Tuesday, September 15, 2009

A Short Story: Goatheads and Yellow Roses

Oh, the memories of childhood. This is a special one of mine I'd like to share. Since it's longer I'm posting it in two parts. I'll post the conclusion next Tuesday. I hope you enjoy!
This is a picture of Grandma Riley before she married. It was probably taken around 1920.

Goatheads and Yellow Roses
by Linda LaRoque

Grandma Riley’s front yard was odd. It was pretty, with rose bushes and shrubs, but it was all dirt. If a blade of grass poked its head through the soil, Grandma sealed its fate with a “whack” of her hoe. The same hoe she used to kill snakes. As a child, I couldn’t understand her dislike of grass. But her shrubs and flowers created ideal dirt paths for hide and seek, roads for our tricycles, and trails for our stick horses.

What fun we had in that sandy soil. We made roads and bridges with little ponds. A twig made a perfect tree and with pop sickle sticks, we built houses. My favorite past time was playing Betty Crocker. In the 1950’s coffee cans were bigger around and shorter — the perfect size for a double layer chocolate fudge cake. Mud made icing of perfect consistency and I made swirls on my cake just like those on the cake mix box.

That soil had one drawback, goatheads — a vicious sticker. It was mean and ugly and if you’ve ever stepped on one, most likely you remember it to this day. A goathead has two thorns that stick up, just like a goats horns do and a third one stuck out at an odd angle below them. When planted in the tender flesh of your foot they cause considerable pain going in and more coming out. They’re so tough they can imbed in your shoes and scar the floor. Most days, one of us kids would need first aid. On went our shoes for a while, until we got too hot, then off they’d come again. We’d tiptoe through the hot dirt trying to avoid the goatheads, until we forgot to worry and played with abandon. Tanned and barefoot, we wiled away the hours, never complaining of boredom or expecting someone to entertain us.

In the evenings, by the light of kerosene lamps, electricity hadn’t yet reached the farm, we’d eat grandma’s saucer-sized biscuits. Butter mixed with Karo syrup spread between the two halves made it dee-lish. We’d wash it down with a glass of milk and lick our fingers and plate clean. If Grandpa was in a good mood, we’d play dominoes on the old card table in the front room. We didn’t beat him, though. He was a sore looser.

Before bed, we’d drag the round tin washtub in from the back porch, and wash away the dirt before piling into the big feather bed in the back room. We’d talk and giggle until grandpa bellowed, “quiet.” Since he went to bed with the chickens, it wasn’t long.

We slept in the backroom where grandma stored her eggs. She sold them in town for extra money, and the food she’d canned for the winter. I loved to help sort the eggs. We’d dip them in buckets of water to wash and rinse them, and hold them before a bright light to candle them. If they looked cloudy inside or floated, we threw them out.

That bedroom became off limits the closer it got to Christmas. Grandpa bought apples, oranges and nuts for the holiday and hid them under the bed – Grandma baked and stored cakes and pies on top. With the door closed it was as cold as the refrigerator. The best was her yellow cake with brown sugar icing topped with pecan halves. Somehow a pecan or two would disappear. The culprit was never caught. Grandma never said anything, she’d just smile and replace them. It must have been one of the grown kids, you know, my mama or aunt. Or, maybe it was Grandpa.

Because the only plumbing in the house was water in the kitchen, the facilities were located in the pasture next to the house. It was called the outhouse. I don’t think it had a half-moon cut out on the door though. And I’m not lying, it had old Sears’s catalogues for toilet paper. It really did.

During the day I was afraid to go in the pasture because of the cows, and no way would I chance stepping on a snake at night. If I did go, I’d look long and hard to make sure no cows were near before going through the gate and making a b-line for the door. Before sitting down, I’d peek under the toilet seat and in the corners just to make sure spiders or other critters weren’t waiting to pounce. Most times we kids did our business behind the smokehouse or in the slop jar kept in the back room. Not around Christmas time though.

Grandpa’s bed sat, like a big fluffy shrine, taking up valuable floor space I might add, in the front room. I didn’t know another soul with a bed in the living room. His reason became clear when the cold winter wind whipped through the papered walls. The only heat came from the black pot bellied stove located — “tah-dah” — in the front room. But, please, don’t think because it’s in the living room you can sit on it. No way. The standard question if caught on it was, “Are you sick?” And don’t lean on it, either. The spread remained wrinkle free. Even the adults didn’t sit on the bed.

When Grandpa said to “jump”, we learned to “jump.” Being from the old school, he didn’t take any lip. My first lesson from grandpa came when I was six years old. I was there with my aunt and uncle, and two-year-old cousin.

“Watch the baby and don’t let her go outside,” said my aunt Jewell. She was helping Grandma fix supper.

Proud of this awesome responsibility, I watched her like a hawk. Anna Muriel toddled toward the front door. To keep her inside I latched the screen door.
Grandpa ordered, “Unlatch that door.”

“But, Grandpa, Aunt . . .”

Quicker than a lick, I was marched outside into the dark to stand, alone, by the cistern. Chin trembling, I stood, frozen in fright. Beyond the well it was pitch black and the intermittent howl of wolves seemed to get closer and closer. I knew wolves were around because farmers hung dead ones on the fences to scare others away. I could almost feel them sneaking up to the house looking for food. And I was dinner.

I jumped when the screen door squeaked. Warm arms hugged me. My aunt took me inside to the table in the kitchen. And Grandpa didn’t say one word, he knew everyone was mad at him.
One day I asked Grandma why he was so grouchy. “Oh, honey, he doesn’t mean to be that way.” She always made excuses for him. But she did for all of us. I never heard her say an unkind word about anyone.

And, he was good to us in his own way. He’d take us to the pasture with him and sometimes to town to sell Grandma’s eggs. While in town he’d buy us a coke, a rare treat.

We also learned interesting things from him. Useful things, like how to kill mice when traps and poison didn’t do the job. One day we stood around him and watched as he poured coca-cola in a pie pan. What on earth was he thinking? Draw them with the cola and then club them to death? Nope. Mice, like cows can’t belch, so they just blow up and die. Not like “bang” but swell up, bloat.
To be continued next week. Thanks for stopping by. Happy Reading and Writing!


  1. Dear Linda--now I know for certain we're sisters--and that was my grandmother! I have done or experienced every one of these things--had to is you were reasied in Texas. Goatheads--yes. Feather beds, yes. Tin tub for a bath, yes.Karo syrup mixed with butter!!!Yes!!! on Grannys biscuits. My, my, this brought back so many memories. Thanks! Celia

  2. A lot of the things you talk about were so like my childhood.
    Great post, made me reminisce.

  3. Love the story, Linda.

    I, too, am plagued with goatheads - they are all over both here and New Mexico where I grew up.

    And you answered a question of mine now that my hens are laying about how to know which ones are fertilized! Darn rooster won't leave the poor girls alone.

    Thanks for sharing your memories; they are very dear.

  4. LOL, Celia, it'd be an honor to be your sister. We are of the same era and Texas girls. Granny's biscuits were the best. Please check back next week for the rest of the story.

  5. Mary, aren't our memories special? That era was special.

  6. Thanks, Candace. LOL, glad to help with the chickens. I think you can also use a flashlight. You may have to pin that rooster up.

  7. Wow, I love reading your tales of youth. It really is like stepping into the old west! Amazing.

    You're such a gifted writer, Linda. I never get bored with your stories. Keep 'em coming!

    --Chiron O'Keefe
    The Write Soul: www.chironokeefe.blogspot.com

  8. Loved reading this again, Linda. I was the 2 yr. old, and I can just hear my mama laying in on our grandpa. Sorry you went through that for me, cuz. Anna Muriel

  9. You're sweet to say so, Chiron. I'm grateful for my many fond memories.

  10. Hi Anna,
    I can still see you toddling right for the door. You were a cutie! Still are.

  11. Beautiful story and beautiful writing! Isn't Texas wonderful?

  12. Hi, Linda. Sorry I'm a day late. Better late than never! ;)

    I loved living in central Texas with the bullneddles and burrs. We had 40 acres with 40 cows (no bulls), a Guernsey milk cow named Star, mean-arse geese, chickens, hogs, a sandy peanut field, large garden, lots of electric fencing, scorpions, dung beetles, horned toads, and SNAKES. All our hoes killed snakes. I was fortunate to never find a wandering tarantula... The hoe would have served an even higher purpose.

    Excellent post. Love the picture of your grandmother.

  13. Sounds a lot like my childhood in eastern Tennessee. My grandpa (on Daddy's side) died when I was real young, so I really don't remember him.

    It was Granny's bed in the living room next to the stove and you did NOT sit on it. She had two old rockers in there and you either chose one of them, sat on a stair, or went to the dining room.

    She quilted too and sold her quilts.

    She washed clothes from water drawn from the creek and scrubbed on a scrub board. Every Sunday we visited and she made dinner. I will have to say that I didn't think she was an excellent cook (she was elderly even when I was a child, because she had my father when she was in her 50's), but she wasn't necessarily bad either. All her cooking was done on the coal/wood stove.

    Now I've almost written a story too! LOL See what you got started? LOL

  14. Hi Skhye,
    You had a lot more farm experience than I did. I chopped cotton one day and my daddy sent me to the house because I couldn't tell the cotton plants from the weeds.

  15. Hi Miss Mae,
    My granny quilted too. She had a large frame attached to the ceiling in the back room where we slept. I remember trying to quilt as a child. I'd love to get into it now but too many other things going on.
    Thanks for stopping by.

  16. I enjoyed to story can't wait for the rest

  17. What lovely memories- well mostly! :) I didn't know what Goatheads were - we always had sandspurs and I usually wore shoes. When I went barefoot I always seemed to step on something!
    Your grandmother's dress looks beautiful!
    I sold eggs for a few years when we had lots of chickens on "Almost A Ranch" as DH dubbed our place!
    Thanks for sharing!! Martha

  18. What an absolutely fascinating story, Linda. Almost a short story in itself,As a Brit, the nearest I come to memories like that are visiting an Uncle's farm, which I just loved. I'm a real country person and have always longed to have a farm of my own. I remember being thrilled to be allowed to feed the chickens, and my Aunt's home made bread was wonderful, complete with farm churned butter. One summer I stayed in the school holidays and was allowed to ride a mare, left there to be bred to their stallion. I probably wore that poor pony out, riding it for miles every day.

    Interesting about the chicken eggs - I've kept chickens myself as an adult, and was always told fertilised eggs were good for you. Now I'm wondering!

  19. Hi Beth,
    Thanks for stopping by. Glad you enjoyed the first half of the story.

  20. Martha E,
    "Almost a Ranch" -- I love it! Yep, those goatheads are awful. While writing this story I wasn't sure if it was a slang term but did finally find them on the internet.

  21. Hi Lyn,
    I remember helping to churn butter but turned up my nose when it came to eating it. Same with the fresh milk. Gee, I'll have to do some research on the fertilized eggs.

  22. Linda, No matter how many times we read your work, it impresses us. There is something about the way you draw us into the story, make us feel a part of the character, or in this case your grandmother's life. You have true and pure talent. Adore the pictures... and hmmm... interesting about the soda and mice.

  23. Very interesting story, Linda. I liked the little details. -Laura Hogg

  24. Linda, I love this post! Your grandma's house sounds like my grandma and grandpa's farm in the Whitney, TX area. Yes, I remember carefully checking the outhouse for spiders and bugs! lol

    I remember sleeping in the feather bed with lots of quilts on snowy nights. I still love to feel the weight of "covers" on me at night instead of an electric blanket.

    We used to run to the blackberry patch and pick a bucket full so grandma could make blackberry cobbler. So good.

    Biscuits, fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy! Great memories.

    I don't remember goatheads, though. Cockle burrs, yes, but not goatheads! They don't sound pleasant.

    Thanks for sharing your wonderful memories with us.

  25. Angelica & Zi--thank you for the kind words. Your opinion means a great deal too me.

    Laura--glad you enjoyed the story. Thanks for stopping by.

    Sandra Kay--Whitney is not far from here. It's a different kind of soil though so guess that's why no goatheads. Our grandmothers were of a special generation.

  26. Linda,

    I'm like your grandma as I make excuses for everyone.

    I remember the out-house and we took baths in a metal tub in the kitchen.

    We also played outside all day and never were bored.

    You brought back many great memories.