It was clearly my Uncle Bud’s fault. I mean we had been looking around all summer for something to do, me and my buddy Randall. We were just entering our teen years. We got in to a little bit of everything. We tagged along on trips to the cattle market, we helped in the hay field, and we took trips to the back pasture to check on the cattle. We even talked Pappaw into making us a swimming hole in the creek by pushing a big boulder into the stream, and shoring it up with several tractor loads of silt from the bottom of the creek, fashioning a wonderful swimming hole one afternoon (followed by several days during which we noticed water moccasins swimming around in it, which made us lose interest pretty quickly, although we were dying to get in).
But Uncle Bud had a little business where he ran a garbage pick-up service to the parts of Sullivan County that was located north of Kingsport and not yet in the city limits. His men picked up trash for about four days each week, and the truck was parked on my grandfather’s land when they weren’t hauling. Sometimes it sat full until they could go to the landfill later. It was one of those days, and we noticed the figure of a pretty well dressed scarecrow laying on top of the trash. It was too tempting not to take it.
We soon had our project. The scarecrow looked a lot better when we filled it’s legs and arms and torso with hay from the floor of the hay loft in the old barn. There we spent a few rainy summer days looking at it and trying to figure out something to do with it. It’s clothes were in good shape, and it’s burlap face kept staring back at us, tempting us to do something with it. We found several strings of bailing twine, and tied the ends together, and soon had a make-shift rope. We tied that around the scarecrow’s waist, and climbed back up in the hay loft where we looked out the big window at the top of the loft, waiting for an unsuspecting car to go by. When one came, we hurled the scarecrow out of the hay loft, and waited for a response. Well-meaning passersby would stop, back up, and look with interest to make sure they had seen what they thought they had seen. Had someone really fallen out of the barn? Then we’d yank the scarecrow back up and they’d drive on. We were getting quite a kick out of this.
Once an emergency vehicle went past and stopped when we hurled old Scary out the window. They stopped and we could hear them talking on the radio. Our hearts beating fast, we hurriedly yanked him back up to the loft and slowly they drove on off. Our response was a mixture of laughter and fear. We were mesmerized with our mischief.
Then we hurled him down when Mr Clyde went by. Mr Clyde was our neighborhood boot-legger. He ran a liquor business that folks said was illegal, at the state line just a half mile or so away from our barn. We didn’t realize we were scared of him, but when we hurled the old straw man down, Mr Clyde stopped, got out and crept around the barn, looking hard for signs of a problem. He began hollering out for my grandfather. “Rob! . . . Rob?” We were suddenly and completely aware of the wrongfulness of what we had been doing. Could someone really think this was my grandfather we were hurling with such joy out the window? Slowly the barn door opened, and Mr Clyde came looking. We got as still as two twelve year olds could get in the hay loft, holding out hope that Mr Clyde would just go home. Suddenly aware of all the hay we were laying in, and covered in it, I tried to stifle a sneeze. We couldn’t tell what Mr Clyde was doing, but we were sure he was going to find us and kill us for being so mean.
But, he just looked around, returned through the door, and walked back to his car, where he slowly, agonizingly slowly, drove off.
We were so relieved we promised to retire the scarecrow from service, and find something else to do.
But it was Bud’s fault. We were sure of that.