Transcribed by Timothy R. Meador, Jr.
* CAL’S COLUMN *
In last week’s paper we promised to tell about our worst scare of life. But we will reserve that story for the latter part of this week’s article. We recall many harrowing things we heard away back in our youth, when “hant” tales were common and were believed by some. We never were “overly” brave, although we did have a willing mind. But somehow our legs just wouldn’t stay. They wanted to get into action and no matter how much we reasoned with them, they “refused to listen.”
We recall one incident in our childhood which stands out vividly on the pages of memory. Our grandfather had a mean cow and we tried to avoid her as much as we could. But on one of our birthdays, when we went to invite our grandfather to have dinner with us on our anniversary, we came too close to that old mean cow. She gave chase and we did like the fellow who said: “legs, do your stuff.” We finally went through a place in the fence so narrow that that the cow could not get through and we escaped. Some time later we made a trip in the night to our grandfather’s home, carrying a lantern for light. One of our uncles, to give us a mild scare, ran out of the darkness on the side of the path, clapping his hands on his legs, to make a noise somewhat like a four-footed animal. Our first thought was of that cow. We hollered “Huay,” as loud as we could. Our uncle then broke out with a loud guffaw and we knew that it was not the cow. But we had gone too far to hold back and we broke down and sobbed for perhaps half an hour. The uncle, God bless his memory, became extremely sorry for the little boy he had so badly scared and apologized profusely. This uncle has been in Heaven for a number of years and was one of the best men the writer ever knew. He was my uncle Luther, or Lute, as we called him.
Another terrifying experience we had took place one Sunday afternoon nearly 50 years ago. We had a neighbor boy who was older than the writer. His name was Albert Harrison. Because of his greater age and for some other reasons, perhaps we could not name them, we tried to do practically everything he did. On this particular occasion, he was teaching my brother and the writer, how to make a certain kind of grass “walk-up” a sleeve from the wrists and come out at the collar. It was what we called crab grass, having a forked seed head. He would take a piece of the grass, break it off just below the head and then place it in his sleeve at the wrist. We all wore long sleeves then, summer and winter. I soon decided I could do the same thing. So I took a piece of grass and finding it too long for my needs, I put it in my mouth too bite off the unwanted part. To my consternation, it walked right down my throat in spite of every effort I could possibly make. I tried to pull it out, but it went right on down. It lodged in my throat and I tried to get it out, but to no avail. I then tried vomiting, losing a lot of fine beans, corn, tomatoes, pie and other good things our mother had prepared for our Sunday dinner. But that grass refused to budge.
We could see our tombstone in a way as we thought over what that piece of grass might do for us. We vomited and vomited till we could not vomit. We grew weak from loss of food and from worry. Finally our father learned what had happened. He was rather harsh in his judgement of how much sense we had. He tried to get the grass out, but it would not move. So we went to bed that night with a feeling that we were “not long for this world.” And this is a terrible feeling for a boy who is only eight or ten years old and who loves life. The next day, even though the grass was still stuck in our neck almost like a cockle burr, our father sent us to work in the tobacco patch, hoeing the dark tobacco that he grew. We worked a little, but worried a lot. We thought about how bad it would be to die so young, how bad it would be to have to be laid to rest somewhere in a lone grave. We spent a terrible morning. At about the noon hour, we came in from the high hills above our father’s home. Our father had relented somewhat in his harsh judgment as to the amount of sense we had. He whittled out a couple of small, smooth sticks, wound some cotton on each and then began to “fish” in our throat. He found the grass and by and by, he got it out of “our neck,” with some advice as to what to do next time. There has been no “next time,” that lesson having remained with us for nearly 50 years. We had been restored to our former manner of living and life was sweet and promising once more.
But some later events will perhaps be of interest to some reader. As was given in last week’s paper the writer became a teacher in 1910, having been given the school at Dean Hill, which is about five miles southeast of Willette, in the extreme northeast part of Smith County. Here we found a section in which there was then much timber, with woods covering the hills and valleys for miles. We were then extremely fond of hunting, putting in nearly every Saturday in the woods from early in the day till the sinking sun drove us in. About three or four miles from the school building and an equal distance from where we boarded, there was a large wooded area, called a flatwoods. Nobody lived very close to this area and Mr. Donoho, with whom we boarded, told us to be very careful in this area as we might easily get lost and wander away to the creek or creeks before we could find our way out. We had hunted all the morning of that October day, having gone into the hills of Wartrace Creek and being quite successful in obtaining squirrels. So we crossed the road at the Woodard place, an old abandoned house, nearly surrounded by woods. It had been perhaps five years since anyone had lived in this out-of-the-way place. So crossing the road we entered the flatwoods. Being only 19 years of age and being about twelve miles from home, and having been warned about getting lost, we were somewhat apprehensive as we plunged into the heavily-forested area. We slipped along making as little noise as possible and we say without boasting, we could glide through the woods quite well. We halted under a chestnut tree, such trees then being common and yielding heavy crops of nuts almost every year. There had been no frost up to this time, and chestnuts were not ready “to fall.” But beneath that chestnut tree we found a vast amount of hulls that squirrels had left from eating the nuts from the tree. In fact the ground was literally covered with such hulls. We said “There are squirrels here.” While we were thinking about how fortunate we were as a hunter to find so many indications of game near at hand, we were startled to hear a strange noise echoing through the forest. We tried to reason out the matter, saying in our mind, “What is there in these woods that could make such a noise?” Our next thought was to turn and get away as quickly as we could. Instantly there came another thought which was something like this: “I have a good gun and plenty of ammunition, and surely I can kill anything that I might find in these woods. I am going to see if I can find it.” About the time this resolution was made, we were startled to hear to same noise again, apparently being in the air above and coming from a distance, but not continuing long enough for us to decide in what general direction we should search. We started out to find the maker of that strange and unearthly sound, but out hat got loose on our head. In fact it got so loose that we had to pull it down. One pulling was not enough. So we hauled our hat down again. And a third time it rose way up on our heads as our hair pushed it up, and we pulled it down the third time. All this time our legs were pleading with us to give them a chance, just let them show us what they could really do. But that part which did not want to be called a coward prevailed and we continue our search. Finally we heard the unearthly sound a third time and this time it was very close. We turned in an instant and spied about a half dozen carrion crows, or black vultures, sitting in the top of a dead chestnut tree. One of them made that strange noise. We raised up our shotgun and blazed away at the birds of prey, but our recollection is that everyone of them left under his own power. We did not hit even one of them. We had been in the forests or woods many times before. We had seen hundreds of carrion crows, but never before had we heard one of them make any sound. And in all the years since that fall day, we have heard their call or cry only once. This was on a high hill in the Pleasant Shade section and the cry frightened our oldest son until he was almost frantic. So we found our “dreadful beast,” and it proved to be nothing more or less than a carrion crow or black vulture. We have heard men who have spent years and years in the woods say they never heard one of these birds make any kind of noise. But we have also found one or two persons who have heard their ugly cry or call. We continued our hunt for a short while longer, but we soon decided that we did not like hunting as well as we had that morning. So we took our 13 squirrels and returned to our boarding place. This was the worst fright we have ever had and the only one in which our hair stood on end and pushed our heat nearly off.
We have two birds that eat carrion or dead bodies. One of these is what is commonly known as the buzzard, or the turkey-buzzard. We suppose practically all our readers are acquainted with this fowl of the air. The other is the black vulture or carrion crow. The buzzard is the larger of the two and flies with longer strokes than does the vulture and has not the white tipped wings. The carrion crow moves his wings in a series of swift motions, somewhat like a hawk, has a white tip on each wing and does not have a head like the buzzard.
Both fowls make their nests in hollow trees or stumps or hollow logs lying on the ground. The young of each is almost snowy white and has no resemblance to what it is to become when full-grown. We recall that one of our neighbors at Pleasant Shade, who hunted quite a lot but who knew nothing of the habits of the buzzard, sound a couple of young buzzards and carried them home with him. On calling his wife to come see his young eagles, he was informed by her in no uncertain terms that they were not young eagles, but young buzzards and was told to get them out of the house. That was one time when the wife was right and the "eagle finder" had to get rid of his young buzzards.