A Panther in the Day

By ELISA MAYO,

My mother always told us children that on many a dark night in east Quitman she had heard the scream of a panther.  Each time she told the story the hair on my neck would stand on end and fear would seize my heart.  She would continue telling how the sound was like that of a woman screaming and was something you would never forget if you heard it.  After her story, I really never cared to hear my own panther and hoped that she wasn’t telling the truth. 

But, in the light of day my worries over the panthers would melt away.  My brother and I would spend countless hours roaming the woods behind my house.  I would even venture out alone.  I loved it there.  Even today, I can trace those old trails and recollect the feelings of adventure and the newness of creation as I traipsed over hills, through wooded paths, and dared to sneak a little further away from home each time. 

Thankfully for my mother, I was never very adventurous.  I had my boundaries marked by what I knew to be my family’s property lines.  Even though my brother was known to trod further out, I only did so once and after he left me in the woods vowed I would never do so again.  We had scared up a deer in a thicket and my brother took off after the deer.  If I recall correctly we were supposed to be gathering pine straw for our mama’s flower beds, but the deer distracted my brother and within a moment the bursting of sound from the deer and my brother quieted and I was surrounded by the silence of the woods.  I was scared, but also furious.  I could hardly believe my brother had left me in the woods by myself.  I stomped all the way home.

But, I would forgive him since he was the only play mate I had and we would have opportunity again for adventure.  One evening my brother and I traipsed through the broom sage field behind our house to the edge of a wooded area.  There was an old interesting oak tree at the edge of the field and we commenced to playing under it.  That’s when we heard it.  I can’t recollect the exact sound, but the hairs on my neck stood up and I was immediately terrified.  My brother went into high alert and picked up the longest dead branch he could find under the oak tree.  I can still see him holding that branch that was longer than he was tall.  I was fine with it until he left the covering of the oak tree and walked out into the opening, whooping and yelling, shaking his branch, and near daring whatever made that terrible sound in the woods to come after us.  Or at least that’s how I felt.  So, with hardly a thought, I saw my opportunity to high tail it across the broom sage field and to the safety of my mama’s house.  I can’t say, but I’m sure that had my mother looked out, she would have seen me near flying across the field.  I dropped the sling shot I had been safekeeping for my brother in the field somewhere, but I couldn’t see that it mattered much.

My brother wasn’t far behind me because when I made it to the back door, there he was!  I’m sure we made quite a fuss telling mama all about the terrible animal lurking in the woods.  My brother was angry that I ran and extra angry that I took his weapon with me and then dared to drop it!  I only told him that I had heard when running from a big cat, you should drop something you owned like a shoe or shirt and the big cat would be confused, stop and sniff it, and give you an extra second of escape.  My brother never seemed sure that I truly dropped the sling shot as a way to save him after abandoning him in the woods and just between you and me, I didn’t even remember having it, much less dropping it.

As an end to the frightening experience, Mama piled us in the truck and drove back to the site of the sound much to my dismay.  Of course, we found nothing and only left with the memory.  But, we also learned a valuable life lesson.  In a battle, always have a warrior who is as brave as you are or braver.  In life, I’ve learned that it is a rarity to find one.

There is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.  Proverbs 18:24b

 

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