My Private Place

I have a private place that stirs my soul,
And comforts me amidst this world’s confusion.
A realm I can retreat to when my worries,
Surround me with a blues I can’t control.
Just some old stump left when they felled the trees,
In preparation for the pond’s beginning.
A lightered pine, so full of pitch-a-plenty,
That it will stand the test of time for decades,
And so afford a place for me to sit
Whenever I’m in need of consolation.

My Private Place ~ BlueFish Digest ___ September / October 2013

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Aunt Kitty

When I was a very small boy my Daddy owned a farm outside the town of North, South Carolina. It was a mile to town and with the exception of one family; all of our neighbors were black. The one white family had a girl about ten years my senior so as I grew up all my playmates were black. Either they share cropped with Daddy or share cropped on the farms of Mr. Scarboro.

In 1948 I was five years old and my mother had pretty well given up on keeping me home. Daddy said any of the neighbors would look out for me. Back then everybody in our neighborhood looked out for children if there was a need. There was no deep water for at least two miles and the dog would keep me off of snakes. Because of Daddy and the neighbors I enjoyed a lot of freedom. I had three older siblings but my closest was a sister and at that time her main interest was dolls. For my early life I had to either amuse myself or count on mama until I was past four and then I was allowed to go visit the nearest neighbors.

I had two close friends named Charles and Poodah. They were brother and sister and lived in the cotton field directly in front of our house. I thought it was so neat to live in the cotton. They had cotton on three sides of their house.

Charles was a year older than me and his sister was a year younger. We practically lived together during daylight hours. Their mother and father were both deaf and mute. They had met and married when they were in a school for death mutes I believe. Charles and Poodah had learned to converse by signing but I never could get it right and Charles had to talk to them for me when I had anything to say. I could yes or no by head shaking but there was no way I could co-ordinate my fingers to sign. Poodah was learning, but still Charles had to help her at times. Charles and his folks could talk a blue streak, even argue. You could tell by their vigorous movements and facial expressions when they were disagreeing.  I adapted to his folks and some of the simpler signing.

At first I had been a little scared of his folks, because on my first exposure I was not aware of muteness. The first time I saw Mr. Lee he was running toward me making a strange grunting sound. I later realized it was to get my Daddy’s attention. Once Daddy acknowledged him he simply pointed to the woods behind us. Daddy saw the smoke and ran to his pickup. He sent me inside to tell Mama, and Daddy and Mr. Lee went to rouse all the able bodied neighbors to help fight the fire. When that was over Daddy explained about the Lee family and suggested I might pay a visit as their kids were about my age.

When first I went to see them we went to Aunt Kitty’s house. She lived directly behind them and frequently kept Charles and Poodah. Charles’s parents seemed to always have work to do. Aunt Kitty always had time for them. That day she had time for me too. Frequently we were sent there to get us out of the way. All the kids in the neighborhood had adopted her. We all called her Aunt Kitty. My Daddy and Mama even called her Aunt Kitty. It was a form of respect.

She was aunt, mother, grandmother, friend and healer to everyone for miles around and I guess I spent as much time there as Mama and Daddy would allow.

I don’t remember when she died because circumstances caused us to move before that happened. I’m glad now because I have no unpleasantness associated with any of her memory and her death would have been hard for me as it was for Charles. Charles and I stayed friends even though circumstances forced us to only meet rarely after we moved and even less frequently as adults. For awhile he lived in Pennsylvania and I lived in Washington, and then I enlisted in the Navy and for the next four years was all over the world. We met again accidentally right after I was discharged and I learned of the deaths of his aunt and his father. His mother had gone to live with Poodah in New York and he was living in Columbia, South Carolina but as soon as he got a stake together he was heading back to Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. Poodah came to see me about a year or two later. She was settling her mother’s estate and had been to see Charles. He was then living in Swansea, South Carolina. We got together again before he went back to the North. We talked about our childhood, his folks, mine, and of course Aunt Kitty and I came home and wrote this so I’d not forget again.

She was a colored lady and she was always described as a lady by who ever was speaking. She might be a black lady or a colored lady but she was always described as a lady. It was before words changed and took on new meanings and lives of their own. There were no Afro-Americans, no NAACP. The N word wasn’t always bad. Curse words in books were a letter and dashes. Bad language was not on TV because there was no TV. The KKK was a bunch of men so ashamed they hid their faces and were not from around here. It would be two more years before I would learn Charles and I would not go to the same school. It just never came up.

Aunt Kitty was a frequent source of help to anyone in trouble. She was a medicine woman and midwife, if one was needed. She kept a cow and she always had fresh milk and cake or cookies or biscuits and corn bread and if you behaved yourself she would let you help with her work and if you didn’t she would send you home with instructions to tell your folks you had been sent home and why. You did because it never occurred to you, you could do otherwise. It was a bad thing to be sent home from Aunt Kitty’s’. It was treated as a bad thing and you were lectured severely even if you weren’t spanked. You got the “I’m so disappointed in you, you ought to be ashamed” lecture and you didn’t ever want to hear that again.

Aunt Kitty was a wonder. She could take a throw away can and break a piece off any plant, get some of her special dirt and in no time have a beautiful new flower. Every thing she touched seemed to blossom and bear as if it was transformed by magic. She knew which herbs had healing and where to find them and how to use them; and she knew ways to heal hearts as well as hurts and her council and advice was sought often by people that would surprise you. I spent a lot of time there as a boy, any time I could contrive a reason or get permission. She had a fine voice and she loved to sing, old songs I think only she knew and I wish I’d paid more attention. I was very young and she was very old and it was a very long time gone by that will never be again.

I remember she kept flour in a huge can and she used to dump in the eggs and fresh milk and mix the batter rite in the top of the flour can and then bring the dough out and finish it on the board table. She kept chickens and she always had eggs. Daddy said her husband had “gone to glory” and her children were scattered “here and yon'” and for years he or one of the other neighbors looked in on her or brought her things from town. I’m sure her lot in life was a lot harder than I knew because I learned much later our lot was hard too but it seemed to me we always had enough of everything. I thought we were well off and Aunt Kitty was too. Looking back I think I was right and it just got turned around like so much of the world. I had to suffer through a lot and get a lot older to realize that having enough of everything should be enough. I remember her last advice to me was, “Don’t let other people make you as mean as they are.”

AUNT KITTY~PKA’s Advocate~August/September 2011


Lennie

My interest in raptors goes back to my Daddy. We used to lie on our backs, in the cool grass, and watch hawks soaring high aloft in mating rituals in the early spring. My Daddy used to say he would trade a few years to be able to look down on the world like that. He had read about folks hunting with birds and always thought that would be the next best thing. In a few early movies, late forties and up, I saw an occasional trained falcon. It was in the back of my mind always.

Then I read a book by Dan Mannix, A Sporting Chance and it all came to the fore front, but I learned it was illegal in my state. A chance encounter and meeting my future wife, getting in with her family, a trip to Pennsylvania, and another chance conversation with my lady, led to a letter to Dan Mannix and a gracious invitation to visit him at his home in Malvern. Spent part of a day with him and saw his birds, a South American road hawk, bald eagles, and a caracara. We talked about the use of birds and primitive weapons. That was in seventy three. I remember because I have a picture of Mr. Mannix holding my son in one arm with the hawk on his other.

February of seventy seven an article in the State Newspaper told of plans to legalize falconry in South Carolina. I was determined to be one of the states first licensed falconers.

It got sticky for the next few months. I had to come up with equipment, bathing facilities, perches, two buildings, a protected one, a mew, for bad storms, a weathering area for every day, and most importantly the knowledge to help me pass what I was sure would be a difficult test. I read everything I could get from the library. Jack Sampson’s book was a big help. It let me know how inadequate I was.

I got the buildings thanks to my wife, Jane’s, willingness to make sacrifices and help me. When, Mr. Stansell, the agent from Wildlife and Marine Resources, came to inspect my facilities he let me know I had a long way to go. I couldn’t find swivels but I knew how to make those. They required Aylmeri jesses and I could find no grommet setters that did not require the use of a hammer, or any info on making bracelets and jesses. He happened to drop the fact that all the knowledge I needed and the entire test was based on one book that I had not seen. This was less than two weeks before the exam. He said he would put me with a falconer later, to help me iron out my problems, but for now just concentrate on studying. He was sorry but he had no copy of the book.

We wasted no time after he left tracking down a copy. It was a privately printed book, North American Falconry & Hunting Hawks done by three men, Frank Lyman Beebe, Harold Melvin Webster and James H. Enderson.

I could only find the location of Harold Webster. He was in Denver, Colorado so we just got the operator to give us all the listings for Webster that could be him, started with the Harold’s and on the third call got a man who knew him and gave me his number. Called and got his wife, explained my situation and told them I would wire the money, plus shipping and handling, if they would send the book. She said he was not there now but she was sure he had some extras in his car. I wired the money. I got the book five days before the exam and I read and studied like mad with my wife’s help.

I took the exam that Saturday. There were seven of us taking it as I recall. Mr. Stansell was administrator. Without his efforts there would have been no program. I think everyone passed but I’m not sure. I was introduced to Mr. Kent Nickerson who was to be my master falconer during my three years of apprenticeship. We would develop a relationship over those three years that would be a great help to me but would end the day my apprenticeship ended. We would hawk together and visit in each others home but about the time my three years apprenticeship would end so would his marriage. He would have many problems. I would never see or hear from him again.

Mr. Stansell and I would have a good but brief relationship because he would shortly be moving into a Federal position. Other than these two men, I have never heard from or seen any of the men that took that first exam again. Admittedly, we were all sort of loners engaged in what we considered a rather solitary sport. At the time, all that mattered was I had passed and could legally trap a bird and get on with it.

The Feds misplaced my falconer’s license. It was in a stack of papers on the desk of an officer in Tennessee who had retired suddenly for medical reasons. By the time anyone found it I had six days left in trapping season.

Mid December, 1977 Mr. Stansell called me. He had a full grown but severely injured red tail that he referred to as “Bertha, the Bitch”. Mr. Stansell was seriously over burdened and told me if I would take Bertha he would let it count toward my apprenticeship. I could also get a lot of valuable experience. In the mean time I could try trapping a bird till he got her to me if I preferred and he would wait, because he would not saddle a beginner with two birds. I figured I had little hope of trapping a bird this season as I was working every day but Sunday. I told him to just bring “Bertha, the Bitch”.

For the sake of my children I changed her name to Gypsy.

Gypsy had been the victim of a sorry hunter, a lousy shot, a lawbreaker ignorant about nature, and without scruples or character. I say that because if he had not been all these he would never have wounded a red tail.

Another hunter found her and carried her to a veterinarian who had no idea what to do for her but had contacted the S.C. Wildlife & Marines Resources Dept. Eventually word trickled down to Mr. Stansell. He had trimmed her feathers, set the broken wing and taken care of her. Gypsy was a good new name. Gypsy was a stripper. She stripped all her perches. She stripped a few pieces out of me more than once. She had been treated harshly by humans. She saw no reason to ever trust one again. I’d like to say I won her over; but you don’t do that with hawks. I did get her manned, and in a sort of working relationship. In the end she would never fully recover physically or psychologically. Her wounds would heal but part of the muscles would atrophy. After a two hundred yard flight she would need lots of recovery time and would droop the wing constantly. I loved her but she would never be a hunter and could never live as a wild creature so we sought other venues. She ended her days in a small zoo in Spartanburg. Mr. Stansell transported her as he had made all the arrangements.

That was December 7th, 1978 and on that visit he informed me he was changing jobs and going to the Federal side of the wildlife field and would be moving to Atlanta. He said he had a fully mature female red tail named Linnaeus that he needed to give to someone. She had no hunting experience but had been flown at demonstrations for students and had been used in television specials on ETV. She was an eyas when he got her but was in excellent health. Her nest tree had been blown down in a storm and some folks had rescued her. He had maintained her through her first molt. Would I like to have her? Does a fire want fuel? She was, in his words, everything Bertha was not. He still called Gypsy, Bertha.

On December 14th, 1978 Mr. Stansell delivered Lennie to my door. I was and am deeply indebted to him. It was the start of a relationship that would last twenty four and a half years. After twenty-two years I would release Lennie. We live in the country and she would have lots of room. We would continue to feed her for two and a half more years. The last half year she would return less and less often until one day she would not return ever again.

During those years we would kill a fair number of rabbits and a million rats. I couldn’t say who was more frustrated over the paucity of rabbits. When she got a rat I would lose her for a few hours, some times for a few days. Many times I would roost her and come back in the dark to pick her up at first light.

Once I would almost lose her when she managed to get hung up in her leash. My wife would rescue her. I kept the weathering area locked because of the neighbor’s kid. The one day Lennie got hung I would be thirty miles away with the key in my pocket. Jane got wire cutters and tore a hole big enough to crawl through and free her. Lennie would be unharmed although Jane wouldn’t fare quite so well. I would make extra keys, but fortunately this would never happen again.

Lennie would never try a squirrel in spite of my best efforts. She caught a possum, a snake and dog but she had no interest in squirrels. Once she landed and actually followed a rabbit into a blackberry tangle so thick she could not fly out. I had a tough day that time. She would never work with a dog or hunt well with strangers.

In all those years she would only once exhibit any anger. On a really long and fruitless hunt one day when I finally decided to give up, Lennie was so frustrated she flew toward me and slapped the glove as hard as she could and kept going. It was a welder’s glove and she hit it so hard she burst some stitches but then she immediately banked and came back and was her usual calm self. Lennie was exceptional.

Published in Bells & Whistles SCFA Summer 2006, Vol. 1 Issue 1

Rail

I ain’t much on frills; ain’t no conchas on my saddle.
More than once I’ve been up the crick without no paddle.
When I first set out to cowboy I didn’t know come here from sic’em,
Bought a twenty dollar devil horse; boy, I sure knew how to pick ‘em.
Old Rail didn’t look like much but he was what I could afford.
Man that sold him said he once belonged to an English lord.
Probably hadn’t been the same since Columbus brought him over;
But I bought a bag a grain and hobbled him on clover.
Rail ate from can to can’t, started filling out his frame.
I was giving some thought to the changing of his name.
He had been some horseman’s mount, didn’t need bit or bridle,
A touch with a knee, left or right: no touch meant idle.
Grip both knees and he would trot; to gallop grab his mane.
He had it all down pat till one day we met a train.
Rail went plumb to pieces like he’d been fed loco weed.
He plunged in all directions though I kneed and kneed and kneed.
He was whirling roun’ and roun’ like he’s caught up in a pool.
I’d drawed my knees up on the skirt, was blue blessing the old fool.
When that engine give a blast, a tremulous, mournful, wail.
Rail went into running like there was a rocket up his tail.
We was zipping cross the prairie, putting distance to the track.
I’d tried left knee, right knee, no knee, and for my final act,
I’d pulled out my forty four; I’d put a stop to this mad run.
Just as I pulled back the hammer my saddle come undone.
The old girth band had snapped and dumped me on the ground.
When I hit I pulled the trigger; Rail stopped cold at the sound.
Came back to where I was lying, nudged me to see if I was dead.
I was getting to my feet to put a bullet through his head.
But rail was grinning ear to ear; I know that sounds insane.
Then I figured it out; Rail thought I’d killed that train.
Next time we met one Rail was just like any other horse.
He didn’t like ‘em much; he’d shudder and tremble some of course;
But no more panic, no more whirling, no more going plumb insane.
I’d just draw my gun and hold it, pointing it toward the train.

Rail~PKA’s Advocate~February/March 2011

Horse Haggling

He said, “Yes, I’ve got a horse for sale if you’ve got ready cash?
But it’s going to come right dearly ’cause this ain’t no kind of trash.
She’s a fine gaited high stepper, broke to snaffle, rein, or bit,
And if I weren’t on hard times I’d shore be keeping it;
But a dollar is a dollar and I’ve many mouths to feed.”
I said, “Sure, I’ve got the money, but I’d like to see this steed.”
He said, “She’s sound as ‘ary dollar, and she’ll run just like the wind.
She’s a class act, she’s got bottom, you won’t see her kind again.
She’s the pride of my whole stable,” and he muted down his voice,
Said, “I’m hard pressed to sell her ’cause this horse is really choice.”
Then we rounded the back barn and there standing in the lot
Was this stringy piece of horseflesh that the renderers had forgot.
It’s for sure she had bottom for she had surely bottomed out.
Wind was sprung, ribs showed sound, it was clear beyond a doubt,
Her high stepping days were over, and as for that fine gait;
I’ve no doubt she had it once, but I was twenty years too late.
Still, she had a shining eye and a spirit not quite dead,
So I folded back my wad and I told the man instead,
“I’ll take her off your hands if you throw in a sack of grain.”
And his face it got all red till I was sure he’d bust a vein,
So I said, “I’ll give you twenty, and I’ll put her on good pasture.
You won’t get a better offer, and I’ll save her from disaster.
I’ll feed her and I’ll fatten her till she’s prime as any beef.
She won’t die here in your livery and give you any grief.”
So we haggled on a while, but I could tell that he’d lost heart,
And when the final deal was struck, he still had the better part;
But the trader, unrelenting, said I was stealing her, of course.
Only winner in the bargain was probably the horse.

Horse Haggling~PKA’s~Advocate-February/March 2011

Last Poem

I wrote a little poem.
I was so very proud.
I put it in my wallet.
If I was in a crowd,
I’d read it at the drop
Of anybody’s hat.
Folks began to dodge me.
I didn’t care for that.

Writer’s Journal ~ page 63 ~ March/April 2010

Coffee Up

My old Daddy always said, “Never loan your gun to a man.
Never fire your last shell less you have two guns to hand.
Don’t loan your horse of course, no matter how close the friend.
Don’t get a pard to talk to your gal, unless you want it to end.
Any of them can break your heart and some can set you afoot.
Don’t go to a dance in new boots; don’t trust a man in a suit.”

He had a lot of dos, a lot of don’ts, and some maybes,
Like never ride a sore backed horse, always smile at babies,
Tip your hat to the ladies no matter where you meet ‘em,
The street, the church, the bawdy house, careful how you greet ‘em.
If you wrong someone go set it right if set it right you can.
Live your life so you don’t have to duck a lady, nor a man.

Let folks know where you stand, but don’t act up, nor buck.
Remember fattening steers ain’t usually in good luck.
Life is what you make it; you get back what you give.
Be straight, ride for the brand; it’s the only way to live.
If you get it right and live it right and give it all you got,
The foreman at the Sky Ranch will say, “Come in, the coffee’s hot.”

Coffee Up~used in Esther M. Leiper-Estabrooks Column, Poetry Editor, Writer’s Journal~January/February 2010