Summers, when I was a little fellow, I used to stay with my grandparents. Their tiny house was perched precariously on the Cumberland mountain-side, high in the Valley of the Three Forks of the Wolf, Fentress County, Tennessee. Being without a telephone except at the general store down the mountain, neighbors looked after one another in a way city folks never will. And so it happened that one day, I was sent across the rock-strewn fields to the home of Grandpa Mose, a local patriarch who knew the history of Fentress County better than did anyone else in the Cumberland Mountains. My errand was the delivery of a basket of baked goods from Granny.
As I walked up the worn footpath to his porch, I spotted the old man kneeling out in the sun next to the pump. Curious, I set the basket on the porch and approached him. As I drew nearer, a pulsating, musky odor filled my nostrils. Grandpa Mose was leaning over a washtub, his right hand firmly gripping a hunk of yellow soap, and his left firmly gripping the ears of his mongrel dog.
“Howdy,” I said. “Granny sent a basket of goods for you. It’s on the porch. Can I help with your dog?”
“Howdy yerself,” the old man responded. “Ye’re right welcome to. Jest pump a little more water, will yeh? I’m almost finished with ‘im, but a mite more of water never hurt none.”
“How old is he?” I queried as I worked the rusty pump handle up and down. “He must not be very old, if he got himself mixed up with a skunk. Even I know better than to chase around a skunk, and I don’t live in the mountains.”
“Thet may be,” said Grandpa Mose, “But Jake’s old enough t’ know by now that if yeh play with a skunk, yore sure t’ smell like one. Yore friends are always rubbin’ off on yeh, there’s no two ways ‘bout thet. Take Alvin York, fer instance.”
“Sure, Alvin York. Yeh’ve never heard of ‘im?”
“Yes, I have. He was a hero in World War I, but that’s got nothing to do with his friends, does it?”
“Oh, sonny.” Grandpa Mose released the mutt, who bounded out of the tub and scooted to safety, where he shook himself vigorously. “Alvin York’s friends had a heap t’ do with it. See, when Alvin was a youngster, he was six foot o’ mean muscle—an o’nery red-head with a chip on his shoulder the size o’ Tennessee. He fell in with the wild boys in t’ mountains, an’ he an’ they was busy raisin’ Cain over’t the county line where they could get whiskey cheap."
We filled a bucket with fresh water from the pump, and headed for the shade of the porch. Grandpa Mose continued, “Them boys was bad news, so Alvin’s mother, she had a talk with Alvin. She got him to quit runnin’ wild and drinkin’ hard. Then Alvin found the Lord Jesus to be his friend an’ was leadin’ a changed life when the war broke out. He got called up to enlist, an’ once he was clear in his mind that it was the right thing t’ do, he went t’ France. An’ God went with ‘im.
Even when he was France fightin’, he was lookin’ to the Lord fer guidance an’ He protected ‘im. Yeh know how Alvin captured all them Germans, a hundred an’ thirty-two of ‘em, almost single-handed. Well, he knew he couldn’t have done it no how if he’d not had God with ‘im. And all his war buddies knew it too. They knew Alvin knew God, ‘cause he prayed an’ read his Bible and didn’t drink or smoke or go chasin’ them foreign gals.”
We reached the porch and sat down in its coolness, taking turns from the dipper in the water bucket. Grandpa Mose investigated the contents of the basket and pulled out a cookie apiece. While we ate them, he recommenced thoughtfully, “Hit’s kind of like ol’ Jake. He played with a skunk, an’ he got t’ smellin’ like one. Then he come t’ me, an’ got sweet an’ clean. Now he won’t go playin’ with skunks no more, an’ people will want t’ be around ‘im again. Choosing yore friends wisely is a good thing, sonny, ‘cause yuh’ll end up like ’em, an’ others will judge yeh by ’em. Thet’s the truth of it.”
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