Me and Dillard killed a big old rattlesnake….’course Dillard was the one hit it in the top of the head with a skinny pine stump, but that didn’t keep us from telling everybody we killed it. I don’t rightly know how old he was, I would have guessed something in the range of Methuselah and I don’t really know how he got there. All I really knew that as a 6 year old orphan boy in the mid 50’s living in southwest Arkansas on the banks of the Saline River, Dillard was my hero.
Most grownups just didn’t have the time to listen to the imagination of a small boy. I guess that’s ok. I mean grownups had plenty else to do. Taking care of boys that didn’t really belong there on $40.00 a week was a big enough challenge to be sure. But there were times when having all the bills paid and chores done simply weren’t enough.
I guess I don’t ever remember a time when I walked through the woods to Dillard’s board plank house that he wasn’t sitting on the front porch in his homemade cane bottomed rocking chair. He had his arms folded and was rocking back and forth so slightly that the chair wasn’t even moving. “Hello boy”, he’d say with a look that said “I’m lonely too”. “Grab you some porch and tell me where you want to go today.”
You see that’s what I remember most about this great story-teller. He not only had time to listen to where you wanted to go, but he had the ability to help you get there. If we wanted to go to the moon, the porch was transformed into the launching pad. If we wanted to head to lands undiscovered way north of Topeka or even further, old Dillard bless his heart, would take the time out of his day to put together a scouting party in search of the untamed lands ahead.
It was on such a trek one wintery Saturday afternoon that we found the remains of a lost civilization. Their entire population was almost wiped out by the blizzard of ‘29. Only 5 members of the tribe escaped with their lives. How they found their way to the big woods behind Dillard’s home place will likely remain a mystery ‘til the Lord returns in the clouds. Dillard told me while we were warming by the fire that they died one at a time and as they died the remaining tribe members buried them there in the lost cemetery and put that pile of rocks at the head of the grave so that some day a scouting party like us could find them and tell the world about the lost tribe of Possomocuddlers. I asked him who buried the last one when he died and who put the rocks at the head of the grave? He allowed that everybody knew that it was a band of foreigners from Texas that had traveled through the country during the summer of ’43.
I could hear the voice of my Aunt Beulah hollering my name through the woods. “Rah-joe!!” rang out the second time and I knew that the scouting party was coming to an end. I hugged Dillard and said, “I’ll see you tomorrow, ok?” and ran through the woods to reassure my Auntie that no lion or tiger had eaten me alive. I could hardly wait to tell her about the Possomocuddlers. I faithfully told her the tragic story of the lost tribe and the meaning of the 5 sacred piles of rocks.
“Good grief”, she said. “Honey, your Uncle hauled those rocks from our yard when we were building our home, and he hauled them in the old wagon out behind the barn. There is nothing sacred about those old rock piles”. “O S M R,” says I, protecting the legacy of the Possomocuddlers. And anyway, why do grownups want to rain on our camp fires?
Besides, only the rocks know for sure… And I’m going to believe Dillard.