by Garland Davis
From the time I was three until my father’s premature death when I was twelve, I spent my summers at my grandparent’s farm in Yadkin County. My GrandPap farmed a couple of acres of tobacco, milked a cow and two goats, raised a couple of hogs and of course there were the two mules, not to mention Granny’s formidable herd of free-range chickens. There were a half dozen cats who kept the property free of vermin and when Granny wasn’t looking, baby chicks. GrandPap always had, “the best coon dog in Yadkin County” and a bunch of pups in training.
GrandPap also, as he put it, “squoze” enough corn to fill the three jugs that lasted him through the year. I once asked him to teach me how to make “likker,” but he refused, he said, “You don’t need to know nuthin’ about that stuff boy.”
My other grandfather was more accommodating. I never made moonshine. I have seen it done and know how. Farming tobacco is arduous work. Making moonshine takes a close second, what with slipping around, hiding from the law, and the physical labor of setting up a still. But that is not the story I am here to tell.
The summer I turned twelve, GrandPap drove down to get me the day after school was out. On the way back to Yadkin he told me that there was a fellow sharecropping on the next farm. He had a girl my age and they had a deal for swapping work. In other words, they would help each other with their tobacco. The girl and I were a part of the deal. She would work in GrandPap’s fields, and I would work in her dad’s tobacco. He added, “If it’s all right with you.” As if I had a choice.
They had set their plants earlier and they were getting up to hoeing size. The next day, after breakfast, animals milked and fed, and armed with a hoe I stood looking at the river wishing I were Huckleberry Finn going on an adventure on the Mississippi instead of having to hoe tobacco.
There was a boy coming up the lane, dressed as I was in overalls and a floppy straw cowboy hat with a Hopalong Cassidy deputies star printed on the front of it. He was carrying a hoe. I rightly surmised that this must be the girl from down the road I would be hoeing tobacco with today.
She walked to where I was standing and said, “Hey, I’m Junebug, well my name is June, but everybody calls me Junebug. I guess we are supposed to work together hoeing today. Daddy said we have to do your Pap’s today and our’s tomorrow.”
As much as I hated my nickname, I introduced myself as “Buster.” Up until now I had kept my interaction with girls to a minimum. They were lifeforms that seemed to cry for no reason and would tattle on you for making them do it.
That summer Junebug and I hoed tobacco, topped, and suckered the stuff, wormed it, primed it, cured it, and packed it down after it cured.
After the initial awkwardness with each other, we developed into an efficient team. As we worked, we talked of the things we liked and disliked about school, teachers, books, we had read, songs and singers, and what we saw for our future. She wanted to be a nurse and I, of course, was going to the Navy.
June, somewhere along the way, I stopped calling her Junebug. I also noticed that she now called me Dave or Davy. That’s what the fellow at the store called me. He had misunderstood me when I told I’m my name was Davis. He thought I said, David. In those days, I didn’t much care for Garland either. I guess she sensed that. I don’t believe I ever told her so.
The summer was winding down. Soon I would be going home. Her father had found a job in Virginia working in a shipyard and had made a deal with GrandPap to sell his tobacco. They would be leaving for Portsmouth the same day I went back to Winston-Salem. We spent the little free time we had in those last few days walking along the river together, holding hands and talking, both avoiding the subject of leaving. We said goodbye that last evening as the sunset.
The last morning, I was loading my clothes and stuff into GrandPap’s car when she came hurrying down the lane where I had first seen her. Only this time she was wearing a dress and there was no mistaking her for a boy. She came to me with tears on her face. She placed her hands on either side of my face and kissed me, then turned and ran back toward her home.
My first kiss.
GrandPap saw the kiss. I was sure to be in for some teasing after he told the story. He never told it. All he said was, “Boy, you orta keep up with that girl, she’s a good one.”
Probably should have followed his advice but I was fixated on something just over a Pacific Ocean horizon.