Blair Branch has two major tributaries. As you go up the hollow, half a mile from the mouth, Little Blair Branch bears off to the right, which when I was growing up was mostly inhabited by Blairs. Another half mile up, Still House Branch bears off to the left. Still House Branch was exclusively Adams territory except for Watson Blair who lived in the very last house in the head of the hollow.
Watson was married to Francis Adams, who had inherited their property. Francis was my mother’s first cousin. Their son, Truman Blair (not to be confused with Lily Blair’s Truman on Little Blair Branch or with Truman Caudill), was a man of the woods. Even at an early age, an astute swapper of BB guns, .22 rifles, pocket and hunting knives, marbles, laying hens, small tools, rabbit traps, pet ground hogs, leather belts and the like. Truman was too attached to his dogs to swap one of them.
On weekends I made sure that Watson and Francis were the last customers on my Grit newspaper route, so to make the two-mile roundtrip bearable, I always took something along to swap with Truman. I would swap my Daisy Red Ryder lever action BB gun for his pump action BB gun and usually one or the other of us would throw in a couple of marbles to boot. The next weekend we would swap back. We swapped knives, Kissing Crane for Barlow and vice versa. Between us, we must have owned the same two guns and pocketknives at least 100 times each. When we grew old (12 years for me, 14 for Truman) and economically sound enough to own .22 rifles, we did the same thing with a single-shot Remington Model 4 and a Winchester Model 67. I should have held on to the Remington
when I had the chance, because it is worth over $2,000 today while the Winchester is currently fetching about $400. Both of our guns were purchased at the Isom stockyards for $10, each so we considered ourselves on pretty even footing. One memorable Saturday morning about this time of year, there was a big wet snow on the ground. When I trudged in to deliver the paper, Truman told me he had learned a new trick he couldn’t wait to show me. I knew, immediately, that it was going to be about as legal as bank robbery, but I also knew the law didn’t make a habit of showing up in the head of Still House Branch. The hillsides were littered with huge boulders in the head of the hollow, and nearly every one of them was surrounded by many sets of rabbit tracks. We found one close to his house that Truman was saving just for me. He said, “watch this” and proceeded, with my help, to stir around under the snow until we had accumulated a few bushels of semi-dry leaves and placed them at the mouth of what we considered the main entrance of a rabbit hole. So far this was nothing new. Smoking rabbits out
of a hole was old hat. The trouble was hitting them, because they normally exited one of several escape holes at approximately the speed of light. We proceeded to tamp snow as tightly as concrete into all but one of the escape holes, which Truman, again with my assistance, filled with very loose snow. We set the leaves on fire and I used my overcoat to fan the dense smoke back into the rabbit hole. Quickly, Truman’s .22 cracked and he yelled for help. He was kicking loose snow back into the hole and almost immediately the snow started moving. Presto, another rabbit poked its head through and it was my turn to reap the harvest. Before the morning was over we had assassinated six rabbits. I came home with three of them in my Grit bag, all shot between the eyes with powder burns on their foreheads. Mom asked where I had gotten them and I told her I had traded Truman out of them. My Mom eyed me skeptically but asked no further questions. The last thing she wanted to know was that her eldest son was a lawbreaker and, besides that, she absolutely loved fried rabbit and gravy.