Becoming a man in the nineteenth century
A Smokey Mountain Christmas
Sam was a fourteen year old boy, trying his best to grow into his responsibilities as a man. He is the eldest son of Irish immigrants, with eight younger brothers and sisters. Sam’s life had been fairly normal for the son of a farmer growing up in the foothills of the Smokey Mountains of Eastern Tennessee in 1880. Sam’s parents had come from Ireland with their parents when they were small children. They both grew up in the mountains of Eastern Tennessee. Sam attended school when his Pa didn’t need his help on the farm. He had completed sixth grade and could read well enough. He had learned to write his name and could write well enough to get by and he had learned to cipher his numbers. His Ma would not let him quit school before the sixth grade, even though it was becoming increasingly difficult for his Pa to take care of the farm by his self. She always said that a boy that couldn’t read, write and cipher some was destined to be a no account and she wasn’t having a son of hers become a no account.
Will Carter, Sam’s father, was idolized by his son. Will was the best hunter and the best shot for miles around. He never went to a Turkey Shoot that he didn’t bring the turkey home. He always managed to win enough money from the side bets to bring home a little surprise for Ma and the kids. Sam had been allowed to go hunting and to the Turkey Shoots with his Pa for the last couple of years. Will had taught Sam how to track game and how to shoot a rifle. Sam was given an old Winchester single shot .40 caliber rifle. That rifle was the only store bought thing Sam had ever owned. His Ma made all of his clothes and they ate what they could grow or hunt. Money was always tight and ammunition was scarce, so, when he was given three shells he was expected to bring back three animals for the supper table.
Sam loved to spend time with his Pa, whether it was in the woods hunting or fishing for trout in the nearby streams, or working at his side on the farm. Sam was learning how to be a man at the elbow of a proud and caring father. Sam had earned the respect of his brothers and sisters as well. He was quick to take responsibility for the family when his Pa went up into the mountains to cut trees for the saw mill over in Knoxville. With pride in her heart, his Ma was depending more and more on this young man to help take care of the family.
He was becoming as good a hunter as his father. The hard work on the farm was turning him into a strapping young man. Sam took the responsibility of being the man of the house very seriously on the outside, but, when his Pa left to cut trees for the saw mill he desperately missed him. Although he would never admit it to anyone, he felt all alone without his Pa. He knew that no matter what happened, he could always turn to his Pa for help. Will needed the money especially bad this year, the farm had not done well and the fall harvest was not going to be enough to carry them through the winter. He had left for the logging camp the first of November with plans to be home for Thanksgiving. On the surface, Sam showed eagerness in his role of provider for the family, but, secretly he was terrified of the responsibility.
A week before Thanksgiving, the Tinker, a traveling salesman that rode the mountains of Appalachia selling pots, pans, knives and other items not readily available to the hill folks, delivered a letter from Will. The letter informed his wife, Mary, that there was a lot of work for him and that he wouldn’t be home for Thanksgiving, but, promised to be back by Christmas. Sam felt as bad as his mother did over this news, but tried his best not to show it.
The snow had blanketed the mountains and the wild game became scarce, but, Sam managed to shoot a big Tom turkey for Thanksgiving. With what food they had stored in the food cellar and the big turkey, Sam’s mother had prepared a nice meal for Thanksgiving. Sam sat sullenly eating his meal, as he glanced at his Pa’s empty chair from time to time.
Mary knew her eldest son missed his Pa. She had to be careful what she said to him though, she didn’t want him to feel like he wasn’t holding up his end or not filling his father’s shoes. She was proud of Sam and, in her own subtle ways, she let him know that. Sam was still a boy caught between being a child and becoming a man. He had inherited his father’s pride and would never let it show that he was worried about his Pa or that he missed him and couldn’t take care of the family in his Pa’s absence.
The week before Christmas brought a heavy snowfall across the mountains. Sam and his family had been snowed in their cabin for days. Sam had managed to shovel a path out to the barn so he could feed and water the animals. The snow was too deep to go hunting or check his snares for fresh game. Sam spent most of his time staring out the window. He told his younger brothers that he was watching for the snow to let up, so, he could go hunting. His mother knew what he was really looking for. She was worried about her husband as much as Sam was. She felt so bad for Sam, but, knew she could never console him for fear that his pride would be hurt.
Sam woke up on Christmas Eve morning expecting to see his Pa. When he climbed down from the loft, his Ma was sitting at the table alone. Sam could see the redness in her eyes and knew that she had been crying. He looked out the window in hopes of seeing his Pa coming down the trail. He didn’t see his Pa, but, he was pleased to see that the snow had stopped. Surely his Pa would make it home today. He had never spent a Christmas without him and wasn’t looking forward to it. He ate a small breakfast and rose from the table to go tend to the animals. When he got to the door, he turned to see his Ma wiping her cheek. He told his Ma that as soon as the animals were taken care of, he was going to saddle ole Red and head out to find Pa. Mary couldn’t respond right away and finally with a lump in her throat she told him that she would pack him some food.
Sam and ole Red took off about mid-morning. The snow was deep and the going was slow, but, Sam kept Red moving. Sam had only been to the mountain that his Pa was timbering once before, but, he knew every trail for miles about. He was guessing which trail his Pa had taken. Sam had been in the saddle for hours, his feet and hands were frozen. He decided to stop and build a fire and to stomp some circulation back into his feet. After thawing his hands and feet, he was back in the saddle. Dusk would be coming soon and, still, no sign of his Pa, or any other traveler for that matter.
Sam started looking for a place to make camp for the night. He had spent many nights out in the woods with his Pa and knew how to take care of himself. He found a good spot beside a big rock that looked like it had rolled down the mountain a hundred years ago. He was out collecting some fire wood, when he first smelled it. It was wood smoke, but, Sam didn’t know of any cabins nearby. He started following the scent of the fire; it was taking him down the mountain. He noticed the brush and the small trees that had been bent or broken off. He continued down the steep slope. Off in the distance he saw something dark lying among a pile of rocks. The closer he got the more he was sure that it was a horse, it was Pa’s horse.
Sam slid the rest of the way down the mountain. Forgetting the smell of fire, he walked over to the dead horse. The horse had a broken leg and a bullet hole between its eyes. Sam knew what had happened, but, where was his Pa? Sam started to panic. Was his Pa still alive? He got another whiff of the smoke. He followed the smell another fifty yards, or so, when he saw what looked like a body lying next to a smoldering fire. He yelled for his Pa, but, got no response from the body next to the fire. As he approached the fire, he heard a soft moan coming from the body. He pulled the blanket off of the man and, with relief, he saw his Pa’s eyes flutter open.
Will’s horse had slipped on an icy rock and tumbled down the mountain dragging Will with him. Will had a broken leg and a fever, but, he was alive. Sam built up the fire and retrieved ole Red. He got his father something to eat and made him as comfortable as he could. By the time Will had thawed out and eaten, Sam had a couple small limbs cut so that he could put his Pa’s leg in a splint.
The next morning, he helped his Pa get on ole Red and they headed for their home and the family. Sam had to lead Red back down off the mountain. The snow was still deep and the going was still slow, but, Sam had a glow in his heart because he was bringing his Ma a Christmas present, his Pa.
A couple miles from their cabin, they found Will’s pack mule foraging for something to eat along the trail. Sam caught it and they both rode the rest of the way home. As they drew within sight of the cabin, the cabin door flew open and the whole family came out to greet them. Sam had shot a small deer earlier that morning and was looking forward to Christmas dinner with his family.
Will was glad that they had found the mule. He had bought everyone Christmas presents for the first time in their lives and had the presents packed on the mule. After what Sam had done for him, he couldn’t wait to give his son the new Winchester 30-30 rifle. It was a Christmas the whole family would remember, especially Sam and his parents, for, that was the year Sam became a man.