Sunday, June 18, 2017

Forever Cry excerpt - The Whipping

Forever Cry is now available at I will be up north somewhere for a few weeks. No new posts for awhile. Thanks for your time, and your attention. Pat Gillum


          I was lying in bed awake one summer night. The resta’ the family was asleep. But not me. I was thinking some about Lilly, as I usually do, and then my thoughts turned to my best friend Nellie. Her family was camped down in our woods, and I knew they were about ta leave. They had lived there a good part of th’ summer, and we were best friends. I was so sad to see them go. I had never had a girlfriend before that lived so close. I heard Papa stirring, then talkin’ quietly to Tom. I couldn’t hear much, but I did hear Papa say “Joe’s camp.”
          Joe was Nellie’s papa.
          When Papa opened the door, I saw in the moonlight that Papa had his rifle. Something was wrong at Nellie’s place!
          I eased out of bed, slipped into my dress, and tiptoed out the back door quietly, and pulled it closed real softly, just as I heard Tom whisperin’ to Mama. The fields were brightly lit up by the full moon. I had to go down there.
          I saw Papa slip into the woods. I followed behind.
          Just before I got to Nellie’s camp, I could hear a bunch of men talkin’. I got to where I could see a little, and hid by a big tree. A big man was holding a long thing in his hand. A bunch of men that looked like white ghosts were sittin’ on horseback, kinda in a half circle, around the tent.
          I was scared ta death. I wanted to scream, but I was so scared, I don’t think I could have. I didn’t dare move. They would hear me. I could barely breathe. Those men had several lanterns, and in the dim light I could see guns. Where was Papa?
          The big man, still standin’ in the circle, held somethin’ in his hand that he was waving around. His white gown like thing he wore floated around as he moved, and he had a mask on that looked really scary.
          What could be happenin’?
          Then, I saw something that scared me most to death. A black man, stripped to his waist, was tied to a tree. His hands seemed to be tied around it. Then, the big man started talkin’
          “Nigger, where you made your big mistake was decidin’ to move in here. We don’t allow no niggers hereabouts. If you live past tonight, and I ain’t so sure that’s gonna happen, take yer nigger woman and yer nigger youngn’s and clear out, else you’ll all die here.”
          Then he looked up at the men on horseback. “Don’t be shootin’ no guns, or the Thackers will hear and be down here in a heartbeat. He’s next on our list. But we gotta take care of business here first.”
          He was plannin’ to hit our cabin next! I had to warn Tom, but if I moved now, they would see me.
          The whip flashed through the moonlight, and hit the tied man across the back. Really hard. The black man just stiffened. He didn’t say a word.
          The big man pulled the whip back again. There was a bright flash, and a gun thundered.
          The Big man screamed, dropped the whip, and fell to the ground, rolling around, holdin’ his leg, screamin an bawlin’.
          I didn’t even see it happen, it was so fast, but Papa just suddenly appeared, right beside the big man, holding him around the neck with his pistol to his head.
“Fat Bob, you better pray real hard that your friends think really highly of you. Cause if I see a rifle move, or anybody sneezes, I’m gonna blow yer brains out right here.”  Papa just knelt right there, lookin’ around at the men in the circle. Nobody moved a muscle.
          Fat Bob was sobbin’ and cryin’ but he managed to holler, “Please! Nobody move! He’s gonna kill me!”
          Papa spoke. “OK. Nice and easy, you men with rifles drop em’ to the ground. I’ll turn em’ in to the general store in town. You can get em’ there in two days, if you’ve got the nerve.
          I know some of you men, and I know you have always been fair. This family has found a job, a long way off, and they’ll be movin’ on pretty soon. They’re just starving people, tryin’ to find a way to make a livin’. You would do the same if you were in their place.
Wearin’ masks around in the night, scarin’ and hurtin’ people ain’t no way for good men to act. I got no quarrel with you, if you leave me and mine alone.  I’m gonna hold this gun to Fat Bob’s head ‘till I hear the last hoof beat fade out. Now go home, men, an stop listenin’ to the likes of Fat Bob.”
          Without a word, those men who were dressed up like ghosts, with masks on their faces, turned their horses toward town. And just left.
          Papa cut the man loose, and I could see it was Mr, Joe.
          Papa said, “See to yer family,”
          Well, I guess the family had heard enough of what was going on ‘cause they all came out of the tent, all running to hug an crowd around Mr. Joe.
          Papa talked real quietly and seriously to Fat Bob a little, helped him onto his horse, then he left too, still cryin’.
          I didn’t wait any longer. Papa would whip me good if he ever knew I had come down here. I eased out into the woods a ways, then ran as quietly and fast as I could to the cabin.
          I could tell Mama and Tom were by the front door with guns, talking quietly and seemed to be really excited. I guess they had heard all the commotion.
          I slipped in the back door, tiptoed to my bed. Josh was still sound asleep. I didn’t take time to shed my dress. Just jumped in bed and covered up, and listened.
          After a long time, I heard a bunch of people talkin’ outside, and then after a while, Mama came in, shakin’ us awake. I opened my eyes and yawned and rubbed my eyes, and said, real sleepy like, “What is it, Mama?
          “Nothing you need to worry your sweet head about. But, since this is Nelly’s last night, the kids are gonna bunk in here with you and Josh tonight.

I never lied about this to Mama. I just never told her.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Forever A Hillbilly: Forever Cry - Chapter One

Forever A Hillbilly: Forever Cry - Chapter One: Chapter One This is my second book, a historical fiction, inspired by my grandmother's early life during the Civil War Reconstr...

Forever Cry - Chapter One

Chapter One

This is my second book, a historical fiction, inspired by my grandmother's early life during the Civil War Reconstruction.
This book has just been placed on For a personalized copy, contact me at

        She picked a fine time to be born. John Brown was hanged that same year. The army of the Confederacy was forming.  The Civil War was to drag on for four years. Abraham Lincoln had plans made to quickly bring the South back into the fold after the war.   Suddenly, Lincoln was dead, and the decision making fell to the hands of lesser men. Thus, the full reconstruction of the South was started much quicker, bringing chaos and violence. Had Lincoln lived, Tenny’s early life probably would have been much different. And there might not have been a need for this story to be told at all.
We should start this story at the beginning of the Civil War. Tenny’s father, James Thacker, was a tall man. Long, lean and supple, wide shoulders narrowed to a small waist. When his steely blue eyes narrowed, they could strike fear deep into the heart of a man, and send a woman’s heart a-fluttering. Tenny’s oldest brother Tom was a younger version of his father. James and Tom had been swept into the war in 1863. James had kept his family clear of this mess of a war for two years, 1861-1862, scratching out a living on their remote hill farm in Tennessee. He had no dog in this fight. He had no slaves to lose, no cotton plantation at stake. But he was a southern man, in the South, and the winds of war were blowing like a gale. Many men who resisted joining the war effort were persuaded. Methods used were sometimes not gentle, even for older men, normally not considered fighting age.
        Neighbor John Boles died of natural causes at age fifty five, in 1863. Son A.H. Boles spoke at his funeral on February 20, l863 – “He was needed by the family during the stormy days of the war. I cannot understand why he was taken when so badly needed. In view of the deaths by violent means of many older men in this part of the country, who chose not to take part in that war, it might be that our father was spared a violent death. Possibly it was fortunate that he went in the manner he did.”
        It was not uncommon for renegade Confederate soldiers to swoop down upon a lonely farmer’s cabin, rounding up all men of fighting age who were not yet involved in the war effort, and, proceed with a hanging. A man does not die instantly from hanging, unless the neck is broken by the initial shock.  By simply lifting a man, it may well take over five minutes. Being hung for a couple of minutes, and living to tell the tale, has a way of changing a man’s way of thinking about being in the war. Some resisters were hung numerous times.
        James had never had this experience, though some of his neighbors did. But James was not a man to be intimidated into anything.
        During the first year of the war, 1861, reports began to trickle in of friends and neighbors who would never return from battle. Into the second year, they became a flood. Avenging his friends was something James could relate to. And their land had been invaded. More and more, this war became his own.
        Sarah, Tenny’s mother, was a strong woman. She was average in height, with long brown hair cascading over her shoulders. She had a few freckles, just enough, across her cheeks and nose, to accent her beauty. Only a man such as James Thacker could win the heart of a woman like Sarah. She and the younger children, Tenny, age six, and Josh, age nine, could survive if the war did not come to their doorstep. Tenny was a red haired tomboy, full of life. Josh was slim and tall for his age, and would become the man of the family once the men left.  James thought this remote, thinly populated part of Tennessee was their best chance to avoid the conflict. James began to realize he had a role in this fight. Late in the second year of the war, he and Tom would go to war.
        James and Tom were now a part of the Tennessee Volunteers, and they had been in the thick of things for two years, fighting in Tennessee and Virginia. Losses had been heavy.
        Now the war was coming to a close. They all knew it, but nobody wanted to admit it. They had been able to stay together, in the same outfit, but they were now on the run. Their army was falling apart. What James really wanted was to keep Tom and himself alive just a little longer, get this nightmare over with, and go home to his family.
        Atlanta had fallen, late in the war, after a long siege. Now it was in rubble, and Sherman was marching to the sea. Sherman had said, “The more cruel the war, the sooner it will be over.” He acted accordingly. His army of 62,000 men left only chimneys standing behind them, living well off the produce of the South. Nothing was left behind that the rebels could make use of. No food to live on.
        Women and children were now tasting the true nature of war.  Letters of desperation from home were causing hundreds of Confederate soldiers to desert daily. Twisted railroad rails were referred to as Sherman’s neckties. Sherman’s path to the sea left destruction and ruin for four hundred miles. His supply train stretched out behind him for twenty five miles.
        Savanna and Charleston were more desperate, even, than Atlanta. Starvation and death was a way of life. It would be many generations before those people would begin to forget, much less forgive. It’s not hard, to this day, to find Southerners there who speak of the war as if it were yesterday, referring to pre-war, slavery times as the good old days.
        Next, Sherman headed north. Richmond, the capitol, had fallen. Abraham Lincoln had visited Richmond, and had sat at President Jefferson Davis’ desk.
        Closer to home, the Union army moved into Tennessee. In fighting around Nashville, Hood’s army had fallen, and scattered. Lee, in Virginia, had held Grant off for many months, but his army was shrinking fast. Lee still held out, although it was said, “Lee’s once proud army has degenerated into a mob.” The North was now closing in on three sides. Lee’s battered army attempted one more time to break out. But it was useless. In the nine month standoff with Grant, thousands of soldiers had left Lee’s army, and gone home, and it was now planting season. General Lee was surrounded, outnumbered five to one. No hope of getting help; there was no help left to come.
        Lee asked his generals, “What would the country think of me if I failed to fight on?”
        He was told, “There is no country. Hasn’t been for over a year. To these boys, you are the country.”
        “Then there is nothing left for me to do but go see General Grant, though I would rather die a thousand deaths,” said Lee. So, Robert E. Lee and U. S. Grant agreed to meet at McClain house, near Appomattox Court House, to end this war.
        The McClain family had lived near Washington before the war. The first shots at Bull Run had been fired in front of their house, damaging one room. So they moved to the Deep South, far from the action, near Appomattox Court House. Here, in their house, Robert E. Lee and US Grant met on April 9, 1865. A surrender was signed, officially ending the Civil War. Thus the McClain’s could rightfully proclaim, “The Civil War started in our front yard, and ended in our dining room.”
        A group of hungry, ragged soldiers gathered around the tent of General Lee that night. Most expected they would be imprisoned, at least, or at worst, killed by the Union army. The general emerged, and stood before his men. General Lee stated, “Boys, I have done for you the best I can. Now go home. If you are as good at being citizens as you have been soldiers, the country will be whole again.”
        Riders on fast horses were sent out in all directions, shouting the news of the ending of the war. One soldier shouted back, “You’re the son of a bitch I’ve been looking for, these long four years!” While the men in blue celebrated, those in gray remained silent.
        A southern woman proclaimed, “These blue devils have desecrated our church bells, by ringing them.”
        Many could not believe it was over. John Wilkes Booth could not believe it, either, and for him, it was not. Not just yet. Though he strongly believed in slavery and white supremacy, he had not yet fought, and was beginning to deem himself a coward. But he planned to make up for that in one fateful act.
        In more remote locations, the fighting still dragged on for some time. On May 13, 1865, Pvt. Joseph Williams became the last soldier to die in the Civil War, in the last skirmish – won by the South.
        President Lincoln died on May 14 at the hands of John Wilkes Booth. He was 56 years old. Andrew Johnson was sworn in as President. Three and one half million men went to war. Six hundred twenty thousand died. Fully one fourth of all white Southern men of fighting age were dead. Boys went to war; those returning were old men.
        Photography was just beginning to come into its own at the beginning of the war. Over one million glass plate negatives were made. Many photographers followed the armies from battle to battle.  Now that it was over, nobody wanted these glass negatives, but they were salvaged. For the glass. The sun slowly burned those images of unimaginable horror off the glass in thousands of greenhouses across the country.
        When the word reached the Tennessee Volunteers, nobody was more ready to do as General Lee had instructed than Pvt. James Thacker. He and Tom had survived the war with no serious injury. Tom was only fifteen when they left home for war, though he was by no means the youngest. Boys of fourteen were left dead on the battlefield.
        It was time to make their way home. It was to be a long walk. And, a dangerous one, with all these starving, dispirited men on the roads. A starving man is a very dangerous man. Another concern was roving gangs of gutter rats; robbing, stealing, and killing in this now lawless land.
        And, James had to help his friend, LaFayette Gilman, get home to Alabama, somehow. LaFayette had wandered into their camp some time back, starving, barely able to walk. James and Tom had befriended him, fed him, and nursed him back to health somewhat, but he was still, in no form or fashion, able to walk to Alabama alone. Over a period of time, he had related his story to them.
        LaFayette was from Talladega County, Alabama. He had been in the war for all four years. LaFayette was a small man, but with a revolver in his hand, he stood very tall indeed. He was sometimes quick to anger, but a very good friend to have. He had knots on his head. Hopefully, not because he was small and quick to anger. Later, as a lawman in Atkins, Arkansas, he was called Knotty. His grandchildren later called him Little Grandpa.
        Early in the war, he had been a cook in his Alabama unit. While most of his unit was in action elsewhere, his camp came under fire. He and the remaining men held them off for two days. At the end, only he and two others survived. He was taken prisoner, held in a P0W camp far to the north for months. He finally managed to escape in the fall of 1864, and headed south. Ever south. He was far behind enemy lines, and winter was coming on. He hid by day, traveled by night. He needed food, and there was none.
        Farms he approached were mostly deserted, ravaged, or burned. There was a good crop of white oak acorns, and if he could soak the tannin out, they were edible. Time after time, he gathered up a good batch of acorns. Then he laid over a day or so to crush them, wrap them in a cloth, and soak them in a running stream for a day. “Not anything I would want a steady diet of, but better than nothing,” he had said. A couple of times over the long, cold winter, he did find a farmer or two who could spare him a little food. Very little. As spring came on, he found a few edible roots. In March, barely able to walk, he stumbled into a camp of Tennessee Volunteers, and the Thackers took him under their wing, and saved his life.
        They talked it over that night around the campfire. “We gotta’ get away from this place, and we got no horses,” James said. “We got just a dab of food stored up between the three of us, not likely to find much more anywhere along this road.”
        “Y’all got no call takin’ me along. You best get yourselves home to family, and get your crops planted. I came this far on my own, I can just rest up here for a day or two, and I can make it to Alabama on my own,” LaFayette replied. “You’ve been real good to me, and I can’t ask for more. It’ll work out.”
        Tom had been sitting silently, looking into the fire. “I don’t have no idea how far it is to this ‘Talladega County’ you talk about, but I know it’s a sight closer to our place. Seems to me you need to go with us, that way we can help ya some. And besides, three guns are better than two. And, I never seen a gun shoot as straight as yours does. I know it’ll be slower, but we won’t starve to death before we get there. You can stay with us a spell, build up your strength, and go on to Alabama this fall.”
        James nodded his head in agreement. “That’s all we can do, LaFayette. You’re just barely walkin’ and you’ll die here in Tennessee if you leave us.” LaFayette was silent. He knew they were right. Only he knew just how far it was to Talladega County. James stood up. “It’s settled, then. We’ll find us a spot away from this mob tomorrow, pick up the guns we hid out, find a place to lay up a couple of days. Best to let this starvin’ bunch around here that’ll be headin’ our way get on ahead some. They’re half starved, but some of them have been able to hang onto their guns, too, and they can fight. They’ll clear the scum and bushwhackers out ahead of us. Maybe we can scratch up a little more food. Besides, LaFayette, I hear you’re bettern’ an ole’ razorback hawg’ at diggin’ up acorns. Then, we’ll head for our patch a’ woods.”
        LaFayette smiled. “Thanks, fellers’, I know you’re right. An’ I’ll be eternally grateful. Maybe I can return the favor someday. An’ maybe, my little boy will hook up with yore pretty little red haired gal, too! Ya never know. There ain’t been no red hair in my line, ever, at least as fer as I know. Kinda’ like to have some. Those red haired women are spunky, ima’ tellin’ ya!”
        They laughed. Little did they know just how close he was to speaking the truth.  And nobody, in their wildest imagination, would ever guess the strange matrimonial twists in store for their families, way down the line.
        At dawn, they were up and moving. James generally knew the direction of home, from his trip here, nearly two years ago. But they had moved around a lot, and it would be pretty hit or miss. Maybe, if they just kept pressing a little west of due south, they would eventually hit familiar country. A couple of miles out, they moved back off the beaten path a mile or so, and found a concealed overhang by a little stream. LaFayette was about done in already, and a couple of days rest would help him.
        While LaFayette rested, James and Tom scoured around gathering up roots and a good bit of polkweed leaves.  “A good batch of polk salit’ will do us all good. We’ll cook up all we can find, and at least we’ll feel full when we move on. Lord knows, there’s a lot of that around here. Sure would be nice to have a little dab of hog fat to throw in, but this’ll do,” said James.
        Tom laughed. “Yeah, be nice to have a hunnerd bucks, too, long’s it ain’t Confederate dollars. But even that wouldn’t do us any good out here, now.”
        They returned to the bluff at mid-afternoon, built a small fire under the bluff trees to dissipate the smoke. They soon had water boiling strongly, and boiled all the good leaves they had. The very best part was the younger, tender shoots, and any of the larger leaves showing any hint of purple were discarded. They knew that was poison.
        LaFayette was still resting peacefully. “Well, LaFayette, I guess we won’t need your acorn gatherin’ savvy too much on this trip. The critters have about cleaned them all up by now,” Tom observed.
        James spoke. “Tom, you had best move over there and keep an eye out for visitors. I can finish this cookin’ myself. There are a lot of hungry men around here right now.”
        “I can do that,” offered LaFayette.  “I may have lost my acorn rootin’ job, and I don’t wanta’ move much right now, but I can still shoot a man in th’ brown of his eye at a hunnerd feet.”
        LaFayette was a small man, still very weak with a long scraggly beard, but was deadly with a rifle and handgun. They both knew he was not unduly bragging here.
        The next day, they continued gathering up as many roots and edible leaves as they could find, cooked them, ate their fill, and packed up the rest for the road. LaFayette seemed to be feeling better, and was in a more optimistic mood. No other men seemed to be straying this far off the beaten path, and that was fine with them. They didn’t have just a whole lot of food to share, anyway. All day long, LaFayette kept a sharp lookout from his post, while James and Tom worked. It was April now, and even a shower that blew up late in the afternoon was no problem. The overhang kept them, and the fire dry and functional.
        LaFayette was up at daylight the next morning, declaring he was ready for the road. So they packed up and moved out, back toward the trail. They saw few men that day, and it did appear that most who were going in their direction were well ahead. After eight miles or so, LaFayette was pretty well done in. They had passed several farms that day, but all were well scavenged or burned, and the people were gone. They continued, locating a hidden site to camp each day.
        Soon, the trail began to play out. There were few signs of men traveling ahead of them. It seemed few were going in their direction, or maybe it was just that their own sense of direction was off.
        As they stopped to discuss the matter, they heard hoof beats. Four men were riding directly toward them from the southwest. They checked their guns. Tom and James carried their army rifles, which they had hidden and managed to hang onto at the end of the fighting, but with precious few bullets remaining. LaFayette carried only his holstered pistol, one of the newer repeaters. Fifty yards out, the approaching men slowed, walking their horses toward them.
        “Let them get inside a hunnerd feet or so. James, far left man. Tom, far right,” LaFayette said very quietly.
        The big man who was apparently the leader pulled his horse up just inside that distance, and the others spread out a little and stopped. “Howdy,” said the leader.
        “Good day, gentlemen,” answered LaFayette. James noted that LaFayette seemed to be taking the lead role in this, and it appeared he had done this before.
        “You gents seem to have slimmed down some in the war,” the big man said with a snicker.
        They were all fully armed, a rifle in their hand, with pistols in their belts. Their rifles were pointed straight ahead, with the tip down a bit.
        “What can we do for you,” asked LaFayette.
        “I think we need to take a little look-see inside those packs,” replied the big man.
        LaFayette looked him over for a moment, then answered. “We’ve been to war for two years, and we don’t exactly carry our valuables around with us while we fight those damned blue coats. But you’ll play hell, lookin’ to see.”
        The big man laughed a mean laugh. “Them’s pretty big words from a half starved son of a bitch carrying only a pistol, at a hunnerd feet!” The big man’s rifle tip raised upward; his finger began to tighten on the trigger.  A bloody red spot appeared in the middle of his forehead; they heard the explosion of LaFayette’ pistol. The horses started to jump and shy away while the remaining three men tried to bring their rifles to bear.
        James and Tom’s rifles spoke at the same time, and the one on the far right jumped from his horse like a squirrel shot off a tree limb. The remaining two threw down their rifles, tried to control their horses with one hand, and raised the other high over their head.
        “Now wait a minute here!” yelled the far left man.  “We don’t mean no harm! Hell, we don’t even know that big man. He was just ridin’ along with us!”
        LaFayette looked at each man in turn. “We all been to killin’ college for years now, and we’re all damned honor graduates. Now gather up your two buddies and get em’ in the ground, fore’ I lose my temper and ferget I’m way too tard to dig four damn graves. Now git’ at it!”
        As the two men dismounted, LaFayette had a few more instructions. “No, ain’t no need to load em’ up. Just bury them over there in that soft sand. You can come get’um later if you want. And we’re plumb tired out with this walkin.’ We’ll need those three black horses over here. And lay all yer guns and gun belts over there with ‘em. I’d ‘druther not have you two skunks sneakin’ ‘round an ambushin’ us. But you’re in luck. You can double up on that paint pony.”
        Shortly, the two men disappeared around the bend on the paint, and LaFayette looked at each of his companions hard. “Now, which one of you two sorry son of a bitches missed? Without those horses buckin’ so, two of us would be dead right now. I figgered’ I could get two, but I was leaving the other two up to you.” Not a word was said as they mounted up and rode on down the trail.

        Half a mile down the path, Tom grinned at him. “We thought we wuz’ savin’ you. Seems we’re the ones, needin’ th’ savin.’” It was still a long, dangerous road home. But their chances were looking better. They were on horseback now.

Forever A Hillbilly: Spreading Wing - Chapter One

Forever A Hillbilly: Spreading Wing - Chapter One: SPREADING WING CHAPTER ONE – THE TWO HEADED MONSTER Listen to me now. I want to tell you something. I was a child of The Great Dep...

Spreading Wing - Chapter One

Listen to me now. I want to tell you something. I was a child of The Great Depression. But that was before your time, you say, well after that catastrophic event was over and done, and times were back to normal again.
      But those who say this didn't live on our farm, and they didn't see what was in my daddy's heart. It wasn't the wall street crash, black friday and the like, that hit those country folk so hard. No, the money was not the main thing. Country folks were already accustomed to living off what their land could grow, and what could be reaped from the forests and the river. The real problem was, when the money left, the rains just chased along behind. And the hot sun brought its rays to bear and never let up. Dad often told me, the temperature topped one hundred degrees F. on one hundred days in 1930, though I can't verify those exact temperatures. And, 1930 had the driest July ever, one hundredth of an inch. That I can verify. Seeds lay dormant in the dust. What few seeds found enough moisture to sprout, and begin to grow, just wilted and shriveled under that unforgiving sun. The two headed monster; The Great Depression, and the blistering drought. Six consecutive, very hot, dry years, with a record high temperature of one hundred twenty degrees F. in 1936, just allowed no time for country folks to recover. And, they occurred at the peak of The Great Depression.
     When that two-headed monster finally pulled out of Wing, a piece of it just curled itself around my Daddy's heart, and lived there forever.
      My Grandfather, John Wesley Gillum, and his wife, Martha Jane Tucker Gillum, arrived in Wing in 1898. They had a wagon load of young'uns in tow, and more to come. They worked hard at Wing, and it paid off. Wing was then in it’s glory days. The Gillum’s added more land, more livestock, and more sharecroppers. Now I didn’t say it was fun. Hard work is seldom, or never, to my way of thinking, a real fun thing.
      Grandpa's new business venture, producing larger and stronger work mules, did well. John Turner, The Postmaster and store owner at Wing, and Bob Compton, a stock trader and Grandpa's friend, were involved in this venture. Two prize Black Mammoth Jacks, (male donkeys) who were purchased for three thousand dollars, were the heart of this business. King Leo was purchased out of Texas, for one thousand dollars. He won first place at the Arkansas State Fair, no small accomplishment. All of my few sources seem to remember all about King Leo. Although records (not many families have a donkey in the family records) show Pizo, also a Black Mammoth Jack, was purchased from Spain for $2000, I can find little mention of him. Pizo, oh Pizo, where did you go? A recent report indicated an early demise for Pizo.
       A mule is a hybrid, produced by the crossing of a male donkey and a female horse (mare.) Since there is considerable size difference, even for a Black Mammoth Jack, I wondered how this was accomplished. So I asked. Turns out, it's just as simple as can be. Dig a trench for the mare, and the jack’s natural romantic inclinations will pretty well take it from there, with a little steering of his valuable-as-gold member by hand. A huge barn was built for this enterprise, costing one thousand dollars. Now, that may not seem like so much, but at the turn of the century, it was considerable. By comparison, The three bedroom house I was raised in cost five hundred dollars to construct.
   At the peak of his success, John Wesley died in his early sixties, in 1922. Grandma Martha Jane called Dad back from the oilfields of Oklahoma to run the farm. Grandma and Grandpa both had said Dad was a better horse trader than Grandpa, and that's quite a statement because Grandpa was a pro. I'm sure Dad considered this an honor, getting that call. Martha Jane had other strong and capable sons, and some were older. Dad was now twenty-nine, a veteran of World War I, and a strong, hard and hardworking man in his own right. Dad once told me he took a job in the boiler room in the oilfields, one that nobody had been able to hang with. It was just too hot there. Dad took the job, drank only lukewarm water from the boiler, and made it fine.
    Many years later, I had a little experience in the hayfield that convinced me Dad was onto something there. I was placing the hay and tromping and shaping the hay stack, Dad was hauling the hay to me. It was very hot. The cold, cold springs in the creek were nearby, and I started running and jumping in that cold water between loads. The more times I jumped into that cold water, the harder it was to go back out and face that heat again. By the end of the day, I thought I was going to die. My hardest day ever in the hay fields, and I had many.
    Things continued to go well, under Dad's watch, for a time. Dad bought a car, and spent most of his time running up and down the dirt roads, supervising the sharecroppers, rather than actually working the land himself. He went in with Uncle Homer, who was a pretty hard and stern man in his own right, and bought a new herd of cattle.
      But it was not to last. The two headed monster reared it's ugly head, and things started going bad. Dad soon did not even have the money to put in a crop of his own. Cattle prices went to almost nothing, and the cattle had to be ranged out into the mountains, so they could find forage, or sold outright.
     The sharecroppers could not borrow money to put in their own crops, unless Dad signed their notes. Now, Dad was never real big on those kinds of arrangements, but it was that or just turn belly up. The sharecropper's seed just lay there in the dust. They had to walk, and Dad held the notes. Dad sold off timberland to the government, at fifty cents to two dollars per acre. He had to sell at least eighty acres. He had no money to hire a lawyer to negotiate a better price, so he just had to take what the government would give. Grandma still had some money, and when she found out about the sale, she insisted Dad buy it back. But it was too late. The deed was done. That land would become a part of the Ouachita National Forest.
       Those sharecropper's notes took many years to pay off, but Dad finally did it, somewhere along about the time I made my appearance in this world. I didn’t know Dad during those years of hard work to pay off other men’s debts, but the scuttlebutt going around among my older siblings was, Dad was not really a man one would want to be around during that time. The word was, a kid just never wanted to put himself into a position of watching Dad pull off his belt. They just knew no good was ever going to come of that. Tales of those days pretty well galvanized my timidity around Dad as I grew up, and I never, ever, saw him pull off his belt while frowning at me. I just made sure of that.
      Those notes extended the tenure of The Great Depression for us many years. Dad had to put his car up on blocks out at the barn. He could not buy gas. That car sat there, a rusting hulk, until well after I was born in 1944. A monument to better times, long gone. Someone once commented on that car, and asked Dad what happened to it.
     "The depression hit it," Dad replied.
     My older brother Harold, a small boy at that time, seeing a rusty spot showing up on the door, asked, "Is that where it hit it?" Dad never had another automobile until 1947.
  Harold was born in 1931. He was Dad's helper when Dad was in his prime, and he says Dad was much a man. Afraid of nothing, or nobody. When the well at the barn went dry, the mules and other stock needed water. Dad climbed to the bottom of that well on a rope. He lit a stick of TNT, climbed back out. BOOM! We now had water.
   Once, a mare and a colt were in the barn lot with the mules. Now, no love is lost between a mule and a colt. The mules hemmed the colt up by that well, and the colt jumped into the well to get away from them. Harold saw Dad lasso the colt's leg, and he pulled it out. By himself. Later, the mules caught the colt again, kicked it in the head, and killed it.
    Dad and Uncle Arthur went in together and bought some land in the Rover Slashes, two miles east of our farm and down by the river. Then Nimrod Dam was built, and the government took the Slashes and other rich crop land. The drought persisted. Soon it became hard to feed a family. Years later, Dad showed me how to build quail traps and rabbit gums, and described little tricks for catching fish when the need is great. Those tricks stay within the family. I still use one occasionally. He told me, "If a person saw a rabbit cross the road, chased by less that two people, we knew times were getting better." After the rains returned, I never again knew of a Gillum eating a wild rabbit. Memories of bad experiences with rabbit fever during the bad times lasted a lifetime.
      Much had been lost to the Gillum farm, under Dad's watch, through no fault of his own. Dad's solution to the situation was, just work harder and longer. And work all of us harder and longer. The depression mindset never left my dad as long as he lived. Never buy food that we can grow, or reap from the forest or the river. Buy flour, salt, sugar. Maybe a little coffee. And sometimes a little tobacco, on a bad crop year. That will about do it. Borrow money as a last resort. Actually, I only remember Dad borrowing money once. That was when a house on twenty four acres next to our farm was foreclosed on, and he was able to get a heck of a deal. Store up extra food every year, the rains can go at any time. Always work as hard as we can, every day, except Sunday.
       A large building that was constructed earlier by John Wesley and his boys for storing food they produced for long periods of time was perfect for Dad’s needs now. It was finished around 1920. Dad put a German coin in each concrete step leading down into the cellar. Why, I could just never figure out. It was just not like Dad to throw away money. He brought those coins back from WW1.
    This large building had several different compartments, each perfectly suited for its purpose. A smoke house was always filled during the winter with three hogs we butchered each fall. Very little was wasted. The hogs produced large tins of lard, lye soap, sausage, mince meat and head cheese. The well-cleansed intestines were even used for storing sausage. Everything was used except the squeal.
   An insulated potato house held hundreds of pounds of potatoes, with lime on them to prevent rotting. Those potatoes had six-inch sprouts on them by the time we ate the last one in the spring. The woods were searched for fresh poke weed, pokesalit', in the very early spring. These fresh poke weed sprouts furnished vitamins that had been missing from our diet all winter. Mom later grew it in her garden.
    The cellar underneath held hundreds of quarts of canned food put up by my mother as she labored over that hot wood stove each summer. Sometimes close to eight hundred quarts per year. Shelves above the cellar held many gallon cans of sorghum molasses. The house was underpinned, and piles of sweet potatoes were stored there. The barn held tow sacks full of peanuts. 
    Had it not been for the Two Headed Monster, that building would probably have soon become obsolete, and the Gillum’s would most likely have bought more and more of their food, like most people of the time. But with these facilities in hand, I think Dad just went back to what he knew worked in his boyhood during the good times, and we stayed there. Growing and storing our own food, living like the 1920’s in the 1940’s. Everything considered, it was a good life. Everything, except for the fact that we worked our butts off.
    All my siblings, and I mean every last one, as they graduated from high school, found themselves spreading wing and moving on to the rest of their lives, far from that farm.
All this, of course, was done in the spare time, working around the really big jobs of putting up enough hay and corn for the livestock. Plus, working the money crop, mostly cotton. That money crop began to play out on that overworked land, and a cotton gin became hard to find, about the time I was born. I remember riding a load of cotton to the gin only once. I must have been around two. In my memory, it seems that gin just sucked my cap right off my head, but I don't believe Dad would ever have let that happen. Power of suggestion, maybe. I have dim memories of a man kidding with me, and he must have said something to that effect. Cattle became, more and more, the main money source as the cotton crop diminished.
    Two milk cows not only produced plenty of milk, but cream, butter, and cottage cheese. During dry years, bitter weeds were about all that was left for those cows to eat. We just suffered through bitter milk on those years.
     A yard full of chickens, usually ordered from Sears and Roebuck, or produced by our own settin' hens, produced plenty of eggs, and mom was a master of wringing the necks (I remember seeing three or four headless, bleeding chickens flopping about the yard at one time) and producing a great Sunday change of pace meal, fried chicken. One just never knew when the preacher would be dropping in for Sunday dinner, and she was always prepared.
    My older brother, Harold, was, at first, the family wild meat provider. Fish and squirrel, mostly. The deer had pretty well been killed and eaten around Wing by then. I took over that job at a very early age. Harold went off to college when I was about four, and although Dad was always far too busy working to teach me how to hunt and fish, Harold helped me some. Dad gave me time and the freedom to wander the hills, bottoms, and the river. I soon figured it out on my own. Never again was Dad's family to be stalked by hunger, as when the two headed monster prowled the land.

    This was the world, and the mindset, that I was born into in 1944. The shadow of that two headed monster was ever-present, hovering over me, until the day I also found myself spreading wing and leaving the farm, in 1962.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Forever A Hillbilly: Forever A Hillbilly: Spreading Wing

Forever A Hillbilly: Forever A Hillbilly: Spreading Wing: Forever A Hillbilly: Spreading Wing : The following posts will be excerpts from my books, Spreading Wing, Forever Cry, Dead-Eye Samantha, an...

Spreading Wing - Part Two


Note: This story also appears in my Tooter book..

     One balmy autumn day, when I was in the eighth grade, I packed my tow sack hammock, food, water, my .22 rifle, and Tooter and I set out to climb Main Mountain. This was the tallest of all the mountains around, seven or so ridges over from our farm. We followed Stowe Creek up the holler', avoiding most of the climbing until we reached the big one. It was a hard, tiring climb up the mountain. We reached the summit at sundown. The trees on top were mostly knotty, gnarled oaks. Fox squirrels abounded here, but many trees were hollow. It was a real challenge, getting a mess of squirrels on top of Main Mountain. I set up camp, we shared the water and food, and I crawled into my hammock. Excited about our hunt tomorrow, I finally dozed off.

     I awoke with a start. The moon was up, an ominous wind blew through the tree branches. An owl hooted in the distance. Although it seemed I had been asleep a long time, the moon told me it was not yet midnight. My major concern, however, was Tooter. I had never run onto anything in the woods that frightened Tooter. But here he was, whining, crying softly, pressing against me, staring into the darkness. A faint rustling in the leaves came from the direction of his attention. I picked up the .22, releasing the safety. Heavy footfalls in the new-fallen leaves,, about a hundred yards out, slowly circled us. With Tooter following every move with his nose, whining, we strained to see through the darkness. The circling continued, at intervals, throughout the long night. Tooter and I pressed closer and closer together. As a faint light appeared in the east, the rustling disappeared. We found no tracks in the fresh leaves, never knowing what had stalked us throughout that long, fearful night.
     The hunting was good, and with the sun heading toward the horizon, we headed down the mountain with a full pack of fox squirrels and memories of a night the passing decades have not erased.

     The good hunting on Main Mountain set up yet another adventure to Wing Holler'. My buddy, Bob Rice, wanted to try his luck with those Main Mountain “foxies'.” One Saturday we set out up the holler.' After a long hunt, we had a few, and the sun was dipping low, so we turned toward home. Tooter thundered through the underbrush, in his customary manner, a hundred yards to the right. Suddenly, a large gray shadow flashed across the trail in front of us. Bob and I both glimpsed the animal, a large wolf ? I glanced at Bob, noticed his chill bumps were as big as mine, and we picked up the pace.
     As we neared the last turn in the trail before Turner's Store came into view, I realized my hunting knife was missing. Remembering the last place we had used it was where we field dressed the squirrels, my concern for my hard-to-come-by knife overcame my concern about the wolf. As Bob stretched out on the trail soaking up the last rays of the late evening sun, I started back up the trail. Tooter and I quickly found the knife. On the way back down, a sinister plan began to form in the dark recesses of my mind. Perhaps Tooter and I could use the wolf episode to have some fun with Bob. Just before we came into sight of Bob, I gave Tooter the “stand” command. I went around the curve, saw Bob stretched out on his back, hands behind his head, chewing on a weed. I softly called Tooter, then began running, screaming, “Bob! The Wolf!” I saw Bob glance up, just as Tooter, alias the great gray wolf, burst from the timber.

     Under normal circumstances, there is a process to be followed in getting to one's feet from his position. I have never been able to explain or understand exactly what happened in this situation, although I have thought through it many times in the past fifty-plus years. One moment Bob was glancing up, the next he was leaning into the wind, fairly flying down the trail to Turner's store. His feet seemed to scarcely touch the ground. A small cloud of dust marked his disappearance around the turn in the trail. When I reached the bend, there was no sign of Bob. Tooter and I set off down the creek toward home. Moments later, a car came speeding up the trail, a large dust cloud boiling up behind it. As it approached me, I made out a wide-eyed Bob, Buel Turner, and some old men who often hung around the store, whittling and chewing tobacco. Guns bristled out the windows. I had some tall explaining to do. Afterwards, we all had a good laugh, even Tooter. All except Bob..