I was born in Lewisburg, Tennessee in 1931, and my mother died when I was four. For the next two years I was cared for when my father was out of town by my great aunt Flora, who, along with her husband while he was living, cared for my father during his youth. Daddy was born in Cherokee Indian Country in what is now Oklahoma. He was sent to Tennessee when both his parents died from typhoid fever when he was very young. When Aunt Flora died, Daddy arranged for me to live with my maternal aunt, Clara, and her husband, Harry, in Waynesboro, Tennessee.
Daddy’s headquarters were in Tupelo, Mississippi, but he would visit me almost every weekend. A motherless child was never loved as I was or had such an enjoyable early childhood as I had while living in Waynesboro. Our house was on a bluff overlooking Green River, a crystal clear creek teeming with fish, turtles, non-venomous snakes, and other aquatic critters.
During warm weather Green River was the favorite hangout for me and my playmates. We’d hang our britches on tree limbs and skinny-dip in one of several swimming holes along the creek. We’d scan the creek bottom on the lookout for bottom-dwelling fish, sculpins, which were called “codfish,” If one or more were seen, we would quickly leave the creek and don our britches, because codfish were believed to attack and bite one’s testicles.
We would catch green June bugs, attach a piece of sewing thread to their hind legs and allow them to fly until they were exhausted before releasing them. We would watch tumblebugs rolling balls of manure and wonder why at times, why a smaller tumblebug would be clinging to the rolling ball and hanging on for dear life. Later, I found out that the smaller of the two were males.
An older, teen-aged black boy we called Tee, was hired by an uncle who lived nearby to ride herd over his two sons and other neighborhood children and keep them entertained and out of trouble during summer months. Occasionally, Tee would be allowed to use one of my uncle’s pickups, and take us to some of his secret fishing holes, where we would always catch strings of fish.
The elevation of Waynesboro is about 750 feet, so summer nights were pleasantly cool. Bedroom windows were left open and at night I could enjoy the calls of Whip-poor-wills, Chuck Will’s Widows, and often Screech Owls and Barred Owls. Cows were allowed to range freely, and from the woods across the creek, I could hear the faint tinkling of the bell hanging from the neck of the lead cow.
When Daddy would visit, weather permitting, he would go with me to the creek. He taught me how to identify the two water snakes inhabiting the creek. The slender, brown queen snake and the harmless, blotched midland water snake, the one most folks thought was the venomous cottonmouth. Many of the locals couldn’t understand why my father taught me not to be afraid of snakes unless they were obviously venomous. “Before long, that boy will be playing with rattlesnakes and highland moccasins,” commented one of the critics.
Winter weather was often unpleasant. I dreaded trudging in the snow to the outhouse and sitting on the john when cold wind was blowing through the cracks. During summer, daily baths were taken in the creek, but during cold weather I was subjected to “sponge baths” except on Saturday nights when tub baths were taken. Water from the well was drawn and heated on the wood-burning stove. Two large tin tubs were then filled. One was for washing, the other for rinsing.
Daddy re-married when I was ten, to a wonderful woman, Ann, and thereafter I lived with them. I am convinced that Ann loved me as much as she loved her own two daughters, my half-sisters, Kathy and Luanne. Daddy was drafted in 1942, and from that time until the war was over, we endured some hard times, but as I alluded to before, no child without a real mother during early childhood could have had a better and more enjoyable life than I did.
Bob Mount is a Professor Emeritus with the Department of Zoology and Entomology at Auburn University. He is also chairman of the Opelika Order of Geezers, well-known local think tank and political clearing house. He writes about birds, snakes, turtles, bugs and assorted conservation topics.