In the 1930s and 40s in the Hornetown
area, many children would refer to an elderly man as uncle. This was a
title of respect. It was used when a more youthful person was conversing
with or referring to some elder person of whom they deeply revered. The
title mister was too formal and didn't convey the real feeling that one
might have for that person. Addressing one by their first name was out of
the question. Therefore, those elders that we really loved and deeply
respected had earned the title of uncle or aunt, and this denoted much
more than the title Mr. or Mrs.. Our neighbor that lived 1/4 mile south of
our home was such a man. His name, I suppose was Porter Robinson. Most
just addressed him as Port. Uncle Port was tall and lean, and had probably
been a hoss of a man in his younger years. One of his eyes was afflicted,
and if there was vision there it probably wasn't very good. He was well on
in years, but still active.
When we would freeze ice cream in the old White Mountain hand crank
freezer at night, we often invited Uncle Port and his wife to share it
with us. Uncle Port had a highly developed talent for telling some of the
scariest stories I have ever heard. My sisters and I would sit around
outside by the light of the moon, or a dim lit coal oil lantern, amazed at
his vivid descriptions as the story lines unfolded, one after another.
Some were eerie ghost stories and some would be of very mysterious events
that had happened during his younger days in his home state of Alabama.
Each story was ensured to hold us spellbound. These tales would send
chills spiraling up our backs as we listened intently to each word. We
were guaranteed some wonderful entertainment when he visited, especially
after dark. I don't remember if we ever had problems getting to sleep
after one of his visits, but it if we did, it was all worth it.
One year, we had harvested half of one field and in the other half
another crop remained unharvested. The pasture was dry and nearly barren,
but the harvested half of this field had some fairly decent grazing. My
father decided to turn the cows into this part, but there was one problem.
There was no fence separating the two halves. Someone would need to stay
with them and herd cattle. I was elected. When I got the cattle there, I
was immediately attacked by heavy swarms of mosquitoes. I have never seen
that many mosquitoes in my life, and at that moment, life expectancy
seemed very short to me. I have driven across a four mile swamp at night
in the summertime in Louisiana, and the mosquitoes did not compare to
these. There were continuous, very dense swarms. There was no way I could
fight them off, but my dad had told me to do this and it was inadvisable
to disobey him.
Uncle Port came by the house about that time and asked mom where I
was. She told him where I was and what I was doing. He came down to check
on me. When he got there and realized the trouble I was in, he went back
to the house and told mom in no uncertain terms, you had better get that
kid out of there or the mosquitoes are going to kill him, and he was
serious. Mom said when he took off his hat, multitudes of mosquitoes
swarmed from his head. They came and helped me remove the cattle. I felt
as if I had been nearly eaten alive by those nasty critters. Another favor
Uncle Port did for me.
Uncle Port was helping us pick cotton one year, when my father
pitted my sister, Katy and I against each other in a cotton pickin'
contest. The winner would receive a prize of a whole nickel, 5 cents, the
1/20th part of a whole dollar. I knew Katy could beat me. She was 3 years
older than I was. I felt my dad knew this too and my sour grapes thoughts
were this was just his way of giving her a nickel. We always grew Big Boll
Rowden cotton, and in a good year, in spots of richer, wetter soil, it
could grow higher than the head of a tad, such as I. I toiled as hard as I
could to get ahead and into the tall cotton, where I couldn't be seen.
Once there, I shook my sack down, stomped it and stuck my foot inside and
tromped the cotton into a small hard ball, so as to seem insignificant and
she wouldn't think she had much competition. It must have worked. When we
weighed in, I had out picked her, though her sack looked much, much
fuller. She said that's not right, weigh them again. After reweighing;
same results. Uncle Port then told her, I think I saw him stick his foot
in it. And he had.
Uncle Port was a genuine old-timer and was well versed in the old
ways and the old-time verbiage of the backwoods. I would be extremely
gratified today, if I had paid more attention to him and learned more
about the old ways and his lore. He was a kind man, very interesting, and
he loved children.