Summer Bugs

by bj max

Sugar Booger had worked up her big Sis’s 2010 income tax return and the deadline for filing was looming. Her sis lives in their old home place on the family farm, about thirty miles north of Memphis. I was in the garage tending to the very important job of removing hundreds of thousands of bugs left to weld themselves to the motorcycle over the winter. I had just fished one of them great big hard-shelled beetles from a vent when Sugar Booger stuck her head in the door and tagged me as chauffer, bodyguard and conversation piece for the trip. So, after she gathered all the paperwork together, we jumped in the pickup and hulled out for redneck land.

I didn’t really mind being jerked from my bug removal chore. In fact, it was a good excuse to put it off a while longer. Here in the South where it’s warm and humid, summer bugs are out in the evening by the millions. Hard headed cicadas or “Katydids” as we call ‘em, bumble bees, big fat yellow bugs that splatter all over everything, mosquitoes the size of humming birds and prehistoric looking beetles that will knock you coo-coo if you tangle with ‘em at speed.

I remember one year, umm…probably 1965 because my bike at the time was a full-dress Harley-Davidson 74. I was hanging out one morning at Mr. Vernon’s (my Father-In-Law) little country store having a coke before heading off to the Harley dealer in Memphis. The store had a big gravel parking lot and, being the nearest place to buy groceries and gas, it was popular and always busy, especially around cotton pickin’ time.

Speaking of cotton pickin’, there was this young entrepreneur in Memphis and he come up with this idea to buy an old school bus and transport folks in Memphis who wanted to pick up a few extra bucks pickin’ cotton out to the farms. He would load up sometimes as many as thirty hands and for a fee, he would transport them to the store where they would get off the bus, climb in the back of pickup trucks and be driven to the cotton fields. Cotton picking paid three bucks a hundred and even as a young girl, Sugar Booger was one of the best and could pick two hundred pounds a day. Me, I hated pickin’ cotton and avoided it whenever possible.

Around eleven am, the foreman would circulate through the field and take down everybody’s lunch order then drive to the store where Sugar Booger’s Mom would fill them with fresh-made sandwiches, cheese and crackers and Vienna sausage. She wrote the names on the sacks as she filled the order and the foreman delivered them back to the field where the hands would enjoy their lunch in the cool breeze under a shade tree, take a short nap, then back to work. I don’t think I’ve ever had a more enjoyable meal than hoop cheese and crackers, Vienna sausage and ice water from a thermos jug under a shade tree in a hot cotton field. Seems when you are doing a job that is miserable at best even the smallest of comforts become luxuries.

I finished my coke then walked out to the bike and just as I was getting ready to kick the thing to life, my Father-in-law called me off to one side and asked if I would give his fifty-year old field hand, Plandel, a ride over to Mason. With a conspiratorial grin he mentioned that it would be Plandel’s first motorcycle ride and he wanted me to make it as memorable as possible without killing’ him. I never hesitated and joined the scheme gleefully. I was going through Mason anyway so I motioned for Plandel to join me. He sauntered over, thanked me and said he really appreciated the lift, gratitude he would later regret.

After a couple of kicks, the Harley belched to life. I rolled back the spark and while the engine loped at its lazy idle; I stood, made room for Plandel and he climbed on. I glanced over my shoulder at my still-grinning Father-In-Law, winked, then dropped the clutch and poured on the coal. The big Duo-Glide fishtailed out of the parking lot in a hail of gravel chirping the tire as the bike took the asphalt. Plandel immediately grabbed me around the waist and locked on for dear life.

After banking left onto the Austin Peay highway I opened the big V-twin up. While making the turn, I noticed something curious. Plandel stuck his left leg out, presumably his idea of protecting himself in the turn should I lose control. But no, when I straightened up, his leg was still ramrod straight like an outlaw chopper pilot indicating a left turn. And it remained that way for the rest of the ride even though I repeatedly asked him to relax. He was evidently terrified that if he so much as budged it would throw me off balance.

I kept going faster and faster, thinking I would get a comment or something but I hadn’t heard a peep out of him since leaving the store. Finally he screamed in my ear and asked how fast we were going. I told him to peek over my shoulder and see for himself. He raised his head just high enough to see the speedometer and at that instant, BLAP! One of those big hard-shelled beetles with the rhinoceros-like beak smacked him right between the eyes. Those old Harleys would only do about eighty-five or so and I had ‘er wound out when that ‘ol bug smacked him. Those things are hard as a rock and in Plandel’s many re-tellings around the checkerboard at the store, he swore he saw stars and said for an instant he thought he might be dead.

I backed out of the throttle as we entered Mason and rolled to a stop on the square. I noticed Plandel’s right leg was still pointed almost straight out. It had been that way for seven miles. Poor guy must have been paralyzed with fear the whole trip. And there was an angry red bump right between his eyes. He climbed off the bike, a bit shaky at first, then steadied himself with the handlebar. “You OK, Plandel?” I asked. He said he was but he sure didn’t look it. I told him I’d be coming back through later that afternoon but he politely declined my offer and said, “Nahhh,” he could manage on his on. He thanked me and limped slowly off towards the pool room, rubbing his leg and shaking his head.

I feel a bit guilty now about that little prank. Plandel was a nice guy and that was a dirty trick. He never did hitch another ride with me even though I offered several times. Said he had had enough of motorcycles and the terror they created and declared that in the future he would walk before climbing on another one.

MMM

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