Furley and the Black Bear Story
The old man settled himself in a rocking chair in the middle of the room. He was eighty-two yesterday he told us, as he pulled a pipe from the pocket of his bibbed overalls; and struck a match on the sole of his shoe; puffing heavily on the pipe to get it going. His wispy tuffs of gray hair stuck out from under a tattered straw hat, and he wore a blue plaid shirt to complete the look of an old and sun tanned farmer.
“There were about twenty of us from the literary class attending Mr. Jacob Livingood’s story telling session that morning. We gathered in the barn at Mr. Livingood’s country home. He had moved to Moore County some twenty years ago, from Mount Airy; ‘At the insistin’ of his youngest daughter.’
The barn, an old weathered wooden structure, had been converted into sort of a theater of sort’s for him to accommodate students who came to hear him. He was not only a gifted speaker; but a well known published author of fables; and folk lore. He'd told us a couple of stories and now it was time to hear one more.
“I reckon the best place to start is at the beginin’; least that’s what I been told,” he grinned as he blew a puff of smoke into the air.
“Today, I’m gonna tell yall about a man named Furley Lawhorn. Now, Furley lived a long time ago; he was a gown man long before I was knee-high to a grasshopper; so ya know it was a good deal of time back.” He stopped to take another puff from his pipe before continuing his story.
“Old Furley lived way up on ‘Possum Creek; near Frog’s Corner, on the Appalachian Trail. He had himself a wife by the name of Prudence; everybody just called her Pruddie for short; and they had four young’ens, named Lester; Farrell; Hortence, and Beatrice, she bein’ the youngest. She went by Bea for short; ‘course they never thought of a good way to shorten Hortence’s name.”
Laughter erupted from the group, and Mr. Jacob; as he’d asked to be called, seemed ready for our response; pausing briefly.
“Now life was hard for folks back in them days; farmers had to plow acres of crop land with an old mule pulling a plow; led by hand. Furley thought more of that old mule; than he did Pruddie some said.
He was overheard tellin’ a friend that Pruddie cooked a pretty fine meal; but she couldn’t pull a plow from sun up to dusk like old Bart did; and he weren’t near as cantankerous as she was either. He went on to tell the man that Pruddie was his wife, but Bart was his livelihood; and he sure hoped God didn’t ever ask him to choose which one to keep around, ‘cause he’d be hard put to make that decision.“Yep, Life was hard back then; no bout a doubt it.”
Mr. Jacob chuckled at his on backwards way of saying the last phrase. The room laughed with him, as he no doubt expected us to.
“It was long about fall; when most the crops had already come in; Furley knew he’d have to be thinkin’ about doing some huntin’ to stock up the cellar with meat for the coming winter. He decided he’d take Lester, his oldest boy with him to hunt some game. Farrell was old enough to go to, but he felt it best if he stayed home and took care of the women folk.
Pruddie and the girls packed up some provisions for Furley and Lester to eat for three or four days and off they went into the woods. It was still early enough that they should be able to get a bear if they were lucky; and maybe a couple of deer and some small game.”
I remember thinking that I was grateful not to have lived in a time with no grocery stores to go to and have to rely on hunting to survive; especially bear hunting.
They’d been out about two days when they came across a bear trail, and spotted some fresh paw prints along the bank of a stream that flowed down the mountainside.
Furley told Lester to walk along behind him away; and keep his eyes peeled for anything coming from up behind ‘em; meanwhile, he’d go on up ahead a piece to see if he could spot the bear who’d made the prints they saw.
They hadn’t parted more than a few minutes when Furley heard a gun fire. He took off back down the path to find Lester; hopin’ he’d got a bear. He come around a bend in the path and saw Lester runnin ‘and a big black bear only a few feet behind him. About that time, Lester tripped and fell; and Furley raised his rifle up to try and get a shot at the bear before it reached his boy. He aimed and fired; but the gun jammed on him. Furley threw his gun down and ran straight for the big old bear; jumping on his back like a rodeo cowboy on the back of a bull!
That bear slung Furley 'round ever which way; tryin' to shake him loose, but Furley got a handful of fur in each hand; under old bears neck; then wrapped his legs tight as he could around the bear's body. I speculate the two of 'em made quite a sight that day up in the woods. Lester was froze to the ground; watching that bear and his daddy wrestle in front of him. The bear was makin' a fierce bunch of noise; snortin' and growlin' ; while Furley was a hoopin' and hollerin' something to Lester, that he couldn't quite make out.
The bearhad his mouth wide open; showing a row of long sharp teeth; flies all around his head, and slobber bein' shook all over the place; seemed like it was more detrermined than ever to git Furley off him so he could make quick supper outta him. I reckon if Furley had slipped and come off; well, him and Lester would'a added 'nough fat for the bear to make it for the winter's hybernation months.
At that moment Mr. Jacob decided it would be a good time to take a ten minute break; and let us wonder what happened with Furley, Lester and the bear. We couldn’t believe he would leave us in suspense; but knowing the storyteller that he was, I guess it made perfect sense to him. His wife of sixty years, Maude, had set up a table with home madewalnut oatmeal cookies and ice cold lemon aid.As as good the cookies were; I was anxious to get back to the story telling. After a few minutes Mr. Jacob took his seat back in the rocking chair and adjusted his straw hat to his liking. His pipe still lit, he waited for all of us to sit back down for the rest of the story.
“Alright, where was I now.” Knowing full well where he left off with the story.
“The bear was about to get Lester and Furley jumped on its back.” A guy in the second row said.
“Right, right you are young man. Ok, so Furley’s a yellin’ at Lester to get his gun and shoot the bear. Lester did what his daddy told him to do and grabbed his gun from the ground; but with all the commotion going on between his daddy and the bear, he hollered at Furley that he was scared to shoot.
“I don’t wanna hit you instead of the bear daddy!” Lester yelled.
“Well, I reckon one of us needs some relief here boy; now shoot the damn bear or me one!” Farley screamed as he continued to wrestle with the bear.
The bear went back down on his all fours; then stood up again, and just about had Furley shook off his back when Lester fired his rifle. For a second he didn’t know which one he had hit; but was relieved when he saw the bear go on its side as his daddy rolling onto the ground.
After Furley caught his breath a bit; and more 'n likly changed his britches; the two of 'em set about skinin' the old bear and dressing the meat to carry back home.
"I reckon your mama would be proud of you boy; you got your first bear and got her a new rug for the cabin."
“I can’t wait to tell her what you done daddy; jumping on that bears back was one of the bravest things I ever seen a man do!”
Son, I think maybe we’ll keep that part of the story jest between you and me; might be my hide she’ll be lining the floor with if she hears ‘bout me climbing on that bear! To tell ya the truth of the matter; I was tryin’ to get ahead of that bear to get to your gun; I reckon if I hadn’t tripped on a tree root; I’d a never been on his back to begin with.
That winter, every time they ate some of that old black bear; Furley would look over to Lester and give him a wink of the eye; and a slow grin would come of both their faces.
Prudie would look at both of them; wondering what in the Sam hill was so funny.
"You two look like a fox caught in the henhouse, with feathers sickin' out his mouth. What'sso all fired funny a 'tween the two of ya's?"
“Nothin’ mama Prudie; me and Lester jest thinkin’ what a fine cook you are, that’s all.”
Lester never did know what which story was true that day andwhich onewasn’t; but after old Furley was dead and gone; Lester told it the way he saw it. His daddy risked his life and rode that bear for all he was worth that day in the woods; and that’s all there was to it; far as he was concerned.
Mr. Jacob told us several stories that day; and one of these days I’ll get around to telling the others; maybe even the one about the ghost Indian chief and his wolf spirit guide. But for now, it’s time for a break.