Copyright 1998
Sam Elmore


I was the middle rascal of the three youngest boys in my family; bracketed by Barge (called 'Todd') on the older side, and Baucum (the 'Baby') on the younger. Todd, bein' the elder, instigated a lot of the mischief we got into when we were kids. (I'm amazed he turned out to be a Minister...stead-a bein' on the FBI's Most Wanted list.)

It didn't take a lot of persuadin' for me'n the 'baby' to join in a nefarious plot with Todd; one 'double-dawg-dare-ye' would do nicely, thanks. Don't go thinkin' that I'm throwin' off on Todd, now; I surely ain't. I must have instigated a few things in my time...I just can't recall any. (That's called 'poetic lie-cense' in literature.)

The 'baby' instigated an event once, with startling results. It unfurled without his personal involvement, though. Oh, he started it, all right. He jest wasn't standin' there when everything come unglued and got wropped around the axle.

Let me back up a little bit, an' s'plain a few things. We were typical 'boys', as far as I know; no better nor worse than any other kids our age. There was rivalry...and a certain amount of jealousy. If one of us boys got something, the other two'd be green-eyed about it. I think that's typical of all young brothers. Even when all of us got something (like at Christmas), there was still some green-eyed bidness.

One Christmas, the three of us got exactly what we'd wished for. I got a plastic harmonica; Barge got a genuine Gene Autry cap pistol; and Baucum got the ukelele he'd wanted so bad. At that time, he wasn't quite big enough for Papa to learn 'im how to play an instrument; so he kept time by beatin' on a serp bucket. That ukelele was his 'kick the bucket' tool; with the uke, he could be a playin' member of the family band.

The same morning we got our presents, there were envious glances (like brief flashes of summer lightning) from all three of us; from harmonica to ukelele to cap pistol. We each had what we'd wanted most of all; but still, we cast covetous eyes on the other's toy. If I'm not mistaken, that is also typical of young siblings. There was also the built-in feeling of 'I'm hangin' onto my stuff, and nobody else better touch it.'

(I do hope that is typical of all kids, because just writing it made me squirm). When all was said and done, though, everything came out fine. We brothers could be at each other's throats like worst enemies; but if an 'outsider' got cross-threaded with one of us, it was a 'Three Mesquiteers confrontational' for certain!

The year we got the special presents, Baucum was about six years old. He got awful sick, there for a time. I don't recall what caused it, but he had a real high fever for a good long while. He had to stay in bed, up in the fireplace room, under Mama's watchful eye.

With the 'baby' laid up, me'n Todd felt a hole in our spirits as big as a wash-tub. One day, we stood 'ere beside his sick-bed as Mama changed the wet cloth on his red-hot brow. His fever hadn't broke yet, and me'n Todd was scared; but we didn't know anything to do about it. The reason we was scared was...Mama had finally sent me to hang a rag on the mailbox, to flag down the doctor when he come by our place. That meant it was beyond her ability to handle it, and therefore real serious! We never stopped the doctor unless it was a life-threatening situation. (We had no money to pay the doctor with.)

So, me'n Todd started bringing everything we owned to Baucum, thinking it'd he'p him feel better. He looked so helpless layin' there, with his eyes all dull like that. Even when Todd handed him the cap pistol (his most prized possession), Baucum just give a little bitty smile and let the cap pistol fall on the quilt...alongside my harmonica, my favorite aggie, and Todd's Barlow.

Mama kep' tellin' us: "quit being scared, ain't time to worry; and besides, that's my job. I'll do any worryin' that needs doin'; and mercy sakes, quit pilin' all that stuff on the bed like that." (But she was sayin' it with 'soft-talk'; which meant it was okay to keep on doin' it.)

I drawed up another bucket of cool well water, and poured Mama a pan of it. She was wringin' out the cloth to reapply it to the 'baby's forehead, when Todd blurted out 'the question'. (Personally, I might not have asked it exactly the way he did. Oh, I thought the question was valid, all right, and pretty straight to the point; but the phrasing of a 11-year-old boy wasn't all that good):

Todd ast Mama: "Wa'al, izzie gon' die, or whut?"

Out in the yard, as we tried to cool off the sting from Mama's persimmon switch on the seat of our britches, me'n Todd had us a little down-home confab about 'diplomatic stuff'. (I think it's called 'political correctness' now-a-days). All we'd wanted to know long would it be before we could be the Three Mesquiteers again; 'cause Two Mesquiteerin' was no fun a-tall.

It was plain as a dry-land-tarrapin on a fence-post that Todd had phrased the question wrong, and that was what set the persimmon switch in motion. So, he decreed that I orta go back in 'ere and find out how long Baucum was apt to be laid up. I knowed better'n to do it, but I was easy swayed back in them days.

I soft-footed back into the room, and glanced over at Baucum; that little rascal was layin' there with his eyes a-shinin', and the biggest grin on his face you ever saw! Apparently, it had raised his spirits more'n somewhat to see us git a switching. I grinned back at 'im. (It hadn't hurt all that much...s'pecially if it made him smile.)

I sidled over beside of Mama and quietly s'plained that all we wanted to know was: when could we have the 'baby' back to play with us. She said "not for a while"; and went to get some more cool well water. Baucum crooked a 'come 'ere' finger. I went. He whispered in my ear. I said I'd tell Todd. Baucum nodded. I went back outside.

Todd didn't b'lieve a word I said! He acted like I was the biggest liar in Clay Township. I got me a bait of that real quick, and told him:

"Okay mister silver tongue...You go back in 'ere ag'in and ast Mama whuther he's dead yet!" He rubbed the seat of his Big Smif's, frowned, and shook his head.

What Baucum had whispered to me was: he knowed where a yeller-jacket nest was that he'd kept secret from me 'n Todd. He wanted us to go ketch him some yeller-jackets in a Mason jar, so he could watch 'em while he got well. That sounded fine to me, 'cause I'd been sick like that, too...I knowed how hard it was to jest lay there with nothing to do but hurt.

About that Mason jar...I guess 'Mason' was the name of the people what made the jars. But we never called 'em 'Mason' jars. They was 'fruit jars'. It didn't make no never-mind if they was full of yeller squash, or green 'maters, or whippoorwill peas, or turnips, or soggum serp...they was still 'fruit jars' to us.

And three boys was always catchin' thangs and puttin' 'em in fruit jars; garter snakes, hornets, lizards, lightnin' bugs, salamanders, red ants. So, when the 'baby' ast for yeller-jackets, it was as natural as if he'd ast for a glass of water.

"Aw right!...", Todd said enthusiastically; " go git a fruit jar and we'll ketch the 'baby' some yeller-jackets. That'll make 'im smile fer sure." Finally, we had something positive to do; somethin' that'd help little brother, too. That made us real happy, 'cause we loved Baucum more'n life its-own-se'f.

I skittered around to the back door, crep' into the kitchen pantry, and stole one-a Mama's pint-size fruit jars. I turn't the corner of the smokehouse and looked back to see if I'd been caught. Naw. Todd was already leggin' it past the barn. If I had been seen stealin', he didn't aim to be no part of it.

I'd told him where the yeller-jacket nest was at, so we headed for it. When we looked over in the corner of that old rotted-down rail fence, there it was...a little mound of dirt, and a hole where the yeller-jackets went in and out. We could hear 'em hummin' down in 'ere. Todd got down on one knee, helt out his hand, and said:

"Fruit jar!"

I handed it to 'im. He slapped the mouth of that fruit jar down over the hole and helt it tight. Bid-ness picked up about that time! Quicker'n you could say "hush ye' mouth", that fruit jar was plumb full of yeller-jackets. I took a couple of steps . (Just to loosen up, ya know. I had me a bad feelin' about this-here deal.)

"Gimme the lid", says Barge.

"What lid?", says I.

"Don't mess around, boy! Gimme the dad-gum lid!"

"You ain't said nothin' about no lid! You said 'git a fruit jar'...I got a fruit jar."

The sweat broke out on Todd's face like he was pickin' cotton. He ground the neck of that fruit jar down in the dirt, but ever' time he turn't it loose, it'd start tippin' over. I was already ten yards away, on my toes, and poised to break the sound barrier.

"Whut you gon' do?", I ast Todd...(it was a 'him' thang now. I knowed I was gon' be someplace else before a yeller-jacket got close to me.) Todd was twistin' that fruit jar, trying to get the threads to ketch in the dirt...but it was too soft. He said:

"Git ready to run, 'cause I can't hold this thang no longer."

I hollered: "What'd you say?"

From where I was at, over yonder by the barn already, I couldn't hear him real plain. When he heard me answer from way yonder, he panicked and tried to jump up, turn around, and run...all of a once. It didn't work. He got one foot tangled around the other'n, I rek'n. (I had to rek'n it, 'cause I was already on the back porch by then.)

Todd sailed over that top rail like one 'em Olympic people. When that front foot hit the ground, I felt real proud of 'im---he was makin' haste. But them yeller-jackets was Olympic class too, I rek'n, cause they wropped him up!

I stepped inside the screen door and closed it tight. I figgered Mama wouldn't want no yeller-jackets loose in the house, what with the 'baby' laid up sick and all. I went up to the front room and stuck my head around the door:

"Mama...can you step out here for a minnit, ma'am?"

"Buddy, I ain't got time for no foolishness, now."

"Yes'm, but Todd got in a yeller-jacket nest, and he's gon' need some he'p...soon as 'e gits here."

"Mercy sakes! You boys are gon' run me slap crazy one 'ese days!"

She got up and started to'ards the kitchen, pickin' up the Grit newspaper from Papa's rockin' chair on the way. I looked at Baucum...he looked like he was a mite confused. I follered Mama to the kitchen. Todd had just turn't the corner of the smokehouse, and was diggin' for the porch. When she seen all them yeller-jackets, Mama let out a gasp and said:

"Oh Lord...they gon' kill my boy!"

Out that door she went; and she forevermore got in amongst 'em! For a minute or two, that was the biggest mess of yeller-jackets and prancin' boy and protective Mama you ever saw! She flailed away with that folded-up Grit, and piled up dead yeller-jackets with ever' swipe. Soon, she had kilt all of 'em that was on Todd.

Mama shoved him inside the screen door, and I latched it behind her. She unbuckled Todd's gallisses and, what with all the junk we toted in our pockets, them Big Smif's hit the floor like he had an anvil in 'ere. Mama started dobbin' wet snuff on them stings (the only remedy ever made that works on stings.)

While she done that, I meandered up to the front room. Tryin' to be funny, I told the 'baby': "That was a pretty good idy you had there...'bout ketchin' them yeller-jackets." He didn't laugh; not even when I told him about Barge forgettin' to tell me to brang a lid for the fruit jar.

That evenin' when Papa come in from plowin', he got awful tore up when he saw Todd all swole up from them stings. He run his hands over Todd, and looked 'im over real good, askin' a dozen times if he was all right. By then, Todd had long since stopped hurtin', so he reassured Papa that he was fine.

He was like that, Papa was; anytime you was within reach of him, he had a hand on your shoulder, or running his fingers through your hair, or pattin' you on the back for doin' sump'm...even it was done only half-right. It was his way of showing his love for us.

When we injured ourselves, and went runnin' to Mama to get fixed, we was always told thangs like: "Now,'re my big boy. It don't hurt all that bad, does it?'ll be just fine in a minnit." Even while we was still bleedin', we b'lieved her; and it didn't hurt ver' much any more.

At our house, nobody jes' come right out and said they 'loved you'. It just wasn't our way. But love was sure-nuff there; in the little thangs, and the big thangs...all the time. Love was showed...not spoke.

It was a while before them sting bumps faded, but Todd wore 'em like a honor badge. The 'baby' got well, and we was three again.

I think that was the first time me'n Barge had ever listened to anything the 'baby' had instigated. I know it was the LAST time we done it.