Mr. Otis Butterbaugh is a character in my novel … a “sit-around-the-pot-bellied-stove’ country story teller from the early years of the twentith century in south Mississippi.
Eli and the Goose Hunt
“Mine’ s me ‘a the day,” Mr. Otis had switched into his story telling cadence, “Miss Ida throwed that yard broom at Eli. …”
“Well, Eli, he was always skeerd ‘a Mis Ida … I never once knew him to say to her, ‘ No. ’ It was always, ‘yes, Ida. Okay, queen’ ie, Okay.’
“We was all goin’ huntin’, years ago. … Old Mr. Jennin’s was still gittin’ out, and Francis, ever’ body, all ‘a Cut Bank; it was a big hunt. Cotton was all picked, crops was in. It was Saturday after Thanksgiving … I think it was ‘aught – one’, but it might ‘a been the old century …
Anyway, Ida told Eli, ‘git that stove wood in … … I don’ t wanna be lookin’ fer stove wood, ain’ t none.’
The hunters had all heard the story. Otis Butterbaugh sometimes forgot to whom he had told which story. If in doubt, Otis thought, they would appreciate it over again. Walter Beauchamp had not hear the story, they, the hunters, knew; they were tolerant.
‘Well, Eli and them two oldest kids hauled up a load ‘a wood; racked it up all neat like, rite outside the kitchen door. … Mis Ida, she’ s hummin’ this ole cross, watchin’ that stack ‘a stove wood git bigger.’ Well, they was jus’ done rackin’ up that first load ‘a wood, two ‘a them Hazlehurst boys, young bucks, come by leadin’ a mule … they horse laughed them two boy ‘a Eli.
“ ‘Ya ‘ll gonna fool aroun’ with that stove wood all day? Could be down here on West Fork wid us, trappin’ beavers.’ He flashed a pint bottle at them two boys.
“Now, they had got that bottle from the feller sets up behind Cooter’ s daddy’ s ole saloon, and had done had a touch ‘a that bottle … they wasn’ t what you might call seasoned drinkers … and was makin’ a lot ‘a noise, leadin’ that mule with them traps clankin’, hangin’, off both sides. By the time they got down near where camp ‘s at now they had spooked ever game animal in the whole bottom land. Didn’ t nobody kill a deer for days.
“Well, once they git there, and they had drunk up that whole pint bottle, they decides they’ ll jest sit fer a while ‘fore they starts to puttin’ out the traps. In no time a’ tall they had fell into a drunken stupor, went rite to sleep. It was about then that flock geese come in on ‘em. See, them geese had been miles away when them boys was makin’ all that racket, them traps clankin’, hangin’ off the sides ‘a that mule. They wasn’ t spooked.
“It’s a little swamp behind where the camp is at; with that standin’ water on the one side and the river out front. Well, Papa and ole man Jennin’ s had got tired ‘a huntin’ with that crowd ‘a men and boys and gone off by they self. Mr. Jennin’ s had seen them geese ridin’ in on the wind, knew them birds would stop off behind camp. So they snuck up on that little swampy place, seen ‘em huddle ‘in up again’ that hump a land … layin’ down out ‘a the wind. The wind had blew all day. It was low clouds in the sky.
“Papa would ‘a shot ‘em rite on the water, except ole man Jennin’ s told ‘em no. So they was in a dilemma. They didn’ t wanna chunk a stick out in the swamp and spook ‘em all at once. Well, papa slipped down to this little pond like place an’ slapped the water wid his hat; sorta like a beaver’ s tail. One ‘a them goose lifted off and Mr. Jennin’ s shot it righ’ off.
Them Hazlehurst bucks come awake sudden like and thought they was bein’ shot at. By then geese was flyin’ ever’ where and both papa and Mr. Jennin’ s was shootin’ both barrels. Some ‘a the shot was whippin’ the brush over them stupefied boys. “Don’ t shoot us.’ they was yellin’. ‘We was just trappin’ beaver … ain’ t even set none yet … Lord, don’ t shoot?’ What with them shots flyin’ they had come sober, and they jumped up, real quick like. In all the commotion one of ‘em dropped his shotgun, an’ it went off … scatterin’ a load a shot skitterin’ all across that water.
‘Now, papa didn’ t hear none too good and hadn’ t heard then boys callin’ out. He thought it was the old days and that they had come up on a gang ‘a moonshinners. Run fer it, Thomas,’ he called out, I’ ll giv’ em a couple ‘a blast while you git away. and he did. It was geese flyin’ and shots cuttin’ across the water and them young bucks yellin’ and divin’ down in the mud and ole man Jennin’ s pullin’ that double barrel away from papa … an’ tryin’ not to git shot hisself. You should ‘a been there.
Them geese was the only game anybody got all day. Some ‘a them boys got some squirrel; but we ain’ t countin’ that. Well, they come out ‘ta there, back up the road to‘ard the tradin’ post; ole man Jennin’ s was riding that mule, them traps clankin’ and so on. Eli and them two boys ‘a his met ‘em; they was goin’ down the road, papa and the rest comin’ back up the road.
“You feller’ s goin’ huntin’? Mr. Jennin’ s asked.
“We was aimin’ to catch up, Mr. Thomas; join in, sorta, Eli said.
“Well, ain’ t no use. These boys here has done skired ever’ thing in the woods. I reckon even that ole pain’ther is hidin.
“Oh, lord; Ida’ s gonna shore be mad, Otis said … he wasn’ t talkin’ to nobody in particular, jes said it … we ain’ t got that stove wood in, and we ain’ t got no meat to take home neither.
“Take ‘er one ‘a these geese, ole man Jennin’ s said, threw him down one. See does that mollify ‘er.
“Now it was cold that day. Wind and clouds layin’ down low, close; an’ Mis Ida ain’ t stuck her head out the door in a while … her singin’ them church songs and pokin’ that stove wood in the fire. She had done made up a pone ‘a corn bread and was workin’ on a mess ‘a beans wid’ a ham hock in ‘em; and sudden like she notices she ain’ t heard Eli and them two boys in a while now.
“Well, she sent that oldest girl out …the one married that feller, moved off to Baton Rouge, hefty girl … see can you see yore papa, them two boys. They ought to a been here by now; another load ‘a stove wood.”
“Now, that girl was chunky; but she knew it was cold an’ she didn’ t wanna be out there long, so she went an’ stood close again’ the barn and looked out across that cow pasture. She seen that wagon and them mules down in the edge ‘a the woods, them mule wid’ they rear ends turned toward the wind. Eli and them boys weren’ t no where in sight. … And she went an’ told her mama. … Well, it wasn’ t long till that whole bunch ‘a young ’uns had left the fire an’ was hidin’ under the bed and two or three of ‘em had even left the house and was in the barn, up in the hay loft. Mis Ida had done quit singin’ church songs. She thought serious about throwin’ that ham hock and them beans out in the yard, but couldn’ t bring herself to do it.
“Well, she took a quilt and wrapped it aroun’ herself and walked out to the barn. … Them young uns’ up in the hay loft jus’ burrowed down deep and stayed quiet … She was lookin’ off to‘ard the woods and that wagon and them mules when Eli and them two boys come walkin’ ‘round the corner ‘a that barn, comin’ from the other di’ rection.
“Look mama. We got a goose. That youngest boy sorta shouted, holdin’ it out in front ‘a him, couldn’ t think of a thing else to say. Well, Mis Ida jus’ reached out an’ the first thing her hand fell on was that dogwood yard broom; and she flung it, and Eli ducked, but he ducked the wrong way. The butt end ‘a that broom struck ‘im right on the ear and swung aroun’ smack on his nose.
“Well, Eli never said nothin’, jus’ walked off across that cow pasture to where them mules and that wagon was. He was bleedin’ like a sow bear had ‘raked him a swipe, but he never said nothin’ … jus’ loaded up that wagon with stove wood; brought it home and racked it up in the dark. Them two boys come over and stayed with us till the next day. …”