The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Summer of '49

By Dave Casper © 1990

Issue: August, 1990

The first time I saw Harvey, he was lying under a chinaberry tree. Not lying, exactly, but reclining on one elbow, his other wrist draped over a slightly bent knee. He had a detached look in his eyes, and his posture suggested that here was a lad engrossed in deep and meaningful thought.

Nothing could have been further from the truth. Harvey had just fallen out of the tree, and was so thoroughly addled he was not doing any thinking at all. As I look back on it now, Harvey acted somewhat like he had suffered a resounding blow to the chops almost all the time.

Harvey was the first person I met in the new neighborhood our family moved into as part of the exodus from the farm to the cotton mills, as the cotton growing era in Georgia came to a close. It's strange how fate threw us together - myself a native country lad, quiet and docile - and Harvey, the rip-roaringest, most notorious young hellion in the mill village, who knew everything about everything taboo.

Seeing this somewhat tattered boy in this position of meditation, I assumed he was the contemplative type like me. The instant I said, "Hi-dy", as farm boys are won't to do, I realized I had made a serious mistake. As if my greeting had been the magic incantation needed to snap him from a trance, he bounded to his feet like a rubber ball, and seized me by the overall gallowses.

"I'm gonna kill you!" quoted Harvey, and I was sure he meant it, as I turned white and struggled for words, in an attempt to avoid being slain on the spot.

Harvey soon realized that I was not the candidate for execution he assumed me to be, and he relaxed his grip on my gallowses, asking "Who are you?"

After I had spilled my insides to him like a common turncoat, Harvey told me he lived next door, and that the entire village was included in his sphere of influence. He admonished me never to forget this, lest I suffer a black eye at his hand. I convinced him I was a lover, not a fighter, and he explained his awkward recumbent position under the tree.

It seems that a few boys from the adjacent street had been walking up Harvey's street in an attitude of defiance. Horrible Harvey then determined to climb the chinaberry tree, there to lurk with his trusty "flip," and shoot the hard, green berries at the belligerents as they passed by. Two of them had been smitten before Harvey realized he had made two mistakes. First, he did not consider the foe's ability to discover his sniping position so quickly. Second, he failed to calculate the little degree of protection offered by the leaves and limbs of the tree.

The pebbles the boys scooped up and threw at him found their marks easily. In his understandable haste to descend, Harvey hung his foot and fell on his back, knocking the wind out of him. The three marksmen on the street, fearing they had killed him, fled into a nearby patch of woods.

Harvey then drafted me to help him exact retribution, and I went along against my better judgment. At any rate, Harvey's lust for vengeance was forgotten as soon as we turned the corner. The rival boys had found a dead garden snake and were chasing some girls with it, while the girls shrieked like banshees in mock hysteria. Harvey was soon at the forefront of this merrymaking, with the snake, and his enmity vanished.

In that one short summer, I made the transition from country boy to young man about town, under Harvey's expert guidance. I learned to cuss at a respectable level (although Harvey's vocabulary could still make my ears burn), roller skate, and smoke Prince Albert, one of the main prerequisites of a cool dude. I found the thrill of chewing Bull of the Woods, and the agony of being deathly ill afterwards.

I knew the panic of having the visiting teacher catch me playing hooky, and I learned how long it takes to save fifteen cents, the price of admission to the Saturday morning serials uptown. We sat through the features so many times we practically went blind when we staggered outside into the late afternoon sun.

I learned belatedly, that one does not introduce the likes of Harvey to one's blonde, blue eyed, clinging vine type kid sister, however innocent it may seem. As a result of my indiscretion, the two married and bought the house next door to me. I now face an uncertain future with two miniature Harveys and a Harverina, all on the same block.