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GUEST COLUMN: Zero and the hermit

Mike Ragland -Cotton in my Blood

Mike Ragland, Guest Columnist

 In this second part of the story, Zero, a not so bright fellow, has just enlisted his buddy Red for a day of debauchery after they make a quick stop at one of Zero’s acquaintance’s  house.

They turned into Jugs driveway (if you could call it that), a rutted out, chert road leading up to what looked like a junkyard. A clapboard shack built onto an abandoned school bus was where Jug lived. Bauxite had been discovered and mined in the Colons in the late 1800s and directly behind Jugs’ house was a bauxite quarry full of water. Red said he heard it was bottomless, but Zero said it was just real deep.

Arthur Rufus “Jug” Cunningham was born in the Colons. He was raised by parents that were also born there. He was so skinny that if he turned sideways and stuck out his tongue he looked like a zipper. Dressed in overalls, he had the bottom button fastened on one side, he wore no shoes except in the dead of winter and had a red Massey-Ferguson baseball cap with a logo so faded it was almost unreadable.

It was said that when Jug was born that the mid-wife that delivered him wiped him off real good and as far as anybody knew that was the last bath Jug had taken. The only other time he got wet was if he fell in the creek or bauxite quarry running from Big Foot or Big Henry Gilmore for pinching Bertie Jo down at the Wayside Market!

Jug didn’t really get his name due to his whiskey making abilities, which were legendary, but rather because his nose was so big it looked like the handle of a narrow-neck gallon jar. I mean Jug couldn’t look sideways because his nose blocked out half his vision. He walked funny having to turn his whole body to see where he was going.

Zero and Red pulled up to Jug’s house and he came out on the porch. “What you boys want?” asked Jug.

“We want a pint of white whiskey, if we got enough money,” Zero said.

“How much you got?” Jug asked.

“Three dollars and thirty cents” Zero replied.

“That’s exactly what a pint is going for today” said Jug. He handed Zero a pint bottle full almost to the top. Zero shook it real good to see if it would bead up, and to check the clarity of the contents. Satisfied, he shook hands with Jug, paid him, then he and Red hit the road. Zero and Red continued speeding along the dirt roads of the Colons until they came to the road that led to the top of Fire Tower Mountain. It was called that ’cause it had a fire tower on top of it. The Forestry Service had placed it there years before, and had pretty much abandoned it by the mid 50s.

Red said “I’ve never been up there, Zero.”

“Let’s go then,” Zero replied as he turned the Ford onto the road that led up the mountain. When they got to the top Red looked up at the tower. It was way up, about twice as tall as the tallest pine tree. A lot of village boys came and climbed to the top of the tower. A lot didn’t. Many sat on the ground waiting for their friends to come down.

Red and Zero had just enough liquid courage to scamper up that ladder like two squirrels chasing each other. At the top of the ladder was a trap door you had to lift and go through to get on the walkway that led around the small building on top.

As they walked down the platform and turned the first corner they ran into the biggest human that either of them had ever seen. He was over six-foot-seven and weighed at least 350 pounds. He had a long scraggly beard and hair that was at one time jet black. Now it was shot with streaks of gray. His eyes looked like they were on fire and penetrated to the very soul. And in his hands was a shotgun, with two big barrels.

Zero had heard tales of a giant hermit that lived on the mountain, but he didn’t believe it, until now. It was said that he worked a little for the Forestry Service, and was kind of a lookout for the bootleggers.

“What you boys doing up here?” he asked.       

“Nothing,” replied Zero.

“We’re just looking,” Red said.

“Why ain’t you boys in church?” asked the huge man.

“We just didn’t go,” Zero said.

“What’s that in yore pocket?” said the giant, tapping the bottle with his shotgun. Without allowing the boys to answer, he said “You boys been to Jugs, ain’t you. Spent yore offering money on whiskey, I’ll bet.” He took the bottle from Zero and threw it high into the air. Just as the bottle started to fall the shotgun roared and the bottle was blown into a thousand pieces.

Both boys almost lost control of their bladder, and had to grab the railing to help support their trembling knees.

The bearded man placed a chair over the trap door and said, “Sit down.”

Both boys hit the floor at the same time.

The hermit pulled out a large Bible and for the next hour he preached Jesus to Zero and Red. He went from Matthew to Revelation leaving out nothing. After his sermon they sang “Amazing Grace” and “Just As I Am.” At the end of the singing the bearded preacher gave an altar call and both boys came. He placed his hands on their heads and prayed earnestly. Then he told them they could leave, but he had better not ever catch them at Jug’s again.

As they virtually fell down the ladder they heard the shotgun roar again. They literally flew back to town in the hot rod Ford. Zero let Red out at his house. He hid out in the bushes behind his neighbor’s tool shed until five o’clock. Zero went straight home.

“How was church?” Zero’s mother asked.

“Oh, Mama,” Zero said. “I shook hands with the devil and felt the mighty hand of the Lord. I’m a changed man, I’m a new creature. I’ve been to the mountain and heard the truth. I’m going to be a better son from now on. I’m saved, I’m saved.”

“Well son, you know the Lord works in mysterious ways” she said.

“That ain’t the half of it Mama. That ain’t the half of it.”

Mike Ragland is a Cave Spring city councilman and a retired Rome police major. His most recent book is “Living with Lucy.” Readers may contact him at mrag@bellsouth.net or mikeragland.com