Although we lived on East Clinton Street in Huntsville, my dad, Leo Hill, was an avid outdoorsman. He took advantage of nature as often as he could. Each year, for several years, he would go to the northwest to hunt pheasants, and fish for large lake trout in the cold mountain lakes. However, his true love, and favorite location, was the Flint River just south of Huntsville. He used the river for hunting, fishing and camping. I had three sisters, Nancy, Diane and Sally, and we all loved camping on the Flint as much as my dad.
My dad and some of his outdoor buddies decided to build a small cabin to camp in. The cabin was much more comfortable than fighting the summer pests and extreme elements of winter in a tent, or sometimes under the stars on the ground. They had permission to hunt and fish on Mr. Archie Russell’s farm approximately one mile above the Hobbs Island Bridge. He also gave them permission to build their little dream cabin.
They built a two room cabin with a screen porch that ran almost the length of the cabin to eat and lounge in when the summertime pest were out. One room was a living room and kitchen combination with a fire place for heat and cooking during inclement weather. The other room was a dormitory style bedroom with several bunk beds on either side of the room with an isle down the middle. The upper part of the wall above the beds on the screen porch side lifted vertically for ventilation. The cabin had no restroom facilities so when nature called it was a trip to a “little house” in the woods behind the cabin, or a tree….depending.
When they first built the cabin, naturally they wanted it as close to the river as possible and stay above the flood stage. However, after the cabin did flood a couple of times, they decided to move it to a higher elevation overlooking the river. It was in a small, level, grassy meadow….actually a prettier, more convenient location. There was a large cedar tree in front of the cabin. My dad built a circular table around the trunk of the tree to use when preparing meals. He added a circular roof above the table to keep cedar needles, and other debris, from falling in the food while he was cooking. Adjacent to the tree, he built a fire place with a chimney so that he could grill and cook meals over an open fire.
My dad, my mother Booie, my three sisters and I, would go on Friday and stay through Sunday several times a summer. Many of the weekends, my uncles, aunts and cousins would stay the weekend. There were no amenities, all our food, water and bedding had to be brought from home. The first thing dad would do when we arrived at the cabin was to walk through and run all of God’s little creatures out. It seemed every creature that built a web, flew, walked or crawled, would take shelter in the cabin between our visits.
One of our favorite meals was fried corn cut-off the cob. In late summer, there was a large corn field across the river from the cabin. My dad would swim across and bring back a sack full of field corn. Everyone would help shuck and silk the corn. Dad and Aunt Mabel would cut the corn off the cob into a large pan….then with the edge of the knife scrape the cob to get the juice that enhances its sweet taste. Dad had a large, size 14, cast iron skillet that would hold many ears of the cut-off corn. They would pour the corn and juice into the skillet of hot bacon grease and fry it for lunch. Usually there would be enough left for dinner that evening, and breakfast the next morning.
Also, for breakfast, and throughout the day, dad had a large coffee pot, at least a gallon, that he boiled coffee in over an open fire. Anyone who has tasted boiled coffee knows that it is the best way to brew a good cup of java.
My sisters, cousins, and I, would play all sorts of games in the woods that surrounded the cabin and meadow. We would swim and fish in the Flint River. One of the activities we would do is to climb on top of the cabin, then one of the men would catch us as we jumped. I was getting ready to jump to one of my uncles when someone diverted his attention. I hit the ground hands and arms first and broke my right arm.
At night around the camp fire my Uncle Gordy would tell ghost stories and we would squirm and shiver as he told the stories….and as always, some adult would sneak up behind us during a story, scream, and almost make us jump into the fire. The stories were fun to hear, but the down side, as children, we would have to have an adult chaperone us if we had to visit the “little house” in the woods after dark.
Another funny story, which wasn’t funny at the time, involved a bull. My sisters, cousins and I were playing in the woods and a large bull got after us. I climbed a tree and the rest of the group went into the river. The bull stopped at the tree I was in and started butting the trunk. After he gave up butting the tree he still would not leave. The rest of the group made it back to the cabin and told the adults what had happened. My Aunt Bobbie got a large towel and came down in the woods to where she could see the bull. She started waving the towel in the air and finally got the bull’s attention. The bull started toward her and she ran back to the cabin, with the bull behind her. I jumped out of the tree and headed for the river and the cabin. After the bull left we never saw him again.
Time marches on, and eventually, the cabin would see five families and three generations for the weekend and my mom and dad loved it. Eventually, the trip was just too much for mom and dad and they would go less and less each year. The four Hill girls and their families still would spend some weekends there during the summer, but the cabin would deteriorate a little each winter and after a few years began to collapse. The last time I saw the little cabin on the Flint River, Mother Nature had reclaimed her area as she wanted it to be.
The cabin was my dad’s Taj Mahal and when he died, my sisters, brothers-in-law, a cousin Mike, and I, dug through the tangled thorn bushes and rubble to retrieve a large, rectangular, natural stone step that was at the entrance to the front door. We placed it at the foot of my dad’s grave in his honor. And now when I visit my mom and dad’s grave and see the stone step, many memories of my childhood, and my children’s childhood, captivate my mind.
(Judy Key is the wife of Barry Key, a regular contributor to the Gleam. The Keys live in Big Cove. Barry's people are from Grassy Mountain near Grant.)