YOUTH AND LIGHT-BREAD


This story is not about the location of the center of the universe, although I do know where it is (or was). Mama's kitchen. That's where wonderful, unexplainable, things happened.

As the middle of the three youngest boys in my family, I was bracketed by twelve year old Barge on the upper side (bigger, wiser), and seven year old Baucum (generally called 'the baby') on the lower side; (smaller, but I swear he was sometimes smarter than me'n Barge put together).

I recall the too-seldom occasions when Mama would bake 'light-bread' for the family. We called it light-bread to distinguish it from biscuits or cornbread; our standard fare. Store-bought sliced bread was still a long way off in our future. (Store bread was then, and is now (in my opinion), categorically inferior to the light-bread Mama baked in her magical wood-burning stove. Papa once referred to store-bought bread as tasting 'about like eatin' a wawst nest.')

When Mama decided to bake light-bread, she announced it to all concerned at the breakfast tabe; and closely followed with a threat of mayhem to anyone who came within a quarter-mile of her kitchen while she was baking.

We knew how wonderful that fresh light-bread would smell and taste. We also knew that, each time she made light-bread, Mama would cook an extra special meal to go with it. So on light-bread day, without fully understanding why, us three young rapscallions walked the straight and narrow on tippy-toes.

We were playing in the back yard one ‘light-bread- baking-day' and, being more curious than the proverbial cat, I asked Barge (who not-so-reluctantly admitted that he knew everything) what was so all-fired important about us staying out of the house when Mama was baking light bread.

"'Cause you might slam a door or sump'm and r'ern the light-bread."

I pondered that for a minute and, finding it totally lacking in wisdom, questioned his knowledge of the facts. Barge did not like to be second-guessed by his little brothers. Once he had declared that a ‘thing was a thing', then it was a done deed in his estimation. He frowned mightily at me, and said:

"You got a problem with what I jest said, boy?"

"Yeah---what's slammin' a door got to do with r'ernin' light-bread?"

"It makes the bread fall, you idjit."

"On the floor?"

"Boy, you as dumb as a pine knot. When Mama makes light-bread, ya gotta be real quiet. You raise any fuss, it'll fall in on itself."

I thought about that for a bit, and asked:

"Why?"

Barge had already used up everything he knew about the situation, and was drawin' a deep breath to start lying, when Baucum spoke up; catching us both by surprise.

"Yeast."

"Hunh?"

"Hunh?"

"Mama uses yeast to make the bread dough rise. The vibrations from a door slamming, or something dropped on the floor, has a tendency to cause the rising dough to collapse" (or words to that effect.)

I'm not joking....at seven years of age, Baucum would sometimes bust out and talk like he was forty-year-old or something. It was kind-a scary when he did that. Then, the next words out of his mouth might be the stupidest thing you ever heard in your life..."butterflies like me", and stuff like that.

In retrospect, I wish I had let ‘the baby' speak up on my behalf more often than I did. On many occasions, I was hard-put to explain something to Mama or Papa; usually after I'd broke something, or precipitated some other disaster around the place. One particular time stands out in my mind.

When the weather warmed up enough to go barefooted, that was our favorite time of year. However, if we waited for Mama and Papa to tell us when that time had come, we'd have still be wearing them ol' heavy Sears & Roebuck brogans way down in the summer.

The time I'm talking about was the time that the three of us boys discovered that we were ‘alive'. I mean, Barge knew ‘fore I did, and I knew ‘fore Baucum did; but this one particular time, all three of us knew at the same time that we could do anything. We could climb any tree in existence, out-run a deer, throw farther than the eye could see, and catch anything under the sun.

Barge even picked up the anvil and chunked it one time, just to show Baucum he could. I already knew he could, ‘cause he'd chunked it for my benefit a couple of years before (‘cept not as far, that first time.)

I don't have the words to describe it fully, but if you can recall when you were young, and if you remember the blood rushing through your veins like Niagara Falls, when you could run fast enough to overtake the wind, when your hearing was so sharp you could distinguish between the sounds of each katy-did, and when you knew that everything in the world was...possible---that's what I mean about knowing you're really ‘alive'.

One day, in early March, I sped around the house in hot pursuit of my two brothers. Mama reached out and snagged me by one of my galluses. Since I was barefooted, my speed was way up there. Grabbin' onto me in full flight like that must have almost jerked her arm out of the socket. Once she had me ‘in neutral and idling', she started tongue-lashin' me about being barefooted so early in the year, and how us three boys was gon' catch ‘pee-new-moan-ye' and die; that is, if we didn't step on a nail and die of the lock-jaw, first.

That's the time I wish ‘the baby' had stepped in there and cut loose with that forty-year-old wisdom-talk of his, like he did about the light-bread. But, he and Barge had turned the far corner, stopped, and eased back to spy. They poked one eyeball a-piece around the corner, to see whether Mama had killed me yet. Their heads stickin' around the corner were stacked on top of each other like them Three Stooges.

They were not about to come out in the open while Mama was on the nerve, and with a grizzy-bear grip on my galluses. So, I decided to s'plain to Mama my-own-se'f. That was a mistake.

"Mama, don't you fret none ‘bout us catching pee-new-moan-ye. We ain't gon' step on any nails, either. We can't, Mama---ye-see, we ain't really runnin' on the ground…"

"What did you say?", she asked, sternly.

"Mama, when we're runnin' barefooted like ‘is, we're goin' so fast we ain't even hardly touchin' the ground, so they aint no way we can step on a nai...."

She fetched me a cuff upside the head, and said:

"Don't you back-sass me, young man! I'll cut me a persimmon switch and tan your hide! You hear me?"

"Yes'm.'

With my ear still smartin', I glanced over at the house corner; not one eye-ball was pokin' around. Them two traitors had abandoned me to my own fate.

Later, when I joined the boys behind the smokehouse, Barge just looked at me and shook his head, sort of sad-like.

"Boy, you rilly try to mess up, don't ye?".

"I was jest...I was tryin' to s'plain..."

"Listen to me…you can't s'plain things we know about to Mama'n them. They old. They never was young like us, so they can't understand about runnin' without touchin' the ground, and bein' able to see the wind, or knowing the thistle feathers go to Africa when we blow ‘em off-a the stem. We know that stuff, but ye' can't go tellin' nobody; specially old people. Ye' unner'stan'?"

Baucum's head was noddin' up and down wisely; like one-a them toy dogs ye' see in the back window of a car sometimes. I was jest about ready to light into him and give him a going-over. I asked him:

"How come you didn't he'p me out, back ‘ere? You talk so dad-gum smart about light-bread and yeast and stuff!"

"I didn't know what you was tryin' to do. How'm I s'posed to he'p ye? I aint but seb'm year old!"

(That was one thing Me'n Barge learned, early on, about little brother. If it was to his advantage, he could revert to being ‘the baby' in an instant! But, you take a situation like ‘slammin' a door will r'ern the light-bread', and all-of-a-sudden he could sound like Daniel Webster and Socrates all crammed into one.)

It's no wonder that me'n Barge have walked around in a daze for sixty year, wondering what ‘the baby' would come up with next.

Copyright
Sam Elmore