Stories from Jim Jones’ Childhood
When Pastor Jim was very young and wise beyond his years, he developed a great vexation with his father who was a semi-invalid deeply enamored of the local pool hall and the habitués there whom he regularly trounced in endless games of chance.
I, working early and late against the fearsome odds of the Great Depression to support the family and to get on with young Jim’s College fund, gave little attention to the heat being generated over the issue until –
One evening hurrying down an alley to the grocery, I collided with a neighbor in the half dusk – hanging over the back fence of the pool hall, peering into the dusk – “My word!” I groaned. “What’s up?” Receiving no reply I took my place beside him, hastily scrutinizing the area in the direction of his case. “Never have I seen the likes before as ever expect to see the likes again,” said he, excitedly. “Three weeks ago, it was, and little Jim sittin’ crosslegged – in that very spot – surrounded by rats big as cats – where rats have never been before.” He seized my arm in iron grip and rasped, “Listening they wuz to every word he said. Did ye ever see a varmint listen, Mrs. Jones? Well, it was a hunnert or so, listenin’, and little Jim was saying: ‘Friends! The hour has struck. You must chew this foundation from under that den of in– in-ee-quit-us.’”
Mine informant sprang uncomfortably close to my ear and hissed, “Oh you will not see them, Mrs. Jones, only the big holes, and the mounds of sawdust beneath, and the timbers set under the sagging corners, and perhaps you have heard how ol’ Jarbon was bitten to the bone a week ago, when he struck at a rat, and the floor giving way under Big Jim Jones’ chair and ‘tis a wonder his back was not broken… and the urine –“
“The what?” I whispered, “surely he didn’t –“
“No! No!” shrieked my informant, “twas only the way of rats trompin’ vituals, and Baldy, God rest his soul, never had a nose for smellin’ – Remember: he was slapped down twice by a couple of strangers who found rat pellets in the ham sandwiches he sold ‘em. Ah! Yes! It’s the nature of living things to eat, heat, and excrete as they shoulda knowed, but it all started when little Jim set right there a sayin’ to them rodents, “Friends! The hour has struck.”
There was a stirring of many bodies, a mere whisper sound in the tall grass and a rasping of many teeth on wood, a spooky sort of symphony, well suited to the night. Mine informant stiffened and resumed his darker stance, gazing fixedly at the pool hall.
Little fingers smuggled into mine. Lady Bug (his little dog) reared her soft white body between us. Little Jim said: “I have a feeling God is very fond of nights like these. No! It is not a feeling really, but in knowing,” said he pensively. “Yes! A knowing that has been going on a long, long time, when worlds were different than this one, and we were not much different than new.”
The old house
There was an abandoned house on the lot where the starving chickens have been penned. It sat close to the sidewalk on long walk. The outbuilding where the chickens had roosted was not visible from the walk or from the inside of the old house because of the tall weeds and undergrowth that covered the lot.
The timber of the old house was not showing a lot of warp and twist or others signs of disrepair. The baseboards for no indication that paint had never been applied on either interior or exterior. The roof had not leaked at the rate one would expect of such a neglected place, and no part of the floor was broken or gone.
There was an atmosphere of mystery about the place and a sort of mute appeal that was not easy to shake off. Villagers reported from time to time the old house was haunted. Young fry avoided it for the most part except when young Jim led the foray. It must be admitted that he feared neither gods nor devils, or the quick or the dead. I on the other hand had many fears, all of them confined to anxiety about young Jim’s safety and the safety of the animals of our family and in the town which (illegible) much like children and were dependent upon young Jim and I for guidance and assistance when in trouble just like children.
Uppermost in my mind with the suspicion that transients might be using the old house for a way station. There were numerous in the depths of depression. Also the rural tracks were close by, and switching was underway both day and night. My imaginings grew like green bay tree, whispering: “you know how ‘tis with the lad. Wherever riddle or mystery is there he will be also,” or “Beware! Among those knights of the road could be blood-letters, child molesters, kidnappers, all driven insane by the crucial economic stress of these times.” Inspired by these whisperings, I can always flag my exhausted flesh and depressing my investigation of any place or thing that might pose a threat to me and mine or any other person or any other living thing.
I’d creep through the thicket often to check the old house from stem to stern, for signs of occupancy, and finding none, I would sit on my bottom on the floor, lean against the wall, and envision all the folks who may have lived there, wondering if old houses missed all the folk it has sheltered, and all those familiar voices that have drifted into the limbo of its past.
I was equally intrigued by old privies sat in the middle of pastures were hidden in dark ravines were houses once stood.
The most fascinating of these old privies I have encountered on a trip from Indiana to Renfro Valley and Kentucky some years later. Renfro Was the birthplace of the old barn dance, folk music and homespun humor like ol’ Hee Haw now showing on TV. I yelled at my lady friend who was my relief driver on that drive to halt the car and I lit out across that pasture with my camera hammering me in the back every leap I took. Cows along on the way surveyed me questioningly and return to their grazing.
A beautiful rose bush laden with crimson bloom leaned against the old structure with its feelers rocking in the soft breeze as it reached for the roof. A cluster of roses was draped over the sagging door which stood open just enough to admit a person and afforded good luck at the Sears and Roebuck catalog, neatly placed beside the hole in the seat platform. The seat and the floor was immaculately clean and spang in the center of the floor a fat rattler was coiled. Dressed in his new skin, burnished and bright, the snake did not so much as shake its tail at me, nor did it stir when I clicked the camera. That picture was a masterpiece. I cherished it for years.
As I reluctantly turned to retrace my steps back to the car, another rattler hurried toward me on the path. It surged aside to avoid my feet and disappeared through the sagging door of the old privy. I rejoined my friend in the car. After a few miles of silence she said, “All these years I have known you and I’ll never really know you, I reckon. So, what’s with the old privy? Something exciting like never happens to other people, I suppose?”
“Maybe so, maybe no,” I mumbled and let the matter rest there.
To return to the empty house along the long walk from time to time of very a witty in a very young boy had appeared there. Young Jim had called on her and offered to get her groceries etc. He had said she had acted very standoffish as she did to me when I followed up his offer with another of my own. Neighbors said the boy in the woman always arrived at night and departed the same way. None new by what means they had come or gone, since no strangers had visited them or been seen around the place.
In due course the neighbors also reported that the boy and the woman had been there some weeks before Jim had found the starving chickens, but she had gone, they said, in the same mysterious fashion as she had come. She never came again after that incident in a speech I had prepared for her about such conduct with chickens was therefore never delivered.
It was little consolation to me the young Jim’s father was always in town where Jim could easily find him if in trouble. Big Jim was usually at the pool room trouncing his associates in games of chance and strangely it very seldom happened that he chanced to lose a game of chance but when he did he would fly into a towering rage that shook the town and bid fair to cause him to drop dead in his tracks. Big Jim was far from while physically. Fortunately he was well-liked and his eccentricities were sympathetically condoned by all.
It might be said, however, that his chance of keeping up with the activities of young Jim was less likely than would have been the case had he tried to stroke the top knot of a hummingbird. Furthermore Jim Babe would not into the pool room no matter what occurred for he had harbored a towering resentment of the place from infancy. “Grown men, ol’ blokes just a settin’,” Jimba would snort in his peaks [piques] of high drudgeon against the old poolroom. “Just a settin’ and a tittering and telling nasty jokes, old toothless, bald ones, trying to tease me,” he’d yell, warming to his subject, “and eyeing women, like (illegible), making stupid remarks, not enough sense among ‘em to even do nothing well. No! Not even to spit off themselves.” Following such great rages, young Jim could be found sitting among the big rats behind the pool hall instructing them, “You can do it, boys and girls. Just look at those large piles of sawdust from the work of your teeth, little brothers. It cannot be long now until you have chewed the floor out from under them, but when you work on the front foundation, be sure you work under the floor, so the ol’ fools will not try to shoot or poison you.”
Once as I came down the alley from the grocery at dusk, I heard the poolroom proprietor shrieking to his clientele. It was summer, and the back doors of the old landmark was opened to admit the west winds which blow intermittently affording small respite to the sweltering townfolk.
Said the proprietor, “Boys, if these darn rats don’t clear out, not a splinter will be standing come winter to mark the spot where this pool hall stood.”
I heard a musical tee-hee coming from a sagging fence corner behind the old edifice. Squinting against the rapidly falling dusk, I crept closer and there sat young Jim, half naked, except for his shorts, sitting atop a corner fence post, which was creaking under his weight. Hugging himself, he was, and chanting in a language foreign to me, but, judging from the animated tossing of the grasses in the lot, I realize that the small workers below hadn’t missed a syllable of his jargon. I edged up a little closer keeping in the shadows of a big tree, trying to figure out how that fencepost maintained its 45° angle, doing a wide smooth circle as it moved by some invisible mechanical device, whilst topped off by the small naked nymphs, gittering about and making joyful noises and yet writing the dime post as if it were a horse expertly.
I often crept up to spy on young Jim when he was unaware, just to admire the bronze of a sturdy body and note little rivulets of sweat coursing down making pale pads to the dust he had gathered in his wanderings. And as always having finished his immediate involvement with happenstance, he spoke without turning his head in my direction: “You needn’t be a cat-footin’, mom. I always know who is around.”
Grinning widely, I sauntered on down the alley toward home and the preparation of the evening meal. The air was balmy now. The soft breeze came more regularly. I was tempted to dilly dally in hope the young Jim would come along with me and relate the incidents of his day. He didn’t. A stockman who was driving a couple of head of cattle toward me there in the narrow alley. “Watch out for that bull, Mrs. Jones,” he squalled. “He’s a mean one.” “That’s why,” said I grumpily. “Whatcha mean?” said he suspiciously. “I mean you should never have owned an animal of any kind, Elmer. If he’s mean, it’s because you never could see any good in him. All he could see was money, Elmer.” I groaned as I rubbed noses with the bull and scratched his ears, encrusted with the blood from many fly bites. “Buy some spray for these ears, and spray ‘em, do you hear me? And to h___ with the cost of it. You can afford it.” I snapped angrily.
“Of course I hear ye. I ain’t deef, whatever else you think I am. I’ll spray ‘em In the morning.” “Spray ‘em tonight,” I snapped. “Flies will be at ‘em again at daybreak unless ye do and I just hope I never have to get as mad as I’m going to be if that spray is not on these cows by daybreak.”
“How can you see fly bites when it’s almost dark,” he growled.
“With these fingers I feel ‘em, man,” I roared, “and I can feel abuse of animals even if I was ten years dead. You know that! And don’t you tell yourself these cows are not fly bitten! Doncha dare! Hear me?” said I.
“Of course I hear you, I’ve got no more ear trouble since you forced me to see a specialist. Cost me $100, too – damn thief, he was, for God’s sakes– I’ll spray ‘em tonight.” He moaned.
“Your cows, Elmer, remember your cows. Not your ears.” I grinned and started to continue on my way.
He took off his battered hat, scratched his head vigorously, and remarked, “You get me so rattled, Mrs. Jones, I swear I don’t know if I’m plowing or disking. You are always after me about the way I do my beasties. I don’t know why I like you. I don’t know why anybody likes you. Be damned if I do. And I sure don’t know why me and all the rest does what you tell us to do every time.”
“Well, Elmer,” I drawled in my most elongated southern accent, “’twixt me and three, ‘taint ‘cause they like me, ‘tis ‘cause what I tell ‘em is solid sound sense, and having done what I say to do, they feel so much better inside, more like they’ve befriended themselves, ye know. And by the way, rub some salve on those bites before ye spray ‘em. Do it just before daylight in the morning. Hear?” said I.
“Course I hear, like I told you before. Okay, I’ll do it,” snapped he.
“The cows, Elmer! Not your ears. Mind you, now.” I chanted briskly and hurried past him, mindful once more of the many tasks awaiting me at home. Young Jim skipped past me, a sprite in the night. I was often caught up, rather sadly to, in the thought that he was not of this world, and that neither world held mystery for him. Where learned churchmen expounded upon profundity, his wisdom was so unusual, so apart from the reasoning of this world. At those times I would vow within myself to live forever to safeguard him from all harshness and harm at the hands of the unlearned.