That high pitched whine rang out letting me know that Momma’s coffee was just about ready. That meant she’d be in shortly to wake me up. I’d get dressed and feed the animals and collect the eggs, but right now, with the quilts piled on me, I was too comfy to get out of bed ahead of Momma’s insistence. Out there, the chill of the drafty house could be felt. I only wished I could dress under the covers, but Momma doesn’t like that. Says it makes me look sloppy, as if the animals don’t mess me up themselves. It’s not like I’m goin’ to church. Yeah, I’ll be headed to the schoolhouse later, but none of the other kids will be dressed neat and tidy. Half of ‘em will show up having come from doing chores just like me. Some as don’t have mommas to iron and starch their clothes will even have wrinkles in their cotton shirts. They won’t be lookin’ to me to set the example either.
Only Freddie will show up dressed to the nines like he’s courtin’ because he is. He been wooing Melodie here lately. Talk is he’ll be going to her pops soon. Don’t see as I’ll ever be down for that courtin’ business myself. Johnny has already started noticing girls and he’s a year younger ‘n me. Momma says not to worry, it’ll come in its time. Not sure it will though. Don’t bother me none anyway.
Momma comes in and hits the end of the bed.
“Chore time. I know you woke from the kettle now get up and get dressed.”
I squirm out of bed. Once I’m dressed, I turn down the covers. Momma will smack me later if she notices I haven’t. “Get the eggs first. The slop from last night isn’t enough for the pigs yet, I’m gonna let you wait ‘til after breakfast to feed them.”
I’ve named all the animals even though Momma said not to. Said some of ‘em will wind up bein’ food and I shouldn’t get too attached. I guess she’s right. I head to the henhouse. I ain’t told Momma that Gertrude quit layin’ last week. I know that, when she finds out, we’ll be havin’ fried chicken for dinner and Gertrude will be the main course. I ain’t ready for that. It’ll happen eventually, and I’ll have to make my peace with it then. I wouldn’t eat meat at all ‘cept that Momma’ll box my ears and tell me to put such foolish notions out of my head. Says meat sustains a growin’ boy. Guess it does. Don’t mean I have ter like it, though.
“Cook me the green ones.” I insist when Momma starts fryin’ up the eggs. “They’re from Gertrude. She always lays the best eggs.” Guess I’m in for a whoopin’ if Momma finds out I’m lyin’ about Gertrude’s eggs. Don’t bother me none. Pops brings me out to the woodshed ever so often. Got to where I don’t even cry. Pops says that means I’m gettin’ to be a man. Reckon I am. Couple more years and I’ll be at the farm full time. Until then I have ter go to school.
When I pour slop left over from Momma preparing breakfast into the pig trough, I noticed that Leroy has gotten plump enough that Pops will be takin’ him to the slaughterhouse soon and I feel a little twang. Leroy has always been my favorite. Momma says the animals don’t have personalities, but that’s only ‘cause she don’t pay attention to ‘em like I do. Leroy likes to show off fer me. And that’s not all. He’s always the one that’s most receptive to my attentions when I go to pet ‘em. Momma says to be specially careful about the pigs cause they’d just as well eat me as eat the slop and I guess she might be right, if they wuz hungry enough. I don’t let ‘em get that way though.
We have one good mule. His name is Slick on account of his coat looks more like a horse. Momma and Pops even call Slick by his name. They say it’s okay, cause a mule is fer workin’ and not fer eatin’. Slick brays when he hears me comin. Reckon that means he knows it’s time to eat. Pops works him all day, so I always make sure to give him a treat in the evenin’ like some sugar. Mom says I shouldn’t be wastin’ perfectly good sugar on that mule. She calls Slick “that mule” when she’s mad, but she’ll call him Slick sometimes too. Slick licks me like he thinks if he’s sweet enough he can have sugar now. “No, Slick. Wait until I get home from school and after I do my evenin’ chores. You’ll get yer sugar cube.” I started sneakin’ the sugar mom gives me with my coffee into my pants and drinkin my coffee black. It’s bitter, sure, but I can take it. I’m a tough boy.
We don’t got no milk cows. Pops always says he’ll buy one ever time the dairy raises the cost of milk, but he never does. Reckon he will someday, and I’ll need to learn how to do that. Don’t look hard. Johnny works over at the dairy, and I seen him do it. He’s right quick. Can fill a bucket up lickety split. Johnny is the only boy at school who works outside of his own farm. Reckon that’s cause he don’t got a farm. He knows just ‘bout ever’thing there is to know ‘bout girls cause he has six sisters. No Momma or Pops though. Well, he did have, but they died when he was real young and his sisters raised him.
Johnny says life is real tough for a woman who isn’t married and he should know ‘cause none of his sisters is. I heard tell one of ‘em does something scandalous. Heard Momma talkin’ bout it. Shut right up when she noticed me there and I never could make out what she was talkin’ about. All I know is, they get by. Johnny gets his paycheck, but I don’t know as that’s enough to feed a family of seven. I asked Momma and Pops once if we could help ‘em out with food, but they weren’t keen on the idea. “Our farm barely makes enough to feed us and what little we bring to market helps pay for repairs and food for the animals.”
Guess it’s just as well, though. When I’m done with chores, I head right off to school ‘cause I’ll be late if I don’t hurry. Spent too much time pettin’ the animals again. Pops is gonna take me to the woodshed if I’m late to school cause teacher will send a note home. I heard tell from Katie, who moved from the city, that there are some teachers as will whoop you themselves, but Ms. Woodward don’t like that bit. Says that’s the parents’ job. Reckon Johnny don’t have to worry bout gettin’ whooped then, since he ain’t got ‘em.
At lunch Johnny sits with me. “Clara took the train to Compton. She’ll be back in a few days. Betty’s in charge while she’s gone and Betty’s way more strict. I think she likes be’in bossy. Anyway, do ya think Mary Sue’ll notice me if I offer her half my lunch?”
“Don’t see why you’d do that. Mary Sue is the same as she was last year and you weren’t nippin’ at her heels then. What’s changed?”
“I dunno. Guess I just started noticing how she’s actually a girl.”
“Your sisters is girls too.”
“Not like that. Like, a girl I might want to court when I get a might older.”
I roll my eyes. Johnny is hopeless. He’s as bad as Freddie now. Next thing you know he’ll be showin’ up to school dressed like he’s goin’ to church. He won’t be climbin’ no trees with me, not lest he thinks Mary Sue wants him to. I feel like I’m losin’ him. Alls I got now is my animals. I’ll have to say goodbye to all of ‘em someday. ‘Cept for Slick, on account Slick is a work mule and we needs a work mule around. Don’t reckon Momma and Pops’ll be achin’ to sell him at the market, or take him to the slaughterhouse. Reckon I’ll take over the farm when Pops gets too old. Maybe then I can do things my way. Maybe, when I’s too big for Momma to box my ears, and too big for the woodshed, I can finally get Momma and Pops to listen to me about how things should be done.