Transcribed By Pamela Vick
August 9, 1951 - Reprinted December 8, 1977
* CAL’S COLUMN *
We closed our last article with the record of our visit to the “hollow” composing the greater part of the farm owned by our grandfather, Stephen Calvin Gregory and our uncles, Luther or Lute Gregory and Monroe Gregory. The latter was often called “money” Gregory.
We resume at the point left off, the visit to the old barn site. Near the old barn was a spring under a bank of a stream that flowed down in winter and wet weather from another farm higher up, the John Bell Winkler place. This spring ran most of the time and Cal has drunk water from it perhaps a thousand times. We visited the spring on Friday, July 20th, but we found it different from 40 to 50 years ago. The same bank is there, a shallow pool of water lies in the bed of the stream, but we did not find any flow of water. When we last visited the spring, it was 38 years ago. Then there stood just above the spring and two or three feet from the water, a small sugar tree or maple that did not shed its leaves in the fall, but retained them until they were, in a measure, pushed off by the new leaves the next spring. This tree 40 years ago was only four or five inches in diameter. It is now 20 inches in diameter and appears to be very thrifty. An oak has grown up by the side of the maple and it is several inches in diameter.
Near this spring a number of events took place that we recall quite vividly. One of these took place only a few yards from the spring. Here someone had burned a pile of brush, made up largely of bushes dug from the ground. Here our father found a snake 45 years ago, known as the “garter” snake, and said to be very poisonous. Our “pappie” picked up one of the bushes that had partially burned, leaving a stem and the old spot intact. He struck the snake a hard blow with the stem and root of the small bush or tree. Our brother, Thomas M. Gregory, then a lad of about 13, was standing not far from where the snake had been found. When our father struck the snake a single drop blood flew from the snake’s head and struck our brother on his lower lip, about half an inch from his mouth. He was then powerfully afraid of any germ or contamination of any sort. In fact we think he had gone to extremes on the subject. The old spring was dry and so there was no water to be obtained nearer then the valley in which our house was, something like a mile away. Our brother rubbed that place on his lip until he had removed the last of the blood, and then started for home with his lip dropped down just as far as it was possible for him to lower the lip, in an effort to be sure that none of that snake blood got into his mouth. However, the ludicrous picture of a boy of about 13 walking for a mile with his under lip dropped down as far as he could get it, remains with us over a period of nearly half a century.
Just north of that old spring was an old field known as the “Hog Pen Field.” Just why it was so called we do not know, but presume it was once used as a feeding place for hogs in some distant day and time. In the upper part of that old field stood an old apple tree that bore its fruit very late in the season. In fact the apples were not good until after frost. We could not see even one sign of that old tree in the field as we looked over it ten days ago. Just north of the field a series of caves began. One of these was the first into which we ever entered, a feat that took place one summer day about 50 years ago. Later, we frequently took parties through the cave. Once we heard a peculiar sound coming from far back from the entrance. How the bird got there we never knew. We brought it to the surface, but do not recall any further details about the feathered youngster whose cries came from deep within the earth. On another occasion, when he had crawled through a narrow opening a distance of perhaps 20 feet, with the sharp rocks gouging our backs, we came to a large, dry room with some boulders large enough to make a very good resting place. Here we could hear what appeared to be a very large stream not much farther on. Some of the party did not want to go any further, one of them being our former neighbor, Will Towns. He declined to go further and so Cal stayed with him. Some time after the voices of the other explorers had become very dim and they were virtually out of hearing, and Towns and Gregory had not one bit of light, Towns said, ”I believe I am going to faint.” We were badly alarmed over this announcement and wondered how on earth we could drag his body through that narrow opening and to the outside without any help. But he managed to “get hold of himself” and did not faint. Soon the remainder of the party returned and we all left the cave.
Our cave explorations had a bad setback when Floyd Collins died in an underground cavern. We would not today run the unnecessary risks of those cave-exploring days of 40 to 50 years ago for scarcely any sum of money. But we saw no danger then and rather enjoyed the experiences. We have been in perhaps a dozen caves in all and never had any serious trouble returning to the outside world.
But we resume our account of the “Hollow.” Going south from the old tobacco barn site, we came to a long hillside which we have helped to cultivate a number of times. On this hillside our father grew the last crop of wheat we ever helped to sow and harvest. We cut this wheat in June, 1910, and Cal began teaching in August following. One episode remains in the matter of cutting wheat on that hillside to the southeast of the old barn. We had a “working” or a “reaping” to which we invited quite a number of neighbors. One of these was our cousin, Sam Wilburn, about two years our senior. He was rather new hand with an old-fashioned wheat cradle, but he had a lot of zeal and energy. He apparently got hotter and hotter in the harvest as he swung that cradle and the grain came down. Our father looked him over and said, “Sam you are about to get too hot. You had better take it a little more moderately.” Sam’s reply was that he was not suffering from the heat and that he felt all right. But his face got redder and redder and we all kept trying to induce him to reduce his labors or cease from them. Finally, we learned that he had a large red bandana handkerchief with which he was wiping the sweat from his face. The dye in this unwashed handkerchief had stained his face to the reddest tint we ever saw on any human face.
Not far from the bandana incident, there was once a scope of woods. Our uncles cleared this and then broke it up for dark tobacco, the only kind then grown in all that section. One Saturday afternoon our parents told my brother and me to go and help our two uncles to “worm and sucker” some tobacco, which was growing on that particular ground. We were told that we could stay two hours. Never can we recall as hot an afternoon as that was. We had to go down under the plants to pull out the suckers and there was not a breath of air scarcely anywhere. Long before the two hours were up, we wished that we could leave and return home. But we had been taught a certain measure of loyalty to any task given us. We stayed our two hours, but we did not tarry three minutes beyond that time. We were glad to get out of the hot, stuffy, humid air that almost stifled two boys of about ten and eleven years.
In our visit last week we went along the lower side of this field and lived again in memory many, many events of other years. W e came to the upper or south end of that field and there we had many reminiscences. Here our father rented the field for corn about 48 years ago. He put his two sons to cutting down the stalks of the preceding year’s corn crop, with hoes. Finally we had the stalks all piled up and then we had a wonderful time of burning those stalks. Our Uncle Monroe commended us very highly for our work, and we felt a kind of inside glow that will live with us always. We recall another incident some weeks later in that same cornfield. Our father was plowing his corn with an old black mule named Dick. Near the lower side of the valley. As the sun sank farther west, the shadows crept slowly up the hillside. Our father said, “Boys, if I can keep ahead of the shad, I can get the field done today.” Never have I seen a man plow any harder than our father did. He was not at all particular how much of that corn he covered up with his double shovel. It was the lot of my brother and me to “uncover” that corn. And we worked with a will and with a zeal that excel anything we are able to do today. We “outran” the sun and got done just before sunset. Little did Cal realize that life is largely a contest to make ends meet, to have a given task, to get that done on time, and in a creditable manner. But we have learned some in the years that have come and gone since that early summer day when our father plowed and plowed, always managing to stay just above the shade cast by the tops of the trees to the west of that field.
Here in this field we worked at another time, and the weather was terribly hot. It seemed impossible for Cal to get enough water. There was a little spring at the south end of that field and we went there every two or three “rounds” we made through that field, to get water. Finally we decided to see if we could drink enough water at one time to last the remainder of our work day. We drank an even half gallon of cold water. We did not want anymore water during the remainder of our work day. We were foolish to drink so much water but we did not suffer any damage to our health. Then we could eat green apples, peaches, mulberries, plums half ripe, all the watermelons we could “hold” and with “nary a pain scarcely,” nor did we suffer any after effects. How we long for such an appetite now as well as such a digestive system as we then had. But these longings are in vain and belong to childhood and not to middle and old age.
In this same field and perhaps the same year that we “out-ran” the sun, we saw another unusual, although small, incident. While passing through the field when corn was in tassel and the ground was covered with the yellow pollen or dust, our father and his boys came across or came upon a “tragedy” in nature. An old terrapin had started through that field, dragging “his house with him.” But a shower had come and the terrapin kept moving on and on. But the going had gotten worse and worse as the mud piled up on the bottom of that shell. Finally there was so much mud on the shell that the creature could not reach the ground to get any traction or pull. Neither could he get hold of the ground enough to turn over and perhaps shed off part or all of that mud. It had caked on that shell and gotten thicker and thicker. Here we found him dead “in his tracks,” and with an odor that reached for many feet. Our father, who was very wise in matters of nature, said, “Boys, that is the first time I ever knew a thing like that to happen.” We were in a few feet of the very spot where this happened, in our visit last week. And speaking of odors, we saw a buzzard rise from the bushes near the edge of that field and then we got a strong odor of something dead. We did not find the carcass; but, when we got back to Brother Smith’s we asked him, “What is dead over there near the upper end of that hillside field?” Brother Smith then stated, “I went to the spring to get a drink the other day, to find a bunch of terrapins in the water. I did not like this and proceeded to kill some of them and throw them away.”
Near the upper end of the field, the spicewood bushes still grow there as they did 50 years ago. We broke off a limb and found the odor the same pungent smell that it was a half century ago. Near this spot an uncle of ours, Wiseman Gregory, our father’s oldest brother; and Cull Ballou, our mother’s uncle, once did quite a lot of sawing with a crosscut saw. Both men were notoriously bad “to ride” a saw; that is, to make it hard on the other sawyer. They got along fairly well until both grew tired and finally each suggested to the other that he “get you a saddle,” to ride the saw with. About 50 years ago or perhaps a little more we saw some of the logs they had sawed, each trying to make the other fellow suffer from the poor sawing and the “riding.” Those were among the largest honey locust trees we ever saw. Our father used to refer to such sawyers as his brother and our mother’s uncle, “They’ll kill a man,” meaning by this that they were such poor sawyers that they would wear out a good sawyer.
Near this spot one incident stands out with clearness beyond almost all others in that valley. On the west side of the valley and including the top of the hill, our uncle by marriage, Robert Wright, had a big “clearing” about 52 years ago. He lived then a mile and a half away from the scene of his “working>“ On account of the distance to travel for the midday meal, Uncle Robert decided to have Jim Miller bring over the dinner on a farm wagon. About 11:30 he arrived with plenty of dinner to feed the crowd, if it had been justly divided. But men at such “workings” resented the idea of having dinner brought to them instead of going to a man’s home. In this case, Uncle Robert was afraid that too much time might be lost in walking a mile and a half for dinner and making the return trip. So he was “taking time by the forelock,” by having dinner brought to them. Then there was no softening influence of women to hold back the “greedy” men.
The men washed their hands in the water that flowed that spring day in the bottom of the valley. Then they gathered around that food on the wagon. Never in all our 60 years have we seen men eat so much like hogs as that day. The truth of the matter was that they had “made it up” to gobble down all the food and, if possible, leave Robert Wright without a bite to eat. In this way they succeeded. Our own father remonstrated with the men now as to act “hogs,” but all to no avail. In a matter of perhaps ten minutes that food was either gobbled up or wasted. Cal got a small amount of stewed cabbage, a small piece of cornbread and one pitifully small piece of blackberry pie, and this was all he got. Our father perhaps did not get any more, as he was trying to see that his boys had at least a small amount of food. Robert Wright and Jim Miller got not a bite so far as we were able to learn. That afternoon that bunch of men “razzed” Robert Wright in an almost unbearable manner. We still recall their “howling” about starving, about being so “lank,” about how hard it was to work for the other fellow for nothing and not even be fed. It was a sort of mass psychology or maybe not far removed from some sort of “mob rule,” but we knew nothing of the psychology of it then. Robert Wright was called “Riley” by many of his friends, and that old field, now largely grown up in bushes, is still known by some as the Riley Field.
(To be continued)