~ Billy Ingram ~
His parents were William T. (“Bill”) and Jewell Davis Ingram. Billy, who now prefers to be called Bill (“it sounds more grownup”), began a career in the U. S. Navy in the early 1950s, served during the Korean war and much of the Vietnam war. He retired as a Chief Petty Officer in 1971. Subsequently he was in police work, serving as the chief of police in Boiling Springs and Lake Lure, North Carolina, and Glenrock, Wyoming. He currently lives in Lawndale, N. C.
Courtesy Bill Ingram
People say it is haunted, this we didn’t know,
But the Old Possum Man had sworn it was so.
Across the trestle five boys did amble,
Risking their lives, willing to gamble.
That October night was both crisp and clear.
Three boys were emboldened, without any fear.
The yellow moon of Fall illuminated a ghost.
that turned out to be—just an old fence post.
Two boys backed out and wouldn’t journey further.
One wet his pants, the other cried out— “Mother!!”
Three sojourned on, despite the spooky night,
All hollered out, “We won’t quit this fight!!”
Camping above the Cut afforded a great view,
Just in case they had to bid this place adieu.
Spinning ghost tales, jockeying for position,
when our good buddy Norris let a gaseous emission.
He thought it was funny, we being brotherly.
To our dismay, the wind was blowing southerly.
Still on the north side, he continued to grin.
I about let him have one, alongside his chin.
We didn’t see any ghost on that moonlit night,
but we all had fun without any fight.
We found our other brothers still hanging around.
We made up a good story that left them spellbound.
Cut: The space where a ridge has been sliced in two so that a train will pass through the ridge instead of having to climb up a steep grade.
Author’s note: This is another story in the lives of our group that grew up together in Cliffside, a town now only in memories of the ones that grew up there. I wrote this poem because most of the present generation will never know how even simple things were fun.
I first felt the fear in forty nine.
Outweighed and bloodied, but I didn’t whine.
Another confrontation happened in the summer.
He swung at my head, and that was a bummer.
In fifty one I was growing fast,
But I needed more time, if I were to last.
I visited a man on Railroad Street.
He taught me how to jab, and dance with my feet.
I sought him out one night by whipping his brother.
Like a Bull he came charging, with no fear of another.
He made a mistake with his big roundhouse.
I stepped inside, as quick as a mouse.
Placing two left jabs to his bibulous nose,
I threw a right cross to his eye that quickly will close.
He reached in his pocket and drew a small knife.
My cousin said to drop it, or fear for your life.
He ran across the bridge toward Academy Street.
All I could see was the back of his feet.
Never again did he choose me to fight,
And on my approach the bully took flight.
The muscadines were a dark purple light,
high in the oak, above the river so bright.
Now empty hulls—hit the water with a plop,
when a voice hollered out, “Here comes your Pop.”
With a Silver Star here and a Bronze Star there,
medals, medals, everywhere.
How dare he return from the Germanic land,
just when the boy thought he was the MAN.
“Oh! well, said the boy, as he descended the tree,
Maybe he’ll look down and see that it’s me.”
Up to the Mill Shack, dead on the run,
to see the sergeant that defeated the Hun.
The shades were all drawn, the lights were all out.
The war was all over, there wasn’t a doubt.
The boy turns away, from the laughter and glee.
He returns to the river, and climbs up the tree.
Down by the creek stands a ramshackle shack,
Inhabited solely by a crippled old black.
Robbed of his youth, knees grown together,
His hair was snow white and skin resembled leather.
Wise in his thinking on how he would eat,
Employed me one day to find him some meat.
Being strong and agile, as a young man,
I inquired what he wanted, and to give me his plan.
He explained with few words, the game that he sought.
A possum he wanted, that I hadn’t caught.
I found a huge oak that was marked by the critter.
I knew it was huge, but I’m not a quitter.
In the fork of the oak, down in it’s den
Not aware of my presence or how it would end.
I took a split stick—Just like I was taught.
Twisted the hair, and the possum was caught.
The possum played dead, as they usually do;
Emptied its bowels, until it was through.
If one doesn’t think that possum feces smell,
Tell them they’re wrong, I know very well.
I delivered the possum to the crippled old man.
He offered to pay me when I stuck out my hand.
His grip was surprising for a man of his years.
I didn’t want any money because I saw his tears.
I suppose by now the old man has gone,
To join our father on the heavenly throne.
Maybe his knees will support him once more.
Maybe we’ll meet again on that faraway shore.
Authors note: This is an actual event that happened on the creek that flows into second broad river approximately 200 yards below the dam in Cliffside. The cabin has gone now along with the footbridge that crossed the creek.
You appeared in the spring of my life,
a man already on Earth longer than most,
but this I did not know.
You were the one that taught me the ways,
of the Hare, the Fox and Crow.
I left you in the summer of my life,
still not enough of your wisdom in my head.
How was I to know? — Korea, Vietnam, a boy
in man’s clothing, determined to be dead.
Now, as I approach the autumn of my life,
almost ten years since you died.
You told me yourself that Mother Nature
has never lied.
I miss you OLD TIMER and someday I want to be,
just half the grandfather—that you were to me.
The boat lay awaiting, a sturdy new craft,
belonged to P. Beason, with hardly a draft.
At Jim’s Cabin that day, we set sail for the Sea.
Red, The Dummy, and of course, there was Me.
Off came the lock, with hardly a snap,
Red looked at Dummy and said “Where is the map?”
Down the Broad River without any plan,
what the hell thought I, we’ll live off the land.
Shoals ahead and Dummy can’t speak,
compounding the problem, we’ve developed a leak.
Down rapids we raced at a very fast pace,
Red laughing, Dummy crying, and me losing face.
The craft is finished but does not sink,
as it floats silently down toward the Sea.
“Sink it!”, I said—to my good buddy, Red.
“A ship, it’s not worthy to be.”
P. Beason is mad.
He goes to my dad.
Compensation, he demands on the spot.
I’m happy my Dad, you didn’t think it so bad.
but why can’t I sit on the Pot?
Author’s note: This is a story that happened when we were very young. Our objective was to reach the Santee Swamp in South Carolina and then go on to Charleston. The term Dummy was applied incorrectly; deaf mutes were called that at that time. Actually, he was a good buddy of ours. Moral: Build your own boat.
Boys will be boys, someone once said.
On this day in time, I was badly misled.
Harry was older and should have known, “Right?”
When I got home, I looked such a fright.
Whe he was all finished, with the pot round my head,
I looked like a scalped settler, and wished I was dead.
Some bugler we bought for a dollar that day,
I blamed the barber, and mom said, “No Way!”
My dad arrived home, all armed with a stick,
about three foot long and two inches thick.
I journeyed once more to the old barber shop,
didn’t go by Harrys, and never even stopped.
Amid guffaws I entered, and sit on the bench.
It was smoky inside, and there was a stench.
Mill hands in overalls, awaiting their turn,
spitting their tobacco in an old copper urn.
One said he walked sideways, his was so heavy.
Another said his width stopped a leak in the levee.
Another named his “Old Faithful,” after the geyser.
Pick gave me a nice cut, and I left—a lot wiser.
Bugler: A brand of tobacco
Pick: Nickname of the barber
Author’s note: This is a true story and one of many memories shared with my cousins. Harry [Ingram, Jr.] really is only one year older than me but I looked to him for (oops) leadership causing me great consternation.
“The Marble Shooter”
On the first day of school, the boy ran away.
On the second day of school, the boy came to stay.
On the third day of school, he couldn’t sit down,
so he shot a game of marbles,on the old school ground.
On the fourth day of school, it was obvious to him,
there was no way to compete–with a boy named Tim.
On the fifth day of school, one kid had objected,
so to Tim’s big fists, the kid was subjected.
On the sixth day of school, he made up his mind
He had better learn math, or be left far behind.
On the seventh day of school, all the kids had been broke.
Tim had a hundred marbles in an old brown poke.
MORAL OF THIS STORY: DON’T PLAY MARBLES WITH ANYONE USING A STEEL.
POKE: A paper sack
STEEL: A weapon of mass destruction against glass marbles
On his back, eyes watching the cumulus form,
shapes of things that usually proceed a storm.
“What is this?” he said as ships came into view.
Ships belong down here in a sea of ocean blue.
Battleships and Destroyers, they cannot fly,
across this universe and otherwise azure sky.
Look how slowly and carefully they creep,
searching for a port and harbor thats deep.
“I will close my eyes until they are gone”, said he.
but still they remained for the young boy to see.
This has to be a mirage, the boy then surmised,
but shortly thereafter, popped up another fleet of five.
The cumulus turned into gray warships of two,
for the lad who dreamed of wearing the blue.
Magellan, Cook, and Perry, all heroes of the deep,
would remain in his mind forever even in his sleep.
He dreamed of ladies that would welcome him so,
on paradise islands with their absence of snow.
They appeared before him swaying with flair,
though troubled by puberty, he didn’t dare.
Early one morning, I think it was May,
My cousins and I snuck out for the day.
By the Ruppe place we ran, at a very slow lope,
Then we observed—This dangling short rope.
This first story I’m telling could be a fable.
The previous tenant expired, according to Mabel
In self-executions, the rope cannot be rotten,
So he fell to the bottom, like a big bale of cotton.
We vacated this spot and quickly we ran,
For this turn of events, there wasn’t a plan.
We were not cowards, on this we didn’t dwell,
So we ran like the wind and an African Gazelle.
My cousins and I, being adventurous souls,
On down the path, to the river we strolled.
Although well-hidden in Kudzu and Pines,
A strange contraption appeared, all covered with vines.
To describe such a thing was impossible for us,
As it looked as if someone, had left in a rush.
There were uneaten sandwiches, all left at the site.
Could this be the evidence of a very hurried flight?
We sprinted back home to find out this mystery.
Grandpa looked funny, and wouldn’t reveal any history.
He said, “You didn’t see anything boys, —am I not right?”
We all then agreed—We had no dog in that fight.
Kudzu: A Type of vine planted to control erosion.
Ruppe Place: Most homes or farms in the rural South are called “places.”
Strange Contraption: Moonshine Still
“Shining The Rail”
There was a custom in this town,
That wasn’t meant to be world renowned.
It was called “just shining the rail.”
There were times the men were bold
With the stories that they told.
They all hung out together,
Especially in fair weather,
Just laughing, talking—and shining the rail.
A gathering place for all who cared
To shoot the breeze and fill the air,
With stories and yarns, some beyond belief,
Of conquests, real or imagined, and sometimes grief.
This was all part of shining the rail.
Ladies off shift and strutting toward homes,
No obscenities were heard, just a few moans.
A whistle here and a whistle there,
It sounded like quail were everywhere.
This was the best thing about shining the rail.
The trick to not falling from the rail,
Was to hook your feet and center your tail.
Once a man fell when partaking of wine,
But due to his stupor, it wasn’t his time.
Men simply went back to shining the rail.
We gather now each year and the passage of time
Will erase our generation of all that did shine.
Never again will we gather downtown,
To spread the stories and just hang around.
It was called “just shining the rail.”
This was written both for the actual participants of shining the rail and for people of our generation that wasn’t aware of the custom that is now called “Hanging Out.”
The custom of Shining the rails was started by males sitting on the protective railings surrounding the Memorial Building in Cliffside, until the demolition of the building sometime in 1970 or thereabouts.
Credit: To my little brother Gene, for stanza #3. He was a well-known rail-shiner.
- The Bully
- The Soldier
- The Opossum
- Old Timer
- The Buccaneers
- The Haircut
- The Marble Shooter
- The Dreamer
- Two Mysteries
- Shining the Rail