CHAPTER 8. ON THE FARM
I live in Virginia indirectly because of Dr. Vernon Johns. Let me explain how that came about. Back in the summer of 1949 my father, who was pastor of a church in Philadelphia, and Dr. Johns, likewise a Baptist minister, attended a ministerial retreat and conference at Hampton (then) Institute. During a break between sessions, Dr. Johns invited my father to visit his farm in Prince Edward County.
My father was himself a country boy raised in rural Virginia and he still retained a love for country life, although at that time he lived in Philadelphia. For him it was always a treat to return, however briefly, to rural areas which so closely resembled the town in which he was raised, so it is no surprise that he accepted eagerly. The two ministers made the four hour journey to Prince Edward County for a brief visit.
The area of Dr. Johns' farm was not new to my father. He had spoken at some of the churches there many years before and he remembered from his previous visits the lay of the land, the gently rolling hills, the broad meadows, the well-tended fields of corn, tobacco, and wheat, so that for him the return was a matter of reacquainting himself with a neighborhood with which he had once been familiar.
During the visit, Dr. Johns mentioned that there was a farm for sale just about a mile from the Johns' land. They went to inspect the farm and to inquire about its availability. I can remember hearing my father say, "The moment I saw that farm I knew it was for me," and within a few weeks he was its new owner. So, just before I graduated from Virginia Union, my father purchased and took possession of a farm in Prince Edward County, Virginia.
The farm was located about 15 miles southwest of Farmville, Virginia on Rt. 665. About two miles farther west on that route located where Rt. 665 was intersected by Rt. 658 was the village of Darlington Heights, a tiny community which doesn't even appear on the state map.
Who Darlington was, for whom the place was named, I have no idea. Nor was there nearby a hill or other elevated piece of land which merited the designation "Heights." I guess that name was chosen because it just sounded nice.
Darlington Heights consisted of three stores and perhaps a half-dozen houses. Two of these stores stood side by side and were operated by two brothers. The third store was directly across the road and also contained the local post-office. The three stores carried just about the same stock of merchandise so I don't know how a customer decided just which store to patronize. There didn't seem to be any rivalry between the stores. "Live and let live" seemed to be the attitudes of the store owners.
Farming was the occupation of most of the residents of the place. Wheat, tobacco, corn, and hay were the main crops raised there. Hogs, chickens, and cattle could also be found on most of the farms.
A number of the farmers supplemented their incomes by logging or cutting "billets" -- pine logs cut into five foot lengths and sold to the paper industries. I tried my hand at cutting billets. One or two such experiments convinced me that it was better to do without than to subject myself to such back-breaking labor. (I have heard that 60 percent of the land in Cumberland County, which joins Prince Edward County, is owned by Continental Can Company which has turned its land acquisitions into "tree farms" to guarantee a source of paper in the future. So logging will be an important occupation in that area well into the future.)
Somehow, in a way that even now is not entirely clear to me, my brother and I became caretakers of the place and for the next nine years I made my home there. I really do not know exactly how we became caretakers of the farm. I can't remember any discussion or debate about it. Somehow we just went to the farm and took over the job of overseeing the place. I never dreamed that I would spend the next nine years of my life in that capacity. I think that my brother and I both felt an obligation to try to repay my father for our education.
It was a somewhat difficult transition for me, since I had never lived in the country before. I loved the idea of living on a farm because I really did not like urban living. But I must confess that I did not like the hard work required of a farmer.
I learned very quickly all I ever wanted to know about farming. As a matter of fact, the first two days convinced me that farming was not my cup of tea. "Farming is," I thought, "nothing more than drudgery, unending labor, sweat, and fatigue. And the rewards do not begin to compensate for the labor and care expended."
Farming is a difficult occupation and farmers themselves have to be some of the biggest of the big-time gamblers in the world. They have to invest so much of their money into seed and at any time the weather can ruin them.
Moving to the rurals after spending my entire life in the city required many adjustments. The quiet was especially hard to get used to. The quiet was so intense that a car passing on the highway was enough to make one stop what he was doing just to look at the source of this welcome diversion. Even when I visit the area today, I am always struck by the silence, the absence of traffic sounds, auto horns, music, voices, and the ordinary everyday sounds to which most of us have grown accustomed.
And the dark. Friend, let me tell you that when it gets dark in the country, it is a Stygian, impenetrable blackness. I learned that it was wise to take a flashlight with me whenever I ventured away from home at night, or if there was a possibility that I would be out after dark. I had gotten completely confused and had a great deal of difficulty finding the road one dark, moonless night when I visited my next door neighbor. It's funny how one's sense of direction seems to vanish completely when there is no light.
And thunderstorms! A thunderstorm can be a pretty frightening experience in the country, particularly at night. Somehow a thunderstorm seems to become a personal thing, the power and the fury of the storm seem to be aimed directly at you.
I learned a healthy respect for lightning when lightning struck and killed two of our cows. I learned a lot of other things I hadn't known -- that it is a good thing to keep within climbing distance of a tree when you go into the pasture where there's a bull. One day a neighbor brought a cow over to mate with my bull. When the bull got wind of her, instead of waiting, he charged right through a four strand barbed wire fence as if it wasn't there to get to the cow. That lesson gave me new respect for the awesome strength of bulls and I from then on stayed as far from our bull as I could. I remember spending a couple of hours up in a tree once, when the bull began tossing his head and pawing the earth when he saw me in the pasture.
I had come to the country knowing all the old wives' tales about snakes and I was fearful of them. I dreaded meeting up with a snake, that is, until I had my first encounter with one. The snake I faced down in the corner of a building under construction was a three-foot long, black and white "cowsucker." As I watched his frantic efforts to get away from me, it dawned on me that he was more afraid of me than I was of him. My fear vanished to the extent that I picked him up, just to study him. I learned another valuable lesson from that encounter: snakes will attack only if they are cornered and if given a chance will get away from you as quickly as they can. Some people say that snakes are dangerously aggressive during mating season, but I never had any experience that would confirm this.
I even learned the language of the natives, that is, I learned to understand the peculiar colloquialisms of the area. For example, dentist in their parlance becomes "tooth doctor." "Might could" and "might would" were expressions that I never heard anywhere else before or since. A girl riding on a bus was heard to tell her seatmate, "Git further" meaning "move over." I was asked by an old resident one evening, "You boys going girling this evening?" And then there was my friend Reggie's expression when he was vexed, "Dog slap it!"
Most of the black farmers carried on small farming operations. I guess few of them could borrow from the local banks the significant amounts of capital needed to expand and enlarge their operations. The banks of Farmville were blatantly racist in their lending practices at that time. To illustrate this bias: my father carried a certified cashier's check for several thousand dollars from a Philadelphia bank to one of the local banks for deposit. The bank refused it. They gave no reason for their refusal. I suppose their thought was "No Negro has a right to so much money."
One of the unfortunate effects of the small incomes that most of the black farmers were able to earn was the fact that few of their youngsters were able to go to college. Their families were simply unable to send them. Yet, some of these youngsters were bright, intelligent students who had done well in high school. I have no doubt that many of them would have done well if advanced education had been available to them. I'm sure that some of these youngsters continued their education in their new locales, when they had left the county.
Many of the youngsters I met and talked with were champing at the bit, impatiently waiting graduation from high school so they could shake the dust of Prince Edward Country from their boots. Farm kids especially were motivated to relocate, not merely out of a desire to live where there was more excitement, and better job opportunities, but because they could see very clearly that the family farm could at best afford them only a marginal existence.
Some of the kids didn't wait. They left before graduation to go to Washington, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and a thousand other destinations. Only rarely were they seen in the Farmville area once they had relocated. (I once ran into a youngster from the Farmville area working in Nantucket, Massachusetts. His home in Virginia was not more than eight miles from our farm.) Sometimes I think that the area lost some of its best and brightest to the lure of the big cities and the improved job conditions that such places offer.
On our farm we raised corn, wheat, and some cattle and hogs. I don't think that we ever did more than break even. Farming was terribly expensive, even at that time. Today it would take a small fortune to begin a farming operation.
I think it was in the second year at the farm when my brother and I decided to raise the farm's allotment of two and a half acres of dark-fired tobacco. If I had known at the beginning what I knew at the end of the enterprise, I would never have made the attempt. Tobacco raising requires a great deal of preparation and each plant required individual attention for most of the growing season and there are hundreds of plants in a two and a half acre lot. The plants must be "suckered," that is, whatever parasitic growths there are must be removed from each plant. The plants also require "worming," that is, the removal of worms which will damage the plants if not eliminated. (Have you ever seen a tobacco worm? He is a beautifully colored, strong, robust worm, about four to five inches long, and about as thick as a man's thumb.)
One of my neighbors had a saying that she used to quote occasionally, "Some folks say there is no Hell; but if they never farmed, then how can they tell?" This is precisely my feelings about farming in general and tobacco raising in particular. Farming is Hell!
Even worse are winter snow storms. I can remember being house bound for five days once in a near blizzard. Fortunately, I had enough food on hand so that I didn't suffer for lack of something to eat. But the silence and the loneliness (I lived alone at the time) made it an experience I would not want to repeat.
The longest protracted period of solitude occurred when I woke early one Saturday morning to see a cold, gray overcast day that seemed to portend snow. I drove into town and bought groceries and a couple of paper back books (I didn't have television at that time), and hustled back to the farm. It began to snow before I left town and the road became so slippery that even with snow tires I had a good bit of difficulty getting home. But, finally, I made it. I brought my purchases inside and went back to bed. When I awoke again, about four o'clock that evening, I found the world covered with a thick blanket of snow.
The weather continued cold, the snow froze into ice leaving the highways impassable, and I found myself housebound for the next several days. I did not see another person until that Thursday when a neighbor came over to ask me if I would take him to the doctor in Charlotte Court House, about twenty miles away.
I really did not want to make the trip. I knew the conditions of the highways made travel very difficult, if not impossible. As a matter of fact, nothing had moved on my road since the snow fell. But, at the same time, how could I say "no"?
So, against my better judgment, we started out. The road was covered with a thick coat of ice. The going was painfully slow. Despite my turtle pace, I skidded off the highway ten or twelve times before I reached Charlotte Court House. Luckily, each time I was able to get back onto the road without incident.
While my neighbor was in the doctor's office, I attempted to turn around in order to be ready to head for home as soon as he came out. Once again, I skidded off the street and no amount of rocking the car sufficed to get me back onto the hard surface again. Fortunately, a bunch of kids came by and, seeing my condition, got behind the car and shoved me back onto the street.
By driving at a snail's pace, I managed to get safely back home. A trip that in ordinary times would not take more than twenty-five minutes each way had taken not less than three hours. And I'm still waiting for a "thank you" from my former neighbor. I guess he was one of those bumpkins that are all too common in the rurals.
Farming was also a lonely life. There were days when I didn't see another person. And even when I had contact with my neighbors, it was hard to find a level of common interest. I was not really interested in how many piglets were born on brother J's farm. Nor did I care how many bushels of corn per acre were raised on brother S's farm. The announcement of an increase in prices for dark-fired tobacco did not excite me at all. I was an outsider. I have no doubt that my neighbors were good people, but they never let me forget that I was an outsider. They warmed up to strangers very, very slowly, if at all.
I noticed that there was a greater degree of acceptance among those of my neighbors who had lived at some time in their lives in other places. They were likely to be more hospitable, a little less suspicious, and sometimes even made a fellow feel welcome. But, of those who had never left home; well, the word "bumpkin" seems to have been coined especially for them.
One of these bumpkins had need one day to call his wife who was working in New York City. (It was a common practice for wives and sometimes husbands to work away from home in order to supplement the farm income.) He went to the nearest phone which was located in the general store a couple miles away. Evidently, the wife had made mention of the fact that she passed a police station on her way home from work. So the bumpkin told the operator to connect him to the police station in New York City. (Evidently, he did not understand that there were dozens of police stations in the "Big Apple.")
So the operator connected him with a police station and the following conversation ensued, as several witnesses later told me. "Hello, is this the police station?" "Yes it is. How may I help you?" "Well, will you look out and see if you see my wife? She gets off from work just about four o'clock and she passes right by the station. She's fat and black and she's apt to be sweating." Witnesses say that you could hear the policeman laughing as if he would split his sides.
I found pigs and hogs to be very interesting, sometimes very funny creatures. One thing about pigs that puzzles me to this day is the fact that if you will feel a pig's snout, you'll find the skin there to be very soft, almost like human skin. Yet pigs and hogs root constantly in the earth searching for roots and other edibles. They do this digging with their snouts and unless you put steel rings in their noses to prevent rooting, they will dig up all the soil in their yards. And yet their snout remains soft in spite of all the digging they do. Why their snouts don't become calloused and hard is something I can't explain.
One day I went to another farm to purchase some pigs, two sows and their litters. When I got there and saw the sows, I wondered how on earth we were going to load them on my truck. Although the farmers had a loading ramp, I wondered how we were going to get the sows to go up the ramp. They were so big, 400 to 500 pounds each, and I knew from experience just how stubborn a hog can be.
Nevertheless, the farmer told me to back the truck to the ramp. Loading the sows, he said, would be no problem.
So when the truck was in place, the farmer told me to come inside the loading pen where he and the two sows were. Then he took a bucket and placed it over one sow's head and he told me to take the tail and lead the sow backwards up the ramp and into the truck. I did as he said and quicker than you would believe, the sows walked backwards trying to get out of the bucket and they were soon on the way to my place.
I also raised cows and quickly learned to dislike them because I thought they were stupid creatures. Besides they have to be milked twice a day, and lots of times when I wanted to get away in the evening, I couldn't because I still had to milk.
Milking is a real chore. It takes a special technique to milk a cow and you'll find your hands getting very tired before you're finished. Then sometimes the cow would kick the bucket over and you could only stand and watch the milk that you worked so hard for disappear into the earth. And then sometimes the cow would swish her tail around your head and cows' tails are usually very dirty.
Sometimes in the winter, I'd go to the barn and throw hay outside on the snow for the cows, and if I would remain very quiet, at times deer would come out of the woods and feed right along side of the cows. As I said, I always thought cows were stupid. But they do have one behavior that maybe we humans would do well to think about. In the heat of the summertime, the cows would start grazing early in the morning while it was still cool. Then when it's hottest, they would go and lie down in the shade and rest and chew their cuds. Then later, when it was cooler, they would go out again and continue their grazing. Maybe cows arent so dumb after all.
All in all, my attempt at farming was a good learning experience for me. I learned that farm work is hard, unending labor, and that only rarely does a farmer's income equal of the value of his work. I think that farmers are vastly underpaid for the labor they expend. I think also that farming is a big gamble. The farmer has to make a sizeable investment in equipment and seed and fertilizer and yet, if he doesn't get the proper rainfall, he stands a good chance of losing his investment.
But there are certain satisfactions that only farming and country living can give. The quiet, the absence of tension that are so much a part of city living, and the close contact with nature are compensations that make rural living attractive to some people.
Sometimes I wish I could turn the clock back and relive some of the experiences I enjoyed on the farm, for I realize now that despite the hard work, the frustration, the loneliness and all the other negatives, I don't think I've ever been happier than when I was down on the farm.
When I lived on the farm near Farmville, my aunt, who lived in Milledgeville, Georgia, called to ask if I would pick up her car in Washington and drive it down to her home in Georgia. It seems that she had fallen ill while visiting in the nation's capital and had to fly back home, not feeling well enough to drive.
I gladly accepted the assignment. I had never been to Georgia before, and the prospect of getting away from the farm for a few days was most welcome. I went to D.C. on the bus, picked up the car and started the long drive to Milledgeville.
The trip was uneventful. If anything, it was rather boring. The car was not air-conditioned (few cars were in that time) and the farther south I drove, the more the heat seemed to intensify. Even with the windows open, the hot air that blew through the car brought little comfort.
I finally arrived in Milledgeville just about dusk and after some trouble, found my aunt's house. I was bone tired having been awake since leaving home the day before. I was too tired even to partake of the supper my aunt fixed. I went directly to bed and immediately fell asleep.
The sleep did not last long for I awakened after only a couple of hours completely covered with perspiration and more miserably hot and uncomfortable than I had ever been in my life. I got out of bed and sat by the window praying for a breeze, but there were no breezes in that part of Georgia that night.
I finally went back to bed and tossed and turned the rest of the night. It seemed to me that it was just as hot through the night in Georgia as it often was in the day time in Virginia.
When morning came, I was on the phone to the railroad station before 7 a.m. to find out when the first train going north would be leaving. I learned that my train did not leave until midnight, so I was compelled to spend a miserably hot day with my aunt and uncle. They did their best to entertain me, but I could only think of the air-conditioned train I would be catching at midnight.
My aunt, a teacher, offered to intercede on my behalf to get me a teaching position in the county. I declined (graciously, I hope). All I wanted was to get just as far from that intolerable heat as rapidly as I could. My aunt got a young friend to drive me to Atlanta about a hundred miles away and I was dropped off at the station about 11:00 p.m.
When I went to the office to purchase my ticket, I pulled out my roll, which was a sizable lump of money, mostly ones with a few larger bills mixed in.
I noticed a fellow who came over and got in line just behind me. He immediately engaged me in conversation, asking where I was from, how I liked Georgia, and other innocuous questions. Finally, he got around to his real purpose for approaching me. He said, "Look, man. I've got a real problem. My wife and I have been offered a job in Macon but we don't have enough money for the trip." Then reaching in his pocket, he brought out a ring, a huge, very shiny, glittering "gold" ring with an oversized "diamond" in its center.
"This ring," he announced, "is worth $750 dollars. If you will lend me a hundred dollars you can take the ring, and if you will give me your address, I will return your money as soon as I get paid and you can send my ring back to me." I started laughing, which was hardly the reaction the guy expected.
"Look, buddy," I said, "I know I look like a farmer, but I'm really a big city boy, and I've seen this scam a thousand times." (And I had, well, maybe not a thousand times, but often enough to know that it was a "con," like "three card Monte"). "Don't let me waste your time. Keep looking. Maybe you'll find a real sucker."
Meanwhile, the clerk had finished preparing my ticket and, after I paid for it, I stepped to one side to see what my new friend was going to say to the clerk. He mumbled something about the next train for Macon. The clerk mutely pointed to a large sign overhead that displayed that information in large, prominent letters. I stood there enjoying the con-artist's discomfort. He gave me an evil look and turned and walked out of the station.
I boarded the train, rented a pillow, placed my ticket where the conductor could see it without bothering me and went immediately to sleep. I did not awaken until we were entering Virginia seven hours later.
I promised myself that I would never again visit Georgia in the summertime.
Back in the early 50's I had occasion once to travel from Philadelphia to Farmville on the train. When I arrived at the Broad Street station in Richmond, I found that I had a two hour lay over before I could continue my journey.
Partly because I was hungry, and partly to pass the time, I decided to get something to eat. I went to the door of the "colored" dining room which was next to the "colored" waiting room, but the door was locked and I could see through the windows, that there was no one inside.
What to do? There were no hamburger stands nearby and the nearest place on that stretch of Broad Street where I could find a sandwich was farther than I wanted to walk. The more I thought about my predicament, the angrier I got that there were no provisions to feed black patrons. Finally, I walked across the huge waiting area to the "white" cafeteria, entered and took a seat at the counter.
A black porter who was mopping the floor behind the counter came over and said to me "You can't eat in here." "Why not?" I questioned, "I'm a customer of this railroad, I'm hungry, and I want something to eat."
The porter put his mop down and disappeared into the kitchen. A minute or two later he reappeared followed by a white man that I took to be the manager. "What's the trouble here?" the manager asked. "We don't serve colored here."
"There's no trouble," I replied, "except that I want something to eat. I'm a customer of your railroad and I want the same privileges as these white customers have." And turning, I waved my arm to indicate the nearly full dining room of white patrons.
The manager then summoned a black woman out of the kitchen and he and the porter and the woman went into a huddle, trying to decide what to do, I suppose. Finally, the huddle broke and the woman handed me a menu and as I chose, she wrote the order then disappeared into the kitchen.
Meanwhile I continued sitting at the counter and I got the distinct impression that those whites who were seated near enough to overhear the incident were embarrassed. Finally, the woman reappeared carrying a tray and she indicated that I was to follow her. So that, preceded by the manager, who carried a large bunch of keys in his hand, the waitress with my tray, me with my righteous indignation, and the porter with his mop, we paraded across that huge waiting area to the "colored" dining room.
I said to the manager as he opened the door, "Isn't this ridiculous?"
"Don't blame me," he replied, "I dont make the law."
"Then it's a ridiculous law," I said, but he only shrugged. Well, at least I finally got something to eat.
I've often thought of this incident as typifying the capricious wasteful counter productive nature of segregation. To a segregationist, it made good sense to interrupt the labors of three employees rather than permit me to eat in the "white" dining room. There was some risk in what I did. I suppose I could have been arrested. Certainly in some other rabidly segregationist areas in the South, I would have been arrested. But I was so disgusted and angry that I was fully prepared to go to jail. Luckily, for some unknown reason the manager decided to feed me rather than jail me.
Dr. Benjamin Mays, president of Morehouse College, in Atlanta, was correct in his appraisal of segregation's effect on the South. He wrote in the November 1950 issue of Presbyterian Outlook:
"What has the worshiping of this god, segregation, done to the South? It has kept the South down. It has stultified the soul of the South. It has circumscribed, twisted, and warped the South's mind. It has brutalized the heart of the South. It has perpetuated poverty. It has contributed to the South's illiteracy. It has made us cowards. It has made us "touchy" and sensitive. We are always defending the South, trying to prove we are no worse than other people. Defending segregation is our one consuming passion. Segregation is the root of most of the social ills of the South. We are an abnormal people."
ABOUT HAMPDEN-SYDNEY COLLEGE
I had a number of friends among the white students at Hampden-Sydney College. It may have been a mutual interest in music that brought us together. At any rate, four of us formed a little jazz combo: Lou Mundin on drums, Mike O'Neil on bass, Tome Bow on tenor saxophone, and me on piano. I don't have a clear recollection of how I became acquainted with them, but a friendship that lasts until even today somehow developed among us.
Let me tell you about frat house pianos for they are a breed apart. I never met a frat house piano that was not on its last legs. Usually they were horribly out of tune and all of them had some keys that would not work. Busted strings and keys that had lost their ivory were not at all uncommon and I remember once fishing a pair of socks and one tennis shoe from the innards of one of these pianos on which I was to perform. But none of this fazed me. I wasn't a very good piano player anyway.
It was always a treat for me to go over to the college for rehearsals and, believe me, we needed a lot of rehearsals. Eventually, we got to the point that some of the songs we were attempting were sometimes almost recognizable. When we had developed a repertoire of about ten songs, we began to accept engagements. I can't remember how we stretched that emaciated repertoire to provide music for an evening's engagement, but somehow we managed. We never actually were run out of any of the places where we played, but we did not get any return engagements either. I don't remember what name we played under, although I am certain we were called lots of other things. In retrospect, if I were to name the group, I think that "Les Miserables" or "The Uncalled Four" would have suited us perfectly.
In time I became a familiar face on campus. Hampden-Sydney was not integrated in those days and yet I felt totally integrated into my relationships with many of the students. In fact, I felt almost as if I were an honorary Hampden-Sydney student.
One day several students from Hampden-Sydney drove over to my house to see me. They explained that they were about to be inducted into one of the fraternities and they had been directed to bring some piglets and several ducks as part of the ceremony. Did I know where they could find these farm animals?
I told them that I could provide the piglets and they were welcome to use them if they would promise to return them unharmed. They assured me that they would take good care of them and they climbed into the pen and selected three that seemed to fit their needs. I then told them that I did not have any ducks but just down the road were two ponds on which a whole flock of ducks made their home.
They returned the pigs a couple of days later. The pigs seemed none the worse for the experience and I was happy to have been able to help those youngsters. I am sure that I would have put the matter entirely out of my mind, except that the next morning, Robert Johns (Vernon Johns' brother) came flying up to my house in his truck and leaning out of the window, he signaled frantically for me to come closer. I ran over to the truck to see what he wanted and he said, "Come on and go with me, man. I want you to see what I just saw."
"I can't leave now, but what's up?" I shouted.
"I just drove by my pond and I saw a blood-red duck. And there are two blue ducks and three green ducks and one duck looks like solid gold! I know those ducks have always been white. What's going on?"
It was all I could do to keep from laughing and, as he drove away, I ducked behind the house and laughed until I could hardly stand. I later learned that those students had gotten over to the pond and captured several ducks for their initiation. I don't remember what season of the year it was. I only remember that it was cold. And I remember that I thought to myself that they must have wanted to join that fraternity a whole lot more than I would.
Poor Robert. He's dead now. I expect that to his dying day he was mystified by the strange case of the Bright Colored Ducks.
Another incident happened just before commencement. A couple of students from the college visited me. They brought with them an alligator which they had brought back from their spring break in Florida. They wanted to give me the alligator since they were leaving and had no way to care for it. I thanked them for their kind, thoughtful generosity, but I declined to take the creature. They left trying to decide what to do with their "pet."
I forgot about the incident until about four years later when I read in the "Farmville Herald" that town officials were mystified by the capture of a six-foot long alligator found in the local river. There was a lot of speculation about this semi-tropical creature, how he got there, how long he had lived in the river, and how he survived the cold winters. I believe that I could have answered their questions, but I did not do so. I feared the lawsuit that might result from residents who may have lost dogs, cats, and chickens. After all, alligators have to eat too!
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