Copyright 1989
Sam Elmore


From where we sat on the front porch, just before dark, we could hear Mama bang the plates onto the table, followed by the clash of knives and forks. We looked over at Papa, sitting quietly in his rocking chair. We figure he's got to be the reason Mama's so hot-and-bothered. We knew it was either him or us kids, and we felt certain it wasn't us.

Wa'al, generally was us, but not this time. We had been "little darlings" since a good while back; when we had messed up so bad, Mama made us go get her a persimmon switch.....and that little lady knew how to operate one of them!

As you probably know from your own experience, a peach-tree switch, or a wax myrtle limb....why, they'll break all-to-pieces before you even feel anything. But, a persimmon switch? I've never heard of one of them breaking; and, for sure, they don't wear out!

All us three boys had done, to get in trouble a while back, was play Johnny Mack Brown, Tim Holt, and Sunset Carson inside the house, which was cross-ways of Mama's dictum. We had wrestled ourselves into her storage pantry, knocked down a whole shelf of Mason jars, and busted about half of the canned stuff that Mama and the sister's had put up that summer.

After Mama applied that persimmon switch, the Biblical "straight and narrow" was a mile wide, compared to the trail we had been tippy-toeing down ever since; long enough, in fact, that Mama had even started fussing over us again at bedtime.

So, judging by the noise coming from the kitchen, Papa was in big trouble. It wasn't so much that we were overly concerned about him; just happy that it wasn't us in the doghouse...for a change. When Mama called out that supper was on the table, we all soft-footed back to the kitchen and took our customary places on the long benches beside the table. During supper, we kept our eyes on our own plates, and opened our mouthes only to shove in the food.

When we finished eating, us kids got excused and went out in the yard to play. While we were chasing lightning bugs, we could hear Mama and Papa talking, through the open window. It wasn't us kids after all, and it wasn't even Papa, that had Mama "on-the-nerve". It was that dad-blame thirty-year-old mule, Ol' Whitey, that had got her dander up. We were glad to find that the reason for her ire wasn't real blood kin.

At that time (during the depression of the 20's and 30's), we share-cropped eighty-odd acres, and it took all the effort everybody could muster to make a go of it. In addition, Mama was personally tending a two-acre garden. That was after she'd done more than her share of field work, cooked, washed, sewed, ironed, and everything else that a Mama does for a big family.

What had Mama furious was that Ol' Whitey (who was too old to plow and just loafed around the pasture) was leaning over her garden fence and cropping everything he could reach. As much effort as Mama put into that garden, we understood why she was rubbed the wrong way.

Through the kitchen window, we heard her giving Papa "what-for" about that mule. Papa was trying to cajole Mama out of her mad spell, but he wasn't having much luck. Nothing Papa had already tried so far, to keep Ol' Whitey out of the garden, had worked. Mama wanted something done, and she wanted it done now!

Papa's past efforts had been more along the line of fixing the fence after the mule had already eat a bait of her vegetables, or putting us kids on sentry duty, with pine cones and corn-cobs to run Ol' Whitey off.

Mule guard duty quickly bored us, and our attention span wasn't much to begin with. So, it was more-often-than-not that our "mule ammunition" got chunked at each other, or the unwise goose or chicken that came within our considerable throwing range.

The next morning, we watched and listened as Papa led Mama by the arm out onto the back porch, over to the post by the back steps.

"Aw-right, now", he explained, "from here, it's about sixty-five or seventy steps to the back garden fence."

"What's ‘at got to do with anythang"? she asked, sharply.

"Now, Hattie", he soothed; "from here, you can take the .410 single barrel....I'll pick ye' out a 7 1/2 bird-shot shell....just brace yourself against this post and, when the mule leans over the fence, point it at his rump and pull the trigger".

"Naw, now!", she objected; "I didn't say nothing about shootin' ‘im! I just want ‘im to stay out of my garden."

"Aw, pshaw, Hattie", he chided; "from this distance, there ain't no way you can do more than sting ‘ pepper his behind real good with them 7 1/2 chill shot, and   you'll break 'im of the habit."

Mama twisted her hands in her apron and fidgeted, as she pondered the situation. Then she looked at the two rows of vegetables, nearest the fence line, where Ol' Whitey had chewed off the tops. Seeing that pilferage made her feel somewhat better about the .410 solution.

Next morning, Papa and the bigger ones went off to work in the fields. For some reason, he forgot to pick out a .410 shell for Mama to use, and she forgot to remind him. As soon as us younger ones finished our assigned chores, we headed for the pin oak flats to play Tarzan.

It wasn't long until we heard the .410 go off. We'd heard Papa telling her what to do, so we paid it no mind. We only hoped that it worked, so we wouldn't have to stand "mule duty" any more. As suppertime approached, we played our way back towards the house. From a distance, we saw everyone crowded around the back porch, and we got scared that maybe somebody was hurt or sick. We broke into a dead run.

When we got there, we wormed our way in between the legs of the bigger ones, and there sat Mama on the kitchen steps....crying her eyes out! Papa was patting her on the head, and muttering soothing things, like: "now, now"; "it's awright"; and, "don't fret ye'self, now". But, it sure did look like he was trying hard not to grin.

Mama finally snuffled herself out of her sad spell. She got up, put her arms around us two little ones, and we all went inside. That night, she put the best supper on the table we could ever recall; then she scrubbed us young-uns to the "high-water mark" and put us to bed with an extry portion of fussin' over.

The next mornin', we were all out there bright and early to watch Papa and the big brothers hitch up a team of mules to a double-tree and some drag Ol' Whitey off of the busted-down garden fence where he had collapsed when Mama'd slayed him.

From what we later learned, when Mama heard the garden fence stretching and staples poppin', she had run her hand down in Papa's shell-sack and loaded the .410. In the heat of the moment, she forgot to brace herself against the porch post, like Papa'd said. She had run clean out into the back yard, laid the shotgun through a fork of the chiny-berry tree, drawed a bead just behind the left fore-shoulder of Ol' Whitey, and had squeezed off!

Papa said there was a few things wrong with the way Mama had handled the situation. He had in mind that, when Ol' Whitey leaned on the garden fence, it would be the back fence, where he normally did; not the side fence, up there by the yard.

Also, Papa had in mind that Mama would be braced on the porch post, not way out there at the chiney-berry tree. Most important, though; Papa had planned on Mama using the 7 1/2 bird shot, not the .41 caliber deer slug with which she had done in Ol' Whitey.

We all watched, fascinated, as Papa stepped off the distance from the chiney-berry tree to the kill zone. It was exactly sixteen Papa-steps.