This is a story of a child through the eyes of a child. If some of you will think back, you will remember the column from the end of February this year about my special friend Jerry.
As I had said in that column, my friend’s family was very poor. In fact, they had it very hard because there were so many of them — it was a large family. They lived in a house that was old and rundown, as were most of the houses in our valley.
But, you know, it doesn’t matter that a house is old, so long as you have a family in it. A loving, caring family will breathe life into a structure. It might not have a speck of paint on its weathered and broken boards, but it has life.
The seasons came and went and the house and its family did thrive. From time to time, there were broken windows, but that was to be expected with seven boys.
Jerry and his family lived on Reel Foot Lake at the low end of our valley. The lake had been named after the Reel Foot Indian tribe. Most of the people in the valley were a mix of Cherokee and Crete, but let us not forget the Scottish and Irish who played a part also. That made for a most rowdy crew. But a great people.
The old house of which I speak was only about 200 feet from the lake bank. When we would have big rains, the lake would flood. It was in the time of one of these floods that this story takes place.
Storebought bread was hard to come by for a poor family with so many mouths to feed. Sure, there was fried cornbread and sourdough biscuits. But you had to have money for light bread and sweet milk. So with no money, there was not a lot of storebought bread coming into Jerry’s house.
But on the day that I look back upon, there it was a brand-new loaf of fresh storebought bread. Now you have pigs in Heaven — it can’t get much better. It was for the next morning’s breakfast. There was going to be toast from the oven with butter and jelly.
It almost happened.
At this time, most of the boys in the family worked on the lake; they were commercial fishermen. So the day would start very early, and that meant that you went to bed very early. There had been a lot of rain in the past few days and the lake was out of its bank.
In the old cypress trees on the lake bank were rats — real big rats. They were known as Wolff Rats and were as big as cats. The rain had pushed them to higher ground and Jerry’s house.
Picture this. Everyone is asleep. One of the younger boys hears something in the kitchen. It’s the sound of claws ripping on wood. He gets up with a pistol and finds a big rat that has clawed his way through the kitchen wall and is now on the counter with the bread. The storebought bread.
By the time the boy had gotten into the kitchen and turned on the light, the rat had eaten about a third of the loaf. As the young boy did not know what was in the kitchen, he did not just run in to see what it was . He would stop, look and listen. By that time, the rat had his belly full of bread.
The rat was going to pay. The rat did get shot at, but he got away. So the young boy scared the hell out of everybody in the house with the shots he fired at the rat.
Everybody in the house was angry at this point, because they knew there would be no toast with butter and jelly for breakfast.
The quest for the rat was on, but it did no good, as the Wolff Rat cannot be found. With hate for the rat in their hearts, the boys came up with an idea. Traps — steel traps, the type of traps you would use to catch a fox or a beaver. Some people would call this overkill, as you would not use a steel trap to catch a rat.
Those people have never seen a Tennessee Wolff Rat. Had they ever seen such a rat, they would have run away like a little schoolgirl, crying for their mother — who would have ran away also. Get it? Real. Big. Rat.
The traps were placed; the plan was made. Everyone in the family knew not to go into the kitchen without turning on the light, except poor Jerry.
For those of you who did not read my first story about Jerry, I will explain.
On his right side, Jerry was twisted and crippled. Jerry could not talk, either, but he did get his points across with grunts and moans. Jerry was — and is — so very special in my heart and mind. He showed me what a true human being was all about.
Jerry liked to push his little crippled body around on his bike at night. He was a bother to no one. This was just part of Jerry’s life. As luck would have it — and Jerry that night would have none — things just happened.
As Jerry opened up the back door to the kitchen and stepped in, there was hell on earth for about 45 seconds.
He had taken no more than two steps and it got him. He had stepped into one of the bigger traps, with no shoes on.
If you can only picture this boy who cannot speak trying to understand what in the world had him by his big toe and would not let go, then you can understand what he had to be going through.
He could only scream, grunt, moan and flail around the kitchen. As he did his dance of pain, he broke almost every glass and plate that had been put out for a family of 10 and their breakfast.
The father was the first to get to him, and it was so sad. At this point, no lights had been turned on. The father thought someone was tearing up the house. He beat the boy around the kitchen trying to get him to stop, not knowing who it was.
It was only after the lights came on that the truth came out about what was happening.
Here was Jerry crying, still not understanding what had taken place. His big toe was almost torn off, blood was everywhere.
Needless to say, there was no sleep to be had in the house that night. Afterward, Jerry could do no wrong in his father’s eyes. But Jerry never did anything wrong to begin with.
By the way, the Wolff Rat did come back. Guess who killed it? It wasn’t the traps or any of the other kids.
Robert Lee is a concerned citizen and former U.S. Marine who owns and operates Rockingham Guns and Ammo.