One time I proposed to rename the month of June. I wanted to make it Tomato. But that was back when tomatoes were fit to eat and their pinking was a joyful occasion. Now I’d as soon they called the month Squash. Or Corn on the Cob, so today would be Corn on the Cob 7, 2007. The first lugs used to come in around the 10th, O frabjous day, callooh, callay.
I never knew of a June that busted out all over, a silly idea from Oscar Hammerstein. It’s a month that gathers instead like summer rain. It seals in your juices on low heat before turning you over to the fry cooks Julio and Augustine. From the Fourth of July on, we take the summer off here at Lancastre Manor — who cares and why bother when your tongue dries stuck to the roof of your mouth? — but in the mild of early June there’s still commitment to the agenda. Here are some of the June tasks we always pencil in:
Getting the cotton laid by. This is an essential step in getting your cotton crop to harvest, but I’m not sure I ever got the hang of it. I think it was a matter of it never having been explained to me very well. So the procedure I’ve followed, by hunch or guess, and purely out of nostalgia, is when the stalks get around knee-high I go out there at night with my sleeping bag and lay by them. I know that’s lying and not laying but I’m doing the best I can here, and cotton farming just doesn’t give a damn about grammatical niceties. There are some things you can learn about life laying-by out on a turn-row on a summer night. Constellations befriend you, as they did the shepherd boy with the harp. Mosquitoes suck. Dogs bark, and the Dodge Caravan moves on.
Home canning. We still use the oldtime stovetop pressure cooker, with the singing valves and the scary-looking dials and gauges that saw their first service on World War II submarines. It’s a fair certainty with every use that this contraption will blow up, scalding at least one family member horribly, obliterating the kitchen, and sending out shrapnel with force sufficient to penetrate litigious neighbors’ vinyl siding in three directions. Back in the days when everybody canned, every household had its pressure-cooker explosion story and a gruesomely disfigured relative off in another commonwealth somewhere, no facial hair and permanently institutionalized. But you canned anyway and trusted that your number wouldn’t come up. Whole frogs and buckeyes were my yore favorites. These days, you rummage the compost heap and take what you can get.
Rattlesnake roundup. We don’t have one of these every June, but sidewinders get to be a real nuisance if they’re not thinned out every two or three years. You don’t want to be shooting them because if you miss or only wound them they’ll charge you like a bull or a bear, and if you saw the movie “Anaconda” with Jon Voight, you know the rest of that story. Trying to harvest them with a dip net is not real smart, either, when an appreciable percentage have reached the size of a standard pulpwood billet, as seems to be the case this year. It wasn’t unappreciated last year when they cleared this entire arm of the county of squirrels and feline strays, but just in the last fortnight they’ve moved up to full-grown possums and short women out at dusk walking Pomeranians. I suspect they were more interested in our Pomeranians than our womenfolk, but such distinctions become inconsequential when the reptile you encounter is of a size that you can hear its stomach growling.
Bush-hogging. This has nothing to do with the president or with swine. Bush-hogging and tree-hugging sound like they might be similar activities, but they’re not. Bush-hogging doesn’t mean you want to gather up all the bushes and keep them for your own pleasure or edification or profit, either. And it isn’t a semi-pornographic anatomical term. Mostly what you have to keep in mind when you’re bush-hogging is stinging insects. The yellowjackets are bad around here, and be on the lookout for hornets’ nests, and you might not believe it but an acquaintance of mine, one of my old domino pals, stirred up a bunch of killer bees while out bush-hogging in south Texas not long ago, and they got after him, and stung him to death before he could get back to his car. A true fact. He wasn’t a very good domino player but he didn’t deserve that. Still owed me money, too, though that’s neither here nor there.
Other June requisites include hitting all the local Vacation Bible Schools, which used to be mainly about snacks but now burden the boys and girls with creationist perplexities such as tyrannosaurs terrorizing the Ark; cleaning out the shed; cleaning out the well; befriending someone who lives nearby, whom your brood hasn’t already offended, and who has a pool; baling just enough Johnson grass to give verisimilitude to the annual romantic hayride; and of course performing the essential Druidic rites pertaining to the summer solstice.