The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Folk Tales

By Mike Ivy © 1987

Issue: April, 1987

We almost had some excitement up here last week.

One day I dropped in on Uncle French and Aunt Ollie, and I found Uncle French so full of himself he was about to bust his seams.

"Bet you never thought you had kin that's famous across three states," he says with a big possum grin. His broad face is flushed red, clean to the roots of his white hair.

"And who might that be?" I ask, real innocent.

"Why, who do you reckon, boy? They done heard about me all the way to Georgia." He just stands there and gloats awhile, leaving me to wonder what anybody in Georgia   or anywhere else, for that matter   could have heard about Uncle French. Finally he comes out with it. "They's a lady professor comin' all the way up here from some college down in Georgia, just to see me. She's writin' a book of stories, and she's comin' to see me just so she can hear some good 'uns. And she'll be here at two o'clock, so you can wait and see for yourself."

He struts around the room some, and I notice he's wearing an ironed white shirt and those green polyester pants, so I know something really is going on, but it takes me till almost two o'clock to weasel the whole story out of him. As near as I can make out, this professor is driving all around up here in the mountains collecting "folktales," as she calls them. She phones Uncle French from over in the next county, so that's probably the first and only place she heard of him   not that I'd ever try to convince him of it!

Well, two o'clock finally comes, and so does the woman professor. She's a lot younger than I expected. Still too old for me to get really interested, but not bad to look at anyhow. She gives her name as Lois Rader and compliments Uncle French on his "fine, old house," which he's never liked, then she asks if they can get started because she doesn't have as much time as she thought she would.

Uncle French starts to settle down in his big armchair, but she asks if we couldn't all go out on the porch, "for the nice atmosphere." We all head for the door, and she smiles and writes something in her notebook when Uncle French grabs his big corncob pipe off the mantle. It's just about the silliest thing you ever saw. He bought it in Gatlinburg last year because he remembered that General MacArthur smoked one. "Nobody said he looked silly," he always says. "Yeah, but you ain't MacArthur," we tell him.

Anyway, we go out and sit on the steps, and Uncle French loads up his pipe with his special "bug blend" tobacco. It's the foulest smelling stuff this side of a paper mill, guaranteed to kill every mosquito for ten feet around. He sits and puffs for a minute, then Miss Rader turns on her little tape recorder and waits for him to start.

"Now, Miss Rader," he says, after keeping her waiting just long enough, "this story I'm fixin' to tell you is true   most of it anyway. I know it's true, cause Lafe Thomas told it to me when I asked him how he lost his rifle.

"This happened three years ago. That was the year when we had a thunderstorm on groundhog day and snow for Easter   which don't have a thing to do with Lafe and his rifle, but that's how I remember the year.

"Well, for five years runnin', old Lafe had gone clean through deer season without gettin' no deer. He got plenty of chances, but just kept missin'. So Lafe went into town and worked at the lumber yard just long enough to buy himself the fanciest rifle you ever saw. It was a semi automatic .30 06, with a long scope and a tooled leather sling that had pockets on it for two extra clips. Some people made a big fuss over it, but most of us thought it was plumb silly.

"Lafe was determined to get him a deer, though. The first day of the season, he was up in his stand a good hour before daylight. And not five minutes after sunup, a ten point buck started meanderin' right past his stand. Lafe had got himself one of them store bought metal stands, too   the kind that you can climb right up the tree with. So if you figure the stand and rifle and all, he was lookin' down on about a five hundred dollar deer. He might've felt a little anxious about it, but he got him all lined up in that big scope and squeezed off two shots real quick   just bang, bang. I guess he figured to double his chances that way.

"Well, that buck just dropped cold right where it was standin', so Lafe climbed down and ran over to it. He could see that one shot had grazed the back of its head. He was so excited over finally gettin' himself a deer, he didn't bother lookin' to see where else he'd hit it. He just leaned his fancy rifle against a tree and started gettin' out his knife to bleed it.

"Right about then, that deer jumped up. His other shot hadn't hit it at all, of course, and it was just stunned. But when it jumped up, it got its antlers all twisted up in that rifle sling, and that deer took off straight up the ridge, carryin' Lafe's fancy new gun with him."

Uncle French pauses for effect, puffs up a cloud of blue smoke, then goes on.

"Over across the ridge, the two Carter boys were gettin' to their stands kinda late. They was climbin' up this game trail when they heard that buck come crashin' through the brush at the top of the mountain. He was on the same trail, so he was runnin' straight for 'em. They stopped and got their guns ready, but they couldn't get a clear shot cause the deer was plowin' his way through a laurel slick by then. About the time he came into plain view, a little branch poked through the trigger guard on that gun, and when the deer tried to jerk loose, that old laurel bush fired off the last two shots just as purty as you please.

"One of them shots hit a big pine tree right beside the Carter boys. Old Tommy grabbed his brother by the coat and started draggin' him down the trail, sayin' 'Lord God, Junior, let's get out of here! They've started shootin' back!'

"Meantime, Lafe had been fussin' and cussin' up the other side of the ridge. He got to the top just in time to see most of what happened. He stopped and yelled down, 'Hey, boys! He stole my new rifle. Get him quick before he reloads.'

"Course, Lafe swears he never said it, but Tommy and Junior both heard him plain as day. They didn't pay him no mind though; they just kept on goin' right back down the mountain.

"That deer got loose from the laurel bush and Lafe tracked it all over the mountain till after dark, but he never did get his rifle back.

"I do believe the poor boy has give up deer huntin'."

Uncle French just sits and puffs up a new cloud. Finally Miss Rader turns off her tape recorder. She says what a fine story that was, but doesn't he know any old ones?

He asks her does she know the one about the dog with the wooden leg; it must be twenty five years old by now.

She says she doesn't, but does he know any really old folktales? Could he tell her some Jack tales?

Uncle French says he ain't never heard of them. He knows plenty more stories, he says, but he don't know any real old ones.

Miss Rader stands up and thanks him, and tells him how much she enjoyed it but she has to hurry to another interview. She gets in her shiny little car and leaves.

Uncle French puffs up one of the biggest, darkest clouds I've ever seen.

"You know, Uncle French," I say after a while, "we better get us one of them books when she gets done with it."

"What the hell for?" he asks between puffs.

"Well, if she can find stories better than yours, they gotta be worth readin'."