Little Billy

He gave them big trouble.
Little Billy

Daddy's brother, Uncle Tommy, was a certified 24-carat character. All the family loved him dearly, but the things he did proved to be out in left field.

Uncle Tommy and his wife, Bessie, were members of a small carnival traveling throughout the Southern states. He was the medicine man, selling his homemade elixir, and he also managed the animals. Aunt Bessie was the fortune-teller and snake charmer.

When the carnival went out of business and could not pay their few employees, each was given his or her choice of the animals. True to form, Uncle Tommy did not want any of the regular farm animals. He chose the huge male buffalo. Aunt Bessie, in her infinite wisdom, wanted the largest snake, a python.

In the fall of 1950, we were living on a small farm in East Tennessee when Uncle Tommy and Aunt Bessie drove into our driveway, a trailer in tow. The eight in our family gathered in the front yard to welcome the weary travelers. We greeted Uncle Tommy with the customary hugs and handshakes. When Aunt Bessie came around the truck wrapped in a huge snake from head to toe, all the children ran screaming into the woods.

It took a few minutes to regroup the scattered clan, but soon, we were gathered around the trailer.

"You-all just won't believe what I have in this trailer." Uncle Tommy beamed with pride. "Doug, you make a guess."

"Is it a beautiful horse we all can ride, or a mule to pull our plow?" I asked.

"No, it ain't a horse or a mule, but it has four legs," he answered, still smiling like a proud father.

After everyone guessed pig, cow, sheep, goat, big dog, big cat and a big chicken with four legs, we all gave up. Smiling, he opened the back of the trailer. Out stepped the biggest, smelliest animal I had ever seen. Again, all the smaller children ran screaming into the woods.

"Come on back!" Uncle Tommy shouted, petting the huge creature. "It ain't nothing but a buffalo."

"What on this earth are you planning to do with that thing?" Daddy asked as he stepped back to give the animal some room.

"I am going to start up my own medicine show and get rich," Uncle Tommy replied. "All I need is for you to keep Little Billy for a couple of days till I get back from Georgia."

I slowly looked Little Billy up and down, and came to the conclusion there wasn't anything little about him but his name.

After consulting with Mama, Daddy said he would keep Little Billy for a couple of days. That night after the buffalo was fed, Uncle Tommy returned him to the trailer.

Early the following morning, after unhitching the trailer, Uncle Tommy and Aunt Bessie said their goodbyes and headed out for Georgia.

After breakfast, all the family gathered around the table to hear Daddy lay down the law.

"I am putting this critter in the feedlot, and I dare any one of you to go near it," Daddy warned.

My brother Buddy Earl and I smiled at each other. "Any one of you" did not refer to the two of us. If there was a way to have fun, we would do it, and we saw a lot of potential in the buffalo.

Buddy Earl rubbed his hands together. "Well, you know the family will go to town tomorrow," he told me. "You, me and Little Billy will be here all alone. I am thinking we might hook him up to the old barn door and have the ride of our lives."

Suddenly the idea of riding behind a buffalo seemed like a good thing. "Instead of using the barn door, lets hook up the old tractor tire," I replied. "It will slide across the grass a lot faster."

It was a done deal. Tomorrow we would hitch the tractor tire to Little Billy and ride around and around the feedlot.

Saturday morning, after everyone else went to town, we put our plan into action. The rope was the easy part of the plan. Rolling the tractor tire to the feedlot was very difficult, but we did it.

Little Billy stood motionless as we slipped the loop around his neck and tied the other end to the tire. After we were seated, I shouted, "Giddy-up!" The buffalo didn't move.

Buddy jumped up, ran to the nearest tree, cut a nice long switch, then returned and sat down behind me.

"Hold on tight," I advised. "We are going around and around this lot just like greased lightning."

Grabbing the rope in my left hand, I gave Little Billy a good swat with the switch. Whap! The sound of the switch and the buffalo's jump were synchronized. Across the feedlot he went, dragging the tire with us holding on for dear life behind him. Unfortunately Little Billy had a mind of his own and did not go around and around as we expected. The angry buffalo broke straight through the fence and headed for the open fields! Back and forth like a huge pendulum the huge tractor tire skidded across the ground. Through Mama's garden Little Billy ran, clearing a path 10 feet wide in his mad dash for freedom.

Buddy Earl was the first to go. Across the garden he rolled, taking cornstalks and cucumber vines with him. My turn was short in coming. On the next swing, I lost my grip and went through the watermelon patch like a bowling ball.

Getting to my feet, I staggered to where Buddy Earl sat. "Are you all in one piece?"

He looked up at me with a dirt-covered face and groaned. "I am going to be so sore you can't touch me anywhere with a powder puff."

"Come on," I said. "We need to get that critter back in the feedlot before Daddy and Mama come home!"

Across the pasture we hobbled, following the skid marks left by the bouncing tractor tire. We were very lucky; at the edge of our farm, the tire had wedged between two trees, holding Little Billy fast.

We untied the tire, leaving it for another day, and led Little Billy back to the feedlot. We cleaned ourselves up the best we could and conjured up the biggest story ever told. We laid it on thick, and the family was awed: We were chopping wood when the buffalo suddenly went crazy, broke through the fence, and ran wild through Mom's garden. After a huge struggle, we finally subdued the savage beast.

"It must have been them honeybees," Mom surmised. "Albert, I told you this would happen."

Buddy smiled at me and mouthed, "Thank goodness for honeybees."

Uncle Tommy came the next day and took his buffalo to Georgia with no one the wiser about our wild ride. Uncle Tommy never became rich or famous; Little Billy ate him and Aunt Bessie out of house and home.

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