Cougar Sawyer, Village Bee Man

Ernie (Red) Reeves

His first name was Ralph and guess his last name was spelled "Shroyer," but the nickname "Cougar" was a little too formal, with one syllable too many, so we simply called him "Coog Sawyer." It sounded better that way and fitted in with our colloquial practice of changing names, words, titles and phrases a mite in order to raise an eyebrow or force a chuckle or two. We always hung on a cute little quirk of some sort in order to gain the extra attention we craved. We talked and pronounced the way we felt but our deviation from proper English never gained the respect of our dedicated and proper English Teacher, "Miss Linna" Hamilton.

In order to exemplify the Hamilton County practice of saying it like they felt, an elderly gentleman in the vicinity had to put away his old and ailing horse out of necessity and pity. His description of the incident in the vernacular of the locale was tearfully expressed: "I shot and he fell and he riz and he fell. He went out mourning and lamenting and I stuck Old Charlie in my pocket smoking as she were." (How can you get more beautifully descriptive than that?)

I recall Coog while living at Broughton in the 1920s and '30s, during which time I never knew how he acquired the nickname "Couger," - it sure didn't match his mannerisms and personality. I left there when I joined the U.S.Army Air Corps in 1936.

Everybody in this small villiage knew everybody else, and probably too much about each other's business. No one was wealthy but a few had more than others did. You could just about say we were "as poor as Job's turkey," but with our gardens, chickens, a cow, and a pig or two, we managed to eat pretty well. I never heard of anyone going hungry, but I bet there were some close calls.

All-in-all we were a farming community but a few small-town specialist were scattered about, such as a blacksmith, carpenters, store clerks, millers, mechanics and the like (there was no need for plumbers). Farm wages were about a dollar a day and we kids hoed corn twelve hours a day for fifty cents. My dad unloaded several railroad gondolas of coal at the siding near our house for ten dollars, with a scoop shovel. It took about three days to get the coal off and on the ground, the hardest part consisting of throwing the big chunks and smaller pieces off by hand until the smooth bottom of the gondola was reached so a scoop shovel could be used.

Coog was one of those specialists. He was the village "bee-man" whom you contacted if bees suddenly "swarmed" on one of the post that supported the chicken wire that held up the grapevine that shielded the front of the outhouse. He would come and get the bees and not charge you anything. Also, if you owned a few hives and something went wrong, you got hold of him. Too, if you spotted an active "bee tree" out in the woods somewhere, you contacted him. He'd bring a few friends and supervise "robbing" of the tree to provide you and your friends with a few messes of wild honey. There was nothing sweeter, richer, more larrapin,' or finger-lickin' good than this scarce nicety. And, its unmatchable qualities partially offset the miseries associated with robbing the tree, such as skinned shins, breathing the acrid smoke bellowed at the bees to quieten them down, a few stings, and all the hollering and cussing that went on during the excitement of depriving the bees of their winter rations.

Like the rest of us, Coog managed to come up with a few shekels to buy necessities from the store, a Coke for the kids, a new pair of overalls, and perhaps a quarters worth of roofing nails. Also, I am sure he patronized an old geezer down in the shady part of town who covertly dispensed white lightning and wine as an important sideline. He liked these morale boosters, perhaps more than he should have. (I doubt that he got that red face, which accentuated his jovial smile and potbelly, from going without a hat).

Also, one of his neighbors made and sold home brew in season (all year 'round) for a dime a bottle and you could drink it in his living room. I'm sure Coog imbibed of these suds now and then when he hankered for something cool and a little more potent than "Nehi for a nickel."

The beer was cooled by placing it in a basket contrivance suspended in the well by a rope threaded over a pulley. This cooled it some but it wasn't long before the flies congregated around the mouth of the bottleneck, became inebriated and fell inside during their revelry. The bottles were dark brown and you couldn't see tham swimming around down there. The only time you were sure one was overboard was when the foam buzzed a little as you swallowed. We didn't let this bother us much, though. After all it was a bootleg operation, even though the law wasn't to be feared, because there wasn't any in our neck of the woods. (I didn't use the names of those who sold the spirited goods lest some of the relatives who may still be around might object--I still remember their names, though.

One particular Saturday Coog must have gotten up early to celebrate whatever he had to celebrate. I'm sure he didn't muster enough courage to do what I am about to describe by just drinking an extra cup of coffee at breakfast.

The weather was pretty and all of us were sitting in front of the Josh Organ/George Johnson Barber Shop. We always congregated there because it was a central location and harbored an extra convenience or two. For instance, if you got tired of sitting, you could rise, ge up on the steps, and jump about seven feet for one of the steel pipes that support the overhang, swing around and sit back down. (The post were ever shiny and somewhat bent from these maneuvers: also, the overhang hung a little lower because of the bent pipes.

Suddenly someone exclaimed: "You aint' gonna believe what you're about to see. Coog's drunker'n a barrel of creamed owl soup and he's got a swarm of bees hangin' and a buzzin' from his right arm." Sure enough, here came Coog, followed by four or five of his cohorts, wavering and chuckling right down the middle of the main drag. The nailkeg-size swarm of bees hanging on his arm were flying all around him(and the queen bee, I suppose), near his nose, eyes and mouth, in and out of his shirt and up his sleeves.

Someone yelled: "Coog, do them bees sting you when they're all over you like that?" "You danged right they do," he replied, "I ain't immune to them buggers!" Another said: "Coog ain't so dumb, it's a sort of a triple jeopardy thing he's cooked up in his head; He gets crocked and coaxes a swarm of bees to settle on his arm. They get crocked suckin his polluted blood and he gets on another little jag when he eats the honey. He's smarter'n you think he is."

There was a little finger pointing and a few comments from the Saturday bystanders as the procession moved through town, turned right at the Baptist Church and marched on up to Coog's house next to the abandoned Presbyterian Church where the last street on the West side of town suddenly became the road to Walpole. It was just another day in the episode of growing up at Broughton. Nobody got very excited. There may have been a few dull moments, but never a dull day.

(Thanks to Springhouse Magazine for the above article)