A Brief Moment in Time by William Wayne Dicksion by William Wayne Dicksion - Read Online

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A Brief Moment in Time - William Wayne Dicksion

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It was an early summer morning in 1930. White clouds were drifting lazily across a blue sky. Birds were singing, bees were buzzing; every flying, creeping or crawling thing was busy doing whatever it was supposed to be doing. I was almost five years old and I, too, was busy being part of that glorious day.

In the pasture nearby, I heard a calf bawling. I guessed it had gotten lost, and it was frightened or hungry. Then I heard its mother moo in reply, so I knew the calf would be all right—Mother Cow would take care of the problem.

I heard my mother calling me, so I ran to the house to see what I had done wrong. She just wanted me to go to our neighbor’s, the Cosbys, to borrow a cup of sugar so she could bake cookies. Baking cookies seemed like a great idea to me, and I was happy to go get the sugar. It was only a mile down the road and I’d be back in no time. Mother gave me a small jar with a lid on it so I wouldn’t spill the sugar, and I was off down the road in a jiffy.

The road consisted of just two rutted paths that marked where horses had pulled wagons. Father’s land was on the left side of the road and we had no fences, but our neighbor’s land was fenced because he usually had cows grazing there. A bull was with the cows, and we weren’t supposed to go inside the fence. I didn’t know what the bull would do to me if he caught me, though I had an idea it wouldn’t be anything good. At any rate, I sure didn’t want to find out.

The sand in the ruts was soft and warm, and it felt good to my bare feet. I saw a grasshopper with its tail sticking in the sand. Everett, my older brother, had told me that grasshoppers lay their eggs in the warm sand to hatch. I wanted to see the eggs hatch, so I watched for a while, but nothing happened. The grasshopper just sat there with its tail sticking in the sand. I couldn’t wait all day—I had to get that cup of sugar.

When I looked up, I saw something sitting beside the road. It was still quite a ways off, and I couldn’t see it very well, but I could see that it was big and black. Because I couldn’t figure out what it was, I hid behind a hackberry bush to take a good look. It wasn’t a cow. It wasn’t a horse. It wasn’t any kind of farm animal I had ever seen. The longer I stared at it, the more it looked like a big, black bear! That was something I hadn’t planned on having to deal with. All I wanted to do was borrow a cup of sugar.

This thing—I was pretty sure now that it was a bear—was between where I was and where I had to go. I couldn’t turn around and go back. There was no way that I was going to convince Mother that there was a bear on the road. If I returned without the sugar, I’d get a scolding, at best, and I wanted them cookies. I decided to climb through the fence and go way around the bear. But the bull might be in that pasture! I didn’t see him, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t there. I figured that, even if he saw me, he might still leave me alone. If he chased me, I could run pretty fast, and I’d crawl back through the fence, or maybe climb a blackjack tree. Blackjack trees don’t grow very big, but they’re big enough to get away from an angry bull! I didn’t know what I would do if the bull got me up a tree. When could I get down? Climbing through a barbed wire fence was no easy matter either, and I sure didn’t want to get my britches caught on the barbed wire with that angry bull after me. Well, I’d just have to deal with that problem when—and if—it happened.

I ran from blackjack tree to blackjack tree, finding my way through the neighbor’s pasture until I thought I must have passed the bear. When I got to the road, I glanced back, and I couldn't see a bear. I figured if I couldn’t see him, he couldn’t see me, and I sighed with relief.

I ran on to the neighbor’s house. Mrs. Cosby was there, all right, and filled my jar with sugar. She even gave me a glass of buttermilk. I had hoped she would have some cookies, since she had plenty of sugar, but since she didn’t offer me any, I guessed that she didn’t have any to offer. I’d been taught not to ask. If you ask for cookies, and they don’t have any, they’d be embarrassed. It just ain’t nice to ask.

I thanked Mrs. Cosby and started home with the sugar. Then I remembered that I had to go around that danged ol’ bear again! I knew I was taking too long, but I didn’t dare face that bear, so I went go all the way around again and ran all the way home.

Mother wanted to know why I had taken so long, but I didn’t want to tell her about the bear, so I told her about watching the grasshopper laying its eggs and waiting to see them hatch. She looked at me kind of funny, and then scolded me for inventing such a story. In those days, I had a reputation for stretching a story a bit, but I was telling the truth this time. At least part of it was true.

Mother and Dad had to go into town that afternoon to get groceries. I guessed that Mother needed to buy some sugar.

Dad told me to go to the pasture and bring in our team of mules. We called them Ol’ Sam and Ol’ George. They weren’t old; we just called them that. We had horses, but Dad liked the mules better for pulling the wagon. He said the mules walked faster.

It didn’t take long to find the mules. They were resting in the shade of a cottonwood tree. They saw me coming, and right away they knew that Dad had work for them to do, so they tried to run away. I was up to their tricks, so I headed them off and got them started for the barn. It took me a while, but I got them into the corral. Then I had to shut the gate. The gate was made of four strands of barbed wire with a gatepost at the end. The gatepost was heavy, and I had to drag it to get it to where I could get the wire loop around the bottom of the post. The wire loop would hold the bottom of the post in position until I could get the wire hooked around the top to shut the gate.

I got the post in the bottom loop all right, but the loop at the top was too high for me to reach. I thought about laying the gate down and going to tell Dad that I couldn’t close the gate, but I knew that if I laid the gate down, those danged mules would run off, and failure was not an option with my dad. I decided that I’d better figure out some way to close that gate.

A short length of rope lay nearby, so I tied the rope to the end of the gatepost, climbed the fence, and got the post in the wire loop at the top, and then snagged a hole in my britches getting down, but Mother probably wouldn’t notice the tear. I went back to the house to tell Dad that the mules were in the lot.

What happened to your britches? Mother asked as I walked through the door.

Having to explain about climbing the fence to close the gate took some of the pleasure out of my victory over that gate. Dad seemed kinda pleased, but he’d never say he was pleased; he just wasn’t made that way. I had done only what I was supposed to do, so I hadn’t earned any praise.

Dad went to the barn to harness the mules and I went with him to watch. Dad was good with animals. He liked animals, and they liked him. Even Ol’ Sam, who was a very contrary mule, seemed to have a real respect for Dad. It might have been because Ol’ Sam knew that Dad tolerated no nonsense from man or beast. The harness was heavy, and it took a strong person to throw it up onto the mules and strap it into place. The first thing Dad did was put on the bridles, and then he put the harness on. After he got them harnessed, he backed them up to the wagon and hooked them to it. Dad took the lines in his hands, climbed up on the wagon, and drove it around to the front of the house and waited for Mother to get in.

My older sister Naoma, and my two older brothers Everett and J.D., had been hoeing weeds in the cornfield all morning, but they were going to town with us. We normally didn’t go to town in the afternoon. It took too long to get there, but I guessed Mom and Dad figured that we could get back before dark. It was summertime, and the sun wouldn’t go down until late. Naoma, the oldest of us kids, was ten, so she seemed almost like an adult. She was allowed to ride on the buckboard with Mother and Dad, but my brothers and I had to ride in the bed of the wagon. I liked to stand behind the buckboard with my chin resting on the back of the seat, where I could gaze out between Mother and Dad.

We were going down the same road I had taken to borrow the sugar, and I wondered if that bear would still be sitting beside the road. I didn’t know how long a bear would stay in the same place, but he might still be there. I watched the mules as they walked. If anything was wrong, the mules would usually be the first to notice. Their heads would come up, and they’d look all around to see what might be the matter. Their ears were very sensitive, and they could rotate them to pick up even the slightest sound.

I knew that Ol’ Sam would be the first to notice the bear, but so far he wasn’t showing the slightest indication that he sensed anything wrong! His head was going up and down, up and down, in rhythm with his walking, and his ears were just going back and forth, steady as you please.

Way up ahead, I saw the black bear. He was still sitting right in the same place. I was pleased, because now I could explain to Mother why I had taken so long to get the sugar. I wasn’t afraid of the bear this time. I knew that the mules would notice the bear long before we got to it, and for sure Dad could handle any ol’ bear.

I watched the mules to see when they would notice the bear, but nothing was happening. Their heads were just going up and down, and their ears were going back and forth, back and forth. I wondered if the mules were daydreaming or just not paying attention, but I was pretty sure it didn’t work that way with mules. Ol’ George was a calm and steady animal, and seemed to trust Dad’s judgment in most matters. But Ol’ Sam wouldn’t trust anything except his own instincts, so I watched him more closely. Nothing was happening. We were getting closer and closer—no one was seeing the bear but me! Should I tell Dad about the bear? Nooo, that don’t seem like a good idea. He’ll see the bear…But why is that bear sitting so still? I didn’t know much about bears, but I was pretty sure that a bear wouldn’t just sit there with a whole wagonload of people coming down the road toward him. The closer we got, the less it looked like a bear…And we were getting pretty close.

Mother and Naoma were sitting calmly in the seat beside Dad. Everett and J.D. were sitting with their feet hanging over the tailgate of the wagon, arguing about something, so naturally they didn’t see anything. The thing that made me begin to wonder if it really was a bear was that the mules’ heads were just going up and down, with their ears going back and forth. And now, we were passing the thing, and I could see it real good. It was not a bear at all …It was nothing but a burned-out old stump! It really made me mad that I had gone to all that trouble to go so far around an old stump!

Boy oh boy, was I glad I hadn’t told Mother about that bear. My reputation for being a little loose with the facts would not have improved one bit with that story. So the best thing for me to do was just lie down in the bed of the wagon and take a nap.


One of our cows was due to calve, so when she didn’t show up one morning, Father told J.D. and me to go find her. He wanted us to make sure that the