As Crothersville (Jackson County on Highway 31)
prepares for its weekend Sesquicentennial celebration, there are some things
I must tell you about the days of The Great Depression era there.
You may think these things are not “woodsy” enough
for an outdoors column, but I differ in thought because I consider these
items appropriate--and I am writing the column.
Incidentally, while folks thereabouts do not “sing
my praises,” in household words, I was born at 301 Bard Street on February
16, 1929, and lived there until 1950 when I ventured into the wonderfully
crazy life of newspapering (most of the time as a columnist).
I think I should also reveal (if you don’t already
know) that this once sleepy little town, is the love of my life--mainly
because it has always been a “hunter-angler” town, and because of the people;
men like Jack and Alton Cain, Gene (Mr.) Butler and wife Ruby, Roscoe “Rocky”
Hauck, Billy Miller, Wiley Robinson, and a phalanx of others including
my parents, Jake and Laura Scifres. I have been associated with the greatest
people in the world from other towns, but never a greater group than those
It’s all predicated on the exposure of knowledge--“horse
sense”--that one is privy to as a resident. This information gleaned from
townspeople may come purposely (as educational), or as common knowledge
that is passed in conversations at various locales. But it is all good
For example, I learned from my maternal grandmother,
Missouri Dobbs, that the way to test the ripeness (edibility) of a watermelon
(while it is yet on the vine or in possession of a vendor) is to place
a three-inch broom straw crosswise on the melon. If the straw turns lengthwise
on the melon, it is ripe and ready. The straw may also “jiggle” or dance.
We learned some other methods to determine a melon
is ripe and ready but more sure, yet, is to “plug” with grandma’s old curved
butcher knife, which has a special roost on my desk. I have watched her
plug many a melon with it.
My grandmother would test melons from Mel Ballard’s
huckster wagon (drawn by two horses) when Mel would drive his team all
the way from Tampico (seven miles west) to serve up great produce to “C-villeites.”
Mel’s visits were unforgettable.
To plug a melon, one merely cuts a triangular
“plug” a little more than an inch wide, and at least a couple of inches
deep. This will put the pointed inner tip of the plug into the red meat
of the melon. When pried out gently with the tip of the knife blade, the
plug will reveal the “innermost” secrets of the melon.
If the melon is not yet suitable for consumption,
the plug may be replaced and the world keeps on turning . . . no blood,
no foul, as decisions go on the Hoosier hardwood.
There are, of course, thousands of other incidents
to recall, and enjoy, but it was the people involved, connected with the
story, that sends them flitting back to me in machine gun regularity.
I remember sitting at the “Liar’s Bench” the ledge
outside Bill Applegate’s grocery store across from Web Taulman’s drugstore
and being privileged to hear stories of the older men about the bogus “Watermelon
Patch” outside Boo’s Thicket (south of "Graham’s Creek”), from a bawdy
house in Kansas City, or from the famed Argonne Forest of WWI. The memories
linger like dense ground fog as I trudged home (rifle in hand) from September
squirrel hunts just before dark. In those days the squirrel season ended
with September. Incidentally, that little Springfield .22 leans against
my desk, not far distant from grandma’s butcher knife.
And how could I ever forget my father teaching
me, a seven-year-old, how to trap mink with a few rusty Lugjaw steel traps
to make money for Christmas . . . how the late-summer air was cooler (even
chilling) in valleys just before darkness; how snapping turtles seek air
just below ice on cold winter days; about solo camping with an old wool
blanket and a pile of horseweeds (giant ragweeds) for a bed at Alf’s Bayou,
or goggle eyes (rock basin) in the East Fork, of the Muscatatuck River,
or catching long-ear sunfish (alias red bellies) in the West Fork with
a willow pole and hellgrammites (or peeled crawfish tails) for bait.
Yes! It was a wonderful world and a time to match.
No wonder that I love it with all of my heart.
There are a blue-million other scenarios. So,
the proverbial “wild horses” may be able to keep me away next Saturday.
But they had better have the cleats of a gigantic tractor and a full tank
of gold (oops! gas).
pretty white flower about three feet high you are seeing now at shady areas
(edges) is snakeroot (Eupatorium rugosum), a sure sign of fall.
It is said to be poisonous if eaten by cattle and can be transmitted to
humans by of the milk of exposed cows.