Dewey Cot­ton knew the se­cret to split­ting fire­wood ev­ery time.

Dewey Cot­ton taught me a lot about coun­try life, in­clud­ing the se­cret to split­ting fire­wood ev­ery time.

Country - - CONTENTS - BY R.J. LAN­NAN New­port, Ten­nes­see

I’m a city boy through and through, so when I met Dewey Cot­ton for the first time I was as­ton­ished, to say the least. I had just moved to Ken­tucky to try home­steading, and Dewey was my new neigh­bor. He was a spry lit­tle man with tanned, leath­ery skin and a halo of white hair. At 76, he walked with a limp caused by an ornery mule half a cen­tury be­fore, but he sure got around. Work­ing and liv­ing off the back of an old tele­phone truck, he set up camp, cleared the woods for his yard, and started build­ing his house just about overnight. Ev­ery day he greeted me as if I were a long-lost friend and of­fered me a cup of cof­fee. I’m so glad that I ac­cepted as of­ten as I did. One time I found a geode, a round rock with sug­ary quartz crys­tals in­side. I asked Dewey if he knew what it was, and he said it was a “But­ler County bul­let.” He told me that dur­ing the Civil War, when they ran out of am­mu­ni­tion they threw these rocks in­stead. Dewey had a way of do­ing things. He dragged his fire­wood with that old truck, spliced the ply­wood for his house walls, and could plant 20 fruit trees all in a day. But he al­ways had time for a quick hello and ex­tended a sin­cere of­fer of help when I did any ser­vice for him. “Thanks, till you’re bet­ter paid,” he said, and he meant it. One time Dewey heard me try­ing to split fire­wood for the com­ing win­ter. I was us­ing an 8-pound maul and get­ting it stuck just about ev­ery time I swung it up, down and into the wood. Dewey said to me in dead earnest, “You’re hold­ing your mouth wrong. You’ll never get any­wheres that way. Watch.” He hauled back and just when the ax was at the top of the arc he called out, “Nearer, my God, to thee!”—and the wood split as if struck by light­ning. I tried it his way and failed. Af­ter a good belly laugh, Dewey said he al­ways turned his ax slightly just at the last mo­ment and the wood split ev­ery time. Old Dewey Cot­ton taught me a lot of life lessons. His church was the for­est, his al­tar was a camp­fire and his God was all around him. He passed away many years ago, but I still think of him. Once in a while, if you lis­ten care­fully, you can hear me call, “Nearer, my God, to thee!” And light­ning strikes.

R.J. fondly re­calls the life lessons from his neigh­bor Dewey.

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