Friday, February 15, 2013

"The Mighty Yazoo" by Greg Easter

In our family, major purchases came from one of two places--Sears Roebuck or Western Auto. My daddy, Fred, had credit at both! And, as a United States Postal Worker, who delivered mail in Tarrant City, Alabama, his post office was a mere block from each. 

On a special Friday payday, in July 1967, on his way home, daddy stopped by Western Auto to pay his monthly bill. He called from the store phone and alerted my mama (Joann), my brother Jeff and me that he was on his way home with “something special” in the trunk of the Plymouth.

After hanging up the phone, mama guessed excitedly, “Maybe it’s a new TV.  Oooh, won’t it be wonderful to watch that handsome Dean Martin and The Fugitive in living color.” 

But I had a much better guess. It could only be that gold-colored, 20-inch racer bike with butterfly handlebars and a rippled plastic banana seat that daddy knew I wanted. I was already planning how I would mesmerize my friends with wheelies, ramp jumps over small Volkswagens and my sheer speed.

My four-years-younger brother, Jeff, murmured something about a swing set with ropes and a slide…something only meaningful to juvenile eight-year olds.

When daddy’s Plymouth turned onto Manning Street, I was perched and waiting. From a distance, I saw that something special hanging out the trunk, held secure under a beehive of twine, plastic and pieces of torn cloth.

But, my heart sunk fast. Daddy was smiling way too big for that beehive to contain a bicycle. 

Maybe it was its bright, new shininess. Or, maybe a long-held dream just overcame him as he stood there paying off his Western Auto bill. Or, maybe he just liked Jerry Clower. But, whatever the reason, on that July-payday-Friday, daddy brought home a Yazoo.

Mama’s now-deflated voice spoke first, “Fred, it’s a lawn mower!” Daddy began his pitch: “Joann, this ain’t no ordinary lawn mower! This is a Yazoo! This machine is a prime example of American Craftsmanship manufactured in Yazoo City, Mississippi. Honey, this lawn mower is the Cadillac of lawn equipment!” But, Mama just disappeared inside, unimpressed. She'd have to keep making do with her black-and-white Dean Martin.
"The Mighty Yazoo"

Daddy continued his speech on me: “Greg, this is one powerful machine, much better than our old Sears’ mower.” After a moment of grief over the death of my imagined stunts and escapades, daddy’s excitement began to rub off.

That new Yazoo had two large bicycle-sized tires on the rear, two smaller tires on front and, come to think of it, the handle even looked like butterfly handlebars.
According to daddy, the extra leverage provided by the large rear tires allowed a person to “expand their boundaries into heavy brush and even mow down small sapling trees.”

Although, as the oldest son, grass-cutting duties belonged to me, it was only right that daddy got to take her out for a test mow. After carefully cutting the front yard with straight lines and 90-degree turns, he ceremoniously turned her over to me. Manhood had arrived!

I mowed the front yard. I mowed the side yard. I mowed the back yard. I mowed all the way down the hill to Stouts Road. I was goose-stepping through that high grass like a German soldier marching into battle. By the time I finished, it was getting dark, so I parked her under the house for the night.

That night, I lay in bed thinking about my new Yazoo. In my mind, I traced Stouts Road from Kimberly Church of God all the way to Morris Cemetery. I made mental notes of all my future lawn-care customers. The cash windfall my Yazoo was gonna earn me was unimaginable. Twenty dollars a week was well within my reach. By next summer I could own a fleet of Yazoos. The sky was the limit.

Next mornin’, I was up early--an uncommon Saturday occurrence for me. Normally, I slept in, then woke up and ate a few bowls of Krispy Kritters while checking on the latest adventures of Bugs Bunny and Wiley Coyote. Our black-and-white TV carried two channels, and I could usually squeeze in four cartoons before the Dialing-for-Dollars scary movies started at noon.

But, that Saturday, I was on a mission. Since I had cut our grass the day before, I started on my BamMaw’s grass next door. Her yard was bigger and had more hills, but me and my Yazoo conquered a half-day job in less than two hours.

When BamMaw returned from getting her hair done down the hill at Margie Kelley’s beauty shop, she beamed with pride at her newly-cut lawn. For a few minutes, I was her favorite grandchild. She bent down--the smell of Aqua Net still fresh on her stacked-up curls, which were reinforced by hairpins and a net--and kissed my sweaty cheek. 

I was a grass-cuttin’ superhero. Onto bigger challenges.

What happened next was…well…back then, I called it a vision. These days, I realize it was probably a mixture of over-inflated ego, dehydration and inhaled Aqua Net.

But, I suddenly “saw myself” mowing a path from our backyard to Walter Kelley’s General Store. (Those Kelleys were entrepreneurs.)

So, I plotted my mission. If I wanted a direct shot from my house to Walter's store, I’d have to mow a 100-yard-long path through six-foot high weeds, and then mow across a corner of Sister Creel’s hayfield. But, the sheer amount of time this shortcut would save me to get from my back yard to Walter’s candy counter would be worth the challenge.

Most certainly, this path would cause me and my Yazoo to face and mow unthinkable heights. But, I believed it could be done. After all, daddy said that Yazoo would allow me to “expand my boundaries into heavy brush and even mow down small sapling trees.”

So…I rared up the front tires and began to mow over high weeds. Ten, twenty, thirty yards…deep into the heavy-brush jungle. In my dehydrated, Aqua-netted imagination, weeds towered three or four feet above my head, and all sorts of wild things cowered before the power of my mighty Yazoo.

Eventually, Walter Kelley’s general store towered in front of me like a welcoming beacon. We had done it.

I shut off the mower and looked back over my shoulder. Like God's parting of the Red Sea, I had parted Sister Creel’s hayfield. The Promised Land lay just across Stouts Road.

I pushed my beautiful Yazoo back home through the newly-parted hayfield, head held high. Mama greeted me. She was beaming as she complimented and rewarded her industrious son. “Take this and buy you and your brother something,” she said as she dropped a dime and a quarter in my sunburned, sweaty palm. Thirty-five cents! That could buy a boy and his brother an array items from Walter’s candy case.

As I proudly marched through my newly-conquered shortcut, tightly gripping that dime and quarter, I contemplated how I would spend it. But, come to think of it, why did Jeff deserve a reward? I was the hot, sweaty son. All Jeff did was sit on the couch and watch Lassie. Why should he get any of my thirty-five cents?

Still contemplating, I walked in the store and said “mornin” to Walter, who was leaning over the counter talking to Bo Waddell. Bo sat at his usual spot, perched on top of an RC Cola crate turned on its side. They were immersed in smoking Winstons and discussing how George Wallace and his wife, Lurleen, were going to save us all.

Quickly, I surveyed the pegboard wall behind the cash register that held a little bit of everything--including batteries for your flashlight and, way up high on the top pegboard, a real transistor radio sealed in plastic covered with a thin layer of dust.

On the shelves, many of the canned goods held two or three price stickers on top of each other, cataloging the rising inflation and the length of time they had sat on the shelves. There were loaves of Merita Bread, cans of Vienna sausages and small silver tins of Bruton snuff. The glass-domed cooler at the back of the store held bacon, eggs, butter, those delicious Stewart sandwiches, whole milk, buttermilk and chocolate milk.

The metal racks at the front of the store held banana flips, honey buns, fried pies and all sorts of candy. Man, did I love those flips and candy! Spoken by a boy who wore “husky jeans” from Sears Roebuck. And, as if the icy-cold drinks in the dark confines of the CoCola ice boxes weren’t enough, on hot summer days, those boxes were also home to GooGoo Clusters.

So…as you see, I had to be careful and maximize my purchasing power. But, unbeknownst to Walter, I had become skilled at beating the system. I had learned that, with thirty-five cents, I could save three cents worth of tax if I made purchases of ten-cents or less, since no tax was charged on items costing less than 15 cents.

First, I purchased a Dr. Pepper for 10 cents. I drained the entire bottle in a single swallow. Now, with only twenty-five cents left, I had to purchase my main course and still buy something for that undeserving Jeff.

As I stood there surveying my limitless choices, it dawned on me. I’d buy the pack of pink marshmallow/coconut/chocolate Snowballs. That way, I got two cakes for the price of one—one for me and one for Jeff. And, dadgum it, I ended up spending my last dime on a Dr. Pepper for the Lassie-watchin’ freeloader.

After I completed my purchases, I retired outside to enjoy my Snowball, leaving Walter and Bo inside, engulfed in their Winston cloud, dreaming about the glory days ahead with George and Lurleen at the wheel.

Life was good! I sat down next to Walter’s gas pumps, leaning against the 55-gallon drum he had cut in half and filled with water. Walter would dip tires in this mosquito-larvae-wiggly-tail infested water to check for flats.

Sitting there, looking up that 100-yard-long path directly to my back door, holding my delicious Snowball, I savored the moment, reflecting on what a wondrous person I must be to have accomplished God’s will by “subduing the earth” with my wondrous Yazoo.

I savored each fluffy, pink bite until my Snowball was gone. After a bit more daydreaming about my greatness, I looked down and realized I had drunk Jeff’s Dr. Pepper. Mama was gonna kill me!

Maybe I could say there were ants in it…or that Bo Waddell had wrestled me to the ground for it…I could come up with something. After all, I was the boy who had both subdued the earth AND beaten the State of Alabama’s tax system.

While sitting there trying to invent a good story, I took a big bite out of Jeff’s Snowball. Apparently, the devil was now in me!

And, at that very moment,  I looked up, and there, walking down my newly-mowed, shortcut, comes Cottontop himself—Jeff—my undeserving, heathen brother.
"CottonTop" (aka Jeff)

So, I shoved the remaining evidence into my mouth. I tried to swallow, but dry cake and sticky marshmallow only lodged in my throat. It would not come up. It would not go down. That Snowball was stuck. I had no Dr. Pepper. I had no money. I was getting light headed. I was going to die!

I looked around, desperate, panicked. Then, I remembered the tire barrel I was leaning against. So I jumped up and was just about to gulp down a two-cupped-handful of mosquito-larvae-wiggly-tail infested-flat-tire water, when God (or maybe it was my jumping) caused that fist-sized pink conglomeration to burst forth from my windpipe.

Evidently, it was not Jesus’ time for me to go. I would live to mow another lawn with my mighty Yazoo. To eat another pink Snowball and drink another cold Dr. Pepper!

....That is, if Ol’ Cottontop didn’t kill me first for enjoying his.

But, what was I thinking--my mighty Yazoo could handle him.

By: Greg Easter 

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