The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Early Childhood Memories

By Woodrow Golding © 1986

Issue: November, 1986

The old adage, "Spare the rod and spoil the child," was religiously adhered to by my mother and father when I was a growing youngster. That advice apparently is correct because I was never spoiled. Nevertheless, all those doses of "hickory tea" never cured the orneriness and stubbornness in me. I must give my mother credit, however, for trying substitutes and using whipping for punishment as a last resort. Her favorite deterrent for mischief was scaring the daylights out of me.

"If you don't behave, the Bogey Man will get you or, Old Scratch will get you, were my mother's favorite admonitions. The only way she could get me to wear a hat when outside was to tell me, "The crows will snatch your hair out to line their nests if you don't keep your hat on."

Uncle Sol, my favorite story teller, unintentionally gave my mother two more weapons to help keep me in submission when he told me the stories about Davey Lane's confrontations with the Yahoo and the horned hoop snake. According to Uncle Sol the Yahoo lived in a cave near the top of Fisher's Peak. "He's a critter as big as your smoke house and his mouth is as big as the hogshead (a wooden barrel) that sits in the smoke house and his wing span is at least a furlong," declared Uncle Sol. "Sometimes you can see him circling the bald rock on the Peak," continued Uncle Sol and again he might be seen flying around over the country side searching for a morsel to eat which, in most cases is a human being. He swoops down on ya like an eagle does a cottontail rabbit. Then he toss ya up. He toss ya up till life clean gone. Then he licks ya down like a hongry b'ar does a piece of O' honey comb."

Davey Lane, the great hunter, was the subject of many of the tales Uncle Sol was constantly telling me. Davey with his old mountain rifle which he called "Ol' Bucksmasher" was the best hunter in the whole dad blasted country but he had one bad fault. He was slow as molasses in January. In fact, the only thing that could get him out of a snail's gait was a snake. Nothing in the world scared him so much as a snake. He would have preferred to meet the Devil rather than a snake.

One day Davey was going down Toe Nail Gap on his way home returning from one of his hunting trips when he heard a hissing sound. He turned and looked toward the sound and there near the path was the most vicious looking snake he had ever seen with a four inch horn growing out of his tail! Davey stood as if petrified for a few seconds frozen in his tracks. Then he started off with a bound like a startled deer. This being a hoop snake, he took his tail in his mouth and started rolling down the mountain after Davey.

As fast as Davey was going, he soon realized he couldn't out run this hoop snake. Just as the snake was catching up to him, Davey ducked behind a big oak tree just as the hoop snake loosed his tail and struck at him with the horn on his tail. Davey, however, had ducked just in the nick of time. Instead of flogging Davy he struck the big oak tree driving the horn all the way up into it. The horn was driven into the tree so deep, the snake couldn't loosen it. He started writhing and striking toward Davey with all his vicious might but he couldn't budge the horn from out of the tree. Davey stood at a safe distance and watched the snake's antics for a few minutes. Then he drew a bead on him with Ol' Bucksmasher and blew his head off. Davey looked up into the tree and, to his astonishment its leaves were already wilting. On his way hunting again, he passed by the same tree a few days later and it was completely dead. Now my mother had two more things to threaten me with when I didn't behave.

In the summer months, as a small boy, my favorite past time was chasing and catching every small creature I could find; crawfish, lizards, toads, jarflies and the beautiful multi colored butterflies; any thing that didn't harm me, I tried to catch. I spent hours on end wading the streams searching for crawfish. I had a special little pond made where I kept my crawfish. Then I spent more hours digging for worms to feed my crawfish.

Near our house was a swamp. In early spring it was inhabited by hundreds of toads. When I heard their songs, or mating call, I started searching the swamp for toads. I had a ready made pen or corral to put them. It was the furnace on which my father set the evaporator pan when we made sorghum molasses. One day when searching for toads, I came upon a water moccasin swallowing a big toad. It was a very slow process. The snake's head and neck had to stretch to many times its normal size for the toad to pass through. The toad was croaking in the most pitiful sound I ever heard. I was afraid to attack the snake. I just stood there crying and watched the whole process. It took me a long time to get over that ordeal.

Once when I accompanied my mother to the country store which was approximately a two mile trip each way, we had to cross a creek on a narrow foot log which was high above the gurgling water below. On the other side was a dozen or so of the beautiful swallowtail butterflies sitting in the road. My mother had no time to linger with me to try to catch one of them but for days I couldn't get the beautiful butterflies out of my mind.

Then one day temptation got the better of me and I slipped away and off down the road I went. In a short time I came to the creek where on the other side were the beautiful butterflies. I started across the narrow foot log but I couldn't reach the hand rail that was placed there for people to hold onto so they wouldn't slip off the narrow log into the water. When I was about half way across, I looked far below me into the gurgling water and I began to panic. The longer I stood there, the more dizzy I became. I couldn't go forward and I couldn't go back. I finally lay down on my belly and wrapped both my arms and legs around the log. After I lay there in this position for what seemed like several hours, it began to rain. Then the rain got harder and harder. The lightning flashed and the thunder roared. I had always been scared stiff by lightning and thunder. I lay there for another hour or so before the storm finally passed on.

Twilight was creeping in and I lay there sobbing, soaking wet. Presently I heard a voice behind me saying, "What do you think you're doing there?" I quickly recognized the voice of Arnold, the elder son of one of our neighbors. Arnold picked me up and carried me off the foot log and back home. My mother, I learned later, had missed me soon after I slipped away and went on my ill fated journey in search of butterflies. She had called on some of the neighbors to help search for me. She was frantic and was sobbing uncontrollably when Arnold brought me home.

That episode, however, did not stop me from slipping away from home without my mother's knowledge. On my fifth birthday, my father presented me with a beautiful red wagon. It was so large that I could lie down stretched out in the wagon bed. In spite of its size it was light enough to be drawn easily by a five year old. Everywhere I went the wagon went, too, accompanied always by Vic, my father's rabbit hound. I would pull the wagon until I came to the top of a hill then I would coast to the bottom of the hill in the wagon. By this time my mother had become somewhat accustomed to my wanderings and didn't panic every time I was gone from her sight for a few hours. Sometimes I would wander so far away that I would be overtaken by darkness. Then I would have to rely on Vic to lead me safely back home.

One day, while on one of these trips, I was caught out again in a thunder storm. When it started lightning and thundering, I was again scared out of my wits. The rain was coming down so hard that I could hardly see to walk. Then I got an idea. I lay down on the ground and turned the wagon upside down and pulled it over me. Presently something started banging on the wagon. That was followed by some of the most weird groans and growling I had ever heard. I thought all the demons my mother had warned my about had, at last, caught up with me. Then the wagon was lifted off me and I shrieked and yelled in terror. Then there was Arnold again standing there grinning down at me. "When are you going to stop running away and getting yourself into such a fix, let alone worrying your mother half to death," he demanded. "I'll never do it again, Arnold," I promised. I kept my promise. I never did run away again.