When I see an old kerosene lantern it brings back lots of memories and takes me back to a place when folks didn’t know what a flashlight was or ever heard of one.
Times were so much different back then that most people wouldn’t even recognize some of the ways people did to get by. Everybody used a pine torch or a kerosene lantern. We never had but one lantern that I recall. Daddy kept it hanging on the wall of the old smokehouse. He used it back in his Fox Hunting Days. It seemed the pine torch became more and more popular for lack of kerosene I suppose.
I remember many a night walking beside my daddy, mama or grandma by the light of a pine torch. Daddy always kept plenty of pine in the wood box to start fires in the cook stove or heater. He’d go upon the hill with his axe and find a big black pine and come back with a bucket full. He had a certain wood box he kept the pine in.
My grandma was the world’s worst to grab a piece out of the wood box and light it up when she needed to go somewhere after dark. We called her little ma cause she was skinny as a rail. We called our other grandma big ma cause she had more meat on her bones.
My little ma lived with us till she died. She was a Christian woman and really believed in the power of prayer. She could pray some of the most humbling, heartfelt prayers that I’ve ever heard. I know cause when something got to bothering her she’d go up on the mountain above where we built our playhouses to pray and I either followed or listened in. I remember her lifting up many prayers for her two sons.
My daddy and my uncle did worry her quite a bit, especially when they both decided to take a little nip or maybe several when the mood hit em. Now don’t get me wrong, they were good, hard working men and believed in keeping their families fed and looked after but they had their short comings just like everybody else. But when they both quit, they quit fast as they started.
When dark thirty came and they weren’t home little ma would start walking the floors and asking mama, “ye reckon where them boys are.” Mama would say, “don’t fret so they’ll be in after while.” They both knew why they were out late, but just didn’t know the where. After a while little ma would grab a stick of pine from the wood box and tell mama, “let’s go see if we can find em, they may have drowned in that there creek.”
There wasn’t but four of us six young’uns by that time, me being the oldest. The others hadn’t come along yet. Little ma would walk out in the yard and light up that pine torch and mama would put the baby on her hip and here we’d all go out that dark road towards the creek.
There was always a little foot log we walked across to get to the other side of the creek. Little ma always worried that someone would set em out and they’d get drowned in the creek trying to crawl on all fours. The creek wasn’t deep at all and flowed down kinda like a wide branch of water.
One night in particular stands out in my memory, more so. We were all walking out that little road and us young’uns were hanging on to mama and little ma’s legs like always when we heard something that gave us quite a scare. Little ma and mama heard it first and told us to be quiet a minute. We all listened close and heard it again. By that time we were really hanging to mama and little ma’s legs. Mama said, “here take this baby ma and I’ll go in front.” Ma still had the pine torch and she handed it to mama and we followed behind. The strange noise continued the closer we got to the creek. Us young’uns were absolutely scared to death but mama assured us it’d be alright cause she knew what it was. She said, “uns hush young’uns, it’s just your daddy and uncle.”
When we walked down the little hill and closer to the creek there they were. Daddy was on all fours trying to crawl across the foot log and our uncle was in the middle of that creek trying to crawl across it. They both were hollering, “Help us mommy, come get us”.
While little ma was Thanking God that her boys were safe, mama spoke up and said, “here take this pine torch, I’m gonna break em once and for all.” Mama reached up and broke a big limb off the bank of the road. She left the leaves on it and didn’t take the time to strip em off like she did lots of times with us. She walked up to that foot log and started on daddy first. She whupped him with that limb till he managed to get up on his feet and she made him walk off of that foot log and told him he’d better get towards that house or else. He was hollering, “Oh, Oh, Stop You’re Gonna Kill Me.” Then when she seen him staggering on towards home she walked straight into that little creek and done the same to my uncle. She kept whupping him with that limb till he was crying and hollering, “Stop Her Mommy She’s Gonna Kill Me.” Little ma started in the water with the baby on her hip but mama pointed at her and told her to stay right where she was and to hold that pine torch up a little higher.
When my uncle seen his mama wasn’t gonna help him any and he’d had enough of that bushy limb he straightened up and walked outta that creek and staggered on towards the house. As mama was takin the baby outta little ma’s arms, little ma said, “you shouldn’t have done that, you just about killed em.” Mama said “If I’d wanted em dead they wouldn’t be up walkin right now and I’m sick and tired of them two birds worryin ye to death all the time and if this doesn’t do the trick I’ll give em some more of their medicine till I break em from this stuff.” Mama knew it couldn’t have hurt em to bad cause she didn’t strip the leaves off the limb. She just whupped em good with it.
Little ma didn’t say anymore and we all walked back to the house by the light of the pine torch. Daddy and my uncle managed to stagger on in home without a pine torch cause when we walked in the door there laid my uncle on the couch and daddy had managed to make it to the bed.
Mama put us all to bed and then I heard her tell little ma, “ I hated to do what I did in front of ye and all these young’uns but I’m tired of seein ye worry yourself to death all the time.” Little ma didn’t say anything back, just went on to bed. The only thing I noticed different the next morning was a few scratches on their face, nose and arms and how nice they talked to mama. Sugar wouldn’t melt in their mouth.
I guess, after many nights of an old mother worrying about her boys out karousin and going to that little creek with a pine torch in her hand, it all came to an end that one night, when mama decided to sober em both up really fast. But little ma kept praying for her boys as long as she lived and anybody else that needed it and those pine torches continued to come in handy every step we made.
© Susie Swanson, 2016