Jack McCall

When I managed a stockyard in Woodbury, in the 1970s, I had an employee named B.W. "Bud" Wilcher, whom people described as "jumpy."

His friends who knew him well were forever slipping up behind Bud and making a loud clap with their hands or "goosing" him in the ribs. When they did, Bud would come unglued. He would holler out like a wild Indian, throwing his hands up in the air like he had been lightning struck. Then, he would go to cussing. Of course, everyone in his presence would laugh at his nerve-driven antics.

Bud admitted to me one day that his entire family had a tendency to be a little jumpy. He shared a story that took place one day when he and his brother was plowing corn.

As they came to the end of the corn field, he and his brother turned their mules around to head them back down the next corn row. Then, they stopped the mules to take a rest. As his brother left to go to a nearby spring to get a drink of water, Bud decided to stay and watch the mules. While his brother was gone, Bud killed a big chicken snake with a stick, which gave him an idea for a prank.

He took a piece of baling wire and tied it around the snake's head and attached the other end to a plow point on his brother's plow. Then, he dug out a depression in the soft-plowed ground and coiled the snake up in the shallow hole. With that done, he carefully covered the wire and the snake with dirt, sticks and leaves.

When they were ready to continue plowing, his brother stepped up to his plow and called out, "Get up, Kate." As Kate started forward the plow pulled that snake out of its coil as if it were alive. His brother looked down to see a snake "crawling" right between his legs.

He let go of the plow line and the plow handles, threw his hands in the air and squalled like he was dying. Ol' Kate broke into a top-speed run until she looked back and saw the snake following her. Then, she found a faster gear. Bud said Ol' Kate took out four rows of corn, broke both plow handles out of the plow, and didn't stop running for half a mile until she came to the neighbor's fence.

"Our daddy skinned both our hides over that deal," Bud said.

When I was a small boy, I got into a nest of baby bumblebees one summer's afternoon. They stung me 13 times. Consequently, the presence of bumblebees has always made me a little jumpy. And I, like most people, have no love lost for snakes.

I was picking butter beans in my garden a few summers ago. Except for two rows of butter beans, my garden was pretty well gone for that year, and it looked rather neglected. You might say the weeds had taken over.

As I picked beans, I was squatting low between the two rows and had just taken note that the scene looked a little snaky. In the same moment, three bumblebees flew in close, seeking the last nectar of summer from the tiny white bean blossoms. Just as my mind was focused on snakes and bumblebees, my cellphone vibrated on my belt. It gave me such a start, I almost wet my britches. When the moment passed, I laughed out loud and asked myself, "Why are you so jumpy?"

When my brothers and I were growing up, we hated hanging tobacco in close proximity to wasp nests, and in the barns where we worked, there were wasp nests in abundance, especially yellow jackets. We got no sympathy from our father, who was fearless when it came to wasps. He often chided us when tobacco hanging slowed as we negotiated around a big yellow jacket's nest.

In the top of the tobacco barn, it seemed you were forever either facing a big nest of yellow jackets or backing into one. The secret was to take a stick of tobacco and ease it up close to the nest without disturbing those little yellow-striped warriors -- out of sight, out of mind.

You did not want to make them restless. When they started stirring on the nest, that was bad. It was worse when they arched their backs in takeoff position like one of those F-18 fighter jets. When they did, it was about to hit the fan.

Many was the time I stood straddling tier poles, a good four or five feet from a nest full of those little marauders as I tried to carefully position a stick loaded with heavy tobacco between them and me, straining, stretching, sweating, fearing the worst at any second.

To be honest, I'm glad we didn't have cellphones back then. If in one of those delicate moments just described, a cellphone had vibrated in my pocket, I would have jumped out of the top of the tobacco barn.

Copyright 2017 by Jack McCall