|An old 'Long Tom' shotgun like the one used by Cousin Jake.|
(For decades, local historian and paranormal investigator George “Buster” Singleton published a weekly newspaper column called “Somewhere in Time.” The column below, which was titled “Cousin Jake: A Man Remembered” was originally published in the May 14, 1998 edition of The Monroe Journal in Monroeville, Ala.)
There are people who strive for total perfection in their chosen professions. There are those who, some powers or happenings, gain total perfection without really trying. This thought came to mind as I was traveling along the Ridge Road a few days back on my motorcycle. As I rode along, enjoying the blossoming beauty of the springtime, a large wild turkey gobbler flew up from beside the road and flew right alongside of me as I rode up the road. As I watched the beautiful turkey flying so gracefully alongside, the thought came to mind of an old man that I once knew when I was growing up in the rural area near the big town of Sweet Water.
I was never a good turkey hunter due to the fact that I had rather watch the wild turkey than to shoot and kill it. I do know however that the art of turkey hunting is truly a sport that requires total perfection if one is to be successful.
Cousin Jake was an old man who lived nearby in the farm community where I grew up. He was probably one of the most successful, if not the best, turkey hunters anywhere in the area. If some kind of record had been kept on the old man, he would have been one of the best in the whole country in the art of turkey hunting.
Cousin Jake got his name by a habit of calling everyone he came in contact with “Cousin.” So, after a while the nickname “Cousin Jake” was given the old man. This name would stick to the old man for the rest of his life.
Cousin Jake did not appear to be a man who was an expert in anything. He was a large man, heavy set, with quite a large stomach. This was due largely to the never-ending hunger pains that he said he suffered from.
He wore no special or camouflage hunting clothing when he hunted turkeys. His garb was always a pair of overalls with a jumper, he never wore a shirt under his jumper, or even an undershirt. Winter or summer, it was always the overalls and jumper and his high top brogans. He always wore a three or four-day growth of whiskers. Four days without shaving for Cousin Jake, was equaled to about 10 or 12 days to any other man.
The old man also had the habit of chewing tobacco. He always had a “chew” in his jaw unless he was doing what he loved most, trying to kill that hunger pain that he said bothered him so much. He also said that chewing tobacco would keep the bugs and mosquitoes away once the tobacco got into your system. From being around the old man, as a young boy, I believed that.
His turkey hunting equipment consisted of a small cow horn, about three inches long, with a short piece of fat light wood splinter with a short piece of slate. This turkey called seemed as old as Cousin Jake himself. This equipment was always kept in the big pocket of his overalls. Nothing else was kept there, not even his chewing tobacco.
His hunting weapon was even older than his turkey caller. It was a single shot 12-gauge shotgun. The stock of the weapon had been reinforced by wrapping copper wire around it just below the trigger guard. The ejector that was supposed to eject the empty shell from the firing chamber had long worn out or had been broken. But, this didn’t bother Cousin Jake, he carried with him a piece of brass rod, about three inches long. After firing the ancient old longtom shotgun, he would unbreech the gun and drop the piece of brass down the barrel.
This would knock the empty shell casing loose and the empty casing would fall to the ground, but, Cousin Jake had perfected the skill of unloading to the point that he always would catch the empty casing before it hit the ground. He said, that by catching it, he did not have to bend over and pick it up.
Besides being a great turkey hunter, he was without a doubt, one of the best mechanics around. He drove an old, old pickup truck that looked like it would not go another mile. It looked like an accident waiting for a place to happen. Each of the spark plugs had a jump spark on it. This was supposed to keep them from fouling up and would delay the timing of the engine a bit. No one knew for sure just how Cousin Jake kept his pickup truck going, but it always carried the old man wherever he wanted to go.
Cousin Jake was not a man to break the game laws. He always said that if he couldn’t kill a turkey legally, he would not bother to kill one at all. But, he always managed to see out the largest turkey gobblers, always the ones with the longest beards. He had dozens and dozens of turkey beards tacked on the walls inside the hallway of his old house, he always carried the longest beard in the pocket of his jumper to show the crowd.
Cousin Jake always won all the turkey calling contests, he would pull his caller from his pocket and after he was through with his calling and yelping, there was no doubt to anyone who was the best. He would show off a bit by using only his mouth and a small oak leaf. Yes, Sir. Cousin Jake was always the best, no one doubted that.
The sound of the old man’s old shotgun and turkey caller is silent now. Cousin Jake was killed in an accident in his old ancient pickup truck quite a number of years ago. But, even today, those that knew the old man and his ability to give the call of the wild turkey, experiences a feeling of sadness when the old turkey hunters of the community gather for a story telling or tale swapping of hunting the wild turkey. But, somewhere beyond the sunset, I know that Cousin Jake is hunting wild turkeys, and if the Lord himself is around for only a moment, Cousin Jake is calling Him “Cuz.”
(Singleton, the author of the 1991 book “Of Foxfire and Phantom Soldiers,” passed away at the age of 79 on July 19, 2007. A longtime resident of Monroeville, he was born to Vincent William Singleton and Frances Cornelia Faile Singleton, during a late-night thunderstorm, on Dec. 14, 1927 in Marengo County, graduated from Sweet Water High School in 1946, served as a U.S. Marine paratrooper in the Korean War, worked as a riverboat deckhand, lived for a time among Apache Indians, moved to Monroe County on June 28, 1964 and served as the administrator of the Monroeville National Guard unit from June 28, 1964 to Dec. 14, 1987. He was promoted from the enlisted ranks to warrant officer in May 1972. For years, Singleton’s columns, titled “Monroe County history – Did you know?” and “Somewhere in Time” appeared in The Monroe Journal, and he wrote a lengthy series of articles about Monroe County that appeared in Alabama Life magazine. It’s believed that his first column appeared in the March 25, 1971 edition of The Monroe Journal. He is buried in Pineville Cemetery in Monroeville. The column above and all of Singleton’s other columns are available to the public through the microfilm records at the Monroe County Public Library in Monroeville. Singleton’s columns are presented here each week for research and scholarship purposes and as part of an effort to keep his work and memory alive.)