My grandfather, George Franklin Piatt (1866-1943), was a great storyteller. I remember one he told me on Christmas Eve, 1942 when I was just a little fellow, and the family had all gathered down at his and Grandma’s house in Kellen Hollow.
I was on the hearth at his feet, begging for a story. He poked the wood fire to new life, sat back in his rocker, and lit his cob – a sure sign that a good one was coming.
It was about a Christmas Eve coon hunt he took when he was barely a teenager. The events still puzzled him.
It took place in the hills north of Manchester, Ohio, where his family lived at the time. Here’s the way he told it:
“I had all my chores done, the wood in, the cow milked, and all the preparations had been made for the big Christmas dinner we’d have the next day. I told my folks that I was going into the hills coon hunting, but not to worry, that I’d be back probably no later than midnight.
“I got the lantern from the barn, called ol’ Boone, and off we went. I took along my .22 rifle, for I intended to bring back two or three raccoons for skinning. I already had a sizable number of pelts stretched and drying.
“We had crossed two ridges with no action. It was up close to midnight when Boone finally sounded off on a hot trail. I started in a trot toward the sound of his voice. It was getting past time for us to head back, but it usually didn’t take ol’ Boone long to put a coon up a tree. One fat raccoon would be better than going back empty-handed.
“I came to a steep slope that angled up to the highest point on the ridge. I couldn’t hear a sound out of Boone, which was peculiar. I heard something coming back down the trail toward me. I held the lantern high and saw that it was Boone.
“He came right up and circled my legs, making a funny, whining sound, as if trying to say, ‘You’ll have to excuse me, I don’t understand what’s happening to me myself.’ Then he started back in the direction he had come from. Twice he stopped and looked back over his shoulder at me. He wanted me to follow him.
“He disappeared through a thick wall of honeysuckle vines and underbrush. It was a starry night but there was no moon. Even so, I could see an eerie light shining through the trees.
“It was right about there that I began feeling a little peculiar myself. I eased on toward the light and peered through the vines and bushes. There was a clearing on the ridgetop, and above it was the funniest kind of light I ever saw. It was a soft glow, but it had sparkles all through it. I blew out the lantern, leaned my gun against a tree, and eased on through the brush and into the edge of the clearing, which was lighted enough that I could see all over it.
“And what I saw was unbelievable. There was ol’ Boone, sitting on his haunches, looking up at that light, and behaving like a person does when the Star-Spangled Banner is played. On his right, their faces turned upward, sat half a dozen of the biggest raccoons I’d ever seen. On his left were several baby coons, close enough that they seemed to touch him.
“And there was a host of other wild critters there. On top of a stump was a big horned owl, and three field mice had climbed up to share the stump with him. A fox and a rabbit sat side by side, staring up at that light.
“Other wild animals were stealing silently into the clearing from the surrounding woods. I saw half a dozen deer, one with the biggest rack I’d ever seen. And – lordy be! – two cougars and a pack of coyotes came in and sat down on their haunches right beside them. They were all looking up at the light – me as well.
“And then I heard a choir singing. A choir, up there, miles from nowhere! And I’ve never heard human voices blend like that. You’re right – it had to be angels.
“Silent Night…holy night…that was the song they were singing.
“My legs were weak. I sank to my knees as I drank it all in. It was the most peaceful feeling I’ve ever known. It was as if mankind and nature – the whole world – were in perfect harmony.
“Finally, the light was gone; the singing stopped. I re-lit my lantern. The clearing had emptied.
“Come on, Boone,” I said. “Let’s go home. It’s Christmas.”
Maybe that Christmas Eve story didn’t really happen. It could be that Grandpa, as he sat there on that Christmas Eve 1942, gazing into the firelight, simply had a glimpse of something to come. Before 1943 was out, he would leave this life for the next. Maybe his mind was dwelling on a promised future event:
“The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and the young lion, and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them.”
— Isaiah 11:4
Reach G. SAM PIATT at email@example.com or (606) 932-3619.