Mrs. Arlies Savell Tells a Tale
By Ovid Vickers
Pictured Left: Arlies Quattlebaum Savell, 1919-1997
June Herd Roberts, the librarian at Newton County High School, came by the other day to share with me a most unusual manuscript. The book, a hand-written volume of eighty pages divided into twenty-two sketches or vignettes, was written by Mrs. Arlies Savell. Mrs. Savell, who passed away at the end of March, had donated the book to Mt. Zion Congregational Methodist Church for their annual auction.
The book also contains a most unusual document, a 200-year calendar devised by Mrs. Savell. One can glance at this calendar and find out what day of the week March 15, 2056, or any other date for the next 200 years, will fall on.
The sketches were written as fiction, but Mrs. Savell has been careful to make a notation at the end of most sketches to let the reader know what incident is being related and how that incident is connected to the family.
Mrs. Savell’s stories contain many of the elements of folk literature. In these stories we find much Southern literary devices as the mad dog, haints, that unknown thing, and possums. Such expressions as turning a little green around the gills and looking down the barrel of a double-barreled shot gun are regional expressions that appear repeatedly in Southern writing.
The following sketch is appealing in its simplicity. It is a story that most readers can identify with because we have all at one time or another been frightened by an unfamiliar and unexpected noise. With this story, Mrs. Savell joins that group of Newton Countians who understand the art of telling a good tale. I hope you enjoy Mrs. Savell’s story as much as I did.
Newt and the Unearthly Noise
A mad dog had gone about over the county and bitten several dogs and also some cows. The dog was killed at once, and the cows were put into a pen to be watched. Such enough, all went mad and had to be destroyed. Everyone was on edge because they knew that mad dogs carried rabies.
One night when his older brother Bart had taken his mother and sister to church, my friend Newt was in the kitchen making a pot of coffee. Newt heard a strange sound outside, and when he opened the door to look out, the light fell on a small black and white dog belonging to a neighbor. The dog acted like something was wrong and made a strange sound.
Thinking about the recent mad dog scare, Newt got his gun and with one shot killed the dog. Newt’s heart told him he had done the right thing, but his mind told him he must never let his neighbor know because the neighbor might take his double barreled shot gun to him for killing the dog.
Newt knew of a nearby abandoned well. The well had been dry for years, but no one had taken the time to fill it in. That, Newt thought, would be the logical place to put the dead dog. The dog would never be found.
Taking a length of wire, Newt hooked one end around the dogs feet and drug it down past and out into the deserted road. He stepped across the fence into the yard of the old house place where the abandoned well was.
Then he heard it! The noise he heard made the hair stand up on the back of his head. The sound filled the air, not loud, but steady. It seemed to be coming from everywhere. Now, Newt wasn’t scared of anything except mad dogs, rattlesnakes, and people who pointed guns. But this was a sound he couldn’t put a name to. Newt’s old aunt had told him al about haints, but he came closer that night than he ever did in believing her.
He quickly left the dog, retraced his steps and decided to come back in the daylight and see that thing that was making the unearthly sound.
Newt didn’t tell a soul what had happened, but he tossed around so much after he went to bed that his brother came to see what was the matter. The next morning Newt told Bart to get his gun and meet him in the barn. Their mother thought they were going to the barn to kill rats.
Newt buckled on his pistol in his holster and in a few minutes went to join Bart at the barn. Then he told Bart what had happened the night before. Bart was amused at this brother being scared, but when they came near the old house place they could hear the sound. Bart turned a little green around the gills and said outright that he thought they should leave while the leaving was good. Newt declared that he was there to stay until they found out what the noise was.
They walked around in the yard, and the sound seemed to be coming up from the ground. Finally, Newt eased up to the old well and looked in. There, not over ten feet down, was the answer. Five possums had fallen into the well and could not get out because the dirt crumbled when they tried to climb the sides of the well. The possums were fighting and gnashing teeth with each other. Possums have been known to eat each other in extreme circumstances, but each one seemed determined not to provide a meal for the others.
Newt found a long pole among some dead brush and broke the limbs off and put the pole in the well. The possums climbed out one by one, and ambled off into the woods.
After dropping the dead dog into the well, the brothers went home to breakfast. They had gotten rid of the rabid dog and freed a family of possums.