Jack McCall

A week or so back, I decided to go visit an old friend. So, I packed up some gear and headed for the Brim Hollow. I took two chainsaws, a 12-gauge shotgun, and my favorite little ax; but most importantly, I took my time. You can’t be in a hurry when you spend time with a friend.

Some of my best childhood days were spent in the Brim Hollow. When I go there, it is like turning back the clock 50 years. Sometimes, when I’m there, I can be caught talking to myself. Or maybe I’m just talking to the memories. Regardless, as I walk the Brim Hollow, I always feel a strange, but familiar closeness to my late grandfather, Will Herod Brim.

When I first arrive, I’ll say something like, “Hello, old friend. I’m sorry I’ve been away so long.” Places filled with fond memories have a wonderful forgiving quality about them. I have always sensed a response of “welcome back.”

On the day of my return, the air had a wonderful feel about it. It was cool, but not too cool. It was a good day for cutting up a big limb the wind had twisted out of a cedar tree. I went right to work. After I had cut it into firewood, I decided to split up some kindling.

There is no kindling quite like dried cedar. The first stroke of my ax yielded a sound I had not heard in years. Dried cedar makes a unique sound when being split. I stopped to savor the sound as I smelled the cedar.

After the wood was loaded onto my truck, I laid my shotgun on my shoulder and moseyed on up the hollow. I was tempted to look at my watch, but I refused. Reflection is becoming a lost art. I wanted this visit to be unhurried.

At an old springhouse, I lingered to observe how the rocks had been laid so carefully and I wondered how long it took to build it. Then I studied a network of rock fences brought low by time.

Soon I found myself high in the head of the hollow, rounding a windy ridge. A tobacco patch once lay there, a patch we affectionately called “the mountain.”

It was now grown up in trees. I was surprised by the size of some. It was hard to believe tobacco once grew there.

I observed how in years past a strong wind had cut across the ridge, leaving a half-dozen big oak trees downed in its path. One now lay across the tobacco patch. Its trunk, black from decay, provided a stark contrast to the bright green moss that grew on its topside. As I walked across the field, I looked down to see the sharp-featured faces of rocks that had pushed themselves up through the decaying leaves. And I remembered how those rocks nicked and cut our bare feet when we pegged tobacco in this unforgiving ground.

I had circled the west side of the hollow when I arrived in a place we call Squirrel Tail Hollow. There I noticed the ground lay heavy with undisturbed walnuts and hickory nuts (we used to call them “hickernuts”). I wondered if the squirrel supply was short this season or if the hollow had received an abundance of rainfall over the summer.

I looked up to see one of the fattest squirrels I have ever seen. He was so fat he was flat across his back. When he saw me, I think he was too fat and too lazy to run. I laughed at his indifference.

Soon I had made a full circle of the hollow and stood in front of the old feed barn. I stopped and peered inside. A ladder I had climbed a thousand times led into the barn loft. In the crib of that barn I had cranked a corn sheller until my arms ached. I hesitated for a moment to picture dry shucks, yellow corn and red corncobs.

On my way back to the truck, I stopped by the old home place. It’s beginning to fall down. I looked through the window into the bedroom where I once slept in a featherbed under a mountain of quilts. It is the room where my grandmother’s quilting frame hung from the corners in summertime. I thought of all the quilts she had made.

As I left the hollow that day, I felt a sense of wholeness that I had not experienced in a while. I had been reminded of who I am and from where I came, of the people and of the things I have loved; of the fabric of which I am made.

As I shut the gate behind me, I whispered, “Goodbye, old friend. I promise not to be away so long next time.”

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