Fighting Bermuda grass – and losing

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At the end of the last episode, the journey into modern farming in Frontier Country was about to go over the cliff. But, hark!

It turns out that a savior was coming along to save it and the world. Sericea. The Ag people said it was good stuff, and that was good enough for Daddy. We tried it. Not in a very big way, but we established it in the poor little spot between the orchard piece and the little watermelon patch.

It  thrived. Only thing was, it had a couple of  unlovable features. First, you had to time its drying period to the minute or all the leaves would fall off, leaving nothing but stems. And if you managed to get the timing exactly right, the mules and cows didn’t like it anyway. But Daddy was stubborn.We tried it for a long time before finally giving up.

One thing about it, it will prevent erosion. A good bit is growing now where it was never planted. It would be good bird food, it was said in the beginning. I think the prevailing opinion now is that even the birds don’t like it. But, in a case of near starvation, I suppose they’d eat it.

Brother Jack and I talk nearly every Saturday on the phone, and whenever this subject comes up, we start laughing. The Flame Thrower Period.

Next to drinking and smoking and fishing on Sundays, Daddy hated Bermuda grass more than anything in the world. The only place where we were seriously threatened by Bermuda grass was the little strip between the road and our field across from Aunt Lessie’s.

When we plowed along there, we were very careful to not let any of the grass cling to our plow, because if it dropped off somewhere else in the field, you’d have an instant patch of Bermuda.

I don’t know where this idea came from, but what we had was a miniature version of the flame throwers solders used on those islands in the Pacific.

You had a tankful of coal oil on your back. You pumped it up to get pressure. then you adjusted the nozzle at the front end of a connecting hose and lit it and got it adjusted just right, so that a blue flame of a yard or so shot out, withering anything in its path.

So we went up and down that strip of Bermuda, sizzling it, our flame thrower roaring like a jet plane taking off. Car drivers would  look, wonderingly, and drive on, unaffected. But when a wagon came along, it was more interesting.

From way back, the mules would start getting nervous, shying a little bit. The driver would tighten his reins and speak soothingly to his team. “Easy, boy. Steady. Easy. It’s OK. Steady, Maud. Easy, George.” And like that.

These were farmers, just wanting to go to town for the week’s supplies, not expecting to see anything from outer space.His wife would cuddle near.” What’re we gonna do, Clyde? Suppose  they’re these aliens I read about in Grit?

“I don’t know, Eunice. Just be calm. Don’t make eye contact with them. We’re almost past them. Hang on.”

And she looks back at these strange, bent-over creatures with the things on their backs. Maybe that’s a space cycle, like the one Buck Rogers  in the serial at the picture show.

By the way, the Bermuda grass loved it. It would come back greener and more vigorous that ever before.

Just a reminder of the times, and I’m talking about up ‘til after WWII, when farming was done much as it had been since Civil War times: with human and mule power.

Then, gradually mechanized farming began to inch into Frontier Country. Mr. Reeves got a Farmall H, Cousin Hezzie got a Farmall Cub. So did Uncle Jeff and Ed Finch  and Uncle Grady. Uncle Kent got a John Deere and Cousin Bailey got a Farmall C.

Daddy carefully waited ‘til I went off to college before getting a  Ford tractor,  so I was not contaminated with this new-fangled stuff. Brother Jack became quite a tractor jockey.

Mules was as far as I got up the farming evolutionary ladder.

Bob Sanders is a veteran local radio personality, columnist, author and raconteur of note.

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