It was the noon hour break at our eighth-grade, one-room schoolhouse. A few of us were still standing in a semicircle around Yearbo Job Teateser listening to him tell about his family.
According to Yearbo, all of his family, including two babies, came from the Old Country. He said his daddy was the best railroad tie cutter anyone had ever seen and that they had crossed oceans, rivers and mountains to land smack dab in the middle of our community because railroads were so important to us.
Florence Alexander, modern CEO for her gender, with skinny, freckled arms akimbo demanded, "What's that you're chewin' on all the time?"
Without batting an eye, Yearbo replied, "A horse wart."
He took it out to show us. It was wrapped in a little square cloth and attached to some twine string around his neck. The cloth was stained.
"My papa is the best tie cutter anywhere," he repeated. "How come you don't use the big pines for ties?"
"Too soft," Larry Mullins explained. "Freight cars around here carry big loads. The pines would break up in less than a year. Better stick to the hickory and oak."
Referring to his horse wart, Yearbo said, "This one's getting old but I have a fresh one down in the cellar in case youins need it."
Everyone turned a few steps backward and some turned a little green.
Florence, although pale and shaken, stood her ground. "What's it supposed to do?"
Yearbo, eager to bring any knowledge from the Old Country, said, "It keeps your, uh, end trails from rotting and falling out."
Our bodies shook, either by choice or on their own.
Once or twice during this tie-cutting season we had a family picnic. We would take large baskets of fried chicken, ham, potato salad and pies and cakes to share with our neighbors who attended. We wondered what the Teatesers would bring and how we could avoid eating it. But, they brought a half bushel of what were freshly washed and delicious turnips.
While eating, Dad and Grandpa continued their heavy work, shaping up a couple of ties. Both were sweating and brushing back their hair from their foreheads. Mr. Teateser told about how he was the best tie-cutter in the world.
We eventually gathered in the wood chips and laid aside the finished ties.
All of the Teatesers were chewing their horse warts.
"What are you chewing?" Grandpa asked, loud enough for everyone to hear.
"Horse warts!" Earl Ferrell shouted.
Grandpa gave one of his classic opinions about this.
The children ate everything, picked up the wood chips and headed for home.
What were Grandpa's opinionated words? Probably the best compliment the Teatesers ever had.
"Best dang horse wart chewers I've ever seen!"
"The only ones, too," I said to myself.
Jean Bell Mosley is an author and longtime resident of Cape Girardeau.