Saturday, July 21, 2018

George Singleton describes childhood pet, El Sid, a large Hereford bull

El Sid was a Hereford bull like the one pictured above.

(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 “Country boys sometimes have strange companions” was originally published in the July 7, 1994 edition of The Monroe Journal in Monroeville, Ala.)

Time has a strange way of causing a person to look back and relive old memories. A week or so ago, I returned to a special place where found memories seemed to yet linger there under the chinaberry trees in the old yard.

Many memories flashed through my mind as I reviewed the remains of the crumbled house and grown-up yard. I remembered that it had not always been like this. I knew of a time when a darling mother saw to it that beautiful blooming flowers grew along the yard fence and beauty abounded there in the shade of the huge chinaberry trees. I remembered a woman of great patience and understanding, a woman of love and trust, even for the animals there on the farm.

There are not many mothers of today that could watch their four-year-old son ride across a nearby pasture sitting on the head of a huge Hereford bull, holding unto its horns. My mother witnessed this many times and thought nothing of it.

El Sid had been raised on a bottle as a young calf. He seemed almost one of the family. As he grew to a full-grown bull, he never changed his ways. His greatest love was to be given food such as cold biscuits, cornbread, potato pie or anything that could be eaten.

He delighted in running out his large tongue and taking a piece of cake or candy right out of the hand of the unexpected. Then with one large slurp, he would swallow his prize, then lick his mouth as though marveling at his success.

I found out that I could coax him into doing many thing that would benefit me if I carried something in my pockets for him to eat. I would carry such items as parched peanuts or a handful of shelled corn – anything that I thought that El Sid might enjoy.

If I needed for him to carry me across the pasture or over to my friend’s house, I would stop by the barn and put several small ears of corn in my overall pockets. When I reached my destination, I would give him an ear of corn.

El Sid would wait with great patience until I was ready to return home. Before he would lower his huge head for me to get on, I would have to reach into my pockets and bright forth what he was waiting for. Then, I would mount up between his horns and the huge beat would slowly make his way to the yard gate, being ever so careful not to unseat his passenger.

I was the envy of all my friends. My playmates marveled at my ability to ride El Sid’s head when they had to walk. Most of them were afraid of my companion; only once in a great while could I coax one to get on El Sid’s back. This had to be done by making the large animal walk up next to the fence, then having them jump off the fence and onto his broad back.

I found out that the huge animal loved water almost as much as he did eating. One day while playing in the local swimming hole, I looked up, and there stood El Sid, almost up to his neck in water. I began to splash the cool water over his back. He let out a loud groan as though he wanted more. He would stand patiently as three or four kids scrambled up his neck and onto his back, then dive in the cool waters for hours on end.

When he tired of being used for a diving platform, he would slowly walk out of the swimming hole and start grazing on the rich grass on the bank of the creek. There he would wait until it was time to return home. He would stand patiently as three or four boys tried several times to get on his large back while slipping off from time to time on his wet and slippery hide.

When he reached the yard gate, he would wait for a hasty trip to the kitchen for a cold biscuit, if nothing could be found in my overalls pockets. He would then make his way to the barn, where he knew that sooner or later he would be fed again.

Before any of the family realized it, El Sid acquired the knowledge of how to open the yard gate. This would happen especially if there were kids playing in the yard. He would open the gate with his nose, and then he would come in and check each kid for a quick snack.

Like a flash of lightning, that large tongue would lash out for any goodies being eaten. A slice of pie or a popcorn ball would vanish into thin air. Only the sound of the huge bull swallowing gave evidence as to where the food went.

If the huge animal frightened any of the children who were not used to being around him, my darling mother would walk out and drape her apron over his powerful horns and lead him out of the yard. Usually, this wonderful woman would slip him a bit of food under her apron, out of sight of those looking on. El Sid would then wait outside the gate until the time came when he again became the center of attention.

This large animal was the constant companion for a small farm boy. Very few trips were made around the farm that this 1,700-pound bull wasn’t close on the heels of his very dear friend. As the years passed and I grew larger in size, my riding habits changed from the head to the muscular back of the large bull.

I could easily jump to the back of the big animal and throw my leg over and sit upright with little or no effort. One of my favorite positions was to bend forward and lay down on El Sid as he made his way across the pasture to the home of my good friend and playmate. But never was there a time that he didn’t have to be compensated with some kind of snack for the services he rendered. He gave no quarter when food was the issue.

But the years began to take a toll on this wonderful and gentle animal. El Sid lost his love for the cool and refreshing waters of the swimming hole. Only during the hottest days of summer did he venture forth for a back washing and to be used for a diving platform. And then, he would only stay in the cool water for a few short minutes.

One day, while I was away at school, El Sid calmly lay down in the barnyard and died. My father, a self-taught veterinarian, did everything possible to keep him alive. But El Sid, friend and companion, passed on to greener pastures. According to my father, this is the way El Sid seemed to have wanted it.

As I sat there and relieved the memories from the past, I knew that if there was a special place beyond the sunset for animals like El Sid, he is there. There his spirit waits, looking for a handout of food or quick snack from those around him. Or cooling himself in the waters from the river of life that flows forever into the endless passageways of eternity.

(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 to Vincent William Singleton and Frances Cornelia Faile Singleton, during a late-night thunderstorm, on Dec. 14, 1927 in Marengo County, graduated from Sweet Water High School in 1946, served as a U.S. Marine paratrooper in the Korean War, worked as a riverboat deckhand, lived for a time among Apache Indians, moved to Monroe County on June 28, 1964 and served as the administrator of the Monroeville National Guard unit from June 28, 1964 to Dec. 14, 1987. He was promoted from the enlisted ranks to warrant officer in May 1972. For years, Singleton’s columns, titled “Monroe County history – Did you know?” and “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. It’s believed that his first column appeared in the March 25, 1971 edition of The Monroe Journal. 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.)

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