A Boy and His Frog
By Richard C Brown
Publisher, Deal Maker Merchant
Dedicated To My Aunt Sophie
During the course of pursuing big fat yellow grasshoppers on my uncle's farm to use as fish bait in the nearby Gasconade River for the lurking goggleyes I knew were there, I chanced upon a new adventure that would eternally sparkle forever in any young boy's life. Let the story begin!
A wonder of nature I didn't yet understand in my young age, he was big and he was green. I was fascinated. With a beautiful hue of deep grass green fading into a pleasant shade of yellow on his undersides, and with a dazzling white belly that most good Missouri bull frogs tend to exhibit, he was the most beautiful frog I had ever seen. I wanted to be his friend! But apparently he didn't like my intrusion into his solitary life.
The closer I got, the more intense his fixed stare became, showing signs of unmistakable resentment. "Too close," I thought as he grubbily hopped from his convenient warm, big, flat rock into the clear, cold, tiny spring pool. I heard a quiet, whispering voice sing, "Don't go. I just want to be your friend." All to no avail, as he disappeared into the small crevice of the limestone cave where the spring water gurgled. I realized that small voice was my own, subdued by wonderment and filled with hope.
"I'll be back! I called to my new friend. "I can't catch flies but I can catch grasshoppers for you. You'll see!"
As I picked my way through the tall grass to my Aunts house, I remembered that it was almost July hay harvest time. It was also close to suppertime. The huge platter of fried taters and goggleye and bass that I had caught quickly disappeared.
The next day I went back. I still wanted to go fishing again as I collected a few grasshoppers on my way to the spring. My love for animals always seemed to trump common sense. This day even the grasshoppers seemed to elude my stealthy approach as they were few and far between. But I caught some; enough to go to the river later on.
"I'll just wait," I lamented. "He'll be back soon and I can see him again."
I waited and waited. And I waited, not even noticing the grasshoppers escaping from the tin pipe tobacco can grandpa Bartlett had given me to keep them in. Even the one with the missing hind legs was missing. No goggleye or perch and bass today. No bait. Also, no frog!
Earlier my Uncle Junior told me I could find grasshoppers down by the spring. So I decided this would be sort of like a combination baptism and swim party. Back then everyone went to the creek or river--depending on the depth)--to be baptized 'cause weren't no place else' back then. So why not a swimming party afterwards, too? Made sense to me! I'd see my new friend, catch some grasshoppers down by the spring, go fishing, and later return to real people I knew loved me! What a wonderful day for a seven-year-old.
So I waited and I waited and you guessed it... No frog!
I knew he was there, but perhaps something had spooked him away that day. Again, no frog!
The afternoon gave way to failing daylight and I realized my aunt Sophie may be wondering of my whereabouts. I'd been gone a long time for a little guy so I decided I'd best get back to the house. Since I'd only had corn flakes and kool-aid for breakfast and had skipped 'dinner' I was starved. I then remembered Aunt Sophie had promised fried chicken and potatoes for supper. The year was 1944 and most city folk didn't fare as well as us 'raise it yourself' farm folk. When it came to food, boy did I hate corn flakes. And kool-aid too as it refused to fizz, sizzle, gurgle and bubble like the soda pops and Ne-Hi's I occasionally got if Grandpa stopped at the filling station for some (sigh) fifteen-cents-a-gallon gasoline.
Sometimes I managed to sneak an extra spoonful of sugar or even honey. I can remember honey when available was cheaper than sugar and it wasn't rationed during the war. This helped, but it didn't change the fact I had to eat corn flakes! A box of corn flakes was cheap, too, and readily available during the wartime.
The huge pile of fried chicken was disappearing rapidly as I related my frog adventures to my uncle's family.
"You can get 'em tomorrow," my Uncle Junior muttered as he speared the last chicken leg I'd been eyeing. "He'll be back."
I ended up with a wing.
Sure enough, he was. I could hear him singing long before I could see him. I knew he was there. A deep BOW-ROCK-BOW-ROCK was what I heard in the best bull frog-style voice. I decided to try a different approach. Dropping to my knees and then to my belly I crawled through the briars and brambles, quietly and slowly stealing my way to his song. I was sure glad I'd had bacon and eggs that morning; no corn flakes today.
I wished I could live on a farm forever. Food, Family, and Frogs! What else could a young lad ask for? My cousin, Carl was spending the day at the Weber place, some friends who lived nearby. And little Kathleen was too young to leave the yard.
I had the whole day to myself to further explore and carry on my frog quest. These reflections soon subsided as I (painfully) crawled over the sharp rocks and coarse grass, gradually inching toward my new amphibian friend. I was totally unaware of the ticks and chiggers sneaking onto and accumulating all over my body. I thought myself smarter than the frog. Not so! Plop! Again, into the spring pool. As I came into his view, he was still as beautiful and eloquent as ever. I waited. And waited.
But I did notice a slight burning sensation on my legs and ankles. I scratched them a little. Then I scratched them a lot! Constant itch ! Constant scratch! Smarter than the frog, eh? Then I scratched all over. I would tell you where the worst itching emanated from, but the editor of this paper won't let me. But you are free to use your imagination.
Have you ever been treated with chigger bites with nail polish? Don't try it! That was the recommended remedy in the 1940's. Aunt Sophie liked to kill me with that stuff that night.
Also, due to the editor's restrictions and this being a family paper, and all, we just won't go into the ticks. Again, imagination is the order of the day.
"When I grow up I'm going to tell the whole world about the evils and indignities of a seven-year-old wearing bib overalls," I hollered. My Uncle carried his tobacco and pipe in his, but I don't have either! So why did I need bib overalls? Besides, it didn't make much sense to stuff a bunch of dried leaves into a pipe and set it afire!
Back to the frog! Yep! Still there! I'll just circle around and KERPLOOP! He went into the water and disappeared into his little dark cave. But this time he didn't (BLEEP) as he jumped to save some of my dignity (I think). After all, I now considered him an enchanted frog. This was Saturday, my last day at Uncle Junior's farm! Church tomorrow morning and then I gotta go home.
I secretly reveled in the fact that the frog was still free, still able to pursue the bugs, flies and other frog things as frogs do. I knew his life would be happy and prosperous. He would sit regal and proud on his big fat rock next to the spring!
But that's not the end of this adventure.
Naturally, I was older the next year, only this time I was a proud eight-year-old. I was invited to spend another week on the farm with my Uncle Junior and Aunt Sophie, and tormented by my cousins Carl and Kathleen. My other cousin, Tim, wasn't born yet.
The fourth of July was a big event for my family. The Brown's, Anderson's and Tinsley's gathered at the Bartlell's for a huge pig out of chicken, corn-on-the-cob and watermelon. It was truly a Utopia for a third-grader like myself, or so I thought. Monday morning my uncle announced that "today we are going to work in the hay field. And you, Richard, are old enough to help. We'll even pay you."
As he hitched up the horses to his mowing machine, my first thought was the frog by the stream. Was he still there? It was a hot July day and it was always cool down by the spring. I loved my uncle but was anxious to see 'my frog'.
When I awoke the next morning a brand new pair of stiff blue bib overalls lay before me. I grudgingly donned them and thought to myself I'll bet there's corn flakes for breakfast, too.
Sure enough! Only this time they had natural honey in them and lots of Bartlett-raised eggs and bacon. I still hate corn flakes! "Why not help with the hay?" I thought. "I'll help with the hay and I can stalk the frog this afternoon before supper."
We made huge mistakes, typical of most farms in the 1940's and 1950's.
First the hay was cut, allowed to cure, then pitch-forked into small shocks. As the horse drawn wagon passed by, we frantically tossed the shocks into the wagon. When the wagon was full we went to a designated place to build the hay stack. This gave the horses the chance to chomp on the missed hay while they waited. For them it was a reward from heaven. I remember in particular 'Ole Mac' Avery's gentle, big chestnut. He loved to have his ears scratched. He also loved to have the ticks pulled from his (BLEEP—Sorry… Editors again).
Finally, after receiving my 50-cents for the day (it was heavy in my pocket), I got to check for the frog.
After outwitting the briars and the brambles (but alas, not the ticks or the chiggers--again!) I saw him. Bigger than before, and greener than green and as proud, and more beautiful than ever.
"A critter such as this should not be handled," I thought to myself. So I just admired and watched as he captured and swallowed a yellow meadow cricket.
He didn't jump and this time seemed to tolerate my presence. I didn't try to get any closer and soon left as the day waned. Next day... Guess where I was? At the spring, looking for the frog. He was there. But this day, after being doused by about a gallon of turpentine (a chigger preventative in the 40's) I had defeated the chiggers (so I thought) and while scratching my way along I saw him. I froze and quietly watched as he captured a loan crawfish in the spring pool. Thrilled, I quietly watched him as he expertly climbed back onto his favorite flat rock and finished relishing the rest of his crawfish.
"I'm gonna get that frog!" I thought to myself, as I worked my way forward, discretely untangling the briars caught in those blasted bib overalls. Of course I collected a new dose of chiggers and ticks for my trouble.
"Boy, do I hate Bib Overalls!" My torment was exacerbated by the turpentine I was wearing on that hot July day.
The following day was a scorcher: ninety-five degrees, PLUS. The hay was twice as heavy and Grandpa Bartlett was twice as grumpy. Even Uncle Junior seemed was a little harried with the stress of the day. To my delight he called off work early but I still got my 50-cents. Now I had earned a dollar to take home.
I had told my Aunt Sophie about the frog and she seemed understanding and very wise.
"Why don't you be quieter and tell the frog you mean him no harm?" she suggested. "But tell him in a soft, gentle voice so as to not startle him. Talk to him very quietly."
To my amazement, the soft words seemed to assure him of his safety. For the first time, he didn't jump. I found myself within three or four feet of him and I waited without moving. He stared at me in a solid, fixed frog stare; no sign of panic this time as I softly uttered made up words I had never heard before or since.
I reached for him slowly but withdrew my hand when I felt him tense up. My heart pounded as he accepted the green grasshopper I captured just above his head. No tension now; he had accepted me as a new but strange friend. Minutes passed before my confidence allowed me to attempt to pick him up.
To my amazement such was so. I placed him on my thigh, captured another grasshopper, and offered it to my new friend. ACCEPTED!
His eyes closed momentarily as he swallowed his food gift: this time a yellow grasshopper. He slowly entered the spring pool and leisurely swam a few feet, then stopped. He turned around and gave me the old 'now familiar' frog stare, this time with a subdued but apparent frog smile. It was the best frog smile I had ever seen, even to this day. And I'm now 75 years young.
SIDEBAR: POEM / VERSE TO ACCOMPANY STORY
For My Young Friend
Dear Friend, the kindness you have shown me
Your offerings of fare
I'll never forget that you were there.
Now leave me alone,
My destiny to seek.
Grasshoppers from the edge, for a while I can still tweak.
Grow up and be strong,
A man you will soon be
Stay kind and be true
I'm only a frog
But I love you too!
I never returned.