Ahead of Their Time

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In February we went to the woods for oak poles to build a new hay shed. Dad tramped all over the woods, measuring trees at breast height, carrying an axe to mark the ones which suited. He hauled out the cross-cut saws, setting and filing their teeth. He mounted aCrosscut Sawwooden box over the drawbar of one of the tractors and loaded it with chains, axes, mauls, wedges, a jug of kerosene, a sack of corn cobs and a small sack of potatoes, and we were off to the timber.

We crashed through a thicket that had grown across the lane where it entered the woods, following a large hogback. We left the lane well into the woods, making our way to a group of marked trees, saplings springing upright behind the tractor.

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“Here,” said Dad, handing me a cross-cut saw. He walked slowly around the first tree, looking fig01up into its crown. Presently he chopped out a wedge shaped notch from the side of the tree’s trunk facing where it was to fall. He took the saw and started it at the inside of the notch. “All right,” he said, “you take your end. Don’t struggle with it. You let me do the cutting. Just follow me back and forth to keep the saw from binding.”

Dust trickled into a pile on the roots in front of me. “That’s the time,” he said. “Now you’re a-getting it. Now let’s change sides. When I say, ‘timber,’ you run for the tractor, right now.”

Pulling out of the cut which was about a third of the way through the tree, we started from the other side, about an inch further up the trunk. When we reached the first cut, he took a quick step back away from the tree and hollered: “Timber! Go on, get!” With a groan and a pop, the tree slowly settled toward the notch. Then picking up speed, it furiously crashed to the ground.

I rushed back to smell the cut and stand on the stump.  

“Here. Hold this right here at the end,” he said, feeding out his measuring tape along the trunk. He marked a spot with his axe and stood, reeling in his tape whilst I scampered up and down the trunk.

We heard a tractor coming into the woods. Directly, Grandpa appeared with the hired hand on the fender. He dismounted and shuffled up with a mallet and a heavy spade-like chisel.

“What’s that, Grandpa?” I asked.images

“A spud.”

“Good,” said Dad, looking up.

Grandpa set to work at the opposite end of the log from Dad, driving the spud along the trunk under the bark with his mallet, quickly peeling it away.

Dad and the hand disappeared into the woods for a time, talking as they went. Grandpa fastened a chain around the large end of the log. I lay down on my back, idly shoving at the massive pole with my feet.

“Hey!” said Grandpa. “You don’t want to do that. If you get that thing to rocking, it could come down on ye. That old cu’se is heavy. It’d kill ye.” He gave a chuckle and slowly sat down on the images (1)stump. “When your Uncle Jake and I were kids, we were looking after some calves that we were a-running in the big hollow. There was a big old hollow gum tree, a-lying there, near where we were a-fooling around. It had its top cut off and was still a-resting on its stump, like this ‘n’ here. Jake went to lying in the leaves on the downhill side, a-doing just what you were a-doing. Well directly, it rolled off the stump and on over him. It’s a good thing he was in kind of a soft low spot, ’cause all it did was mash him into the mud and leaves.” He paused with twinkling eyes.

“Well, he wasn’t through. Directly he crawled clear up inside it. It rocked a little as he went along, and then, doggoned if it didn’t take off a-rolling and bouncing down the hill. It really went a-kiting! Boom, boom! Bang! It was one dickens of a long way down to the creek. I tore off down the hill to see if he was all right, about the time the log came up right smart again the trunks of a couple of large ironwoods that stood on the bank of the branch.

“When I got to him, he’d crawled out white as a sheet, just a-reeling, steadying himself again one of the ironwoods. I said: ‘Are ye dizzy?’ And he said: ‘This ain’t dizzy!'”

Later in the morning, I looked up with a start to see an old man who looked like a tall version of my granddad standing there, watching me work.

“Look ‘ee there at that rotten old carcass your dog just drug up, Tom,” said Grandpa.

“I had to walk over here to make sure that thing there didn’t cause Harry and his hand too many headaches,” said the old man with a spit and a nod at Grandpa.

“Grandpa just told me about you a-rolling down a hill in a log when you were a kid,” I said.

“I was just ahead o’ my time is all.”

“How’s that?”

“Well back before the first automobile, I had to come up with some way o’ going for a spin. ‘Course, your uncle Albert ‘as done one better ‘n that.”

“So what did he do?”  

“Well,” he said, “he and his older brother were down in the bottom early March, and they came across this crow’s nest, ‘way up in the crown of a yellow poplar. Well Albert’s older brother, a-being full of piss an’ vinegar, decided for to shinny up to it. He worked and scuffled and strained, and after so long a time, he peeped over the edge of the nest and hollered that theah was a mess o’ young ones.

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“Well by then, your uncle Albert was on his way up, too. He come up just below his brother and said, ‘Let me see.’ So his brother got hold of a fist full of young crow, all belly and pin feathers and held it out, as far as he could manage. Albert craned his head ‘way back with his mouth open like this, in time for the crow to kerdobble right square into his mouth. Well he let go right now and dropped clean to the ground.images (2)

“Now you might ‘ave allowed that I was ahead o’ my time, but Albert flew neigh thirty year before the Wright Brothers ever got off the ground.”

 

Tom Phipps

 

Fletcher Fawkes Told Me That it Was My Turn

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Gary Harrison stumbled into quite a gold mine for old fiddle tunes in its twilight, a weekly hqdefaultgathering of old musicians and people who came to listen, in a one room school house in a little place called Bible Grove (once known as Georgetown). There was always quite a crowd, though they were nearly all elderly. We drove down there quite often and learnt quite a few tunes.

One evening we found the place more packed than usual, with folks milling about, having pie whilst waiting for the musicians to get settled in their circle of chairs with their 5492092_3530UDPNTinstruments. Since I grew up on a dairy farm with fresh skimmed milk in my tea, I passed by their smelly fat homogenized stuff and got a Styrofoam cup of black coffee and sat down with it next to Fletcher Fawkes, an old bald headed fiddler known to everyone as Guy. Guy gave me a nod from behind his crooked spectacles as he shifted a fresh chaw of tobacco around in his mouth, 450866spitting into a Styrofoam cup of his own. As usual, he had his fiddle all wired up with electrical tape to a dinky little speaker which always made his instrument sound shrill. He would have been much better off without it, but I always allowed that it made him feel up to date.

PhotoheadingOTThe music began with a flourish of microphone feedback as Bud Ingerham with his flattop and brilliant red bow tie played a boisterous Dixieland rendition of Wabash Cannonball on his tenor banjo as the rest of us $T2eC16J,!)EE9s2ufWcHBQ)NtMgitg~~60_35followed along the best we could. The next tune, Natchez Under the Hill (Turkey in the Straw) was led on the fiddle by old Benny Sutton who sat in the chair to Bud’s left.

On it went chair by chair, until it got around to Guy. He bashfully beamed, spit in his cup and shifted about on his seat as he thumbed his strings and raised his fiddle to his collar bone. He began playing Town Hall Jig. I would be next.

3healthrisksI picked up my coffee from the floor beside me. “Funny it’s gone cold, just like that,” I thought as I took a swig. “Better drink ‘er down quick.”

Suddenly, I could see how it all was. “Holy rollercoaster in a cup! God forbid!” I thought as I spied my hot cup of coffee on the other side of my chair whilst vomitous waves played up and down my throat. “Mercy, mercy! You putrid old grasshopper! You ghastly foul old fart!” I thought as I considered the gustatory nuances of his sputum, his overpowering bouquet of fetid, sugary rot clinging to my lips. “Oh how could I already have it swallowed…!”

Guy gave me a gentle poke. “Look alive Tom,” he said innocently enough. “It’s your turn.”

large_EarlScruggs-453As a rush of prickles came up my spine, I raised my banjo in my cold sweaty hands and played an urgently feeble version of Silver Bell.

Tom Phipps