“Big Bad John”
When I was a boy blackberry jam was a real treat at our house. Spread inside one of Mama’s big hot biscuits, accompanied by a cup of black Luzzianne coffee, I had a breakfast worth sitting down to eat. Of course my teacher at St. John Elementary School wouldn’t agree, but didn’t have to know!
“How many had a glass of milk for breakfast?” they would ask each morning. My hand would reach toward the ceiling. ‘”Who had grits, eggs, and butter?” Again my hand would go up! I knew all the right answers to their questions; at least I knew what they wanted to hear. I would get a silver or gold star by my name every morning. God forgave me long ago for not being truthful.
If there was anything that made my kind of breakfast better it was to have some fatback fried to a crispy brown and served hot from the frying pan. How good!
Before blackberries were ripe and ready to pick, Mama would get her empty mason fruit jars from their resting place and wash and scald them real clean. I still have a few of those old jars. They are green in color and have a heavy glass lid. A red rubber band would be applied, then the glass lid, and a spring-like clamp to seal and hold the lid in place. I wonder how many reading this have ever seen one?
Just as soon as wild blackberries began to ripen, children and adults would go in search of the berries to be used for making jam, preserves, and blackberry cobbler. Just thinking about blackberry cobbler is enough to start your mouth to watering. How good!
Berries could be found along rural roadsides, ditch banks, and pasture lands. They did best when growing in rich damp soils.”
Mr. Sam Anderson owned and operated a small milk dairy near the village where I grew up. Mr. Anderson’s pastureland, where his herd of milk cows grazed, was bordered by Swift Creek. At one spot along the creek bank, blackberries grew profusely. It was there that this writer, and other village folk went yearly to pick blackberries. We had a problem! Mr. Anderson owned a large jersey bull that roamed the pasture with the herd of milk cows. That was one mean bull! The Anderson boys referred to him as “Big Bad John!” When John was loose in the pasture, no one wanted to risk an encounter with him. During the blackberry season, folk could go by the Anderson house (still standing) and inquire if John was shut up in his stall or loose in the pasture. If folk wanted to pick berries, John would remain shut in his stall. After picking berries one was required to return to the Anderson house and share them with Mr. Anderson’s wife. We called her Miss Daisy.
Along a portion of the creek that flowed through the pasture were some of my favorite fishing spots. There were times when I would dare go there for fishing. If I heard the cows nearby, I would start looking for a tree to climb! No, I never had an encounter with the bull, but you can know that I was always aware of the possibility. That was one mean cow! There carne a time when Mr. Anderson decided that John was too dangerous to keep around. Word spread through the village that the bull was to be killed and butchered. That was not an uncommon event in those days. On a given Saturday morning, a crowd had gathered at the Anderson house to watch Big Bad John meet his fate. I was there! It was sort of sad to watch the old giant as he dashed from his stall when the door was opened. He ran around in the corral a time or two then stopped and began to paw at the soft earth under his feet. He snorted and bellowed as if daring anyone to step inside the barnyard.
The sound of the rifle echoed in the ears of the spectators, and Big Bad John lay on the ground! His big eyes still open as if he was seeing green pastures afar off.
They are all gone but the memories remain, memories of the man, his boys and Big Bad John!
Mr. Shepard is a native of Darlington, S.C., and a current resident of Piedmont, S.C. and author of “Mill Town Boy” and “Bruised”. He has been sharing his tales of growing up in Darlington for decades, and we are delighted to share them each week.