Great Smoky Mountains
See Hell Bent For Leather for the first story about the Callahans.
Thomas Callahan was true Great Smoky Mountains folk. He was born in the Sugarlands, a valley on Chimney Tops which is a mountain in the Great Smoky Mountains range and had spent his whole life there. He was getting on in years though it did not show in his countenance. His features were still chisel sharp and attractive. His once black hair was almost pure white, a trait of the Callahan men by the time they were seventy. He was tall and lanky, never had a weight problem or a paunch. He was not a lazy man and had spent his life outdoors more often than inside. The muscles on his arms and shoulders were still taut and well defined. Keeping his home, property and hogs well tended kept him healthy and strong.
Thomas and his wife Jadeen had six sons. They all had the same strong Cherokee features that their Pa had. Thomas’ mother was full-blood Cherokee and his father was Irish, but it was clear that Thomas and his sons got their height, black hair, dark eyes, mild manner and inherent wisdom of the mountains from his mother. Jadeen was also tall with raven black hair and dark eyes, so the boys had a double dose of their looks. Like his mother, Thomas had the utmost love and respect for nature. Because he was so in tune with nature he had a good heart and understood the importance of harmony and balance in life. Oh, he often acted and talked rough, he had to with six strong-willed sons. Yet the boys knew he was all talk and a gentle man. His favorite threat to keep the boys in line was, “Yall be hell bent for leather if ya don’t smarten up!” Yet he never took a strap to them. His father was short tempered and would rather take a strap to Thomas and his six brothers. Often one or more of them lay on their stomach at night because their backs were hurting so bad from the leather strappings they received. Thomas could never understand why a beating that hurt so bad could knock any sense into a kids’ head. However, it did teach him that love and gentleness got better results than violence did.
The day Thomas held his grandson, Rusty, and rocked him to sleep brought back so many memories to the old man. Rusty was twelve years old, but he was small for his age and had not yet hit that spurt of growth that boys experience. Rusty so wanted to trust his Pa who had left him with Thomas and Jadeen, but on that day he felt the only person in the whole world he could trust was Granpa.
Thomas knew how his grandson felt and just had to gather him close so Rusty would feel loved. Although Rusty’s Pa, Gareth, said he would be back in a few weeks, the boy was not sure and feared yet another loss. His mother left him and Gareth and never returned, so Thomas did what he could to assure the boy he was loved and would have a home with his Pa and grandparents. Thomas thought about his own Pa as he rocked Rusty. He so wished that just once his Pa had hugged him, or said “I love you, son.” A tear rolled down Thomas’ cheek as he whispered, “Why couldn’t you have done that, Pa? Just once, to give me sumpin’ good to remember bout you.” As he brushed the tear away he hugged Rusty tighter.
Thomas had to be strict with his boys to teach them right from wrong, but he always let them know they were loved. It was a nightly ritual at bedtime for each child to receive a hug and a kiss on top of the head, not just from their mother, but from Thomas, too. “Ain’t no reason on God’s green earth why a boy can’t be hugged and kissed by his own Pa,” he once told one of his brothers who told Thomas he would make his boys be like a sissy. “Yer stickin’ yer big nose in whar it don’t belong,” Thomas replied. “Say that evva agin and I whup yer ass!”
That same brother was the only one who walked up and hugged Thomas at the funeral of Jared, Thomas’ eldest son who was killed in action during the war. Somehow that kind of made Thomas feel it was his Pa hugging him and he cried unashamedly. Thomas nearly lost it when he lost his first-born. The two things that saved his mind and healed his heart was the strength of his wife, Jadeen, and the birth of Jared’s son two months later. Thomas waited outside at the birthin’ and when Jadeen carried the baby out to him, Thomas named him Jared. He sat and rocked the baby, singing an old song his mother used to sing to him. Jadeen and Thomas grieved deeply, but they held each other up. Folks in the area often said, “There ain’t no finer folks in the Great Smokey Mountains than Thomas and Jadeen.
Raising his grandson Jared had brought new energy back to Thomas. Now that Jared was fourteen and Rusty twelve, he had two boys to teach right from wrong. Jadeen saw the change come over her husband and knew that the grandsons were what Thomas needed in his elder years.
Thomas was his old self with having the grandsons with him. He was in his element teaching the boys how to hunt, survive in the wilderness, respect and love nature and raise hogs. “Nevva let a hawg get the uppa hand with ya, for them beasts are too damn strong,” he told the boys. The main thing he instilled in his sons and grandsons was about forgiveness of others and self. “Takes a lotta strength to forgive,” he would say. Thomas would know that, for he spent lot of time alone in nature learning how to forgive himself for killing his own Pa.
It nearly sent him to his own grave to have that on his conscious. Jadeen was the only one who knew just how much it troubled her husband and she would send Thomas up further in the mountains to meditate. When she saw it was getting to him, she would pack his gear and food then tell him, “You go now, Thomas, and I be prayin’ for ya.”
It happened right after Thomas and Jadeen were married. He and his Pa had just come back from hunting. Thomas was about to skin the two deer they brought home when he heard a gun shot in the cabin. He ran inside and saw his mother lying dead, with Jadeen kneeling by her and crying. “She was gonna leave me, Thomas! Women ain’t no damn good but to get some sons for ya,” and he raised his gun, aiming at Jadeen. Without hesitation, Thomas shot his Pa, quickly re-cocked his rifle and shot him again.
There was never any trial. Everyone knew how violent Cabe Callahan was and few liked him. It was self-defense the sheriff had said. In later years Thomas would look at Jadeen and his sons and know he would not have been blessed with them if he had let his Pa live.
See Little Pigeon River for more about the Callahans.
© 2017 Phyllis Doyle Burns