REVEREND ALEXANDER

He wasn’t a large man; in fact he was only 5’4” and weighed about 135 pounds. But he was a giant to Chipmunk, Punky, Jenny and me. When he first came into our life he had seen 71 summers but the years hadn’t dampened his enthusiasm for life or the spring in his step. He wore little round wire glasses that usually sat out on his nose and, if outdoors, he always wore a well-worn fedora hat. His deep voice had an unusual quality, it was soft spoken and always caring yet it had a ring of authority about it. It was a voice that you never grew tired of. He could make subjects you weren’t necessarily interested in, interesting, a master storyteller.

The happy little man was a master with a shotgun. His well-worn J.C Higgins pump-action 16 gauge shotgun was thought to contain magic. He never missed in a dove field, when quail hunting, he usually put three birds on the ground at every covey rise and a running rabbit didn’t stand a chance. He outshot the best hunters around Tater Knob but never one time did I hear him boast.

The perky little giant was a man of God, our parents called him Reverend Alexander, we kids knew him as Brother Alexander. Our little country church was poor by most standards and I am sure that being the Shepherd of our flock kept him and his wife near the poverty line but they never complained and were always the first to step up when there was any kind of family crisis at the remote farmsteads. His pay was mostly from the fruit of the land, depending upon what season of the year it was. Vegetables during the summer, chicken and eggs in the fall, a ham or a slab of bacon during the winter and a bird dog pup or a fine tanned coon hide in the spring were just a few of his paychecks. One of his favorite dishes was groundhog and the housewife that could invite him to Sunday dinner of groundhog was the envy of the community as having the preacher eat Sunday dinner at your house was the goal of every household.

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THE BOOK

We had received our orders, we were required to read a book, an ENTIRE, whole book during the summer and give an oral book review when school opened in August. It was the sentence of death. Who in their right mind would waste time reading when they could be fishing or camping or playing mumblety-peg?

July found Punky Kelly, Chipmunk Green and I at our camp on the old mill pond that was formed when the Brier Fork Creek was dammed up in the late 1800’s to supply water for a grist mill. To us it was a large lake in Canada. For shelter we used an old tarp that Punky’s dad used for covering hay. To us it was a wall tent on the Canadian wilderness lake.

We had stayed up most of the night before running trot lines and barely caught enough yellow cats to smell up the skillet. As I fried up the fish in bacon drippings and Punky made hoe cake, Chipmunk reminded us about our summer reading assignment. It hung over us like a dark cloud. 

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JENNY

Jenny was a pretty little girl. Her long blond hair hung down over shoulders and her eyes sparkled with life. They were as blue as the sky. She was a skinny little ball of energy, doing everything with enthusiasm.

At school the girls picked on her because she was poor and they called her a Tom boy as she chose to hang out with Chipmunk, Punky and I to talk about huntin’ and fishin’ rather than playing with the girls. The days she was in school, she was one of the brightest students in our class. But many days, especially during the rainy days of winter, she missed school because the old rundown house she lived in was down a long rough lane that would flood if there was much rain. She couldn’t get out to catch the school bus.

Jenny’s dad was a sharecropper who would become a full time trapper and woods roamer as soon as the crops were harvested in the fall. The old sharecropper house they called home was papered in old newspaper and it was heated with a large wood-burning cook stove. They were poor but Jenny never let that hold her back. She was a woods girl and proud of it.

One cold, windy, December day, Chipmunk, Punky and I were sitting on the sunny side of the school, out of the wind, during recess planning a squirrel hunt for the following Saturday. It was to be a contest to see who could get the most squirrels.

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