Thanks to my cat-loving son, Mark, of Cocoa Beach, Fla., my wife, Gray, adopted an abandoned cat in early August. Mark caught her, left her with Gray and returned to Florida. I had forgotten how curious young cats are until she captured our hearts, and all this brought to mind the curiosity of a young lad, growing up in the foothills west of Marion, N.C. Yep, it's another story of my life in Pleasant Gardens, N.C. Remembering the saying “Curiosity killed the cat," I want to tell you how curiosity almost killed me.
Growing up on a small farm in the 1930s, you never purchased anything that you could reasonably put together on your own. With this in mind and needing a way to transfer our winter's hay from the barn floor through a hole in the second floor and into the hay loft, my brothers made a large pulley from two iron wheels framed with a generous portion of heavy oak board on the sides. Attaching this to the ceiling in the hay loft with bailing wire and putting a rope through the pulley, they were now ready to lift the first bundle of hay to the loft. From stage left, enters our chubby young hero, me, asking, “Whatcha' doing, boys?”
After a brief discussion on mechanics, they decided that it would be foolish to spread a whole bundle of hay all over the barn, should something go wrong, opting instead to sit the nosy young brother in the loop and hoisting him to the heavens in a trial run. Respecting my safety by tying me in securely, they gave a mighty tug on the rope.
They immediately discovered that rusty bailing wire was not suitable for this type of operation as the homemade pulley plunged from the ceiling, through the second floor and all the way to the barn floor, hitting me squarely on the top of the head. Bleeding profusely, I was led from the barn and into my Mother's arms, while they figured out where to get some stronger wire to secure the pulley. Thanks to my Mother, I was quickly relieved from any further duty in hay moving research. Thinking about the size of that pulley and the velocity with which it left the barn ceiling, I don't know yet how I survived, except that all Tates come equipped with a hard head.
Another time, when our pony, Nell, was nearing the time to deliver her foal and they had nothing to ride, I saw them sizing up our Jersey cow. As they were putting a saddle on her, I walked up, asking, “Whatcha' doing, boys?” You guessed it. I was hoisted into the saddle and away we went. Holding on for dear life and screaming bloody murder, I lasted about five seconds, finally being deposited in one of those places in a cow pasture which caused you to be run away from the table for a couple of nights. The smell didn't bother me, I couldn't sit down anyway. At this time, however, I retired from the Tate rodeo. P.S. They never “broke” the cow.
Our Dad always bought a load of pine slabs for us to saw up for burning in the kitchen stove, and I well remember the first time I witnessed the “sawing of the slabs.” My brothers had just loaded the x-shaped saw horses with a full load when my curiosity got the better of me again. Some 10 seconds after my query of “Whatcha' doing, boys?” I was firmly seated astride the slabs, holding on for dear life. A cross-cut saw is not the sharpest of tools, and the first pull yanked the slabs together with a generous portion of my little rear end providing the filling for a “slab sandwich” and causing me to exit the scene at a kinda' funny looking gait and a mournful wail while my brothers enjoyed the entertainment. After Mom applied a generous portion of some evil smelling, purple liquid, I once again stood at the table to enjoy her hearty cuisine.
Speaking of Nell, the pony, she had a bad habit of waiting until you threw one leg over her back, then reaching around and taking a nip out of your posterior. When they held her head and put me in the saddle to deliver papers, little did they know that after I first left the saddle to deliver a paper, I led her all the way around my route, rather than suffer the pain and indignity of a nip to the rear. On my return, and within sight of home, I stopped at my Grandmother's home, pulled old Nell up beside a cement pillar, held on to the reins while I climbed up on the pillar, jumped in the saddle and went riding home in style. So help me, I did this for a whole summer, and they never found out. If the neighbors saw me leading that disciple of the devil, I just told them that we had been on a long ride and I was letting her rest. It's what my Western hero, Hopalong Cassidy, would have done.
We had a “dominecker” rooster who was very protective of his flock. Ever the showman, my Dad figured out a way to entertain the neighbors by throwing me into the small chicken lot with the hens and the “cock of the walk." Dad and the neighbors were usually fortified with a bottle of “old bust head” and I was armed with a man's sock, filled with other socks. When the rooster charged, I starting swinging. I usually got scratched up a bit by his spurs, but I figure I led the season's standings, since by the time the interest waned at the end of the summer, the rooster was walking kinda' sideways, singing off key and completely ignoring the hens.
One summer the best show in the community was the pet billy goat and me going head to head on our open back porch, with the loser falling about five feet to the dirt back yard. For some time, I had the advantage of having a grip on the wooden flooring with my hands and knees, while the goat's hooves just weren't made for this type of competition. I was leading the league until ole' Bill realized that he didn't have to go from a standing start, instead taking a few steps backward and charging with what we called a “runny-go.” Even a Tate head couldn't stay in that game. Now, like the rooster, I'm walking around kinda' sideways and talking funny.
In closing, I'd like to say to my brothers and my Father, the promoter, wherever you are and whatever you're cooking up, “I DON'T CARE! I'M NO LONGER CURIOUS!”