Answering a call in the night

Published 9:53 pm Friday, September 10, 2010

A telephone ringing in the middle of the night is a frightening thing. Usually.

But not this night.

Even the excited calling of my name and the clock at 2:55 a.m. didn’t cause me any alarm, as if it was all a part of a continuing dream.

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The caller had killed a seven-foot alligator in the Conecuh River and was sure I would want to see it … and, maybe, take a picture.

I slipped off my soft, cotton gown and jumped into something more appropriate for gator gazing.

Under the canopy of a dark, cloudless sky, with the tailgate of a pickup truck as a resting place and the call of the night birds as background music, I listened to a fascinating tale of the hunt, the chase and the “dispatching” of the alligator.

About an hour later and back inside, my thoughts turned to the remembrance a “yelling” of long ago.

My grandmother loved to fish and “me and Jimmy” loved to go fishing with her.

The ponds were way down a pig trail with nothing between Momie’s house and the end of the earth except the woods, creeks and three big fishponds.

We stopped at the middle pond, baited our hooks with wigglers and sat watching the corks bob while nibbling on teacakes not long from the oven.

Nothing much was biting so Jimmy decided to try his luck in the far pond that was hidden by a high dam and a stand of stately hardwoods.

Momie didn’t say anything to Jimmy about watching out for snakes although water moccasins often knifed through the water straight toward us and we had to beat them back with our cane poles or about rattlesnakes that could sometimes be heard in full sing.

Momie and I fished our place and Jimmy fished his.

The only sounds were the chirping of the birds and the buzzing of bees. You had to be quiet or you would scare the fish away.

Suddenly, out of the quietness and shattering the stillness, came yelling like I had never heard. It was Jimmy. Screaming at the top of his lungs.

Momie jumped up, sending the lard can that she had been sitting on a winding, and running as best a grandmother could toward the far pond – toward Jimmy. I was right on her heels.

Pop, our granddaddy, was feeding the cows in the pasture on the hill just above us.

He was hard of hearing so I guess, he saw us running and realized that something was wrong.

I heard his pickup crank but I didn’t look back.

I had outrun Momie.

My heart was pounding so hard I thought it would come out of my chest.

I ran across the dam and down the embankment and there stood Jimmy holding up the biggest fish I had ever seen.

He had a grin a mile wide plastered across his face.

He gave another Tarzan yell, for my benefit.

I knew in about two minutes, when Pop got there with his walking stick, Jimmy was going to have more to yell about than a big ol’ shellcracker.

I was right.

But Jimmy didn’t care. It was his day to yell.

My day came in the fall.

I had finally gotten old enough for a pellet gun so Daddy took me squirrel hunting.

He shot a couple before I got my chance.

I took down the first squirrel I saw with one carefully placed shot.

And, I let out a conquering yell that bounced off the big oak trees and right back to me.

I ran and grabbed the squirrel by the tail and held it up for Daddy to see. He smiled and I was so proud.

When we got home, Daddy took the squirrels out of his bag and handed mine to me.

“You killed it, so you dress it.”

Little squirrels have soft, sad little eyes. I didn’t want to dress it.

“You have to eat what you kill,” Daddy said.

I could see those soft, sad eyes and I couldn’t eat what I had killed.

The more I chewed my little squirrel, the bigger it got, too big for me to swallow. I had to leave the table.

From that day forward, I have not killed a single edible thing or been a cheerleader for those who did.

However, I have been invited to dine on that seven-pound gator in Tuscaloosa on October 2 when the Crimson Tide takes on the Florida Gators.

I think I’ll go.

Gators don’t have soft, sad eyes.