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Fisher's River
(North Carolina)
Scenes and Characters (1859)

  
 

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X.---JOHN SENTER.

At the mere mention of the name of John Senter I am carried in a moment to a little farm near the head of Little Fisher's River, upon which Fisher's Peak looks down with awful grandeur and majesty.  This little farm is divided by the river, narrow strips of bottom land on each side and then come in abrupt, steep hills.  John Senter inherited this isolated piece of "yeth" from his good old father, Zach Senter.  In a little cabin on the side of a steep laurel-hill ( and a hill there is a hill), on the west side of the river, lives my friend John Senter, of happy memory.  I defy any man to forget the place, or the man who owns it, after a view of both.

When I saw my friend's cabin in 1857, I took it to be in size about ten feet by eighteen;  the board roof was fastened on by "weight-poles," somewhat after the Indian fashion;  no "loft" in it'  puncheon floor, split out of trees with his own hands;  chimney made of sticks and clay;  two or three log joists extended across, not above my head, but above the head of John and family, for they were "short stock."  On these joist were hung, by way of ornament probably, and certainly for profit, some "'possum" skins and "'coon" skins, and some other fur skins too tedious to mention.  I was not much pleased with their perfume, but bore for half an hour what they did all the time.  The door, on the down-hill side of the "house," was sufficiently high to admit a reasonably tall man without stooping;  but that door was not allowed to be used then, for the "lower yard," up to the door, was a fine green Irish potato patch.  A little path led me through a patch of rye to the "upper yard," which was about three feet wide of level ground, and this narrow yard was dug out of the side of the hill.  I halted, and my head was above the eave of the house.  I stooped down to look for the door, and, behold, it was there, about four and a half feet high --- not an inch higher.  I saw John's good wife, Hollin, daughter of Oliver Stanley, of "whale" and "bar" memory, busily engaged in sewing, when the following salutations were passed in primitive style:

"How do you do, Mrs. Senter?" I asked.

"Lausyday, Hardy!  is that you?  I hearn you had come back to see yer old stompin ground.  Come in."

"Thank you,"  I replied;  "I will if I can get in."

"Stoop low, and you'll come it."

I obeyed, went in, but was greatly disappointed in not seeing my old friend John.  Upon inquiry, I found he had gone out that day "harvestin'."  My object was two-fold:  to see my old friend John and family, and to get one of his wooden-bottomed shoes to take into my section as a curiosity to proud, spendthrift, "fast" young cocksparrows, and to ultimately deposit it in some college as a monument to John's genius and economy, and a wonder to all beholders.  He had invented and worn them before I left that section in 1829, and I wished to know whether he wore them still.

"Mrs. Senter," I inquired, "does John wear his wooden-bottomed shoes nowadays?"

"Lausy, yes;  he couldn't live 'thout 'um.  He made me wear 'um for two long, tejus years;  but they was so nation heavy I told him, right flatfooted, I'd go barfooted afore I'd wear 'um, both summer and winter, through frost and snow, heat and cold.  Him and Sol and Zack (his sons) wear 'um still, and will, I reckon, long as thar heads is above the yeth, and I wouldn't be s'prised ef the ole man had his'n buried with him."

"Did he wear them off to-day?"

"No, not him; he went barfooted."

"Over the rocks, and in the briers of the harvest-field?"

"Shucks!  his feet is tough as grissle."

"Will you be so kind as to let me look at them?"

"Sartinly;  but they're mighty odd-looting critters --- jist like the old man, though."

Kind Hollin went to a bed, brought them out, and threw them down before me.  "Take care," said she, "else they'll mash yer toes inter mince-meat."

The admonition was a timely and a benevolent one, as the reader will see by the description.  The bottoms were made of "dogwood," and where they were not much worn they were an inch and a half thick.  In the heels were driven several large nails, resembling horse-shoe nails, of his own make, also one large nail on the side of the bottom, at the "ball" of the foot, to answer the two-fold purpose of giving the shoe some spring or elasticity, and to keep him from slipping on the mud, snow, or ice.  The vamps were made of tanned hogskin, kept soft somewhat by "'possum grease.  The quarters were cow-leather tanned in a log trough.  Then there were leggins of tanned buckskin tacked on to the quarters, that came up the leg, to keep out snow in winter, and to ward off snakes in summer when he went hunting, and were laced up with "whangs."  The leather was tacked on to the wooden bottoms with tacks --- nails, rather --- of his own making.  He was too much of an economist to "but tacks out'n the cussed stores."

I was anxious to procure one from Hollin, but could not, as the reader will learn from the following brief dialogue:

"Mrs. Senter," I inquired, "can I get one of these shoes for love or money?  Set your own price on it, and the money shall be forthcoming."

"That I won't!  I know the ole man too well fur that.  I mout as well, and better too, sell his Sunday furred hat.  Come agin and see him;  he mout let you hev one."

"It will be out of my power;  I must return in a day or two," said I.

"Well, I knows what's what."

Next day I sent 'Squire West Freeman, and he, by paying pretty dearly for it, procured me one.  Should any one wish to see said shoe, he can find it labeled "A Fisher's River (North Carolina) Dancing Pump," and deposited among the many curiosities --- and the greatest curiosity of them all --- of the East Alabama Baptist Female College, Tuskegee, Alabama.

But this cabin and this eccentric wooden-bottomed shoe have led me astray.  I must return, and give the reader some further "insight" of friend John.

John Senter is about five feet seven inches high, round-shouldered, so much so that he crosses his "galluses" (leather) before and behind to keep his "britches" on him, very thin visaged, yellow "pumpkin" skin, tough and wrinkled.  His eyes are small and scowling.  His features are hard and rigid, indicative of spleen and general suspicion.  His beard is long, full of dirt and "swingle-tow" (he is a good hand to break and clean flax).  His movements are irregular, sometimes rapid, then slow and thoughtful.  His impulses govern his movements in his own person and in his intercourse with others.  His dress is equal in eccentricity to his looks, conversation, and movements.  His summer hat is either wheat, rye, or oat straw, of his own manufacture invariably.  His winter hat is wool, bought from the hatter with lambs' wool.  His "Sunday go-to-meetin'" hat is an old-fashioned, smooth, bell-crowned fur hat --- his wedding hat, doubtless --- which was purchased with 'coon, rabbit, mink, and musk-rat skins.  His everyday coat was a "round-about," striped round like a "'coon's" tail.  For Sunday and a "go-abroad" coat he wore a striped cotton, sharped, long, swallow-tailed coat.  In winter he wore "britches" of tanned sheepskin.  His "jacket" was striped Turkey red cotton.  His shirt was tow and flax, with the collar so long that it hung down on his shoulders like the cape of an old-fashioned "big coat."  His shoes have been already described.

THE TRIAL.

John was very fond of litigation.  With him "to be in law" was no small idea.  His splenetic nature naturally inclined him that way.  Such was his fondness for law and of his attendance upon justice's court, that 'Squire Freeman's wife would not consent for "court" to be held in her house.  She had two potent reasons:  first, all the litigants begaumed her house with tobacco-juice; and, second, John's wooden-bottomed shoes, with their horse-shoe nails, made a marked impression on it.  The "'squire," therefore, held "court" in the cook-house.  I went into said "kitchen" to see the havoc John had made of the floor with his shoes, and it was as if a fresh-shod horse, or mule, rather, had been stabled in it.

To show you John's fondness for law, I will give you one instance in proof.  He once sued Ben Carson on the following items, and had a regular trial:

Item 1.  One half gallon soap-grease.
Item 2.  One half pint salt.
Item 3.  One half gallon sifted meal.
Item 4.  Three plants of tobacco.

Poor Ben was "cast," and 'Squire Freeman rendered judgment in John's favor.

THE WEDDING.

The marriage relation is the most time-honored institution in the world, and God, by making it the first, has sufficiently demonstrated its utility.  It has withstood the rude and cunning assaults of base men and disorganizers in all ages.  It has been honored in all nations from the king down to the rudest peasant.  In the region of which I am treating they strictly obeyed the injunction, "Multiply and replenish the earth," as though it was "the first commandment with promise."  They were unlike the disobedient young people of this age, who wait till they make a fortune before they marry;  they, like sensible folks, married first, "and scuffled for their fortins arterwards." Now who can blame their course?

Now and then we see a hopeless case --- one whom we think never can marry.  Nature, in her sovereignty, has denied such persons beauty, talents, and wealth.  Their chances for "holy wedlock" would be bad in some cruel, fastidious sections;  not so in that section where Nature holds hew sway without the artificial wants and rules of "refinement."  All marry there, whether they have beauty, talents, or wealth.  There appears to be a sort of happy destiny, in this respect, for them all. They may be shaped like fat-stands or look like toys, it is all the same, they marry.

Of course, John Senter's children must not be an exception --- they must marry.  Now it came to pass that his son Sol took it into his head to marry.  Dwarfish-looking and crippled as he was, he came to the rational conclusion, "It is not good for man to be alone," in a section, too, where marrying was so popular and fashionable.

It was not difficult for him to find a person of like feeling in Sally Spencer, daughter of Polly Spencer, who lived in the face of the Blue Ridge, near the Blaze Spur.  In addition to their warm affection for each other, an accident to each one had increased their attachment.  Sol had had a white-swelling in his right leg, which had lamed him for life, and Sally's left leg had been broken, which made her equally lame.  It looked like a bad chance for a support, for, in addition to these mishaps, they were as poor as "Job's turkey."  But they loved each other, and were willing to link their destiny together, and "take one another better fur wusser and wusser fur better," in the graphic language of Bob Snipes, who shall tell the story of their wedding.  Said Bob Snipes is a plain-spoken fellow, and tells stories in his own way.

"Now I was a-workin' fur 'Squire Freeman one flinderin hot day," said Bob, "and who should I see but Sol Senter come hop-a-kickin' along over the plowed yeth, through the cornfield, throwin' his game leg around like a reap-hook, and when he come up to the 'squire and me he was sweatin' like a coal-kill.  Says I, 'Sol, don't knock down all the corn with that reap-hook leg o' yourn.'  He nuver said a word to me, but buckled up to the 'squire, like a little dog does to a big one when he wants to show out, and, says he,

"'Squire, I's come to swap work with you.  Times is so hard, and I want's to work a day or two fur you to go as fur as dad's to marry me.  I won't ax you to go as fur as Sally's house, which you know is three miles above dad's;  but jist go to dad's, and I'll go and fetch Sally down thar.  It shall never be said that Sol Senter got 'Squire Freeman to marry him fur nothin', and it mout be swappin' work mout do jist as well.'

'When Sol eended his speech, he looked 'mazin' anxious to hear what the 'squire'd say.  The 'squire was a monstrous 'commerdatin' man, and says he, 'Good as wheat in the mill-hopper, Sol;  work for me a day, and keep up with Bob Snipes' (here the 'squire gin me the wink), 'and I'll go.'

"I'll be dinged ef, when the 'squire said that, Sol didn't look as big as Nibuchadneezer and as rich as Festus;  and, thinks I, 'Ef you keep up with me (I was a-hoein' corn), you'll not be fit to marry ('twas orful hot) soon.'

"The little feller catched holt of a hoe, and at it we went like a whirlygust uv woodpeckers.  I tell you the train-ile streamed out'n both on us;  but Sol buckled up ter me like a man.  The thoughts o' marryin' steamed him up like a blowed-up bladder.  It's anuff to say that we went it like blazed fur a whole day, and nuver did the 'squire have as many weeds killed in one day by two mortals, and one on 'um a little game-leg, taller-face, ill-begotten, turkey-trotten' creetur.

"The work over, Sol he fixed his day, and axed me to his weddin', to come with the 'squire.  Says he, 'Come, and as I've showed you how I kin work, I'll show yer how I kin marry too;  and I'll show yer the purtyest gal in the whole face uv the Blue Ridge, ur in any o' the knobs around about.'

"'Look out fur me,' says I, 'fur Bob Snipes nuver takes a banter form no one, man nur 'omun.'

"The 'squire and me started tolluble yearly one mornin', intendin' to take ur time fur it in the cool uv the day.  We had to walk, fur narry a man on God's green yeth could git to John Senter's a horseback, it is so shot up with hills and blocked wid fences.  We tuck right up Little Fish Roover (the 'squire lives on it, well as John) till we come to whar Maid Holder was a-plowin', and ding my skin ef he warn't a-plowin' in his shirt-tail, 'thout anuther thing on him, 'ceptin' his old greasy wool hat.  Says Maid,

"'Give an account of yerselves.  Whar's yer pass?  What you trespassin' on my deadnin' fur?  Whar you moseyin' to?  Bob Snipes, what you dressed up in the week fur fine as the 'squire?  Speak, else I'll larrup you both.'

"We had to satisfy the outdacious varmunt, and axed him to go with us.  Says he, 'I'll go, ef you'll jist let me go as I am.'  'In yer shirt-tail?' says I.  'Yes,' says he.  'Not I, long as yer shirt-tail is,' says I;  and it was one uv the most onconcionable long shirt-tails I uver seen.  It come down a long gap below his knees.

"We left Maid gee-hawin' away, and piked on to John's.  We went in, and piked on to John's.  We went in, and thar sot John on a short-legged stool in the chimbly corner, lookin' fur all the world like a man that had got out'n his bed wrong eend foremost that mornin'.  He was sulky and ashy, I tell you.  He hardly axed us to set down.  The 'squire kep' axin' John questions, to try to git him to spill some words, but his jaws were locked as it were.  Hollin and his darter was a-fixin' away, sorter like they was glad, but uvry now and then John kep' flingin' out some uv his slang at 'um 'fur fixin' so much fur them crippled creeturs, that had 'bout as much business a-marryin' as two 'possums.'

"The 'squire he made him hush his foul jaw, but he sot watchin' Hollin and the little darter, and got madder and madder, swellin' like a bullfrog.  Last he riz right smack up, and, says he, ' I wouldn't be a-fixin' so much fur a couple uv ground-hogs, heffer-on-my-haslit ef I would.'  He looked like he would a made a meal out'n a kag uv tenpenny nails, fur all the world.

"He then moseyed off to a bed, and drawed out from under it a whoppin' big gourd, with a great big corn-cob stopper in it.  He sot it on the table, got a pewter cup, pulled out the stopper, and 'chug' it went as it come out.  I soon larned from the smell on it that it was apple brandy, and white-faced at that.  He poured out a cupful, and gin it to the 'squire fust, who bussed the cup a little, and then I bussed it.  John he bussed it, and kep' a-bussin' it wusser nur a man would apurty gal, till he got in a monstrus good humor.  I was mighty glad to see the refect the ole white-face brandy had upon him, fur I was nation tired uv his snaps and snarls.

"Jist as John had got in a good humor from bussin' Mrs. Whiteface, and had begun to spill his words right fast, we looked up the hill toward the Blue Ridge, and we sees Sol and Sally, dressed in thar best, a-comin' down the hill afoot, side and side, and the old lady a-traipin' along arter 'um, Sol throwin' his game leg round one way, from right to left, and Sal a-throwin' hern around t'other way, from left ter right.  They kep' good time.  Sal's mammy looked mighty loonsome bringin' up the rear.  They came in, sat down, and John --- ding him! --- 'peared to be as glad to see 'um as any on us.

"Soon as they had blowed a little (it was dingnation hot), and had wiped the train-ile out'n thar eyes, the 'squire he tied the Gougin knot" (The Gordian knot, I suppose Bob meant), "and we all wished 'um much joy, John 'mong the rest.  (I wanted to knock him down, arter doin' as he had done.)  The corn-cob stopper was pulled out'n the gourd, 'chug,' agin and agin, and we kep' bussin' the pewter cup, and we chatted away like blackbirds, 'ceptin' the 'squire, with 'bout as much sense.

"Dinner cumed next.  The pot hadn't bin idle all the time;  it kep' bilin' away, pottle, wottle, pottle, wottle.  Hollin she sot the table along side uv the bed, to sarve in the place uv chairs on one side, and a long bench on t'other side, and a short bench on each eend.  It was one of these here cross-leg tables --- none uv yer quality cuts.  Sohn Senter was none uv yer quality men; he opposed and hated all quality idees;  nor would he 'low a quality dinner.  He wouldn't 'low but one dish, ef the 'squire was thar.  He wouldn't have a pied, nur a puddin', nur nuthin' o' the sort.  Hollin she tuck up the dinner, and ding my skin ef it warn't a sure-anuff dinner.  Thar was a great big pewter dish full uv stewed chicken and rye dumplin's, with chunks uv bacon mixed up, anuff to sorter season it.  The rye dumplin's, some on 'um, was as big as corn-dodgers, and some on 'um, which the seasonin' hadn't toch, was tough as whitleather, and you mout a knocked a bull down with 'um.  But, howsomever, as Mrs. Whiteface, who dwelt in the gourd, had whettened our appetites, we done monstrus well.

"When dinner was over, the 'squire and me thought fur decency's sake we wouldn't leave right off, so we sot a little while;  but we soon seen that John --- ding him! --- was a-gittin' monstrus onpatient.  He kep' frivitin' about.  Mrs. Whiteface had died away in him, and, ding him!  he was too stingy to buss her any more, and the evil sperrit come on him agin.  Last he walled up his eyes, and bawled out, 'You Zack!  (his other son), you Zack!'  'Here!' says Zack.  'You go and gear up that bull' (John allers plowed a bull;  he wouldn't hev a horse), ' and you go to plowin', and I'll go to hoein'.  Heffer-on-my-haslit ef it'll do to be wastin' so much time a-weddinin'.'

"Arter this speech the 'squire and me left."

And this is as much space as I can allow my old friend John Senter.  If all his rich sayings and eccentric doings were written out, they would fill quite a volume.  Now the rest of the acts of John Senter, all that he said and did, how he made wooden-bottomed shoes, how he worked in the harvest fields barefooted, how he lawed the people at the justice's courts, how he loved apple brandy, and danced the "double shuffle," etc., etc., are they not written in the memory of all who know him?

He has not yet slept with his fathers.

 

 

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