The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

The Griller Monkey

By Alice J. Kinder © 1989

Issue: October, 1989

Editor's Note... The following is an excerpt from the book, "Willie-Boy." It is 157 pages, soft back and may be ordered by sending $8.95 (postage paid) to: Mrs. Alice J. Kinder, 456 Upper Chloe Road, Pikeville, Kentucky 41501.

After Grandfather got sick I missed the days when he and I went to the hills to gather scaly bark hickory limbs for making whistles and slingshots. Sometimes Uncle Jim and I climbed the hillside. And occasionally Ephraim Trelawney, Grandfather's first cousin, and I strolled in the woods, gathered limbs, and whittled with our Barlow knives.

One spring day Ephraim and I had to hustle from the woods because the rain sent us skeltering inside. So Uncle Ephraim, as most everybody called him, and I sat in his barn while the rain trickled down the eaves outside. Learning back against the hayloft, he whittled a whistle with his Barlow knife. Uncle Ephraim was big and tall like Grandfather and Uncle Jim. He could tell hair-raising stories that sometimes lifted my bill-cap right off my head. That rainy day he told three scary ghost tales.

He then grinned from his gray, white beard, and his big, brown eyes twinkled. "Will, did you ever hear the griller monkey tale?" He asked.

Sure, I knew all about the griller monkey story. The ferocious beast had roamed the tall hills and scared everyone two-thirds out of their wits and the men from the woods. Pa and Grandfather and Uncle Jim quit their ginsenging that summer and were afraid to go hunting.

Pa had taken Ma, the girls, and me up to Grandfather's the day the beast scared Hank Jennings, Bud Jones, and Sam Trelawney down the Big Hollow. My parents and grandparents sat comparing notes on their new ground when suddenly we heard such a yelling and screeching as we'd never heard before. The sound was eerie enough to make Pa and Grandfather forget every tall, green cornstalk in their new ground field.

Everybody ran to the door. In Grandfather's yard the three young men collapsed on his long bench by the big grindstones. Their clothes were torn, their hands and arms whelped from briar scratches, and their hair disheveled. Three pairs of eyes held terror glints like the picture of Bluebeard's wives in Grandfather's big storybook.

"I tell you that-thing was a holy terror!" Hank cried, his voice all shaky.

"I've still got the weak trembles," mumbled Bud in a thin voice.

"I'm never goin' to ginseng or hunt there again!" declared Sam.

"What scared you boys?" asked Grandfather. The boys spilled out the tale among them, halting at first, then hurrying the process in their colorful, descriptive phrase. Piecing their sentences together, we learned they'd been digging ginseng up above Uncle Ephraim's big cove when they heard a sudden rustling and a queer, whining noise that turned into a low growl and then a long, thin, echoing screech.

"I thought it was a wildcat at first," said Hank.

"I didn't take time to size up the critter. I jest put my foot in my hand and lit out of that holler, head first through the briar patch!" declared Bud.

"I took one look back," recalled Sam, his tone flavored with the slightest degree of courage as he turned to look up the hillside. "It was a beast such as I've never laid eyes on, all wooly black with long, black wool hangin' down a foot or more from its clawy hands. Its teeth stuck out over half a foot, I'd swear."

That night Grandfather took his big Natural History book down from his shelf over the mantel. He thumbed his gnarled old fingers through the pages. His eyes lighted with sudden discovery.

"Will," he exclaimed triumphantly, "that ferocious beast the boys saw was gorilla!" He pointed to a scary-looking picture of a big gorilla monkey. "I'd say one of the gorillas has escaped from the Sun Brothers' Circus that camped over by the Big Sandy River last week."

Pa let me stay with Grandfather that week to help with the new-ground corn. When we went to the field Grandfather and Uncle Jim carried their big Civil War guns. Uncle Jim laughed a mite humorously from his long, kinky beard as he spit tobacco juice.

"I'm ready now to kill the kangaroo!" he declared.

"It's no kangaroo, and the situation is no laughin' matter," Grandfather told him, "The gorilla, according to my natural history book, is a beast of mighty strength. It's even stronger than the lion. I read a story of a gorilla that had a skein of its intestines torn out by a lion's sharp claws, but it still burst the skull of the lion with its strong fist."

When we heard of other boys and men being chased from the woods by the griller monkey, as folks began calling it, Grandfather took further precautions.

"We men will not go even to the clearin' of the woods without our high-power weapons," he gave orders. "And none of my women folks are to meander up the Old Cove Field to milk them cow brutes unless some man person, well armed, stalks along to protect them."

That evening when Grandmother and Aunt Polly crept to the drawer bars to milk, Uncle Jim stood guard with his big war gun. As the weeks passed, Grandfather continued to keep the blockade around his farm.

Others families kept vigil too, and the woods stayed green and wildlife abounded in them. Sometimes we could hear squirrels barking up the coves, woodpeckers pecking patiently on old hollow trees, or catch glimpses of flying pheasants. But the men folk feared to enter the hills.

During this quarantine Uncle Ephraim and his cronies spent their leisure hours in his barn. The old man loved to entertain adult audiences as well as youngsters with his stories. He spent time elsewhere too, but no one knew his whereabouts. That is, nobody knew until one autumn day when revenuers came poking about Deep Valley and discovered a moonshine still in Uncle Ephraim's big cove!

The law men rounded up proof on Uncle Ephraim and his friends, and they had to go away to stand trial at the state capital. When they were declared guilty and had to serve a few months behind bars the group, especially Uncle Ephraim, grew so homesick for the hills they thought they'd die of thirst and hunger in remembering our clear, trickling mountain water and country garden food.

The rain still drizzled outside the barn. But Uncle Ephraim and I were safe and comfortable in his big hayloft.

"Guess you do remember the time of the griller monkey after all, Willie. I see your folks have talked about it." Uncle Ephraim's eyes twinkled once more.

He stopped whittling and took a rusty key from his bib overalls. He led me through the long passageway of the barn to a little room at the end that resembled a saddle house. In the gloomy twilight entrance I jumped back quickly. But Uncle Ephraim laid his hand on my shoulder and shelled out a huge laugh that roared like thunder clap.

"Well, boy," he said, when he could push down his laughter, "meet the griller monkey that escaped from the Sun Brothers' Circus!"

I looked again, in boyish excitement now with Uncle Ephraim's strong hand on my shoulder. As I looked, I realized I hadn't known the complete story of the griller monkey after all. Only now was the end beginning to unfold.

Hanging from the loft of the little room was a heap of black lengthy skeins of big, black sheep wool sewed together. In the mouth of the outfit an upper and a lower row of long, sharp goose quills had been inserted. They truly looked like dangerous teeth of a ferocious, terrifying beast.

The rain had stopped now. Uncle Ephraim and I strolled out the barn. We walked through his cornfield and climbed the dense woodland to his big cove. Amid a cluster of tall, heavy-branched beech trees we came to a bubbling spring. Near the spring lay scattered ashes, ancient old logs, and strips of copper - the cemetery of a moonshine still.

"Those were the days, Willie," he mused softly. "The days when a feller could make and taste his own private likker to see if it was sizzlin' to the throat. I've never seed such peace as when I scared folks out of these woods and could sit here in comfort by my still. My private likker was enough to make even a preacher lay his Bible aside or cause a man to wink at his mother-in-law!"

He looked up then and laughed heartily. "That black wool wasn't exactly comfortable around these old rheumatiz shoulders," he recalled. "But I laughed right out inside the wool when Hank and Bud and Sam hightaylored out of my woods!"

His brown eyes viewed Deep Valley's colorful rainbow. "I've quit my moonshinin' now, of course, and go to church with Samantha. But I still like to come here now and then to remember. I love my woods and like to keep 'em private."

As we started down the hill Uncle Ephraim looked back, and a faint longing still filled his big, brown eyes.

"I can't thrive if revenoors or anybody else is all the time prowlin' over my land," he said. "I like to stand alone and look to the mountains."