by Wayne L. Carter
One can get a haircut at the Razor's Edge barbershop in Ripley, Mississippi, and a decent education, as well. Though barbers have often been cited as purveyors of information and opinions, not all of which are worthwhile, Malcolm Lindsey is an exception. His formal education did not extend past high school, but his keen mind and common sense have allowed him to be educated to a point enviable by many a college graduate.
Malcolm hails from a rural upbringing and is no stranger to hard work. On more than one occasion while getting a shampoo and haircut, I have been doused in the times and language of yesteryear on the farm. I don't remember what Malcolm was telling at the time, but to emphasize a point, he used an expression unfamiliar to me.
Speaking to a man in the barber chair, he remarked, "He just stood there like a calf staring at a new gate."
I interrupted and asked him what he had just said. Malcolm repeated the phrase and added a bit of body language in order to illustrate how a calf might cock its head to one side while standing straddle-legged looking at a new gate.
"You mean you have never seen a young calf act like that when you put up a new gate?" he asked, surprised by my sudden display of farm-life ignorance. "Why, if there's a new gate that calf will be running around the pen, and as soon as it notices the gate is different from the old one, it'll come to a dead stop and just stand there staring at the gate, trying to figure it out."
I allowed I could not remember ever hearing the expression. He might have been more surprised had I acknowledged that I haven't ever put up a new gate.
"Well, you know cows are pretty dumb." Malcolm continued, "They'll walk the same trail or path day after day to get from one part of the pasture to another or to come back to the barn, and if they are penned up they'll just walk the fence, like they're looking for a way out. If you take down part of the fence they'll keep walking that same path for a couple of days before they figure out the fence is down."
From cows, the conversation of enlightenment moved to mules.
"Now, you take mules," Malcolm said, "if you've had them hitched to the same plow but unhitch them and switch places with them as you lead them to a stream for watering, they'll just stand there and won't drink a drop of water until you put them back beside each other like they were when they were working together."
It sounded a little far-fetched to me, but the man in the barber chair nodded his head in agreement, as I made mental notes. I could believe the part about cows, because I had observed the trails in pastures and woodlands made by cattle and deer, but I was not too sure of the mule-watering axiom.
"If you've ever tried to take a pair of mules to the barn and you try to put one of them in the other one's stall, you'll have a hard time getting him in that stall," Malcolm continued. "They know where they are supposed to go, and they will resist you putting them somewhere they figure they don't belong."
All of the talk of animal behavior got Malcolm wound up. He even recalled a certain birddog that he kept after his uncle died. Malcolm remembered it was in a fenced enclosure behind his house, and the enclosure was part of the fenced-in backyard. The Lindsey children were youngsters at the time, and the two boys delighted in picking and poking at the dog through the backyard fence, causing it to bark fiercely. After Malcolm's wife got tired of wearin' out the young'uns, she badgered Malcolm into taking down the backyard fence near the backdoor, thereby reducing the enclosure to a smaller pen and relocating the barking birddog away from the backdoor.
As Malcolm tells it, he let the dog out of its new pen a few days later so it could get some exercise. The dog did exactly what a penned up dog does when it gets a little freedom. It ran all over the backyard but never once tried to run out the opening where the old fence had been. Malcolm started to walk from the backyard toward his pond. As he did so, he turned to see the dog standing behind the invisible fence, wagging its tail, and begging to be asked to go with his new keeper.
"Moan heah!" Malcolm commanded, using the country vernacular for "come along here."
The dog was ready, but couldn't quite figure out how it was going to get through the invisible fence. Remember that Malcolm had taken down the part of the fence where the dog was standing. Yet, not to be overcome by failure to heed a command, the dog took three spin-arounds, hurled itself over the fence that wasn't there, and hustled alongside his keeper. I didn't see it, but I reckoned that it happened, so I just sat there, looking at Malcolm like a calf staring at a new gate.
Wayne L. Carter is a Retail Technology Specialist for SUPERVALU, a wholesale food distributor. Wayne, a 1965 graduate of The University of Mississippi, makes his home in Pontotoc, Mississippi, along with his wife, Barbara, and son, Jason. His daughter, Rayanne and her husband, Anson Adams, reside in Belmont, Mississippi. Wayne and Barbara have three granddaughters.
Wayne's principal hobby is writing. He distributes a weekly newsletter, Ridge Rider News, to more than one hundred friends and family members through U.S. Mail, E-mail, and online at www.rrnews.org. This newsletter is now in its eleventh year of publication.
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