Transcribed by Brenda H. Wills
December 23, 1954
* CAL’S COLUMN *
You stand tonight on the floor of your owner’s car house, forgotten and discarded, just a relic from other days. And yet many memories clustered about you, memories of other and perhaps happier days, days when your owner was a young man. Now you are old and so is the man who bought you 40 years ago last April for $35.00, from Robert Hatton Cleveland, the merchant at Pleasant Shade in the long-gone years, whose funeral your owner held in the days that have gone by forever
You were installed in our little home near Pleasant Shade in the month of April, 1914, just a few weeks before the outbreak of World War I. You were on a party line and your clear-ringing bells can still almost be heard now 40 years later. We recall that a few days before your arrival in our little home among the hills of Tennessee, a late snowstorm broke down most of the “Home lines” here in this part of the State.
Many memories of other days cluster about the telephone that was new and modern just 40 years ago. But now your are old and out-dated and fit only for the junk pile, were it not for the sentiment that so richly hovers over you, our first telephone.
We have heard your voice thousands of times, the clear, sweet ringing of your bells that now lingers perhaps only in memory. We placed you on the east wall of our little home on the Ellis Porter farm that April day more than two score years ago. Eight months later we moved you down the valley four or five miles to the log house that we next occupied, in the deep valley above Piper’s school house, the first and only telephone that was ever in the old log house that has since been torn down. Here you adorned the wall of the west end of the old house built more that a century ago by the hands of Malachi Shoulders, the ancestor of all the members of this family in this part of the world. His own hands built the chimney that stood at the opposite end of the 20-foot room where you were installed in the latter part of December, 1914. We have cut a lot of wood for that old fireplace and the smoke of burning logs has ascended to the skies by means of that rough chimney of native* stones broken out of the ledges by the hand of a man who has long since moldered* back to mother earth in a forgotten cemetery in the next valley to the west. Here in the old house in the long ago a band of active boys and girls grew to adult life.
From your place on that west wall, could be seen the big hill on which there once stood a huge maple or sugar tree, in the vernacular of the hills. High on that hilltop that tree stood in the years that will come no more. Within a few feet of where you once hanged on that west wall, there gathered a group of men about 80 years ago to begin a search for a former occupant of that old log house, Pitts Gregory, the son of Abel Gregory, a brother of our own great-grandfather, Major Gregory, whose son, Stephen Calvin Gregory, was our namesake. Pitts Gregory had become deranged and had disappeared from his home in that valley. His poor, distracted wife knew not what had become of her husband. So she had sought the help of neighbors in locating the missing father of her children. That morning perhaps four score years ago, within a few feet of your place on the west wall of that old pioneer house, one man of perhaps keener sight than the others, gazed up the valley to the northwest and spied a white-robed figure hanging in that big maple or sugar tree. He exclaimed, “I see Pitts hanging in that big tree yonder on top of the hill.” You were not present on that occasion and did not arrive on the scene for perhaps 40 more years. But you stayed there almost in sight of that scene of tragedy for nearly two years.
But it may interest some readers to know the remainder of the story of the poor man who lost his love of life and hanged himself far up that big sugar tree which he managed to climb even though it had not a limb for many feet. He had somehow managed to “coon” or climb the main trunk of the tree by clasping the tree in his arms and with his legs. He had gone up that tree and then far out on a limb with a fork in it. He had climbed up high enough to hang his head in that fork and there the poor man had died. The neighbors who had gathered tried in various ways to dislodge the body. They managed to throw a rope over one foot and then tried to pull the man’s head off. We once heard one of our relatives say that he took a hard pull, but could not pull the head off. Finally a tree was felled into the big sugartree and a rope was thrown over a limb still higher up than the body of the suicide and tied to the rope already about the dead man’s foot. Then a long pole was obtained and used to push the dead man’s head from the fork in the limb as the body was pulled upward and somewhat above the fork in which Gregory had hanged himself. Then the body was lowered to the ground. Later some man from Kentucky came to Tennessee, climbed that tree and cut off the fork in which Gregory had ended his life by hanging, and carried the fork away with him. Torn fingernails and bark scratched from the limb indicated that Gregory changed his mind when it was too late and tried to save himself. But a knot in the forks of the limb had caught Gregory just beneath an ear and he could not extricate himself.
But back to the old telephone box. At that place you occupied on the wall of our home in 1915, you rang loudly one night in the spring of that year. Your owner answered to recognize the rather excited voice of our brother, who was just 15 months younger than the writer. He said: “Hello, Cal! You better look out over there. John Bob Gregory saw two lions today as big as yearlings (half-grown members of the cattle family), and the last he saw of them, they were headed directly toward your house. They may get to that wilderness above your home about 4 o’clock tomorrow morning.” Then followed a number of questions about the event and the answers were rather frightening. Just a few minutes later the grandfather of our wife of that day and time, W. Mitchell Gammon, of Dry Fork, about five miles southeast of Lafayette, called over the same telephone and reported that Alvis Andrews, who still lives on Dry Fork, had just shot at a “big beast” in his yard, but did not know whether he had hit it or not. Our reaction was expressed in the words: “Is the world full of wild animals?”
We asked the wife of our youth if there was any ammunition in the house for either the rifle or the shotgun and the answer was in the negative. We then proposed to go down the valley about a mile and a quarter to Richard Beal’s store, to be told by the wife, “If you go, we are going with you.. We don’t aim to stay here by ourselves." We then asked about a lantern, to learn that it was not available. We saw no way to go get the ammunition; and, confidentially*, we were rather glad, for actually* we did not want to walk down that lonely valley in the darkness of that spring night almost 40 years ago when we were only about 24 years of age. So we talked over the matter of what to do in such an emergency (?). We thought for a time of going upstairs and sleeping as there were two beds there. Then we thought about how there was no way of escaping from the second story except by the one stairway in the corner. So this was soon passed by as not feasible. Then the writer called for a hammer and nails, after looking at the door fastenings. The buttons that fastened the doors were of thin buckeye wood, which is very soft and brash. The wife secured the hammer and some ten-penny nails. We proceeded to drive two of them into each door, with about half an inch of each nail still protruding so that the hammer could be used to draw out the nails. We also moved a large desk across the one large window in that 20-foot square room. There was a little window by the side of the fireplace, but we decided that a lion could not get through so small an opening. We had living with my wife and child and the writer, four of our sisters, making a family of seven in all.
We lay down at about ten o’clock and sleep refused to come to our eyes for hours. We heard quite a lot of noises, but of course no lion. We arose at daybreak next morning and all our fears of the night before left us as if by magic. We said to our wife, “Mai, do not tell anybody that I nailed up the doors.” Then we left for our school at Piper’s, down the valley nearly a mile. However, Mr. Tom Smith, who owned the farm on which we lived in that year of 1915, came by our little home and reported to the wife of our youth that lions had been seen and heard. He also reported finding a track something like eight inches across. And like some other women, our wife could not refrain from telling Mr. Smith the following: “Mr. Gregory got so badly scared last night that he nailed up the doors.” Thus was it soon “noised abroad” that we had nailed up the doors with 20-penny nails. Our good friends still get a “kick” as they tell how that the teacher of about two score years ago “nailed up his doors.’
Old telephone you were a witness to another “scrape” at the same place. That was one night not far from the time of the “lion episode.” Our sisters, part of whom went barefooted, had washed their feet and then retired. The writer read then a great deal, using one of the Aladdin lamps of that day and time for light. The entire family except for the writer were wrapped in deep sleep, when coming down from the valley that reached toward the northwest, we heard some sort of hoofed animal, running as if in peril for its life. We could tell it was a four-footed, hoofed animal by the footfalls. It came down the valley, struck a long flat rock in the floor of the valley and its hoof sound were so loud that they could have been heard for a hundred yards or more. After traveling for a short distance on the flat rock, the “beast,” or whatever it was, came on to the grassy bank not far from the northwest corner of that old house. It kept coming right on toward the house, came by the door, outside of which there was a small bit of floor still left in the old porch. On this narrow bit of floor, one of our sisters had placed the pan of “dirty foot water.” The strange animal came running over this narrow floor, struck that pan, turned it upside down and then disappeared up the other valley which came in from the northeast. We took that bright lamp and went out to investigate. There was the pan, turned upside down and its contents spilled out. But nothing else could we see except the bushes, trees and foliage that belonged there by nature. The strange visitor had departed.
Years after this episode Leonard Ballou, our mother’s first cousin, who lived in the same house for a number of years previous to our residing there, reported to the writer that he had a similar experience in his life time, that some sort of unknown animal had come down the same valley and then went out of hearing up the other valley. We would judge that it was very probably a deer, there being no livestock in that part of the valley at the time.
Old telephone, you were a lot of comfort to the family in that distant day and time when we learned the news of the community through you. We called, far and wide and you served us well. For the services you rendered for two score years, we regret to set you aside, unused and largely forgotten.
(To be continued)
Transcriber Notes - * Spelling