by Bob Mount
My late father was born in 1906 in Stilwell, Oklahoma in an area known at the time as “Indian Territory.” His parents died of typhoid fever when he was a young child, and he was sent to Tennessee to be cared for by an aunt and uncle, until the latter died when he was in college.He married and became self-supporting. I was born in 1931, four years before my mother died. Following her death, I was cared for by my great aunt until I was six, when she died. I was then sent to live with my aunt and uncle in Waynesboro, Tennessee, a town of about 1,000 people, the county seat of Wayne County. Wayne County is the second largest county, area wise, in the state, and the third least populated. At the time, 80 percent of the county was forested, and except for the Tennessee River, the streams were crystal clear.
I lived there until I was ten, when my father re-married and I went to live with them. During my stay in Waynesboro, my Daddy would drive from Tupelo, MS each week-end to visit me. He and I would wade the clear creek nearby, and he would teach me how to identify the turtles and snakes that inhabited the creek. There were no venomous snakes in the creek. Sometimes we would hike in the woods along the creek, and Daddy would identify some of the critters we came across.
When I was fourteen , we lived for a while in Jackson, Tennessee. Jackson wasn’t nearly as appealing to a budding naturalist as Wayne County was, and I talked Daddy into allowing me and a friend of mine to hitch-hike to Hardin Creek in Wayne County, where we would camp out for several days. A store was about half a mile away at which we could call on someone for help if we needed it. Hardin Creek and its surroundings were like Paradise. Fish were abundant and we would catch and cook some every evening.
Back then, hitch-hiking was a relatively safe and convenient way to travel. My friend’s mother had reservations about boys so young being able to safely hitch-hike on an 80 mile trip and camp out in the wilderness, but my father convinced her that we would be OK. That’s the way Daddy was, permissive, but only if I adhered to his advice and stayed within guidelines he set. Failure to do so would frequently get my bottom belted. And looking back, I am convinced that I deserved every belting he gave me.
We moved to Albany, Ga. when I was a high school freshman. I believe I was 15 at the time, and in Georgia one could obtain a driver’s license at that age or earlier. I obtained mine shortly after we arrived. Not long afterward, I bought a 1939 Plymouth to use when measuring peanut fields during the summer. Daddy drove Packards, year-old up-scale models he would buy from a wealthy friend of his who bought a new one annually. Daddy allowed me to drive his car to pick up dates. I seldom had a problem getting dates, because the girls enjoyed being driven in those big Packards. But Daddy warned me,”If I ever hear of you speeding or racing my car, you’ll never use it again.” I heeded his warning, and he continued to let me use his car even after I had enrolled in college.
I seldom gave either of my parents cause for concern, but I did one time. I usually kept two or three non-venomous snakes on the premises. Usually they were kept in cages or other containers on the back porch. One time, I captured a rattlesnake, and wanted to see how the rattler and a king snake would react to one another. I placed them in a large cardboard box in the kitchen. Each one assumed a defensive posture in opposite corners of the box. The rattler was rattling furiously. About that time my parents arrived and came inside. My step-mother exclaimed,” Robert Hughes, is that a rattlesnake I hear rattling?” I said “Yes ma’am, but he’s confined in a box.” She turned toward my father and said, “Logan, that rattlesnake’s got to go, or I will. I’m not living in a house with a rattlesnake!”
Daddy said, “Son, get that damn snake out of this house immediately, and don’t bring another venomous snake on these premises.” I said, “Yes sir.” I knew he meant business, because his use of the word “damn” was the first time I ever heard him curse. Needless to say, I never again brought another venomous snake on the premises, inside or outside.
Considering what a kind, considerate, generous, loving father I was privileged to have until he died at age 64, not many motherless children have fared as I have throughout their lifetimes. Wherever you happen to be, Daddy, be assured that I appreciate you. Happy FATHER’S DAY.
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.