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Stories of slapstick
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I got a call from my sister last week. She lives on a farm southwest of Atlanta. She has to obey a burn ban until Oct. 1 (for which she blames me because all of Atlanta’s pollution comes to Newton County) and gathers limbs and other such debris all summer into what she calls her burn pile. 

After the rain two weeks ago, she decided it was safe to burn. She did once have her burn pile get out of control and is very careful now about choosing a time when the surrounding vegetation is sufficiently damp. 

My sister does not like clutter. I once went on an odyssey with her through the outlet mall in Locust Grove and the mall in Macon. She had her trunk filled with old National Geographics which she had tried to donate to local schools and libraries. No one wanted them. So we dumped an armful of those magazines in every trash can we encountered in both malls and eventually emptied her trunk. It took us the better part of the day because we didn’t want to make any one trash can too heavy. As I remember, we got rid of the last batch when we stopped for a hamburger at a Wendy’s in Macon. And yes, she has trash pick up from a privately owned company. She likes the man who picks up her trash and didn’t want to inconvenience him with a trunk full of National Geographics. 

So her dislike of clutter kicked in when she cleaned out a barn, and she decided to put a few old, disintegrating pallets which were in the barn on the burn pile. The burn safely accomplished, the next day she took a magnet, which she also found in the barn, and raked the ashes of the burn pile to get up any nails that were in the pallets. She used a standard rake, not a leaf rake.

Each time she raked and then put the rake down to use the magnet, she reminded herself not to be as foolish as cartoon characters and step on the rake. But of course, the inevitable happened. After about 20 minutes of searching for nails, she backed up and stepped on the rake which flew up and hit her in the head. 

She said it made her woozy and she sat down to regain her equilibrium. After a few minutes, she realized she was sitting in the middle of the ashes of the burn pile and that her pants were smoldering. She had to disrobe in the middle of her back yard. Fortunately, there are no houses close to her.

After we laughed about the story, she said it still took her several days before she could wash her hair without wincing. 

That reminded me of another story she told about one of her principals. She taught at a high school that was also in the country; in fact it was in the middle of a corn field. There were multiple reports of a rat in the gymnasium, and it was fall and basketball season was about to begin. Her principal went on a crusade to get that rat.

You know how that is. Sometimes you have so many pressing things to do that you become obsessed with the trivial to escape the pressure.

He got a trap and after several unsuccessful days finally captured the rat. He took the trap outside of the gym, but then the thought occurred to him that if he let the rat go, it would only ultimately return to the gym.

The rat had to die.

Not wanting to bludgeon the rat to death or even get near the thing, he doused it with gasoline and lit a match. But he underestimated the desire for survival, even in a rat.

That rat, on fire, broke open the door to the cage, escaped and ran through the corn field adjacent to the school parking lot, setting the whole field of dried corn on fire.  

I’m going to have to thank my sister for all the fodder she gives me for these columns. Maybe we could meet at the mall again, and I could buy her another lunch at Wendy’s.


Paula Travis is a Newton County resident and retired schoolteacher. She can be reached at