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Watch out for snakes in the grass

Never walk barefoot through a cow pasture.

That’s one of life’s lessons that I learned growing up on a farm — but not for the reason you might think.

One bright summer day as a kid, I gingerly combed my toes through the grass at my cousin Dale’s farm. Why I was barefoot, I can’t remember. One of the guys must have swiped my shoes.

I had a couple of weird friends who enjoyed squishing cow pies between their toes. I wasn’t that weird. I was on high alert for thistles. Pastures are loaded with squat thorns, stickers and pricker plants that blend in with the rest of the grass.

When I made it to the big rock in the middle of the pasture, I climbed it and stood free of danger. A blade of tall grass swished across the top of my foot.

“Snake,” Dale said.

“On your foot.”

It wasn’t grass. An 18-inch squirmy, brown-and-tan garter snake — or possibly an 80-foot-long anaconda; who can tell about those things at moments like that? — slithered across my feet.

Dale said later that I nearly set the barefoot jet-propulsion standing high-jump record. I was beat out by the snake, which launched from the top of my foot to nearly the bottom of a cloud overhead.

A kid learns a lot growing up on a farm. Cows don’t move after stepping on your foot. Chickens peck your toes. Scrambling pigs will cut your legs out from under you. A kid learns caution and quick reflexes.

In the pasture shelter, an old bathtub served as a watering trough — because you learn to recycle on a farm. When the original trough rusted out, we dragged an old cast iron bathtub from the we-can-use-this-for-something-later pile. If it works, use it.

Duct tape mended many woes as well as broken hoes.

Feed sacks came in handy as sun shade, rain coats, hole plugs or for carrying Tonka trucks to the dirt pile.

Flypaper doubled as party streamers. But avoid frolicking. That stuff will make a snatch at your hair and curl itself around you in a gooey mess. With a side of flies.

If you thought building a castle with your Lego was cool, you should have lived in one of our hay forts, complete with tunnels, secret rooms and the occasional field mouse.

We didn’t have a social life; we had cows. Even as a 16-year-old boy in full legal possession of a get-out-of-jail free card — also known as a driver’s license — I had to be home by milking time.

I learned to never, ever, under any circumstances to utter the words, “I’m bored,” because there were ALWAYS more green beans to pick. I’ve never seen anything this side of zucchini grow fast and as abundantly as green beans.

We had plenty of fruit, vegetables and grains on our table, but after losing an afternoon of beautiful bike riding weather to beans that need to be snipped, peas that need to be shelled or corn that needs to be shucked, a boy begins to resent fresh produce.

We didn’t eat lunch. Farmers ate breakfast, dinner and supper. On haying days, supper was served around 9 p.m. after the descending sun chased us out of the fields.

“But I don’t want to” was never an option. I learned if a job needed doing, you simply buckled down and got it done. Unless you could trick your brothers into doing it for you.

Which reminds me, always watch out for snakes in the grass. If the cow pies and stickers don’t get you, the snakes will.

Ride the hay wagon with Cole at burtseyeview@tribtoday.com, the Burton W. Cole page on Facebook or at www.burtonwcole.com.

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