Told by Uncle Remus: New Stories of the Old Plantation | Annotated Tale

COMPLETE! Entered into SurLaLune Database in July 2019 with all known ATU Classifications.

Why the Turkey-Buzzard is Bald-Headed

“MOTHER,” said the little boy one day, “do you know why the turkey buzzards are bald?”

                “Why, no,” replied the young mother, very much surprised. “I didn’t even know they were bald. But why do you ask such a silly question?”

                “Because Uncle Remus said you knew why they are bald.”

                “You tell Uncle Remus,” said the grandmother, laughing heartily, “that I say he is an old rascal, and he had better behave himself.”

                The way of it was this: The little boy had been walking out in the fields with Uncle Remus, and had seen, away up in the sky, two or three turkey buzzards floating lazily along on motionless wings. From the fields they had gone into the woods, and in these woods they had found what Uncle Remus had said was a buzzard’s nest. It was in a hollow tree, flat on the ground, and when they came near, the mother buzzard issued forth from the hollow, with such a hissing and flapping of wings that the little boy was frightened for a moment.

                “Go on ’way fum here, you bald-headed ol’ rapscallion; ef you don’t I’ll do you wuss dan Brer Rabbit done you. Honey,” he went on, turning to the child, “you better put yo’ hankcher ter yo’ nose ef you gwineter look in dat nes’, kaze ol’ Miss Turkey Buzzard is a scandalious housekeeper.”

                The child did as he was bid, and, peeping in the nest, he saw two young ones, as white as goslings. While he was peeping in he got a whiff of the odor of the buzzards, and turned and ran away from the place as hard as he could. Uncle Remus followed suit, and hobbled away as fast as his legs could carry him. When they were both out of range of the buzzard’s nest, they stopped and laughed at each other.

                “You nee’nter be skeer’d dat anything’ll ketch you, honey. Dey ain’t nothin’ but a race-hoss got yo’ gait. Why, ef I hadn’t ’a’ been wid you, you’d ’a’ been home by now, kaze you’d ’a’ started when ol’ Miss Buzzard fus flew out er dat hole.”

                The little boy made no denial, for he knew that what Uncle Remus said had much more than a grain of truth in it. Besides, he was thinking of other things just then. He soon made known what it was. “Why did you call the buzzard bald-headed, Uncle Remus?”

                “A mighty good reason,” responded the old man. “Dey ain’t no mo’ got fedders on de top er der head dan you got ha’r in de pa’m er yo’ han’. You ketch one un um, an’ ef you kin hol’ yo’ breff long nuff ter look, you’ll see dat I’m tellin’ you de trufe. I ain’t blamin’ um fer dat, kaze dey got a mighty good reason fer bein’ bal’-headed. Dey’s mighty few folks dat know what de reason is, an’ one un um is yo’ ma. Ef you’ll kinder coax ’er, I speck she’ll tell you.”

                This was what led up to the question the child had asked his mother, and was the occasion of the grandmother’s laughing remark that Uncle Remus was an old rascal.

                The little boy gave Uncle Remus the full particulars the next time he saw him. The old man laughed merrily when he heard that his Miss Sally had called him an old rascal. “Talk ’bout yo’ smart wimmen folks!” he exclaimed. “Dey ain’t na’er man in de worl’ what kin hol’ a candle ter yo’ gran’ma; an’ des ez you see ’er now, dat des de way she been sence she wuz a gal. She know what you gwineter say long ’fo’ you kin git de words out ’n yo’ mouf; she kin look right thoo you an’ tell you what you thinkin’ ’bout. You may laugh all you wanter, but ef youer feelin’ bad she’ll know it. When Miss Sally goes an’ dies, dey won’t be na’er nudder somebody fer ter take her place. Dey ain’t no two ways ’bout dat.”

                “I think she is getting used to mother,” the little boy remarked in his old-fashioned way--a way that was a source of constant amazement to Uncle Remus, who could hardly understand how a child could act and talk like a grown person. He regarded the child with a puzzled look, and closed his eyes with a sigh. The child had no idea that Uncle Remus was either puzzled or amazed, and so he harked back to the original problem. “Why is the buzzard bald-headed?” he asked.

                “Ef yo’ ma an’ yo’ gran’ma dunno,” replied Uncle Remus, “I speck I’ll hatter tell you, an’ de bes’ way ter do dat is ter tell de tale dat de ol’ folks tol’ der chillun. What make it mo’ easy, is dat dey ain’t nothin’ er Brer Turkey Buzzard in it but his name. Ef he wuz in it hisse’f, I don’t speck you’d stay long nuff fer ter hear me tell it.” The child laughed, for he remembered how he wanted to run away from the tree when old Mrs. Buzzard came flopping out. He laughed, but said nothing, and Uncle Remus resumed:

                “Dey wuz a time when Brer Rabbit live in one side uv a holler tree. One day whiles he wuz gwine pirootin’ roun’, ol’ Miss Turkey Buzzard come knockin’ at de do’, an’ when she don’t hear nothin’ she stuck ’er head in an’ look roun’. Ter see ’er den an’ see ’er now you wouldn’t know she wuz de same creetur. She had a fine top-knot on ’er head, bigger dan de one on de freezlin’ hen, which de win’ done blow all her fedders de wrong way. Yasser, she had a fine top-knot, an’ she ’uz purty good-lookin’.

                “Well, suh, she peeped in, she did, an’ den she seed dat dey wa’n’t nobody in dar, needer Grandaddy Owl, ner Brer Polecat, ner Brer Rattlesnake. She take an’er look, an’ den in she walked, an’ made ’erself mighty much at home. It ain’t take ol’ Miss Buzzard long fer ter fix her nes’, kaze she ain’t want nothin’ but five sticks an’ a han’ful er leaves. She went out an’ fotch um in an’ dar she wuz. She went right straight ter housekeepin’, kaze she ain’t had ter put down no kyarpits, ner straighten out no rugs, ner move de cheers roun’, ner wash no dishes.

                “Well, long todes night, er maybe a little later, Brer Rabbit come home, an’ like he mos’ allers done, he come a-laughin’. He been projickin’ wid some er de yuther creeturs, an he wuz mighty pleased wid hisse’f. When he fus’ come he ain’t take no notice er ol’ Miss Buzzard. He come in a-laughin’, an’ he laugh twel he don’t wanter laugh no mo’. But bimeby he ’gun ter take notice dat ever’thing wa’n’t des like it use ter be. He ’low, ‘Somebody done been here while I’m gone, an’ whoever ’twuz, is got a mighty bad breff.’ He keep still, kaze ’twuz mighty dark in de holler, but he keep on wigglin’ his nose an’ tryin’ ter sneeze. Bimeby, he say, ‘I dunner who ’twuz; all I know, is dat he better go see de doctor.’

                “Dis ’uz too much fer ol’ Miss Buzzard, an’ she say, ‘I thank you kin’ly, Brer Rabbit! Youer in de way er makin’ frien’s wharsomever you go!’ Brer Rabbit, he jump mos’ out ’n his skin, he wuz so skeer’d. He cotch his breff an’ sneeze, an’ den he ’low, ‘Heyo, Sis Buzzard! is dat you? I thought you stayed in de trees. What win’ blow you here, an’ how is ol’ Brer Buzzard?’ She say, ‘Oh, he’s doin’ ez well ez you kin speck a man ter do; he’s ’way fum home when he oughter be dar, an’ when he’s dar, he’s in de way. Men folks is monstus tryin’, Brer Rabbit; you know dat yo’se’f.’ Brer Rabbit ’low, ‘I ain’t ’sputin’ what you say, but when wimmen gits out er sorts, an’ has de all-overs, ez you may say, de men folks has ter b’ar de brunt er der ailments. You kin put dat down fer a fack.’

                “Dey went on dat a-way, ’sputin’ ’bout de seck twel ol’ Miss Buzzard ’gun ter git sleepy. She say, ‘Brer Rabbit, ef you took mo’ time for sleep, you’d be lots better off.’ Brer Rabbit ’low, ‘Maybe so--maybe so, Sis Buzzard, but I can’t help my habits. I’m a light sleeper, but I wuz born so, an’ if you so much ez move endurin’ er de night I’ll have one eye open.’ Ol’ Miss Buzzard say, ‘Ef dat’s de case, Brer Rabbit, I’ll thank you fer ter wake me ef you hear a snake crawlin’. Dey ain’t many things I’m afeard un, an’ one uv um is a snake.’ Brer Rabbit laugh hearty, an’ low, ‘Ef snakes wuz all dat trouble me, Sis Buzzard, I’d be mo’ dan happy. Many an’ many’s de time when I uv woke up an’ foun’ um quiled up in my britches laig.’ Miss Buzzard, she sorter flutter her wings, an’ say, ‘Oh, hush, Brer Rabbit! you gi’ me de creeps; you sho do.’

                “Dat ’uz de fust night,” said Uncle Remus, flinging away a quid of tobacco and taking a fresh one. “By de nex’ day ol’ Miss Buzzard had done took up her ’bode an’ lodgin’ whar Brer Rabbit wuz livin’ at. He ain’t say nothin’, kaze he des waitin’ de time when he kin play some kinder prank on her an’ her fambly. All dat he need fer ter brace ’im up wuz ter have a mighty strong stomach, an’ he thank de Lord dat he got dat. Time went on, an’ ez any kinder soun’ egg will hatch ef you gi’ it time, so ol’ Miss Buzzard egg hatch, an’ mos’ ’fo’ you know it, ef you ain’t hatter live dar like Brer Rabbit, she hatch out her eggs an’ have a pair er mighty likely chillun, ef you kin call Buzzards likely.

                “Ol’ Miss Buzzard wuz monstus proud er deze young uns, an’ de time come when she wuz hard put ter git um vittles. She’d fly off an’ dey’d holler fer sump’n ter eat when dey hear ’er come back, an’ it got so atter while dat dey’d hatter go hongry, dey wuz so ravenous. An’ den she ’gun ter look sideways at Brer Rabbit. He knew mighty well what she thinkin’ ’bout, but he ain’t say nothin’. He’d come an’ go des like ol’ Miss Buzzard want in de back part er her head, but all de time, he know’d what she plannin’ ter do, an’ he ack accordin’. He ’low ter ol’ Miss Buzzard dat he know she wanter be kinder private when she raisin’ a fambly, an’ ez dey wuz two hollers in de tree, he say he gwinter make his home in de yuther one. Miss Buzzard, she say, she did, dat Brer Rabbit wuz mighty good fer ter be thinkin’ ’bout yuther people, but Brer Rabbit make a bow an’ say he been raise dat a-way.

                “But ’fo’ Brer Rabbit went in de yuther holler he made sho dat dey wuz mo’ dan one way er gittin’ out. He went in dar, he did, an’ scratch about an’ make a new bed, an’ den he git in it fer ter git it warm. He set dar wid one eye open an’ t’er one shot. He sot so still dat ol’ Miss Buzzard got de idee dat he gone abroad, an’ so when her chillun cry fer dey dinner, she say, ‘Don’t cry, honey babies; mammy gwine ter git you a good warm dinner ’fo’ long, an’ it’ll be fresh meat, too, you kin ’pen’ on dat.’ De chillun, dey cry wuss at dis, kaze dey so hongry dey don’t wanter wait a minnit. Dey say, ‘Git it now, mammy! git it now!’ Ol’ Brer Rabbit wuz settin’ in dar lis’nin’, an’ he ’low ter hisse’f, ‘It’ll tas’e mighty good when you does git it, honey babies!’ Wid dat, he skip out fum dar, an’ went off ter his laughin’-place.”

                “Atter so long a time, ol’ Miss Buzzard went ’roun’ ter de yuther holler, an’ peep in. Ef Brer Rabbit had ’a’ been in dar, she wuz gwineter ax ’im how he like his new house, but he wa’n’t dar, an’ she hove a long breff, kaze when you gwineter do mischief, it seem like eve’ybody know what you gwineter do. Anyhow, she ’uz mighty glad dat Brer Rabbit wa’n’t dar fer ter look at ’er wid his pop-eyes. Den she tell her chillun dat she gwine off atter some vittles, an’ she flop ’er wings a time er two, an’ off she flew’d.

                “Dey got ’long tollable well dat day an’ de nex’ but ’twant long ’fo’ der craw ’gun ter feel like a win’-bag, an’ den dey set up a cry fer mo’ vittles, an’ der mammy ain’t got no vittles fer ter gi’ um. Brer Rabbit went abroad mighty soon dat day, an’ atter he had his fill er fun an’ turnip greens he come home an’ went ter bed. He went ter bed, he did, an’ went ter sleep, but he ain’t sleep long, kaze he hear some kinder noise. He wake up, an’ open an’ shet his pop-eyes kinder slow, an’ wiggle his mouf an’ nose. He kin hear ol’ Miss Buzzard trompin’ roun’ at his front door, kinder hummin’ a chune ter herself. He say, ‘Heyo, dar! who dat projickin’ at my front do’?’ Ol’ Miss Buzzard, she say, ‘Take yo’ res’, Brer Rabbit; ’tain’t nobody but me. I got de idee dat some un wuz pirootin’ roun’ de place, an’ I des got up fer ter see dat everything wuz all right.’

                “Brer Rabbit say, ‘It’s mighty dark in here,’ an’ ‘A mighty good reason,’ sez ol’ Miss Buzzard, se’she, ‘kaze it’s black night out here,’ se’she; ‘you can’t see yo’ han’ befo’ you,’ se’she. Dis make Brer Rabbit laugh, kaze de mornin’ sun wuz shinin’ thoo a knot-hole right in Brer Rabbit’s face. He laugh an’ ’low ter hisse’f, ‘Shoot yo’ shekels, ol’ ’oman, an’ shoot um hard, kaze youer gwineter git de rough een’ er dis business. You hear my horn!’ He hear ol’ Miss Buzzard walkin’ roun’ out dar, an’ he holler out, ‘I can’t git out! I b’lieve it’s daytime out dar, an’ I can’t git out! Somebody better run here an’ he’p me ter git out. Some un done lock me in my own house, an’ I can’t git out! Ain’t somebody gwineter run here an’ turn me out! I can’t git a breff er fresh a’r.’

                “Well, ol’ Miss Buzzard ain’t got no mo’ sense dan ter b’lieve Brer Rabbit, an’ she wuz des certain an’ sho dat he wuz her meat. She say, ‘I’m de one what shet you up in dar, an’ I’m gwine ter keep you in dar twel youer done dead, an’ den I’ll pull de meat off’n yo’ bones, bofe fat an’ lean, an’ feed my chillun. I done got you shot up wid red clay an’ white, an’ I’m gwineter keep you in dar bofe day an’ night, twel you ain’t got no breff in you.’ Wid dat she went in her own house an’ sot down wid ’er chillun fer ter wait an’ see what gwineter happen. Brer Rabbit he stay still fer de longes’, kaze he one er de mos’ fidgetty creeturs you yever is lay yo’ eyes on. He stay right still, he did, twel ol’ Miss Turkey Buzzard git tired er waitin’ an’ come out fer ter promenade up an’ down ’fo’ Brer Rabbit front do’.

                “He hear de ol’ huzzy, an’ he say, ‘I know you des jokin’ wid me, Sis Buzzard; please, ma’am, le’ me out. My breff gittin’ shorter, an’ dish yer an’ what in here smell mos’ ez bad ez what yo’ breff do. Please, ma’am, make ’as’e an’ let me out.’ Den she got mad. ‘My breff, I hear you say! Well, ’fo’ I git thoo wid you, you won’t have no breff--I prommus you dat.’ Atter ol’ Miss Buzzard went back in her part er de house, Brer Rabbit tuck a notion dat he’d git out er dar, an’ pay ’er back fer de ol’ an’ de new. An’ out er his back door he went. He ain’t take time fer ter go ter de laughin’-place--no, suh! not him. Stidder dat he put off ter whar he know’d Mr. Man had been cle’rin’ up a new groun’. Dey wuz a tin bucket what Mr. Man had done off an’ forgot, an’ Brer Rabbit tuck dat an’ fill it full er red-hot embers, an’ went sailin’ back home wid it.

                “When he git dar, he stuck his head in Miss Buzzard do’, an’ low, ‘Peep-eye, Sis Buzzard! I hope you done had yo’ dinner ter day, an’ ef you ain’t I got it right here fer you an’ you mo’ dan welcome ter all dat’s in it.’ He ain’t mo’ dan got de words out ’n his mouf, ’fo’ ol’ Miss Buzzard flew’d out at ’im des like she flew’d out at you, de yuther day. She flew’d out, she did, but she ain’t flew’d fur ’fo’ she got de hot ashes over her head an’ neck, an’ de way she hopp’d ’roun’ wuz so scandalious dat folks calls dat kinder doin’s de buzzard-dance down ter dis day an’ time.

                “Some er de ashes got on de little buzzards, an fum dat time on none er de buzzard tribe is had any ha’r er fedders on der head, an’ not much on der neck. An’ ef you look at um right close, you’ll fin’ dat I’m ’a’ tellin’ you de plain trufe. Dey look so ba’r on der head an’ neck dat you wanter gi’ um a piece er rag fer to tie roun’ it ter keep um fum ketchin’ col’.”

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Why the Turkey-Buzzard is Bald-Headed
Tale Author/Editor: Harris, Joel Chandler
Book Title: Told by Uncle Remus: New Stories of the Old Plantation
Book Author/Editor: Harris, Joel Chandler
Publisher: Grosset & Dunlap
Publication City: New York
Year of Publication: 1903
Country of Origin: United States
Classification: unclassified

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