Friday, March 23, 2012

Those Were the Days 
by Dr. Rhodes Holliman

My second cousin, Dr. Rhodes Holliman continues his touching memoir of his childhood in rural Fayette County, Alabama in the 1930s.  Rhodes, along with his father, Cecil Rhodes Holliman, and his niece, Glenda Norris, has done much to preserve Holliman family history. - GNH

"Hunting was my passion.  A great uncle named Eura Carter lived in southern Fayette County near Patton’s Chapel and very close to the Sipsey River.  He had a fox terrier named ‘Beans’ that was the finest squirrel dog that ever put a nose to the ground.  

Beans was a silent tracker.  He did not bark until he had the squirrel treed and then would bark one time.  You had to keep Beans in sight because if you did not hear his solo bark, you could lose him and he would hold a squirrel up a tree for hours.  He was never a house pet.  The only time he ever showed any friendly emotion was when we came out of the house with a shotgun and indicated that we were going hunting.  Then he was bundle of energy leading the way."

Below, young Rhodes Holliman grew up in Birmingham, Alabama, but looked forward to summer days and school holidays in the country side of West Alabama.

"In those days the virgin timber in the Sipsey Bottoms was composed of giant gum, water oak, beech, hickory and other trees that grew 100 plus feet tall and produced a canopy so dense that sunlight could not reach the forest floor except in the dead of winter.  There was very little undergrowth and you could walk through the forest without being encumbered by thickets of briars, brush and saplings.  It was in this pristine wilderness that I first went hunting at age 4 with my Dad, Cecil Rhodes Holliman, Uncle Eura and Beans.

Beans trotted along ahead, nose to the ground and presently he barked, and we saw him.  If you couldn’t see the squirrel, you just got down on your knees and looked up Beans’ nose and there was the quarry!  If the squirrel moved, Beans would move, always keeping his nose pointing dead on target.  Well, Beans was pointing, Dad was loading his shotgun and I was standing under the tree looking straight up.  There was a tremendous ‘BANG’, a thrashing in the tree top, and the squirrel fell directly on my head.  Luckily, the squirrel was DOA (dead on arrival) and did not bite or claw me. 

From that moment on, I was hooked to squirrel hunting and my question arose immediately, ‘when can I have a gun?’ Such a question today would probably instill a sense of horror and fear in a city bred parent but, ‘in the good old days’, a conservative father, reared on a farm, would give this question some serious consideration.  I had to wait until I was 6 years old and learn hunter safety and be strong enough to carry a firearm.  

At 6, I became the happiest child in the Sipsey Swamps with my new .410 single barrel while Dad carried the ammunition.  Beans would find the squirrel, Dad would stand behind me and hand me a shell and another squirrel would ‘bite the dust’.  That gun produced a mighty kick for a 6 year old but the harvest it produced offset the pain and bruises."
Left to right, Cecil Rhodes Holliman, Jim Holliman, Dr. Rhodes Holliman and Elizabeth Baker Holliman (widow of James Monroe Holliman).  Rocking in front is Belzy Anne Blakeney Baker, mother of Elizabeth.  This picture was made ca. 1955.

"In the days of the Great Depression, squirrel meat was a staple source of protein in Fayette County and many other rural areas of the South.  We would par-boil the squirrel first --then fry them up or cook them to make squirrel dumplings.  Yum!  I learned quickly that the hunter is responsible for cleaning his harvest and Uncle Eura was a master teacher of the techniques for skinning squirrel.  Any coon hounds standing around would be happy to eat the raw squirrel hides, hair and all, in one gulp!"

Glenda Norris, a niece of Dr. Rhodes Holliman and daughter of Cecile Eugenia Holliman Youngblood, poses on the porch of her ancestor, Thomas Blakeney's dog trot home in Newtonville, Alabama in 2006.  The home still stands serving as a reminder of life in the 19th Century Deep South.

"There was much sadness when Beans departed this life.  I continued to hunt squirrels with hounds but none of them could ever match the skill of Beans.  After a while I would just go into the woods without a hound and find a good spot near a beech or hickory mast. I would look for a squirrel den in a hollow tree and there I would wait, sitting very still, watching for movement.  

Using this technique at only 14 years of age brought me a bounty of 6 squirrels from one giant red oak den.  I would shoot and the squirrel would hit the ground.  Each time I would mark the spot but not move and wait for the next one to appear. This kind of hunting took a lot of patience and perseverance especially for a young boy. As I grew older, night time coon and possum hunting were added to my list of favorite things to do down by the Sipsey in Fayette County, Alabama."

 Next Posting, more on life in rural Alabama in an earlier generation....

1 comment:

  1. My name is Sandra R. Royal, my great grandparents were Isaac H. and Ann Holliman, I am trying to find out if there is any connection to the Hollimans in Isle of wight County, Virginia.My email: , would love to hear from you.