A Memory of a Little Boy Growing Up in Ohio County, Kentucky
THE TIGER HEAD LAP ROBE
This is a story for the children. One time when my parents came to visit us, our daughter Amy had a new red plastic cat clock on her wall that her dad had bought for her. It was called a “novelty” clock and it was shaped like a cat, with big eyes that moved back and forth, and its tail swung in unison from side to side. The ears, face, and tail were outlined in large fake diamond-like jewels that sparkled brilliantly. When my dad, (Gilbert Cox) saw it, he said he thought immediately of the tiger head lap robe that his Grandpa Smith used to have at his house when they went to visit family in Ohio County about 1917. My dad was Gilbert Cox. His grandparents were James Thomas Smith and his wife, Sarah (Sanders), who lived near Select.
Grandpa and Grandma Smith used this lap robe when they went riding in their buggy to keep their legs warm. My source is an audio oral history tape, and this story is written from my father’s own words:
“When I was a little boy…I wasn’t very big…I slept on a straw mattress near the fire place at Grandpa Smith’s house when we would go to visit. They had a fire place twice as big as yours (our fireplace opening is about 36 inches). It took two men to carry the back log in. When they got up of a morning, they put a back log on – about this big around (measuring with his hands) – and shoved it in there. It was called the back log. They rolled it plumb to the back, too, and then all the fire was built in front of the back log. That log would be in there when you went to bed at night. Sometimes it would be burnt nearly in two, but most of the time, it still wouldn’t be, and that’s when they banked the ashes all up against the back log.
“But they had a lap rug made out of a tiger skin, see, and it had a tiger head on it with big white teeth and glass eyes that they used for a lap robe in the buggy. Well, it was a great big old room with high ceilings, and I slept on a straw mattress in there by myself. You could just crawl in that straw bed and mash it down and burrow down in it, you know. I don’t know what it is about a straw bed, but it would keep popping and crackling. There was always a mouse or two making little noises in the wood box. And the firelight would make shadows dance around on the walls. I would lay there and look at that old tiger head over there and then the fire would fall down a little bit, and it would make those old eyes sparkle and flash and nearly scare me to death.
“Because, of course, I had heard my grandpa and uncles and their friends telling about all kinds of animals they had hunted in the woods back then – panthers and bob cat stories. Some of them might have been so. But that fire would fall down and them old eyes would sparkle and gleam like Amy’s clock in there, and I would sink down in that straw mattress just as far as I could get!”
(Dad’s straw mattress was kind of the equivalent of the sleeping bags our kids use today when they go to visit.)
~ by Janice Cox Brown, Tyler, TX