Sputnik is a friend of mine. He is friend to many. Of all the boyhood friends I had,
he stands out as being tops.
His name is Elmer Rudolph Pruitt. He is tall and gangly, with
sharp features, as though he might be part Native American. He is strong, assertive, and somehow knows how to always make a disagreeable
situation turn out right.
He got the name ‘Sputnik’ from naming his old ’51 Plymouth after
the Russian satellite of the same name. As he sped around the neighborhood, with the name emblazoned on the side, he just came by
the name naturally as folks would exclaim, “here comes ole Sputnik!”
I have followed him
into many ‘hollers’ and deep river canyons in search of the illusive Ginseng. For some reason, our personalities seemed to gel. He
liked being with me, I liked being with him, although his best friend was my brother, Wendell. Wendell wasn’t much of a talker, maybe
‘Bub’ as we always called him, before Sputnik, liked me because I would laugh at his stories and share some of mine. He was generous
to a fault, and would share his last grain of Prince Albert tobacco and OCB paper so we could sit and smoke as we rested from our
sojourning’s. ‘Bub’ was the nickname bestowed upon him by his mother, Rosella. Sputnik usually took a jar of coffee on these outings
and shared it with me.
The Pruitts, like many families in Appalachia, were about as poor
as a family could be. Sputnik went hunting most every day with an old Harrington/Richardson, twelve- gauge shotgun, wired together
with baling wire. When he shot it, many times it flew apart, bruising some part of his anatomy wherever the errant missile tended
to land. He most always brought back some meat, whether it was groundhog, squirrel, cotton-tail rabbit, or possum, if he went hunting
at night. Rosella never refused to cook whatever he brought in and skinned. Her only requirement was that it be dressed and washed
Rosella’s meatloaf was the best I ever tasted to this day. One did not know whether
there was wild game meat in it or not. When I ate it, which was quite a few times, I always basted it with creamery butter, which
came from the County, and chased it down with milk made from dry milk products. This also came from the County. Rosella would refuse
to allow anyone to leave her kitchen hungry. Her biscuits were superb.
“Sputnik wants us
all to meet at the sawmill bottom this morning.” Wendell told me as if Sputnik’s word was law.
This being a Sunday I asked, “What is he planning today?”
I knew that church was the first
precedence of the day. We often had to sneak away from home to join our buddies at the ‘sawmill bottom’ before our parents compelled
us to church. There were many squabbles, apple fights, football games, baseball games, and most anything we could think up happening
at the bottom.
“Since it is so hot, we’ll probably be heading to Little River for some
swimming,” was Wendell’s laconic reply.
Sputnik was the only one who owned a vehicle among
our circle of friends. All the neighborhood boys would try to get a few cents from parents in order to donate a little gas for Sputnik’s
’51 Plymouth. As soon as there was gas enough, whoever happened to be present, would be invited to go ‘swimmin’ at one of the two
rivers which ran through that section of Southwest Virginia, the Clinch or Little River. The Clinch, at that time, was heavily polluted
because of the many outhouses sitting along It’s shore. Little River, which had beginnings in a fresh-water spring, was usually the
river of choice for our swimming. Besides, Native Americans had camped along the level places and had left many artifacts for our
archaeological searches. This is where we chose to go on this particular Sunday morning.
“Ok boys, pile in, Sputnik commanded. If you can’t get inside, get in the trunk.”
Some of us did.
We had to go up through the brick yard in Richlands, Virginia and then
up what is still called “Jones’ Chapel Road’ in order to get to the turnoff to Little River. Soon as the turn is made to Little River,
the road becomes rougher and rougher, eventually turning into a deeply rutted dirt road. To get up the hill, we sometimes had to all
‘pile out’ and push to the top of the hill. We then rushed to get back in as the car would begin to drift down the other side at a
pretty hasty speed. It is a wonder some of us didn’t break our necks. Sputnik took everything in stride, laughing all the while. He
is one of the most joyous folks to be around and loves nothing better than a funny story. Had our parents known about these escapades
back then, there would have been some fur flying at the end of the day.
Sputnik and Wendell,
being the oldest of our gang, were kept busy keeping tabs on the rest of us. There were Davis’, Rose’s, Grimsley’s, Shortt’s, younger
Pruitt’s, and sometimes others whose brothers had to be left behind because of lack of room in the Plymouth Coupe. Sputnik always
made room for Wendell and I. We were special friends. We shared our beds, food, clothing, and tobacco to name a few things. If we
got hold of some beer, which was rare, we shared that too. None of us were able to pay for such things. Besides, our parents would
have killed us had they even suspected we were drinking alcohol. They somehow tolerated our smoking.
After I left Virginia to join the U.S. Air Force, I lost track of Sputnik for several years. I was told by him, afterwards, that he
had drifted up to Michigan and became a long-haul truck driver. He now lives in Grimsleyville, Virginia just below Shortt Gap, on
route 460. Just recently he took it upon himself to make wooden name and address signs out of fir for everyone living on Short Hill
Road. This has always been his modus-operandi, do something for someone before they realize what has hit them. It seems that he is
a true Christian.
The first time I visited him after a long interval, we hit it off
just as if we had never drifted apart.
“You’ns come in and get ye’selves a chair”, he directed
Wendell and I. He commenced to tell us some of the funniest stories which had us rolling on the floor. He was the same old Sputnik.
I hope he has a long, healthy life.
Russia sent their man in space
We had our Sputnik too.
He tolerated our youth,
thought of many things to do.
He’d take us all a’swimming
This is where we’d all relax
He’d let us dig arrowheads
We enjoyed it to
That ole Plymouth was so full
It would almost drag the ground
If we got stalled upon a hill
We’d get out and push her ‘round.
Sputnik used to hunt a lot
His mom cooked all that he killed
As long as he would skin it
All her cooking pots stayed filled.
know of anyone
Whose memory floods my mind,
As does my old pal Sputnik,
He was just one of a kind.