My dad was a good man, but he perfected the art of procrastination, he just could not carry projects to completion. In the south you can say something not so nice as long as you follow with “bless his heart.”
Three events come to mind.
Not long after we moved to the country, he decided we should have a pig. If you have a pig, you need a pig pen. About a hundred yards through a field from our new house was where the woods started. He picked a spot in the edge of the woods for the pen. Nothing elaborate–just some boards nailed to trees. I do not remember the details, but the pen was small with a covered area in one corner, a feeding trough and water bucket.
Pigs are not very particular as long as they have plenty of food and water. That chore fell to me–meaning daily trips to the woods with buckets of food, table scraps and water. Not being a full-fledged farm boy, I did not rise with the sun, far from it. I generally put off feeding the pig until evenings.
Thank goodness this did not go on long. My father lost interest and sold or more likely gave the pig away.
Next came the chickens. In those days, caskets were shipped in wooden boxes. My dad thought one of those boxes set up on sawhorses would make the perfect starter home for baby chicks. One of his friends owned the town mortuary so a large wooden box appeared in our backyard. Unfortunately, not a lot of thought was given to where the casket box was to be set up.
As it turned out, not thinking about the smell that was sure to come, it was located too close to my parents’ bedroom windows. The chicks did well and soon grew larger–as did the smell. No plan had been made for the next step. No larger pen. Even if the smell had not doomed the chickens’ future, by that time the family had decided we were too attached and probably would not bring ourselves to eat them. It was not long before once again the chickens were sold or given away.
Pigs and chickens 1, my dad 0.
The next project took longer and started out making a bit more sense. Somewhere my dad learned about a hybrid tree that had been developed. The Arizona Cypress was grown to be used as Christmas trees. The difference was that after it reached Christmas tree size and was harvested, the stump would grow another tree to be harvested in a few more years.
He bought the trees and we planted a couple of acres. All went well except when the trees reached the right height, he could not bear to cut them. Instead we let them grow to a height eventually blocking our view of the mountains. They later died as most hybrids do, which left him with two acres of dead trees to clear.
About this time in writing this story, I paused. Maybe my dad was not so much a procrastinator, but was just doing the best he could.
As a kid I don’t think I would have understood which. Looking back, maybe raising a pig and some chickens should be looked on as a learning experience. I remember walking to the pig pen on cold dark nights was something I had to do, but it was really scary. At ten years old carrying a kerosene lantern and pig food, the dark woods ahead of me were really frightening, even more so on the way back–things can slip up on you when your back is turned. I loved those woods by day, but who knew what lurked there after dark.
So, the pig, the chickens and the Christmas trees did not work out and may have cost our family a few bucks, but I’m pretty sure there were some hidden learning experiences in there somewhere.
“Bless his heart.”
Bill Minus lives in Chestertown and can be seen roaming Kent County looking for interesting things.