The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Sport and Molly

By Max S. Thomas © 1989

Issue: September, 1989

My grandmother told me this story when I was a little boy. She was born in 1840. She knew both Sport and Molly.

He once had a name but she had almost forgotten what it was. Everybody always called him Sport. Sport did not resemble anything of what the word Sport seems to mean, with his old floppy black hat, a linsey shirt with the buttons missing. His breeches were held up by a single gallous and pinned with crabapple thorns.

An outsider had given him the name. Most likely the outsider had heard of Mendel's experiment with flowers. A sport is an individual that has no resemblance to its ancestors. Certainly Sport fit into this category. A sister kept the Post Office nearby. People had to go there for their mail for there was no R.F.D. One brother was a merchant, selling iron bars, copper sheets, sugar, salt, coffee and Lucifer matches. Another brother was a tanner, saddle maker and shoe maker. Joe was a licensed distiller and blockader. Tom was a Rough and Ready running Santa Anna out of Texas. Sport did not do much of anything. His inheritance was a log cabin, shed and forty acres of upside down land.

Mostly Sport sat in the shade of a cherry tree doing deep thinking about nothing, as the bees hummed overhead on the cherry blossoms.

Sport thought sometimes how lucky he was. Other men were bossed by their wives. Molly was always likable and gave him no lip for she was dumb. Next to Molly, Sport liked the old mule and cow best. The animals usually got a bundle of fodder and a nubbin or two as long as the feed lasted until about the middle of March. From then on they had to rely on stickweed stalks, twigs and early violets. The mule never laid down for he was afraid to, mostly he leaned against the shed.

A stranger came to the mountains. Some people thought he was scouting from the law. Maybe he had bid for a mail route on the railroad and the mail car had been robbed. Maybe the Pinkertons were after him. He had squatted on a five acre plot of rocky land that nobody had wanted.

One warm afternoon Sport saw the stranger coming down the path. Sport darted in his cabin for his homemade checker board. Checkers were his one vice and he was good at it. Nobody would play with him anymore for he always won. But the stranger was a cat of a different color. Soon the stranger had won the mule, cow and the farm. Sport was badly shaken up. The stranger told Sport he could have back everything if he would play one more game and wager Molly. It broke his heart, but what else could he do? Molly looked on with a doleful expression. The stranger won and started to lead Molly up toward his own cabin, telling Sport he could have Molly back if he would get all of the rocks off his five acres and build a rock fence around it. Sport had a natural distaste for work, but what else could he do? He couldn't live without Molly.

Working from dawn to dark for three months the rock business was almost done by August. Whenever Sport was ready to give up, he thought of a tale the preacher had told how old Jacob and worked fourteen years for his two wives. This gave him courage.

At last the day came and the stranger brought Molly from his cabin, saying he was disgusted because Molly had not come up to his expectations. This was the most joyful event Sport and Molly had ever experienced.

A year later, Sport had learned to work and like it. He raised a good crop of corn and later sowed the land in rye for the mule and cow. In September he gathered lots of Ginseng and in October he carried a sack of chestnuts or walnuts to the store everyday in exchange for things he and Molly needed or took due bills to be spent later for salt or sugar or hard header shoes. One thing Sport did not want to do was hunt rabbits, squirrels, wild turkeys or groundhogs. Molly liked to hunt and she provided meat for the table.

One night after supper, Sport built a stickweed fire and he and Molly sat on a bench warming themselves. They were content, Sport stroking her reddish brown hair, highlighted by the fire. He thought what life would have been without Molly. Then he thought about the day he had traded a pillow case full of ginseng for the pick of a litter of puppies. He was glad that he had picked Molly. Molly was the best dog a man had ever had.