Sunday, September 22, 2013

A Change of Weather Day

It was cooler than he expected when Uncle Billy Gilbert woke up. As he lay under the quilts in his ol' iron bed he walked through his plans for the day, deliberatin' on what needed to be done an' what he could put off for another day.  Cool weather got him thinkin' about a walk through the hills.

His ol' dog must have heard his breathin' change or maybe the creak of a spring or two. That big ol' tail thumped a few times, as if to say, "I know you're layin' there awake. Get on up out of that bed an' get goin.'".

"OK, OK, ye don't have to hound me like that ol' dog. I'm up. Y'all won't starve before I can get goin'."  Uncle Billy eased out of bed an' reached for his "dungarees".  Folks called them "bluejeans" these days, but he still called them "dungarees". The pair he reached for were faded an' worn but serviceable.  The short sleeve work shirt he had on the day before wasn't goin' to be enough, so he walked over to his chifferobe an' pulled a blue flannel shirt from a hanger.

Breakfast was two fried eggs, leftover sausage from the day before an' a couple left over biscuits.  He warmed the sausage an' biscuits in the fryin' pan by splittin' the biscuits an' placin' them in the pan with a lid on it (after he drained the grease, of course. He just didn't like ol' greasy biscuits.).  After Aunt Del died Uncle Billy learned that he didn't need to cook a big ol' breakfast ever' day.  He made biscuits, sausage or bacon ever' few days an' ate on them for a while before he needed to cook more.

Ol' Dog sat over by the door an' waited patient like for Uncle Billy to get his bowl, crumble a bit of biscuit an' sausage onto his dog food.  That dog knew Uncle Billy would throw a few goodies onto the top of his food an' his tail thumped his approval.

With breakfast done, Uncle Billy Gilbert cleaned up the kitchen, made the bed an' cleaned his ol' dirty self up.  Though he had a tub an' shower he had installed for Aunt Del, he still used a pan of hot water, soap an' washrag several days a week, just like he did for all of his life.

The one constant in his wash up was his shave.  He took a mug from the counter, picked up his shavin' brush, got the bristles wet and swirled it expertly in the mug.  The soap in the bottom of the mug foamed easily.  He never skimped on shavin' soap. That was his one luxury.  He applied the foamy soap with years of expertise and practice.  For many years he had used a straight razor, but he switched over to a safety razor a few years before his wife passed.  It was a bit easier, he had to admit.

The day's plans included feedin' the chickens an' checkin' the weeds around the barn for a nest.  That ol' dominique hen had a bad habit of wanderin' into the weeds an' layin' a nest full of eggs. He just didn't need chicks this late in the year.  Foxes were sure to get them if he didn't watch.  The rest of the chickens, includin' the old roosters always made their way safe into the coop.  But that dang dominique just didn't folllow the crowd.

Feedin' his ol' mule, his milk cow an' the steer grazin' in the field, checkin' the bees, cuttin' a few heads of cabbage for makin' kraut, checkin' the crocks full of pickles and pickin' some apples from his apple trees rounded out the morning.  He smiled to himself as he made his way from chore to chore.

Though he owned 149 acres, his farm covered only about 16 of those acres.  That had always been plenty for him, Aunt Del an' little Bill, his son.  The rest of the land was woods, hills an' hollers.  Three creeks an' one river made their way through his land, makin' it fertile an' green.

Lunch was a white bread sandwich with mayonnaise an' a big ol' piece of hand sliced baloney he fried.  Sweet tea in a mason jar, a tomato sliced an' sprinkled with salt an' pepper, he pulled several slices of cucumber an onions from a bowl (filled with a bit of vinegar, water an' just a touch of sugar to check the bite of the vinegar).  A feller had to have some sort of pickle with a fried baloney sandwich.

After he washed his plate, knife, fork an' mason jar, he wiped his hands, looked at ol' dog (who seemed to know what was up) and walked into the spare bedroom.  Uncle Billy grabbed his ol' 22, filled his pocket with a few shells and walked to the door.

"Ol' dog, it is a squirrel huntin' day.  Let's go now."  Ol' dog responded quickly, jumpin' to his feet an' runnin' out the door.  They would travel the hills all afternoon, walkin' with the experienced stealth of a mountain man an' huntin' dog.  If he was successful (an' he usually was) there would be squirrel dumplin's that night.  Squirrel gravy would be poured carefully over ol' dog's food and Uncle Billy would sit by himself at the table in the same chair he sat in for the last 40 years.  He would bow his head and pray out loud.  Ol' dog would wait patiently for the prayer to conclude and for Unlce Billy Gilbert to put his bowl down on the floor.

"Ol' dog, " he would say, "this is some kind of eatin'.  My tongue is about to beat my face to death tryin' to get to it".  Man an' dog would dig in, not a word spoken till every drop of gravy was gone.

Uncle Billy closed the door but didn't bother to lock it.  Like most folks up and down the creek, he knew that there weren't no need to lock his door unless he was goin' on a trip an' would be gone several days.

As he walked back the path that led past the old outhouse he pushed on the door to make sure it was shut.  It hadn't been used in years an' the door had a way of swingin' open.  He reminded himself that he should just come back with a hammer an' a nail an' just nail the door shut.  He then chuckled an' decided that weren't fittin'.  That ol' outhouse served well when a feller was in a hurry.

The path back the little holler was grown up a bit. He didn't travel that way too often these days.  Tomorrow or the next day he would cut the path back with his push mower to make it easier to get through an' to knock down a few little saplings that were growin' on the edge of the path.

Ol' dog followed a few feet back. Neither man or dog made much sound as they walked the path.  Sweet Annie an' goldenrod had bloomed in abundance since it started to get closer to fall. Honeybees were already working both, gettin' their hives full for winter.  Uncle Billy always robbed his hives before the bees started workin' the goldenrod.  It made the hives smell terrible an' the honey weren't much good either.  Some folks swore by the goldenrod honey.  They claimed it helped their fall hay fever. Uncle Billy didn't care if it cured ever' disease known to man.  He didn't like it, hated the smell from it an' just didn't care to mess with it.  Someone else was gonna need to cure hay fever.

As they eased up the trail the trees took over an the path was not as overgrown.  The hillside was filled with tall, old trees an' saplin's that seemed stunted in the shadow of the giant oaks, hickory and pine trees.  Along the edge of the woods an' close to the ol' fence row the cedars grew.  Some of them was right in the fence row an' the ol' rusty wire fence had grown into them.  Though he noticed each one that the wire was growed in, he didn't plan to do anything. He didn't run cattle back here anymore an' the fence weren't needed.

The sound of hundreds of bees workin' the flowerin' weeds was a soft hum as they walked along the edge of the woods.  The sun warmed his back an' neck each time he walked out of the shadows an' into the sun.  It was a great day to walk the hills.  His eyes were already scannin' the trees.  His ears alert for sound as they walked at an angle to the hillside.  When he was younger he might have charged straight up the slope an' head to the top of the ridge.  These days he walked a slow circuit around the hill and up at an angle.  Better on his ol' bones an' better for seein' the land, trees an' game animals.

When he got over to the backside of the hill he walked into a huge grove of pines.  The ol' man an' dog stopped, looked into the pines an Uncle Billy's mind wandered back to a time he was afraid for himself an' his own land.

Years ago this area, about 20 acres had been clear cut an' soon after had to be planted with pines.  Him an' Aunt Del had needed a little money an' he had sold the trees on nearly 50 acres.  Problem was the feller he had sold the trees to had lied to him.  They was supposed to take only the trees that was sixteen inches an' bigger.  When Uncle Billy noticed that they was haulin' out smaller trees he walked back to this side of the hill and found men cuttin' ever' tree in sight.  Huge piles of brush were layin' everywhere an' they was burnin' the piles with little concern that unwatched fires could catch the whole mountain on fire.

Though he was an ol' backward mountain man, Uncle Billy Gilbert had an education an' was no man's fool.  Before they could see him, he walked back to the house an' had Aunt Del get their copy of the contract from Mountainside Timber Company.

The contract was absolutely clear as to what they could cut an' it specifically said only trees sixteen inches an' bigger as well as a price per foot on the logs they would buy.  There was no mention of pulpwood - smaller trees that were not good for anything but chippin' an' the papermills.

He got on the phone an' asked Birdy Sue, who was on the party line (as usual) if she would mind hangin' up so he could make a couple emergency calls.  Birdy Sue said "Of Course" but waited a minute an' picked her phone up to listen in as Uncle Billy called Hap Collins an' a couple other local farmers, some church members who was big ol' boys an'  Bobby Bowling, the Deputy Sheriff who lived a few miles away an' just happened to be his cousin.

As men from nearby farms grabbed shotguns an' rifles, loaded up, stopped to get other fellers an' headed toward the Gilbert place, Uncle Billy made one last call to Anderson "Ance" Gilbert, his nephew an' a fine lawyer. After his uncle explained things, Ance told him to keep the fellers that was already pullin' into the farmyard to stay put for just a bit so he could get there too.  It was a thirty minute drive from Beloved, the closest town an' the place where Ance's law office was.

When Ance arrived, Aunt Del was feedin' the fellers who showed up friend baloney sandwiches an' coffee.  They were all waitin' for Ance to show up, but each man was madder than a wet cat that some city slicker thought he could just do what he wanted to a man's land.  Land an' pride was all most of these men had.

"Uncle Billy, we need to walk around the hill quiet like to see what they have done an' are doin'" Ance said calmly.  "I brought my camera an' will need to take pictures as we go in.  I brought two Polaroid Instant Cameras I borrowed too an' we need a couple of you fellers to take pictures.  I'll tell you what to take them of, but get some shots as we get there.  I have four packs of film when you run out."

Fourteen local men an' the deputy had left their farms an' were waitin' for Ance and Uncle Billy to lead the way.  Ance warned them to not point guns toward anyone, but to just have them on shoulders or pointin' down to the ground.  There were about twenty men around the hill accordin' to Uncle Billy.  They had heavy equipment, chainsaws an probably guns of their own.  No one wanted to start a modern day feud.

Ance and Uncle Billy sent three of the men and one of the Polaroid cameras up the hill and across the ridge so they wold come out on the other side of the land the timber was being cut on. They were to take photos as they walked down the hill, but to appear to be squirrel hunters just comin' down the mountain.  They were also to hold back and take pictures if there was any trouble.  The main group would wait a few minutes to give this group time to climb the hill and start down.

After a few minutes, the rest of the men followed Uncle Billy and Ance as they walked the path around the hill and into the edge of the clear cut.  Ance had the original contract in a folder under his arm.  He took pictures as they walked into the clear cut and directed Charlie Hoskins to take some with the Polaroid. 

Several of the men were more than a little nervous as they walked into the field.  They knew some of the boys that worked for this bunch an' they weren't exactly what a feller would call an upstandin' citizens.  The company was apparently known to hire men that followed orders, kept their mouths shut and would do what was asked, whatever that was.

As the group walked into the clear cut and the two men continued to take pictures, work went on without notice of the group walkin' into the field.  A big red oak fell into the hillside an' the feller with the saw turned to watch it fall.  As he did he saw Ance, the huddle of men with guns and the cameras.  He quickly shut down the chainsaw an' ran down the hill to a big truck.

Uncle Billy laughed as the worker gestured an' pointed at them.  "He seems to be right wound up at us comin' into the clear cut, fellers.  I reckon we are gonna hear from someone in just a bit"

As they laughed and continued to walk into the field, Ance an' the other feller continued to take pictures.  Ance directed the shots with the Polaroid so they would get shots of what was going on.  The man in the truck was apparently the crew boss an' he commenced to beller out orders to the men cuttin, stackin' an' burnin' all around the field.  One by one the crew stopped an' began to gather behind the crew boss.

Ance stopped the men he was with an' called Uncle Billy to his side.  "Let me do the talkin' to start Uncle Billy.  You fellers stand behind us, guns down or on your shoulder.  Don't speak or argue with them. Just stand behind us an' keep in front of our surprise guest."  The men chucked at the instructions and assembled as instructed.

The crew boss marched across the field, cussin' an'  shoutin' instructions to his men.  He was madder than a hornet an' from his instructions was goin' to "chase them dang huntin' hillbillies off his land".  He had a claim, don't ya know an' he was not goin' to let a bunch of idiots wander around an' get into things.

Uncle Billy said a few things under his breath, gettin' madder as he heard the shouts of the crew and the crew boss.  "Ance, do you hear him sayin' this was his land?  I feel trouble brewin'. I sure do"

Ance calmed his Uncle and the men down with a quiet word an' they stopped an' waited on a little rise.  He liked the idea of havin' the high ground an' them fellers havin' to come up the hill an toward his group.

As they climbed the hill, the crew boss who was older an' fatter than the rest began to huff an' puff as he got closer.  His cussin' an' carryin' on slowed down as he would try to catch his breath between curse words.

"Hey, you bunch of tramps and riff raff.  Get off my land. This is property of Mountainside Timber Company and you people have no right to be here."  he shouted as he climbed.  "You are tresspassing and halting our work.  We have a deadline and more than 50 acres to cut.  Get out of here or we'll put you off this land.  And you , you quit it with the cameras.  Give them to me, or give me the film and get outta here.  What do you think you are doing taking pictures of us?  We have privacy rights, after all."

His men shouted their agreement along with threats.  Funny thing was, not one of them had more than axes or chainsaws (at least that anyone could see). As a group they advanced up the hill, cussin' an' makin' threats no group of men could carry out.  Uncle Billy's squad stood their ground, several of them movin' their guns to their shoulders so the men below would see them.

Ance an' Uncle Billy moved forward.  "Who are you, mister an' who is the boss of this outfit?  What are y'all doing here an' by what authority?" Ance questioned.

"We have an ironclad contract with the ol' geezer who owns this land.  He gave us the rights and my boss told me what to do.  Now get before I throw you off.  I don't want to have to go over and take the geezer into town to swear out a warrant with me for every one of you.  He don't take kindly to trespassers."

Uncle Billy chuckled.  He didn't know of anyone ever callin' him an' "old geezer".  All the men in his bunch laughed.  For some reason their laughter enraged the crew boss.

"I said get. Now get or you are going to see some trouble." he shouted. 

As he shouted he pulled a little 38 pistol out of his pocket an' pointed it at Ance an' Uncle Billy.  The deputy began to ease through the group till he was in the middle an' had a better view.  His hand carefully unsnapped his holster an' his hand stayed on the butt of his pistol.

The men from the Mountainside Timber Company didn't notice the three men that had come from across the field an' were takin' pictures as they came.  When the crew boss pulled out his gun Ance, Charlie Hoskins and the boy in the group of three quickly took pictures of the gun aimed at their group.  Not one of Uncle Billy's men had moved their guns.

"Feller, my name is Ance Gilbert an' I represent the old geezer, as you call him. His name is Billy Gilbert an' he gave me his contract to review.  You did not have the rights to this land or to clear cut it.  Y'all were only give permission to cut trees 16 inches or over and y'all have violated the contract.  I reckon y'all owe the land owner a wad of cash for all the trees ye have taken off this land... plus the cost of restoration of his property."

With that several of the timber crew reached into pockets or belts behind their backs an' pulled guns on Ance, Uncle Billy an their men.  They took several steps up the hill, malice an' harm in their eyes. Four of the crew turned to run toward trucks with the intention of grabbin' rifles.  They were well rehearsed an' this was a common move for this crew of undesirables.

Problem was Uncle Billy's three men got their first an' stood in front of the trucks.  They didn't keep their guns on their shoulders but held them sort of pointed toward the feet of the men who ran for the trucks. It stopped the crew fellers pretty darn quick.

The crew boss apparently expected his backup to run up the hill.  He didn't wait for them to arrive as he got red in the face an' almost screamed.  His men all aimed guns at the local men.

"If you don't get out of here we will do what we need to do.  We have a contract and also a verbal agreement to clear cut 70 acres of this hillside an' valley.  William Gilbert said so himself in MY HEARING!"

Ance took a step toward the crew boss.  Uncle Billy stepped close and in the way too. If there was goin' to be shootin' his friends an' neighbors didn't need to get hit.

"Sir, let me give you this and this. My name is Anderson Gilbert, I am the attorney of record for Billy and Della Gilbert an' am representin' their interests right now.  The first is a copy of the contract for this job.  It is very clear as to what you can and cannot do. You an' your men an' the Mountainside Timber Company have clearly violated the contract and are in defiance of the law by threatenin' us."  Ance said with a clear an' deep lawyer voice.

"This is for you also. It is a cease an' desist order from the local judge.  You are hereby informed that your contract is null an' void. Y'all are ordered off this land, all your equipment is hereby seized for the debt owed to Billy Gilbert, owner of this property.  You may not remove trucks, tractors, bulldozers, lowboys, chainsaws or equipment owned by Mountainside Timber Company and must prove ownership of anything you personally own or it will remain in my custody till proof of ownership is provided."  he added with a smile.

Oh, by the way, since y'all are tresspassin' an' involved with a criminal act of felony theft by takin' these trees an' destroyin' the value of this land, an' because the value of the property y'all have taken is over five thousand dollars by my estimation, unless y'all have your titles an' registrations to your trucks an' cars with you an' can prove they are yours... well y'all are gonna have to either walk out of here or get a ride with the fellers who do have their titles and registrations."

"What gives you the right to do that?" the crew boss screamed.  He was in the face of Ance now.  "You have no right to take our cars and trucks.  We ain't leaving and you can't make us.  We might just have to take this into our own hands just now.  You are the ones violating the law.  We have an oral agreement with William Gilbert.  I was there and shook his hand.  I know our rights."

"Feller, before you say any more and get yourself into a shootin' match y'all are sure to lose, let me mention somethin'.  Your fellers that went for their guns are waitin' over there, without their guns.  some of the local boys are watchin' over them for us."  Ance spoke softly.

Everyone turned their heads an' saw the three of Ance;s boys holdin' the crew against the trucks.  The boy with the Polaroid was happily takin' pictures of the timber crew pointin' their guns at the locals.  He had already used up one clip of film and was workin' his way through another, handin' each photo to another of the men when it popped out of the camera.

Ance continues with a sly grin, "An let me introduce y'all to Billy Gilbert, who owns this hill an' all the trees on it.  Anyone from around here knows his name is Billy, not William an' he didn't enter into any verbal agreement with you or anyone else, did you Uncle Billy?"

"No sir, I did not.  Y'all are ruinin' my land an' breakin' your word.  I want y'all offen my land. An' like Ance said, till I have money in my hand an' satisfaction, not one piece of equipment is leavin' this holler." Uncle Billy said with a firm voice.

"Hey now, this ain't right.  You bunch of hillbillies don't have no right or authority to take our equipment.  There is laws, you know. "  Crew boss tried to stand his ground.

Uncle Billy spoke first an' stepped forward, right against the fat belly of the crew boss.  "This here is my land an' has been in the Gilbert family since my Great Grandpa, Felix Gilbert surveyed it back in the early 1800s.  Y'all are trespassin' an' have destroyed my woods.  An' I do have the right, an the law."  He turned an' pulled Bobby Bowling from the crowd. 

"This here is Bobby Bowling, Deputy Sheriff around here.  Oh, I thought is sort of silly when he deputized ever' one of us.  But the way I see it we are all deputies an' have seen y'all threatenin' us with your guns.  An' we have pictures!" he said even as Ance snapped more photos of the crew, their guns aimed at Uncle Billy an' the enraged crew boss.

The crew boss turned and waved his men away.  Not one of them had their titles or registrations with them.  They were forced to leave everything they had, including the keys to the trucks an' heavy equipment.  they all walked out of the field and down the creek to the main road.  when they asked if they could use a phone to call the home office... well, y'all now the answer to that, don't ye?

All the equipment was impounded, lawsuits were filed, legal papers were sent to the main office in London, Kentucky and a couple arrests were made for felony theft.  Fellers in suits weren't too happy when they were taken from their offices in handcuffs and hauled off to jail.

A couple big time lawyers from Lexington were hired an' when they tried to get the lawsuits thrown out they were showed the photos, over 100 in total of men holdin' guns on Ance, the Deputy and the land owner.  Photos of the clear cut, pictures of logs stacked on trucks that were not the proper an' agreed on size, a hillside that had already started to erode because bulldozers had pushed every sign of brush and saplings off so men could get to the trees better, all damaging to the Mountainside Timber Company.

Funny thing was, the lawyers worked out a pretty good settlement after that.  The company paid hefty fines, paid all that was owed to Uncle Billy for all the timber that was taken as well as damages for the ruined land.  Since Ance wanted Uncle Billy to get all that was owed to him, he included legal fees as a separate line item in the settlement agreement.

Early on, the company fired several of the supervisors an' the crew boss who was overseein' the job.  The crew boss immediately started squawkin' an tellin' all he knew, which only helped Uncle Billy's case.  A couple other land owners got word of what was goin' on an' they filed suit also.  they too won nice settlements.

Eventually all the equipment was returned.  A crew of men were sent to plant pine tree seedings on the clear cut.  It was impossible to return it to the former state.  All that hillside of trees an' woods gone for Uncle Billy's lifetime.

Uncle Billy had stopped an' was sittin' on a tree stump as his mind wandered over that day and the followin' events.  Ol' dog was layin' on the side of the path, waitin' patient like.

"Ol' dog, this here hillside of pines is how I had the money to get inside plumbin' for Del.  That an' sendin' Little Bill to college, that is the good that came from them boys robbin' me of my woods."

He sat for a few more minutes, ponderin' an' studyin' on the pine trees, what had been lost an' the day his friends an' neighbors faced down guns for him.

"Well, Ol' dog.  We have some walkin' to do an' some squirrels to find. git your sorry ol' bones up an' get goin'."

No comments: