The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Sonny's Days

By Jewel Burke © 1988

Issue: October, 1988

The little blond haired boy lived at the foot of the mountains in an old farm house nestled in a hollow. The house was surrounded by the barn, cellar, spring house, hen house and an outside john. In the gently rolling valley beyond grew corn, tobacco and a huge garden.

Sonny and his little sister Suzie had both been born in the old house and had spent all their young lives there never knowing that any other way of life existed beyond Shady Valley.

Sonny's father was an older man who was bedridden by the time Sonny was nine years old leaving most of the menial labor to him. Sonny didn't mind chopping wood or even cutting the tobacco but Lord how he dreaded weeding that garden! "Now son, you put them weeds in this box and throw them over the fence," his mother would instruct. "Aw Mom, can't I just hoe em down?" Sonny would argue. "No siree, now you just do as I say son." "Ain't no use in planting them weed seeds all over again." Every time garden weeding time came around they had the same argument and each time a grumbling Sonny pulled the weeds, put them in a box and threw them over the fence. While he pulled weeds he thought to himself, "When I get big and have my own garden, I'm gonna have the biggest taters anyone ever saw and I'm gonna hoe them weeds down."

Sonny was an excellent worker and usually finished his chores with time left over to sneak into the forbidden barn to experiment with the multitude of odds and ends his father had hoarded for years. He had to sneak out to the barn because his father would rant and rave if he knew Sonny was "messing around in his stuff." Sonny wandered aimlessly with nervous backward glances up the hollow until he could no longer see the house. Then he followed his little path through the woods circling back to the barn's far side. There he'd scramble through the one lose board, carefully pulling it in behind him.

Before him lay a multitude of new inventions; motors of every size, both electric and gasoline powered lay about. Sonny's creative mind could envision motorcycles, water pumps and even the old truck bursting into life through his hands.

On one particularly hot summer day he decided to invent a fan like the one down at Farmer's Grocery Sore, only his would be bigger and better. He prowled through a heap of junk but the only suitable fan blade he could find had once been a lawn mower blade. He carefully bolted and wired it to the biggest electric motor he could find and plugged it in. Did that thing ever fly around! Sonny was so excited he started jumping up and down. "Just wait till Mom sees this," he thought. "She shore will be cool while she's canning the maters." Suddenly there was a bang so loud the whole barn shook. Sonny fell backwards over a roll of barb wire thinking maybe his dad had done shot him. As he lay there slightly stunned, he looked up and there deeply embedded in a support beam stuck his fan blade. He could hear his dad yelling from the house so he scampered out of the barn like a mouse, his brain already improving his latest invention.

Sonny's inventions weren't limited to practical projects. He and Suzie played games greatly enhanced by his vivid imagination which always seemed to center around the forbidden barn. He was quite adept at fashioning bows and arrows from saplings and rocks that he sharpened on the grindstone which quite naturally was kept in the barn. One day a game of fighting Indians was becoming boring so the young inventor decided to liven up his side of the battle. Since he had read about warriors using flaming arrows it didn't take much to spark his imagination into action. Soaking his Mom's old dishtowel in lamp-oil and tying it onto his arrow he lit up, took careful aim and fired. The ensuing war whoops came from his mother as the barn boards started blazing; fortunately a creek nearby provided two young fire fighters with enough buckets of water to prevent potential disaster.

The old cellar had been standing vacant for several years after the new one had been built. A small smoke house was built on the top and left to Sonny's ideas it quickly became his very own clubhouse. He worked for weeks sawing and hammering until he had turned it into a decent state of repair. He was quite proud of his labor but one day while admiring it he envisioned a trap-door leading down into the cellar below with maybe a secret tunnel leading to the barn. He immediately tore into his new project and in no time at all had his trap-door built and a tunnel started. His Mom had given her permission for the clubhouse but as usual, was unaware of the expanded plans. One day while canning fruit she began to run low on jars and decided she may have left some stored in the old smoke house. She entered and was amazed at the beautiful job her son had done in fixing up his clubhouse. Her amazement soon turned to terror as she stepped on the secret trap-door and plunged into the cellar below. Not hurt but very angry the disheveled mother declared war on the inventor and quickly put a halt to the tunnel expedition.

One of the few things Sonny was actually supposed to do in the barn was to keep the ax sharpened on the old grindstone. He had never minded using the old foot-pedal powered grinder but one day he had the sudden inspiration to hook it up to a power motor. Sure enough the huge old grindstone took off spinning around faster than it had ever turned before. Sonny sharpened everything he could find whether it needed sharpening or not. The vibrations proved to be too much for the old manual wheel and suddenly as the bolts worked loose the grindstone flew with a tremendous force, straight through the side of the barn, splintering boards as it went!

Sonny stood speechlessly staring at the gapping hole in the wall. "My hind end has had it this time," he fearfully thought. His mind was going in wild circles as he groped for an idea of how to repair the barn before his mother discovered the damage he had caused. "Maybe I could convince her that a great big rock rolled down the mountain's side and hit it," he thought. "No, ain't no way I can git a big ole rock in here." Sonny knew he could fix the hole if he just had enough time but it was going to be a major undertaking and his mother had already told him to start digging "taters" next week. He thought seriously about praying for a miracle to fix the barn but decided that a miracle that big would take too much praying. Since he had recently tried to do a little cussing when no one was around he figured God wouldn't be too interested anyway. "He might be punishing me fer cussin'," Sonny thought. "Naw, I ain't been that mean, all I said was dammit and he'd justa made a little hole in the wall fer that."

Suzie had been looking all over the farm for Sonny. She had left the forbidden barn as a last resort and as she finally approached it the first thing she saw was a huge hole in its side. "Boy, Sonny's in trouble this time," she thought. "He musta built a cannon or something." As she hesitantly entered the barn Sonny's face lit up. "Hey Suzie," he shouted. "You know that doll cradle in the wishbook you been wantin'? Well I tell you what, if you'll help me with the taters, I'll build you the biggest cradle you ever seen!" "You just hold your britches Mr. Sonny, you're in bad trouble cause you done blown up the barn and you ain't blamin' it on me," Suzie hotly said. "I wouldn't gonna do that, I swear," Sonny said looking most sincere. "Honest, all I want you to do is dig the taters next week so I can fix the barn." "You make me a table too and I'll help you," Suzie replied with her chin raised in defiance. "Aw Suzie, I ain't got time fer that," Sonny pleaded. "You better Sonny, cause if you don't I'll tell Mommy on you!" Sonny knew he had no choice so he grudgingly agreed to build a table too.

A few days later after the potatoes had been dug, Sonny's mom called for him "Come on son and help me get some straw from the barn to pack the taters in." "You don't have to go Mom, I'll get it for you," Sonny quickly volunteered. "Oh no, it's too heavy for you to carry alone - now come on." Sonny knew that protesting was futile so he slowly followed behind her, becoming more nervous as the barn loomed ahead. "Quit dragging your feet son, we're almost through with them taters." Although he had done an excellent carpentry job, it seemed as if the replacement boards jumped out at them. Sure enough his mother noticed that something was amiss. "Now ain't that odd how straight these boards look?" She wondered. "Uh, uh, I had to nail some new ones on," Sonny said, "cause the old ones were getting plum rotten." "Well I do declare, I never did see boards rot way up on the barn like that, it must have been bad lumber they built with," she said. Before Sonny had time to reply she continued, "You sure have done a good job fixin' it and I meant to tell you how much I like Suzie's doll furniture that you made." "Oh, it wasn't nothing," Sonny said, looking down at his bare toes squirming in the dirt.

The barn forgotten, they dragged the straw to the cellar and stored the potatoes for use during the soon coming winter.

Sonny continued to invent, explore and work hard as he grew to be a young man. He now has a reputation for being able to fix almost anything that's broken. If parts are not available he can usually fashion from junk whatever he may need. His greatest challenge these days is trying to keep one step ahead of an adventurous little blond haired boy who already has a gleaming eye on Daddy's tool shed!