Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Rough Diamonds, Flashing Trophies, and a Baby

      All us Gillums took a trip one day. We went to the Crater of Diamonds State Park at Murfreesboro, Arkansas. The kids were still young, and were excited about digging around in that dirt ---for about ten minutes. We didn't find a diamond, but it did have a profound effect on me. I was hooked.
That park is one of a kind. It's the only place in the world where you can go in, pay a modest fee, look for diamonds with a reasonable chance of finding one, and keep what you find.
      I knew, after that trip, that I could never rest until I found a rough diamond. Everyone has a cut diamond or two lying around, but who do you know that has a rough diamond, straight from the earth?
I watched what appeared to me to be the most serious hunters. What they did, the tools they used. I filed it all away in my head.
      It was not long until I had my tools constructed, and had gathered up whatever else I would need. I headed out for a three day trip.Arriving at the diamond field, I studied rough diamonds that were on display, so I could recognize one. I then hauled all of my equipment to the far side of the field, where a hand pump and a water trough awaited.
      I found a likely spot, where the ground appeared to have been disturbed very little. Those places were scarce, even then, in the 70's. The place I chose was back in under a tree, and the chisel on a rod worked really well. I loaded up two 5 gallon buckets of mud from way back in under, hooked them up to the oxe yoke I had made, and carried them to the trough. I filled them with water, to let them be softening up, then repeated this until I had 10 buckets full. I had constructed three large screens, which I stacked on top of the other. The top one had a half inch mesh, the next a quarter inch, and the bottom one was fine screen wire. I put on heavy rubber gloves that came far up on my arm. Partly to keep my hands warm in this winter water, but mostly to allow me to wash my mud around in that water until only rocks remained. I took this screen off, looked it over good. If I found a diamond on that screen, I would be rich. I repeated this with the next screen, but I also laid those gravel out in a nice pile to dry. Diamonds show up better when dry. All the gravel shows up shiny when it's wet. I was geared up like a pro now, and I played the part. If a tourist tried to look over my drying gravel, I ran them off. "Can't feed a family here, with everybody looking through my gravel." They asked me if I made a good living at it. "Well, I don't get real rich." "Do you have a real diamond with you, so we can see what one looks like?" "Nah. Can't be carrying all that weight around." I washed that bottom screen out good, until only sand remained, and put it in the bucket I would carry home to look through later. Occasionally, I would have to scoop out the mud that built up in the trough, scoop out all the water, and pump new water. I kept this up all day, and I usually had about a five gallon bucket full of fine sand to carry out as the last rays of sunlight disappeared.
      James Archer was an old man who hunted more than anybody, in the old days. And he found more. He was a legend, and I was fortunate enough to get to work beside him, and get to know him. I watched his methods, and tried to be just like James Archer. I failed.
      He told me that once, He had found a really nice diamond, just as a couple of rough men walked up. James was a black man, they were white. Afraid they might try to get it from him, he just dropped it in his sand bucket. He was never able to find it again. Made me wonder how many diamonds I might miss, going through my sand, if that could happen to a legend.
      Diamond fever is much like gold fever. It becomes a consuming obsession for some men. Over the years, I have seen far more broken down old men, their arms and legs shot, still chasing their dreams in that field, than diamonds.
In those days, men just went deeper and deeper, often for days. I have seen some holes that were 20 feet deep. But rules eventually were established. Dig a hole, fill it back up that same day.
     Fortunately for me, I still lived far away, I was still very busy at home, so my trips there were scarce. One more three day trip, later, and scattered one day trips. After we lived at Arkadelphia, only a short drive away, I worked hard at it only one winter. So I finished up pretty well physically intact. But I did know a lot of men who finally left that field a broken down old man. None of these, to my knowledge, got rich at it. Digging diamonds, full time, the way the big boys do it, is a man killer.      Continued   Thanks for reading!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Unspoken About - But Should Be?

     One of my renters decided to clean up his back yard in the spring. Turns out it was covered with poison ivy. He cut it, threw it in a pile with other brush, and burned it. The smoke put his neighbor in the hospital. When that juice evaporates, and you breathe it in, it becomes much more than a distraction real quick. Never do that!
     I knew a really nice lady who had a surgical procedure. A one night stay in the hospital was needed, the doc said. She died that night. Nurses are wonderful, but they can't be in every room at once. Nothing like a family member, standing over you, watching everything that happens the first night after surgery. I've never had a surgery, except when I was six, Dad and Mom just loaded all us kids up in our 1948 cattle truck, hauled us to the hospital, and had our tonsils all taken out at one whack. But anyway, like I was saying, if I have surgery major enough for a night stay in the hospital, I want someone who really loves me there, watching me, all night long. Someone bold enough to get out in that hall and scream, loudly,  when they think there's a need. If you don't have that special person, and you live close enough, call me. I'll sit up with you. And I can get loud quick! Just ask Barbara. I would do about anything to keep from losing one of my readers.
     Another little thing I will do, say, if I'm going to have a leg operated on. I'm going to take a permanent marker, and write on that leg, "This one, Doc!" while I'm still in control of my senses and can do it.
     Fathers were not allowed in the delivery room when our children were born. I've always regretted that. Now we can, and that's a good thing. I was talking to a retired nurse friend of mine one day, and she just had some things she wanted to get off her chest, I guess, about her career. She told me nurses were not allowed to deliver a baby where she worked. That doesn't sound so bad, on the surface, but what if the doc has a car wreck in his rush to the hospital? She went on to say that she had, on more than one occasion, pushed the baby back into the birth canal because the doc was not there yet. Since then, I have heard of two occasions where the doc was late, and the baby was brain damaged for life. Now, I know that's just something most people don't like to talk about, but it seems to me we all should be talking about that. LOUDLY.! Isn't it written somewhere, "FIRST AND FOREMOST, DO NO HARM." or something like that? Knowing what I now know, If I were the daddy, and I was in that room, I would be flinging folks right and left to get that baby out.
     I've read a lot of books about pioneer times, about how hard childbirth was, and it was horrible. A lot of babies and mothers did not survive it. But I've never read a passage about pushing the baby back in. I doubt if any midwife ever did that either.
     We are horrified in reading and hearing about some African tribe's circumcision of women. Calls it mutilation, and I fully agree. But as I get older, I find myself asking, are we mutilating boy babies? Seems to be a religious tradition, and we don't want our sons to look "different." Surely we would not do that, just for those reasons, would we? Back in the days when it was a major thing taking a bath in the winter, if they did at all, there were good health reasons. But now, when we can easily stay clean daily, is there still a good reason? I was born at home, as were my siblings. Delivered by my Dad's brother. Not just any brother, but a traveling country doctor, on horseback for many years. I've heard it said he was way ahead of his time. He did not circumcise boy babies, and I'm beginning to think he was FAR ahead of his time. That little bit of skin was put there for a purpose. Just askin'.
     My Uncle Franz, in his older days, was told he had an Anurism in his stomach. He was told, "If we don't operate, and it ruptures, you won't have time to get to a hospital." He thought it over, then replied, "Leave it alone. It sounds like a good way to go." A few months later, he did go. Just that way. I'm not saying I would be brave enough to do that. You hear lots of people say, "I don't want to live to be 100." But I've never yet heard a 99 year old man say that. I suspect if I ever live to be 100, I will be clawing and scratching for every breath I can continue to draw. I still have a lot of posts yet to write.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Hillbilly Medical Tidbits

      As you know, if you read my blog, sometimes I just have to take out from my storytelling and tell you what's rattling around in my old head that day. "But you're crossing over the line this time," you say? So, take this post with a grain of salt. You're probably right. But, having said that, there still could be a little something here one of you will be able to use some day.
      Nearly two years ago, something started feeling not quite right in my chest one day. Not really hurting, but I always knew, all day every day, something was different. Since the focal point was right where my heart should be, I went to a heart doctor. He put me through the paces. Wearing a monitor for a day, stress test, the whole ball of wax. Starting the same day this started, my heart started doing that little thing where it seems to skip a beat regularly. Not really skipping a beat, but off time a little, so the pulse feels like skipping a beat. I had experienced this before, many years ago. He put me on a pill to stop that. A beta blocker was best, he said, but I asked for something else. I already had heard beta blockers have certain side effects I didn't want. He agreed that was sometimes true. The pill he gave me did the trick, though I had to take 5 other pills every day, to counteract the side effects of it. It did the job, on the skipping thing. But the "different" thing was still there. Dr. Jansen sent me to a stomach man. He stuck his little camera down my throat, and had a look around in the stomach. I told him when it went into the stomach, be sure and turn it around and look at the entrance. My brother died of cancer because a doctor failed to do that the first time. When he did, the second time, it was too late. My doctor found nothing. I had another test, this time for gall bladder problems. Nothing. I was beginning to look and feel like a hypochondriac. By now, this thing had moved down a little, became a stomach problem, as well as a chest thing. Gas was trapped and building up, getting very uncomfortable an hour or so after I ate.
      So, I went back to the stomach man. Gluten problem, maybe. He took me off gluten and dairy for five weeks, and gave me probiotics. Well, something he did this time helped. It was easing off, about gone. After five weeks, it was gone completely, and it was time to test. Barbara and I went out and ate a really big, greasy, pizza, just dripping in gluten. Still no problem. So, I tested getting back on dairy. No problem. Seems I can eat everything now, and after a year and a half of troubles, my problem never came back. I had began to think I had just reached that steep part of the slide.
      What with all the bad bacteria we kill out with antibiotics, seems we kill off the good bacteria too. We need those good ones. I now eat a billion good bacteria, probiotics, a day. And they and I get along fine.
I asked the heart doc, "Since my heart 'skipping' started the same day this other thing did, can I get off that pill too?" "Might as well try it." It worked too. So, 2 years ago I was on 7 or so pills a day. Now I take one. Now, that's going in the right direction!
Barbara got to having dizzy spells. "Positional Vertigo," the doc said. "But that's an easy fix. Joe Wall can fix it quick." Joe wall is not a doctor, he's a physical therapist. But he specializes in this. Well, Joe just twisted her head around for a few minutes, the "Epley Maneuver." Told her to be real still for a day. I walked out thinking we had just been to a Witch Doctor. But it worked! Who woulda' thought it!? Don't try this at home. Google says it can cause stroke symptoms, if done wrong.
     Most of us are allergic to poison ivy. But do you know, a pretty little plant that grows right beside it can take it away? Called Jewel Weed. When the seed pod on Jewel Weed starts to grow, and you touch it, it will throw that seed several feet. But that's off the subject. Anyway, gather that plant up, boil the juice out of it, freeze it in an ice cube tray. Just rub it on poison ivy when you get it. I had a coach friend that was desperate, so I made him up a batch. When I was about to move a few years later, he asked me to make him up a gallon of it before I left. I did.
      When I was teaching in Arkadelphia, I found a patch of Jewel Weed out Red Hill Road. Later I needed some, and I asked one of my students who lived nearby to gather up a bag full of it the next day. He was my biology student, and I knew he would recognize it. At class the next day, he was absent. Toward the end of the period, him and his Mama walk in. He had the bag of Jewel Weed, and he also had a cast on his arm. He had a bicycle wreck going down the hill to get it, but he still got that bagful of Jewel Weed for me. I just felt the need to go out to his house after school that day and spend a little time with him. A very special kid. That's what I liked about teaching. So many special kids!

Continued - Next post, we get right down to the nitty-gritty stuff. The touchy areas. Thanks for reading!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Uncle Harry's Little War - Conclusion

.    The prisoners and their guards returned, but that court never did reconvene, and stands adjourned to this good day.
      The word got around that Sheriff Dodson was headed for the rail head, to go to Little Rock to ask the governor to declare martial law. He was shot from ambush as he stepped from the ticket office. The only remaining official who took part in the Shiloh ambush was dead, except for the school Superintendent, who fled to Iowa.
      With the change to a democratic governor, this period was over, and these men were allowed to again run their town. They became prominent men of the community. Reece B. Hodgins became The Arkansas Superintendent of Prisons. Uncle Harry became an alderman, raised seven children in Dover, founded the Bank of Dover, became well off. However, as I looked through hundreds of issues of  thePope County Historical Society publications, I found that if I looked under shootouts, or the like, Uncle Harry was sometimes there.
From the Courier Democrat, Russellville, Ar. April 16, 1931.
{4} "The death of “Uncle Harry” Poynter, at Dover, April 14, removed from the walks of life the last confederate veteran of this county who took an active part in the Pope County Militia War that raged with fury around Dover in 1872 and 73. His funeral was one of the most largely attended events ever held in Pope County.
Dover was ravaged by the carpet bagger forces, suffered the loss of the county seat, and was twice reduced to ruins by fire, but the passing of W. H. “Uncle Harry” Poynter was one of the town's darkest and saddest hours.
      At the funeral an orchestra was present, in keeping with a request made by Poynter. The band played sacred hymns at the church, then retired to the site of his home recently destroyed by fire and there played “Home Sweet Home”. And as a fitting tribute to this fallen Chieftain and at his request, played his favorite tune of Dixie as the last rite of the funeral."

      Now lets get back to grandma's milk cow problem. Uncle Harry came over and set out to find the thief. Family Members were able to give him a pretty good idea about where to start, I would imagine.After a time, he came back with the milk cows. No questions asked, no answers given.
      I am told that the Yell County Sheriff wished to question Grandma about this matter but was afraid to, Possibly because she was very close to a very dangerous man. It seems a man was missing.

     The story of this war was never told on our front porch on hot summer nights. The name Harry Poynter was often spoken  by adults in our family when I was a child. Always with great respect. My oldest brother Harry was named after him, at Grandma's insistence. I knew nothing of him, until I read papers found in Aunt Lula's chest after her death, then I began searching through publications from the Pope County Historical Society.

     The Reconstruction was a horrible time in the South, with thousands of battle hardened men returning home, with hatred and murder in their hearts, often focused toward their neighbors. I pray our country never has to experience such a time again. But those who forget our past are doomed to repeat it.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Post 128 - Uncle Harry's Little War - Part 3

     Uncle Harry was there; and when the three men saw him they began to draw pistols. Harry's gun spoke first, and Hickox  “ bounced from his saddle like a squirrel shot from a tree.” The other two men fired at Uncle Harry, but missed, and ran out of town being shot at by a large number of people.One of the horses was shot, the official unhorsed just outside of Dover, and did not stop running until he got to Russellville, four miles away. It may sound cruel, but good women in the town of Dover looked at the dead man lying in the street, and rejoiced, feeling that the greatest enemy to their peace had been killed. An “over the body” inquest was held, and Harry was not charged..
     But this did not fly in Rusellville. Later, a 30 man posse was deputized to go to Dover and Arrest Uncle Harry. They found him, two pistols strapped on, a double barrel shotgun in his hand, leaning against a tree in downtown Dover. Lots of Dover people were around, friendly as could be to the posse. After showing Harry the arrest warrant, Harry said he was willing to be tried if they could guarantee his safety. He was told they could only guarantee it to the best of their ability. They asked for his guns. Harry's reply made him a  legend..

    “I will only give up my guns with my life, and I will make the man who takes it pay a heavy price.”

      Much discussion among the deputies followed. It was said, “These people would kill Jeff Davis himself to prevent us from taking Harry by force.” And that was true. Behind the scenes, many of the women had armed themselves, and swore to fight to the end for Harry. The men were determined that Harry would not be taken. Finally, the Deputy turned to a friend of Harry's and said, “I hereby deputize you, and order you to hold Harry under arrest until we get back to you.” And they left. One deputy said on the way out of town, “Well, if that is an arrest, we have arrested him. I don't think it was much of an arrest, but we have discharged our duty as best we could, safety considered.”
     The army kept peace for periods, during which times the town was practically deserted. Only a couple of killings were recorded for awhile. One of the army officers was particularly disliked by the citizens. A store owner proposed, "If you can get him to come into my store, I will kill him there." The officer didn't fall for that, however. One man went to his office door, told the officer he wished to talk to him. The officer, seeing he was unarmed, went to the door. The man grabbed him and pulled him into the hall. As the officer drew his gun, a second man, waiting in the hall, shot him.
      Warrants were issued for ten citizens of Dover, but they could not be arrested. Finally, the Militia agreed to let the ten men bring in ten bodyguards each, if they would come into Rusellville to stand trial. It was agreed. 110 Men, armed to the teeth, rode in, dismounted, walked in the courtroom and the ten men announced themselves ready for trial.
     Now I revert back to the rebel version, which gives a better look at the inside goings on. The trial commenced, and proceeded with until the noon hour, at which time John F. Hale proposed that they should go back to the courtroom and kill out the entire court and officials, leaving no one to tell how it happened but their friends. It was agreed to, but they postponed the act until the following morning, in order, as they said, that they might be completely organized in every detail, and not kill someone that ought not to be killed. However, from some sort of conduct, or for some reason, the court became suspicious. Court adjourned that afternoon to reconvene the following morning. The defendants and their guards returned the next morning.           To be Continued

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Uncle Harry's Little War - Part two

      The officials were justifiably scared. They needed protection. In an effort to get martial law declared, with Army protection, they took Deputy Williams out in the woods and faked a shooting. They shot holes in his clothes, hat, even his belt buckle. The word was passed that someone had tried to kill him. He hid out at home a while. His neighbors, from both sides, gathered around him. One ex-rebel even offered to guarantee Williams life with his own. He was refused.
     At some point here, Uncle Harry took his wife and child, along with my Grandma, then around 13 years old, up to the mountains around Clarksville, twenty miles away, and hid them out in a mountain cave. He knew things were about to get hot around Dover. I don't know how long they stayed there, could have been up to two years, the duration of this war.
     On July 8, 1872, Hickox, the County Clerk, had a bright idea. Round up a group of local men who might have been involved in the shootings, kill them on the way to jail, blame the killings on local people who they will say ambushed them. This should get martial law declared, plus the worst ones will be dead.
     They formed a posse of 30 men, including all the local officials, even the Superintendent of Schools. They went looking for likely suspects for all the killings. Uncle Harry and the other most likely suspects heard about it, and skipped. They went to arrest Matt Hale, but he had skipped, so they arrested his father, Jack Hale, and his brother, William Hale. Liberty West, a blacksmith, came up and begged them to release the two. He continued following them and begging, so they arrested him too. They finally arrested Joe Tucker (likely one of my relatives). They continued on toward Dardanelle, supposedly to deliver the suspects to jail. Finding no feed for their horses near Shiloh church, they continued on into the night. Near the Shiloh bridge, an official said, “If we are attacked, be sure to save the prisoners.” A voice said, “It's dark.” Another voice, “Dark as Egypt.” A third voice, “Egypt has no eyes.” On that signal, the officials began shooting the prisoners and the horses started bucking. It's hard to shoot a man in the dark from a bucking horse. Jack Hale laid over on his horse's side and lay spurs to its flanks. He rode out of it, his horse getting several wounds but he was untouched. His son, William, rode out of it too, but so severely shot in the back that he had to unhorse a little later. His horse got away and quickly caught up with Jack Hale. William crawled to a house, dying a few days later. Liberty West was thrown from his horse, hid behind a log and listened. Joe Tucker was shot severely in the head and lay groaning. An official walked over and shot him again.
     Jack Hale did not stop running until he reached Dover, his son's horse with a bloody saddle beside him. When he told his story, it spread like wildfire in Dover. By daylight, Uncle Harry and other leaders, along with 50 or so other men, were on their way to Shiloh. They did not find the posse.
     The Posse was never found, likely having disbanded and gone to Little Rock. About two weeks later, Governor Hadley came to Dover, but refused to declare martial law.
     Now, the officials, Hickox, Dodson, and Williams were in a bad spot. Give up their position, or return to their jobs. About the end of August, they came back to Dover and resumed their jobs.
On Friday, August 30, Dodson's son drove a wagon to the courthouse, and all the county records were loaded on, and hauled off, later found hidden in a cave. The court house was boarded up.
The next day, word had spread that the officials were about to leave. Tension was in the air. Armed men were in the streets.
      I am going to switch to the rebel version of what happened next, because it was told later by a Judge who was Uncle Harry's friend, and I think he was in the know.
About middle of the afternoon, the three officials completed their work at the courthouse. They got on their horses and began walking toward Russellville down the street.
Reece B. Hogins, Uncle Harry, and John F. Hale had agreed to kill the three men as they started out, in retribution for the Shiloh killings. The officials made their start a little earlier than expected, and Uncle Harry was the only one in his proper place to discharge his duty when the 3 men started out.     Continued

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Uncle Harry's Little War - Part one

     My Grandma, Martha Jane "Tennessee" Tucker Gillum, commonly called Mattie, was a hard working woman. She once grew  a large flock of chickens in her yard, and sold enough eggs to the Chicken Peddler to buy her daughter a car. Now, in case you don't know what a Chicken Peddler is, he was the guy that, up until the 1940's came around trading things farm people could not get otherwise for chickens, eggs, butter, milk. A traveling store. Grandma was not just hard working, she was just hard. She also had four milk cows. When dry weather hit in the 1920's, those cows, along with all our other cows, were turned loose out in the south mountains to forage for food. The grass in the valley had dried up. The lead cow wore a cowbell, and Dad would ride his horse many miles to check on them from time to time. On one such trip, Grandma's milk cows were missing.
     It was common practice in those days in Wing for most everyone to do that, when the grass dried up. Many people grew corn in the bottoms along the river, and the practice was to fence the corn patches to keep out the free range cows. Our cows may have gotten into someone's corn patch. Maybe someone figured they would take some cows in return. Maybe most of the cows were too wild to catch. Maybe the four milk cows  were easy to take. This may have been how it happened. Anyway, all I know for sure is, they were missing, and they now seemed to now be in the possession of a man who lived several miles away. But the man made a major mistake. He said they were his.
     Grandma was raised in her teens by her sister Dozie and her husband, Harry. Harry and Grandma remained very close, right up until the day he died. Grandma needed help, and she called on Harry. He was an old man now, so why would she call on an old man for a job such as this? Maybe, If I take out right here and tell you a little about Harry's life, we could all follow her reasoning a little better.
     Harry was 15 when the Civil War started. He fought in many hard battles for the South. When the war was over, he came home. He found the Reconstruction was a very hard time to live in the South; his fighting was not over yet.

      After Lincoln was killed, his plan to move the South back into the fold as quickly as possible was changed. President Johnson liked the plan also, but lacked the power to sway Congress. They and many other government officials wanted to punish the rebels a while. They called it The Reconstruction. In some places, government did whatever necessary to eliminate rebel vote and participation, leaving the ex-rebels at the mercy of greedy and dishonest northern political officials, who hated them.
     Dover had few slaves. Most didn't need or want them. A few acres here and there of rich river bottom land was not conducive to that. The mountains around Dover are tough as a boot. I know. As a young man, I rode in the back of a pickup each day one summer to Dover and worked in those mountains. I wore out two good pair of leather boots that summer. And, hard mountains produce hard people. The vets returning home from the war were a mixture of North and South. And they still hated each other. No rebels held government jobs or offices. Without a strong county government, everybody suffered from roving bands of outlaws, scalawags, and carpet baggers, and much land was stolen by corrupt northern officials.
     Dodson Napier was the first Sheriff. He and his deputy were promptly shot. William Stout, the county clerk, was shot through a knothole at his home. The replacement sheriff was shot while plowing. Later, Confederate Major George Newton was credited with all these killings, but too late to help this situation. Major Newton moved to Texas later and became a preacher.
Feeling a little insecure one would suppose, a Dover native, Elisha Dodson, who had fought for the north, was awarded the job of sheriff. The next clerk, Wallace Hickox, was a Yankee, an able, brave and bold leader. But he was a schemer, made no local friends, and considered the rebels to be some short of human. The rebels hated him. By 1872, John Williams, a brother of a former sheriff, became deputy. Probably with no long expectations of life.           Continued

Sunday, May 6, 2012

My Best Friend Tooter - Conclusion

      The time came for me to leave the farm. I was off to college. Tooter never did accept this well. He drooped around, his spirit gone, searching for me each day in all the old places. On the rare occasions when I got to hitchhike home for the weekend, Tooter always spotted me coming when I was still a speck in the distance. He would suddenly regain his “world class” speed, and a rough and joyous reunion resulted as we ran up the lane. One time, he jumped on me, our noses meeting none too gently. Mine was the one that was bloodied. Another time, a flying leap sent a tooth through my watch crystal. I still have that watch. That and memories of a happy time are his legacy. With long periods of depression and separation and short, joyous reunions, my freshman year passed. Then I was home for the summer, and all was well in our world.
      One summer morning, I was awakened at dawn by a loud commotion in our yard. Wiping the sleep from my eyes, the sight before me sent a chill through me. Two large wolves had Tooter, one on each end, stretching him out. When I yelled, they dropped Tooter and ran. Tooter chased one, caught him, and grasping him by the throat, began to squeeze the life from it. I grabbed Tooter, pulling him back. The wolf shook loose, and quickly melted into the woods.
      During the next few days, Tooter seemed to be slowly recovering. One morning as he leaped from a load of cattle feed in our truck, he yelped in pain. He moved slowly to the porch, lying down, and soon was unable to get up. I carried him to the cool cellar. He wouldn't eat. As I checked on him throughout the night, he became weaker. At daylight he was gone. That day I buried him in a grave under the Persimmon tree overlooking the valley and the mountains we had roamed together so many times. I spent the afternoon cutting his name in a large flat rock that I placed at the head of his grave. Tooter had come to me when we were both very young. He had seen me through my growing up years as my constant companion and best friend. His job was done. Now I am a man. I must go on alone.        Thanks for reading!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

My Best Friend Tooter - Part Two

      Tooter was not always perfect. Late one summer afternoon, Mom sent me to herd her young chickens into the coop for the night. Any chickens not locked up securely at night would probably become a meal for a coon, or maybe a mink. A mink might eat part of one, but kill all of them, just for fun. The chickens kept circling the coop in front of me. Round and round we went, with no apparent signs of progress. Finally, in exasperation, I called Tooter into action. He quickly developed a liking for this new game, and he was good at it. We soon had every chicken in the coop.
      Late the next afternoon, as I came in from the fields, what I saw beside the porch stopped me short. A dozen dead chickens were stacked in a row. Tooter, I soon found out, had so enjoyed the game that he continued it the next day. He had “herded” every chicken to death!
I dreaded facing Dad. I knew what was coming. Chicken-killing dogs could not be tolerated on the farm. Finally, the inevitable could be avoided no longer. “Son,” Dad said slowly, “that many killings would get anyone a death sentence.” My dad was a hard man. He had to be, scratching a living out of this hill farm. Hard living requires hard decisions. Dad, however, more than anyone else, understood the bond between Tooter and me. Tooter was spared, and I promised to teach him never to kill the chickens again. I guess Tooter understood, because he never did.
      The summer of 1956 brought a new friend and companion to the farm. Mike Ford, my city-boy cousin, arrived from California one morning in June. Mike had never been out of the Los Angeles area before, and even the routine occurrences on our hill farm became new adventures to him.
Soon after Mike's arrival, the raccoons attacked our corn patch, which was in the roasting ear stage, in force. We had to have that corn to get our cows through the winter, plus we ate cornbread about every day. Every coon in the bottoms seemed to show up at dark. Tooter, Mike, and I were assigned the task of protecting our patch. The stage was set for one of our greatest adventures.
      Early one warm summer night we headed for the patch. No sooner had we reached it than Tooter was on a hot trail. Mike and I ran down a corn middle. We could hear Tooter running toward us, knocking down corn stalks as he ran. A silent, furry shadow flashed in front of me, barely visible in the dim moonlight. Close behind came Tooter. Reason and common sense left me, and I joined the chase, momentarily not noticing that I was doing as much damage to the corn as the coons were, tearing and scattering stalks as I ran. Suddenly, the game changed. The big coon turned to fight. Tooter, having better control of his senses than anyone else at the moment, jumped aside. I don't think I really made a decision to do what I did next, for I like to think my decision making process is a little better than this display. And I knew about coons. A coon like this can be a bundle of screaming and biting fury. They often whip a dog, and can kill them if they get on them in the water. I dived at the coon. I like to think I reconsidered in mid air, but I don't really think I did. I sat on the coon, on my knees. I held the ringed tail tightly in both hands, while the masked face peered out from behind me. The coon was strangely quiet, giving me a moment to consider my situation. I asked myself, “How do I get off?” when no reasonable solution came to mind, I called, “do something, Mike!” I don't remember exactly what he did, so I asked him when I visited him this past summer. He said he hit the coon on the head with a knife, and it just got mean. So I acted. I jumped up, holding the tail by the right hand, planning to slide my hunting knife out of it's scabbard, and hit it over the head. Now, my knife was not just any hunting knife, certainly not one a 12 year old should be carrying. It was a US Marines knife, designed for hand to hand combat. Perfect for my needs now. But by the time I had began my draw, my fingers had just touched the handle when the coon went crazy. It was wrapped tightly around my right arm, biting and squalling, and my arm was turning into sausage. I shook it loose, only to have it latch onto my right leg, slightly above the knee. I was struck with a momentary flash of good sense, and I turned it loose. Tooter joined the chase then, for, still being a young dog, he liked it better when the coon was running from him. Myself, I was in the heat of battle now, and I stayed close behind. Again the coon turned to fight, raking Tooter with his claws. When I entered the fray this time, the knife was in my hand, and it was quickly over.
We proudly carried the big coon back to the house, and I basked in the attention and glory as everyone examined my wounds. We did not think much about things such as Rabies in those days. Mike later confided, “I would sure like to have some scars like that to take back to California.” A few days later, Mike went down to run the traps we sat out at the corn patch, got too close to a squirrel or coon or some such animal, and got his own battle wounds. For days, he pulled the scabs from the wounds, to promote scarring, and he proudly wore his scars back to California.
      The summer was drawing to a close. Mike was ready to ride the train three days back to Los Angeles. When he arrived, he got a dog, named him Tooter. He bought traps, and sat out a trap line in the concrete jungle of Los Angeles. All he could catch were cats and ground squirrels, though. He told me this year that the summer in Arkansas influenced the course of his life. He later made many trips into the wilds of the west. He talked about me showing him how to spread a spider web across the hole in a hollow tree, to see if it was being used. I didn't remember any of that.
      I did not see Mike again until he returned from Viet Nam as a demolitions expert, sporting a Teflon orbit around one eye. We visited Wing a couple of days and talked about old times. When he got back to California, he had a rude awakening. People there did not appreciate him and the other returning veterans. By the time he had completed college, he had had enough. He went to Australia, taught school a couple of years. Then he played basketball on a touring team of displaced American veterans awhile. When he returned to California, pushing thirty, he applied for a teaching job. Remembering his earlier treatment, he did not mention to the Superintendent interviewing him about his war experience. But when the man asked him why, at near thirty, he was just now applying for a job, he came clean. The man, a veteran himself it turns out, stood up, shook his hand, and hired him on the spot. It turned out to be a 30-year job.


     Guess what! My new book, SPREADING WING, is finished! I'm in the process of putting it together now, then start working  to get it published. My 18 year old grand daughter, Caylie, came up with the name. I knew it was the one when I first heard it, because I cried. Actually, I've cried a lot in writing this book. It will be between 250 and 300 pages.

     I want to take this time to thank all my readers of this blog, from all of the thirty three countries readers have shown up from. You have given of your time, and your attention, both a very valuable thing. At my age, much more valuable than money. By the way, Caylie named this blog, also. I could not do either project without Barbara, who has came up our stairs hundreds, or thousands, of times to correct some stupid mistake I have made on this computer. My total mastery of this computer is limited to exactly what I need to know to be able to do this..Barbara, with her absolute refusal to be defeated by any project she starts, pretty well figured this computer thing out by herself. Me, I tend to try, and try, then give up and call Barbara.
     Though my book project is finishing up, my blog is not. I'm having way too much fun keeping track of my stats, telling me how many, and from where, are reading. I check it a couple of times a day, when I'm home. I've got many stories yet to be told.