Farm To Farm

by Spec MacQuayde, December 7, 2011

“Never go in Kincaid Holler after dark,” they always warned us.

The Kincaids reinforced the frightened prejudices of the German farmers. From the other side of the river, the farmers they regarded as invaders of their native soil, no doubt, as Grandpa, his brother Alvin, and Uncle Huck had purchased most of the neighboring valley's flat ground, both sides of the meandering creek in a place known as “Buffalo Bottoms.” To get to Buffalo Bottoms from Verona you have to go through Kincaid Holler, and as recently as the 1980's the Kincaids lived in trailers both sides of the gravel road. Riding with Grandpa or Uncle Huck, as a kid, I was in awe of the leather-faced men standing beside sawdust mountains and shacks where they milled poplar and oak into pallets, men who didn't wave amiably the way all the farmers our side of the river did, whether they hated you or not. The Kincaid men passed Mason jars and seemed to regard us like deer except slower moving targets, and they were always out there. Every now and then the sawdust piles would spontaneously combust, so driving home through the Holler at night it was lit up and flickering like a scene from Hollywood's studios. Neither the volunteer fire department, nor the sheriff deputies of either county, both sides of the river, ventured into Kincaid Holler in those days. The Kincaid kids didn't attend school. They tooled around the Holler, but carried no license plates or insurance, Grandpa always warned me. “You're screwed if they run into you.”

The Kincaids knew that all the Good Lutherans on the north side of the river were conditioned to a state of fear and loathing towards them, and so the wild hillbilly clan really never had to accomplish any of the dastardly deeds they were accused of, with a century of legends elaborated on and passed down through the generations. They effectively owned the rivers and forests. They must have taken sport in watching Grandpa and Huck or me drive the big red tractors past in the spring to plant corn, corn that the Kincaids would help themselves to when it was fresh for roasting, or later when it was dry to use as feed for pigs, chickens, and horses, or corn meal in their kitchens. Not only did the Kincaids sequester their share of the corn, but since none of them were really legal enough to motor into civilization and purchase hydraulic hoses or batteries for their nearly antique caterpillar dozers and forklifts, they considered Grandpa's farm equipment to be something like a tractor parts supply outlet that was only open at night, when our equipment was parked there in Buffalo. We basicallly expected some parts to be missing in the morning, and for that reason had installed FM transmitters in our cabs long before the advent of the cell phone. Big Farming was Big Money, and we had to keep the show on the road. For that reason, possibly thanks to a stint in the army in the 1950's, Grandpa designated one spot in the middle of Buffalo Bottoms as the “Staging Area,” and we would literally park the tractors and respective implements in a circle when we were done working of an evening, like the pioneers had once configured their wagons out West. Not that this approach deterred the nocturnal dismantlers, once we'd returned home to Verona. They probably cracked up at the sight.

Buffalo Bottoms was not named after the wild bovines of the Great Plains, but for the native buffalo fish that would spawn in the annual flooding when the rivers backed up.

“You could try Dad's place there in Buffalo,” Uncle Huck told me, when I stopped by his shop to relay that my old friend and current employer, Mort, had these business connections from the City who were driving down for the muzzle-loader season, and that my son and his friends had cleaned too many deer out of Mort's grandma's farm, which I felt bad about. “You know, that hill next to the church piece, the pear tree field. They can park in the staging area. Just watch out for the Kincaids — you know the property lines up there, Spec?”

“More or less.”

“Steer clear of them Kincaids.”

“No doubt.”

Mort's friend from the city, Kevin, was gung ho to go home with a trophy buck, though. “I don't care about any Kincaids,” he said. “It's on.”

So my son and I hopped in our Ford Ranger and led Mort and Kevin the round-about way to Kincaid Holler, since the old Cavenaugh Bridge has been condemned by the State. The Holler ain't what it used to be. The sawmills are gone. Nobody stands around, though you may still spot a few children darting between the same Dodge Chargers and Chevy Novas that have been up on concrete blocks since I was a teenager. Some of the trailers have been scorched in meth lab explosions, their windows knocked out and hollow like blackened jack-o-lantern teeth. It was crank that finally brought the Law to Kincaid Holler. For nearly two hundred years, the county and state police had left the place alone, but meth lab explosions were not easy to hide from the DEA. The place is eerily quiet, now that most of the Kincaids my age are in prison, and the clan's brush with civilization was the equivalent of war. It's quiet like the South during Reconstruction. Well, quieter than it used to be.

We parked our trucks in the Staging Area, and I pointed out the general perimeters of Grandpa's land, noting again that the neighbors would not take kindly to outsiders venturing on their side of the nebulous lines. Not even Grandpa or Huck knew exactly where the boundaries on the other slope of the hill were — they didn't eat venison, or log the forests, so had never endeavored to venture that way — at least not for decades.

“If I were you, I'd stay back on this side of the hill just to be sure,” I tried to warn, but the conversation got sidetracked, though I did try to point out the cedar grove where surely a bunch of deer must be bedding down, the grove right along the church piece. And then Alvin and Denver were out the other side of the valley, shelling corn, which frequently drives deer out, and that got Kevin excited.

Kevin, it turned out, had been on the swim team at the same university where I'd studied Literature, coincidentally, though neither of us remembered each other. But we both mentioned enough names to confirm that yes, we'd been to college at the same place, the same time. He was as amped for this hunting performance as he might have once been for the Mid-East conference championship. You could see it in his eyes as he poured powder into his muzzle loader. He could well have been pacing behind the starting blocks before the 100 meter freestyle.

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