Currituck County Tales and Legend
It was said that a great Sycamore tree once lived in southern Currituck. Over one hundred years ago it was already an ancient tree and nature had pruned it into a peculiar shape. Its main abnormality was a low, strong limb that grew parallel to the ground for a distance of seven or eight feet before it finally decided to head upward and join its fellows far above. This tree grew along a field not far from a road and since anyone could remember, the low limb was used by the men of the area as a bench where they could rest and talk to other men of like mind. The women of the district named the tree. They were wise enough to know that it was not only themselves, but also the men who enjoyed “sharing information”. My grandfather, Gideon M. Sawyer, used to tell his children of an experience that he had one winter day under this Sycamore. With the exception of Gideon and his wife, Mary, all names are fictitious. Herein is Gideon's story about:
The Gossip Tree
Contributed by Robert Etheridge
It was a day in late winter. There was a brisk wind and although it was not extremely cold, the breeze made it quite chilly. Gideon Sawyer, having completed his chores, decided to walk down to Hog Quarter Landing to see a boat that a man had for sale there. He was greatly disappointed when he arrived at Hog Quarter Landing and was shown the boat for it was in poor condition and had not been maintained. In Gideon's words, “It was all mommucked up!” In addition, the price was high and the man would not discuss lowering it.
Gideon was somewhat miffed as he turned up his coat against the wind and started his walk back home. The winter shadows were still long that day and in spite of the sunny skies, Gideon felt rather gloomy as he walked. Every few hundred yards he had to stop and open and close gates along the road. In those days there were no public roads and the right of way was over private property. All who traveled these paths were expected to tend the gates properly. “Gates!” muttered Gideon. “The least people could do is have their gates in good repair!” He felt a little chilled when he had to stop his quick stepping and stand still against the wind to fiddle with obstinate gate latches. It sometimes seemed to him that the owners were deliberately trying to discourage folks from using the right of way.
It was while trying to get through one of these gates that he happened to look down the road and saw “The Gossip Tree”. The old Sycamore beckoned to him. Its low limb looked very inviting. Noting that the breeze was shielded at that spot by the pinewoods nearby, he decided to take a break out of the wind. After he had finally finished securing the gate, he turned and headed in the direction of the Sycamore. Gideon saw that one of his neighbors was sitting on the limb smoking his pipe. “Strange that I didn't see him a minute ago,” he thought. He walked over to the tree and spoke to the man who we will call Zack.
“Howdy, Gideon! I was kinda hoping that you would mosey on over so we could have a talk.” The old gentleman looked well and healthy. Gideon asked about his health because he knew that Zack had been ailing for quite some time. “Yes, I have been sickly, but suddenly everything is fine. I'm out of the woods at last!” Zack's voice was strong and Gideon was very happy to see him doing so well.
The two men, one in his prime and the other in old age, had a wonderful time talking that day. Politics was a topic always discussed. Both men supported William Jennings Bryan and he received much praise that day. Mr. McKinley, on the other hand, was only casually mentioned. Then the talk passed to other things. Zack reminded Gideon of the day, many years before, when he had taken a very young boy out on the sound to instruct him in the art of duck hunting. The instruction ended in failure when both the man, Zack, and the boy, Gideon, had fallen into the water and were just about frozen before they could climb back into the boat and row ashore. Gideon reminded Zack that he asked Gideon not to speak of the incident to anyone, especially his mama.
Other memories were brought up and discussed. Some brought chortles of laughter—others brought moments of sadness. Gideon marveled that Zack could remember so well things that happened years before with such precision. It was as if he were seeing them all again exactly as they had happened.
The conversation continued for more than an hour. Finally Gideon noticed that the long winter shadows were getting even longer and the wind was beginning to find a way through the pinewood. He rose and he and Zack shook hands. “Be sure to give my best to your missus, Zack!”
“Oh, I sure will, Gideon. Martha will be glad to hear we had this time together. She has been spending a lot of time lately putting up with me, you know, but now she won't have to worry about that for quite some time!”
Gideon left the tree and walked briskly back toward home. He turned back one time and still could see Zack sitting there smoking his pipe. When he arrived back home, he was surprised to find his wife, Mary, cooking at the stove. He thought it strange for her to be cooking at a time that was in-between meals and asked her what she was doing. “I'm glad you got back, Gideon”, she said. “You need to go out and hitch the horse to the cart. We have got to git over to Martha's house. Old Zack died this morning and she will need some comforting.”
Not believing what he heard, he asked Mary who she said had died. “Old Zack”, she repeated. “You know that he has been dying these last six months. Well, his nephew came over about an hour ago and told me he had passed. He had already notified several other neighbors and friends. He said that Zack had died peacefully and was almost clear in his mind, and was even talking about politics not too long before he died. Then he started harkening back to the old days. He even mentioned that time that you and he fell in the Sound all those years ago. It is good to know that he just drifted off to sleep at the end.”
Gideon sat down on a bench next to the stove and said nothing. Mary looked at him uncertainly: “I'm sorry, Gid; I should not have blurted out the news so suddenly. I know how close you were to Zack.”
“No, no—you did fine, Mary. It's just that I'm sitting here wondering... if Zack is dead, then who was it that I have been talking with for the last hour?”