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Bo's Stories, Page 12

THE FAMILY OF BESSIE EDNA BROWN & THOMAS MONNIE WOODS

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“Jaundice”

 

            When I was about fourteen or fifteen I became sick.  I first felt weak and listless and had an aversion to food.  Nothing tasted good and I had nausea when I tried to eat.  Somehow or other Mama got me to town to see Dr. Perlman.

            Dr. Perlman had an office on the main street north of the square in Carthage.  His office was in an old home and I suppose he lived there too.  My sister-in-law Dorothy Gentry worked for him later, and maybe at this time.  Anyway, he examined me and diagnosed my illness as “Yellow Jaundice” (I’ve been told that it was Infectious Hepatitis).  He gave some medicine to Mama for me to take, and he also gave her instructions on how to care for me.  He told her to fix two half-gallon jars of water.  One with salt in it and one with sugar in it.  She was to give me so much of each of these at intervals throughout the day, but nothing else.  I was to have no food of any kind.

            I have no idea how much sugar and salt Mama put into the water or how much of it I took at a time or each day.  But, it did the trick.  I think I was on this diet for about a week.  Dr. Perlman had told Mama if I got to feeling better I could have a piece of dry toast the first day after the treatment period.  I eagerly awaited that food.  By then I was feeling much better and was ravenous.  Nothing ever tasted much better than that piece of dry toast.  In a few days I was just about over the illness, but the weakness lasted for a good long time.

            Soon after I got sick, Patsy got it too.  She was as sick or sicker than I, and we were both down at the same time.  We both had jaundice, that is we turned yellow, but Patsy turned yellower than I did.

            Now people with this disease are put into the hospital and I.V.’s are started to replenish the body’s fluids and provide electrolytes (salts) and energy (sugar) at a large expense.  Dr. Perlman and Mama did an equally effective job of treatment and it cost almost nothing.  I am thankful for Dr. Perlman’s knowledge, diagnosis and course of treatment, and for Mama’s concern and care for us.

            Infectious Hepatitis is a particularly nasty disease that has killed many people.  It is a disease of developing countries where sanitation is poor and water is untreated.  In this country the disease organisms are almost always present in untreated sewage.  Outbreaks sometimes occur when people eat raw oysters from sewage contaminated bays.   How we got the bug is anyone’s guess.

 

“The Moonshiners”

 

            We had some Moonshiners around when I was a kid.  It was talked about some, but little was really known -- by me any way.  We had some far neighbors by the name of Jimmerson.  They lived on the other side of the Joe Williams hill and they, one or more of them, were definitely Moonshiners at one time.

            The Jimmersons were, I believe, good men.  But they were different from most folks.  There were three of them.  Dave was the oldest, Ed next and then Clyde.  Mama went to school with Dave when they were kids and she said their mother was a good housekeeper.  Somewhere along the line though, these guys became somewhat eccentric.  I saw them pass the house many times in their wagon on the way to Beckville.  They would sometimes come back by with their wagon piled high with bags of something.  This was rumored to be mash (wheat bran) and sugar and other supplies for their still.  I don’t know if it was or not, but it could have been.

            Their usual procedure was to buy a new set of clothes each year and wear them until the next year.  Did they take baths?  I suppose not many.  Their clothes would be streaked with salt from their sweat and be grimy from dirt and soot.  Mr. Dave was somewhat on the fat side and was quite a storyteller.  I heard him once talking about shooting quail.  On a bird going to his left he would shoot right-handed, if there was one going to his right, he would just swap shoulders and shoot it left-handed.  You really have to be good to do that.

            To get an idea of what these guys were like, you need to see some episodes of the old Gunsmoke TV series.  Festus reminded me of them, but he looked much better.  Maybe like their cousin from town.

            They had quite a bit of livestock and always had hogs to kill.  They grew some crops, though just mainly feed for the stock and for themselves.  They pretty much lived off the land like most of us and killed wild game when they wanted some.  They were usually the first ones in the community to kill hogs in the fall and they almost always brought us some of the fresh pork.  It was greatly appreciated too.

            Ed was my favorite of the three.  He was slim and kind of stooped, but he always had a grin and acted like he was glad to see you.  Ed walked to Fairplay pretty often when he needed something and I’ve picked him up many times.  He never refused a ride and I enjoyed visiting with him.  He was a little bit wild-eyed and looked kind of scary, but I don’t think he would have hurt a fly unless it hurt him first.  When I first brought Mary from California, I stopped and picked Ed up and he slid right in next to her.  Kind of a culture shock you might say.  She didn’t know what to think.

            Clyde was pretty quite and lived by himself there on the same place.  During WW II he got a summons from the draft board to report for duty in the Army, but he didn’t report.  I don’t know for sure what happened, but was told that a Deputy Sheriff went out to get him, but met up with Ed and his shotgun and left without Clyde.  Ed’s old shotgun was a sight to behold.  It was beat up and corroded, but still worked.  It was a pump gun that no longer fed the shells into the chamber when I saw it.  Ed had to give the shell a push with his finger to complete the loading action.

            According to the story, the Sheriff had a talk with Mr. Dennis Jones who was a respected man and well known to the Jimmersons.  He went over and talked with them and explained about the law requiring Clyde to serve in the Army.  As a result, they let him go and the Army cleaned him up and made a soldier out of him.  He was stationed in Hawaii at one time during the war and James and I think Ray too saw him while they were out there.  He was a changed man and they hardly recognized him.

            There was a rumor that he married a native woman in Hawaii, but if he did he left her there when he came home.  It wasn’t long before he was right back in the old rut he was in before the war.  He didn’t stay there too long though, before he moved out.  I understand that he married and lived near Henderson, but I lost track of what happened to him.  After Clyde left and Mr. Dave died, Ed stayed on the place by himself until he too died.  I was gone from there when that happened and I don’t know the details.

            I hunted over near where the Jimmersons lived and went in and had coffee with Mr. Dave and Ed a couple of times.  Once when fire got out and burned across their place, a number of five-gallon crock jugs could be seen where they had been hidden in brush piles.  I think it was Ray that brought one home.  It was filled with red-oak splinters.  The splinters were about the size of a pencil only longer.  Ray and I held the jug upside-down and shook it until we got all of them out.  It was slow going at first because they were in there pretty tight, but as we got some out they got looser and came out easier.

            These crock jugs were good for taking water to the field for the field hands.  Many people wrapped them with several layers of burlap and tied or sewed it together to keep it on the jug.  By wetting the burlap you could keep the water much cooler because of the cooling effect of the water evaporation..  We all drank out of the same water jug.  It was a good idea to wipe the snuff off the mouth of the jug before you took a drink though.

            I picked cotton for Mr. Dennis Jones most every year.  One year we were in the field south of his house.  I looked up towards the house which was two or three hundred yards away and Miss Elvie Weir, his daughter, was coming across the field with a five gallon crock jug of water on her shoulder.  I guess the jug probably weighed 15 or 20 pounds and the water another 40 pounds, but she didn’t swap shoulders or stop to rest.  She was a large, stout woman but I was impressed anyway.

            Another man purported to be a moonshiner was a fellow by the name of Hollis.  He was called “Jap”.  Don’t know if that was his name or not.  I barely remember the man and know little or nothing about him.  In about 1946, Mama and I were home by ourselves and were eating lunch when a car drove into the yard.

            I went to the door and saw a strange car and a strange man.  I walked out and met him.  He told me he was a U.S. Treasury officer and showed me his badge.  He asked if I knew Mr. Hollis and I told him I did.  I don’t remember all that he asked or told me, but the gist of it is this: He said he knew Mr. Hollis was making moonshine, but he had not been able to find his still.  He had been to the Hollis place with a search warrant and walked most all over, but didn’t find a still.  He said Mr. Hollis told him, “You come search anytime you want to, but be real sure you have a warrant.  If you come out here snooping around without one, I’ll shoot you”.  The agent believed him and came up with an idea of getting some local, like me, to find the still for him.

            He told me that since Mr. Hollis knew me, that I could probably go hunting over there around his place and keep an eye out and find the still without him ever knowing it.  He said if Mr. Hollis saw me, he wouldn’t think anything of it.

            Well, that sounded pretty exciting to me and I could just imagine myself working for a real G-Man and being a hero for putting a moonshiner out of business.  I was all fired up to go to work, but Mama put a quick damper on my enthusiasm.  She pointed out that I would be putting myself in danger of being shot and that if I did find the still, the G-Man would get all the credit anyway.  Of course she was right and I came to my senses.

            The agent told me of one case he was on where the moonshiner had dug himself a cellar for his still.  He ran his smokestack from his still, through the base of his fireplace chimney.  When he was cooking off a batch, the smoke went up his chimney along with the smoke from his fire.  They finally wised up to the smoke from his fireplace when there should not have been a fire.  They got a search warrant and found his cellar.

 

“Picking and Canning”

 

            Mama was our gardener.  She knew a lot about it and though all of us helped out, I think she always called the shots on what, when and where.  This was not a garden just to be gardening to have a few fresh vegetables as many people now have.  This was something we depended on for much of our food.

            To start things off right we always cleaned out the chicken house and spread all of the chicken manure on the garden plot.  This manure is rich and had to be worked into the soil before planting anything.  We also usually hauled some manure from the barnlot and spread it on the garden.  Usually the first things planted in the garden were potatoes, radishes, greens and English peas.

            When we bought seed potatoes to plant, we didn’t just cut them up and plant the pieces, we cut the eyes off and ate the rest.  As they grew we watched the ground around the plants and when it began to crack, we would scratch down and find the new potatoes and eat them.  We ate potatoes quite awhile before we finally “dug” the potatoes.  Actually we didn’t dig them, but plowed them up.  Then we would store them in a dry place out of the sun.  They will keep a long time that way if you spread them out.

            Mama and my sisters always canned a lot of produce.  Actually everything was put up in jars and stored in a small storage building that we had just beyond the smokehouse.  I couldn’t remember, but my sisters tell me we called this the “Potato House” and in addition to the canned goods we also stored our “Irish” potatoes and onions in this house. What was canned?  Below is a list of the things I remember:

            Beans (shelled pintos and green snapped beans)

            Peas

            Tomatoes

            Tomato relish (from ripe tomatoes-this was sweet relish)

            Tomato relish (from green tomatoes - “chow-chow”)

            Tomatoes

            Beets (pickled)

            Cucumber pickles

            Peaches and pears (sometimes pickled)

            Berries

            Berry jelly and jam

            Fig preserves (when we could get some figs from Grandpa Brown)

            Potatoes

            Sausages (if we had more than we needed fresh - very seldom)

            The amount of jelly and preserves that was put up depended on how much sugar could be bought and during WW II there was not much available because of rationing.  Then, Mama used Karo syrup for canning.  This corn syrup was not rationed but it was not nearly as good to my taste either.  We always put up some whole dewberries or black berries without sugar.  Then if Mama had some sugar for a cobbler she had the berries.  I recall one winter when a lot of canned things froze, and we ate the berries with ice in them.  I guess we ate the other stuff too, but I don’t remember.

            We always had sweet potatoes.  They were an important and welcome addition to our diet.  I ate a lot of them raw and Mama baked a big pan full most days during the winter as long as we had them.  When we came home from school in the fall and winter, our after school snack was a baked sweet potato.  I still enjoy them. 

            We saved some sweet potatoes for seed each year.  We would make a bed of manure covered with soil and imbed sweet potatoes in the soil as thick as we could place them.  When the eyes on the potatoes sprouted the bed would be covered with a solid growth of sweet potato sprouts.  We called these “slips”.

            The plot for sweet potatoes would be prepared and plowed up into beds.  The beds would be dragged off with a pole (I remember once using the slide to do this) to leave a flat surface.

            When the rows were ready, the slips would be pulled from the bed and dropped on the rows.  The tops were all pointed to one side and the roots to the other with the roots just past the center of the row.  The slips were planted by placing the notched end of a stick over the slip just above the root and pushing it into the ground.  The soil was packed around the root by stomping the food down by the slip.  After a little practice, one could do this almost without stopping.

            In order to plow the sweet potatoes the vines had to be turned to one side.  This was a mean job to do.  You turned them one way and plowed that side, then turned them the other way and plowed that side.  A couple of plowings and the vines covered the ground and could no longer be cultivated.

            In the fall after the potatoes were harvested we built a sweet potato house in the garden and stored them there.  These potatoes will rot almost overnight if allowed to freeze.  We usually took the wagon to the sawmill and got a load of “slabs” and “strips” for this purpose.  Back then the mills burned these scraps and you could get them for the taking.

            When saw logs were introduced to the mill, a cut was made down one side of the log to take the bark off.  The log was then turned 45 degrees and the bark taken off another side, and so on until they had an almost square log which was cut into thick (usually about 2 1/2 inches) slabs.  These were then cut into other cuts of lumber.  In making these final cuts there would be strips of various sizes that were too small to make a standard board so they were discarded.  These pieces were called strips, the bark sides were called slabs.

            The potato house was a small “A-Frame” house made from the scrap lumber and then covered with any kind of fodder we had.  Old corn stalks, dead weeds and grass and that sort of thing.   The fodder was then covered with a layer of soil several inches thick.  This would provide enough insulation to prevent the potatoes from freezing.

            I mentioned canning beets.  I’m not sure but I think we pickled some and then just canned others plain.  Regardless, I most always had to help my sisters and Mama with the canning.  To prepare the beets for canning, the tops and roots were cut off and then the beets were scalded with hot water.  After scalding the outer peeling would slide right off and the beet was ready.  I always enjoyed doing this part and ate a lot of the small beets.  I’ve always liked them.

            Once when we had finished shelling peas on the front porch, Sister (Cathryn) told me to clean up the pea shells and throw them over the fence.  I told her to do it herself.  She took off after me to make me do it but I out ran her all the way to the little pond across the road.  When I got there she was still right behind me so I ran out into the middle of the pond and turned around to taunt her.  The trouble was she didn’t stop at the waters edge as I thought she would, but gathered her skirts (women and girls didn’t wear pants then) up and followed me in.  She caught me too and I had to go back and clean up.  We laughed about that many times over the years.

            I never really minded the farm work too much, but hated that it interfered with my fishing.  When I was plowing I usually kept a “Prince Albert” tobacco can in the large pocket on the bib of my overalls (we didn’t wear jeans, but overalls).  When I saw a worm I put it into the can.  I particularly liked the big white grub worms that are the larval stage of the “June Bug” beetle, but any kind of worm would do.  After a day of plowing I had enough bait to bait my hooks at Smiths Pond.

            At one time Lloyd smoked “Half & Half” tobacco in his pipe and sometimes gave me the empty cans.  They were just like the “Prince Albert” cans except they were cut in the middle so that you could collapse them to half size as you emptied them.  I liked them real well because of that feature.  Made the worms easier to get out.

            Our farm was rectangular except for a large block (about 10 acres) out of the Southwest corner and then a smaller block (about 3/4 acre) out of that same corner that belonged to the Waits family.  The main road from Liberty to Beckville ran through our place.  It cut a strip about 500’ wide off the south end. At the north end of the Waits block, our place extended to the Kelly Lane (the road that ran north by the Ernest and Ethel Kelly place).

            All of our land directly north of the Waits block was in timber until before I remember, when a tract of about 3 acres, joining the Waits land and the road, was cleared.  We called this the “new ground” because it was new to farming.  Many of the tree stumps remained from the clearing.  The stumps made the plowing more difficult, but the land was richer than most of the place.  Before Ray went into the Navy during WW II, he grew cucumbers on this plot and they did very well.  My sisters loved picking the cucumbers (can’t you imagine?).  I guess the possible thrill of finding a snake under the leaves was what they liked about it.

            The best prices were paid for the smallest cucumbers (gherkins), and the very large ones were worthless.  We picked all that we could find that were as large as a little finger.  These gherkins are used to make the expensive whole cucumber pickles.  If you don’t already know, check the prices when you go to the grocery store.  I believe we picked every other day or three times a week or something like that.  If you missed a cucumber that was large enough to pick, it would be too large by the next picking time.  The hard part about picking cucumbers is getting down to their level and staying there.  I don’t know if you have ever heard of stoop labor, well this was squat labor.  You squatted down and looked under all of the leaves to be sure all of the cucumbers were picked.

            I remember once when I helped Mr. Ben Weir pick his tomatoes and then went to Henderson with him to sell them.  He paid me and I bought Mama a pint of ice cream.  Mr. Ben tried to talk me out of it, but I ignored him and got it anyway.  It was mostly melted by the time I got home with if, but Mama enjoyed it melted or not.

            The few months we lived near Henderson was an interesting time for me.  There was a man lived near us that got me to help him with his truck farming on several occasions and I was always glad to make a little money.  The family (I can’t remember their name) right across the highway from us had a boy my age.  He and I both worked and we became pretty good friends.  They belonged to the Henderson Country Club and I went swimming in the pool there several times with him.  This was the first real man-made pool that I was ever in.  This was in 1943 and I was thirteen.  Believe it or not that pool is still there.  I was by there last year and it looked like they were doing some work on it.

            During that time I also discovered public libraries.  There was a nice one in the basement of the Rusk County Courthouse.  I got a card and could check out four books at a time and did so every few days while we were there.  I read all of Zane Grey’s books and Jack London’s too, along with many more.  This was the first really nice library that I ever saw.  It had probably ten times as many books as the little library at Carthage High School.  Forgive me for rambling onto other subjects, but that is how my mind works -- helter-skelter.

 

“Cold Weather”

 

            The weather must have been considerably colder when I was growing up than it is now - at least it seems so to me.  We had snow and ice storms and the ponds froze over many times.   One winter the little pond across the road in front of our house froze over and we skated on it.  But not with skates!  We didn’t have any of those, but just in our shoes.  In fact, I just about ruined my shoes skating. While the pond was frozen, we had a snow and Ray went out to the pond and scraped the snow off the ice and we had a path a few feet wide through the snow.  We would run and hit the ice, skate all the way across the pond, then walk around and do it again.

            The first time that I remember it being very cold, I went to the spring with Mama or someone.  One of the wash tubs had a few inches of water in it and the water was frozen solid.  It had thawed enough that the block of ice was loose from the tub.  I remember spinning the block of ice with my hands and they got so cold that I cried.

            One winter during the war we had a bad ice storm.  Everything was heavily coated with ice.  A little wind came up and you could hear tree limbs and whole trees breaking.  This went on into the night.  There was a lot of damage done to the timber, particularly the pines that are brittle in the cold and break more easily.

            There was a pretty large pond across the road (north) of Brooks School.  I never did know who owned this land.  During one of the hard freezes a bunch of kids (myself included) went out in the pasture and out onto the ice.  We over-loaded the ice and it cracked and sagged and one or two of the boys fell and got wet when water came through the crack.  I don’t remember who they were.  That ended the skating party.  Lucky they didn’t fall through the ice and drown.

            People who grew up and live in the nice homes now with central heat and air, have no concept of what it is really like to live in a drafty house that is always cold in cold weather (or one that is always hot in hot weather).  Our house was never very warm in winter, except right next to the fireplace and the kitchen range.  Our kitchen was the warmest room in the house when Mama had a fire going in the cook stove.  She always had to be thinking about our supply of wood though.  We had plenty of timber, but it was a never-ending chore to cut and haul the wood to the house.  You could snuggle into a feather bed and get warm after a while, but that warm ended when you crawled out the next morning.

 

“Odds and Ends”

 

            We didn’t have a lot of things to entertain us as kids do today.  There were many wasp nests in bushes along the road and we made a sport out of getting these nests.  In addition to the sport, we used the larva from the nests as fish bait.

                        We made paddles out of thin boards that we used to swat the wasps.  We would locate a nest along the road where we had a good even surface on which to run.  We would first throw rocks at the nest to make the wasps mad and put them on their guard.  Then we would take turns in approaching the nest.  You had to do this cautiously to avoid being swarmed by all of the wasps.  If you approached slowly they would send out a single wasp to scare you off.

                        When we saw this one wasp come out, we would turn and run.  This would make the wasps think this single fighter was enough and no more would come out.  When we were far enough to be safe from the other wasps we would stop, turn and wait for the lone wasp and when he got near us we would swat him with the paddle.  In this way we could kill all of the wasps from the nest, one at a time, and usually without getting stung.  Sometimes though if you missed with the first swing of the paddle, the wasp would pop you.  That was no fun and it seldom happened.

            This was a pretty exciting way to pass a summer afternoon in East Texas and it didn’t cost a thing.

            At Sugar Hill our house was built on piers of native rock.  A sill was placed on top of the piers and the floor joists were placed on top of the sill.  This created a cubbyhole on top of the sill in between the joists and backed by the siding boards on the house.  When Patsy and I were small, we were playing under the edge of the house where it was high off the ground and in one of the cubbyholes we found a pair of glasses.  They must have been laid there by someone during the construction of the house and never found.

                        These glasses were Mama’s first pair of glasses and I suppose were just plain magnifying glasses, but were really a help to her as her eyesight was failing.  She used to call one of us kids to thread her sewing machine needle for her.  It was hard for her to see to thread the needle and wasn’t necessary when you had a bunch of sharp-eyed kids running around.  With the glasses though she could see to thread it herself.

            Our neighbors Charlie and Blanche Bridges kept a yard full of White Leghorn laying hens.  These were hens that were bred as egg producers.  When the hens were kept in pens away from roosters the eggs were non-fertile and could be sold at a premium.  That is what Charlie did.  He got top prices for his eggs because they were pretty white, non-fertile eggs.          

            Charlie had a problem in the form of a strutting Cornish Game rooster that belonged to us.  This rooster, not satisfied with his harem of Cornish Game hens, somehow found Charlie’s pen of White Leghorn hens.  The pen of Charlie’s chicken yard was no problem for the rooster for he was about one gene away from his wild bird ancestors and could fly pretty well.

            The problem was that after our rooster visited Charlie’s hens, the eggs were no longer non-fertile and they were downgraded and sold for a lower price.  I don’t know if Mr. Charlie complained to us about the rooster or not.  I suppose he did, but there was nothing short of shooting the rooster that we could have done anyway.  Our chickens ran wild and fended for themselves except in winter when we fed them some, but not much.

            Finally one day Mr. Charlie lost his patience with our rooster and got after it with his pistol.  He chased it down across his pasture and into our pasture, shooting at it several times before he finally killed it.  I believe Ray was a far-off witness to this and went and got the rooster and brought it home.  Mama had her butcher knife and was cleaning the rooster when Miss Blanche came to apologize for Charlie shooting it.  Mama said she thought she kind of scared Miss Blanche when she went out with the butcher knife.  We, of course, were a little upset but not terribly so and we did eat the rooster so it was no big loss to us.  It did solve Mr. Charlie’s problem, at least for then.

            We didn’t have much in the way of toys.  I made a number of bows and arrows and some were pretty good.  I owned several tops and could spin them pretty well.  I made a few kites, none of which would fly.  I had several pairs of “Tom Walkers” (these were stilts and where the name came from I have no idea).  They were easy to make.  Take two long thin boards, nail a footrest on each three or four feet from the bottom end with some kind of strap over this to hold your foot in place.  All that was left was learning to walk with them.

            Perhaps the most used and most fun toy that I had was a wheel and stick.  The usual wheel was one of the metal bands from the hub of a wagon wheel.  These hubs were made of pieces of wood held together by about four of these steel bands which were around 8” in diameter and usually 3/4” or 1” in width.  The stick was any small strip of wood about three feet long with a crosspiece on one end.  The preferred crosspiece was a flattened Prince Albert tobacco can.  After it was flattened it was folded in half long-wise and then about 1” turned up on each end.  This was attached to the stick and was used to push and guide the wheel along the ground. 

            We kept our wheels shiny from rolling them up and down the roads with the sticks.  Going down the old hill there above our house the wheel would go very fast and I would have to run to keep up with it (and sometimes I didn’t).  The wheel would jump high into the air when it hit a protruding rock.  (It didn’t take a lot to amuse and occupy us when we were not doing chores). 

            We played a lot of marbles when I was growing up.  We sometimes played keeps, although our elders and the teachers forbade it.  The game was simple.  A circle was drawn in the dirt in a clean level area of bare ground (there was a lot of that around Brooks School).  Each player tossed the same number of marbles into the center of the ring.  The players tossed (lagged) a single marble toward a line drawn in the dirt.  The one who got closest shot first and so on.

            The first shooter shot his shooting marble (taw) from outside the ring.  The taw was usually held on the front of the thumb by the forefinger and the end of the thumb was held by the second finger until ready to shoot when it was suddenly released to propel the taw toward the target.   The target was usually the closest marble to the ring and the object was to knock it outside the ring.  A shooter could continue shooting as long as he knocked a marble out of the ring and his taw stayed in the ring.  If he failed on either of these, then his turn was over.

            Steelies (steel balls from a ball bearing) were usually outlawed.  The reason was that they could be fired with greater force because of their weight and that weight also made them stick inside the ring more readily.  A skilled shooter if successful on his first shot could usually knock a good number of marbles out of the ring before losing his turn.  Each successive shot was made from where his taw stopped inside the ring.  As the marbles thinned out it became more difficult to continue shooting.  When all of the marbles were knocked out of the ring each player would count his to see who won and then they would be divided among the players, unless it was agreed before the game that each player would keep the marbles that he knocked out of the ring.

            Another marble game that we played required only a taw.  Four holes about two inches in diameter and two inches deep were dug into the ground in an L shape.  A hole was located at each end of the vertical leg, one in between these two and the fourth hole was at the end of the base.  We again tossed our taws at a line to determine playing order.

            Play was as follows: The first player placed his thumb at the edge of the first hole (Home) and rotated his hand making a mark on the ground (called a “span”) with his fingers.  He then must shoot from this span mark toward the second hole.  If his taw went into the second hole he shot again, marking a hand span again.  He continued to play until he missed a hole.  When he got to the fourth hole (at the end of the L base) he shot toward the first hole.  This was a long shot.  The other holes were about 6’ apart, these two were more than twice that.

            Play usually continued until three or four times around the holes was completed.  On the second round each player was allowed two hand spans to mark his place to shoot from.  On the third round, three hand spans and on the fourth round four hand spans.  If during the course of your play you came near an opponents marble you could shoot at it if you wished.  If you hit it you got another shot.  You could shoot it as many times as you wished and each time you had another shot if you hit it.

            A favored tactic was to shoot an opponents marble, but with just enough force to hit and stop near it.  Then shoot it as hard as you could in order to knock his marble as far, as possible from the next hole he was to shoot.  He must shoot from where his taw stopped.  This gave you an advantage.  The first player to make the required number of turns around the holes and back to home, won the game.  These marble games were a lot of fun, but hard on the knees of our overalls, frequently resulting in patches on our knee patches.

 

“Old Spot”

 

            Spot was a great dog.  He wasn’t really mine, but we both acted like he was for quite a spell.  He belonged to John Brooks and he was a squirrel dog DELUXE.  Spot was the best that I ever hunted with.  I don’t know how I knew about him but I did.  Before John left for the army during WW II, I borrowed Spot pretty often.  John was always good about letting me use him and Spot always enjoyed going hunting.

            Just the sight of a man with a gun was enough to excite him and he would take off.  When John left for the army, I talked him into letting me keep Spot while he was gone and we made the most of it.

            Spot’s ancestry was unknown and unimportant.  I heard it speculated that he was half Walker Hound and half Bulldog.  Maybe he was.  He was a large dog with a thick heavy body, a big head, a deep chest, and strong legs.  As might be expected with that body, he had a deep gruff voice.  When he tuned up you could hear him a long way.

            There are as many different kinds of squirrel dogs as there are dogs.  I’ve hunted over a good many of them.  Spot excelled in almost every phase of hunting to my way of thinking.  He was silent on the trail unless it became very hot. Although I had no way of knowing for sure, I don’t believe he ever barked on the trail unless he saw the squirrel.  It may have been that the scent became so strong that he could tell he was almost upon the squirrel.  Only he would know the truth of this.

            Spot never got tired of hunting.  He was ready to go for an hour or a day.  He never seemed to get tired and never slacked off.  Most dogs I’ve hunted over did a lot of barking and did a lot of treeing.  I could never tell when their barking meant a squirrel and many times I could never find the squirrel.  Some dogs seemed to have trouble pinpointing the exact tree and would circle around barking and let you figure out where the squirrel was.

            With Spot, there was little doubt.  If you heard him bark, you could be assured that he was about to tree or had treed a squirrel.  There was a distinct difference in his initial voice and his treeing voice.  This was caused because when he treed, he would rear up and put his forefeet high on the tree, throw his head back and let that deep voice roar.  If you were within a mile (he was a far ranging fast hunting dog and covered a lot of ground) you would know that he was treed.

            I can only remember one time when he treed that I did not find the squirrel.  John had stressed with me the importance of finding and getting the squirrel every time Spot treed, and I did that.  There was none of that circling around and wondering where the squirrel was.  When Spot treed, he picked out the tree and the way he looked up there, I think he almost always knew exactly where the squirrel was.  I always looked at Spot to get a line on the squirrel.

            Spot had a great nose.  He could filter out all the other odors, such as field mice, rabbits, ‘possums, coons, armadillos, birds, terrapins and other stuff that I’ve seen other dogs trail and tree.

            Spot was a big eater.  I don’t suppose he ever had a bite of store bought dog food.  He basically ate some scraps from what we had to eat, plus whatever he could scrounge to supplement that.  When he wasn’t hunting for me, he frequently was hunting for himself.  I discovered that Spot was very adept at catching food thrown at him.  I believe if you had thrown a rock at him he would have caught it and swallowed it in one motion.  I would throw a biscuit at him as hard as I could and it instantly disappeared down that big throat of his.

            When John came home from the army, I reluctantly took Spot home.  I was very sad and I think he was too, because we had a very good relationship.  By that time he was getting on up in years and his hearing was failing him, but that nose was still in great shape.  By the time I was grown, Spot had gone on to that Happy Hunting Ground for dogs.  He was a very good one and I rated him as the best.  Spot was a good friend and a good dog!

 

“Sounds That Touched the Heart”

 

          Mama playing the organ and singing.

         

The joyful sounds of preaching and singing at the old Brooks Church.

         

Rain on the old tin roof of our home at Sugar Hill.

 

The whistle of the freight train, far in the distance, on a cold winter’s night.  (The mystery of it.  Where had the train been?  Where was it going?  What was it carrying?)

         

The pop and crackle of a roaring fire in the fireplace on a wintry day.

         

A flock of geese, honking as they headed south in early winter.

         

The call of the Whip-poor-will on a summer night.

         

The deep voice of a bullfrog on the pond.

         

Barking of the foxhounds as the chase heated up.

         

A covey of quail as they explode into flight.

         

The almost dead silence when there is a blanket of snow.

         

The rustle of wind through the trees.

         

The myriad sounds of a spring night.  (The frogs and insects.)

         

The buzz of the bees in the (Dr. Williams) trees at the west end of our porch.

         

Old Spot barking up a far off tree to tell me he has the squirrel treed and is waiting (and he would wait longer than any other dog I knew).

         

The splash of a jumping fish in a still pond or slough.

         

The whistling of my Uncle Willis Brown.

         

Sacred Harp singing at the old Waldrop Tabernacle.

 

“Old Rattler”

 

            Along about 1955 or 1956 when I was in school at Stephen F. Austin University in Nacogdoches, Lloyd, James, Ray and I planned a trip to MeGee Bend on the Angelina River.  Although we didn’t know it at the time, this was to be the last fishing trip that the four of us ever made together.

A few days before we were to leave, a stray dog turned up at Ray and Rita’s back door.  He was some kind of mixed breed - mostly hound I guess - and a pretty decent looking dog.  He and Ray took a liking to one another right off and Ray fed him and kept him around with the thought of making him our camp dog on the river.  And that is what he did.    

            It was a long drive and a long rough log road through the river bottom to get to MeGee Bend (this is the location of the dam for Sam Rayburn Reservoir).     When we finally did get there, the Angelina was muddy, there was a mule lot there for loggers and we just didn’t like the looks of this place for a week long camp, so we moved over to the Sabine.

            From where the highway from Jasper Texas to Leesville Louisiana crosses the river, we drove down the west bank about a half mile and set up camp.  We were on a bluff and had a really nice campsite under some large trees.  Our site was well shaded and facing southeast down the river, so we usually had a nice upriver breeze.  This was a wonderful place.

            There were lots of hogs running wild in the river bottom.  Ray said there were so many of them that they caught the acorns in the air when they fell from the trees.  Running hogs in the bottom was pretty big then and probably still is.  The owners of the hogs ear marked them and then had an annual roundup and took them to market. 

Ray had a chain for Old Rattler and kept him chained in camp while we were gone.  This was so he could keep the hogs from tearing our camp up.     Rattler had a good disposition and we all liked him.  Ray turned him loose to roam at night when we were in camp and he was quiet, never bothering us, so we got along really great.  We took things pretty easy.  We hand fished some during the day and then at night we usually played “Moon” for an hour or so after supper and then we would run the trot-lines that we had out.

            The fishing was pretty sorry, but this was, and I suppose still, is a nice spot.  It is now just a few miles below Toledo Bend Reservoir dam.  There was a real nice hole just across the river and about a hundred yards down from our camp.  We had several lines tied between old cypress snags and stumps in this hole and then we had some more lines further down river in what James dubbed the “Blue Hole”.  The “Blue Hole” was a wide hole in a large bend in the river and the water was deep.  When we were there the river was clear, and in the deep water it really looked blue.

            One night Ray and Lloyd decided to turn in about 10:00 or so, after our domino game, and James and I left to run the lines.  Our boat was down across a sandbar just below the camp.  Ray and Lloyd were in bed, Rattler had been turned loose and was no where to be seen.  We walked down to the boat and paddled across to our first line.  We usually did everything in the dark and conserved our flashlight batteries until actually needed.  I’m sure we didn’t turn the light on until we got to the line and began to check it.

            James was baiting the lines and I was holding the light for him.  We were near the east bank of the river, all the way across and way down river from our camp, when all of a sudden there was a great splash and this large object came hurtling into our boat and just about got both of us wet.  It also scared the living daylights out of us.  It scared me so bad that I almost jumped into the river.  But, it was nothing to fear, just Old Rattler come to see how we were doing.

            What went through that dog’s mind?  What in his experiences had prepared him to do that?  We talked about this a lot and decided that Rattler came into camp, discovered us missing, trailed us down to the river, saw our light and decided to join us.  Maybe he thought we were leaving him behind.  Whatever his thinking was, he had a long swim.  When he got to the boat, I suppose he threw his forepaws over the side and then pulled himself into the boat in one motion.  He did it so fast that we didn’t hear anything until he was in the boat with us.

            We didn’t catch many fish on this trip, but we sure had an enjoyable week and I will never forget Old Rattler.  I think Ray gave him to someone in Tatum not long after that and I never saw the dog again.

            There was a problem in those days as there still is with people taking the fish by illegal means, either netting or shocking them so it was tough to catch many fish.  One night for supper we cleaned the fish we had caught and cooked them for our supper.   I’m a slow eater.  I like to relish my food so I got a couple pieces of fish and sat down and ate and went back for more.  Imagine my surprise when I found there was no more.  My brothers had cleaned the entire platter of fish!

            I arose on our last morning there and went out to run our lines by myself and discovered we had a nice Opelousas catfish on one of the lines.  My brothers were standing on the sandbar watching and calling out advice to me as I brought the fish into the boat. We estimated it would weigh 7 or 8 pounds and it was by far the best fish of our week on the river.

 

“Down To the Short Rows”

 

            My niece, Linda Jones, told her mother that I never would finish writing my stories.  Well, I think she was wrong.  At least they are coming much slower now.  At first, I couldn’t write fast enough.  One story made me think of others and I went pretty fast, but the well of ideas is drying up now.  In farming we called this getting down to the “short rows”.

            I will explain this for those of you who might read this that don’t understand.  Most fields, at least in East Texas, are irregular shaped.  Usually rows will be laid out straight and long on one side of the field, but when you get to the other they get progressively shorter.  That last row might be only a few feet long.  That probably seems a trivial thing to most of you, but let me tell you it held great importance to those of us that had to hoe or harvest those fields.

            It can be very daunting to walk out to the edge of a large field and see all the backbreaking labor waiting.  Then you begin the work and it seems to progress very slowly, but eventually you get over to where the rows begin to get shorter.  Your spirits are buoyed because you can now see the end of this field coming.  You are down to the “short rows” and you know this field is about finished and maybe you can look ahead to a break before the next one.

            Life is not unlike farming.  We start off in the spring filled with expectation.  New growth begins and blooms as we nourish it.  In the summer it begins to mature and we look forward to the harvest.  In the fall we reap what we have sown and enjoy the harvest into the winter of our lives.  In the spring the new generation springs forth in new growth as the cycle begins again.  I guess you might say that my siblings and I are down to the winter of our lives.  We’re down to the short rows anyway and time is flying by.

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