By Wm. Axley Allen © 1984-2012
Issue: May, 1983
Well, I’m not going to give any names in this story (at least not names anyone would recognize). There’s still some pretty tender egos regarding the event I’m about to relate and public disclosure could possibly result in actions on the part of others that, quite frankly, I do not wish to assume responsibility for.
Dastardly crimes committed by berserk and deadly criminals have a statute of limitations, after which the perpetrator cannot be punished, but the practical joke never goes beyond retribution. The perpetrator of a practical joke might go years in unsuspecting bliss, thinking he has pulled it off and completely escaped the inevitable “payback.”
This story is about one such jokester and his imagined escape from the proverbial “payback.” Yes, friends, he not only thought he pulled off his joke without his victim getting him back one better but he bragged. He bragged to others of his cruel deed while slapping his thigh and bending double with laughter over how gullible his victim was and how easy he was to fool. No more need be said, dear readers, from this point on I shall refrain from personal observations and simply provide you with the facts so you can see and perhaps heed the result of this kind of frivolous thinking.
It was a cold, autumn morning, in 1959. Ground ice was standing tall and white along the creek banks and the early morning sun reflected off it like diamonds set in red clay. The air was crisp and clean and the hunters, with their beagles, were setting forth with every expectation of rabbit stew for supper.
There were four hunters in the group that morning but I shall not take time to delve into the personalities of them all. Only two of them are relevant to this account and I shall limit my narrative to them.
Sam Stockard was a mild mannered man, quiet but with a sense of humor. He had wavy black hair and stood about 5’ 11” tall. He was the only one in the group that morning with a genuine hunting coat. It was a new, Sears & Roebuck model with a vinyl lined game pouch in the back, complete with vinyl patches on the sleeves and shell holders in the large front pockets.
Our other character, Bill Allen, loved to hunt and play practical jokes. It would be hard to say which he liked best but on this particular day, he found a way to combine his two favorite pastimes and he was thoroughly enjoying tramping over hills and through thickets while Sam Stockard unsuspectingly supplied his chuckles.
They were hunting new territory on this occasion and it seemed that every rabbit the dogs jumped was a wise old woods rabbit. Now for the benefit of those of you who have never hunted rabbits, I’ll explain the difference ‘tween woods rabbits and plain rabbits. Plain rabbits, when jumped by the dogs, just hop around in circles, never getting very far from where they jumped but woods rabbits take off in a straight line and might run two or three miles to get to a favorite hole or slab pile to “set out” the dogs.
In spite of this, by about ten that morning, they had managed to bag two or three rabbits. Since Sam was the only one who had a hunting coat with a game pouch, he was elected to carry all the rabbits. As they were crossing the edge of an old grown up field, Bill walked up behind Sam and said, “Hold up, Sam, the rabbits are falling out.” Sam stopped and as Bill pretended to stuff the rabbits back into the game pouch, he slipped a rock bigger than his fist in with the rabbits.
As the day wore on, the sun warmed up and it was turning out to be a beautiful day to be afield. By twelve or one o’clock, Bill managed to sneak quite a pile of rocks into Sam’s game pouch, unbeknownst to Sam. It was getting hot and everyone but Sam had taken off their coats by the time they decided to stop for a lunch of Cokes and cheese crackers. Sam had been lagging behind the others and his unknown burden of rocks was turning the beautiful fall weather into a sweltering hot day. As he staggered up to where the others were sitting down eating, sweat was pouring off his forehead. He stubbornly refused to remove his new hunting coat and rather than sit down with his burden, he leaned back against an old fallen down tree, letting the hunting pouch rest on the stump.
When the weight of the coat settled on the stump, the look of relief that crossed his weary face was ecstatic. He leaned there, against that stump breathed like a locomotive and, soon as he was able to swallow, downed two Cokes in what seemed like one continuous gulp.
Sam had no more’n drank his Cokes when Bill kicked up a rabbit from a brush pile beside the clearing where they were resting. The dogs got the trail and dogs and hunters were off on another chase. Sam slowly staggered after the others.
As the afternoon wore on, Bill had the luck of the Irish and bagged several more rabbits and along with each rabbit that went into Sam’s hunting coat, went another rock.
Along about four o’clock, one rabbit almost ran between Sam’s legs but he didn’t even shoot. When the other fellows asked him why, the best excuse he could mumble was something about not being able to raise his gun.
Bill and the others were back to the truck 15 minutes before Sam was, and when he finally staggered up, his appearance was that of a ghost. Bill was all bouncy and smiles, pleading with the others to hunt a while longer but when he mentioned it Sam started to cry. Realizing that old Sam was definitely feeling under the weather, everyone but Bill quickly agreed to call it a day. Sam staggered to the truck and slowly backed up to the lowered tailgate. Bill quickly jumped up in the truck bed and grabbed Sam’s coat collar, pulled it off him and dragged it up near the cab.
On the way home Sam slumped, passed out against the passenger side door while Bill drove and laughed to the others about what a great hunt it had been. Everyone agreed that since Sam carried the rabbits all day, he should have them. Bill dropped the other fellows off at their homes and headed on to Sam’s house where he had left his car. Before they got to Sam’s, Bill eased the truck onto the shoulder of the road and stopped. He got out and as Sam lay passed out, he quietly emptied the rock pile from Sam’s hunting coat.
Bill woke Sam up as they pulled into his driveway and helped him out of the truck. Bill reached into the pickup bed, grabbed Sam’s coat and nonchalantly pitched it to him. Seeing that coat flying in the air toward him, Sam through both arms over his face and tried to run. Bill picked it up and helped Sam get in the house before going home.
Not long after that Sam moved away and nobody ‘round here seen or heard from him for over twenty years.
During that period, things really changed for Bill. His “missus” passed away, he’d retired and his only child, Bill Jr. (Billy) had got a job in Baltimore and moved, leaving old Bill all alone. Billy was old Bill’s pride and joy. He had been born not long after Bill’s rabbit hunt with Sam and father and son were inseparable, that is until Billy moved to Baltimore. Since then Old Bill spent most of his time sitting around the pot-bellied stove over at Sidney Hill’s store, pulling practical jokes and swapping tales with the other retirees. His favorite story is about the time he loaded up old Sam Stockard’s hunting coat with a rockpile.
It was a rainy day over a year ago and there was a crowd over at the store when Jim Sweeney, the local postmaster, came rushing in looking for Bill. Jim had a package under his arm and a letter in his hand. He ran over to Bill waving the letter and said, “This here’s a registered letter for Bill Jr., from a lawyer in Atlanta. It’s stamped “IMPORTANT” and “RUSH.” I figured since Billy is working in Baltimore, you’d want to sign it so’s you can let ‘em know if it’s important.”
Bill always has been one to get excited real easy and before he said a word, he made a grab for the letter but Jim jerked it back and told him he’d have to “sign for it proper” first. With an excited hand, Bill scratched his name on the post office form, grabbed the letter and ripped it open. Must have been 25 men around the store that morning but you could have heard a pin drop as Bill unfolded the letter. He was so excited he handed it over to Jim and told him to read it to him. Jim read as follows:
Anthony W, Catter, Attorney at Law
221 Peachtree Street
Atlanta, Ga. 30303
Bill Allen, Jr.
Crossroads, Va. 24000
My firm, for many years has represented the interest of Mr. Samuel B. Stockard, who formerly resided in your community. I regret to inform you that Mr. Stockard departed this life last week. He requested that upon his death, the enclosed letter and the accompanying package be delivered to you.
I regret your loss and wish you well.
A. W. Catter, Attorney at Law
Jim flipped to the next and last page while everyone in the store held their breath. He began:
Samuel B. Stockard
2104 Melody Lane
Atlanta, Ga. 30303
Bill Allen, Jr.
Crossroads, Va. 24000
Dear Bill Jr.,
My attorney has been instructed to deliver this letter to you upon my death but I really don’t know how to begin it. The best way, I guess, is to get over the shocking part first. I have lived alone all my life, never married and only loved one woman, your mother. Your namesake, the man you thought was your father, was always too busy playing jokes on people to pay attention to that wonderful woman. I would have carried her off and lived happily ever after but after our one passionate moment, she would never see me again. She was a wonderful person. Please don’t hold this revelation against her. She deserved so much more than she ever got.
I’m sending you my two most prized possessions in the world and sincerely hope you will treasure them as I have. One is my L.C. Smith, 12 gauge shotgun and the other is my very first old Sears and Roebuck hunting jacket with a vinyl pouch in back.
Sorry I never got to meet you but I’m sure your mother raised you proud.
With a Father’s Love, to my son,
Love, Sam Stockard
When Jim finished reading the letters no one said a word. Bill slumped down in his old straight back chair, looking white as a ghost and like all his bones had been pulled out. He sat there like that for a long time before he staggered to his feet and stumbled to the door. Several of us fellows decided to take turns sitting with Bill over at his house, day and night, until he got over the shock. We were afraid he’d try to hurt himself. Billy was his pride and joy and Mrs. Allen was Bill’s childhood sweetheart. The shock was almost more’n old Bill could take. He quit coming by Sidney’s store and took to staying home alone. Nobody’s seen him smile since then and he never plays tricks anymore. Old Bill really took it hard.
It’s been over a year since Jim brought that letter by the store and you won’t believe what happened yesterday. I been looking to buy a milk cow and I heard a fellow down in Mt. Airy had a good one for sale, so I made a trip down there to see it. I knocked on the door of the old farm house and an old man invited me in. The first thing I noticed was a picture of Sam Stockard with a woman and three kids, sitting on the mantle. First thing I said was, “Who’s that?” The old fellow said, “That’s my son-in-law, Sam Stockard. Got a big dairy farm down in Georgia. He’s from up in your parts. Shore is a good husband to our daughter Sally. Him and Sally were up here visiting just last week.”