Ferrying Wings of War

By Fred Brown, © 2010

MARYVILLE, Tenn.–With the winds of war blowing across America, the military turned to a group of groundbreaking women to ferry the wings of war to their last destinations before heading overseas for aerial combat duty.

They were WAFS–the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron of World War II. There were only 27 in the beginning, who became known as “The Originals.” Later they merged into the Women Airforce Service Pilots, WASPS.

Gertrude LaValley, 90, Maryville, is one of The Originals who joined about 200 other women aviators of World War II to be recognized earlier in 2010 by Congress in a Washington ceremony.

The WAFS, with only three of the 27 known to be alive today, and the WASPS, received the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honor awarded by Congress.

LaValley and the other female veterans received a bronze individual medal since the Gold Medal is for display at the Smithsonian Museum in honor of all the women pilots of World War II.

LaValley was born in Boston, Mass., but grew up in Marblehead and Winchester where she graduated from high school in 1938.

As a child, she remembers running to a window in her home to listen to thunder of the airplanes flying low over her home.

“It was just exciting,” she says from a conference room at Sterling House of Maryville, assisted living for seniors, where her son and daughter-in-law live.

“Women didn’t get to fly back then,” she says.

After high school, LaValley took flying lessons for $7 per hour. She quickly moved through all the license requirements and soon was teaching others to fly.

That’s when she drew the notice of Nancy Love, first commander of the WAFS, which was a part of the Ferrying Division of the Air Transport Command of the U.S. Army.

At first LaValley transported trainer aircraft to fields in Oklahoma and Texas. But after more training in California, LaValley began transporting high-powered bombers and fighters.

“The P-47 (Thunderbolt) was my baby,” says LaValley with a spry laugh. “It was just so easy to fly. It was fun.”

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A Pain(e)ful Time

These are indeed sad times. I was a newspaper reporter for 45 years. In that length of time, I covered everything from end zones to war zones, and I felt privileged to do so. And today, I am witnessing the demise of a profession I loved and respected.

As usual, the failing newspaper industry in America has nothing to do with the hard working journalists, the worker bees of the industry.

I realize there are dim bulbs in every newsroom. But for the most part, my colleagues were smart, enterprising, believed in what they were doing, and were quick to run down the bad guys in every facet of society.

It was a calling, not a job. We worked for less than top wages for the education that many of us had. I’ve seen PhDs slave away for low salaries, just to be in a newsroom, to be called a journalist.

Our guiding light was Thomas Jefferson, who said this: Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.

Today, our nation is in serious trouble economically as well as facing a growing threat from within. A nation without newspapers is a nation in peril. We simply cannot afford to allow big business to destroy the only real watchdog we have—a free and unfettered press.

Here, when I write “press” I am referring to the printed page. With all due respect to televised media, and there are some excellent reporters in that realm, we cannot rely upon that one resource. There is no substitute for the printed page. None.

You cannot replace The New York Times with 30-second sound bites, or a 15-second image/interview, and remain informed on what is happing in this republic.

There is plenty of blame to go around. Old-time editors would look to the front offices as the culprits. Business managers and the bean counters did not protect the printed word. Flat out didn’t do it. They were too interested in making money, building profits, scoring large salaries, rather than serving the community with news it needs.

Newspapers changed after World War II. They became profit oriented, answering to shareholders, who cared not one whit for news, investigative reporting, and indeed might have been subject to journalists ferreting out the evil doers.

Once the chains gained control beginning in the 1960s, they began swallowing up smaller dailies and mom and pop weeklies. The chains gorged on acquisitions, growing ever bigger, more influential, more and more profitable.

Then when the Internet lurched over the horizon, the large chains, dinosaurs themselves, failed to recognize the danger quickly enough. Once they looked into the mirror and saw their demise, they began to move to the Internet, but giving away the product. And now they find themselves in a huge dilemma: how to make paying customers out of those people they attracted to their Online free news sites.

The dogma was that news chains were moving to the Internet to attract younger readers who would be the newspaper readers of tomorrow. Only problem is, those younger readers, 18 to 35 year-olds, didn’t read news, cared very little for what news outlets put up on their websites outside of entertainment and celebrity worship.

And, the ironic fact is, news organizations didn’t understand they would not be around by the time those younger readers needed glasses to read a printed page. They would be gone, just like the T-Rex.

At the same time, there was a major shift in newsroom culture. In the old days, when I began as a green cub reporter, business types would not dare enter the editorial den. To do so was to feel the hot breath of the editor, who was very serious about not allowing reporters to become contaminated by the business/advertising side.

In addition, editors would not only investigate leading community businesses, but would also report on the shenanigans of publishers and editors with equally alacrity. No one was above the law, or free of press examination.

Sadly, that is no longer true. In the old days, we could not run a quote unless we got it on record. Today, we have anonymous sources, or someone close to the administration, etc.

My first editor, Art Cobb, told me once: “If you are not good enough to get a quote on record, you are not good enough to work for me.” He meant it. A reporter did not, could not, write a quote without backing it up with a name.

The practice of anonymous sources began in the late 1960s and early 1970s. By the 1980s an internal indifference gripped newsrooms that has all but hulled out the integrity of the editorial departments across the nation.

Newspapers across the nation are dropping by the side of the road on their long death march. The Rocky Mountain News, a Pulitzer Prize winning newspaper owned by Scripps Howard, closed a week ago. The Pulitzer Prize winning Philadelphia Inquirer is bankrupt, as are any number of other major newspapers.

We are witnessing the end of an era, and it is that demise that I truly fear for our nation. An uninformed republic is a republic that can be duped, and can be conquered from within. We are in dangerous times, sitting on a precipice, looking down into an abyss.

That is gloom and doom, I know. We as old journalists did not speak up, or if we did, it was under our collective breath, in fear of losing our jobs. The old-time editors would have fired us all for not following our training, for being less than courageous.

My hope is that we will return to the days of small, community newspapers, the kind which fostered the likes of Thomas Paine or even Mark Twain. Recall it was Paine who wrote: When men yield up the privilege of thinking, the last shadow of liberty quits the horizon.

For too long, we have allowed newspapers to ignore the responsibility it has as a free press. By that I mean we have not held newspapers, the press, accountable in any actionable way. People have a voice, but it was not heard in the newsroom.

And now, I fear that that voice is growing dimmer as our newspapers fail one after the other.

These are indeed the times that try men’s souls.

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The Venable Boys

Rafe Venable kicked a fat rock in the red  dirt road.  It  scooted like a frightened jackrabbit into a ditch and disappeared in a miniature whirling dust storm. Most every morning he walked  the mile from his shotgun, sideboard house on Fancher Road to  where it runs smack into Interstate 75, a characterless stretch  of highway snaking southward from Cedarville, a hilltop Tennessee  town that tetters on the edge of poverty along the Georgia line.
Rafe enjoyed watching the big boatlong cars sail down I75  toward Daytona Beach. Sometimes women laughed and men pointed to  the lanky, redheaded country boy sitting on a wood crate beside  the busy interstate highway. At times Rafe answered by hurling  mouthfuls of unintelligible words at the faces blurring past him.  That was all right. Rafe knew they couldn’t hear him, but it made  him feel better to clear his lungs and holler in the face of the  rushing wind from the fast moving cars. He felt big and  important. His head waggled arrogantly as if in victory over some  unseen foe.
“You should have seen the traffic today,” Rafe said to his  younger brother, Odie. “They was so many of ’em it looked like a  herd of cattle moving down 75. One of these days, Odie, we going  to be in that herd, heading south for Daytona. We gointa come  outta these hills and head for Daytona. I read the other day in  Bullhead Johnson’s barber shop in one of them True Detectives  about racing dogs in Daytona.”
“You got so you stay out on that road all the time now,  Rafe, countin’ ’em cars.” Odie looked at his brother from across  a rickety table that rocked back and forth each time his elbows  moved.  He sopped redeye gravy with a fat buttermilk biscuit  stuffed with a piece of fatback that still had several stiff hog  hairs protruding from its skin like a threeday stubble.
The hot kitchen, where the Venable boys’ mother, Maude,  worked when she wasn’t washing someone else’s clothes, smelled as  if the dough, fatback, gravy and coffee had been mixed in a large  iron kettle, the kind used for making soap and boiling shirts.  This  steamy mixture hung in the air and covered the room in even  aromatic layers, like a fogbank on the Catalpa River.
“Yeah, I’m going to stay on that highway ’til I come up with  a plan of how we can get outta this sawdust pile. Get us down to  Daytona,” Rafe said, easing himself behind Odie’s chair to get at  the stove. He flipped a piece of cold, gray fatback onto a plate  and dripped brownspeckled gravy over the curling fat striped  sparsely with lean.
Rafe said, “I bet ever one of them cars has rich people in  ’em. I bet they got more money than People’s Bank. I heard Rudy   say t’other day that he know’d of a man once’t who came in for a fillup in one of them lizardlong black cars. He said that  feller had a wad of money big enough to set a wet mule on fire.
“He was talking about how much cotton he had bought that  day, Rudy said, and how much money he had made on futures.  Remember that, Odie! We got to get us some futures.
“Anyway, Rudy said this fella had made a thousand dollars  that very morning while he was driving to Daytona! Why, he wadn’t  even in his office, Odie!”
Odie grunted, looked at his brother and licked a brown  splotch of gravy that had dripped to his chin. He sniffed hard,  then he half emptied his iced tea glass, holding the longhandled   teaspoon to one side of the glass with his index finger. Odie  always left his teaspoon in his glass. It helped to keep his tea  cool, or so his grandfather had said. Whether it did or not  didn’t matter; it was the tradition that counted.
Rafe continued, “Rudy said he paid for his gas with a  hunnert dollar bill. Rudy said he had to send Muley over to  Leonard’s Feed and Seed and then to Ruby’s Cafe to break the  hunnert.
“That’s what I want, Odie! A hunnert to pay for gas. Make  Rudy sweat to break it.
“Whooooee!  Ain’t that somethin’, Odie. Ain’t that some thin’?”
Odie gulped the rest of his tea and then drug his sleeved  arm across his mouth and under his nose, the sleeve performing  several functions at once.
“Well,” said Odie thoughtfully, “if’n you so smart, how you  suphose we gointa git to Daytoni so we can git all them hunnerts?  And what we gonna do for money once’t we get there? You ever  think on that, Rafe? You ever think what we gonna do?
“And while you’re working on that one, why don’t you think of  somethin’ for us to do right here and now, now that the sawmill  is closed. What we gonna do ’bout that? You gonna get one of them  fancy folks in one of them lizard cars to tell us?”
Odie sniggered, pushed his chair back and eased his large,  lumpy body away from the table, punishing the chair as he  scrapped it across the floor.
Rafe didn’t seem to hear Odie. He never listened to him much  anyway, as Odie wasn’t able to fine tune his thoughts.  Rafe just  looked through him most of the time, as if staring through a  faded window curtain.
Occasionally Odie received a flash from deep in the mulch of  his brain, and each stayed with him until another glow came  along. Measurable blips in Odie’s head were infrequent; when one  did occur, it was a great moment within him.
Rafe walked down to the highway every day now to think. He  kept the wooden orange crate with its gaudy, peeling blue and  orange “Florida Oranges” label, hidden in the tall, brown  roadside weeds. Occasionally he stretched out on his back,  crossing one foot over the other, using the crate to prop his  head. Other days he rested his chin on the crate’s flat, flimsy  top and felt the breezes as the broad beamed vehicles skimmed on  the high winds.
Slowly, an idea began to take shape, emerging from the back  of his mind, walking toward its surface and sprouting into full  flower.
“Hits just another one of your schemes, Rafe,” Odie said  when Rafe began to explain his Daytona plan.
“‘Member the last time? Whooeeboy, you fixed us real good  then. ‘Member?” Odie asked as he stomped the dirt in the bare
front yard of the Venable home. Odie’s dog, Forgot, yawned and  stretched his way from underneath the skinny house, dragging his  hind legs until his rear end cleared the beams. His ribs cast  rippled shadows along his bony sides. Odie clicked his tongue and  Forgot tailwagged toward him.
“The cartopcarryeverythin’ was goin’ to revolutionize  the car industry, you said. Said it would sell like beer at  Betty’s Place. ‘Carry all your belongin’s on the top of your car  in the EZCarryEverythin’.
“Another thang, Rafe. That thang was built out of press board. It was so damn heavy it needed a team of mules to get it  to the car. Then you needed block and tackle to get it on top of   the car.
“Hit just crushed the top of papa’s old car like it was  alumnum,” Odie said.
“What the hell. Papa’s car didn’t run no way. It just set  there on cement blocks. No motor, no nothing. This is different,  Odie. If we can just get to Daytona where we can bet on them  racing dogs. It’s called parimating, or parisomething. Anyway,  the dogs chase this here little rabbit around a track. You bet on  which one of ’em dogs is gonna catch that little white rabbit  first. They’s about eight or ten dogs and one itty bitty rabbit.
“They’s this one race where you figure which two of ’em dogs  is gonna catch the rabbit. We can make a lot of money, Odie.  There ain’t nobody knows dogs like us.” Rafe peered at his  brother through half shut eyes.
“We don’t know nothin’ about no racing dogs, Rafe,” Odie  whined as he dug black dirt from underneath large, fishscale sized fingernails with the blunt head of a broken knife blade.
“Odie, we know dogs. Dogs is dogs. It don’t make no never  mind what size, shape or speed they come in. Dogs is dogs,  whether they chasing birds, coons or rabbits,” Rafe said.
“How many times you and I been huntin’? How many dogs you  trained to point a bird and fetch it oncet it’s shot?
“Anybody that can train a dog to point a bird in a bush and
fetch it in his mouf after it’s been blow’d outta the air sure as  snuff can tell which one of ’em dogs is agoin’ to win a foot  race around a little ol’ track in Florida.”
“I dunno, Rafe,” Odie said scuffing his feet in the dirt. His  forehead wrinkled into a hound dog frown as small mushroom clouds of dust sprang up around his ankles.
“I guess hit sounds right. I know dogs like I was one.  I can look at ’em and tell if’n they birdy or not. It shouldn’t  be any differen’ that with birds.”
Rafe smiled, showing black holes in his teeth.
“Birds, rabbits. They all game. It’s the same, Odie. You  take a dog. He smell a bird or a rabbit. It all smell the same.”
For the next several days Rafe worked on his scheme. Like a  carpenter, he would add here and take away there. Odie watched as  Rafe scribbled notes on bits of paper.
Watching Rafe write set off eruptions in Odie’s stomach for  when Rafe began licking the end of a lead pencil and scratching  on scraps of paper it usually meant that life for the Venable  boys was about to change; not always for the better, but it was  definitely going to change.
Rafe wrote on anything he could find: pieces of brown paper  bag; scraps of paper blowing along the highway; green receipts  from Ruby’s Cafe that said, “Thank You, Call Again. Eat Merita  Bread,” on the back side .
Once he had a plan well formulated, however, Rafe always had  a hard time finding all the notes he had written. At times it  would take him as long to find the many pieces of paper as it had  to devise the plan in the first place.
After an all night search for the confetti that made up the  Daytona scheme, Rafe laid out the pieces on the table, arranging  the paper slips as if they were parts of a puzzle. Finally, he  was ready to bring Odie into the act.
“We goin’ to Uncle Pete’s place and fix up his moonshine  still. We are afixin’ to go into the moonshine business and stay  in it long enough to get two bus tickets to Daytona and some  spending money.  Venable shine always was the best in Fancher  County,” Rafe announced that morning.
“Odie, I want you to go to the barn and begin tearin’ down  the boards in the mule stall. Let ol’ Buckethaid run loose in the  yard. He ain’t going nowheres anyway. Nobody else would feed  him.”
Odie’s face was as blank as if every single thought he’d  ever had had been erased. Then he smiled. A fire from far off had  been lit and his big neck bulged in and out. It did that when  Odie became excited.
“I heard Roy Rowdecker say just t’other day he could sure  use some good shine at his place on the county line,”
Rafe elaborated with joy.
“The stuff he’s gettin’ now  ain’t worth pouring on the ground. Said he tried to give it away  to the boys over at the ore pits. They spit it out and almost  busted his head in! They cussed him out and said that stuff  tasted like parrot piss.”
“But, Rafe, we don’t know nothin’ ’bout makin’ no shine.  Uncle Pete always made it. Him and papa. They was good at it, but  we ain’t never so much as made a drop.”
Rafe blinked. That was the smartest thing he had ever heard  his brother say. Then he snorted and shoved Odie toward the barn.
“I ain’t got no time for arguing, Odie. I’m going to Logan’s  junkyard to find some tubing. You go to the barn, tear down that  stall and meet me at Uncle Pete’s old place when you’re through.
“The sooner we can get the still up and arunnin’ the sooner  we can sell the shine and get our Daytona money. I figure it will  take a hunnert to get us there, a hunnert to live on ’till we  start makin’ money off’n the dogs and a hunnert to start bettin’  on the dogs.”
The fear and uncertainty lingering in Odie’s mind lifted,
budged at last by Rafe’s confidence and enthusiasm. Three hundred  dollars was more money than either of them had ever seen. And it  was a fact that selling moonshine was about the fastest way of  making big money in Fancher Countyif you didn’t get caught or  killed first!
Odie slapped his thighs at the thought of that  much money and he smiled at his older brother. “Daytoni, here we  come!” he said as he lumbered off in the direction of the barn.  Rafe watched his brother’s big shoulders swaying to the rhythm of  his long legs.
Poor Odie never had been quite right in the head, Rafe  thought as he headed for the junkyard. It must have been because  mama was so weak and tore up inside when he was born. The story  was that Odie had just plopped out of mama like a ripe pear onto  the kitchen floor, like she just couldn’t contain him no more.      That’s why mama always told me to take care of Odie. She knew he  would be able to understand some things, enjoy personal thoughts,  but that complications beyond the physical or on more than two  parallel planes would confuse Odie. And, too, mama had worried  that people would make fun of Odie. They did.
At Logan’s, Rafe foraged through the backs of several tubs,  toilets, sinks and the guts of other plumbing discards in the  junkyard before locating enough tubes for the still’s main  nervous system. To build a really good still, one that would have  the county boys bragging, you had to start with copper tubing.
Uncle Pete always said anybody can make shine, but it takes  right smart thinkin’ to make shine somebody can drink. You do  that with copper tubing. It don’t matter what you put the mash  in. It’s the copper that adds the golden honey touch. And, of  course, Uncle Pete’s recipe.
“That’ll be ten bucks, Rafe,” said Birdie Logan after  weighing Rafe’s selections.
Rafe looked at the price list written in pencil on a smudged  piece of cardboard tacked inside the junkyard office.
“I ain’t buying but just a coupla feet, Birdie, not the  whole damn yard. You don’t need to go chargin’ so much for  copper. Christ awmighty, Birdie, you’d think it was gold!”
“Well, hit is gold, Rafe. I know what price it ought to  fetch. If’n you want it, then it is ten dollars. If’n you don’t,  just leave it where it is. Copper is good for lotsa things, Rafe.  That’s why it costs so much. When nobody wants it, you can’t give  it away, but right now seems like everbody is needin’ copper.
“Hoddamn Christ Awmighty,” muttered Rafe.
“Tell me, Rafe, what is it everbody’s doin’ with copper  tubing all of a sudden? Am I missing out on somethin’? You think  maybe they’s a war a’comin’? Or is everbody goin’ to indoor  plumbin’?  Somethin’s happenin’,” Birdie Logan said.
A flush played across Rafe’s face. He shifted to one foot.
“You mean lotsa folks been buyin’ copper from you?”
“Yep. Just about ever day. I can’t figure it, Rafe. Can’t  figure it at all.”
Rafe dropped the copper onto a greasy bench. “Neva mind,  Birdie. Don’t think I need this tubing afterall. Be seein’ you.”
Rafe started for home. No wonder Rowdecker is getting bad  shine, he thought. Everybody in the whole damn county must be  making it. On the other hand, if there are that many stills  cooking in the county, the sheriff must be a pretty busy man  these days!
Rafe walked to the Interstate and Fancher Road. He pulled up  his wood crate and thumbed a pencil from his shirt pocket. He  pulled out a scrap of paper he had found  on the side of the road  and began to scribble furiously.
If there are that many stills, then I bet the sheriff’s  running shiners every night, Rafe thought. If he’s out every  night through the swamps, that means most of the time somebody is  taking potshots at him through the bushes. That means he’s  probably going through a lot of runners.
A moonshine runner is a peculiar breed of person. There are  few requirements, but two main elements are that the runner be  fast and not too smart. Some moonshine runners are legend in  Fancher County. Others didn’t live long enough for the word to  spread.
Critical to the runner’s art is that he chase the shiner  until the shiner becomes too tired to continue. Just as a pack of  wolves dog a deer, the runners take turns. Usually the sheriff  starts out with his fastest runners, and as they tire, he works  his way down to the least fleet of foot. That way, he is sure to  keep the shiners moving and as they slow, at least he will have a  runner capable of staying with them until the winded whiskey  maker crumples into a heap. The sheriff then strolls up to a  scene of great heaving and huffing and claims his prize and all  the glory, hauling his catch off to jail, as though he himself  has bagged the big game singlehandedly.
Rafe dusted the seat of his pants and headed toward Cedar ville to see Sheriff Tate, a man of slow and deliberate speed.
“How’s goin,’ sheriff?” Rafe asked as he entered the  sheriff’s office. He often stopped by to chat with Sheriff Tate  and listen to the police radios as they spattered fried electric  chatter.
It made Rafe feel important to carry the conversation at  Ruby’s Cafe with things he had heard over the police radio.  Everyone said Rafe was a good talker, especially when it came to  repeating police lingo. He often ended his sentences with “ten four.”
“I’m fine, Rafe, just fine,” Sheriff Tate said. “What can I  do you for? Odie ain’t drunk and on the loose again, is he? The  last time I had to pick him up he damn near tore up my squad car   and three deputies to boot. You get that big sumbitch started and  it takes a wagonload to haul him in.”
Rafe shuffled his feet and stuck his hands in his pockets.  He was embarrassed by what the sheriff said, but it was true.  Odie didn’t get drunk and crazy often, but when he did he was as  mean as a yelloweyed dog.
“Naw, sheriff, Odie ain’t drunk. He’s over at the barn  working. Building a new hog stall. We afixin’ to get us some  hogs. Polan Chinas and Durocs. Goin’ to fatten’ ’em up, take ’em  to the sale in Cross City.”
Sheriff Tate smiled. He knew the Venable brothers didn’t  have enough money to buy hog feed, let alone Polan Chinas and  Durocs. Hell, nobody in Fancher County had that kind of money  these days. Not since the sawmill shut down.
“Well, Rafe, what’s on your mind?”
“Sheriff I just heard about how you been out a lot at night,  and I was wunnerin’ if you was out chasin’ shiners?”
“Where’d you pick up that load of intelligence, Rafe?” the  sheriff asked with an illdisguised snort.
“I dunno, sheriff.” Rafe ruffled his hands in his pockets as  if chasing down some loose change. “Heard it probably at Rudy’s. They’s always somethin’ big bein’ told there. You know how  it is.
“I just thought maybe if’n you was runnin’ shiners you might  need some good chasers. Me and Odie are waitin’ on our hogs to  come in and we could use a little extra money.  If’n you was  runnin’ shiners, that is.”
“Yeah, Rafe, I been runnin’ shiners. But you know run   nin’ shiners at night can be awfully mean work. The last time I used a runner, it was the Hankshaw boy. The shiners beat him bad once they caught up with him. His face looked like he had stuck it inside a sackful of bees. I never did find out who did it, either.”
Rafe shuffled his shoulders. He didn’t say anything at first. He and Odie had never been shine runners before, but he’d never wanted to go to Daytona Beach before. The dogs were calling, hard.
“Well, I just thought if you needed some good runners, me and Odie was available. Just for a little while, though. Soon as our hogs get here, we got to get to fattenin’ ’em up.
“Odie’s a good runner, you know, sheriff. Sometimes he chases rabbits for the fun of it. And he don’t mess around once’t he latches hold to somebody. He just goes ahead and dusts their head for them, then goes out and grabs hold somethin’ else to bust.”
“Okay, Rafe. It’s your hide. I’ll pay you and Odie twenty five apiece for each shiner you run down tonight. Meet me about seven and we’ll head over to Black Duck Slough. The Youngbloods have been over there making some bad stuff in lead pipes.
“They know I know, but I just haven’t been able to catch ’em. Junior Youngblood said the other day that if he caught me messin’ in the slough he’d blow my head off. That Junior is as mean as a swamp moccasin with a toothache.
“Evertime I get close, they signal and move that damn still, which them shrewd bastids got sittin’ on pontoons, back into the marsh just as pretty as you please. The marsh just swallers ’em up. But, you wait, I’m agoin’ to get them boys, or die tryin’.”
“Tonight. Seven.”
As he left the sheriff’s office, Rafe mentally clicked off how many shiners he and Odie would have to chase down to earn the three hundred.
If’n we are lucky tonight, Rafe calculated as he hurried to Uncle Pete’s barn, maybe they will be six of them Youngbloods at that still. We could get our Daytona money in one night!
“You can quit pulling down the stalls, Odie,” Rafe said as he entered the barn. “I got us another job. We goin’t to run shiners tonight for Sheriff Tate. If’n we can get six of ’em that’d be enough for the bus ticket to Daytona and enough to bet on the dogs with!”
Odie stared at Rafe for a moment. When the questionmark completely formed in his mind, he threw down the hammer and began to stomp on it.
“Hoddamn it to hell, Rafe! ‘Bout the time I get the stall tore down so’s we can build our own still, you come in and tell me we gonna break up somebody else’s! Hoddamn! Hoddamn!
“And what’s more, you know damn good and well that we ain’t never run no shiners. What would papa and Uncle Pete think if they knowed we’d become shine runners?”
“Damn it, Odie! papa and Uncle Pete never wanted to go to Daytona, either. ‘Sides, we can get twentyfive apiece for ever shiner we help the sheriff catch. They’s at least ten of them Youngbloods makin’ shine over in Tugaloo Marsh. Sheriff Tate said they was hold up in Black Duck Slough.
For one of the few times in his life, Odie Venable was about to say something that was more than profound. It was a solid gold fact.  “Chasin’ some of them Youngbloods is one thing, Rafe. But when you begin runnin’ after old Junior Youngblood, you done bit off a chunk of trouble. Junior Youngblood, he don’t run.
“He’s tougher’n one of ’em big marsh snappin’ turtles and strong enough to tear up a anvil. I saw him bust up Betty’s Place one night. He chunked Hank Jolley right through the window like he was a spear.
“He grabbed Lud Johnson by the hair of his head and ran him around the table like ol’ Lud was a wagon tongue. Lud was hollerin’, ‘Whoa, Junior! Whoa, Junior!’ It didn’t do no good. Ol’ Junior jest led him ’round and ’round ’till he jest about yanked all the hair outtrn’ ol’ Lud’s head. Lud ain’t got that much hair to lose.”
If Rafe was listening to what his older brother was saying it didn’t appear to faze him, for all Rafe could think of was cashing in on six Youngbloods in one night and then making tracks the next day for the riches of Daytona Beach where fast dogs race for fast money.
Promptly at seven, Rafe and Odie met Sheriff Tate and three deputies on the edge of Tugaloo Marsh. Flatbottomed jonboats banged into each other as the big men tried to ease into them.     “The secret is to be as quiet as night,” Sheriff Tate said as he watched Odie fall and stumble into the bow of the first boat.

“Odie, you sound like a leadfooted mule walking on a tin floor. You got to be quitern’ that, else old Junior will hear us a mile off.”
The sheriff grimaced, shook his head and motioned for Rafe to untie the boats and shove off for the slough. Rafe tripped over the sheriff’s foot and sprawled into one of the deputies.
The men tumbled inside the boat in an explosion of arms, legs and muffled cries. The boats bucked loudly into each other.
After an hour of rowing, the men could see lights shining through the woods like swamp gas. TheYoungbloods had set up their still on Turkey Island in the hourglass shpaed slough. The fire that made the big boilers glow looked as if it had a halo around it. Sheriff Tate put his finger to his mouth as the two boats glided into the east side of Turkey Island. Rafe and Odie were the first out.
“We’ll get ’em to runnin’, sheriff, and then you just follow in behind and clean up,” Rafe said as he struggled to free first one foot and then the other from the sucking bog that grabbed forcefully at his brogans. Each time he snatched free, his foot made a succulent popping sound.
Rafe grinned at the sheriff and stared down at the dripping mess. Both shoes were covered with muck and each time he took a step a squishy symphony played beneath his feet. The sheriff rolled his eyes and shook his head. He began to wonder why he had ever hired the Venable boys as runners. There are some universal
truths in Fancher County. One is that you don’t employ the Venable boys for intricate jobs that require finesse.
“How many of ’em you reckon they are?” Rafe said as he shook black clods from his shoes. It had not occurred to him until just then that the Youngbloods were plentiful in Fancher County, that there were about as many Youngbloods as there are kudzu vines in Tennessee.
“Oh, I’d say no more’n a half dozen or so,” the sheriff said. “The others have probably already left to make today’s  deliveries.”
“Well, so long as they ain’t no moren’ six or so. Me and Odie can handle that,” Rafe said, silently praying that Junior was in the group taking the new shine to Cedarville, though he knew good and well the Youngbloods would leave Junior behind to protect the still.
“Me and the deputies will move in quick in the beginning and start shootin’ up in the air to get their attention,” Sheriff
Tate said to Rafe and Odie. “That’ll probably scatter some of ’em, and that’s when I want you to start arunnin’ ’em down. We’ll get a few on the first flush, but you and Odie will have to run the rest of ’em.”
The men moved to the outer rim of the Youngblood camp, as sticky fumes from the boiling mash filled the night. Birds roosted in the trees, and a night orchestra was playing softly in the underbrush.     A loud blast from the sheriff’s service revolver tore through the night. A very different and heavy sound quickly offered a rebuttal. Sheriff Tate froze. A cell of doubt beamed in his head, for it was clear that instead of running, the Youngbloods were not about to depart. They were shooting back.
Roar upon roar of double barrel 10gauge shotguns rippled in waves across the island.  Roosting turkeys flapped heavily from the tops of water oaks, shaken from their sleep.
Stunned by the gunfire, Rafe looked around in a panic for
his brother, only to find Odie nearby but up to his chin in stump water. When he managed to free Odie the two began running hard for the boats. Rafe made quick, swift pumping movements with his legs while Odie leaped in long strides.
“I tol’ you ol’ Junior would be trouble,” Odie fumed as they ran for the jonboats. “I tol’ you, Rafe! Them’s 10gauges they’s firing. He’s shootin’ with them ol’ hogkillin’ guns.”
Rafe’s face was white. He hadn’t counted on the Youngbloods using guns. Sheriff Tate hadn’t said anything about gun play. As far as Rafe was concerned, the deal was off. It was time to leave Tugaloo Marsh, Black Duck Slough, Turkey Island, and possibly Cedarville.
As Rafe and Odie drew within a few yards of the boats, a crackling blast parted the sawgrass behind Odie and lead shot sprinkled black holes in his cotton shirt, leaving powder marks on the ragged cloth.

For a few seconds, Odie swayed to and fro as though he had just risen too quickly from a rocking chair.
“Hits awright, Rafe. I ain’t hurt much,” Odie said as Rafe grabbed his brother and tried to pull him along.
“That ain’t the worst part, Odie,” Rafe panted.
“That came from Junior! He’s right behind us!”
Odie’s stride gained new life. His legs began to gobble up the boggy ground as he raced his brother for the jonboats. His arms pounding like tiny pistons, Rafe bounded quickly in a foxlike dash after Odie, who now skimmed across the swampy surface like some great and graceful bird.
As they reached the boats, Rafe pushed Odie into the nearest one.  Odie sailed through the air and bellyslid headfirst and crosswise into the boat, banging across the first seat, ripping a two inch gash in his chin.    Odie flailed his arms and legs like a pinned bug, kicking free the sheriff’s second boat, which had been carelessly tied to a rotten stump.
Rafe plunged into the water, shoving ahoy the jonboat containing his brother.  “Keep your head down, Odie!” Rafe whispered needlessly to his dazed brother as the boat slithered toward open water.
The other jonboat had begun to bob gently, its nose caught on a slight breeze blowing through the sawgrass. A snatch of current moved it from shore and toward the Catalpa River.
“What we goin’ t’do for Daytoni money now, Rafe?” Odie said as he stretched, trying to look over his shoulder at the many pellet marks. Failing in that contortion, he held his bleeding chin with one hand and his shoulder with the other. He looked like a swami in prayer as opportunity outpaced ability.
Rafe pushed hard on his paddle, using it now like a pole in the shallow water. Off in the distance came the clean, sharp reports of the sheriff and his men firing revolvers at the Youngbloods. Boom! The big 10gauges thundered in response. Rafe winced each time he heard a boom. He whistled in reverent respect at the firecracking pop, pop, pop of the revolvers.
“That sure is some fight the sheriff and the Youngbloods have goin’,” Rafe said with awe. Odie had finally begun to survey with his fingers the dents scattered from his shoulders to his waist.
Rafe listened intently as the firing intensified. He could tell the sheriff and his men had begun to make their way to where the boats had been tied up. It sounded as though the revolvers were firing less and the Youngbloods’ 10gauges were letting all hell fly loose. That must mean, Rafe thought, the sheriff is running out of ammunition. The Youngbloods, on the other hand, were obviously well armed.
“What we gonna do now, Rafe?” Odie repeated.  “We done lost our Daytoni money.”
Without missing a beat in his poling rhythm, Rafe looked down at his older brother whose shirt was in tatters.
“I been thinkin’, Odie.  Chickens.  We goin’ into chickens, Odie.” Rafe worked the pole in the night, moving the Venable boys further away from noise in Black Duck Slough.
“Chickens?” Odie shouted. “Hoddamnit way to hell and back. We don’t know nothin’ about no chickens, Rafe. Except that you fry ’em up real good and eat ’em. What we gonna do with chickens, Rafe? Just answer me that.”
“We gonna get us a rooster and a hen and we gonna start raising’ little chickens, Odie. That’s what. There’s just a whole lot of folks eat chickens, Odie. Ever Sunday all you see is women fryin’ up chickens.
“Interstate 75 is loaded with chicken trucks, headin’ north. What you think all them chickens is for? We are gonna open us up a chicken stand on the side of 75 and sell fryin’ size chickens.”
Rafe poled the boat into the Catalpa River, and though he didn’t know exactly where they were, he knew the river would eventually take the boat downstream to Cedarville.
By dawn Rafe and Odie reached the bridge below Cedarville where they pulled the boat up onto the bank.
They had been nearly consumed by carnivorous mosquitoes on the trip home. Rafe tried to joke that the mosquitoes had been the size of chickens, but Odie hadn’t appreciated the humor. The mosquito bites made worse the peck marks in his back from Junior Youngblood’s 10guage loaded with birdshot.
Rafe bought some used crankcase oil at Rudy May’s and treated Odie’s back before they walked into Cedarville to see about buying some chickens from Ruby Walker.     Ruby always kept several chickens in her backyard to cook for her cafe customers. Once before, Rafe had worked a chicken deal with Ruby, until she learned that Rafe was selling her the same chickens over and over. After she bought a chicken from Rafe, he would return to Ruby’s chicken pen, steal another chicken and head back to consumate another sale.
Ruby almost took Rafe’s head off with a meat cleaver when some regular customers told her what Rafe was up to. Everybody got a big laugh out of Rafe’s chicken selling abilities, even Ruby after a few days.
As Odie and Rafe walked along Main Street they learned that Sheriff Tate and his deputies had not returned from Black Duck Slough. The mayor of Cedarville had called the state police headquarters in Cross City and had asked for a search party.
There was a rumor the sheriff and his deputies had been killed. Someone had found an empty flatbottom boat near the Cedarville bridge and there were splotches of blood on the boat seats.
Shock rolled through Rafe. He looked up to see Odie heading for Ruby Walker’s chicken pen. Just then did he realize that he and Odie had left Sheriff Tate and the deputies stranded in Black Duck Slough with one boat. Or, at least he thought there had been one left. He had not noticed the sheriff’s boat floating off as they escaped the hot blasts from Junior’s shotgun.
Rafe knew that Sheriff Tate was not a very understanding man in these matters, and that once he finished with Junior Youngblood, he would come looking for the Venable boys with a vengance.
“Odie,” Rafe yelled. “We gotta go. Leave ’em chickens be.”
“Hoddamn, where we goin’ now, Rafe? I thought we was goin’ into chickens. How we gonna get Daytoni money if’n we don’t get some chickens to sell, Rafe?”
“Drop them birds, Odie. We gointa Daytona right now,” Rafe hollered as he started for Uncle Pete’s, waiving his arms for Odie to follow.
“Right now, Rafe? How we gointa to get there, fly? What we gointa do for dog money once’t we get there?”
“We are gointa get Uncle Pete’s old mule. We are gointa ride Buckethaid to Daytona, Odie. That’s what.
“We are gointa ride that old mule to Daytona, then sell him for glue. Then we gointa bet on them dogs, Odie.”
Odie dropped Ruby’s chicken and began to follow his brother.
“What if’n Buckethaid don’t want to go to no Daytoni, Rafe?
That possibility had not crossed Rafe’s mind. He was too busy thinking about two other pressing matters: Sheriff Tate and Junior Youngblood.
Both of them would be after the Venable boys now the echoes had surely died on their war in the marsh. Furthermore, Rafe didn’t want to be around when Junior learned that it had been his idea to go into the shiner running business, starting with the Youngblood still.
And the sheriff, Rafe figured, would be mad enough to lose the keys to every door in the jailhouse once he found his way out of the marsh and recuperated from all those mosquito bites and any damage from Junior’s 10gauge.
“‘Sides, Rafe, you know how Buckethaid is. He can’t go for long without taking a crap. We won’t be two miles before he will be producing them big piles. Once’t he starts, there’s no stoppin’ him. You know that.”
“Then,  Odie, we will go into the mule manure business right there on the side of I75. We’ll roll them chips up into little squares and let them get real hard. And then we’ll sell them to them tourist in them lizard cars for genuine Tennosea dried elk turd key chains.”
Odie blinked and looked at his younger brother with great wonder. He shook his head in admiration.
“Whoooeeboy! Mama always said you was a smartun’, Rafe. I know’d you’d come up with a way for us to get to Daytoni. Who else but you would ever think of makin’ money off’n mule shit!”

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Low Middling

© 2008

I was sitting in Mrs. Hancock’s sixth-grade geography class when Tommy Joe told me the news. Bobby Cook shot himself in a hunting accident and died alone in the woods. It was like someone had stuck me with one of those long hat pins my mother wears in her black Sunday hat. It took his father and a  bunch of other men from the mill village a long time to find him when he didn’t come home for supper. And when they did, Bobby Cook was crumpled up in a barbed wire fence,  his shotgun a couple of feet in front of him. He must have leaned the gun against the wobbly fence and tried to climb over it. The gun must have slipped down the fence and one  of the sharp barbs of the wire caught the  trigger,  and  the twelve  gauge went off.  Got him in the head.  Tommy Joe said the  casket  wouldn’t be opened at the funeral because Bobby Cook’s face was blown off.
And then, Tommy Joe said that his father, Wormy Hooper, was saying Bobby Cook shot himself on purpose, ’cause of what his poppa had done down at the cotton mill. That’s when Mrs. Hancock came over and  slapped my wrist with a ruler for talking in class. She didn’t do anything to Tommy Joe.

I remember that day just like it was yesterday.  Flat,  skinny streams of sunlight fanned through the school window in  narrow fingers. It was fall and hunting season had just begun,  bringing a fresh beat to every boy’s heart because, as with many  parts of life in Cedarhill, there was a passage, something handed down from father to son, from mother to daughter, and you can’t ignore those urgings or rites.
After the sting in my wrist went away, I looked over at  Tommy Joe. He was staring out of the window, just looking at  nothing, I guess.  Maybe he was thinking about God and what the  preacher always said about the good dying young. I never did know  why  God  would want the good to die young,  but that’s what the  preacher said always seemed to happen to the real good  ones.  He  said  he  guessed  God needed them more than we did.  I  never did understand that, either.
“Sunny, I loved Bobby Cook,” Tommy Joe said.
That was Tommy Joe. He was quick to love and to defend.
We all did. Bobby Cook was part of a foursome of me, Sunny—that’s my nickname, but the only one I’ll answer to. I got it  the day Tommy Joe saw me when my family moved from a mill town  in Atlanta to Cedarhill when I was five. He said I had a face as  bright as the sun ball. That’s the best thing anyone ever said to  me.
Well, there was me, Bobby Cook, Tommy Joe Hooper and Benny  Cato. We hung out together in Cedarhill mill village where we  grew up, riding bicycles, shooting marbles and filling in the  blanks until the day came we would go to work in Cedarhill Yarn  Mill, just like our fathers and mothers, and their fathers and  mothers. It wasn’t something the family discussed. Going to  shift work in the cotton mill and turning over your weekly  paycheck to the family was another one of those rites of passage.
The three of us met that afternoon after school at  Mullinax’s Feed, Seed & Implements where you could buy  everything from live chickens to cradles and caskets. Ben  Mullinax helped his father, Adam, run the store. Adam started the business when Cedarhill was nothing more than a dirt road rail crossing on the Southern Railroad Line. Adam liked to say that the feed and seed store took you from cradle to grave and  everything in between. It was sort of a landmark, and the only  place you could gather important news around a potbellied stove  streaked with the stains of so much tobacco juice it was  difficult to tell what had changed the stove’s outer skin the  most, coal smoke or spit tobacco.
The store was also the best place to go for softdrinks and  parched peanuts from a big brown burlap sack Mr. Mullinax always kept open for anyone who wanted them. Me, Tommy Joe and Benny liked to crack open the nuts and drop them into our Cokes, fizzing them up and then drinking the whole goopy mass and eating the nuts in a kind of glutinous mesh. It wasn’t for the faint of  heart or old men with no teeth.

The men around the stove, broganed and overalled, were  talking about the other member of our foursome and how he had  died. They were saying some pretty bad things and I knew it  wouldn’t be long before Tommy Joe would either leave or speak his mind.
“That boy never was right,” said Floyd Mullinax, Adam’s  nephew.
“I heard tell he took to reading the Bible a lot.”
“What’s wrong with that, Floyd? You could probably stand a  little more reading in the Good Book.”
That was Pinky Leadbetter. He was younger than the others and was always quick with a joke. Everyone liked Pinky. He said funny things all the time and usually could make a bad day good with his tongue. He also carried a hawk-billed knife on his hip, which was very impressive. He used it in the mill to clean  bobbins, but the word around the mill town was that Pinky Floyd  would carve a rib cage just as quickly as a bobbin. And clean it  just as fine.

“Well, what I meant was that his father told me he’d catch  the boy late at night reading the Bible. He’d read well into the  morning and then when he’d get home after the day shift, he’d find the boy still reading. It ain’t natural to read a thing, even the Bible, that much.”
Some of the others, who had been so long away from church  service they had forgotten whether it was Holy Ghost or Holy Cow, nodded in agreement, spitting and reaching for more peanuts.
“Bobby Cook was my friend, and he was bettern’ most of you  here,” Tommy Joe said. It was a low, down deep voice he used in  situations like this. He wanted you to know that he was coming  from somewhere dangerous. It was more like a dog growling than a  boy speaking.
“Whether he is bettern’ us ain’t the subject, Tommy Joe,”  Floyd Mullinax said. “We are talking about why he up and shot hisself like that.”
“Who said he shot himself? It was an accident.”
“Well, that ain’t what your daddy was a saying. Wormy was putting it out that the boy killed hisself. Said he was already  in the fence, to make it look like a accident, when he pulled the trigger. That’s what Wormy was saying. He told it on the night shift in the spinning room while he was doffing.
“You going to ‘spute your paw, boy?”

“He didn’t kill himself. I know Bobby Cook and it was an  accident.”
Tommy Joe put his Coke down and walked out of Mullinax’s,  stuffing his hands into his pockets. I followed and Benny did too, just as soon as he swallowed the entire Coke and peanut mess.
Tommy Joe was built on the order of a triangle, with the  small part at his belt buckle. His shoulders were wider than they should be, which gave him a strange, three sided look. It was almost as if someone put a two-by-four across his shoulders and then draped a shirt over him. We used to kid him that he looked just like Buster Crabbe in one of his shoulder padded suits he  wore in the movies. And Tommy Joe was about as flat chested as you can get and still have a chest. One look at him and you knew instantly he is Wormy Hooper’s son, all right. All the Hoopers were so skinny you could almost see through them.
But despite his size, Tommy Joe had more courage than a boxed up bobcat. He’s had to. Being so skinny and all has  done other things to him, like enlarged his ears, eyes, nose and  mouth. I think it all got pulled tight around his head, which was larger than it should have been and over emphasized his other features. I would never tell Tommy Joe this, however.
The others of us were fairly average. Benny Cato was big and  round. He ate a lot and was always hungry. I’ve seen him eat an entire rack of biscuits and bulldog gravy and then polish off a blackberry pie before his mother found out what he had done.  From the rear, Benny looked like his pants were always caught up in his crack, which we kidded him about. It was only because he eats all the time. But I liked Benny. He was always the same.
Me, I was about as average as they come. My father said I had the family chin and my mama said I looked like her father. He was a moonshiner, so I always feared the sheriff had a long memory and held grudges. Mama said Grandpaw was always one step ahead of the local law and the federal boys. She pronounced it “fedral,” like it was a rat or some bad awful disease.
The only abnormal thing about me, I guess, was that I never  did want to go to work in the cotton mill. Tommy Joe and Benny  were counting on getting a job there. I was hoping something  would happen that I wouldn’t have to go. That was always a sore  point between me and my father. He drank a lot of moonshine and  beer, mixed together, and I always believed that my not wanting to be a linthead—that was what the townspeople called all of us who lived in the  mill village—was what made him drink so much.
Some nights when he was about as mean as a three-legged dog  over a bone, he’d call me names and rush at me with anything he  could find handy—broomstick, mop, baseball bat. His aim was  about as bad as his temper, thank goodness. He’d say I was a  pansyass school kid and what did I think I was, wanting to go to  college for Christsakes?  Hell, nobody in his family had ever gone off to one of them college schools and I damn sure wasn’t going to spoil things by going and getting some kind of highfaluting education. And, he was tired of spending money on a bunch of dumbass books for me to read. And, I was spending too much time in the library. What was the matter with comic books, he’d ask? We got them free at the commodities office where we picked up government cheese. He’d say that I was as worthless as low middling cotton. “It ain’t got no staple and neither do you,” my daddy would say.
Mama liked her beer, too, because it helped to dull the  pain in her back from working all night on graveyard or in the weave room all day. It also helped her bear the constant shouting at home or the crash of something being thrown by daddy at night. She would tell me not to make daddy mad any more with that talk about going off to college. It wouldn’t’wouldn’t do any good. We didn’t have the money and, besides, I had to go to work in the yarn mill, just like my brothers and sisters.
It was difficult to get by those rites of passage in  Cedarhill. Life was measured by shift work in the mill village. The old-timers used to say that when you died, you had better make sure it wasn’t on your shift, or Mr. Andrews, the mill  superintendent, would dock your pay.
I think that was what got me about Bobby Cook’s funeral. The day they buried him, the mill whistle blew, like it did every day at the change of shift work. It blew several times for some reason. It was real eerie. The mill whistle just kept blowing, like it was crying, or something.
Later, I found out that the whistle had gone on the blink,  and they were trying to fix it. Funny it should happen the day we buried Bobby Cook. Me, Tommy Joe and Benny went to the funeral. We had to, Tommy Joe said. It wouldn’t be right to let them put away our friend and us not be there to see him gone good and proper.
I didn’t want to go, but I was more afraid of what Tommy  Joe might do if I didn’t go than I was of seeing Bobby buried. I  had never been to a funeral up to that time. It seemed that  Bobby’s death marked the beginning of funerals for me. I sort of  got used to them after a while.          There was a lot of wailing and crying inside the Primitive  Baptist Church where his folks were members. They call his people holy rollers and I began to understand why after about the first five minutes when the preacher began. He shouted and jumped and finished all of his sentences with an “unh”. He jerked all over like he was sick and when I asked Tommy Joe if he was okay, he punched me in the ribs and said that was the way they did things in this church. Holy rollers, he said, are like that. They enjoy religion most when they are hurting the loudest.           The stronger the preacher preached, the more profound, bone deep moaning and urgent weeping noises rose up from the amen pews closest to the pulpit. It sounded like a nation of people dying in those front rows. Then, the preacher said something that was like an open hand slap in the face.
“The other day when I was in Atlanta, I took a trolley car  to go see Brother Collier in the big Baptist Hospital they have  there. Brother Collier is in the hospital as you all know,  having an ulcer removed from his stomach. They say they are taking out more than half of his stomach.
“The man running that electric trolley told me that I was to get a transfer coin, so I could transfer from his trolley to the next one without buying another ticket. He said I could just use the coin to transfer on over.
“I got to thinking about that this morning as I was dressing to come here to preach this young boy’s funeral.
“Death hasn’t stolen Bobby Cook from our midst, yanked this  boy from his family, from the maternal love only a mother  really knows, like Mary. No sir. Death hasn’t won a thing here. You know what Bobby Cook has done done? He’s done  transferred over.”
When Brother Simms, who was shaped like an apple with legs,  said those words, I thought Bobby Cook’s mama was going to need  surgery. She went into gyrating hysterics and then passed out  right in front of the casket.

It was several weeks before we got back to anything like  regular everyday life. Everyone at school seemed to want to talk to me, Tommy Joe and Benny about Bobby Cook. We got so we were tired of discussing it because it brought back too many memories. The day the thing really got over with, though, was something.

Charlie Hutto, a big farm boy with smudge of a fuzzy  mustache under his nose, gathered a bunch of the fellows around  outside the basketball gym and began to ask us once more about how Bobby Cook died and did we think he had killed himself.
“No, he didn’t kill himself. It was an accident,” Benny  said, acting disgusted, just like he had heard Tommy Joe do.
“Well, I heard it was because of what you all did with Betsy Jo Hopkins.”
My heart stopped for the briefest of moments, and I quit breathing for a few seconds.
Betsy Hopkins. How had he heard about that? Only the four of us knew what really went on that day. She must have told someone.
I waited for Tommy Joe to say something. I sure wasn’t going to. Benny looked as if he had eaten something bad and it was making his stomach turn.
“What about Betsy Hopkins, Charlie?” Tommy Joe said. His  voice wasn’t quite to the bulldog range yet.
“Well,” Charlie said, turning to the other fellows and smiling, “I heard that all of you took her up to Mill Hill and took her pants off and was going to screw her until you got caught. And you got caught because you dumb bastards were in Mr.  Holtzclaw’s hog pen and he found you when he was coming up to  slop the hogs. Anything to that, Tommy Joe?”
Boy. Betsy Jo must have spilled all the beans. Charlie  had it right down to the last nail in the coffin on that. Me and  Benny looked at Tommy Joe, who was glowering at Charlie now. His  eyes had narrowed to BBs and his big lips were purple and sort of turned outward. I knew it was going to be fighting time if  something wasn’t said soon. And, there was not much of a chance of Tommy Joe winning over Charlie Hutto, who was twice his size and was strong enough to break an anvil.
“We weren’t in the hog pen,” I said. I don’t know where that came from. But I was afraid not to do something, because I was just dead certain that Charlie Hutto was about to kill my best friend in the whole world. “We were behind it.”
Actually, we were in the hog pen, but I didn’t see any need  in drawing more attention to that minute detail. Benny and I,  who Tommy Joe said were too young for such things, were the  lookouts that day. He and Bobby Cook were inside the pen, over  where it was dry, next to a china berry tree that Mr. Holtzclaw  had used as one corner of the wooden hog fence. Mill Hill was owned by the yarn mill, but Mr. Andrews said anyone who wanted to could build a hog pen on it and keep hogs there, as long as it didn’t get to smelling too bad.
Mr. Holtzclaw was German who made his W’s sound like V’s. He was always running his tongue in and out of his mouth, as if he were trying to taste his words. It was like he was spitting, but wasn’t. His tongue usually got in the way of his words, and it made him sound even funnier, especially when he got mad. My daddy and the other men in the mill called him Kraut because he had fought in the war and was taken prisoner and shipped to the U.S. because he was a textile mill worker. He was kept at a prisoner of war camp near Cedarhill and after the war, he got a job in the mill, somehow. My daddy always said he was a spy and that this country let him stay ’cause they got information from him and made him do some spying for them.
We forgot about hog feeding time that day. Me and Benny got so interested in what Tommy Joe and Bobby Cook were doing that we failed in our lookout duties. It wasn’t at all like Charlie  Hutto said. Betsy was only 13 years old and try as hard as they  could, Tommy Joe and Bobby Cook just couldn’t do nothing. It was  like they were ramming into a stone, cold wall. Sometime later, Betsy Jo made it known that she had lost her maidenhead that day, but we  knew better. The only thing lost that day was pride.
Bobby Cook kept asking Tommy Joe if he was getting in. Tommy Joe said he thought so, but wasn’t sure. Neither one of them knew what it was supposed to feel like, though they were sure not going to let me and Benny know that they had failed at their first attempt with a woman.
Just as Bobby Cook’s turn came to try his hand at Betsy, Mr. Holtzclaw walked up. He caught Bobby with his pants down and one leg out, like a dog taking a pee, about to climb on top of Betsy.
“Vaaat are you doing there?” he blubbered in part English  and thick German.
The sound of that heavy German voice knocked me and Benny  over into the pen, right into the muck. Tommy Joe was caught by  surprise, and Bobby Cook’s little thing, which wasn’t much bigger than a piece of licorice, just wilted. He jumped up, and stumbled over Betsy’s spread out legs. He fell into the muck, too.
Tommy Joe made it for the fence, but a big Holtzclaw hand  caught him just behind the neck and held him like a bug.
“You boys, get youselfs up to your feets. And you, frauline, you get youself dressed. I’m taking all of you to the  authorities.”
I had never heard the Cedarhill police referred to as the  authorities before. I thought Mr. Holtzclaw was talking about  taking us to Mr. Andrews’ office, and I knew that was bad news.  My daddy would explode into a million bits of anger over this.
Before Mr. Holtzclaw could think next, Tommy Joe swung his  arm hard and broke free. He leaped over the fence and knocked  over the wagon carrying the buckets of hog slop. With his  attention riveted to his slop, me, Benny and Bobby scooped up  Betsy Hopkins and we hustled over the fence and ran down the  backside of Mill Hill toward Cedar Creek.

I wasn’t sure whether or not Mr. Hotlzclaw had gotten that  good of a look at all of us, so for the next several weeks, we  all stayed away from his mill house and it was two summers before we  ventured back to Mill Hill. Betsy Jo Hopkins never spoke to any  of us again. She grew up into one of the prettiest girls in  our class. Only, she finally got pregnant and had to quit school.

“So, Bobby Cook shot himself over trying to screw Betsy Jo Hopkins,” said Charlie Hutto. “And his little pecker fell flat.”

That was it. Tommy Joe lit into him with both fists, but it was like a fly going up against a swatter. It was all over before it began. Charlie Hutto hit Tommy Joe an uppercut in the chin and just about knocked his brains out. Charlie Hutto laughed as he walked away with the other boys.

Me and Benny bent over to help Tommy Joe get up, but he pushed our hands away. He was angry. He had the courage of his convictions, but he didn’t have the muscle to carry them out.

“We got to fix this,” Tommy Joe said that day in the dust in front of the gym. “I’m telling Bobby Cook’s father what happened that day, so he can stop feeling so bad about his boy,” Tommy Joe said.

Ever since the death, Bobby Cook’s father, Abner Lee, thought his boy killed himself because he had tried to get a labor union organized in the mill. There was a lot of talk about Abner Lee and his Communists unionizers. Fact is, there was a lot of unrest at the mill, and Abner Lee was blamed for all of it. He was called an agitator. Most of the black mill workers were friends of Abner’s as well, and that didn’t help, either, especially with men like my father, who thought all blacks ought to be put on a boat and shipped back to where they came from. He wasn’t sure where it was—Africa or some place—but they ought to just go on back. “We lost a war because of them,” he said, “and we damn sure don’t need no blacks in the mill, taking a white man’s wages.”
“We going to tell Mr. Cook what happened,” Tommy Joe said as he dusted off his pants legs. “We got to,” he said. “We probably helped kill Bobby.” We also learned later that Bobby Cook had really liked Betsy Jo, but read in the Bible about how it was a sin to fornicate out of wedlock. He thought he had sinned against God and Betsy Jo kept blaming him for what happened. Me, Tommy Joe and Benny never knew about this part, ‘cause Bobby Cook didn’t want us to know how sick he was over what had happened. We could see small changes in him, but nothing big enough to make him blow his head off. We never knew that part about Bobby Cook.
That day that Tommy Joe said we had to fix the situation made me realize that there are some things in life that are hard to think out and then make right, but necessary. Bobby Cook might had killed himself because of all the turmoil going on in the mill village and school, much of it aimed at his father and family and Betsy Jo. But me, Tommy Joe and Benny didn’t think anything of it, until we understood that Bobby Cook was really hurting inside and trying to work around some really big stuff, stuff that we had not even thought of yet. Like sinning that day on Mill Hill with Betsy Jo and then his father taking up with black folks like that, which in Cedarhill was enough to get you lynched.
We never did get to tell Abner Lee, though. Not long after the funeral, he was fired from Cedarhill Yarn Mill. Mr. Andrews said it was because Abner was missing too many days of work lately. Nobody really believed that, though. We knew it was because Mr. Cook was trying to get a union organized.
My father said it was good enough for Abner. “He’s just a Communist in work clothes,” my father said. “He ought to go to Russia and take the blacks with him.” He said that as though Abner had been trying to do some harm, but all I could ever understand was that Abner simply was trying to get higher wages for the workers, white and black. I could never figure out why my father was against Abner. My father always complained about the mill’s low pay, the “front office,” he called it, taking out this and that amount from his paycheck. And there was Abner, all the while pushing the mill for more money and better conditions in the mill village, where the mill owned the houses we rented. It didn’t make sense.
Me, Tommy Joe and Benny Cato were never the same after that fall. Something had changed inside us. Tommy Joe said it was because we were still boys but had to work out some grown up problems—sex and death and hate.
We decided that hunting season that had taken our friend just like he never was there, that we would wait now on all of those things to catch up with us. We would wait.

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Night Crawlers, Chapters 1-3

CHAPTER ONE

BY FRED BROWN, © 2009

Al Buck looked across the hard, gray and black terrain. Not much different from the training, he thought. Only just a little more rocky. The boys would do fine here. The exercises had been quite realistic and for once the Army had let him do it right without a lot of interference from above. Thank goodness for Hamp, Lieutenant General Jay Hamp. Good guy, let’s you do your job, keeps the desk clerks out of the way, let’s you be a little creative within boundaries, of course, but overall, he didn’t allow his West Point graduate credentials, top of his class or two stars, stand in his way of getting the job done, or thinking a little outside the normal Army routine. Hamp was no rules and regs man when it came to this team. He was our man. If anyone understood us, how it was to work, the only way it could work, it was Hamp. Any other way, and it was toes up all around.

First, let me say that Afghanistan is a shit pen. You can’t believe the poverty and the way people have to live. I’ve seen better bird cages than the pest holes they call homes. This place is unbelievable. Hamp told me the Big A reminds him of Nam. At least the people do. Hard to tell the good guys from the bad guys, and when you think you’ve found a good guy, he turns out to be a bad guy. They switch sides like it was a game, which it is, I think. Just when you believe a deal is done, you suddenly realize that they have gone off to the other side to work up a better arrangement. Usually money is involved. And somebody’s head. It is a crazy place.

The second thing you notice is the inhospitality. Even the birds hate you. I was in Desert Storm, of course. We became accustomed to sand in your slits. But this is much, much different. It really blows here. There are mountains, and then there are more mountains, pointed, rugged things. The Al-Q boys can live off of nothing, and their cave system is really superior to anything I’ve seen. Hamp says the caves are better than the Nam rats dug, and that is high praise. The Nam Cong could construct a cave.

The land is up, down, then across sand that is blowing through you. It will just wear the hide right off of your boots, take the skin off of your hands, if you aren’t wearing gloves. I don’t see how these people make it here. You see them everywhere, pulling these long blankets over their heads when the winds pick up and sand swirls in. All you see are their black eyes in a stinging mist of yellow. The women, of course, you never see, except in a berka. But, then, that’s not my problem right now. My job is to make sure the Al-Q quit living here, or end up baking in the desert, bones and all.

I’m Al Buck, Sergeant Major to Gen. Hamp. That’s about all you need to know at the moment. Our unit is new. We are in the 9th Army, 1st Regiment, 1st Battalion Special Forces Ops, the 911. You already know why we are new and what that designation means. Our shoulder patch is a giant cobra, wrapped around a mountain peak, poised to strike. Underneath are the words “Vengeance Is Ours.”

Just hours after the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Hamp, was ordered to Tampa, at Special Ops Command. General Tommy Franks, the four-star in charge, said he had gotten word from Washington that they wanted to form an elite team, outside the rules. It was going to be quiet, because attitudes were changing rapidly in Washington. Some high ranking folks had been daylighted, as some of my old mountain buddies say. There just wouldn’t be a lot of news about us with the other commandos getting most of the attention. The President had gotten this real kick-ass attitude about losing two tall buildings in New York and having a wing blown off of the Pentagon, and he wanted a group entering the back door to dust heads. Take that to mean a literal translation. We were going in as a highly sophisticated, top clearance sniper team to clean out the place of some big name bad guys, and to protect other commando teams in some of their missions. We were born killers.

The general told Hamp to put together the sharpest, clinical shooters he could find, from all the other Special Ops teams. Nothing but the best, and he wanted a top non-com in charge. That’s me, Sergeant Major Al Buck. They call me “Cut.” That’s because I won’t cut and run when the going gets tough. Instead, I prefer to do the cutting, if you can visualize that, which I think you can. Outside of the uniform, I’m a decent fellow—the usual, married to the Army, twice married to really nice women who didn’t understand my first love and marriage. Not their fault at all. I’m just wedded to the Army. I love it, and other things come second: God, country, then family. I don’t think they liked the order of the lineup. So, right now, I’m a bachelor again, which makes it a lot less complicated.

Hamp came to me and said we were putting together a special team. That sounded like all the other spooky things that go on here, but he assured me that this was not going to be part of the SEALS, Delta Force (we call those guys the Delta Darlings, but not to their faces), or any of the other commando types you read so much about.

“Your boys are going to be hand picked by me and you and you will go by nicknames only. In fact, that is your only existence,” Hamp told me.

“What are you calling this bunch of no-names?” I asked.

“The Night Crawlers.”

“And just what are these Night Crawlers going to do, Hamp?”

“Shoot the fuck out of ragheads and other rodents.”

In the course of putting together this team of expert shooters, I had the pick of the litter. The best of the best, which was a lot of fun. I have always liked to see things work to perfection, and this group was something else. All of them had been through the normal commando-kill schools: Airborne Rangers, Delta Force, SEALS, Air Force Special Ops, Army Green Berets, and even the Marine Ranger School. Out of all that expertise, ego and gung-ho testosterone, I had my choice of the top ten, to then be narrowed to the five preeminent shooters in the world, or at least that was our view.

Since they had been through the best training the military has, and the best taxpayer money can buy, it was my job to just hone a few other skills: training with a few ultra new, really nice weapons, a little more stealth training, getting accustomed to the latest and hottest type of night vision eyewear, and communications about the size of a dime, and more practice time on the sniper range.

The men I picked were the finest those various and odd branches had to offer. They were not only the best, but the brightest of the lot, and that is saying something when you think about it. You can’t be too stupid and make it through Ranger school. Well, maybe Ranger school. You just got to have nuts the size of basketballs, but the Green Berets and SEALS require some smarts. I won’t say anything about the Delta Darlings. They just don’t like anybody at all, and the less you know about them, the better off you are. But they are the best this country has to offer on most occasions. You already know about the Marines. If it has to be torn up, positively, absolutely overnight, send the Marines.

The ten I picked were just superior men in every way: they were in the military for life, like me; they were leaders on their own, capable of making individual decisions; fearless; and of course, they were the best shooters the military had. Each one could put a shell in your ear from right at three clicks. In the dead of night. With a little tencho help, of course.

You might think that dealing with ten ornery and smart types would be difficult. It had its moments, but in general, they respected me because I had been to Desert Storm and Somalia, and I’m just not the sort who takes a lot of guff from the Gunga Dins. That’s why they call me Cut. Plus, I’ll brag just a bit here: I have a degree in English Literature from the University of Georgia, ’93. I know, you are wondering what is an English Literature major doing in this sort of environment? Why aren’t you teaching somewhere, smoking a pipe and wearing tweed? The answer is complicated, so I’ll give you the short version: Just after returning from the Gulf War, I finished up my degree over the next couple of years.

I love writing and words. Being on front lines where life and death are like night an day. There is a rhythm to it, and this rhythm allows me to explore emotions and feelings most people never experience. I have kept a diary all of my life, loved reading, and writing, and that is partly what you are reading here: The Diary of a Night Crawler. That’s only a portion of the answer. Now, I ask you, where could a writer go to find better material than the front lines with an Army unit? Old Hemingway is my model. And if you look back across the history of literature, you will see that a rather large squadron of writers had their beginnings in combat. It makes for compelling reading, and there is nothing like the threat of instant death to focus your attention. And I have always been a fan of Winston Churchill: journalist, Member of Parliament, great statesman, and warrior. He was also a pretty decent hand with not only oratory, but writing as well.

So, there you have my background just a little. I need to tell you that I am, like most great soldiers, a Southern boy. Georgia is my home state. We know how to hunt, kill things, take orders, and just kick the living shit out of you if you fuck with us. That’s why the military loves Southern boys. They understand hard times, hard days, hard orders and hard fists.

I am prone to fat. But getting in shape for the Big A melted the blubber like butter. I am in pretty decent condition for an old man of 33, trying to keep up with boys a decade or so younger. Hamp is twenty years older than me and can still run you into the ground. He’s amazing, and I would walk through the gates of hell for him.

Fucking A.

Chapter II: Night Crawlers

CHAPTER TWO

Once the selection process began, Hamp and I had more than 200 volunteers. Word was out that there was to be a shit-kicking bunch and many from what I call the Gunga Testosterone group turned up. They don’t care much for anything except killing. I eliminated them immediately. And then it took time to weed out others, to get it down to ten. From there, the process worked for itself: you had to be able to use many different weapons systems; you had to be able to bulls eye every time, not just now and then, every time and from various distances and under difficult circumstances; and you had to be able to think. That got rid of several.

And finally we had five, plus I insisted on a backup, a replacement. You always need replacements in the military. It’s called redundancy. The men for the most part were rare specimens and I came to know them better than their mamas did. I also came to love them as much. My plan was not to leave a single one of them behind in Afghanistan.

Let me introduce the boys to you. First is Jamie Dore, from West Virginia. He’s Green Beret all the way, a master sergeant, and, like me, loves books. But when hell arrives, you want Jamie on your side. He shoots like a Swiss clock and we call him “Slam D” because he will slam dunk your ass with a long-range rifle with laser scopes. He is a graduate of the University of West Virginia, was a star wide receiver for the Mountaineers, and got a degree in civil engineering. He’s brainy and loyal.

Sonny Twofeathers, a three-quarters Cherokee Indian from Robbinsville, N.C., near the Cherokee Indian Reservation. The boys call him “Tracker,” because he can find you no matter where you hide. He likes to say you can run, but you can’t hide. He grew up hunting, trapping wild animals for food, and tracking in the woods. He is a dead shot, but more important, Tracker is a virtuoso with the MP-5 submachine gun. He comes to us from the SEALS.

Joe Dan Hunt, a tall Texan from the North Dallas Forty, he says. He was All-American center at the University of Texas Longhorns. He is big, mean as a Brahma, smart and tough. So tough, we call him “Scrap Iron.” He is just awesome when it comes to adapting to any type of situation. He earned a degree, are you ready for this, in secondary education. He said he wanted to teach in grade schools, because that’s where the problems start, and if they don’t get straightened out there, they multiply later. Scrap Iron says he knows, because he was one of those problems. Only football and The Delta Force saved him, he says. He can kill you in so many ways. None of them are very nice. He is an expert with bombs, guns, knives, and for a big man, you won’t even know he’s there until he has slit you from top to bottom.

Hank Bass, Gyrine. He’s crazy. Like brilliant crazy. “Fusion.” That’s because he will fuse your bones together, melt them down, and pour them out. I’ve never seen anybody quite like him. I’m just glad he’s on our side, and that he listens and takes orders. Fusion shoots with instinct. I’ve only seen this one other time in my life, but not with Fusion’s innate ability. He anticipates your next move, and has a bullet waiting on you. He’s also good with many weapons, including explosives. Being a graduate of Louisiana State University in Baton Rogue, a Coonass, wanted to be a fighter pilot and wound up in the Air Force’s Special Commando Unit. That figures. He was a science major with a minor in math. Maybe that’s why he’s so good. He just figures the angle, and cuts you off at the knees.

Billy Bodean, an Army Ranger. Just a great athlete. He was All-Southeastern Conference from the University of Tennessee. He was a running back with moves like Walter Payton and Tony Dorsett. He is quick and as stealthy as a cat. I love to watch Bad Billy work. He has been to the Ranger’s special mountain training, qualified with the French mountain troops in the Alps, and is rugged as they come. We call him “Hacksaw.” It’s obvious. He will cut you to pieces.

I made Hamp put one more on the team just for back up. He’s the brooding Sol Heinric, a strange man in a strange land. Sol had been a sniper with one of the mountain teams. He had been through the 101st Airborne school at Fort Campbell, Ky., and was tough as an anvil. I spotted him one day on the sniper range. He was just too consistent. But, he is a hard man to understand. You don’t have problems with Sol, you just never know what he’s thinking. That’s why we call him “Black Hole.” He will send you off in one in a heart beat. He’s the only MIT graduate I have ever met. I think he majored in physics, or something. You never get a straight answer from him. Just results.

That’s the team. All of the boys are master sergeants, or have been promoted to that rank for this operation. We wanted them to have a higher rank to draw the better pay on top of combat and hazardous duty pay. Very hazardous duty.

After our exhaustive training and cross-training on all of the weapons, and some really deadly new gadgets, we assembled for our departure to Tajikistan. I know, I know. The President, Gen. Powell and everyone else were saying that we could only go into that country if we were doing humanitarian sorts of mission. That was for public consumption, and if you think about it, our mission was humanitarian. We were ridding the world of Taliban and the Al-Q. Plus, the Night Crawlers meant to find Osama bin Laden, the man of the hour, and take his head off.

Only a handful of people knew about us: General Franks, of course, the bossman. Lieutenant General Hamp, who was in direct contact with us, President Bush, Vice President Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense and General Colin Powell, Secretary of State. That was it. But you need to know this, too. Hamp and Bush were great friends. Hamp had been to the Texas ranch long before Bush became president. They had known each other back in high school and they corresponded when Bush went off to Yale and Hamp took it to the Long Gray Line at West Point.

After college, Hamp got busy with his Army career, and the president got busy making money. But they always kept in touch with each other. Laura Bush and Mary Hamp became good friends as well, sort of like cooking out in my backyard, and then we go to your backyard. Those were some backyards to be in, of course. It is probably not surprising to you, then, that President Bush had his personal inside dope on this operation. In fact, he called Hamp weekly once we got underway, wanting to know how the boys were. Once, Hamp even patched the President through to us on an highly secure line. I think they call it the red phone. And it sits on the president’s desk, or something like that.

Chapter III: Night Crawlers

CHAPTER THREE

Getting into Afghanistan was easy. We just parachuted in. The Taliban and Al-Q never knew we were there. Or if they did, they didn’t try to do anything about it. Good thing. You know how in World War II, the Germans shot up the airborne troops as they dropped in. Our chutes are the latest stuff invented. We jump at higher altitudes, get down faster in low altitude openings, and on the way down, our goggles allow us to pick up any warm blooded thing moving and breathing. A laser in the eyepiece locks onto the warmth and all we do is fire the weapon. The laser does the work. It is wonderfully amazing at what happens next. It’s called “accurate fire.” Never misses. We got the thing on the big AC-130 Specter gunships. And on our M4 combat weapons. We just pull the trigger and the lights go out. You shoot at us on the way down, and we blow you away. I love that. It’s a version of the old Bosnian warlord who told his adversaries that if “you shoot some of mine, I bomb your cities.” Same philosophy of force begetting Armageddon for me and mine. You shoot at us as we descend, and we will shred you.

The boys gathered up their chutes, stuffed them under rocks, pulled a little tab and they disintegrated in a smokeless fizz. Then we hooked up all of the gear that came out of the C-130 with us. It was a considerable amount of firepower and other goodies, what I call “new wave” gadgets. I love technology. Our backpacks are the latest, too, allowing us to carry a lot of weight, but distributed differently, so that it doesn’t wear you out. Each of us can carry more than 150 pounds on our backs because of these new light weight all purpose packs. We headed out for our first mission in the Big A.

One thing, we are always in contact with a squadron of Army attack helicopters. They are our support, if you can imagine that. It’s a matter of economics, if you think about it. The government, your tax dollars at work, put a lot of money into each one of my boys. They are expensive to keep around. High maintenance. The Apaches, Cobras, Pave Lows and the very bad ass Black Hawks. They are expensive and deadly. So, you’ve got one set of high-priced flying assets looking after another set of high-priced ground assets. It makes good economic sense, if you think about it. I’m just damned glad the choppers are here. All of them are what we call weapons platforms and they will grind up your ass into mush.

The Night Crawlers were sent to Afghanistan to do two things: provide long-range protection for our incoming ground troops, without them knowing it, and hunt down Osama bin Laden and kill him. As the military’s long-hunters, we intended to do just that. If the Al-Q and Taliban showed up, they were going to die as well. It was that simple.

We landed near a place in Tajikistan called Dushanbe, not far from the border with Afghanistan. I know you have heard a great deal about Kunduz and Mazael-Sharif, two Taliban and Al-Q strongholds, and key transportation centers down into the south. That’s where we headed. Hamp wanted us to check out Kunduz first, since it near a far northeast town of Faizabad, which is not that far from the Pakistani border. The fear was that Osama could slip into Pakistan and then make his way out to India, which was on the verge of turning Pakistan into a pile of nuclear charcoal pits.

We set up in some hills above Kunduz, covered up, camouflaged and waited. Well, we didn’t exactly wait for the Al-Q. Our guys don’t wait for something to happen. They sort of like to keep it stirred up. Tracker set off to see what he could find. He took Hacksaw with him. They weren’t gone all that long when there was a loud racket. I, of course, had been in constant contact the boys with our GPS gear and throat microphones. The GPS, by the way, is the same device the Air Force uses to guide their smart bombs and the Navy uses for cruise missiles. These are some of the reasons I think you have to be nuts to take on the United States. We just have too much high-powered technology that can really FUBAR the place.

Just as Scrap Iron and I arrived, Hacksaw was looking at three caves. One was, as the President said, smoking.

“What happened?” I asked.

“Sarge, you should have seen it. Hacksaw sent one shell into that cave there, the one you see with all the black smoke. And it just sort of went to hell from there.”

“What do you mean went to hell, Tracker?”

“Went to hell, Sarge. I don’t know what he did.”

Hacksaw was smiling broadly. He was like a kid on Christmas with a new robot control racer. He just couldn’t wait to see how it would work. I also needed to tell you earlier that I encouraged my boys to find their own high-tech toys to use in this operation. It got to be fun watching them try to out thingamabob each other. They were allowed, within reason, to bring some new toys with them on this mission. As long as it didn’t interfere or weight them down from the required equipment.

“Okay, Hacksaw, what did you fire into that cave?”

“Well, Sarge, you know that little nerdy guy back at Tampa Special Ops who was always working in the lab, designing things? I asked him if he could jazz up our grenade launcher. He really did it.”

“Did what?”

“Jazzed it up. You got to watch this thing, Sarge.”

Hacksaw fired into the second cave. It was like someone turned on all the lights in the place and you could hear a shell banging around inside.

“Now, the best I understand this, Sarge, is that that first shell is like the mother ship. It breaks open and sends out all these little ships, which break open and send out other little ships. Some of the ships explode immediately into fine pieces of sharp shrapnel. Others just lie about the place, waiting for something, or somebody to step on ‘em. Then kaboom!”

“Hacksaw, you mean one grenade is actually several grenades?”

“Not exactly, Sarge. Maybe hundreds, or even thousands. Nerd said he wasn’t sure how it would work. I just know that those things keep going off inside that cave there, and I think they are multiplying like rabbits. No telling how many there are, or how long they will keep on exploding in there. Neat, huh?”

Somehow, a raghead managed to emerge from the dark hole that was flickering with light behind him. He was outlined with neon-like flashes of lights blinking behind him. As he staggered a bit, Tracker put one in his ear and dropped him in the cave mouth. There was no sound. He never knew what hit him. Our specialty is silence.

All of a sudden, the hills were crawling with Al-Q and Taliban. They couldn’t’ see us, but bullets were coming from all directions, bouncing about. They are pretty good with those Ak-47s. During Nam, that weapon wore us out, but the old MP5 is too much for them now. Especially our long-rifles.

Tracker cranked up, taking out three. And then Hacksaw just simply blew the heads off of five or six. Their heads exploded as if they were melons. I made a note to ask him what sort of shell that was, too. When it gets too hot, the Night Crawlers just vanish into the rocks, and that is what we did now. Vanished to fight another day, leaving the Al-Q and Taliban shooting at shadows. But, I had found out that we could hold our own and Hacksaw had taken my suggestion to the limit. I wondered who else had brought along some extracurricular goodies.

Back at base camp, we gathered around to eat some of the MREs, and the high-energy food that we had packed. Hacksaw was in top form.

“You should have seen that raghead when his head exploded. He had this real surprised look as his face sailed away. It was great!”

“You must have been using that old-world hot-nosed shell,” said Black Hole. “Really unreliable over long distances. It wobbles too much. Can’t count on it.”

“Yeah, well there are a half-dozen ragheads out there with no heads. Seems to work pretty well,” said Hacksaw.

“Barbaric, if you ask me,” said Black Hole.

“You got something better?”

“We shall see, my friend. We shall see.”

“Get some rest, guys. Morning is coming. We got a big night ahead. Scrap Iron, you take first watch.”

Our first night in the Big A had been fairly successful. We even managed to carry out President Bush’s first order. We smoked them out of their holes. Although, I think he might have had something else in mind. Hacksaw smoked them all right. Smoked their brains.

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East Tennessee Chronicles 1990s-Present

By Fred Brown

East Tennessee Chronicles, written in conjunction with the East Tennessee Historical Society.

Wright Brothers Find a Little Wing Lift from East Tennessean

Edward Chalmers Huffaker was, by all accounts, a gentle man, but he had his quirks, like a well advertised ability to spew a stream of tobacco across the room into the bottom of a spittoon.
And his ingenuity with math was so good he was asked once to correct some of George Washington’s messy arithmetic in a surveying job.
There was something else Huffaker was also pretty handy at flight. He studied birds, watching them in graceful ascent. He marveled at the ease with which they climbed and soared on wind currents, expending little energy, seemingly without so much as flapping a wing.
From those studies on a hillside in Chuckey, near Greeneville, Tenn., he devised a glider for Octave Chanute, one of the nation’s earliest and foremost pioneers in flight.
At the time, Chanute, an engineer, was working with Orville and Wilbur Wright. In fact, Chanute was so concerned about what the brothers were up to he paid for Huffaker’s room and board and sent him to the site of the birth of powered flight.
The year was 1899, and flying free of earthly bonds was on everyone’s mind, including a couple of bicycle building brothers from Dayton, Ohio.
Huffaker was a mathematical genius, having graduated from Emory and Henry College with honors. After completing a master’s degree in math at the University of Virginia, he was offered a four year fellowship at Johns Hopkins University, which he turned down, saying he was tired of studying.
Huffaker turned his attention to birds and flight. He also discovered that Chanute was serious about flying machines. Chanute was so impressed with Huffaker’s math skills and his ideas about gliding, that he got him a job at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington as an assistant in aerodynamical experiments.
There, Huffaker wrote a pamphlet, ”On Soaring Flight.” At the time, it was a masterful treatise on how to fly without crashing and burning. Chanute had been working with gliders, and after consulting with Huffaker, he built one that he thought would be the first to make it aloft.
Huffaker told him the glider needed alterations to the wings and the tail, or it, too, would go down in a hurry. The man from East Tennessee doubted the stability of curved wings, and he said the tail needed to be used more for guidance than a means of support.
An incredulous Chanute said he wasn’t so sure, but went along with Huffaker’s new wing design and the changes he crafted onto the tail section. The glider soared. Like the birds of Chuckey.
That glider flight, which lifted off May 5, 1896, was one of the earliest success stories in flight. Hundreds of other attempts had resulted in rather humorous, sometimes tragic, results in nose dive after nose dive.
A gleeful Chanute was so excited, he contacted the Wright boys and informed them he was sending
his man, Huffaker, over to see if he could help them. He had, Chanute bragged, just put the first glider aloft.
Some authorities think Chanute sent Huffaker in with his glider concept to keep an eye on the crafty brothers. This would have made Huffaker one of the first industrial spies, perhaps.
”Chanute who befriended the Wright brothers but with some reservations . . . saw in these young upstarts from Ohio potential competition for the position of the authority on heavier than air experiment,” writes Tom Underwood, who is distantly relatedto Huffaker.
Underwood, manager of the Knoxville Teachers Federal Credit Union, says that Huffaker spent a season with the Wright brothers in Kitty Hawk, while on Chanute’s payroll, and became something of a thorn in their side.
”It appears from letters home (from the brothers to their sister) that Huffaker’s rough ways with special attention to his use of chewing tobacco . . . seemed to be an unwelcome dining event,” Underwood writes about his famous kinsman.
It didn’t help that Huffaker arrived at the Kill Devil Hills camp near Kitty Hawk, N.C., in July 1901 to conduct experiments with Chanute’s glider in pieces, either.
He had also strolled into camp just after a seven day storm that brought squadrons of black mosquitoes, which Orville said chewed on them clear through to their underwear.
Whatever else they may have been, the Wright boys were extremely wary of Huffaker. They thought he was shiftless, didn’t enjoy his using their box camera for a footstool, didn’t much take to his East Tennessee mannerisms, especially his ability to stream tobacco over great distances, and they halfway thought he was to blame for the arriving mosquitoes.
While camped at Seven Devil Hills in a wooden shed that served as a hangar, the brothers noted that Huffaker was slow to clean up after himself, shunned washing dishes and didn’t like to take baths.
There was even the case of their missing blanket. The brothers suspected it was Huffaker’s doing.
For his part, Huffaker paid little attention to that sort of thing. His passion was flight, math and watching and learning from birds.
Without much prodding, he also offered an opinion on a glider the brothers were assembling. Huffaker said it would nose into earth if they didn’t figure out what to do about the pressure on its curved surface
s in relation the angle of the wing with the horizon.
He had already tried it and lost a glider or two.
Huffaker departed Kitty Hawk after that year of work, leaving behind math calculations on wing warp. It is known the brothers used the Huffaker calculations because they wrote about the contribution in their
personal records.
Years later during a trial on patent infringement, the brothers needed Huffaker’s help again. They sent him a letter, asking him to testify on their behalf.
If Huffaker had been a thorn in their side at Seven Devil Hills, he was now as mute as stone.
When he died, the letter sent by the Wright brothers was found among his effects. Inside the Wright brothers’ letter was a self addressed envelope, asking Huffaker to let them know his whereabouts and his answer. They needed his testimony.
Huffaker, perhaps getting even, did nothing. The East Tennessean must have figured that by that time, the boys from Dayton should have known enough about wing warp to get by on their own in a courtroom.

German Immigrant Louis Gratz Made His Mark on Knoxville

In 1861 when Louis Gratz arrived in New York, he was 19 years old, had $10 in his pockets and was reduced to peddling thimbles and stockings in the streets to survive.
That’s not what you would call a roaring start for the first mayor of North Knoxville.
The realities looked woeful for Gratz, who would become one of Knoxville’s notable politicians and prominent citizen.
But a scant two decades later, Gratz, a German Jew who left his home in Prussia with dreams of fame and fortune, would find both a wife and happiness in a city by the river.
Evidence of Gratz’s contribution to Knoxville are still apparent. A city street is named for him. He established and laid out the streets in Oakwood
(North Knoxville) where he served two terms as mayor, He even worked to have Oakwood annexed by the much larger and growing city of Knoxville.
Gratz left a well to do family in Germany, a family related to the famed Heinrich Gratz, classical Jewish historian. After a troubling eight week voyage that left him sick and weakened, he entered New York, still in his teens, unable to speak English.
Because of the language barrier Gratz couldn’t find a job. In the tradition of many immigrants, he turned to peddling and was eeking out a bare bones living. In his spare moments, he studied English.
About this time, President Abraham Lincoln called for volunteers to fight in a war between the states.
Gratz, who felt strongly about his new freedom and new nation, enlisted in the 15th Pennsylvania Infantry Regiment in late April 1861. Because of his dedication, he was made a corporal and right away, Gratz began working to become a commissioned officer.
His English studies intensified and in October after his original enlistment was up, he re enlisted as a first lieutenant in Co. B, 9th Pennsylvania Cavalry, which was sent to fight in Kentucky and Tennessee.
Gratz had not yet been in America a full year, and already was an officer in the Union Army. His English was improving daily and in late August he was commissioned a major in the 6th Regiment of the Kentucky Cavalry, badly in need of officers, which is the reason given for his being able to skip entirely the rank of captain.
With the 6th, Gratz fought his way from Cumberland Gap, through Knoxville and down to Chattanooga. Sept. 19, 1863, found him at Chickamauga, cut off and surrounded by tough Confederate forces under Gen. Braxton Bragg.
At the battle of Crawfish Springs, he lost 120 men, many of them killed and captured. His regimental chaplain was shot and killed standing beside him, and his orderly was shot off of his horse dead, not three feet from him.
At Chickamauga on that day, Gratz ordered his men to fight their way to freedom rather than surrender and be taken prisoner. For his courage under fire, Gen. Samuel Powhatan Carter made the young major a member of his personal staff on Christmas Day, 1863.
The next summer, Gratz marched with Gen. Tecumseh Sherman, burning their way through
Georgia, making that state howl with the pain of war.
By the end of the war, Gratz was in Knoxville, turning his attention to a degree in law and the young
woman he had met earlier when he was with the Kentucky cavalry.
He married into a prominent Knoxville family when he wed Elizabeth ”Lizzie” Trigg Bearden. After the marriage, Gratz embroiled himself in law and the movement of the city he had come to love.
Gratz was twice elected as city attorney of Knoxville. He became the first mayor of North Knoxville when it was incorporated in 1889, a little over two decades after the day he arrived in America.
By 1907, Gratz had moved to Louisville, Ky., where he could better serve as an attorney for a burgeoning brewing firm in that city.
He was on his way from Louisville to Knoxville to conduct business when he died of a heart attack aboard the Louisville & Nashville railroad. He had been in the smoker car, where he had been enjoying a late meal and a cigar with friends when he keeled over.
In writing about Gratz’s death, a Knoxville newspaper said that ”no man has lived in Knoxville who was more prominently identified with the city’s interests while a resident here.”
Gratz was 64 when he died, ending the career of a man who began on the lean streets as a peddler and became one of Knoxville’s premier politicians and leaders.

Cherokee Beads Given as Token in 1700s Are Still in the Family

The day the Rev. John Martin wandered into the Cherokee Overhill Towns as a Presbyterian missionary, the neighborhood wasn’t exactly an ideal spot to locate a church.
The French and Indian War was in full swing, but if it bothered Martin, he didn’t let it show. Everyone with a hand in the struggle, the French, the English and Americans, was wooing the Cherokee of the Overhill Towns because of their strategic location on the Little Tennessee River.
Martin had no such notion. He was there to save souls as best he could.
By 1758, the intrepid minister, a fiery graduate of the College of New Jersey, later to be known as
Princeton, had opened up a place of hope in the ill fated Fort Loudoun and then set about the countryside to bring in the sheaves.
He had arrived at the Overhill Towns as an ”animated evangelic preacher,” for the Hanover Presbytery,
set to open mission schools among the Indians.
There is ample evidence that, better than any artilleryman, he simply wore the Cherokee down with his sermons of fire and his notion of heaven and hell, for the good preacher was a man whose ”abilities natural and acquired were very great.”
Henry Timberlake, a young lieutenant for the colonists, volunteered as an emissary of peace to the Cherokee after a treaty in 1761 brought on by the fall of Fort Loudoun and subsequent destruction of several Cherokee villages in reprisal.
Timberlake saw Martin in action and wrote in his memoirs: ”Mr. Martin, who, having preached script
ure till both his audience and he were heartily tired, was told at last, that they knew very well, that, if they were good, they should go up; if bad, down; that he could tell no more; that he had long plagued them with what they no ways understood, and that they desired him to depart the country.”
In other words, the preacher was asked politely to leave, which he did.
Perhaps as a tokenof their appreciation for his message and exodus, in 1758 Martin was given a set
of beads by Emperor Old Hop and Attakullakulla, the Little Carpenter who later became the nation’s principal chief.
”They may have given him the beadwork just to get rid of him,” laughs Patrick Meguiar, the great great great great great grandson of the famed minister, who is thought to be the first Protestant missionary in Tennessee.
Regardless of whether or not Martin received the gift for his delivery or departure, the beads have survived and are now owned by Meguiar, a farmer who works 300 acres of land near Portland in Sumner County near Nashville.
One of the most remarkable facts about the Venetian glass trade beads, known as seed beads, is that they also represent some religious symbol for the Cherokee, according to Meguiar.
One of the sections is different from the other six. It has three crosses instead of four, and these are not fused as are the crosses in the other six sections. Also the beads in this section are red instead of the white and light blue of the others.
Meguiar’s family has had the beads since they were first given to the frontier minister, a fearless man who walked into hostile towns armed with only his Bible and long sermons.
The beads were given to Patrick Meguiar by his great aunt, Pattie Meguiar Simmons. Museums have sought the beads and there have been many offers of purchase.
”One offer was for a horrendous amount of money,” he says with a laugh. ”In the six figures.”
The beads, given to a firebreathing preacher on the portals of history in East Tennessee, are not for sale and are locked away in an environmentally safe container in a bank vault.
From time to time, Meguiar takes them out and re tells the story of the minister, the old chiefs, and a handful of beads that link the past with today.

Journal Gave Birth to State’s Nickname

The year is 1813, and the Creek Indians are spreading terror on the frontier. Andrew Jackson, grievously wounded in one of his notorious pistol duels, gathers his famous courage and rises from his
sickbed to travel to the wilds of Alabama to join the fight.
Jackson’s archenemy, John Sevier, is away tending to the state’s business in Congress. For Jackson, there is no time like now when the Creeks are in uprising, and Fort Mims in Alabama is the place. The fort has just fallen to fire and knife, with everyone inside its walls having been killed.
Jackson, under orders of Gov. Willie Blount, has West Tennessee militia with him and knows that men of East Tennessee, those wily marksmen, are on their way, itching to be in on the fight.
One of the frontiersmen heading to Alabama is Jacob Hartsell, a young man well thought of by his friends and acquaintances in Washington County.
Scholars now believe that Jacob Hartsell’s journal, a 6 by 8 inch 80 page brown leather bound volume kept during that 1812 campaign is the origin of Tennessee as the ”volunteers.”
At the time of the Creek disturbances, Hartsell was given command of a militia from Washington County, a local militia he called ”My boys.”
And despite his fragile frontier education, which enabled him to barely read and to write, he wrote descriptively about daily life on the frontier in an amazing record. Much of his prose is written phonetically.
Scholars now believe that a poem penned by Hartsell in his journal is the first mention of the word ”volunteers,” in the same breath with a military operation. As crude as the poem may be, it is likely the birthplace of the state’s historic nickname:
”Our Countries invaded, oheare the alarme ”Turn out sons of tennessee and gird on your armes
”We air sons of Columbia and straingers to fear ”Sure heaven will smile on the brave volenteere.”
W. Todd Groce, former executive director of the East Tennessee Historical Society, believes the Hartsell memora puts to rest the debate about the origins of the nickname.
”I think the word ‘volunteer’ in the poem in his diary is the first time it was used, but I don’t think Hartsell wrote it. It was probably a popular poem at the time and has now been lost to history,” Groce says.
”It was probably in the oral tradition, and Hartsell heard it and liked it, so he recorded it in his journal. I do think it is where the state got its nickname.
”I’ve never seen anything earlier than that (poem). And I think it helps to clarify the whole question of whether the nickname came from the War of 1812 or the Mexican War. I think this decides the issue,
and even more specifically, it was decided in the Creek War.”
The company of militia Hartsell put together was made up of men from Washington County where
his mother, Hannah, had settled in the late 1780s. The intrepid Hannah Hartsell, descended from Germany’s Rhine River feudal barons, arrived on the frontier by herself with her three sons to begin one of the great family names in pioneer history.
Hartsell began his journal, which he entitled, ”J. Hartsell Memora,” Oct. 12, 1813, with these lines: ”Captain Jacob Hartsell’s Company of East Tennessee Volunteers enrolled Oct. 12, 1813, in Jonesborough, Washington County.”
From that day on, he records faithfully his daily routine and what he saw as he and his men marched south from East Tennessee to join Jackson who had been instructed to engage the Creek Indians after they had destroyed the fort in Alabama, killing men, women and children.
Eventually he and his men arrived at Ten Islands on the Coosa River, Dec. 12, 1813, where Jackson was preparing to wage war against the Creeks.
Here, Hartsell visited the famous frontier general, who reminded him that they had met earlier in Jonesborough.
Hartsell evidently had been so unimpressed with Jackson that he did not recall the earlier meeting in Jonesborough.
It is also here in camp that Gen. Jackson decided that the men from East Tennessee would have to stay for six months rather than the three months for which they original enlisted.
”I could not help laughing until my sides did ache,” Hartsell wrote in his journal on Dec. 22.
”Some swore that before they would stay three months they would kill General Jackson.
”Some swore that they would desert. . . . Some said they would lose all their wagons before they would stay any longer.”
The problem didn’t stop with the men, either.
Gen. Isaac Roberts was another commander whose men’s terms of enlistment were up before a major campaign with the Creeks.
He asked Jackson if his men would be paid for their re enlistment. Jackson said that mattered little when it came to serving and protecting the nation.
Roberts ordered his men home. A furious Jackson challenged Roberts, and both men drew their swords.
”They swore vengeance one against the other, but it was squashed without any blows,” Hartsell wrote of the incident.
He wrote that both men retired to their tents where ”they sent letters all this night, back and forth.”
The matter was cooled when Gov. Blount sent word that Jackson was to release all of the East Tennessee volunteers and to temporarily abandon the campaign, a message that Hartsell evidently saw.
”He (Blount) further stated that the army was laying as a dead weight on the United States, and he thought the more he could dismiss the better it would be for the men and for the United States,” Hartsell
wrote.
Not only did Hartsell write of wars, but also his journal contains notes about family births and records and the dowry given each of his children.
He also enjoyed writing ballads: such as, ”A Song Ballad Concerning War.”
But more than anything else, the diary, which will be on display in the Museum of East Tennessee History’s permanent exhibit records the paths of one of the state’s most famous sons and one of the state’s earliest families, whose descendants still live in Washington County.

Soldiers Aid Society Arrest Left History Questioning Who Were the Spartans?

Officially, the group of women was known as a soldiers aid society, which was a nice way of saying they were doing their part for the war effort.
Mainly, they sewed socks and made quilts for the boys of Rhea County who followed their hearts and marched off to fight for the Confederacy.
Soldiers aid societies were common during the Civil War in East Tennessee. Each community had one or several, all doing what they could to support their notions of right and wrong.
Some groups sported fancy names like the Rhea County Invincibles, the Yellow Creek Soldiers Aid Society and the Swee Soldiers Aid Society in Meigs County.
And then there were The Rebel Masked Batteries of Clarksville. They even wore Confederate uniforms of gray dresses with blue lapels. The dresses were trimmed with gold lace and brass buttons. The Clarksville women topped their outfits off with turned up black hats highlighted with a long black feather, a gold star and white buckskin gauntlets. A pistol and dagger completed the outfit.
So, the young women of Rhea County were not doing anything out of the norm for the day.
But there was something quite different, a difference that has never been fully explained.
Seems the ”Rhea County Spartans,” as one account named them, were no ordinary women sewing socks and helping the sick and wounded.
Bettye Broyles, Rhea County historian, doesn’t think the group’s name is right, but there is little dispute that the Rhea County women made a definite mark on their county.
The women were arrested and taken to Chattanooga to be jailed, but what they did to incite Union authorities has been lost to history.
Mary McDonald of Athens was captain of the company. Other officers were Caroline McDonald, first lieutenant; Ann Paine, second lieutenant; Rhodie Thomison, third lieutenant; Jane Keith, first sergeant; Rachel Howell, second sergeant; Sallie Mitchell, third sergeant, and Minerva Tucker, fourth sergeant.
Privates were: Mary Paine, Mary Keith, Mary Crawford, Sidney McDonald, Jennie Hoyal, Ann Gillespie, Barbara Allen, Jane Locke, Margaret Sykes, Martha Bell, Mary Robinson, Josephine Allen, Mary Ann McDonald, Sarah Rudd and Kate Dunwoody.
There were a number of others in the group. Most of them were teenagers, and none of the women was more than 21 years old.
Stories of the era reported that they provided food and clothing to the Confederate soldiers of Rhea County, in and around Athens and Washington.
Some newspaper accounts claim the ”Spartans” did more than sew socks and blankets for their Johnny Rebs. There is the hint they perhaps participated in raids, carried pistols and rode horses like men.
However, Broyles believes those stories are myth wrapped in misinformation. A letter from Mary McDonald after her arrest seems to bear out Broyles’ contention that the women were strictly an aid society.
”This company of girls was organized at the Brick Academy on the hill at Washington in the summer of 1862. It was a social organization. We had no guns, no pistols, no sabers, no uniforms.
”We were mounted on sidesaddles and had long riding habits.”
Broyles believes that letter puts to rest any thoughts the women were part of a military company of any nature.
The company, made up of some of the county’s most prominent families, was apparently organized in late 1862 or early 1863 when Rhea County was occupied by federal troops.
There was an urgent need for secrecy in the county, and one account says the young women even held secret meetings around Washington.
Some stories say they fanned out in squads, visiting their fathers, brothers and beaus, taking them food and clothing.
In 1865, the work of the Spartans came to an abrupt halt.
Their troubles began when Union sympathizer John P. Walker formed a regiment known as ”Goon’s Hog Back Regulars.”
Walker, tiring of the female company and what they were up to in his county, ordered Lt. W.B. Gothard to arrest them.
Gothard conducted a house to house search and captured the women. They were ordered to Chattanooga, and McDonald, perhaps fearing for their safety, wrote a letter asking federal authorities
to allow Gothard to accompany them.
This plea was turned down. Walker herded the women to Chattanooga.
He first marched the Spartans six miles to Bell’s Landing on the Tennessee River. He left them standing for several hours in shoe top mud.
From the landing they were put aboard the steamboat, ”Chattanooga,” which had earned the nickname ”Chicken Thief.”
The boat was more of a barge than a boat and had been used by Union troops during the war to haul hay, hogs and cattle.
The barge was not equipped with sleeping quarters, so the women were put in an enclosed area that had served as a dining room.
There were no beds for them, so they stretched out on the hard floor.
They arrived in Chattanooga April 9, 1865, and were marched up Market Street to the corner of
Seventh Avenue in the mud and muck.
They were brought before a provost marshal who sent them on to Gen. James Blair Steedman.
Steedman listened to the women and then tongue lashed Walker for having brought them to Chattanooga.
He ordered Walker to return the young women to Rhea County on the Chicken Thief.
That order so infuriated Walker, he told the women they could just get back to Rhea County the best way they could.
He left, and so did the women. On their return, they learned that Lee had surrendered to Grant.
Despite the sadness of that news, the women were happy and still riding the joy of their accomplishments.
The record of what got them into trouble and hauled off to Chattanooga has never turned up, but Broyles says it must have been something other than sewing socks.
”They never did take up arms, but they were arrested. They did something to get themselves arrested,” she says.
Whatever it was, they were mighty proud on the return trip to Rhea County, after having outsmarted Walker.
Railroad Engineer Dave Holloway Went Down Testing the Track for Engine No. 10

The flooding Tennessee River of 1875 was a killer, much worse than the high water of ’67 all the oldtimers said.
Citizens of Knoxville tried to warn their friends and relatives as far away as Chattanooga that
high water was coming, and it was going to be very bad.
At first, people south of Knoxville paid little attention to the warnings. Until bridges began washing out as if they were made of matchsticks. Even train trestles were pushed aside by the great tide of water. The East Tennessee, Virginia and Georgia rail line, a major link in the South, was broken in several sections because of the flood. Some train passengers were stranded in towns far from home as a result of the March floods.
David Humphreys Holloway, one of the best known engineers on the ET, V & Ga., had been away from home almost a week due to the flood. He was worried about his passengers and crew and their families.
Everyone said the Knoxville engineer always thought of others before himself.
That is why today the story of Holloway and Engine No. 10 has not been forgotten. The story o
f his death consumed five days in East Tennessee newspapers.
In fact, Holloway’s heroics may have inspired the legendary Casey Jones some 25 years later when as the engineer of the Cannonball Express he volunteered to replace a sick friend and lost his life in a crash of engines.
On March 4, 1875, Holloway was bound from near Sweetwater to Knoxville. Floodwaters had kept him and Ol’ No. 10 way behind schedule.
When he pulled in near Philadelphia, he discovered that a bridge had been washed out by the flooding Tennessee.
Also a number of bridges had floated off, but it appeared the structure over Sweetwater Creek near
Philadelphia had been repaired.
Holloway wasn’t so sure.
He ordered the passenger cars uncoupled from his big engine. He eased the engine up to the bridge and stopped.
Jud Smith, Holloway’s fireman, offered to take the engine across the bridge.
Holloway, who had wanted to go to college but wound up in the Civil War, ordered his fireman to step down from the engine.
”Jud, you need not go over the bridge . . . perhaps the bridge may fall, and something happen. You had better get off,” Smith wrote in a personal newspaper account of the accident.
”There is no reason why you and I should both be killed.”
Jud Smith stepped off the engine and Holloway climbed aboard.
He nudged the engine toward the creaking bridge. As engine No. 10 reached the center of the bridge, there was a loud crash. The bridge swayed and then gave way.
The coal tender fell into the water and then the engine tumbled in afterwards, doing a somersault, one eyewitness said. The engine’s bright headlight pointed toward the darkening skies, and then down into the water.
Holloway was pinned underneath the engine in the water.
Work crews struggled feverishly, those not too stunned to act, to save the engineer. Somebody called out that they saw him in the water.
It was only his hat.
A surgeon was summoned to help with the badly mangled engineer. He said there was not enough money to get him to the scene of such tragedy. A brakeman, who had seen surgery in the Civil War, volunteered to remove Holloway.
Holloway’s wife, Mary Jane Lonas, learned of her husband’s death by reading it in the newspaper.
As the train went over the side of the bridge, later found to be held up with only a single trestle, Holloway yanked on the whistle cord, sounding a requiem as he and Engine No. 10 sailed to their deaths.
Holloway was so well liked that the popular Turn Verein Silver Coronet Band of Knoxville accompanied the funeral cortege from Holloway’s home to Broad Street M.E. Church and then from the church to Gray Cemetery, playing everystep of the way.
Today the tombstone that marks Holloway’s grave is one of the more remarkable stones in the famous old cemetery. Engine No. 10 is etched in the stone, depicted going over the side, crashing through the bridge. If you listen right hard, you can almost hear David Holloway pulling the lonesome sound of the whistle as he stayed with his train and gave up his life.

A Young Woman’s Diary Recalls Days of the Civil War in Knoxville

The guns of war were on the horizon, conversations bristled with the words of combat in the gray,
uncertain months in Knoxville before the Civil War broke across the landscape.
But for an 18 year old whose wealthy parents had died, it was a time to turn to a diary, to write of herself and her surroundings, her feelings and thoughts on life, her town.
The diary of Eleanor Wilson White, daughter of Hugh A. M. White and Elizabeth Humes White, is fascinating for many reasons, but most directly for its insight into Knoxville just before the cannons flared and the rifles blasted away peace.
The ink and pencil diary, written in a swirling penmanship of a bygone time, was donated to the McClung Historical Collection by Roy Rochelle of Knoxville.
Eleanor White, born July 31, 1842, was the great granddaughter of Knoxville founder, James White.
She lived with her mother and father at ”Sunnyside,” a two story, white frame antebellum home, now the site ofthe University of Tennessee’s Jessie Harris Building of Human Ecology. After the death of her mother and father, she remained at the home to care for it and her four sisters.
Her diary, a thin, marbled brown hardback book, opens: ”Aug. 18, 1860, my diary commences.”
She writes of going to St. John’s Episcopal to hear the sermons of her uncle Thomas Humes, the church’s first rector.
And she recounts splendidly bright days at the 4,000 acre ”Tuskeega,” plantation in Monroe County built by her brother in law, Charles McClung McGhee, later the founder of Lawson McGhee Library.
There are shopping sprees in Knoxville and expressed delight in meals of fruit and fresh vegetables with her sisters and other family members.
But it is her entries in the days before and during the Civil War that are riveting.
Her words speak for themselves:
November, 1860, Friday 16th: Cloudy all day and rain tonight. We all have dreadful colds. Every one is almost dreading the war. I haven’t been allowing myself to think about it much.
April 22nd, 1861, Sunday: Clearly a week has passed since I wrote in my journal. In that time, Brother Charles (McGhee) gave C (sister Cornelia) the news of wars every day. Sister C fears that he (will) enlist in some company. Tonight is lovely moonlight. We saw the mountains on fire. We thought at first it was a comet. It seemed to be in the sky.
Saturday 27th: The war progresses. Troops have been organized and sent off from Sweetwater and Madisonville.
Jan. 8, Saturday: A whole month has elapsed since I last opened my journal . It was a dreadful rainy day with thunder and lightning. Events have transpired too numerous to mention. Today is Election Day. The news is ”war” all the time. Tennessee will secede today I hope.
Sunday June 9th: Tennessee has seceded. Uncle Thomas’ congregation has diminished considerably on account of his persistency in praying for Lincoln as president. He said he would continue to do so
until Tennessee seceded and then he would either cease to do so or leave the state.
Wednesday 13th: Brother James (husband of her sister, Ann) brought news that a party from Roane County was being formed to burn the bridge at Loudon and the company from Knoxville was going down to prevent it. It is horrible! I amafraid we will have fighting right amongst us all.
Saturday 15th: Another very warm day. There was a cavalry company come up past our house from Chattanooga this morning under the Southern flag. There was a man shot in town today an innocent man. I’ll declare I’ll soon be afraid to go to town.
Sunday morning 16th: Uncle Thomas didn’t pray for the president today, but for those in authority.
Saturday 22nd: Brother Jimmie brought news last night that the East Tennessee boys had had a fight in Virginia where they have been called at Winchester. It seems to me they get nearer and nearer to us every day. No rain yet. I am reading ”Mes Prisons,” by Silvio Pellico.
Thursday 27th: Another warm, sunny day. We need rain so much. Brother Jimmie told us tonight we must pray for Jeff Davis’ success, that the two armies were within a few hours march of each other, that they could hear the drums beat. I hope this battle will result in peace. We heard carriages and buggies rambling down the road tonight.
Saturday June 29th: The cavalry company from Monroe County came up this evening. It is called for Brother Charley ”The McGhee Invincibles.” They were dressed in red flannel and looked very handsomely.
We all went down to the gate to see them. One of them hollered ”hurrah for Jeff Davis.” I said, ”hurrah for The McGhee Invincibles!” And then one of them said, ”Hurrah for the ladies” and they took off their hats and got ready to hurrah when the captain said, ”to move boys.”
They were very orderly indeed and made no noise at all. Everyone said they were the handsomiest company they had seen.
July, Thursday 4th: The once Glorious Fourth. Brother Jimmie says he thinks (Gen. P.G.T.) Beauregard will make it a Glorious Day for the Southern Confederacy. The sun shines brighter this morning.
Sunday 21st: Bright morning. Brother Jimmie took tea at his father’s this evening. He brought news from the telegraph office that there had been a terrible battle at Manassas. Eighty thousand on each side.
The great Sherman battery taken by the Confederacy. War still raging it being 9 O’clock at night.
Much loss on both sides. The enemy repulsed and driven back to Alexandria.
Tuesday 23rd: Beautiful day. The bells were rung in honor of the victory at Manassas. Our forces having defeated the Federalists; with the loss of 7,000 on our side and 30,000 on theirs.
Thursday 25th: We received more direct news from the battle today. Camp Turner is among the slain. Little Charlie McClung was in the fight but wasn’t hurt.
Saturday 27th: Brother J says it is dangerous to walk to town.
Wednesday July 31: Beautiful day. Today is my 19th birthday. How fast I am growing old. I must try and improve my time better in the future.
March 19th, 1862: I had determined to leave off writing in my journal altogether, but so many events of importance are transpiring every day since I ceased to do so. I have concluded to recommense it. It rained all day today.
The college buildings are filled and running over with soldiers. Five or six soldiers came here for supper said they had had nothing to eat since yesterday morning. Several soldiers came wanting to get the barn to sleep in and on being refused one of them ”hoped” the Yankees would catch us all. I hope we will not be disturbed tonight.
April, Saturday 26th: The news is that the Federalists have taken New Orleans.
September Thursday 18th: The news is our forces have possession of Harpers Ferry.
October Thursday 23rd: Annie and little James dined with us. We had such a good dinner. Sweet and Irish potatoes, rice, beef and pork and for dessert boiled custard and jelly cake . . . had to wait some time for the government wagons to pass. I never saw so many in my life just going past all the time in one continuous row.
I have been eating too much.
Jan. 1, 1863: Everybody black and white except Luice and I left the place today. F cavalry company of Federalists have burned two bridges in or near Bristol. Nearer and nearer they come.
Jan. 2nd: Brother James says Gen. (Kirby) Smith was really afraid the Yankees would attack the town last night. I forgot to mention (Gen. Braxton) Bragg had whipped the enemy into Murfreesboro and was fighting still when last heard from.
Monday the 3rd of April 1865: We received news of the fall of Richmond.
That is the last entry in Eleanor Wilkson White’s diary.
Eleanor lived out her days at Sunnyside and died, Aug. 29, 1889. She never married.

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Zelophehad’s Daughters

Christmas 1995

By Fred Brown

Grandmother Mary Lamont, whom everyone called Maudie, grew up solid on her family’s land. The land in the sand country of South Georgia with its spindly pines, long summers and lush nights, had been in the Lamont family since the Revolutionary War. Old Col. Jeremiah Lamont, who had fought with the Americans against the British during the Revolutionary War, had earned the land for his service. He chose more than 500 hundred acres along the mushy banks of Coosa River.

Here, winters were tame, but summers were deep and breathless and hot enough to par boil the land, turning everything to dust.

His friends said it was particularly strange he would use his grant for that land, but the old colonel was a little smarter than he let on. Somehow he knew that the land was fertile for some things that couldn’t be grown anywhere else in the young nation. He had visited that part of the country long before the war, had walked in cleared fields and smelled the earth in his fingers. It was pungent and smelled of life.

Pecans. The land was ripe for pecan trees. He had learned about the trees from his friend, Thomas Jefferson, a great farmer, and decided that if he lived through the war, he was going to purchase as much land as he could in that distant country and plant pecan trees. And that is what he did, with help from Jefferson, who had developed a strain of pecans that he promised would grow greater fruit than wild pecan trees. Jefferson called them Stuart pecans, naming them after the great Scottish family that had once ruled Scotland. The Stuart pecan,

Jefferson said, would stand over time and reign over other varieties.

Jefferson’s pecans were almost twice the size of their cousins.The meat was sweeter and Jeremiah could see that a growing nation’s cooks could make good use of pecans. So, he put his war grant into five hundred acres in South Georgia. He fully intended to grow pecans and sell them.

He married Sarah Ferguson and began raising children and pecan trees. As the children sprouted, so did the trees. The one thing that Jeremiah had not reasoned was the length of time it takes a pecan tree to bear fruit. From the time it is planted, a decade of summers and winters must pass before the trees begin to bear fruit. Twenty years, and the trees are in full maturity and will fairly burst with fruit.

Jeremiah, who had been tall and a commanding figure as an officer in the Continental Army, was a very old man by the time fat, brown pecans in their soft shells began to drop from his orchards that filled field after field. The trees in rows looked like a city of trunks and limbs, or a field full of soldiers.

By the time the fields had ripened and the trees were old enough, brown bullets began to fall to the ground by the thousands. Pecans were everywhere. His sons, Jacob, John, Charles and Stuart went to work, gathering them. In his last year, Jeremiah saw his dream come true. His sons and grandsons were selling pecans and making much money from them.

And in his last days, Jeremiah had grown very close to three of his great-granddaughters,Elizabeth, the oldest, Fancy, the middle daughter, and the lively Mary, the youngest. They were the daughters of Jeremiah’s grandson, Joe, like his father, had never left the Lamont land through the years, trying to nourish a living and feed his family from the sand soil.

It had not been easy. Over time, the Lamonts had to sell much of the colonel’s land in order to survive. But they never sold the three hundred acres planted in Stuart pecans. The old colonel would never allow that. He told stories of the Jefferson pecan trees, and acted as if they were sacred or magical.

He also spoke of Zelophehad’s Daughters the same way he spoke of his friend Jefferson and pecans.

Jeremiah’s children had heard the story so often, it had become a joke with them over the years. They knew it was a passage from the Bible, because the old soldier had read it to them on many nights while sitting around the hearth and a family fire.

“Zelophehad’s Daughters,” Jeremiah would begin, “understood about life and the meaning of land to a family. He understood tradition and honor.”

Then he would launch into the story from the Old Testament when God told Moses to instruct the people about being faithful to the land and that daughters were not to let the land go, just because they married.

The old colonel spoke of family and traditions and how the land and family were one and the same. Blood and land, he said, were the things that held families together.

“God told Moses that he was to instruct the daughters of the clan that they could not marry outside of the clan. God knew something that we didn’t,” the old colonel would say each time he told the story.

“Land is family. God told the Zelophehad’s daughters that it was right and fine to marry, but they should stay within the clan so that land they inherited would remain within the clan. God was talking about family. He was saying that it was right for daughters to get married, to leave the home, but they were never to leave the family.

“What was started had to be kept alive, or the family would disappear. It was up to the daughters to see to it. Like the land, they were the ones who would bear fruit, and it was their charge to make sure the fruit was good, strong and learned in the ways of tradition and the family. That was God’s message to Zelophehad’s Daughters.”

Jeremiah told that story over and over again to every generation of his sons, grandsons, daughters and granddaughters. But, Elizabeth, Fancy and Mary were his chosen ones, since he knew they were the last babies of his clan he would ever see. They got to hear the story more often than the rest. On each telling, the old colonel would emphasize about weddings and how it was right, but that it was also a duty of the daughters to keep their inheritance, keep the blood he would say, within the family and to always, always keep the family strong. It didn’t matter, the old colonel said, whether or not the family was scattered. Families do that. What mattered, as Zelophehad had learned, was that the family’s traditions were more important than anything else in the world. That was the lesson of Zelophehad’s Daughters.

As they grew into young womanhood, Elizabeth, Fancy and Mary, thought no more of those old stories. Their great-grandfather had long since died. They had married and had families of their own. But as they passed through the years, they began to realize the wisdom of Jeremiah and they told their sons and daughters the story of Zelophehad’s Daughters.

It was a story handed down, but then faded into the mists.

By the time of the 20th century, the story had become family legend. No one in the Lamont family had the slightest idea of the story’s origins. It was just always there. Where or who originated the story had drifted away across time. It didn’t seem to matter, as few things from the past do to the young.

That is not until Fancy Lamont, the youngest of James Lamont’s three daughters, decided to seek out the answer to the family riddle.

She was a sophomore in college, studying English literature, when as a class project she decided to see what was behind the family legend. She had asked her grandfather, Hemish Lamont, but he had only a vague memory of his grandmother, Mary Lamont, telling him something about the Old Testament story. He had no idea where it had come from. She asked about letters, had great-grandmother Mary Lamont left any letters? A bible, perhaps? Hemish could not recall.

“My grandmother Mary Lamont was a strong woman. She kept the last 100 acres of the Lamont land and was living on it when she died. It left with her. She just came in one day from walking in the last pecan orchard and told everyone it was time to go. She laid down and died. Right there. That minute,” Hemish told his granddaughter.

“The only thing I know is that your name, Fancy, has been in the family for a long time. I think that comes from fanciful. One of those babies way back must have been fanciful and it got shortened to Fancy. At least, that is the way I heard it.

“You, Fancy, aren’t the first Fancy,” the old man said, laughing into his bony chest. He rocked and looked at his granddaughter. He was more fond of her than he was of living.

“The land is all gone now, sold, but she was the last. Stayed there to the end,” Hemish said, as he rocked beside a fire in Fancy’s home. Her father, James Lamont, took in his father and kept him, saying he would never let the old man waste to dust in a nursing home. Fancy, lean, with fire-blue eyes on an eager face, had grown up around her grandfather and had heard all of the Lamont stories. To her, Hemish Lamont, a World War I veteran who had been in the gas-filled trenches, was her hero.

“You got a lot of spit and vinegar,” Fancy, her grandfather told her often. “Be careful how you use it. Use that pretty head of yours. There’s lots of people out there who will use it for you if you don’t fill in the spaces.”

That’s one of the reasons Fancy loved her grandfather so. He was always coming up with some sort of funny saying.

There was another one she liked from Hemish: You can always make a can whip a can’t.

“You get your determination from great-grandmother Maudie. She was a gritty little woman. Feared nothing. Neither man nor beast. Never seen anything like her. She was strong in spirit and mind. And smart. Goodness, she was smart. Like she would take her time making up her mind. She thought a thing through, clean through, and all around before she made a decision.”

Fancy liked that, being like her great-grandmother Maudie. It pleased her, and that may have had something to do with the reason she felt the deep need to know more. Something inside of her compelled her to know more. It was as if in the knowledge of her family’s past she would find herself. And that was important to Fancy.

Fancy determined she would find her family’s traditions, trace them to their roots.

First, she found out that the family was related to Jeremiah Lamont, a Revolutionary War officer of great rank and reputation. He had been a hero at the battle of Yadkin’s Bend in North Carolina. In fact, Gen. Nathaniel Greene, second only to Gen. George Washington in importance in America’s battle for independence against the British, had given Jeremiah a sword after the battle in which the Americans devastated the British in a series of brilliant military maneuvers devised by Jeremiah.

The general was so grateful that he had removed his own campaign sabre and had it inscribed with the words: “Duty, Honor, Country,” on one side. On the other side of the gleaming silver sword were these words: “To Jeremiah Lamont, Hero of Yadkin River. Gen. Nathaniel Greene.”

After reading this, Fancy set about to find the sword. She learned that it had been lost and was probably in a museum or an attic. But through her research she discovered much about her famous great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather the Continental Army colonel and the Patriots who fought to give the new nation its first breaths of democracy.

She wrote the first of many essays on Jeremiah Lamont for her English class and earned an A. But Fancy wasn’t satisfied. That summer, she took off for the family homestead in South Georgia, the place where Hemish had told her his grandmother had stayed to the end. It was down in the sand country. On a long, red and rutted backroad, Fancy Lamont found what had once been the stronghold of the Lamonts. Now there was only a modern day house, though an old barn still remained.

She knocked on the door and asked if she might wander around the land, explaining she was a student and researching her family for an English writing project.

In the barn hay loft, Fancy found a wooden trunk underneath a pile of rubble. It was crippled with age. Its leather hinges almost crumbled when she lifted the lid. A large L, but white-faded, emblazoned the front. As she opened the trunk, a feeling of wild excitement shot through her like an electric charge.

Inside, she discovered letters and an ancient diary. On the front of the diary was another big L, in leathered bas relief. Fancy could barely contain her enthusiasm as she opened the first pages and read the words: “This is the diary of Colonel Jeremiah Lamont, 1774.” The last entry was 1803. By that year, the handwriting had become spidery and very difficult to read. The letters were practically undecipherable difficult anyway, since “Ss,” looked like L’s or f’s.

Fancy stuffed the diary and letters into her backpack and returned to the nearby house. She showed the diary and letters to the people there, who said it would be just fine for her to take the stuff. They were just about to throw them away anyway to tear down the barn. It was just junk, they said.

Fancy went home with her treasure and over the next several months, she read the material, studying each line. Here she discovered her great-grandfather and much about the Lamont family. She learned of the pecan orchards and how they were handed down and eventually wound up with her great-grandmother, Mary Lamont Williams, the one they called Maudie.

But, it was in the Lamont bible that she made the strangest discovery.

The word “parhelion” was scribbled in front of the biblical notation “Numbers 36:10.”

Fancy, pretty, but with the personality of Maudie, which was fire and ice, picked up the Bible and began flipping through its pages when a small yellowed slip of paper fell from inside its onion-skin pages.

She quickly read the faded words. She recognized the handwriting as that of Jeremiah Lamont, but the words were strange indeed.

They spoke of ancestral lands, but made no mention where. The words spoke of Thomas Jefferson and pecan orchards, but made no mention where.

And, there was that word, “parhelion” again written in front of “Numbers 36:10.”

In addition there were other strange words that she had never seen before. They were foreign, but nothing that she had ever studied. Fancy was good at French and Spanish, but this was not a romantic language. This was something quite old and out of time.

She took the yellowed page to her English professor who didn’t recognize the language either. Together, the professor and Fancy visited a language scholar on campus who told them the words appeared to be of ancient origin, probably around the time of the Picts.

“The Picts were of Northern Scotland. We think the word ‘Pict’ means the painted people,” the language scholar told Fancy and the professor.

“That probably means they were tattooed in some way. We aren’t sure. But the language is pre-Celtic in origin, which makes it about the time of the Picts, who spoke a non-Celtic language.

“It is thought the Picts were in England long before the Celtic Britons. They were a strong-willed and brave clan of people, who feared very little. They were quite tribal and fierce when invaded.

“It is said that had they not died out for some reason, they would still be on the same land they first inhabited. They were that loyal and devoted to their country,” the scholar told her.

“They seem to have disappeared all at once. Just vanished.”

Over the next several months, Fancy worked harder and harder on the mystery of Jeremiah Lamont and her family, trying to connect the word “parhelion,” to the Biblical story about Zelophehad’s Daughters, and the strange words she found in the Lamont Bible.

She never got to meet her great-grandmother, Maudie, so she couldn’t ask her. The Lamont land and pecan orchards had disappeared, mostly gone to suburban homes and parking lots. She did find out, though, that there were one or two of the original trees still around near Lamont, Ga., in the sand country.

For her senior year project, Fancy decided she would visit again her ancestral home in Lamont, Ga., and see if she could finally unravel the family story and to find the old pecan trees and to feel the generations surge through her.

She did find the trees with the help of an old farmer familiar with the land. She dug up a sprig, which she intended to plant from the old pecan tree that the farmer said was ancient.

“I bet if we were to count the rings, it would go back more than 200 years,” he said. “It’s the only one left. They say where you see houses and stores now was once filled with pecan trees. All gone now, though.”

Fancy knew that the big tree had to be one of Jeremiah’s Jefferson pecan trees, and the sprig was an offspring of that tree. She just knew it was a Stuart pecan. Having discovered the whereabouts of the old tree, the only one left standing, she felt she would now find the answer to some of the other family riddles, like what the strange words meant on Jeremiah’s note.

Fancy returned to the homeplace where she had discovered the letters and bible, but the barn was gone. There was nothing there but a bare spot where the barn had been. The people who had owned the land when she came there two years ago were gone as well. The house was empty and no one was around. A “for rent,” sign hung on the front porch.

Fancy walked to where the barn had been and picked her way around the outline, still visible in the ground.

She found buttercups in bloom and remembered the story from one of the old letters that explained how oldtimers planted buttercups, which always return in the spring. To the old ones, buttercups were a sign of life, where people had once congregated as families.

As she walked, Fancy noted a sharp, bright shiny thing in the ground shadow where the barn had stood. The top bristled in the noonday sun. It was some sort of silver case. Picking it up, she rubbed away the clotted brown earth with her thumb. A large L was inscribed on the front.

Fancy practically stopped breathing when she opened the large silver case. It was flat and the size of her hand. Its hinges were rusty but not frozen. She opened it gingerly. To her disappointment, there was nothing inside, no note explaining the strange Celtic words. But as she examined the lid, flicking away dirt and rust, words began to emerge, as if walking in out of the dark into light. Fancy saw that something was inscribed on the inside surface.

There, on the underside of the lid were the words she had found in the note by Jeremiah and underneath the words there was an English translation.

“On Christmas Eve,” the words began, “I saw the meaning of Zelophehad’s Daughters. Three bright spots. They were on three sides of the sun. I knew they represented my three daughters, the three brightest lights of my life,” the words said.

“Whoever reads this will find written in the Lamont Bible the word parhelion in front of Numbers 36:10. Parhelion explains the bright spots around the sun. The biblical passage tells how the daughters will keep the clans and traditions. Look to the Lairg where the Shin meets the Fleet to find your way home. Jeremiah Lamont.”

Troubled that she had found another mystery, Fancy returned to her family more determined than ever to dig up answers to the intriguing family riddles. She turned once more to the Lamont bible with the large L.

In the Book of Numbers she read once more of the clans of Gilead, the grandson of Manassah. She read of Zelophehad and what Moses told him. But that yielded nothing. She had read the verses many times and just as before, she was still perplexed. The mystery would not present itself and she seemed at the end of the road.

Fancy read out loud the strange-sounding names of Zelophehad’s Daughters — Mahlah, Tirzah, Hoglah, Milcah and Noah. She repeated the words. She knew they symbolized something but she couldn’t quite put it together. Then Fancy reread the passage and saw as if for the first time that there were five daughters with the last being named Noah, the ark that saved mankind and animals from destruction. They went forth and multiplied into plenty. After the flood, the ark had come to rest on the top of a mountain, then the center of the universe.

She looked at the inscription again and the word Lairg stuck in her head. Then Fancy found the word in a dictionary and discovered that in the late 14th century, the Celtic word meant plentiful and abundant.

Quickly, she found a map of the British Isles and as her eyes roamed, she came across the city of Lairg, in the direct geographic center of the Highlands. Lairg is at the foot of Glen Shin, a high mountain body of water that flows through the valley to the River Fleet, running through the city of Lairg. The Fleet flows to the Atlantic, pointing toward the United States.

And then it hit Fancy. The Lairg, the Shin and the Fleet were the three origins of Jeremiah Lamont’s ancestors, the parhelions of his family history. Each Christmas Eve he told the story of Zelophehad’s Daughters and the clans and although Zelophehad had five daughters, only one was named Noah, the center of his universe, his parhelion.

Fancy could hardly contain her happiness. She rushed to her grandfather Hemish and began to babble about the family secret she had unlocked.

It was Christmas Eve and the old man was sitting alone, near the fire, rocking and thinking. He peered deeply into the flames, as if he found something in there of himself.

“I have done it, grandfather,” Fancy began.

“Oh?” the old man said.

“Done what?”

“Unlocked the secret to our family’s tradition.”

Hemish Lamont, his face wrinkled and sprinkled with dark spots, smiled. His red-purplish lips pushed into an O as he thought.

“Well, Fancy, tell me.”

As his granddaughter began to unravel her version of the family story, old Hemish began to chuckle. Now he knew the meaning of what his mother had told him: The Lamonts are plentiful, if not in numbers, then in spirit. They will endure. They come from the place of the fleet and the abundant.”

“Why, Fancy, I think you have done it. What are you going to do now. Maybe write another paper about it?”

Outside, wind began to blow. The temperature was dropping and the old man curled a shawl around his shoulders.

“You know, grandfather, I think on this Christmas Eve, I’ll let this be my gift to you, and to no one else.”

As if cut to the quick, the old man’s eyes became translucent in the firelight. His eyes glistened. He sniffed and looked momentarily into the flickering flames.

“Fancy, it’s like you were three bright lights in one the way you shine around the sides of my heart.”

“I know, grandfather,” Fancy Lamont said. “I know. It’s been written.”

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