GRANDMOTHER AND THE PANTHER

Note: This story is revised from a collection of family tales June wrote called, Fragments of Yesterday.

 

In the early 1890’s my paternal grandparents homesteaded in what is now Central Florida’s Hardee County. The community lies east of Tampa and what is now I-75.

The young couple lived temporarily in what was known as a “cabbage shanty.” The framework was built of logs, then roofed and covered on three sides with fans or fronds from the cabbage palm. The fourth side was left open. All cooking and laundry was done outdoors over a lighter’d knot fire.

My grandparents lived in the pine woods, and most of their firewood came from burned over and deadfall pines. Pine was always used to light fires because it was full of pitch and would burn easily; hence the term “lighter’d” or “lighter” wood.

Times were hard and Granddaddy often was away overnight cow-hunting or helping the neighbors by exchanging labor with them. During these times Grandmother kept a fire built up on the open side of the shanty. Fire was the only means she had to protect herself and her two small children, Frank and Letty, from the wild animals. When she heard panthers scream at night, she had to stay awake to make sure the fire didn’t go out.

Near the shanty, a new well had been dug, and surrounding it were mounds of clean, white sand. One morning Grandmother was boiling clothes in a washpot when she heard a low growl. She looked around and saw a panther stalking baby Letty who had crawled over to play in the white sand.

Grandmother had no weapon of any kind so she grabbed a length of lighter’d knot out of the fire and advanced to meet the panther, gradually forcing him to back away from her child.

She followed him a few yards still holding her burning firewood, until he turned and ran.

 

June Poucher (July ‘14) recalls, “My grandmother was a storyteller, and many years later when she was a sick old woman, she entertained my sister and me by sharing her experiences. Whenever she told this story, a fierce light of courage came into her eyes as she relived the threat to her baby.”

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