By Chris Ellis
For The Register-Herald
I will never forget his stories. I replay them in my mind in bright, brilliant-colored memories of images I created for the words he spoke. I can see the black snake living in the rafters of the general store protecting the shelves of corn meal and flour from the mice that the shop owner so desperately despised. I can feel the cold waters of the Cooley Hole on my skin when I visualize the town kids jumping in feet first on a hot July afternoon after their chores were completed. I have never visited the general store or the creek of his childhood stories but I know them well.
One of his favorite stories to tell was of a pet beagle and their shared passion for chasing rabbits. My grandfather would set the scene of a brushy, briery place where the ground was soft and damp and very little sunlight was allowed to enter. It was a creek bottom thicket not far from the farm that was scattered with a few open areas where trees were stumped long ago for timber. He would tell of how his dog was such a fine hunter, that all my grandfather had to do was sit on an old stump and wait for the beagle to circle back a fleeing rabbit to him. He recalled the sound of the beagle’s bark most vividly; a high-pitched squeal told him the rabbit was in sight of the hound while a low bawl meant the rabbit’s scent was filling the beagle’s nose. They were a team and there wasn’t a rabbit safe if they set their sights on him. As a young child, I recall listening to the story and wishing so badly I was along on their hunt.
This past week I was invited to join a group of hunters in Greenbrier County on a late-season rabbit hunt. I was anxious to attend, as it had been several years since I had the opportunity to hunt rabbits. The morning was rainy and dreary as we walked the old, over-grown fields dotted with thorn apple trees. Brush piles and fence rows were hunted and we took an occasional rabbit. The terrain was similar to rabbit hunts of my past and I was enjoying my time afield and being in the presence of well-trained gun dogs.
Shortly after noon, the sun’s rays lit the farm and all afield were happy to take in the warmth after the chilly morning. Following the sounds of beagles in pursuit of a rabbit, I began to notice a change in the terrain. The rabbit had led us to a creek bottom thicket that was scattered with a few open areas where trees were stumped long ago for timber. As I swung the gun barrel toward the flash of fur in the brush, the report of my shotgun filled the damp air and echoed across the bottom. I reached down to retrieve the rabbit next to an old stump and recalled my grandfather’s story. This time, I didn’t need to recall the bright, brilliant-colored memories from my mind. There was no need; they were right there in front of me in living color. I placed the rabbit in my vest and quietly gave thanks to my grandfather and for his stories. This time, I took him hunting with me.