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By Jack McCall

I had the privilege of reading for kindergarteners and first-graders at Trousdale Elementary School last week. My granddaughters, Oakley and Jane, were in attendance. I think I enjoyed the experience as much as the students did. It was requested that I come back at another time and tell the children about the “olden” days.

The “olden” days, my eye. I considered the olden days to be when my parents and grandparents were young’uns. But, now, in the eyes of my grandchildren I grew up in the olden days! That set my mind to wandering back in time – a time of bare feet and callused hands.

Submitted photo

There was a time when we couldn’t wait to take our shoes off in the spring. My mother held us off as long as she could, telling us the ground was still too cold for bare feet. The feel of cool grass under your feet in the springtime was exhilarating. Except for Sundays and trips to town, my brothers, my sister and I enjoyed shoeless summers.

Going barefooted has its advantages, but it has its risks. I have stepped on many a honeybee in my time. That always called for a trip to the kitchen to have my mother remove the stinger. Then she mixed up a soda paste and applied to the sting site. (If my father was around at the time of the injury, he would put some tobacco juice on the place where the bee left his stinger.)  That injury would usually keep a boy or girl off their feet for an hour or two; or you went back to play hopping on one foot. Of course, there were other unsuspecting perils to watch out for, the least of which were rusty nails and broken fruit jars. I have stepped on a few rusty nails in my time. That usually called for a tetanus shot. All my mother’s children were indoctrinated as to the seriousness of a puncture wound. You didn’t want to get the “lock jaw” (tetanus.)

One time my brother, Tom, was riding a horse bareback (he was also barefooted). When he dismounted at the edge of the yard, he landed on a broken fruit jar in high grass. He ran into the house leaving bloody footprints behind.

As he entered the back door, he called out, “Mama, you better come in here!”

My mother, who was never one to panic, answered, “I’ll be there in a minute.”

“Mama, you had better come right now! He insisted.

She found Tom standing on one foot, with the other foot hovering over a dark red pool of blood “bigger than a basketball” and growing. That barefoot incident called for stitches and a tetanus shot.

Of course, there were other hazards. Thorns and thistles, sharp rocks and cow piles made for treading carefully at times. By summer’s end your feet were as “tough as shoe leather.” I could run down a gravel road at full speed and never flinch.

The corn crib was a central feature of the feed barn on the farm where I grew up. The thought of that old corn crib brings many things to my mind – rats and mice, chicken snakes, barn cats, corn shucks and red corn cobs, to mention a few. I have shucked a lot of corn in my time. Coarse, dry corn shucks can do some damage on bare hands. Along with the shucking, I have also shelled a lot of corn in days gone by.

My grandfather, Herod Brim, had a corn sheller in his corn crib. I have turned the handle on that marvelous invention on many a turn. It was exhilarating to hear the shelled corn falling into the corn box as the red cob was ‘spit’ out of the sheller.

In our corn crib the corn was shelled by hand. I don’t know if someone taught me, or if I just figured it out on my own. But I mastered the art to shelling corn. First, you take out two rows of corn seed the length of the cob. Then, you twist the rest of the corn off the cob. A pile of red corn cobs and a bucket filled with yellow corn is a beautiful thing. Shucking and shelling corn made for tough hands.

Back in those days, there was tobacco to be hoed and corn (Johnson grass) to be chopped, wood to be spit, tobacco to be cut, spiked and hung, and hay to be hauled. That, too, made for the toughest of hands.

And that’s how it was in the “olden” days – days of bare feet and callused hands.

It doesn’t seem so long ago.