(Another in a series of boyhood remembrances by Michael Kirkpatrick, a resident of Point of Pines at Beech Creek)
Grouchy old men and young boys don't mix. As in many neighborhoods, the cove had an old grouch with a fierce reputation. He had a weekend cabin near the back of the cove. He was our nemesis.
The boys of the cove had to cross his property on our way to the cow pasture, one of our prime adventure destinations. We would approach cautiously, round-eyed in fear, watching for him. We would pass his property in single file, silently and quickly, the bravest boy on point. If we spied him, we would not cross. If he was not there, we passed without incident. However, sometimes, through poor attention, or pure surprise, we were ambushed.
When he saw us crossing his property, he would erupt in rage. The old bull would charge us, arms waving in the air, shouting at the top of his lungs. Our flight response hit fast. We would break into a sprint, running a long distance to the nearest point of safety, a patch of woods at the back of the cove. Once there, we would stop, hearts pounding and panting, until we regained our composure and could continue on our way.
THESE BLISTERING assaults were difficult to accept, but we were too young to mount any defense. However, the injustice of the abuse burned within us. We knew we weren't causing any trouble, and besides, we were crossing on TVA land below the contour line. lt should have been a safe passage.
Lane St. John was always with us on these adventures. He was a year-round resident of the cove and had his own private encounters with the old bull's rage.
Lane was a well-seasoned boat captain by then. At age 10, he had his own 10-foot, handmade wooden jon boat with a 7.5 horsepower outboard. Now, at age 12, he had a 20-foot pontoon boat with a 25 horsepower outboard.
The pontoon boat had been found drifting near the grain mills after an early spring flood. It was a derelict boat. Its deck was rotten and seats were torn and broken beyond repair. It had no motor. It looked awful. However, the pontoon’s frame was sound. Lane’s father towed the old boat to the cove where together they stripped the boat and refurbished it with a deck of 4x 8 sheets of inch thick plywood. For power, a tiller-steered, 25 horsepower Johnson outboard was bought at a good price from an aging uncle.
WHEN THE BOYS cruised the cove on the pontoon boat, you would see Captain Lane St. John sitting at the back of the boat, legs crossed Indian style, hand on the tiller, with three or four boys reclined on the deck, and a six gallon orange gas tank sitting midship. We would cruise the cove day and night. We had the sun by day and a white gas-powered Coleman lantern by night.
One summer afternoon while cruising the shore of cow pasture point, we made an intriguing and dramatic discovery. A dead cow, fully bloated like an old German zeppelin, was floating at the edge of the shore, awash in the waves. To young teenage boys, there was a certain attraction to this morbid sight. Tom Sawyer had his dead cat! What could we do with a dead cow? We cruised by several times that day, keeping a safe distance but always thinking, hmmm?
That night we met after dinner down at the lakeshore and built a small campfire. We told stories and jokes and were having a great time when the injustice of the old bull’s rage reared its ugly head. We talked about his tirades. The more we talked, the more we fumed. Suddenly, a lightning bolt of genius struck, the dead cow and revenge!
WE PLANNED our mission and scrambled to assemble the gear we needed: the Coleman lantern, a paddle, and fifty feet of rope. We reconvened and headed for the pontoon boat. We pushed off from the dock and moved up the cove at full throttle. We cruised to the mouth of the cove, the brilliant light of the lantern on the bow piercing the night.
When we reached our destination, Captain Lane St. John slowed to idle and turned the bow out. He shifted to reverse and started backing down on our prize. The lantern lit the scene. As we watched the dead cow come closer and closer, we moved with purpose, readied our rope, paddle in hand.
We stopped a few feet short of our objective, smirking and laughing. One boy made a noose of the rope and used the paddle to slip it into position around the dead cow's neck. Another cleated the other end of the rope to the boat. Our prize was now secure.
THROUGH THE night, we idled down the cove in the glow of the gas lantern. The trip seemed to take an hour, but finally, we reached our destination, the old bull's boat house. We pushed the dead cow into position, deep inside the boat slip, and then tied it securely to a post.
We eased away quietly at idle until well clear of the danger zone, then opened her up to full throttle until we were safe back at our home dock. The campfire was still burning low, but we dared not linger, after shaking hands and swearing an oath of secrecy, we departed for our homes.
After that night, we stayed clear of the old bull's property for some time. We never heard any rumors or accusations. We just laid low, whispering and laughing among ourselves about our sweet revenge.
For many years, I could not boat or walk by the old bull's property without a private smile, appearing unrestrained upon my face. On a cold winter day, a few years ago, when I knew no one was home at his cabin, I stopped and peered through the side window of the boathouse. To my surprise, on the inside wall was a small hand-painted sign, white with red letters. It read, "I don't know, but God knows."
For the misadventures of our youth, we repent. I hope that we are forgiven. However, maybe, just maybe, our Maker enjoyed our little prank too.