This morning, I was thinking about when I was a kid, about the farm
across the river from ours, and about the folks who lived there.
Things were a lot different in my recollection than they are now. The
old-timers of the Ozarks had only a slightly different concept of land
ownership than the Native Americans did; that is, land's only value
was what you could produce on it. Owning six or eight hundred acres
didn't mean that you were wealthy. I recall that the son of the man
that owned the largest single piece of property in the state of
Missouri (over 16,000 acres at the time) was one of my classmates. In
retrospect, I can see that the family must have been fairly
comfortable, but not the sort of thing you'd expect now. They didn't
stand out in a small Ozark community in the early '50's.
farm I was thinking about wasn't all that large, about six hundred
acres, mostly in woods, but there was enough open meadow to make a
meager living from a few head of beef and dairy cattle.
From our house, you could see the house and barn about a mile across
the S. Jacks Fork valley. You could see that, and some of the fields,
and if it was a clear and quiet morning, you might hear Goldie
yodeling as she tended her milk cows.
used to think that this was fantastic; that a human could make such
sounds, and that they would carry so far. Gene Autry used to yodel
quite a bit in those days, but that was on the radio. Who knew if his
voice would carry that far in the open air?
Anyway, I was remembering those folks across the valley, practically
the only neighbors I knew until I was six or seven. They were Bill
and Goldie Pringle.
This was during a period when much of my life’s knowledge and
experience came directly from Donald Duck. Nobody in Duckburg was
what you’d call “normal”, not if “normal” meant being like Dick and
Jane’s parents. Dick and Jane were such out-of-it, goody-two-shoes
losers, compared to Donald Duck.
(The truth is, I hated Dick and Jane and their whole insipid family
with a hatred as pure as white-hot molten steel. In Dick and Jane's
world, everybody was always smiling—these days you'd assume they
were stoned—and their idea of big yucks was when stupid Fluff would
fall into the sewing basket, or something equally banal. I still hate
Bill and Goldie fit right into my world-view, because they were so
much like cartoon characters. Bill was a short fat little man, about
the size of Santa, to my mind. Like a cartoon character, he always
wore the same clothes: a battered old fedora that looked like he’d
been born in it, bib overalls with a red or blue bandanna hanging out
of one back pocket, and work shoes that usually had open wounds on the
sides. During the winter, or for a trip to town, he might get all
dolled-up by adding a blue chambray work shirt and socks. He always
had a crooked pipe which he was always relighting or refilling with
Prince Albert tobacco, source of as pungent a smoke as civilized man
has ever known. Somehow, he managed to always have
the stubble of beard.
When my father would take me to Bill and Goldie’s I knew that I had to
at least feign an interest in whatever the men were doing, otherwise I
might wind up spending time with Goldie.
was a nice enough old lady, I guess, but unlike Bill and most all the
other neighborhood cartoon characters, Goldie made it clear that she
was very real due to her tendency to hug small children to her
This in itself was a traumatic experience as Goldie’s bosom was vast
and all-encompassing, and frankly not as inviting as the reader might
at once suppose. For if I once found myself plunged into its musky
depths where neither light nor oxygen could penetrate, I was stuck
there for as long as she wanted to express her pleasure with me. It
was her way of congratulating me for being six.
of the women in my immediate family smelled faintly of soap and
flowers and cookies, whereas Goldie’s being was saturated with
cottonseed meal and dust and various cow-odors.
Goldie also wore the same thing every day: a dress made from feed
sacks. This wasn’t raw burlap, but a light cotton material with a
small flower pattern.
(The feed companies had learned that they could improve sales by
offering something for the housewife as
well as the
livestock. It was the free software bundle of its day.)
While I was still reeling from my near-death experience, Goldie would
set me down at the kitchen table, which usually held the dishes from
at least one earlier meal, as well as a large yellow tom-cat who
seemed to make it his bed.
There, she would serve me much-too-sweet Kool-Aid and an equally
over-sweetened cake/candy substance.
know how cartoon characters are always doing something completely
incredible? Impossible feats are just a part of their daily lives.
That’s what I always think of when I try to imagine how someone could
put so much sugar in something that a six-year-old would have trouble
getting it down.
regret that so much of my life has become real over the last few
decades—the cartoon was great while it lasted.