The hair stood up on the back of my neck when we heard the terrifying scream. My eyes grew to the size of a saucer. My eyebrows were raised so high; they disappeared into my hairline. My heart pumped so fast and hard; I thought it would jump out of my chest!
That ear-piercing scream sounded like the kind of scream a woman would make if she were terrified or being attacked by aliens or maybe… .bigfoot? With the imagination of a young girl, I allowed my thoughts to race as fast as my heart! What made the situation even worse, is the fact that we were in the middle of 240 acres, picking up sticks and limbs, and piling it on a brush pile to burn at a later date. We didn’t have a weapon, and it was five miles from the nearest town and at least a half mile from the nearest truck…..which wasn’t that far really. I could have made it in a couple of seconds if that scream ripped through the air again!
We were told previously; the terrifying scream came from a Panther. Panthers weren’t supposed to range in this part of Oklahoma That scream was dramatically chilling enough you would never forget the sound of it or how you felt hearing it. We had heard it scream a few more times, each time more chilling than the last, but we had never seen it. We were never sure where the sound originated. Even though it set our nerves on edge, we went on with our everyday living.
And then one day it happened. After we had set fire to a brush pile, we knew our suspicions were true. A mama panther and her three cubs ran out so fast we all screamed like little girls and almost scratched all the paint off of the pickup trying to get in it for safety. Well, everyone except for dad! He was so macho, he just leaned on a large limb like a crutch and laughed at us! He acted like it was Tom and Jerry in the brush pile, instead of a dangerous, child eating, cat!
Mother saw his stance and how he was laughing. Sparks flew from her eyes that made the fire in the brush pile look like a candle flame. I wondered which she-cat would attack him first!
Back to the original story. . . . .
When the scream was not forthcoming in the next few minutes, dad, who was the master manipulator, started piling brush again, which was our signal to follow suit. My nerves were still jittery, and the goose-bumps on my arms had not quite receded, but he had promised us a wiener roast if we did a good days job. So party it was!
All the signs were right to have the party. He was extremely conscious of fire hazard, so he did not burn the brush piles until we had a shower of rain and there was not as much danger of setting the whole countryside on fire. As a precaution, if the conditions were just right, dad plowed a wide strip around the brush pile to help break the momentum of a spreading fire should one break out. For the most part, most brush burning was planned and executed after rain. Hydrated grass and dirt were the best forms of deterrents to fires.
Burning brush made the land look wonderful, but was extremely dangerous. Fighting wildfire was incredibly exhausting. It was a critical task for dirt farmers or ranchers that had no training except for common sense and no help except wives and children. On lucky occasions, neighbors would come to help if they saw smoke. They knew if the wind suddenly changed directions and sparks flew into the air, the fire could head to their house!
I was the oldest of five kids, and I was about 12 years old when all this took place. We kids were so gullible, we worked like little ants saving up for the winter. After all, we didn’t get store-bought meat very often. Mom bought a package of wieners a couple of times a year, so a wiener roast was like a luau in Hawaii to us. We couldn’t wait until we had a big pile of brush stacked up and the sun would start to go down so the party could begin!
I probably need to add, unbeknownst to little kids; big fires were NOT for roasting wieners!! There was too much smoke, and the heat made it impossible to get close enough for the stick with the wiener on it to reach the fire without blistering your knuckles!! Keeping that in mind, sometimes we made a smaller stack for roasting them. The hot coals were plenty hot and didn’t turn the hot dog to ash!!! Silly kids, we actually had the audacity to have fun doing it.
Oddly, I enjoyed the job of picking up branches and burning them. It was quiet and peaceful in the woods, and the air was so fresh it was restful to me, even though it was physically challenging work.
Except for the snakes! *shudder*
There was always an abundance of sneaky, slimy snakes around or underneath fallen limbs from trees and brush piles. Copperheads and pygmy rattlesnakes love living in or around brush piles. Their coloring blends in well and camouflages them so they are not easily seen by predators or kids gathering sticks for a party. It was not unheard of for one of us to accidentally pick one up or step on one. If that happened, there was usually another blood-curdling scream that rivaled the panther!
It would be remiss of me if I didn’t tell you of another time I helped dad pile brush and burn it. I was about 14 years old at the time and considered myself an adult. I milked cows on a dairy farm at 5 am, caught the school bus, kept my grades up, did chores after I got home, helped babysit, etc. and milked cows again until 9 or 10 o’clock at night. Dairy work is seven days a week. With that said, it *felt* like I was grown.
Back then, it was popular to wear jeans tight. I rarely did anything popular, but I had plenty of courage in the middle of a secluded, pasture, to be myself, so I had on my favorite jeans, and kind of felt cute in them. I had a little trouble bending, but it was only a mild sacrifice for fashion!
Dad, who was usually a bit straight-laced, didn’t care either, for the same reason! I was in the middle of nowhere.
Somehow, I had graduated in responsibility. Now, dad trusted me to light the fire in the brush pile.
I liked working in the pasture. I was picking up sticks and still piling the brush. I had not set a fire yet. I was totally at one with nature. The weather was beautiful outside. The breeze was just subtle enough to move the hairs on my neck to help me keep cool without blowing my hair in my face and eyes. The birds were serenading me, while the squirrels jumped from limb to limb trying to catch a glimpse of what I was doing. I was at peace, with myself and the world. Suddenly, my leg had a piercing burning sensation. It felt like a hot coal was stuffed in my pants pocket. I couldn’t help but wonder if I had been snake bit. Then I realized, that wasn’t likely a snake-bite that high up on my leg. Then, I figured a wasp had somehow crawled inside my pants leg. The burning sensation intensified. I started wildly slapping at my leg in hopes of killing it. That did absolutely no good at all. As a matter of fact, by this time it was hurting so bad I was whooping and a hollering and jumping around like a crazy woman. Dad saw me but didn’t know why I was acting that way. In a panic, he came running. He was afraid I had been snake bit! Suddenly, I had all I could stand. I unzipped those blue jeans and shucked them off me like an ear of corn, right in front of my dad. “Whoa!” I forgot how modest I was. Dad was even more modest than I! I guess I forgot that, too!
I peeled the pants off, but now, what was I supposed to do? I wasn’t putting those pants back on with a mad wasp crawling around in them! I guess I should find the culprit. I almost didn’t have the courage to look in the pants for the wasp, I didn’t want to meet him again. I had to look, though, I gingerly picked up the pants and turned them wrong side out, carefully examining every crease and wrinkle. I was prepared to do battle! I was scared I would find him and scared I wouldn’t. In the name of decency, I had to put my pants back on, so after turning them just so, I finally found the culprit! To my chagrin, it wasn’t a wasp. I had set fire to myself accidentally! The pocketful of matches I was carrying in my front pocket, had rubbed together while I was bending and dragging on the branches. Lucky for me, the blue jeans were tight enough, there wasn’t enough oxygen to actually cause a flame. In spite of no flame, it smoldered enough that I had a blister on my leg. The pocket, now wrong side out, was blackened. My leg was still burning, but dad, and I burst out laughing when we saw the charred pocket. Even though I was laughing, I was ready to go home. Setting myself on fire and mooning my dad was all a country girl could stand for one day!