be purchased at most online retailers including:
Encryption_AMAZON

Encryption Synopsis
In a small software engineering company in England, a game changing algorithm for encrypting data has been invented, which will have far reaching consequences for the fight against terrorism. The Security Services of the UK, USA and China all want to control the new software.
The Financial Director has been murdered and his widow turns to her brother-in-law to help discover the truth. But he soon finds himself framed for his brother’s murder.
When the full force of government is brought to bear on one family, they seem to face impossible odds. Is it an abuse of power or does the end justify the means?
Only one man can find the answers but he is being hunted by the same people he once called friends and colleagues.