Oh, that strawberry roan

Published 2:51 pm Tuesday, July 10, 2018

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Boyhood memories of going to the Saturday afternoon picture show with good buddies will never fade from this old memory bank, I don’t believe. I’m not entirely certain which singing cowboy acted in the movie where he sang about his horse as being that Strawberry Roan, but it was for sure around 1949 or 50 when it happened.

That afternoon, after the flick, Ma took Mef Law, Bernard Swansey, Mack Nichols and me down to the Jefferson Bogue Bridge, and let us out to walk on under the trestle to our camping place on the creek. Mack and Bernard were two years my senior, and Mef was a year older than they were, but, for no particular reason, those boys allowed me to tag along, maybe because I knew a thing or two about the woods, or possibly on account of I could make up some good stories to entertain the bunch around the campfire at night.

Now, this was before we discovered hammock tents that Donovan Surplus Store got in sometime later, so we pitched army shelter halves, two fellows to a tent, and fooled around the area ‘til near ‘bout dark thirty when we built up the fire, and commenced to fix our supper. Nothing fancy, mind you. It was canned vegetable soup and river coffee. We, none of us, really cared anything about coffee, but that’s what you did. Boiled some water in an old coffee pot, threw some coffee grounds in there, and then, on account of we’d heard to do it, we charred a stick, and stuck that in there. The tale was that was supposed to settle the grounds to the bottom of the pot.

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As we sat back on the sand, sipped that pretty bad coffee, and ate that hot vegetable soup, one of us commenced to singing the tune from that afternoon’s cowboy picture show, only, instead of a Strawberry Roan, for some reason or another we all struck up harmonizing on “Oh, That Vegetable Soup Roan.” Never will forget that, although after 68 or 69 years gone bye I can’t, for the life left in me, remember how we happened to get stuck on that made up song there on that sandbar on a starlit night so many years ago, but then, we didn’t really need a reason. Just carefree boys at a time in the history of this country when singing about a Vegetable Soup Roan easily took the place of looking at the face of a cell phone or drinking something stronger than that original river brew.

After while, the youngest fellow amongst us, and that would be me, decided to walk back toward the tents to check on stuff. I ran a stick along the sand right into one of the tents, and then hollered out, “Hey, Boys, a snake just crawled into one of the tents, and here’s his track!” They all came running up there with flashlights, and, sho nuff, there was the snake track. A danged ol’ snake wouldn’t of left a track, but one of my buddies announced that he was sleeping down by the fire, and the others joined in with him. Now, I couldn’t tell ‘em I’d made that up, but I was not about to sleep up there in that tent by myself… just on the off chance that really was a snake track.

Well, there was some more filling the woods with that Vegetable Soup Roan, until finally, somehow or ‘nother, after a tale of two I spun about some pretty girls we all knew, we found ourselves fast asleep, and waking up on a crisp, gray dawn breaking right there on the bank of the famous Chickasaw Bogue. Now, it was time for the best of all meals on a camp … bacon and eggs with, you guessed it, some more of that daggum river coffee that to us youngsters seemed to taste a whole lot less bad than it really was on account of, well, that was just one of the rites of passage on a campout when you were that age.

So many other recollections about those boyhood campouts, like standing in the middle of the creek on top of something we decided must be an overturned railroad car, or spending ‘bout an hour chopping down a big old tree, and dragging it down to the Bogue as the base for a raft, only to find out it was ironwood or something. It sank right to the bottom of the creek, right about where that railroad car was located.

Well, it’s time to stop this reminiscing about those glorious times with those good friends, and hit the hay. Maybe I’ll dream about a Vegetable Soup Roan.

— Tom Boggs is a columnist for the Demopolis Times and a native of Marengo County. His column,“Days Gone Bye,” appears weekly.

(This column originally appeared in the Wednesday, July 4 issue of the Demopolis Times.)