Thursday, January 25, 2007
By JENNIE JACKSON
I work in Holly Springs for a contractor who is a true Southern gentleman. Our office building sits off a dirt and gravel driveway, on a hundred acres of private property. My boss, Mr. Bobby, and his Birmingham born, Southern belle wife, Mrs. Kathy, own these hundred acres of paradise on earth. Mrs. Kathy truly is as sweet as Tupelo honey. Mr. Bobby, who ran for Governor of Mississippi in the early ’90’s, is a proud father of six, and the eldest child of five. He teaches Sunday school at the First Baptist Church of Holly Springs, and makes the best cornbread dressing I ever put in my mouth, all apologies to my dear, departed mother. At the same time, Mr. Bobby is also a “take no prisoners” kind of man. He has a great sense of humor, but shows it sparingly, usually to poke fun at some unsuspecting soul.
I grew up in the city, but spent a lot of my early years on the farm in Kansas, visiting my mother’s sisters, and their husbands and children. I know how to pump water by hand from a well, gather eggs from the chicken coop without scaring the chickens, milk a cow, plunge from the barn loft to the haystack below on a knotted rope, pick strawberries from the garden, and swing on a tire swing without complaining about the black marks it leaves on the seat of my pants.
As a little girl, my mother bathed me in a metal washtub, after a long day spent digging in the dirt with my younger brother. She rocked me to sleep in a cane rocker each night on the farm, and more than once striped my legs with a willow switch for misbehaving.
And, although I was born just north of Kansas City, Missouri, I have spent the majority of my adult life living in the south. I love it here. I love everything from the balmy spring breeze and banana pudding to the sweltering summers and sipping sweet tea on the porch. So, I am no stranger to the Southern way, and I am no stranger to country life, which is why the morning of “Poncho’s Bull” still leaves me shaking my head.
Earlier this year, on a very humid summer morning, I was hotfooting it down the country highway, to the dirt and gravel driveway that leads to my office, when a large, white animal began drifting on to the road just as I rounded a curve. I caught a glimpse of it through sun-blinded, squinted eyes, and thanked heaven above I did not run it over. Hands shaking, I walked into the boss’s office and announced, “There’s a big, white cow loose on Old Four.”
“That’s not a cow, Jennie. That’s Poncho’s bull,” the boss explained with a tone so condescendingly faint, only a city girl would notice.
“Well,” I continued, “I did not see the business end of this
animal, and only saw its face in a blur. I know the difference between a cow and a bull, and a steer for that matter, but that’s not the point. The point is I have to do something before the poor thing gets run over.” (My boss is now smiling, and the more I try to explain, and defend my childhood in the country, and my hard-earned knowledge of life in the south, the broader his smile gets.) He gets up from his desk, jams his hands on his hips and directs:
“Call the County Administrator’s Office. A woman will answer the phone. When she answers, tell her Poncho’s bull is loose, and she’ll get a hold of him and he’ll take care of it.”
“Poncho’s bull,” I say in my ‘of course -- why didn’t I think of that?’ voice. I fear he has chosen my moment of post-animal-on-the-road vulnerability to really give me a doozie of a zinger. “You’re kidding me, right?” I ask.
“Jennie, get on the phone and call. She’ll tell him and he’ll take care of it,” he says yet again, but is quickly losing patience.
I go to the front desk, pull out the phone book, look up the number, dial, and brace myself.
Ring-ring, ring-ring, “County Administrator’s Office,” says a very pleasant female voice.
“Yes, um, this may sound a little crazy, but I work for Mr. Bobby and Mrs. Kathy out off of Old Four, and Mr. Bobby told me to call you and tell you Poncho’s bull is out.” Gulp.
“AGAIN?” she asks with complete exasperation. “Well, I’ll get Poncho on the radio and let him know, and he’ll take care of it. Thanks for callin’ and lettin’ us know, Hon.” Click.
My first reaction is stunned disbelief. And then I begin to laugh. It starts as a giggle, and builds to a roar in an instant. Tears streaming down my face, sides aching, bent over and gasping for air, I tell my boss what she said.
“Well, Kansas City,” grins Mr. Bobby, “that’s how we do it down here in the South.”
Yes, Sir, that’s how we do it.
And that’s no bull.
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