Sunday, August 14, 2005

Junebug's Tattoo

Junebug Burns was one of the first to get to the cattle barn at the fairgrounds.  Carney folks had started arriving midweek and the midway was setup as Junebug's truck pulled into the gates of the grounds with ol' Sneezer in the cattle trailer.  Sneezer was the only animal in the trailer an' filled it from side to side.  Junebug just knew he was goin' to do well this year.  His last had to be his best.

As he unloaded his gear he headed into the back of the cattle barn.  The stalls an' such in the back had bigger bars for the big steers an' bulls.  Some of them big ol' Angus an' Bramas could lean on a lightweight gate an' bend it sure enough.  The small stall next to the great big stall reserved for Sneezer was Junebug's home for the next week.  Cot, mattress, clothes trunk an' tack box all went into the stall.  When it was organized to Junebug's liking, he took one more look around to make sure it would meet the critical eye of Mr. Jim Mosley, the 4H advisor for the cattle barn. 

Mr. Mosely was a former Marine an' ran the barn like a boot camp barracks.  "Keep it clean, beds made, tack put away, clothes stored an' the poop scooped up." was Mr. Mosley's mantra.  Junebug had started the rumor two years ago that Mr. Mosely had them words tattooed on his backside.  Joey Hoskins had the misfortune to believe Junebug enough that he asked Mr. Mosely about the alleged tattoo.  After Joey Hoskins was dressed down like a new recruit, Drill Sergent Mosley came lookin' for Junebug to chew on him for a while.  There was never a plug of burley tobaccer that was chewed any harder than that boy.  4Hers learned that you just didn't spread rumors about the cattle barn advisor.

In private Mr. Mosely shared the story with several of his buddies an' they all had a good laugh.  Uncle Billy Gilbert offered to pay for it if Jim Mosley would offer up his backside to the tattoo needle.  Jim Mosley graciously declined.  He did, however have his wife write the words back yonder with a fine point magic marker.  Late one night he walked into Junebug's stall where he lay reading, dropped his drawers an' showed the magic words in all their glory.  He never said a word an' walked away proudly afterward.  Junebug just sat in teenage awe...not daring to laugh or make a sound.  He felt it was some kind of "rite of passage" for Mr. Mosley to share that moment with him.

When all was ready in his stall, Junebug made the over-sized stall ready for Sneezer.  Fresh water in the big bucket, the portable manger hangin' from the side rail full of hay an' a few oats to make Sneezer feel welcome.  The dirt floor was well covered with straw, an' a grain shovel an' pitchfork stood at attention outside the stall, ready for the whims of nature to fall...ahem.  Nearby was a wheelbarrow ready to haul any "whims" outside to the compost pile.

With the gentle hand of a farm boy who loved his animals an' the quiet voice of a practiced handler, Junebug backed Sneezer out of the cattle trailer.  Cattle don't take much to walkin' backwards, so it was a testament to the trust Sneezer had that he slowly walked back an' out of the trailer with no hesitation.  'Course, Junebug had worked with the bull hundreds an' thousands of times over the last several years.  The pair paused an' Junebug patted Sneezer on the nose.  Sneezer responded by lickin' out an' almost slappin' the boy's face with his big warm tongue.  Junebug laughed an' put his face to the bull's as they stood for only a moment.  They then walked through the door of the barn an' into the stall.

After about an hour of brushing an' combing, Junebug was satisfied.  It was several days till the cattle judgin' an' the bulls were very last, so there was no real need to have the bull combed an' fluffed quite yet.  Junebug reminded Sneezer that there would be plenty of company an' they both had to look real good this year.

Before he left the barn he took out the wooden sign his Daddy had routed out for him on a solid piece of cherry wood an' hung it over the gate of the stall.  It said, "Thanks to the Farmers and Mercantile Bank for buying my Champion Steer last year."  Junebug had also showed a steer the previous year along with a Jersey heifer.  The steer had given Junebug a Champion ribbon an' had provided a nice amount of cash to go toward his college funds.  Sneezer had come in as a Champion last year as a two year old but did not win Grand Champion.  Junebug had not auctioned off Sneezer as a two year old since he wanted to enter him as a three year old - the last year that Junebug an' Sneezer would be eligible.  After this year Junebug would be off to college an' Sneezer would be out to pasture to sire dozens of offspring in the hills an' hollers around Beloved.

A quick trip through the produce barn told him Miss Hazel hadn't put out her entry yet.  There was a tradition that had to be kept.  One or two of Miss Hazel's prize tomaters always came up missin' each year after the judgin'.  Junebug an' Uncle Billy Gilbert would celebrate Miss Hazel's victory an' toast to her success with a little salt an' a wonderful, sinful red globe in hand.  Junebug Burns figured Miss Hazel deserved this for all the chasin' of Uncle Billy she did each year.  Since Aunt Del had died, Miss Hazel had made it her life's goal to end up with Billy Gilbert.  'Course, the fact she called him "Bill" instead of "Billy" told most folks she didn't know a thing about him an was about as likely to get him as a fish was to get fleas.

Down at the end of the midway was a big tent, worn lookin' if folks got too close in the day, but full of mystery at night as the barker would call to the crowd to come see Zambina the Gorilla Lady.  Zambina had become a pal of Junebug's an' he looked forward to talkin' with her over hot black coffee early one mornin' before the "rubes" showed up.  Junebug liked it that Zambina called folks "rubes" an' shared stories of the road, circuses an' countless county fairs with him.  She had showed him all the secrets of the "Gorilla Lady" show several years ago when he was a young pup.  He had looked on with wide eyes as each secret was revealed to him.  True to his promise, sworn on the shrunken head of a monkey, Junebug had never revealed the secrets to even his best friend.  Zambina was a late riser since she had late night shows, so he went on by an' down the way.

The roll of money in his pocket called to him.  The promise of food an' games an' fun seemed just a flip of a switch away.  Come dark tomorrow night an' this quiet patch of dust an' grass would become incandescent magic.  The sights an' sounds would pull at the wallets of even the most stingy.  Junebug was lookin' for the tattoo tent.  His Daddy had told him he could get one small tattoo.  Although he wasn't a Marine an' probably didn't deserve it, he had considered "semper fi" to honor Mr. Mosley.  Instead he would follow Eddie Carpenter's lead an' get a simple cross tattooed just to the side of his hipbone where it could be hidden by jeans or underwear.

It was goin' to be a good year at the fair.  Junebug just knew it.  After findin' the tattoo tent, he went back to the middle of the fairgrounds, picked out a bench an' sat down with his Case knife to whittle an' wait for friends.
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