Uncle Albutt Part 5

Quite often, our family and friends would gather for a late evening meal.  While the kids ran wild in the dusk and on into the darkness, the women prepared a filling meal of beef stew or chili and cornbread.  It would be near bedtime by the time they called us in, hysterical  with chasing each other in and out of the darkness.  Of course we’d been warned against running in the dark, but staying in range of the lights was for sissies.  I’d be in a delicious frenzy of terror till I stepped back into the light, where all horrors vanished.   They would be so many kids we’d be settled on the floor with our supper in a pie or cake pan.  This was before budgets stretched to include paper plates.  It was an honor to sit on the floor with the big kids.  Babies and toddlers sat at the tables where their mamas could keep a grip on them.  Two or three dinners were always dumped on the floor and there was squalling a’plenty as mamas cleaned up the mess and resettled the messy kids.  The kids finished in short order and tore back outdoors while the adults took their turn at the

After the meal, it wasn’t unusual for the men to load up their guns, flashlights, thermoses of coffee, and the dogs for a night of hunting, leaving the women and children to visit.  Mamas gave their kids a cursory wipedown with a washcloth before bed, since it wouldn’t have been possible to bathe that many children and settled them on pallets on the floor, sometimes as many as six to the bed.  Mamas rocked the knee babies and lap babies to sleep before putting them on a bed flanked by pillows once the settling down started, the women started their stories.  I loved these nights, especially if Mawmaw was there.  She believed in ghosts and could make our blood run cold.  Mother worried about nightmares, but lacked the courage to shush her mother-in-law, for which I was grateful.  I NEEDED those stories. Mawmaw thrilled us with tales of babies buried alive, girls who died of broken hearts when their dead sweethearts appeared to them, and big black ghost dog, and ball lightning rolling through the house. The kids didn’t dare move off the pallet, they were so terrified. Fatigued by their play, finally they drifted off to sleep, one by one.

As the women talked, they thought they heard an intruder trying to get in the front door. Someone else scurried to check the back door, unsure if it was locked.  .  Had there been an intruder, he’d have had a horrible shock breaking in on half a dozen  terrified women and a gaggle of children.  Meanwhile Mother hurried to the door.  Thinking she’d scare him away with a bluff, she called out.  “I’ve got a gun.  I’m gonna shoot through the door!”

Aunt Jewel stood right behind her.  Obviously terrified, she shouted out.  “Well, don’t just stand there!  Go git your gun.  You ain’t got no gun!”  Fortunately, there was no intruder, or he thought he’d better not break in, since nothing happened.


A Hog a Day Part 8

Taking his cue from Mr. Grady Rose, Daddy decided he needed to go into the hog business. In theory, all he had to do was harvest wild hogs and watch the money roll in. Mother reluctantly agreed.  In fact, he did accrue a few expenses to get a few starter sows and a boar or two, timber to build trap pens, and corn to bait the traps.  Of course, he had to have a gun and knife for protection, and mud tires to negotiate the deep woods and oh yes, a hog dog for the hunt, expenditures that severely stressed an already overburdened budget.  Daddy brought home about a hundred dollars a week.  Groceries took twelve dollars of that.

Daddy took to hog hunting enthusiastically.  It became  a sport rather than a money-making venture.  I don’t recall eating a lot of pork or having to help count the extra money it brought in. The boars were very aggressive to men and dogs.  Daddy stitching his dogs up after they were slashed by hogs.

Daddy’s hunting buddy, Jimmy, was amazing.  He’d lost a leg as an infant, but had compensated so well, he seemed not to miss it at all.  When an angry boar charged a group of hunters aggressively, the other men scattered into nearby trees while Jimmy agiley jumped on top of his crutch and balanced as the hog ran beneath him.  He used his crutch to vault over fences rather than hunting for a gate. When my brother Billy was little, Mother had learned to dread what he might say to people.  Early one morning as she stood at the kitchen sink washing dishes, she saw Jimmy headed for the front door.  She rushed to get to the open front door greet him before Billy got a chance open his big mouth and ask about the missing leg. She was too slow.  As she rushed in, Billy announced, “Mama, a skeeter bit his leg off!”

Daddy made an interesting acquisition from one of his hunting buddies.  For a nominal amount, he became the proud owner of the Hog Wagon.  It was a school bus on a cut down frame with a cage on back for transporting hogs and sometimes children.  This amalgamation was unlicensed, of course, since it had no windshield or doors.  A battered bench seat covered with burlap bags replaced the bus seat.  The V8 flathead engine made it very powerful when run in first gear, an invaluable feature for a vehicle used in swampy areas.  We hung on for dear life when we were fortunate enough to get a ride on this beauty.  Daddy also employed this powerful machine to pull up stumps when clearing pasture.

We were seriously the envy of neighborhood kids.




Terror Most Delicious

Maw Maw by CarPictured Above, Mettie Martha Knight Swain, my paternal grandmother

Desperate for ghost stories, I hung on the words of my superstitious Maw Maw. While the men were out hunting, the women and children of the family gathered to share the long evenings.  As the evenings stretched on, lap babies were rocked to sleep and knee babies drifted off in their mother’s laps and were put on thick pallets of quilts on the floor to sleep.  Earlier in the evening, the women took turns telling tales of their youth but as it got later and more little ones drifted off, they moved on to scary stories.  At the peak of the evening, when the most impressionable had nodded off and the lights were low, one of the daughters would encourage Maw Maw to tell a story.  She held her grandchildren spellbound with the scary tales.  Should she falter, one of my aunts urged her on…”Mama, remember about the big black dogs running through the house.” Her stories were more terrifying because she believed them with all her being.  Once she started, I was too deliciously terrified to even risk a trip to the bathroom alone.

 “Oh yeah, lots of times, late at night, if the wind was still, and the night was dark, me and Granny could hear them ghost dogs, howling and scratching at the door, trying to get in…but once in a while, if the moon was full, we’d see them big, black devil dogs blowing right into the room where me and Granny was, made of black smoke from the fires of hell with blazing coals for eyes.  We hid under the covers, ‘cause Granny said ‘if you ever looked in them fiery eyes, you was bound for Hell’.”

 Opportunities to hear scintillating stories like these were rare, usually limited to visits to Maw Maw, my paternal grandmother. Mother could hardly snatch her spellbound children from the writhing mass of cousins clustered around Maw Maw’s knees. Daddy ruled the roost, and he liked the stories as much as anyone.  Mother held the ridiculous notion that tender minds didn’t need to hear scary stories, more concerned about the nightmares she’d be dealing with in a few short hours than the extreme pleasure they afforded us at the time.

 I do wish I could hear and savor those stories again, unmolested by that nagging voice in the background.  “There’s no such thing as ghosts.  Those stories are just pretend, like cartoons. Now, go on to sleep and forget about them.”

cousinsTop Left Cousin Ricky Compton, Sister Phyllis Swain Barrington holding Sister Connie Swain Miller, Cousin Allen Lee, Linda Swain Bethea, center, Standing Aunt Ola Bea Shell holding Cousin Trudy Shell

First row, Cousins Sandra Shell, Gary Shell, and Leslie Shell in right front corner.

Now, That’s Lost!

Joe Crater, our neighbor, took his dog, Ol’ Boots and walked into the woods behind his house one afternoon intending to hunt squirrels for a while.  The woods stretched for miles behind his house.  It was easy to get lost, even for a fellow who’d grown up there, like Joe.  He didn’t remember leaving his compass home till he reached for it a few minutes before just before dusk that cold, fall afternoon. Rattled, he walked the direction he thought was home as it started to drizzle.  He thought he recognized a landmark in the distance a time or two, only to be disappointed one he reached it.  Finally, as dark closed in, he realized he was just getting more and more lost.  He’d expected to be home long before night, so he had no flashlight.  He only had his gun, his dog, and the clothes he stood up in.  He decided he’d better make a fire while he could still see to gather wood.  He gathered a sizeable pile of deadwood and fallen brush, knowing he’d make it through the miserable night if he could just stay warm.  Fortunately, his Zippo lighter was handy.  It was a long, wet night.  As soon as he could see well enough to walk without stumbling, he walked till the woods thinned enough to see the lights of a farmhouse.  He was so turned around by now, he couldn’t begin the guess where he was, but had no qualms about walking up to a stranger’s house and knocking on the door, after the night he’d just endured.  The dog must have passed just as bad a night as Joe since he broke and ran when he saw the house.  That wasn’t like Ol’ Boots.
Exhausted and chilled to the bone, he knocked on the back door of the stranger’s house, hoping someone would give him a hot cup of coffee.  A woman in a housedress, flannel shirt, and frazzled hair opened the door.  She looked like she’d been “rode hard and put up wet.”
“Where in the world have you been all night?” she demanded.  “I been worried crazy!”
After the night he’d just passed, he was in no mood for jokes.  “Lady, don’t give me no trouble.  I been lost in the woods all night and my wife’s gone be worried to death.”
She looked at him like he’d lost his mind.  “Joe, it’s me, Louise.  Where in the world have you been?  I was just fixin’ to send for yore brothers to go lookin’ for you.”
He was so confused it took some convincing that he’d stumbled up on his own house.

The Coon Hunt

Roscoe Holdaway climbing a tree after a raccoonNotice the scarecrow man climbing the tree.  This is my grandfather, Roscoe Holdaway.  He must have been at least seventy years old at the time.  The only thing that would have induced him to climb that sapling would have been the dead raccoon he’d just shot  hanging on the branch high above his head.  Note the rapt attention that coon is getting Continue reading