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Tall Tales: Great Granpy Magnus

Great Granpy Magnus
By Johnny Applejack

Published in the 2010 Great Lakes Review – SUNY Oswego’s Literary Journal

(My Great Grandpa Johann Magnus)


Uncle Eddie pours a generous splash of moonshine into his glass and passes the clay jug to my brother Robert and me. He takes a long, slow slurp, the moonshine churning about his fake teeth. He sits back, ruminating in the smooth darkness rolling over the cornstalks that snake out from the porch, ending in black maple trees leaning over the fields.

“Let me see, what was I gonna tell y’all about?”

“You was gonna tell us about our great grandpa Magnus,” says Robert.

“Ah yes, I were! Your great granpy Magnus, he’s a real bear thumper, he is.”

“What you mean, ‘bear thumper’?” I ask.

“Don’t you know none?” says Uncle Eddie. “Your granpy Magnus be the reason there ain’t black bears in the Katskill Mountains no more.”

“What he done to ’em?” asks Robert, bending his elbow real strong and reaching for the jug with his other hand.

“Why, Magnus, he done ran all the black bears from these here hills, he did. And he done it all with his own bare hands. When he first built this here cabin, there weren’t no folks in these parts. Magnus had to fend for hisself. In those days, when I was but a little chick, wolves and panthers and black bears owned these hills. I used to play in the yard, chasin chickens and hens, and sneakin swigs from the jug of moonshine sittin on the porch when I was just about seven. Your granpy Magnus would be out raslin bears all day when I was just a babe scrabblin about with the chickens. He is a fine man, yes sir.”

“So how did Grandpa Magnus scare off the black bears, an such?” asks Robert.

“When Magnus come to the Katskills, the bears and panthers and mongooses ran the mountains. The wolves done terrorized folks and ain’t nobody gonna live here. But Magnus, he didn’t take no stock in that, much. He done built a cabin for his fambily and took me in besides, when my own kin died of yeller fever. But anyhows, Magnus, he didn’t take no shit from them critters.”

“This one time,” says Uncle Eddie,  “Your granpy Magnus, he called a meetin with the wolves and the panthers and the mongooses.”

“What about the bears?” I ask.

“Now don’t go having a conniption fit,” says Uncle Eddie. “The bears came especially. Well now, where was I? Your great granpy Magnus, he be taller than the biggest oak in the forest, and his chest be twice as big around. When he stands up and stretches his arms out in the mawnin, he blocks out the sun, and grabs the moon off ’a the horizon to scratch his back with. And when he yawns, the whole mountain shakes and all the aminals run for they’s dens. He rips the trees out of the ground by their roots when he clears a field, and uses their branches to pick the wildcats out of his teeth after a meal.

“Magnus’ still is cut right into the side of the mountain. He uses a whole pine forest to fire it, why you can hear that somnabitch boomin for miles down the valley. One day, not too long ago, ’bout fifty years maybe, he picked up a whole mountain stream and laid it back down so’s it runs straight into his still’s coolin barrel. When Magnus gets thirsty from choppin trees for the fire, he takes the big kettle from the hearth and dips it into the still just for a sip of moonshine.”

“I reckon he be about one hundred and twenty seven year old now, but that don’t slow him down none. He goes out every day, searchin the mountain for bears and stokin the fire under his still. Why, just the other day he brought five hundred jugs of moonshine back to the cabin.”

“But what about the bears, Uncle Eddie?” I say.

“Don’t you worry none about them bears. They be leaving soon enough! So when he done called that meetin, the animals, they come. He stood there with his hands on his hips and his eye was gleamin so mean it done caught the trees on fire around him. He told them aminals that he weren’t gonna take no more of their connivin ways, and they better git! And when your great granpy Magnus said ‘Git!’ half the trees in the forest came crashing down around them critters.”

“Well, the wolves, they turned tail and headed for the Rockies, where I hear they’s still pulling buffalo down for a mornin snack. The mongooses, they disappeared into the crevices of the mountain side, their tails crackin so fast they lit on fire, their beady eyes gleamin out from them dark crevices, jist a’ waitin for the day your great granpy Magnus go away. And the panthers, they headed south, figgerin they gots a better chance with Davy Crockett than with your granpy Magnus. An’ that’s why old Davy gots so much trouble down there in the cane.”

“But the bears,” I say. “What about the bears?”

“Why, the bears,” says Uncle Eddie. “I ’most forgot. The bears, they’s too proud to leave. Granpy Magnus, he say they better leave right quick. But they just grumble and sit on they’s haunches, sayin he ain’t got no right to make them leave.”

“But your granpy Magnus, he told them again, ‘Git’! And this time half the mountain leapt up under their feet and crashed down upon their heads.”

“Did they go?” I ask, knocking over the jug of moonshine.

“Lord, child!” says Uncle Eddie, “You’re wound tighter than a hound dog chasin a possum through a briar patch. Don’t you worry none. Them bears, they went all right. And to this day, no bear with any stuffin ’twixt his ears done come to these here parts.”

Uncle Eddie passes around a fresh jug and we each pour out a glass, the mercury clear shine glinting in the moonlight. We sit, contemplating the quietude of the woods surrounding the cabin, wondering if Great Grandpa Magnus was at that very moment rastling with a bear or whirling a rabid mongoose into a bramble bush.

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