Little Boy Barry craved salt. His father George gave him his own salt-lick so that he would not continue to share the same block of sodium that cattle fed upon. Barry licked it often to satisfy an incredible salt craving.
George smoked and cured meats the old world way– in a wooden smoke house. Hams and beef loins were preserved in the tradition of ancestors. Salt was used in the preservation process. Barry used his pocket-knife to pick a padlock on the smoke shed one evening in late Fall while his father was at work, laying bricks in a yard. The boy’s incredible salt addiction tempted him to slice a tiny piece of a jerky that his father had seasoned and was in the process of curing.
George was a good father and a gentleman. It was uncommon for him to take the belt to his children, especially Barry, his youngest son of eight children, even when they were behaving like rotten apples.
After noticing a sliver of lean stolen from his drying carcasses, George pulled his son into the smoke house by the hair at the back of his head just above the nap of his neck and asked him what happened to his smoking beef.
“It must have been a mouse.”
“Horse shit! That came from a knife– your knife, son. Keep your little ass out of the smoke shack. I have never known a boy to love salt the way you do.”
Barry’s salt addiction led him to more adventurous food thieving missions. The black-hair, freckle-faced lad carried a salt shaker in his denim blue jeans and rode his bicycle out a dirt lane that ran parallel to an electric power line. Power lines are cuttings in the natural foliage along landscapes, often maintained by the government and powerful public corporations. Farmers like George had no choice when the decision was made to build a power line over his property and farm. The lines were needed to transport millions of kilowatts of electricity. Like chickens, the powerlines became a normal part of farm life. Large metal towers rose far taller than the corn and sagging thick wires buzzed and zapped above as routinely as summer breezes cause the leaves on tress to softly whisper as they are brushed together by the quiet power of the wind.
Barry steadily steered his bicycle down the rocky lane coming to a stop near one of the metal power cable towers near the home and farm of neighbor Joe Emerson. Even though Barry’s father George had an orchard with apples, peaches, plumbs, pears and cherries, Barry could not resist the temptations of the fruits of others, including those that belonged to his neighbor. It was far more risky and challenging than simply breaking and entering the smoke house even though there was plenty of fruit freely available on the Taylor farm. Barry slowly crawled through the grass of the field of the power lines into Emerson’s orchard.
Joe not only pruned his fruit trees in the Fall, but he also thinned the number of fruits on his head-high peach trees. One of his peaches grew to the size of Barry’s little head. Barry knew about old man Joe’s peaches because he always won the blue ribbon for peaches at the county fair, causing his daddy to settle for a red ribbon every year.
George and Joe tried hard to be friends and remain neighborly in a competitive farming way. At times, they visited on summer evenings when there was not a lot of farm work to do other than wait for Mother Nature to work her magic on the land.
The men sipped strong concoctions of home- brewed moonshine. Both men had mastered the art of fermentation. Even Joe admitted that George made the best shine in the county.
The peach that Barry picked and ate was supported by two-by-fours. The single peach growing from just one tree caused its branch to nearly bend to the ground. The wooden beams held the tree branches steady and kept the fruit from resting on the ground and growing like a cantaloupe.
Barry’s pocket-knife peeled the fuzzy fruit easily. It was still warm from the sun. The salt he carried with him made the succulent peach taste better than a watermelon. He ate it all sitting on the ground, next to his bike. He watched as a pair of crows rested from flight peacefully upon the wires of the powerline above. He wondered why the birds were not electrocuted if there was so many “dangerous currents” flowing in them as George had once explained to Barry when the boy decided he wanted to try climbing to the top of one of the metal towers.
The Emersons invited the Taylor’s to Sunday dinner following a church service at an Episcopal church that both families were committed members of. It was the day after Barry had stolen and eaten the peach. George and Joe were busy talking crops. Barry hoped the peach would not enter into their discussion.
“Come with me and see this thing, George….I’ll be damned, it’s gone! The deer must have got to it!”
George didn’t care much about seeing a big peach anyway. What’s the difference between baskets full of peaches or just one big one, he thought.
“You would not believe the size of my special peach. Damn, it’s gone. I sure wish you have seen it.”
Barry didn’t say a word. He just kicked the ground with his good church shoes as the two old men continued to talk.
Not wanting the hair on his head pulled like the skin of a peach, Barry admitted his wrongdoing to his father after they left the Emerson farm after dinner that day.
“I knew it wasn’t a deer,” George explained to his son. “If a deer ate it, it would have left the pit. I didn’t want to hear Joe brag more anyway, but you are going to go back over there on your bike when we get home and return Esther’s glass salt shaker!”