By Pettus Read
While cleaning out an old shed the other day, I ran across a pile of my father’s tobacco sticks that he used several years ago to raise tobacco. Those sticks were pretty important on our farm, and he guarded those pieces of wood like they were gold. They were the source for making a crop that helped pay his children’s way through college and made Christmas a whole lot more enjoyable for Santy Claus and us.
As I moved some of those sticks, I thought out loud about how they still could make a really good stick horse for a kid. When I was small, Daddy’s tobacco sticks were the “herd” where I would go to pick out a noble wooden steed.
With that piece of wood and a grass string tied at the top for a bridle, I could take my imagination out West with Roy and Gene to fight outlaws and make the long cattle drives. My stick horse, in my imagination, would be just as real alongside Roy and Gene’s horses Trigger and Champion as we would ride off into the sunset.
But, it seems kids just don’t ride stick horses anymore. It has been ages since I have seen a child out in the front yard on a stick horse. Maybe they have all evolved to the backyard, or could it be the stick horse has become extinct? I know it is becoming harder to find a real good tobacco stick these days, but surely there is a replacement out there somewhere to help maintain the stick horse tradition for our youth.
Growing up on a farm in Middle Tennessee, stick horses were as common in my day as fried chicken being served on Sunday. Of course, you are going to tell me now that fried chicken is no longer served on Sunday, but it should be.
As a farm child back in the 50s, you couldn’t just walk to where you wanted to go. A stick horse was a main form of transportation for a six-year-old farm boy.
My friend and former commissioner of agriculture, as well as radio and TV star, L. V. “Cotton” Ivy, is a true stick horse fan and supporter. He often tells the story (which I know is the truth), about riding his favorite stick horse to school. Seems he tied it out front of the schoolhouse, and when he came outside in the afternoon to go home, some no-good horse thief had stolen his stick horse. Without his stick horse, he had to walk all the way home!
I was born in the years of BWM (Before Wal-Mart), and your toys could be found wherever your imagination led you. From sunup to sundown we would ride our trusty mounts across the Tennessee countryside, saving the world from all types of disaster.
Our imaginations helped make our summer days go by, rather than using an X-Box, Wii, cable TV, Internet or computer game.
Our heroes were real people. We had Roy Rogers on Trigger, Gene Autry on Champion and the Lone Ranger on Silver. I guess what made them so real to me was that each one of those heroes was agriculturally connected. They rode real horses, drove cattle on the range, worked in the great outdoors, were always having a note coming due and courted their sweethearts “the cowboy way.”
Sometimes I wonder about the future generation. Look at mine. We made pies from mud, horses from tobacco sticks, flying toys from June bugs and swings from tires. We haven’t turned out too bad. I just hope those in the next generations use their imaginations in fun ways like we did.
It sure makes life a whole lot easier and tremendously less expensive.