The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

The World's Champion Whistler

By William L. Davenport © 1991

Issue: September, 1991

I never could get the hang of real honest-to-gosh whistlin'. Oh, I could pucker up and make a puny little sound like air going out of a bicycle tire. Joey laughed and said puckering was only good when you were tasting green persimmons and wasn't no good for real whistlin' - then he'd bust my ears with the loudest, shrillest whistle you ever heard.

Joey was the champion whistler of Abbyville, maybe the champion of the world. I've seen Joey swing out over Beaver Creek on the tire swing and drop off into the water with the darndest earsplitting whistle that made every bull frog on Beaver Creek jump in the water and every catfish head for the bottom.

Joey'd put his fingers up to his lips and then swell up in the face and chest with a gigantic inhale. He knew how to put lips and teeth and tongue and wind together just right to get the loudest or the purtiest whistle you ever heard. Even the teachers used Joey to quiet a schoolyard commotion. He really got attention. I guess I was a little jealous of Joey, but since he was my best friend I never let on that I thought whistlin' wasn't no better than a Tarzan jungle yell, which I could do better'n Joey and almost as good as the guy who plays Tarzan in the picture show.

It's a real sad story as to how Joey got took out as the whistlin' champion of the world. You see, there was this fellow in our class, Rodney Hardwick, Jr., that we always laughed at and kind of said he was a sissy. But he really wasn't one of your genuine girl-voiced sissies. Rodney just didn't have his priorities straight. He wanted to read library books and practice his piano lessons when there were lots of important things that needed tending to - like skinny-dipping at Beaver Creek or turning over old Mr. Quizley's outhouse on Halloween.

But you'd never guess how Rodney was responsible for Joey's fall as the champion whistler. Rodney was interested in science. Of course, in the spring of the year we all were, cause you could get your hide tanned if you brought home an "F", which was what Mr'. Ferris would give you if you didn't make some effort to do a science project for the Junior High Science Fair.

Rodney had made a model of a helicopter as his science project and it was a thing to behold. His daddy, Rodney Hardwick, Sr., was superintendent at the mill and had gotten Rodney a bunch of the stoutest rubber bands you've ever seen. Rodney had made this airplane with the rubber bands and a bunch of wing gadgets that was supposed to take it straight up and then let it down easy at the other end of the playfield.

Everyone knew Rodney was going to win the Science Fair.

Everyone, that is, but Joey.

Joey thought he ought to win the fair. He had sent off for a mail order ant farm and he had really gotten interested in those ants. He brought them sugar water and little bugs so they zipped around in that glass frame like there wasn't no tomorrow.

Well, Joey isn't really mean, and he probably should have been content to be the best whistler in Abbyville. Now if I told Joey what I think happened he'd say I was making it up, but I think Joey sort of lost his senses over that ant farm and I wouldn't put it past him to have tried to get a little advantage over Rodney.

On the late afternoon before the judging on Friday, Joey went up to the schoolroom to put some more sugar water in his ant farm to get them ants a' spinning around like crazy. Joey said later that he just picked up Rodney's helicopter to admire it, but I know Joey better'n anybody. I figure he started trying to loosen those wound-up rubber bands and he hit just the right button that sent all the parts of Rodney's helicopter flying in twenty dozen ways.

Well, one of the blades flew off and hit Joey right smack in the mouth. Another flew off and hit Joey's ant farm, sending sand, and glass and ants flying ever which way. Those first two busted blades were bad enough, but a third blade flew off and banged into the wall, behind which was the teachers' lounge where, unbeknownst to Joey, Mr. Ferris was sitting on the sofa having an after-hours school meeting with Miss Gussie Lee Sensabaugh, the seventh grade English teacher.

Joey told me he was standing there trying to figure out how he was going to get those ants back in the busted-up ant farm when the door flys open and in storms Mr. Ferris followed by Miss Gussie Lee. Mr. Ferris took one look and lit into Joey and got red in the face and sputtered about how Joey was going to get an "F" and might even get kicked out of school.

Mr. Ferris was stomping ants like mad and it looked like he might have a stroke right there, when Miss Gussie Lee called him aside and talked real low to him for a minute. Joey said Mr. Ferris took out his handkerchief and wiped some red stuff off of his mouth and seemed to calm down a lot. He came over and told Joey that it looked like the best thing to do was to forget the whole thing and not say anything to anyone about it.

Mr. Ferris was a real good science teacher and he picked up the blades and put them back on Rodney's helicopter as good as new. After the three of them spent about five minutes picking up glass and stomping ants. Mr. Ferris told Joey to go on home. He said the ant farm was pretty good and Joey'd get a passing grade, even though there had been an unavoidable accident before the judging. Miss Gussie Lee just kept smiling and dabbing a hankey at Joey's lip that was cut by the flying helicopter blade.

Well, Rodney's helicopter won the Science Fair and Mr. Ferris and Miss Gussie Lee were uncommonly nice to Joey for the rest of the year. Since I was his best friend, Joey swore me to secrecy the very next day and told me about what happened. I hadn't ever told anyone till now. I guess it is O.K. since Mr. Ferris and Miss Gussie Lee got married the next summer, and Miss Gussie Lee had to give up teaching at the school.

But I started out to tell you how Joey lost out as the champion whistler. Joey had a fat lip for about a week and didn't know that the blade had took off a little tiny piece of one of his front teeth. I don't know nothing about the science of wind passing through teeth to form a whistle, but the first time after his fat lip went down and Joey drew up for a whistle, it was all over. The harder he blew, the more it sounded like wind blowing through a field of dried-up corn stalks.

Joey was my pal, so I never did ask him to whistle again. When just the two of us was out on Beaver Creek and he would swing out on the tire swing, it'd break your heart to hear a little fizzley hissing sound before he dropped into the creek.

Joey moved away the next year and Rodney did too. I understand Rod (as he became known as) was studying to go to the state A & M College so he could go to Huntsville to work in the space flight program. Lots of times sissified guys do a lot better than we thought they ever would.

I lost track of Joey, but I think of him every time I spit and spew when I try to blast out a decent whistle. But I sure hope Joey got his front teeth fixed and came back as the champion ear-splitting whistler of wherever he is today.