Hounded into Making a Splash

Al and Molly before a hunt

Being Molly

Sunday, September 30, 2012
By Al Gray

Rabbits probably laughed at Molly. A gray-headed, bow-legged old girl of a beagle just would not have filled their hearts with fear. Her voice at full cry was a moderate bawl. She didn’t have a fantastic cold trail nose that would detect where they had exited the sorghum field and tipped to their warrens hours before at dawn. Her legs were bowed, so speed wasn’t a threat.  Molly purely looked and sounded like what she was – a mostly worn out beagle bitch of about 7 years of age. She certainly wasn’t the ideal image of a dog around whom one would build a rabbit hunting pack.

Molly would have to do, as it turned out. We managed to aggregate a pack of dissimilar beagles into a rag-tag gang of hare-harassing noise makers.  Molly became the constant.  Jack and Dolly had superior noses, but tended to get caught up in trying to slowly extract the last scent rising from the trail. Queenie was a briar-busting runt of a jump dog, who had no nose at all. Back-track sometimes ran the trail backwards. Mabel was an even more aged relic, albeit a wise dog with experience. Of necessity, we rarely hunted pine thickets or open terrain. When we did, there was Molly to keep the clan functional.

Over time, Jack and Dolly discovered that their master was full of praise when they lifted their noses from back down the trail and went to Molly in the lead. Queenie found it was fun to stay with the gang and lend her squeaky voice in pursuit of those cottontails. Mabel kept pace and often straightened the pack out where Molly sometimes hesitated.  Back Track got left home and became a shot-deer tracking hound, as he confused the heck out of all the others, Molly included. By the second season, the group was a functional pack, just one devoid of speed.

Cottontails and swampers who survived a Molly chase were the ones who didn’t sit on their haunches laughing. Molly had grim determination. Molly purely LOVED to hunt rabbits. Had Br-er  Rabbit gotten close enough to see, he would have trembled with fear. The old gal had ears tattered and bleeding from dogged pursuit through blackberry briers. Sometimes one of those steel-tough green briers would have torn an ear. Her tail ended in a hairless tip, with only the peripheral hair left to offer when her tail was held high. The pads of her feet were like iron. Those bow legs might have lacked speed but made up with power to bulldoze through thickets.

In a hunt Molly was bold, audacious, relentless, and cunning. Without being encouraged or trained to do so, she took the initiative to find, defend, and retrieve a downed quarry. That the rabbit was a relatively huge burden for a 29 pound beagle carry never deterred our Molly. She had a heart seemingly as large as a whole rabbit.

Before the fourth season with Molly and company, life changes and the wear of time struck. Mabel passed away around Independence Day. Queenie had a severe back injury and had to be put to sleep by Dr. Garner. It was time to find replacements and to expand the pack with young blood.  Over in Grovetown, Mr. Stephenson found himself with his own health issues in the form of congestive heart failure which ended his beagling days just as his 8 month old litter of AKC-registered gun dog pups was ready to begin training. His five pups found a buyer eager to accommodate his wishes that the entire litter be kept intact to form a hunting pack.

Those pups were significantly faster than Jack, Dolly, Molly and Mr. Calvin Clem’s contributions to the pack, Lucy and Mack. Each sibling had a different temperament and style. Molly would bend them all to meet hers. She became their mentor. Sapphire, the only female, was the first to begin running rabbits and quickly became the leader of the pack, always adroitly and quickly handing the outs that the rabbits would throw at the pack. When she didn’t,  Jack and Dolly had learned to release the scent trail and go to where the leaders were, so they were there to work out the challenges Sapphire found more difficult. Brothers Louie, Andy, and Pete were quick learners and became excellent rabbit beagles.  Molly was there with them all.

The last hold-out amongst the Stephenson pups was Amos. The poor boy seemed befuddled and perhaps even afraid at all of the racket that the others made in pursuit. Amos stayed at Master’s feet. I could not shoot for fear of causing gun-shyness in Amos. This finally ended in a planted pine grove down below Girard, when a fleet cottontail that had far outdistanced the noisy pack darted across the fire break in front of us. Amos took off after him, barking in a high chop voice on the hot trail. From then on, Amos was a key member of the team that we released in open terrain and pine plantations. Alas, even a hot scent could not entice Amos into a brier patch. He would pace outside, hoping that the rabbit would play HIS game, not the rabbit’s.

The constant in the pups’ education in the field was old Molly. It was about the time that the naughty pups came into her hunts that she ‘learned’ to retrieve rabbits. Jack already had picked up on that as a way to gain his master’s praise. Jack was a burly enforcer, broad chested and 17 inches at the shoulder, which is large for a beagle. Molly had a lot of trouble because of her short legs. One can see the difficulty she had in this picture of Molly retrieving a rabbit.

I don’t know about you, but our pets at times have taught such powerful human lessons that it becomes humbling, poignant, and powerful all at the same time. Molly rarely led the pack any more. Sapphire and Pete seemed to have jumped to the fore. From the outset, they had more speed.  It might have hurt the old girl’s feelings, but Molly was all heart, with a smidgeon of cunning.

Most of the pups early training was in open terrain and planted pine plantations, but by late in the season, the hunting party had to resort to unconventional habitat.  One of the toughest venues for rabbit hunts were the brier choked drainage ditches for fields with center pivot irrigation. Down by Highway 301, near Rubin Oliver’s place, there was such a place. At the rear was a water filled canal that was too wide for us to leap. The water was too deep to wade.

A rabbit jumped up along one of the center ditches, exploited a gap in our containment to the sound of three desperate shots from Cousin Hugh, and dashed to the rear of the field and into the dense blackberry patch there. Pete and Sapphire led the pack in pursuit.  When the beagles reached the ditch, all noise stopped. The rabbit had swum the ditch. Five young beagle gun dogs were left clueless and whining at the edge of that canal. Suddenly, there was a graying blur as this bow legged doyenne of a wizened huntress barged through the youngsters and leapt into the water with no hesitation. The five whiners quickly followed her example and swam to the other side, where a furious pursuit of Mr. Rabbit resumed that lasted until dark.

The sight of Molly’s charge into the canal became more than a fixed memory; It became an inspiration for her masters. Molly took charge and plunged into what looked to her companions like a well of doom. Despite her age, aching bow legs, and the coldness of the water, Molly knew her duty and did not shrink from it. She inspired the youngsters around her and taught them with leadership in action.

We should all do the same in these times of encountering vast moats of troubles.

Be Molly.

Molly in Action

Don’t Feed the Dead Bolted Bears

Dead Bolt from a Wildlife Refuge
Sunday August, 12, 2012
Augusta, GA
By Al Gray 

Some of the most tense, relaxation-devoid, and snafu-filled experiences an outdoorsman can have is to try to jamb pack a meaningful hunting or fishing trip into a long weekend. For starters, every guy and his brother have the same idea. The fields and streams can be crowded.  The highways get traffic jams. The destinations can be miss-booked or overbooked. Having a meaningful, positive experience is a challenge. 

The Memorial Day weekend of 1979 was like that. A small group of us: Freddie and Sandy Norris, my sister Arlain and her fiancé, Robbie Robertson and this author decided to make a dash for Lake George in east central Florida. The idea was to catch the bluegills bedding atop the large mussel shell beds out in the lake upon the weekend full moon.  We made reservations with Blair’s Jungle Den at Astor. The manager assured us that unit, B2 would be open and awaiting our intended late arrival around midnight. 

Multiple compelling emergencies delayed our intended 3:00 PM departure from Evans. After considerable debate, we decided to go for it anyway, leaving around 6:30 Friday evening. We were extremely tired after a long day of working and packing. Passengers slept in order to take their turn at the wheel. The trip down was pure torture. 

Around 1:30 AM we pulled into the Jungle Den parking lot. Mobile home unit B2 was very clearly occupied, but A3, an old 2 bedroom Jim Walter shanty with an improvised attached bedroom to the rear, was empty. This discussion ensued:
Sandy: “I AM NOT staying in that place!” 

Me: “Why not?” 

Sandy: “I am scared to death of bugs and that place looks like it is roach infested, with maybe fleas, too!” 

Me: “There might be some dead crickets from the case that Uncle John insisted upon opening in there last year. We got serenaded and leapt-upon the whole week, but other than the bugs we brought everything was OK 

Sandy: “Well, if I see a bug, we are going to the Holiday Inn back in Orange Park. 

Unloading luggage commenced in earnest. Freddie, Sandy and Arlain got the main bedrooms and were settling in when I started into the rear bedroom, which turned out to have 2 single beds. One was opposite the door and the other was perpendicular to it at the end of the room. Robbie was just behind me, when I turned on the light switch. The sight of an enormous hairy spider on the wall greeted me. A quick decision was thus prompted. 

I exclaimed: “Look what a HUGE spider that’s perched over YOUR bed!”
Robbie laughed as he pulled off one of his sandals. WHAM! The wall shuddered as the heel of that sandal squashed the spider, leaving a smear on the wall, as the spider fell limply alongside the bed to the floor.
Sandy yelled: “What was that?” 

Me: “Nothing. Robbie is so tired that he crashed into the bed.” (Not a lie – he had!) 

Sandy: “I was afraid you were killing insects.” 

Me: “We have not seen any insects” (A spider is an arachnid, not an insect.) “Good Night!” 

The wind was blowing the next day too briskly to fish on the big lake. The bluegills did not cooperate on the river channels, either. Being constantly buzzed and pushed around by the weekend boat traffic from Astor headed out into the lake might have had something to do with that. Robbie had brought his blue Glasstream  boat, which was so fast it was spooky, but he left the river respecting that the big boats of the commercial fishermen were deceptively fast.  We caught some bluegills in some of the backwater sloughs but the total catch disappointed. 

Monday morning and departure time came quickly. We were loading the last luggage, when Sandy stopped at the threshold and looked back into Number A3. “Well,” she said, “I was worried about bugs, but y’all were right – this cabin was bug free. 

We broke into uncontrollable laughter. “Sa……Sa……Sandy…… the reason there weren’t any bugs was because the giant wolf spider we killed the first night had eaten them all! 

What prompted thoughts of disastrous weekend jaunts was opening the junk drawer in the kitchen this week and seeing a pitiful collection of metal parts that had rested there for a decade. Seeing it again brought a belly laugh. It was a souvenir from the Great Yazoo National Wildlife Refuge hunt of 2002. 

The Yazoo hunt began innocently enough. As a brother-in-law, Robbie is as good as gold, but when it comes to impromptu hunting trips, he can be a little dangerous. 

Robbie: “Don’t you want to go with us to Yazoo this year?” 

Me: “Yazoo makes lawn mowers, right?” 

Robbie: “No, Doofus, Yazoo as in Yazoo National Wildlife Refuge in Mississippi, down below Greenville. The refuge is on a huge oxbow of the Yazoo River. Last year was the first year they opened it up for hunting – bowhunting only – and there are huge bucks down there. Steve killed a big 8 point last year on our trip there and there weren’t that many hunters.” 

Me: “Count me in. Shooting does around the lake isn’t getting tedious, mind you, but a change in scenery might be good. That’s old Jerry Clower’s stomping grounds.” 

The appointed day for the trip came. As it turned out, this scribe had a bout of stomach virus, so we made more stops than Steve would have liked, as he was gung-ho to get there to scout. Along the way, we were dreaming aloud about bagging a 12 point, 195-class Pope and Young buck out of that ‘pristine’ swamp in the middle of the Yazoo Refuge. Each one of us already had one on the wall. 

Jerry Clower put that scenario to words well with “Want to Buy A Possum?” That one could have been a prophesy for our trip.

As we approached Greenville, I asked a stupid question.
Me: “Where we gonna stay? Hampton Inn?“
Steve, exchanging amused glances with Robbie: “More like Ho-ville Inn
Robbie: “We got the motel covered. We gotta have room to bring Steve’s canoe inside.”
Me: “Why can’t we leave it in the truck locked to the bed.”
Steve: “Bad part of town. People are walking the highway all hours. Robbie about got a girlfriend forced on him last year. Lots of crack dealing. Everything has to be in the room after dark.”
Me: “Ugh. I think I am getting sick again.” “What’s this about the ho’s?
Robbie: “There was a knock on the door late last year. I made the mistake of opening it. This woman walked in and she wouldn’t take ‘No’ for an answer. We had to pull our pistols on her to make her leave!”
Me: “You might have to pick me up at the Hampton, but I will give it a try
Steve wheeled into a dilapidated old motel, pulling into a space at the end room. I went to pay the Indian woman managing the place cash in advance through Monday. Upon returning to the room I saw a problem. The door to the room looked like it was nailed back together and the dead bolt was missing.  
Me: “When we go out to eat supper and get groceries, let’s run by Lowe’s.
Robbie: “Why?”
Me: “There is a hole where the dead bolt used to be. No way I stay in that room with that door being unsecure, never minding the fact that it looks pieced and glued together.”
Steve: “Now, I’ve heard of everything. Here we are about to buy our own dead bolt for a motel room!”
We walked out the door and smack into a pimp with a couple of ho’s. He and they weren’t insistent, probably because 3 guys in camo don’t generally look like men to be trifled with. There was drug dealing all over the place.
Upon our return, I took in the bathroom and shower. I have never seen a shower stall with such a menagerie of scum and mildew. Going in there was a grand mistake. Yeah, my gas perm contacts needed to come out, but my two hunting companions got a strategic jump on me.
Steve and Robbie were asleep and they were snoring.
It was Loud.
Before this story continues, your scribe has a confession to make. I have a habit of molesting my fellow hunters in their sleep – with my snoring. It is legendary. The racket gets so loud that no one who goes on our dove hunting trips will subject themselves to it. They all want another roomie.
This time, Yazoo Steve and Robbie were so loud, my efforts just blended in. We joked later that when our gang went hunting, we didn’t go a whoring, we went to snoring.
That sparsely attended hunt we were anticipating didn’t happen. On a trip around the loop road around the Yazoo refuge there were 85 pickups parked. There were so many hunters we had to get to the stands we found an hour before daylight and then blink our flashlights in warning to hunters approaching from the main parking areas. Our stands were almost on the water’s edge, which required that we take a short-cut down an old dike, across a beaver dam, through a pine thicket and alongside the swamp. The huge crowd of hunters pushed the deer out onto the humps and islands out in the swamp, so we saw a lot of deer. My stand was in a 14 inch black locust tree that was dropping its pods at the swamp edge. A very nice 8 point buck came in and started munching locust bean pods at 8 yards. He gave me the perfect shot.
I didn’t shoot. Thinking of the ordeal of getting that buck out of that swamp, across the oak stand, through the pine woods, up the canal, across the beaver dam, down the dike, and across the field to the truck, all via dragging or carting,  overcame the urge to shoot. That buck was doubly lucky, for he sashayed up to Robbie after he left me. He got a double bye-pass.
Back at the motel, the dingy carpet was getting muddy from our boots, the canoe was nestled against the wall, Steve’s boot dryers hummed, and the mold in the shower was getting abused by scent-proof shampoo. The seedy beds and the walls, were they to talk, were getting a new experience from three Georgia bowhunters. All of this went on behind our dead-bolt lock.
With all that snoring at night and maniacal laughter during the day, no pimps, whores, or dealers were coming anywhere near that end room. It sounded like there were grizzly bears in there.
I have to be the only person I know who bought his own motel door dead bolt lock. That’s my story and I am sticking to it.
The lock turned up this week. Here is the picture to prove it. 


Short Story: Fat Pitch Wood Ignites Laughter

The Fat Lighter Stump Rattler

Sunday, August 5, 2012
Lincoln County, GA

By Al Gray

An indispensable material in country life, a role that will accelerate its current reprise as the economics of energy demands, is the fat lighter stump.  Fat lighter is also known as “fat lighter,” “lighter wood,” “rich lighter,” “pine knot,” “lighter knot,” “heart pine,” and other similar descriptors of resin-rich pine wood. The stump is the most concentrated area of the tree to be left full of pitch, albeit not the only section, as trees with cat-faces, like this one, are also great sources.

Our modern homes are increasingly equipped with wood stoves and heaters, creating current demand, but strips and splinters of fat lighter have been used to start fires in the Southern United States for eons. One can imagine the nostrils of the earliest Americans flaring to take in the pleasant aroma of pine pitch as they stacked their own kindling to make camp fires or cook fires in their lodges.

For this aging scribe, that smell brings back memories and more than a few laughs.

Back in 1966, my great Uncle Land Rhodes set out to find some hunting land to rent in the Shell Bluff community of Burke County, Georgia. He found a willing partner in Bennie Gilchrist, who had about 250 acres off of Georgia Highway 23. The place had a couple of peanut fields on it for dove shooting, a few covies of quail and some briar patches full of rabbits. Mainly, though, the place was situated in close proximity to vast public lands of ITT Rayonier, Continental Can, and other private lands where the family could hunt.

In the midst of the first season the clan decided to camp out in an old tin-roofed shanty with just two rooms. One room had a working fireplace. The other did not. Naturally everybody with two legs slept in the one with the fireplace, for it was a brutally cold winter.  The greater number of the hunting party was better dressed for the cold and slept in the second room.

To get the fire started, they picked up some fat lighter over around Youmans Road on the way back from the first afternoon hunt. The splinters of that fat wood produced a rich, wafting odor of pine resin. Soon the fire was crackling, the stories were being spun, and before long, the tin roof was buzzing from the snoring from both rooms. No alcohol was involved, because John Rhodes was a tee-totaler and adamant about that.

The morning of the second day was a quail hunt, with plans for a grand rabbit hunt after lunch.  John, Land, and Andrew were the morning hunter contingent as the bigger party for the rabbit hunt was still up on Stevens Creek Road in Martinez. It was a good morning, too, for the uncles bagged 22 bobwhites before the hunting prowess of Bronco, King, and Nell.

Upon their return to the camp they found that Buster, Hugh, and Junior arrived. We won’t engage in a round of overstatement about the fare being sumptuous fried quail, cabbage, corn on the cob, cornbread, and a helping of Aunt Francis’ peach cobbler, because it was mostly saltines, sardines, and Vienna sausage. Afterward came a nap in front of the fireplace.

No one was asleep when a knock came from the front door. It was Alvin Needy, a local inhabitant who worked on farms part time. Old Alvin was known to drink moonshine and he had been into it early that day.  “Hey, fellas, y’all kill many birds this mawnin?” Buster said “Yeah, I wrung the neck of one of the yard hens for Hattie Mae just before we drove down, but you got to ask Land here if they got any quail birds.” Land said “Yeah, we found a big covey, got 5 on the rise and 3 more single birds. We knocked around and got a really nice mess of birds.”

By this time Alvin was inside, peering all around. “You mens got some licca you can spare for old Alvin? “ John spoke up and said “ I don’t drink. I suspect these other boys do, but not when I am around.” “WHAT?” exclaimed Alvin. “Six white mens down heah in dis sandy place in a shack on dis cold day and NO Booze?” By this time he had rumbled and stumbled to the door to the back room. He wasn’t taking no for an answer, believing he was being put off and mislead. Alvin reached for the door knob. One of the uncles said “I wouldn’t do that if I were you……”


Too late, Alvin had opened a Pandora’s box. 16 beagles overran Alvin. Old Bo headed for the front door….John grabbed him and said “Oh no, Bo, not time to go.” Polly, Prissy, Peaches, Jojo, Jesse, Freddy, Hap, Annie, Mabel, Jinx, Rebel, Tom, Fanny, Lucy, and Missy were milling around a still-muttering Alvin. “OOOO….WEEEE..lookit all de rabbit dawgs!”  He turned to flee and tripped over Mabel. Then the licking started.  Imagine 16 beagle butts turned outward while lathering attention on a drunk.

Word has it that Alvin was in church the next Sunday and didn’t touch moonshine for a very long while.

That day was one for the books. The afternoon was crisp and the thunder of 16 beagles in fully cry carried for nearly a mile. Alvin was long gone by the time the pack returned to that back room of the shanty.

35 years later your scribe went on a hunting lease exploration up at Old Anderson Plantation in Warren County near Norwood, Georgia, much like Uncle Land’s in finding the Gilchrist place. The plantation manager – let’s call him Jim Doe – met me at the hunting camp. At the time the plantation was about 20,000 acres and it had a central area of about 1500 acres that was open to bow hunting only. Jim was very gracious and we spent a lot of time, not just doing the obligatory cruise of the roads and fields, but a lot of actual strolling through the oak stands on the property. About half-way through, Jim spotted a fat lighter stump that he wanted, so we uprooted it and threw it in the back of my pickup truck.

Eventually I had seen enough to conclude the excursion and return to the camp. We were approaching a creek bottom on the paved highway, when Jim yelled “Rattlesnake!,”  pointing at a reptile nearing the centerline. “Kill him” he commanded.I complied, despite having to cross the double yellow line, then slam on the brakes as we crossed the snake’s body. The rattler was slung to the edge of the pavement. 

 We backed up and parked. The snake had somewhat regained his senses to head for the high grass. Jim said “Shoot him.” That brought the response “With WHAT?” There was no gun in the truck. The only thing available was the old fat lighter stump. It was about 3 feet long and perhaps 8 inches wide at its base, but it was solid. While Jim was busily cutting a stick to dispatch the snake with the Gerber folding saw from my hunting pack, I grabbed that stump, walked over to the rattlesnake, and dropped it on his head. The rattle was buzzing furiously. The assault with the fat lighter piece stopped the advance toward the tall weeds, then Jim’s stick finished the job.

Jim said “Let’s take this snake back to Rooster back at the camp. He likes to make hatbands from rattlesnake skins. This is a good one because it isn’t full of birdshot or buckshot holes.”

Rooster had left camp. I was left with the snake in the back of the truck near the tailgate, as I had my cooler and drinks forward against the tool box.

The trip back to Augusta began.  When the on ramp to I-20 at the Camak Exit was approaching a sudden bout of thirst struck for one of the Diet Pepsi’s in the cooler. I pulled off on the apron at the top of the ramp, got out of the truck, reached for a can of Pepsi, popped the top, and started to drink. Out of the corner of my eye, there was movement and something red. At the bottom of the ramp was a fiery red Mustang GT, with the trunk raised. Walking toward me was a guy dressed in an Atlanta Braves T Shirt and jeans. There had been a big game early that afternoon in Atlanta. Obviously there was car trouble.

I pulled down the ramp and rolled down the window. “Hi,”the man said, “I‘m Charlie Reed. My buddy, Dan Potts, and I were driving back to Augusta from the Braves – Giants game, when we hit a piece of metal that blew out a tire. We cannot get the lug nuts off of the wheel because the #%$%$# lug wrench handle is too short to apply enough leverage. Do you have a 4 way lug wrench?” “Sure do,” I replied. “I have a length of pipe to slide over a lug wrench as an extended lever, too!” We located the wrench and pipe in the tool box.

Charlie was a talker, one of those incessant gabbers, to whom you cannot get in a word edgewise. We were about 150 yards from the Mustang.

Charlie said “It sure is hot, could I ride back to the car in your truck?”

I replied “my passenger side seat and the floorboard are filled with tree stand paraphernalia”

He said, “That’s OK I will just hop back there and ride!” The man never stopped flapping his jaws to look what he was doing.

I stammered “No…no!….”

Charlie said “It’s OK, I am not choosy.”

Me: There’s a……”

Charlie, stepping up on the bumper, lifting his right leg high over the tailgate: “I ride in the backs of trucks all the time.”

Me: “I wouldn’t do that if I were You……..”  

Charlie, looking down in mid-giant-stride, his leg perpendicular to the ground 5 feet below: Aiiiieeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 


Charlie bailed out in mid stride and catapulted to the ground. No bones were broken, only his stream of talk.

I have that way with people. I go to find a little fat lighter to make a fire. Somewhere along the way, be it to a county commission or just a hitchhiker in a Braves shirt. I will advise “I wouldn’t do that if I were You……..”  They then ignore me but they come to their senses screaming.

I did that recently, warning about how the TSPLOST transportation tax in Georgia was going to bite them. They promoted it anyway.

It went TSPLAT.

They should have banged the TSLOST to death with a stick of fat lighter.  Now they have to bail out and land on their rumps.

I will laugh my large Gray-family-inherited buns off.***



The Neva Hex

Burke Hero Herman Lodge Debated the White Kid

Saturday, July 28, 2012
Augusta, GA
By Al Gray
The winter of 1977 was brutal on East Ninth Street in Waynesboro, Georgia.  The Georgia Department of Labor had become beneficiary to $millions in Federal funds under the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA), with a portion of them being released under CETA Title III. This program was administered locally by a consortium of 13 area counties. Nobody seemed to know what on earth to do with the Title III Migrant and Seasonal Farmworker program.  They did what came natural – they threw me into doing it – all the time muttering something about a need to “chill out.”  Those words were prophetic.
All of us have heard about bureaucrats being shuffled off to a desk in a closet with nothing to do, except being paid.  Sadly that wasn’t the case with this assignment. A nice closet would have been just fine. Instead the office to which your then-naïve apprentice bureaucrat was directed was “somewhere on East 9thStreet, down yonder in Waynesboro. You will be fine. Just think, with this job out in the farms, you can probably line up new places to hunt and, if you start early in the morning, you can even catch some afternoon hunts!”  You did catch the descriptor “naïve,”  didn’t you?
Imagine my chagrin when the office building was in a rusting galvanized tin-roofed, wood frame, old school on a weathered paved street where it intersected with a dirt road. This picture tells it all.


When one rolled his office chair across the floor, the roof would rattle. Heat? That was swiftly gone with the wind roaring through the cracks.
One particularly cold day found James Williams, Alton Spells, and your humble scribe huddled around the gas heater in the office. Get the picture. One mustachioed black dude in a suit, another in jeans with an enormous Afro, and one very white, then-skinny white boy from Evans in Columbia, County, all hunkered down – arguing politics, as usual.
That old building was also the informal headquarters of the Burke County NAACP. President Herman Lodge, destined to be Burke County’s first black commissioner, was a frequent visitor.  Between doing program enrollments in the field, this, the only white fellow in 5 Waynesboro blocks would, at age 25, would do battle with his elders, generally combatting the notion that everything was a total conspiracy. Sometimes they would shoo me off. A disbeliever in Whitey-Is-Evil and a social program skeptic made them uncomfortable.
Then there were the program enrollees. There were more than a bushel basket of problems with folks down on the farm.  Then there were the self-inflicted problems. Take the Reverend Benny Lapp’s interview.
Me: Rev. Lapp, employers are fickle about job applicant’s employment histories. I notice a gap between 1969 and 1972. Can we explain that?
Rev. Lapp – I were in-car-cer-ated…….
Then there was Shirley McCorn, a poor white gal living in a single wide with 5 kids down in Midville.
Me:    Shirley, that looks like a DOG Collar around your calf….isn’t that a rabies tag dangling from it?
Shirley: It certainly is.
Me: You wouldn’t wear that to an interview would you?
Shirley: I would.
Me: Why? What does it mean?
Shirley: Everyone kept calling me a bitch, so I decided to be true-to-life.
James Williams and I rode all over those counties, trying to find jobs for migrants and seasonal workers. There were sad sacks and there were happy faces. There were farmers who told us to get off their property, but more who were happy to take federal funds bounty for doing what they were going to do anyway in terms of employment. James always dressed to the hilt and drove a new Audi, of which he was most proud.
We were the enforcers.
In that day, in Burke County, Georgia folks still practiced witchcraft. We enrolled a person like that, named Neva Doodis. Neva was short for Geneva and she came from Gough….or maybe Vidette……those two towns always get mixed up in the cobwebs of time and a 3-score-aged brain. At anyway Neva’s enrollment was, well different.
Me: You enroll this one, she is a rootworker.
James Williams: Say wha…..at?
Me: She is a witch, a root doctor.
James: Nobody believes in that these days. What can a root doctor do?
Me: I don’t believe in that stuff, either. Just don’t leave Neva around your open beverages.
James: Why not?
Me:  If you let somebody who says she is a root doctor feed or serve in a drink a root potion conjured up by a root talker, then what the root doctor can do to you is supposedly unlimited. She can have you by controlling your thoughts, even to the extent that you might bark like a dog or even jump in old Walter Wimberly’s hog parlor to slop with his hogs on your next visit to Shell Bluff. Besides that, she can put a hex on you so that physical things so bad on you at inopportune times, even if you don’t drink or eat anything she got hold to.
James: I can handle her.
Me: Ok
Neva got into our training program. She was civil enough, despite being a lover of the moonshine that flowed freely into Waynesboro.
However, Neva was getting paid to attend class. She was missing too many from being hung over or maybe it was from howling at the moon. I finally had enough and drove over to her house during class times. There Neva sat in a rocker, bleary eyed, with a milk jug on the screened porch.
Me: Neva, this is a class day and you have missed it. Didn’t James warn you twice already?
Neva: Dat Williams? Naw, he hain’t been heah tellin me nuttin.
Me: He gave you the notice required to terminate you the last time and you signed for it.
Neva: Missah Ah-el, you ain’t gonna cut mah check off, you can’t do that!
Me: Why not?
Neva: I gots de powah on you.
Me: I made sure not to drink anything. Sorry, Neva but we gave you 3 chances. Like baseball, you got called out on strikes –your sit-at-home strikes against training sessions.
Neva: You gonna be sorry.
Me: James Williams will drop by your last check.
The next week James went out and dropped off Neva’s last check. He came in laughing.
Me: How did it go?
James: Rough, Neva threw pine cones at me – after I handed her check – but she was so drunk she missed. Let’s me and you hope she misses with her hex.
Me: Checks? She won’t be getting any more of them.
James: Clean out your ears, I said “HEX”….H……E……X.
Me: Hex? What hex?
James: On mine, she mumbled something about “your ideas gone bad”…and one yours she got to cussin’ about “whitey wot goes huntin’ meetin’? up wid Mr. Rattlesnake up ‘round de ‘Geechee Rivah.”
That year passed pretty quickly. I hadn’t met “wid Mr. Rattlesnake” just yet and James was packing up his office stuff to leave. He rolled his chair across the floor, causing one last celebratory rattle of the tin roof, got up and shook my hand. “ It was a lot of fun working with you Al, but you didn’t do any hunting much after work!” The gang here – Miss Dorothy, Alton, and Miss Alicia – you all have been wonderful. Even the clients were OK.  Hey, what happened to Neva Doodis, I wonder? Remember that silly hex about my “idea?”
James,” slapping him on the shoulder, I exclaimed “You accused me of bad hearing. I figured out what Neva said was ‘your Audi going bad’!!!” Remember? It wasn’t 3 days after you took her that last check and got bombarded with pine burs when your Audi’s engine blew on the side of Highway 56 and I had to take you home.
James grew pale “Holy Moly, you are right!”
What happened to Neva, we will never know. What we do know is this piece of good advice. Don’t snicker at the root doctor. There are forces in the world that are dark. If you imbibe or eat of their concoctions, you might end up howling at the moon, crawling on your belly like a snake, or have your blinders ripped off and see the very real conspiracies that my old debating adversary, the late Herman Lodge, warned about..

I like to think that I influenced old Herman a little. After all, we are the sum total of the experiences and people that we meet.
Seeing is believing. James Williams knows.
The Audi blew up on the way to fabulous wealth and power. You cannot convince him otherwise.
I know.
You will read about them as they are revealed.
No imbibing or feasting on offerings of the rootsayer needed or allowed. The guardian angels don’t approve and I will need them again.***


Trucking Broncos and Sour Mash Victims

Old Bronco Bit Hard

By Al Gray

 English Setter “Jake” circa 1978

Calla Jean produced one fine litter of pups in the spring of 1960. In dog breeder parlance, Calla was the dam and Pal was the sire.  When the pups arrived, Stevens Creek Road had been paved a scant 4 years. Eisenhower was still President. Folks in Augusta knew the Old Fruitland Nursery. The Masters was dispensing tickets to all. Down the hill there was Bowen Pond, but no West Lake, only about 850 acres of Rhodes family and friends’ land which would become the pups training ground.

Nell, Bullet, Rock, Sand, Penny, King, and Bronco were lemon and white English pointers from a long line of the breed that had served the Rhodes family for decades. They came up during what was perhaps the heyday of quail hunting in East Central Georgia.

Penny turned out to be ours; or rather we were hers, especially my father. She was the first respectable quail dog he had owned, despite having a father, Allie Gray, who loved quail hunting about as much as he did gospel quartet music.  I would never say this to my father, but Penny had a couple of faults. First, she fancied herself a rabbit dog and you never wanted to encourage her by shooting a cottontail, because that would mean getting rabbit points the rest of the day. You could usually tell when she was pointing a rabbit, because her tail would have a crook in it. If it really was pronouncedly crooked, that probably meant a snake. If you didn’t encourage Penny to snake and rabbit hunt, she was a very good quail dog, too.

Her brother, Bronco, would turn out to be the stalwart bird dog of the litter. He belonged to my great uncle Land Rhodes, who did more quail hunting than anyone else in the family and even most anyone in the state. He took Bronco all around, starting with the usual trek from the gate into Bowen Pond, up to Mr. Skinner’s old hog farm, over to Baston and Furey’s Ferry Road, where his cousin Sterling Rhodes ran a small store. (This is the corner where the First Citizen’s Bank now sits.) There Bronco and the other bird dogs could be watered while the hunters took their own refreshments while gossiping with Sterling.  The return trip carried the party back through what is now Watervale subdivision and on home on Stevens Creek Road. It was a half-day hunt. In that day, the hunters could bag a couple of dozen on that hunting trek.

Other hunts took our family of hunters to McBean, Girard, Stoney Bluff, Millen, Hephzibah, Vidette and Sylvania. Mostly we hunted out of my father’s mechanical Broncos from the Ford factory.

Land Rhodes with Junior Gray (looking back from Bronco window)

Bronco, the English Pointer, purely loved to hunt. He was also a wizened master of the hunt and nonverbal communication. Many were the times that we made a turn, missed seeing Bronco, then found him standing expectantly at the corner of an adjacent field on the other side. He would be ‘saying’ “I got ‘em down here in the lespedeza patch, fellas, where did y’all go?” After he knew we had seen him he would dutifully trot back and remake the point that we had missed. Sometimes we would not even have to turn around, because Bronco would stand unmovable at an intersection of a field with his head high, until we noticed his resolute beckoning style and hunted his way.

Those were the days. Moonshining was not remotely dead in rural Georgia in the early 60’s and thrived until growing marijuana displaced it. Liquor stills were in the middle of the densest parts of the woods along branches and creeks. It was not uncommon to encounter one quail hunting. Old Bronco was part of one visitation. He had pointed a single bird on the edge of a corn field in sparse blackberry briars. Uncle Land was up to shoot with this writer as back up. The bird erupted from the broom straw and sailed into a high, twisting flight over the top of the more towering blackberries close to the creek. BAM! The quail tumbled out of sight. We gingerly walked around the briar patch until we found a path – a recently used path – that led to the fallen bird. After stooping under vines and briars for about 20 yards, we came to a clearing, in the midst of which stood an operating still. Not wanting to tarry, the search for the downed quail resumed in earnest. Turning to leave empty-handed, Land spied the quail – belly up in a vat of sour mash!

The years passed and Bronco began to lose a step. His range, never great, diminished. Along came the trio of Go Boy, Rusty, and Freedom, all of whom had greater range and complimenting abilities. The day came in which there were hard decisions on which dogs to carry in the aqua Bronco, with Bronco the Hunting Fiend increasingly relegated to the half-day hunts. The old warrior became a yard dog, an old, decrepit relic of glory days past.

He didn’t like that one bit. He did not hide it well either.

He liked it less when he was left behind even on those short hunts. He was left pacing the yard twice, I think, before The Day. It was early one morning, shortly after daybreak, when we pulled into Uncle Land’s yard. We began to load Go Boy, a young pup and Rusty into the bog box with Freedom and another dog of mine, who had already settled in for the next leg of the ride. I left the passenger side door of the aqua wagon open to load coolers, guns, and ammunition.

The implausible happened. There was the sound of loose gravel. I turned to see a lemon and  white blur LEAPING through the air and through the open truck door! Old Bronco had had enough. He was going today, thank you very much. The old boy clambered atop the dog box from the inside, laid down, and had his graying head facing the front. I made a motion to grab him by the collar.

He growled.

It was a very serious growl in Bronco’s life-long history of nonverbal communication. It said “Sonny-boy, we go way back. I remember when you got on the school bus every day. You didn’t want to make that trip. This trip is different. I am going hunting today…..or do you want to lose your face?” Yep, all that came out – loud and clear – in that growl.

I backed out and called for help. Uncle Land, Bronco’s master, was ready to go and wasn’t going to tolerate nonsense from a canine retiree occupying the space where the cooler was supposed to go. He reached up a grabbed Bronco’s collar. Well, it is a good thing the dog was dull and gapped toothed because Bronco was in no mood to be trifled with. He bit Land hard.

Old Bronco went hunting that day. The cooler got strapped onto the tailgate.

After then, it got to be a game. We knew to avoid leaving the door open and we knew to block the doors into the dog box, but yet again, Bronco managed to leap through. We learned that you could not let him even get onto the tailgate, for if you did, you had a snarling fiend on your hands.

After the season, we redesigned and rebuilt the dog box to prevent a dog from wriggling to the top of the dog box from the outside.

Bronco the English Pointer, who morphed into one very mad dog when it became necessary, set the example for the other dogs and was indispensable in training them. Eventually even the headstrong Go Boy and Freedom learned the trick of coming back for misdirected hunters. None other ever went to such lengths to go hunting as old Bronco.

We should all be like that, never giving up the hunt, leaping at opportunity, and hanging on for all the glory we can embrace.

Sometimes this old scribe has occasion to journey to some of those hunting haunts of so long ago. In places, the fields are much as they were 40 years ago. The last time I was down below Girard, upon turning down the River Road, a glance out of imagination saw a statuesque lemon and white pointer, head erect, saying in his old style “Sonny-boy, there are quail down in the broom straw field………”

The next time I will make sure I am driving this vehicle of mine.

The 1969 Ford Bronco in July 2012
One day maybe Bronco will bring along these two fellows in my vision.

Land Rhodes & Junior Gray approach a pointing bird dog circa 1978
That will be one fine day, even if Bronco bites me.

The Legend of Squaw Alice

Squalling Tires Braking for Wildlife on the Winston Circuit?

Saturday, July 14, 2012
Augusta, GA

 By Al Gray 

The first time anyone met Alice Babe it was unforgettable. Alice was gruff. Alice was tall. Alice had big arms – with tattoos in a time in which you just didn’t see women with tattoos, especially a contracts payable clerk in a Fortune 50 corporate accounting setting.

 Alice was a biker chick in an outlaw motorcycle club , who spent her weekends riding from Winston Salem over to Wrightsville or Myrtle Beaches, generally in the company of her husband, Butch, and a crowd of others who were most certainly not accounting types. Every Monday she would come in with her eyes looking like red-rimmed slits of malevolence. The woman had me intimidated so badly that I avoided her until Tuesdays.

 The tattoo on Alice Babe’s arm was of a fierce Amazon warrioress astride a stallion clutching a bow. She muttered something about being of Cherokee descent on one of the rare instances she did more than grunt or issue profanities. Maybe it was from working with contractors, who knows. At any rate the tattoo, her size, and her bouffant hairdo were really domineering.

 If you had to pick which one of the apparel group accounting clerks who would have really turned outlaw, it would have been Alice Babe, but that dubious honor went to her friend, Windy Hawley. Windy set up a dummy bank account in the name of one of the company’s vendors. She then would take accounts payable checks to deposit into the fake account. This rocked on pretty well for Windy, until one day she encountered a replacement bank teller who knew that the company, payee to the checks, did business with Wachovia, not First Union. After a few visits from the company Certified Fraud Examiners, guys who fittingly always seemed to have 5 o’clock shadows and were from New York, the story came out that Windy had stolen $775,000 and had a very large boat docked in Fort Lauderdale. Alice stormed “You mean that witch had a yacht down in Florida and didn’t invite me once? I hope she rots!”

Windy went to prison. Alice was aghast, only because she was wondering “why haven’t I had the nerve to try that?”

Strangely, we got to be friends. She and Butch lived around the corner off of Reynolda Blvd. in a white, wood-framed house with an enormous garage full of Harley motorbikes. I didn’t visit much, because they were gone nearly every weekend and I was on one of three mega project sites during the week.

Alice reveled in her tough woman persona. I was actually intimidated by her and Butch. After one weekend war, Butch came home all sliced and bruised up, without part of his left ear, lending credence to their braggadocio about being outlaws.

 All of that intimidation vanished in a flash. Late one Sunday night in May 1993, my phone rang. It was Alice. She was screaming in anguish, hysteria, and genuine fear. “HELP!!!!!!” she yelled, “there is some horrible MONSTER in our house!!!!. You are a woodsman guy right?” I admitted to being prone to visit the woods now and then. “COME OVER AND DO SOMETHING with this AWFUL ANIMAL!,” Alice squalled.

 I threw on some clothes and took off for the Babe house. When I got there, Alice and Butch were quivering in the yard. She prompted me to enter the house. I said “Where is this creature?” She said “in the bathroom.” I had a big stick, but really didn’t now what to expect, for surely anything fierce enough to turn Butch and Alice into tubs of jelly was something to be respected.

 When I saw what it was, I started laughing.

The monster in Alice’s bathroom was a possum! I used to catch possums in my rabbit boxes as a kid, so I knew to grab him by the tail, but be wary that he would turn up on his tail and bite me if I let him. I threw the critter into a corrugated box, so I could release him over at Wake Forest University across the way, where wildlife fits right in. (‘Demon Deacons’ is right!) 
Out in the yard, Butch and Alice were visibly relieved. 
Something got lost, though, and it was my sense of intimidation from those two. 
Turning to face them, putting my hands on my hips, I looked and started laughing. “Just look at y’all” I said. “You had me fooled into thinking that you were tough people who could hurt me just as soon as look at me. Now THIS!” Y’all were afraid of a lil ole possum? You the fierce Outlaws? I laughed all the way to the car. I am pretty sure Mr. Possum was grinning, too. 
Warrior Queen Alice existed no more in my eyes. Her frizzled hair wasn’t that way of of being deliberately unkempt;it was that way because of fear. The possum magically reduced her from an Amazon woman to the point that she was seen as a squalling basket case. Squaw Alice of the Hawg Rider clan she came to be for me. I never dreamed a possum could have that much power. Hoping for a reprise, though, I turned Mr. Possum loose at the trash chute of a girls’ dorm.
 It never hurts to try to prolong one’s fun.***

Trickery Backfired on a Lincoln County Road

Sneaky Snakes and Mars Rocks

Saturday, July 7, 2012
Lincolnton, GA
By Al Gray
Have you ever read a story about Mars rocks being found on earth, like this, and think “How do they know it came from Mars?” and then wonder if it was some prank?

Some years ago, after an afternoon hunt in the Ogeechee River Swamp, your Arrowflinger was walking down a clay road through some South Georgia live oak forest – after dark, with a powerful light, but one which quickly drained its battery. He would shine the road, then cut his light off and walk a ways. The Arrowflinger had just flipped his light back on when a shuffling noise came from right over his right shoulder. When he swung the light around it rested on the form of a monstrous rattler, which apparently had slid down the road bank upon his passing.

After regaining his composure, old Arrowflinger started looking all around for a stick to kill the snake with. The road had been freshly graded, leaving only bare ground and some dirt clods. (do you remember what a dirt clod is?) Nearby was a clod about the size of a basketball. It was beyond belief that this was the only thing available to kill the snake, who had probably crawled over his bow and arrows getting there. The clod was sun-baked and was sufficiently hard to break the snake’s spine. There was only one problem – the object was too big to hold with one hand and the other hand was needed to hold the light.

In the meantime, the rattler began to crawl away. Kicking some loose clay on him succeeded in getting him to stop and start rattling vigorously. Holding the light between his legs, your nervous Arrowflinger hoisted the dirt clod to his chest, then heaved it toward the reptile. It missed, shattering into fragments, leaving the larger piece about the size of a volleyball. Fortunately this piece had rolled away and was no longer within striking distance. The intensity of the rattling at this point was unnerving enough, when the unthinkable occurred. The 150,000 candlepower light was down to its last 50,000 candles and those were fading fast! After kicking his “weapon” away from the rattlesnake to retrieve it, and trying to focus the dying light on what was a tremendous snake, the Arrowflinger prepared for his final toss. This one found its target, breaking the rattler’s spine. A third attempt permanently disabled it. Then the light died completely.

Your near-snakebite-victim pulled his deer stand out of the edge of the woods and sat on it there, alone in the dark with his scaly friend, waiting for his brother-in-law to come and pick him up. Every minute or so the rattler would start a faint buzz with its tail. Eventually some headlights appeared in the distance. It was Robbie, coming down the twisting road. He immediately pulled the truck in position to shine its headlights on the animal. Upon jumping out of the truck, he exclaimed: This snake is not dead-only stunned! Upon retrieving a piece of pipe from the truck, he promptly dispatched the reptile.

Next to be picked up on that dirt road was John, a guy with a tremendous fear of snakes. Robbie said “put that twitching snake right there in the corner by the tailgate on John’s side of the truck. That done, the truck of hunters headed off to get John. Sure enough John went to set his beltpack inside the truck and felt the still-moving scaly reptile. He let out a shriek, followed by a stream of less-than-adoring or complimentary description of our ancestries.

The snake stretched from one side of the pickup tailgate to the other. We took several pictures of it upon our return home. It was late, so there was no time to dispose of the carcass.

The Arrowflinger was hunting the next morning in Lincoln county, about 100 miles to the north. At the time he owned a tract of about 100 acres there. Upon going in the gate, it was realized that the dead snake was still in the truck bed. It was before daylight. He started to toss the snake in the bushes, then had a thought: “Maybe I can have a little fun with this snake!

You see, there are almost no rattlers, other than pygmy rattlers in that part of Lincoln county. This snake was really big! There is little industry in the county and most of the residents have to leave early to get into Augusta to work. So there were going to be a lot of cars coming by in the next half hour.

Your Arrowflinger picked the snake up and stretched him across the outbound lane, then hid in the bushes by his gate. Action was not long in the making. A car came around the curve, went WHUMP-WHUMP as it passed over the snake, and flashed its brake lights. They must have been late for work. A minute later Car No. 2 made the WHUMP-WHUMP noise, squealing its tires shortly thereafter. The driver stopped for a minute, then proceeded on. The driver of car number 3 must have had his morning coffee. It was an old dark-colored Thunderbird. The driver slammed on the brakes to kill the snake, sliding by it in the process. Slowly he backed up until his headlights rested on the snake. He stopped the car, got out, and pulled something from the backseat. 

The engine was still running, so he could not hear your trickster laughing. Then the arrow flinging practical joker heard a metallic noise as he approached the front of the car. Suddenly the Arrowflinger realized that the joke was on him! This guy was going to shoot the snake and guess who was in the line of fire! The Arrowflinger!!! Quickly diving for cover just as the trigger was pulled – BLAMMM! – he heard bird shot ring through the trees over his head. Then the man picked the snake’s body up, put it in the trunk, turned that car around and took the snake back home. The shaken bowhunter dusted himself off, plucked numerous briars from his flesh, wiped away the blood and went hunting.

Well this story was not over. Your wayward archer was working on his fence the next July, when an old, black Ford Thunderbird pulled off onto the shoulder of the roadway. An old fellow got out and said:

Mistuh, You sho bettuh be careful aroun’ ‘dis place. My bruther whut live down ‘dis heah road, he killed de biggest, meanest rattlesnake what ever been killed up heah in Lincoln County!” One mawnin – Ah do believe it wur las Septembuh – he whur headed fo wuk down to Shapiro’s meat packin plant down yonder in Augusta when dis here rattlesnake crawled into dis road rightchere. Bo – he be my bruther – slammed on his brakes and tried to kill Mr. Rattlesnake, but dat only made him madder’n a wet hen! Dat snake threw hisself into a qurl and started to singin. Ole Bo he be lucky he had his ole 410 in de back o dis car. He shot de snake in de hed and brung him back to sho me. When he opened de trunk Ah dang neah went into a swoon. Dat snake he were a MAN! He looked lik he been eatin plenty o possums and rabbits. Ah do believe he wuh big enough to swaller a coon. So mistuh, ole Jake don’t wanna tend to yo bidness none, but you sho outta be careful around dis place heah. Dat ole big snake has a momma ‘roun heah fo sho’, ‘an you sho don’t wanna be bit by no snake dat big!

Fighting back tears, the Arrowflinger thanked Jake for his advice. He got into his car and drove away. It was hoped that he did not look into his rear view mirror. The Arrowflinger collapsed, howling, before he got out of sight. The sores on his tongue went away after about a week. He never thought that a dead snake would cause such an uproar and exaggeration. The Arrowflinger even heard about “dat big rattlesnake ole Bo kilt‘ up at the local store one morning.

Could this be what happened with the Mars rock?***