I’m so very glad I had the years that I had growing up in the mountains. It’s such a different world, that I don’t think I would have gotten the same thing anywhere else. I’m quite sure I wouldn’t have! And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Pets, for instance…of course, every child has a puppy or kitten, and I did have my fair share of those. I had a black and white border collie named Duke that I’ll never, ever forget. That dog loved and protected me like no other since then!
I remember one time, he was tied to his dog house – we must have not wanted him to run off for some reason, maybe mountain cats had been spotted in the area, I can’t really remember – and I was sitting close to him, playing in the dirt. I must have been maybe 4 or so.
Duke had been running around me and wound up getting the chain lapped around my neck a few times and was choking me. Mom saw – it was one of the many times I nearly died but God gave her an urgency in her spirit to find me – but all she could do was get her hand between the chain and my throat, enough to let me breathe. Duke was just far enough away at the end of his chain so that she couldn’t get hold of him, and she said she kept wondering what in the world she was going to do. I think it was Audie, my brother, who came walking up the holler, and was able to help her get me loose.
Another “Duke and Audie” story: one time Audie had come home and, as was often the way he greeted me, he grabbed me and threw me up into the air, laughing and growling. Well, Duke thought he was going to hurt me and very nearly ate him up! Luckily, Mom wouldn’t let him kill the poor dog, however much he wanted to.
Then we had a pair of black and tan coon hounds, they were brother and sister. The boy’s name was Moonshine and if memory serves me correctly, the girl’s name was Annie. Talk about some smart dogs!
We were sitting in the kitchen one evening and Annie came running down the mountain, barking, and ran right up to the door. She looked through the screen door, barked and then turned and ran back in the direction from which she’d come. She would turn then and look back towards the door and come running back, repeating the same excited bark, and then running back up the holler.
After several times of this happening, Mom said, “I swear, Junior, I believe she wants you to go with her.” So Daddy got up and went out the door, following her. She seemed content with that and led Daddy to where Moonshine was, trapped in a steel trap that he had set for coyotes! He was hurt, and Annie had saved him! Daddy carried him back down the holler and Mom fixed him up – one of the many times she’d done it, for one reason or another.
The one cat I remember, more than any other, was Midnight. Of course, she was solid black, but she has no amazing stories behind her existence, save for loving us more than cats usually love people. Well, that, and she always managed to have her kittens in the house, even though she was an outside cat, and more often than not, in Mom’s yarn bag.
Then there were my groundhogs. If I ever named them, I sure don’t remember it, but I do remember them. And how I came to have them. I was probably 4 or 5 years old, and I had seen a mama groundhog so I watched her until I saw where she was coming and going from…a hole in the ground, not far out front of our little log cabin.
I waited until she was out of sight, hunting or whatever it is they do when they leave their home, and I sat up Mom’s washtub, with a Y-shaped stick that I had found and sized just right for the job to hold up one side. I put some food underneath and I tied some string (or maybe it was yarn) around the stick and unrolled it as I backed away, and up over a rise in the yard, just behind a tree, where I sat relentlessly waiting for her to come back.
She did, and she noticed the food, but went back into her hole instead. I was about ready to give up by this time, but then, out she came with 4 babies! I guess she had wanted them to have the food because they all started for it. I waited, as patiently as a child can, and when most of them were under the tub, I pulled the string!
Mama groundhog had escaped, and some of the babies, and my heart was racing so fast I could hardly stand it as I went over to see what I had caught. Sure enough, two babies were there, and I packed them up and took them to show Mom.
One was a boy and one was a girl, and that boy was mean as sin! Daddy said I could keep them, but if they ever bit me, they’d have to go. Sure enough, a few days later, that little boy groundhog bit me. Every time I saw Daddy, I’d stick that hand behind me. Of course, a child’s mind doesn’t realize that a grownup is going to figure that out pretty quick, and he did. So the boy groundhog was shipped off. I think he was passed around to some family members and apparently he was still just as mean. I don’t know what ever happened to him.
As for the little girl groundhog, I kept her for a long time. She would stay right with me, and we would eat fruit cocktail together, and she was especially fond of watching me color in my coloring books. Come to think of it, I don’t really know what ever happened to her either, but I’m pretty sure Mom and Daddy probably figured she’d be better off in the wild with the rest of them.
Over the course of those years we were there, I wandered those mountains and carried back all kinds of critters. I packed home birds, chipmunks and Lord knows what else, so excited to show Mom, who would always be just as excited as me.
Sometimes, they would be injured and I would beg Mom to save them. Sometimes she could, and sometimes she couldn’t, and that’s just how it goes. We had always heard that foxes could never be tamed, but yet Mom got one to eat right from her hand! I didn’t realize then how amazing that was, but it sure is sweet to reminisce!
Now, all these years later, I’m still collecting critters. We currently have Sam, one of many European Starlings we have rescued. All the others, we’ve rehabbed and set free, but Sam has refused to leave. He lives with us and seems quite content here with our little “flock” and every time I look at him, I’m reminded of what Mammy use to say…”How the Lord must surely love us, to send us such beautiful creatures to look at.” Only, when I look at Sam, I think how much more He must love us to let us keep them!