George spent most of his waking hours outside and barefoot whenever possible, and covered in dirt. On the morning of his big day, turning 5 years old, he was up early because he smelled the bacon frying and it was Sunday! This was gonna be a good day! He ran into the kitchen and Mama gave him five swats and a kiss on the cheek. Those pale blue eyes and that mischievous grin never failed to melt her heart and he knew she had a weakness for it under her strictness. It was freezing outside but the sky was brilliantly clear and for once the sun was shining. Lizzie hollered at him to get his boots on before he went out—oh, those boots were a nuisance to little George! Who has time for all those laces? “I got some ‘splorin’ to do Mama!” Lizzie rolled her clear blue eyes and said, “My hand gonna ‘splore your bottom, boy! Get your boots on!” Slowly he trudged to the porch and slipped on his old boots—the ones that Earl outgrew two years ago. The very same ones that old Willie Boy outgrew six years ago! Stupid old boots, anyway. He ran out, caught his breath in the brisk early spring morning air and blew out a big puff of cold, frozen breath and squealed, “I’m a cloud maker! Just like Pawpaw with his pipe! He’s a cloud maker too!”
George missed his Pawpaw. He had headed to Texas when George was only three along with Uncle John. They were all fun–and now they had been gone so long it was getting hard to remember them.
George ran to the barn, the cold air burning into his lungs, then took a quick turn around and headed for the outhouse for his morning visit. He hated the outhouse. It smelled so bad! There was a hole that scared him, it was cold and creepy, and he got out as quickly as possible. The only light in there came through the moon-shaped “window” in the door.
Quickly he skipped to the barn to join papa for the morning chores so his ‘splorin’ could get underway. He shyly said, “Mornin’” to his papa, Big George, who wished him a happy birthday and quietly handed him the bag of feed. It was George’s daily task to feed the chickens, gather the eggs, and give them fresh water from the pump when it wasn’t frozen. Charlie rooster was George’s favorite. He chased George all around the barn, out to the pump, and back again. George loved Charlie rooster but his little brother, Irvin, is deathly afraid of him and George always watched out for him. All the chickens had names and George knew them all. Henny, Penny, Lenny, Jenny, Benny, Denny, Kenny, and Lucy. Lucy can’t rhyme so she doesn’t. She was a different kind of chicken–she waddled like a duck, laid no eggs, and basically just sat around all day clucking.
George put his left hand far into the nearly empty feed bag and grabbed the last handful, scattering it all around the chicken pen. This got the hens all busy eating so George grabbed the straw basket Papa got off the old Indian Joe and filled it with seven fresh, warm eggs while they chickens weren’t looking. He let Charlie Rooster follow him around back to the house where he delivered the eggs to Mama before heading off to ‘splore. Mama grabbed him by the back of the shirt just before he escaped and gave him five more kisses on the cheeks, which he promptly wiped off with his sleeve and headed back out to see if his brothers, Willie and Earl, were done milking Flo, their Jersey cow, so they could have some breakfast.
Willie was eleven and almost as tall as Mama. He was in the 5th grade while Earl was in 3rd grade and eight years old. At night when they would do their lessons, George would look through their books and try to figure out all those word he couldn’t quite read yet. He would tell Mama, “I want to read books and I wanna go to school with Willie!” but the only reply he got was, “Not yet, George”. He tried to teach his little brother, Irvin, to count and he wrote letters. He especially liked to look at the Sears Roebuck catalog and study all the machines. All those wheels and gears and wires made his mind reel. His neighbor Mr. Moon once gave him an old sickle grinder and he disassembled and reassembled it over and over. When he wasn’t ‘splorin’ he was thinking about machines, looking at the catalog and imagining how to take things apart.
When he finally found Willie and Earl and Papa they were done with the chores and heading in for breakfast – Oh, that bacon! Mama made him a special breakfast – Biscuits, gravy, bacon, eggs, and she even let him have a tiny bit of coffee with sugar and cream. Oh, birthdays were the very best. After breakfast the older boys headed off to help Papa with the fence. And George, of course, headed off for his own adventures ‘splorin!
They lived in a tiny house on ten acres in Bow. Their house had two bedrooms that the four boys all shared with two beds. George and Irvin in one (Irvin wet the bed every night so usually George just slept on the floor on a quilt) and Willie and Earl shared the other. When it was bed time they all lined up at the outhouse in the dark with a lantern taking turns. Willie would tease them with spooky sounds and tell them stories in the dark of their room every night He would also tell them how to spell words – like T-R-A-N-S-P-O-R-T-A-T-I-O-N and M-I-S-S-I-S-S-I-P-P-I while they laid in the dark waiting for the sand man to come and put scratchy sand in their eyes and make them fall asleep. George held the nickel he’d gotten for his birthday tightly in his left hand as he fell off to sleep. He thought of all the candy that nickel could buy down at Gilmore’s store! The jars of colorful treats danced around in his mind as he could almost taste the licorice, the gum ball, the taffy… or maybe he would save it along with his four pennies from last year. Nine cents could buy a toy! A gun was what he really wanted, or even a bow and arrow! Or a knife…Oh, and off to sleep he went dreaming of all the ‘splorin’ he’d do the next day.