Swinging on Grapevines and Mill Village Antics
Just a Swingin
A song written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong in 1966, " I Heard it Through the Grapevine" and made famous by the likes of Gladys Knight and the Pips and my all time favorites of the period, Credence Clear Water Revival, has always instilled in me a certain nostalgia that only a "redneck" from the Blue Ridge Mountains can appreciate.
It was in those carefree years of boyhood, me and my cronies would take to the hills near the cotton mill village in search of "vines." Not your everyday vines that web themselves like leeches and choke the hardwoods such as poison oak or bittersweet. What I'm talking about are those magnificient wild grapevines that clung to the tree tops. All it took was a little effort and the aid of a sharp Barlow pocket knife to release more fun and entertainment for boys than a day at Ringling Brother Barnum and Bailey Circus.
The vines were strong and could support the weight of even the chubbiest of our friends. Tarzan was the rage of Saturday morning television and in the tenor of our not yet "man voices" we would summons the animals from the kingdom with hair raising yells that echoed through the mountain hollows and valleys. We didn't have any come stampeding like our hero Tarzan, on the contrary, we probably 'skeered' the crap out of all them, sending many into early hibernation.
One "grapevine " stands out in memory. It hung high in Chestnut oak and we could swing over a deep ravine covered with a thick bed of leaves just in case the vine deeply webbed in the upper branches gave way, our fall would be cushioned as if on Angel Wings. Acorns from the tree were ammo for slingshots and we played war. Little did we know that before long some from among our group of mill village kids would leave sweat, blood and tears in a small country in Southeast Asia.
We spent many an afternoon on the hillside with our faithful friend and perhaps trusted our life and limbs in its care. One afternoon we went to our vine and just as we were about to take our first swing of the afternoon over the ravine we happened to look up and see the vine had been almost cut into by the shots from a 22 rifle and only the barest thread held the vine together. I often wondered who would do such a horrible thing to spoil our fun and games. It was a question that haunted me and finally I realized there are mean spirited people in this world who prey on the hurt of others, even children.
We abandoned that vine in our safe haven of our beloved hills and hollows near our cotton mill village only to find others for our entertainment and fun. Time passed only too swiftly and we were all "growed up" no longer boys. That old "grapevine" has taken many turns and connotations but I am still a boy at heart and maybe, just maybe one day, I will go looking for me a good grapevine but it will surely have to be a sturdy one.