By PETTUS READ
Not long ago, I wrote about the selling of my family home and many of the memories that were stirred from that experience. Of course, the house and attic held many memories, but who would have ever believed an old shed filled with a pile of my father's tobacco sticks, that he used several years ago to raise tobacco, would cause even more memories for this not-so-young farm boy.
Those sticks were pretty important on our farm years ago and he guarded those pieces of wood like they were gold. They were the source for making a crop that helped pay his children's way through college and made Christmas a whole lot more enjoyable for Santy Claus and us.
The brown dusty pieces of wood made me think out loud about how some of them would make a really good stick horse for a kid. I was really hoping no one had walked up and heard my “loud verbal thinking.”
When I was small, Daddy's tobacco sticks were the "herd" where I would go to pick out a noble wooden steed. Yes, you are right. I’m talking about a farm kid’s stick horse and not one of those you buy at the Barrel, after eating too many cornbread muffins, with a stuffed head that makes some kind of klippy klop sound when you squeeze its ear.
With that piece of wood and a grass string tied at the top for a bridle, I could take my imagination out West with Roy and Gene to fight outlaws and make the long cattle drives. My stick horse, in my imagination, would be just as real and look just as good when we would ride off into the sunset along side Roy and Gene's horses Trigger and Champion.
But, it seems kids just don’t ride real stick horses anymore. In fact, they don’t even know who Roy and Gene are!
I spoke the other night to a group of graduating seniors from high school and mentioned Roy Rogers in my talk. None of them knew who I was talking about and didn’t even know that Bullet was Roy’s dog. They also were unknowing that he loved his horse so much that he had it stuffed after it died. Those poor children were so out of touch… not really. It was two worlds meeting on the same orbit.
Growing up on a farm in Middle Tennessee, stick horses were as common in my day as fried chicken being served on Sunday. Of course, you are going to tell me now that fried chicken is no longer served on Sunday and folks no longer eat at home either.
My friend and former commissioner of agriculture, as well as radio and TV star, L. V. “Cotton” Ivy, is a true stick horse fan and supporter. I saw him recently at the Tennessee Hall of Fame induction ceremony for former Congressman Ed Jones and he was looking really good. He often tells the story (which I know is the truth), about riding his favorite stick horse to school. Seems he tied it out front of the schoolhouse and when he came outside in the afternoon to go home, some no-good horse thief had stolen his stick horse. Without his stick horse, he had to walk all the way home!
Cotton and I were born in the years of BWM (before Wal-Mart), and your toys would be found wherever your imagination led you. I can remember when Daddy would get a new batch of tobacco sticks and I would get the pick of the whole “herd” for my next mount. He knew a boy needed a good horse, especially a wooden one.
Our heroes were real people. We had Roy Rogers on Trigger, Gene Autry on Champion, and the Lone Ranger on Silver. I guess what made them so real to me was that each one of those heroes was agriculturally connected. They rode real horses, drove cattle on the range, worked in the great outdoors, were always having a note coming due, and courted their sweethearts “the cowboy way.”
Never got to meet any of them in person, but in recent years have gotten to know Roy’s oldest daughter Cheryl, who has told me a lot about Roy and it was good to learn he was just like what I thought he was. Never would have thought his daughter would become one of my friends, but isn’t life like that.
Sometimes I do wonder about the future generation. Look at mine. We made pies from mud, horses from tobacco sticks, flying toys from June bugs, and swings from tires. We haven’t turned out too bad.
I just hope the next generation uses their imaginations in fun ways like we did. It sure makes life a whole lot easier, saves on batteries and is tremendously less expensive. Happy trails to you all.
-- Pettus L. Read writes for the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation.
He may be contacted by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org