Canoeing Challenge …
You can read the introductory story about Clyde at ‘Bad Ass Clyde – Don’t Even Go There’
No one in the mountain town of Tuskawah rightly recollects how the canoeing challenge started, but everyone does remember the day they gathered to watch Clyde Harper and Omar Bolene begin their journey on the mighty Tuskawah River. It was a treacherous river and no one in Tuskawah had ever had the courage to go canoeing on it, but then they were not Clyde and Omar, who feared little and did a lot of crazy things.
Every day, along about noon, folks would mosey down to the river to watch for Clyde and Omar to come canoeing back. They were anxious to see who came in first. Sadly, day after day went by and there was no sign of the two men. One by one folks stopped gathering to watch. After six weeks it was just Bessie and Selma, the wives of Clyde and Omar, down by the river, hoping that some day their husband’s would return. After a few hours, Bessie and Selma would put their arms around each other and go back home, leaving a trail of tears behind them.
If you were to ask about the legend some of the old men will tell you a whopper of a story, each one a little different. Then there are some who will give you a suspicious look and walk away, thinking it is none of your business. For the most part mountain folk won’t talk to strangers and I got a lot of those suspicious looks. But I was compiling stories and legends of folks who had lived all their lives in the mountains of Appalachia. I had a book to write and did not give up easy on searching for interesting events and facts. I had heard from an old mountain man about the canoeing challenge. It was in the last town I visited. I saw a group of several gnarly looking men sitting in old captain’s chairs outside the general store and decided to approach and sit a spell. They all stared at me as if I were intruding upon their habitual pastime, which I was. A few of them stood up and walked away. A tall rough looking man stopped by the spittoon, gave me a threatening look, then spat hard. Twing..ing…ing! He hit the spittoon dead center. The sound echoed as the spittoon spun around. He gave me a final look up and down then left.
The man sitting next to me was rather chubby and seemed to be part of his chair, like he was poured and glued into it. He had both arms resting on the chair arms and looked like any movement would be a great effort for him. He was sound asleep and I could hear his barely audible snore. I introduced myself and talked about my book, letting the few men left know that I was looking for some good stories to write about. Being used to mountain folk I did not expect any response and got none. I sat back and relaxed, joining in the comfort of silence. Now, older mountain men have the ability to sit in silence for hours, saying nary a word.
After a year of visiting such towns I was quite accustomed to this habit of sitting on porches and becoming part of the environment. One could easily slip into a near-dead state when sitting in an old worn chair in the pure mountain air with the sun warming your tired bones. Yep! I could live like this. After about an hour of admiring the beauty of the surrounding wilderness, my eyes were rolling around and crossing, trying to stay open and focused. I lost the battle. I must have dozed peacefully for a good two hours or more as the sun’s warmth seeped into every pore and settled within me. I was totally in another world when I was startled awake by a gravelly voice.
The chubby man next to me had finally spoken. My mind was instantly alert, but my body was still floating lazily in the rays of the sun. “If’n yur lookin’ fer a good story ya might want to head north to Tuskawah. Ask ennywon there bout the canoeing challenge.” I asked a few questions, but the old man had drifted off again, out of commission. That is the way of mountain folk. There is no time they are aware of. As far as he knew, I had just sat down next to him that very minute so he roused himself to reply to the query I had mentioned at least three hours earlier.
I managed to force my relaxed self up and into the store. I waited patiently as the joyful woman inside fixed me a meatloaf sandwich. She did not skimp on the meat and piled it on a large thick slice of homemade bread, added some onion slices and poured catsup over it. She proudly placed another slice of bread on top. My mouth was watering as I watched the creation of that sandwich. She wrapped it up tightly and dropped it into a paper sack. It sounded like a rock when it hit bottom. She wrapped and added a large dill pickle to the bag. She just earned a two-dollar tip, which I gave her after paying for the sandwich and two bottles of root beer. She smiled broadly and pleased as punch said, “Thankee kindly. Y’all come back real soon now!” I made a mental note to do that. I walked back to my Willys Wagon and settled in. The joyful lady had told me it would take about an hour to drive up to Tuskawah. Since it was getting late in the day I debated on leaving right away, or tackling that sandwich first. I ate the sandwich and the pickle that was mildly flavored with garlic then downed one bottle of the root beer.
I drove for about thirty minutes, getting sleepy due to that heavy lunch, when I felt the urgent need to stop. As luck would have it, I saw an outhouse conveniently sitting near the road. I spent a considerable amount if time inside that cozy shack. I got back in my Willys and parked about 10 yards upwind from the outhouse. After crawling into the back I grabbed my pillow, rolled up in my blankets and slept like a newborn pup. When I woke up the sun was just coming up. I had slept all night long!
After visiting the cozy little shed again I rummaged through my food box. I had some crackers, cheese and an apple for breakfast then drank some water from my canteen. About thirty minutes later I pulled in to Tuskawah and parked in front of the general store where I bought enough stuff to stock up my food box. When I was paying for my purchases a
young man ran into the store yelling to all within earshot, “Y’all gotta see who just come up from the river! Bessie and Selma a-cryin’ and a-huggin’ Clyde and Omar!”
“You bin a-nippin’ at the moonshine agin, Joey, and seein’ haints?” The clerk laughed as everyone else stared at Joey. “No mam, Granny. Thase sure nuff real fer sure!” Joey took off and we all followed him out. Coming down the road we saw two women with two men and a shouting, cheering crowd following them. “Well, I nevva thought to see the day this would come ’bout,” Granny was using her apron to wipe away tears from her wrinkled cheeks. I put my stuff in the Willys then followed Granny and the others as they joined the crowd. I never saw such joy or heard so much laughter and chattering as I did that day. I tried to listen to every thing being said as I jotted it down in my little notebook.
“More’n a month and here they are lookin’ as fine and dandy as evva!”
“I gettin’ a crick in my neck tryin’ to look past y’all to see thar faces!”
“Don’t git all het up, Jimmy, we all tryin’ to see!”
“Is really them? Thase ain’t haints?”
“We all should mosey on home ta git some fixin’s to pack up to Bessie and Selma. Clyde and Omar probly ain’t et good fixin’s in a long time.”
As if every woman got that message, they all took off running to their homes. I followed all the men.
When we finally arrived at Bessie’s cabin, she turned to the crowd, and with tears in her eyes and hugging Clyde, she addressed the men. “We all nigh waried ourselves to death over our Clyde and Omar and we ‘preciate y’all bein’ here with us on this joyous day. I reckon hit don’t nevva do nobody no good to beat round the bush, so I’ll just say it plain
out. Selma and I need time with our men then they gotta rest. If’n y’all wanna get some tables and chairs up here then we can have us a hoedown later.”
Every man there took off his hat and bowed his head, showing respect. After Omar and Selma went to their own cabin, Clyde and Bessie turned and went inside. I went back to my Willys and ate some lunch. I wrote quite a lot in my notebook then crawled in back and took a nap.
I wanted to interview Clyde and Omar about their canoeing challenge and their long trip that must have been filled with mishaps. However, seeing the joy of folks who were welcoming home their heroes, seeing the love between the two men and their wives, I figured it best to let them bask in the glory of being back together. Asides, it looks like folks are ’bout ready to cut a shine, seeing as how they were linin’ up in two lines, men on one side, wimmin’ on the other and facin’ each other. Since I am no dancer I figger to be a-packin’ myself outta here. Lawdy! Seems like I done bin round these kind of folk too long. I’m a-startin’ to talk like em. Eh law!
Some day I aim to come back for that interview and find out ’bout Clyde and Omar’s long journey.
© 2018 Phyllis Doyle Burns