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A haunting story of how Boots almost didn't make it out of childhood

We lived in the sand hills of southern Oklahoma when I was a small boy of about five. My dad and my grandmother had a small farm just off the county road south of Anadarko. This is a place where you ether had clay or sand, and we had sand. Dad made most of his spare money by using his team of mules to pull cars out of the sand traps on the road.

Most were traveling salesman who were selling needles, thimbles and some kind of wonder drug (which was eighty percent alcohol) that if taken three times day, would cure anything (temporarily). When they would ask Dad how much they owed him after pulling them out of the sand pits he would just say, “Oh, nothing. I’s just being neighborly. But if you want to give my assistant here something, I guess that would be all right.” And those guys would unload on me and when we would get back to the house I would dump it all out on the table and we would separate it from the sand. 

As I recall it was late summer and very hot.  I didn’t know it at the time but the humidity and the temperature was just over a hundred. Grandma’s dress was always soaking wet with sweat and she would wipe her brow with her apron to keep the sweat out of her eyes while she canned. As you might remember, my grandma dipped Garrett snuff as a lot of old ladies back in the day did. That’s how we could tell she was level headed: the tobacco juice ran out both corners of her mouth evenly. 

Everything we raised from the garden was either canned, pickled or made into jelly or jam. Grandma kept that old wood cook stove dancing a jig as she stuffed wood in its fire box, to keep the water hot to seal the canning jars. 

Dad would come in at noon for dinner and his shirt would be soaked with sweat, This was when he stopped smoking Bull Durham tobacco and went to Prince Albert in the can so it would stay dry, and he could put his cigarette papers in there to keep them dry as well. He would tie his mules up in the shade of the big weeping willow tree next to our stock tank. Next to the tank was a water well with a windmill and a hand pump. We kept fresh water for our livestock and for the house. 

While it may have been hot as hell that summer I never seemed to notice, even though little beads of sweat would appear on my upper lip once in a while that seemed to disappear without notice. All the clothes I wore were my bib overalls; no shoes. And that willow tree shaded our complete back yard.  

My favorite toys at that time were a gallon syrup bucket, an old silver serving spoon, and a half of a brick. I had had a cast iron Model T I got for Christmas, but a poor kid came over one day who didn’t even have a brick to play with, so I gave him my Model T as it was too wide to fit in my farm roads any way. Dad was not happy with me as that Model T cost him a whole dollar! 

As I said, it was summer and my drinking uncle, my uncle Bill, who always drank with Dad whenever they got together, had sent his daughter down from Oklahoma City to help grandma with her canning. And in the afternoon when it was the hottest, they would stop canning and set in the shade to let the house cool off before they started supper. Now this girl was about 16 or 17 and therefore never had much interest in me.

With the big willow tree and the windmill and stock tank all in close proximity, it was easy to keep damp with my gallon syrup bucket. And this would, in turn, keep the yard cool, especially all the little roads and farms scattered all over the yard. 

Then, one hot afternoon, it happened!  My niece brought her pallet out in the yard next to the horse tank and spread it out and proceeded to stretch out and read her book. This, however, interfered with my farm roads and I brought it to her attention, and she told me where I could stick my farm roads and went back to reading her novel. 

My grandmother was leaning back in her kitchen chair next to the house in the shade fanning herself with a homemade fan. So I took my half a brick and started to build new roads around the outside of my niece. As I was pushing dirt alongside of her leg, I happened to notice she wasn’t wearing her shorts, just her panties and a thin blouse. Don’t forget that I was just 5 years old and half nekkid girls didn’t effect me like they would later on in life. I was mainly interested in pushing dirt for a new toy road. 

However, as I was passing her hip I happened to notice a long, curly red hair sticking out from under her panty leg. Knowing she was red headed, I assumed it was one from her head that had fallen out when she brushed her hair. I decided to help her out and discard it from her person. As I pulled on it, attempting to fling it aside, I discovered it was hung up on her panties so I just yanked it harder. That’s when the stars and white flashes appeared before my eyes and the last thing I remember was this horrible scream that vaguely sounded like a hog with its head hung in a fence. 

The last thing I saw was a distorted picture of a Lucky Strike cigarette ad on the back of her book. The next thing I remember was Grandma holding me in her lap and wiping the tears from my eyes.

And from the Dark Side this month: 

Well, like I said last month, I’m going to try to keep you up on what chemo does to your life while you wait to die. 

I have cancer in three separate parts of my body: colon, liver and lung.  First came the operations.

As you probably know, you have lots of feet of colon in your body. When the doctor ran his camera up my wasue you could see the color change—it went from pink to yellow to red and then black. This was where the cancer was eating my colon. Doctor Neher took still pictures of the whole thing, then he gave me some of the Polaroids. 

Because no one could tell what those were pictures were of, and because they were very colorful (black, yellow and bright red), I sent them off as Christmas cards, only to get replies like, “Where did you find those cards?” When I told them, “up my ass,” they were in shock.

After this round of picture-taking, the doc cut out a section of my colon that held my cancer, and told me to come back in three years for a check-up. And to do a better job of wiping my butt.

When I went back, the cancer had returned and he cut out one more section of colon. This time they added chemo to the treatment, as the cancer had spread to my liver. I don’t know if you have ever looked closely at a liver of, say, a pig or a deer, but it’s just like yours. It folds over itself in many ways and as it so happens the cancer was covered up by overlaps and hard to get at, but they did the best they could. 

But they couldn’t get it all without a liver transplant. As for the colon, it’s so short now that when you look down my throat, all you can see is a round hole with hair around it. 

They also found a small segment in my lungs; chemo, or nuclear waste, as I call it, comes in many different grades, strong enough to make your hair fall out and your nuts fall of. But they can adjust it to keep your cancer at bay, and, in some cases, clean you up altogether. But once you get it you must keep vigil or it will sneak up on you and bite you in the butt. 

After you take a chemo treatment you may want to just lay around on the couch and watch old reruns for two or three days until your body adjusts to it. The doctors at Sandpoint’s medical cancer ward have all kinds of medications and drugs to offset any side effects you may have with your chemo. On days when I feel down, I just think, Hey, I could be Dead!  

Next month we will discus womens’ breast cancer!

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Boots Reynolds Boots Reynolds The "internationally-renowned cowboy artist" Boots Reynolds has moved his comedic interpretation of life into the writing field with his regular column in the River Journal - From the Mouth of the River.

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cancer, From the Mouth of the River

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