One of my favorite things to do when I was in college was to pass on our family stories to my little cousins. Since I grew up with their parents they were more like nieces and nephews to me, so I felt it my obligation to spoil them.
I used to tell them (and still do) stories about how life used to be. Over the years, we have them convinced that my mother is an old woman nearing 100 years of age, when in fact she is but in her early 50’s. When we are all around her, my brother and I tell them that she ain’t been the same since that time she fell off of the train bridge. I can see in their eyes that they are picturing her falling off a train bridge back in the early 1900’s!! They just look at my mom with pity in their eyes, and say “Poor ole thing” and try to do things for her since she is so old. As a matter of fact, years ago my brother and I even gave our mother a new name to go along with her newly created elderly personality…Maude. All of the children just love Maude because she is like a kind old grandmother to them all, and they truly believe she holds the wisdom of the ages. The thing the kids don’t realize about Maude is that if she doesn’t know it, she will make it up!
Dad and "Maude".
I remember a few years ago, my little cousins were out “exploring” the Burns property. While it may have been a new experience for them, this was the very same land that my brother and I had explored a generation before, and our Dad before us, and his daddy before him, probably on back to when my family first settled here in the 1700’s. Well, during their great exploration, the kids came upon an old “fort” that my brother and I had built about decade earlier; we had made it out of tree limbs and carried rocks in for a floor and everything. By our standards, we had it lookin’ good. We even had an old cast iron stove up there that was a cast off from our house. The kids thought they had come upon El Dorado or something, because when they ran home to tell about it, their eyes were wide with excitement and they were rattling away like a bell clapper to a goose’s ass. After they described the place, I told them, “Yeah, I know where that is. Maude, did you hear that, they found my old house.” Their eyes immediately lit up and asked me how was it my house. I went on the tell them that when I was about 15 years old, I wanted some privacy so I built me a little lean-to up on the mountain and stayed there for about 2 years. Since they were kids, they didn’t put together that two years on the mountain in a lean-to would have been torture, or that I would have still been a teenager.
They were putty in my hands, so I elaborated on my story. I told them that the old stove up there was what I used for heat and to cook on. I remembered there were some empty cans up there from where my brother and I used to pack our lunch for our all day excursions, so I told them that the cans were from the food I ate. One of them questioningly asked me, “But there weren’t enough cans for you to have ate up there all winter”. I retorted, “No, there sure wasn’t was there, if you go up to the old pine tree, you will see that it is oozing sap in several places, that’s where I tapped it for pine resin. When I ran out of food, I lived on grasshoppers and pine resin!” I further explained to them that grasshoppers and pine resin really sticks to your ribs, and that grasshoppers are easy to dry and store all winter long. Well, they were eating this story all up, and insisted I go up to the old fort with them, so they could ask me questions about it. I went with them, and they tried their best to trip me up in a lie, but one by one I could see each of them start to believe me. I showed them the old pine tree with the resin running down the sides of it. Each one of them had to sample the pine resin, and they all said it tasted terrible and asked me how I could eat such stuff. I told them, “You’d be surprised what you’ll eat when you get hungry, and besides, you develop a taste for it.” I couldn’t, however, manage to get them to sample a grasshopper!
My little cousins Mernie and Bub.
I had an answer for everything they could think to ask. For example, there was an old stone box that my brother had built out of flat rocks, and when they found it they asked me what that was for, I said that I had kept live rattlesnakes in it so I’d have fresh meat in the winter months, and that once it got cold, the snakes were real sluggish so you didn’t have to worry about them crawling away. To further add to my fabricated tale, I exclaimed astonishment when I looked over at some nearby huckleberry bushes that were growing, “Wow, look at those bushes, they really have grown since I lived here.” I told them I transplanted those pushes from further up on the mountain so I’d have huckleberries to pick.
My little cousins Mernie and Clyde.
Then, one of the kids found some wild turkey feathers in the leaves that were windblown up against the walls of the stick fort. They didn’t realize that’s where me and Jason had cleaned off the leaf litter, and that wild turkeys would come in there to eat the acorns that had fallen on the bare ground. They undoubtedly would have left some feathers here and there. But, you can see where I’m going with this, I told them that those must be the feathers from that turkey that I had killed with my throwing stick! They asked me what a throwing stick was, and I said it is a smooth stick that could be thrown with so much force that it could kill a bird or even rabbits and such. Of course, they wanted me to show them and they went and found me a smooth stick. I made a big show of it, telling them they had to hold the stick at just the right angle and throw it with just enough force…and they would have to take into account the direction the wind was blowing that day. With great showmanship, I then drew back my arm and threw the throwing stick, and it went flying awkwardly through the air until it cumbersomely hit a large rock. Just as it hit the rock, a rabbit dodged out from behind it. I exclaimed, “Well, I almost got us a rabbit for supper, that darn rock got in the way.” They really thought I was something then, they hadn’t even seen that rabbit sitting there, and since I apparently had, that was all the proof they needed to believe in my extensive wilderness survival skills!
When we got home, my cousin Brittany asked Maude why she had let me live up there for so long when I had a home right here that had real food in it, and to this Maude replied, “Well, it was a different time then and boys had to learn how to survive in those days!”
And people wonder why the kids are so spoiled!!
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