What it was was baskey-ball
YOU MAY REMEMBER last fall I gave up my regular column's space to my wife's cousin Bobo Herring from Traphill up in the Brushy Mountains so he could report to you on his visit to the UNC campus with his son, William Robert Herring III. William had been offered a Morehead-Cain Scholarship and in the process of touring the campus attended an inter-collegiate football contest. What follows is Bobo's report from a more recent visit to Chapel Hill to see his son who enrolled mid-year at the University.
Now, Willy Bob, excuse me, Willie-yum, had been a-askin' me to come on down to Chapel Hill if’n I was gonna "to continue to persist in my state of anxiety." Now, I never said nary a word about bein' to no state of Anxiety. Well, I been up to Virginny, and over to Kentuck and Tennessee, and that's about all the states I think I'll be needin' to see.
I did say I was plumb worried stiff 'bout the boy. Will'um said I should come down "to meet the Morehead fellows," then I wouldn't be worryin' so much. I got my heart encouraged when Will'um said he was gonna take me to the holiest place in Chapel Hill. I had a-feared that them evolutionists at the college had chased the fear a-God plumb outta him.
Anyway, Will'um took me over to this holy place. It was what looked to be a great big old barn that had a revival tent up top of it that just about glowed. Lotsa people was a-goin' in, so we did too. Will'um said it wadn’t a church like I thought but there was gonna be a sportin' contest and they was a-playin' ag'in the Dukes of somebody.
While we was a-waitin' to git in this barn, I met one of them Morehead fellers who said he was a-studyin' eth-no-music-knowledgey. What in Heaven's name that would be, I do not know, but after I picked a little banjar for him, he said I played "an authentic banjo." I didn't say nothin', but my banjar says "Gibson" right on it.
It was a right funny place this Smithin' Center, if'n yer askin' me. It was all painted robin's egg blue, just like that Pope's box overlooking that pasture I visited last fall. Strangest thing was somebody had been a-hangin' their laundry way up high in them rafers. Them boys musta be great big boys 'cause I ain't never seen skivvies the like of 'em. And them boys better be tall 'cause they hung ‘em so high I'll be wishin' them the best a-luck on ever gittin' ‘em down.
In this here barn they was havin' a hootenanny, hoedown or something with a band the likes a-which I never see'd. That band didn't have nary a fiddle, mand-o-lin or banjar in it but when ever that man waved his little stick at 'em, they started a-howlin' and 'bout blowed the top off that tent. Will'um said some of 'em was playin' tubers, but all I ever saw was boys blowin' in big brass Victrolas.
Will'um had tolt me that "UNC was a divers place" with people from all over the whole world. I don't know about that 'cause Will'um's friends all looked alike and right strange and as sickly as folk kin git. They wasn't just blue in the gills, they was blue all over. But they weren't ‘xactly actin' sick, 'cept maybe like Nadine Strocker's cow when it got into Uncle Verne's mash that time. They were all jumpin' and whoopin' fer no good reason I could see.
Then all a-sudden they whooped even louder and I saw what boys who could reach that underwear down. The tallest bunch a-young'uns I ever see'd came a-runnin' out from under them bleachers. Ever'body cheered like Gabr'el done blowed his horn.
Then right after it some other big boys came a-runnin' out a-wearin' dark blue underwear -- but them Morehead fellers and their friends sure didn't like 'em, 'cause they commenced to a-booin' louder'n they cheered a-fore. Why for, I asked? Will'um said they was Dooky. I told him I was gonna wash his mouth out.
Those convicts that I saw out in that pasture, they was back, they all had whistles in their mouths, and they just a-blowed 'em and a-blowed 'em and a-blowed 'em. First time they went to blowin' 'em, it so they could throw that punkin up the air and them boys could fight over it. Next time it was 'cause two had grabbed the punkin -- and they was wrastlin' over it. Them convicts seemed right confused.
'Bout half the time them convicts blowed them there whistles, all the crowd would go to a-booin' and a-booin'. I ain't heard nothin' the like since Lula Ann Murphrey got up in that congre-ga-tional meetin' and said she didn't much think covered dish suppers was worth the trouble.
Anyway, that punkin, when they throwed it down, it'd bounce. I never did figger what this contest was all about but it seemed a lot like when youngsters play hot 'tater -- just throwin' that punkin 'round and 'round, nobody a-wantin' to keep it too long.
One little brown feller a-wearin' light blue, they kept yellin' "Tie" when he had that punkin, he was like a greased-up pig with his tail a-fire. Couldn't nobody of them Duke boys even touch 'em, much as they tried.
Then there was this big ol' boy, pale as could be, and they kept yellin' "Tie-ler" when he had that punkin. Them boys in that dark blue, they sure didn't care too much fer him. All he did all night was git up off the floor where they knocked him. You woulda thunk he woulda knocked them down too, but he wouldn't. He just git up and go to that line they had drawed on the floor where none of them Duke boys could even touch him a whit.
Then that boy he’d throw that punkin up in the air at a big picture window. It had what Will'um called a basket a-hooked to it. It wadn't much of a basket. Didn't have no bottom in it, and that punkin fell right out.
After this a horn went off, and all them people in the bleachers got up and ran down and jumped all over that map on the floor. Seemed down right disrepectful to me. Then that band started playin' ag'in, Will'um said somethin' about its bein' a song for "Alma's mother." I didn't git it, what with harkin' and all, but I did like the part about bein' Tar Heel dead, but I thought it was plain rude to tell them Duke boys to go to hell, though I am expectin', since it says devil right there on their undies, they won't really be mindin'.
After a while, this man they called "Roy" came and talked into this big silver pinecone, and his voice came a-boomin' outta heaven like the voice a-God. He said, "I wanna thank y'all for a-comin' out and a-cheerin' so doggone loud." It was 'bout only time I was down c'here I heard somebody a-talkin' plain so a body could understand 'em.
Then a whole passel a-boys came and talked in the pinecone too. I couldn’t git much a-what was said, but them Morehead fellers kept on a-laughin'. Finally, that big tough Tie-ler feller came out and cried like his best dog had died or somethin’ and most ever-body cried with ‘em.
When he stopped a-cryin', Will'um and them other young'uns headed out of there like a herd a cattle out of a burnin' barn. And they just took me a-with 'em. Next thing you now there's even more people and we're on Frankin' Street, whoopin' and hollerin' the like I ain't heard since I went to that Pentycostal tent revival over'n Boomer.
It wadn’t very cold but they started a campfire anyway. They didn’t cook nothin’. It was so crowded up that some them boys jumped across the fire just to git where they was goin’.
After most ever-body had left, I saw Will'um a-talkin' to one them dancin' girls. Up close, you know they ain't nearly as lanky as I thought. Fact, I'm a-thinkin', a passel of them and a passel of them big baskey-ball boys, I'll could git the work done 'round my farm in a wink and twinkle.
Fer sure, they'd be better'n Will'um ever was, who was always up in the hayloft with some book thick as Uncle Lester's head.
In any case, after I saw that sweaty dancin' girl a-kissin' Will'um on the cheek, I got a notion why Will'um why he’s a-likin’ his time down c'here. I ‘spect he’ll be stayin' fer a while and goin’ to that gran-u-late school in phil-o-soph-i-cal-ness he’s been talkin’ so much about.
Gary D. Gaddy, whose wife is from Wilkes County, does know actual people from Traphill.
A version of this column was published in the Chapel Hill Herald Thursday March 12, 2009.
Copyright 2009 Gary D. Gaddy
Authored by Gary G. Gaddy
at 8:07 AM EDT
Updated: Monday, March 16, 2009 8:21 PM EDT