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Tom Chaney: No R742: Christmas Violence

Of writers and their books. Tom Chaney confronts the primal urge to hunt. Robert Stone selected this Tom Chaney Christmas Classic, with the note, "It's neat to have a column that begins I woke up this Christmas morning" to post on Christmas morning. The column first appeared in the Hart County News-Herald, Sunday, 31 December 2006
The next earlier Tom Chaney column, Tom Chaney: A Carol for Christmas

By Tom Chaney

Christmas Violence

I woke up this Christmas morning with plenty of time to make a couple of pots of coffee to take to our traditional family Christmas breakfast of country ham, biscuits, scrambled eggs, and the memory of Christmas past.

Whilst the coffee was brewing, I decided to finish a novel a customer had suggested that I might like. I did like. It was The Eye of the Tiger by Wilbur Smith. Filled with sunken treasure, gunfights, killer sharks, ruthless villains, and a hero left standing alone amidst the dead bodies of enemies and friends alike this book was a strange choice for the birth morning of the Prince of Peace.

The contrast presented Christmas morning set me to thinking about my personal reaction to violence, and how that attitude has changed over the years.

I had several heroes while growing up in Horse Cave. Each played a unique role in creating the mess which I have become -- a mess that I have come to live with, if not happily, at least in a kind of accommodation. Don't get me wrong. It is my mess and my responsibility.

That Wilbur Smith novel combined with Christmas brought one of those folks to mind.

When Caverna schools began in 1950, I lined up with my class -- new seventh graders -- to board the new 1950 International school bus for the ride to junior high in Cave City. Roger Sanders was the bus driver. Pretty soon he let me know that I was his cousin. He had married Paula Chaney, daughter of my father's first cousin Lias Chaney.

For some reason, Roger sort of adopted me. He taught me fishing and frog gigging in ponds all over Hart County. He helped me land my first fish -- a giant carp that must have measured all of six inches topping the scales at about a pound, including a good piece of thumb.

Roger and Paula made me welcome in their home on Green Street. We did a lot of stuff together. I recall one summer Sunday afternoon when we decided to make banana ice cream. We had the fixings. Paula mixed the milk, eggs, sugar, and what-all together. But there was only one banana. Not enough by far. But it was a Sunday in Horse Cave -- not a store open in five counties. That did not deter us. To this day I recall that ice cream with just the memory of what more bananas would have tasted like.

The next fall Roger decided it was time for me to learn to hunt. He borrowed a single shot 12 gauge shot gun from Billy Wilson for me to use.

I think I even killed a rabbit or two while the two of us hunted together.

I remember the miracle rabbit of one cold December afternoon on Lias's farm on the Legrand-Pascal Road.

Roger, Lias, Billy Wilson, and I were lined up about ten yards abreast headed up a hill in a pasture behind the barn. We jumped a rabbit on our left which ran across in front of the line of us mighty hunters. Each one cut loose with all the firepower we had -- eleven shots that rabbit took.

After Billy Wilson got him, the rabbit cut left and hippity-hopped on across the hill. I suppose he's running yet -- carrying all that lead.

I continued to hunt with friends for a number of years. Sometime in the early sixties I was out in Breathitt County with Bill Jaggers and his neighbor from Jackson. I don't remember what I shot -- 'twarn't much. What I remember was the feeling of joy I got from killing that rabbit or quail or whatever it was.

As we came home that afternoon that ecstasy turned to ashes as I confronted whatever primal urge it was in me that gave me pleasure from the violent taking of life.

I never hunted again. I put up the gun for good.

I stopped hunting because there was a pleasure in violence within me that frightened the base of my very being.

War must be like that. We hear terrible tales from the battlefield in which a lust to hurt and kill takes over within otherwise rational beings. If I have difficulty reconciling that violence in my representatives on the field of battle, what scars must those representatives bear?

I reckon that need for violence is inbred. But now I can satisfy that frightening beast within through the fiction of writers such as Wilbur Smith, Clive Cussler, Cormac McCarthy, and others. It may not be an admirable human trait. But it seems a part of the ancient surge of ancestral blood.

Until we can banish that primal memory, let fiction be our catharsis.

Can we see the correlation between actual violence that sheds blood and the creative blood letting of fiction whether in books or on television?

Even in peaceful men there is the urge to scourge the money lenders out of the temple.

Tom Chaney can be found telling stories, planning his next meal, and occasionally selling books at
Box 73/111 Water Street
Horse Cave, Kentucky 42749
Email: Tom Chaney

This story was posted on 2011-12-25 04:57:14
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