Granddaughter Annelle Ralph Hawkins Huggins has located many of the original columns saved by family members and readers over the years and additional ones in the holdings of the Tennessee State Library and Archives. She has chosen 91 representative columns for this compilation. Ms. Huggins has been an academic librarian for 41 years and currently serves as Associate Professor / Associate Dean of University Libraries at the University of Memphis. She continues to seek additional writings by her grandfather and to transcribe all findings into electronic format to be "handed down for posterity."
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BILLY THE GOAT'S TALES OF TWO TOWNSSelected Columns, 1949-1976
By Luther David Ralph
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2011 Luther David Ralph
All right reserved.
Chapter OneSeptember 8, 1949 Goodlettsville Gazette
Tales of Two Towns By Billy the Goat
This column will start in Shackle Island and eventually wind up in Goodlettsville.
You who don't know, shackle island is located in Sumner County at the exact spot where the buffalo trail through Long Hollow crosses Drake's Creek. And, that by the way, is the same spot the Yankee gunboat came to during the Civil War. We will tell more about the gunboat in a later issue. Goodlettsville, as you know, is the opposite terminus of said trail.
To make this column more readable, we will endeavor to mingle news of the past as handed down for posterity with amusing events of today.
We make no claim that Shackle Island is any better place to live than elsewhere, but do say its inhabitants are all good people. Not one of them would stoop to take anything that did not belong to him unless it was something he could eat on the spot and thereby destroy the evidence.
If anyone thinks that the Shackle Islander's appetite is being misrepresented, there is ample proof that this very summer a fellow, who is one hundred per cent closer kin to the writer of this column than twin brothers, went over to his orchard and picked a bushel of Roman Beauty apples. A rain ran him home minus the apples. When he went back, the apples were gone, but the tow sack they were in was neatly folded right where he left it. The taker, of course, could not eat the sack.
It has been a half century since an individual in this neck of the woods was arrested for stealing. Fifty odd years ago in the northern suburbs of Shackle Island, Sheriff Tobe Dodd called a man out from the breakfast table and arrested him for stealing a horse. Waiting on the porch, the sheriff allowed the fellow to go back in the house to change shoes. Inside the fellow put on his wife's shoes also her dress and sunbonnet. The milk pail in hand he stepped out by the sheriff with a polite, "Good morning, Mr. Dodd," and sauntered off across the cow pasture to a thicket where he mounted the horse and rode away.
The next morning at his owner's barn many miles away the horse was nickering for his rations.
Shackle Island has long been a baseball center. Now we have the school ground lighted and play ball most every night. The other night a record play was made. The girl's team played against the older men. Joe Harrison, the caretaker of the school, who had learned to play by watching the children, was on second. Norman Carruthers was on third. Joe saw a chance to come home and he came leaving Norman still on third.
The fellow who takes the cake for being honest is Tom Williams, who moved here years ago.
A short while ago Tom discovered in a twinkling of an eye that he had turned out to be an honest man. He was in Moncrief's Carpenter Shop stooped over picking up nails off the floor. Suddenly, he raised up and said to the man in charge, "Is it all right for me to pick up some of those nails?" "I suppose it is," was the laconic reply, "you have been doing it for the last twenty years and this is the first time you ever asked."
This column will use no one's name except that of a friend. However, one good friend, who has spent a lot of his money for cigars and half of his allotted time on earth at Shackle Island, has issued an ultimatum that his name must not appear in any paper. This fellow loudly proclaims the fact that he is the smartest man in Goodlettsville. Last week he told the company he is with that his brain is worth $500.00 a minute to them. He even suggested that when he passes on they take his brain and picture and prominently display them in their establishment so that the "Billy Goats" that work there can see them every day.
It is obvious this smart man who doesn't want his name used has been reading the hand writing on the wall.
Just for fun let's see how many can identify this particular handwriting before the next issue of this paper.
Address your answers to Billy the Goat care of the GOODLETTSVILLE GAZETTE.
September 22, 1949 Goodlettsville Gazette
Tales of Two Towns By Billy the Goat
Shackle Island has long been noted for its beautiful women and ugly men. They held an "ugliest man" contest this summer and about 25 men qualified in less than two minutes. However, Uncle Dick McQuick is reported to have been the ugliest man, with the exception of one, that ever lived near here.
It is said that back in covered wagon days Uncle Dick went to Nashville and was walking along the sidewalk while his brother drove the wagon along the street. A man approached him, looked him over and said, "My friend, if you will find me an uglier man in Nashville than you are I'll give you a dollar." "Poke your head out of the wagon, brother Mike," called out Uncle Dick. Mike did so and the man handed over the dollar and walked away.
Last week information was sought regarding the last name of Uncle Sam. Since then we have contacted Ed Lanier of Shackle Island, feeling sure he would know and he did, the name is Goodman. He says Germany twice learned that he is a good man physically after twice twisting the old gentleman's long coat tail a little too hard. And that most all of the rest of Europe knows that at heart, he is a good man because they get their eats from his Marshall plan, without mentioning some other countries that are aware of the fact.
You ask, of course, how this fellow knows so much about Uncle Sam. This is why: after living in 46 of the 48 states, he came here and married into a family that already had one teller of tall tales, who thought he could out talk Ed, too. He began by telling of a predicament he once got into, and how easily he talked his way out.
Whereupon Ed told of the time back in 1918 he, as a civilian shoemaker, was in Uncle Sam's army and of how he and two hundred soldiers were celebrating a little too much in front of the nation's capitol. They were arrested by the police and were about to be carted off to jail. At that crucial moment, Ed said, "Uncle Sam himself walked out into the street, informed the police we were his boys and ordered them to release us and let us go on back to camp nearby." So being the only one on record that ever saw the old gentleman in person, we are compelled to consider his advice.
Kangaroo Court will convene at McCoin's blacksmith shop, September 31 to try and decide which it is—lather or sand, mixed with the Shackle Island News items.
Back to Goodlettsville with the story of George Lovett who grew up between two corn rows, and came over on the "March flower" from Sumner County. Although George sometimes associates with John Barleycorn he is a very likable fellow, and often longs for things on the farm. Last week he bought a jennet, patched up a stall and put a small tub in the rickety manger to feed her in. That night, after being out with John, he came home and hid his bottle in the manger as usual. Next morning the bottle was broken by an ear of corn, and the contents spilled into the tub and drunk up by the jennet. A little later the jennet began braying and kicking off planks like a legion of hornets had invaded her privacy. George ran and opened the stable door to see and out came the jennet staggering and stumbling, rolling and tumbling, bucking and snorting and shedding tears as big as hail stones all at the same time.
The neighbors all pronounced it hydrophobia, then someone found the broken bottle and smelled the odor—that told the tale.
George looked at the cavorting jennet a minute then said half to himself and half to the crowd, "Well, sir, if I look and act like that when I am drunk I'll never touch another drop." Here is hoping he sticks to it.
Moral: If the stuff can make a monkey out of an old lazy jennet, why condemn Darwin—a lot of others besides the jennet are still up a tree.
November 17, 1949 Goodlettsville Gazette
Tales of Two Towns By Billy the Goat
November 11, 1949. Here is a thought for Sumner Countians who read this paper—has Sumner County degenerated in the last thirty-one years? Davidson County has a school holiday on Armistice Day, Sumner does not. Surely Davidson County children are not so much smarter they can get by with one day less. There is simply something wrong up the creek, for Sumner celebrated on that day in 1918. The big whistle on Shackle Island roller mill was pulled wide open and tied down while W. A. Dorris the fireman, stood by and fed four foot beech wood by the cord into the maw of that giant furnace. Men in the fields and housewives in the kitchen in several Tennessee counties and even in Kentucky, although they had no radios, knew the war was over because the mouth piece of the famous Belle of Sumner flour stayed on the air all day that day. Could it be that the Supt. of Schools, a veteran of that war himself, thinks Sumner county boys did not do enough to be remembered?
* * *
Well, Paul Revere had nothing on one of these boys from Shackle Island. He was passing through Gallatin on the train and learned the train was to be held there for two hours. He went to a livery stable, hired a horse and buggy and drove the twelve miles home, spent an hour there then drove back and caught the train. His mother who lived on a hill heard the hoof beats when they topped the first hill out of Gallatin and told the family she knew it was Walton for no one else could drive a horse that way. Dan Patch made a record of 1.55 minutes for a mile. Walton Ralph made a record of 2.50 minutes on a twenty-four mile stretch. So let's observe Armistice Day in Sumner County if for no other reason than to honor that unknown horse.
* * *
Many years ago G. T. Moore lived on and operated a farm on Long Hollow Pike. On this farm Uncle Pent Isabel raised two or three acres of cabbage every year for the Nashville market. Good money was made in those days raising cabbage, but the cabbage worms were a thing that had to be reckoned with if any money was to be made. One day Uncle Pent was in town with a load of cabbage. While there a man sold him a box of sure fire insecticide, guaranteed to kill every worm in the patch, for one dollar. The box said, "Don't open until ready to use. Directions inside." Next morning Uncle Pent carried the box to the cabbage patch and opened it, inside was two wooden blocks with numbers on them. The directions said, "Place insect on block No.1 then hit him hard with block No.2."
* * *
Here is a human nature story depicting the personalities of a number of people with diplomacy panning out in the end. Cousin Gecrepy Ann, a fine old spinster lady, lived back across the country and twice a year she would stray out over on the pike and visit all the other cousins, staying a week or more at each place. She always came at turnip sallet time in the Spring and hog killing time in the Fall, and because all you had to do was set and listen to learn all the news, everybody was glad to have her come, except one old gentleman who had a large family to feed and felt she would eat him out of house and home. One morning this fellow, along with some others, was on his way to help a nephew strip tobacco. It being his unlucky day he met the old lady going to his home to spend a week. Well, all day he worried over her coming. Finally the nephew offered to tell him for fifty cents how to get rid of her without offending her at all. He readily agreed to pay it. "Go home and make her welcome," instructed the nephew, "then sit down and tell her the biggest tale you can think of, then tell her it is a secret and that she is the only one you have told. She will leave to go elsewhere to tell it." But the old fellow, like Washington, balked at telling a lie. "Don't tell her a lie," he was advised, "tell her you have just learned that $10,000 has been placed in the Goodlettsville Bank for you and that all you have to do is get a little piece of paper signed and the money is all yours. No need to tell her the piece of paper is a check for that amount made out in your favor and signed by the man that put the money there." The next morning the old gentle man came to work with a smile on his face, pulled a half dollar out of his pocket and handed it to the nephew with these words, "Here, you rascal, is your money, she left this morning before I left home to come to work."
December 8, 1949 Goodlettsville Gazette
Tales of Two Towns By Billy the Goat
The writer of this column has been accused many times of living in the past. My accuser is a college boy who is president of his class and also a columnist for the college paper. All I have to say about it is; would life be worth living if we didn't have memories of the past to mingle with present day problems? I remember going to school but don't remember but one thing I learned. I think of that one thing always at this time of the year. It had so much truth in it I'm passing it on to you.
"Come little leaf" said the wind one day. "Come over the meadow with me and play. Put on your garments of silver and gold. Winter has come and the days grow cold."
On second thought I remember getting acquainted with three bears in McGuffey's old fourth reader. However I was not the one that ate up the little bear's porridge and slept in his bed; that was a little girl who lived in that old reader.
Now here is the amazing thing about this story, I never once thought I would ever hear of those three bears again, but last week just fifty years after meeting those bears, I received through the mail a gold plated fountain pen, also a ball pointed pen of the same caliber, and a fine gold handled pencil, so constructed all I have to do is turn a little gadget at the bottom of it and it sharpens itself. A card in the box said, "From the Smokey Mountain Bears to Billy the Goat."
One more thought, I remember, too, the story of three goats in that old reader, Little, Big and Middlesized Billy Goat Gruff who crossed over the bridge, the Troll lived under. Now what I am wondering is which one of the three goats these bears think I am. I wish to express my sincere thanks to these denizens of the mountains for the nice gift on the fiftieth anniversary of our friendship.
A few quotations from familiar figures about town: Preston Swift reading the Gazette, "He came out and got in a Plymouth car." "Hat" on her way to the store, being eyed as usual by a bunch of loafers on the business house porch, "All you all do is just set down there and set." And now a boy who has never been to school and can't read but who is smarter than you would think he is. "What does that sign say?" asked the truck driver, pointing to the stop sign as he stopped for Old Hickory Boulevard. "Don't hit me," replied High Pockets.
This column has discussed the smartest, the ugliest and the dumbest man, now here is a story of a fellow that we don't know what category to put him under. The boys that worked at Tullahoma before they left for the army, tell of coming in from a picture show with Matt Williamson one cold night while working there. In the large room filled with beds where they all slept, they found Joe Ayers in a bed sound asleep. Matt threw the cover back and slipping his hands under Joe lifted him from the bed and laid him down on the floor. Then crawled in the bed himself and covered up. Joe says it is not so because he did not have any fight while working in Tullahoma but says print it anyway. Matt and the boys say it is the truth. Now with such conflicting evidence, the only logical conclusion we can come to, is that someone in that room, deciding he didn't want to be disturbed that night by a big fight, put Joe back in bed and pulled the cover over him before frost bite woke him up. Any way we nominate Joe the soundest sleeper since Rip Van Winkle.
January 12, 1950 Goodlettsville Gazette
Tales of Two Towns By Billy the Goat
Christmas Eve at Shackle Island forty years ago; don't hold your breath, this one won't be about you.
On this particular night fifty or more men and boys had gathered at the two stores waiting for a Roman Candle battle to start, or some other excitement that never failed to transpire on these occasions. Awhile after dark two men in an open buggy drove up from toward Hendersonville depot and stopped in front of Worsham's store.
In the back end of the buggy was a gallon jug full of white corn whiskey. As the bright incandescent porch light glared down upon the jug, three boys, hardly old enough to vote, suddenly became very thirsty and it wasn't for water either. One of the men got out of the buggy and came in the store. Although this fellow drank liquor like drinking water, he was a fine man as long as you played fair with him, and not many ever dared play any other way with him, for that would have been like bearding a wildcat's den.
The problem that faced the boys was how to get the whiskey without getting caught. They finally decided to slip out back of the store where it was dark and steal along the bank of the creek to a vantage point past the lights, then step out and snatch the jug as the buggy came by.
Moving along on their mission, stealthily, one of them came to a big log (he thought). Raising his foot up high to step over the log he came down but there was no log there; it was the bank of the creek and down he went and landed in a big hole of water about ten feet below. An act of Providence no doubt for that broke up the whiskey stealing and neither of the boys made drunkards, but Gee! that water was cold—I'm telling you. I am glad to add that the owner of the whiskey, now around eighty is the strongest prohibitionist in Sumner County.
* * *
We congratulate our good friend M. P. Frey for drawing the $150 at Moncrief's Saturday afternoon. Several others drew large baskets of groceries at the various stores in Goodlettsville that day. One such ten dollar basket of groceries was drawn by the writer, Billy the Goat, but somehow the word got out. Monday after Christmas there were twenty here for dinner. Some of them drove over two hundred miles to get here but they made it by twelve o'clock.
We all had a Merry Christmas, so who cares for "spenses" when they don't cost anything.
* * *
How many of you have seen the latest thing in writing material? When we older ones went to school we wrote the multiplication table on a slate, then wet our finger (by licking—ED.) and rubbed it out after the teacher graded it, then came tablets and now note book paper.
Excerpted from BILLY THE GOAT'S TALES OF TWO TOWNS by Luther David Ralph Copyright © 2011 by Luther David Ralph. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
ContentsA LETTER HOME....................7
A DAUGHTER'S GIFT....................201
MEMORIES OF GRANDDADDY....................203
LUTHER DAVID RALPH, AKA "BILLY THE GOAT"....................206