It was a beautiful summer day. Our whole family, - there were six of us - my father, my older brothers, Morris and Robert, Jeannette who was younger than I, and mother. we were all going out into the country. Mother was going to a meeting of the ladies of the church. The ladies all belonged to what was called the Ladies Aid Society. The place we were going was only about eight miles away. We were not going by car, for when I was little very few people had cars, but we were going in a carriage pulled by two horses. If we had a car it would take only a few minutes to go eight miles but in the carriage it took an hour and a half.
You may never have seen a carriage. A carriage was something like a car. It had front and back seats. It didn't have doors but it was open on the sides. It was high off the ground, because it had wheels that were higher than I was. To get in you had to put your foot on a little step about as high as you could step, then step higher into the carriage. It was almost like climbing a ladder. Then you sat on one of the seats.
The carriage was pulled by our two horses. Their names were Maggie and Grace. My father sat in the front seat with two of us boys and drove the horses. He would say "Get-up" when he wanted them to go, and "Whoa," when he wanted them to stop. He held two long strips of leather, called lines, that reached all the way to the horses mouths. When he wanted to go to the right he would pull one line. When he wanted to go to the left he would pull the other line. If the horses did not go fast enough he would let the lines hit them on their backs. That told them to go faster.
We had gone about half way when Morris said, "See all that dust up there on the road." Roads were not paved then but were just plain dirt roads. Sometimes the dust was almost an inch thick. My father said, "Sure enough, it's a car coming. I'll have to get out and try to hold the horses or we'll be in trouble." Our horses had only seen one or two cars and father knew they would be scared. First he drove the carriage as far as he could to the side of the road. Then he got out and stood in front of the horses, so he could hold them better. The car came closer and the horses began to jump around and prance. Mother said, "We're surely going to tip over," but father held on and was able to quiet them. The people in the car saw what was happening and went by very slowly. Father called out to them, "Thank you," for he knew they did not want us to have an accident.
We had not gone far when Robert asked, "Where are the puppies? I hear them barking." Father said, "What you hear are prairies dogs." Sure enough, not far from the road we saw little animals sticking their heads out of holes in the ground and barking at each other. Father added, "That's what is called a Prairie dog town."
There were other interesting things to see along the way but finally we arrived at the farm where we were going. Mother, Jeannette, and I got out of the carriage. Father took my two older brothers with him to another farm, not far away.
Mother said, "Come along, we'll be late for the meeting." She hurried us into the house. The room was full of ladies. The meeting was about to begin. Mother found a chair. She held Jeannette on her lap, but there wasn't a chair for me, so I had to stand by mother's chair. I soon got tired. As soon as I was able, I moved beyond mother's reach. I slipped away to explore the house. In one room there were things all messed up as if the lady of the house had put them there to get them out of the way for the meeting. And then I finally got to the kitchen.
The kitchen was worth exploring. Under some sheets of newspaper on a low table there were cookies spread out. I tasted one. It was pretty good. So I took another, just to be sure. I looked around and saw the stove and other things you usually see in a kitchen. Then there was another table. It was too high for me to see what was on it, but I wanted to. Off to one side I saw a stool that was just the right height for me to stand on. Unfortunately it had a bucket on it. I couldn't move the stool with the bucket. I tried to lift the bucket off. It was terribly heavy. That made me all the more eager to use that stool. I tugged at the bucket. It moved a little. It was full of something. I moved it a little more toward the edge of the stool. All at once the stool toppled over and the bucket fell right on top of me. Worse than that I found out what was in the bucket. Until it fell it was full of chicken feathers and water. And now I was on the floor under the bucket and I was sopping wet from head to toe. Apparently the woman had picked the feathers off a chicken before she had cooked it to make chicken sandwiches.
Well, I wasn't used to be treated that way. I let out a shriek so loud it carried right into the ladies meeting. Before I could pick myself up, my mother stood in the doorway. She looked at me and said, "What a mess." Right behind her was the woman of the house. She said, "I hope he hasn't got into the things I made for tea." Mother saw that I was soaking wet and covered with chicken feathers. She turned to the lady and said, "What can I do? I didn't bring any other clothes." The woman had grabbed a towel and was trying to brush the feathers off of me. All the time I kept yelling like I had been almost killed.
Mother said, "He'll catch his death of cold." The lady, trying to comfort mother said, "Don't worry; we'll change his clothes." Then she picked me up, and up the stairs we went. We went into a bedroom and she set me down on a towel she was carrying. I soon found out they didn't have any little boys in that house, only little girls. She took off my boy clothes and wiped me dry. Then she dressed me in her little girl's clothes. I didn't mind it so much until she got out a dress and put it on me. Me, in a dress? I wanted to hide and I did stay quiet the rest of the afternoon. Worst of all, when my father came and my brothers saw me wearing a dress, they let out a whoop, and laughed and laughed.
I began by saying I wasn't naughty but just curious. Before long, as I grew up, I learned how to be curious and not get into trouble. I'm not so sure it is a bad thing to be curious and want to know all about things. By being curious I learned some wonderful things that helped me grow up. Now sometimes I laugh about the chicken feathers and that girl's dress, but it wasn't very funny that day. [by James E. McEldowney, Spring 1997]
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