The Corn Patch
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by Frank Shortt
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“Mom, it’s hotter than a deep fried turkey today, we’ll cook out there in that
Mom could care less. Our corn patch needed hoeing, as did the beans
that trailed up using the stalks as a trellis. There were times that my shirt had stuck to my back, cooking it , and mom had been
forced to cut the shirt off. This was due to the high humidity of the Virginia sunshine.
I just didn’t want to hoe corn today. My cousins were coming down from Maryland and I wanted to be free to show them all the country
lore that I could squeeze into one weekend. My older brother, Wendell, and I went on like obedient slaves to hoe the corn.
Later that morning, our carefree brother E.L., came sauntering by the cornfield, chuckling in his usual way. He was allowed to sleep
in by playing sick and catering to mom’s soft side.
Wendell didn’t like his
attitude. He grabbed one of the fresh clods he had just dug out, flinging it down the hill toward E.L.
“What the xx**!” E.L. cried as if a whole coal bank had fallen in on him.
immediate reaction was to pick up one of the plentiful rock population and fling it at Wendell hitting him on the ankle.
He had declared war.
“I’m gonna bash your head in” Wendell declared.
This wasn’t like Wendell at all as he was usually the easy going one of our family. Only I knew the other side of himl. He could be
pushed a long ways before he boiled over. When he did, I didn’t want to be within a good ten miles.
Both Wendell and I began to pepper E.L. with rocks. He took refuge in the outhouse thinking to dodge all the missiles raining down
upon him. He must have thought that Armageddon had erupted as he cried,
have mercy on me!”
Mom and Dad had left for Richlands early that morning to
procure groceries. This was a Saturday ritual but especially needed since we were having company from out of town. Mom would probably
even splurge for some extra-special dessert like ice cream or watermelon. Their strict orders were,
“You’d better have that patch of corn hoed out by the time we get back”!
knew better than to allow E.L. to provoke us to anger. We knew that we must obey our parents or face their wrath. This was not the
time for E.L. to act up. This was the time to put our noses to the grindstone and accomplish something.
Our outhouse was built with the roughest lumber dad could procure. We had no toilet seats, only the splintery boards, left unsanded
and unvarnished. This was very hazardous to the backside. The old Sears Roebuck or Montgomery Wards Catalog served as our tissue.
It was very chafing to say the least. It was hot in summer, colder than an Eskimos’ nose in the winter.
Where the rafters held the roof, there were spaces in between. This provided Wendell and I ample room to continue tossing stones in
on our errant brother.
“You’ve busted my head, or, I’m dying,” would emanate
each time a rock was heaved.
In truth we probably never came close to hitting
Just when we had the outhouse floor lined with stones, who should show
up? Mom and Dad.
“Did you get that patch of corn hoed out?” Dad asked first
Wendell would never tell even a little white lie. His moral standard
had always been to tell the truth and face the consequences. It was not always so with me. Until a conversion a few years later, I
might have stretched the truth somewhat in a situation such as this.
working on it when we decided to rest awhile”, was Wendell’s weak reply.
can see by the rocks in the outhouse that you did a lot of resting,” Dad caustically assumed.
Dad’s next reaction was exactly what we expected in his present frame of mind. He walked hastily over to the bank of the road, pulling
out his Boker hawk bill knife as he proceeded. He cut a birch sapling, the large end of which was almost an inch across.
He began striping me with the smaller end of that sapling, using up about half of it, then turning to Wendell he wore out the remainder
of it on him.
“Was E.L. involved in this little fiasco? Dad inquired.
he wasn’t,” Wendell and I spoke up in unison as we rubbed our striped shirtless backs.
E.L. was a puny kid who had been born with bad kidneys. Wendell and I usually protected him in any dangerous situation. He had a tendency
to have ‘fits‘, also, as we called convulsions in those days of the early 1950’s. In truth he was an epileptic until he out grew it
Dad’s anger assuaged, he went on into the house not ever looking back.
From that day, he never whipped Wendell or I again. Wendell was fifteen, I was thirteen. Before Dad died, he came to me one day as
I visited from California. His apology was long in coming but very meaningful as to how it occurred.
One afternoon as I began to mount the stairs for a nap, Dad approached me from behind and asked me to talk with him a minute before
I went on up. Our family had had some kind of religious disagreement prior to my going for my nap.
“Frankie, I realize that I have been awfully rough on all my children. I have ‘beaten first and asked questions later’. I know that
this has caused some mental, as well as physical, hardships on some of you. I just want to say I am sorry and apologize to you.”
I was taken aback. I had never expected an apology from my father. I was almost too dumfounded to speak.
“You’re my father, I probably never got a beating I didn’t deserve, and probably didn’t get some I should have. I fully accept your
apology and I want you to know that I love you more that you will ever know.”
I had done some repenting since I was a lad of thirteen. Before this I had always been a little reluctant to hug my father. The usual
thing was a handshake and a tap on the shoulder.
We embraced, this time with
no inhibitions, just a warm, heartfelt hug accompanied by tears.
As I turned
to go on upstairs, dad said, “Frankie, I love you also, I know that we don’t always agree on things, but we will always be family
no matter what.”
This was in 1984. Two years later dad would fight his ‘greatest
battle ever fought’ and would finally succumb to Cancer. He went down proclaiming to the very last, “Jesus Christ in us is our only
Conversions run in our family.