I never met Finch or Jones, I was too young, but they have lived in my memory my whole life. I was born in a cottage on the banks of a mountain stream. The cottage was a parsonage, and my dad was a pastor. Finch and Jones were members of the congregation.
It was a time and place that shaped a culture. The country was suffering through the recession that followed the Great Depression. The tiny community was isolated deep in the mountains. The residents were simple folks who lived life on their own terms. They wanted only to be left alone, to survive together. Survival meant living on vegetables from their own gardens, fruit from their own trees, and meat from their own forest. And it meant relying on one another, for support, friendship, and entertainment. These were mountain people, and Finch and Jones were mountain men.
The stories, Dad told, gave me a picture of two men who were as different as they were alike. Finch was tall and thin. Jones was short and portly. Jones was appropriately jolly. Finch was a man of few words. Finch was a prankster. Jones was a ready-made victim. But they were both avid outdoors men, and inseparable friends. And they behaved as mountain men did, in the thirties.
If you have ever been coon hunting, as I have been on a few occasions, you will know that it provides an experience like no other. It’s done in the dark, in the deep woods, to the inimitable sound of baying hounds. There is the hurried stumbling over logs and through dense cover, to keep up with the dogs. It’s easier to do, if you’re tall and thin. So Finch arrived at the foot of the hollow tree ahead of Jones. He discovered the hole at the bottom of the tree. He decided Jones didn’t need to know that the hole went all the way through the tree. “The coon is up inside the tree. I’ll get a stick and whack the tree, to scare him out. You can put your hands in this hole and grab him when he comes down”. After an appropriate amount of whacking, “He’s coming down!!”. Finch reached into the hole from the other side and scratched Jones unmercifully, before dashing off to a safe distance.
Deer hunting provided the most reliable source of meat in those days. There is nothing like the taste of a venison steak, to the hungry hunter. Some folks have a taste for bear meat, when nothing else is available. Finch and Jones were not particular in that regard. But, this particular day, they were high on the mountain, hunting deer. (Our family has a picture of my dad hunting on top of that very mountain.) At midday they stopped to eat their lunch. They sat on a rocky ledge, enjoying their lunch and their friendship.
Suddenly they heard the sound of some activity, under the ledge. They discovered they had been sitting on top of a cave. Finch constructed a torch out of pine tar, on the end of a stick. He got on his hands and knees and approached the cave. “I’ll crawl part way in. You grab my legs and push me a little farther. When I kick, you pull me out”. Extending the torch ahead of him, he saw himself staring into three pairs of eyes. He kicked, and out he came. They had been sitting on the home of the three bears. What happened next is a story for another day.
One day Finch and Jones were hunting on the mountain on the other side of the valley. They were approaching the area near a bear trap. Rumor had it that a huge black bear had been seen near the trap. They were hoping that they would find the bear in the wooden trap. He wasn’t in the trap, but they could smell him. Suddenly they saw him! He was bigger than the rumor they had heard. Bigger, in fact, than any rumor they had ever heard! They were standing on a narrow trail, and they had been seen. The bear started toward them.
Finch was closest to the bear, so he took the shot. The bear charged, and they ran. Jones was in the lead. Finch couldn’t get past him. The bear was gaining. Then he slowed. He stepped off the trail, and grabbed a sapling in his jaws. He ripped the sapling from its roots. Finch shot again. The bear charged again. Finch and Jones ran again.
Later that night they returned with a horse, to drag the 500 pound bear to their home. He became quite a curiosity. People came from miles around to see the bear, and to hear Jones tell the story. He told of the first terrible charge, the fear, and the race down the steep and narrow mountain path. He told of how skittish the horse was, dragging that bear down that narrow path in the dark. Finch said nothing. “Were you afraid?”, they asked Finch. “Jones kept gettin’ in my way”.