Truman Brown was a friendly hulk of a man who had the responsibility of keeping the machine that produced sheets of dried buttermilk running in the far west section of the Farmers Cooperative Creamery in Slater.
This took place during a time when a creamery was a crucial part of a town’s economy. The excellence of the products it churned out often gave the community special bragging rights. Slater’s Vita Gold butter was a great example, since it had an outstanding reputation near and far.
Although dried buttermilk was a byproduct from the butter-making process and thus deemed a less important commodity of the creamery’s operation, a certain segment of the town’s younger population was often drawn to the side door leading to Truman’s domain.
Huddled in that sweet-smelling room was a huge machine which eked out long sheets of a thin yellowish material that had a peculiar smell all of its own. The material was warm and moist enough that it could be rolled into what appeared to be a yellowish cigar.
Truman was constantly making adjustments and adding special ingredients to keep everything up to snuff (as he would say). We kids would watch in amazement as the machine’s gears clinked and clanked to produce its own peculiar music.
After rolling several of our special “cigars,” we would walk across the railroad tracks to a wooded area often referred to by the locals as “hobo jungle.” There we would sit around in our self-constructed huts and talk about the things kids talked about back in 1950. After a few bites of our flavorful cigars, we would toss them aside and run back to the creamery for a drink of water — our buttermilk treats often getting the best of us.
The problem of entering the main part of the creamery was the danger of getting caught by one or more of the butter makers. That could mean being sprayed with hot water or tossed into an empty butter churn. Not exactly a terrible fate, but one that we always tried to avoid.
As I remember, my last trip to Truman’s sweet shop turned out to be a real bummer, as I overindulged in buttermilk cigars. When I walked into my house that afternoon, I made a beeline for the bathroom. Mom, being a seasoned veteran when it comes to the uncommon ailments of an adolescent scalawag, immediately bombarded me with questions. As I slowly admitted to eating dried buttermilk on a regular basis, but this time had gone a little overboard, her face turned red.
“Don’t you know they use that buttermilk for animal feed?” she said in the same piercing voice she used to scold our fearless watchdog Spanky after he’d left a funky mess on the kitchen floor.
Yep, that was definitely the last time I partook in the pleasures of handcrafted yellow cigars from the Slater Farmers Cooperative Creamery. In fact, the thought of one still turns my stomach.