Growing up on the Mississippi Delta

He Saw Catamounts A’Comin’


By —— Bio and Archives May 30, 2017

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After a just-right, late May rain gave my father’s young cotton crop a much-needed soaking, halting fieldwork on his Mississippi Delta farm, my boyhood best friend and mentor, Jaybird, offered to take my cousin Hunter and me fishing.

The night before, we boys pitched a tent in Jaybird’s yard, knowing the old black man, a master storyteller, would entertain us with breathtaking tales as we sat around the campfire.

I couldn’t help envying Hunter. Only fifteen, he was an athletic Adonis, well over six-feet tall, with what the girls called “come hither” cobalt blue eyes, perfect teeth that he often flashed in a devil-may-care smile, and thick, raven-black, curly hair.

On tiptoes, my ninety-pound-weakling frame barely reached five feet, I had over-sized lips (Jaybird called them dumpling coolers), front teeth the size of a horse’s that made my skinny, pimpled face look like a Studebaker grill, and “run thither” myopic bland eyes.

Hunter’s mother, Miss Lila, whose home was near ours, coddled him, let him sleep late every day, gave him money, bought him fine clothes, and assigned him no chores.

Miss Lena, my mother, bounced me out of bed at daylight, never gave me a cent I didn’t earn, and assigned chores that included feeding the chickens, gathering eggs, chopping the garden, mowing the yard, trimming hedges, and washing her car.

Late that afternoon, as we rigged fishing poles and dug earthworms from Jaybird’s compost pile, I tried to set aside my jealous thoughts about Hunter and enjoy myself, but I just couldn’t. Whenever I was around him, I felt inadequate, insignificant, un-athletic, and just plain ugly.

That night, after listening to Jaybird’s stories about ferocious catamounts, we boys crawled into the tent and lay down to sleep. Soon I heard Hunter’s rhythmic, restful breathing, while I lay wide-awake, cringing and trembling, certain one of those ferocious monster cats would enter the tent, claw me to shreds, drag my body away, and feast on it.

At dawn when I caught the appetizing scent of fried eggs, bacon, cathead biscuits, and Jaybird’s strong coffee, I headed for the breakfast table, but Hunter continued snoozing.

“Guess I’ll have to drag Hunter out of bed,” Jaybird said, after setting a plate of food and a mug of coffee before me.

Knowing that Hunter would sip his coffee as soon as he sat down, I grabbed a hot cayenne pepper from a bowl of them Jaybird kept on the table, sliced it open and rubbed the rim of his mug with it.

Sure enough, half-asleep, Hunter reached for the mug. One sip and he catapulted in capsaicin catalepsy toward the door, his eyes no longer cobalt but cherry red and bulging from the sockets, as if staring at the Grim Reaper. In one fluid movement, he vaulted toward the door and bolted homeward.

“I’ll swunnee, what you reckon’s wrong with him?” Jaybird asked.

Delighting in my diabolic deed, I said, “From that terrified look on his face, I reckon he saw catamounts a’comin’.”



Jimmy Reed -- Bio and Archives | Comments

Jimmy Reed (.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)) is an Oxford, Mississippi resident, Ole Miss alumnus, Army veteran, former Mississippi Delta cotton farmer, and retired college teacher. His collection of short stories is available via Squarebooks.com, telephone 662-236-2262.

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