By Linda Butler
Told by Steve Vance
Dad used to have a threshing outfit, a big one‑cylinder affair with a wooden separator. The grain was elevated into a bucket. When that was full it would trip and the grain would pour down a spout into the granary, a bushel at a time. It was a lot of fun to stay home from school at threshing time to level the grain in the granary. I used to feel very important. I was known as “The Grainman”.
At lunch time I would crawl out of my hole in the granary and sit in the field with the men. I could eat with the men and talk their language, and get away with it. In those days men never swore in the presence of children but I could talk of the blasted grain and the gall‑darn sprouts and things of that nature.
One afternoon when I was nine Dad told me to go to the house and help Mother and my sister Pearl bring the lunch across the field to the men. I was annoyed since I had not been hired to help with the grub. I did not want the threshers to see me carrying baskets of food across the field, but of course, I could not tell Dad that.
When I arrived home Mother and Pearl were buttering bread for sandwiches. Mother told me to put some wood in the big range in the summer kitchen to boil water for tea. The kitchen was an addition on the south side, built when the house become over-crowded with kids. In addition to the range, it contained a churn and washer in one corner driven from a line‑shaft. Mother’s china cupboard was in the other corner. It was a large cabinet with two glass doors on the top half, each with a large pull knob. Mother displayed her best china in this cabinet, out of reach of the younger kids. Behind the cabinet in the main kitchen were the stairs leading to the attic rooms.
That afternoon I looked around for something with which to amuse myself. I started to swing from the line‑shaft, and lo and behold, I spotted a gun standing in the corner behind the shaft. It was a shotgun, about three times as large as my .22. I pulled it out, looked at it, and wondered how it had come to be there. Later I learned it belonged to a thresher who had put it there for safekeeping.
It never occurred to me that the gun might be loaded because we had been taught never to bring a loaded gun into the house. I put the shotgun to my shoulder and looked around for a target. Mother and Pearl were in the open doorway but they were safe since I knew never to point a gun at anyone, loaded or not.
Perhaps it was the noise of my younger brother and sister playing on the stairs that drew my attention to the china cupboard. I looked directly at it and the two knobs became the eyes of the big bad wolf. I took aim right between the eyes. “I’m going to shoot you, you big bad wolf!” I cried, as I pulled the trigger.
The gun went off and I shot hell out of that wolf! My head went back and I hit one of the pulleys on the line‑shaft and knocked myself out. Down I went! When I came to Mother and Pearl were standing over me with a look of horror on their faces. They thought I’d shot myself! I finally got my head up and pointed to the china cupboard. When Mother turned and saw the china cupboard I’m sure she wished I had shot myself instead of her beautiful china.
Fortunately, Mother did not have much time to worry about her dishes, for by then the kids directly behind the wall started hollering. Mother must have thought the blast had gone clear through the wall. “Oh, my God! The children!” she said, and ran back to the other room with Pearl hard on her heels.
This was the closest I’d come to hearing Mother swear, and the shock of it jolted me awake. I was not too worried about the kids, since I knew that a shotgun blast would not go far into the wood. I stumbled across the floor and out the door, gaining momentum as I went.
I didn’t stop running until I was down by the creek. My head was bursting but I had to find a place to hide where no one would ever find me. There was no point checking the creek for a hiding place; I’d almost drowned there a couple of times. I worked my way up the hill to a point where the bush was thick and sat down. I had a lump on the back of my head the size of a goose egg and my head was throbbing. I decided to crawl down the old badger hole and hide there! I just had to wait until the pain went out of my head; I could not stand to have anything touch it, it was pounding so hard!
The next thing I remember it was dark and Dad was calling me from the top of the hill.
“Steve! Steve! Where are you? Come on home! I want to talk to you!”
I decided not to answer, no matter how hard he called. But a funny thing happened. There were a lot of wolves along the creek. Normally they were quiet but when they heard Dad they began to howl in unison. I was not afraid of wolves but when one let out a howl a few yards from me, it got to me.
Dad’s calls were getting farther away and I decided I had better answer him. I expected him to have a three‑foot stick but instead he put his arms around my shoulders. He seemed as glad to see me as I was to see him. He told me what had happened was not all my fault and gave me another lesson on gun safety.
The next day I found myself trudging down the road to school. My threshing days were over for that year.
© 1988 -2013 Linda Butler. All rights reserved.
This story was first published in Western People 21 Jan 1988.