HAY BALES AND HOPPY TOAD HOUSES
Written by Stumblin’ Jimmy Watermelon
ometimes it is in the minutes after one gives up in frustration, gives up to divine intervention, that the greater things happen. After a long struggle, fussing and fighting with my mind over built ideas and plans thereof, that’s when I found hope.
It’s one thing to write stories and put them all bound up in a book. That’s all well and good, even if it is deemed by more people than you to be a worthy effort. Like the would-be farmer with his yield of well tended crops, it is another thing altogether to get them to market and into the hands of the public – oh yes, and make money at it. Ghee, my loving wife, tells me that is an equally important aspect of this whole adventure.
Just past the cusp of impending failure, there it came. It was like a gift, so simple that the unencumbered mind of a child would have seen it right from the start. It took me a while to wear down to it. I dubbed it, Stumblin’ Jimmy Watermelon’s ‘Hay-Bale Book Signing’.
Everything was already in place just waiting for discovery. There was the pickup truck – Ol’ Melon, red, rusty an’ running; from Ghee’s rummaging -- a card table with checkerboard table cloth; the dog – Pumpkin, who would happily go anywhere we went; the wife (hooked once she came up with cloth and table); me, swinging from the front of this little chain of creation and, after a quick run to the feed store, four bales of hay. To that I added a 2x2 from the hardware store and a piece of poster-board for the sign. I tell you, like the title of my book, we were GOING COASTAL.
Our shake down cruise, so to speak, was at a sweet little small town arts and crafts show. It was a wonderful day to behold. The town hall and post office beside it were all gussied up by a proud constituency. Across the street, the village green with grass fresh cut and smelling sweet was scattered with artists and craftspeople, their tents and colorful displays set up along the pea-stone covered path that meandered around the way and along a cool clean pond.
Kindness and providence drew us what we thought was the perfect spot. We were situated along the way to the soda stand and ‘necessary facilities’ to get the steadiest flow of attendees, but not too close to pay the price of either (if you know what I mean).
On they came, not in any great number, but with an easy ebb and flow, just like the breeze off the river nearby. There were the curious and willing patrons, wanting something to take home to feed memories of their day and perhaps more, a past. There too were the fellow exhibitors, with words of praise and ideas and dreams to share. We watched as it all wove together in a tapestry and we wondered as to the image culminating. Then came by Mrs. Beasley.
From afar, as she strolled in and out of each successive booth, she would glance up, looking our way. She was older than we, country fit and well kept, sporting iron creased blue jeans, flowery blouse and a brocade vanilla shawl. The closer she got, the more intent she was in studying what we might be all about and likewise of us to her.
Mrs. Beasley met Ghee and I with a smile and a mission. She pulled lightly on one of the pair of pearl earrings accenting her ensemble. They matched the necklace just so.
With a sweet, lilting, coastal southern lilt, she wound her conversation around the obvious questions of who we were, how the book came about and what hopes we aimed to reach. All the while dear Mrs. Beasley took in all that she could of us and the surroundings we had laid out. There came a point, a perfect point that she had been building to. Mrs. Beasley had the idea of a gift. I imagine that it might have come to her on reading my sign from aways down the path. Something she saw had brought up a little story of her past and Mrs. Beasley was intent on sharing it with us. Up from her pure southern country upbringing she presented to us her tale of “The hoppy toad houses.”
Mrs. Beasley’s daddy, by her own accounts, had been a farmer and the owner of a general store of modest success. As I imagine most daughters are to their fathers, she was the apple of his eye. Her story went that when she was a child, as he would work in his fields, she would be allowed to accompany him. She would take bare feet and with one foot, mound up little hills of dirt, packed over the other. Carefully then, she would withdraw the covered appendage, leaving a little shaded hollow cavity. She would do this over and over again, for often they would collapse and she would have to start anew, making one little hollow mound after the other. There were seven or eight in all that first day. On her father’s noticing what she had been so busy with and not having any idea what to make of it, he inquired of his dear little child, what all this could be about. “Why Daddy,” she exclaimed, “I’m building hoppy toad houses. They’ve all run out of the field and have nowhere to go. These are for them to have places to hide from wild animals and the summer heat.”
With a smile, reminiscent of her childhood face, Mrs. Beasley went on how she remembered the twinkle that came over her father’s eyes upon her explanation to him. He had told her, “This is such a good and kind thing that you have done. I am sure those toads will be happy for what you have made them. I’ll bet by the morrow they might even have left you a little gift for your effort and care.” That evening, it must have been just before dark, her father went out searching and found each of the mounds she had made. Carefully within each one he placed a nickel, gathered from the change of his store. Her Daddy, did love his little girl and was bound as she for the hoppy toads, to create for her a marvelous surprise. Boy, did he ever.
The next day, just home from church and changed, she ran out to the field with her daddy walking casually behind. He smiled broadly at his sweet girl’s cheerful laughter upon each find. Afterwards, in short order, she kicked off her shoes and began making one new little mound after another. As I listened to the story I could imagine those entrepreneurial gears of innocence turning at top speed. With a bit more thought than smile, her daddy asked her what she was doing. Mrs. Beasley laughed out loud to us in that moment of memory. She said, “I looked up at Daddy, grinned and exclaimed I was planning for more nickels!” After that, Momma found more things for her to do around the house. To follow Daddy to the field became a special event but for many a season to follow, those hoppy toad houses brought nickel surprises. “It’s a wonder my daddy didn’t go broke.”
A moment of silence. Then I realized, her goal had been reached, her gift to us passed along. To her it must have made something particularly special of the day, to us it did as well. Mrs. Beasley smiled and told us that I could use her story if I liked. She pulled lightly on one of her pearl earrings, ran a touch over the strand of her necklace, gave us a wink and wandered on along. The show drew peacefully to a close.
Now here I sit in reflection. Our shake-down run of the book signing was a mutually agreed success. It just goes to show, sometimes success – however weighed – is in the simplicity of it all and nickels sprout from hoppy toad houses. Look for a Hay-Bale Book Signing in a town near you. If the idea appeals, you call and we’ll come. May God bless her, Mrs. Beasley may wander through as well.
Going Coastal —
Twelve Months And Then Some of
Stumblin’ Jimmy Watermelon
James Lynah Palmer Jr.
Sea Oats Publishing LLC
A collection of short stories straight from the heart of the Lowcountry. Stumblin’ Jimmy shares adventures from his life that include many colorful characters. His tales have such wit and drip with so much southern charm that he has been called the twenieth century Mark Twain. Jimmy is a monthly contributer to the Bluffton Breeze Magazine and his work is in syndication. To purchase “Going Coastal” email to: email@example.com or call (843)762-2606.