What My Heart Wants to Tell
by Verna Mae Slone
Chapter Index | Chapter IV | Chapter VI

Chapter V

My father was not the only man on Caney to have a nickname, and he had more than one. He was also called Tow Wad. Tow was the thread left over from making cloth from hemp or cotton. A small was of this tow was used to load their old "hawg rifflers." My father, being so small, was called Tow Wad. He was also called Lick Skillet, for the same reason. He said all the other boys at the grub and he had to lick the skillet where it had been cooked.

Our mountain people love to "name after each other." It is a great honor to have the same name as an uncle, aunt, or grandfather. I even know several folks named for their own sister or brother. It did get kind of confusing to try to keep it straight, especially when we all lived so close together. So nicknames were a "must do," or necessity. Four of the first white people to live on Caney---Alice, Isom, Isaac and Shady---have many namesakes. You will find these names in almost all the Slone families. At one time there were eleven Isom Slones on Caney: my father Kitteneye, Fat Isom, Big Isom, Pot Stick, Stiller, Hard's Isom, Andy's Isom, Jailor Isom, Preacher Isom, Crazy Isom and Salty Ice. Sometimes the father's name was added on, so as to tell just which one you were referring to, like Hard's Isom and Andy's Isom. Often using the father and grandfather's name, for example, we said, Hard's Billie's Pearce, though I could never understand why as he was the only man named Pearce that I ever knew. Of course the women had nicknames too, as they were also named after someone else. When a boy was named for his father, it would be Big Sam and Little Sam. This begins to get funny when Little Sam weighs over 200 pounds and is six feet tall. My husband is still called Little Willie by some folks, although his Uncle Willie has been dead for over fifty years.

Sometimes the last names were nicknamed. There were so many Slone that we had to have nicknames for the different families. Of course we area all Kitteneyes. Grandpa Jim's were the Summer Slones, my husband's folks were the Jim Bows.

Almost everyone enjoyed their nicknames, although there were some who got angry if you called them that to their face. I know one man who killed his nephew over a nickname. I was an eyewitness to this, and I will tell it as I remember, changing very little except the names.

Hank, the nephew, was an orphan. His father had been killed in a shooting accident just a few months after his mother had died. He and his youngest sister stayed with their grandparents; his twin brothers, who were about five or six, stayed with Uncle Josh. I don't think Josh was very good to the twins. I know of one time when my father would not let anyone whip a child. He said there "was not a place on a child big enough to hit." So there might have been "hard feeling" between Hank and his Uncle Josh, even before the nickname began. Josh had gotten burned in the face when he was a child. The burn had not been deep enough to leave a scar, but it did cause no beard to grow on almost all his chin. There was a very small patch on one side. For this reason someone called him Nine Beard. When Hank found out that it upset his uncle to be called this, he would call him that all the more. The more Hank said it, the madder Josh got. Soon all the kids began yelling at him every time they passed his house or met him on the road. They would sing, "Nine Beard, Nine Beard, split one, make ten."

My father's house was next door to Josh's. In the night sometimes we would hear Hank and his friends yelling as they passed, "Nine Beard, Nine Beard, split one, make ten." We would hear Josh yelling back insults. My father tried to talk to him. He would say, "Don't let them know it bothers you and they will hush." But Josh would only say, "I'll hush 'em if I have to kill 'em."

One night a lot of us young folks had been to the Community Center, for a play or show---something which all the Creek children had been invited. After it was over, we had gathered in the post office, all laughing and having a good time. I saw Josh stick his head in the door of the post office. He looked like a wild man. I did not see a gun in his hand, but some of the other kids said later that they did. He just looked over the crowd and left "without saying a word." Somehow we none felt like fun any more so we started home. One of Josh's daughters and I were the last to leave. I had kind of wanted to wait until father came in with the mail and walk home with him, but the other girl seemed frightened and asked me to go with her. There were perhaps twenty, more or less, of us--all grouped off in twos and threes. My own young nephew was just ahead of us; he was holding on to Hank's hand. I heard Hank begin "Nine Beard, Nine Beard." I remember thinking, "Oh, no, not tonight." And then I heard the gunfire. It was only then that I noticed Josh. Hank stumbled, staggered, and started running across the creek and into Manis Slone's house as the gun kept blasting. Everyone began screaming. That has been almost fifty years ago, but I still recall it all. For awhile I was so stunned I could not move; I did not even think to see about my small nephew, but began running back toward the post office. I must get to my father (as always I thought he could make everything alright again). He had just left the post office. I ran into his arms and sobbed, "Papa, Josh has killed Hank."

"Are ye shore?"

"Yes, I saw it. I saw the bullett hit him. I saw his shirt jump."

"Where is he?" my father asked, and I told him that I saw him run into Manis Slone's house. "Well, if he can still walk, then maybe he is not dead. Let's go see. Don't ell anyone what you saw. There was plenty of other witnesses. I know what lawyers can do to a witness, and if you are really needed you can be used later."

When we got to Manis' house a large crowd had gathered; everyone was talking in whispers. I stayed in the yard and did not go in. After my father looked at Hank he said. "Hank, can you hear me?" He answered, "Yeah, Kitteneye, I can." Father said, "Hank, have you made peace with God?" And he answered, "Yeah, I know I am dying; tell Uncle Josh I forgive him." Hank lived only a few more hours. Father prepared Hank's body for burial, then went home. Josh "gave himself up to the law." He was tried and pronounced insane and sentenced to the prison for the criminal insane, where he died a few months later.

I did not have to be a witness, but my little nephew was, and he won the hearts of the whole courtroom. Because he was so young he was not allowed to be "sworn in." The judge took him upon his lap and talked to him.

"Well, Hal," the judge began after asking him his name and where he lived, "How old are you?"

"Six, might nigh seven."

"Do you know the difference between a lie and the truth?"

"Shore, Grandpa Kitteneye learned me that."

"What would happen to you if you told a lie?"

"Why, Grandpa would be awful plagued and mad to me."

"Would he whip you?"

"No, he never shup any'un."

"If you are not afraid of him, then why do you obey him?"

"Because I love him."

"Did he tell you what to say here today?"

"Just to tell the truth, like allus."

"You and Hank have the same last name. Are you kinfolks?"

"If we are, Grandpa never did learned me that."

"Was Hank your friend?

"Sure. Hank was a friend to everyone."

"How long have you known Josh?"

"Why, a long, long time," Hal answered, "ever since I was a little boy."

You couldn't hear the judge's next question for all the laughter.

End of Chapter V
Verna Mae Slone

Chapter Index | Chapter IV | Chapter VI

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