James E Collum-Story of A Hero

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
True story from the past. Written April 14, 2016

Submitted: June 19, 2017

A A A | A A A

Submitted: June 19, 2017



James E Collum

Story Of A Hero

by faye collum fairley


James E Collum is the son of Ernest Earl Collum Sr and Lula Mae Truitt.  He was born on a cold day in December in 1943.  When he was just barely eighteen, James met his soul mate.  Laverne Hennis lived about a mile away, and James was smitten.  They lived in a little one horse town called Brooklyn, MS.  They enjoyed riding around, going to ball games, and going to the little café in town where young folks hang out.

James and Laverne’s story takes place in South Mississippi, where there are more than 5,000 acres of land called Black Creek Wilderness.  This wilderness is found within the Desoto National Forest.  Dissecting this large area is a flowing body of water called Black Creek, This creek covers a 21 mile stretch of the most beautiful scenic areas to be witnessed anywhere.  The banks of the creek which are more than 20 feet high in places are lined with vegetation.  Numerous species of flora can be found along the creek banks in this wilderness.  Black Creek is stained a deep caramel color in places, this comes from an acid given off from decaying vegetation.  This wilderness offers an exhilarating journey second to none.  The wilderness is not violated by motor vehicles.  It remains as pure and innocent as God made it in the beginning. 

Many tourists travel this way for the unforgettable opportunity to not only float down this beautiful creek in canoes or kayaks, but also to hike, camp, or look for rare species of flora and animal life.  The scenic beauty and invigorating activities offered by the wilderness attract thousands of people.  Most of these people will never know that this same peaceful body of water has a “Jekyll and Hyde” personality.

The natives of the area know of another part of black creek that visitors and politicians probably never encountered.  The old timers of the area will also tell you that certain places in this creek have a dark almost black color.  This is indicative of places in this creek that are so deep, some have not been measured.  These natives will gladly regale you with stories they can personally attest to.  These stories are not all filled with beauty, peace, tranquility, and lovely flowers.  Some are laced with fear and horror, the likes of which you may have never seen!

When torrential rain has been falling for several days whether it is in the area, or north of the area, this beautiful peaceful Black Creek transforms into a monster unlike any Hollywood could conjure up.  When this water leaves its banks, and travels out toward civilization, it is an angry relentless ogre with a hunger for anything or anyone in its path.

In 1964, the area endured constant rain for a few days.  As the water climbed up the banks, the undercurrent turned and churned with a vengeance.  The middle of the creek was lined with white foam.  Like a wild rabid animal, it foamed and roared searching for victims. 

James Collum and Laverne Hennis were riding around in his red and white ford coupe.  James had just painted his little coupe, and was happy to finally get to drive it around.  No, it was not a professional job; he did it himself with spray paint.

They had just picked up their best friends, Wesley Breland and Beverly Slade.  As they climbed into the back seat, Beverly asked if they might go down to the creek, because she had never been close to the snarling ravenous creek water. These girls were only sixteen, but they had lived in this area all their lives.  They had heard all the macabre stories associated with this deadly body of water. 

James drove to a place where they could walk relatively easily down to the bank of the creek.  They were barefoot (as most people were in the summertime), Beverly, holding Wesley’s hand, stepped toward the bank, saying she wanted to put her foot in the water.  Wesley did not have time to brace himself, and they both plunged into the muddy depths of this repugnant muddy water.Laverne was closer, so she reached out her hand to them.  Her foot slipped, and in she went as well! 

The current was like strong arms pulling them along; the girls were screaming, and Wesley was trying to get to anything he could put his hands on to try and save them.  He was also holding to both girls.  The relentless demanding current carried the three down the creek at a very fast speed.  James was still on the bank, and saw some overhanging limbs not far from the endangered trio.  He quickly jumped in, fought the current with all the adrenaline he could summon, and guided the trio into the overhanging limbs.  With no thought of moccasins, or gators, they eagerly grabbed onto the limbs.  The girls were crying, and the boys were trying to calm them down with supportive words that they didn’t believe themselves.

James then decided he would go back to the house, and find a way to rescue them.  With more strength than before, he battled the current in the opposite direction to get back on the other side of this monstrous flood water.  He finally made it to the other side, and with unknown strength, he climbed his way back to the car, and left in a hurry to find help.  No one was home!  He couldn’t believe it!  He was on his own!  With prayers under his breath, he found a long rope, and an inflated inner tube.  Off he went back to the creek bank…..prayers that he would make it before it’s too late!!

He thought “I hope the limb won’t break”, “I hope they don’t see a snake”,“I hope they can hold on”….over and over in his mind, these thoughts repeated as a recorded message.  James was trying to work out in his mind how this could be done, and prayed for enough strength to do it. 

The three victims of this flood water were hanging on to the limb with all the strength they had.  They also had many silent prayers….  “Please don’t let this limb break.”, “Please let James make it in time”…..  “Please let him find help” ……Please keep all the snakes away” The fast turning muddy water was churning, and carrying debris down the current.  Some of the debris made its way toward them, but thankfully, the undercurrent turned it before it hit them.  God was in control!

When James returned, he shouted to them that everything would soon be ok.  He was possibly trying to convince himself.  Under his breath, the prayers continued that he could rescue his fiancé and their friends.  He tied one end of the long rope to a large tree on the bank.  The other end he fastened to the inflated inner tube.  Then without any second thoughts, he went off into the treacherous water to rescue the love of his life.  He battled the current with an unprecedented persistence.  With his mighty diligence, he made his way to the overhanging limb.  He didn’t have to convince Laverne to let go of the limb, and take the inner tube.  This time going back across should be easier, with both of them pushing against the current, and pulling on the rope as well.

How wonderful it felt to her to place her feet back on solid land!  They had been hanging on the limb less than an hour, but it seemed like much longer.  James left her on the bank, and turned immediately to go back for Beverly.  She willingly grasped the inner tube.  James was beginning to feel his exhaustion, but he knew he had to follow through to get all of them out of the water and away from danger.  With both girls safely on the bank, he turned quickly for Wesley.  He was grateful that Wesley helped so much going back, because his strength was almost gone!  As the two young men stepped onto the land, the girls grabbed onto them, declaring how thankful they were to be safe.

This frightening episode was more than 50 years ago.  What happened to the couples?, Wesley and Beverly married, and are still together; James and Laverne are also still together.  Both couples still cling to each other like they did in the ghastly dangers of the flood waters so many years ago.  I am a firm believer that nothing is a coincidence.  Whatever happens, is the will of God.  Did that horror so many years ago make these four people stronger?  Was it intended to show them how much they needed each other?

When we look at James and Laverne as they walk hand in hand across the field, we see an old gray haired lady and an old bald man walking together for support.  What they see in each other, is totally different than our vision. When Laverne looks at James, she still sees the young man from years ago with his strong arms and good looks.  She remembers  vividly as he struggled back out of the dreadful muddy deep, that she would certainly be with her hero for the rest of her life.

When James looks at Laverne, he still sees that beautiful sixteen year old barefoot girl who was depending on him to rescue her from certain death.  Knowing of her faith in him  was the source of his inner strength then, and it is still his strength today.


© Copyright 2019 faye collum fairley. All rights reserved.

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