You Do Not Have to Believe All I Say 4

Mother and Father had a complete volume of Shakespeare but the print is so fine that you couldn't possibly read it long at a time.  But that's one of the books that was in the old library.  It had been there, I'm sure, since the time, some time before the Civil War began.  I may be wrong there, though.

Anyway, in order to have books, a number of the citizens around The Slide -- that is, Point Pleasant, where we lived, agreed that each one would buy a book and they bought each one a book.  I think all of them were novels of the popular type.  And these books were circulated -- some five different families circulating their books. That was the way they obtained something to read.

As a boy, Father did take the Chicago Tribune for the bi-weekly edition, I think it was.  I know it didn't come every day.  In fact, we had mail only twice a week.  It took two cents to carry a sealed letter and one cent to carry an unsealed letter.  My great grandfather had preserved a letter from Ohio that was written way back before the government mail routes were established, that required 17 cents to carry it from Ohio to Walkers Creek, Wythe County.  My grandfather kept that old letter.  So some things went up and some down.

But it was very true that the depression following the Civil War was the greatest depression that America has known, especially for the southern people.  The problem was to survive, to live.  And though it was some years after the Civil War before I arrived, the depression -- the poverty -- still existed.

People cracked walnuts.  Uncle Frank[11] and Aunt Mandy[12] did a lot of cracking walnuts and sold the walnut cores to make a few dollars.  They peeled apples and dried the apples in the sun and sold the apples for a few dollars.  They raised onions and sometimes could sell the onions.  And occasionally they had a calf to sell and something else.

They weren't poor people, just average citizens of the county.  Owning a small piece of land and a small home, comfortable home, log home, a home in which at night you could hear the death clock ticking in the logs -- some insect sounds exactly like the ticking of a clock.  I presume it's eating the wood that causes it.

When I remember, the first wages paid by Father was a dollar a day, and he did most of the work himself with the help of the rest of the family, and did not keep or employ regular hands or laborers on the farm.  That dollar would buy a whole lot.  A suit of clothes.

I think the first suit I remember Father buying, he paid $9 for it.  And it was to last him a full year. And the first shoes was made by the local shoemakers.

Well, spring is not very far away.  The male cardinal, which has fought the female away from the bird feedbox all winter long, this morning is careful to pick up feed and hand it to the female.  And she, the true lady that she is, received it graciously.

You know, I once asked Dean Pass at VPI why he kept so many hound dogs, if he enjoyed fox hunting so much.  He said, no, he hasn't been fox chasing in ten years, but that he kept the dogs to study psychology.  That made me think about our dogs at home.

When I was a boy, we had, as I mentioned before, a black Fox Terrier with a white tipped nose and white tipped feet and a white tip at the end of his tail, so my father named him Tip.  Well, Tip was a gentleman.  Any woman, man, human or animal that he attacked, he attacked head-on, not from the rear.

Later, we obtained a little black and white spotted Fox Terrier that Tip bossed while he was young and developed somewhat of an inferior complex, I suppose.  Anyway, he was a trickster.  In place of going to an enemy's head, he always tried going to the heels. He would nip the heels of a hog.  If a man came that he didn't like, he wanted the chance to catch him by the heel.

For some reason, he formed a great dislike of Uncle Jess Muncy.  I think it was because Uncle Jess always had some big foxhounds with him and Bounce disliked those foxhounds.  He would bark at them and stay away from them until he saw one start to crawl through a crack in the fence, and then he'd run and grab him by the hind legs when he got in the crack of the fence. And he would try sometimes to nip Uncle Jesse's heel.

This little rascal, that we called Bounce, he almost went wild.  He would want to catch young quail and also young rabbits.  And you'd see him out working by himself all alone hunting, and he'd be trailing, trailing where there'd be a large bunch or grass or weeds, and he'd pretend that he was going to pass it until he got to the side of it, and then he'd jump sideways and into that bunch of grass.

And, following that tactic, once in a while he'd catch a young quail or a young rabbit.  One time he came in and he was so swollen that he looked like his skin was ready to pop. He had undoubtedly jumped sideways sometime before carefully investigating and jumped on a copperhead or a rattlesnake.  We had both of those over there.  In fact, one year I killed four rattlesnakes. Well, in time though, he overcame his sickness.

Dogs, you know, obey the laws of hybridization.  This Bounce, I guess, was a hybrid.  And we had another one that we called Fox.  He was yellow; he was like a bulldog though his mother was a little Fox Terrier.  And as a bulldog, he would walk straight in and grab ahold of any enemy and hold on and the enemy he had a hold on could chew on him and bite him.  He might whine and holler but he wouldn't let loose.  He would fight to kill.

Well, that makes me think of human beings.  We had, as I mentioned, very few Negroes in Bland County.  But I had considerable association with Negroes since a large part of my life was spent in school work. I most often had Negro janitors and I've had some of the finest janitors in the world.  Some colored men were the very top characters . . .

Well, since I have been indulging in light talk, I will tell a story which is partially true and partially doctored.  Anyway, I'm not under oath in telling it. But the characters were real characters.

I was in school with a boy who was older than I. His name was Gordy.  I'll stop here without using the surname.  And the other character, my Uncle Jess Muncy.  Now Uncle Jess Muncy was the type of a man when anybody's in trouble, he would go to him and help him, and he wouldn't go to inquiring why he was in trouble or telling him to keep out of trouble; he'd simply try to help him.  Uncle Jess one evening heard someone hollering, "Hey, Jess.  Hey Jess, come out here, Jess."

Uncle Jess went out there, and Gordy was there, and Uncle Jess says, "Gordy, how are you?  Is there something you want?"  "Yes, Cousin Jess, I want some help.  I have lost my mail bag and I've lost my saddle and I want to borrow your saddle so I can go and find my saddle and my mail bag."

Uncle Jess looked and says, "You haven't lost your saddle.  You just didn't have the girth very tight and it slipped around and is hanging down under the belly of your horse.  I'll pull it up and straighten it there and tighten it up a little bit."

"Well," Gordy says, "I thank you, Cousin Jess, now I can go and hunt my mail bag that I've lost."  And Cousin Jess says, "Well, Gordy, I suspect, the shape you're in, I'd better go along with you."

I'd have to say that Gordy had been a fine young fellow until his wife died, and then he tried to console himself by emptying all the bottles he could get ahold of.  So he was fairly soaked, and no shape to be carrying mail.

So Uncle Jess said, "You get up on the stile here, and I'll get on your horse, and you get on behind me.  We'll go and find your mail bag."  So Uncle Jess got on the old horse and rode up to the stile, and Gordy got on behind and they started off back the way that he had come to hunt his mail bag.

And as they were riding along, Gordy was so tight, that he just slipped and slid down and fell off the horse.  And he hollered, "Hey Jess, Jess!"  "Well, what it is Gordy?"  "I, I, I heard something drop."  Jess said, "Gordy, I believe you did.  Now you climb up on the fence here and I'll try to help you."

So he climbed up on the fence.  Uncle Jess told him, "Now put your leg over behind."  Gordy put his leg over, but he put the wrong leg over so that he got on backwards.

And he started off on down the road with Uncle Jess holding him on this time.  They were riding along back to back, Gordy reached down with his hand and he felt over the rump of the horse and felt around an area there and he didn't feel anything and he says, "Hey, Jess, I've made a discovery."  "Just what have you discovered there, Gordy?"

"I've discovered that thing I heard drop was the horse's head."  And he says, "Well that's fine, that's a great discovery."

And so they went on and pretty soon there was the mail bag and Uncle Jess reached down and pulled it up.  They turned around and started on and Gordy says, "I certainly thank you, Cousin Jess.  You are so sweet to me.  Now if I can just get home."

Uncle Jess says, "I'll take you home Gordy.  I'll look after you."  He says, "That's so sweet of you, Cousin Jess.  There's just one more thing I want you to do for me."  "Well, what do you want me to do for you Gordy?"  "I want you to help me find my horses head."

Uncle Jess said, "Okay, Gordy, I'll take you home, get you to bed and I'll put your horse in the stable and feed him, and I'll be sure that in the morning, the horse's head will be in the proper place right on the horse."

A new neighbor moved into the house Uncle Jess had bought over on the corner of Uncle Jess' farm.  And one morning Uncle Jess went over to look after his sheep he had out in the field over there.  He had his ewes and buck sheep all out together.  He went over to look after them and the lady who had moved in had just baked a nice cake.  So she cut a big chunk out of it, put it on a plate, and brought it out, gave it to Uncle Jess.  And Uncle Jess says "Oh, that was gracious," so he pulled off his hat and waved it around a little, and then waved, bowed over forward and thanking her in appreciation for the wonderful gift.  And while he was bowed over, stooped, waving his hat, the old buck sheep saw his opportunity and ran and hit Uncle Jess in the rear and sent him, and the cake, and the plate falling about 15 feet down the way.

You know, your kinsmen, Molly Kate Ashworth[13]married Miller Thompson[14].  Uncle Jess was invited to the wedding, or he was there at least.  And when the time came in the ceremony when the preacher said, "If there's any reason why these two should not be united in holy matrimony, speak up now or forever hold your peace."

Well, Uncle Jess spoke up to the town and to everyone.  And the preacher stopped of course, and he says, "Well, what's the trouble?  Why are you objecting?"  He says, "I object to Molly Kate Ashworth marrying Miller Thompson with my ring."  So Uncle Jess got his ring.

Well, doctors were scarce in Bland, and couldn't always be contacted when they were needed.  Uncle Jess was a doctor of animals and a doctor of human beings, though he had had no training except that which he got out of his own books at home.  So, he was called in by Miller Thompson to come down -- that his daughter Bertha[15] was trying to cut a piece of shoe leather with a . . . (tape runs out)

Rachel Carson somewhat glamorized the phrase "the balance of nature".  There could not possibly be a slogan further from the truth than the slogan "the balance of nature".  If there is one fact observable by man, it is the fact of universal change. Everything that is, that exists, is constantly changing -- changing position and changing internally.

I have never been in one position longer than for the briefest instant, and I have never been in the same position for a second time. That is true of all that exists in the immensity of space.  Also, everything observable by man is constantly in motion.  Everything is constantly in a state of eternal and internal change.

Scientists measure the age of some pieces of matter as being billions of years old.  They determine that age by the changes in its substance, the changes it has undergone.

The Big Bang theory does not explain the origin of anything.  If there were a big bang, it did not explain the origin of the materials that banged.  It only explained an event in that which already existed.  It's highly reasonable that there is a limit to the quantity of matter which did exist in one mass -- that is, in one unit.  The internal pressure of the mass would grow and grow and become so inconceivably great that something equivalent to an explosion would be forced to happen.

If a part, however small, were to break off, it would set up a chain reaction as the other particle pressure became less and less, and that would lead to a total explosion.

Now back to the earth and the balance of nature. There is not an atom, a molecule, a continent in motion, or anything in the world that is not in a state of change.  Nothing is in balance.  Everything is changing. Most or perhaps all of the mountains at Bland are not as high as they were when I was a little boy 80 years ago.  The balance of streams, the hills, the fields, are not the same.

Even the stones at my great grandparents' graves are changing.  My great grandmother's[16]tombstone is becoming illegible, and it has been there such a comparatively short time.  The trees, the apple trees, the cherry trees, the walnut trees, the sugar maple trees, and the other poplar trees, and the giant oaks are gone from the old farm home place.  Yet, some fields where the cattle grazed when I was a boy, and where berries grew, are now covered with raw timber.

The principal road on which there was a constant battle between mud and dust is now a black ribbon -- a skin of black snakes sloughed off by the modern giants.

I am not an angel, but I can't go home now.  The dear home faces whereupon the fitful firelights paled and shone, they're gone forever.  They brighten my “Snowbound” no more than they lightened it years, ages ago.  It is true many of the changes mankind is making are so exciting.  It is also true that there are many things that mankind ought to have done that we are not doing.  We who are mankind in the miniature.  What we talk about and talk about are our childhood dreams, our playthings, the toys we loved, we hug to our hearts the belief of the race's infancy.  We are children in the dark with no light but a spark, playing, playing with tigers and vipers. This earth is a magnificent zoo, a titanic museum, a superior Smithsonian Institution, created when there were giants making mud balls.  No wonder we love to cling to our superstitions.  No, we will not tolerate any unkind calling them superstitions.  They are religions to us.  They were good for our fathers, and they're good enough to us.

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copyright 2001-2005 Lawrence J. Smith