Some days, I need time and a quiet place to think. When I do, I find a nearby holler and drive the pick-up truck up it. Usually, I can find a good place to sort things out. Yes, we call them hollers over here in Wild Wonderful. Not hollows. A holler is a narrow valley carved out from a creek flowing through it. The local folk might call the creek a branch so if you come visiting and someone tells you a branch washed over the road, don’t go looking for tree limbs. A narrow road usually trails along side of the creek. Wherever the landscape is wide enough or flat enough to allow for it, houses spring up. They used to be old wood framed, clapboard houses, but nowadays you’re likely to find a double wide or one of those new modular homes. A person doesn’t live in the holler, they live up it. The entrance to the holler is the mouth and when you run out of road, you’re at the head of it. Consider that as your free holler geography lesson. Jerry West, NBA Hall of Famer, is one of our most famous holler folk. He’s from Cabin Creek. There are other famous holler folk out there among you (thankfully), but those who’ve left generally don’t brag much about their humble holler beginnings.
Hollers are more advanced today than they were when I grew up on Skin Fork. They’re mostly paved now. I remember them being dirt that was occasionally sprayed with a mixture of water and oil by the county road crews to keep the dust down. The environmentalists would have a conniption fit about that nowadays. It’s common to find cable television, satellites and yes, even the Internet up most hollers. Our holler folk are as well informed as most, but they’re happy about the distance they are able to keep between themselves and say Paris Hilton. Up hollers, you might find hogs still being slopped, cows milked by hand and hound dogs that are not leashed or caged. Holler life is maybe the last vestige of sanity and peaceful living one can find.
Traveling up the holler, it isn’t long before I spot him. He’s always there, sitting on the porch in a straight backed wooden chair. He’s a composition of the influential men in my young life. My Dad, a couple of my uncles and some others I listened to during my hollar rearing. He’s wearing bibbed overalls of faded denim and a red and black checked flannel shirt. On the back of his head sits an old train engineer’s cap, cocked slightly to the right. He’s wearing a pair of ankle high work boots, might even be steel toes. Hanging out of one of his rear pockets is a red bandanna. In the pouch pocket on the front of his bibs is his smoking tobacco and a plug of chew. The smoking tobacco isn’t anything fancy. In my younger days, it would have been Prince Albert in a can or Bugler Boy. He might stuff it in a pipe to smoke it or roll his own. Either way, when this tobacco is smoldering it smells as if someone lit a cat. The chew is Union Workman or Mail Pouch, neither are brands for the meek. His look hasn’t changed over the years and I expect his outlook hasn’t changed much either. He’s honest, straightforward and not too complicated.
Lying on the porch beside him is an old hound dog of no discernible pedigree. Could be part beagle from the long snout, big ears and eyes. Maybe part red bone from the drooping jowls and the color of his face. Then again, the slender waist and speckled markings makes you think there might have been a blue tick in the family. Holler folk will just call him a hound dog and leave it at that. If he can hole a groundhog or chase a rabbit from a thicket or a prowler from the back yard no one much cares if he’s pure bred or not.
Eventually, these images bring me back to my roots, the perspective from which I most like to sort things out. I’ll find me a quiet spot along the creek, get out of the truck and go sit. I’ll grab a hand full of pebbles, watch the squirrels chasing one another, listen to the birds sing and the running water and ponder the problems of the day while I chuck the pebbles one at a time into the creek. I’ll imagine myself asking the old gentleman about those problems…
“What do you think about this war we’re in?”
“War you say? War is an odd thing. I was in WWII, you know. With General Patton. Every American knew we were in a war for our lives then. Every American knew who the enemy was and knew that we had to beat them to survive. This terrorist thing, now that’s different. It’s a war about us surviving OK, but ‘bout the only people that believe we’re at war are the Soldiers. I don’t expect any terrorist is going to come up this holler and that’s part of the problem. People don’t feel threatened when they should. They can’t point and say there’s the enemy. They cry to high heaven about being searched at the airport and don’t even give up a thought as to why. And the politicians, they’re not much help. They should be out there every day, all of them, pointing Americans toward the enemy, but they ain’t. The next time we’re attacked, instead of figuring out how to fight back they’ll start investigating each other. I just fear the next attack’ll be much worse than the last. But, by then, the last one will have been at least well investigated. Yep, this war’s rather peculiar and I ain’t sure all of us are into winning it.”
“What do you think about the politicians? Especially those trying to be President?”
“I don’t think much about them. They have nothing in common with me, matter of fact, they don’t have much in common with most anyone ‘cept one another. One side’ll tell me how good I got it, the other’ll tell me how bad it is. Problem is, things never changed much one way or the other here in the holler no matter who calls his self President. I just look at’em and ask, do you reckon he’s ever seen an actual hog pen? Or, changed the oil in a truck? Caught a catfish and skinned it? Hoed weeds from a garden? Ever had less than 10 dollars between him and hunger? These people insist they know what I need? Most of’em are politicians for the sake of being politicians and they’ll do desperate things to get what they want. If you find one that you’re convinced is truly interested in taking care of you, me and America, vote for him.”
“What about us Americans as people, are we doing OK?”
He’ll pull out his pocket knife, cut a piece from his chewin’ plug and pop it into his cheek. He’ll hold it there for a while pondering the question while it softens up. Then he’ll answer.
“I read once where President Lincoln said that God must love common folks, that’s why he made so many of them. Most Americans are common folks. See this old hound a layin’ here? I bet there’s five or six different breeds in this one, if you could even track’em all down. This here’s an American hound dog and just like most men, he’s far from being a pure breed. I’ve seen’im run and hunt with all different kinds of hounds and get along good with all of’em. Now we could call him a Beagle-American hound dog, a Red-bone American hound dog, or some such nonsense, but at the end of the day, he’d still be a hound dog a chasin’ groundhogs and cold biscuits for a livin’. He’s friendly, likes to be scratched behind the ears. Whenever a stranger wanders into the yard though, he’ll be out there to get a smell and make sure he ain’t threatening. When he confronts danger, he turns into a fierce, tenacious animal that defends his territory and won’t quit the fight until it’s over. He never makes a mistake about danger. Men could take lessons from him. Especially nowadays.”
By the time I chuck my last pebble into the creek, it’s suppertime. I hop back into the pick-up and head down the holler. The old-timer’s chair is empty when I pass by this time. I get the image of him sitting supper with the rest of the family, saying grace and giving thanks for what they have and where they are. I take a moment to give my own thanks for the good sense of holler folk. Then I feel better.
Copyright© JD PENDRY 2004 All Rights Reserved