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    The Smartest Brother

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    I live close to a town called, Hot Coffee, down by the Mississippi River with my family on a small farm. I have two brothers and one sister. When we come home from school we have chores waiting for us. My errand is to feed chickens and collect the eggs for Mama. My older brother Bobby, chops wood for our heat and cooking. Mike, the youngest brother is ten and the smartest of us kids. Well at least we thought he was. His job is feeding the mule Ole Mac. Ole Mac is nine years old and the best mule Daddy ever had. Daddy talked well of Mac, about how strong he is, and how easy he is to plow. Daddy is always saying best dang mule in the county.

    Mac stands 14 hands tall and 4 feet across the back. He is the biggest mule I”ve ever seen, and according to Daddy he is also the smartest. One day Mike came by the chicken coop coming from the barn with a big smile. “Why you smiling Mike? ” I asked opening the coop gate heading for the house too. “Oh nothin, nothin at all. ” He said with that big grin. “Oh come on what is it? ” “Nothin I said and leave me alone. ” He said running ahead of me toward the house. “Here you are Mama. ” I said handing her the ten eggs I”d collected. “Not bad Jimbo. ” I loved my Mama more than anything, but I wished she would stop calling me Jimbo.

    If she kept it up everybody would start doing it. She stirred my hair seeing my frown, she beamed and said, “Sorry I mean James. ” I smiled at her, “Thanks Mama. ” “You go wash up for supper now. Your daddy will be in from the fields soon. ” “Ok. ” I said going down the hallway to the bathroom. I could hear her talking to Mike. “Boy, what in the world are you so happy about. ” “Nothin Ma, I”m just smilen. Can”t I smile? ” “Boy, when you smile, I get worried. ” “Oh Ma, I ain”t done nothin for you to worry about. ” I could hear the smile in his voice. I don”t know what Mike did, but I knew it wasn”t good.

    Mike was a smart kid, but sometimes he was too smart for his own good. Bobby was the oldest, at 14 an a half as he called himself. He wasn”t the brightest boy you”d want to meet, but at 14 and standing 5″10″ all muscle, and let me say this nobody at school said a cross word to him. His size also helped Mike and me, because they knew Bobby would come to our aid. On the weekends we”d go to the fields with Daddy, and hoe the corn. That time of the year Kekulebusrs were bad. The Kekulebur is a plant that twists around the corn and kills it. So we had to make war on them every week during the growing season.

    Bobby would do twice the work of Mike and me. Daddy was proud of us all, which he told us all the time. We knew he had more pride for Bobby, because of the work he could do. I heard Daddy tell Bobby one day he”d make a good farmer. He never said that to Mike or me, but Mike was good at his school work as I was. Bobby could hardly read or write, but he was a born farmer and he loved it. We heard Daddy coming in because Ole Mac was making his usual hew hawing sound knowing he was about to be fed. I went out onto the porch and watched Daddy taking the harness off Ole Mac. Daddy waved for me to come to the barn.

    I knew what he wanted me for. Twice a week Ole Mac gets a brush down. Daddy said brushing help keep the flies off Ole Mac”s rump. We always laughed when he said that. It wasn”t what he said it was the way he said it. That was one thing Daddy can do, he made us all laugh. “James, you get through brushing Mac put him in his stall. Don”t take too long brushing him or he”ll bite you. Ole Mac”s hungry and ain”t going to wait long. ” “Ok Daddy I”ll be quick. ” With a smile Daddy said, “You better or Mac will take a chunk out of your arm. ” He said laughing toward the tack room with the harness. Daddy always soaped the harness once a week.

    He said it kept the leather from cracking. “You finished yet? ” Daddy asked. “Yes sir, I”m done. ” “Well-put Mac into his stall and let him eat, and you get to the house so we can have our supper. ” “Yes sir, I”ll be right there. ” I led Ole Mac into his stall and he went straight to his trough. I watched him for just a second. He stuck his head down into the trough and then pulled it back quickly. I thought I should go in and check his feed but I”ve seen rats get into the trough before and Ole Mac would run them out without any problem. So thinking that it was a rat I headed to the house for supper and thought no more about it. What we eating tonight Mama? ” I asked pulling the lid off the stew pot. “Boy, you know better than to do that. Where you been anyway? I thought you were in your room with your brothers doing homework. ” “I was down in the barn brushing Ole Mac. ” “Well you better go wash up again. Supper will be on the table in just a minute. ” “Ok. ” I said once again going down the hallway to wash my hands. “James. Did Ole Mac start eating? ” Daddy asked coming out of the one and only bathroom all six of us had to use. “No sir I think there was a rat in his feed trough. ” ” Ole Mac knows how to take care of a little rat. “Yes sir, he does I”ve seen him pick them up and bite them right in half. ” “I pity any rat that bothers Mac”s food. ” Daddy said with a smile. “You hurry up now before all the food is gone. You know how your brothers are about squirrel hash. ” “Squirrel hash? ” Oh boy we haven”t had that in a long time. ” “James, you like anything your Mother makes. ” Daddy said with a pat to my shoulder. I got to the table just before Daddy asked the blessing, which he did for every meal. Pam my sister and Mama got up after the blessing to bring in the stew pot of squirrel hash. Pam took off the lid of the pot and the smell was wonderful.

    The whole family loved squirrel hash that is except for Pam. She wouldn’t eat the hash, because she loved to watch squirrels run in the trees and out on the yard. To her, it would be like eating a pet cat or dog. Squirrel meat is some of the best eating meat in the world. It has a hard gamey taste to it. That means it”s just a little bitter not too much but just right. Last Sunday afternoon we boys had gone hunting and got luckly. We”d killed seven squirrels, but none of them were from around the house. When we go hunting for squirrel, we go over to the Sims” farm, because of Pam. One time we hunted near the house and killed four squirrels.

    Pam saw us and cried out, “Stop killing my squirrels. ” It took her two months to forgive us. From that, time on we always went over to our neighbor”s woods. Pam was a year younger than Bobby, but she had the strongest will of us all, and we knew better than making her cross. Plus she helped Mama cook, and if we got her too upset who knows what we might find on our supper plates. The next day after school I was in the chicken coop doing my chores when I heard Daddy coming in from the fields. He was coming in earlier than usual. I also couldn”t hear Ole Mac”s hew hawing as he always did knowing it was close to feed time. “Daddy, you all right? I asked worried that he might be sick or hurt. “I”m ok, but I think Mac is coming down with something. ” “What”s the matter with him? ” I asked walking to the barn with a basket of eggs. “I don”t know, he just seemed to be weak. He started slowing down about noon. ” Daddy said leading Mac into the barn. He started pulling the harness off him and put his hand on Mac”s nose. “What you doing Daddy? ” I didn”t understand why he was touching Mac”s nose. “I”m seeing if he has a fever. ” “Is it hot? ” I asked “No, but it sure feels strange. There”s little pits on his nose. ” “What”s a pit? ” I asked walking to the front of Mac. Little holes, I didn”t notice them this morning. I guess it was still to dark. ” “You didn”t see them all day? ” I asked puzzled. “Son, when I”m plowing, I walk behind Ole Mac. ” “You reckon it was the rat in his trough yesterday? ” Daddy took a close look and said, “It”s not rat bites. It looks like somebody took an ice pick to him. ” Daddy said rubbing Mac”s nose. When he did Ole Mac hew hawed in pain, and stepped back on Roger our dog. Roger jumped up and ran out of the barn yapping like the devil was after him. “Go look after Roger and make sure he ain”t hurt. ” Daddy said looking out the barn door. “Ok. I said running out and calling for Roger to stop. I found Roger lying under the porch whining. I called him out and he crawled to me and licked my hand. Checking him over I saw no broken bones or blood, and his tail was wagging. I knew then he was all right. I went back to the barn and saw Daddy in Ole Mac”s stall. I”ve never seen Daddy with such anger on his face before. “Daddy, you ok? ” He looked at me not saying a word. Coming out of the stall he said, “Go get me the hammer. ” “The hammer? ” “Yes get me the hammer. ” He yelled pointing toward the tack room. His face then softened and he said, “I”m sorry son.

    I”m not mad at you. ” Relieved I went to the tack room and found the hammer. “I want you to go and get Mike right now. ” He turned going back into Mac”s stall. As I was going to the house for Mike I heard some hammering in the barn. I thought it funny for Daddy to start building something after he”d been in the fields all day. Mike was in our bedroom doing his homework. “Daddy wants to see you in the barn. ” I saw Mike”s face go white. “What”s Daddy want with me? ” Mike said getting up and walking to the window looking toward the barn. “I don”t know, but he sure looked angry. ” “Oh? ” Mike said heading for the bedroom door. Will you come with me? ” Mike asked. “Why do you want me with you? ” “Oh never, mind. I”ll go by myself. ” I could see Mike must be in trouble so I went with him. When we got to the barn, the hammering had stopped. “Daddy did you want to see me? ” Mike asked in an innocent voice. “I do young man. Come into the stall I want to ask you a question. ” Mike looked at me and opened the stall door. I walked in right behind him. Ole Mac was in another stall eating like I”d never seen Mac eat before. He ate like he was starved. Daddy was standing next to the trough. Daddy asked Mike, “Did you feed Mac yesterday? Mike looked at the trough and said, “Yes sir I did. ” Daddy”s face went red all of a sudden. “Boy, what were you thinking of? ” Daddy yelled. “I don”t know. ” Mike said almost crying. I didn”t understand what was going on. “You know you could have killed Ole Mac. He helps this family to make a living, and you just about killed him. What have you got to say for yourself? ” Mike was now crying and he blubbered out, “I”m sorry Daddy I didn”t think it would hurt for awhile. “Wouldn”t hurt? You could have starved Ole Mac to death. That Ole mule works hard everyday, and the only thing he gets is his feed, and you toke that away from him. “I”m sorry Daddy I didn”t think about that. ” Daddy walked closer to Mike. Mike backed up thinking Daddy was going to hit him. Daddy stopped right in front of him and said, “Don”t worry son I”m not going to hit you, but I think you will wish I had. For the next six months, you’ll not only feed Mac you’ll also brush him down everyday. You will also soap the harness once a week. On the weekends you will not go fishing or hunting, because you”ll be too busy working. You’ll do all the chores except chopping wood. Do you understand what I”m saying? ” Mike with his head down and still crying said, “Yes sir, I understand. Well, Mike and Daddy understood, but I didn”t. Daddy walked out of the stall with his hand on Mike”s shoulder. It had something to do with Ole Mac”s feed. I looked at the trough, and couldn”t see anything that would explain what was going on. I bent down and looked under the trough and to my amazement saw twenty heads of 16 penny nails sticking out of the bottom of the trough. That was what the hammering was about, Daddy had driven the nails out of the trough. Mike had stuck nails up into the trough so Ole Mac couldn”t eat, and so he wouldn”t have to feed Ole Mac everyday. Mike wasn”t as smart as he thought he was.

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