Posted by Jimmy Reed on April 01, 2017
One Helluva Bad Day
Editor’s Note: Oxford, Mississippi resident, Ole Miss alumnus, Army veteran, and retired Mississippi Delta cotton farmer Jimmy Reed (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a newspaper columnist, author, and college teacher. His collections of short stories are available via southernstories.com.
It was a torrid July day in the summer of 1961. On my father’s Mississippi Delta farm, a huge field was covered with 80-pound hay bales that had to be loaded by hand onto trailers and hauled to the barn.
At five o’clock, Dad opened the bedroom door. “Hay time, boys, git up. Jaybird is waiting outside for y’all.”
It was the summer after high school graduation, and night after night my pals and I were burning life’s candle at both ends. Only an hour earlier, my head had hit the pillow.
As Jaybird’s old pickup bounced toward the field, I lay in back, groaning. Even at that early hour, the temperature was already rising toward the 100-degree mark.
My brother, a tall, barrel-chested lad with the same tendency toward giantism that afflicted our father, was enjoying a Moon Pie and an RC Cola. Clear-eyed, well rested, and eager to flex his bulging muscles tossing hay bales, he said, “Bro, you’re in for one helluva bad day.”
Resembling a malnourished mannequin, I weighed 112 pounds. Even my name, Junior, was diminutive. Jaybird, the old black man who was my boyhood best friend and mentor, would often say, “Junior is so skinny that he can’t go to pool halls. Folks would mistake him for a cue stick and chalk his head.”
At the field, Jaybird, straddling the tractor hooked to a flatbed trailer, looked down at me, and chuckling, said, “A-a-ye gosh, boy, this’ll teach you to cavort all night with heathenish banshees when you know we got hay to load. You’re in for one helluva bad day.”
With no breeze rustling, the humidity at one hundred percent, and the sun blazing pitilessly, marble-sized sweat drops on my skin went nowhere. Indeed, it was going to be one helluva bad day.
As he worked his way up and down the rows of bales, Jaybird kept murmuring, “a-a-ye gosh, this’ll teach him, a-a-ye gosh.”
Shortly before sundown, I plopped down atop a bale to catch my breath.
Ants are a curious race. Far more disciplined than human armies, they communicate in formic, the caustic acid in their bite that sends creatures a thousand times their size fleeing in pain. The bale I lay on was right smack atop a fire ant mound!
In a near-comatose state, I had no inkling that several divisions of angry, pincer-jawed Lilliputian soldiers were advancing up the legs of my jeans.
Then word went forth in formic: Attack! Instantly, battalions of berserk bronze mini-brutes bayoneted my beleaguered body. Howling and slapping in frenzied formic fandango, I streaked past Jaybird and plunged into a canal at the field’s edge.
As I swirled about in the muddy water, watching for snakes and dodging rafts of ants that were floating away from my body, Jaybird and my brother stood watching from the canal’s bank.
Shaking his head and staring down at me, Jaybird said, “I almost feel sorry for yo’ brother. For him, it’s sho’ been one helluva bad day.”