Creekbank Blog

The writing blog of Curt Iles and Creekbank Stories. Our mission: To connect hearts to God by using stories of encouragement and inspiration.

Monday, December 31, 2007

As we enter 2008, I'm thinking about how are spoken (or written words) can bless or curse. The next two blog entries tell of this.

Uncle Quincy’s Goose

(From Curt Iles's third book, Wind in the Pines.)

“He who guards his mouth and his tongue keeps himself from calamity” . -Proverbs 21:23

I’m writing this story while hiking on the Appalachian Trail. This morning I’m sitting in a hiker’s shelter on the side of a mountain. It is a mild mid-month May afternoon. The birds have been singing and so is my heart.

Yesterday, I walked all day without seeing one person. I saw chipmunks, spring wildflowers, and great mountain vistas… but no hikers. I heard voices sing all day: turkeys gobbling, the call of hawks, and the sounds of my panting climbing over two mountains… but I never heard a human voice.

Arriving at Deer Park Shelter right before dusk, no one was there. I had it all to myself… I could put my gear down wherever I pleased and do as I wished.
Walking alone all day gave me time to think… Many problems and tough situations began to bubble to the surface of my consciousness. Initially this troubled me… Here I am nearly 800 miles from home and I’ve brought along my burdens. Walking alone these problems began to untangle themselves and one by one were able to deposit them in their own little worry-proof compartment.
I recalled the Latin saying I have on my desk at work,
Solivator Ambulando -”
"The difficulty is solved by walking."

These difficulties are truly often solved by walking. Tough situations and challenges also seem to shrink down to reality… No longer do they seem mountain-sized but now appear as a simple easily climbed hill.
The quietness, the loneliness, the crisp mountain air, and the grand vistas have all conspired to clear out my mind… I’ve found that it often takes two to three days to reach this relaxed state.
One of my favorite verses, which I quote often, but sadly do not always live by, comes to mind, “…Be still and know that I am God…” (Psalms 46:10)

This walking time has surely been a time of fellowship with God… As I’ve walked, I have thought about quietness, the “friendly loneliness” of spending an extended time alone. After more than a day alone, it is even startling when speaking out loud to yourself.

This gift of human communication is a wonderful thing. But the corresponding trouble this ability to speak gets us in is not very wonderful or good. Walking along, several really funny stories concerning our tongues (and their misuse) come to me.
Solomon in his book of wisdom called Proverbs makes a statement,
“Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent.” (Chapter 17:28)

We’ve all had experiences where we learned the merits of keeping our mouths shut. It is a sad and true fact that words, once uttered, cannot be taken back.

You are probably familiar with the old story of the gossip who was confronted for spreading an untruth throughout the community. The offending “tale-bearer” apologized and volunteered to go back to everyone to whom she had told the lie.

The offended person, who was also very wise, took the gossip out on the front porch and tore open a tattered feather pillow. The wind blew the small downy feathers in every direction. Looking at the gossip, the wise person said, “Trying to track down everyone who has since heard your story is like trying to gather back all of these feathers is impossible.”

This “featherweight story” is a good thing for all of us to remember - Once our words are spoken, they are “recorded.”

I close with what is probably my favorite story on our words and the folly they can create:
My great-great uncle Quincy died before I was born. All that I knew of him came from his niece, my precious Grandma Pearl.

She loved telling stories of her mother’s family and their lives in the Cajun community of Oberlin. Mama Pearl had many good stories, but the one she loved telling best was how her Uncle Quincy escaped from Angola Prison by swimming on the back of a mule across the Mississippi River.

Mama’s beautiful blue eyes would sparkle as she told of his visit a few nights later to gather some items he needed. She related that was still dressed in his prison clothes after hopping a series of freight trains and car rides to get back home.

As I became older, it amazed me at how the Godliest person I’ve ever known - my grandma, could be so proud of her uncle who had escaped from prison. But she loved her family and was always glad to tell the story one more time.

She told this specific story about a goose hunt Uncle Quincy went on. He and two other men were hunting in the rice fields near Oberlin. They had an extremely successful hunt, shooting down many geese.

Laying out their collection of dead geese they were surprised to see that one of the birds had a large metal band on its leg. Closer scrutiny revealed the band had a number and instructions on how to forward this number to the National Wildlife Service.

A further count surprised them that they were one goose over the limit. A quick recount confirmed the fact they had one too many geese to be legal. They were not about to leave a goose behind, so they picked up their geese, tying their legs of the geese together and hoisted them over their shoulders.

Nearing the edge of the field and their vehicle, they decided to leave behind one of the geese at the fence corner. This would mean they would be right on the limit of geese. Their plan was to come back and get the lone goose if they didn’t encounter a game warden at their vehicle.

It was a good decision because a federal game warden was waiting for them in the bushes near their vehicle. Together the men laid their geese in a line for counting, placed their guns on the ground for inspection, and took their licenses out of their wallets. Federal game wardens are pretty picky and are not beholden to the local politics that state wardens must endure.

It took a while for the inspections and counting to take place. There just seemed to be need for a little small talk to make the time move quicker, so Uncle Quincy decided to liven up the conversation with this innocent remark, “You know one of those geese we killed had a metal band on its leg.”

(Picture above) A bird band from a wood duck I killed years ago. I've killed three ducks in my lifetime with bands. They were all banded in either Canada or the Dakotas. (You send in the band info for further information.

The federal game warden stood up from his inspection. It was evident he was very interested in Uncle Quincy’s statement. He asked, “Really, I’d like to see it and record the number for our study.”

(Reader, now I know you are probably getting ahead of me here, but I’m peddling as fast as I can!) The hunters and the game warden began to look for the goose with the metal band. After several attempts sorting through several dozen geese and finding no leg band, the warden looked up quizzically at Uncle Quincy.

Now, you already know what Uncle Quincy and his hunting buddies knew: the goose with the leg band was “hiding” back in the weeds at the fence corner.

Finally, after the four of them searched through the geese once more, the game warden’s stare met Uncle Quincy’s eyes. Uncle Quincy couldn’t think of but one thing to say,

“Well, I guess it must have fallen off between here and the blind.”

With that the game warden snorted disgustedly, abruptly stopped his inspection, and left without saying another word.

After the game warden got out of earshot, Uncle Quincy made a classic statement to his hunting partners,
“Well, they’ve never sent a man to the pen for keeping his mouth shut!”

I often think of Uncle Quincy’s goose when I get in a bind due to excessively running my mouth.
The wise writer of Proverbs said it well, “Where there is abundance of words, sin is not absent.”
Even James, the brother of Jesus said it so well, “If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.”
Jesus best summed it up:
“But I tell you that men will have to give account on the Day of Judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned."
-Matthew 12:36-37

It is good to remember that our words are recorded by those around us . . . And most importantly they are both heard, and “recorded” by the very ears of God.

The Proverbs reading plan:
Several times in the story above I have quoted from the wonderful book of Proverbs. It is full of short, wise sayings written especially to inform and educate young men and women.
I’d like to encourage you to read a chapter a day from this book of wisdom. Because of its’ length of thirty-one chapters, you can read the chapter that corresponds to the day of the month, reading through the book each month.

“Disregard that first message…”

The end of a year, and beginning of another, is a good time to reflect as well as look forward.

I want to share a funny story concerning the words we speak. It serves as a good reminder for 2008 that our words, once spoken, will either bring harm or blessing. And once spoken, they are out of the bag and cannot be pulled back in.

Any school principal knows that phone calls from about 3:30 PM to suppertime are never good. They are usually from angry parents who have just heard their child’s (one-sided) story of discipline, trouble, or a fight.

So as I checked the two messages on my home phone this particular evening about twenty years ago, I expected the worst—and that is what I got.

The first message, censored for your ears, loudly began, “Curt, this is Tommy. You’d better get the sheriff’s department out to your house because I’m coming to whip you. First of all, I’m going by that bus driver’s house and beat him first. Then I’m coming to get you!”

He angrily related some incident that had happened on the bus that afternoon and the corresponding action by the driver. As I erased the message (a terrible mistake) in frustration, my thought was, “What did I do in this to deserve a personal butt-whipping too?”

The next message, recorded about twenty minutes later, was from the same number. Once again, it was my friend Tommy. In a subdued voice, he said, “Curt, this is Tommy again. Uh, Curt, just disregard, ah, that first… message. I found out what really happened and it’s all OK.”
I quickly erased that message too. (My second major mistake. If I’d kept those two messages, I believe they would have brought me—and/or Tommy—some fame or money.)
But I’ve enjoyed telling this story over the years.

Here’s the thought as I enter 2008: What I say out loud can never be taken back.
That is why the Proverbs are so full of encouragements to guard our tongue.
Proverbs 10:19 “When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise.”
Proverbs 17:28 “Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent.”

Jesus’ earthly brother, James, also spoke of this, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.” (James 1:19)

Tommy’s story is a fine reminder that we cannot “erase” what has been said. (I bet he tried to figure out how to do that before sending the “disregard that first call” message.)

Here are two simple goals I have for 2008:
Carefully guard what I say.
Read a chapter daily of Proverbs. There are 31 chapters—one for every day of the month. By doing this for all of 2008, I’ll be pretty familiar with the wise words of Solomon and other writers. Maybe that will keep me from having to ask someone to “disregard that first message.”

Happy New Year in 2008!

Curt Iles

Saturday, December 22, 2007

O Christmas Tree!
This favorite story of readers comes from my second book, The Old House.

My next-door neighbor, Mitzi Foreman, walks through our Christmas tree field. It is a cold and clear Sunday afternoon three weeks before Christmas. We search through the area where last week she tagged her tree. But it is to no avail- We cannot find the tree with her tag on it. This is embarrassing because Mitzi is my neighbor and friend, and now I can’t find her tree. We talk as we continue looking and finally I tell her, “Well, maybe your tag blew off or it could be worse- maybe someone pulled it off.” All of the other nearby good-sized trees are taken.
My dad and I have learned to be prepared for situations like this in our Christmas tree business. We have several extra trees tagged just for such an occurrence as this. When we need a special tree, such as in a situation like this, we’ve got a backup plan. I show Mitzi a beautiful tall Leyland Cypress in the southeast corner of our field. Mitzi immediately loves it and instructs me to cut it. After I load it in her truck, she leaves a satisfied customer, and I am a very relieved salesman. Once again, I go back and look for her original tree, but no tag or large tree is visible anywhere.
Later that afternoon, my dad joins me and together we look for the missing Foreman tree. Then daddy spots it-- the rough-cut stump of a tree. Except this one has not been cut with the level clean cut of our bucksaw. It has a sharp angled cut probably done with a machete or brush hook. Now we know what happened to the Foreman tree- someone stole it.
This just mystifies me. Who in the world would steal a Christmas tree? That is pretty bad and low. I told Daddy that I just couldn’t imagine a family sitting there on Christmas morning, opening presents, and singing “Silent Night” around a stolen Christmas tree.
However, sadly, people will steal just about anything. In our camp gift shop, we have a minor problem with shoplifting. Ironically, the most stolen item are the W.W.J. D. bracelets. As you probably know, this stands for “What Would Jesus Do?” Well, I know this much- Jesus wouldn’t tell you to steal a bracelet– or for that matter, a Christmas tree.
What especially irks me about this stolen tree is how each year we give free trees to needy folks. All the “Grinch” who stole the tree would have needed to do was ask, and we’d been happy to help. Well, a fellow could drive himself crazy wondering about these kinds of things, or trying to figure out who the culprit was. I content myself with the fact as to how they must have needed the tree more than we did.
Then a few days later while in the front yard, I walk to our front door. Hanging from the Christmas wreath on the door is a scribbled note telling how someone had cut a tree during the day. Attached to the note, held there by a clothespin, is a twenty-dollar bill. Taking the note and money down, I kneel to look under our doormat. Sure enough, there is another one of our price tags, a ribbon, and another twenty dollars. Written on the price tag is a nice note wishing us a Merry Christmas.
Each year, daddy puts up a sign telling how we operate our tree business. I love his handwritten sign at the end of our road: “If we aren’t home, you can still get your tree. The saw is on the front porch. You can leave your tag, your name, and money by the front door. Now go do your thing.”
Believe it or not, this system has worked well over the years. We’ve found that when you put trust in people, they will usually come through in an honest way.
Once, we had several trees, out near the highway, stolen over the period of a week. We knew the thieves must be coming at night and slipping out to the trees which are between our house and the highway. It really bothered me and I told the boys that if they heard or saw any vehicles stopping on the road, to alert me.
One night just about 10:30 p.m., Clint and I saw the headlights of two vehicles leaving our driveway. We sprang into action and ran to the garage, backed out the truck, and took off in hot pursuit. We were really dressed for a fight– I had on my pajamas and Clint was in his boxers and a T-shirt. Driving fast to catch up with the fleeing vehicles, we knew we finally had the tree stealers caught red-handed!
We caught up with them at the intersection where Dry Creek’s only two highways intersect. The moment of truth was upon us. Our truck headlights illuminated the rear of both vehicles. There the culprits were- my mom in her van and my dad in his truck.
It seemed they’d left the Christmas tree field after dark to go to a basketball game. So they could ride together, they’d left one vehicle out by the trees. Clint and I both burst out laughing at our misadventure. We turned the truck around without even stopping them. Arriving back home, DeDe was waiting at the door. We told her our story and she asked, “Well, what would you boys have done if you’d caught up with the real thieves?”
Sheepishly, we looked at each other in our nightclothes and I replied, “I guess I would have taken off my house shoe and whipped them with it.”
We’ve had plenty of laughter with that story and we’ve also had fun with our tree farm. Through our tree business, many new friendships have begun. We’ve watched families of five come and look for hours, hunting the perfect tree. Then, I’ve seen men come at nine o’clock at night, park their truck at an angle so the headlights could illuminate the nearby rows, and hurriedly get out. You can tell they’ve been reluctantly sent by their wives to get a tree. They usually walk up to the first tree by the road and curtly say, “Cut that one.” Kneeling down with my saw, I always say, “Now, are you sure?” The reply is usually along the lines of, “Yeah, the old lady told me to get a tree and that one there will be plenty good.” Then as quickly as he drove up, this careful shopper is gone.
Then, there is just something about the human condition that makes us think that bigger is better. Our niche in the Christmas tree market has always been five to seven foot high trees. We very seldom grow one more than seven foot high. However, even though most houses and mobile homes have an eight-foot ceiling, everyone wants a nine-foot tree. It really is something to observe, but I guess it is human nature, or at least American nature, to think the bigger, the better. As an example, just look at our fast food places, where you now can “super size” everything.
With our Christmas trees, we’ve really had fun with children. The excitement of warmly dressed preschoolers running through the trees laughing and singing is enough to put anyone in the Christmas spirit. The fun of letting a five-year-old boy hold the other end of the saw as he “helps” me cut down a tree. As the tree falls over he loudly shouts, “Timmmbbbbeeer.” He’ll remember for the rest of his life how he “cut down that tree” during a Christmas season so many years ago.
One of my favorite experiences, illustrating how special a tree is to a young child, occurred about five years ago. A preschool class from East Beauregard School came to shop for a tree for their classroom. Several of the parents came and helped their child also select a tree for home. It was fun walking with them as they ran from one large tree to another, accompanied by our dogs.
After choosing and cutting four or five trees, the preschoolers loaded back on the bus. I put the trees in the back of my truck and began following the bus to school. About half way down my driveway, the bus suddenly came to an abrupt stop. Teacher Dianne Brown exited the bus and came back to me. She hurriedly told me that one little boy had begun to cry and shout, “I want my tree. That man is taking my tree. I want my tree right now!” It took a few minutes of careful explanation to convince him we were bringing his tree to school.
Yes, stolen Christmas trees could make you cynical, but the joy in the faces of children and their families cutting a tree on a cold late afternoon causes the theft to fade from my mind. The family of four who just left with their tree will decorate it tonight after supper. Everyone will join in and help as the Christmas season comes alive in their home.
The occasional person who takes advantage of us is greatly outnumbered by the folks who are as honest as the day is long. Our honor system works well because of this: Most people are good down in their hearts. In life we must decide whether people are either rascals, or that they are basically honest. There are plenty of examples of each belief, to see and use, to support either view. The important thing is the attitude which we choose to take on our view of mankind.
I recall other signs of a basic trust in our community: A turnip green patch along the highway with a crude lettered sign inviting people to pick all of the greens they need and leave their money in the mailbox.
Another special long-time example of trust in our community is found at Farmer’s Dairy. An empty butter dish serves as the bank for people who come throughout the day and night for a gallon of fresh thick milk. This honor system has been in use for years and Mr. Matt Farmer told me it has worked very well.

An old story relates how a wise man sat each day at the gate of his city. He would observe the coming and goings of the day. One day a young man, obviously a stranger, approached the city gate.
The traveler asked the old man, “What kind of town is this?” This wise old man, as men of wisdom often do, asked the traveler his own question: “Well, what kind of town did you come from?”
The young man began a long tirade against his former city. According to him, everyone was unkind, unfriendly, and took advantage of him.
After the young traveler ended his complaining, the wise man finally answered the original question, “Well son, this town is exactly like the one you came from.”
The young traveler immediately turned and continued down the road looking for a “good town.” Chances are he never found this good town, because he would not have recognized it even had he entered it.
Later the same day, a second traveler came to the city gates. He approached the wise man and asked the very same question as the first visitor, “Sir, what kind of town is this one?”
The wise man thoughtfully looked into the eyes of the young man and asked, “What kind of town did you come from?”
This second traveler began, “I come from a wonderful town. It’s where I grew up and the people there are very nice and friendly.”
Before the traveler could continue speaking, the old man interrupted him. He stated, “Well son, this town is exactly like your home town.”
It is true- In life we find exactly what we are looking for. Our attitude and outlook determines how we perceive the world around us.
Back in my field, I am standing beside the cut trunk of that stolen Christmas tree, I’m reminded of what Victor Frankl, who survived the Nazi concentration camps said,
“Every freedom can be taken from a man. But there is one freedom which no one can take from you- the choice of your attitude.”[1]
In life we can see every person as a potential Christmas tree thief, or we can see them as the person who’ll honestly cut their own tree and leave the money under the doormat. It is a choice, and the choice is ours to make.

I choose to believe the best in people and expect to see it best revealed at this Christmas season. Merry Christmas 2007 Curt and DeDe Iles

[1] Man’s Search For Meaning Victor Frankl copyright 1959

Monday, December 17, 2007

Christmas Jelly

Of all the Christmas memories and traditions, “Christmas Jelly” is one of my favorites. Each year I receive this special gift from a very special lady in my life. Before I share what Christmas jelly is, let me share about the special person who gives it to me each year.

Eleanor Andrews is my neighbor in Dry Creek. For all of my life she has lived in the same house along Highway 113. Her house is easy to spot across the highway from the camp. It has the prettiest yard in our community. Her beautiful garden, flowers, and shrubs are examples of her love of gardening.

But Mrs. Andrews is more than just my neighbor and a lover of flowers. She is also my all-time favorite teacher. Mrs. Andrews taught fifth grade at Dry Creek High School and later at East Beauregard High. She taught practically every young person in Dry Creek for a period of a quarter century.

Now Eleanor Andrews was from the "Old School." She was stern and took no gruff or lip off any student. Everything was rigid and "down the line" in her classroom. In her class there was no doubt that she was captain of the ship. She possessed a stare (made complete with her tongue tucked firmly in her cheek) that would stop a charging grizzly bear in its tracks.
Her reputation preceded her . . . And she was just as strict as the older kids on the bus had described her to be when I sat in her fifth grade class. But I also saw something else: Beneath that gruff exterior were warm smiling eyes. She loved watching students learn and leading young people to new knowledge. During that year, 1967, she became my favorite teacher. And now thirty years later, she still is.

Now let me get back to that Christmas jelly . . . Eleanor Andrews has been retired for many years and is much older and frailer than when she ruled the fifth grade at East Beauregard. Because of her health she doesn't venture out much anymore. She lives alone in her house surrounded by her flowers and memories of a life filled with teaching and touching lives.

Each year a few weeks before Christmas I receive a phone call from Mrs. Andrews. She tells me "to drop by her house." I know that the best Christmas present of the season is now complete- Christmas jelly is ready.

Before going I cut one of the Christmas trees from my farm. I've already tagged it weeks earlier. I have carefully chosen one that will meet her exacting standards. After loading this tree in my truck, I nervously drive to her home. I hope she will approve of my tree. Once again I feel as if I'm in the fifth grade waiting to hand in an important assignment.

As I enter her living room, she greets me with that special smile I've known over the years. Always when I'm in her presence she makes me feel as if I'm the most important person in the world- That's why she's always been my favorite teacher.

Into my arms she thrusts a basket of eight jars- all filled with homemade jelly. There are all of my favorites- muscadine, mayhall, even crabapple! Included are several jars of hot pepper jelly, and to top it all off, a Ziploc bag of chocolate “Martha Washington’s” sits on top of the basket.

I look at this assortment of homemade jelly and my mouth waters thinking about all the biscuits it will top off during the coming year. Oh, the joys of homemade jelly! As Mrs. Andrews happily examines her Christmas tree, she insists on paying for it. Laughing I say, “No way, the best deal I ever make each year is trading a tree for the best home- made jelly in Dry Creek.”

After we visit for a while, I leave with my arm load of jelly jars. As I get in my truck, I think about the art of giving. Emerson said it well when he stated, “The only true gift is a portion of yourself.” As I look at the colorful decorated jars of jelly, I'm once again reminded of what Christmas is truly about. It is all about giving- Giving of ourselves and sharing what we have. I'm so glad to live in a place where gifts such as Christmas jelly abound.

Friday, December 14, 2007

(Left) Ron Yule at Dry Creek Camp
Curt with Juanita Jordan
During my Saturday book signing at Author's Alley in DeRidder (1-3 PM) I will be joined by "fiddler extraordinaire" Ron Yule (Pictured above. He'll be signing copies of his fiddle book.) At 2 PM I'm going to read from my chapter on the Ten Mile House Dance and Ron will play some fiddle tunes. It should be fun! Spread the word to your friends.

On Thursday, Juanita Jordan (Pictured above) told me about The Wayfaring Stranger: "It's a 'darling book' and I loved it!" Her "review" meant as much to me as one from The New York Times! She described her favorite part of the book, "When Joe is in that fight and Amos pulls that big knife, I could just see Joe feeling for that pine knot club with his foot."

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

This is the first story from my first book. Seven years later, it is still one of my favorites. I read/tell it many times when I speak and it always touches people in the neatest way. It's a good story to hear at Christmas, the giving time of the year.
C. I.

The Evening Holler
I sit in the woods on a cold still October morning. This is my favorite time of year when the weather becomes cool and the sky is usually clear. As daybreak comes across Crooked Bayou swamp, it is so still and quiet.

A mile through the woods I hear a neighbor’s roosters crowing.
In another direction I hear my brother in law’s loud voice scolding a dog.
I’m always amazed at how sound carries so clearly and distinctly in the woods.

As it gets quiet again and I shift on my deer stand, a lone owl gives his eight note song. Soon he is joined by another sentinel way across the swamp. These two barred owls converse back and forth in their unique eight note call:
“Hoo hoo-hoo hoo, hoo hoo-hoo hoawww”

Always when I hear this owl I recall old-timers describing his call as,
“Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you-alllll?”
Listening to the dueling owls, I’m drawn back to one of my favorite stories of the settling of our community.

I call it the story of "The Evening Holler." My great grandparents, Frank and Dosia Iles, told me of this event. This unique call, a tradition going back to the pre-Civil War settling of the Dry Creek area, was a primitive means of communication among these early settlers.

The first white settlers in Dry Creek lived in the woods along the creeks and streams. They were surrounded by vast tracts of pine forests. This area of Southwestern Louisiana was a neutral strip claimed by both Spain and the United States. There was no law. Later on when there was law, the nearest officer was in Opelousas over seventy miles away. Indians, though friendly, stilled roamed the woods. Bears and mountain lions were common in the swamps.

Because these pioneers were homesteading tracts of land, they seldom built homes right next to each other. They were forced by necessity to depend on each other. So they developed an ingenious method of checking on the welfare of neighbors. Late in the evening at dusk, each man would stand in the yard or on the porch of his home. Just as the sun dropped behind the wooded horizon, the ritual would begin.

Each man would begin hollering his own individual yell. Each of the pioneers had his own unique hollering style- easily recognized by his own pitch and voice. The closest neighbor would answer back. He would be joined by the next neighbor down the creek. As the evening holler passed down through the woods, each man would then be assured as to the well-being of his neighbor as he heard an answering yell in return.

In spite of the distance between home places, the hollering carried for long distances. Remember, this was a time before televisions, air conditioners, or vehicles. There were fewer artificial sounds to drown out the evening noises. If you’ve ever really been out in the woods, you’ll understand what we mean when we call it “an eerie silence.”

My ancestors told me of how if a man did not hear the call of his neighbor, he would holler several more times at different intervals. If he still did not receive a reply, he'd go check on his neighbor. My great-grandmother told of seeing her father saddle up his horse to go check on a neighbor who did not answer. Even though things were usually fine at the neighbors, he went each time to double check. To him it was simply a matter of being a good neighbor. These early settlers took care of each other. The evening holler was kind of an early version of today’s Neighborhood Watch.

Sometimes when I'm enjoying the quietness of a fall sunset, I'll hear the owls begin calling to each other across the woods. Or in April, I'll listen to the whip-poor-wills as they answer each other with their own version of the evening holler. It's at times like this that I think about the evening holler and what it meant . . .

It reminds me of how our ancestors took care of each other. They truly considered a neighbor . . . a neighbor. In our modern busy crowded life, we seldom know our neighbors- much less check on their well-being. Even with all of our marvelous modern communication tools from telephones to fax machines to e-mail, we usually know much less about our neighbors than our ancestors did.

As I sit here thinking about these things and how much we’ve lost in "neighborliness.", my neighbor drives by in his truck. He honks as he sees me sitting on the porch. His truck is loaded with firewood. All fall and into winter, he cuts firewood for the widows and needy of our community. He's on his way with a load to give someone right now. Then the thought hits me: maybe the evening holler is not as dead an art as I think it is.

Then I recall another neighbor who daily checks on an elderly woman who lives alone. He makes time to take care of this person. Then I think of my parents who’ve always picked up the mail for another home-bound senior adult. I then remember the times, when after a house fire in our community, people have banded together to supply needed items and volunteer to help rebuild the home. I recall the time-honored Southern tradition of supplying food to families who've had a death.

As I think of each of these, and many more I could name, I realize how much good and caring there still is in people.

Yes, times have changed. We don't live in as close contact with our neighbors as we should. As humans we need to take ownership on the care of our neighbors. It is a decision that each of us can choose to do. It is a positive decision that many of my community neighbors have chosen to do. As I take time to really look, I still see the spirit of the evening holler alive and well in a small community I love called Dry Creek.

During this holiday season, I urge each of you to check on your neighbors, especially those that need a little help and care. Jesus said, "It is more blessed to give than to receive." What better time of the year to practice that than during the celebration of His birth!

"The Evening Holler" comes from my first book, Stories from the Creekbank. To learn more about it, and my additional five books, visit