by Eva Braswell
Almost two years ago Hilda decided her younger son, although a small ten year old, should get out with the older boys. However, she gave his brother Joe strict admonition, “Now ya take care of yer little brother.” While Willie was delighted, the others had opposite feelings and made certain the small boy knew.
“Come on, Willie, don’t act like a baby, bein’ so slow! Ya even look like a baby what aint got no hair yet.” That taunt came from his brother Joe who never stopped teasing or playing practical jokes, especially on Little Willie, whose fine white hair and fair complexion drew attention to his deep blue eyes. His mother Hilda was often told, “He’s too pretty to be a boy.”
“Yeah, yer legs are too short ta keep up, so ya should oughta stay ta home,” agreed Jack, the neighbor lad. “Me an’ Joe is almost a man now an’ don’t need yer taggin’ along an’ slowin’ us down.” Actually, Jack’s weight and laziness were the real reason those boys dallied behind.
“When yer past twelve, too, ya can be out with big guys, that is if ya ever grow any. Ya oughta be playin dolls with yer sister Jen, ‘cause she’s more yer age,” Joe added another barb. “Yer more’n two years younger’n us, an’ Jen’s jist a year younger’n you, but she’s a whole lot bigger ‘n ya are,” Joe said. His black eyes glowed with mischief in his dark slender face, topped by that rampant dark hair that stuck straight up (like crow feathers in a pin cushion.) Those three were lagging behind the two older boys, Ray, who was Jack’s brother, and Pete, a cousin to Joe and Willie. The five lads were typical of the boys (and their families) living in the foothills of the Cumberland Mountains during the early nineteen hundreds.
“Hey, Willie, git a move on ‘cause it’ll be feedin’ time afore ya know it, an’ ya’ll keep us from gittin’ ta practice any,” teased Ray, as he and Pete arrived at the appointed “gully” where the snow no longer hid the pebbles.
Redheaded Ray, at fifteen, was well known for his fiery temper, often venting his anger on the smallest and least resistant of the group, namely Willie.
Pete, a year older than Ray, was well aware that Joe, Jack, and Ray were deliberately annoying Willie (as usual), and silently vowed to make life a little easier for his small cousin.
"I brought my new sling shot ta target practice," Joe bragged as he displayed the forked stick with the hand cut rubber bands tied to each side of the fork’s tips. He did not admit that he had been practicing every minute that he could sneak off by himself.
"I got mine, too,” said Pete, “how ‘bout ya, Ray?"
"Yeah, did ya bring yourn, Jack?" Ray asked his brother.
"Nah, mine aint no good.”
“Ya got one, Willie?" Pete asked needlessly.
"Nope,” admitted the youngest, “shore wish I did."
"Well, today I'll let ya use mine some, an’ then I'll help ya make one next time it rains so I don’t have ta work," volunteered Pete, the farmer’s son, in a slow drawl.
"I'll find th’ best fork in these here woods," Willie’s voice piped hurriedly.
The five competed for hours. Joe shared his new slingshot with his best friend, Jack. They stood at the edge of a small ravine where pebbles of a uniform size were plentiful. Their edges worn smooth because of many years of water rushing over them during rainy seasons, those small rocks made perfect ammunition for a slingshot. A boy sometimes found a pebble that was round enough to use for a marble. He pocketed it for future use.
There was nearly equal skill between the four older boys, Jack's "measure eye" giving him the advantage over those who had had more practice.
Pete carefully coached Willie.
“Ya put th’ rock right inta th’ middle of th’ leather.” Pete demonstrated as he spoke. “Hold th’ fork in yer left hand an’ th’ leather with th’ rock in it in yer right. Then ya pull back slow and steady while ya git yer target right in th’ middle of th’ Y. Hold it steady as ya can while ya turn th’ rock loose.”
Willie did his best to follow instructions and occasionally hit the target.
Before they realized the lateness, the sun was setting behind the clouds in the west, with a glorious array of colors that changed from luminous white to yellow, then orange, red, blue and finally, (as they later completed their chores), a deep purple. Many of those shades were visible simultaneously, their beauty wasted on the practical lads.
As the five headed for home, tramping through mud and dodging small piles of snow, they noticed four buzzards circling above their path near the cliffs.
“Must be somethin’ dead someplace close around here,” one observed.
“Yeah, an’ now I can smell it,” said another.
“I bet I could hit one of them buzzards with my slingshot,” Ray said.
“Better not, he might come back and puke on ya,” Willie repeated the warning he had heard the men laughing about.
“Aw, that’s jest a story. Here, I’ll prove it ta ya.” Ray took his only marble rock from his pocket. Meanwhile, the other four took cover under the cliff overhang. They were taking no chances.
“I jest tipped his wing, an’ he took off, ya see,” Ray bragged.
“Look over yer shoulder! Duck, Ray, Duck”, three voices yelled. Willie only crowded himself back closer under the cliff. If he gits it, serves him right, an’ I don’t care, he thought. I remember that rock he jest shot is th’ one he picked up after he told me it was no good fer nothin’ an’ ta jest drop it.
This story is an excerpt from Eva M Braswell’s book titled Little Willie of Yesteryear which answers the question: “How did your great-grandparents live?” The book may be ordered from any online bookstore or direct from PublishAmerica.com. The book’s ISBN number is #1-59129=827-X.
Eva wrote to USADEEPSOUTH:
“I wrote only poems, totaling nearly 400, (with a few opinion essays) until writing this book. Numerous verses and essays were published over the years, although comparatively few were submitted. I enjoyed writing Little Willie because my husband and I both lived many of the incidents contained therein. We are in our eighties, married for 61years.”
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