'Wide Meadows' - The political fox

Tuesday, November 13, 2001

Editor's note: This is an excerpt from Jean Bell Mosley's book "Wide Meadows" that was first published in 1960.

Last time: Getting ready for the political rally

The governor spoke first, being very vehement about his party's stand. Then the representative spoke, being even more vehement, but touching on a local subject: "You all now, of course, that we are trying to pass a bill establishing a national park in the hills out west of here. I understand that this region is one of the best fox-hunting territories in the state, and it's going to be better, for the conservation men are going to release more foxes out there soon. But I just want you to know that if such a bill is passed -- and I'm for it 100 percent -- it does not mean that fox hunting is forbidden, for we all know that fox hunting is that honorable sport where nothing is killed."

There were muffled sounds of agreement, and the representative quickly ended his speech. Then the county candidates were introduced, and each spoke briefly. When Daddy got up, Mom reached down and caught hold of a small hand on either side of her. I looked up for encouragement, but all I could see was the cold, glassy stare of the fox.

"Most of you know," Daddy began, "that this is my first venture in politics, that is, as a candidate. Of course, I have always followed closely the administration of our government and have voiced my approval or disapproval through our great American privilege of the vote.

"Whenever a person decides to run for office, for some reason he is behooved to go into his past and explain his actions from the time he broke the window in the little red schoolhouse up to when he missed church last week. Before I got up here tonight I was about to start explaining some of my past actions, too. I'm glad I didn't. When you go about explaining, it makes folks think there's reason for explaining. You all know me, or most of you do. You know I'm running for sheriff of this county and that it's the sheriff's duty to prevent breaches of the peace, and if you think I'm suitable for that, I'd appreciate your vote."

There was lots of clapping and Mama's eyes were soft and glittery when Dad sat down. She was proud of him. No bowing, scraping, sniveling politician here! He'd probably lose the election, but he was steadfast in his convictions. He'd done no wrong and he refused to be on the defensive.

No use in explaining

It looked bad. Of course, some of the opposition had been there when the man from the tannery had spoken. What more could they want? A fox killer! So his wife could put on airs! Three girls coming on, too. Take three more foxes to deck them out!

Mom said Dad was right when he got back to Aunt Grace's. No use going around explaining. If you past reputation wouldn't hold up, then you didn't deserve a high office.

"Oh, Myrtle," Aunt Grace said. "You're putting politics on too high a plane. Past reputation, my eye! Why, let a high-powered orator get a hold of 'em and they can tear past reputations to shreds."

"Not our folks," Mom said staunchly. But she looked worried when Mrs. Clayton canceled her order for a Thanksgiving turkey and Mrs. Ritter called and said she couldn't serve on the Ladies Aid Committee of which Mom was chairman. Grandpa and Dad went out fox hunting several times, but there wasn't anyone else out, they reported.

"Awful dry in the woods anyway," they said, making excuses.

At the family council held around the breakfast, dinner and supper tables, with Uncle Hayden and Uncle Ed called in for the urban angle, we discussed Dad's situation.

"It seems to me, Wilson, it would be a smart thing to do to tell them how come you killed the fox. No one would blame a person for killing a lame fox when the dogs were on him. Humane thing to do," Uncle Hayden summed up.

Dad was adamant, though. The race for sheriff had become secondary to him. He wanted to know if these neighbors of his, whom he had helped to wrestle logs for barn building, worked with all night in the fields to get up the hay before a rain, taken over chores for when sickness abounded, would turn against him just because he hadn't explained.

"Well, it's your funeral," Uncle Ed predicted, and that's just what it seemed to be. Three days before election, fire broke out in the Little Piney. Fire in the Little Piney was a dreaded thing. Many of the farmers used the hills for grazing their hogs and livestock. Some of them even had hogs in the hills this late in the season. It was a vital matter -- no pastureland, no livestock. And then there was Jim's house and Gus Larkey's, and Granny Weaver's. Gus's house had been burned down once from a forest fire, and neighbors chided him for building back up there. But they always dropped everything willingly and ran to help when a plume of smoke spiraled up on the mountains.

"Get up to Little Piney," Lee Stacey shouted into the party line that night, and tired farmers from miles around arose with alacrity and made their way to the ever-reddening glow riding the ridge.

A bad sign

By daylight the angry smoke clouds hung over the full length of Simms Mountain and were threatening Brown Mountain. Dad and Grandpa didn't come home for dinner or supper. From past experience we knew that this meant it was bad, and the womenfolk began packing up coffee and ingredients for soup and other nourishing dishes, which they took over to the Big Gate where they set up camp, and the tired, weary fire fighters came in shifts to eat and drink hurriedly.

"Worst one ever," Dad reported. "Whole north side already gone and if the wind changes out backfire strip won't hold, I'm afraid. Wood's too dry."

All night long the neighbors battled the roaring flames. They came trudging into camp, smoke-blackened, blistered, and red-eyed.

Next time: Election results.

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