I loved Roozie White, and I loved to hunt with him. He was a vestige of a gone age, and I treasured him because he could take me back to the time my father had spoken of in wistful reflection. Roozie (his real name was Lavelle) loved to tell stories. They were true, I believe, or mostly true, but memory is not exactly history. Some were softened or sweetened or magnified by the silence of the past. My veracity, too, may be questioned—after all, it was more than 40 years ago.
On my way to his house, I witnessed a covey of quail walking across the road at the Cedar Grove AME Church cemetery. I suggested we look for those birds first thing. Roozie rolled his eyes at me and said, “No sir! Not them cemetery birds. They are demons!
“Doctor,” he continued with his soft edentulous lisp. “Remember when ol’ Coach Bear Bryant done sent out all his scoutin’ peoples to see La’Jarus, who was one of the Prophetess and Bishop Whetstone’s boys what played basketball for Central? He done made the state all-star team and was a great big boy, ‘bout six foot eight and near three hundred pounds. Central didn’t have no football, but La’Jarus was tough as a lighter stump. He helped his uncle pulpwood in the summer and load logs on that bobtail truck.
“So when coach Bear got word of La’Jarus, he call me. I told him I knowed the Prophetess Whetstone and the Bishop and all their chilluns. The next thing I knowed, coach say he wanted to come down to meet La’Jarus and his mama and daddy.
“Well Coach Bryant showed with his driver and setting in the back seat. I had arranged to have him meet all them over at the church ’cause the Bishop and the Prophetess was fixing up the church for the evening service. It was the Wednesday service on the day after Do-Dah Day, and Bishop had agreed for the Rev. Freddie Knight and the Jubilee Angelic Singers to be there.”
“What is Do-Dah Day?” I interrupted.
“The day the checks come. You know, ‘Do dah checks come today?’ It’s the best time to take a collection, so you don’t have to wait till after Saturday. See, them ‘cruitin’ coaches told Coach Bear that the church don’t have no indoor plumbing and only have a wood-burning stove for heat. So Coach Bear say he will match whatever they raise at the service to fix that if La’Jarus sign to play for him. He say he couldn’t give no money direct to La’Jarus or to his mama or daddy.
“Well, when they took up the offering, there was only seven dollars and fifty cents. They pass the plate again and got two dollars more. So, Sister Whetstone lead everyone out into the cold moonlight and was high-stepping and praying, ‘Lawd, give me a sign!’ She marched out through the cemetery wearing a long black skirt that come down over her high-heel shoes. That covey of quail was roosting in the tall grass where it was too rough to mow. They was all scrunched together in a tight wad with their tails together, ’cause it was cold that night. And just when she began speaking in tongues and seeing visions, she stepped right over them birds. When they left out, them birds couldn’t go no way but up. The Prophetess come out of them high-heel shoes and let out a squall and commenced to jumping and screaming and crying ‘Jeeesus, have mercy!’ Then she fell on the ground all tranced out, just a-twitchin’ and a-jerkin’. Them birds come out one at a time and flew this way and that, and the folks commenced to running like them hogs that got infested when Jesus cast all them demons out of Legion.
“Coach Bear had lit a cigarette, but it fall out of his mouth, and he said a bunch of Sunday school words, and he say, ‘She is casting out demons!’ He reaches in his overcoat for a pint of liquor, and his Adam’s apple dip four times. He handed the bottle to me and said, ‘Roozie, I’m quittin’ this!’”
So, that’s Ol’ Roozie White’s story of Coach Bear Bryant and the demon quail, a tale he told me once upon a time, many, many years ago and in the way that I remember it. Now, I mentioned before that I loved Roozie and loved to hunt with him—and that his stories were true, or mostly true—but after hearing this one, I’ll leave that determination up to you.
Dr. John C. “Doc” Blythe is a retired oncologist, avid conservationist, and author of The Last Hunt on Early County.