Grit Blogs > Country at Heart

There's a Panther Out

Arkansas GirlWhen we lived near Patmos, we knew there were small, wild animals that lived in the nearby woods. One morning when we awoke, we heard a strange noise outside the house. My Dad went to investigate. He found a fox at the side of the house, which, of course, didn't live too much longer after that. It's not clear how my Dad killed it, but very quickly it was no longer a threat to us or anyone else. Sorry, animal rights' activists, but I guess Dad felt he just couldn't let that one off the hook.

We also knew there were bobcats in the forest. One day when we were on our way out of state (via the back, bottom woods), a small bobcat crossed the highway. That was my first and last time seeing one. I'm not even sure what they're kin too. They may be a large, undomesticated version of a house cat.

I don't think there were deer or bears in that part of the country then, but there are now - along with wolves, coyotes, and foxes and all kinds of rodents and other small, creepy-crawly things.

But panthers were our biggest scare. When we were kids, it was rumored that these ferocious beasts lived in the woods, but no one ever saw them until at night. Why? I don't know, but they were the dreaded "king" of the Arkansas jungle. One bright, sunny, happy day, my Mother announced these blood-chilling words, "Y'all children better stay out of them woods....Bob Palmour and some of his hunting buddies 'jumped' a panther last night." 

Now, keep in mind, we kids, nor anyone else that we knew had ever seen a black panther, but the mere mention of that word made us freeze in our tracks and made our hearts race in our chests. As I look back on it, I'm convinced that wild animals seldom roamed outside of the woods during the day. Then again, we spent a lot of time in the woods, but thankfully, we never saw any wild animals. However, we knew that if we ever met a panther (or any other animal for that matter), that would be the end of us. So, when my Mother mentioned to us about the panther, we kids stayed close to home - at least for a while. I guess it's hard to really scare hard-boiled, country kids.

It's funny how after a "cooling-off" spell, our panther fears dissipated and life went back to normal - until the next scare. Those on-off scares continued until we left that area and moved closer to town. Then, we felt we were out of danger. Perhaps not, but at least, we never heard the word "panther out" again.

Fast forward a decade or so. When I was a young adult living in a large Southern city, I heard someone say, "Those are "Black Panthers." As I stared at the TV, I wasn't sure what was being spoken of, but I soon learned that those "panthers" were young, black men who had formed what they called the "Black Panther Party." I always found that name interesting especially in light of what I knew about panthers - the animals. But as I gazed at those handsome, young guys on the screen, I certainly didn't have the same fear of them that I did of that Arkansas panther - the one that would tear me apart if I ever "crossed" it. Thank God that today, those scary memories are safely stored in the back of my mind.