Saturday, March 18, 2017

Singleton recounts tale of neighbor who attacked his toe with post-hole diggers

George Buster Singleton
(For decades, local historian and paranormal investigator George “Buster” Singleton published a weekly newspaper column called “Somewhere in Time.” The column below, which was titled “Short temper doesn’t help build fences” was originally published in the March 15, 1990 edition of The Monroe Journal in Monroeville, Ala.)

I grew up a typical country boy, raised on a farm. I had a very happy life while a small child and teenager. I was able to learn a lot about people because we had some very unusual neighbors.

This does not mean that there was anything wrong with our neighbors, other than perhaps that some had weird habits or maybe an unusually high temper.

Many people my age, who grew up in the Great Depression, speak of those as very bad times. This is true to a great degree, but as I look back and remember the good times that I had, I see it as a great period of my life. Memories from the late 1930s will always be a highlight.

Temper caused problems

I will call this individual Mr. Bob. Basically he was a good man, but his unusually high temper caused most of his problems. As a young boy who faithfully observed Mr. Bob, always from a distance, I found many hours of laughter and entertainment.

It was a custom among local farmers to “swap work” on jobs such as fence building. Maybe one would get behind with plowing, or perhaps it might be cleaning off a new field. The men would pitch in and make short work of a job that might be too large for one family. No one was paid any money; only when they needed extra labor around their farms were the favors returned.

Mr. Bob was getting along in years, and he did not have the best eyesight. The fact that he couldn’t see as well as he thought he should only aggravated his short temper.

A pasture fence

The time of the year had come when all the crops had been laid by. It was time to build fences, cut firewood for the coming winter, or just plain do nothing except catch up with fishing.

Mr. Bob decided that he needed a new fence across a portion of his hog pasture, so as to separate his hogs and to keep them closer to a wet marsh where the grazing was supposed to be better. So the word was sent out about the desire to get the work done in a timely manner.

All the men folks gathered for the fence-building chore. I never knew for sure, but I think most of them were there to observe Mr. Bob and his high temper. Always during one of these “work-swapping sessions,” Mr. Bob would have two or three temper tantrums. As usual, everybody was looking forward to it.

Mr. Bob had taken on the chore of digging the holes for the fenceposts. He assumed that no one else could do this the way he wanted it done.

The ground was wet because of the marshy area where the fence was being built. Mr. Bob had removed his brogans (work shoes) because of the wet ground. He was digging away with the post-hole diggers; his feet were covered with mud and as he looked down at what he was doing, he saw one of his big toes move underneath the mud. Mistaking his left big toe for a water snake, he attempted to cut the head of the snake off with the post-hole diggers.

Unheard-of names

A severe, high-pitched scream pierced the morning air. Everyone looked – including this nine-year-old boy, who had come along for the show, in the event that there would be one.

Mr. Bob was holding his left toe and dancing around on one foot in the slick mud, yelling at the top of his voice. He was calling the hole diggers names that I had never heard before or since. With his free hand, he snatched off his straw hat and threw it in the mud. As he continued to dance on the one foot, he stepped on the hole-diggers that he had dropped when he hit his toe. Mr. Bob tripped and fell, face down, where his hogs had been taking their mud baths.

When he raised his head, his eyeglasses were covered with the slick, dirty mud, which was also all over his face and head. Mr. Bob began to scream that he had gone blind when he fell down. He tried to get up; once again, he fell flat, back into the slippery mud.

At last, after four tries, he made it to his feet. I will never forget him standing there with his arms outstretched, yelling that he could not see. I remember my father walking over and catching him by the arm and telling him to clean his glasses. My father took Mr. Bob’s eyeglasses, washed them in a small stream, and dried them on his shirt sleeve.

Attacking the hat

Everyone had thought that the show was over; each had laughed until tears were in his eyes. Mr. Bob was still standing in the mud, saying how proud he was that he hadn’t lost his eyesight during his fall. His big toe was bleeding steadily.

Everyone had returned to what they were doing earlier. Mr. Bob slowly put his glasses on and turned around. At this time, he saw his straw hat lying there in the mud where he had thrown it. Grabbing up the hole diggers, he began to beat his straw hat to a pulp, hollering that the straw hat was the cause of him falling down in the slick mud and hurting himself.

When he had used up all his energy beating the hat, he turned to walk out to dry ground. Once again, his feet failed him; he lost his balance for the fifth time. My father and a neighbor rescued the old man from the mud. As they pulled him over and sat him down on the dry grass, I was sent home with instructions to bring back a clean cloth from which to make bandages, along with that evil-smelling black salve that I hated so much because it had been used on me many, many times.

To the front porch

The doctoring of the old man’s big toe was finally finished. Around Mr. Bob’s toe, my father had wrapped this large piece of white cloth; I remember how it looked like a large bow tie as the old man made his way slowly across the pasture to the swing on his front porch. This was his roosting place for several days.

I remember, too, how for the next couple of weeks the old man hobbled around with an extra-large bandage on his injured toe, and the forbidden language he used (which a boy of nine wasn’t supposed to hear) each time he came too close and struck his sore toe on a tree root or anything that might get in his way.

(Singleton, the author of the 1991 book “Of Foxfire and Phantom Soldiers,” passed away at the age of 79 on July 19, 2007. A longtime resident of Monroeville, he was born on Dec. 14, 1927 in Marengo County, graduated from Sweet Water High School, served in the Korean War, lived for a time among Apache Indians, moved to Monroe County in June 1964 (some sources say 1961) and served as the administrator of the Monroeville National Guard unit from 1964 to 1987. For years, Singleton’s column “Somewhere in Time” appeared in The Monroe Journal, and he wrote a lengthy series of articles about Monroe County that appeared in Alabama Life magazine. Some of his earlier columns also appeared under the heading of “Monroe County History: Did You Know?” He is buried in Pineville Cemetery in Monroeville. The column above and all of Singleton’s other columns are available to the public through the microfilm records at the Monroe County Public Library in Monroeville. Singleton’s columns are presented here each week for research and scholarship purposes and as part of an effort to keep his work and memory alive.)

No comments:

Post a Comment