Wingzofsteel Adventures and Reviews

Epic Motorcycle Camping Adventures

Once Upon a Morning Chilly, Part One

with 5 comments

While growing up in Blackshear, Georgia, interacting with nature and all of its inhabitants was a daily occurrence there on our little farm.  Legends upon legends were manifested on most of the indigenous creatures of the area.  Most of the legends, if not all, were designed to keep us rambunctious boys walking a straight line.

One particular legend surrounded the great Pileated Woodpecker, which wasn’t really a legend as much as it was an aberration of truth.   We were told from our early upbringings that these birds would peck our eyes out.  It wasn’t really clear to us why the bird would want to peck them out, they just would.

Depth of information was something that was uncommon in those days.  In fact, you could say most of our information was on the shallow side.  Years before we got our 1964 World-Book encyclopedias and certainly decades before the internet, we had to rely on the town library to dig deeper into spotty information, but that was over 5 miles away.  For us hellion boys that may as well been on the other side of the moon!  There was no way our Mama and Daddy would take us to a place where we had to be quiet and behave at the same time.  They knew it wasn’t going to happen which meant they would be forced deal with us in a public forum, which made them look bad.  So, they avoided the situation altogether.  They liked dealing with us more privately by making us go select the switch that would make our rear ends look like a waffle iron.

The only exception to this rule was taking us to church.  There was a fundamental knowledge going in that not only God, but Mr. Cochran and Mr. Tyson would deal with us if we misbehaved.  And that was before we got home!  Then we would have to deal with our Daddy.  Why it was not even outside the realm of possibilities that our own sweet Mother, yes you heard correctly, would drive away and leave us stranded at church!

I hated it when that happened!  In a voice similar to that of Paddy Reilly’s, I could almost hear Gabriel the Archangel somewhere off in the background playing a banjo and singing,

“Gots no Fried Chicken, gots no ice tea,

Gots no Buster Brown, to keep  company.

Their Mama done left dem, left dem all alone   

Just a walking the streets without a home”.

She would drive away leaving us so we could spend some time alone with God to pay for our atonement.  And I do mean alone!  Not another soul would be there.  Even at the ripe old age of 5 years old I understood that the loneliest place in the world was at church 10 minutes after the noon service!  After walking the grounds of Emanuel Baptist Church a few hundred times we would see out Mother finally driving back up the street to collect us.  To this day she claims she overlooked us.  And, I guess being that we were carpooling with Aunt Mary and cousins Larry and Kathy, she could have easily miscalculated the number of boys riding in that old car, but still I wonder.

So, as I was saying about the depth of information, we took what little piece of information that was doled out to us and ran with it!  Over time, we stitched together a pretty good likeness of the truth.

 The Pileated Wood Pecker is the largest Wood Pecker in North America.  During those years, however the great Ivory-Billed Woodpecker was known to be the largest, but it didn’t live in our part of the world.  Now, it is said the Ivory Billed has left North America all together and has made a new home in Mexico.

The Pileated Wood Pecker is a large bodied Wood Pecker about the size of a crow.  When fully grown, its wingspan can reach 30 inches or so from tip to tip.  It has bushy red plumage on the top of its head that would make you think of Jackie Ammons when he was in the 9th grade.  Jackie Ammons, by the way, was the water boy for our football team in 1970, as well as a great human being.

I have included a picture of this creature for your observation.  The male Woodpecker has a red moustache and the female Woodpecker, like my former boss, has a black moustache; other than this they look somewhat the same.


The Pileated Woodpecker can peck a giant hole in the side of a tree large enough for other critters to live in.  They do this in search of larvae as well as grownup insects to eat.  When they peck, it sounds like a small jack hammer.  If you are by chance a young larvae just starting out in the world, my advice to you is when you hear this bird pecking on your tree, slide out the back door and avoid this creature as best you can or else he will be having you for lunch.

So, it was in the late fifties when I first felt the fear of losing my ocular acuity from this bird.  Please allow me to take you to a time in a remote section of rural Georgia where the ills of the world were not yet felt; where rugged individualism reigned mightily over special interest groups and to a time when there was no such thing as being politically incorrect.

As this tale unfolds with its macabre undertone, I feel inspired and possibly channeled in part by those great storytellers of old who also saw through the dimness of reality into the crystal clarity of a dimension unguarded by space and time called the imagination.



Once upon a morning’ chilly

While tangled in a bedspread frilly.

For my sister pushed me off the bed and on the floor.

As I lie startled on my bedroom’s decking,

I hear this awful, dreadful pecking,

A  Woodpecker peck, peck, pecking on the kitchen next door.

My sister’s voice was softly speaking

“It is our eyes the Bird is seeking”!

Yours, Mike’s, and Mitch’s but nothing more…..

“Bam, Bam, Bam, Bam, Bam,” came a loud torrent of sound from the rooftop of our farm house so loudly it rattled the dishes in our  china cabinet.

The giant well adorned Pileated Woodpecker looked as though he had dressed for a presidential appointment.  His tuxedo-like feathers with a bushy red hair on top made him look as though he had a sense of purpose as he proceeded to peck a hole in our rooftop just above our kitchen.  Each peck would produce large hunks of wood splinters and shingle pieces that would fly off in a myriad of directions.  And each time he pecked, sounds very similar to that of crying children, would emanate an unhealthy high pitched requiem that would seep from somewhere below him.  Unsure of what or where the sound was, he continued to peck.

So in a flash we children fled

From the comforts of our bed

Into the room where comes the sound we all abhor.

Our Mother met us in her gown

Who just before was lying down,

And we gathered around the stove in the center of the floor.

Outside Buster Brown was barking frightened,

While the winged creature’s talons tightened

Upon the rooftop… peck, peck, pecking it seemed forevermore.

“Bam, Bam, Bam, Bam, Bam,” it rang again and again as precise and as loudly as a drummer’s cadence.

Good ‘ol Buster Brown, from under a bush by the front porch, was barking loudly to counter the hammering that was going on the top of our house.  Buster Brown, no doubt was keeping his distance from the winged creature as he had heard the story also.  He would do what he could to scare the big bird away by barking from the safety beneath the bush, but he was not going to take any unnecessary chances here, no sir, after all it was his fourth Thanksgiving.  He could tell by all the good smells drifting across the field from Granny’s house that this was a special day and he was going to get to eat some deliciously good table scraps.  As he remained perfectly hidden from the creature’s sight, Buster Brown thought about all the turkey, ham, huge cathead biscuits (patted out by our Granny’s little fat hands), rice, sausage, gravy, boiled okra and sweet corn he was sure to sample.  If he is lucky, he thought, he might even get a piece of nut-bar cake; that is if only this giant woodpecker would fly away and leave his family alone.

Across the field and slightly down from Grandpa’s house, ol’Jack, Uncle Alvin’s Bird dog was thinking the very same thing except he didn’t have the stress of what seemed to be a Pterodactyl lurching over him.

Earlier that morning our Daddy, Virgil Riggins, lit the wood heater which got the house cozy and warm for his family before leaving to meet his brothers, Alvin and Rat.  This being a particularly cold morning for the region, it concerned he and his older brothers enough to meet at the tobacco beds at first light to check to see if the young plants were adequately protected by the plastic sheeting they had draped over the beds the day before.

Quietly, the slender 35 year-old man left his young wife, our Mama, Betty Jean and our baby brother Jeffrey in the front bedroom under mounds of thick and warm quilts, still asleep all snuggled up together.  Walking to the back room, he looked in at the two beds positioned perpendicular to one another; one with Mike and Mitch, whose arms were each tightly wrapped around a giant Ted Bear they got as a birthday present from their Grandpa Riggins the January before.   The Bears were nearly as big as the twins so it was hard to distinguish which of the four lumps underneath the covers was boy and which was bear.  The other bed slept my sister Linda Gail and me all quiet with the covers pulled up over our heads.   The multi colored patchwork quilts revealed only the form of the child who lay beneath it.

“Now I want chew to look a there” he said proudly to himself.  A broad smile formed on his face as he opened the door a little wider to let the heat circulate into the cold room.

 Although his Brogan boots made no sound as he walked across the linoleum floor, the all too familiar vibration from his weight was comforting to all who lay in unconscious slumber as he walked through the kitchen and out the back porch door.  In the quiet hours of the early morning, even before the rooster crowed, all that was heard was the sound of the 55 Dodge truck as it moved easily down the sandy dirt road.

Three hours later, he returned to pandemonium.


“You stop that!”

“Shut up!”

“Help, Mama!”

“Don’t run in the house”!

“You put that down”!

“I’m gonna bust you one Mr. Goofy-head”!

“Mama, Cod Tater is on”!

 “You give it back”!

“Quit hitting me”!

“Owww, quit it”!

“Hey, watch Ted Bear turn a somersault”!

”Look at us Mama, we’re riding motor-sickle’s”!

“Get off those cabinet doors”!

“You know how to spell Goofy-Head, Mr. Goofy-Head? P-chocolate-Y, that’s how”!

“Michael Lawton, take that purple color crayon out of your nose”!

Amidst all these sounds was the constant boom, boom, boom sound from, what it seemed a thousand thundering footsteps.  But more times than not, you would also hear songs sung wonderfully by our Mother to keep little Jeffrey entertained. This, of course, would be later in the day when the older children were outside playing. 

“Mairzy dotes and dozy dotes and little lamsey divey a kiddelly divey too wouldn’t you”, you would her sing sweetly.

Her voice would fill the rooms with a perfect rendition of such songs we would hear over the old blue metal radio.

But, these were the normal sounds you would hear just before entering our house.  Today, however, the sounds were strangely different. Something indeed was wrong.

 “What in tar nations is going on now?”  Virgil asked before entering the house.  “And what is Buster Brown barking at?”  He looked around curiously one last time before entering the house, but did not see anything out of the ordinary.

Standing inside the doorway of the kitchen, Virgil Riggins looked at his family and observed the pitiful sight before him.  In the dimly lit kitchen of the farmhouse there seated at the table next to the wood stove was Mama, feeding little brother Jeffrey with a baby bottle. Jeffrey was the newest addition to our family, being born that June.  It would be another seven years before Lisa Ellen assumed the title of being the baby of the family.

“Bam, bam, bam, bam, bam,” the Woodpecker pecked mightily.

The twins, Mike and Mitch were on each side of Mama clutching close to her for support, each holding on to Mama with one hand and a Ted Bear with the other.

“It will be all right, your Daddy’s home now”, our Mother said trying to comfort us.

“It’s just a big ol  Hammerhead”, Our Daddy said trying to calm us.

“It’s gonna peck our eyes out, isn’t it Daddy!” Mike said, as a matter of fact and then covered up his eyes with one hand while still looking through his fingers; his big head nodding up and down as he spoke.

Virgil nervously laughed at that comment and then asked “Who, you reckon, told you that doozy”?

All of us young’uns said at once, “You did, Daddy”!

Why, hmmm,  I, uh what I meant to say was”…….

“Bam, bam, bam, bam, bam,” the Woodpecker chimed in as though on cue.

“Daddy, make it stop,” my sister Linda Gail cried while holding onto her only real possession, a headless Nurse Nancy Doll.  I was on the other side of Linda Gail and tried to hold on to her but she turned and hit me in the head with the stub of Nurse Nancy’s neck.

“Owww”, I said defensively while rubbing my temple.  “I didn’t do anything”!

“Not you, GOOFY-HEAD, THE WOODPECKER”, my sister retorted, making sure I could hear her by the way she yelled to the top of her lungs directly into the tympanic membrane of my right ear.

Virgil, now turning his attention towards Linda Gail, stooped down to where he was eye level with our eight year old sister.  “Now hush, Daughter, where in the world is the head to your baby doll”?

He asked this in earnest as he was proud that Santa Claus had brought it to her the Christmas before.

Linda Gail, without saying a word, immediately turned and pointed, showing her freshly painted fingernails, at me and the twins while giving us the evil eye to emphasize her displeasure of her younger brothers.

“They did it”, she finally said in the same tone you would use to describe an escaped convict.  Then, as if on cue, a stream of tears began to swell up and roll down her cheeks as she fell into Daddy’s arms.

And before I could form the word “ball” with my lips, Daddy gave me the proclamation to find the head and put it back on Nurse Nancy before I did anything else that day…. or else my rear-end would look like a waffle by night fall.

I tried to explain that Mike, Mitch and I needed a ball to play with, and that doll head was the closest to something round as there was, but it was no use.  It wasn’t like we were going to tear it up!  We were just borrowing it temporarily.   Although, when we did find it later that day, Nurse Nancy’s Hair was all disheveled and one eye was to remain open forevermore.  In the lying down position Nurse Nancy would always be looking at you with one eye open.  I have to be honest with you; Nurse Nancy always freaked me out a little after that day.

Here is an image of a 1957 Nurse Nancy Doll.

“Virgil you better DO something about this NOW.   I’ve had about ENOUGH of that bird scaring the children,” my mother said. Her voice was now rising into a crescendo with that unmistakable business is about to take place tone that was carried in her voice.

“Bam, Bam, Bam, Bam”, another round of battery to the top of the house.

Mitch started looking all around as though any moment the bird will peck his way through, and then with one arm still clutching Ted Bear, he buried his face in Mama’s robe.  His warm breath was felt on Mamas leg when he said in a muffled voice, “Don’t let that mean bird get us Mama”, he said with the passion that only a three and a half  year old could deliver.

Betty Jean looked up at Virgil with a brooding look that suggested life was going to be altered for either him or the Woodpecker and a decision was just about ready to be made.

 “O.k.!  O.k. Betty, I’ll take care of the dang bird!”  Virgil said in a distressed manner as he walked back to his bed room to retrieve his Winchester single shot bolt action rifle.   He walked back through the kitchen and stopped as he checked the barrel of his rifle.

“Now hush up boys and girls!  It’s Thanksgiving Day and you know what?  Your Uncle Bill and Aunt Waunell were just driving up when I drove past your Granny and Grandpa’s this morning”, he said calmly as he placed a couple of extra cartridges in his shirt pocket.

He continued to say, “Your cousins Abe, Cheryl, Sandra and Sue Nell will need somebody to keep them company after awhile, I suspect, so get yourselves ready and walk on over after you had your breakfast!”

For just a moment, this made us think about the fun adventures that were in store for us over at our Granny’s and Grandpa’s.  All of our cousins from Waycross would be over.  In addition to Uncle Bill and Aunt Waunell’s family, Uncle Milton and Aunt Dottie would be over with their girls, Connie, Mary Francis and little Vicky.  Uncle Charles and Aunt Feral would come over with their new baby Johnny and, of course all of our nearby Uncles, Aunts and cousins would be there also.  Larry and Kathy were our closest cousins that lived across the field between our house and Grandpa’s house.  And, although not knowing it at the time, in just one short year, Karen would be born completing that family.  Over the next few years many more cousins would be added to the list and as the years rolled past, many adventures were to be shared with our huge growing family.

Sadly, though our Grandpa would see only one more Thanksgiving after this as he would leave this earth shortly before the Christmas of 1959.

Our excitement of the prospects of adventure with our cousins quickly faded as we watched our Daddy as he left the kitchen, rifle over arm and quietly slipping out the back door.  Although we did feel somewhat vindicated as our brave Daddy; our hero marched to our defense, from the prospective of our young minds, he was also marching into dangerous and unknown territory and we were scared for him.

 “Bam, Bam, Bam, Bam!” The Woodpecker hammered on in defiance.

At the sound of the back door opening, ‘ol Buster Brown found the courage to see who it was venturing out in the open.  He popped out from underneath the bush in the front yard and made a beeline towards Virgil, as though he was saying, “It’s about time I got some backup. What took you so long, Daddy?”

“You calm down there Buster Brown”! Virgil said to the overly anxious bulldog who was trying real hard to stay in close contact with the man’s leg; his tail wagging back and forth so wildly twisting his whole body from side to side.

Virgil walked around the back of the house between the edge of the porch and the grapevine. He slid a cartridge into the chamber and took careful aim.

The Pileated Woodpecker continued his destructive pounding, “Bam, Bam, Bam, Bam, Bam” the deafening noise went on.  

The bird did not give any thought to why the dog below had stopped barking. He just assumed the dog got tired and decided to live with the monotonous sound of him pecking.  But then suddenly, somewhere in the vicinity of the grapevine, which was behind the farmhouse, the huge Woodpecker heard a faint but distinct ‘click’ which caused it to look up and around.


The sound from the single-shot Winchester echoed throughout the farm and reverberated in the lowlands at the edge of the field. A flight of Starlings rose up from the cornfield and filled the clear blue morning sky with black stippling as though they were etched into glass; all flying up and suddenly changing directions as though they were instructed to do so exactly at the same time.

Then there was silence.

The morning frost did slowly dry,

As the sun crawled upward in the sky,

as each passing day has done before.

Alone the creature pecking, still creeping;

below the children were quietly weeping

as the man crept out the back porch door.

It was a day I clearly remember,

that chilly morn in late November

when he placed the bullet into the chamber’s open bore.

The Woodpeckers rage still ever taunting

With pecking sounds he made so haunting,

That no poor soul below could possibly ignore.

When the rapport of the barrel boomed;

the smoke at the end of the barrel loomed

As the man said softly….


Now, I cannot say for sure what happened to the Woodpecker. I would like to think that our Daddy, who was an excellent marksman, aimed carefully at the oak limb above the area of where the Woodpecker was pecking and fired a single bullet grazing the bark just enough that would have sent a shower of wooden shavings over the bird, causing it to fly away.  

However, the greatest evidence I have that it survived was five and one half years later the giant pecking bird returned and forever changed the life of my brother Mike and, I’m sure, future generations of Woodpeckers.


“Once Upon a Morning Chilly, Part Two”


Written by wingzofsteel

December 3, 2009 at 4:00 pm

5 Responses

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  1. In rural household with four boys, I’m surprised there were any woodpeckers that dared to hang around. I remember that day well. Never mind that it was probably the last pileated woodpecker in North America, it had the great misfortune of choosing our house to peck-on. I, too, recall the loud KA-BOOM and the dead silence that followed. No doubt, if I was a woodpecker and had witnessed such a sight, I’d move to Mexico too. Another good story, but little did we know that our adventures with woodpeckers were just starting.

    Mitchell Whaley

    December 5, 2009 at 12:00 am

  2. Just when I thought it was safe to go into the wood…..Pileated Woodpecker II.
    Coming Soon!

    Michael Lawgins

    December 6, 2009 at 11:32 pm

  3. While reading this i felt as if I were in the farm house with the Riggins family. Oh how do you remmember all of these details? Love ths one. Look forward to reading the second part. Cindy

    Cindy Weber

    December 9, 2009 at 9:16 am

  4. Well, here I am, still reading the Adventures of the Riggins Clan! Your woodpecker who would peck out your eyes made me think of the “eye-spitter bug”. I didn’t take the time to learn exactly what these bugs were until about 15 or so years ago! After all, Kathy Warren had told me when we were kids growing up together that these were indeed eye-spitter bugs & they’d spit out your eyes. And I believed her until my best buddy Lori educated me about these strange creatures when we found one in our veg. garden & I was about to run like the wind to get away from it. I felt your fears of the woodpecker. We had a pair of these earlier this fall in our backyard; I tried to get photos but my hands were not steady enough to get a good shot, but I do have many blurry ones!

    Mary Lee B.

    December 13, 2009 at 5:13 pm

  5. Told my neighbor, Earl, about a woodpecker I’d seen dusting itself in a sandy spot out back. I described it as about the size of a Banty Rooster. Earl laughed a mocking laugh and said ‘there ain’t no woodpecker’s that big.’ Several days later Earl excitedly told me he’d seen my woodpecker. I asked him what he thought and he said I’d described it ‘just about right.’ Great story.


    April 23, 2010 at 11:21 pm

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