The following article is an opinion piece by the author and represents the views of only the author and not necessarily those of AllOnGeorgia.
The Ballet of Slippy Larue
The train thundered through the night. The lightening was ferocious and rain was falling by the bucketfuls. The young man who was crouched between two boxcars was cold, wet and miserable. As he tried to work his way under one of the cars to ride the rails and escape the fury of the storm, he slipped. The train was near the little cotton mill village of Shannon in North Georgia when he fell.
He didn’t wake up till well after daylight. He was alive, nothing was broken, but he was covered in scratches, bruises and lacerations. His head had bumped along the gray rocks of the railroad bed many times. He would never know it, but others would, that all his oars would never be in the water again.
A week later, he showed up in the Colons at Jug Cunningham’s house. Jug’s wife Sadie, saw him first.
“Jug, there’s somebody in the front yard running around and acting crazy.”
Jug slipped a .22 caliber pistol into the pocket of his overalls and walked out on the front porch.
“Who are you?” asked Jug, as he watched the young man dash and dart, jump, accelerate and stop, pivot and pirouette. He would run down the road for a short distance and then come rushing back, stopping to squat and wave both arms like he was flying.
Jug just sat down on the porch steps and watched the young man for better part of an hour. Sadie had eased out on the porch during that time and had very quietly sat down next to Jug. She was absolutely transfixed and enthralled at his dance.
“What’s he doing, Jug?” she asked.
“Says he’s chasing butterflies,” Jug replied, and then added “and I think he is!”
“He’s pitiful,” said Sadie. “Can we keep him?” she asked.
“Sadie, he’s a people, not a danged animal! You can’t make a pet of a people!” Jug replied angrily.
“I’ll bet he’s hungry anyway,” Sadie replied. “Hey you!” she yelled to the dancing young man. “What’s your name?”
“Slippy Larue,” he replied.
“Well Slippy Larue, when’s the last time you had something to eat?” Sadie wanted to know.
“I don’t rightly recollect, but probably two or three days,” he said.
“I got a pot of soup on the stove,” she said. “You wash up and I’ll dish you up some. Jug, show him where to clean up.”
During supper Sadie managed to pull the story out of Slippy one piece at a time. She found out that he had grown up on the mean streets of Atlanta. He had boxed in Golden Gloves competition as a teenager, but mostly he was a thief and a burglar. And as far as he knew he had no family.
He was good at getting in and out of even the hardest buildings, without arousing suspicion or getting caught. And that was how he got the name Slippy. The name had been pinned on him by the Atlanta Police Department.
Although he was well known by the APD’s Burglary squad they never came close to catching Slippy. Until one day a girl friend set him up and got him caught.
He was given a five to ten year sentence in a Georgia work camp. Eighteen months into that sentence, he lived up to his name and slipped away. He caught a north bound freight and was doing pretty good till the storm came up and he fell off the train.
After supper, Sadie got him some old clothes and had Jug fix him a bunk in the back room of the tool shed. That was over eight years ago.
For the first year or two, Slippy followed Jug around. He learned how to work a garden, feed the chickens and gather eggs. He helped Jug make corn whiskey way back in the woods. In the fall, he gathered Muscadine’s for wine and persimmons for beer, and he loved to possum and coon hunt in the winter. The month of July was reserved for picking blackberries. Sadie made preserves out of the blackberries and the rest was used to make some of the best wine in the county. The uptown ladies liked to sip it with imported German chocolate.
Slippy also took care of the twenty or thirty game roosters that Jug had in individual little coops. He soon found out that Jug was known throughout Northwest Georgia and the edge of Alabama as a champion breeder and fighter of game roosters. This art of the hills was better known around these mountains as plain ole “Chicken Fighting.”
Jug and Slippy could always be found on Sand Mountain, Alabama, or one of the Georgia hot spots. Esom Hill in Polk County Georgia and the little community of Holland up in Chattooga County were top fighting territories. Wherever there was a big fight scheduled, they would be there. Jug seemed to make a lot of money fighting and selling Roosters.
But Slippy’s favorite thing was taking care of the goats. Sadie had ten or fifteen goats and Slippy gave each a name and loved every one of them!!
Yep, Slippy had made a new life for himself with Jug and Sadie and had become like a member of the family. He did not have one criminal tendency left.
Slippy wasn’t the only one that hung around Jug’s, there was quite a crowd of misfits, rednecks, and basically just good ole boys and girls that gathered on the weekends. Lots of beer got drunk and occasionally somebody would fire up one of them left-handed cigarettes. But the main entertainment was watching Slippy chase butterflies.
One of the good ole boys that hung around Jug’s was John the plant man (a landscaper by trade). He had brought slippy a butterfly bush which in season attracted hordes of butterflies. Plant man had also given Slippy a book on butterflies and he studied it every night. Jug’s crowd got a kick out of watching Slippy gracefully chase butterflies and try to imitate their flight.
Although Slippy was part of the scenery at Jug’s, you never knew what you were gonna see or what might show up. That’s what made it such an attraction.
One day an old man in a worn out pick-up truck with a five hundred pound hog in the back pulled into the drive and asked to see Jug.
“That’s me,” Jug replied as he walked to the truck.
The old man had gotten out of the truck and had a small game rooster sitting on his shoulder. It was apparently an old rooster and only had one eye.
“I heard a fellow could get a fight over here,” the old man stated.
Jug walked around looking in the back of the truck. “What you going to fight?” he asked. Then stated “I don’t see nothing!”
“Thought I’d fight Pete,” the old man said, pointing to the rooster on his shoulder.
“I don’t fight for less than a hundred dollars,” Jug said seeing easy money. “Is that all right with you?”
“I don’t have that kind of money, but I’ll put that hog up against your hundred if it’s ok with you,” replied the stranger.
“Slippy, go get Mr. Wilson,” said Jug referring to one of his prize roosters. “Plant man, I want you to referee if you will,” Jug said, at the same time yelling out to Sadie. “Get your skillet out mama, I smell bacon a frying!”
Plant man slipped the spurs on both roosters, gave the command to pit, then to fight and let go.
The little one-eyed rooster went straight up and drove a spur through Mr. Wilson’s neck and he was DRT (dead right thar). Jug was in shock! The old man retrieved his money and was getting ready to leave.
“Wait a minute,” Jug said. “I want another chance to get my money back. I’ll put up two hundred against your hundred and the hog.”
“That’s fine,” replied the old man. “But this is my last fight of the day, win or lose.”
Jug told Slippy to go and get Samson (that was his best rooster). He had paid $150.00 for Samson from an Arkansas breeder at a sale over on Sand Mountain. Since then, Samson had won a dozen or so fights.
Once again Plant Man gathered the money and called the fighters to pit. This time the little one-eyed rooster side-stepped the larger rooster then came in high behind him. Results were the same. The old man got his money and drove away, much richer and with his hog intact.
Jug’s temper was legendary. He stood in the driveway and watched as the truck went out of sight. He wanted to break something, to yell and scream! He turned to his companions and said, “Would somebody tell me what just happened here. Some stranger pulls into my yard, stays thirty minutes and leaves with three hundred dollars of my money in cash and all I got is two hundred dollars worth of dead roosters. What Happened???”
“His rooster killed yours Jug,” said Slippy. “That’s what I used to do. Slip in and get the money and be gone before anyone knew what was happening!”
“Shut up Slippy!” said Jug. “Just shut up!”
Plant man stayed for supper that Saturday night. Sadie cooked mashed potatoes, made gravy, boiled corn, butter beans, corn bread and fresh fried chicken that had been par-boiled till tender.
“Sure is good chicken, Miss Sadie,” Plant man stated as he reached for another piece.
“Sure is,” said Slippy.
A long minute later Jug said, “It ought to be good Plant man. It’s a five hundred dollar chicken dinner!!!”
Mike Ragland is a historian and local author of several books including:”Bertha”, “A Time to Gather Stones”, “The Legend of the Courage Wolf”, “Living with Lucy”. To learn more about Mike Ragland, visit http://www.mikeragland.com/