If you’ve ever passed through or spent time up in the Texas Panhandle during the winter, you know just how cold the weather can be.
The eastern Panhandle is rolling sand hills; the west is prairie land flat as a wet leaf. And I’m here to tell you that neither conformation does in now way inhibit the wind howling down from Santa Claus at the North Pole.
Of course, we kids always looked forward to the first snow, but the initial thrill quickly wore off. Slugging through ankle deep mud to feed the animals and milk the cows has a way of throwing and ice-covered blanket over any degree of excitement.
Growing up, we lived next door to my aunt and her husband. He had a couple cows. He milked them in the morning, and with Dad overseas, my job was to milk them in the evening. It was a tedious enough task when the weather was nice, but during the winter, the snow and rain and mud put a quick end to a fifth grade boy’s delight over a fresh snowfall.
I was never one to complain when one of the cows started drying up. Now, I don’t remember actually muttering the words, but I probably added a footnote to my prayers at night to assist the old cows in drying up.
Even spraying cats with warm milk couldn’t detract from the cold slithering up my coat or pant legs as I squatted at the old bovine’s side.
About the only thing colder than milking cows in the middle of the winter was utilizing the two-holer out back. That’s a cold beyond description. Even the spiders and snakes left.
Fortunately, baths were taken in a washtub in the kitchen in front of the stove with the oven door open and the burners going full blast.
Come February or March, I was ready for Mister Winter to move on back north.
Luckily for us, our relationship with the two-holer only lasted during of the war for upon Dad’s return, he built us a house with all the facilities a couple lots over.
Usually, we spent Christmas on my maternal grandparents’ farm out by Lubbock. That part of Texas was sometimes given the moniker ‘Great Plains’ or ‘Staked Plains’, because it was so flat.
Those Christmases have always held a special spot in my memory. We’d spend a week or so at Mama’s for Mom’s family was fairly large, three sisters and four brothers. Not all could make it the same time, instead trickling in over a few days.
You get eight couples and their kids together, and very soon bodies are poking out every window of a three-room clapboard house.
We usually made the trip with my aunt and her husband. Both self-employed, they could take off when they wanted. Dad always had to work, so he’d drive on out the night before Christmas Eve
Since the adults took up most of the space inside, we boys played outside despite the cold. From time to time, we’d scoot inside to warm up and dry out.
Naturally fireworks, then as now, were part of the Christmas celebration, and we cousins would save up for an ample supply. Now, firecrackers on a farm were a big no-no because of the animals, so we had to wander off down to the local creek some half-mile away to set them off.
Roman candles were another matter for they weren’t as noisy as a string of Black Cats. Other than a hissing whoosh and a low decibel pop, the Roman candle served as an ideal weapon when we waged battle with each other.
Now, cousins in our family were sort of stratified, I suppose you could say. Each strata was about four or five years older than the next group, which meant the younger ones were prime objects for unabashed bullying.
The one who gave Ed and me the most trouble was Dooley. His name was Henry, Henry Shoop, but he had been stuck with the nickname Dooley as long as I could remember.
Anyway, one winter, Dooley cornered me and Ed out in the barn, which was a cavernous structure with a dozen or more stalls, two or three lofts, and no telling how many tack rooms and feed rooms.
And oh yes, in the winter, the floor turned to squishy mud from not only the weather but the afterthoughts of the bovines loitering about out of the frigid cold.
That day, Dooley was chasing us with a shovel full of afterthoughts he had scooped up with the intent of dumping it on us.
Even though he was five years our senior, the cumbersome load plus the slippery footing sent him sliding into a pile of afterthoughts himself.
That gave us time to scamper across the farmyard to the well house where we’d cached our supply of fireworks in a milk can.
Just as we pulled out our Roman candles, Dooley yanked the door open. Before he could move, we touched matches to the candles.
He stumbled back, fell over his own feet, then jumped up, but not before we sizzled his rear end with a couple balls. Laughing like lunatics, we chased him all the way to the house.
You bet. He finally caught us without our equalizers, carrying out his initial intent, to toss us in the afterthoughts.
The women made us strip down to our longjohns on the porch in the cold so we wouldn’t smell up the house. I swore to get even with Dooley, even though I knew I would pay for any revenge.
That night, Dad handed me the answer. He had to go back to Wheeler and I was to go with him. We’d leave early, before everyone got up. Mom and my brother would come the next day.
That night while Dooley slept on the pallet next to mine, I dumped a cup of afterthoughts in his boot.
Sometime later, Dad awakened me, and we left. I giggled all the way home.
According to Mom, Dooley pulled his boot on, then jerked his foot out and tracked the stuff all over the house before the women ran him outside.
I pleaded innocent. Mom and Dad knew I was lying, but when I saw them grin at each other, I realized they knew the truth. I kept expecting some kind of punishment, but it never came.
Until that summer. That’s when I ran into Dooley once again.