Appalachia children

The Book

Today’s guest post was written by J. Wayne Fears.

cache lake country

We had received our orders, we were required to read a book, an ENTIRE, whole book during the summer and give an oral book review when school opened in August. It was the sentence of death. Who in their right mind would waste time reading when they could be fishing or camping or playing mumblety-peg?

July found Punky Kelly, Chipmunk Green and me at our camp on the old mill pond that was formed when the Brier Fork Creek was dammed up in the late 1800’s to supply water for a grist mill. To us it was a large lake in Canada. For shelter we used an old tarp that Punky’s dad used for covering hay which, to us, as a wall tent on the Canadian wilderness lake.

We had stayed up most of the night before running trotlines and barely caught enough yellow catfish to fill up the skillet. As I fried up the fish in bacon lard and Punky made hoe cakes, Chipmunk reminded us about our summer reading assignment. It hung over us like a dark cloud.

None of us had ever owned a book of our own and our names weren’t on any of the book check out cards in the school library. The thought of riding our bikes into town and checking a book out of the school library was akin to not having a squirrel season that fall. I suggested that since we all three were collecting Straight Arrow Injun-uity cards out of National Biscuit Company’s shredded wheat cereal, we might have enough cards to make a manual. We could read it and give it as a book report. Besides the cards were fun reading as they taught Indian lore and wilderness living skills. When you collected all 36 of the Injun–uity cards, it became a manual complete with a cover; and on the back it stated, for all to see, “I, Straight Arrow, present this book to _________. Let it be your guide and help you enjoy life more in the outdoors, as the Indian lived.” That said it all as far as we were concerned.

Chipmunk vetoed that idea as he had overheard his mom talking to my mom thus the checking out a real book was going to happen whether we liked it or not. We would have to read some ol’ dumb book about girls or something.

Three days later, we were in the library looking for a real book about a subject we liked, Indians or adventures on a wilderness Canadian lake. We knew such a book didn’t exist. Punky found a medical book that had some anatomically correct male and female photos and was laughing so loud that Mrs. Lofton, the librarian, came over to see what we were up to. Punky slammed the medical book shut and to give us cover I said that we were looking for a book about the Canadian wilderness and Indian lore. It was a bluff to buy time.

“I know of just the book for you boys,” Mrs. Lofton said and directed us to another row of books. “Here it is,” she said as she reached up and pulled a full size green hardback book down. “Cache Lake Country by John Rowlands,” she announced as she opened the book. “It is a wonderful book about a man who moved to a remote lake in Canada and built a log cabin. His neighbor was an Indian Chief named Chief Tibeash and the book is about their adventures for an entire year. It has instructions on how to make many things for use in the wilderness and it has lots of great drawings.”

“It looks like a book like the Straight Arrow cards,” Chipmunk said with excitement in his voice.

“I want to check it out,” I blurted before one of the others could say it.

“You can have it for a week,” Mrs. Lofton stated as I signed my first library book check-out card.

The next day the three of us sat in the shade of the tarp on the bank of the mill pond. We took times reading the book aloud. “Gosh”, “how about that” and “mark that page,” were heard in the camp. None of us had ever read a real book, but we all wanted this book, for our very own.

As the day approached for me to turn the book in, we began scheming as to how we could gain possession of “The Book” for our very own. I don’t think any of us knew you could go to a book store and buy a book. All the books in the world belonged to the library, except boring ol’ text books.

Suddenly, with only three days left, we were reading “The Book” and Punky remembered that Mrs. Lofton had warned us that if we lost the book, we would have to pay for it. That was the answer! One of us would have to go to Mrs. Lofton and tell her the book fell out of our boat and went to the bottom of the mill pond. We would pay for the book and then it would be ours forever. We could go to Cache Lake Country any time we wished. Why didn’t we think of it sooner?

For the next 48 hours we looked for scrap iron around our farms, at the cotton gin and general store at the crossroads near Tater Knob. We rode the back alleys in Huntsville and begged every piece of scrap metal we could get. With just three hours to go before the library would close on the due date, we sold Miller’s Junk Yard three bicycles loads of scrape metal. He gave us four crisp new dollar bills and two quarters. Away we went to the library, hoping “The Book” did not cost more. Punky brought three of his best tanned ground squirrel skins to use for barter if we didn’t have enough cash.

In front of the library we decided if we were going to pull this off it would be better if just one of us would go in and tell the tale and pay for the book. Since the book was in my name I was selected. With my heart thumping I went in and told Mrs. Lofton’s assistant about the book going overboard and going to the bottom of the pond. She looked at me with disbelief and went into conference with Mrs. Lofton. I could see them looking at me. I felt like a criminal. Soon, Mrs. Lofton came out and told me it would cost $4.00 to replace the book. With shaking hands I counted out the four dollars.

As I left she grinned and said, “Enjoy the book.” I wanted to run.

Now, three country boys had their first very own book, a book they just wanted to own. Because of that our summer reading assignment went well and in my case my teacher had to tell me to sit down when I gave my oral report. I wanted to share this entire great book with my English class.

I have often wondered when we discovered that books were for sale to the public and not just to libraries. I read the book over and over during those years and it had a lot to do with me choosing an outdoor career.

That tattered old copy of Cache Lake Country is still one of the most read books in my personal library. It still carries the school property library stamp.

This most excellent book we call “The Book” is still in print. 


I hope you enjoyed J. Wayne’s post as much as I did. It reminded me of Paul when he was young and the group of boys from Martins Creek School that he run around with.

If you’d like to find our more about J. Wayne jump over to his website RuralSportsman.com.

Tipper

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17 Comments

  • Reply
    Quinn
    August 13, 2020 at 8:31 am

    What a well-told tale! This story rings such a bell with me. When I was a youngster, I planned to go live in the woods, and “live off the land.” Don’t know how young I was when I started talking about it, but I remember it from the first house I lived in, and we moved from there when I was 6.

  • Reply
    Brenda Moore
    August 11, 2020 at 11:17 pm

    What a fun read!

  • Reply
    Granny Sue
    August 11, 2020 at 10:36 pm

    What a great story. Thanks so much for sharing it. Gotta love those boys.

  • Reply
    Randy
    August 11, 2020 at 6:45 pm

    My mother was responsible eye for teaching me the joy of reading. I was raised and still live in the southern end of Greenville county, SC. 15 miles to the nearest town and library. I was lucky in having a library truck from Greenville coming out to the county about once a month and of course the school library. There is not many days that I do not read something. I can go anywhere and be content if there is a magazine or something to read. I don’t need or have a phone to play games on.

    I have two books by Mr. Fears and have read magazine articles by him and always enjoyed reading anything he writes.

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    August 11, 2020 at 1:04 pm

    Tipper,
    I don’t read that much, besides when I was in the eight grade, Mrs. Van Gorder, Dr. Charles Van Gorder’s Mama, read Out-loud to the whole class the story of the Great Stone Face, by Nathanial Hawthorn. It was right after Dinner and Most of the Class was sleepy. Not me cause Mrs. Van Gorder was expecting a report after she finished. I got an A-plus and I re-told the Story to Mama. (Neither her or Daddy went only thru the 7th grade and Mama liked what she heard.) …Ken

  • Reply
    Garland Davis
    August 11, 2020 at 11:42 am

    It was third grade and the first trip to the school library. Most of an hour was spent with the librarian explaining the working of the library. Afterward she and ourteacher informed us that we would each have to check out a book to read in the following week. The boys were all looking for short books with large type and lots if pictures. I found a book with a pencil drawing of a sailing ship on the cover. It was quite long and had no pictures. When I took it to the librarian she told me, “Honeey, this book is way above the third grade level, I think you should wait a few years to read it.” My teacher intervened saying, “Let him try it. He reads above his level. I think he might be able to read it.

    The book was the story of John Paul Jones and lit three fires in me that have yet to be quenched, my love of reading, my love of the Navy, and a longing to see what is just below the horizon.

  • Reply
    Don Casada
    August 11, 2020 at 10:05 am

    Wonderfully written, J. Wayne, and it leads me to a confession.

    Over half a century ago, in the spring of my junior year of high school, I checked out a book from the library at Swain County High School. Esther Ferguson was the librarian. She and her family, which included children that covered roughly the same age range as ours, lived in the Governors Island area, in a home that overlooked what was locally called the Ferguson Fields. It was known before that, and is once again known as Kituwah, mother town of the Cherokees (who own it now).

    The Marianna Black Library (named for our next door neighbor) wouldn’t have carried this particular book, and even if it did, I couldn’t have done what I did – namely, keep the book and pay the fine. After all, Mama was the Librarian there.

    I’ve often wondered why Mrs. Ferguson smiled when I handed over the money – it was around eight or ten dollars. Thanks to J.Wayne’s story and Ethelene Dyer Jones’ confirmation, I think I now know.

    Unlike J. Wayne, I no longer possess that book, but wish I did. I’m not positive about the title, but I do know the subject, and it was one which was fundamental to 40 plus years of my engineering career.

    Physics.

    I’d never thought about it this way until today, but I paused to wonder how I would have felt as a parent if my child did what I did. Doing so changed things. Instead of being ashamed of what I did, now I’m downright proud of it!

  • Reply
    Dee
    August 11, 2020 at 9:58 am

    I certainly enjoyed this post! I was privileged to be born in a tiny little town with the library within walking distance of my house – about one and a half blocks. As a very young child, I had a love for books and having that library so close was such a treat for me. Oh and regards to the “Sugar Creek Gang,” I still hear that ever so often on the radio so it is still being produced even now. Even when my parents were growing up on a remote farm in the early 1900’s, the children would check-out books at school and bring them home. The oldest child would read the stories to all the others and I know one of my parents’ favorites were from Zane Grey. My Mother was a master storyteller, any book she had read or heard, she could tell you in such a picturesque way that you would think you was right there in the middle of that story. Some how she could make it come alive.

  • Reply
    Larry Proffitt
    August 11, 2020 at 9:38 am

    I have also read many of J Wayne’s works over the years with enjoyment. This book experience reminds me of my great “find” in the mid-60’s. I was a mountain young man far away from home in college in Memphis Tn. My wife snd I frequented the public library. I found a treasure one day. “Camping and Woodcraft “by Horace Kephart. Although it was a 12 hour journey home I was Home I could be in the mountains of Appalachia in a moments time. Needless to say I checked it out several times.

  • Reply
    Sanford Mckinney, Jr.
    August 11, 2020 at 8:34 am

    Tipper,
    This is a great story which brought back to my memory a program which was on the radio on Saturdays which I think was titled “The Sugar Creek Gang.” It was much on the same subject as this story of a group of young males out seeking adventures. Wonder if anyone viewing your posts remembers that program or perhaps I have forgotten the real name of the program?

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    August 11, 2020 at 8:33 am

    I know that book. A favorite of mine to. Don’t recall when I discovered it but re-discovered it online not so long ago. A country boy’s book for sure. Another good one is “Two Little Savages” (also by Ernest Thompson Seton). Then there are books by “Nessmuk” (George Sears) that are much like Seton’s books.

    Books of that early-20th century vintage had a lot of what was called “woodcraft” that involved using found materials for shelter, cooking, bedding, etc. Nowadays, of course, that is a way to get in trouble unless on private land with permission. But that longing look back at the way it was is one of its values now. It helps envision what camp life was probably like for the pioneers and understand the saying that all the pioneers needed to move was a rifle, an ax and a bible. Upscale from that they needed a horse or muke, an iron plow poin, a draw knife and an augur bit or two.

  • Reply
    Rick Shepherd
    August 11, 2020 at 8:24 am

    Love this post, Tipper!….Reminds me of my boyhood days on the Ohio River in southwestern Indiana….

    Now here’s a story like it for you about Richard Proenneke….. Richard Louis Proenneke was an American self-educated naturalist, conservationist, writer and wildlife photographer, who lived alone for nearly thirty years in the mountains of Alaska in a log cabin that he constructed by hand near the shore of Twin Lakes at Lake Clark from 1967-1997…..Check it out on line.

  • Reply
    aw griff
    August 11, 2020 at 8:22 am

    I’ve read and enjoyed many magazine articles written by J. Wayne Fears and enjoyed this one too.

  • Reply
    Ethelene Dyer Jones
    August 11, 2020 at 8:20 am

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading Mr. Fears’ account of “The Book” today. As a retired long-time school librarian, I knew the joy (and sometimes the chagrin) of trying to get the right book into the hands of reluctant readers. Sometimes that can make all the difference, as it did with Mr. Fears and his reluctant-reader friends. I think back to several times in my library career when certain “lads” had “late-books,” or “lost-books” and had to either pay up overdue fines and return the book, or, the book being “lost” (as reported) I would have to look up replacement cost and send note home to parents about the necessity of replacing the “lost” book. On a few occasions, maybe several months later, a parent–or the student–would come, book-in-hand, announcing a “find” for the “lost” book. Then the request: “Do I get refund on my money for paying for the book?” We would make settlement: overdues up to the time the book was paid for, subtracted from the price paid for the book. But the question, too, “Do you want to keep the book for your own library?” And sometimes the student would really want to do that. I, as one who wanted everyone to love and appreciate books, would somewhat hope the student would say, “You mean I can KEEP this book?” “Yes,” I would reply. “You have paid for it already; and beides, I ordered another copy, and it is already on the shelf, ready to be checked out.” So–the student, his mother and I parted, friends, with the student and his home one-book-richer because of a formerly “lost” book paid for and replaced in the library. And this is my story, which could be repeated many times, of being for 23 years of my 31 years in public education, as an “incident” in a high school library in North Georgia. Despite overdue fines, lost books, and all the other “business” behind-the-scenes, the library was a happy place for this librarian, her adult aide, and the many students who frequented that “centrally located in-the-high-school” oasis of knowledge.

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    August 11, 2020 at 7:22 am

    Like my longtime friend J. Wayne, I have fond memories of youthful reading days. I became a passionate reader of outdoor-related books at a very early age and that’s never changed. The first book I owned was Zane Grey’s “Spirit of the Border” (I still have it), and other early friends in vicarious adventure included Walton Boys books, Theodore Roosevelt’s outdoor works, the writings of Roy Chapman Andrews and Ernest Thompson Seton, grand African hunting sagas by the likes of Fred Selous and Sam Baker, and by the time I reached high school, anything and everything outdoor-related the local Marianna Black Library had in its collection. Books are wonderful companions and they can carry us on adventures all our days. This story reminds us of that fact.
    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    August 11, 2020 at 6:39 am

    Thanks, that a beautiful story. I remember that feeling when first “discovering” books and I’ve been a reader ever since. Well almost ever since…the learning to read was a bit of a problem but once beyond that I’ve loved books.
    Thanks again J Wayne for the story.

  • Reply
    Leon Pantenburg
    August 11, 2020 at 6:36 am

    Great story. For me The Book was “Rolf in the Woods: The Adventures of a Boy Scout with Indian Quonab and Little Dog Skookum” by Ernest Thompson Seton. The book was loaned to me by an elderly neighbor. When she moved away to live with her son, she gave me the book, along with several others.
    Indirectly, that lead to my fascination with the outdoors and my involvement with the Boy Scouts.

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