Thursday, January 8, 2009

More than a Fossil

“Come on, Jason, hurry up”, I said, “It’s just over this hill.”

“You didn’t say that it was all the way down in here,” he grumbled, “when you said it was down in the holler I thought you meant it was just along the road where we let the dogs play in the waterhole last week.”

I was taking him to a giant fossil that I had saw the evening before when me and granddad drove down in this holler to cut up a giant tree that had blew over in the storm a few nights before.

I knew Jason would be excited over getting his hands on this fossil, it was bigger than the others that we had dug out of the hillside over the course of the summer. It looked to me like a big worm, it was round and you could clearly see that it was more than a rock. It was brought to light by the downing of that big tree, the roots of the tree had wound their way around the fossil and it was still hanging in the tree roots.

When I told Jason about the fossil, I seen his eyes light up so I knew he wanted to go get it. Mom heard us talking and said, “If you two do go to get that tomorrow, be careful of Kieboo’s old red bull down there, he’s mean." She reminded us of getting chased by the bull a few weeks before when we were down in the flats picking raspberries.

“I’ll take my hatchet with me”, I told Mom, “If he comes at us this time, it’ll be his last time of chasing me ‘cause I’ll sink it right betwixt his ears.” After a summer of misuse, my hatchet was duller than a froe and people laughed and told me how they could ride to Franklin and back on my hatchet and it’d never break their skin. But I still thought that I wielded a dangerous weapon. Usually in response to someone's remarks about my hatchet, I'd just heft the hatchet from hand to hand, and then all of a sudden lunge at them while doing my best imitation of a wild Indian about to tomahawk them. While this did scare a few people, I'd done it so much to those close to me that they didn’t even flinch anymore, although I think deep down they really didn’t know what to think of me, and I liked it that way…I liked keeping people on edge when I was around. I still command respect when I have my hatchet, it's part of my charm.

Despite my plans on self-preservation should the bull chase me, Mom told me that I better not try hatcheting the bull, that the bull was mean and big and that he'd hurt us if he got the chance. She also tried to get us to wait until Dad got home from work, an idea that was quickly shot down by Jason who said we'd be down there and back before Dad ever got home. Mom finally relented after seeing that a block sled would be more responsive to her concerns that we were. She told us to just be careful.

So about 10 O’clock this morning, just as we were starting to venture outside to see where the day took us, Jason suggested that we go get that fossil.

I told him to let me get my shoes on first. I usually went barefooted all summer long, but since we were going down in the flats, I thought it best to put on shoes since there were all kinds of thistles and stickers down there, and those we the only things that my feet had no immunity to. It was a badge of honor for me to be able to spin my bare feet in the gravels, the soles of my feet were as thick as leather, but for some reason, thistles and briers would gouge me something fierce.

So a few minutes later, after telling Mom where we were heading and grabbing the hatchet, we started down the road.

For the first few minutes of our adventure, I couldn’t concentrate on anything but the pain in my feet. It felt like the first day of school. My feet were killing me. My shoes were making my feet swell and contorting them in awkward angles. After taking this all that I could, I told Jason, “Hold up for a minute, my feet is killing me. I’m gonna take off these damn shoes.” As I took the shoes off, I noticed that the top of my foot was rubbed raw, and that the sweat was burning the raw place and that is what was causing the pain. I left the shoes laying along the road since we were going to return back home this way and I could pick them up on the way back.

After abandoning my shoes, we made pretty good time getting down in the flats, we were almost there, all we had to do was cross a small hill and we’d be at the old tree. After taking a short break at the creek at the foot of the hill, where I soaked my aching feet in a pool that Jason made by stacking rocks into a crude dam, we started up a cattle path that would lead us over the hill. There was a road but it was a much longer route so we decided not to fool with it.

As we neared the crest of the hill, which was also the steeped part of the ridge, Jason started commenting on how far away this fossil was, and how maybe we should have waited for Dad to take us. I told him it was just a little further, even though I’m the little brother I seemed to always be having to reassure Jason about stuff.

I was a few steps ahead of Jason as I crested the hill, and just as I topped it, I came face to face with Kieboo’s old red bull. I was as startled as he was, and I jumped backwards and hollered “Bull, Run!”. Jason, who thought I was playing a game that we always played where one of us would holler out names of Civil War battles and the other was supposed to say where the battle took place, hollered back “Manasses”. By this time I was back down the hill and passing him, and hastily said, “He’s a-comin’. Run!”. By this time, Jason knew I was serious, and he felt the earth shaking as the bull started down the hill toward us. Before Jason joined me in our great flight from danger, he picked up a rock, and in an effort to protect his little brother from the bull, threw it at the charging bull. Jason was as surprised as I was when the rock landed right between the eyes of the great bull. Thinking for sure that he had really pissed the bull off now, he took off running towards me. As we were casting glances over our shoulders to see if the bull was gaining, we noticed that we weren’t being chased at all. We looked up on the hill to where the bull was, and we saw him sitting there, wringing his head from side to side. The funniest thing was seeing the bull sitting on his haunches. Evidently that rock hit him just enough to stun him a good one. It all happened so fast, I didn’t even think to use my hatchet on him, though I was certainly close enough to have done a number on him.

We then decided to leave well enough alone, and walk out around on the road and give the recovering bull a wide berth. We were almost to the fossil, but during our great chase, I unknowingly ran through a brier patch and my feet were full of stickers, and they were really hurting. For some reason Jason, thought up a game for us to play that would get my mind off of the pain. It was really simple, you just completed this sentence, “Happiness is…”. I soon came up with happiness is a pair of shoes. Happiness is a piece of leather to tie over my feet. Happiness is a piece of wood to walk on. Every step I took made my heartbeat originate in my feet.

Soon though, we were finally at the fossil site. Taking my hatchet to chop away the tree roots and knock off the dirt and rocks, Jason recovered the fossil. It was quite large, probably a foot long and about 5 inches around. Jason said it was a trilobite, and he said that ones this big were rare. It seemed to weigh a ton so we took turns carrying it on the way home.

Since the fossil was so heavy, we decided to walk the road and not cut back up through the woods, we could get my shoes later. Besides from where we were now, it was closer to go home on the road than to backtrack, especially now home was mostly a downhill, or at least level, walk. That my feet were killing me and considering the weight of the trilobite probably helped make up our minds more than anything, I know I certainly didn’t relish walking through any more brier patches. So we started home on the road.

After a few hundred yards something happened that made us rethink our best laid plans. The road had recently been hardcapped with gravel and tar. While this made the road much smoother, it also made it hot…very hot…especially on my injured feet. I started saying, Happiness is a cool tub of water to soak my feet in. Well, it just so happened that around the bend there was an old stock tank that was used by the cattle to drink out of. It was so clear and inviting, I couldn’t resist just sticking my feet into the cool, clear water of the tank. Soon after sticking my feet in the water, though, I found myself standing waste deep in the stock tank. This was made an even more memorable experience because the walls of the stock tank was plum covered with frog eggs. The big round kind that squish between your toes when you step on them. Well, I soon had the stock tank a whirling, gurgling mess of frog eggs and water, and the hellfire that burned in my feet was beginning to be extinguished. After a few minutes, Jason said let’s get going, so after drying my legs off (and scraping my legs free of the crushed frog eggs) with huge burdock leaves, and we started up the road.

Well, I don’t know how many of you have ever experienced walking on hot tar roads in your bare feet in the dead heat of a July day, but let me just say, it is an experience best obtained through osmosis than by actually doing it. The cool water of the stock tank might have soothed my brier-filled, scraped and nearly cooked appendages, but that water had also softened up the leathery soles of my feet. It made a bad thing even worse. Oh woe is me, I can still remember that pain. The Happiness is... game didn’t help anymore, walking in the tall grass alongside of the road didn’t help, taking the shoestrings out of Jason’s shoes and trying to make me a crude pair of sandals out of shoestring and wood didn’t help. Jason offered to give me his shoes but the tops of my feet were raw and I didn’t relish the idea of having something on top of them, so I declined his generous offer.

I remembered that Grandmaw Mary always said that milkweed was good for skin ailments, so I squeezed and rubbed some milkweed on my feet. Well, it might have helped some but I really couldn’t tell because the stickiness of the milkweed made the grass stick to my feet, along with dirt and small pebbles.

Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, we were nearing home. I practically ran those last few steps, and ran to the washtub where I cleaned my feet of all the accumulated debris. I hollered for mom, and relayed all of the events that happened, and she rubbed my feet down with horse salve. She laughed the whole time she was doing it, and said that would teach me for always wanting to go around barefooted. Say what you may, but horse salve is some good stuff. I recovered within a few hours, and the next day Jason and I were off on another adventure.


laura gayle said...

Matthew, love your stories. I can relate to the freshly hardtopped road-- I went barefoot a lot in summer too, especially running around at my grandparents's farm. Is the horse salve the one with the green/white or tan lid? I wish I could find some here-- it's wonderful stuff!

Anonymous said...

I do enjoy your stories too! I was a barefoot girl, myself, but other than infection from stepping on a nail and a big ol' scar from cutting my foot on a piece of glass, I sure don't have any stories that equal yours! Thanks for taking the time to write 'em down.

Matthew Burns said...

Laura Gayle: I'm glad you like my stories, I have lots more to share so stay tuned. As to the horse salve, yes it had a green and white lid. I know Mom bought it at the local feed/hardware store. It was some kind of linament, but I don't remember the brand name. They still sell it though, Mom still buys it. I will ask her what it is when I talk to her again.

To anonymous...Oh yes, stepping on nails were a real problem for me, too. I remember always having to get a tetanus shot every summer.

Thanks for the comments, I so enjoy hearing from readers.

Shirley Stewart Burns, Ph.D. said...

After all these years...this is a story I have never heard before! Good story!

Matthew Burns said...

The horse salve that mom used was called Porter's Linament Salve. They are still in business and if you can't find it at your local store, it can be ordered online at their website:


Vera said...

Matthew, I loved the story, all but the squishy frog eggs.Yuk

Janet, said...

We went barefoot in the summer, too. We had a dirt road up our holler. I can't imagine all that happening to your feet in one day.

Tipper said...

Oh the days of going barefoot. And yes I've had the experience of walking on a too hot road-kinda makes you long for the briar patch. Another great story from you Matthew!

Granny Sue said...

So what happened to the fossil? Do you still have it? After all that trouble, I sure hope so.

I remember walking on hot tar roads too. We liked to pop the tar bubbles, but when I did it barefoot, the bubble bit back--it stuck to my fott like, well, like hot tar. I got a good burn from that bubble.

Matthew Burns said...

Granny Sue,
Yes, all of Jason's fossil collection is at Mom & Dads house. Mom said she was going to load them all up and take them out to Jason's new house so he can make a rock garden out of them.

Speaking of hot tar bubbles, Dad said he used to chew them when he was a kid. I have a picture of him at about 4 years with black road tar all around his mouth.


Jason Burns said...

So - when are you telling the story about grasshoppers and pine rosin? Geez...

Matthew Burns said...

You evidently missed that one. I've already told that one, here is the link: