don’t know why this has come to me now, on a cool,
rainy Saturday following Lammas. I haven’t thought
about it in years. But suddenly I remember a sultry
Missouri Summer’s day when I was twelve and we
lived in a farmhouse on the dirt road to Crystal
Caves and there was a boy named Billy Jenkins.
We moved a lot in the short time I lived with
my Momma and Frank. This was the second of three
houses, and was my favourite. The rutted and dusty
road lead only to our house and then on to the
caves. The old lady who owned the caves did nothing
to encourage visitors, except for placing a rusty
and flaking tin sign where the road forked off
from Highway 36.
Our house was a good country mile from the highway.
It sat with a cow pasture and hilly fields behind
it, and there was a small sign on our driveway
pointing onward “TO THE CAVES”.
It was located at sort of a Y junction, with the
stem leading uphill to the caves, and one arm
more or less South towards Cassville and the other
arm sort of Northerly to Butterfield via Highway
36 which was at the top of the Y so to speak.
In the middle of the Y were several unfenced,
untouched acres of buffalo grass.
Needless to say, it was pretty quiet up that way.
But there was room for Frank to raise 100 chicks
into broilers and no near neighbours to hear him
shouting insults and abuse when he was drunk.
One scorching afternoon as July turned to August,
I was hanging out under the big walnut tree. The
fields sizzled and the earth cracked under the
searing Sun. I had a book, but it was even too
hot to read, so I just sat staring at the heat
waves shimmering on the stubbly cow pasture.
Something caught my eye and as I turned towards
the field that led to the caves, I was surprised
to see a boy that I recognised from the year ahead
of me at school. He was loping easily down the
steep hillside with a big grin on his face, which
changed to guarded suspicion the moment he saw
Billy Jenkins poor white trash. Billy Jenkins
one of those kids that Momma always said not
to play with. Billy Jenkins if something gets
vandalised or stolen, where was he at the time?
Billy Jenkins he’ll come to a bad end. Billy
Jenkins… It was hard to equate what I had been
told with the kid who had just been so happily
racing through the pasture.
We regarded each other warily for a moment. He
was known as a “right bad’un” and I was both a
girl and not really from Cassville at all. We
had absolutely nothing in common.
doin’ spyin’ on me?” he accused.
wasn’t! I live here. What are YOU doing in the
field?” I snapped back.
He looked at me sort of funny and came to a decision.
“Ain’t no grass down where I live on Townsend
Road. Sometime a feller jus’ need to feel the
dirt. Y’know?” And amazingly I did.
Billy ambled to the barbed wire fence and looked
me up and down. “Your folks home?” he asked, almost
challenging me to lie and say yes.
my Mom’s at work at the café and Frank’s gone
to the broomcorn harvest. Why?”
I wouldn’t say no to some water. It’s perishin’
I may have been feeling pretty brave, but not
brave enough to let someone like Billy into the
house. On the other hand, I didn’t want to offend
it’s really hot inside. Why don’t you go sit around
the other side of the house by the Rose of Sharon
bush? It’s shady there and I’ll bring us something
to drink.” He gave me a long look and a knowing
grin and then, as they say in the Ozarks, he ‘ankled
on over’ into the shade.
I rushed into the house, caught between fear and
excitement. Puberty was only just kicking in,
but I knew what I was feeling and it was NICE!
I pulled out all the stops and made a whole pitcher
of Kool-Aid, found some Oreos and slammed them
on a plate then carried the lot out to where Billy
sprawled on the grass beneath the blooming bush.
He took the drink and the cookies (with a real
grin this time) and we sat companionably side
by side. I could feel the heat rising from the
ground and the only sound was the high-pitched
wine of grasshoppers.
The Summer of 1958 was a real scorcher and now
at the start of August the buffalo grass stood
taller than my head. We watched as the hot breeze
made orange-gold waves across it.
Billy picked up the pitcher and his glass and
walked across the road, red dust kicked up by
his light footsteps colouring his boots and jeans.
He stopped right at the edge of the field and
turned back to look at me.
ever walked in anything like that?” he asked,
cocking his head at the swaying grass towering
Somehow, I had never thought of going into that
field, but now, as Billy ambled into the high
hay, it seemed the most natural thing in the world
to follow him. I took my glass and watching carefully
where I placed my bare feet as I crossed the burning
dirt road, followed him. Where he led was not
where I thought I was going.
The smell of bruised grass rose from beneath our
feet. It was like walking in a golden tunnel.
When I looked back, the grass had closed behind
us. After walking like this for a minute or two,
Billy stopped and handed me his glass and the
I’m gonna show y’all somethin’ I betcha’ you ain’t
never seen ‘afore,” he said.
To my amazement, he started a sort of shuffling
dance in a tight spiral which he gradually opened
out, causing the grass to be flattened in a circular
pattern. When he had made a circle about eight
feet across, he flopped down on his back looking
at the sky and patted the ground next to him.
I felt a bit foolish, but I carefully set our
glasses and the pitcher on the ground and joined
him. It was amazing! The world was reduced to
a gently undulating circle of gold covered by
a sky of unbearable blue. There wasn’t a sound.
And the aroma of the buffalo grass was one of
eternity and wildness and life.
‘ya go,” was all he said.
We must have stayed there for hours as the Sun
moved across the sky. Clouds came and went and
this bad kid was better than I was at seeing shapes
in them. Billy never laid a hand on me. All he
and I did in that sweetly scented secret place
was lie close together talking about our fears
and hopes and dreams.
All too soon I heard a car coming up the road
and I knew the sound of the engine. “It’s my Mom,”
Billy only nodded and stayed hidden in the buffalo
grass as I raced to sneak the now empty ptcher,
two glasses and plate in the back door before
she came in the front.
The following week we suddenly moved once more,
this time to Mount Vernon, thirty-five miles away.
I never told anyone about that day and I never
saw Billy or the field of buffalo grass again.
Maybe that’s why I now remember with a certain
sadness that long-ago Lammas when a no-good white
trash boy called Billy Jenkins and I lay together
in the golden grass breathing as one with the
Lammas Memory © MommaWhiteCougar