Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Christmas Eve With Percy Craven (Redux)

If your family is like mine Christmas begins a week before Thanksgiving and runs well past New Year's day. The weeks roar by, in a calliope of sights and sounds. A never ending visual delight of Christmas trees, holiday movies, parties and children rampaging through the house. It is truly a joyous time of year.

The far reaches of the North Carolina mountains, nearly to the Georgia state line in the most distant corner of our state, is Percy's Christmas.

The gravel road to Percy's cabin is covered with pine needles and a light dusting of freshly fallen snow.

The morning sun has already started to melt the new snow in patches along the south facing side of the valley, but in the shadows of the mountain along the north side, the accumulation of the recent snow events still stands.

Resilient Mountain Laurel leaves are drooping, a sign that the temperature outside the comfort of my SUV's heated leather seats is cold. In many spots the gravel road is iced over.

The look and feel of a winter camp is everywhere along the narrow road, for it is a place few have ventured since Thanksgiving. In the summer Percy's lake is filled with the sounds of bass boats zipping past the point with their motors racing at full throttle and the shouts and screams of Boy Scouts at the nearby National Forest campground.

In winter the sound is pure silence, yet today the air is heavy with the smell of burning wood. A sign that someone is here.

Percy has a fine home in nearby Franklin, just off the main street the two story traditional has a generous porch, bright white columns and a well kept lawn. But his small cabin is really where Percy lives, far from town, father from people.

The lack of people at the lake in winter means it is somber place void of youth and the endless quiet to me, that silence is like a deafening roar and somewhat heartbreaking.

The only sounds, are the gusts of wind that send the yellow pines swaying as they sing though the chill winter air, a chorus of cold and ice.

I drive over the crest of the hill and round the long sweeping turn that dips down to the lake. Percy is always up before dawn, so I'm not surprised that a raised hand greets me, as Percy's cabin comes into view, his dog a brown Boykin Spaniel named Boone obediently stands by his side. Boone is bursting with excitement, he knows my SUV and that I'm always good for a handout.

On Percy's command the Boykin bounds off the porch and heads toward me, his short tail in full happy mode. The Chick Fil A bag is a give away that I brought food. The biscuits are cold after the forty minute ride from Franklin. Boykins don't care if the food is cold and neither does Percy.

Percy Craven has made himself busy already, but his walk this morning is stiff and and he moves with trepidation and care. It takes a little prodding but he confesses he took a tumble on the dock. "Of all the people, I slip on the frost down on the dock morning before last." Explains Percy, as he pours two cups of black coffee.

Percy speaks a different language than I do. Most everything is either down, over, yonder, up or a far piece. It also takes me a while to figure out that the "morning before last" was Saturday.

Percy continues; "I didn't break nothing, didn't get wet and nobody saw it happen but Boone there."  Boone looks away as if to say "I see nothing, I hear nothing and I know nothing". 

Percy adds, "So I'll figure it was you who had a blabber mouth if anyone calls to ask if I'm OK."

Despite his stiffness he's pacing the porch as he wants to walk in the woods a "while" so he can check a couple of rabbit traps. My coffee has just gotten to the temperature where its drinkable. But I leave it on the table and we both head down the path around the lake.

Percy doesn't lock his doors and looks cross eyed at me when I hit the remote lock on my SUV. The "chirp chirp" sound echoes across the silent lake and Percy rolls his eyes. "Ain't no one out here to steal your car." Percy sounds off.

I explain that; "I ain't worried about no one, I'm worried about the bears." Percy laughs out loud, and tells me; "No matter, bear is gonna get in anyway."

Percy is right, as the half eaten chicken biscuit I left in the car is just about all a bear needs as incentive to break into what the bear thinks is just a steel food box.

"I thought bears hibernated?" I ask.

Percy pretends he doesn't hear me.

The air is brisk around 28 and ground cold, doesn't matter Percy is talking a "blue streak" he has a lot on his mind. Normally when I walk with Percy we are hunting and the talk is short and quiet. Today is different, his topics range from the President, to the NRA, about liberals and communists. Tall tales and small lies, his choice of topics is wide, deep and varied. 

Yet he never talks about his wife. Her photo on the night stand is his comfort and I suspect he doesn't spend much time is town because the house is too big and too empty.

Six traps and nothing, each trap is carefully baited again a mixture of peanut butter and cornmeal. Boone is kept away from the traps so that he doesn't "stink up" the rabbit runs.

An hour and 45 minutes later we're back and the sun is melting snow everywhere, the sound of water dripping off the trees in the bright sunlight makes the day seem like spring, yet winter has just begun.

I stop at my SUV and hit the remote again. Chirp, chirp and open the door, removing a small gift wrapped box. Announcing to Percy; "I got you a Christmas present."

"What the hell!" says Percy, "It ain't right for a man to give another man a Christmas present. People will talk, even worst that you wrapped the damn thing."

I offer to unwrap the gift, but Percy will have nothing of it.

"Do I look like a cripple?" He jokes.

The beauty to eBay is finding something in the way of a Christmas gift that you can't get anywhere else. In this case a 1966 Shakespeare "Featherweight" Trout reel in a black nickel finish.

Percy rips into the box and I make another pot of coffee.

Over my shoulder I hear "Well I'm be damned" I look to see the eyes of a 5 year old on Christmas morning. Percy is enthralled.

He spins the reel, pushes over the take up button and spins it again. He smiles. You know they don't make them like this anymore? The ivory knob on the spool and leather case are signs of something made decades ago. Percy points to the engraved plate on the bottom.

Made in the U.S.A.

In the silence we both admire his gift and my eBay find.

Suddenly Percy is talking a mile a minute again; "I didn't get you nothing... his voice trails off to an inaudible babble as he bolts up out of his chair and heads to a small room and into a closet. He's still talking but I can hear a word he is saying for the solid oak plank door he is trying to talk through.

After a minute or so he returns and presents me with a well used white tobacco pipe.

"I'd be meaning to get rid of this for years. Now its yours." Percy states as he waves the pipe in the air. "It belonged to my father, its Meerschaum. I think its worth about a dollar."

He starts to hand it to me and then pulls it back.  "Hold on, I'll wrap it for ya." barks Percy.

He carefully places the pipe on the Christmas paper that moments ago held a fly reel. Percy folds it neatly over the pipe and then rolls the whole thing into a wad of crumpled paper. Handing the mess to me he says: "There I wrapped it up for ya."

We both laugh, Percy spins the reel again and before long the sun begins to fall behind the mountain and the shadows grow long and reach nearly to the east side of the lake.

We talk another hour; he'll go to church then call it an early night. Some folks in town invited him for dinner Christmas Day; he says if he "wakes up", he expects he'll go as the Mrs. makes a good pecan pie. He needs to go to the post office on Thursday and the doctor on "Wednesday a week."

I've come to learn that older folks need order, and I have found that Percy looks forward to just about anything you can put on a calendar. It gives him something to look forward to even if it means a trip to the dentist.

The lighted Merry Christmas banner stretches over the street at the edge of town. Telephone poles have decorations that date to the 1970's as cars rush by people and come and go. This is small town North Carolina, untouched by time or progress.

Flurries race across the road and slide up my windshield, on the other side of the mountain the snow fades and the sky clears, the three quarter moon shines down on the glimmering lights of the Carolina countryside below were I-26 reaches into South Carolina.

It is Christmas Eve.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Merry chikin' samich!