Saturday, March 28, 2020

Just Around the Bend - Complete Book One

Just Around the Bend


Joe Henry Carpenter pushed the last of the boxes into the back end of his truck, closed down the tonneau cover an' shut the tailgate. He leaned against the back of his truck, elbows on the tailgate an' looked at the house he was leavin'. The yard was well kept. The grass cut an’ bushes trimmed even though it wasn’t his any longer. It had been sold before the bank was to foreclose on it. As with everything else, there was no equity, nothing for him to show for all his hard work.

For a long time, he just stood there, eyes unfocused as he thought an' pondered.

It wasn't his home anymore. To be truthful, it hadn't been his home for a long time. Wasn't really his idea of a house or a home. Betty picked it out. Betty wanted it. Betty pushed an' begged till he agreed they should purchase it, even though he was afraid they really couldn't afford it.

He was right. The sporting goods store that his Daddy Henry Kay Carpenter opened an' ran back in the early 50's just didn't have the sales in the late 1970s that his Dad had back when the place started.

Henry Kay moved from down near Beloved, Kentucky to Kings Mills, Ohio just after the war. He ran a "beer joint" with a cousin for several years till he met Sally Lunsford. Sally was a Christian an' devoted Baptist. Henry Kay did his best to court her, but she told him she didn't go in for beer joints, drinkin' an' carryin' on.

Truth be told, he was tired of the hours they had to work, the late nights an' early mornin's cleanin' the place up to get ready for the next day. He weren't much for standin' behind the bar all afternoon, evenin' an' night either.

Henry Kay sold his share of the beer joint to his cousin, took a job in a local factory for a couple years. He started goin' to church. It just happened to be the same church Sally Lunsford when to. One thing led to another an' Sally married Henry Kay.

They dreamed of openin' a business of their own. When Henry Kay's bowlin' team was lookin' for somewhere to order team shirts with no success, well, Sally suggested they should open a sportin' goods store.

It started out small. Henry Kay kept on workin' at the factory while they rented a shop, ordered a small amount of sportin' goods an' took the plunge by buyin' a second hand embroidery machine.

Henry Kay had a cousin who had a small printin' press in his basement. Together they designed an' printed business cards an' flyers. Both Henry Kay an' Sally took flyers 'round to all the schools, bowlin' alleys, churches an' so on.

Things took off pretty quickly. After a year Henry Kay was able to finally quit the factory. They bought a buildin' an' the store did pretty good. Back then it was the place schools came to order uniforms, equipment, and trophies.

The store was simply named "Carpenter's Sporting Goods". It was the only place in town where a softball team could order shirts for the whole team AND get names embroidered on the shirts. Of course, they even sold shirts for bowlin' teams an' could embroider team names on the back an' individual names on the front.

When his Mama passed, they hired a young woman part time to take over the embroidery jobs an' help our around the store. Betty Jean Smalley seemed like she fit right in. Even though he weren't much for it, she patted on Henry Kay, hugged him as she passed him by. Told him how good the store was doin'.

Henry Kay would just shake his head an' roll his eyes when she weren't lookin' He just weren't much for that sort of carryin' on. Weren't much of a hugger. Didn't think Betty meant it much either.

Betty had an eye for Joe Henry early on. She would laugh at his jokes, wink an' wink an' blink her eyes at him, Act all coy like 'round him. She even commenced to bringin' the three of them lunch she made on the days she worked.

Henry Kay warned Joe Henry that ol' Betty had more than a part time job on her mind, but that boy didn't listen. It weren't to long before Joe Henry an' Bobby was datin'.

As he looked back, he didn't really remember actually proposin' to Betty. He did remember her pullin' him into a jewelry store an' them walkin' out with approved credit an' a quarter carat diamond engagement ring on Betty's finger.

They took off one Friday mornin' an' got married in Jellico, Tennessee, just like his Mama an' Daddy did. She said it was romantic an' wonderful. He just thought it was fast. Henry Kay didn't know anything about it, other than he knew he was shorthanded that day.

Move ahead a couple years an' Henry Kay got the cancer. It was them cigarettes. He knew he shouldn't smoke. He sort of resented it when Betty, who was family now, made him go out back of the store to smoke. Said it made "the merchandise" smell bad. She made him go outside to smoke in his own store.

Even when he started coughin' all the time he went out back, even in the rain to have a smoke, back behind his own store. He got the cancer. He didn't spend much time in the store. Joe Henry could handle things. Henry Kay just didn't feel much like workin'.

When his Daddy died Joe Henry did his best to run the sporting goods store the same way his Daddy did. Betty had many, many other ideas. She wanted to change the image of the store, wanted to bring women in. She said the old stodgy image of a sportin' goods store with baseball bats, uniforms, football gear an' such just wasn't invitin' for the ladies.

With her encouragement Joe Henry changed the name of the store to "Sports!” They added exercise bikes, treadmills, women's clothin' to exercise in an' all sorts of female oriented things.

Folks started goin' elsewhere to order team uniforms. Betty didn't have time for embroiderin' shirts an' such. The team sports equipment was moved back in the back corner of the store as the place was more an' more oriented to the things Betty wanted.

Others saw the divorce comin' well before Joe Henry. Not that he was happy. He just had been taught that marriage was a promise, a commitment to each other to stay together, no matter what.

They had to declare bankruptcy along the way that last year. Seems the store had pushed them way over their heads with all the new merchandise. Henry Kay an' Joe Henry hadn't really ever separated the store an' their personal finances.

Joe Henry an' Betty saw each other just two times in their last five months together. They were there together for the bankruptcy an' for the divorce hearin'.

Then Betty left. She wished him well. Told him she still thought well of him, but she had to spread her wings. He just had too much "small town" for her. Said he was still too much of a hillbilly. Said she just didn't want to be married to "Lil Abner". Said he was too much like his Daddy.

Though she meant it as a complaint, Joe Henry thought that was the best thing she ever said to him. He was proud to be a lot like his Daddy.

Joe Henry pushed on the tailgate to make sure it was closed. He stepped toward the front of the truck an' paused as he took hold of the door handle.

The store, the merchandise, everything his Daddy worked for was gone. The house was gone. Betty was gone. Joe Henry didn't know exactly what he would do next. He did know where he was goin' next.

He made a promise to his Great Aunt Bess Carpenter to come spend a while with her. She had plenty of room an' was one of the best cooks Joe Henry knew. He had nowhere else to go an' easily agreed.

As he started the truck an' drove away he didn't look back. Nothin' to look back for. His next stop was the home of his Great Aunt Bess.

Joe Henry’s Aunt Bess Asher lived near Berea, Kentucky. Her place was up a gravel road an’ on a ridge. She had a few neighbors up an’ down the ridge but Aunt Bess lived at the very end of the road on about three hundred ninety acres. About fifty acres had been farmed over the years an’ the rest was woods. For many years the farm produced tobacco an’ later on, corn, hogs an’ a few steers each year.

Aunt Bess always said there was a hog for herself, for the Church of God preacher, the Church of Christ preacher an’ the Methodist preacher. Several steers went to market an’ she would give a hog an’ half her steer to her preacher over to Hopewell Baptist Church. She also kept him an’ his family supplied with eggs an’ vegetables from her garden. If she liked you she might even give you some honey from her two beehives.

The thing y’all need to know is that Aunt Bess Asher let folks know exactly what she thought. A person didn’t have to check for a jar of honey to know if she liked folks. It usually were no secret as to who she had no time for. She didn’t care for “trifling” folks. Especially trifling women.

Aunt Bess an’ Floyd, her late husband, always kept mules that Floyd not only plowed with but showed at several County Fairs around Eastern Kentucky. For that reason Floyd an’ a couple of the men that worked for him kept trails cut through the woods. Floyd always told Joe Henry that the land had been given to an ancestor of his as a land grant after the Revolutionary War.

Joe Henry didn’t turn the radio on once as he drove from Kings Mills, Ohio to Berea, Kentucky. As he drove he was lost in thoughts, regrets, memories an’ “what might have been”. Though the trip was familiar an’ a trip he usually enjoyed, he didn’t really see much of the late summer scenery. He just was on his own personal autopilot as he drove.

The Berea exit came all too quickly. He turned off an’ instead of goin’ left toward town an’ through Berea to his Great Aunt’s place, he turned right. There was a little antique mall just a couple miles up the road. Wanderin’ through would give him a few minutes to compose himself an’ prepare for seein’ his Aunt Bess.

The ladies that ran the places said their “howdy” an’ told him they hadn’t seen him in a right smart while. He smiled an’ told them he hadn’t been down in a while but figured he’d be ‘round more. They asked if they were anything he was lookin’ for but he replied that there weren’t a thing he was lookin’ for. He was just lookin’.

Toward the back, there was a booth that had several quilts, some kitchen tablecloths from the 40’s an’ ’50s as well as quite a bit of milk glass. His Mama collected milk glass for many years but gave it all away when she was sick. Said Henry Kay an’ Joe Henry didn’t have no need or appreciation for her milk glass.

He dug through the stack of old quilts an’ found one he liked a lot. It was a fan pattern an’ colors that Betty would have hated. Truth be told, Betty didn’t like quilts at all. She gave all the quilts Joe Henry had to the Goodwill not too long after they married. He liked the feel of old quilts on the bed. He liked to cover up with an’ ol’ beat up quilt when he was sick. Betty weren’t much for nursin’ Joe Henry when he was sick. She didn’t really care much for an ol’ beat up quilt for Joe Henry to cozy up in either.

“How much are y’all gonna take me for if I want this nasty ol’ quilt” he asked with a little smile on his face.

The ladies grinned an’ went for the sale, “Now you know that quilt is in good condition. That ain’t no cutter quilt. What does that tag say?”

He held the tag up for them to see, “Says $50 but that is bound to be wrong. This ol’ dirty thing ain’t worth $20 an’ I am bein’ generous at that.”

“Now boy, you an’ I know that quilt is worth near $80 if it were up in Ohio where the Yankee folks get all wound up about quilts an’ such. I can give y’all $5 off, but that poor ol’ lady what has that in her booth needs to feed her family too.”

Joe Henry agreed. He knew that they always gave ten percent off if folks would ask. He also knew that up in Ohio it would be sold for a lot more. They put it in a grocery bag an’ he put it in the back seat of his truck. He turned right from the parkin’ lot an’ headed for Aunt Bess’s.

He was glad to see that the road to Aunt Bess’s had been graveled an’ oiled earlier in the summer. He still drove slow, not wantin’ the oil to get all over his truck. His slow speed was most likely to put off the moment he would see his Aunt. Though he loved her, he dreaded that moment.

As he pulled off the gravel road an’ into the gate he saw his Aunt sittin’ on the front porch in that rockin’ chair she favored. He could already tell her apron was full of green beans an’ the paper bag beside her on the floor had the strings an’ ends thrown there after she broke the beans.

He slowed down because the chickens were reluctant to get out of his way. It was almost like them chickens knew it was Joe Henry. He still remembered an ol’ rooster that grieved him somethin’ terrible when he was a little boy. He smiled when he thought of Aunt Bess realizin’ that rooster was chasin’ her Great Nephew.

That was probably one of the best plates of chicken an’ dumplin’s he ever had that weekend after that rooster got gone. No one ever said much about what happened, but both Uncle Floyd an’ Aunt Bess grinned the whole time they ate that meal.

“Revenge is best served with dumplin’s.” Uncle Floyd said when he got up from the table an’ went to the sideboard to get a toothpick.

Joe Henry laughed as an ol’ hen went running toward the porch, carryin’ on like it were tellin his Aunt he was tryin’ to run over her.

Aunt Bess was up, dumpin’ the remainin’ green beans in a basket as she moved to the steps an’ toward Joe Henry’s truck. He was always amazed how spry she was at 80 years old. She came toward him with arms open. He reached out an’ hugged her tight. He stood there for ever so long. Aunt Bess never made a move, knowin’ exactly what that boy needed.

“Come on up. We’ll get your things later. I’ve got sweet tea in the Frigidaire an’ plenty of ice. Don’t have no chicken an’ dumplin’s but I fried a chicken earlier an’ it is on the sideboard. I have some slaw an’ tater salad made up. I’ll fix both of us a plate an’ we can eat on the porch.”

Joe Henry nodded an’ followed her up the steps. She pointed toward the porch swing as she opened the screen door an’ went in the house. The slap of the screen door as it closed was a welcome sound to Joe Henry. He sat down on the porch swing an’ absently began to use his feet to push the swing gently back an’ forth. He smiled as he remembered sittin’ in the middle of this swing. His Uncle Floyd on one side an’ Aunt Bess on the other, them doin’ all the pushin’ with their feet since his didn’t quite reach the floor.

It weren’t too long before Aunt Bess was back. The tray she carried was covered with a tea towel an’ there were two Mason jars full of ice cubes an’ tea so sweet a feller could cut it with a knife. One big bowl was filled with fried chicken (better believe she friend her chicken in a cast iron skillet), another with cole slaw, a third with her tater salad. Along with the two plates for their meal was a plate with several biscuits an’ a little ol’ bowl of real butter.

Both filled their plates with a good helpin’ from each bowl. Aunt Bess buttered a biscuit for each of them an’ they ate slowly, talkin’ about her garden, about neighbors an’ family. It was exactly what Joe Henry needed just then. As they talked he ate a leg, thigh an’ both wings. He loved the wings when Aunt Bess fried them. They were perfect, crunchy an’ good to gnaw on to get every little bite.

“I swanee child. You must be starved. I’ve never seen you eat so much. I have some dessert but I reckon you ain’t got room…”

“Aunt Bess, what do you have? A feller always has room for some sweetenin’, as you always say.”

She grinned, knowin’ full well he was gonna have dessert before they ever started eatin’. “I have some butter rolls. That is if they ain’t too plain for you.”

Oh my. Butter rolls were one of Joe Henry’s favorites. Made with dough rolled thin an’ cut into squares. Each square was filled with a big spoon of butter, sugar an’ cinnamon before the corners were pulled together an’ all the edges pinched together. Them rolls were placed in a deep pan with a little water. As they baked the butter an’ sugar melted an’ made a sauce the butter rolls floated in. ‘Course, Aunt Bess always called the sauce “butter roll gravy”.

“You’uns need a little of this butter roll gravy on that butter roll.” She would say. That was exactly what she said as he followed her into the kitchen to sit at her long table. It was covered with the same red an’ white plaid plastic tablecloth he remembered from his childhood.

She placed a bowl with a huge butter roll in front of him along with a soup spoon. A cup of coffee followed an’ they sat an’ had their sweetenin’ in the kitchen.

She finished first an’ sat back to look at her Great Nephew for several moments. He knew she was lookin’ him over but didn’t pause as he finished his last bite an’ took the last sip of coffee. He sat back an’ looked sheepishly at her.

“We’ll get you settled tonight, baby. I’ll help you bring your things in. You take the bedroom in the lower house. I’ve got fresh sheets on the bed an’ several quilts I made years ago. I don’t think you will need anything else but a fan. I have one that fits in the window. They is a stick in the window to hold it up but put the fan in an’ it will hold the window open.”

He nodded an’ followed her out to his truck. She helped him carry his boxes an’ suitcases in an’ put them in the lower bedroom. She opened the chifforobe in the corner by the outside door, reached for a handful of hangers that she laid on the bed.

“Get yourself unpacked. We’ll have supper around 6:00 but we’ll just snack around with leftovers. I’ve got a couple bushels of green beans that need pickin’. You can help me pick an’ we’ll talk as we work. Sound alright with you?”

He smiled a sad smile an’ hugged her. “Yes ma’am. It sounds great.”


It was about 5:30 in the morning when Joe Henry heard the first stirrin's in the kitchen. As he slowly woke he could smell coffee brewin' an' heard the sound an' smell the smell of either bacon or ham fryin'. Knowin' his Great Aunt Bess like he did, he suspected she was fryin' both. She was always sayin' he was to skinny for his own good. Said he was gonna snap in half one of these days.

He smiled an' pulled the sheet an' quilts down just a bit. As he ran his fingers through his hair an' sat up he enjoyed just layin' there, listenin'. Early last night he lay an' listened to mice playin' in the walls as he drifted off to sleep. The noises of the crickets an' peepers in the hills around the place as well as the mice runnin' an' playin' in the walls of the ol' house were like a lullaby to his weary mind.

Aunt Bess called from the kitchen, as if she knew he was already awake, "Better get up boy. I'll be throwin' your breakfast out to the hogs any time now."

Joe Henry laughed as he stood up an' reached for his jeans. That was his wake up call throughout his childhood when he would visit Aunt Bess an' Uncle Floyd. Up to this point the hogs had always gone hungry.

She was pourin' coffee into their cups when he entered the kitchen. Though he stopped in the bathroom along the way to do a quick clean up an' wash his hands, he knew she would ask, "You wash your hands?"

"Yes ma'am, I did."

"Sit down there. I've poured coffee but I know you'll want to doctor it yourself." she said as she placed the sugar bowl an' a half pint mason jar of cream beside his cup.

He grinned as he poured enough cream into the cup to color the coffee a light brown. Two spoons of sugar were added under his Great Aunt's watchful eye.

"It is a wonder you haven't rotted your teeth right out of your head. Grab my hand so's I can say grace."

He took her hand an' she squeezed his hand gently as she prayed, "Lord, I am mighty thankful for the many things you have done blessed me with. Thankful for this home, for all the years Floyd an' I spent together. I'm thankful for this food an' the blessings you have given me to raise it, put it away an' enjoy the bounty of your world."

She squeezed once more an' continued, "Lord, I don't know all that is on Joe Henry's mind an' heart right now, but you do. Pour out Your peace on him. Give him direction an' wisdom as he makes decisions, as he seeks the next steps he needs to take. Most of all Lord, an' I'm sayin' this to you as I pray Joe Henry, make this time an' my home a sanctuary for him as he pauses, ponders an' heals. Amen"

That was all she had to say about or to Joe Henry. She didn't ask questions, inquire or pry. She knew it wasn't the time yet. To everything there is a season, as the Good Book says.

That table was laid out with a breakfast big enough for a couple more folks. Big ol' cat head biscuits, real butter she churned in a gallon jar churn, honey from her hives, fried eggs, ham an' bacon as Joe Henry suspected. They was fried apples as well an' a big bowl of gravy.

Now, y'all should know that Aunt Bess didn't ask him or anyone else what stuck their feet under her table how they wanted their eggs fixed, how they wanted this or that. She cooked an' y'all ate. She didn't ask an' wasn't gonna worry about a person likin' what she fixed. Eat it or not. That is how it is.

They talked about the day as they ate. Both mentioned this or that tastin' good, how the ham was cured just right. She mentioned she had an ol' settin' hen what weren't layin' any more. She hated to say it but one of these days the ol' gal would end up making a fine pot of chicken an' dumplin's.

"I'll get you to help me with a few chores before we pick beans his mornin'. The dew is awful heavy an' I don't want to get soaked as we pick."

Later in the mornin' the sun an' heat of the day had dried the dew an' they headed for the bean patch. The rows were full of beans an' they each picked a bushel. Joe Henry was glad no one was watchin', for his "elderly" Great Aunt finished pickin' her bushel well before he did.

They went to the porch with the bushel baskets of green beans an' went in to wash up before they started the job or breakin' beans. The bean plants had them hairs on them that irritated a person's skin sometimes.

When Joe Henry came out of the house the ol' screen door slapped behind him an' he grinned, just feelin' good about the chore before them. He sat down in the rocker beside Aunt Bess. She handed him a dish towel to put on his lap. Her apron was already full of beans. A bucket was in front of both of them an' a wash pan was on the floor waitin' for Joe Henry to pick it up.

The wash pan was on his lap an' he dropped a big ol' handful of beans in the dish towel. Aunt Bess was several handfuls of broken beans ahead of him. He broke off the ends, pulled the strings an' carefully broke the beans into several pieces. The broken pieces went into the wash pan. Strings an' end pieces went into the bucket as they would finish each pile of beans from their laps.

Aunt Bess paused, holdin' a bean in her hands as she looked at her Great Nephew. He knew she was lookin' at him an' didn't look up for a minute or two. When he did she had a crooked smile on her lips.

"Boy, you never would look up straight at anyone one when you was feelin' guilty. Thing is, I have no idea why you would feel guilty about anything. I reckon now is a good time to talk about things. We can talk, break beans an' when I get enough we'll stop for a bit so's I can put some beans in jars an in the pressure cooker. We have an' awful lot of beans to break, wash an' can before the day is up. Might as well work through things. Don't you think?"

Joe Henry looked into her eyes, so dark they was almost black. He didn't see a bit of condemnation, regret, anger or blame as he looked at her. Like he always did when he sat on her porch, Joe Henry felt safe. He knew it was time to talk about all that happened.

He started from the beginnin'. He told Aunt Bess that he had been a fool. That he should have seen that Betty didn't have the same hopes an' dreams as his Daddy had. For all that matter, he wasn't even sure he did. He didn't want to be a store clerk for the rest of his life. That might be why he let Betty talk him into things he didn't really want.

He admitted that his relationship with Betty was more about... well, he was uncomfortable tellin' his Great Aunt, but his relationship with Betty was more about...ahem, "physical attraction" than love.

Aunt Betty paused an' laughed loud an' hard. "Do you really think you are the first Carpenter what fooled around before you was married? I could give you a list of cousins, even Uncles an' Aunts. Won't do it though. That ain't my story to tell."

She shook her head, "Y'all just let the wrong organ make decisions for you, boy. Seems like your head an' heart didn't have much to do with it."

"No ma'am, I reckon you are right." he told her with a tear or two in his eyes.

He talked about gettin' into debt. Talked about makin' bad business decisions. Told her about the shame of losin' the house, losin' the business, declarin' bankruptcy. He cried time after time that day. Confessin' his guilt, his weakness.

Finally he said, "I let my Daddy down. He never knew it because he was dealin' with the cancer. He struggled for two years an' I just didn't spend enough time with him, with the business. I tried Aunt Bess, but I just didn't know which way to turn sometimes."

He cried an' looked at her for a long time. She got up, dropped the beans back in the basket, put his beans in his basket an' stood him up. Aunt Bess was tall for a woman but thin as a rail. She wrapped her arms around him an' let him cry, sobbin' into her shoulder. His arms wrapped around her, he let everything go.

That is the way most of the rest of the day went. They would talk for a while, he would cry an' grieve. They would break beans, wash beans, can them an' put jars in the pressure cooker. She stopped to hug that boy many times throughout the day.

By evenin' they put the last jars in the pressure cooker. Joe Henry cleaned up the baskets, threw the strings an' bean ends to the chickens an' put the bushel baskets back in the shed.

Aunt Bess fried up some bacon as the pressure cooker hissed an' jiggled. Joe Henry went to the garden, found a big ol' beefsteak tomato an' pulled some lettuce. They toasted bread an' made huge BLT sandwiches.

As they ate they were quiet for the longest time. Finally Joe Henry said, "I lost everything Daddy ever worked for. I don't have anything left. I ruined all he had."

She was quiet for a long time as they ate their BLTs. Then she said, "Not exactly everything."

Joe Henry looked up an' waited.

"Your Grandpa Winston, me an' Brother Rob had a place. It was our Grandpa's an' we inherited it when he was gone. Brother Rob didn't have no children an' left his part to me an' your Grandpa. Your Grandpa left it to me since I was the last of the siblings. That is just the way we did it. Uncle Floyd an' I only had our one daughter, Christine. When she passed I planned for everything to go to your Daddy. It was our intention to pass everything along to you before I was gone."

"I never did so for one reason an' you know her name. She was triflin' Joe Henry. I never did care for her an' ain't ashamed to admit I was right. You know it an' I know it. She weren't gettin' her hands on our legacy."

He grinned. "I know you are right an' you did the right thing. I am so sorry."

She shook her head, "Nothin' to be sorry for. I knew it weren't time. I knew things would work themselves out. They have."

She stopped an' took a bite of sandwich, drank some milk before continuing.

"You never cared to go down home with your Daddy. You probably never thought about it, but he went down often to take care of our place, what was ours. I reckon you was there a few times."

"Yes ma'am I was. Don't remember much about the palce though." he admitted.

"Well Joe Henry, here is what I need you to do. I am gettin' too old to take care of this place an' the homeplace. I'm hirin' you to go down, look things over an' take a hand in runnin' the place."

He shook his head, "Aunt Bess, I don't know nothin' about runnin' a farm or anything like that..."

"I know. I know. You can learn. All you have to do is ask. Folks down there will know who you are. I've already called ahead an' they are expectin' you. They'll get the ol' home place ready for you. I'll pack a few things you'll need to settle in. Take some time, look around an' get into the swing of things. I'll be down later in the fall to see how you are doin."

He knew it was a battle he would never win. She was set on him goin' down an' runnin' a farm he didn't hardly remember. Man, oh man. What was next was all he could think.


The days extended into weeks an' the weeks turned into a month for Joe Henry as he stayed an' visited with his Great Aunt Bess. Truth be told she did appreciate the help as she worked her garden. They broke plenty more beans. With her help an' watchful eye he learned to use a needle an' heavy thread an' stitch a long string of beans to hand an' dry. His Aunt called them "leather britches".

One mornin' they had got into the beans early as they was no dew. They had a bushel of beans they were sewin' onto strings. When he asked about why she dried beans when her canned beans were so good she stopped in her tracks. She looked at him like he was some sort of stranger.

"You mean to tell me you ain't never had a big ol' pot of leather britches?" she asked with some incredulity.

"I reckon not. Don't even know what they are, Aunt Bess."

She grinned. "We'll have to fix that right now. Run out to the smokehouse. I have eight or nine smoked ham hocks hangin' out there. Cut one off for me an' bring it in. They is a big knot between them. Be sure an' don't cut the knot or the next one'll slip off. go on quick. We are in for a treat tonight."

Joe Henry went out to the smoke house an' paused as he opened the ol' wooden door. The inside was dark an' the smell of smoke still heavy after years an' years of use. The walls were lined with tin to keep the smoke from seepin' out the sides. Along the top there was plenty of cracks for the smoke to seep out, but the idea was to keep the sweet wood smoke in as long as possible.

In the kitchen Aunt Bess already had a big half gallon jar of dried beans open an' was washin' a mess of them in a colander.

"I like to wash the leather britches of real good before I put them in the pot to cook. Don't want no bugs or their leavin's on my beans when I eat 'em."

She dumped the dried beans in a pot, added water an' after washin' the big ham hock for the same reason, she threw it in. The burner was turned on low an' she explained that any green beans, fresh picked from the garden, canned or dried should be cooked low an' slow.

Joe Henry laughed an' agreed. He commented on some of the "Foo foo" green beans he had at restaurants where they barely cooked them, threw some chopped up garlic on them an' acted like they was amazing. They both shook their heads as if to get the taste out of their mouths.

After the beans were strung an' hangin' an' the beans simmerin' they both poured a mason jar of sweet tea an' went out to the porch.

As she rocked an' Joe Henry swung on the porch swing they didn't talk much. Aunt Bess finally spoke up.

"Tomorrow we'll saddle my mules an' go for a ride. I don't much like to ride by myself these days, though I do so more than my neighbors think I should."

Joe Henry smiled and agreed. He loved to ride those ol' mules through the hills around Aunt Bess an' Uncle Floyd's place. When he was a little boy he would ride in front of Uncle Floyd. As he grew older he graduated to ridin' behind Uncle Floyd an' finally as a teenager he was able to ride by himself.

After Uncle Floyd died he would come down an' ride with Aunt Bess. Like Uncle Floyd, she thought mules was much better than horses to ride in the mountains. They were more sure footed an' equipped for the hills.

"I sure miss Uncle Floyd, Aunt Bess. How long has he been gone? Fifteen years?"

"No, he ain't been gone that long. I was sixty eight when Floyd died. He was seventy two. It has only been twelve years since he's been gone." she answered.

"Sure seems like longer." he said quietly. He was afraid he opened a conversation she didn't want to have.

"It does, sure enough. I married that man when I was sixteen an' he was twenty. We lived on the farm next to this one back then. We knew each other most of our lives. 'Course back then it weren't nothin' to get married that young."

She smiled an' looked out at nothin' much as they talked. "I sure loved that man. I miss him ever' single day. Each day, each year seems like forever to me. Now, I know I'll see him in Heaven. He told me to look for him when I crossed. Said he would be waitin' for me."

Joe Henry got a little catch in his voice. "I wish I knew what that was like. Don't know that I ever will."

"Ah, now get over yourself boy. You ain't the only one what ever made a mistake in marryin' without gettin' to know your partner."

With that she stood an' headed for the screen door. "I'll be right back." she called over her shoulder.

She came back with a handful of papers, a pen an' a book. She laid the book in Joe Henry's lap an' handed him the pen. He wasn't real sure what was goin' on.

"This here is your employment contract. Like I told you, I am hirin' you to keep an eye on the ol' home place. Make sure the farm is runnin' right an' so on. Read it over. I am payin' you a salary an' not an hourly wage. I trust you to do your part for me."

"Yes ma'am. You know I'll try to do right by you. You do know I ain't worth much on a farm. I don't really know much about runnin' anything. I failed Daddy an' I am afraid I'll fail you.

"Oh nonsense." she said as she shook her head. "Read it, sign it an' plan on packin' your truck an' headin' down on Saturday. Folks have things ready an' waitin' for you."

The ol' Carpenter homestead was near Thousandsticks, Kentucky. That is between Manchester an' Hyden. It was about a ninety minute drive from Aunt Bess's farm.

Joe Henry read the contract, said the salary was too much. She told him not to worry, she would be takin' taxes out of his pay just like she did ever'one else.

"I reckon you'll have enough to make do after you pay Uncle Sam. Do you owe money on your truck? Any bills after the divorce an' bankruptcy?"

He assured her that he didn't have any outstandin' bills. The truck had been his Daddy's an' was his free an' clear. She was satisfied with his answers an' after he signed she took the carbon papers out from between the pages an' gave him a copy to keep.

"This ain't a handout Joe Henry. I expect, your Daddy would expect for you to earn every penny. You have always been a hard worker. Pull your weight an' you'll always have your own reward."

"Yes ma'am." was all he could reply. He wasn't sure why she was doin' this. He still felt so empty, like such a failure after he lost his Daddy's business.

He ate several plates of the leather britches that night. He admitted he had missed a treat by never eatin' them before. Aunt Bess grinned as he took bite after bite. She loved to see folks eat good food.

They rode through the woods for hours on them ol' mules. It was a perfect day. They started out while the mist still hung on the tops of the mountains. Aunt Bess led the way to the top of a ridge before she paused. He rode up beside her an' saw what she was pointin' out with her outstretched hand.

In front of them the whole of the mountains seemed to ride. For miles an' miles the ridges an' hollers rose an' fell. It was till summer an' y'all would think that it would just be solid green. The reality was that there were dozens of shades of green. Light an' dark shades.

It caught his breath as he looked out over the hills of home.

Aunt Bess said quietly, "Behold, what God hath wrought."

The rode most of the day. Both were saddle sore when they finally sat on the porch after supper. The evenin' was perfect. His visit with his Great Aunt was his balm in Gilead. His soul weren't healed, but as Aunt Bess told him, "You ain't healed yet, but the wounds seem like they is scabbed over." He had to agree.

"You all packed?" she asked.

"I am, Aunt Bess. I appreciate all you do for me. I love you."

"Oh lordy, don't start with no love fest. It is just what family does. Tomorrow is your day, Joe Henry. Tomorrow is, as always a new an' glorious day."


It was Saturday mornin'. The day started out glum an' overcast. It weren't the sort of day he wanted to say his goodbyes in. He wished he could stay a day or two longer. Aunt Bess had other ideas. She told him no bird was ready when Mama pushed it out of the nest.

"They is just a couple things before you head out. It is fixin' to rain so you be real careful as you drive. You don't know the roads down home like you should." Aunt Bess told him as she looked over her glasses at him.

Of course, he knew exactly what she meant. Over the years Joe Henry lost interest in comin' down home with his Daddy. Sure, he spent some time with Aunt Bess an' Uncle Floyd. He just never had time to go with his Daddy to the ol' home place. Nothin' there but work from what he remembered.

There was always the store to tend, always time to stay home with his Mama to help in the store. Plenty of time to hang around with his friends, do all the things a young man does as he spreads his wings. Family, especially extended family just sorta fades into the fuzzy background of life.

"I'll be careful. I have good tires on the truck, Aunt Bess. I still know the way, mostly. I have the directions an' map you drew out. I don't think I'll get lost."

She grinned, "I know, I'm just a worry wart. Them hills get hit with fog on a rainy day in summer. Just ask if you need to. Most ever'one down home is family. Anyone you ask will know you, even if you don't remember them. Just tell them who your people are. Folks will most likely ask that same question."

"Now Joe Henry, I've called Bobby Jenkins over to First National of Hyden. I'm havin' your paychecks deposited there. Bobby will take care of all the paperwork when you stop in there. I've also set up for you to get a credit card with me as co-signer. We need to start rebuildin' your credit."

Though he shook his head an' started to protest, his Aunt was on a roll.

"You have an account at Hyden Grocery too. If you want to go over to Manchester for groceries I've set you up an account at Dobson's Store there. Both will send you a bill at the end of each month. Bobby will get you some checks ordered when you go over to the bank."

Joe Henry felt a little helpless as Aunt Bess talked. For a moment it made him feel all the hurt an' anger at himself. The thought that he failed was simmerin' in the back of his mind right then.

"Get that look off your face an' nonsense out of your mind. I know you an' know exactly what you are thinkin', boy. Family takes care of their own. Mountain folks take care of their family. You Daddy did exactly the same more than once for some of his nephews an' nieces. Me, your Daddy, Uncles an' Aunts stepped in many times to give a leg up to ours. We paid for college, helped with down payments on homes, paid hospital bills. The Carpenters take care of their own."

He had no idea. He was actually stunned as she spoke. It occurred to him that the partial scholarship he received to go to Cumberland College might have been a family thing. It had a requirement that if he would work off half his tuition, the scholarship would pay for the other half. That was never a problem. He worked the other half off in the cafeteria durin' the school year an' workin' with the maintenance crew in the summers. Joe Henry really didn't avoid hard work. His Daddy taught him that.

It started to sprinkle drops of rain as they stood by the truck. He was lookin' off in the distance, not focusin' on anything for a right smart while. When he looked back at his Great Aunt she was smilin' an' lookin' steady at him with her dark eyes. A few drops of rain were on the lenses of her glasses. She took her glasses off, reached into her apron pocket for the hankie she always carried there.

"Go ahead an' ask. I suspect you already know the answer."

"My scholarship to Cumberland?"

"Yep. Yours an' several others. We always found a way to help the next generation do better than we did. One day I'm hopin' you an' some of your cousins will find a way to do the same." Aunt Dell explained.

She told him she was goin' in. Told him to get goin' for the rain was supposed to get worse though she didn't take much truck with the weatherman's predictions. She then told him "Arthur" was tellin' her it was gonna storm.

"Arthur?" he asked.

She laughed as she hugged him one more time. "Yes, Arthur Ritis. Gets to hurtin' right smart when a big storm is comin'. Now get on the road. Be careful."

He grinned as he started up the truck. His Great Aunt stood on the porch an' waved as he turned the truck around an' headed out the lane.

As he drove, the rain did indeed get worse. Drivin' wasn't too bad while he was I-75. When he got off at London an' took the to toll road he slowed down a good bit. The rain turned into a storm. The last twenty or thirty minutes of drivin' turned into a good bit longer as he became less an' less familiar with the roads.

When he got over to the roads he needed to follow to get to the ol' Carpenter Home place he went off the toll road at Thousandsticks, paid his toll an' pulled over to read the directions an' look at the map Aunt Bess drew.

He felt pretty good about the directions an' the little bit he remembered about the roads. Head back west an' away from Thousandsticks to Big Branch Road. From there he took a right onto Bowling Branch Road. He was kin to the Bowlings. His Great Grandma was a Bowling. The family came from over to Hawkins County, Tennessee back in the 1800s.

Aunt Bess warned him that the creek just after you turned off onto Bowling Branch Road might be up. There was a low water bridge that could be under water if there was a real big rain but she didn't expect it would be a problem since it weren't supposed to rain that much. The water was muddy but nowhere near flood level as he crossed the low water bridge.

His last turn was the first right off Bowling Branch. Though there was no road sign, Joe Henry knew it was Limestone Ridge Road. Aunt Bess told him the ol' home place an' the house was just a short piece up the road.

He drove slow, lookin' for the house. Finally he recognized the ol' tobacco barn that stood on the property. Just past that he saw a little cabin not too far off the road. The yard was growed up an' though Aunt Bess told him folks would get things ready for him, well, it looked like they forgot he was comin' or didn't expect him so soon.

She gave him a ring of keys jest before he left an' showed him the key to the lock on the home place door. He had to admit as he sat in the truck waitin' for the rain to slow down that he didn't remember which key she pointed out.

Aunt Bess was just like his Daddy when it came to keys. Daddy always had a big ol' ring of keys that Joe Henry was never able to match to doors or locks. Must be a Carpenter thing.

He finally gave up on the rain slowin' down. He got out of the truck, ran up to the porch an' fumbled with the keys. There was a hasp an' big lock on the ol' door. It took him a couple minutes to find the right key in the half light of the storm.

When the door was open he felt around an' found the light switch. At least the electric was on. As he looked around it was evident that no one had prepared the place for him. He was more than a little aggravated as he saw all the furniture covered with sheets.

He was just wet an' cold. Aunt Bess could not be blamed. She depended on others an' they dropped the ball. He settled down an' started takin' the sheets off an' foldin' them carefully.

It wasn't such a bad place. Small, but he could make due. It was just him after all. There was a couch, ol' arm chair an' a rocker. He uncovered an' ol' iron bed in the bedroom. The mattress was not bad but there was only a sheet on the bed. No problem for him as he still had that quilt he bought as well as a couple others Aunt Bess gave him. There was no pillow but a quilt folded up would be fine.

He checked the electric box an' found the fuse that was for the bathroom an' well pump. The fuse was out of the socket an' layin' inside the box. When he screwed it in he heard the pump come on. He did the same for the water heater a bit later when he felt like the pump's tank was filled up.

As he expected, there weren't a bite of food in the cupboards. So much for folks takin' care of folks. He was thankful for the food Aunt Bess had send him off with. At least he won't be hungry for a couple days.

The bank would be close tomorrow as it was Sunday. He'd head for Hyden to do his business at the bank, get a few groceries as well as sheets an' a pillow for the bed. He started a list of things he would need; sheets, pillow, soap, shampoo, dish soap. He added a dish towel an' dish rag to the list. At least there were some basic dishes, pots an' pans in the cupboards.

He could make due. He sure wasn't goin' to complain to his Great Aunt. Where else could he go?

There was a little shed with an open front behind the cabin. There was plenty of coal in a pile just inside the shed as well as firewood. He found a coal bucket an' brought enough coal an' kindlin' in to get a good fire goin' in the Warm Morning stove.

He was as settled in as possible by evenin'. He remembered an' was glad for the boxes of books he had in the back end of his truck. A quick trip in the rain for one of the boxes, a quick dig through the contents an' a sigh as he found the first book to read durin' his sojourn in the hills of Kentucky.

He smiled as he sat, opened the book an' began to read, "In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.".


The storm did not stop. It rained, thundered an' filled the hills with lightnin' all night long. Sometime in the early mornin' the power went off. Joe Henry didn't notice because he stayed up late readin' an' slept right through the power failure.

He was always a late night reader, even when he was growin' up. When he was a boy he kept a flashlight an' a stack of comic books under his bed in a cardboard box. When he knew Mama an' Daddy was asleep he would grab the flashlight an' a handful of them comics. The sheet an' blankets thrown over his head made a great tent to sit an' read in. Years later his Mama told him they knew he stayed up an' read after bedtime. She always figured if that was the worst he ever did she could live with it.

Joe Henry had plugged in the alarm clock radio that was by the bed the night before an' set it for 7:30 a.m. No sense in sleepin' late the first mornin' he was there. He planned on gettin' up, havin' a piece of the banana bread Aunt Bess packed for him an' havin' a shower.

When he did wake up it was way past 9:00. He realized the power was off when he looked at his watch an' then at the clock radio. Even though he knew there was no power he still flipped the light switch off an' on several times after he was dressed.

"Just great. Just so very great." he groused as he wandered through the little cabin. No electric also meant no water, no hot water especially. That meant no shower till the electric was on.

"I'm sure glad everything was made ready for me. I'm gonna have to tell Aunt Bess 'our people' ain't as reliable as she said."

When he was packin' up, Aunt Bess told him that everyone on the road was kin. They was gonna get things ready for him, knew he was comin'. All he had to do is ask if he needed anything.

He hadn't seen a soul when he arrived last night. Not a single car or truck passed since he got up. From what he saw of the road it ended in a dead end maybe a quarter mile past this cabin.

"There is nobody else livin' on this road. I know this is the right road. I remember that ol' barn. It even has that sign that says, 'Carpenter's' on it."

He was right, of course. The sign was decades old an' was just a piece of an old sign that had faded an' fell apart years ago.

Even though it was rainin' it was warm an' humid. He didn't sleep very well when he finally did get in bed. He had a bad case of bedhead, needed a shower an' didn't know if there was even a bar of soap in the place.

"Yep, they got things ready for me, sure enough. Workin' on this farm is gonna be a trip. I don't even know what I'm supposed to do. This is crazy."

He eventually cut a piece of the banana bread. When there was a little light outside, he took one of the quilts, his book an' the banana bread out to the porch. He found a chair folded up in a closet that he sat beside the table on the porch.

He dove into the book an' read for a couple hours. He forgot the time, just as he did the night before. The lights finally came back on about 2:00 p.m.. He didn't realize they were back on till he heard the well pump kick on.

Thankfully, he had not opened the Frigidaire too many times an' the few food items Aunt Bess gave him were still cold, still good when he went in to make himself a quick meal.

The storm seemed like it settled over the ridge where he was. It rained as hard as Joe Henry had ever seen all day. After he showered he decided to just stay there for the day. The bank an' store could wait till Tuesday.

He did feel bad that Aunt Bess was payin' him though. He needed to earn his keep. With that in mind he got on a nylon jacket an' pushed through the tall weeds an' sweet grasses to the ol' barn.

He had the ring of keys in his pocket. Though the weeds were high, he spotted a padlock on the side door of the barn before he left the porch. It took him a minute in the rain to find the right key. Once inside he could see just a little since there was a window at one end.

He noticed a big hooded electric light hangin' in the rafters. After a quick search he found a switch an' turned on the light. The barn started out as a tobacco barn. There were still tall sections on hinges every few feet on both sides. When tobacco was hung in a barn like this the hinged sections would be opened to let the hangin' tobacco air dry.

It had apparently been years since the barn was used to hang tobacco. It was full of machinery, odds an' ends, even an ol' Maytag ringer washer. At the front end of the barn were stacks an' stacks of white boxes.

When Joe Henry wandered close he remembered that his Grandparents raised bees years ago. Seemed like his Daddy said the family did pretty well with them, had a good business.

On the front of many of the boxes the name "Bee Tree Honey" was painted. Bee Tree Honey. He had seen honey jars back home with that name on labels. Must have been his Grandpa's honey.

He had a small revelation. He went back outside, around to the front side an' looked up at the faded sign. Sure enough, the faded words were legible from there. The sign said, "Carpenter's Bee Tree Honey".

Joe Henry ran back into the barn. When he walked back to the white boxes he stopped an' sat down on a crate for a while. " Carpenter's Bee Tree Honey". He wondered just how much he didn't know, didn't seem to care about when he was a kid. Actually even as an adult. All the times his Daddy asked him to come down to the Carpenter home place to help out with things. He always had "better" things to do.

"Better things." He said out loud.The words seemed hollow, empty as he said them in the ol' barn.

Joe Henry piddled around in the barn for the rest of the day. Not really workin', just openin' drawers in work benches, openin' boxes an' a barrel or two.

He looked in the white boxes. They were clean an' well taken care of. He wondered how long they had sat in this ol' barn. He wondered if his Daddy ever helped with the honey, with the bees.

"If these boxes could talk. I wonder how much of my family's history they could tell me. I wonder how much I've missed." he whispered to the barn.

"I wonder why I am here by myself?"


The rain continued throughout the day. It rained hard all through the night an' into Tuesday. It seemed like the storm cell had hung up on the tall point of the mountain just east of the ridge. Joe Henry couldn't remember too many times he had seen a storm as bad as this one.

The power went off several times throughout the night an' into the day Tuesday. Though he knew he needed to go into town, he just didn't favor the idea of gettin' out in that rain. Besides, he still had a decent supply of food Aunt Bess sent along.

Breakfast was more of the banana bread an' a cold bottle of Yoohoo. That bottled chocolate drink had been a favorite of his growin' up an' well into his adult life. Aunt Bess had a six pack of it ready for him to pack away when he left. It weren't as good as a big mug of coffee, but it would do.

The power flickered an' finally gave up the ghost about 10:00 or so. He remembered seein' an ol' coal oil lamp in the barn when he was diggin' around. A quick trip in the pourin' rain rewarded him with not only the lamp, but revealed that the lamp was almost full of coal oil.

He ran back inside an' sat the lamp by the kitchen sink. The glass chimney needed a good cleanin' if it were to give off much light. Before he started cleanin' the lamp he looked out the window over the sink. Rain was pourin' down from the end of the gutter where a downspout had fallen off.

Joe Henry stood there just for a minute before he turned an' headed for the bathroom. The day before he found a little ol' worn out bar of soap up on top of the shower. He grabbed that bar of soap, a wash rag an' a towel he found.

Joe Henry shucked off his pants an' shirt. took off his shoes an' socks. He was grinnin' like an ol' possum an' was out the door an' to the end of the porch in his underwear. Lookin' around to make sure they was no cars comin', he slipped off his underwear an' ran to the back of the cabin with soap an' wash rag in hand.

When he was a kid he loved sneakin' out when there was a hard rain to stand under a gutter an' take what he called a "cowboy bath". A good ol' cowboy bath was exactly what he needed right then. He stuck his head under the fallin' water. Man, oh man, it was colder than he thought it would be.

Joe Henry danced around, jumpin' in an' out of the water, dancin' in the rain. He was naked as a jaybird. He laughed an' danced in the rain. He soaped up, rinsed off an' then washed his hair with the bar of soap. He figured he didn't need to impress no one that day.

He had such a great cowboy bath. It lifted his spirits an' when he got back to the porch he dried off, danced around some more. He threw his arms out, doin' a shake at the rain. He laughed out loud.

"Here I am world. Butt nekkid an' clean as a whistle. I sure needed me a cowboy bath. I reckon it is good for the soul."

Then he chuckled an' said to himself, "There are a lot of folks in the world I wouldn't want to see takin' a cowboy bath."

With that he went in, finished dryin' off an' got dressed. He decided he better get to town before the low water bridge comin' in was flooded over. He hummed to himself as he cleaned up the coal oil lamp. The power comin' on would be nice, but he wouldn't mind an evenin' readin' with that ol' lamp.

He started up his truck an' pulled out of the yard an' onto the road. The gravel road was full of the yellow clay mud he remembered from his childhood. That mud was gonna be all over his truck by the time he got back from town.

The storm an' rain had actually lifted his spirits. Truth be told, the memories caused by that cowboy bath did much for his attitude. He mused an' considered the memories he had of travelin' down to Uncle Floyd an' Aunt Bess' home. He dug through memories, tryin' to remember the few times he did visit the Carpenter home place with his Daddy.

Those memories were few but he did remember them an' the folks he met fondly. Seems like they was lots of folks that knew his Daddy. Lots of family back then. Oh well, they probably all died off. That is why there weren't anyone around like Aunt Bess said.

Bless her heart. She is gettin' old, after all. She just don't remember things as well as she should. Ain't her fault though.

He repeated those thoughts out loud as he drove slow around the bend toward the low water bridge,

"Bless her heart. She is gettin' old after all."

Just about that time he saw the low water bridge in his headlights. The day was still dark. Clouds an' the storm completely blotted out the sun that day.

Actually he didn't see one bit of the low water bridge. It was completely covered with muddy storm waters. The little stream frothed an' swirled, right angry. The bridge was completely flooded.

Joe Henry figured that the water might not be so very high over the bridge if a person knew the bridge well. Problem was he only crossed that bridge in his truck that one time comin' in.

He carefully backed up an' found a place to turn around. He grinned as he drove back to the little cabin. A day in the warmth of the cabin, warmed up with a small coal fire in the Warm Morning stove, the glow of that coal oil lamp an' a quilt on his lap was exactly what he needed. Add a good book that an' it was gonna be a little ol' slice of geek heaven in the hills of Kentucky.

"This might not be so bad, after all." he said as he pulled into the cabin's yard.


Tuesday was a fine day to stay inside an' read. The power was off all day. Joe Henry got a lot of readin' done between sittin' on the porch an' sittin' inside by the coal oil lamp. That ol' cowboy bath did a world of good.

Wednesday was just as rainy as the day before. He drove down to Bowling Branch Road to see if the flood water had subsided enough to get across. No such luck. He turned around, turned back onto Limestone Ridge Road an' headed back to the ol' cabin.

His truck radio was tuned to WWXL over to Manchester an' the announcer read a weather report that just plain ol' aggravated Joe Henry.

"Well folks, the National Weather Service is sayin' to expect rain for the next several days. There is a storm cell that has settled into our area an' just ain't in no hurry to leave. We are expecting two to four inches of rain in the next 24 hours. Looks like rain is expected to continue through Friday. There is another front right behind this one, so keep your umbrellas handy."

The announcer continued, "Folks in low lyin' areas should move to higher elevations. There are already reports of floodin' in a number of areas, includin' Big Creek an' Eriline. Red Cross has set up a shelter over to Goose Rock Elementary for those who may be flooded out of their homes."

"Today's weather report is sponsored by Knuckles Dollar Store. The place where your dollar buys you more. Y'all come on down to Knuckles Dollar Store."

Joe Henry turned the radio off quickly. He didn't want to hear Knuckle's Dollar Store jingle one more time. It was one of them "ear worms" for him. When he heard it he would end up hummin' the jingle or singin' it to himself all day long.

Probably still would, truth be told.

Wednesday became Thursday an' the rain still continued. There were times that the rain would stop for a short while or would just be a sprinkle. Never did let up for long though.

The constant rain did little for his mood. The cabin fever that set in with the hours an' hours of rain didn't help. The only bright spot, if they was any bright spot at all, was the power comin' back on.

One cowboy bath was fun. Havin' to take them on a continuous basis wasn't much to brag about. A good hot shower with that little ol' piece of soap felt pretty good.

He was tired of readin'. Tired of just sittin' around. Tired of not know what he was supposed to do. He was no kind of farmer. He wasn't sure he even liked the mountains. So far the mountains were a soggy mess. Stupid yellow mud all over his truck. Caked on mud.

"I am so over this place. Tired of eatin' banana bread. Tired of tryin' to get by with what little I have left from the food Aunt Bess gave me. Tired of this stinkin' little cabin." he groused.

"Yeah, they will have things ready for you. Folks are lookin' forward to seein' you. Just ask. Uh huh. Sheesh. I don't want to hurt Aunt Bess, but I am thinkin' of goin' back home. If this was some kind of inheritance I'm not sure if it is worth messin' with. I'm not sure Aunt Bess could afford to pay me to do nothin'."

He knocked around in the barn for a right smart while. Still diggin' around into the piles of junk that sat around the barn. He felt awful bad that there wasn't really any work for him to do. There sure wasn't any family to meet an' greet him or tell him what his job was.

As the day was fadin' an' the rain was just misty he went out onto the porch an' sat. He didn't take a book, didn't want to read. He had his jacket on since it was a bit cool. He zipped it up until the hood was over his head an' the front coverin' his mouth.

Joe Henry was glum. When he was a little boy he loved readin' "Winnie the Pooh". He never was particularly fond of Eeyore. Didn't like how down an' out Eeyore always seemed. As he sat on the porch he pondered exactly why Eeyore was always so down.

"Probably because he lived in a place like this." he said to no one but himself.

As he sat, feelin' all sorry for himself, he heard a noise comin' from the woods back behind the cabin an' barn. He listened carefully. There, he heard it again. Something was movin' around in the woods. He could hear it real plain.

"Great. Just my luck there are coyotes or bears here. Yeah, a bear to come over here an' tear things to pieces. Good grief."

Though the thought of a bear was in his mind, he really didn't believe a bear was walkin' in the woods in this rain. He went to the end of the porch an' stood, peerin' into the misty woods.

There was a little path between the trees an' as he looked he saw something, should say someone walkin' in the rain. Why, it was a woman. Why in the world would a woman be wanderin' through the woods here in the mountains?

He shook his head as he watched her come toward the cabin. It was a little bitty roundish woman. She had an apron on like his Aunt Bess always wore an' big ol' black gum boots that went up high on her legs. The tops were covered by her dress. She had an umbrella over her head, had a bonnet on an' wire rim glasses. She also had a look on her face that was part concerned an' part amused.

"Hooo, howdy. who are ye?' she called.

Joe Henry just stood there, struck dumb to see an ol' woman walkin' out of the woods. He pulled the hood down off his head but didn't move.

She called out again, "Howdy, who are ye?

Finally he found his voice, "I'm Joe Henry Carpenter. Who are you an' why are you walkin' in them big woods? Are you lost?"

The ol' woman laughed as she walked closer an' then up onto the porch. She continued to laugh harder an' harder. Joe Henry didn't know what to think.

"Boy, I ain't the one lost. I reckon you are. You've had ever'one worryin' about you when you didn't show up on Saturday. Your Aunt Bess thought she scared you off an' you went back to Ohio."

She closed her umbrella, shook it an' sat it against the cabin wall. She reached into her pocket, took out a hankie an' wiped her glasses off. She sat down in his chair an' took her bonnet off. Joe Henry just stood where he was.

I'm Margaret Allen. Folks call me Maggie. My husband is Charlie Allen. My Daddy was George Lee Carpenter. Me an' Charlie are double cousins to your Aunt Bess. She an' I are second cousins. Charlie is second cousins to her to. I reckon that would make me an' Charlie fourth cousins to your Daddy an' fifth cousins to you."

She grinned an' held our her hand, "Howdy Cousin!"

He shook her hand an' almost whispered his howdy.

She continued, "We've been worried sick, wonderin' where you were. Had things all ready for you. Even had some of your kin invited over for supper Saturday night to introduce you to them. When you didn't show up we all et anyways. No sense in wastin' food, don't ye know."

"No one had any idea where you was. It weren't till the rain let up an' Charlie smelled smoke. At first we was afraid a lightnin' strike lit the mountain on fire. Then Charlie said it smelled like coal burnin'. We didn't know where anyone could be burnin' coal till Charlie remembered they was a pile of coal over here."

She laughed as she looked Joe Henry over. "Charlie was all for callin' the sheriff. Said it were probably some gypsy or hobo what was a squatter here. While he was lookin' for the number for Jimmie Gilbert, the deputy, an' a cousin of yours, well, I grabbed my umbrella an' stuck my feet in my boots an' was out the door. He hollered after me that I was libel to get shot or be kidnapped or some such. I reckon he'll be along in a bit. He can help us pack your things up an' cover ever'thing back up."

Sheesh, the women of this family must hit ever'thing head on.

"Pack up?" he asked.

"Well sure. We've got the ol' Carpenter home place ready for ye. I suspect you'll like it better than this ol' place."

"This ain't the Carpenter home place?" he asked with his eyes wide.

"Land sakes no, child. This was the buildin' we all used for sellin' an' packin' our Carpenter's Bee Tree Honey an' honey products. Your Daddy an' Charlie fixed it up when they hired Bobby Jenkins to work for us a while back. Bobby had a hard time after his placed burned down. Didn't have no place to go an' they weren't no jobs for an' older feller like him. He lived here an' worked for us all as long as he could. Finally got his Social Security an' was able to get an apartment over to Hyden in the Senior housin' over there, two maybe three years ago. He's been dead 'bout a year now. We ain't used this place for anything since he moved over to Hyden."

"So, where is the home place? How do you get there?"

She laughed again. "Boy, you stopped too soon. If ye had just drove around the bend 'bout 100 yards past this place you would have seen it. It sits back from the road but the mailbox is right on the road. Says 'Carpenter' big as day. Our place is just across the road an' down a bit from it. The store, bee yards an' bee shed is just beyond us."

"Bee yard? Store?" he asked as he leaned heavy against a post.

"Sure, youngin'. What do you think your Aunt Bess was hirin' you for? Me an' Charlie is gettin' old. Some of the cousins an' neighbors help when honey harvest comes in, but we need help. Other folks need some help too. You will have plenty to do. I guarentee you will earn your keep. Hope you ain't afraid of workin'."

Still in shock, he shook his head, "No ma'am. I ain't afraid of hard work."

About that time Charlie came through the woods. He was as little an' short as his wife Maggie. Where she was plump he was skinny as a rail. Introductions were made an' the three packed the few belongin's that Joe Henry had in the cabin, covered ever'thing back up with the sheets. At Joe Henry's insistence that they not walk back in the rain, they all piled into the truck.

"Why didn't you never go over to town an' go to the bank or the grocery?" Charlie asked.

"Well, I would have if I could have. That stream is up an' has covered the low water bridge for days. I tried several times but was afraid of goin' off the bridge."

Charlie looked over at Joe Henry, "Why didn't you just go the other way?"

"What other way?"

"Why not go to the other end of this road an' onto Pebble Creek Road? They ain't no creek to cross at the other end." Charlie told him.

"Didn't know there was another way. Actually I thought the road ended just up the way. I guess that is a dead end, huh?" he asked.

"Yep. Road curves an' goes past us, past quite a few folks before it dead ends into Pebble Creek Road. Bowling Branch Road is shorter, but most of us folks go the other way just 'cause of that low water bridge. Ain't the best bridge in the county, don't ye know." Charlie chuckled as he explained.

"I wish Aunt Bess had told me all that. Sure would have helped a lot."

"She said she did." Maggie said.

"Nah, she must have forgot. Her map an' instructions are right there." he said as he pointed to the directions Aunt Bess gave him.

Charlie picked the pieces of paper up, looked them over, turned them over. He nudged Maggie, pointed to something an' looked over to Joe Henry.

"Son, when you was readin' the map an' instructions, did ye ever turn them over?" Charlie asked.


"Did you ever turn the pages over?" Charlie asked again.

"No, why?"

"Well, I ain't got no college education, but on the back is ever'thing you needed to know. Tells you to go past that little cabin an' barn, says the ol' Carpenter home place will be just past the bend on the right. Says we will be lookin' for ye. Tells you our names an' 'bout anything you needed to know." Charlie laughed an' Maggie joined him.

Joe Henry finally joined them an' they all three laughed hard as the truck turned the bend an' headed for the home place.

"Sheesh," Joe Henry chuckled. I was about the strangest stranger in a strange land, weren't I?"

Part Two

Chapter One

Joe Henry drove slow as they rounded the bend in the road. His mind was still crankin' through all that Maggie told him in just a short window of time. He also was playin' tourist as he drove. He couldn't believe that he had been so dense that he didn't even go a few hundred yards an' seen the bend that Maggie was still teasin' him about.

Maggie kept up a runnin' commentary on lots of things. She was fillin' him in on "all the folks what wondered where he had done got off to", his Aunt Bess' worryin' about him, about what they was gonna need him to do.

"We are gettin' close to the final honey harvest of the summer right soon Joe Henry. You will sure enjoy that. It is hot work, but it sure is fun." Maggie told him.

"Wait,” he came out of his trance when she said that, "Honey harvest? You mean like honey bees an' robbin' their honey like I used to help aunt Bess an' Uncle Floyd do? That kind of honey harvest?"

Charlie chuckled, "Well sir, sorta like that. Just on a grander scale. Don’t worry though. We already bought a suit, hood, veil, gloves an' even boots for ye. Aunt Bess looked at your clothes an' even your shoe size in your sneakers when you was stayin' with her. We got you done turned out in high fashion for bee robbin'."

"Grander scale?" Joe Henry asked. He wasn't sure he liked the direction this was takin'.

"Well sure. You don't think Carpenter Bee Tree Honey comes from two or three little ol' hives do ye? Nah, they is a lot more than that."

"More than that?" he asked weakly.

"Oh sure. They is seven bee yards altogether, countin' the one we all experiment in. We don't take too much honey off that one though. We work on what the State Bee Inspector calls genetics there, as well as doin' splits, raisin' queens an' such. We get some honey off them hives. I don't know, Daddy, what do you think? Maybe thirty five or forty hives in that yard?" Maggie asked Charlie.

"Got thirty-eight right now." Charlie said. "Had forty but I lost a couple of my old queens. Should have requeened but them old gals was still layin' good. The workers was startin' to make new queens an' I took the queen cells an' merged the hives with a couple weak hives."

Joe Henry was in a daze.

"Turn in boy. you are gonna drive right past the drive." Maggie laughed an' pointed.

As he turned in he stopped the truck. He could see the woods that Maggie an' Charlie walked through to find him. He sat with his mouth open as he saw the farm that was his Grandparent's home.

"Close your mouth, son. You'll let flies in" Charlie laughed out loud.

"This is it. I remember it. I've forgotten so much of my childhood. I just didn't care, I suppose. I can't believe it. Why wouldn't I want to come here?" Joe Henry asked, more to himself than the old couple.

Charlie answered, "I reckon it weren't all that excitin' for a boy with no one else to play with. All what was here was old folks an' your Daddy most of the time."

All that may have been true, but at that moment Joe Henry felt pretty guilty about not comin' down to the "Old Carpenter Home Place" with his Daddy.

The house was two stories with a big porch. The yard was huge as were the fields surroundin' the barns an' other out buildin's. It was all that he didn't expect. It was beautiful as it sat right at the head of a holler.

"This was where my Grandpa an' Grandma lived. I remember how Grandma smelled. She always smelled like flour an' biscuits. Daddy called Grandpa 'Pappy". Grandpa always had Mail Pouch Chewin' Tobacco in his back pocket. I don't think Grandma let him chew inside."

Maggie smiled, "Nope, he weren't allowed to chew inside. She weren't much for him spittin' off the porch either, though he did. She said he stained the ends of the boards of the porch with his spittin'."

As they pulled up to the front porch an' got out Joe Henry looked around. His memories were clearin' up as he looked around. Things became clearer when he saw the place. It was obvious he hadn't completely forgotten, but he just hadn't cared.

Charlie an' Maggie helped him unload things onto the front porch. Maggie said that would be easier to take in the house. As they was unloadin' Maggie grabbed the grocery bag holdin' the quilt Joe Henry bought at the antique mall.

"Well sire, I ain't seen that quilt in a long while. Your Aunt Bess give it to you?" she asked.

"No ma'am. I bought it at an antique mall close to Berea."

"You bought this? At that little ol' antique mall in a white concrete block buildin' right off the highway 'bout a mile?"

"Yes ma'am." he confirmed.

"The booth where it was had some milk glass an' other ol' quilts too, right?"

"Yes, ma'am. How did you know that?"

Maggie started to laugh so hard she doubled over. "Boy, you done bought a quilt your aunt Bess dug out of one of the sheds here. Most likely quilted by your Grandma or her sisters. We took maybe half a dozen quilts out of the shed over yonder, washed they up an' I went with her when she took them to the antique place. That is your Aunt Bess' booth youngin'. Wait till she hears this one. She would have give you all the quilts you wanted an' you bought one we hauled out of the shed."

Joe Henry started to laugh with Maggie. Charlie came out of the house an' Maggie told him of the quilt an' he laughed right along.

"Aunt Bess did give me a couple quilts before I left her place. They are in a lot better condition than that one." he had to chuckle an' admit.

Inside the house was clean an' bright. Though he noticed air conditioners on several windows, the windows were open an' a nice breeze blew the curtains just a bit.

He nosed around after all his boxes, bags an' suitcases were tucked in upstairs in the big bedroom that had been his grandparents. Maggie an' Charlie both warned him that it could get warm upstairs on a hot day. "Leave the ceilin' fan runnin" they both warned him at different times. Two windows were open to let the air in an' a window air conditioner sat in a third window.

All the floors throughout the house were wood. Some of the floor boards were almost two feet wide. Charlie explained that all the floors an' most all the trim throughout the house were chestnut. The original floors on the main floor were actually puncheon floor boards. The room in the back was actually the original cabin from a few generations ago. Those boards were not near as smooth at the boards in the main part of the house.

"The floor boards have been sanded down years ago, made smooth on the top, don't ye know. The bottoms of them boards is still rounded like. They didn't need to saw both sides of them floor boards, just the top side what would make up the floor. If you go down in the basement you can still see the cut stone under this part, an' even the rubble built walls under the old part. you can see the puncheon bottom of these floor boards down there."

Maggie had joined them an' added, "The basement also attaches to the root cellar off to the side. Out back you can see the root cellar dug into the ground an' made of stone. They is a door openin' into it so you don't have to go outside to get into it. There are shelves on either side of that door for canned goods. Ain't much there these days though. I did put a few jars of this an' that down there for you. Some jellies, kraut, green beans, vegetable soup fixin's. I even put some jars of canned sausages down there for you."

Most of the rooms had ceilin' fans. There was also a whole house fan in the hallway ceilin' on the second floor. Charlie explained that his Daddy had that installed years before his grandparents gave in an' got air conditioners years ago.

"Them ain't the original air conditioners though. you Daddy had these put in. Them ol' ones was noisy. All in all, I reckon you'll like the place." Maggie added.

The last room they showed him was the kitchen. It was large an' open. He remembered that room most of all. He actually remembered his Grandma holdin' court in that room, remembered her cookin'. He also remembered his Daddy an' Grandpa were just visitors in that room. Grandma was queen of that domain.

Though she hadn't asked anyone, she bustled around, got out glasses, ice from the freezer an' poured them each a big glass of sweet tea. Sweet tea was one of Joe Henry's sinful pleasures. The sweeter the better. this tea was perfect.

As they sat he remembered something said earlier. "Seven bee yards? Do y'all have a lot of bees?"

"We don't. Well, we have five hives in our yard for Charlie to play with. Carpenters Bee Tree Apiaries has seven. That one we mentioned which is down the road about a mile or so, the one right here across the road. They is about maybe fifty hives there. There are two bee yards up on the hills a ways away under groves of sourwood trees for our sourwood honey harvests. The trees bloom late June or early July for a couple weeks. We rob the honey right after the blooms drop so's we get true sourwood honey. What do we have Charlie, maybe thirty or so hives in each of them yards?" Maggie asked.

"Yep, that's 'bout right. Maybe thirty or so in each one. We also have a small yard along the fence row back behind the barn here. We have cultivated blackberries along the fence for years an' we harvest blackberry honey after the flowers go to berry. That is even more popular than the sourwood honey. We just don't get much of it. I reckon they is only maybe a dozen or so hives there." Charlie told him.

Maggie continued, "There is a small apiary down two, maybe three miles in the lavender farm. Lordy, folks come from all over to buy fresh lavender there. They make oil, soaps, dried lavender sachets an' such there. They stay busy in the summer. Our hives there produce late summer honey that is wildflower honey, but we watch the bloomin' of the lavender an' got wonderful lavender honey from that farm."

"An' I can't forget the last one. It is my favorite. That was the original bee yard. Started out with your Great Great Grandparents settlin' here on the ridge. Dan Carpenter saw bees on some flowers, caught several bees an' did 'bee lining' till he found the bee tree. He cut the colony out of that dead tree an' made a bee gum in his yard right where the current yard sits. Ever' one of our bees originally came from them bees. Over the years we've bred our bees with different types of bees, but they is still a lot of genetics from them bees still in our bees. The ol' cabin is still there too though we use it mostly for storage these days."

Charlie grinned, "We are gonna have so much fun, ain't we? I am sure glad you are here, Joe Henry. Sure glad."

Joe Henry smiled sorta weakly an' took a big drink of sweet tea. Sure, this house was so much better than that little cabin around the bend. Yes, his Aunt Bess was tryin' to take care of him, give him a job, help him to work through all that had happened.

However, later that evenin' when Charlie an' Maggie had gone home, as he sat on the front porch in a porch swing not unlike the one on his Aunt Bess' porch, he realized some of his pleasant memories from his childhood might not have been on his Aunt's porch but on this one an' sittin' on this porch swing.

As the day faded an' twilight sat easy on the farmland Joe Henry pondered for a long while. Honestly, he wasn't sure he was cut out for the mountains. He wasn't sure he was fond of the idea of tendin' to hundreds an' hundreds of bee hives with those old folks, Maggie an' Charlie. He wasn't sure about bein' lonely on that farm.

He definitely wasn't sure about bein' stung time after time after time all year.

"What in the world have I gotten myself into?" he asked the night sky.

Chapter Two

It was still a good bit before daylight an' Joe Henry was sittin' on the side of the bed. He slept pretty good an' though he was awake late the night before he felt rested. He still had a lot on his mind.

The water was good an' hot, a brand new bar of soap an' bottles of shampoo an' conditioner was in the shower. There was a little closet that was full of bath towels, hand towels an' wash rags rolled up real nice. He suspected that was Maggie's work. He wasn't a bit sure he would be able to keep them towels rolled up right pretty like that.

When he went downstairs an' into the kitchen, he noticed Maggie had apparently stopped in sometime early in the mornin', well before he was awake. A Mr. Coffee was settin' out with a note. There was coffee an a filter in the holder an' water in the pot. Sugar was in a tall container like you often saw in restaurants an' the note said there was real cream in the Frigidaire.

When he opened the Frigidaire he saw that it was plumb full of groceries. He definitely wouldn't go hungry. The note told him not to get used to it, but to come over for breakfast at 7:00. He checked his watch, 6:05, still time to sit on the porch with his coffee an' enjoy the day.

He had to pause for a moment to remember the date. He arrived at Aunt Bess' home on June 5th, spent a little over a month with her, celebrated a quiet 4th of July at her place an' arrived down here on Saturday, July 9th. It was Friday, July 15th. He'd been gone from home in King's Mill for almost six weeks. How his world had changed in those weeks.

He still weren't sure he was happy about all the changes.

He was up for another cup of coffee a few minutes later. When he stepped back out on the porch, he paused as he heard the screen door's familiar slap against the door jamb. There was always somethin' satisfyin' about that sound.

As he sat back down he looked to the east an' saw the dawn startin' to pink up the sky. He suspected he'd be able to enjoy the sunrise before he had to walk over to Maggie an' Charlie's place for breakfast. He paused an' hoped that she was a good cook. He was a breakfast eatin' sort of guy.

As he sat in the porch swing he noticed a few chickens startin' to wander up from the barns an' outbuildin's. He also saw Charlie openin' the barn door an' more chickens makin' their way out of a chicken coop.

In a moment Charlie was back with a bucket an' started slingin' feed around his feet for the chickens. The chickens that had started his way ran back quickly, their little backsides wobblin' side to side as they ran.

He laughed at the sight as they ran. He waved to Charlie an' motioned for him to come on up. Charlie waved back an' gave him the "OK" sign, went in to put the bucket away an' sauntered through the chickens an' over to the porch.

"I'm hopin' you ain't drunk all the coffee out of that Mr. Coffee."

"Oh lordy no. There is plenty. Help yourself, Charlie." He answered.

Charlie did exactly that, came out an' sat in one of the four rockers, the one closest to the porch swing Joe Henry was in. They talked for a few minutes about the weather, about the chickens. Charlie told him they got two or three dozen eggs a day, mostly brown eggs, had all they needed an' would have plenty for him too. Maggie sold eggs to a bunch of the neighbors ever' few days.

"Wait, two or three dozen eggs a day? Fifteen or twenty dozen eggs a week? How many eggs do y'all use?" Joe Henry asked.

"Well sir, ain't never studied on it. We eat two apiece a day, makes a little over two dozen a week. Maggie probably used another dozen, maybe two a week. Most times we'd go through maybe four dozen. Why?"

Joe Henry grinned. "Just thinkin' about all them eggs. That's still a lot of eggs. Y'all must keep the whole road supplied."

"Yessir. We sure do. I have tried to thin out the flock. Used to have a lot of coyotes an' they helped, though it were help I didn't care much for. Still have one or two around, so's I put the chickens up each evenin'."

"Problem is an ol' hen will wander into the weeds now an' again an' lay. She'll hide out an' sneak off to set on those eggs. One day a bunch of chicks will show up. We try to keep some eat an' give a few fryers away now an' again, but the flock size gets away from me right often."

They talked for a bit longer about fried chicken, chicken an' dumplin's, roasted chicken an' such. Then Charlie took his pocket watch out of the top pocket of his overalls, looked at it an' then at Joe Henry.

"Son, we best get over to the house. She'll be throwin' breakfast out to the pigs if we don't shake a leg." Charlie said with a grin.

Joe Henry grinned too. Them pigs must be the same ones that Aunt Bess always warns about.

Maggie was already puttin' food on the table when they went in to the table. They was sausage gravy, bacon fried just right, good an' crisp but not burnt or nothin', scrambled eggs an' big ol' cat head biscuits. There was coffee cups an' glasses at each plate. A half gallon jar of milk sat in the middle of the table, so cold that there was condensation on the outside. A layer of yellow cream sat on the top of the milk that made Joe Henry's mouth water.

Maggie saw him eyein' the milk an' said, "Shake that jar up good so's you get the cream mixed in good an' pour yourself a glass. I got coffee ready if you want a cup. Charlie, pour yourself an' Joe Henry a cup of coffee."

Maggie pointed out her seat an' where Charlie sat as well as the place ready for Joe Henry. The sat, Charlie said a blessin' an' they all dug in.

It was apparent that Charlie weren't much of a table talker as they ate. Maggie carried on a runnin' conversation between bites, all the while makin' sure Joe Henry had plenty on his plate.

"Joe Henry, I might be the one to run my mouth all the time, but Charlie is the yard boss. I do the cookin', cleanin' the house, helpin' him with the bees on occasion. I don't do the farm work or much in the garden. Sure, I go out an' get a few vegetables out of our little garden out back, but Charlie keeps up the big garden, does all the plantin' an' harvest an such. We both work the garden to pick beans, pull 'maters when it is time to can them an' all."

She paused with a biscuit in her hand, "Now Charlie will be workin' with you most of the time. I come help with the bees when he needs me, especially in honey harvest. Right now I am right busy with cannin' since the garden is startin' to come in. You an' Charlie is on your own."

"If you want, you can have breakfast with us. I know single fellers ain't much for eatin' a good breakfast. We eat at 7:00 ever' mornin' an' you are welcome. Just come on in the back door to the kitchen an' be here on time. I'll throw your breakfast out to the pigs if you ain't." she said with a smile.

"Yes ma'am. Charlie, what will we be doin' today?" Joe Henry asked.

"Well sir, you can help me pick some beans for Maggie when the garden dries off. I've got beans planted over several waves, so she'll have beans in again in a week or two once again. Why don't we go to the honey house an' I'll show you around it. Show you how we bottle, the machine we have to uncap the frames of honey. Believe it or not, our honey house is pretty up to date thanks to your ol' Daddy. He went to them conventions an' meetin's an' kept up with the state inspector about things. We have a right smart set up goin'."

Joe Henry was wide eyed. "It is a pretty big deal, then? I had no idea."

"Joe Henry, you just don't know. They is maybe two hundred hives 'round here. We see 'bout twelve to fifteen thousand pounds of honey a year. Closer to fifteen thousand in a good year. A lot of that we sell in quarts which are three pounds, but most of that we sell in one or two pound jars. We need space to store jars an' lids, labels. Can't forget space for them ladies we hire now an' again to make the lotions we make an' the infused honeys."

Again Joe Henry was speechless, well almost speechless. "Are you serious?"

"Yep, Carpenters Bee Tree Apiaries is a right big business, truth be told. We sell honey an' hive products in Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia an' North Carolina. I'm settin' up in a flea market most Saturdays this time of year. You won't have to help me with that much though. I meet up with my buddy Billy Lewis an' we sit around, sell honey an' jaw at each other all day. Gives me a chance to get away from home on Saturday."

Joe Henry followed behind Charlie as they walked down the road toward the long buildin' that was the honey house. House was not the most fittin' description. It was a long buildin' with two side arms goin' out from the main buildin'."

"Sell in three states." Joe Henry mumbled to himself. "Fifteen thousand pounds of honey. Two hundred hives. Oh my. From what I remember there can be more than sixty thousand bees in a hive. Twelve million honey bees. Twelve million bees. I am gonna look like a pin cushion."

As he walked he shook his head, "What in the world has Aunt Bess got me into?"

Chapter Three

Charlie opened the door to the honey house, turned on the lights an' held the door as Joe Henry stepped in. The door had spring hinges that closed it quickly. Charlie explained that was so's the bees didn't try to get in when they were extractin' or bottlin' honey.

"You should see the screens when we open them occasionally. The bees smell the honey an' cluster all over the screens, tryin' to get in. 'Course we don't really open them much. We have heat an' air conditionin' in the whole buildin'. The storage an' bottlin' room, now that is a different story."

Joe Henry felt like he was in another odd world as Charlie showed him an uncappin' machine, "Takes the caps off the capped honey". There were several sizes of the extractors, all electric except one small one. Charlie explained that the great big extractor would be in use durin' a honey flow. The smaller ones would be used for specialty honey like the blackberry honey an' lavender honey so's it didn't get mixed in with wildflower honey.

There were huge blocks of creamy yellow beeswax in a couple crates that would be used later to make several products an' to make candles. Joe Henry picked one up and felt the smooth surface. It still smelled like honey. Charlie pointed out wax that hadn't been as well processed yet. Still that creamy yellow but with bits of other stuff in the wax.

Off to one side was a big room that was mostly storage. It was filled with boxes of jars, tins, labels an' lids. Boxes were stacked neatly, often all the way to the ceilin'. Each box was clearly labeled to identify the contents.

"This here is our pride an' joy, Joe Henry. Your Daddy set this up. Had some help from the state bee inspector, but this was his creation." Charlie said as he opened a door not unlike the door on a big walk-in freezer. "Come on in right quick. I can't leave the door open long."

On the other side of the door was a large room with a number of big stainless steel tanks, tables an' shelves filled with jars of honey. There were quart Mason jars, one an' two pound jars an' even them cute little ol' honey bear bottles. Honey was stored in decorative jars, Muth jars. Comb honey filled many jars.

The tables an' shelves were all labeled. Infused honey was separate an' labeled as to the infusion. Specialty honey, sourwood, lavendar, blackberry honey an' such sat beside that area. Comb honey an' the regular wildflower took up most of the shelves an' tables. There were hundreds, no, thousands of bottles an' jars as well as tins, tubs an' fancy containers.

The concrete block walls had been painted with a specially made paint/sealer that Charlie told Joe Henry about. That paint sealed the concrete blocks an' helped with humidity levels. The whole large room was warm an' the humidity was higher than outside the door. Charlie explained that the room had its own system that kept the temperature an' humidity at a level that was ideal for storin' honey. Honey would keep an' not crystallize in there as it did normally.

"An' my Daddy did all this?" Joe Henry asked finally.

"Yep. Sure, I helped. Fellers came in to install the equipment, set it up an' get it fine tuned, but your Daddy planned it an' we built it. I weren't fond of that paint stuff though. Thick as that there honey. Hard to roll on. Even harder to get off your skin. Forget even tryin' to get it off your clothes. Maggie weren't too fond of it after we would paint it on. She threw a perfectly good pair of overalls away, she did. Said she weren't gonna put them in her washin' machine." Charlie groused.

Charlie had Joe Henry try on his brand new bee suit. It was actually a pair of white pants with elastic in the waist an' cuffs. The elastic cuffs fit over the high black rubber boots that fit well. Charlie gave Joe Henry a choice of a jacket with a hood sorta like them men wear when they fence with them swords or a traditional one with a pith helmet an' veil. He told Joe Henry that was what him an' Maggie wore.

Joe Henry wasn't sure which he might prefer. Charlie chuckled an' said not to worry, both jackets an' veils were for him anyways.

Joe Henry continued to feel like he was almost drownin' in all the things thrown at him. He was glad to get into the garden with Charlie to pick beans. At least he knew how to pick beans.

Maggie joined them an' talked about this an' that as they picked. Charlie pointed out the other rows that he planted, two weeks apart so they would have green beans all summer as well as having a variety of beans. These was the first beans of the summer an' were 55 day beans he explained.

Maggie pointed to the row of "greasy beans", her favorite. There were a couple rows of pole beans that would make shuck beans a little later in the summer. There was also rows of "rattlesnake" green beans an' "granny" beans that would mostly be used to dry an' shell.

A few days later Charlie had Joe Henry join him in the bee yard. Joe Henry had no issue with gettin' stung as he was covered from head to foot. Charlie chuckled as he threw on his pith helmet an' veil. No jacket, just his long sleeve work shirt an' no gloves.

He worked slow an' easy. He showed Joe Henry the hives, how to lift frames out, how to look for issues, how to scrape off burr comb an' save it in a little lard bucket he kept with him. He pointed out workers, drones an' queens.

That was what summer looked like for Joe Henry as well as for Charlie an' Maggie. Each day Joe Henry joined them for breakfast, worked the day away with Charlie on the farm, in the bee yards. Charlie would go to the flea market on Saturdays an' would take Maggie to Church on Sundays.

Joe Henry fell into the routine. His weekend were dedicated to goin' to town for groceries, maybe to the little library in Hazard or Manchester to check out books an' lazy days readin'. Now an' they he would grab the fishin' pole he brought from home an' fish in one of the ponds on the farm or down to Bull Creek.

Charlie occasionally joined him on a Sunday afternoon an' they would sit on the side of one of the ponds, talk an' fish. Those occasions were some of Joe Henry's favorites as Maggie always was waitin' to take their catch, fry the fish up, add her amazin' hush puppies, slaw or maybe tater salad. Once the tomatoes were big enough, she would fry up some green tomatoes in her cast iron skillets.

As the summer progressed, Joe Henry became more an' more comfortable with the bees, with helpin' Charlie. Though he still wore his jacket an' the veil an' pith helmet he preferred, he often went without gloves as they worked the hives.

Aunt Bess regularly checked in by letter an' telephone. She wasn't much for long conversations on the phone. didn't want to run up a long distance bill. She came down once for the weekend an' stayed in the bedroom downstairs. She took over the kitchen that weekend an' Joe Henry ate better than he usually did.

That Saturday mornin' Aunt Bess was chased an' flogged by one of the ol' roosters that was in the habit of chasin' Joe Henry an' Charlie when the chickens was let out. Charlie had let several roosters remain in the flock an' felt bad that that big ol' red one was so mean.

Aunt Bess invited Charlie an' Maggie over for chicken an' dumplin's that evenin'. She reminded ever'one that Uncle Floyd always said, “Revenge is best served with dumplin’s.”.

"That ol' rooster ain't gonna be chasin' me ever again." she laughed as she sat the big bowl on the table. They all ate their fill an' was happy to say goodbye to that mean rooster.

Chapter Four

The weekend that Aunt Bess visited was loads of fun for not only Joe Henry but for Maggie an' Charlie as well. 'Course on Saturday Aunt Bess chased Joe Henry out of the house so's she could give it a good cleanin'. Not that he didn't keep a clean house. He did pretty well for a man. That were the problem Aunt Bess an' Maggie told him. He were a man an' men just didn't know how to clean right.

Charlie invited him to go to the flea market while Aunt Bess cleaned the house. He enjoyed the day an' visitin' with Charlie an' several of his buddies that stopped by. Charlie sold fifteen bottles of honey durin' the day an' was pleased with the sales.

When they got home the whole house smelled wonderful. Aunt Bess told him she cleaned the poplar floors with Murphy's Oil Soap. Said they needed to be cleaned with it now an' again to keep the wood from dryin' out. Joe Henry promised to do so once a month. She also left a full bottle of Murphy's, a sponge mop an' instructions written down as to how to clean the floors the right way.

Though Joe Henry occasionally went to Church over to Bull Creek Baptist Church where Maggie an' Charlie went, an' though he grew up in a Baptist Church that his Daddy was a Deacon at, well, sleepin' in was more his Sunday mornin' routine than goin' to church.

Joe Henry didn't have much of a choice that Sunday mornin'. He was up when Aunt Bess called him for breakfast. She told him what time they needed to leave an' that he was drivin'.

"Yes ma'am." was all he could say to that.

After church she invited Maggie an' Charlie over for soup. Before they left for Church, actually well before Joe Henry was up, she started a big crock pot of stew. Maggie brought over biscuits to go with the stew. Charlie added a bottle of hot sauce he made an' sold regularly at the flea market.

The hot sauce was amazin' an' they all told Charlie so. They also told him he should bottle it an' sell it in more places than the flea market. It was just what the stew needed to go from good to excellent.

As they ate Aunt Bess took a bite, put down her spoon an' looked at Joe Henry. "I've been talkin' with Charlie, an' if it is alright with you I want to send my two mules over here to the farm. Charlie says there is plenty of hay an' I'll have the feed store start deliverin' grain an' so on for them. Charlie's had mules before an' is sorta excited. I don't want to send them if you mind. He'll need your help now an' then."

"Why no, Aunt Bess. I don't mind at all. You know I like them mules an' love to ride them. But, but, why are you gettin' rid of your mules? You love them rascals. Aren't you gonna ride any more? Are you OK?"

She shook her head an' looked at Maggie, "I told you that boy would jump to conclusions. I told you didn't I? Lordy no, I sure ain't givin' up ridin'. I sure ain't givin' away my mules. I bought a smaller ridin' mule, real pretty dappled gray one from Delbert Collins. Suits me a lot better these days. She ain't near as broad in the back as my mules an' is not as many hands high."

"I also thought you'd enjoy ridin' these hills an' hollers on a mule instead of walkin'."

Joe Henry grinned. "You bet I will. I'll get Charlie to show me everything."

Charlie grinned an' nodded. "I'm goin' to get them next Saturday. I'll have you go with me."

When that was all settled Aunt Bess finished her last bite an' said, "Charlie is goin' over to Clay County on Tuesday. You ought to go with him. He is gonna do some horse tradin' with an ol' friend of ours, a Cousin actually an' I suspect you'd enjoy gettin' to see him again."

Joe Henry laughed, "A cousin. Mercy me, is ever'body down here cousins to us?"

Maggie chuckled an' spoke up as she was takin' dishes to the sink, "Well not ever'body. Not Dr. Chu over to the Oneida hospital. I think he is from Viet Nam."

"There is a Mason jar of chicken an' dumplin's I want y'all to take to him." Aunt Bess added.

Tuesday mornin' Charlie an' Joe Henry left early to go over to the little town of Beloved, Kentucky, just off the Red Bird River in Clay County. Though it was just fifteen or twenty minutes away, Charlie wanted to get an early start. He loaded up two boxes of honey before they left an' some supplies he would need. He told Joe Henry that he was goin' to put a new bottom in a chair he made years ago.

They drove onto the Main Street of Beloved, Kentucky an' turned right to go out of town. The Main Street was actually just a big loop that started on Route 66, looped in through town for a mile or two an' back out to Route 66 again.

They pulled off onto Gilbert's Branch an' drove to the end of the holler. At the end of the holler was a beautiful log cabin with porches on three sides. There were two barns an' several out buildin's. Everything was set back into a big open meadow with well kept fields all around.

An ol' man was standin' on the porch when they pulled up an' he waved at them an' motioned them in. "Come on in, Charlie. I've been expectin' you."

He looked real close an' asked, "Who's that you got with you? Is that Henry Kay's boy Joe Henry? Get out here boy an' let me take a look at you."

Joe Henry got out grinnin' like an ol' possum. He knew as soon as they pulled into Gilbert's Branch who they was goin' to see.

"Hey, Uncle Billy. I ain't seen you in a while."

"Been too many years Joe Henry. I ain't seen you since Aunt Del's funeral. How you been?" Uncle Billy said as he walked down from the porch an' took Joe Henry's hand in his.

His hands might have been old, but his grip was as strong as a vice. He looked deep into Joe Henry's eyes as he held his hand. Those ol' eyes, faded blue, were still sharp an' Joe Henry suspected Uncle Billy saw more than most when he looked at you.

"I'm not bad, Uncle Billy. Doin' better all the time." Joe Henry said honestly.

"You boys come on up. I have coffee on. Charlie, you don't need to get started right away, do you?"

Charlie was at the back of his truck gettin' supplies out. "Nah, I need to soak these strips of oak bark a little more before I start. I soaked them yesterday all day but I need to put them back in some water before I start workin' on that chair bottom.

The three men sat an' talked for a while after Charlie put the strips of oak bark he had in a washtub with enough water to cover them. After about an hour Charlie said he better get to work if they was gonna be home for him to have supper.

Uncle Billy offered to show Joe Henry around the farm. It had been years since Joe Henry had visited, well before Aunt Del had passed. Uncle Billy was a Cousin but weren't really his Uncle. Most ever'body called Uncle Billy, well, Uncle Billy.

When they walked into one barn Joe Henry noticed a number of brooms layin' on a table as well as a shave horse an' a pile of the stuff brooms are made of.

"You makin' them brooms, Uncle Billy?"

"Yessir, I sure am. They are what I am tradin' Charlie for. I trade him brooms for honey. This time I found out he had some black locust honey left from back in the Spring. He's got a dozen bottles of black locust an' a dozen jars of regular wildflower honey he is gonna skin me for. He'll try to take advantage of me, that is for sure."

Joe Henry laughed along with Uncle Billy. Both knew that Charlie just weren't the type to take advantage of anyone.

With a little encouragement, Uncle Billy sat down on the shave horse, got some of the broom corn out of the bucket of water it was soakin' in an' showed Joe Henry how to "plait" a broom, weavin' the cord over an' under the long ends of the broom corn to make a braided look. He tied off the cord, handed it to Joe Henry to inspect.

"Reckon you'd like to make yourself a broom, Joe Henry? You do know your Daddy paid his way through Berea for high school back before the war makin' brooms, don't you?"

Joe Henry did know that. What was now Berea College started out, as did a number of other schools in the mountains, as a settlement school. Students paid their way by workin' in those settlement schools. Most were gone now, but at one time the mountains were dotted with them.

"Let's go find you a stick to make a broom on. I have a right smart stack of sassafras sticks finished up an' varnished. I have some apple wood from an orchard down the way. I get their trimmed branches to make broom handles when they trim once a year."

Though he really liked the knobby look of the apple wood sticks, he settled on a sassafras stick. Uncle Billy showed him how to count out the pieces of broom corn he would need. Always needin' an odd number so's the plaitin' would go right. An even number didn't work.

He picked out a blue cord an' Uncle Billy showed him some broom corn that he dyed with aniline dyes. There were stacks of blue, red an' green aniline dyed broom corn. Uncle Billy suggested that since the cord was blue, maybe two pieces of red broom corn would look right good on one side of the broom.

A hole was made in the top an' bottom of the stick. The cord was pushed through the bottom hole an' a knot tied. With Uncle Billy's help Joe Henry added first one piece, turned the stick just a bit an' added another, takin' the cord over one an' under the next.

"Keep that cord tight or the pieces will end up on the floor."

That is exactly what happened as Joe Henry saw his broom fall apart. The second time he kept the cord taut, weavin' over an' under till he added the last of the pieces of broom corn. Uncle Billy told him to then turn the broom slowly, keepin' the cord taut an' wrappin' the cord seven or eight times around.

Uncle Billy picked up a small wooden handle with a loop of cord on it. "Now, lay this loop on the handle an' wrap three loops around it an' the handle, make sure it isn't too tight. You are gonna cut the cord, stick the end through the loop an' pull it down through the loops you just made to secure the end."

When that was done a leather cord was pushed through the hole on the end an' tied to finish the broom. Joe Henry was so excited.

Uncle Billy pulled up an ol' chair an' sat down beside Joe Henry. "How are you really doin'?"

"I guess I'm OK. Still hurtin' inside. Still feel stupid. Still feel like I ruined Daddy's business.

"Well, you was stupid. Women will do that to us men. I'll agree with that. Your Daddy sat on my porch more than once an' asked for my advice about you an' that gal you married."

"He did? He never told me. I had no idea. If he was worried, why didn't he stop me?" Joe Henry asked.

"Reckon it would have done any good? Reckon you would have listened? I'm afraid you maybe was't thinkin' with the right part of yourself back then. Maybe you weren't thinkin' much at all, boy. He wanted to jerk a knot in your tail. He saw what was goin' on. He wanted to fire that gal, get shet of her."

Joe Henry just sat there. He was quiet. didn't know what to say.

"Yessir, he did. 'Course he knew you would resent him for it. I told him so. Told him you would do somethin' even more stupid than marryin' her. Cousin, he was willin' to give up ever'thing he ever worked for to make you happy, even if he knew it was a mistake you would pay for."

Uncle Billy let that sink in. "He also asked me to have this conversation with you one day, after it was all over. Said to give you what for. Said to raise hell with you. Pardon me for cussin', but that is what your Daddy said. He loved you too much. Was too tender hearted when it came to you."

The two talked for a couple hours. Uncle Billy did read Joe Henry the riot act, did let him have it. Did give him the lecture he needed a couple years ago.

Joe Henry cried, head down, dejected an' wallowin' in his pity. Uncle Billy stopped talkin' an' just sat, waitin'.

"How'd you do it, Uncle Billy? How'd you find Aunt Del, make sure she was the right one, make sure your marriage lasted? I don't think I have it in me to do it right."

"Son, you are about as dense as one of them mules your Aunt Bess has. This ain't about what you did or who you married. This ain't why your Daddy asked me to talk to you."

"It ain't" Joe Henry asked.

"Nope. Us men talked long about you, about what to do. Do you really think Charlie really needed to drop ever'thing an' come over here just to bring me some honey an' spend the day puttin' a bottom in that chair? He just needed a reason to keep you here long enough for us to talk."

"He did?"

"Boy, that chair has been in my shed for three or four years. Here's the problem. It ain't about findin' the right woman. You ain't ready for that yet. You ain't never found your own anchor point. If you ain't OK for you how can you be right for someone else? Me? This here place is my anchor point. I can go off anywhere it the world an' I am still connected, anchored right here. Aunt Del is still here for me, our memories, our life spent together ties me to this place. The mountains call to me when I leave them. I always know my place in the world."

Uncle Billy paused for a long while, his ol' blue eyes watchin' Joe Henry, "I always know who I am, Joe Henry. I decided who I was, where my anchor points were long ago. You are just late in castin' your anchor. That is why you are still bein' tossed around ever' which way."

"Y'see, right now it ain't about what happened. Your Daddy had plenty, truth be told. He didn't want the Sportin' Goods store to be some kind of legacy, some kind of memorial. You were his legacy. You weren't near done when he died. He knew that. He knew the place was losin' money before that gal ever came along. He was waitin' for you to spread your wings so's he could close the place down, truth be told."

Joe Henry sat, sorta stunned.

"He should have pushed you from the nest is what I told him. That gal did that for you. Believe it or not, your divorce, bankruptcy, yeah I know about that, even that was what you needed to leave the nest."

"But what now, Uncle Billy, what now? I'm sort of a mess."

"Nonsense. Ol' Colonel Sanders didn't find his wings till the highway didn't go past his gas station an' restaurant. That is what kicked him out of his nest an' he was 65 years old. The highway just didn't go past that ol sportin' goods store." Uncle Billy said.

"Joe Henry, it ain't what you did. Ain't what happened. It is all about what you do next."

With that last piece of advice Uncle Billy got up,reached in his back pocket an' pulled out a red hankie an' handed it to Joe Henry.

"Now wipe your eyes an' blow your nose. It is clean. Keep the hankie. I ain't gonna want it back after you blow snot all over it. 'Sides, a feller needs a good hankie in his back pocket an' you ain't got one I noticed. Let's go roust out Charlie."

Charlie was not only about done, but was grousin' about needin' somethin' to drink. Uncle Billy got sweet tea an' the three men talked as Charlie finished up. Uncle Billy excused himself for a while an' was back about ten minutes later.

"Charlie, I put them brooms in the back of your truck. Joe Henry, I put some of them apple wood sticks, some unfinished sassafras sticks an' some broom corn back there too if you want to make yourself some brooms. I hear all you do is work an' read. It'll give you something else to do."

Charlie an' Uncle Billy dickered about the trade of honey an' brooms. Each claimed the other was takin' advantage. Funny thing was each had the final number of brooms an' honey already set aside. The dickerin' was all about the game.

The said their goodbyes, hugged each other's necks an' Uncle Billy stood on the porch wavin' as they drove away.

The two men didn't talk much as they drove. Finally Charlie asked, "You enjoy your day?"

"Not sure yet, Charlie. I'll let you know."

Chapter Five

Maggie an' Charlie were up early an' in his ol' truck one mornin' in late July. Joe Henry had finished breakfast with them an' gone back to his place to get ready for the work day.

Most of the week had been filled with cleanin' up hive boxes, called "supers". Him an' Charlie were repairin' rotted parts, scrapin' paint, sandin' an' repaintin' the boxes. Some of the time was also spent scrapin' an' savin' propolis from inside the boxes.

Charlie saved every speck of the propolis in a little Mason jar. Maggie made a tincture of propolis by infusin' moonshine with the propolis. Since the moonshine was known to be volatile an' could explode or catch on fire, well, Charlie wouldn't let her heat it up on the stove. Now, she said she would be careful, but he put his foot down on that idea years ago.

Instead, she made it the same way folks made sun tea. She put the moonshine in half pint mason jars, added ground up propolis an' sat the jars in one of them ol' red Coke coolers. She put a pane of glass on the top an' would set the whole shebang in the sun for several hours each day. Now an' again she would go out, swirl the contents of the jars around to make sure the propolis went into solution in the liquid.

The tincture was antiseptic an' many folks used it on wounds. It was also said to be anti-bacterial an' anti-fungal. Apparently a right smart bunch of folks gargled it for sore throats. Maggie sold quite a few bottles of the tincture, under the table, of course.

Aunt Bess sort of knew about it but said she didn't want nothin' to do with it. She claimed she had "plausible deniability". What she didn't know weren't gonna send her to the hoosegow.

Charlie suspected a bunch of the fellers what bought it for "sore an' scratchy throats" had them sore throats on a regular basis. Probably ever' Friday night. He would kid Maggie about her gettin' arrested an' seein' her on the chain gang workin' on the side of the road. Said he would wave as he drove by in his truck.

Maggie didn't make no breakfast the next mornin'. That stopped that carryin' on right quick.

About an hour after they left they were back. Maggie an' Charlie drove the truck down to the barns an' got out. Charlie hollered for Joe Henry to get his bee suit an' come on.

They loaded hive boxes with frames of drawn out comb, smokers, hive tools an' other supplies they would need into the back of the truck. They all settled into the cab an' were off.

Maggie was excited. "We was checkin' the hives down to the lavender farm. They are plumb full of honey. We're gonna take off the boxes of honey an' put other boxes of drawn comb on. Gonna be a busy day Joe Henry. We need to get the honey back to the honey house an' get it extracted. When folks know we have lavender honey the road will be right busy with customers comin' an' goin."

Charlie chimed in, "I expect we'll get maybe forty pounds of honey in each hive. We'll get more by fall, but it won't be mostly lavender like this is. They is twenty one hives there. We'll be busy for a couple days."

When they arrived the couple that ran the lavender farm came out to meet them. Joe Henry chuckled to himself when he met them. The woman was about his age an' was dressed in a tie dye tee shirt an' what kids called "elephant bells", bell bottom jeans with the bell of the jeans way bigger than the average bell bottoms. She wore no makeup, was fair complected with freckles from the sun. Her hair was blonde, long with small braids on each side of her face.

She had a wreath of lavender in her hair. She hugged each of them, told Joe her name was "Mist". It was actually Misty, but today she felt like Mist. Charlie grinned an' winked at Joe Henry.

The young man introduced himself as Vince. Vince was tall, lanky, had hair as long as Mist. He too had a wreath of lavender in his hair. He blushed, took it out of his hair an' said Mist had insisted he wear it to greet the bees as they harvested "The glorious offering of flowery goodness from their loins."

Maggie laughed out loud an' said, "Mist, you are a trip."

Vince looked wide eyed when Maggie said that but Mist laughed an' hugged Maggie. They went inside, got on veils an' sleeves for their arms. There was elastic at each end to keep the sleeve in place.

By this time Joe Henry stopped wearin' gloves. He still wore the rubber boots, pants an' jacket with his veil. Maggie had on the odd skirt she wore when workin' in the bees. She had cut the full skirt down the middle front an' back an' sewed the pieces together to make legs sorta like great long culottes that went to the ground.

Charlie drove the truck back to the bee yard an' the others walked together. Maggie an' Mist chatted excitedly. Vince asked Joe Henry about himself an' they got on right away like they was old pals. The five of them stacked boxes close to the hives, lit the smokers an' went to work.

Charlie an' Maggie worked together as did Vince an' Mist. Joe Henry worked by himself an' was a bit slower than the others. The routine was the same. The outside cover was removed as was the inner cover. As this happened they would lightly smoke the bees to get them down into the brood boxes below. They didn't want the bees to become alarmed an' start gorgin' on the honey as they collected it.

Maggie was like a machine as Charlie used his hive tool to pull a frame an' hand it to her. She would sweep the bees off with her brush, place the frame of honey in the waitin' box. Each time she would cover the box with an ol' towel so's the bees wouldn't get to the frames. They removed frame after frame this way, sweepin' the bees back into the hive, replacin' the frame of honey with a frame of empty drawn comb. The bees wouldn't need to draw more comb, just fill the new comb with more honey later.

Mist an' Vince followed the same routine as did Joe Henry. It was a hot day an' half way through they all put the hives they finished back together, covered the boxes now full of honey with lids an' loaded the full boxes into the truck. They all set their smokers between the boxes of honey to keep bees away as they paused for a break.

Mist ran on her tippy toes, as she told them she would do an' came back with a gallon jar of lemonade, made with lavender honey an' infused with sprigs of lavender floatin' in the jar. She had plastic Tupperware glasses an' a quart jar of ice. The lemonade was amazin' an' Joe Henry said so. Vince grinned, grabbed Mist an' hugged her tight. She giggled an' said it was her favorite drink for summer.

Charlie an' Maggie had foldin' chairs in the back of the truck that they opened an' sat in. Mist sat cross legged on the grass. Vince an' Joe Henry wandered off, talkin' like ol' friends. Vince offered to show Joe Henry around the farm.

As they walked through the rows of lavender, Vince told Joe Henry he had a degree from the University of Kentucky in Horticultural Enterprise Management. He had written a number of papers an' articles on the growin' need for farmers to replace tobacco with other viable an' marketable crops. With all the research linkin' cigarettes to cancer he was sure the government would eventually stop crop supports for tobacco farmers.

When Joe Henry asked what type of crops Vince got more an' more excited. "Crops like grapes for the table as well as small family wineries. Especially along the river valleys. Those valleys are ideal for growin' grapes an' makin' wine. Apple orchards too. There are so many heirloom varieties of apples we are losing. These old homesteads that are abandoned still have forgotten orchards, apple trees with varieties we need to save. Sure, it takes time to establish an' orchard as well as other crops, but it needs to happen."

He went on, hardly takin' a breath. "Joe Henry, there is a Christmas tree farm down the road a way. They have been growin' Christmas trees, holly trees for over twenty five years now. In early November they start cutting trees to sell wholesale to Boy and Girl Scout troops, civic organizations, even businesses. They get anywhere from eight dollars to fifteen dollars per tree wholesale. Last year they sold over four thousand trees wholesale. They have acres an' acres of trees on fields an' even hillsides that would be terrible for gardening or other crops. They rotate the acres every seven years. That is how long it take to grow a Christmas tree to marketable size. Some trees take a little longer an' they do keep some so they grow taller. They grow about two hundred trees per acre. They only needed a little over twenty acres of trees for their wholesale sales last year. They need one hundred forty acres, a lot of that is hillside, as I mentioned, to rotate through the seven year cycle. They have about one hundred seventy or so acres in trees right now."

Durin' late November an' December they sell trees to the public. It is a big event. Folks come from all over, from Ohio, West Virginia an' Ohio too. Families come back year after year. They have animals to pet, a sleigh to take pictures of kids in, Santa is there each day on the weekends. Hot chocolate for free, food they can purchase, gifts. You can cut your own tree or select trees precut. They sell wreaths made of evergreen or holly. Those retail trees sell for anywhere from fifteen dollars to fifty."

Joe Henry's head was like a calculator. He was adding up the sales in his head. "How many do they sell retail?"

"Oh, I don't know, maybe five hundred or so. Joe Henry, with the trees an' wreaths, wholesale an' retail, trees dug with a root ball an' sold to garden centers, gifts, food sales, why they have a very profitable business there." Vice added.

As they walked back to the back of the farm Vince started talkin' in low tones. He looked around as if he were lookin' to see if anyone was watchin' or listenin'.

"Joe Henry, at one time the largest hemp rope company in the world was in Scott County, Kentucky, over in the Bluegrass. Miles and miles of hemp rope was produced. When marijuana was made illegal folks thought hemp and marijuana was the same. It isn't. Farmers could grow hemp as a crop and it would easily replace tobacco as a cash crop. Hemp could be used to make paper, make cloth and clothing, hemp seeds as a food and hemp seed oil for health and beauty products. They could make essential oils, CBD oil is supposed to be an amazing medicine..."

They paused for a moment as Vince talked. Joe Henry saw a pretty large crop of corn. He chuckled as he looked closer. He was in college just a few years ago an' knew what the eight or ten tall plants were growin' between the rows of corn.

"That hemp?" he asked with a crooked smile.

Vince got a scared look on his face. "Joe Henry, those are mine. Charlie an' Maggie don't know. No one knows. I only grow it for us. I do put a bee hive in the middle of them to get marijuana honey, but we use that as a medicine. It really does have medicinal uses."

"Vince that is not my business. Daddy had a cousin that made shine for years up a holler not too far from here. Just keep out of trouble."

Vince assure him he would. They walked back to the others, had another glass of lemonade an' they all got back to work.

After all the honey was harvested, boxes stored in the back of the truck an' covered an' necks were hugged the three made their way back to the honey house. Mist had given Maggie a large bouquet of lavender blooms that made the cab of the truck smell amazin'.

Once at the honey house they took the boxes full of honey in an' stacked them in the area Charlie indicated. The floor was concrete, was sort of bowl shaped an' was sloped toward the middle. There was a drain at the center. Maggie explained that the boxes would leak a little honey an' they could wash it down an' into the drain. The pipes drained a good way away an' into a pond. Bees would gather to collect the honey sweetened water when it drained.

Maggie an' Joe Henry took the frames out one at a time, looked them over, brushed off any straggler bees an' placed the frames in the uncappin' machine. As the frames came out the other end Charlie would grab them an' place them in one of the extractors.

The two big extractors held sixty frames each. They had twenty seven boxes of honey, each box had ten frames. Some of the hives actually had two full boxes of honey. Some had a partially full second box to give them the two hundred seventy frames of honey.

As they worked Maggie an' Charlie were doin' a quick estimate. Two hundred seventy frame with about three an' a half pounds per frame. Maybe nine hundred fifty pounds or so of honey. Joe Henry was just blown away. Almost a thousand pounds of honey.

"We don't sell this honey wholesale. Only retail. We get six dollars a pound for the lavender honey. I expect if we keep an eye on them hives for the next week we might get fifty or sixty more frames in the next week or so. Then the lavender will be mostly bloomed out. The rest we'll treat as just wildflower honey after those frames are pulled. We'll have maybe two hundred, two fifty more pounds at the most." Charlie explained.

The frames were spun in the extractors an' at the front of each was a honey gate, a faucet of sorts. The honey drained out an' into large bowl shaped screens. Each bowl had two separate screen bowls, one on top of the other. The first screen had larger holes than the next. Maggie had placed netting in each screen bowl to collect the bits of wax that flowed out with the honey. She would occasionally shut off the honey gate, let the honey drain out of the net an' replace the net so it wouldn't get clogged.

The honey drained through the screens an' into five gallon buckets. When a bucket was full it was taken into the climate controlled room to rest for a day or two. Maggie explained the honey needed to rest so the foam that would gather as air rose to the top of the honey could be skimmed off. That takes at least a day.

"We'll bottle an' label this honey after that. As soon as folks know we have lavender honey it will sell like it is goin' out of style." she told Joe Henry.

They worked well into the early evenin', each takin' a break when they could. Maggie brought butter, biscuits an' cold milk from the house. She poured some of the fresh lavender honey into a bowl with butter an' stirred that together to make honey butter. They spread the honey butter on biscuits an' had that for their lunch with Mason jars of ice cold milk.

As he worked, Joe Henry though long an' hard about all Uncle Billy said to him. Did he really not have any sort of anchor points in his life? Had he just floated along up till now, goin' this way an' that, not really havin' any sort of place in the world?

When the last frame was extracted, the last bucket of honey placed in the climate controlled room he said his goodbyes for the evenin'. He walked back to the ol' Carpenter homestead. He stood an' looked at the place for a long time, thinkin', ponderin'.

Rather than go inside he went to the barn, grabbed leads for the mules an' brought them out of the small fenced paddock. He patted on them, rubbed their coats an' let them nuzzle their soft noses against his neck.

Though there was a water trough inside the paddock with a float that kept it filled, he would occasionally walk the mules to the creek for a drink. Tonight they walked on either side of him, happy to be with him, happy to go to the creek.

At the creek they walked into the water, lowered their muzzles an' took long noisy drinks of water. They would pause now an' again, lookin' around before they lowered their heads for another drink.

Joe Henry stood on the bank, havin' wrapped the leads around their necks. He knew they wouldn't wander, would come back to the bank to graze on the tall grasses on the creek's edge.

When they had their fill they walked close to him, nibblin' on the grasses, snortin' an' breathin' deep as the sun began to set. Finally he took the leads in hand an' started the walk back to the barns.

Right then he was content. Them ol' mules was all the company he wanted or needed just then.

Chapter Six

Charlie an' Joe Henry had a few things to do to get ready for the mules Aunt Bess was sendin' over. What once had been a paddock attached to the front barn had done fallen into disrepair. They made a trip to the sawmill over close to Hyden for several cedar posts an' a stack of boards for the fence an' the work started.

Joe Henry didn't want Charlie to have to dig out the ol' posts, so he was up early an' had two dug out before 7:00. Charlie had a couple things to do at his place so Joe Henry was able to get all the rest either dug out, straightened up or the boards still on the post renailed.

The two men were able to sink the posts in the holes left when Joe Henry dug the ol' broken ones out. Workin' together they had the boards nailed up in nothin' flat.

Together they walked the fence line around the field. Over the years Charlie kept the fence in pretty good shape. The front an' one side was made of wooden boards but the other side an' back fence were wire. They counted boards needin' to be replaced an' decided there was also about thirty feet of wire fence on the back side that should be replaced.

Feed was delivered midweek an' stacked in the barn. While they was replacin' the fence boards, Joe Henry decided the top boards on the stalls should be replaced as they had been chewed up something awful years back. He knew Aunt Bess' mules was bad for that too.

The visit to Aunt Bess to get the mules was a fun trip for him an' Charlie. Maggie begged off, sayin' she had some cannin' to do an' wanted to get it done so's she didn't have to work on Sunday, it bein' the Lord's Day an' all. Aunt Bess had a big ol' lunch ready for them when they arrived. She knew Charlie loved baked country ham an' had baked one just for him.

Bakin' a country ham ain't the same as buyin' one of them water injected messes from the grocery store. Why, half of the weight you buy is salt water an' chemicals injected to keep that ham from spoilin' when it lays around in the cooler months an' months is what she told Joe Henry.

She started the day before goin' out to the smokehouse an' lookin' at the five hams hangin'. She selected a good one, took it down an' went to the side of the house to get the garden hose. She scrubbed it down good with a hard bristle brush. Country hams hang for at least six months, don't you know. Aunt Bess never took one down before it hung a year.

She said that Uncle Floyd took a likin' to that there prosciutto when he was in the war an' over in Italy. Said prosciutto were nothin' but country ham all fancied up. He liked to just cut real thin slices an' eat it like that, not cookin' it or anythin'.

Anyways, after a good scrubbin' she put the whole ham in a big ol' lard can an' filled the lard can half water an' half apple cider. Her hams were cured with a combination of salt an' sugar. She said it made the ham less salty that way. The ham soaked overnight.

Early the mornin' Charlie an' Joe Henry was comin' she pulled the ham out of the lard can an' trimmed off some of the outside. She put it in a big ol' dutch oven with a little more apple cider an' into the oven on low heat.

Charlie was thrilled that she not only baked a country ham but made beaten biscuits to go with it. The table was completed with cheesy grits an' some of her home canned green beans Joe Henry helped her with.

The mules was loaded up right quick. Aunt Bess patted on each, kissin' them on their soft muzzles an' tellin' them she'd be down to see them soon. She cried as Charlie an' Joe Henry got into the cab of the truck.

Joe Henry told Charlie to hold on. He got out an hugged his Great Aunt long an' hard as she cried. She stood there for a right smart while, her arms wrapped around Joe Henry. He didn't realize much sometimes, but as he stood there he realized that Aunt Bess, though still in good health, was not young. He realized he wouldn't have her forever an' he hugged her even harder.

When she stepped away, she was wipin' her eyes with the hankie she kept in the pocket of her apron. She looked at Joe Henry an' saw him wipin' away a tear or two.

"Well, I'm gettin' all bothered an' bein' silly 'bout a couple mules. What are them tears for? Sure ain't about no mules." she asked.

"Just thinkin' about how much you do for me. How much my folks, family have done for me. Love You Aunt Bess. I was just thinkin' 'bout all I've missed all my life by just floatin' along, not a care in the world."

She looked at him close. Her eyes got misty once again. She hugged him all over an' then gave him a push.

"Get to goin'. Them mule ain't interested in our family reunion. We is family, you an' me. I was always here an' you knew that. Sure, maybe you took family for granted, but there is a cord that runs back to each of us, tyin' family together."

Joe Henry got in the cab, Charlie put the truck into gear an' they headed down the drive. Joe Henry watched in the mirror as his Aunt Bess waved goodbye.

She was always there. His Daddy was always there. His Mama was before she died. He realized they all were always there, he always knew that, just didn't understand it.

The mules were unloaded into the field an' they wandered from edge to edge of the fence as if they were gettin' a feel for their new surroundin's. They settled in an' Charlie worked with Joe Henry each day to care for them. It was a good addition to the farm. A good addition to life on the farm.

The next weekend Charlie asked Joe Henry of he would go to the flea market. Seems his ol' buddy Billy Lewis had a summer cold an' Charlie didn't have no one to keep him company. Joe Henry was happy to go along. There was always a fun assortment of friends, neighbors an' even kin that stopped by to say howdy to Charlie.

Aunt Bess had sent most of the country ham home with Charlie an' Joe Henry. Maggie baked a couple loaves of bread a day or two before an' sent big ol' country ham sandwiches with the two so they would have a good lunch. They both added a bag of tater chips an' an Ale 8 soda pop to the sandwich.

As they ate ol' Bobby Clark came by. He was a distant cousin through the Murphy line. He sat down with them for a right smart while. He pulled a little jar out of his pocket an' offered it to them boys. Joe Henry grinned as Charlie took a swig an' made a face.

"Whoo-eee, that is good stuff, Bobby. That'll make a man out of ye." Charlie whooped.

Joe Henry wasn't much of a drinker, but takin' a swig of Bobby Clark's moonshine was a right of passage an' a tradition for him. He took a drink when the jar was passed to him.

"Bobby Clark, I still think you are tryin' to kill me."

The three laughed an' Bobby reminded Charlie about Joe Hnery's first drink of moonshine.

When he was a little boy an' visitin' Aunt Bess an' Uncle Floyd with is Daddy, Bobby stopped by for a visit. It was a hot summer day back then an' when Bobby went to his truck to get a Mason jar, well, Joe Henry was curious.

His Daddy, Uncle Floyd an' Bobby sat around for a right smart while in Aunt Bess' kitchen talkin, rollin' their cigarettes with them cans of Prince Albert tobacco an' enjoyin' a swig of what appeared to be good, cold spring water.

Uncle Floyd's dogs started barkin' an' they all got up when Aunt Bess said it was one of the neighbors. They went out to the porch an' stood talkin' for a right long time.

Joe Henry remembered standin' there, lookin' at that Mason jar of what appeared to be cold, cold water. Sweat had formed on the outside of the jar 'cause of the heat of the day. Joe Henry was one hot little boy that day. He had been playin' hard. Weren't right them men wouldn't share that cold water with him.

So, after lookin' through the door to make sure no one was comin', he took the lid off an' took a big ol' drink.

An' almost died. He only swallowed 'bout half of that poison in a jar. He spewed the rest all over Aunt Bess' floor. He screamed an' commenced to cryin'. Aunt Bess came runnin', followed by his Daddy, Uncle Floyd, Bobby Clark an' the neighbor feller.

He was wipin' his mouth on a dish towel when the adults arrived. They could smell an' see the moonshine on the floor. They all started laughin' so hard they had to sit down. Joe Henry didn't think it was so funny.

"Daddy, I think someone is tryin' to kill me. Y'all are drinkin' poison."

Bobby laughed as he said, "An' he said we was tryin' to kill him. We was drinkin' poison."

They talked for a while an' Bobby told them he would be right back. The woman in the booth beside his had to leave. She was watchin' his booth. He had to grab a couple things from his booth before she left. Didn't want anyone to steal anything.

When he came back he was carryin' a big cardboard box. He sat it down at his feet, sat down himself an' leaned back.

"Boys, looky here what I got." he said.

Charlie an' Joe Henry looked in the box an' saw three of the prettiest hound dog pups Joe Henry had ever seen. There was two boys an' a girl. The girl was spotted brown but both boys was a medium brown sort of color.

"Them look like the dogs Uncle Floyd always had." Joe Henry said as he petted first one then another.

"They should." Bobby said with some pride. "Floyd gave me several dogs over the years. These would be the great grand babies to one of Floyd's dogs.

Charlie an' Joe Henry picked one then another up to pet on over the next hour or so. They all had that puppy breath an' teeth like little needles. Bobby took out a chew toy an' threw it in the box. The pups wallowed each other an' chewed, wrassled an' played as the men talked.

Joe Henry kept pickin' up the pups an' rubbin' on their heads. At one point the pup he was holdin' fell asleep in his lap. He didn't mind an' absently rubbed the little dog's ears as they all talked.

Toward the end of the day Bobby stood up, said he better get goin' an picked up the cardboard box. As he started to walk away Joe Henry stopped him.

"Bobby, you forgot this pup. i've been holdin' it an' it went to sleep. Here you go." Joe Henry got up an' held out the sleepy puppy.

"Nah, I didn't forget it. That pup picked you out. He's yours now. Be good to see one of Floyd's dogs goin' home with family." Bobby said with a warm smile.

"But, but I don't need a dog. You can sell it for good money, Bobby. Here, I didn't mean to take your pup."

"Joe Henry are you gonna hurt that pup's feelin's? I'm tellin' you he picked you. You are his now. He is nine weeks old an' I've had him here three weekends in a row. Plenty of folks have held him. He settled in with you."

"But, but..." Joe Henry said with a feeble protest but a slight smile on his lips.

As Bobby walked away, he turned an' said, "His name is Harry Truman. He's already house broke. I don't sell no dogs what ain't house broke. Take good care of him. He'll make a good rabbit an' squirrel dog if you train him right."

Charlie just grinned, "I ain't never seen Bobby give one of his dogs away. They sell for right good money. You got you a good'un there, Joe Henry."

When they drove home an' pulled in front of Charlie's house, Maggie was at the door. They stopped on the way at the store to buy some puppy chow, a bowl, collar an' such for Harry Truman. Maggie was out the door with her hands on her hips when she saw the puppy in Joe Henry's arms. The puppy was asleep again.

"What in the world have you done, boy? You bought a dog?" she asked.

Charlie told her he didn't buy a dog, Bobby Clark gave it to Joe Henry. She was as surprised as Charlie had been an' said so. She petted the pup an' looked it over.

"That's a good dog but you ain't gonna be callin' it Harry. That ain't fittin'. You need to call it by its last name. That dog needs to be Truman, not Harry. You hear me? An' you better get it trained. I sure ain't tellin' your Aunt Bess some dog is messin' on them chestnut floors over yonder."

"Truman is housebroke already, Maggie. I'll be takin' good care of him. Actually glad to have him. Ain't had a dog since Daddy's dog Puddin' died. You Know Who didn't like dogs. Didn't like cats, goldfish, hamsters, birds or children either, truth be told. I don't reckon she liked anything or anyone other than herself."

They all called Betty "You Know Who" the few times she was ever mentioned. Those mentions happened very few times these days.

Maggie smiled as she shook her head an' took the pup from Joe Henry. She held it up, looked into its eyes. Truman's tail beat her wrists from side to side as she looked him over.

"This dog is gonna tie you down, boy. Just gonna anchor you down whether you want it or not. You know that, don't you?

Joe Henry grinned as he took his pup back, held it high an' looked it over just like Maggie did. Truman's tail beat even faster.

"Yes ma'am. I believe I do. An' that's alright with me an' Truman. Right Truman?"

Chapter Seven

Charlie an' Joe Henry were enjoyin' their weekly mule rides up the hills an' along the ridges on either side of the road they lived on. What started out as one ridge east of the area split into two separate ridges an' both ran for miles past their homes.

Though they often rode the ridge up behind the barn where Joe Henry lived, their favorite ride was to go past Charlie's place, up the hill an' then follow that ridge. That ride took them above the bee yard as well as the lavender farm an' the Christmas tree farm.

Last time they rode Joe Henry stopped to admire the many acres of Christmas trees growin' not only in the flat fields but also on the slopin' hillsides. So few crops did well on the hillsides. The Christmas trees thrived there.

They had watched as an older lady walked down the rows of trees. Charlie told Joe Henry that was Lois Jones who ran the farm. She had a pair of big loppers as well as prunin' shears an' would pause here an' there to lop off stray growth that seemed to be messin' up the shape she desired.

They also stopped above the lavender farm when they saw Mist workin' in the lavender an' Vince doin' some sort of work in the small patch of corn. Joe Henry urged his mule away right quick but Charlie caught up with him.

Charlie chuckled an' said, "Yeah, we know, Joe Henry. Them kids ain't hurtin' a soul. They don't sell that stuff. Mostly they cook with it an' use that, the lavender an' other herbs an' such like medicine. Mist is sorta sick, don't you know. Vince has that degree from UK an' he's hopin' to get Mist well. Me an' Maggie are hopin' so too. If that ol' weed helps her, good for them.

A few days later Maggie told Joe Henry that Misty had leukemia. They saw her on a good day. She put on a good show much of the time, but she also spent many days in bed or in a chair for the day. When no one was around she often used a cane as she walked.

"Misty would be your Grandma's Great Great niece. I don't care for callin' her Mist. Her name is Misty, don't you know. Her Daddy is Gene Kelly. Not that famous Gene Kelly though. Your Grandma was a Kelly." Maggie explained.

Honey harvest was planned an' it was all hands on deck. Vince an' even Lois Jones came to help. Vince, Charlie an' Joe Henry started at the big bee yard pullin' whole boxes of honey. This time they wouldn't be puttin' drawn frames of comb back on the hives. The hives were bein' reduced down to the brood boxes for the fall an' no more honey taken off so's the bees could have enough honey to last through the winter.

"Them bees need at least sixty pounds of honey to make it through the winter. When it gets cold they form a cluster 'round the queen. Their job is to keep her alive till spring." He told Joe Henry as they worked.

"We always get the honey off before the goldenrod an' wild asters start to bloom. Folks don't care much for goldenrod honey. Has a strong taste. We do harvest maybe three or four hives late so's we get some of that goldenrod honey. A few folks buy it an' take it for allergies. I ain't much for it. Makes the whole hives smell like dirty socks. You'll see what I mean when we take off the honey from them hives."

They worked through the other bee yards also. Takin' more boxes of honey from the lavender farm an' from the hives what sat under the sourwood trees. The last honey wasn't sourwood honey though. That good honey had been taken off just after the blooms dropped from the sourwood trees.

Maggie, Mist an' Lois were in the honey house. As the men brought in the boxes Maggie an' Lois would pull the frames an' run them through the extractor. Mist took the frames, placed the frames full of honey in the extractors an' keep an eye on the machines as they spun. When a five gallon bucket was full either Maggie or Lois would carry it into the climate controlled room to sit an' settle for a day or two.

Maggie, Charlie an' Joe Henry would be busy for weeks as they bottled, labeled an' finished up the honey in assorted sizes of bottles an' jars. A right smart number of hives behind the barns at the Carpenter home place had been set aside for comb honey. Maggie taught Joe Henry to cut the comb to fit in a jar an' fill the jar with honey before sealing the lid in place.

Folks heard that Carpenter's Bee Tree Apiary was runnin' full tilt an' started stoppin' by to purchase honey. There was still a box or two of the black locust honey as well as a good bit of lavender an' sourwood honey. Those varietal honeys an' the comb honey were favorites for the customers. Each day they sold dozens of jars an' bottles of honey.

One afternoon only Maggie, Charlie an' Joe Henry were workin'. Most of the honey was bottled an' two of them would bottle while the other one would take care of customers. Joe Henry had helped an older lady load a box of four quart jars of honey into her car when Bobby Clark pulled up in his truck. He climbed out, shook Joe Henry's hand an' motioned him to the back of the truck.

"Joe Henry, I brought you a crate to keep Harry Truman in when you go off an' have to leave him. He's gonna start chewin' ever'thing in site. He was trained to go into his crate at night. I should have given you one when that dog went home with you." Bobby said as he lifted pieces of the wire crate out of the truck. They took the pieces of crate to the porch an' walked back to the truck.

Truman was sniffin' around Bobby an' was glad to see him. Bobby knelt down to rub on Truman's head, look the dog over an' give a nod of approval.

"Where's your pup sleepin?"

"Beside my bed. He tries to get in the bed, but after lettin' him sleep in the bed one night I decided I needed sleep more than Truman needed to be in my bed. That dog wallered me all night long." Joe Henry laughed.

"You need to put him in his crate now an' then. Keep him used to goin' in it. He'll treat it like his den an' probably will even go into it to sleep when the door is open."

Bobby stood up an' stepped close to Joe Henry, "Joe Henry, you need to get over to Vince an' Mist's place an' warn them. I was at the Burger Queen this mornin' havin' coffee with a couple of the boys. Heard Jimbo Wilkerson talkin' in the booth behind me. He ain't from here an' is tryin' to make a name for himself. He was whisperin' an' carryin' on. Said they was gonna raid Vince's place an haul him off as a drug dealer."

Joe Henry was shocked. Maggie said everybody knew Vince didn't sell no pot. She said folks knew he was tryin' to get Mist healthy.

"I don't know when, but I think it is today. I think Vince should be warned. I don't want that boy to go to prison. I can't go up there an' warn him. Jimbo would find out an' get me for aidin' an' abettin' a criminal enterprise. He already tried to arrest me for carryin' a pint jar of moonshine in my coat pocket. He's a jerk."

Bobby asked him if he had a way to get to Vince's place without drivin' up the road. Joe Henry told him he could take a mule an' go along the ridge an' down to the back of the farm.

Bobby helped Joe Henry saddle up a mule, said he would stay an' help Maggie an' Charlie for a while an' watch Truman. He was tellin' Maggie about the potential raid as Joe Henry crossed the road on the mule.

Joe Henry made his way past Maggie an' Charlie's place an' up the hillside to the ridge. He urged the mule to move but the ol' mule weren't in near the hurry that Joe Henry was.

As he was startin' down the hill to the back of the lavender farm he heard the first sirens in the distance. He urged the mule on an' it started to lope a bit. As he came down the hill he saw Mist running, her arms full. She ran to a sinkhole a right smart way back of the field of corn an' in a little wooded patch. She ran to the sink hole an' threw her armload in. She ran back an' as Joe Henry got closer she was back to throw an armful of pot plants in.

She was out of breath when she saw Joe Henry, "Oh Joe Henry, a buddy of Vince's called to say that damn deputy Jimbo Wilkerson was on the way to arrest Vince. Said he has an arrest warrant he got from a judge up in Richmond. People here know us. He had to go all the way up there 'cause he knew he'd never get one here. He's got two other deputies with him. Larry Gilbert, the sheriff is out of town. He wouldn't let Jimbo do this. Larry knows us."

She ran back as Joe Henry stood there. He saw that there were not only plants but boxes of bottles, tinctures, baggies of pot that she had thrown in. Unfortunately not everything had fallen all the way into the sinkhole. First with the toe of his boot an' then with a long branch he began to push anything that was on the sloped lip of the sinkhole down till it fell in. He listened an' heard a satisfyin' crash down below.

In a moment both Vince an' Mist appeared with boxes an' garbage bags full of things. Vince told him he was even tossin' clothes an' his shoes, just in case. Said Joe Henry ought to get gone. Vince had closed an' locked the cattle gate at the road but Jimbo was bound to cut the lock or climb the gate to get to the house.

Joe Henry hugged them both, said he was prayin' an' got on his mule. He paused on the hillside to look down an saw Mist runnin' with one last load. She tossed it in, broke off a branch from a tree an' was sweepin' the dirt around the sinkhole to cover their tracks.

He urged the mule to the top of the ridge an' sat there to watch three patrol cars pull up an' Jimbo an' the two deputies jump out of the car with guns drawn. Vince had been sittin' in a lawn chair when they pulled up.

Jimbo grabbed Vince by the shirt, threw him to the ground an' knelt on his back. The other two deputies got close an' Joe Henry couldn't believe it when he saw them start kickin' Vince in the side. Jimbo knelt close like he was talkin' to Vince, thumped him on the head with the butt of his gun an' started hollerin' so loud it carried up the hill.

With hills on either side sound always carried up an down the road. Joe Henry could sit on the porch an' hear music from Vince an' Mist's place in the evenin'. Today he could hear everything just as plain as if he were standin' with the deputies.

"Where is it, you creep. I know you are killin' kids round here with your drugs. Where is it? Better tell me if you know what's good for you. You an' that woman are goin' to prison, facin' hard time." he screamed in Vince's' ear.

Joe Henry looked hard but didn't see Mist. Jimbo handcuffed Vince an' put him in the back of one of the patrol cars. The three went into the house an' even from the ridge Joe Henry heard things crashin' an' breakin' in the house. He hoped they would be more careful with Mist.

The three deputies eventually came out of the house with a couple boxes of things. They then went into the lavender field an' then the corn field. They stomped around an' tore lavender plants out by the root, pushed over the corn stalks lookin' for evidence. Problem was all the evidence seemed to be at the bottom of a sink hole.

He saw Jimbo talkin' to one of the deputies as the other deputy walked over to the bee hives, paused, sniffed the air real hard, leaned in an' seemed to smell the hives, first one an' then another. That deputy hollered to Jimbo.

"Jimbo, they have hid the drugs in these hives. I can smell it. The drugs are here. Come here an' smell these hives. They are full of drugs." he hollered.

Joe Henry had to chuckle in spite of the seriousness of the situatoin. "Has to be goldenrod honey they are smellin'. Yep, not drugs, you idiot, goldenrod honey."

The three gathered around the hive an' all leaned in to smell. Heads shook "yes" an' Jimbo found a hoe restin' against a post. He took the hoe an' quickly pushed one, two an' then three hives over to find the drug stash they just knew was hidden in the hives.

Bee's don't much appreciate their hives bein' knocked over. Though them bees were mostly gentle, they just weren't in a good mood. Them worker bees came flyin' out of the hives that were now in pieces on the ground. Joe Henry said, years later, that he suspected them black uniforms the deputies had on might have made the bees think bears was gettin' into the hives.

First Jimbo an' then the two others began to swat at the bees. The bees were relentless. The three started hoppin' an' dancin', slappin' their arms an' legs as they were stung time an' again.

Jimbo took out his gun an' started shootin' the hives. The other two did the same, unloadin' into the hives. Jimbo apparently got in the way of the shots from the second deputy an' went down grabbin' his leg. He rolled on the ground holdin' his leg with one hand an' slappin' at bees with the other.

That deputy shot him! The deputy paused from shootin' an' slappin' at bees to look dumbly at his gun. He realized Jimbo had been in the path of his gunfire an' shoved the gun into his holster.

"Somebody shot me! I'm shot. I'm down. Drug sniper in the corn field! Its a drug war!" Jimbo screamed. "Help me. Help me men."

He received no help as the other two were runnin', dancin' an' slappin' at the hundreds of bees that were chasin' them. They ran, opened the patrol car doors an' dove in, closin' the doors against the angry bees.

He eventually got to his feet, ran limpin' to his patrol car to escape the bees. Problem was the bees were followin' all three of the men. When Jimbo finally got in his patrol car Vince was laughin'. Jimbo turned, cussed Vince an' told him he was also chargin' him with "assault with a deadly weapon" for hidin' his drugs in them hives.

Joe Henry sat an' watched till the patrol cars drove off. None of the three deputies got out to search for more evidence after they got to their cars. Joe Henry chuckled. He knew them bees were still flyin' around the cars even as they drove away.

He rode back to Maggie an' Charlie's place, across the road where all three waited to hear what happened. They laughed when Joe Henry told them Jimbo pushed the hives over lookin' for a drug stash. They were shocked at first then the three laughed till they cried when Joe Henry screamed that it was a drug war an' they was a sniper in the corn field.

Bobby said, "When they take the bullet out an' send it off it will show that the drug was was friendly fire."

Maggie asked, "What about Misty? Did they arrest her?"

"I didn't see her while they were there, Maggie. I'm figurin' she got somewhere an' hid out after she saw how they treated Vince."

Bobby spoke up, "I hope so. Poor kid. Poor Vince. He is a good man. You saw ever'thing Joe Henry, had a good view?"

"I not only saw everything, I heard most all of it. They didn't do right by Vince. They tore the house to pieces. Tore up the hives an' the lavender field too. The place is a mess." he told them in a quiet voice.

"I'm goin' to town to see a lawyer for Vince tomorrow. I'm thinkin' maybe we get our bee suits an' go put the hives back in place now. Help Mist straighten things up."

Bobby said he would go an' help. He weren't much for helpin' with the bees but could help straighten things up.

Maggie an' Charlie grabbed their bee suits, smokers an' tools. Joe Henry put Truman in the house. Maggie an' Charlie got in their truck an' Joe Henry rode over the the lavender farm with Bobby.

When they pulled up to the gate they saw the lock an' chain had been cut. The gate had apparently been pushed aside by one of the patrol cars. They drove up to the house, eyes wide as they saw the place.

There were still a few bees flyin' around when they pulled up but they were no bother. There were windows broken out, the wooden screen door was standin' open an' the screens torn. Inside looked like a tornado had come through. There was no place the deputies had not pulled things out of. They had walked over things, broke dishes an' thrown pots of plants on the floor. Cans of coffee, sugar an' flour had been thrown down as they looked for drugs.

They all walked back to the lavender field an' the bee hives. The bees had settled onto the exposed combs an' didn't notice as the four walked around. The way the lavender an' corn plants had been pulled up, stomped on an torn up was senseless.

Charlie an' Maggie put on their bee suits, lit their smokers an' soon had all three hives back together an' in place. Though some of the frames of comb had been ruined as had some of the brood an' areas where young bees were to emerge, the hives would be OK. Might need to be fed sugar water to get them back to where they should be.

While the hives were set in place, both Bobby an' Joe Henry looked through the barn an' small out buildin's for Mist. They called an' searched for her.

Bobby said, "She probably is scared to death after all that. You sure they didn't take her too?"

"No, they didn't take her. Last I saw her she had just dumped a load into the sinkhole an' was usin' a branch to cover any tracks around the sink hole. She ran back toward the house after that."

They called an' searched but didn't find Mist that evenin'. They decided to wait till the mornin'. She had probably run as far as she could to get away after Vince was beat up.

"She'll be back tomorrow, boys. Wait an' see. She'll be back tomorrow." Maggie told them as they stood in front of the house.

Chapter Eight

Maggie told Joe Henry she would have breakfast ready at 6:30 the next morning so's they could get out as soon as they had good light. Bobby said he would be back to help hunt for Mist also. He said he'd bring a couple of his dogs. They were pretty good huntin' dogs an' might be able to help track.

"Come on to breakfast, Bobby. I'll fix plenty an' you are always welcome." Maggie told Bobby.

"Sure will, Maggie. See y'all in the mornin'."

Bobby said his goodbyes, Maggie an' Charlie walked over to their house an' Joe Henry walked back home. He noticed the wire dog crate on the porch an' grabbed a couple pieces he took inside.

That pup Truman was glad to see Joe Henry an' though he had been inside all day he hadn't messed in the house. He was sure ready to run out the door an' into the side yard where Joe Henry was trainin' him to do his business.

Joe Henry took time to take all the parts to the wire crate up to his bedroom, figurin' that would be a good place to pen Truman up if he had to leave for a number of hours. Plus, that bein' where Truman slept at nights might make him more likely to get in the crate when Joe Henry needed him to get in.

Truman was right there with his nose under Joe Henry's arms as he put the wire crate together. He chuckled 'cause it actually was a big wire cage with a plastic tray that slid in the bottom. He reckoned crate must sound better than cage to folks that raised dogs an' such.

When it was all together, Joe Henry went lookin' for somethin' to lay in the tray for Truman to sleep on. He remembered there were some ol' torn up quilts coverin' a couple pieces of furniture in the basement. He went down an' retrieved one. He smelled it to make sure it weren't musty an' was satisfied it was OK, but he threw it in the washin' machine anyway.

While the quilt was washin' an' dryin' he fixed himself a fried baloney sandwich with a big ol' slice of tomato. He toasted the two pieces of white bread an' smeared on a right smart amount of JFG mayonnaise. He preferred Duke's but it was harder to find close by. Any time he went anywhere close to South Carolina or way down in Tennessee he would stop at grocery stores an' take home three or four jars of Duke's Mayo.

When the quilt came out of the dryer it was a bit worse for the wear. Some of the battin' had come out an' was layin' in the bottom of the dryer. He sorta figured Truman wouldn't mind.

He took the quilt upstairs an' then remembered his Daddy always put a piece of his clothin' in with new pups to get them used to his smell. He grabbed an ol' tee shirt he didn't wear so often an' turned to lay the quilt an' tee shirt in the crate.

Problem was Truman was in the crate an' was sound asleep. He sat down in front of the crate, reached in an' rubbed the pup's head till Truman woke up, opened his mouth for a wide yawn an' started lickin' Joe Henry's hand.

Joe Henry lifted the pup out of the crate an' into his lap. He placed the folded quilt in first an' then laid the tee shirt over the top of the quilt. When he was satisfied he sat back to look over his work.

Truman watched everythin' with interest. When Joe Henry sat back, Truman got up an' walked back into the crate. He smelled the tee shirt, the quilt an' then started to circle around like dogs do. He dropped like a rock, snorted a little an' laid his head on his crossed paws. His eyes closed an' Joe Henry realized he probably wouldn't have to worry about getting that pup in the crate.

The next mornin' Joe Henry headed over to Maggie an' Charlie's place at 6:25. Truman was right behind him, stoppin' now an' then to smell this an' that. As he was walkin' up to their porch Bobby Clark pulled in. Joe Henry turned to greet Bobby an' noticed his Aunt Bess in the seat beside Bobby.

Joe Henry walked over to hug his Aunt's neck an' could tell she was pretty shook up. She was already teary eyed as she walked with him to the door. When she was inside Maggie came over an' they hugged. Aunt Bess started cryin' an' Maggie joined her.

"This ain't right, youngin's. Ain't right at all. I'm hopin' Misty is alright. Joe Henry, after we eat I want you to saddle one of my mules. I can't walk to search, but I sure can ride. Plus, I'll be higher on the mule than I would be walkin'. I'll be able to see farther. Oh, I do hope she is alright. Bobby stopped by to tell me last night an' I hardly slept a wink." Aunt Bess said with a teary voice.

Maggie hugged her again. "Bess, we'll look till we do find her. We ain't givin' up even if we have to look into the night. Charlie put new batteries in our flashlights. We both got walkin' sticks so's we can move bushes around to look."

"Maggie, why don't Joe Henry saddle both mules. Me an' you can look longer if we ride. Boys, y'all should all take walkin' sticks to look with." Aunt Bess suggested.

Maggie agreed an' then told everyone to get to the table. As they ate they discussed where Mist might have hid, where she might have run to in a short period of time. They wondered if she could have gone back to the sink hole an' even fallen in.

Charlie spoke up, "Now children, I hope not. That sink hole is awful deep an' they is a stream at the bottom. Some of us boys went down in it when we was youngin's. We tied ropes around our waists an' went down two at a time. The other fellers would stay at the top an' pull us up. The walls are mostly straight so she couldn't have climbed down or got back up. Back then the water was above our knees. It were maybe ten, fifteen feet across at the bottom. The water went through, comin' in an' out in small holes. They weren't big enough to crawl through."

After breakfast Charlie an' Joe Henry went to the barn an' saddled both mules. Joe Henry stopped an' put Truman in his bedroom an' shut the door. He didn't close the door on the crate but since Truman slept in the crate all night he figured there weren't no need.

Maggie an' Anut Bess drove down to Vince an' Mist's place, hopin to find some piece of clothin' Bobby could let the dogs smell an' that he could carry to give them the scent of Mist now an' again as he searched with them.

Though it was just startin' to get good light, there was enough that they planned to walk back to the hives an' lavender. First they went into the house. The door was still open an' they saw plenty.

When they went inside they both stood an' cried. Maggie didn't realize it at first, but when she saw a flash she turned to see Bess holdin' one of them Polaroid One Step instant cameras. She was talkin' pictures of ever'thing. As one photo came out she would take it in one hand, turn to point somewhere else an' take another photo.

"I'm gettin' pictures of all this. I'll take some outside an' of the hives an' lavender field too. I've got more film in my pocketbook." she told Maggie.

They walked back to the hives an' Bess was so angry she cussed when she saw all the destruction. Maggie walked over an' pointed to the bullet holes in the hives as Bess took pictures with Maggie pointin' to the holes in the hives.

They drove back to Maggie's house with a blouse from Mist's clothes hamper. The men were waitin' with the mules saddled. The photos were passed around an' the anger of the group was like a thunder cloud over their heads.

After Maggie an' Aunt Bess were on the mules they discussed which way they should go, how to divide up. They planned on goin' both directions from the house, goin' not only up to the ridge but over to the other side. The other side was steep an' pretty rough so the men would have to walk it.

Bobby said he would take his dogs over the ridge an' back in the direction of the dead end part of the road Joe Henry saw when he first arrived. Maggie an' Aunt Bess would ride in either direction on top of the ridge.

Charlie decided to start by walkin' through the field where the bee yard was an' the walkin' at the bottom of the hill an' head along that way toward the lavender farm. Joe Henry was to walk the road an' search on either side of the road.

Bobby had whistles for each of them. He suggested if they found Mist, if they found any sign to holler an' blow the whistle. He figured they would hear the whistles better. Said whoever finds her should keep blowin' the whistle till other arrive.

Joe Henry told them Mist had on a light brown sweater, cream colored top an' a long full skirt that was sort of a light blue. Said her hair was down an' she had them braids hangin' down on either side of her face.

The men took their walkin' sticks, Bobby called to his dogs an' the women headed the mules up the hill. When they reached the ridge they paused, looked an' called Mist's name for a minute or two, stopped to listen before they separated an' went in their assigned directions.

Charlie walked slowly through the bee yard, lookin' in an' around the fence row, pushin' briars an' brambles aside with his stick. It was nearly two miles from his place to the house where Vince an' Mist lived. Much of it was hay fields but a right smart amount was pretty rough as it had been timbered years back an' though the trees were big, they was lots of briars, brambles an' brush to walk through, to search through.

Joe Henry walked along the road, lookin' with a pair of binoculars Bobby gave him. Bobby said he could look farther if he glassed along the road, could see right up to the hillsides. Joe Henry looked for movement as he slowly would sweep the fields an' hills with the binoculars. When he would see anything that looked like the colors of her clothin'.

Bobby an' the dogs walked to the top of the ridge, paused as the dogs sniffed the area an' then went over the ridge to the other side.

The searched all mornin'. Though Joe Henry saw flashes of color he investigated, they turned out to be trash an' litter layin' in the brambles along the fence rows. He saw two nice bucks, several does with yearlings an' a flock of turkeys. Just no sign of Mist.

They all agreed to be back at Maggie an' Charlie's place at noon to eat some dinner an' go over next steps an' areas to search in the afternoon. As one an' then another of the searchers arrived the atmosphere was grim.

Charlie had walked through the brush all mornin' an' made his way to the lavender farm. He searched all around the sink hole an' laid on his belly to look down into the hole with his big flashlight. The hole was deep enough that his light barely light up the distance. He told everyone he could see things layin' at the bottom but there was no sign of Mist.

After dinner they plotted out their searches an' the men helped Maggie an' Bess onto the mules. They both agrees they needed to go farther each direction, not needin' to lok in the areas they had covered already. Bobby aske dJoe Henry to go over the ridge with him an' head toward the lavendar field again. The area was steep an' rough. He thought if him an' Joe Henry each took a dog an' Bobby looked high an' Joe Henry lower on the hillside they could cover more area.

They all searched most of the afternoon. About 4:00 they all heard a shot, paused an' waited. There, there it was another shot. The shots seemed to come somewhere past the lavender field. Everyone headed in that direction.

Bobby an' Joe Henry met up an' started walkin' along the ridge as fast as they could. The dogs followed along but Bobby didn't have them searchin' any longer.

Maggie caught up with Bess an' they rode side by side an' soon caught up with Bobby an' Joe Henry. Charlie had moved down to the road when he heard the shots, figurin' he could make better time walkin' the road.

Speculation was at first that the deputies were back an' shootin' somethin' else up. The the shots continued at about five minute intervals. They all kept goin' in the direction of the shots. The men, dogs an’ mules passed the lavender farm an' stopped, waitin' for the next shot. Charlie continued to listen as he walked along the road.

The next shot told them it was somewhere toward the Christmas tree farm. They went a bit faster as they headed that direction. The Christmas tree farm was more than a mile from Vince an' Mist's place though the road had several bends.

The last shot they heard was from a hillside at the Christmas tree farm. Charlie an' the others walked into the trees, callin' out to Mist an' also callin' for Lois.

Lois heard them callin', raised her pistol one more time an’ fired off a shot. She also started callin' to them, recognizin' the voices of Charlie an' Maggie as they called. As she heard them gettin' closer she called directions to them.

"Up here on the hill. I'm about five row of trees up the hill." she called to them.

When they finally found Lois she was sittin'on the ground holdin' Mist like a baby. She had the younger woman in her lap, her arms wrapped around Mist an' Lois' jacket coverin' her.

The women got off the mules, tied them to a couple trees an' joined the others. They saw that Mist was not awake, was breathin' shallow an' her skin was gray. Maggie an' Bess started to cry. Lois joined them as Joe Henry an’ Bobby knelt close. Charlie put his arms around his wife an' stood by her.

Lois looked at the others, "I heard what happened an' am so sorry. I didn't know that Mist was missin' or I'd have been out lookin'. I was just comin' up on the hill to trim trees when I walked up on her just a while ago."

She started cryin' as she continued, "She was just layin' here. I tried to wake her up but she ain't wakin' up. She was so cold I was afraid she was dead. When I knelt down I saw her breathin'. That's when I picked her up an' covered her up. I always carry my pistol an' extra rounds when I'm out by myself. Too many coyotes 'round here not to have some protection. I'm glad I had it so's I could signal an' y'all found me. I didn't know you was searchin. I just hoped someone would hear me an' come lookin'."

Joe Henry picked Mist up an' they all headed down the hill toward Lois' place. Once inside they wrapped Mist in blankets an' laid her on Lois' bed. They considered tryin' to get her to the hospital themselves, but decided an ambulance was the better idea.

The women brought chairs to the bedside an' sat as Bobby called the fire department an' explained what was goin' on. Charlie an' Joe Henry went back up the hill for the mules.

The mules were tied to a post an' the two men joined the others inside to wait. One of the shortcomin's of livin' out a ways was the time it usually took for an ambulance to get to you.

This time the arrival was much sooner than they expected. They all stood helplessly as the EMTs checked Mist's vitals, started an IV an' loaded her into the ambulance.

Tilman Collins was one of the EMTs. He also had transported Mist more than once over the last year or so. As he assessed the situation he shook his head. He went to the front of the ambulance an' got on the radio to talk to one of the physicians at the Hyden hospital.

After several minutes he was back to the group with news that weren't good, "Talked to the doctor. Considerin' how Mist is, that she laid out all night an' is sufferin' from hypothermia,
they want us to take her directly to the University of Kentucky Hospital in Lexington. They can treat her better there, y'all."

Tilman an' the other EMT were in the ambulance an' away with sirens blarin'. Joe Henry an' the others stood quietly, watchin' as the ambulance flew down the road.

Finally Lois spoke up, "Youngin's, she didn't even flinch, didn't even move when I would fire my pistol. She never moved once while I held her. I'm sure awful worried. This ain't right. Ain't right at all."

Aunt Bess turned an' said, "Joe Henry, I'm stayin' with you tonight. Me an' you need to go to town tomorrow. Maggie an' Charlie, y'all need to go with us. We have some business to take care of."

Chapter Nine

To say Bess Asher was angry did not do much justice to her fury. She had a spiral notebook in hand as soon as she was back at the Carpenter homestead. She laid the instant photos out on the kitchen table after apologizin' to Joe Henry, tellin' him they would have to snack around for supper that night. She said she had a lot to do.

She began makin' notes, remindin' herself of what she saw at the lavender farm, of the shambles the deputies made inside Vince an' Mist's home. A few times she asked Joe Henry about the location of things. Together they even drew a simple map on a separate sheet of paper indicatin' where the hives, lavender field an' cornfield stood in relation to the house.

"I'm gonna take a statement from you after a bit, Joe Henry. I want to go over an' talk with Charlie an' Maggie first, get statements from them. I'm gonna need to use your phone to make some long distance calls. You let me know how much they are when you get your phone bill."

Joe Henry was standin' back an' watchin' his Great Aunt in amazement. Though she was never one to sit still long, he had never seen her like this.

"Don't worry Aunt Bess. Not a big deal." he assured her.

"It is goin' to be a bigger deal an' bill than you think. I have a lot of phone calls to make tonight. I'm goin' to be raisin' Cain, kickin' some Leslie County butts an' takin' names." she said with all seriousness.

She continued, "Folks probably forget I went to college over to Berea, got my law degree at University of Kentucky College of Law. Mostly I worked behind the scenes at the law offices where I worked in Berea. After Floyd an' I got married I just didn't have time or the temper to put up with the politics or the shenanigans some of them legal types carry on with."

Joe Henry stood with his mouth open. He had no idea Aunt Bess even went to college, much less got her law degree. He thought she was just a farm wife. Farm wife indeed!

"I also am still a notary. I have my stamp in my pocketbook. We'll need to notarize the statements I am hand writin'. Wish I had my typewriter with me, but hand written will be fine."

When she went over to Charlie an' Maggie's, Joe Henry fed Truman an' took him for a long walk around the farm. He also brushed the mules an' combed the burdock weed hitchhikers out of their tails. The search left them with plenty of hitchhikers in their tails.

Aunt Bess was back an' on the phone long distance with Bobby Clark. She told him she needed to take his statement over the phone but needed him to meet them the next mornin' so's he could sign it an' she could notarize it. He not only gave his impression of the search an' findin' Mist at the Christmas tree farm with Lois, but he also told about hearin' Deputy Jimbo Wilkerson plottin' to raid Vince's place.

"No need to talk about tellin' Joe Henry in your statement. I just want to get what you overheard at the Burger Queen. Especially about where Jimbo got the search warrant. That's the main thing I want to record in your statement." she clarified.

After talkin' with Bobby she turned to Joe Henry an' went through what he saw step by step. She warned him not to say he had gone to warn Vince an' Mist. He had been ridin' the mule on the ridge an' rode down into the farm when he heard the sirens. She was all lawyer at that time. Just the relevant facts is all she wanted.

More than once she paused as Joe Henry told the story. More than once she got teary eyed.

"They jerked him out of the lawn chair immediately?" she questioned.

"Yep, pulled him out of the chair by his shirt. Jimbo threw him to the ground on his face. He knelt on his back with both knees. The other deputies kicked him again an' again Aunt Bess." he answered.

She shook her head, continued to write an' cussed under her breath more than once. Each time she paused an' asked Joe Henry to forgive her for cussin'.

After she took down his statement, she had him sign it an' she notarized it. He found several manila folders an' a box of paper clips in his Grandpa's desk in the study. She put the different statements in individual folders an' paper clipped the instant photos to descriptions of the area, an explanation of what was in the photo as well as the hand drawn map of the area.

She also made a long distance call to her personal attorney. They had a long conversation about the events but Aunt Bess an' the attorney discussed the legality of the search warrant at length. She also asked him to get in touch with a physician friend an' check on Mist's condition.

Maggie had them over for breakfast at 6:00 so's they could get to town in plenty of time. They all were right quiet as they ate. Though no one said much about it, they all knew Maggie had been up early. Like the others, she didn't sleep much.

The table was covered with food. There was a platter of fried eggs, another platter with not only bacon but sausage an' fried ham. A basket of big cat heat biscuits was at one end of the table along with fried apples, grits, butter, cream for their coffee, maple syrup an' honey for their grits an' a big bowl of milk gravy. She said she was goin' to make sausage gravy but was afraid it might be too much, what with the bacon, sausage patties an' ham.

Aunt Bess spoke up after Charlie said the blessin', "Y'all eat big. I expect we might be in town all day. I ain't leavin' till Vince is out of jail, some wrongs set right an' a couple deputies have turned in their badges. I expect someone may be in jail their own selves before this is all over."

Though they weren't much in the mood to eat a big breakfast, they did eat good, storin' energy for the comin' day. Aunt Bess helped Maggie clean up, put food away an' do the dishes. Charlie an' Joe Henry went to feed the mules, let them out into the field an' let the chickens out of the chicken coop. They also decided they should take both trucks. Four folks in a cab was mighty tight.

Bess Asher was like a heroic general goin' to war. She was armed to the teeth. As they drove to Hyden she was silent. Joe Henry was quiet too. Watchin' the road an' ponderin' who his Aunt Bess was, had been. He was shocked an' a little embarrassed that he didn't know much about his Great Aunt.

They all met her attorney at a small restaurant downtown. Bobby Clark joined them as they gathered. Adam Wilson introduced himself to everyone as he joined them. Aunt Bess gave him a run down of what happened, pointed out that apparently a judge in Madison County Circuit Court 25 signed the warrant, even though it was for an' executed in Leslie County. No judge in Leslie County Circuit Court 41 signed the search warrant or even apparently knew about it.

Adam Wilson an' Bess Asher excused themselves to another table away from the other customers so's they could talk about what needed to be accomplished that mornin'. Aunt Bess didn't want anyone overhearin' things an' goin' out to warn anyone of the tornado that was about to hit some of the employees of the sheriff's office.

There was an appointment scheduled with the County Attorney Clive Sizemore at 9:00. When he saw the group that was with Aunt Bess he had his secretary take them to a meetin' room with a long table an' room for everyone to sit.

Adam Wilson an' Bess Asher introduced themselves as attorneys for Vince an' also for Carpenter's Bee Tree Farms. Adam suggested it might be expedient of the Circuit Court Judge Gilbert Collins join them. A call was made an' Judge Collins came in, was introduced all around an' had a seat beside Clive Sizemore.

Aunt Bess let her attorney talk first. He had taken the time to make copies of the hand written statements. He gave the Judge, the County Attorney, Aunt Bess, an' the others copies of all the documents. He began to explain what happened, pointed out Joe Henry had witnessed the whole incident.

A few minutes into the conversation a young woman came in, pardoned her interruption an' gave a hand full of documents to Aunt Bess. She also hugged her an' said to "Come see me soon."

Aunt Bess looked the document over an' handed copies to everyone at the table. Her attorney Adam Wilson paused to read the document as did the County Attorney an' Circuit Court Judge.

Finally Aunt Bess spoke up, "Clive, Gilbert. Jimbo tried to bypass the law an' proper procedure to not only harrass but also to illegally arrest, attack, harm an' illegally hold a citizen of Leslie County, He an' the other two deputies attacked Vince Burns, held him without cause an' then went on to illegally search his home. Here is the problem that involves me an' why my personal attorney is here. They also illegally searched an' in the process destroyed property belongin' to Carpenter's Bee Tree Farm. Even if the warrant was legal they had no right to search anything not included in the warrant. My property was not included an' was damaged an' destroyed as they searched."

She went on, "Joe Henry not only witnessed the whole thing an' heard Jimbo an' the others from his vantage point, but he also witnessed them idiots dischargin' their firearms without reason, shootin' up hives after Jimbo knocked them over. All three of them were shootin' up the hives! An' one of them shot Jimbo in the leg."

Joe Henry had to speak up, "You can see in my statement that Jimbo started screamin' that it was a drug war. That there were snipers in the corn field."

The two men looked up, turned to the page Adam Wilson indicated an' read for a moment. The looked at each other an' in spite of the gravity of the meetin' could not help but laugh.

Judge Collins looked around the table, "You mean to tell me Jimbo Wilkerson was shootin' up bee hives that he turned over when the bees started stingin' him. The other two did the same?"

"Yessir, they sure did. Aunt Bess, I mean Mrs. Asher has photos of the hives an' bullet holes in not only the three that were turned over but the other hives also." Joe Henry explained.

Aunt Bess handed the photos, an' an explanation of the photos to the Judge. He laid them out so he an' the County Attorney could examine them. They were silent as they looked an' read.

Finally Clive Sizemore got up, went to the door an' called to his secretary, "Jane, is the Sheriff back from vacation yet?"

"Yes, he was in his office a few minutes ago." She answered.

"Tell him to come and join us. Tell him I need him here right now." he ordered.

The Sheriff soon joined the others at the table. Adam Wilson an' Aunt Bess Asher were asked to brief the Sheriff. He looked over the statements, the photos an' the description as they spoke.

He was quiet for a long time after the two finished their explanations of everything. He reached in his uniform pocket an' took out a Camel cigarette, lit it with his Zippo lighter. He absently flipped the lid of the lighter open an' shut for a right smart while as he looked at the papers an' photos again an' again.

"Judge Collins, I didn't authorize this. Don't know nothin' about it. I was on vacation, fishin' down at Cherokee Lake for the past week. I got a call or two durin' the week about a car accident an' fatality as well as some domestic violence up on Pebble Creek Road. No one ever mentioned a thing about drugs an' Vince or Misty. This was never authorized. I'll take care of this."

He looked over to Aunt Bess, "Bess, I am so sorry. This is a mess I'll handle right now. If y'all can wait I'll have Vince out of the jail in the hour. There are no charges against him. This really has made me ready to chew nails. Clive, we need to talk about what to do. I'm not only firin' Jimbo, but I need your advice on how to charge him so we can arrest him for this. The others are dopes for goin' along. The one will be charged for shootin' Jimbo even though it was an accident. They both are facin' charges. I'm afraid I'll need to be hirin' some deputies."

Clive Sizemore called the County Judge Executive in, everything was explained to him an' the County officials promised restitution an' repairs would be made not only to Carpenter's Bee Tree Farms but to Vince an' Mist also.

It was indeed a long day. It took a bit longer for Vince to be released. Aunt Bess, Adam Wilson an' Clive Sizemore spent hours together tryin' to straighten things up an' providin' the Sheriff some direction as to charges to be made.

Jimbo Wilkerson an' the other two deputies were called to the Sheriff's office. Jimbo complained that he was on leave due to the gunshot wound he received when goin' after a drug suspect. The Sheriff insisted he come in but didn't say more.

Judge Gilbert Collins suggested the group wait near the Sheriff's office when the three deputies arrived. Jimbo made a big show of gettin' out of his patrol car (though he actually shouldn't be drivin' it since he was on medical leave.). The Sheriff was waitin' for them on the steps. He turned an' nodded to another deputy who was waitin' inside the door.

The door opened an' Vince stepped out. The three all started askin' questions but were stopped by the Sheriff who read them their rights an' called to other deputies to come, take their weapons an' badges an' place each under arrest.

Their protests were met by applause from Joe Henry an' the others. Bobby Clark added a "hoo hoo hoo" an' pumped the air with his fists as they were handcuffed. Jimbo complained that he couldn't walk without his crutches so two deputies got on either side of him, lifted him up an' carried him into the Leslie County Jailhouse.

As everyone went to their trucks, Bobby Clark offered to take Vince home to his place to clean up. He said he would lend Vince his old truck to drive to Lexington an' see Mist. Aunt Bess slipped Vince some cash an' told him to get a motel room close to the hospital. She gave him enough cash for a room an' meals for a week. She told him she would give him more when he needed it. Said to take care of Mist an' let them know how she was.

Vince cried, hugged everyone's necks an' asked them to pray hard when he heard what happened to Mist. They promised an' said she was already in their prayers.

The different members of the group said their goodbyes an' headed in their different directions. Charlie an' Maggie followed Joe Henry as they made their way back home.

As they drove Aunt Bess wept. "I am scared for Misty, Joe Henry. She is awful frail. I am awful scared."

"Me too, Aunt Bess. Me too."

Chapter Ten

Things were right quiet for the folks on Limestone Ridge Road. When they arrived back home that evenin' Maggie had Aunt Bess an' Joe Henry come over for some leftovers. They snacked around on meatloaf sandwiches on white bread an' there was enough vegetable beef soup for each to have a big cup full.

Aunt Bess stayed over at Joe Henry's suggestion. Before they went to join Maggie an' Charlie for breakfast, Aunt Bess put pinto beans an' a couple ham hocks in the crock pot. She said she'd make cornbread that evenin' an' have supper for the four of them.

The next mornin' the four went back to Vince's place to try an' clean up the mess. The women took notice an' made a list of things broken, hopin' they might be able to replace at least some of the dishes an' such.

They were able to get the house presentable, pick up everything layin' in the yard. Anything broken was noted in a list for Vince an' Mist. They collected a garbage bag full of this an' that, spoiled food thrown out of the refrigerator, magazines destroyed an' such. Charlie brought boxes an' many things were boxed up for Vince or Mist to go through.

Maggie had a pile of clothes to take back an' wash. Several pieces of clothin' had been torn, seemed to be torn on purpose. She hoped to mend some of the clothin' for them youngin's.

Afterward, they went back to the bee yard an' the gardens. Joe Henry had a shovel an' hoe in the back of his truck an' they did their best to replant the lavender that had been pulled up. A couple of the plants were broken so badly they were not redeemable.

"Charlie, Joe Henry, let's make a note of where you find plants, what row an' so on. Vince was doin' research on these. There are several varieties an' subspecies in these rows. He has small markers at the ends of rows an' some of the plants have tags. We need to do all we can to preserve his research." Aunt Bess told them.

Maggie was over at a herbal garden that was enclosed in a waist high wooden fence. No one thought to check it when Aunt Bess was takin' photos. Maggie called the others over an' they stood around the garden to stare in disbelief. Almost every plant had been stomped, crushed, torn out or completely destroyed.

For about two hours they catalogued, tried to replant or set aside broken plants. As they worked more than one of the four cussed under their breath, pausin' only to excuse themselves for cussin' before bendin' back over to reach for another broken herb.

As the Maggie an' Aunt Bess were goin' over the notes they took, Charlie an' Joe Henry walked to the corn field. So much of the small field of stalks had been pushed down an' broken over. Charlie started lookin' for the markers Vince had at the front end of the rows. The women joined them.

Maggie asked, "Bess, what is he gonna do now? I don't know if we can salvage this enough to do him any good."

They explained to Joe Henry that Vince spent the last two fall seasons travelin' through Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina an' Virginia searchin' out lost an' forgotten heirloom corn varieties. This field was his laboratory. He raised a number of varieties he found here in this field, hopin' to grow enough to send to several nonprofit organizations an' seed companies involved in preservin' these heirloom varieties.

Maggie spoke up at this point, "Me an' Bess found a right smart lot of his research that hadn't been damaged. The milk crates what contained folders with his notes on the varieties he found, where he found them as well as pictures had been thrown to the floor but they didn't really throw stuff around much."

"Some of the folders were thrown out of the milk crates but mostly the papers were still in the folders. In a few cases we had to pick up the folder's contents an' stack them as neatly as we could. I'm hopin' Vince can sort them out." she said as she shook her head.

Aunt Bess explained that this corn field was Vince's project an' research for his Master's Degree from University of Kentucky College of Agriculture. As far as they knew, he discovered over twenty heirloom varieties of corn in his travels, includin' three varieties of popcorn.

Charlie chuckled an' added, "Yep, last year he had enough of two of the popcorn varieties to have a popcorn tastin' one night. We tried them with an' without salt an' butter. He made notes on how many kernels didn't pop, how big the kernels was, the color of the popped kernel an' even the taste. It was somethin' else."

They followed the same routine with the corn as they completed with the herbs an' lavender. Charlie went back to his place an' returned with a stack of paper lunch bags an' grocery bags. When they found ears of corn on the ground, they made notes on the bag as to where it was located, what row, how far down the row an' if possible how many stalks from the end. The ears were placed in the bags an' closed. They hoped the paper bags would keep the ears from gettin' mold or mildew. It was OK if they dried out.

Charlie an' Maggie had several cans of wood putty an' went from hive to hive fillin' in the bullet holes. Joe Henry an' Aunt Bess gathered the paper bags, notes an' tools. They put the notes an' bags in a couple boxes Charlie had thought to bring. Finally they all loaded into the two trucks an' headed back.

Charlie pulled a handful of green onions from his garden. He always planted onions ever' week durin' the summer so he would have green onions on a regular basis. Aunt Bess started the cornbread. Maggie went back to her place an' returned with a big bowl of butter an' a Mason jar of hot banana peppers.

When they sat down to eat Charlie said a blessin' an' Aunt Bess filled their bowls. As they ate they heard someone pull up. Joe Henry went to investigate, followed by his pup Truman. He returned with Bobby Clark an' Vince.

The women got up, got bowls an' dipped soup beans for the two men. Greetin's was made an' they all sat back down. Vince was quiet an' stirred his bean soup with his spoon. Bobby caught the eyes of the others an' shook his head.

Finally Vince spoke up, "She is in intensive care. Her father is there even though they have been estranged for years. They contacted him when she arrived. He wouldn't let me see her."

He wasn't the only one with tears in their eyes as he continued, "He called me a dirty hippie. Said his daughter was too good for me. You know I ain't dirty. I may have long hair but I wasn't ever a hippie. He cussed me an' told me I had no right to be there. Said he was in charge now."

Bobby spoke up next, "When Vince came back to my place an' told me, well, I took things into my hands right there. Y'all know, it is odd that a stranger can walk in with a clipboard in his hands, act all important like he knows what he is doin'. I went in intensive care, went to her room an' asked her father to leave while I checked on her. He said he needed some coffee an' a smoke anyways an left."

He grinned an' went on, "Misty is bad sick an' terrible upset that her father wouldn't let Vince in. She said Vince should be helpin' her get through this, helpin' her make decisions. Problem is, he don't have a leg to stand on right now."

Vince shook his head an' clutched his spoon. The others looked on with disbelief. Joe Henry didn't understand an' said so.

Bobby leaned into the table an' explained, "They ain't married. Her father wouldn't be able to dictate nothin' if they was married but they ain't. While I was there I talked to Misty about it. She gave me the OK to tell Vince this as well as y'all. I waited till we was here to tell him."

"Vince, Misty wants to marry you tomorrow. Her father went to the motel room about 5:00. We are goin' to be there after that an', if you will have her, she wants to marry you right then an' there. We are goin' to get the license in the mornin'. I talked to a friend in the clerk's office there in Lexington an' we are goin' to work around her not bein' with you to get the license. Bess, you are gonna be Misty tomorrow mornin' for a while. You will need to sign her name an' hand my friend her license to prove you are Misty. She knows we are gonna be there an' will take care of things."

Vince sat with his mouth open. Aunt Bess spoke up, "So, how 'bout it boy? Want to get hitched?"

Vince laughed for the first time in a couple days, "Definitely."

Bobby told them Misty wanted her old Pastor to marry them. He already spoke with Brother Shelly who laughed hard an' agreed to help out. Said he felt right sneaky but knew God would be OK with them two gettin' married.

The next day was a flurry of activity. Bobby stayed all night an' went with Joe Henry an' Vince to London to get a suit for Vince. Maggie an' Aunt Bess went back to the lavender farm to collect some of the broken lavender an' flowerin' herbs to make a bouquet for Mist. Maggie also put a few pieces of lace an' some dried lavender they found together to make a veil for Mist.

The dear woman at the Clerk's office grinned an' told Vince an' his substitute bride that her an' Bobby was an item an' she would do 'bout anything for that man. She winked when she said that an' Aunt Bess blushed. She signed Misty's name to the papers an' they left with license in hand.

Vince got dressed at Bobby's place as the others had an early supper. They were all dressed up, the men in coats an' ties, the women in Sunday dresses. Vince was a mess through all this but was excited at the same time.

Since Mist's father didn't know Joe Henry, he didn't see him watchin' as he walked out the door of the hospital, He lit a cigarette an’ walked to his car. Joe Henry waited till he saw the car drive up the street before he ran to the door of the hospital.

Joe Henry walked in an' gave the "OK" sign. Everybody except Vince was in the waitin' area so Joe Henry went out to get Vince. The other folks went on up to the intensive care waitin' room where General Bess Asher took charge.

She explained to the nurses there that there was goin' to be a wedding. She introduced them to Brother Shelly, Misty's former Pastor, now retired. She an' Maggie went in with one of the nurses. Maggie had a pretty white gown they helped Misty into. They placed the veil on her head an' gave her the bouquet.

The nurses grinned with glee as Vince came off of the elevator with Joe Henry. They said they would bypass the "Two Visitor" rule just this once as everyone, includin' a couple nurses gathered close.

Brother Shelly told them he was doin' the short form as he began with the traditional "Dearly Beloved". When he got to the point when he asked for the rings Misty said they didn't have rings. Vince grinned, reached in his pocket an' took out a ring box with two simple weddin' bands.

Bobby grinned an' said they made a couple stops that mornin’.

Vince an' Misty held hands as he stood beside her bed. When Brother Shelly pronounced them man an' wife everyone cried. Vince leaned over an' kissed his wife, held her for a long time as they cried together. Finally he stood up.

"We'll get through this together, Mist." he assured his bride.

The nurses chased everyone out of the room, tellin' them that only Misty's husband could stay. The head nurse suggested she could give Vince a brief review of how things stood.

As everyone was leavin', they heard Misty say, "Ma'am, please make a note on my chart that Vince is the only family member allowed to visit. I also want to fill out that durable medical power of attorney right now if I could, givin' my husband full authority to make decisions for me. No one else. OK?"

The nurses all grinned, shook their heads an' one went to get the appropriate forms. As the elevator door closed she an' Vince could see Joe Henry, Brother Shelly, Aunt Bess, Bobby, Maggie an' Charlie grinnin' like a cage full of possums.

Finally Mist turned toward her husband an' grinned weakly, "I reckon that'll fix Dad's little red wagon, won't it?"

Chapter Eleven

To say life on the ridge mostly returned to normal ain't quite true. Joe Henry pondered on that a few mornin's later, after what was now bein' called the "Hospital Weddin'". He frankly hadn't lived on the ridge long enough to know what normal was supposed to look like.

As summer was startin' to fade, Charlie told him not to expect a fast shift to fall weather. They wouldn't see too much change in the weather for a right smart while. He didn't expect the trees to begin turnin' till October.

"Joe Henry, me an' Maggie have been talkin' to Lois up the road an' to Katherine, the bee inspector. What do you think about us openin' the little place up that you landed in when you first came here an' usin' it to sell honey an' a few other things? Maggie is schedulin' the ladies what come to help her make our other honey products. They get together two, maybe three times a year to make this an' that with honey, beeswax, pollen the bees collect an' even propolis."

Joe Henry thought for a minute, "Why open it up to sell stuff? Do you think folks will really come by often enough to do any good?"

"Sure do. We always put signs up over to the main road that brings a lot of folks in. Lots of folks drive aorund the ridge to see the changin' leaves. I'll have postcards an' flyers with me at the flea market an' we always put ads in the papers 'round about. Normally we just set up a booth in the front yard, but it gets awful tirin' to sit there, especially when it starts gettin' cold. Plus we have to haul ever'thing in an' out."

Charlie thought about it for a bit an' continued, "We can haul the ol' counter out of the barn, clean it up, put shelves back up an' get signs repainted. A lot of folks are stoppin' by already an' come to buy honey. This would be a lot easier on us old folks."

Joe Henry grinned, "Well, I'm workin' for Aunt Bess an' sorta workin' for you. If you think it is a good idea I'm all for it."

"Boy, you won't believe the folks what drive up in here, makin' the loop to see the trees once they change. We'll have all the size jars an' bottles of wildflower honey, lavendar an' sourwood honey, comb honey, beeswax, pollen in little ol' bottle for them health nuts. Them gals will be makin' lip balm, soap with honey, hand cream an' I don't remember what all. Katherine asked if she could sell some things on consignment an' we said yes. She does an awful lot for us, don't you know." Charlie told him.

"Lois usually sets up a stand too an' sells a few things she makes. I suspect she would put things in the place an' help out by bein' there some too. I'll bet your Aunt Bess might have a quilt or two she could sell."

"Let's do it, Charlie. We can go over today an' figure out where to put the shelves an' haul in that counter." Joe Henry replied.

As they were movin' the counter from barn to the little cabin they saw Bobby Clark drive by with Vince. Vince an' Bobby threw up their hands as country folk always do. Charlie an' Joe Henry had their hands full so they just nodded back.

The counter went into place facin' the door of the cabin. Charlie told Joe Henry that was actually where it had always been when his family sold honey out of the little place. They found a stack of boards that would do well as shelves. Charlie suggested a pile of wooden boxes could be cleaned up, maybe put some varnish on them an' use them as displays also.

Joe Henry mentioned that if they took some of the older hive boxes, cleaned them up, painted them an' put a back on them, well the boxes could be mounted to the wall an' used to display products. Both men were pretty excited at the plans they made.

A while later Bobby drove up an' hopped out of his truck. They shook hands an' Charlie showed him the cabin, told him the plans for the place.

Bobby looked around the place an' then asked Joe Henry, "You doin' anything with them sticks Billy Gilbert gave you?"

"Funny you should ask. I've made six brooms already. I called Uncle Billy an' he gave me the address of the place he orders broom corn from. I sent for fifty pounds a while back. It came in two boxes maybe three weeks ago. I drove over to Uncle Billy's place an' bought unfinished sticks from him. He wanted to give them to me but I insisted, I said a man is worthy of his hire. That's what my Daddy always said."

Bobby grinned an' nodded. "Yessir, I reckon that is good advice."

Joe Henry added, "I've been cleanin' them up, sandin' them a little an' puttin' a light finish on them. I'm thinkin' I could put some of my brooms in this place. I've been in the ol' tobacco barn an' saw all the 'baccer sticks layin' around. I've been cleanin' some of them up to use for broom sticks. I put some varnish on a couple an' made walkin' sticks I was gonna give as Christmas presents. I'll bet city folks might go for them walkin' sticks too."

Before he left, Bobby told Joe Henry to check on Vince. He was gonna stay the night at his place before drivin' back to Lexington an' the hospital. Vince wanted to have his ol' Chevy van instead of drivin' the truck Bobby loaned him.

Charlie said goodbye an' went to have Maggie put together some supper for Joe Henry to take to Vince. They all knew there weren't a bite of food left in Vince's place.

A bit later Joe Henry picked up the meal Maggie had loaded into a picnic basket. It was plumb full. Maggie was already instructin' Joe Henry as he walked to the truck.

"I put enough in there for you an' Vince. Don't let him go without eatin'. I'm afraid he'll be awful upset since this is the first time he saw the place." Maggie stressed.

Joe Henry drove to the lavender farm, pulled in an' looked for Vince. He walked past the house after he checked inside an' didn't see Vince. Back in the fields he found Vince. Now an' again Vince would stop in the corn field, look at a stalk, lift some up off the ground to check tags that he had attached to certain corn stalks.

He paused when he saw Joe Henry. He walked to him, cryin' as he walked. He stuck his hand out to Joe Henry but Joe Henry wrapped his arms around Vince an' hugged his neck. Vince hugged back an' cried hard.

He told Joe Henry that he lost so much of his research. He was so grateful for all everyone had done to save what they could. With the paper bags so carefully laid out in the house he would be able to save most, if not all of the varietal corn.

One subspecies of lavender might be gone completely from the fields. He had bought plants back in the spring but hadn't had opportunity to take cuttin's. He would have to buy more, start from the beginnin'. Probably would be two or three years before he could have a healthy couple rows for production.

Joe Henry told him Maggie sent food for their supper, if Vince didn't mind takin' time while it was hot. The two went in an' looked in the basket. Maggie had included paper plates, napkins an' even some of them plastic cups.

There was homemade sourdough bread, a little ol' container of butter, fried chicken, some slices of city ham, another little container filled with what they both knew was Duke's Mayo. Butter tubs were filled with fried taters an' Maggie’s famous vinegar slaw. Another butter tub had fudge in it for their dessert.

They filled their plates an' went out to sit on the steps of the porch an' eat. Vince was too choked up to sit at the table an' eat. As they ate Vince laughed with Joe Henry about the hospital weddin'. He told about Mist's father comin' the next day an' bein' kicked out.

Security had to be called. He carried on somethin' terrible, called Vince names, cussed him, the nurses, even the doctor. Some of the nurses had made a couple copies of the marriage license an' certificate Brother Shelly gave the newlyweds. Vince gave copies to Mist's father.

"Joe Henry, he tore the copies up, cussed an' said it didn't mean a thing. HE was her Daddy. Nurses had hold of him an' kept him from goin' in to Mist's room. Then he really did it. That is when security was called." Vince said.

"That's when he said he would beat the tar out of Mist. Said he needed to teach her a lesson. She would learn to mess around with dopers an' hippies. Mist told him he slapped her around for the last time back when she was sixteen. He made the mistake of hittin' a nurse an' tellin her to keep her hands off him."

"Far as I know he is still in jail somewhere in Fayette County." Vince affirmed.

When Joe Henry asked about Mist, Vince said she seemed to be a little better but the doctors said she wasn't as good as she said she was. She had insisted he go home, take care of a few things, bring her some pajamas an' her hair brush the next mornin'.

As the two men talked Vince heard the phone ring. He got up, went inside an' answered. After his initial "Hello" an' "this is Vince" he was quiet. Joe Henry couldn't help but sit an' listen intently.

Finally Vince said, "Thank you. I'm on my way."

He soon came out the door with a small suitcase, "Joe Henry, I've got to go. Mist has taken a turn. I need to go. I need to go." he said with a quiverin' voice.

"Go on Vince. Go on. I understand. I'll be prayin'. I'll tell the others, if that is OK."

"Please do. Tell them to pray hard. Can you close up?" Vince pleaded.

"You go on, brother. I'll take care of things here. you go on. Keep up with us. Let us know if we can do anything." Joe Henry assured Vince.

Vince paused to hug Joe Henry's neck, got into his van an' was down the road. Joe Henry put the paper plates , chicken bones an' trash in a trash bag, threw it in the back of his truck. He placed the leftovers back in the basket, savin' a few small pieces of chicken meat for Truman an' drove back to his place.

He made calls to his Aunt Bess to share the news with her, called Bobby Clark an' then walked across the road to tell Maggie an' Charlie.

He knocked on the screen door as he always did. Charlied told him to come on in. Him an' Maggie was sittin' at the supper table, just finishin' up their supper. When they saw Joe Henry's face, Maggie stood up, wiped her hands on her apron an' already had tears in her eyes.

"Mist?" she cried.

"Yes ma'am. She had taken a turn for the worse. Vince left a couple minutes ago in his van. I put the leftovers in my Frigidaire if that is alright. He is a mess."

They all cried a bit before Joe Henry could speak up. "I'm goin' to Aunt Bess' place in the mornin'. It was closer, only about forty five minutes from the hospital instead of the two hours from the ridge. She told Joe Henry to have Maggie an' Charlie come to stay with her for a few days too.

Maggie said she needed to fix a few things to take along. Told Charlie to get their cooler out so's she could load it up. She was movin' fast, gettin' supper off the table, puttin' the places in the sink an' openin' cabinets to see what he had she could fix that evenin'.

Joe Henry spent the evenin' with Truman. He took a long walk with his pup then loaded Truman into the truck an' drove down to Lois' home. He asked her if she could watch Truman while he was gone, explained the bad news Vince got earlier.

"My oh my yes, Joe Henry. I'd be happy to. don't leave him at your place. Bring him down here in the mornin'. I get up early. An', if you notice, Truman gets along good with my Matilda."

Matilda was a yellow lab that followed Lois around most of the day as she worked. Matilda also watched over things as Lois sod Christmas trees in the Christmas season. Folks always looked forward to seein' Matilda when they came to buy their trees.

Early the next mornin' Joe Henry put a small bag in back of his truck, dropped Truman off with Lois an' Matilda. Truman didn't seem at all worried about Joe Henry leavin'.

Next stop was to pick up Charlie an' Maggie. they were sharin' a suitcase an' Charlie needed help loadin' the red Coke Cooler into the back of the truck. Maggie siad they might need a few things to eat while in Lexington.

They drove past the lavender farm, past the Christmas tree farm, wavin' to Lois, Truman an' Maltida as they went by, like country folks always do. When they finally pulled onto the big road an' headed for Aunt Bess' place they were solumn an' quiet. It weren't a day for chattin'.

Chapter Twelve

The drive on I-75 up to Berea was still quiet. Now an' then Maggie got teary eyed all over again an' might sniff or blow her nose. Once or twice she mumbled an' apology as she would blow an' wipe her nose on her hankie.

When Aunt Bess heard the truck pull up she came to the door, when she saw it was Joe Henry with Maggie an' Charlie she stepped out the screen door an' onto the porch.

"Y'all might as well get out an' stretch, maybe use the bathroom. I have to get my pocketbook an' I've made up a few things for us to eat if we are gonna be up yonder for a while today. I have chili in the crockpot for this evenin'."

Maggie chuckled an' mentioned she had their red Coke cooler full of supplies also. Charlie an' Joe Henry brought the cooler in an' the two women started combinin' their various supplies into one smaller cooler Aunt Bess had. The rest went into the Frigidaire or onto the sideboard.

"Joe Henry, pull your truck over to the side of the garage an' in the gravel. Here are the keys to my GMC Jimmy. I was gonna bring it down to the farm anyways. Don't want you drivin' a truck in bad weather on them roads down home. The Jimmy has four wheel drive, don't you know. Plus, we all can ride together today. I don't know about Maggie, but I sure don't want to be squeezed in amongst ever'body to drive to Lexington." she told him.

She made sure Joe Henry could drive a stick shift. He reminded her that Henry Kay Carpenter never drove anything but a stick shift. They both smiled as they remembered Joe Henry's Daddy an' his insistence that an automatic transmission was a waste of money.

Joe Henry opened the garage doors after he parked his truck. Inside was aunt Bess' 1977 Buick LeSabre an' the 1974 GMC Jimmy. He always liked the Jimmy with its removable hard top. He thought it was such a cool convertible look. It might have a stick shift, but Aunt Bess made sure it also had all the modern conveniences. She was NOT goin' to do without a good radio an' air conditionin'.

He pulled the Jimmy up in front of the porch. The women loaded the small cooler in the back. After a little friendly argument, Charlie got in the front with Joe Henry an' Aunt Bess an' Maggie sat in the back so they could talk.

Once they arrived at the University of Kentucky Hospital, Joe Henry let everyone out an' went to find a parkin' place. He was glad he did so, for he had to park a right smart ways away.

Once inside he met up with Charlie an' Maggie in the big lobby. Aunt Bess had gone to find where Misty an' Vince were. They found a spot to sit an' where the chairs were comfortable. Charlie tried a few of the chairs an' thought some was made to discourage folks sittin' too long.

After about thirty minutes Aunt Bess was back. "I saw Vince an' he is comin' down in a bit to talk to us. He wants to let Maggie know we are here. They are movin' her to another room. She ain't in Intensive Care anymore apparently."

A few minutes later Vince appeared. He smiled a little smile when he saw everybody. He hugged everyone's neck, told them how glad he was to see them an' sat down with them.

"Well, how is Misty?" Maggie spoke up first.

Vince was quiet for a right smart while. He sat with his head down. When he looked up he had tears in his eyes. Before he could speak the others all got teary eyed as well. They waited for what they knew had to be bad news.

"Y'all, we hadn't told anyone our news. We was so excited but Mist wanted to wait. She wanted to have a little get together to tell ever'one. Y'see, Mist is expectin' a baby."

They all sat back, stunned. There wasn't a sound from anyone for the longest time.

Joe Henry spoke up first, "Did the exposure an cold overnight hurt the baby? Is that why they called you to come? Is the baby alright? Is Mist all right?"

The others asked similar questions all at once. They all sat on the edge of the chairs, waitin', hopin' that things was goin' to be OK.

Finally Vince spoke with hesitation, "She had a miscarriage about two, almost three years ago, just before her diagnosis. She didn't want to say anything till she was sure the baby was goin' to be OK. She is almost six months along."

They were stunned. No one had a clue. They all knew she was careful with her health. Though she hadn't had any chemo or other treatments for her leukemia for a good while, they knew she wasn't out of the woods.

He continued. "She knew that if the leukemia came back like the doctors expected, she could most likely have another miscarriage. She always wears them loose clothes anyway. Her bein' so slim, well it were easy to hide the baby bump."

"Here's the problem. When she came in with hypothermia they started runnin' a whole battery of tests. Long story short, the leukemia is back. Her cancer doctor had expected it to be back eventually. Now she is pregnant an' has that acute lymphoblastic leukemia."

As the others sat an' listened he paused again. Finally he went on, "They say there is little chance of the baby bein' affected by the leukemia. They don't share the same blood. However, the acute lymphoblastic leukemia is a real aggressive blood cancer. They want to start her on an aggressive round of chemo."

Aunt Bess was the first to realize the starkness of the situation, "What would the chemo do to the baby, Vince?"

Vince shook his head, "They want to abort the baby so she can start the chemo. It can't survive the chemo treatments. They said it would be cruel to let it go through a miscarriage from the chemo. Said it would be worse for the baby an' for Mist."

He sat back, put his head in his hands an' cried. Joe Henry went over, stood beside Vince an' gently placed his hand on Vince's shoulder. the others just sat an' wept.

After a while he wiped his eyes. "Mist had a long talk with me. She doesn't want to lose the baby. She is willin' to delay the chemo to try an' have the baby. If she loses it naturally she will start the chemo. Otherwise she is goin' to try an' have our baby."

"They figure she is about twenty three weeks along, almost six months. If she can make it to thirty seven weeks they figure the baby will be OK. They'd hope it could go to forty weeks, but at thirty seven they will do a C-Section. They will have to wait a month after that to start chemo."

Joe Henry spoke first, "That means no treatment for the leukemia for maybe eighteen weeks. That's four an' a half months from now. Vince, what do they think?"

Vince cried hard an' couldn't speak for ever so long. Charlie reached in his back pocket, pulled out his big red hankie an' handed it to Vince. Vince nodded thanks an' wiped his eyes an' nose.

"They are goin' to let me bring in an Asian physician we've seen who can also treat with homeopathic medicines that would not harm the baby. There is a dietician who says she will work with us to develop a diet that can help. Also, I've been in contact with a couple friends who are in my Master's degree program. They plan to help with, uhhmmm, treats, brownies, candies that can help her appetite an' with any pain, if y'all know what I'm sayin'. Her cancer doctor knows them an' approves."

Charlie blurted out, "But she can die, the baby too, right? We can lose both of them."

Maggie elbowed Charlie an' told him to shut up, said he should keep his mouth shut with that kind of talk.

"Yes, Charlie. We know that she can die, that even with all we try to do we could lose our baby. I can still lose her. She is a strong woman. Strong willed too. Y'all need to pray hard. I'm prayin' real hard. I don't know what else to do."

Maggie said they should pray right them an' there. They all stood up, gathered around Vince, put their hands on his shoulders an' each took a turn prayin' in a soft voice.

Vince was humbled by their prayers. He told them they could go up one at a time to see Mist. She had been transferred to the maternity ward an' would stay there the whole of her hospital stay.

Before he left he turned to Joe Henry, "Joe Henry, I really need your help right now. I need help not just with the farm but also with my research. If I told you what to do, if we met on a regular basis, well, I think we could save a lot of the heirloom crops. With your help identifyin' an' catalogin', I won't lose everything. That is if Bess don't mind me takin' you away from your work."

Aunt Bess spoke up, "Just tell us what you need. We all can help, if we are able that is."

"I have a wooden flower press. If y'all could take samples of the herbs an' flowerin' plants in the herb garden an' either press them between sheets of the paper I have with the press, or, if there is enough, gather bundles, tie them with string an' hang them in the house or barn to dry. I have nails stickin' out in the barn to hang herb bundles on."

"There are a couple books with good photos an' descriptions of herbs as well as a book an' one of my notebooks an' the folders with pictures identifyin' the heirloom corn varieties. I need to harvest the standin' corn when it is dry, place the ears from the same variety in paper bags an' tie the bags an' hang them too so's bugs won't get in.' he asked.

I know it is askin' a lot. I'll come home ever' couple days an' can sit down with you to go over things an' catch up in my reports an' notes. I can't pay you a lot, but I'll pay for your time, Joe Henry."

Joe Henry assured Vince he was happy to do anything he could. He also told him there was no need for pay.

"Vince, as my Aunt Bess says, family takes care of family. From what I understand, even though my understandin' is woefully thin, we are distant cousins. Family takes care of family, brother. I am thrilled to be asked.

They went up to visit with Mist one at a time, each comin' down with tears in their eyes. Each worried in their own way about Mist, about the baby to come.

Chapter 13

September seemed like it was movin' fast. The little cabin was all fixed up to use once again to sell honey an' other things from up an' down the ridge. Charlie had flyers an some posters printed up over to a print shop in London an' had posters in most of the stores, restaurants an' shops in Hyden, Manchester an' over to London.

Though Carpenter's Bee Tree Honey an' honey products were the main items in the shop, the honey was complimented with brooms, walkin' sticks, quilts, an a few antiques. Lois had added some dried flower potpourri in jars an' hand sewn sachets as well a quite a few punkins, gourds an' even some cushaws.

What everyone was awful excited about was the things that Vince added. Over the last couple weeks at Mist's suggestion, he had taken flowers an' herbs he an' Mist pressed but were not needed in his research an' placed them between two pieces of glass. The results were beautiful additions to the place an' folks couldn't help but stop an' admire the ones hangin' in the shop's windows. Folks were already drivin' up the ridge to find the shop.

Vince was travelin' between the hospital an' home every couple days. He would spend a day or two with Mist at the hospital an' then she would tell him to "Shoo home for a while". Joe Henry spent most of the day with Vince each day he was home, helpin' him gather plants, care for the lavender fields an' work in the corn field as he worked to complete his research.

With the encouragement of Aunt Bess, Joe Henry asked about the variety of lavender that had been completely destroyed. In conversation he was able to find out the name of the place in North Carolina that Vince had purchased the original plants. A call, explanation of what happened an' Vince an' Mist's situation was all that was needed to persuade them folks to actually prepare two dozen plants in half gallon plastic pots for Joe Henry to purchase an' pick up. Joe Henry was thrilled at their generosity, especially since the original purchase had been a dozen plants purchased over the phone an' sent by mail. Potted plants would advance the crop by two or three years.

As soon as Vince left on a Wednesday, Joe Henry headed for Berea to pick up his Aunt Bess. They were excited to make the road trip to Hillsborough, North Carolina. Since it was a little over seven hours each way an' due to a late start, they decided to travel to Ashville to stay the night. That was about a four hour trip.

An early breakfast then a three hour drive to Blue Sky Lavender Farm made for a delightful ride in the mountains. The folks at the farm were a wonderful family that had such a huge place. They home schooled their kids so it was all hands on deck when Aunt Bess an' Joe Henry arrived.

The three girls quickly took Aunt Bess in tow an' insisted she have a tour of the lavender fields, dryin' sheds, the pettin' zoo which was actually a sheep, a pot belly pig, three goats an' a little Banty hen they named Louise.

The couple, Rick an' Mazie that owned the Blue Sky Lavender Farm were a delight. They were second generation to run the farm. Rick's parents started the farm right after the war. He didn't want to raise tobacco as a cash crop. He started with corn, soybeans an' cattle an' with his wife's encouragement he began to grow lavender.

Along the way, the soybean fields shrank as the lavender fields grew. Even now the family still raised corn an' cattle. Rick's parents lived at the other side of the farm in the original farmhouse. His Daddy took care of the corn crop an' cattle.

As Rick was helpin' Joe Henry load up the pots of lavender the girls came back with Aunt Bess an' another woman, both bein' led by the hand. The woman was young, seemed to be in her late twenties, same as Joe Henry. She had strawberry blonde hair, long an' back in a ponytail. She had a light complexion an' had blue eyes that were full of the same laughter that the three girls shared as they walked with Aunt Bess.

Mazie walked up to join the others an' introduced the young woman as her sister April. Joe Henry chuckled as he rolled the two names around in his head.

Mazie laughed along with her sister, "Yep, April an' Mazie. An' our other sister is June. I know, I know. Mama an' Daddy weren't right. They thought it was cute to name my younger sisters April an' June, even though I am the oldest.

Joe Henry laughed an' commented, "I reckon that's cause y'all were born in those months."

"Nope, I was born in December. April here was born on August second an' June was the only one born in the month she is named after. She was a June baby. Like I said, Mama an' Daddy ain't right. I think it was Daddy's idea but Mama still gets a kick out of it." Mazie explained.

"April, why don't you show Joe Henry the fields while I let Miss Bess sit an' rest. I'll fix some sweet tea an' we can have a few of the lavender cookies you baked." Mazie said with more than a little grin on her face.

April an' Joe Henry both blushed but agreed to the tour. April was enthusiastic as she walked with him, tellin' him all about the farm, her family an' future plans for the farm.

Joe Henry showed some interest, but wanted to share Vince an' Mist's situation an' the future of the lavender farm on the ridge. April listened quietly, getting teary eyed as he told her about Mist holdin' off on her chemo so she could get her baby to full term.

As they walked, he realized the potential for the lavender farm on the ridge. After seein' the many things they did at the Blue Sky Lavender Farm an' talkin' about the potential with April he was pretty excited to tell Vince about several ideas he had that Vince could incorporate easily.

April thought for a bit an' suggested, "Why don't you see if Vince would want to come down with Mist after she has the Baby an' spend some time here early next year? We have a bunk house that we rent out for retreats an' such. He could stay in the private room that is usually used for group leaders. There is a full bathroom as well as a small fridge an' a microwave."

After the impromptu tour they joined the others on the porch of Rick an' Mazie's home. The girls were excited to serve everyone sweet tea. April shared her idea about havin' Vince an' Mist down for some hands on learnin' about their farm. Both Rick an' Mazie thought it was an' excellent idea. Aunt Bess agreed an' said their farm could be a great resource for Vince.

April smiled at Joe Henry an' added, "You could come too, Joe Henry. From what you said Vince asked you to help him some. Mist might be pretty busy with a new baby an' all."

All eyes were on Joe Henry as he blushed an' lowered his head to study the lavender cookie in his hand. He didn't say anything an' the conversation quickly moved on to other things.

Eventually Joe Henry said they needed to get a move on. The seven hour drive would put them at Aunt Bess' home late in the evenin'. He planned to stay there for the night before drivin' home.

Rick an' Joe Henry attached a canvas tarp Joe Henry had brought along over the bed of the truck. This was to protect the lavender plants from the wind. Rick added three additional pots of a new variety he had started cultivating the year before. When Aunt Bess asked about the cost, Rick said they were a gift.

Necks were hugged. Aunt Bess noticed April hugged Joe Henry a bit longer than the hug she received. She smiled a quiet smile an' tucked that little piece of information away.

As they drove they chatted about the Blue Sky Farm, about Rick, Mazie an' their girls. They laughed about the names of the three grown sisters, Mazie, April an' June. They dreamed together about what the lavender farm on the ridge could become.

They also talked about Vince an' Mist. Aunt Bess had been to see Mist a few days before. She was holdin' on but wasn't well. She didn't look good but was eatin' good with the help of the dietician an' "Vince's special friends" who would regularly bring a few cookies, brownies or other "special desserts".

Though the worry was unspoken, both said silent prayers an' pondered Mist's situation, the health of the baby within an' all that Vince had on his plate.

About half way home they stopped at a little "mom an' pop" restaurant just off the highway. Aunt Bess weren't much for the fast food places an' chain restaurants that coveyed up at each exit.

As they ate, Aunt Bess got a sly look on her face, "That April was mighty pretty, weren't she Joe Henry?"

Oh, he knew exactly where his Great Aunt was goin'. "Yes ma'am. She was right cute. Had pretty eyes."

"Uh huh, she sure had eyes for you. That gal had you in her sight the minute she saw you. Boy, you ought to think about goin' down with Vince an' Mist when they go." she said with a knowin' smile on her lips.

Joe Henry didn't answer an' was quiet as they finished their meal. He was still quiet as they continued their drive home. Aunt Bess talked about this an' that an' Joe Henry would answer, but he didn't have much to say on his own.

When they arrive back at Aunt Bess's home they grabbed their bags an' went in. As they settled into the livin' room Joe Henry spoke up.

"Aunt Bess, April was lovely. She was real pretty an' seemed like an amazin' woman. Problem is I am not ready. I'm still workin' on what I expect from me. Eventually I need to decide what I want in a mate, a partner in my life. Sure, she could be just that. I just don't know yet."

After a moment his Great Aunt nodded slowly, "I understand. That may be the wisest thing I've ever heard you say. You are right. Right just now. Just don't forget that little gal.

Joe Henry grinned an' blushed. "Oh, I definitely won't forget. I promise you that. I won't forget."
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Part Three
Chapter 1

When Joe Henry arrived back at Limestone Ridge Road, he drove to the lavender farm an' set the pots out to one side of the row where the destroyed lavender plants had been. Of course, there were many more plants in pots than had been planted in the row.

He wasn't sure about the distance needed between plants, so he left that for Vince. He did know the row weren't long enough, so he got the rototiller out. He tilled the area where the old plants had been an' slowly walked behind the tiller to break up the soil further back so Vince would not have to do so when he returned home for his next short visit.

He also stacked the broken an' dead plants in the compost heap. Seein' that it hadn't been turned in a while, he found the pitchfork Vince used an' turned the pile so it would continue to break down everything to make good compost. Ain't no sense in lettin' it rot from misuse.

When he drove back to his place, he saw Charlie an' Maggie in the big bee yard with another person, also wearin' a bee jacket but wearin' jeans an' no gloves. He paused in the road to watch for a bit an' suspected it was the state bee inspector for this district. Though the annual inspection had been completed early in the year, they was hopin' the inspector would have time to walk through their hives.

Beekeeping magazines had articles about a mite of some sort that was spreadin' through apiaries in Asia an' startin' to appear in Europe. Charlie read about the pest an' was wantin' to have the state inspector take a look before they buttoned up the hives for the winter, just to make sure the mite hadn't made it to Kentucky. There was no reports of the mite in the USA, but better to be safe.

As he sat in the truck the trio paused an' took off their veils to talk. Maggie saw Joe Henry an' waved. Charlie an' the bee inspector turned to see who Maggie was wavin' at. The bee inspector turned out to be a woman. She put her hand over her eyes to see. Charlie waved an' Joe Henry waved back.

He hadn't asked much about the state bee inspector. Though they spoke of "the inspector" a lot, they hadn't mentioned the inspector bein' a man or woman. From what Joe Henry could see from the short distance, she seemed a lot younger than he expected someone to be who was supposed to be an expert.

From what he could see, she wasn't unattractive. She was definitely taller than Maggie, tall, slim an' had brown hair. As he drove up the path to his place he grinned. When the sun hit her brown hair, it had them auburn highlights like he remembered his Mama havin' when she was out in the sun a lot.

He hadn't thought about his Mama in a right smart while. She was diagnosed with advanced breast cancer in the fall of his senior year of high school. The treatments for the cancer seemed like they was harder on her than the cancer was at times. He sat in his truck for a while as he thought of that final year of her life.

Joe Henry sat out of all the sports he loved that year. He didn't sing in the choir or participate in the extracurricular activities like most kids did that senior year. He didn't go on the trip to Washington, DC with the senior class.

His Mama held on, wantin' to see her only son graduate. She lost that beautiful head of hair with the auburn highlights. Though his Daddy, Henry Kay took her to a wig shop up to Cincinnati, she didn't like them wigs or the way they itched her head when she tried them on. Instead, she wore silk scarves on her head to cover her baldness. Friends an' family gifted her with many scarves an' even in her illness she was a fashion plate as she wore the scarves proudly.

She sat in a wheelchair, weak an' dyin' when Joe Henry walked across the stage to receive his diploma. She had fussed about his honors sash. Told him to make sure to wear it so it was even on both sides.

Afterwards she had Joe Henry an' Henry Kay help her to stand for photos. She said she was not goin' to be in pictures sittin' in a wheelchair at her son's graduation. Joe Henry kept that picture in a frame in his bedroom.

His Mama died in June. He an' his Daddy were on either side of her bed, holdin' her hand as she turned from one to the other, whispered "love" an' slipped away.

He wiped his eyes, got out of the truck an' grabbed his bag. Truman had seen him pull in an' came runnin' through the trees an' from the cabin store. That pup was all over Joe Henry, so glad to see him, coverin' his face with sloppy kisses.

Joe Henry walked through the trees to the cabin store to thank Lois Jones for watchin' Truman again. She was glad to see him, hugged his neck an' asked about the trip. There were no customers in the shop at the moment, so they sat to visit an' catch up on things. She had a big thermos of iced lavender lemonade that she shared as they talked.

"Joe Henry, I know there is a lot on your plate right now, but later in the year the honey sales will slow down. The bee hives will be closed up for the winter an' I suspect there won't be much for you to do. Bess said you might not mind helpin' me out on the Christmas tree farm late fall an' when we are openin' the fields up for folks to cut trees." Lois suggested.

"Wow, I think that could be a lot of fun. Plus, I weren't sure what I'd have to do after we finish with the bees for the season. I'd be happy to do it." He said with a big grin.

"Christmas is one of my favorite times of year. I was just thinkin' about my Mama. She loved Christmas. Daddy would always make sure we had a live tree for her to decorate. I even have a box with her old ornaments. I'll have to get a tree an' decorate it, even though it will be just for me." he added.

After a bit several customers stopped in. Lois an' Joe Henry each took the opportunity to help them as they shopped. Joe Henry watched Lois with amazement. She was a natural salesperson. She suggested, complimented folks on their choice, showed the customers other items to compliment their choices. Never once did she push or try to sell things the customer didn't want.

A few days later Vince was home for two nights. Mist told him to "Get his tail home an' check on things". He hated to leave her side, but there was still much to do. He was thrilled when he saw the pots of lavender plants. With Joe Henry's help the plants were in the ground, tagged for identification an' watered.

He found a binder to start a new record for that row of plants. He made notes an' took photos with his instant camera. Joe Henry shared about the trip. He told Vince about the Blue Sky Lavender Farm, the gracious folks he met. Vince was blown away when he understood how big the place was.

Joe Henry mentioned April in passin'. Told how the owner's daughter took him on a tour of the place. Said she was as enthusiastic as Vince about them lavender plants. He mentioned she was blonde an' had beautiful blue eyes.

Vince grinned as he watched Joe Henry talk. He didn't say anything, just grinned. When asked about Mist he just shook his head, got a little teary an' told Joe Henry she was holdin' her own.

"That's about it. She's holdin' her own. The baby is doin' good. Mist is OK, but ain't gainin' much strength. She is about the strongest woman ever." he told Joe Henry.

Back in the summer, Charlie an' Joe Henry cleared out a place in the big wagon shed for Joe Henry to make brooms an' walkin' sticks. Charlie remembered a shave horse was stored in one of the sheds. They dug around till they found it. After washin' it good to get the years of dirt off, they put it in place.

They made racks for sticks. Sticks have to dry for at least six months before they could be used. Charlie an' Joe Henry often walked the woods, lookin' for sassafras saplin's for walkin' sticks an' broom handles. Now an' again they would come across a saplin' of some sort that was twisted from honeysuckle that wrapped around it.

In their search through the barns an' sheds they found the ol' buggy that once belonged to his Great Grandfather, Samuel Carpenter. With a little work, some elbow grease an' a can of black paint they had the buggy in good enough shape to use.

They sat together on Joe Henry's porch in the evenin's along with Maggie. As they sat an' visited the men worked the bridles, saddles an' harnesses for the mules, cleanin' an' workin' the leather with saddle soap. When the leather was cleaned they carefully rubbed each inch with oil to keep the leather supple.

The buggy was pulled with only one horse or mule. For the next week they would take one mule then the other, place it in the harness an' ride up an' down the road. Maggie an' Lois would take turns ridin' along. It was a lovely, slow an' easy way to enjoy the leaves as they turned from summer green to the brilliant reds, yellows an' oranges of fall.

At Lois' suggestion Charlie made a sign that said, "buggy rides". The sign was placed in front of the cabin store. On Saturdays they offered buggy rides to folks. Joe Henry an' Charlie took turns at the reins. It tunred out to be pretty popular.

One Saturday late in October, the cabin store was busy. Lois had walked the hills an' gathered bittersweet, made small bundles wrapped with different colored twine. She also collected grape vines that she made into wreaths. Joe Henry's brooms an' walkin' sticks were hangin' beside Lois' wares with tables full of honey, balms an' lotions made with honey an' beeswax.

Joe Henry was back with the buggy after takin' a young couple for a ride. He was out of the buggy an' into the store visitin' with customers when Maggie called to him. She was standin' outside talkin' with a tall young woman when Joe Henry joined her.

"Joe Henry, this is Rachel McNew, our bee inspector friend. Rachel, this is our cousin Joe Henry Carpenter. He is livin' at the ol' Carpenter homestead an' has been helpin' out for Bess Asher, his Great Aunt."

Rachel was the same woman he saw in the bee yard when he stopped on the road. She was tall, slim with that dark brown hair an' auburn highlights that reminded Joe Henry so much of his Mama. She had hazel eyes an' just a few freckles across her nose an' cheeks.

When she shook his hand she grinned. He noticed she had a dimple in her right cheek. She chuckled as they shook hands, tellin' him she was glad to finally meet him. He grinned like an' ol' possum, blushed a little for he knew exactly what Maggie was up to.

"Joe Henry, Rachel wants a ride in the buggy, if you don't mind. She came just to enjoy the fall color in the hills. I told her it would be much better in a slow buggy ride."

"That sounds like a great idea, Maggie, but it is Charlie's turn. I don't want to go out of turn." he said.

"Oh no, he can't take his turn. He said to tell you he had to go over to the house. Nature called, don't you know. I reckon you'll have to go out of turn so's we don't disappoint Rachel. You don't mind, do you?" Maggie asked innocently.

"No ma'am. I don't mind."

He turned to Rachel, the bee inspector. "Madam, your coach awaits."

Chaper 2

Joe Henry helped Rachel into the buggy. He went up to untie his mule an' climbed into the buggy beside Rachel McNew. His face still burned with embarrassment as he guided the mule onto the road an' in the direction leadin' to the lavender field, Christmas tree farm an' that would eventually lead out to Pebble Creek Road.

Both of them were a little uncomfortable at first. Neither said anything much, other than commentin' on the "nice day" an' "Leaves are awful pretty". The other would quickly agree an' silence would again descend like a shroud.

Finally Rachel spoke up, "I am so sorry Joe Henry. I had no idea what Maggie was doin. She asked me if I'd like a buggy ride. Charlie was standin' right there an' I figured he would take me on the ride."

"She did walk up to him an' talk real quiet like. Then he said he had to go to the house for a few minutes. Maggie said not to worry, there was someone else that could drive the buggy. Land sake, that woman is ornery."

Joe Henry laughed an' both relaxed a bit. He sat back against the back of the bench an' she did the same. They both were quiet again until Joe Henry started to chuckle. Rachel joined him an' they both broke out into a good laugh.

"Don't worry about anything. Family is family. I know them folks like the back of my hand. I reckon my family thinks they have taken me back in to raise again. They mean well. I love them two a lot. Between them an' my Great Aunt, well, they all mean a lot to me." he said with a grin.

"Your Aunt Bess? You mean Bess Asher, right?" she asked.

Yes ma'am. That is my Great Aunt. She is 'bout as ornery as Maggie. She is awful strong willed. Maybe even hard headed. Us Carpenters see that as a family trait." he chuckled.

"Oh my, tell me about it. I know your Aunt Bess well. She definitely is a strong woman. She has strong opinions but is one of the finest folks I know."

Their conversation became easier as they rode. Joe Henry stopped at the lavender farm to show Rachel the new lavender plants. She knew all about what happened to Vince an' Mist. Maggie filled her in just after it happened.

They both laughed when he showed her the bullet holes in the hives. Joe Henry recounted ol' Jimbo shootin' up the hives as the bees was attackin' him. He almost was cryin' as he laughed an' told her of Jimbo gettin' shot in the leg an' hollerin' that they was snipers in the corn field an' it was a drug war.

Rachel laughed so hard she had to lean on one of the hives for support. They both laughed as they walked back to the buggy. They rode on past the Christmas tree farm an' talked about Lois findin' Mist.

Their conversation became quiet an' serious as they talked about Mist tryin' to keep her baby an' her declinin' condition due to the leukemia. Both said they were prayin' daily for Mist, Vince an' the baby within.

A while after they passed the Christmas tree farm they approached the ol', original Carpenter farm, cabin an' bee yard. Rachel asked if they could stop for a few minutes. She wanted to check on the hives.

Joe Henry agreed an' they stopped close to the ol' cabin. Joe Henry tied the mule to a tree an' they walked into the bee yard. Rachel said she wanted to check to see if the bees were bringin' in enough fall honey to do them over the winter. Things had been lookin' good in most of the yards, but she hadn't checked this one with Maggie an' Charlie.

Joe Henry was familiar with the routine. They each would walk beside a hive an' use their hip to gently lean the hive to see how heavy it was. Bees needed about sixty pounds of honey to survive the winter. By gently liftin' the hive, holdin' on to the top an' leanin' it with their hip, they could tell if the hive felt light or seemed to be OK.

There were bricks on top of most of the hives. When one of them found a hive that seemed to be a bit too light, they would stand the brick up on one end. The bricks were a common way to provide reminders about the hives. A brick on end meant there was an issue. Flat like it was supposed to be meant all was well. On one side usually meant to check again.

Joe Henry remembered there were thirty eight hives there this year. Rachel mentioned that they had a pretty successful year in this yard. They had raised a good number of queens, done a split in most of the hives an' had purchased an' introduced seven queens. All seven of the hives were in excellent shape an' the queens had been layin' like crazy.

Joe Henry mentioned he hadn't been in the cabin, barns an' buildin's. Rachel grinned an' told him she was gonna show him a secret. They walked around the cabin to a covered well.

"The well has some of the best water you'll ever taste. Let's draw up a bucket an' we can get a drink. We keep the bucket covered so nothin' gets in it."

She took the cover off the well, uncovered the bucket an' Joe Henry dropped the bucket into the well, usin' the crank to lower it down into the depths of the well. When he heard it hit the water an' make a big "glug" he cranked it up. Up in the little roof of the well there was an ol' Army surplus ammo case. Rachel took the ammo case down, opened it to reveal several tin cups an' a couple pint Mason jars.

At Rachel's suggestion they each took a Mason jar an' dipped into the bucket. Joe Henry took a sip an' had to agree the water was so good, cool, refreshin' an' a nice pause as they chatted.

Rachel winked an' reached up into the little roof to feel around an' take down a small ring of keys. Joe Henry laughed when he saw the ring of keys.

"That is another family trait. I think every Carpenter is required to have a ring of keys. At least one or two that no one knows anything about." he said with a smile.

"That is absolutely the truth. We are pretty distant kin, you know. My family has the same trait. Probably from one of our common ancestors." she told him.

That comment made Joe Henry pause. "We're cousins,huh? Didn't know that. Good to know you, Cousin."

"Well, not very close cousins, actually. We share the same 4th Great Grandparents. That makes us fifth Cousins, I suppose." she explained. "Course, we each have 64 fourth Great Grandparents. Probably most folks in the hills have some common ancestors. We may even have other connections. We may be double or triple, maybe even quadruple cousins." she laughed.

Joe Henry told Rachel he had to ponder on that. He didn't know much at all about his family, ancestors or the family history. She nodded an' told him he ought to dig a little. She said he had much to be proud of.

With keys in hand, they went first into the ol' cabin. It was small but clean an well kept. There was a table an' several chairs inside. Rachel mentioned that when they had work to do here in cool weather Charlie would bring a small kerosene heater to warm the place up.

Behind the cabin was a little structure with a tin roof. Under the roof were seven bee gums. Bee gums are made from hollow logs taken from bee trees usually. Early settlers would find bee trees an' cut the bee colony out of the tree, cuttin' above an' below the colony in order to bring the bees back.The piece of hollow log would be covered with boards an' placed on a board or even a stump or rocks.

Rachel explained that those seven bee gums were some of the original bee gums an' held colonies that had existed in those bee gums since his family started keepin' bees several generations ago.

Joe Henry was thrilled an' excited that those bee gums still existed an' some of the original genetics from those first colonies was bein' preserved right before his eyes. Rachel told him that she helped Maggie, Charlie an' Bess breed an' share bees from those gums. They was many bee yards all over several states with that line of bees as the foundation of their apiaries.

She took Joe Henry to the large barn just behind the cabin. Inside were rows an' rows of honey boxes - "supers" as beekeepers call them. All were stacked on their side. There were several lights overhead an' were kept on here as well as in the other sheds an' barns that they stored supers when not in use.

Each super was on its side an' a small distance from the next. The distance an' constant light from windows as well as the lights overhead kept wax moths out without the use of chemicals.

Their conversations had become comfortable an' easy as they walked through the ol' buildin's an' barns. Joe Henry had a lot on his mind. Realizin' how long the Carpenter family had lived on this ridge, how long they had kept bees.

He also let the fact that this quite lovely woman was his cousin, sure his fifth Cousin, but a cousin. He reckoned that changed things some, for him at least.

When Joe Henry looked at his watch he stopped an' told her they better go back. She looked at her watch an' with wide eyes said they had been gone for over an hour. They laughed like a couple kids playin' hooky as they ran to the buggy.

Joe Henry an' Rachel talked all the way back to the cabin store. They chatted like ol' friends. Though he didn't hurry the mule along, he didn't pause to take in the scenery.

When they arrived in front of the store, Maggie, Charlie an' Lois were outside. Joe Henry noticed a piece of paper taped to the "Buggy Rides" sign statin' that they were lettin' the mule rest but would resume rides soon. His face burned red as he helped Rachel out of the buggy.

Rachel said her goodbyes to everyone. She had to get home to Corbin. She hugged Maggie an' Charlies necks, hugged Lois an' walked over to Joe Henry. He held out his hand but she laughed, shook her head an' hugged his neck as well.

The two women noticed that Rachel hugged Joe Henry just a little longer than she had hugged anyone else. They smiled an' Lois winked at Maggie. Charlie was already talkin' with some folks what wanted a buggy ride an' he probably wouldn't have noticed anyways.

Joe Henry was animated as he told about the stop at he lavender farm an' their exploration of the original cabin an' bee yard. Maggie filled in a few more details for him an' they talked about the seven bee gums.

Maggie asked, "So, what did you think of our bee inspector?"

"She is pretty neat. I had a great time as we explored. We found a few hives that probably need supplemental feedin'. We really had a good time.", he said as he remembered the day.

"Y'all had a good time? That's nice to hear." Maggie commented slyly.

"Maggie, don't get all wound up. She's my Cousin, don't you know."

"Joe Henry, she's your fifth Cousin. Half the folks within a hundred miles are probably your fifth cousins. Good grief boy."

He shook his head, "But she's my fifth Cousin."

Maggie looked over her glasses at him for a moment, "So?"

Chapter 3

As the leaves began to display their full glory, the little cabin shop was busier than ever. Joe Henry an' Charlie had developed ads to go into the papers in Hyden, Manchester an' even over to London, Kentucky. Between the fall colors an' Halloween comin', well it was all hands on deck, like they say.

Lois sold all her punkins pretty quick. Charlie talked to Bobby Clark on the phone an' Bobby showed up midweek with the whole bed of his truck plumb full of punkins. He even had the wooden sides an' back on an' them punkins was about two feet above the actual sides of the bed. Joe Henry had to get a step ladder so's they could unload.

Funny thing was, they thought the little cabin store would only be open on weekends. So many folks was comin' by they had to open the store from 11:00 to 5:00 weekdays, from 8:00 till 7:00 in the evenin' on Saturday. Even though none of them was fond of it, they even had to open from 1:00 till 5:00 on Sunday. Maggie an' Lois both said they weren't skippin' Church to sell on Sunday.

One of the things Charlie Allen had asked Joe Henry to do when they opened the little cabin store was to take over the bookkeepin', not only for the store but for Carpenter's Bee Tree Apiary. He did his best, but things was gettin' to be too much for him. Though he did pretty well for years, he just weren't sure how to keep track of recordin' sales from the store, sales from honey wholesale, recordin' sales under the appropriate person when things were purchased at the store that was made by him an' Maggie, Vince, Lois or Joe Henry.

Charlie handed over the ledger he used for the last several years. Joe Henry laughed to see more than one circular stain from a coffee cup on the pages. Maggie kept receipts in a Rebecca Ruth Bourbon Ball Chocolate Candy box. All the receipts smelled like the bourbon ball candy what had been in the box.

Though Charlie's bookkeepin' was fine an' the receipts was laid in the box in order as purchases was made, Joe Henry realized some modernization was needed. He talked with Aunt Bess who showed up with a small electronic cash register. Joe Henry was able to assign numbers to the items they were sellin' both retail an wholesale. He also assigned a number to each "vendor" so's the cash register could spit out total sales for each of the folks an the farm by day, week , month or even year. It was somethin'.

'Course, he had to show ever'one how to use it. He was on hand for the first week to help figure stuff out an' troubleshoot, but Charlie, Maggie an' Lois all picked it up pretty quick.

Joe Henry spent evenin's doin' the bookkeepin' in the ledger still. He purchased folders for each month an' put them in his Grandpa's desk in calendar order. Aunt Bess was impressed as was Dudley Collins over to Berea. Dud Collins was the accountant Bess Asher used for the last ten years or so after her original accountant retired an' sold his business to Dud.

Even though Joe Henry kept the books for his Daddy's sportin' good store an' his college degree was in business, it took a while for him to get things in the order he wanted it to be in.

One of the issues that Charlie mentioned was inventory for the honey. For years most sales of honey was wholesale with a few sales roadside here an' there. Their method of inventory was a big chalkboard in the honey house.

The different sizes of bottles an' jars was written in white paint as well as types of honey, lavender, sourwood, comb honey, etc. Toward the bottom of the chalkboard the other products were listed, pollen in the different size jars, salves, lotions, tinctures an' such.

They would count whole cases an' multiply that by the number of bottles, jars, containers it held to get a count of full boxes. Partial boxes an' items that would set out were counted individually. As products were sold they would erase the existin' number an' write in a new number with chalk. It worked pretty well for years.

Problem was the change in retail sales. Charlie an' Maggie fretted that it weren't keepin' sales up right. Joe Henry suggested an inventory book/binder with a page or two for each item. The totals were in the binder an' as inventory was taken out of the honey house they would record what was removed on the appropriate page. Charlie an' Maggie thought it was great. When Joe Henry took inventory at the end of each month he would check the numbers for accuracy. Dud approved when he received the monthly an' quarterly reports from the farm.

Usually, once a month the stores that sold their honey an' products was contacted. Maggie made the calls an' took the orders. With her help, Joe Henry had three part order forms printed up that also served as invoices when the products were delivered.

Charlie an' Joe Henry took over most of the deliveries. They enjoyed travelin' from state to state to make the deliveries. The Carpenter's Bee Tree Farm truck was bigger than Joe Henry's an' Charlie's. When they had a big delivery they traveled in it. Joe Henry talked about buyin' a topper to use. With a topper they could deliver a whole lot more honey each trip.

They Charlie heard about one of them sixteen foot double axle enclosed trailers for sale. A local rock an' roll band broke up over some gal two of the fellers was crazy about. They fell out over her an' the whole band broke up, don't you know. Luckily the Farm's truck had the towin' capacity to pull the trailer.

The band sold the enclosed trailer to Carpenter's Bee Tree Farms. The service manager over to White's Chevrolet in Manchester had a side business an' not only repainted the trailer, coverin' the "Hillbilly Headbangers" name but also hand letterin' the farm's name, address an' even the phone number on both sides an' the back.

Bobby Clark, Aunt Bess, Lois, Maggie an' even Rachel McNew were on hand when Charlie an' Joe Henry were back with the new trailer.

They all had supper at Joe Henry's place. Maggie an' Aunt Bess had whipped up a big meal for everyone. They had city ham baked low an' slow in Coca Cola, whipped taters, milk gravy, green beans with two big ol' ham hocks in them, fresh chow chow made by Aunt Bess an' a huge pile of cat head biscuits. Maggie opened a jar of scuppernong jelly for everyone to put on the biscuits. Of course they was fresh churned butter an' plenty of honey on the table.

They all talked about the crowd they expected for the Halloween weekend which was only a few days away. Joe Henry had placed a special ad in the papers, Charlie had mowed part of the field so's folks could have plenty of parkin'. Bobby brought another load of punkins just for the Halloween weekend.

Maggie had seated Rachel next to Joe Henry's seat which was at the far end of the table. The two of them chatted like ol' friends. Rachel mentioned that she was an amateur photographer an' had a few lovely fall photos printed an' matted. She asked if she could put them in the store. All agreed it would be a great addition.

After Maggie an' Aunt Bess made a few hints an' remarks, Joe Henry blushed. They was Cousins, after all, as Joe Henry told everyone after Rachel left that evenin'. Maggie, Aunt Bess an' Lois all smiled an' nodded agreement. Charlie an' Bobby had already gone over to unload the punkins.

Maggie called most all of the stores to take orders that would be delivered just after Halloween. Charlie worked out a route that was a big loop takin' him an' Joe Henry down into Tennessee, over to North Carolina, up through Virginia, into the corner of West Virginia an' finally home through Kentucky.

With Bobby's help Joe Henry had built shelvin' an' removable partitions in the enclosed trailer. They determined the trailer could hold about 2,500 pounds of products an' planned routes accordingly.

As they were leavin', the mailman came by, stuffed the mail into the mailbox, waved an' drove on. Joe Henry walked to the mailbox to get the mail. He threw the mail on the seat between him an' Charlie as he got in. Charlie was lookin' at the pile of mail with a smile.

Joe Henry looked to see what Charlie was smilin' at. He saw an' envelope on top of the pile with a small red heart on the flap. He picked it up an' saw the return address was from April over to the Blue Sky Lavender Farm. His face was red as he put the letter in the side pocket of the door. He started up the truck an' they were on his way.

As they drove Charlie was singin' to himself,
"Blue skies
Smiling at me
Nothing but blue skies
Do I see..."

Joe Henry shook his head an' said, "Charlie, am I gonna have to put you out somewhere down the road an' make you walk home?"

Charlie just grinned.

Chapter 4

Joe Henry hadn't driven to Pebble Creek Road yet when he heard a noise in the back of the crew cab truck. Charlie was grinnin' when Joe Henry slowed down to listen again.

About that time Truman popped up from the floor of the back seat. He still had the coat over him that had hidden him as they started out. He stuck his head between the seats an' pushed an' climbed till he was in the front seat with Charlie an' Joe Henry.

"Truman, what are you doin' in here? Charlie, why is my pup in this truck?" Joe Henry groaned. "I'm gonna have to turn around now an' take him back."

"Nah, keep on goin'. He gets lonely sometimes, Joe Henry. That pup loves you. You know he follows you around the farm all day long. Me an' Maggie thought it would be right smart fun for Truman to come along. I've packed his food an' bowls." Charlie grinned.

"Charlie, we have two nights that we need to stay in a motel. What if they don't take dogs?"

Charlie sat back an' Truman got in his lap. "Don't worry about it. I talked with Bobby an' he went over my route an' figured out where to stop that does take dogs. It will be fine."

"Good grief. Sometimes I'm not sure who is plannin' my life." Joe Henry grinned as he reached over to pet his pup. "It will be good to have you along, Tru."

Charlie looked out the window as he spoke next, "We need to get onto the Daniel Boone Parkway as we head toward Manchester, Joe Henry."

"I wasn't goin' that way. Takes a bit longer to get to our first stop in Cumberland Gap, Tennessee if we go that way."

"Well, we have to go that way this time. We have to make a quick stop." Charlie said as he still was lookin' out the window, actin' sorta squirrely to Joe Henry.

"We need to make a stop in Manchester? Do we have a delivery to make there? I thought I did our delivery to Manchester a couple days ago when I went for groceries." he answered.

"Nah, we need to make a pick up."

"A pickup? What are we pickin' up, Charlie?" Joe Henry was beginnin' to get suspicious.

"Well, as Bobby Clark was helpin' me with the route an' motels to stop at, well he asked if he could go along. We have plenty of room. One of us can take turns sittin' in the back seat of this crew cab. Maybe even snooze a little. The other can ride shotgun an' keep the driver company. Why, now that I think of it, he can help unload an' even keep Truman company." Charlie added real innocent like.

"If that don't beat it. Y'all are somethin' else." Joe Henry chuckled.

"You don't mind, do you, Joe Henry?" Charlie asked carefully.

"Nah, it will actually be a lot of fun havin' him along."

Bobby was actually waitin' for them just off the Big Creek exit from the Parkway. He was parked at his brother's farm an' was standin' in front of a barn vistin' with his brother when they pulled up.

Charlie an' Joe Henry climbed out of the truck followed by Truman. Truman ran to Bobby an' had to nose around the front of the barn as the men all shook hands. Bobby introduced his brother Michael Lee to Joe Henry. Michael Lee was a big sort of older feller. Tall, portly an' had a full silver beard an' bushy head of silver hair. He definitely had a presence about him.

Charlie greeted Michael Lee with a hug as they shook hands. They were members of the same Lodge an' apparently saw each other often.

Bobby spoke up as soon as the "howdy's" were done.

"Joe Henry, I had an idea an' wanted to run it past you instead of talkin' to Bess. Y'all are doin' a right smart business this fall. Late November the Christmas tree farm will start havin' folks come to either buy a tree or cut their own. You mentioned the other day durin' the Halloween rush that you should consider buggy rides durin' that season an' keep the cabin store open." Bobby told Joe Henry.

"Yessir, I think we have one more big delivery yet this fall, but should have enough honey an' hive products for the store. Plus, we can always sell the other things we are puttin' in the store." Joe Henry nodded.

Michael Lee spoke up then, "Let me show you somethin' in my barn, Joe Henry."

He opened the barn door, reached for a light an' walked into the barn, followed by the others. In the middle of the barn was something covered by a canvas tarp. He pulled the cover off to reveal a sled with a front an' back seat.

"Me an' Bobby have been restorin' this sled for a right smart while. It is awful pretty but we don't have much to use it for. We was thinkin' you might want to have it. You could drive it back an' forth between the store an' Christmas tree farm durin' November an' December."

Joe Henry an' Charlie were both impressed. The Clark brothers had restored the sled, painted the body a beautiful red, cleaned up the brass an' chrome metalwork till it gleamed. Michael Lee's wife helped him reupholster the front an' back seats. It was a thing of beauty.

"Man that is pretty. Great idea too... if it snows. But what if we don't have snow? I expect the road would ruin the runners." Joe Henry said thoughtfully.

Michael Lee grinned, "Oh, we have that all figured out. Watch this."

Michael Lee an' Bobby went over to one side of the barn an' came back with good sized wheels attached to bars. They had a small jack that lifted the sled as they bolted U bolts around the runners to attach the wheels. They then were able to push the sled easily with only one of them pushin'.

Bobby spoke up. "I know a man, Clyde Collins, over to Danville who has a couple horses. He's gettin' too old to mess with them, has some health issues. He'll give you them horses. I told him about you. He knew your Daddy, don't you know. Said he would be right proud to give them to you."

"He don't need the money, that's for sure. He's a widower, don't have no kids an' is a retired bank president. I've seen them horses many times an' they are in great shape, maybe six years old. He trained them to pull a hearse he restored for funerals, had a feller at the funeral home that drove the hearse. So they could easily pull this sled."

"What about Aunt Bess' mules? They could pull it too, couldn't they?" Joe Henry asked real innocently.

Bobby grinned real big, "Well sure, but mules ain't near as neat pullin' a sleigh at Christmas time. These are awful nice horses, Joe Henry. He said he'd even supply feed for you if you would take them. The barn has stalls enough. They've even been around Bess' mules an' they get along right good. Clyde don't want someone to get them who won't take care of them. He'll even help with their care an' pay for their vet an' farrier bills. I'll come help you with them if you'll take them."

"What about Aunt Bess? What will she say? An' besides that, I don't know a thing about takin' care of horses an' mules."

Charlie spoke up, "Joe Henry, it ain't a bad idea. I've had horses before, plowed with a team many a time. I'll sure be tickled to drive them horses an' help with them. An' that sled is awful pretty."

Actually, Joe Henry loved the sled an' had intended to use the mules to pull it if he bought it. The idea of a team of horses worried him a bit. Them along with the mules would be work. Him actually ownin' them horses sure tied him down a lot. He couldn't pull up an' leave easily.

"Almost like these mountains are doin' all they can to keep me here." he said to himself.

"Michael Lee, how much do you want for the sleigh?" he asked.

"How does three hundred dollars sound, Joe Henry? I'll even deliver it to Limestone Ridge road for you, son."

Joe Henry protested, sayin' that it weren't enough. Michael Lee said he was glad to sell it for that but they was a string attached. Joe Henry got out a check from his wallet. He didn't have too many bills an' actually had a nice nest egg in his bank account.

As he was writin' the check he asked, "So, what is the string attached, Michael Lee? Am I gettin' into trouble here? I work for my Aunt Bess Asher, you know. I don't want to overstep."

Michael Lee grinned a huge grin, "As y'all can see, I'm a big ol' feller with a big silvery head of hair an' beard. My ol' woman, Jane has made me a Santa suit. I have boots an' a big wide belt to go with it. I am gonna be Santa for the kids in the hospitals 'round here."

Charlie an' Joe Henry grinned like a couple kids as he spoke. Then Joe Henry spoke up again.

"So, do you need to borrow the sled to do that? I don't mind that a bit."

"Oh lordy no. I want to be Santa for y'all. I was talkin' to Rachel McNew when she was inspectin' my two hives. I told her about me gonna be Santa an' she said she could take photos at the hospital. I'll bet she could do the same for y'all. I could set up a chair in one corner of y'all's store. That would be a good reason for folks to take a sleigh ride from the Christmas tree farm to the store. What do you think?"

Joe Henry was thrilled, "I love it. I'll need to pass the idea by Aunt Bess an' make sure Maggie an' Lois are OK with it. Someone will have to call Rachel an' ask her."

Bobby spoke up, "Seems like you would be the right person to call Rachel, y'all bein' cousins an' all."

Bobby an' Charlie were both grinnin' big as Bobby said that. Joe Henry blushed.

"She is my Cousin, y'all. Come on now. That just ain't right. I'll call her when we get to a motel phone. I have my phone card with me." he said

The four men were all grinnin' an' talkin' all at once as they loaded Truman up an' said their goodbyes. They were already plottin' an' plannin. Charlie got in the back seat of the crew cab with Truman. Bobby joined Joe Henry in the front seat.

"OK, fellers, any more surprises or stops before we are on the road? Joe Henry asked as they pulled away.

Bobby smiled an' said, "Nope, let's head for Cumberland Gap. We can eat at Webb's Country Kitchen while we are there. I want some of their fried pork chops an' home fries."

Chapter 5

As the men made their way toward Cumberland Gap an' dinner time, they had quick stops an' deliveries to make along the way at two places in Corbin just as they got off I-75. Then once they got off the highway an' on 25E they stopped in Barbourville, Pineville an' finally Middlesboro, Kentucky to make deliveries.

As they were goin' into Tennessee, Joe Henry laughed an' mentioned to the others that he still remembered his Daddy an' Mama stoppin' at Cudjo's Cave several times as they would travel. Mama went on the tour just one time, but his Daddy took him through the cave four times altogether.

"Did the tour guide have you rub that knobby stalagmite along the way, sayin' it was Cudjo's head or some such thing? I remember me an' Maggie doin' the tour an' she weren't about to rub nobody's head what was all covered in limestone." Charlie laughed an' laughed.

"Yep, I rubbed it ever' time. Mama sorta rubbed it the time she went on the tour. One time Daddy took out his ol' red hankie an' gave ol' Cudjo a good shinin' with it. Said the ol' feller was lookin' sorta peaked." Joe Henry grinned.

Bobby chuckled an' added, "Yeah, I took the tour two times. Rubbed it both times. The tour guide told us that it was bad luck not to rub that head. He said we might get lost if we didn't. When he turned off the lights to show how dark it was in the cave, well, I accidentally bumped against an older gal what was in front of me. She screamed bloody murder till the guide turned the lights back on."

They all were still chucklin' an' talkin' about Cudjo's Cave an' the woman screamin' in the dark when they pulled off 25E an' down the road to Cumberland Gap, Tennessee. The town is sorta below the big ol' National Park an' the actual Cumberland Gap.

Joe Henry mentioned that Dr. Thomas Walker was the fifth Great Grandfather to one of his First Cousins. Dr. Walker named the Gap in 1750 when he an' a group of men explored the mountains an' all the way over past Barbourville. He was there nineteen years before ol' Dan'l Boone.

He pulled the truck an' enclosed trailer onto a side street an' parked. They wanted to be out of the road while they made a delivery an' ate dinner. It was a good place to park because they could go around the block to drive back out instead of tryin' to turn the truck an' trailer on the narrow streets of the little town.

They each grabbed a case of twelve one pound jars of Carpenter's Bee Tree Honey from the trailer an' with Truman walkin' beside Joe Henry, they made their delivery to a little gift shop a street over from Webb's.

As Charlie was introducin' Joe Henry to the shop owner an' makin' the delivery, Bobby walked on over to Webb's Country Kitchen. After they were done they headed back to the truck to roll down a couple windows an' put Truman in the truck while they ate dinner (noon time meal for city folks). Bobby met them an' told them he checked in with his friend Patty, the waitress at the restaurant. Patty checked with the owner Sue an' told Bobby to bring that pup on in.

Patty met them just inside the door of the restaurant. "I didn't get to hug your sorry ol' neck, Bobby. Come here an' hug me you rascal."

Bobby grinned an' blushed as red as Joe Henry often did, but he hugged Patty good an' even kissed her on the cheek. She told them Sue suggested they sit on the far side since they had Truman with them. As she seated them close to the front of the room, Joe Henry was lookin' over the little stage in the left corner of the room. It was set up with a microphone, several chairs an' several musical instruments.

"Honey, we have singin' an' playin' here ever' Friday an' Saturday night. Bobby comes down ever' so often an' sings one, picks his guitar if he brings it." Patty told Joe Henry. "Charlie there an' his wife comes down sometimes too. Have them bring you, darlin'."

Joe Henry shook his head as all three men ordered sweet tea. He obviously had been stuck in his own world too long. He didn't even realize that Charlie an' Maggie did anythin' but go to Church over to the local Baptist Church.

He told Truman to stop nosin' around an' lay under the table. Truman's tail was goin' hard as he crawled under the table, just knowin' a scrap or two would be fallin'. Joe Henry thanked Bobby for not only workin' to housebreak the pup, but also for workin' with him to train ol' Harry Truman when he would stop in.

Bobby ordered fried pork chops with home fries an' gravy over his pork chops. Joe Henry an' Charlie thought that sounded great an' they ordered the same. It were so good eatin' that none of the three said a word as they ate.

As they finished Joe Henry was lookin' at the little stage an' looked closely at the guitar sittin' in a stand. His eyes got big when he realized what was sittin' there on the stage.

"That's, that's a Martin guitar there. An' a Gibson mandolin. Just sittin' there." he stuttered.

Bobby swallowed a bite an' said, "Yessir, they belong to Johnny Lewis. He's sittin' over on the other side. Hey Johnny, hooo Johnny, come over here, brother. I want you to meet someone."

Johnny Lewis came over an' Bobby introduced him to Joe Henry. He already knew Charlie an' they shook hands as he asked Charlie how Maggie was. Charlie said she was fair to middlin' an' asked about Johnny's wife Mary. They talked for a bit before Johnny turned to Bobby.

"Reckon you could sing us one if you are done, Bobby? I've got another guitar in my car. We could play one or two if y'all ain't in a big hurry."

Charlie an' Joe Henry both said they were fine with hearin' a tune or so. Johnny went out an' came back with a guitar case. When he opened it up he had another beautiful Martin guitar. Bobby an' Johnny tuned the guitars an' started in on the song "Cumberland Gap"...

"Me and my wife and my wife's pap,
we're all going down to Cumberland Gap
Me and my wife and my wife's pap,
we're all going down to Cumberland Gap

Cumberland Gap, Cumberland Gap.
Hey! Way down yonder in Cumberland Gap."

After a few songs they started playin' an' harmonizin' on "Life's Railway to Heaven". As they started singin' Charlie got up an' walked over to them. He joined in, singin' in a high, pure tenor. Joe Henry grinned as he got up an went to stand by Charlie an' add his baritone. Johnny went to the lead an' Bobby dropped down to his deep an' clear bass voice...

"You will often find obstruction;
Look for storms of wind and rain;
On a fill, or curve, or trestle;
They will almost ditch your train;
Put your trust alone in Jesus;
Never falter, never fail;
Keep you hand upon the throttle;
And you eye upon the rail."

Johnny's eyes got big as they sang. He started grinnin' as he sang. Bobby, Charlie an' Joe Henry smiled an' sang on. They sang through the verses an' the chorus. Finally they got to the final chorus an' both men stopped playin' as they sang A cappella...

"Blessed Savior, Thou wilt guide us ,
Till we reach that blissful shore;
Where the Angels wait to join us;
In Thy praise forevermore."

They were so caught up in the song they didn't realize other folks had walked from the other room an' were standin' inside the doorway listenin'. Truman had crawled from under the table an' was sittin' right at Joe Henry's feet, ears lifted an' just as caught up as the folks were.

A young woman was standin' in the doorway an' spoke up, "Sure wish y'all knew some Peter, Paul an' Mary. Me an' Clark here just got married an' are on the way to our honeymoon over to Gatlinburg. We was wantin' them to play 'Wedding song, There is Love' by Paul Stookey but the band my folks hired didn't know it. They mostly played music Mama picked out."

Johnny smiled, "Young lady, I'll have you know me an' Bobby do know it. We ain't that old. Joe Henry, how about you an' Charlie?"

Charlie admitted he didn't know it, but Joe Henry did an' knew it well. As they discussed who would sing what part Joe Henry got brave an' asked if he could tune up the fiddle sittin' in the back of the stage an' play along. Johnny told him to "git on it, son". He quickly tuned the fiddle to the guitars an' the men had Clark an' the young woman, Dorothy come close. They did so an' held hands.

Joe Henry stood to the side of Bobby, just off the stage. He asked if he could start an' the other men looked at each other, surprised an' then both nodded to Joe Henry. He played a verse or so on the fiddle. Bobby an' Johnny were wide eyed. Charlie was grinnin' an' shook his head.

After a moment Joe Henry started singin' the first verse. Johnny joined him first, harmonizin' the tenor line. Bobby joined in singin' baritone in harmony with the other two.

They sang softly, all lookin' at the newlyweds as they sang...

"Well a man shall leave his mother
and a woman leave her home
They shall travel on to where
the two shall be as one
As it was in the beginning,
is now until the end
Woman draws her life from man
and gives it back again
And there is love
There is love."

The young couple was all teary eyed as was Patty an' a few others who was listenin'. They tried to give Joe Henry a ten dollar bill, but he told them no, said to spend it on their honeymoon.

Johnny shook Joe Henry's hand as they all put the instruments back in place. Bobby an' Charlie both slapped Johnny on the back. Patty was clearin' the table as they all sat back down for one last glass of sweet tea. Johnny joined them.

Johnny asked, "How long you been playin' fiddle, Joe Henry?"

Joe Henry hesitated, "Well, truth be told I ain't played in a right smart while. My Ex didn't care for what she called hippie music or hillbilly music. She told me I was too much a hillbilly for her when we got divorced. I'm suspectin' these days she was right, even though I wasn't born in the hills."

"You play awful good. You have lessons?" Johnny asked.

"Yessir, Daddy had me start in fourth grade takin' violin lessons. I can read music an' also play by ear. By the time I was in seventh or eighth grade I was listenin' an' playin' along to songs on the radio. That's when Daddy an' Mama decided to set me up with a friend from church who taught fiddle."

Joe Henry smiled a sad smile, "I played all the way through high school an' college. Played violin in the bands an' orchestra at school an' played fiddle with some of my buddies who loved country an' western music as well as bluegrass. We didn't have a real band, just played for parties an such."

Johnny asked him why he wasn't still playin' an' Joe Henry had to admit he sold his fiddle when he had to close down his Daddy's store. Sold about anything of any value to try to pay bills.

Joe Henry left money for his bill on the table an' went out to walk Truman as the others paid up an' visited for a bit longer. When he arrived back at Webb's the men were still inside an' in the side room. He joined them, had Truman lay at his feet.

Johnny looked at him for a long time, not sayin' anything. Joe Henry got a little uncomfortable. Finally Bobby nodded, Charlie grinned an' Johnny got up from his seat.

"Son, I knew your Daddy, even knew your Mama before she passed. You probably don't remember me, but I've seen you in years past. Back when all that was goin' on with your ex, you let someone else hog tie your soul. Seems like you have done untied the knots an' are gettin' your own self back. These boys tell me you are doin' pretty good these days."

Joe Henry smiled, not a sad smile. "You know, it took me a while to realize I tried to build a life on mistakes that started in the back seat of a car. I tried to do the right thing without havin' a good foundation, a real relationship. Forgive me for sayin' that, airin' my dirty laundry, but it feels good to say I am a work in progress."

Bobby laughed, "Boy, you ain't tellin' us nothin' we don't already know. Your Daddy sat right here with us more than once, lookin' for advice. Even Bess Asher came here an' sat, listenin' as folks played, talkin' with Henry Kay, talkin' with us about you."

Joe Henry got real red. He almost got angry, but quickly realized that, as his Aunt Bess an' his Daddy always said, "Family is family". All those folks had always known him, always loved him in spite of all that happened.

He was still a bit ashamed at all that happened, all his mistakes. He spent many nights, sittin' on the porch of that ol' family home place, workin' through things, talkin' to the Lord, askin' forgiveness of his God.

He spoke up, "You know, that is finally gettin' through my hard head. I can't believe how many stood in the gap for me, prayed for me, took care of me. How folks are still carin' for me."

Charlie smiled, "Cousin, you may not realize it, but we see you healin'. We see you carin' back. That is how we know you are doin' good these days."

Johnny pulled up a chair at the end of the table, "We talked while you were gone. We don't want you to hide your lamp under a basket. We figure you need to keep on bloomin."

He reached over to a chair on the other side of the table an' picked up a fiddle case. He opened it an' took out a beautiful hand made fiddle.

"This here is a fiddle made by Homer Ledford over to Winchester, Kentucky. He mostly makes dulcimers, is famous for his dulcimers. I've had it an' been workin' on sellin' it for a feller I know. Me, Bobby, Charlie, even Sue an' well, all the folks what is here in the restaurant passed the hat. We done paid for this fiddle an' want you to have it. You get to playin' again. You hear me?"

Joe Henry protested, but more than one person told him to stop it. Other folks had once again gathered in the doorway as Johnny had presented Joe Henry with the Homer Ledford fiddle.

Clark, Dorothy's new husband spoke up with a grin, "An' we threw that ten dollar bill you wouldn't take in the hat too! How'd you like them apples?"

Joe Henry had thankful tears in his eyes as just about ever'body in Webb's Country Kitchen hugged his neck. Charlie said they better be on their way. They said goodbye to all an' headed for the truck.

Charlie took the wheel, Bobby rode shotgun so Joe Henry could look over his new fiddle. Truman was glad to have his master sittin' in back an' after Joe Henry put the fiddle in the case the hound dog settled on Joe Henry's lap.

Not long after they were back on 25 E an' headed for a stop in Harrogate, Tennessee, Bobby asked if they might sing a tune or two. The others agreed an' along the way, between stops in Harrogate, Morristown an' over to Johnson City they harmonized an' sang.

While they were in Johnson City, Charlie called home to check on things. He took a small notebook out of his back pocket an' made a note or two. When he got in the truck he mentioned that they had an additional stop to make the next day an' had an' extra night on the road. They had about a dozen extra boxes of their artisan honeys along with them in the event of some extra sales. Neither of the other two minded a bit.

After Johnson City they headed for Ashville, North Carolina for the night. As they drove, Joe Henry remembered the letter with the little valentine on the back flap. He opened it an' read the letter with a smile. When he finished he looked up an' into the front seat.

"An extra stop, huh? Wouldn't happen to be in Hillsborough, North Carolina, would it? I understand some folks down there was wantin' to start orderin' honey from us." he said with a huge smile on his face.

Chapter 6

As they drove, the men planned their two deliveries in Ashville. One that evenin' an' one the next mornin'. The shop they would see in the mornin' opened at 8:30 an' they expected to be back on the road by 9:00. It was a four hour drive to Hillsborough, North Carolina an' the Blue Sky Lavender Farm.

Both Charlie an' Bobby ribbed Joe Henry a right smart while about the letter with that there little heart on the back flap. Ribbed him about how funny it was that all of a sudden them folks wanted to sell honey after him an' Bess Asher visited.

"I gar-un-tee it were because Bess Asher had such a winnin' personality that they want to sell honey. Ain't no other reason." Charlie surmised.

Bobby laughed hard an' added his two cents, "Yessir, ain't got a thing to do with no little ol' gal with strawberry blonde hair an' them laughin' blue eyes we all heard about. Not a bit about her. Pure business is all it is."

Joe Henry was blushin' an' slapped both men on the back of the head. "Y'all ain't right. Now, leave me alone."

Bobby asked about how business was for the weekend before an' week days leadin' up to Halloween on that Tuesday. Joe Henry an' Charlie both rattled on with excitement about how many folks came to the store. How much of all sorts of merchandise they sold. Joe Henry had to go back to the honey house to get more honey on Saturday.

Charlie spoke up, "I can't believe what a great year 1978 is gonna be. We have done better than ever with honey sales. An' the cabin store is goin' great guns. Them women are talkin' about keepin' it open on weekends through Christmas so's we can do buggy rides back an' forth from the Christmas tree farm."

Bobby laughed, "Just wait till they find out about the sleigh, Joe Henry's new horses an' ol' Santa bein' there."

"I already told her when we was on the phone. She whooped an' hollered. Lois was there havin' coffee with her an' she had Lois put her ear to the phone so's I could tell both of them. They was already jabberin' about where to put Santa's chair." Charlie beamed.

"Them gals. I'll tell you what, don't get in their way. Lois said she has three boys from over to Hyden that works for her. She is gonna have them clean up two stalls in your barn, Joe Henry. She don't want to wait till we are back home to get things ready for your horses." he said.

Bobby was thinkin' as Charlie spoke, "Y'all reckon you will have plenty of honey for the store an' the wholesale sales? I'd hate to think y'all might run out of honey an' lose business, retail or wholesale. Lots of folks come to the cabin store just for honey."

Joe Henry leaned up between the front seats an' spoke up, "Actually, I've got that covered. You don't know it, but I am a land baron an' one of them there entrepreneurs now. I ain't said much about it to anyone."

Bobby turned to look at Joe Henry, "Do what?"

"I don't know if you know ol' man Bob Breeden over to Stinnett. He has a place on Stinnett Gap Road. He's been a beekeeper for almost fifty years. Him an' his boy Jr. have been keepin' about twenty five hives. He even has a part of a barn by the bee yard that he made into a honey production room. Bob's in his late seventies an' his wife ain't doin' no good. Jr. is drivin' a truck long distance now." Joe Henry explained.

"I was over to the Henny Penny Restaurant in Manchester back in early September, havin' me some broasted chicken an' saw Bob. He asked if he could join me an' sat down an' had his dinner with me, asked how business was. I told him we was doin' awful good. He said what with his wife not doin' so good an' Jr. on the road he wasn't able to keep up with things in his bee yard."

Joe Henry smiled, "He asked me if we might want to buy his bee yard. Said he had buckets full of honey in his barn he never even bottled. Hadn't taken honey off the hives an' didn't know how good them bees was doin'. He even said the bee yard was on five acres what had been his Mama's home place. Said he could sell the land, barn an' all for one price. The ol' home place was gone though. Said there was a good well there, he had it hooked up to a pump an' it went to the barn. Had electric in the barn too. Told me the price of $10,000 for it all, land, barn, bee yard, even his equipment."

"So, did Bess buy it?" Bobby asked.

"Nope, I went an' talked to her about it. She said she weren't gonna buy it, said I was. Said it would rebuild my credit better than anything else. I gave Bob $1,000 earnest money. Aunt Bess came down an' we went to First National Bank over to Hyden an' Bobby Jenkins got me a loan with Aunt Bess as co-signer an' the bee yard an' all as collateral."

"We went over after Bob signed the deed an' all an’ worked the bees with Bob. I had the electric changed over to my name. Rachel McNew met us since them bees hadn't been inspected for years. Bob never even registered his hives. Didn't know he had to. Didn't know about an inspector even. They was a boatload of honey on them hives."

Charlie chimed in, "There was three hives with not enough honey to take off. Bob has ol' stock German Black Bee genetics that he has kept goin'. They are pretty rare these days. It is good to have that line of honey bees. Good for genetics. They are too far from our bee yards to get any of that line, so Rachel suggested we do some splits in the spring an' take some bees to our ol' original yard to add that line into some of ours."

Joe Henry added, "We took off maybe a thousand pounds of honey from those hives. The brood boxes were in good shape. Bob kept his hives up good. Bobby, when I asked him if he wanted to keep some of the honey, well he took me into a room in the barn I hadn't seen when we looked things over the first time. It was separate from the production room. I saw maybe twenty five gallon buckets in that room, all full of honey. That's sixty pounds per bucket Bobby. Maybe fifteen hundred pounds that has sat there."

"In that other room was even more buckets of honey, some from 1975 as well as 1977. That don't count what we took off them days. Bobby, there was over three thousand pounds of honey in that barn, all in buckets. Much of it had crystallized from just settin there. Bob Breeden had no way to sell much after Jr. started drivin' the trucks. Jr. was helpin' when he could, but just didn't have time. I felt awful bad, but Bob said he was glad to get them bees off his mind."

"What can yo do with buckets of honey that is crystallized, though?" Bobby wondered.

Charlie answered this one, "Aww, that's no problem. Honey always crystallizes. We have bucket warmer straps that go around the buckets an' slowly warm the honey. We've been puttin' buckets in our climate controlled room an' we made a bucket warmer out of an ol' chest freezer what was in the ol' barn by the cabin store. We have heat tapes on the bottom an' a couple light bulbs inside. We left it in the barn an' it can hold two buckets at a time. We don't want the honey to get over maybe 100 degrees as it warms up." When it is back to liquid we've been bottlin' it. Since Joe Henry owns it, it is now his honey."

"Is the honey still good?" Bobby asked.

"Oh my yes. Honey never goes bad. It is antiseptic, antibiotic, won't rot, spoil or mold. They've even found honey in them pyramids, heated it up an' ate it. An', a bonus, Joe Henry found about a dozen of the buckets marked sourwood honey." Charlie added.

Joe Henry leaned forward between the seats again, "I gave Bob Breeden another $1,000 after we saw how much honey they was. He didn't want to take it, said he didn't really need the money. I insisted. I've been savin' my money an' had it to give him. I think he appreciated my wantin' to give him more. Anyways, Maggie, Aunt Bess an' Charlie here insisted on markin' them bottles an' me splittin' the profit with the farm, since it was mine an' all. That is how we will do it from now on, me gettin' 50% an' the business gettin' 50% of the profit from that bee yard."

Bobby was pretty impressed at all this. He grinned an' said, "These here mountains are suckin' you in, ain't they? Gettin' a grip on you. Joe Henry, these mountains knew about you when you was born. They have whispered your name, claimin' you from childhood. They knew your Mama an' Daddy, your Grandparents an' Great Grandparents for generations. There is a strand that runs from them to us, never broken, son. Never broken. I'm glad for that strand that had run to you, pulled you home. These here mountains are home. I suspect you are figurin' that out."

Joe Henry absently rubbed Truman's ears as he thought an' pondered that statement for a long time, finally sayin', "Yeah, maybe I am home after all."

Chapter 7

Now, folks might say Joe Henry was a bit wound up about the visit to Blue Sky Lavender Farm. Though he was real excited, he was tryin' not to show it. Them other two knew it, though. The last thirty miles or so was just miserable for him.

Bobby an' Charlie ribbed an' kidded ever' single mile of the way. He was glad he was in the back seat so's he could slap their heads now an' again. Didn't do one bit of good though. They never let up that last few miles.

When they pulled up with the trailer right behind, they was met by the grunts of the biggest ol' pot belly pig any of them had ever seen in their whole lives. Mind you, they do get awful big. They don't stay cute an' little. Folks don't tend to stay cute an' little either, that's all I'm sayin.

As Bobby got out of the passenger seat that ol' pig ran toward him as fast as that pot belly would allow. It snorted, wheezed an' grunted. It stood there just darin' ol' Bobby to take another step. Charlie got out of the driver's seat real slow like, hopin' the pig wouldn't see him.

No luck though. It did see him an' ran to the front of the truck to stand guard so's neither of them men could move more than a foot or so from the safety of the truck. Joe Henry rolled down his window an' called out to them to be careful.

"Careful fellers. That looks like a man eatin' pig. I'll bet there are eight or nine inch tushes in that pig's mouth. It'll rip your legs open an' then eat your innards. Don't be climbin' up on this truck either. You think that pig has a mean streak? You don't want to see Bess Asher if she found out you dented the hood or top of this truck. I'll promise y'all that one."

'Bout that time here comes April with a broom in her hands. She starts hollerin' at that pig...

"Bart, Bart, what in the world are you doin' out here? Git pig, git back to your pen. Git now, git. don't mind him gentlemen. He was dropped off by some city folks what didn't know how big them pigs get. We found him wanderin' around the farm a couple weeks ago. Git pig, git." she hollered.

Joe Henry laid on the seat an' was howlin' with laughter as that pot belly pig took one more look, gave one more grunt an' turned an' ran from that little ol' gal April.

As April chased the pig back to a pen, maybe one hundred yards away, her brother in law Rick came out of a barn. He was wipin' his hands on a big red rag as he walked up to the truck. Joe Henry had already climbed out of the truck, followed by Truman who was the first to greet Rick.

Rick rubbed Truman behind the ears then held his hand out to Joe Henry, "Howdy fella. I am sure glad to see you. Who's these scoundrels you got with you?"

"Rick, this here is Charlie Allen. Mazie spoke to Charlie's wife Maggie on the phone. The big feller is Bobby Clark. He's just taggin' along an' causin' us trouble mostly. Charlie, Bobby, this here is Rick."

The shook Rick's hand an' he invited them all to go up on the porch. He said he would get Mazie's attention. April would be back as soon as she gets Bart in a pen.

Rick stood out in front of the house an' called toward a field, "Yoo, Mazie. Mazie. We got company, babe. Come on up."

Mazie was kneelin' in a newly plowed field an' had been plantin' more lavender plants. Like the Carpenter farm, business was gettin' better all the time. She waved when she saw the men standin' with Rick, stood an' started walkin through the field an' toward the house.

April was back before Mazie arrived an' grabbed Joe Henry an' gave him a big ol' bear hug. As usual, he blushed real big.

"I knew I'd make you blush like some kid. You ol' sorry thing. I am sure glad to see you. You get my letter, I reckon, didn't you?" she asked.

Charlie spoke up before Joe Henry could say a word, "Yes ma'am, he sure did. He was showin' that little heart on the back to ever'one he saw."

Now, Joe Henry had a ball cap on that said "Carpenter's Bee Tree Honey" He took it off an' swatted at Charlie, but the ol' feller was too fast for him. He slid behind Bobby for protection.

"Don't mind them, April. I think tormentin' me is their new hobby. Yes, I did get your letter an' Maggie talked to Mazie. That's why we stopped. We have the honey y'all ordered in the trailer."

By this time Mazie had joined the group, said howdy to everyone an' hugged Joe Henry with a hug not near as tight as April's. She told the men to have a seat on the porch an' she would get some sweet tea.

April had Joe Henry sit by her in the porch swing. He honestly didn't mind a bit. As they sat side by side he could smell her scent. It was a little lavender, a little soap an' a hint of perfume along with just a hint of that wonderful, hard to place scent of a beautiful woman. As they sat an' talked he inhaled deeply more than once, just enjoyin' the lovely scent of her.

She most likely knew exactly what he was doin', for she looked at him once an' gave a small chuckle. She leaned into him with a nudge before joinin' the conversation.

Mazie an' Rick was askin' about the trip, about how they came an' how many stops they had to go. She asked when they had to be home again too.

Charlie spoke up, "Well, ma'am, we have four more stops. One over to Raleigh, two in Richmond, Virginia an' one in Lynchburg. Then on home for us rascals."

Rick asked, "Do you have appointments at those stops, or just deliveries?"

Joe Henry thought for a moment, "Not really appointments. Just deliveries when the stores are open is all. We've been takin' our time. Me an' Bobby don't have to worry. Charlie might suffer Maggie's wrath if we don't get him home on time."

Mazie smiled an' leaned forward, "Charlie, you don't have a thing to worry about. I've already talked to Maggie. Joe Henry an' Bobby, we'd like for y'all to stay the night. You might remember that bunk house we have for retreats an' such. Y'all can stay there. We already have the heat an' water on, sheets an quilts on the bed."

April joined in, "You better say yes, Bobby. We have some things we want to discuss for real, some business to ask about. I also thought me an' Joe Henry could spend a little time together."

Joe Henry moaned an' rolled his head back, "Y'all are all so mean to me."

Bobby was grinnin' like a possum,, "Mean? Us mean? Joe Henry, these good folks want to talk business. What, do you think this is all about you?"

Charlie took up the chase, "Yeah, an' Maggie said it was alright. You gonna argue with her? She'll sic your Great Aunt Bess on you, boy."

April threw her arms around Joe Henry, "So, it is settled. Rick caught a big ol' mess of crappies an' a couple bass an' catfish. We've done cleaned them, Rick has the deep fryer out on the back porch an' me an' Mazie are ready to whoop up the best slaw an' hush puppies you ever ate. We are gonna have a fish fry tomight for supper."

Rick was grinnin', "Just give up, Joe Henry. Sounds like this gang has it in for you. You need a bed or anything for your pup?"

"Nah, he'll sleep beside my bed. I have a cage with us I can put him in if I need to." Joe Henry said.

"No need unless he might run off." Rick told him.

Bobby spoke up then, "That pup won't run off. I raised him an' been helpin' with his trainin'. He loves ol' Joe Henry, though I don't know why. He sticks to him like a tick."

They all laughed at that. Truman seemed to know they were talkin' about him an' stood up, looked around an' went to lay on Joe Henry's feet.

April leaned against Joe Henry an' whispered, "That pup must have figured our you are a pretty good fella, right easy to get attached to."

"Lord a mercy April. You are a sight." Joe Henry said, leanin into her a little too.

Chapter 8

When Mazie an' April found out that Joe Henry an' the other two drove straight through an' hadn't had dinner, they got to work. Mazie asked if a "fried baloney sammich" would do. All three answered with a definite "Yes ma'am".

Rick went out to the remains of the garden an' came back with some green onions, several leaves of lettuce an' even some big green tomatoes that he said he would fry with tonight's fish an' hush puppies. He took those inside an' came back with a gallon jar of sweet tea. After he filled everyone's glasses back up he joined the others on the porch.

"Joe Henry, Charlie, I have a question an' was wonderin' if y'all would mind me stickin my nose in y'all's business a little?" Rick asked.

Joe Henry chuckled an' replied, "Rick, go to it, man. Seems like that is everyone's hobby these days."

Rick just laughed, "Now, I'm not talkin' romance here, my friend, I actually wanted to talk about business a little before y'all have your dinner. I'll say this though, bein' sweet on a Barton woman ain't the worst thing in the world. You can take my word on it, take Daddy, Bud Barton's word on it. 'Course, Mama Irene Barton only became a Barton when she married Daddy."

Charlie an' Bobby hee-hawed at that. Joe Henry reverted to his usual red faced silence. Poor ol' Truman didn't know what to think as the two men laughed so loud. That pup stood up an' stood right in front of Joe Henry like he was protectin' his master. He weren't too worried though, his ol' tail was goin' ninety miles an hour.

"Actually, Joe Henry, I wanted to ask y'all about some of the businesses you an' Miss Bess told me about when you were here. The ones up an' down the ridge back home. You an' your Great Aunt run the Honey farm along with Charlie an' Maggie. Y'all have a company name, Carpenter's Bee Tree Farms that you label your honey an' hive products with. That is good marketin', good brandin'." he said.

Then he got to his point, "Vince is workin' to grow the lavender farm an' from what y'all said last time, Miss Lois does a right smart amount of business at the Christmas tree farm, right?"

Charlie nodded, "Yessir that is true. Vince don't do too bad most years. This year Vince an' Misty had a little hitch in their giddy up with all that has happened. Usually they do pretty well."

Rick paused an' thought for a minute, "So, I have been wonderin' why they don't have names for them farms, them businesses. Y'all sell Bee Tree Honey all over a couple states. When I go to the store, why, I never buy store bought honey. If I can get local honey I buy it somewhere, if not I go over to a store that sells Bee Tree Honey. I love your lavender honey."

Joe Henry spoke up, "You know, my business degree has been workin' overtime this year, but I honestly never gave that a thought. With some of the plans we've all made, continue to make, I can see your point. We need to encourage them to do that, help them come up with ideas for names. 'Course, it will be up to them to decide if they want to do it or not."

Charlie was listenin' an' noddin' at what Joe Henry said. When he finished, Charlie looked at him with an odd look.

Next thing you know Mazie an' April come out the door with trays filled with "fried baloney sammiches", green onions, tater chips, some home made peanut butter cookies (you know the ones with the criss cross design made with a fork) an' napkins. Mazie told them there was Duke's Mayo on the sammiches. Said they weren't gonna insult fried baloney with anything else. Joe Henry told her Duke's was his favorite anyways. Bobby an' Charlie agreed, afraid of losin' their sammiches.

As they ate they told Rick, Mazie an' April about Vince an' Mist. Said she was lookin' pretty peaked when they would see her. She was not gettin' better. The leukemia was takin' a toll on her poor ol' body. Even with the "special" brownies an' cookies friends brought her she wasn't holdin' her own any longer. The doctors had her drinkin' nutrition drinks as often as she could.

Joe Henry shook his head, "They say the baby is doin' OK. She is doin' all she can to keep that baby healthy. They want to try an' wait till after Thanksgivin' to take the baby. She must wait another four weeks before she starts chemo."

April was a little teary eyed, "Oh Joe Henry, that's over three more weeks from now. Poor Mist. Poor Vince. We've been prayin' for them. This is terrible news."

All agreed how bad the news was. The men ate their dinner with not a lot more bein' said as they ate. Seems like everyone had Mist, Vince an' the baby on their minds.

After the three finished dinner, April took them on a tour of the farm, showin' them the lavender fields, the barns, work sheds, dryin' shed an' even what her three nieces called the "pettin' zoo", the sheep, their pot belly pig (kept on a diet so's it wouldn't grow up big an' fat), the three goats an' the little Banty hen named Louise.

They asked about Bart an' April told them he weren't part of the pettin' zoo since he had been abandoned on their farm an' had a bad attitude. They enjoyed the walk, were excited to see the ponds an' small river at the back of the farm. Bobby mentioned he had suggested more than once that the stream back home on the ol' home place could have a small dam on it to make a big hole of water for better fishin'.

Joe Henry an' Charlie agreed an' said they would try to talk Bess into doin' so. They all enjoyed fishin'. Enjoyed eatin' fish even better.

As they walked back to the house, April casually wrapped her arm around Joe Henry's elbow. He smiled an' didn't blush one single bit as they walked an' talked. Now an' then they spoke quietly to one another. She would lean close as they spoke an' Joe Henry would inhale deeply, almost intoxicated by the scent of her.

When they arrived back at the house,April had them go on in. Mazie directed them to the dinin' room where Rick was already sittin' with a pad an' some other papers.

"Have a sit down, boys. Bobby, if you don't mind, I want to talk some business. Throw your two cents in if you have a thought or two along the way."

The sat down as Mazie offered them some more sweet tea. All three accepted as did April, who sat beside Joe Henry. Rick looked over a couple papers an them at Joe Henry an' Charlie.

"So, here is what I need to talk to y'all about. Y'all saw the orchard we have back close to the ponds. I have several varieties of apples, three heirloom apples that have been here for generations. There are plums, pears an peaches too. All told I have fifty or so fruit trees. They do pretty well, but I've been thinkin' an' maybe y'all could help me out. Maybe we could help each other out."

"I'm thinkin' if we had some bees here on the farm, the orchard would do right smart better as would our lavender an' other crops." he continued.

Both Charlie an' Joe Henry agreed. Bobby shook his head right along with them. All saw the advantage of havin' bees to pollinate orchards an' other crops.

"What do y'all think about havin' a "Carpenter Bee Tree Apiary South"? We hope to work with Vince an' Mist on growin' their lavender farm. We have about a dozen varieties of lavender growin' here, from white, pink an' a bunch of shades of purple. we have a couple dozen acres of lavender right now.."

Mazie spoke up, "We don't think we can be expert beekeepers on top of everything else we do, but think an apiary here would be good for the orchard, for the lavender an' for business. If y'all could put a bee yard here an' work with us to do the basics, well, y'all could come visit now an' again to check on them, give us advice as to what to do over the phone an' do the honey harvest."

April chimed in, "Joe Henry mentioned y'all have a couple smaller extractors an' plenty of equipment. You could either leave a small extractor here to do the harvest, or bring one with you when you come. You'd get the honey an' we'd get the benefits of the bees."

Rick asked, "What do y'all think?

Charlie an' Joe Henry were quiet for a while as they thought. Joe Henry borrowed a page from the notepad Rick had an' did some figurin'. After a bit he looked up.

"Well sir, I do think that an apiary here is a good idea. I agree that it would be great for your orchard an' other fields of plants. However, I don't think it is the best idea for y'all or us. I have an alternative though..."

April looked a bit disappointed. Rick an' Mazie both shook their heads, waitin' for Joe Henry's alternative.

"Rick, I don't think we could make any money on the honey, what with all the travel an all. Plus, ya'' would be doin' much of the work an' other than the benefit of the bees pollinatin' your crops, well, there ain't much in it for you." he explained.

"I think a better alternative would be for us to form sort of a co-op with y'all. Here's what I propose; this spring me, Maggie an' Charlie here start maybe ten nucs from splits. A nuc is a five frame sorta 'mini hive'. We get those buildin' up brood in some drawn comb we have in our yards. Y'all buy enough wooden ware, frames, foundation an' such for ten hives through us, we get a good discount since we buy in volume. We'll assemble the hives, frames an' install the wax foundation in the frames."

"When the nucs are doin' real good me an' Vince will come down like we planned before. We help you set up your apiary an' install the bees from the nucs to your hives. Now, we'll take our nuc boxes home with us an' the bees will be in your hives. They will already have a healthy queen an' workers. She will have brood an' you will have a kick start on your apiary."

Rick asked, "But what's in it for y'all?"

Joe Henry smiled an' continued, "You most likely won't get honey the first year but will have the benefit of ten hives that will fill out quickly. We use medium bee boxes an' will have enough boxes for you to add a super, a box on top the first box pretty soon after we install the bees. You'll need three brood boxes on each hive. There is a slight chance you might get some honey from a couple hives, but don't count on it the first year."

"We'll stay for a few days an' y'all can work with Vince on the lavender side of things. We'll trade you bees for lavender plants so Vince can grow that lavender yard. We'll trade our experience, knowledge an' some trainin' with honeybees for the same from you for us with the Lavender an' other crops here."

Rick an' Mazie both were noddin' as he continued again, "We will sell you honey for the first year or two so you can grow your apiary an' actually have enough honey to sell. We can bring a small extractor an' equipment to extract any honey the first year or two. Maybe we split that harvest some way to start. Then y'all will have the experience an' enough bees to have a viable apiary an' keep bees an' harvest honey."

He looked to Charlie, "What do you think, Charlie?"

Charlie nodded an' added, "I expect you are right, Joe Henry. An' Rick, if ya'll didn't want to be in the honey business y'all could still harvest, extract the honey into five gallon buckets an' sell it wholesale to us. We'd still need to come down now an' then, Vince too. I think we could benefit from y'all comin' up to visit an' help us. Sorta a co-op of our farms like Joe Henry said."

After a good bit of conversation, give an' take of ideas, they hammered out a plan that was pretty much like Joe Henry suggested. April gave her approval once she realized that a certain young man would be comin' an goin' to the Blue Sky Lavender Farm.

Mazie heard the phone an' went in to answer. In a moment she was back. "Y'all are in for a treat. That was Mama. We invited her, Daddy an' Sister June for supper tonight. Daddy had a buddy that was down to Wilmington. He brought Daddy a cooler full of shrimps. We are havin’ boiled shrimp an' fried fish tonight."

Rick grinned, "Y'all might need to drive to town to buy some pants a couple sizes bigger than what you are wearin'. We are puttin' on the feed sack tonight."

Chapter 9

Bobby, Charlie an' Joe Henry were escorted by April over to the bunkhouse. They grabbed their bags an' followed her. Joe Henry made sure to get Truman's bowls an' some food. Truman knew exactly what his master had in his hand as they walked. That pup danced around Joe Henry till he almost tripped that boy.

Callin' it an ol' bunkhouse really didn't describe it well. The inside walls an' ceilin's were all covered in beautiful pine boards. The front room was a big meetin' room with several dinin' tables an chairs, a ping pong table, book shelves with plenty of books an' not a TV in sight.

She showed them the smaller room that was set aside for a cabin counselor an' told them the bed there was better so they could all grab a bunk or flip a coin to see who got the big bed. All three said they would enjoy bunkin' together. They each picked out a lower bunk. Bobby said they ain't no way he was climbin' up to a top bunk. Said if he fell out them others would never let him live it down.

Joe Henry put water in Truman's water bowl an' the pup had a big drink as he waited for the food bowl to be filled. Luckily Joe Henry brought plenty of food for Truman. That pup attacked his bowl of food with relish.

Charlie mentioned he wouldn't mind takin' a rest in the counselor's room. Bobby said he would love to prop his feet up too. April smiled an' innocent smile as she turned to Joe Henry.

"I reckon ol' Harry Truman will want to take a walk after he is done eatin'. I can take a walk with you. Of course if you want to rest with the old men..."

Bobby threw a pillow at April an' hollered, "Git, git out of here an' leave us ol' men alone so we can get some rest. Listenin' to Joe Henry prattle on has 'bout wore us out, right Charlie?"

"Right as rain, Bobby. I ain't got a minute's sleep since we been gone, what with Joe Henry an' that dog snorin' like they do." Charlie moaned with a grin.

Joe Henry threw the pillow back at the other two, called to Truman an' went out. Bobby an' Charlie picked out an easy chair each, sat down an' kicked their shoes off. Both men settled back, closed their eyes an' smiled.

April an' Joe Henry walked over to where Mazie had returned to plantin' lavender plants. Joe Henry had lots of questions that he peppered both Mazie an' April with. Each explained how their farm worked, mentioned that the plants Mazie was plantin' had white blooms. White lavender was a favorite for bridal bouquets Mazie explained.

Though he didn't know exactly why, Joe Henry got a little red in the face. So did April. She quickly suggested that they go look at the greenhouse where they started lavender plants in both Spring an' Fall.

As they walked through the greenhouse with rows an' rows of little lavender plants in different phases of growth, April explained that they started plants with either hardwood or softwood cuttin's. They could take hardwood cuttin's in both Spring or Fall, but they took softwood cuttin's only in the Spring when there were plenty of soft twigs that hadn't hardened. The softwood cuttin's were easier to start, but Rick an' Mazie were very good at the hardwood cuttin's too.

She stopped an' turned to show Joe Henry a tray with cuttin's. She explained that they used a mix of perlite an' vermiculite as their rooting medium. That was the stuff in the tray. It had lots of water in it an' wasn't dense like dirt would be.

She gently pulled out a single cuttin' an' showed him the tiny roots already growin' in the rootin' medium. He reached for the cuttin' an' as their hands met, April laid her thumb over his fingers an' held on for a moment.

Joe Henry stood there, lookin' at the tiny roots, then lookin' into April's eyes. They were such an unusual blue. He could swear they looked almost like the lavender that bloomed in the field. He breathed deeply, inhalin' the wonderful scent that was uniquely her.

"Wow." He whispered.

"Yeah, Wow. Look right here, look real close, Joe Henry." she matched his quiet voice.

As he leaned in to look, she tilted her head, bumped her forehead gently to his an' kissed him. That boy hesitated for a moment. He was always a gentleman, always polite an' respectful to women. However, he realized that April kissed him, not the other way around.

Her hand holdin' the cuttin' dropped to her side. Joe Henry took her into his arms. He was a right smart bit taller than her, but it didn't seem to matter at that moment. Just for a moment she held onto the lavender. Then her hand let go an' it fell to the floor as she leaned into him, placed her arms around him an' held tight.

Truth be known, both April an' Joe Henry had thought about that moment since the first time they saw each other. It was a magical moment as they kissed, as they held each other. it was one of those moments that a man remembers for the rest of his life, that one kiss...
(pause an' take a deep breath)

About 4:00 the door to the bunkhouse opened an' a loud voice woke both Charlie an' Bobby from a deep sleep. They both jumped an' sat up.

"Y'all gonna sleep the day away? I got shrimps to boil. Ricky has fish to fry. Y'all are starvin' me to death. I am nothin' but skin an' bones as it is."

They both sat up, rubbed their eyes an' stood. Just inside the door was Bud Barton in the flesh. He was a short, stout farmer, dressed in overalls an' a work shirt. He had a ball cap advertisin' a seed company on his head an' when he took it off to wipe his head with a red hankie, they saw he had a fringe of hair around his bald head. They also saw his "farmer tan line" where that cap sat every day.

Bud walked over with his hand extended an' shook their hands as all three made introductions. Most folks that meet Bud Barton will tell you he has a personality a whole lot bigger than he is. He had a big voice, a firm handshake an' made Bobby an' Charlie feel welcome.

"Boys, I'm gettin ready to fire up my propane burner an' put a pot on to boil them shrimps. Mama Irene has some corn on the cob she dragged out of the freezer. I'm throwin' in a few taters for good measure. Ricky is already gettin' them fish ready, mixin' up the corn meal an' his special mix of spices he puts in the meal." he said with a big smile.

"I hope y'all are hungry, cause you ain't stoppin' till I am satisfied you done ate enough. Get your ol' shoes on. I've got my golf cart out here. You can help me set up an' we can' jaw while the water comes to a boil."

Charlie an' Bobby grinned as they put on their shoes an' joined Bud in the golf cart. He had Charlie get in the front seat with him. Said Bobby had longer arms an' could hold on to his pot in the back seat when they drove toward the house.

Before he started, he reached into his back pocket an' pulled out a small bottle, "Better have one for the road. Maybe two if your throat is dry. Mine is awful dry. I might need three or four snorts. I make this myself. Have a little tiny still an' make a couple batches for medicinal purposes. Mama Irene would be mad if she saw me offerin' you a drink once we get to Ricky an' Mazie's."

They each had a few snorts before he put the bottle back in his pocket. Bud drove the golf cart to the back porch of Rick an' Mazie's an' they unloaded the burner, propane, pot an' a cooler filled with shrimp, corn on the cob an' taters.

Just before the food was on the table, April an' Joe Henry showed up. They walked hand in hand till they noticed the old folks was watchin'. They quickly dropped their hands an' laughed as they walked closer. Bud an' Irene was lookin' Joe Henry over closely.

About that time a little red Ford Pinto pulled up. A tall, lovely blonde woman with braids on either side of her face an' big round sunglasses stepped out of the car. She had on a long flowin' skirt on an' a short sleeve white top. A crocheted shawl was casually wrapped around her shoulders.

She called to her Mama an' Daddy an' they grinned an' waved as she walked up the steps. She kissed them each on the cheek, hugged an' kissed her sisters an' hugged Rick. She then turned to the others.

"Boys, this here is my wild child, June. She is our baby. She already has a degree in biology an' is gettin' another in music. She plays the guitar somethin' awful, bless her heart. Can't carry a tune, but we love her anyway." Bud crowed.

Mama Irene slapped Bud on the arm an' grinned, "Don't believe a word that ol' man says. June is a school teacher. She teaches elementary school. An' if she thought to bring her guitar, well you can be the judge when she plays."

Man, oh man, did they all put on the feed bag. They ate, drank lemonade an' sweet tea till close to sunset. June did have her guitar with her an' pulled it out of the Pinto. She opened the case to reveal a beautiful vintage Gibson acoustic guitar. She tuned it an' soon was serenadin' the group for ever so long.

Then Charlie spoke up, "June, you need to get Joe Henry to get the fiddle the folks down in Cumberland Gap gave him an' have him play. Maybe y'all can play a tune or two together."

Though he protested, Bobby an' Charlie told everyone about his playin, how many years he played both fiddle an' violin. June begged an' her sister April got up, went to the truck an' dug around till she found the case, brought it back an' handed it to Joe Henry with a serious look.

He tuned it to June's Gibson an' as they talked about what they both could play, they settled on music by Peter, Paul an' Mary. They started with "Stewball" an' laughed as they finished. The group applauded an' asked for more.

June suggested an' they played "Lemon Tree". Then they played an' sang, "Puff the Magic Dragon". Joe Henry noticed that April had disappeared. He looked around an' saw her an' Mazie step out of the house with instrument cases.

Mazie took out a mandolin an' April had a couple flutes in her case. Everyone re-tuned an' together they played "Early Morning Rain", "Where have all the Flowers Gone" an' several other songs. After a while, as April laid her flute on her lap an' each would take turns singin' the lead an' all four harmonized like they had been singin' together all their lives. The women had, truth be told.

Joe Henry's baritone blended with April' high clear soprano, June's high alto an' Mazie's lower alto/tenor voices. Finally they started to sing, "Leavin' on a Jet Plane" an' Joe Henry took the lead.

The three women played quietly an' stopped singin' as Joe Henry laid his fiddle on his lap an' sang the last verse and chorus quietly an' alone.

"Now the time has come to leave you,
one more time let me kiss you
Then close your eyes, I'll be on my way
Dream about the days to come
when I won't have to leave alone
About the times I won't have to say
Kiss me and smile for me,
tell me that you'll wait for me
Hold me like you'll never let me go

'Cause I'm leaving on a jet plane,
don't know when I'll be back again
Oh, babe, I hate to go
I'm leaving on a jet plane,
don't know when I'll be back again..."

Then he almost whispered the last line,
"Oh, babe, I hate to go".

Chapter 10

Plans were initially to get up early an' slip out. They were sayin' their goodnights an' goodbyes when Mazie, June an' April realized their plan an' would have none of it. Breakfast would be ready at 6:00 a.m. an' they better be back to Rick an' Mazie's to eat.

At 6:00 sharp all three of them were at the door, knockin' polite like. Rick came to the door an' invited them in. Truman sat just outside the door but Rick called the pup in also.

A sideboard was covered with hot dishes, fried eggs, bacon, biscuits, hash browns an' sausage gravy. June came from the kitchen with a bottle of Bee Tree Farms lavender honey in one hand an' a jar of peach jelly in the other. She mentioned they made the jelly from their own peach trees.

June an' Mazie had them take a seat at a long harvest table. June poured coffee for each. Mazie called to Rick an' their three little girls to come eat. Them little girls had enjoyed the company the night before. They danced an' twirled as June, Mazie, April an' Joe Henry played an' sang the night away.

Joe Henry had Truman lay at his feet under the table. Finally, April came from the kitchen with a cheesy grits casserole that she added to the spread on the sideboard. Though the group ate an' ate the night before, appetites were revved up when everyone saw all the grub on that sideboard.

After they were all seated, Rick asked them to join hands so's he could say a blessin'. He said they always started their day this way, maybe not as much food but him, Mazie an' the girls would hold hands an' ask the Good Lord to bless their food, the farm, family, friends an' loved ones.

After breakfast, goodbyes were again said. Joe Henry an' April saw the need to take Truman for a walk since it was gonna be such a long day for the pup to ride in the truck. April said a pup needed a walk an' Joe Henry quickly agreed. They walked back an' behind the house with Truman in the lead, stoppin' to smell everything in his path.

They held hands an' didn't say much as they walked. They came to a small stand of trees an' Joe Henry turned to April.

"Oh my, I can't believe I'm sayin' this, but I'll miss you so. I like to write, keep a journal most days. I'll write if you will. I have a long distance card an' can call too."

April smiled an' her eyes were misty, "I'd like that a lot. I need to give you my number, mine an' June's actually. Daddy an' Rick built a house for me up the hill from Daddy an' Mama's house. Me an' June live there. Daddy started June's house last year. He has it under roof an' the outside walls up. He'll have it done sometime next year so she'll have her own place."

"Now when you call, make sure it is me you are carryin' on with. Don't want my little sister tryin' to steal you away." she laughed.

She stepped close an' Joe Henry leaned down an' held her tight. They leaned their foreheads together an' stood for the longest minute. Then he put his lips to hers, kissed her tenderly. Her lips were warm, soft an' salty from the tears that were now flowin' freely. Again an' again they kissed, holdlin' on, not wantin' the last moment together to fade.

They heard a horn honk once, twice an' Bobby Clark's voice callin' to them, tellin' Joe Henry to get a move on. They grinned, he kissed her softly one last time, brushed her tears away an' took her hand as they walked toward the house. Truman followed along, still smellin' everything in his path.

Once they were on the road with Bobby drivin', they were full of talk. They each had things to say about some of the ideas they went away with. Bobby started suggetin' names for the lavender farm, the Christmas tree farm.

They rolled around Lavender Hills, Lavender Holler, Purple hills, Busy Bee Lavender, Lavender Acres, Lavender Lovers. Charlie was quiet for a moment as Bobby an' Joe Henry chatted. He got a look on his face, then a smile an' leaned between the front seats from the back.

"Hey boys, how about Purple Mountain's Majesty Lavender Farm?" he asked.

They all loved the idea, liked that better than any of the other names they came up with. Joe Henry mentioned it was actually gonna be up to Vince an' Mist. Charlie smiled, looked at Bobby who was lookin' at him in the mirror. They nodded a slight nod to each other as they talked.

The rest of the trip an' deliveries was uneventful. Joe Henry an' Charlie dropped Bobby Clark off at his brother's place so he could get his truck an' they were back on the road. When they pulled onto Limestone Ridge Road Charlie was grinnin' from ear to ear. He was lookin' forward to seein' Maggie.

They pulled the truck an' enclosed trailer into the drive an' back to the barns where they were keepin' the trailer. When Maggie heard the truck pull in she was out the door of her house an' headin' to Joe Henry's place.

By the time Joe Henry an' Charlie had the trailer unhitched an' drove back to the house, Maggie had the front door open an' a gallon Mason jar of sweet tea on the table there on the front porch waitin' for Charlie an' Joe Henry. Charlie got out of the truck an' them two met an' Maggie gave her man a huge bear hug. Joe Henry told them he was gonna have to hose them down if they didn't quit.

Truman was glad to be home an' took it upon himself to explore an' make sure all was well on the farm. Maggie had Charlie an' Joe Henry sit, have a glass of sweet tea an' tell her all the news.

They took turns talkin'. When one paused for a drink of sweet tea the other would step in an' continue. Charlie mentioned April an' Maggie smiled. He also told her he spied Joe Henry smoochin' on that gal more than once. Maggie grinned an' slapped Joe Henry's knee.

Joe Henry was awful quiet an' let Charlie carry on the rest of the trip details. Maggie noticed an' watched him as Charlie talked. He told his wife about the co-op plans between the two farms. She thought that was a grand idea. Charlie mentioned they would need to talk to Bess about it, but thought it could work well.

Finally Maggie turned her attention to Joe Henry, "You are awfully quiet over there. What's on your mind?'

Joe Henry looked up, "I don't know Maggie. I'm not sure. April takes my breath away. She is the first girl I've really been taken with ever in my life. She is an amazin' woman, beautiful, smart, fun to be with. She an' I match up personality wise so well..."

He went on, "But I'm here an' she is there. Me an' Betty have been separated for a right smart while. It hasn't been a year since the divorce was final. I'm still workin' on me, but she makes me feel like I am who I was a long time ago. This trip made me feel better about things than I have in a good while. I don't know if I should feel this way so soon."

Maggie stood up an' stepped close to Joe Henry. He leaned into her side an' she wrapped her arm around him an' just stood there for a long while. Truman came up on the porch an' like a good dog does, sensed something in the air. He went over an' sat on the other side of Joe Henry. Truman sat on his hind legs an' placed his head an' front paws in Joe Henry's lap.

As Joe Henry rubbed Truman's ears he thought long an' hard about April, about his life, his choices over the years. Maggie patted him on the back an' sat back down.

Charlie spoke up, "Joe Henry, I'm gonna say what I think here, boy. I hope I don't get you mad. If you do, well, I reckon that may be more you not wantin' to hear this than me bein' wrong."

"Here's the thing. You said the back seat of a car weren't the way to start a relationship. That gal had her eyes an' then her claws on you before you knew what was happenin. We all saw it. Your Daddy saw it. Your Aunt Bess saw it. You, however, thought you needed to do the right thing, y'all sinnin' an' carryin' on an' all. Son, she got you in bed 'cause she saw dollar signs. Nothin' else. I doubt she ever loved you. What you should have done is run away from that sin, not embrace it."

He went on, "She thought your Daddy had money. She thought the sportin' good store was one of them geese what laid golden eggs. An' she wanted the money. Then she killed the goose after your Daddy passed. To her the store was all there was in your relationship an' it was gone. That's why she left."

"Joe Henry, other than a few gals in high school an' college that you have mentioned, well, maybe April is the first time you've ever really had a grown woman really interested in you. Not interested in money, what you have or don't have. Just interested in you. That's just how it is. That is my opinion. Now, here's the rest of it. Long distance relationships are hard to maintain. She is a lovely woman. She is definitely interested in you an' you in her. Take your time, boy. See what happens. One thing though, don't become too narrow minded. Don't dive too fast an' too deep into a relationship again. Never know where love might spring up even closer to home."

Joe Henry hugged Charlie an' it was Charlie's turn to blush. Maggie helped Charlie get his bag an' a few things he bought along the way an' they headed for their place. Joe Henry just sat for a while, sippin' sweet tea an' ponderin'

Chapter 11

A few days later, Clyde Collins called from over to Danville. He spoke with Joe Henry about his team of horses. Though he hated to give them up, he was just gettin too old to keep them. He told Joe Henry that earlier in the year he was ridin' one of them an' fell off, broke his ankle. It took a right smart while for him to get up. Luckily his horse walked back to him an' he was able to pull himself up with the reins.

Joe Henry asked about buyin' them horses, but Clyde would hear none of it. They were to be a gift from Clyde to Joe Henry. He did make Joe Henry promise not to sell them if he was takin' them. Joe Henry promised an' they made arrangements for him an' Bobby Clark to deliver the horses on Saturday. He would bring saddles, harnesses, bridles an' all when they came. He also would help Joe Henry now an' again to keep them up. He promised to show him how to put on their harnesses, bridles, even saddles an' all.

Bobby's brother delivered the sleigh while they were gone an' it sat in one of the sheds. Joe Henry noticed it was covered with a canvas tarp to keep it clean. He uncovered it, got in the front an' sat with a grin.

Saturday mornin' came an' Joe Henry was ready. A local farmer from over to Manchester delivered a load of hay bales on Thursday an' Joe Henry spent Thursday afternoon an' Friday puttin' the hay bales in his barn. Friday mornin' the local feed store delivered bags of grain an' feed Clyde had ordered an' paid for. The delivery man told Joe Henry that Clyde had already paid to have grain an' feed delivered on a regular basis for the next twelve months.

Bobby an' Clyde pulled into the lane an' down to the field. Joe Henry had the mules in their stalls an' the gate open. When Bobby an' Clyde got out of the truck Joe Henry hugged ol' Bobby an' shook Clyde's hand with a warm grip.

Clyde was a slight man, startin' to bend over a bit from age. He had a wild shock of snow white hair an' a white mustache an' goatee. He wore a gray Stetson fedora on his head, well worn an' with a light band of sweat around the brim of the hat. He was dressed in work pants, white shirt with a vest an' coat. He had a pocket watch in the pocket of his coat an' a leather thong goin' through the button hole on his vest.

Joe Henry an' Clyde opened the horse trailer an' Clyde had the horse back out. He let them loose after the gate was closed an' they walked to the water trough for a drink. Both mules put their heads out their windows to see what was goin' on. The horses eventually noticed the mules, walked over as if to say howdy.

The three men examined the sleigh next an' Clyde gave his approval. Joe Henry an' Bobby pushed the sleigh out of the shed as Clyde gathered the harnesses from the truck. With Clyde's help they harnessed the horses an' attached the harnesses to the sleigh.

Clyde took the reins an' urged the horse to walk. The team leaned into their harness an' the sleigh began to move forward. All three men grinned as they were pulled all around the field. Clyde made mention that the wheels moved freely an' were no problem for the horses.

At Clyde's suggestion, Joe Henry opened the gate an' they were up the lane an' onto Limestone Ridge Road. Clyde handed to reins to Joe Henry an' he felt pretty comfortable as the horses pulled the sleigh on wheels along the road. The ride was good, the wheels did well on the road. Joe Henry was very familiar with the mules pullin' the buggy an' this weren't much different.

When they arrived at the Christmas tree farm Lois Jones was standin' in the yard. They greeted her an' she commented on the horses, the sleigh an' mentioned they needed something else. She told them to hang on. The men waited. Lois came back with an ol' wooden box that clanged an' jangled as she walked.

"Clyde, reckon your horse would be frightened by bells on their bridle an' harnesses?" she asked.

"Oh lordy, no. I have rings all along the harnesses to hang bells on. Let's try them bells out." he told her.

The four took bell after bell from the box. They were brass, all different sizes an' had clips that attached to the rings. Though they were tarnished with age an' layin' in that box, Lois assured Joe Henry that they would shine up easily an' just be as bright as new.

Lois an' Bobby got in the back of the sleigh an' Clyde took the reins since they were ridin' with the bells. His horses didn't mind a bit an' the sleigh an' horses rang merrily as they made their way back to the farm.

Once there they saw Maggie an' Charlie standin' on the side of the road. They grinned as the sleigh approached. Clyde told them to get in with the others. He turned the team around an' handed the reins to Joe Henry. The team headed back toward the Christmas tree farm once again. Maggie started singin' "Over the river an' through the woods". They all joined in an' laughed as they rode.

Clyde made sure Joe Henry then Charlie an' even Bobby was comfortable drivin' the team of horses back an' forth between the farms before they dropped Lois off an' headed back. Bobby, Clyde an' Charlie unhitched the horses, put away the harnesses an' all. They took all the bells off an' put them back in the wooden box so's they could be polished up before Christmas. Clyde told Joe Henry he had more bells he would bring over in a few days.

At Clyde's suggestion Joe Henry led the mules into the field after they had brushed down the horses. The two teams met in the middle of the field, greeted each other as old friends an' then gathered round the two bales of hay Joe Henry threw out for them.

Though Joe Henry protested, Clyde told him he had made arrangements for hay an' feed for the horses an' Aunt Bess' mules for the next year. He said he had too much money in the bank an' nothin' better to spend it on. He didn't want ol' Uncle Sam to take any more than he had to give up. Better the horses an' mules than the government.

Bobby unhitched the horse trailer. Clyde told Joe Henry it was part of the deal. He promised to be back for the first day of the Christmas season to help with the horses an' make sure all went well.

Bobby an' Clyde headed for the truck. Joe Henry shook Clyde's hand an' thanked him. Clyde, waved the thanks off.

"Family is family, Joe Henry. Even though distant, family is family." Clyde said out the window as they drove off.

Chapter 12

Thanksgivin' was on the 24th an' the folks on Limestone Ridge were all ready for the holiday Season to commence. So many folks were stoppin' an' askin' anytime one of them was in town, folks stoppin' by to see then their season would kick off. Finally they had a meetin' an' decided to open up daily a few days later on Wednesday, November 15th.

Joe Henry an' Bobby Clark had taken shotguns in hand an' walked the hills around the area, shootin' down lots of mistletow that the woman made into little bundles an' decorated with simple red bows. With Rachel's help an' some explorin' of their own, Charlie, Maggie, Rachel an' Lois found enough wild grapevines to make almost fifty grapevine wreaths. Lois an' Rachel decorated these with pine branches, pine cones an' even some leftover bittersweet.

Lois brought pine roping an' the wreaths to the cabin shop. Rachel had a stack of beautiful fall an' winter photographs she had shot over the last several years of the mountains, the Corbin area an' Cumberland Falls. She matted an' framed them an' had a simple ribbon an’ bow goin' from corner to corner to make each look festive. They hung the photographs on every empty wall around the shop.

Joe Henry had completed two dozen brooms an' with Rachel's urgin' an' help he attached dried flowers, dried lavender an' even pine cones to the brooms. She took him to a craft store in London an' he bought little brass an' chrome bells that he put on the thongs of each of the thirty walkin' sticks he put in the casbin store.

On November 15th everyone was ready to go. Maggie invited herself to Joe Henry's kitchen to make breakfast for everyone. She told everyone to be there at 6:30 for they all had a lot to do. Bobby dove down as did Clyde. Aunt Bess snuck in unexpectedly an' Joe Henry was thrilled. Rachel hugged Bess an' the two went off to chat while Maggie finished gettin' things on the table with Lois, Charlie an' Joe Henry's help.

At Joe Henry's request she made a huge pan of butter rolls, his favorite. Mazie sent the recipe for the cheesy grits casserole after Charlie bragged about it an' it sat on the table. She said she wanted it to be simple so she only made a big basket of cat head biscuits an' enough sausage grave to feed an' army.

They gathered around the table, joined hands an' Clyde prayed the blessin' for all of them. Joe Henry opened his eyes to look at the other eight folks gathered 'round his table. Actually his Grandma's table, truth be told. He grinned a happy grin an' closed his eyes once more.

They all sat to eat, visit an' enjoy the early mornin' together. Afterwards Maggie, Lois an' Aunt Bess insisted on cleanin' up. There were plenty of extra biscuits leftover on purpose. Aunt Bess had already talked with Maggie an' brought cold country ham to have biscuit an' ham sammiches later in the day. As they did the dishes, Lois made two gallon Mason jars of sweet tea to keep them goin' durin' the day.

Rachel asked if she could go with the men as they hitched up the horses an' sleigh. Joe Henry smiled his agreement. They all walked to the barn. Joe Henry led the horses from their stalls. Clyde fussed with their manes an' tails, brushin' them till they were like silk. Bobby got the harnesses an' bridles as Charlie brushed the horse’s coats.

When the sleigh was ready an' the horses hitched they all stood back to admire their work. The bells had been polished an' Clyde added his bells to the others. The harnesses jingled with a light hearted jingle as they shook themselves, ready to go.

It was a cold mornin’, about 37 degrees out an' there was the slightest hint of snowflakes in the air. Aunt Bess came down to the barn with several quilt in her arms.

"I brought this for the sleigh. Folks are gonna need to cover up an' snuggle in this cold air." she said as she laid the quilts on the front an' back seats.

She looked at Joe Henry, "Joe Henry, why don't you an' Rachel take the first ride down to the Christmas tree farm? You can take Lois down to open up an' y'all ca ride back."

"Oh yeah, let's do!" Rachel said before Joe Henry could say a word.

Bobby, Charlie an' Clyde grinned as they helped Rachel in. Clyde gave the reins to Joe Henry an' told him to enjoy the ride. Before they could go, aunt Bess took the quilt, unfolded it an' placed the quilt over Rachel an' Joe Henry's laps. Rachel scooted close so they both could share the quilt.

They stopped at the house for Lois an' were soon on their way. Lois an' Rachel chatted as they rode. The horses walked a steady walk, bells singin' an' jinglin' all the way. Lois jumped out, patted Rachel on the leg an’ waved as she walked to her barn to open up.

Rachel scooted closer an’ whispered, "I've been waitin' for this ride. I am so excited. It is snowin' just a little, Joe Henry. Isn't this what Heaven will be like?"

Joe Henry nodded, told the horses "Get up" and breathed deep, smellin' the faint scent of pine trees, lavender an' home along with another lovely scent of a beautiful woman.

Chapter 13

When Joe Henry an' Rachel arrived back at the cabin store they were laughin' an' talkin' about the ride. The wheels worked just fine again. Joe Henry was explainin' that the bars attachin' them wheels could come off in about five minutes an' then the sleigh could be pulled through snow on the runners.

"Promise me you'll take me on another ride when there is snow. Oh, my, that would be even more like Heaven." Rachel said.

Joe Henry tied the horses to a post they secured into the ground a short way away from the store. Rachel followed laughin' an' urgin' Joe Henry to promise. He finally did. She slapped him with the mittens she was wearin'.

"Was that so hard?" she laughed.

Aunt Bess an' Maggie were already in the cabin store makin' sure things were dusted, in order an' straightened up. Joe Henry cut several Christmas trees for Lois days earlier an' they were in stands an' decorated. A sign directin' folks down the road to cut their own or buy pre-cut trees sat in front of each one.

Charlie, Bobby an' Clyde were outside. Clyde was hangin' grapevine wreaths on the wall of the cabin. Though most of the mistletoe was inside the shop, there were small nails between the wreaths that he placed bunches of mistletoe on. A wooden sign hung above the wreaths with prices accordin' to size. Lois had more wreaths on display inside an' outside of the barn at the Christmas tree farm.

Charlie an' Bobby were settin' up long saw horses they made to keep folks from parkin' too close to the cabin as well as to keep a path clear for the sleigh. The sleigh ride sign was in place directin' folks inside to pay.

Maggie opened the cash box an' filled the spots in the cash register with the appropriate denomination of bills. Aunt Bess an' Rachel were makin' sure the chair for Santa was just right. They had purchased red ropin' at a sewin' an' craft store that was attached to small posts Joe Henry made. The posts were set up so Rachel's tripod an' camera was in front of Santa an' no one would walk past as she was takin' photos.

Rachel had several cameras she would use. The first an' best was her good film camera. Folks would fill out a card an' a larger photo could be ordered an' mailed. Most folks would be satisfied with the instant photos.

In preparation for the season, Rachel found a professional style Polaroid Pro-Pack camera in the dark room over to Lincoln Memorial University where she taught part time. When she found out the camera was no longer used for student ID photos she bought it, found plenty of film packs an' was ready.

Flyers were printed an' posted all around within an hour's drive of the farms. Joe Henry was guest on radio shows in Hyden, Manchester, London an' all the way up to Mount Vernon. Bobby an' Aunt Bess mailed flyers to all the churches an' civic clubs in the area. They was hopin' for a good season. This bein' the first year, they didn't know what to expect.

As the store was gettin' ready to be opened, Bobby's brother, Michael Lee drove in. They directed him through the small woods an' to Joe Henry's house to park. Charlie an' Joe Henry had a narrow road bulldozed an' gravel laid down through the woods an' to the house so's they could go back an' forth without havin' to go onto the road an' around the bend with the horses or their vehicles. They also had a gravel pad laid a bit behind the cabin an' by the trees for them to park.

Michael Lee was lookin' awesome when they saw him. His wife had him usin' some of that bluing shampoo when he washed his hair an' beard to take any yellow out of his silver hair. He had a red ball cap on with the letters "SC" embroidered on the front. His red an' black plaid coat was just the right addition without him bein' in his suit.

He tried out the chair an' gave his approval. Rachel grabbed her cameras, lights an' tripod out of her car an' quickly set up to do a test run. Maggie, Aunt Bess, Charlie an' finally his brother Bobby sat on Michael Lee's knee for photos. Each received their instant photo. Rachel moved the tripod, the stands an' ropin' till she was satisfied with the results.

Michael Lee asked if a small fan could be placed to one side, as the suit would tend to get a little hot. Aunt Bess promised to purchase one in Berea an' have it for the Friday after Thanksgivin' when Santa would first appear. Maggie reminded all that from then on he should not be addressed as Michel Lee but as Santa.

Lois called an' invited everyone down for a quick dedication of the Christmas tree farm. She wanted them all to see the setup.

A few weeks before a refrigerated semi trailer was dropped off. Lois set up the tree baler on the side of the barn an' the two local young men that worked for her showed up along with Joe Henry, Bobby an' Charlie to help her cut an' bale Christmas trees an' stack them in the trailer. The trailer had its own generator an' once the trees started goin' in it ran 24 hours a day for the several days they cut trees.

They cut two thousand trees. There are about two hundred trees per acre so they covered ten acres to fill that trailer. Another trailer was delivered after a semi pulled that one away. All told they cut, baled an' stacked four thousand trees in the two refrigerated trailers.

Those twenty acres would have stumps pulled an' seedlin's planted in the Spring for their seven year cycle. Them boys moaned an' groaned as they thought of the Spring.

The piled into the sleigh an' Michael Lee's truck for the drive to the Christmas tree farm. When they arrived they all were thrilled to see a sign on the front of the barn, "Pine Hollow Christmas Tree Farm". Lois took Rick's idea to heart.

There were trees in burlap balls for purchase an' plantin', trees cut an' layin' accordin' to size against 2x4 rails for purchase. Saws hung on the side of the barn for cuttin' your own tree.

Inside Lois had the sales room with lights on, a wood stove burnin' to keep her an' customer's warm. Wreaths hung on the walls inside an' outside of the sales room. Mistletoe hung on nails all around the inside of the shop.

Outside there was a big sign directin' folks to the cabin store for other items, sleigh rides an' Santa. The place was awesome an' they all told her so.

The cabin store was ready to open just before 10:00. Joe Henry asked his Aunt Bess to say a quick prayer for their success an' safety. They held hands in a circle as she prayed. They all said "Amen" together an' went to their appointed places. Michael Lee/Santa excused himself before they opened the door. They didn't want Santa revealed days before Thanksgivin' weekend.

Bobby an' Charlie made a fire pit days earlier in the week an' they went to make sure it was still burnin'. There were benches made from 2x12's an' concrete blocks situated around the fire pit. A stack of firewood was off to one side. Bobby had a big thermos of coffee an' cups for him, Charlie, Clyde an' Joe Henry. They all figured folks could sit around the fire an' wait for their appointed times for the sleigh rides.

Joe Henry planned on bein' the gopher for everyone. Bobby, Clyde an' Charlie would take turns with him drivin' the sleigh so each could warm up between rides.

Joe Henry turned the sign on the door from "Shut" to "Open". They all hugged each other an' crossed their fingers.

Chapter 14

The cabin store was finally open. The horses an’ sleigh sat off to the side. Clyde sat with the other men around the fire an’ they talked, laughed an’ enjoyed the mornin’. The flurries of snow were on an’ off. Joe Henry even threw a little salt out on the walk in front of the store just in case. Clyde suggested him an’ Joe Henry go to the barn to get a couple things they would need for the horses.

Charlie cleaned up the small room that was used for tack a few days before the horses arrived an’ all the gear for both the mules an’ horses was hung or laid neatly. At Clyde’s direction Joe Henry found two large blankets for the horses.

“I wouldn’t worry if they was movin’ all the time, Joe Henry. I don’t like to see them just stand for long periods of time. We have coats I put on them in bad weather when I let them out. Can’t do that when they are in harness though. These will just lay over them to keep them from getting’ real wet an’ cold as we wait. We’ll take the blankets off to go for rides.” Clyde explained.

Once back with the others they threw the blankets over the horses. Joe Henry fussed even more than Clyde as to how the blankets laid. Clyde watched with an approvin’ eye. He walked over to the fire as Joe Henry was talkin’ to the horses an’ sneakin’ a few pieces of carrots to each of them.

“Our boy is growin’ up.” Bobby said thoughtfully. Charlie nodded his agreement an’ the men resumed their chattin’. Joe Henry joined them an’ the conversation turned to the horses. Charlie asked Clyde to remind him as to them horse’s names. Said they was getting’ to be too many animals to remember these days what with Joe Henry tryin’ to name the chickens even.

“They are Bud an’ Babe. Charlie, them horses are brothers, don’t you know. Bud is two years older than Babe. Babe is just a mite bigger than Bud. That's how you can know which is which. You need to remember their names as you drive them. They are right good at directions, better if you call them by name instead of just ‘horse’ or some such.” Clyde laughed.

Charlie laughed good naturedly an’ added, “Bess’ mules are Sug an’ Bob. I suspect Bess named the one after ol’ Bobby here.”

Bobby threw a stick at Charlie but they all laughed an’ agreed that mule Bob did look a lot like Bobby Clark. Even Bobby said he did see a strong family resemblance. He suspected they was kin on his Mama’s side. He had a couple Uncles that was right ugly too.

The cabin store was open, lights on an’ an air of excitement was all around. Rachel had a cassette recorder plugged in an’ a cassette of Christmas music playin’. Bess said it were awful early for such, but she thought it was a good idea. Said next thing you know stores are gonna be sellin’ Christmas decorations at Halloween.

They were all a little anxious about openin’ so many days before Thanksgivin’. They were afraid folks wouldn’t show up. They was wrong. Oh, so wrong.

About fifteen minutes after they were open two big ol’ Dodge vans showed up with a full load of senior citizens in each. Bobby an’ Aunt Bess’ mailin’s paid off already. They hoped mailin’ to all the senior centers, libraries, private schools an’ civic organizations would pay off. Seemed like it might be workin’.

About fifteen women an’ four men piled out of the vans. Joe Henry was glad for the salt he threw on the walk earlier. He went to the vans to help folks into the cabin store. Rachel automatically took on the role of greeter an’ welcomed each one as they entered. Bess an’ Maggie stationed themselves an’ were ready. Maggie at the cash register an’ Bess as floatin’ sales person. Rachel finished greetin’ everyone an’ went toward the back end of the rooms to offer help an’ suggestions.

When Charlie saw the vans unloadin’ he paused for just a moment an’ said, “Shame no one kept the orchard up. It sure would be nice to have some hot apple cider to see ‘bout now, wouldn’t it?”

“Orchard?” Joe Henry asked. “There was an orchard? Who did it belong to? Was it ours?”

“Lord a mercy, yes. Your Great Uncles Rob an' Tilman, Winston's brothers was the ones who kept it up. Your Grandpa Winston an’ them had some of the best apples around these parts. They was three or four real old varieties even. Apples some of the Carpenter brothers brought here back when they got land grants a right smart while after the war for independence an’ the War of 1812, don’t you know. Them was real old apples. Real good producers too. Shame no one ever took care of the orchard though.”

“Wait, Carpenter brothers came here sometime after the Revolutionary War? After the War of 1812? They had an orchard?” Joe Henry asked, right surprised.

“Yessir, Joe Henry. Don’t you know that? Bless your heart. Four Carpenter brothers. They came across the Gap an’ settled here in this area. They paid ol’ John Gilbert an’ his brother Felix to survey land for their land grants. Paid him to bring them here too. He was some kind of kin to them, y’see. Them boys settled close together so’s they could help each other, protect each other an’ so on. That was way before Leslie County existed. They took hunks of Clay, Harlan an' Perry Counties to make Leslie County. I reckon this area was originally part of Clay County when them Carpenter boys came to these parts. ”

Bobby spoke up then, “Them apple trees are still there, down the road. Big part of the trees is gone but there are probably a dozen or so still grownin’ an’ producin’ apples. I hunt deer down there. They come in for the windfall apples. Good huntin’ right there for rabbits an’ squirrel too.”

“Joe Henry, Clyde, y’all should see them squirrel when they get ‘hold of some of them windfall apples that lay there an’ ferment. They get all likkered up from the fermented apples an’ carry on somethin’ awful. They stagger ‘round. Can’t hardly climb a tree.” Charlie laughed out loud.

Bobby laughed an’ added, “We don’t shoot them squirrels, though. Don’t seem right to take advantage of them drunk boogers.”

Joe Henry said again, “They had an orchard? It is still there? Four Carpenter brothers?”

Bobby smiled an’ nodded. “You ever go down to the end of the big field below the barns? Past that fence?”

Joe Henry shook his head. He apparently didn’t know much about anything. He figured that land belonged to a neighbor. His mind was still staggerin’ as they thought about four Carpenter brothers who came here so long ago. One of them was his ancestor. They all came from one of his long gone Granddads. He told Bobby he hadn’t gone that far. Did think it was a neighbor’s land.

“Nah, that is part of the Carpenter farm. They put the fence up to keep livestock out of the orchard. Maybe me an’ you can go rabbit huntin’ there soon.” Bobby added.

A man an’ woman came out an’ said they paid for a sleigh ride. Said they was three or four others that was wantin’ to take a ride too, but they was married an’ wanted to go alone. Sort of “Romantical” the man said. His wife slugged his arm good naturedly.

Joe Henry an’ Clyde helped them into the back seat an’ Clyde covered their laps with one of the quilts Aunt Bess provided. They snuggled up like a couple teenagers as Joe Henry an’ Clyde climbed into the front seat. Bobby an’ Charlie took the blankets off as the others loaded the sleigh. With a wave of Joe Henry’s hand they were off. The brass bells jingled an’ rang a wintry tune that brought a lot of the folks in the cabin store to the door.

Bobby told Charlie he was runnin’ out for a while. There is two orchards between Manchester an’ London. He thought he would go an’ see if he could buy some jugs of apple cider an’ mullin’ spices so’s they could offer mulled cider. Charlie said he would stay an’ keep the fire goin’.

That was how ever’ day went from that Wednesday till the Wednesday before Thanksgivin’. Ever’ single day they had folks comin’ to shop, to take rides down to Pine Hollow Christmas Tree Farm. Lois was already doin’ real good as was the cabin store. Rachel was tickled as folks continued to not only buy her prints but talk with her about even doin’ weddin’s an’ special events.

They opened to a lovely day on the Saturday before Thanksgivin’. It snowed a light snow durin’ the night an’ the lane was beautiful. Joe Henry an’ Charlie had the plow blade already on the tractor but hadn’t had to use it yet. They planned to keep the road clear in both directions unless they had a big storm.
Toward evenin’ Joe Henry asked his Aunt Bess an’ Clyde to go over to the house with him. They got into his truck an’ he drove through the woods an’ up to the porch of the house. He helped Aunt Bess in. He had the steps swept off that mornin’ an’ neither Aunt Bess nor Clyde really needed much help.

Though the place was heated with a propane an’ had central heat, Joe Henry kept the ol’ stove burnin’ most days an’ every night. As they took off their coats an’ had a seat he threw another log into the stove before joinin’ them.

“I have a proposal for y’all. Aunt Bess, for you it is more of a strongly worded suggestion. Clyde, y’all both have been drivin’ back an’ forth. You from Danville an’ Aunt Bess from Berea. Y’all ought to consider stayin’ here with me for the next week or so. I’ve already moved up to one of the two bedrooms upstairs. Aunt Bess, you could take the big bedroom. Clyde, you can use the smaller room down the hall from the bathroom.”

They both protested, said they didn’t want to impose, didn’t mind the drive back an’ forth. Didn’t know if they was plannin’ on comin’ ever’ day. Joe Henry chuckled, told them they was ‘bout as hard headed as he was an’ said it was a good idea. They could both pack their suitcases that night an’ come to stay, after church the next day, of course.

“Aunt Bess, you know that Alma Jean what comes an’ cleans for you would take care of your place for a week or so. Clyde, you have someone who can do the same?”

Clyde was real quiet as he considered. Thought about it for a right smart while. He took his big ol’ red hankie out an’ wiped his eyes. Said it did get awful lonely, especially this time of the year. Said he would be glad to do so if Joe Henry didn’t mind. He sat real quiet like for the longest time after that, sorta ponderin’.

Aunt Bess said she thought it would be lovely. She always enjoyed comin’ to the ol’ Carpenter home place. She reminded Joe Henry she grew up on the farm. Said his Grandpa Winston did a lot to the house over the years, but the farm was always home for her.

On Sunday afternoon both Clyde an’ Aunt Bess moved in. Everyone thought it was a great idea. Joe Henry told Bobby he could stay in the other bedroom upstairs any time the weather was bad.

The Sunday afternoon crowd was huge. They were all thrilled an’ excited about Thanksgivin’ week, about Santa’s arrival the Friday after Thanksgivin’. They planned for Michael Lee to get dressed at Joe Henry’s an’ for Clyde an’ Joe Henry to deliver Santa through the woods to the cabin store in the sleigh.

Everyone gathered at Joe Henry’s after 5:00 to plan for Thanksgivin’ week. Aunt Bess an’ Maggie had two crockpots of soup cookin’ low an' slow all day. One had chili an’ the other beef stew. Aunt Bess baked beautiful big crusty loaves of bread to go with the chili an’ stew.

About 5:30 Michael Lee arrived. They hadn’t wanted the customers to see him. Lois arrive just after him. She had several folks at the last minute. They all gathered ‘round the table, joined hands an’ Joe Henry asked the blessin’.

As they ate, Joe Henry was glad for the long harvest style table. Years earlier the Carpenter family gathered on occasion for the different families to enjoy a meal together. As he looked around the table he had an idea.

“Now, y’all, I want to suggest somethin’ an’ it involves some of y’all more than me. Aunt Bess an’ Clyde are stayin’ here for the next week or so. Lois, I don’t know what your plans are, or yours Charlie an' Maggie. However, what do y’all think of us havin’ Thanksgivin’ together right here?”

The idea was quickly agreed to. Aunt Bess would purchase an’ roast the turkey an’ make the dressin’ an’ giblet gravy. Lois would make sweet potato casserole with them pecans an’ brown sugar on top as well as her wonderful yeast rolls. Maggie would cook green beans with ham hocks, mashed taters an’ several pies.

Thanksgivin’ dinner would be at 2:00. They all laughed an’ discussed the plans for their day of Thanks.

Chapter 15
Durin’ his time on Limestone Ridge Road an’ especially the times he would travel to Lexington to visit Mist in the hospital, Joe Henry would make one of his stops the University of Kentucky bookstore. If he was alone and didn’t have anyone with him, he would visit the other small an’ large bookstores around Lexington. He was always a voracious reader an’ spendin’ the evenin’s with his pup Harry Truman was comfortable but offered little in the way of entertainment.

As anyone in the mountains knows, television reception is very limited in the mountains of eastern Kentucky. Folks were startin’ to invest in huge satellite dishes to receive signals, but it was costly. Joe Henry shared an’ antenna high on the hill behind the barns. An antenna wire came down the hill to a signal splitter. Then two wires left the splitter. One to go to Joe Henry’s an’ the other went over to Maggie an’ Charlie’s. They received two channels from Lexington an’ one from Knoxville on a good day. When the weather was bad… nothin’.

In the past months he enlarged his small library of classic science fiction and fantasy with authors like Heinlein, Burroughs an’ Norton. He reread books from C.S. Lewis and Tolkein. A small bookstore owner had a nice variety of fantasy an’ Sci-Fi an’ after meetin’ Joe Henry a time or two, always had a few choice selections set aside under the counter for him to consider.

He also started seekin’ an’ collectin’ books about the flora an’ fauna of Kentucky, about the history of the state, the history of Appalachia. He added to his bookshelves “Dawn comes to the Mountains” by Samuel W. Thomas, “The Crucible”- the story an’ history of Oneida Baptist Institute, a settlement school in eastern Kentucky. The book was written by the founder, James Anderson Burns. He collected an’ read through all the Foxfire books that had been published. He even took home “Stalking the Wild Asparagus” by that Euell Gibbons man. That book an’ the Foxfire books led him to other books about all the plants, nuts, seeds an’ fungi that were edible an’ still pretty easily available in the hills of Appalachia.
As he talked about what he read, he found not only a lot of interest but willingness from Charlie an’ Maggie, his Aunt Bess, Lois an’ even Rachel to talk about the bounty of them hills, but also a willingness to go out an’ forage for many edibles to try. Together they often had wilted greens, made by fryin’ bacon an’ addin’ a bit of vinegar an’ sugar to the bacon grease while still hot. That was poured over the washed an’ cleaned wild greens they collected. Their plates would be filled with names like lambs tongue, “creasy greens” (watercress), wild dandelion, even wild violets. They prepared “chicken of the woods” a mushroom that grows on trees. A few times they found giant “puffballs”, one of Aunt Bess’ favorites. It was a large, round white mushroom that was sliced into “steaks” an’ fried in bacon grease. Add a little salt an’ pepper an’ anyone would chow down on that thing. They ate several recipes prepared from the roots of cattails. The roots tasted like potato when raw an’ tasted much like mashed taters when boiled if some butter, salt an’ pepper was added.

Bobby an’ Charlie took him rabbit an’ squirrel huntin’ many times. It was their favorite pastime an’ they found that though Joe Henry hadn’t hunted since he was a teenager, he still had a sharp eye an’ could walk quiet through the woods. Along the way he learned much wood’s lore. He was like an’ ol’ sponge as he soaked in the stories of them hills, stories of successful deer hunts, of the bravery of the early settlers, includin’ some of his kin.

He smiled as they talked about deer camp an’ remembered those times where fellers got together more to spend time in the woods with other men than anything else. Huntin’ was what it was all about, but deer had become scarce for many years an’ were just makin’ a comeback these days.
Joe Henry told them a lot of people, his ex included thought it was cruel, mean. Charlie tore him up one side an’ down the other when Joe Henry said he could see some of their point. Charlie reminded him that T-Bone steaks didn’t grow on them Styrofoam things.

Charlie said “How do you think early settler fed their families?  Or even our folks? A farmer can’t go out an’ kill ol’ Bossie the milk cow just to have a hamburger. Bringin’ home a deer could provide fresh meat for a hungry family. A fried rabbit or squirrel dumplin’s was a feast for poor families.”

Joe Henry soon learned why it was called “huntin’” an’ not killin’ when they walked miles seekin’ one or two squirrels. He began to not only appreciate but loved the time he spent with the other men. Even though Charlie was in his early seventies an’ Bobby just sixty two compared to Joe Henry’s twenty seven, they just enjoyed each other’s company.

Rachel took him into the hills with her camera an’ they “hunted” with the camera. She would look, pause an’ show him how she tried to frame a shot, tryin’ to get just the right picture in the view finder. She would give him the camera after she took a shot an’ let him do the same. After the photos were developed she would compare his shots to her shots. When she told him he had a “good eye”, he took time to buy a book on photography essentials from the University of Kentucky bookstore. He purchased good used 35 millimeter Canon F-1 from a pawn shop the day Rachel traveled with him to see Mist.
They spent time together lookin’ through their view finders at the beauty of the hills. Joe Henry again realized how shallow his life had become up in Ohio. He just hadn’t seen all that his family knew an’ appreciated. These days were revelations as he took time to just look around.

“Joe Henry, you are bloomin’ before our eyes.” Charlie told him.

“Charlie, I reckon. I’ve been a bloomin’ idiot up till now. About time, don’t you think?” he replied.

No one disagreed.

Some evenin’s, especially on the weekends, Bobby would stop by with his guitar an’ Joe Henry would tune up his fiddle an’ they would play, sing an’ talk for hours. Maggie an’ Charlie would come across the road to join them, a willin’ audience. Charlie would often join them with his tenor. Maggie added her alto voice when she knew the song.
It was a treat when Bobby brought a buddy along that played other instruments. One feller might have a dobro, another a banjo or mandolin. In good weather they sat on the porch an’ the music traveled up an’ down the road. When the weather changed they moved into the big room in Joe Henry’s place. The cool thing about those that visited was many of them were closer to Joe Henry’s age. After a few visits several became friends with Joe Henry an’ would travel to Limestone Ridge on their own to visit an’ play.
Maggie would often ask them to sing “My Old Kentucky home”. She was a big UK basketball fan as were the others. Joe Henry was just startin’ to follow UK basketball when he realized how little he knew an’ how rabid these folks around him was about basketball an’ them Wildcats. Mostly he just listened as they talked players, scores or statistics.

Don’t even think about talkin’ when a game was on the radio. Just sayin’.

Chapter 16

Oh my. Thanksgivin’ dinner was such a wonderful thing there on Limestone Ridge. It was ever’thing Joe Henry hoped it would be. When he moved in he wondered what he would ever do with the long table in the big kitchen. It seemed like that whole room was way too big. He considered puttin’ that big table away in the basement or someplace an’ gettin’ a little ol’ dinette set.

Thanksgivin’ Day was what a long table was for. The breakfasts an’ other meals shared at the home place proved the providence of not only a long table but a big kitchen, a big house. Talk about puttin’ on the feed bag.

It was so quiet as they said a blessin’. They adopted the custom of standin’ ‘round the table an’ holdin’ hands to pray before they ate. Aunt Bess asked if she could pray an’ all agreed. As she prayed, she said thanks for the food, named each one of those around the table an’ sayin’ a special prayer for Mist, the baby within that was soon to be the baby finally out. She prayed hard for Mist who was weaker every day but determined to have her baby.

As she prayed Joe Henry heard the back door quietly open. In just a moment she felt Aunt Bess’ hand let go an’ another hand, cold from the weather slip into his. He opened his eyes an’ turned his head to see Rachel smilin’ at him, coat still on. He grinned big an’ squeezed her hand. She squeezed back. Maggie was on the other side of Joe Henry an’ peeked also. Funny thing was, she squeezed Joe Henry’s hand too.

“Sheesh.” He thought to himself as Aunt Bess finished her prayer. “She’s my Cousin. Good grief.”
Everyone was surprised but glad to see her. Everyone except Aunt Bess. She told those gathered that she found out Rachel wasn’t able to go home to Virginia for Thanksgivin’ so she invited her to come join them. Not a soul minded an’ was glad for her company.

Joe Henry was in the noticin’ mode as they Aunt Bess said her “Amen”. He noticed Aunt Bess squeezed Clyde’s hand too. Caused a normally oblivious Joe Henry to wonder. He made a mental note to ask Maggie or perhaps even Aunt Bess about Clyde.

Folks watched as Maggie, Lois an’ Aunt Bess uncovered the bowls on the side board. She then went to the small table beside the oven where the turkey had been restin’. Meats of any kind need to rest before they are carved, that’s what Aunt Bess an’ Maggie always said. She brought the turkey to the table to the “Oohs” an’ Ahhs” of everyone. Charlie offered to carve an’ he took up the knife like a surgeon.

Joe Henry asked Rachel what she had in the big Tupperware cake container. She grinned an’ told him to follow her. They got up from the table as Charlie was carvin’ the turkey She took the Tupperware cover off to reveal a RED VELVET CAKE! He just stood there for a moment.

“A red velvet cake?” he asked as he used a finger to run along the edge of the cake. “With real actually cooked icin’ instead of that cream cheese stuff most folks make. I am impressed.

Rachel grinned, “I remembered you mentionin’ that it was your Mama’s prize recipe. I asked Bess an’ she just happened to have the recipe. I hope it is as good as your Mama’s.”

“We’ll see.” He said good naturedly.

They joined the others at the table an’ the bowls were passed around one by one. Plates were filled to overflowin’ for just a moment or two as they ate. Plates were refilled an’ finally it was time for dessert.
Rachel brought the cake to the table. Maggie sat an apple pie on the table along with a pecan pie. Bobby had vanilla ice cream in the freezer for anyone who wanted it with their dessert. All the men requested a scoop on their dessert plate along with a small sliver of each.

“Joe Henry, I have a surprise for y’all. That apple pie is from apples Charlie collected down at the ol’ orchard. It is right gnarly but them trees do put off a few good apples. They are pretty good to eat if you catch them when they are ripe. Mostly they are windfall an’ the critters get them.” Maggie told them.
Not too long after they started on the desserts Rachel asked Joe Henry about the Red Velvet cake. He added his “thumbs up” to everyone else’s since his mouth was full. They bragged on the pecan pie an’ all were amazed at just how good the apple pie was.

The phone rang an’ Joe Henry was up to answer it. While he was away the others continued to enjoy the desserts an’ chat. They wondered why the phone call was takin’ so long until Joe Henry came to the door of the kitchen. He stood in the doorway, leaned on the side of the doorframe for a long while. The others got quiet as they waited.

“That was Vince. Mist, Mist... She won’t make it through the next couple days. She begged them to make sure the baby was delivered. She wants to see her baby, to hold it in her arms. It is still a little early, but they don’t have a choice now. The doctors are goin’ to do a C-section in a couple hours. They have called a specialist in from Cincinnati. He was finishin’ up his dinner and is on the road now.”
There was no question for any of them. They all helped to put the food away. Coats were gathered an’ they all piled into Joe Henry an’ Bobby’s truck an’ headed for Lexington an’ University of Kentucky Hospital.

They arrived an’ went up to the maternity ward waitin’ room. Aunt Bess went to the desk to ask about Vince. She met one of the nurses who told her she would get Vince. He came out, hugged Aunt Bess’ neck an’ went down to the waitin’ room with the others. He hugged each of them, cried when he got to Joe Henry. He hugged Joe Henry’s neck an’ just sobbed.

Joe Henry felt helpless. He hugged Vince tight. The others gathered ‘round them an’ Aunt Bess prayed for Vince, for Mist an’ for the baby. She asked the Lord to be with the physicians, to guide their hands. She begged God to find a way to work a miracle an’ save Mist’s life. As she prayed the others wept, knowin’ that prayer was one that would not be answered.

Vince went back to the delivery room. The others walked, prayed an’ wept through the next several hours. Just a few minutes after 7:00 p.m. Vince came out to see them.

“I have a daughter. Mist wants me to name her Misty Dawn. She is awake now an’ wants to see y’all.

Chapter 17
One by one they all went in to see Mist. She was weak, her voice thin an’ low but she was glad to see them. She asked each to be sure an’ take care of Vince an’ Misty Dawn. Each promised in their turn to do all they could for her husband ab’ baby girl. Vince sat beside the bed an’ held her hand.

After they all had opportunity to spend time with Mist they gathered in the waitin’ room. The next day was the big day for the cabin store, the Pine Hollow Christmas Tree Farm. Santa was going to be there. Flyers an’ announcements were all over the counties around the farm. They decided to leave Aunt Bess an’ Joe Henry at the hospital. Lois could handle the sale of Christmas trees along with the young men that often helped her. Rachel would help Maggie an’ Charlie with the cabin store when she wasn’t takin’ photos an’ Clyde an’ Bobby would drive the sleigh.

Aunt Bess asked Bobby to go to her place an’ get a few things to bring back for her stay at the hospital. Joe Henry said he would be fine. The others prayed once again with Vince an’ left for home. Aunt Bess an’ Joe Henry settled in to wait. Bobby was back soon with a small bag filled with the things Aunt Bess asked him to pick up for her.

Neither of them said much as they sat. Aunt Bess had Bobby bring her Bible an’ he Sunday School book. She also had Bobby grab a notebook filled with the genealogy research she worked on for the last thirty years or so. She sorta figured Joe Henry could use a good dose of “who you are” as they waited together.

Joe Henry called Maggie later in the evenin’ to make sure everyone got back alright. He gave the update that basically was no news. The told Vince not to worry about them, to stay with Mist. He agreed an’ left them to stand vigil in the waitin’ room.

It was about 4:20 in the early mornin’ when Vince came to the waitin’ room an’ told them to come quickly. Mist asked for Aunt Bess. They followed him into her room an’ she smiled at them. She had oxygen goin’, an’ IV an’ a nurse by her side. They walked to the left side of the bed an’ the nurse moved so they could get close. Vince sat back in the chair on her right side, took her hand an’ laid his head on her hand.

She asked Aunt Bess to pray, told her she knew there was no more miracles. Baby Misty Dawn was the only miracle she prayed for. She turned to the left and asked the nurse if the baby was OK. The nurse, who thought she had seen enough to make her callous to the woes of sickness an’ dyin’ had tears in her eyes as she nodded an’ assured Mist that the baby was fine, was wonderful. She weighed five pounds four ounces which was really good for how early she was.

“We done good, Vince. We done good. Don’t cry sweetheart. I don’t mind dyin’. I ain’t afraid. I’m ready to go on home. I know where I’m goin’. I’m ready to see Heaven an’ my Lord, Vince. Don’t cry sweetie.” Mist whispered.

Chairs were brought in for Joe Henry an’ Aunt Bess. They sat with Vince through the early mornin’ hours. Mist whispered her love time an’ again to her husband. He whispered his love to her. She told him not to morn forever, to find a good Mommy for their baby. She made him promise he wouldn’t mourn an’ wait.

Aunt Bess told Mist she would make sure that Vince an’ Mist would be well taken care of. Mist whispered Vince’s name an’ Misty Dawn one more time an’ was quiet for ever so long. Her breathin’ slowed an’ finally stopped. The nurse stepped away an’ out of the room. In a moment a doctor came in to listen, look at the clock an’ set Mist’s homegoin’ time. He told them to stay as long as they needed.
Aunt Bess an’ Joe Henry sat with Vince for about fifteen minutes then excused themselves an’ went to the waitin’ room. An hour or so later Vince came out to join them. He told them he provided the name of the funeral home back in Hyden an’ someone would be there shortly. He sat quiet for ever so long before he took a deep breath an’ turned to Aunt Bess.

“Bess, we don’t really have any place to bury Mist. She hadn’t really had a real home for a long time. Our little home on Limestone Ridge was the only home she ever loved. We’ve been talkin’, you see. She wants to be cremated but we want to know if she can be buried in your Carpenter family cemetery. I know she ain’t family, but we don’t have anywhere else to go.” He said through his tears.
“Oh honey, of course you can. Do you have enough to pay for everything? Do you need anything?” Aunt Bess asked.

“I don’t know, Bess. We ain’t been married that long. I don’t know what she had or didn’t have. I just don’t know.” He told her then added, “I don’t want to bury her till sometime next week. I don’t want to always remember this weekend as the when I buried Mist.

“Don’t worry, Vince. Don’t worry. We’ll figure it out.” She told Vince.

The hospital staff apparently passed word around that Mist died. A right nosy social worker came an’ asked to visit with Vince for a moment after Mist’s body was taken out. Though the social worker suggested they speak alone, Vince refused an’ said his “family” was to stay. She then proceeded to tell Vince how difficult it would be for a single father to care for a newborn. Of course, “the baby” would need to stay at the hospital for a bit since she was delivered so early…

Vince quickly told the woman his daughter’s name was Misty Dawn, not “the baby”. The woman apologized an’ continued with how difficult it would be, him bein’ a man an’ all. Said he obviously had little experience raisin’ a child an’ her job was to have the baby’s best interest in mind.

Aunt Bess interrupted, “What exactly are you getting’ at lady?”

“Excuse me madam, but I am speaking with this new father who has no idea how to take care of a child. It obviously is not your concern.” The social worker said as she turned back to Vince.

“As I was saying, you have no experience as a father and your spouse has passed. It is our opinion that the best thing a man like you can do for your child is to give it up for adoption…”

Oh my. She couldn’t have hurt Vince more if she stabbed him in the heart with a butcher knife. He sat back wide eyed, stunned. Tears started to fall. He shook his head “no” but words didn’t come out.

The Bess Asher stood up to her full height over the social worker. “A few things for you to understand as you get out of here lady. First, my name is Bess Asher, I am a lawyer an’ still registered with the Kentucky Bar Association an’ have represented Vince AN’ Mist for some time now. Second, I’ve spent a lot of time with Vince an’ the mother over the past months. I know it was always the intention of Mist an’ Vince to raise that precious baby. Third, are you writin’ this down in your little clipboard of forms? You better be, ‘cause I am reportin’ you to this hospital’s Medical Ethics Board. This man just lost his wife an’ Misty Dawn’s mama for goodness sakes.”

The social worker sat stunned. Bess looked at her an’ pointed to the clipboard until she started writin’ notes at Bess’ direction. Bess waited till she stopped writin’.

“Now, the man has a whole group of family an’ friends livin’ all around him that plans to help him care for his daughter, includin’ me. We will be right by his side along the way. I have had children as have Maggie, Margaret Allen an’ Lois Jones. We are all related an’ are this man an’ his daughter’s support system. I can assure you he will have no problem raisin’ this child.”

Bess reached for her pocketbook, opened it an’ took out two business cards. “This is my card an’ it includes my phone number an’ mailin’ address. At this point if you or any others of your ilk wish to talk with Vince, make your official visits or inquire as the the well bein’ of that child you WILL contact me first. There will be no exceptions for you or any state or county health care worker. No contact without my approval an’ supervised by me. Do you understand?”

The social worker shook her head, wrote a few more notes on her forms. She sat there for another moment.

“You may leave now. I do expect a formal letter of apology from the hospital to Vince concernin’ this breach of good taste.” Bess added.

They sat for a few minutes after the social worker left. Vince was quiet but Bess told him not to worry. He was goin’ to be fine. Misty Dawn would be fine an’ they all would be there to help him. After a moment Vince started to laugh. Joe Henry joined him an’ finally Aunt Bess did also.

“Lord a mercy, Bess Asher. You cleaned her clock. I ain’t never seen you so angry. You seemed like you was gonna eat her alive.” Vince laughed.

They all agreed it did them good on such a hard day. They all went to the nursery area an’ stood lookin’ at Misty Dawn. She was in one of them baby incubator things. The nurses motioned for Vince to come to a door at the end of the hall. She met him, had him wash up an’ put on disposable gown, shoes an’ head cover. He was then able to stand by the incubator an’ touch his daughter through the openin’s on the side. He stood there, holdin’ her little hand for ever so long.

A good bit later they left the nursery area an’ went downstairs. Vince had his van there an’ he agreed to leave with them an’ go home to get some sleep. He could come back the next day to see his daughter again. They all walked out to the parkin’ lot an’ stood together for a while, quiet an’ reflectin’ on all that happened in the last hours. Eventually they got into their vehicles an’ left for Limestone Ridge.

Chapter 18
Friday was a day that few of the folks up on Limestone Ridge Road will forget. Most of all the loss of their dear Mist will forever be in their minds. They determined not to bother Vince as he definitely needed to sleep an’ planned to get back to University of Kentucky Hospital to be there with his baby girl, Misty Dawn. Even though he could only go in once an’ hour he planned on bein’ there as much as he could durin’ the next two or three weeks the doctors expected her to be there.
All around him the day was what they all hoped for. Cold with just a sprinklin’ of snow, clear skies an’ no forecast of bad weather for the weekend. About 7:30, before they opened the cabin store an’ the Pine Hollow Christmas Tree Farm, Bobby Clark showed up. He told everyone he had a surprise to show them. They all came out to the front of the cabin store. He walked to the bed of his truck an’ lifted out somethin’ long, large an’ flat. They all wondered what sort of surprise it was till Bobby unwrapped it.
Under the wraps was a beautiful sign that said, “The Cabin Store” in big beautiful letters. Underneath, in smaller letters were the words “At Carpenter’s Bee Tree Farm”. When he held the sign up for all to see, well, they clapped an’ cheered.
“I hope I ain’t steppin’ out where I shouldn’t be. I remember what Rick an’ Mazie suggested about havin’ names for these places an’ such. We have been callin’ this the cabin store from the beginnin’. I just thought that was perfect an’ had this made for the store as my gift.” Bobby told them.
No one was displeased. They all loved it. Maggie said they needed business cards with that name on it that folks could take along when they shopped. Needed that on future flyers they might pass out.
Bobby had Charlie an’ Clyde help his mount the sign on the side of the cabin store, right by the door. The women had to rearrange a few wreaths an’ some mistletoe that the sign displaced. After the sign was in place they all stood back to admire the sign. It was just what the place needed.
When Michael Lee arrived earlier Clyde met him at the door an’ told him Aunt Bess an’ Joe Henry arrived home in the early mornin’ an’ were still asleep. He quietly changed into his Santa suit an’ waited in the livin’ room for his grand entrance.
Clyde an’ Charlie took the horses, Bud an’ Babe out of their stalls earlier. The fed them grain an’ feed while they were brushed. The mules, Sug an' Bob stuck their heads out of their stalls when they smelled the molasses in the grain. Clyde grinned an' fed them some grain too.
Clyde worked on their manes an’ tails as Charlie brushed their coats well. They positioned the horses in front of the sleigh, harnessed them, an’ made sure all the bells were secure. They threw the blankets over their backs to wait for the appointed time.
The cabin store was to open at 9:00 a.m. with Santa wasn’t to arrive till 10:00. Clyde could see Bobby doin’ parkin’ duty as he looked up the path leadin’ to the cabin store. Folks started arrivin’ at 8:30, thirty minutes before the openin’ time. They decided they better go ahead an’ open the store early.
Aunt Bess had purchased two of them big ol’ 100 cup coffee urns like churches have. One held coffee an’ the other mulled cider. Cups, sugar an’ a big container of powder creamer were placed beside the urns as well as a jar with a lid. A sign told folks the coffee an’ cider was for sale but on the honor system an’ to pay by puttin’ their money in the jar.
Rachel was there an’ had a hat on with felt “elf ears” as she arranged her cameras, tripods an’ lightin’ in front of Santa’s chair. She grinned from ear to ear the whole mornin’. She also made little tickets so folks could purchase a ticket at the register to have pictures taken with Santa. She was so excited that mornin’.
They all gathered earlier to have a bite of breakfast at Joe Henry’s house. They were all subdued by the terrible news an’ said little. Before they left they gathered, joined hands an’ prayed as had become their custom. They prayed for the day but mostly remembered Vince an’ baby Misty Dawn.
The women gathered once again just before openin’ the door to say a quick prayer. Then it was a flurry of activity. The parkin’ area was fillin’ fast. Folks were buyin’ but not leavin’. A number of folks asked about sleigh rides, but no rides could happen till after Santa arrived.
At 10:00 sharp Santa stepped into the back seat of the sleigh. Clyde climbed into the front an’ picked up the reins. Charlie walked to the edge of the trees to watch an’ motion Clyde to head out. Bobby had to clear folks away from the sleigh’s path. So many parents was there with their kids. It was amazin’ to behold.
Bobby motions to Charlie. Charlie motions to Clyde an’ the sleigh was off. It jingled an’ jangled a Christmas-y tune as they came through the trees an’ to the front of the store. Michael Lee/Santa stood an’ laughed a hearty “ho-ho-ho” as they rode up. Kids got away from parents an’ were all around as Santa exited the sleigh.
Thankfully Rachel had the forethought to make the posts an’ ropes days before. The line to see Santa was along the front wall an’ out the door before they knew it. Kids waited patiently in line an’ parents shopped. It was incredible.
With all the sounds of bells, children an’ adults cheerin’ an’ shoutin’ it was impossible for Aunt Bess an’ Joe Henry to stay in bed. They both were up, got cleaned up an’ had a quick bite of leftover breakfast along with a cup of coffee before they walked through the trees an’ to the cabin store. They stopped at the fire pit to say howdy to Charlie, Bobby an’ Clyde before plungin’ into the crowd an’ enterin’ the store about 10:45.
Joe Henry saw Rachel an’ waved. She waved back but had damp eyes. He went over to see what was wrong. Santa stood up an’ joined them. That big ol’ man was a little tearful too as they whispered together.
“Joe Henry, several Mamas an’ Daddies have asked for Santa not to make any promises about presents. We all knew a lot of kids that might come would be from families that don’t have much. We just have been broken hearted. Santa is doin’ good at not getting’ teary, but it is so hard. It just makes me want to hug these babies.” Rachel whispered.
Santa nodded an’ wiped his eyes. He turned, chuckled a “ho-ho-ho” an’ asked who was next. Michael Lee was so amazin’ that day. He WAS Santa for all who saw him. He never promised anything, he just listened, loved an’ took time for each little boy an’ girl.
Joe Henry went back to the fire pit with eyes just as wet as Rachel’s. He told the others what Rachel an’ Santa told him. They all sat quiet for ever so long. All their eyes was wet with tears. Then Clyde spoke up.
“Joe Henry, Charlie, Bobby, do y’all think you can take care of the sleigh rides an’ the horses? Bess, I need you to take a ride with me. We’ll be back later.” He asked.
The men all said they would be fine. Bess seemed to know just what Clyde had on his mind as they left together. They said since the path back to the house was a bit slick, they better hold on to each other so’s they wouldn’t slip. Joe Henry watched them go an’ pondered on the fact that Aunt Bess wouldn’t take his arm as they walked from the house. She said it weren’t slick an’ she didn’t need no help.
Clyde stopped in the house, asked Bess if he could make a couple long distance calls. He said he would pay for the calls later. She told him to hush an’ make the calls. He told Bess what he had in mind an’ she agreed. She made a quick call as well. It was about twenty minutes later that they was ready to go. They loaded up into his truck an’ were on their way.
The whole day was busy. It was more than anyone expected. They had to make a sign to tell folks Santa was on a break so he could get somethin’ to eat at 1:00 an’ several times so’s he could go to the restroom.
About 3:00 Clyde an’ Bess came rollin’ up to the barn in his truck. The truck bed was loaded high with boxes. Clyde got out, motioned to Bobby to come help him. Bess was already openin’ to door to the barn when bobby walked up. The barn had a concrete floor an’ was always dry. There was one room that the family always kept up inside. It had a good door an’ sheet metal on the outside of the walls to keep critters out. They unloaded the boxes into that room quickly.
Bess took three big cloth bags made of red corduroy out of the truck as the men unloaded the boxes. Her call was to a friend that ran a fabric store. When Bess told her what she needed the ladies in the shop got to work on sewin’ machines that were for sale in the shop an’ made the bags for Santa. They picked the bags up on the way.
Clyde opened one box to reveal dozens of stuffed animals. Another box held small mesh Christmas stockin’s full of candy an’ treats. Clyde got all damp eyed when he said weren’t another child gonna leave that place empty handed. They had enough for a few days at least. Two wholesale places were orderin’ more an’ would have someone to drive to Tipp Top toy Company in Tipp City, Ohio that was a toy manufacturer to pick up more boxes of stuffed animals an’ Christmas treats to be delivered no later than Tuesday.
Bess, Clyde an’ Bobby filled the three bags. Bobby took two of the bags to the cabin store. The third was ready when the others were empty. Though they couldn’t do anything about the little ones that already left, they made sure every child had both a stuffed animal an’ a treat before they left.
About the time Clyde an’ Bess arrived Vince had come to the cabin store to visit with everyone. When he saw the toys an’ heard about the boxes of other toys waitin’ to be loaded into the red corduroy bags he stepped in an’ made it his job to make sure the bags stayed full. Rachel had another hat with felt elf ears she intended for Joe Henry, but she placed that hat on Vince’s head. He looked to see his reflection in a window. He nodded his approval an’ wore the hat for the rest of the day. He told Joe Henry he couldn’t just sit around that day. He had too much on his mind.
On a trip to the Pine Tree Christmas Tree Farm Joe Henry learned from Lois that the day was exceedin’ her expectations. She was sellin’ more trees than ever. Dozens of folks were cuttin’ their own trees. She called in both the young men that worked for her to keep up. She grinned constantly as she waved goodbye an’ went to help another customer.
It was way past closin’ time when the last customer left. Clyde an’ Charlie rode Santa back to Joe Henry’s place an’ took Bud an’ Babe to the barn where they were brushed good, put in their stalls an’ rewarded with extra grain an’ feed.
Maggie had baked a city ham, sliced it an’ put it in Joe Henry’s Frigidaire earlier. Lois baked several loaves of bread. Everyone made their way to Joe Henry’s an’ gathered for a quick bite. They all were worn out. They convinced Vince to share the meal with them before he went home. He was goin’ to the hospital the next morning.
As they ate Joe Henry suggested that Aunt Bess an’ Clyde stay with him a little longer than the weekend, especially since Mist’s memorial service wouldn’t be right away. Maggie agreed an’ said the weather was changin’ from day to day an’ she would feel better if they weren’t on the road goin’ to their respective homes. They looked at each other an’ looked back to Joe Henry.
“You sure I ain’t a bother, Joe Henry?” Clyde asked. “I wouldn’t mind enjoyin’ y’all’s company.”
“Not at all, Clyde. How about you, Aunt Bess?” Joe Henry asked.
“Well, if you are fine with a couple old folks, well I wouldn’t mind a bit.” She said as she gave Clyde a wink that she thought no one would notice.
Joe Henry did notice.
Clyde gave Vince keys to his farm outside Danville. It was only about 28 miles to the hospital from his place. Vince tried to say no, but Clyde was as hard to argue with as Joe Henry’s Aunt Bess. He took the keys an’ Clyde wrote down the directions to his farm an’ from his farm to the hospital. He told Vince they was plenty to eat in the Frigidaire an’ pantry an’ to help himself. He also shook Vince’s hand an’ palmed $200 into Vince’s hand. When Vince opened his mouth to protest Clyde gave him a look an’ Vince smiled a sad smile an’ hugged Clyde’s neck.
Friday was just the beginnin’. The whole Christmas Season was to be just as wonderful.

Chapter 19
Joe Henry knew that Mist had requested to only have a grave side service. Vince already contacted Brother Shelly who was saddened but had been visitin’ Mist on a regular basis an’ had been asked by Mist an’ Vince to preach her graveside service. Aunt Bess made contact with him to give him directions to the Carpenter Family Cemetery there on Limestone Ridge Road.
Joe Henry remembered it well. It was not too far past the low water bridge he first traveled across when he arrived. It was on a small hill to the left of the road with a gravel path goin’ part way up the hill. He had no opportunity to walk through it yet so didn’t know much about it.
Aunt Bess made a call an’ talked with Ronald Hyde from the Hyde Brothers Funeral Home in Hyden an’ arranged to pay the entire bill for Vince but asked that he not know it was her that paid.
Charlie an’ Bobby asked if they could prepare Mist’s final restin’ place. Since it was only an urn a big ol’ the backhoe the Hyde Brothers Funeral Home usually used weren’t needed. Bobby had a two man post hole auger they dug the grave with. It was plenty deep an’ wide enough for the burial. Hyde Brothers came to set up the tent, put down some AstroTurf around the small grave an’ place chairs inside the tent.
Vince planned the graveside service for 10:30 on Saturday, December 2nd so everyone in his small family could be there. Lois, Joe Henry an; the others insisted on a Saturday so his family could come. They put signs up an’ a notice in the paper that both the store an’ Christmas tree farm would be closed that day’.
Folks gathered at the foot of the small hill an’ walked up to the tent. Brother Shelly an’ Vince walked together at the head of the group. His family, his Mama, Daddy, two brothers an’ their families walked behind him an’ the folks from the area there were at the back of the group.
It wasn’t terribly cold that mornin’, but the wind was fierce an’ made the day feel colder than it was. With Bobby leadin’ they sang “Wayfarin’ Stranger” an’ will the Circle be Unbroken” before Brother Shelly spoke. He knew Misty better than anyone there in many ways an’ shared several stories that even Vince had not heard. He shared a warm message, remindin’ folks that Mist had become a Christian several years ago an’ told him more than once she was prepared to die. He said she had made her peach with the Lord an’ just wanted her baby girl to have a good life.
By the way, Mist’s father had been served with a protection order, tellin’ him he had to stay away from Vince an’ baby Misty Dawn. A deputy sherrif served the papers an’ told him to not even consider crashin’ Mist’s Memorial Service.
Vince left the urn on the small table when he left with his family. Ronald Hyde had already told Vince they would take care of things an’ he need not stay unless he wanted to. Vince asked to not stay an’ watch.
Maggie, Lois an’ Aunt Bess had prepared a meal for everyone that was already at Joe Henry’s place. Though he asked them to join his family for a meal, everyone from the ridge felt he also needed to spend time with his Mama, Daddy, brothers an’ their families.
The men from the Hyde Brothers Funeral Home completed the burial, took down the tent an’ loaded the tent, chairs an’ AstroTurf onto trucks. Aunt Bess took Joe Henry to meet his ancestors buried on the hillside. She invited Rachel to walk with her as some of the ancestors were also related to her.
They went from stone to stone, grave to grave as Aunt Bess told of each family member buried there. She pointed out her Mama an’ Daddy, Joe Henry’s Grandparents, her brothers buried beside them. She took them toward the back of the cemetery an’ pointed out the stones of his Great Grandparents an’ other relatives. Finally, she walked a few steps an’ pointed to four graves, side by side.
“The four Carpenter brothers, Joe Henry. The original settlers. Their families are buried all around.” Aunt Bess told him. “They are Daniel, your Great Great Grandpa, Joe Henry, Abraham, Judah an’ Jacob.”
She pointed at the tombstones as she spoke. They walked closer so they could read the time worn stones. Rachel leaned into him an’ took Aunt Bess’ hand.
“So, these four are related to me too, right?” Rachel asked.
“Yes, they are. Rachel, there was a fifth brother too. You might already know that. His name was Isham.” Aunt Bess explained.
“Wait, Isham Carpenter was one of my ancestors.” Rachel said.
“He was. He was your Great Great Grandpa, Rachel. He was the oldest an’ he stayed home to work the family farm in Hawkins County, Tennessee with his Daddy, David Carpenter. Isham had a daughter, Sarah who married Albert McNew. Albert McNew an’ Sarah Carpenter are your Great Grandparents.” Aunt Bess told her.
“I reckon I’m not as well versed on my family tree as I thought.” Rachel chuckled.
“Join the crowd, Rachel.” Joe Henry smiled. “I know so little about the Carpenter family tree it is shameful.”
“So, what does that make us, Bess?” Rachel wondered.
“That would make y’all fourth cousins, sweetie.” Aunt Bess smiled as she answered.
Rachel turned an’ kissed Joe Henry on the cheek. “See Joe Henry, we can be kissin’ Cousins!”
“I hear that kind of stuff is good to know here in the mountains. Don’t want folks not knowin’ who they are kin to an’ havin’ tater head babies or some such.” He replied.
Rachel laughed an’ slapped his arm an’ Aunt Bess looked right fierce at him over her glasses.

Chapter 20
A few days before Mist’s funeral service Vince was home from the hospital an’ Clyde’s place where he was stayin’. He mentioned he wished he had room for his Mama an’ Daddy as well as his two brothers an’ their families to stay Saturday night an’ go home on Sunday. He planned for his folks to stay with him an’ follow him to the hospital the next mornin’ as they went home. That was all the folks on the Ridge needed to hear before they got to work.
Joe Henry, Aunt Bess an’ Clyde put their heads together an’ talked with Lois, Maggie an’ Charlie. After their plans were in place, they sat down with Vince to explain how the weekend would go.
Joe Henry was the ring leader an’ spoke for the group. “OK Vince, here’s what you are gonna do. The womenfolk are gonna prepare a meal for everyone after the funeral. We will have it at my place since there is room for us all there. We all want to get to know your family.”
Vince nodded an’ his eyes began to well up with tears.
“Also, put some clean sheets on the beds in both of your bedrooms. Clyde an’ Aunt Bess are gonna be stayin there Saturday night. I’m bunkin’ at Charlie an’ Maggie’s for the night an’ you an’ your family will have this place for Saturday evenin’. There are four bedrooms so they can stay till Sunday an’ follow you to the hospital then. Your two brothers have kids? How many? Joe Henry asked.
“Brian has two boys. One is seven an’ the other is nine. Clint has one boy who is ten, I think. But, Joe Henry, that is too much.” Vince answered.
“Just hush an’ say thank you, brother. So, here’s what we will do. We’ll put each of your brothers an’ their wives in one of the bedrooms downstairs. I think we have enough sleepin’ bags for the three cousins. They can camp out in the livin’ room together. I’ll make sure they have flashlights an’ maybe some comic books or things to make it seem like an’ adventure. You an’ your folks can take the bedrooms upstairs.”
Maggie spoke up. I’ll be over with Bess an’ Lois to make breakfast here early so’s some of us can get to church that mornin’. Let everyone know I’m comin’ in at 7:00 a.m. sharp so they better not wander around nekkid. I’ve baked another ham an’ we’ll have leftovers. I’ll fry some ham up an’ make pancakes with real maple syrup. They youngin’s won’t want to go home when I’m through feedin’ them.”
By the time Aunt Bess, Rachel an’ Joe Henry walked in the door, Lois an’ Maggie had food on the side board, ice in a bowl, a big jug of sweet team made as well as the Mr. Coffee spittin’ out fresh coffee. Vince introduced the trio to his family again an’ they all chatted while the rest of the food was placed on the side board.
There was a huge platter of sliced city ham, more of Lois’ hame made bread, fresh, hot biscuits and fresh butter, plenty of honey in several varieties plus scuppernong jelly. They had tater salad, macaroni salad, ambrosia fruit salad with them little bitty mushmallows. Aunt Bess cooked a huge pot of her green beans with the butt end of Maggie’s ham. Green beans that Joe Henry helped her can back earlier in the year. There were a couple pies too. Clyde surprised everyone with big plates of his own home-made fudge an’ tater candy.
As always, they all joined hands to say a prayer an’ blessin’. This time they gathered in the livin’ room since there were so many of them. Joe Henry counted ten in Vince’s clan, Maggie an’ Charlie, Lois, Aunt Bess, Clyde, Bobby an’ he almost forgot to count himself. Seventeen folks gathered together.
Vince’s Daddy Kenny asked if he could say the blessin’ an’ all smiled as they quickly agreed. He asked the Lord to bless the food. Then he asked God to watch over that little baby Misty Dawn, to comfort his son as he grieved, to comfort him an’ his wife, the brothers an’ their families. To comfort all of them. He asked God to show Vince the paths he should take to raise that granddaughter right. He asked that each of those gathered together be blessed a double portion. He thanked God an’ those gathered for lovin’ an’ carin’ for his son, Vince.
By the time he got to the ‘amen” they all was boo-hoo-in’ like babies. They was huggin’ all around an’ Joe Henry got a box of tissues to hand around. Charlie an’ Clyde had big ol’ red hankies out an’ was honkin’ their noses like a flock of geese was overhead. That made everyone laugh.
Aunt Bess took over as traffic controller, tellin’ Vince an’ his folks to go first, then the brothers an’ their clan. The folks what lived on the ridge helped everyone get their plates filled. The grownups were seated at the big table an’ the three cousins had a card table set up just for them. It was complete with a tablecloth, several little green plastic army men at each plate with their names taped to them so they knew where to sit. Joe Henry told the boys they could keep the army men. He became their hero right then an’ there. They didn’t grouse about not sittin’ at the big table. Their army men had a few battles around the ham sandwiches as they ate.
Bobby an’ Clyde quickly became the heroes when they suggested they hitch up the sleigh an’ take the boys for a sleigh ride. For the next two hours they went from one end of Limestone Ridge Road to the other, back an’ forth.
At one point Lois waited by the road as they came by an’ suggested they go to her place an’ the boys could explore the Christmas tree farm with her. She told them she would make them all hot chocolate. Clyde asked if the grownups could get in on the hot chocolate an’ Lois laughed an’ told him maybe, if they acted right.
Late in the day the boys were delivered to Joe Henry’s place. Maggie an’ Charlie told Bobby to stay with them an’ Joe Henry that night so’s he wouldn’t have to drive home. Lois had been left at her place on the last trip to the Christmas tree farm. Clyde an’ Aunt Bess got into his truck to go to Vince’s place for the night. Clyde had a smile on his face as he helped aunt Bess into the truck.
Joe Henry watched them as he walked toward Charlie an’ Maggie’s place. He definitely needed to ask someone about them two.

Chapter 21
Maggie was up an’ at Joe Henry’s place at 7:00 a.m. as promised. Vince’s Mama an’ Daddy were already dressed an’ in the kitchen. Joe Henry set the timer on the Mr. Coffee the night before an’ they each had a cup of coffee. Maggie grabbed a cup out of the cupboard an’ joined them for a moment or two. They visited, talked about Vince, worried together about the baby.
Vince’s Mama reminded Maggie her name was Mary an’ Vince’s Daddy was Kenny. She suggested helpin’ Maggie fix breakfast an’ Mary quickly agreed. Mary cut the ham slices in half as Maggie made the pancake batter. Mary asked about the maple syrup an’ put Kenny to work openin’ the jug, pourin’ syrup out into the small Fiesta ware pitcher Joe Henry used for syrup an’ settin’ it in the microwave to be heated up later.
“Kenny, you can be settin’ the table while we work. Don’t just stand around like a pillar or piece of furniture. Get your sorry self movin’.” She told her husband with a smile an’ poke in the ribs.
“Now Mary, I know from your accent you ain’t no Yankee nor from up in Sandusky where y’all are livin’. Where ‘bouts are you from, girl?” Maggie asked.
“My, oh my, Maggie, ain’t from nowhere you would know. I am proud to be from real close to Frog Level, Virginia. It ain’t too far, maybe three or four miles from Tazwell, if you know where that is.” Mary told her.
“Well, I ain’t got a clue about Frog Level, but I know Tazwell real good. Been through there many a times. Went over that ol’ Clinch Mountain with Charlie to go to the Cherokee Lake to fish for crappie. Him an’ a few fellers went there most every year for a long time to fish.” Maggie went on.
They both agreed that goin’ over Clinch Mountain took either a pillow sack over their head or a snort of whiskey. It was a windin’ an’ curvy road with straight down drop offs not but a few feet off the road. They laughed an’ returned to getting’ breakfast ready.
Maggie pointed out where the silverware, plates, glasses an’ such were. She suggested the three cousins be served in mason jars. She thought they would like that. The butter was already out an’ in a covered dish on the table as was the salt an’ a pepper grinder.
“Maggie, I’m sure glas to see a pepper mill on the table. I ain’t much for that ground up stuff that sets around for years an’ years. We use that iodized salt since they watch my thyroid or I’d be usin’ kosher or sea salt all the time. I still use them to cook instead of that table salt.”
Maggie answered as she was stirrin’ the pancake batter, “You know that’s right. An’ you want to know somethin’ else? Folks even use that iodized table salt when they can. Want to spoil pickles an’ such, use that table salt instead of cannin’ salt. An’ don’t even get me started on that margarine instead of real butter. We get milk, a little cream an’ butter from a feller down the road a piece. He has one of them little home use pasturizin’ machines, don’t you know? Had to break Joe Henry from that margarine nonsense when he moved down here. Bless his heart.”
Between Kenny’s good natured grousin’, glasses an’ plates clinkin’ an’ the women visitin’ while they cooked, they made enough noise to wake the three boys. When they wandered into the kitchen Maggie told them there was a can of Nestle’s Quik on their table if they was needin’ a little somethin’ before pancakes. Their Grandpa poured the milk an’ they stirred up their chocolate milk in the Mason jars.
They whispered an’ carried on as they drank the chocolate milk an’ got dressed how it was like “olden days” an’ was how the early pioneers lived with sleepin’ bags on the floor an’ drinkin’ out of jars, ridin’ in a horse drawn sleigh an’ all. They then settled onto the sleepin’ bags to put on their socks an’ shoes an’ decide on old time names for themselves.
Maggie mentioned Brian, Clint an’ their wives were up an’ movin’ as she heard the doors openin’ an’ closing, faucets bein’ turned on an’ off. They chatted about Vince’s brothers an’ wives for a bit as Maggie started makin’ pancakes. Mary stepped close to Maggie as they cooked an’ talked in whispers for the longest time.
The front door opened an’ Joe Henry came in with Charlie, Bobby an’ Maggie right behind. Lois came in next with a big ol’ bowl of fried apples. Last of all was Aunt Bess an’ Clyde. They both blushed a little when they came in.
Blushed enough for Aunt Bess to speak up to defend her honor. “Y’all just get any nonsense y’all have out of your minds. We are old as these hills for goodness sakes. Slept in different bedrooms, thank you very much.”
Brian, Clint an’ their wives came down the stairs, hugged necks, said their howdys an’ went for the coffee pot which was already on the second go round. They checked on their boys an’ learned the three loved livin’ out in the wilds of the mountains, just like it was before America even had a name. The grownups all laughed as they asked Clyde an’ Aunt Bess if they knew Daniel Boone.
Vince was the last to join the group. He was just out of the shower an’ told Brian he probably took one of his well-known thirty-minute showers like he did as a kid. Clint’s wife told everyone that he still took showers like that. She an’ their son often would flush the toilet in the other bathroom just to remind him to get out of the shower an’ save them some hot water.
They all joined hands for the blessin’ an’ don’t you know, just before he started the front door opened. They all looked to see Rachel, cheeks ruddy from the cold, hair windblown an’ a smile on her face. Joe Henry told her to get a move on, there were pancakes an’ hungry boys waitin’.
She quickly removed her coat an’ came over to butt in an’ take Joe Henry’s hand. Aunt Bess, Lois an’ Maggie smiled, didn’t look at each other though. They just smiled.
As they ate Vince’s Mama Mary spoke up, “Vince, now, me an’ your Daddy have talked. I ain’t askin’ but am tellin’ you this. We have done already made arrangements with Brian to check on the house.”
She turned to the rest of the folks at the table, “Brian lives close to us up in Ohio, you see. Anyways Vince, Brian will be checkin’ the house while we are gone. We have a baby bed that Brian is givin’ you for baby Misty Dawn. We have the mattress, sheets, bumper pads an’ all. Clint’s neighbors sent baby clothes an’ we have Clint’s trunk full of Pampers their Church sent.”
She continued, “Vince, unless you have a terrible time with it, me an’ your Daddy are gonna stay with you at least through Christmas, maybe the New Year so’s I can help you get that baby girl settled in. You have enough room for us an’ we’ll try not to get in the way. That will give you time to work on your Master’s degree too.”
Vince got up an’ hugged his Mama. The other women told her they were happy to help too. Charlie an’ Joe Henry told Kenny he could come spend time with them whenever he wanted to. Plus, the cabin store an’ Christmas tree farm was goin’ great guns an’ they might need an extra hand.
About that time Joe Henry turned to Aunt Bess an’ Clyde, “I sorta figure y’all might as well hang around too. Bad roads, a long drive home, us needin’ the help at the cabin store an’ all…”
Maggie spoke up before Clyde or Aunt Bess could say anything, “Yes, you are. I’m not gonna be run ragged Bess Asher. An’ Clyde, you already offered for Vince to stay at your place as he went back an’ forth to the hospital. Maybe his Mama an’ Daddy can go stay at your place with Vince till the baby comes home.”
Clyde smiled an’ was already shakin’ his head, “Absolutely. Vince, you don’t have to ask. The beds all have clean sheets on them. I have a chest freezer in the garage plumb full. The pantry is full too. Y’all make yourselves to home. Bein’ with that baby girl is your main job right now folks. You are welcome to all I got.”

Chapter 22
Thanksgivin’ weekend was the busiest for the Cabin Store an’ Pine Hollow Christmas Tree Farm. However, the rest of the days leadin’ up to Christmas were pretty busy considerin’ it was their first year. Michael Lee was there not only on the weekends but in the evenin’s when he could be there. They put a schedule up on a chalkboard they found in the ol’ barn an’ also had it printed in the papers locally.
As they planned for the rest of their season, they had to take a look at the calender an’ their schedules. Christmas Eve was on a Sunday an’ Christmas on Monday. Lois wanted to go an’ spend time with her family so she planned on leavin’ on Friday, December 22nd. Two of Maggie an’ Charlie’s three youngin’s, their son an’ one daughter was plannin’ on comin’ in for Christmas an’ would be arrivin’ on Saturday the 23rd an’ stayin’ till Tuesday. Rachel wanted to go home to be with her parents an’ would be leavin’ on Saturday too.
Michael Lee said Santa could be there on Saturday the 23rd but not on Christmas Eve or Christmas. Clyde an’ Aunt Bess agreed to stay with Joe Henry an’ help cover things at the store an’ tree farm. They all finally decided to have their last day on that Saturday an’ close for the season at 7:00 that evenin’. They felt like the folks still around could cover the store, tree farm an’ sleigh rides.
Vince brought baby Misty Dawn home on Sunday, December 17th. He called the day before to let everyone know the doctors had given his baby gilr a clean bill of health an’ they expected to be home late in the afternoon. Maggie, Lois an’ Aunt Bess got busy preparin’ food for Vince an’ his folks. They already sat up the baby bed an’ things Vince’s folks brought (with his directions on the phone). The made “Welcome Misty Dawn” signs they posted all along the road so Vince would see them as they drove in
It was such a bittersweet homecomin’.
December would always hold wonderful memories for Joe Henry. Though they stayed busy with the Cabin Store an’ sleigh rides, he still had down time durin’ the day an’ evenin’s to spend with his Aunt, Clyde an’ the others. Finally, as he an’ Clyde sat by the fire an’ waited to see if there were folks wantin’ a sleigh ride, Joe Henry got up the nerve to ask his question.
“Clyde, I’m pryin’ here, but I’ve been noticin’ you an’ Aunt Bess have been enjoyin’ each other’s company…” he said cautiously.
Clyde chuckled an’ grinned like a kid caught with their hand in the cookie jar. “You noticed, huh? Reckon the others have too. Well sir, Joe Henry, it actually is nothin’ new. More like the stirrin’ of embers of a love long lost.”
Joe Henry sat quiet like as Clyde stirred the fire with the long stick he was holdin. Clyde stared into the fire an’ didn’t say anything for ever so long.
Clyde looked at Joe Henry an’ continued, “Y’see, Bess was my sweetheart as we was growin’ up. I tormented her when she was a little girl, chased her with handsful of worms, threw sticks at her, even pushed her into the creek a time or two. You know, the things a boy does when he likes a gal. I mooned for her when we were teenagers. Courted her finally an’ loved her from the time we was youngin’s. We promised each other our undyin’ love when I was sixteen an’ she was fifteen.”
“Then the war started. World War One. I was only sixteen when it started, but when I turned eighteen, I decided the good ol’ USA needed me more than my Mama an’ Daddy needed me at home. I joined up. The draft hadn’t started yet, but the newspapers an’ radio was full of the call to arms. I joined up an’ was sent “over there” as the song goes. I spent my last few days at home with Bess. I asked her to wait for me, to marry me when I got back. She told me she would. I wrote to her an’ her to me for a right smart while.”
He paused again then continued, “It was rougher than I imagined. It was terrible. It was wet an’muddy an’… it was war. Muddy trenches, men dyin’. It got to the point that I didn’t write, didn’t know what to say. I didn’t have anything bright, cheerful or comfortin’ to write, Joe Henry. I just stopped writin’. Bess knew I weren’t dead ‘cause my folks would know an’ tell her. I just coldn’t find any words to write. When the war ended in November 1918, well, I was twenty years old an’ sort of a lost soul. I didn’t go home, didn’t write to my folks. I just wandered around, worked odd jobs for a right smart while that year.”
Joe Henry asked, “What about Aunt Bess?”
“Bess figured I forgot her. That’s the same time Floyd Asher came home. Bess was finishin’ school over to Berea at the time. She went on to UK for Law School an’ that is where he met her. He came to court her an’ she figured I no longer cared, was a promise breaker. She found a man that loved her, wanted to be with her. She married your Uncle Floyd an’ I reckon that was meant to be. I came home eventually. I went to college, met my wife Doris an’ did fall madly in love with her. She was the best part of me. I honestly forgot the romance Bess an’ I had as kids.”
“Joe Henry, spendin’ this time here, thanks to you an’ the others, well, we got to talkin’ an’ that ol’ romance just surfaced. We both had happy, wonderful marriages. Neither of us ever strayed, never honestly thought much of the other. We are just both enjoyin’ the company of our childhood sweetheart. We are too old an’ too set in our ways to think about marriage. Me an’ Doris lost our only daughter when her dress caught fire as she stood too close to a coal grate. Doris never got over it. We tried but never could have any more children. Bess an’ Floyd lost a child too, so we have much in common still.”
Joe Henry smiled, “You love her, Clyde?”
“Yes, I do. I reckon I always have. Unrequited love. Unfulfilled love. I’m not sure you’ve found that yet, Joe Henry. It might be peekin’ ‘round, but I suspect you ain’t found real love yet.”
Joe Henry agreed an’ they sat an’ talked about those things men talk about when they get quiet an’ get serious. That was just one of many long conversations they ahd durin’ the days an’ weeks Clyde stayed with Joe Henry. He took that boy under his wings. Gave him so much life advice, listened as Joe Henry talked without comment, without criticisms. More than once Aunt Bess went to her room an’ to bed as they sat an’ talked long into the night.
Chapter 23
One mornin’, about 7:00, Aunt Bess woke to hear Joe Henry an’ Clyde talkin’ quietly. She smelled coffee an’ was surprised to smell biscuits too. When she went into the kitchen Clyde was at the stove finishin’ up some sausage gravy. A pan of beautiful, big ol’ biscuits sat on a couple pot holders on the table. The table was set at one end for the three of them an’ a cup sat beside the Mr. Coffee, waitin’ for her.
Joe Henry was at his place at the table with papers spread out, a ledger book open. Him an’ Clyde was talkin’ back an’ forth, discussin’ Carpenter’s Bee Tree Farm as well as his five-acre farm, twenty-five hives an’ buildin’s. They were discussin’ business, doin’ projections of honey production in the future based on records over the past ten years or so. Projectin’ expected income an’ how long to pay off his little far.
“Clyde, with a normal honey season I can expect up to sixty pounds of honey per year. I think that is a little to aggressive to project on. The harvest is gonna depend on the weather. A spring with lots of rain can wash out all the pollen an’ nectar. A drought in summer can dry up the flowerin’ plants, bushes an’ trees. I’d rather go with an average of forty pounds per hive that Charlie estimates based on his records over the past ten years or so. That would give me maybe a thousand pounds a year from my little bee yard. Apiary, I mean. I need to use the right terms.” He explained to Clyde.
He continued as Clyde stood at the stove, “If I figure a retail price of say $4.00 per one-pound bottle I have a gross income of $4,000. However, rather than sell it retail I need to make it part of the total production of the farm. Easier for me an’ more product. We’ll need to figure that out durin’ the season.”
Clyde finished the sausage gravy, poured it into a bowl, grabbed a big spoon an’ came to the table. He sat on the opposite side of Joe Henry from Aunt Bess. They joined hands; Joe Henry said the blessin’ an’ they all grabbed biscuits an’ ladled on the sausage gravy. Between bites Clyde talked about Joe Henry improvin’ his credit, tax implications of the little farm, deductions, depreciations an’ such.
Aunt Bess just ate, watched an’ listened. Her ol’ heart was swellin’ up like some kind of balloon as she watched those two men she cared for so much. She was pretty amazed at Joe Henry’s grasp on things.
As they ate Aunt Bess turned to Joe Henry, “We’ll sell your honey for you but won’t buy it from you. You purchase the bottles an’ have labels made for your apiary. You bottle the honey an’ we’ll sell it under your label. You keep 100% of the profit. That way you can pay off the loan faster an’ we don’t have to worry about all the bookkeepin’. I expect folks will like the chance to try your honey as well as the Bee Tree brand.”
Clyde told her that Joe Henry had been workin’ on a business plan, wanted him to look it over before he showed it to her. He said it was pretty good, real good actually. The business plan took existin’ production into account at all the Bee Tree properties as well as Joe Henry’s bee yard. Joe Henry had been readin’ articles from several beekeeper magazines he subscribed to as well as a few books he purchased along the way in the past months. He said he would have to redo some of the figures if he separated his place out but that weren’t a big deal.
“Aunt Bess, I think we should consider addin’ on to the honey house. Production is at full capacity with what we have. We currently have the two side wings goin’ off on the one side. I’m suggestin’ we either extend the central buildin’ or add another wing onto the other side. We would need to let a contractor take a look an’ give us suggestions.”
“If we do it off season an’ have some of the contractors around her do it soon we can save money an’ have it ready when honey harvests come. I also think we should increase the climate-controlled area so we can have a greater volume of honey ready an’ not crystalizin’ so we can keep it ready for the Cabin Store an’ folks that buy it wholesale from us.” Joe Henry told her.
He handed her a budget, complete with Clyde’s notes, depreciation an’ tax implications for the accountant to consider. He already called a couple suppliers to get prices of the equipment needed for enlargin’ the climate-controlled area as well as a couple more honey storage tanks. Different options were listed in order of preference.
“What size do you reckon the new wing should be?” she asked with an approvin’ nod.
“At least as big as the other two. Maybe a bit bigger. I’d probably even consider fixin’ up the old barn some an’ make it the place to store boxes, bottles an’ such. Actually, to store other products for the Cabin store too. I can do a right smart bit of that if I can get some of the boys to help, so it wouldn’t cost too much. That way we can dedicate the honey house to extractin’, production an’ honey storage. The supplies wouldn’t take up room we need in the honey house.” he explained.
“Well sir, I do think that is a good idea. Our accountant has been after me to get some more deductions for the business. Too much income an’ too little expenses on equipment an’ such. Joe Henry, I’m puttin’ you in complete charge of the honey house project. Be sure to get Charlie an’ Maggie’s input too. Get started when you can’. Spring honey ain’t that far off.”
“I was sorta thinkin’ the same thing about the ol’ barn. We’ve kept it in pretty good shape all these years but is was a tobacco barn. The concrete floor that was put in years ago is good an’ solid. The one room we used for the stuffed animals is too small to store much but is secure from critters. Why don’t you see about gettin’ the outside fixed up? The roof is in good shape. New boards an’ such to make it more secure an’ sound. Let’s get the inside cleaned out an’ let’s put some kind of walls up. Maybe we can divide it up into a couple rooms. I suspect that should be pretty easy to do. I’d want to insulate it somehow too. Probably should have it wired better. The few lights in the barn might not be enough. There is an ol’ wood stove back in there somewhere. We would use it when we stripped tobacco. I don’t know if it is big enough but we can put a wood stove back in for a little heat when we are in there. Maybe some sort of heat in rooms where we need to store inventory we don’t want to set in the cold. We’ve all sorta talked about tryin’ to keep the Cabin Store open most weekends year-round. I expect we’ll need room for inventory like you said. Mercy sakes. That’s a lot to do. I reckon we have a winter project on our hands.” she said.
“Let’s see if we can pay Bobby to help with the barn, get Charlie involved too. He probably knows a few men that could use the work this winter. Make that our first project. Put Charlie in charge of that with Bobby an’ you doin’ grunt work. Y’all could get that into shape an’ you get a contractor to start lookin’ at the honey house.”
He nodded an’ she continued. “You might want to eventually talk to Vince an’ you an’ him work up a business plan for the lavender farm. He’s been wantin’ to do one, but with all that has gone on, well he just don’t have the time.”
“One more thing, Aunt Bess. Bobby, Clyde an’ Charlie are gonna help me do winter dormant prunin’ down in the old orchard a little later this winter. We’ve already bushhogged an’ mowed around the trees. It looks like there are fourteen trees we can prune an’ bring back. When we was down there nosin’ around, we found tin strips with numbers still hangin’ from them trees. Grandpa, Uncle Rob an’ Uncle Tillman kept records on the orchard an’ numbered the trees for the records. Several are common but ther are two Green River trees, an heirloom Kentucky apple, an Anderson that is from Hawkins County, Tennessee, a Red Hill an’ a couple others we are still lookin’ up. Don’t know how many apples we’ll have next fall, but we are cleanin’ the orchard up an’ we’ll have more than one apple pie from Maggie.”
To say she was surprised an’ impressed would be an understatement. She laughed, shook her head an’ told both men to have at it. To herself she thought many good an’ wonderful things about her Great Nephew.

Chapter One
Just after the New Year Lois came home. She already told everyone she would be bringin’ her older sister Lottie back to live with her. Lois was in her late fifties but her sister Lottie had turned sixty-two last year an’ retired from the pediatrician’s office she worked as a nurse at for the past fifteen years. She was considerin’ one of them retirement trailer park places in Florida. In conversations with Lois she was convinced she was way too young to be doin’ such. Lois told her to move in with her. She could use the company an’ the help. They was both widows an’ sisters that actually not only got along but enjoyed each other’s company.
It also was in Lois’ mind that it wouldn’t hurt to have a nurse around in general. Even better that a pediatric nurse would be around for Misty Dawn. When Lois shared that thought with her Lottie was even more excited to settle in on Limestone Ridge Road.
They arrived on Wednesday, January 3rd. After they got Lottie settled, they made the rounds of the neighborhood. First, they went to meet Maggie an’ Charlie since Maggie was often Lois's partner in crime. Maggie put on a pot of coffee an’ cut the coffee cake she made that mornin’. The women sat at the kitchen table an’ visited. Lois an’ Maggie shared their Christmas visits with their families an’ got up to date with all that was goin’ on. Charlie said his howdy an’ went into the livin’ room to read.
Joe Henry noticed Lois an’ her sister goin’ in over to Maggie an’ Charlie’s an’ walked over to meet Lottie. They visited for just a bit before Joe Henry took a hunk of coffee cake, a cup of coffee an’ joined Charlie in the livin’ room. He wanted to discuss the progress on the barn.
Charlie told him the sawmill was goin’ to deliver boards for the outside of the barn by Friday, two days away. When they had some warm days, they could all start removin’ a few boards at a time an’ replacin’ them. Work inside was already started an’ some of the walls was goin’ up. The insulation in the outer walls had to wait till the boards outside was up. Bobby had a man he knew comin’ in an’ was doin’ the wirin’ already. A lot of that could be completed ahead of time an’ the final wirin’ done as walls was completed.
Charlie also told Joe Henry that the rooms wouldn’t have ceilin’s so the stove could heat most of the barn. They had decided on a stoker style coal stove with a fan instead of a wood stove. The hopper could hold one hundred twenty pounds of the smaller size coal an’ would burn for maybe three days or so on one hopper full. They already made contact with a company to install the stove in the barn.  They would have a vent into the secure room with the metal sides to heat that room as well.
Charlie an’ Bobby talked with Clyde an’ together they decided it might be good to also have a waitin’ room in the barn so’s folks waitin’ for a sleigh ride could be in there instead of sittin’ by the fire outside. That room was mostly finished at the request of Aunt Bess, Maggie an’ Rachel. They built the walls out of recycled barn wood. It did have a ceilin’ as well as several vents to allow the heat to get in. The women were already workin’ on decoratin’ it to suit their tastes.
Joe Henry updated Charlie with the news that a contractor was comin’ the next Monday to take a look at the honey house, give him some ideas an’ put together an estimate. He wanted to be sure Charlie could be there too since Charlie had way more experience with that sort of thing.
Truth be told, both Maggie an’ Charlie was excited about enlargin’ the honey house. It was always a struggle to move things around, find places for everything. It was a constant battle to keep the oldest bottled honey in the front, newly bottled in the back so they could keep things straight. Charlie, Maggie an’ Joe Henry sat more than one time to discuss how the buildin’ could be enlarged.
After Lois an’ Lottie visited with Maggie they left to stop an’ see Vince, his parents an’ most of all Misty Dawn. Vince was thrilled to show his little daughter off. Lois cooed an’ whispered to Misty Dawn as everyone looked on with smiles. Finally, Lottie stepped in, told Vince Lois never did share well. She asked if she could take a good look at the baby girl, explained that she recently retired as a pediatric nurse. Vince got so excited that his new neighbor was a pediatric nurse that he hugged her before she took Misty Dawn into her arms.
Lottie did a quick once over an’ declared Misty Dawn to be perfect, as they all figured anyways. They all sat to talk a bit. Lois an’ Lottie took turns holdin’ Vince’s baby girl as they spoke. Lottie offered help anytime Vince needed it. Lois added her offer of help to her sister’s.
Vince’s Mama, Mary spoke up, “I am sure glad to hear that, y’all. We can only stay for two more weeks. We have to get back home an’ even though Vince has all the folks here to help, I am sure glad to have another two laps to hold this little girl. Vince is doin’ great, but a Grandma still worries.”
Lois suggested the women on the Ridge could work out a schedule with Vince so he would have time for other things, goin’ to the grocery, workin’ on his studies an’ such. Vince thought that was a great idea an’ expressed his gratitude.
When Aunt Bess an’ Clyde each heard Lottie was home with Lois they made their individual ways over about a week later to see the baby again an’ catch up with Lois. Aunt Bess already knew Lottie an’ after a short visit with Clyde there the women coveyed up to chat. Clyde took the hint an’ went back to the ol’ barn to see the work in progress.
Bobby was outside on a ladder pullin’ off ol’ boards. Two men he brought with him was measurin’, sawin’ an’ replacin’ the boards as they were taken down. More boards needed replacin’ than they originally thought, so a second load had been delivered earlier. Bobby an’ Charlie decided on a board an’ batton style for replacin’ the boards. The boards were a foot wide but weren’t like finished lumber as there were little gaps between the boards. The narrow batton boards were nailed over the gaps where two boards came together. That sealed off the spaces between boards an’ made the inside more air tight.
The backside an’ one end was already completed. Clyde went in to see how the inside was comin’ along an’ met Charlie as he was takin’ another roll of insulation back to Joe Henry. The long backside was insulated an’ they were almost done with the end. Joe Henry had a red bandana over his mouth an’ nose to keep the insulation off. When he saw Clyde, he came down the ladder, took off his gloves to shake Clyde’s hand.
Clyde told them not to stop for him, but both agreed a break wasn’t a bad thing when puttin’ up insulation. Charlie had a thermos of coffee an’ some cups to pour them all a cup of coffee as they sat down to visit for a while. Joe Henry went out an’ told them other boys an’ Bobby to come in an’ warm up.  A kerosene heater was providin’ enough heat to keep the chill off inside the barn.
They sat an’ drank coffee, laughed an’ talked about politics, about goin’ fishin’ down to Cherokee Lake in Tennessee when it got warmer. Bobby filled Clyde in on the progress with the barn. They cobbled together a three-sided shed in back of the barn an’ the coal had been delivered the day before. The man from the stove company visited an’ suggested a more central location for the stove as well as overhead fans to circulate the heat better. The electrician installed a bigger circuit breaker box an’ panel an’ was mostly finished with wirin’ the lights an’ outlets. He still had to come back to wire an’ install the fans overhead.
Clyde asked, “When do you expect to be finished, Charlie?”
Charlie paused an’ scratched his head for a moment, “I’m not right sure. Sort of depends on the weather. If we don’t have no big snows, we should be done by first week in February, don’t you think, Bobby?”
Bobby agreed, He thought the outside could be done in a week if it didn’t get real cold, snow or rain. The men helpin’ him agreed an’ then said they wanted to get back to work. Told Bobby to sit an’ visit with his friends, him bein’ an ol’ man an’ all.
Bobby threw one of Joe Henry’s gloves at them as they left. The laughed an’ made faces at Bobby as they ran toward the door.
Bobby mentioned they still had to take the barn doors off the front, rebuild that wall with a regular door an’ install windows so customers could see out when they went to the waitin’ room the women were workin’ on. He already installed two windows in that room at the order of the women. He knew on which side his bread was buttered.
Charlie also pointed out that they had rented a trencher to trench for a water line from the pump as well as tyin’ into the septic tank for the Cabin Store. Off to the side of the waitin’ room the women had insisted on was also a small bathroom for customers. They had to break through the concrete on the back wall to install those lines an’ had someone come in to pour fresh concrete an’ finish that up. There was to be a vinyl floor laid in the bathroom an’ the waitin’ room later. The women said they weren’t havin’ no bare concrete floors.
Joe Henry smiled as Charlie showed Clyde around. Charlie was as proud as could be at the progress. Joe Henry was pretty proud as well. It was lookin’ great.
Clyde an’ Joe Henry went down to check on the horse an’ mules. They looked all four over good, brushed the tails an’ manes. They gave them all some oats an’ corn an’ made sure the sleigh was covered well an’ no critters had taken up residence.
Charlie told Joe Henry to take a longer break an’ go to the house to visit with Clyde. They went in an’ sat in the kitchen to discuss the plans Joe Henry continued to fine tune. He showed Clyde the ideas for the honey house an’ they discussed costs for both the honey house as well as the barn. Joe Henry had a good handle on everything. He had a good business plan that included projections an’ took into account the new buildin’ projects.
Aunt Bess came down from Vince’s place a little later in the afternoon. Maggie stopped her in the drive an’ they both came in to Joe Henry’s home together. Clyde an’ Joe Henry were thick as thieves as they sat an’ talked about ideas for the farm as well as the beginnin’s of a plan for the lavender farm. Vince told Aunt Bess he was workin’ with Joe Henry to develop a five-year plan. He also mentioned that Rick an’ Mazie invited the two of them down to see how the Blue Sky Lavender Farm worked. Aunt Bess remembered her visit an’ thought it was a lovely idea.
“Bess, I’ve got soup beans with a big ol’ hunk of ham in it on the stove over to the house. I’m getting' ready to do a skillet of corn bread. Charlie is about ready to quit for the day an’ Bobby an’ them boys are loadin’ up too. Why don’t you an’ Clyde stay for supper? I fetched a sweet onion from the root cellar an’ have most of a sweet tater pie in the Frigidaire over to home. Y’all can come there or I can bring it here.”
They quickly agreed to head for Maggie an’ Charlie’s place for supper. As they walked toward the road Charlie joined them. Joe Henry walked between Clyde an’ Aunt Bess an’ Charlie took Maggie by the arm as it was a might slick. Once in the house Maggie told the men to have a seat in the front room. Aunt Bess went to the kitchen to help get supper ready.
The house was bigger inside than it looked. The front of the house had a long front room an’ two bedrooms, one behind the other that were saved for guests an’ their youngin’s when they was home. A door an’ short hallway led to the kitchen on the left an’ two bedrooms with a bathroom in the middle on the right. A few years back Charlie enlarged the one bedroom an’ added a full bathroom to it. That way they had their own bathroom when their youngin’s was all home. Charlie didn’t take much to waitin’ for grandkids to get through fiddlin’ in the bathroom when he had to go.
Maggie had some cracklin’s that a lady from church gave her the Sunday before an’ she decided to make cracklin’ bread – cornbread with cracklins baked in. Aunt Bess noticed a head of cabbage on the kitchen counter an’ they decided to make some fresh chow chow since Maggie had the onions already an’ had a store-bought cucumber. Chop that all up good, throw in some vinegar, salt, pepper an’ a little sugar to cut the “whang” of the vinegar an’ you had one of Joe Henry’s favorite side dishes.
Maggie also had a surprise for Charlie as she had a half gallon Mason jar of real buttermilk. Not that jazzed up nonsense folks buy in the store. This was the real thing that Maggie traded a neighbor over on Pebble Creek Road for some honey. Aunt Bess set the table as Maggie cut the onion an’ put the cracklin’ bread on a plate.
As the men were comin’ to the table she was ladlin’ up soup beans into bowls. Charlie saw the Mason jar settin’ on the counter an’ smiled with anticipation.
“Mama, is that what I think it is? It that sure to goodness buttermilk?” he asked.
“Yes, it is. I tell you the truth. A woman can’t have no surprises with a nosy husband. Get to your seat ol’ man. I’m libel to throw it out to the pigs.” she answered.
Joe Henry grinned real big. He had heard that threat his whole life an’ never saw one meal thrown to the pigs. Besides that, Charlie an’ Maggie didn’t have no pigs. As he sat down, he noticed the fresh chow chow an’ whooped his pleasure. Aunt Bess told him she didn’t make that for him. She made it for Clyde but he could have a spoonful if he acted right. Clyde told him that he might not share nary a bit of that chow chow.
Charlie offered everyone some buttermilk. Clyde an’ Aunt Bess asked for a glass. Joe Henry asked to have just a small one, maybe just a jelly jar full. Charlie poured himself a big ol’ glass. Maggie declined. She weren’t much for buttermilk with cracklin’ bread. If it was just cornbread, well watch out then.
Charlie had them all hold hands for the blessin’. He said that was so Joe Henry didn’t get stabbed in the hand with Clyde’s fork while everyone’s eyes was closed if he tried to reach for that chow chow. Of course, it had become the custom any time they gathered together for a meal.
They ate an’ talked, just catchin’ up on things. Aunt Bess had been to the dentist a day before an’ was sayin’ how good lookin’ her new dentist was. Maggie said she might need to drive to Berea since she felt a toothache comin’ on. Charlie told her he would be happy to drive her an’ leave her off.
As Maggie was cuttin’ the sweet tater pie she looked out the window. “Oh lordy, youngin’s. Sleet is comin’ down right smart out there. Bess, Clyde, you might want to stay over to Joe Henry’s tonight. It is lookin’ awful bad out there.”
They both went to the window to peer out as did Joe Henry. He told them he agreed with Maggie. There was clean sheets on both beds downstairs an’ he would take the back bedroom upstairs for the night. Clyde grinned, told Aunt Bess they was right an’ quickly agreed it weren’t fit for man or beast out there.
A little later Joe Henry walked over to his truck, drove it to the front of Maggie an’ Charlie’s an’ picked his Aunt an’ Clyde up. He delivered them to the front steps of his home an’ helped them in as the steps were slick. Once inside they all took off their coats. Truman came runnin’ in to say hello, as if they was there to see him. Joe Henry had his wood stove goin’ an’ he put another piece of wood in to get it warm an’ toasty.
As they settled in, he asked if he could play them a couple tunes he was workin’ on. They were glad to sit an’ listen. Truman laid at Aunt Bess’ feet as Joe Henry played. As they listened Aunt Bess took that ol’ quilt Joe Henry bought when he first arrived an’ put it on her lap. She pulled Clyde close an’ covered his lap with a smile. Clyde smiled back an’ took her hand in his.
Joe Henry grinned an’ nodded as he played.

Chapter Two
The end of February came an’ things were mostly done on the ol’ barn. It looked almost new at that point. Joe Henry had a sign painter workin’ on a reproduction of the “Carpenter’s Bee Tree Farm” sign that was originally painted on the side of the barn. Too many boards had been pulled off an’ the original sign was mostly gone. He planned to have it hung on the front of the barn when the work was done. It was to be a surprise for his Aunt Bess.
Bobby Clark an’ some of his buddies was playin at Webb’s Country Kitchen on Saturday, March 1st an’ Bobby asked Joe Henry to come down an’ bring his fiddle. Joe Henry was excited to play with them boys an’ said yes. He also called Aunt Bess an’ asked her to go along. She was glad to do so an’ hear him play.
She arrived about 2:00 an’ after Joe Henry fed Truman an’ walked him they took off for Cumberland Gap, Tennessee. On the way Aunt Bess quizzed Joe Henry as to how things was goin’ with the honey house an’ barn. He didn’t tell her that the sign company was supposed to hang the sign later that day. He intended to surprise her on Sunday after Church. They went over the few things left on the barn.  Mostly little things at that point. Him an’ Charlie was hangin’ shelves on walls, puttin’ light bulbs in the lights that were in the rooms an’ such as that.
The contractor had poured the slab for the new wing of the honey house an’ had to wait a little longer than he would in good weather for the concrete to fully cure. He planned on startin’ on the structure in the next week. The heatin’ an’ climate control things were already there an’ waitin’ to be installed when things was done with the new wing.
Joe Henry mentioned that him an’ Vince was plannin’ on goin’ to Rick an’ Mazie’s in two weeks or so to spend some time workin’ on plans for the lavender farm. He was smilin’ big as he talked about the visit. Vince’s parents were comin’ to stay with baby Misty Dawn while Vince was gone.
Aunt Bess asked Joe Henry if his smile had anything to do with that little ol’ strawberry blonde gal, April. He blushed but admitted it did. He said they wrote back an’ forth a lot an’ spent many evenin’s talkin’ long distance. He was sure runnin’ up a long-distance bill.
“Joe Henry, let me ask you somethin’. Y’all ever talk serious about where the relationship will go. You seem to be pretty serious. You think a lot of that gal, don’t you?” Aunt Bess asked carefully.
“I do, Aunt Bess. I think I could love her. Might be fallin’ in love with her already. Sorta new for me.” he said.
“Honey, I know we’ve put a lot on you. Haven’t really asked you if you even wanted to do a lot of it. You’ve started plannin’ a lot. Folks are sorta dependin’ on you these days. Let me ask you plain out one question. An important one for me, for you, for a lot of us.”
“Sure, Aunt Bess. You can ask me anything.” he answered.
“You plannin’ on stayin’? You plannin’ on livin’ on Limestone Ridge Road? Workin’ out the plans you’ve started?” she asked quietly.
He was quiet for a long time. She was too. She wanted him to think about the future, not just fall into it.
“She is an’ awful sweet girl. Seems like she would make a good wife. Y’all seem to be feelin’ a lot like you are in love. Here’s the hard question you an’ her need to face... Is she willin’ to come here, to follow your dreams, to be a part of our little family, if you want to call all of us that?” Aunt Bess asked finally.
He was even quieter this time. Didn’t say a word as they drove. Aunt Bess knew that question was one he might not have an answer for. April might not either. It was, however, one that Joe Henry an’ April needed to ask each other.
“I honestly don’t know, Aunt Bess. I’ve never even considered that. I’ve just been feelin’ so good that someone really likes me, cares for me, maybe loves me. I just haven’t thought about it. I’ve got my life on a path that feels right. I can’t imagine leavin’. Can’t imagine goin’ somewhere else. I’ve invested too much in things here. I just don’t know though.” he said quietly.
When they arrived in Cumberland Gap the others were already there an’ getting' out their instruments. Joe Henry took out his fiddle, tuned it up an’ rosined up his bow. Aunt Bess ordered for both of them as them boys started hittin’ it hard with one song after another. Folks was comin’ in, sittin’ down to order an’ listen to the music.
Lord a mercy. It was nearly 11:00 when they finally quit. The waitresses was ready to go home so they packed up instruments, hugged necks an’ Joe Henry walked with Aunt Bess out to his truck. Neither of them talked about the conversation they had on the way down. They talked for a bit an’ Aunt Bess dozed as they drove through the dark.
They arrived back to Joe Henry’s place an’ as they was getting' out of the car they heard Truman howlin’ an’ cryin’ an’ carryin’ on like he never had before. It weren’t no skunk ‘cause they would smell it. Aunt Bess said maybe Truman had to go bad.
When they went in Truman was whinin’ an’ cryin’, jumpin’ on Joe Henry an’ carryin’ on. Joe Henry told Aunt Bess he was goin’ to take Truman out. She said she was goin’ to put a stick of wood in his stove.
He went out with Truman, turnin’ on the porch light as he walked out the door. Truman was still actin’ odd an’ kept headin’ for the barns, pausin’, lookin’ at Joe Henry an’ whinin’. Joe Henry went back in, got a flashlight an’ went back out.
Truman kept tryin’ to get Joe Henry to go to the barns. Joe Henry shined his light down that way.
It took him a minute to see an’ realize Clyde’s truck was down by the barn. He walked toward it, shinin’ his flashlight one way an’ another. Then he saw Bud an’ Babe weren’t in their stalls. They were in the enclosed paddock an’ Babe was layin’ down. He called for Clyde as he walked but Clyde didn’t answer.
As he opened the gate an’ went in, Truman followed. Bud saw him an’ moved between him an’ Babe till Joe Henry called Bud’s name. Bud walked to him, pushed his muzzle into Joe Henry‘s chest real gentle like an’ just stood there. Joe Henry rubbed his head an’ looked toward Babe. Babe was sort of curled around an’ had his head down.
Joe Henry walked toward Babe an’ Bud followed right by his side. When he got close, he shined his light on Babe. That is when he saw Clyde layin’ on the ground. He had a brush in his hand. He looked like he crumpled up right there as he was brushin’ Babe. Babe had laid down, curled around Clyde as if to keep him warm, to protect him.
Joe Henry called Clyde’s name but there was no reply. He walked over, kneeled an’ patted Babe. Babe made a soft chufflin’ sound an’ put his head back down, almost against Clyde. When Joe Henry reached out to gently lay his hand on Clyde’s chest, he already knew Clyde was gone. There was no sign of injury, no sign he had fallen or been hurt as he worked an’ brushed the horse.
Joe Henry sat down hard. He reached for Clyde’s hand, held it an’ cried. Truman was at Joe Henry’s side this whole time an’ sat down beside Joe Henry to watch over his master. As Joe Henry sat an’ cried, Aunt Bess walked up, saw Clyde in the light of the flashlight.
“What is it, Joe Henry? Clyde, are you hurt? Clyde, Darlin’, are you alright? Clyde? Oh, Clyde.” she cried an’ wailed as she stepped forward, knelt an’ slid to the ground beside her childhood sweetheart.
They both sat an’ cried for ever so long. Aunt Bess laid her head on Clyde’s chest an’ cried, callin’ his name quietly. She took Joe Henry’s hand an’ held it as she cried. He just sat, tears runnin’ down his face.
Charlie an’ Maggie apparently heard Truman, or heard Joe Henry or heard Aunt Bess. Maybe they just had a feelin’ like Truman had, for they soon walked down an’ saw Clyde layin’ there, Aunt Bess layin’ her head on his so still chest an’ holdin’ Joe Henry’s hand.
Aunt Bess looked at Maggie an’ said, “Maggie, go get me a quilt so’s I can cover Clyde up. He is so cold. I don’t want him to just lay here. Charlie, go call the Sheriff an’ have him come with the ambulance. They’ll have to make sure there was no foul play. I’ll sit right here with Clyde till they come.”
Maggie brought a quilt as well as Joe Henry an’ Bess’ coat an’ another quilt for Bess to wrap up in. Charlie stayed up at the house to wait for the Sheriff an’ ambulance. Maggie sat down on the ground to wait with Bess Asher, Joe Henry an’ Clyde.
After he called the Sheriff an’ explained the situation, Charlie called Lois an’ Vince an’ told them Clyde was dead, that Joe Henry found him. Told them Maggie an’ Bess was down by the barns waitin’. After a few minutes Lois an’ Vince both showed up, came down to the barns an’ sat vigil with Clyde. Lois’ sister Lottie got up an’ went with Lois to Vince’s to sit with Misty Dawn as she slept so Vince could go. No one said a word. Bess brushed Clyde’s white hair away from his face, touched his face, his cheeks ever so lightly.
The Sheriff an’ ambulance showed up with lights on an’ sirens wailin’. Charlie directed them down to the barns. They found the group huddled together on one side of Babe. That horse hadn’t left Clyde’s side that whole time. Bud stood just a few steps away since Joe Henry arrived, as if guardin’ the group.
Joe Henry got up, shook the hands of the Sheriff, EMTs an’ the local doctor who was also the County Coroner. He got hold of Bud’s lead an’ took the horse into the barn. They all waited till Joe Henry came back. They moved Clyde’s body away just a bit an’ Joe Henry gently had Babe stand an’ took him to the barn too.
The Sheriff moved his cruiser so he could shine his headlights an’ spotlight on the scene. The EMT helped the doctor examine Clyde. After a moment he nodded, stood up an’ walked over the others.
“I’ll have to take a good look when we get back to the hospital an’ confirm what I can see, but it looks like your friend probably had a stroke or massive heart attack. There is no indication of injury, no sign one of the horses made him fall. Sounds like he was here an’ brushin’ the horse when he collapsed. Bless that horse. It must have sensed something was wrong an’ was tryin’ to protect the old fellow.” the doctor explained.
The Sheriff said he would need some info about next of kin or whoever would be makin’ arrangements. It would take a couple days to release the body but he would let the family or funeral home know.
Aunt Bess spoke up. “That would be me. Clyde didn’t have anyone else. He asked me to take care of things if anything happened to him. He thought havin’ some young lawyer do it was too sad to think about. I promised him I would. I have all the paperwork an’ such. I’m actually his lawyer an’ have his will, final instructions an’ all. I promised him...”
She cried an’ was unable to finish her sentence for a moment. She gave the Sheriff her card an’ said she would get in touch with the coroner’s office.
After the ambulance left, they all went back to the house. Charlie called Rachel earlier an’ she arrived just after the ambulance pulled away. She was a mess when she came in. Her eye makeup was smeared, her eyes were black from her mascara runnin’ as she wiped tears from her eyes.
Aunt Bess got up an’ Rachel ran into her arms. They both cried an’ hugged each other. Rachel kept tellin’ Aunt Bess, “I am sorry, oh, I am so sorry, Bess.”
Aunt Bess lifted her head from Rachel’s shoulder an’ looked at her for a moment, “I’ve lost him again. I’ve lost him all over again.”

Chapter Three
They all walked back up to the house. Joe Henry held Aunt Bess’ hand on one side. Rachel held her other hand as they walked. Once inside they all sat an’ was quiet ever so long. Maggie quietly got up an’ went into the kitchen to put some coffee on in the Mr. Coffee. She got the cream out of the Frigidaire, put it an’ the sugar beside the coffee pot. She put cups an’ spoons close by. She suspected no one would be leavin’ for some time, even though it was already early mornin’.
“Can I get you a cup of coffee, Aunt Bess?” Joe Henry asked softly.
She nodded yes an’ he went to the kitchen. Rachel an’ Maggie followed him an’ after he poured a cup for Aunt Bess, addin’ cream an’ two spoons of sugar, Maggie took the pot, Rachel took several cups an’ they gave everyone a cup of coffee.
Aunt Bess broke the silence to talk about meetin’ Clyde when they was just little ol’ things in school. She smiled an’ laughed as she talked about how he tormented her as a mean little boy. She always knew he was doin’ all that because he was sweet on her. She remembered their fallin’ in love. Tears filled her eyes as she spoke about him goin’ to war. She was quiet after she mentioned his letters just stopped comin’.
She talked for a right smart while before she stopped, exhausted but not ready to go to bed. The others quietly spoke about Clyde. Some knew him better than the others but they all had warm memories of him. They would talk for a bit, get teary eyed an’ then sit silent for a moment before someone else spoke up.
As dawn was just hintin’ around at the tops of the hills, Aunt Bess said she needed to get some rest. She figured it would be a couple days before they released Clyde’s body but she would need to make some calls, go to his place in Danville to get papers an’ such. She hugged each of them, movin’ from one to the next. She hugged Rachel an’ held her hand as she came to Joe Henry.
“Honey, Clyde thought so much of you. He loved that you took his horses an’ was takin’ such good care of Bud an’ Babe. I suspect he came over to check on them an’ give them a good brushin’. He enjoyed bein’ here with us all. Joe Henry, he never had a son. Ain't close to any of his nephews, or his nieces actually. Never seen them much at all. Oh, maybe when they was kids, but none in years.” she told Joe Henry.
“The time you spent with him here, the long talks in the late evenin’s when I would go to bed. He loved that, never had it before. You askin’ him for advice an’ help with your plans. That meant more to him than you will know. He loved that you made room for him here. He loved that you made a place for him in your life.”
She hugged her Great Nephew hard. They both got a little weepy again an’ she patted his cheek. She told them all to stay. She needed the rest.
Vince needed to get back before Misty Dawn woke up. He left bottles for her with Lottie but he wanted to be there for her when she woke up. Lois said she was goin’ back to bed an’ suspected Lottie would also. Charlie helped Maggie get her coat on. They hugged Joe Henry an’ Rachel an’ walked across the road to their home.
Joe Henry stood on the porch with Truman sittin’ right by his left side. Truman hadn’t left his side since they came back to the house. Rachel waved goodbye to Maggie, Charlie an’ the rest. She stepped over to Joe Henry as he was lookin’ up the hill at the sunrise. She wrapped her arms around Joe Henry’s arm, moved close an’ stood quietly by his side. He stood there, Truman on his left side, Rachel on his right.
He breathed deep, takin’ in the sights, the smells of the mountains. His mind was movin’ ever so fast. He pondered so much in that few moments. He kept lookin’ from one place to another, never speakin’, just lookin’ like he was seein’ things after bein’ away on a long journey. He whispered a prayer for those who coveyed up around him all the time. He thanked God for Clyde, for folks who made a place for him.
Rachel finally spoke up, “I better get my coat an’ go. I’ll check back, maybe come over in a day or so.”
She patted Truman on the head. His tail thumped an’ moved back an’ forth as she rubbed him behind the ears. She wrapped an arm around Joe Henry an’ gave him a hug before turnin’ to go in an’ get her coat.
“Rachel, would you mind stayin’ for a while? Just sittin’ with me for a while? I don’t know if I can sleep. I’d just as soon not sit alone right now. Don’t have to talk. I just need to sit an’ think. Just don’t want to be alone. Be nice to have someone my own age sittin’ here with me. Truth be told, it would be nice to just sit with you.” he asked quietly.
She stepped back to him, took his hand an’ walked into the house with Joe Henry. Truman sat an’ watched for a moment then ran in before the door shut. Joe Henry went over to the love seat an’ sat. Rachel got the quilt Joe Henry bought when he first arrived an’ laid it on Joe Henry’s lap. He kept it on the back of the love seat. She sat beside him.
For a long time, they just sat. Rachel could tell Joe Henry was runnin’ on fumes. Finally, he leaned his head onto her shoulder an’ was quiet for a moment. Then he told her about the conversation he had with Aunt Bess. Talked about his feelin’s for April. Told her about things on his mind lately. He told her he sometimes felt guilty havin’ so much handed to him. He felt like he didn’t earn it, didn’t do anything to deserve it. He told Rachel that sometimes he felt like everything was pushed on him an’ he didn’t have much say. Other times he realized maybe he actually found exactly where he was supposed to be.
He stopped, was silent, just lookin’ straight ahead then said, “What if I don’t want to live here? What if I don’t want to do this for my whole life? What if I fail again? Rachel, Aunt Bess, Charlie an’ Maggie aren’t young. What happens when somethin’ happens to one of them? Do their kids come in an’ sell their home? Who decides things if Aunt Bess isn’t able to decide? I’ve blown it once. Why would she depend on me?”
Joe Henry told Rachel his conversation with Aunt Bess was a lot to ponder. Clyde dyin’ had tore him up. A lot hit home durin’ the last hours. A lot fell into place, but he was scared. Not everything, not the answers to how the universe was made or nothin’ like that. Maybe, just maybe he finally realized his place in that universe.
He sat up, was quiet for a moment before sittin’ back, lookin’ at Rachel an’ smilin’, “You know somethin’? Took me a while. I missed it growin’ up. Missed it when Daddy would come down. Missed it when I was here as a kid an’ as a young man. I reckon I never listened till after I as here for a while.”
“Missed what, Joe Henry?” Rachel asked.
“Rachel, these mountains have called to me all my life. My family has called to me all my life. Aunt Bess, even Clyde said it over an’ over when they told me ‘family is family’. Home whispered my name an’ I just never listened. I am just a huge goofball. Daddy an’ Mama tried, Papaw an’ Grandma tried to show me. I’ve just stumbled around till now. Wandered lost because I didn’t understand how deep my roots are right here. I know I’m probably goofy with sleep. Maybe I’ll wake up an’ figure I was just sleep deprived. But you know Rachel, I may be right where I am supposed to be right now. Right now.”
Rachel smiled, hugged him, “Why don’t you sit here an’ close your eyes, Joe Henry. I won’t leave. I’ll be right here so you won’t be alone. You need to sleep too. You’ve been up since yesterday mornin’”
He nodded agreement, sat back an’ leaned his head into the love seat. Rachel sat back too, covered Joe Henry up an’ pondered right along with him as he drifted off. She sat an’ listened to his breathin’ slow to a deep, rhythmic pattern. As he slept she sat, listened to the ol’ house around them for a while.
An’ Rachel smiled.

Chapter Four
Aunt Bess an’ Rachel both left late in the mornin’. Aunt Bess slept till about 10:30. When she woke up an’ started movin’ Joe Henry woke up. Rachel was already up an’ movin’ around.
“I have coffee ready, Joe Henry. I hope you don’t mind me diggin’ around in your Frigidaire. I’ve got eggs out; I shredded some cheese an’ found a little can of mushrooms pieces in the pantry. I thought I’d make you an’ Bess omelets when y’all are ready.” Rachel said with a smile.
Joe Henry told her he didn’t mind at all, but would like to have a quick shower. She told him to get a move on an’ suggested she would be happy to throw his to the pigs if he didn’t hurry. He nodded his head as he headed to his room an’ then upstairs to shower so’s Aunt Bess could have the bathroom on the main floor.
When he came downstairs, Aunt Bess was already at the table havin’ her omelet, “Better be nice to this gal this mornin’, Joe Henry. She stayed around an’ made a delicious omelet for me an’ is waitin’ for you to get to the table.”
Rachel was whippin’ up eggs in a bowl as Aunt Bess spoke. She had  butter meltin’ in a small pan on the stove that she poured the whipped eggs into. She quickly added salt, pepper, shredded cheese an’ a handful of mushroom pieces to the pan, one after the other. She told them she had a secret that let her make wonderful omelets without the hassle as she put a lid on the pan an’ turned the heat down a little.
In a few moments she took the lid off. Liftin’ the pan an’ turnin’ it at an angle allowed the omelet to fold in half as it scooted into Joe Henry’s plate. She sat the plate in front of Joe Henry, told him to get his own silverware an’ sat down to finish hers. Aunt Bess added that he weren’t crippled an’ could get a move on. She told him they already said the blessin’ an’ included his meal so’s he wouldn’t be poisoned as he ate.
“I am sure glad to hear that. I was worried when I heard that Rachel was doin’ the cookin’.” he said with a wry smile.
Both Rachel an’ Aunt Bess hit him, one on each arm.
As Aunt Bess was leavin’ she told Joe Henry she would be goin’ to Clyde’s place to start makin’ arrangements. She had some paperwork, but needed to start workin’ through things as he had made her executor of his will an’ estate. Their romance might be recently reignited, but she had helped him with legal things for some time. She also would let Joe Henry an’ the others know when arrangements were made.
When she left, Joe Henry realized he hadn’t had opportunity to show her the new sign. No matter, there was plenty of time to do so. He spoke with Vince an’ they came up with a new date to go to visit Rick an’ Mazie about a week later than originally planned. They didn’t want to go too late because Vince was hopin’ to put new lavender plants in the ground they had ordered from Rick. Joe Henry also had to help with getting’ the bee yards goin’.
The weather was right decent an’ the contractor showed up the next day with his crew an’ started on puttin’ up the walls for the new addition to the honey house. Joe Henry, Maggie an’ Charlie already moved honey an’ equipment out of the one existin’ wing so’s it could be made into another climate-controlled area. One wing would be for storage of bottled honey kept at the appropriate temperature an’ humidity to prevent crystallization. The other wing would be for storin’ unbottled honey in buckets, in the stainless-steel storage tanks an’ bottlin’ tanks as well as bottlin’ the honey. The central part of the buildin’ would be for processin’ the frames of honey taken from the hives, storin’ boxes an’ frames when not in use as well as assembly of boxes, frames an’ so on.
Two days after she left, Aunt Bess called first thing in the mornin’ to tell Joe Henry that she heard from the coroner. She gave Joe Henry the information about the funeral an’ the burial there in Danville. He would be buried beside his wife an’ their daughter. Joe Henry promised he would pass the information along to the others.
“Joe Henry, can you come to Danville this afternoon, to Clyde’s place? There is somethin’ I want to show you.” She asked.
He told her he would. She gave him the address to Clyde’s place an’ they said they would meet there at noon. The drive was about two hours for Joe Henry. Aunt Bess was already there an’ waitin’ for him in Clyde’s home. He knocked an’ she called to him to come in. He felt strange goin’ in to Clyde’s home without him there. Aunt Bess got up from the kitchen table an’ gave Joe Henry a big bear hug. She had tears in her eyes as she hugged him. Papers were spread out in an orderly fashion on the table.
Aunt Bess laid her pen down an’ took Joe Henry by the hand, “Let’s go out the back door. I want you to see somethin’, like I told you. Clyde was hopin’ to show you this himself when the weather got better.”
They walked out the back door, down the little lane leadin’ to the barn an’ several outbuildin’s. Aunt Bess smiled an’ let him past the barn an’ down a path that led into the woods. Once they walked maybe twenty-five or thirty yards into the woods, she stopped an’ waited.
Joe Henry looked at his Aunt Bess. She motioned with her head for him to look around. As he did, well, his mouth dropped open an’ never closed for a long time. He looked from one side to the other. The he took a few steps, stopped, looked some more. He walked deeper into the woods, lookin’ with amazement.
Only thing he could say, only thing he said over an’ over was “Wow”.
All through the trees, scattered all through about thirty acres of woods were many paths leadin’ to tree houses. Not just tree houses, but platforms in the trees, swingin’ bridges leadin’ from one tree to another. Little houses on the ground in places with ramps leadin’ up to landin’s, to stationary bridges. Landin’s leadin’ to little bitty tree houses, medium tree houses, big tree houses. Ladders, ramps, even thick ropes with knots to climb, rope ladders to climb onto platforms, to porches on the tree houses.
He turned to Aunt Bess, "What is this”
“This is Clyde’s hobby, his passion. Some men have model trains. Some collect pocket knives, watches or guns. Clyde built tree houses. There is electric to them. Not a lot, enough for lights an’ electric heaters in some. Some have little wood stoves in them. Most of them have either bunks, platforms for full size mattresses, fold down platforms for a mattress or sleepin’ bag. Some even have hammocks to sleep in.” she told him.
“He would have folks from his church come an’ stay on weekends. They often had retreats here. Boy Scouts an’ Girl Scouts would often come an’ stay on weekends. Look over there.” She said as she pointed to a larger buildin’ in the trees.
The buildin’ was larger than the tiny houses an’ treehouses. They walked over to it an’ Aunt Bess took out a ring of keys. She unlocked it an’ opened the door, turned on lights. Inside was a room with several tables, chairs an’ a sittin’ area to one side. She showed him a kitchen, two bathrooms with two showers in each.
“This was the place to make meals, have Bible studies, devotionals, and tell stories. This magical place in his woods was his joy.” She said quietly.
Joe Henry looked around for a moment before she gave him the keys, showed him they were numbered an’ told him each tiny house an’ tree house had a number beside the door. She told him to go explore. He went up a ranp, walked across a swingin’ bridge an’ to the first tree house. When he opened the door, he was amazed. Inside were two beds, bunk style but folded up against the wall. Each had camp style mattresses. A couple chairs were to one side. A rack was built into one wall an’ was filled with books.
He went from place to place, tree house to tree house, openin’ the door, lookin’, explorin’. Finally, he paused an’ looked down at Aunt Bess. “There are fifteen keys on this ring. All numbered except one. It has an “L” on it.”
“Yep, ten tree houses, all different sizes. There are four tiny houses. The key with the L is to the big place. He called it the Lodge.” She explained.
“Aunt Bess, what happens to this now?” Joe Henry asked.
“I’m still workin’ through everything, Joe Henry. There is a lot to do. Things to figure out still.”
They walked back to the house. Aunt Bess told him she was takin’ him over to Penn’s Country Ham Shop for dinner. He loved the idea. Country hams from Penn’s Ham Shop were his favorites. She locked Clyde’s home an’ got in Joe Henry’s truck to head out for a bite to eat.

Chapter Five
Clyde’s funeral was three days later. It was held at his home church. The sanctuary was filled, not only with all his friends from Limestone Ridge, but from the church. He had been an usher, a Deacon, song leader, youth director years ago. For the last twenty years or so he was the teacher for the older men’s Sunday School class. It was obvious he was well loved.
Prior to the actual funeral there was a two-hour visitation time. Folks lined up around the side of the sanctuary to pass by Clyde’s casket, pay their last respects. The line went out the door an’ folks waited outside the church an’ into the parkin’ lot when the visitation first started.
Clyde looked like he was just sleepin’ when Joe Henry went to the side of the casket. Aunt Bess had picked out a gray pinstripe suit that she always told him he looked good in. White shirt with a red tie an’ red pocket silk in the breast pocket. He left instructions about his funeral an’ his Bible was in his hands as he had requested.
The casket was closed when Clyde’s preacher got up to preach as Clyde requested. He reminded all there that Clyde lived a good life, longer than the three score an’ ten the Bible promised him. He said Clyde asked him to remind all gathered that he was a Christian man, loved the Lord an’ as the ol’ Southern Gospel song said, “he had his bags packed an’ was ready to go” a long time ago. He read a short note Clyde wrote an’ asked to be read at his funeral. It spoke of his love for his Savior, of his realization that he was nothin’ without Him. Last thing it said in the note was that Clyde was hopin’ to see the folks he loved on the other side of the Jordan one of these days.
The graveyard was just outside the church. Three of the Deacons from Clyde’s church were on one side of his casket. Joe Henry, Bobby an’ Charlie were on the other as they carried Clyde on that last walk out the church an’ down to his final place of rest.
At the grave side the preacher said a few final words, read the 23rd Psalm an’ prayed. Joe Henry sat beside Aunt Bess, held her hand through the grave side service. Few other than Joe Henry noticed that as Aunt Bess passed Clyde’s side that last moment that she placed a little gold ring into his hands. She pushed it down so no one else would see it. Rachel was right behind Joe Henry an’ saw it too.
After the funeral an’ burial the preacher invited everyone to stay for a meal down in the basement meetin’ room. Folks in the church had prepared a meal for every one of Clyde’s favorites from carry in dinners in the past. Three of them long tables was in the front of the room, filled with food. Coffee, soda pop an’ sweet tea was over by the kitchen.
There was a country ham that had been carefully prepared an’ baked. Beaten biscuits were piled on a platter to go with the ham. Two crock pots of chicken an’ dumplin’s were next along with one crock pot of squirrel dumplin’s (one of Clyde’s very favorite meals). Of course, there was fried chicken along with cheesy grits casserole, sweet tater casserole, homemade macaroni an’ cheese baked in a big casserole dish an’ covered with a golden crust of cheese. There were too many kinds of salads to count includin’ cornbread salad, another of Clyde’s favorites.
The dessert table was full from edge to edge of the table. Three red velvet cakes with the ol’ time cooked icin’, a strewbarb pie, punkin pie, two apple pies an’ even a “Ritz Cracker no apple apple pie” as Clyde always called it. The centerpiece of the dessert table was a huge platter of fried pies. Clyde loved fried pies. They ladies of the church made sure there were enough for everyone to have at least one fried apple pie.
The folks from Limestone Ridge sat together to eat but Aunt Bess knew a lot of the folks an’ was up an’ visitin’ around as the others enjoyed the meal. As folks left, the ladies of the church started puttin’ things away an’ clearin’ up. Aunt Bess was helpin’ them put things away an’ paused to whisper to them.
As Joe Henry as getting' ready to leave, one of the ladies stopped him, handed him a box filled with leftovers. She told him they might get hungry by the time they got back to Thousandsticks an’ they all could have a little snack later that evenin’.
She smiled, patted Joe Henry on the arm an’ added, “We also added a bit more so’s you would have leftovers too. A single feller needs a fridge full of this an’ that so’s they don’t have to eat their own cookin’. You need to find yourself a gal, honey. That gal that sat with you didn’t have no ring on from what we all saw. She’s a pretty, sweet thing. Somethin’ to think about. “
Joe Henry thanked her, mumbled something about “she’s my Cousin.” but the church lady already had gone back to the kitchen. He took the box out to the truck, opened the tailgate an’ put in in under the tonneau cover an’ held the door for Aunt Bess to get in beside him. Charlie an’ Maggie got in the back seat of the truck. Rachel an’ Bobby both drove separate as it was easier for each of them to come from home that mornin’.
Rachel came over to hug everyone as they loaded up. After she hugged Aunt Bess, she hugged Joe Henry an’ was laughin’. “I reckon you was the talk of all the ladies in the kitchen, Joe Henry. I’m surprised they didn’t try to marry you off before you got away, so to speak.”
He grinned an’ blushed, “Oh, they was tryin’. They definitely was tryin.”

Chapter Six
The day after they funeral Joe Henry heard a car roll up. He looked out an’ saw Aunt Bess getting’ out of the car. As he was huggin’ her neck an’ tellin’ her to come in Rachel pulled in right behind Aunt Bess’ car. She got out, hugged both Aunt Bess an’ Joe Henry. They chatted for a bit as they went inside. Before Joe Henry could ask them to sit down Aunt Bess spoke up;
“Joe Henry, get dressed to do some ridin’. I’m needin’ to ride the ridge for a while. I just need to get out an’ see this place. I don’t know, I’m just right weary after Clyde’s passin’. Saddle one of the mules for me. I told Rachel here to wear jeans an’ dress warm. You better saddle the other mule for her since they are more sure footed an’ saddle one of Clyde’s horses for you since you been ridin’ them.” She told Joe Henry.
“Sure will Aunt Bess. Charlie an’ I made steps on the outside an’ against the paddock fence for folks to step up an’ mount easier. I’ll meet y’all down at the barn. I’ll take Truman with me. He’ll want to go along with us an’ he needs a good walk.” He said with a grin.
Joe Henry an’ Charlie were ridin’ the horses an’ mules regularly. Now an’ them Bobby stopped by an’ rode with them. Joe Henry was in the habit of keepin’ an insulated saddlehorn bag handy to keep sweet tea an’ a few snacks in to enjoy as they rode. He stopped in the kitchen long enough to fill a thermos with sweet tea, three Tupperware cups an’ grab several packs of them cheese crackers that Aunt Bess got him hooked on. He grabbed a couple candy bars from the pantry as he knew his Aunt Bess had as big a sweet tooth as he did.
As he went out the door, he put on his lined barn coat an’ the fedora he was given by Clyde.
Back when Mist was in the hospital, Clyde went with Joe Henry to visit her an’ Vince. After the visit Clyde took Joe Henry to Joe Balogna’s Restaurant for dinner (lunch for city folks). They had the bread sticks with marinara, of course. Clyde ordered the antipasto for two. It was huge. Clyde had a side order of spaghetti with meat sauce an’ after Clyde warned him that there would be tons of food, Joe Henry had the zuchinni parmesan.
They both felt like they were waddlin’ when they left Joe Balogna’s. Once in the truck, Clyde directed Joe Henry to a shop in downtown Lexington. After they parked they went in an’ Joe Henry realized they were in an amazin’ hat shop. The owner, Leo, recognized an’ greeted Clyde right away.
“Afternoon, Clyde. Are you here to buy a hat, maybe a nice fedora or a trilby? I have some real nice Panama hats that just came in a few weeks ago.” Leo said.
“No sir, I’m not here to shop for me. This young man needs a hat. I’ve seen him wearin’ too many baseball caps. That ain’t proper an’ I am tryin’ to teach him better. What he needs is a good hat, maybe a fedora.”Clyde told him.
For the next half hour Leo first measured Joe Henry’s head, tellin’ him he wore a size 7 ½ hat. “Big head, probably lots of bone” he told Clyde. They both laughed an’ Joe Henry laughed as he shook his head. They all decided a fedora was the best choice.
Clyde told Joe Henry the medium grey fedora looked best. Leo agreed an’ told Joe Henry that hat was a great choice. It was a Stetson. Joe Henry mentioned he thought Stetson made cowboy hats. Both men quickly told him Stetson made the best hats of any type. Joe Henry got out his wallet but Clyde told him the fedora was a gift. Joe Henry was shocked when Leo rang that hat and another hat that Joe Henry hadn’t tried on up. He told Clyde the price was too much an’ he should pick out a cheaper hat.
“No sir, Joe Henry. A fella needs a good wearin’ hat. I ain’t gonna be embarrassed by you goin’ ‘round wearin’ some cheap hat. An’ the Stratoliner you picked out is your everyday hat. The one in the box is a Whippet fedora, darker grey, a little better hat for goin’ to church an’ such.” Clyde told him.
Joe Henry had both mules, Sug an’ Bob as well as Babe saddled. Joe Henry helped Aunt Bess mount Sug an’ Rachel climb aboard Bob. He was on Babe an’ Aunt Bess took the lead as they headed up the hill behind the barns. That ride had become Joe Henry’s favorite.
They paused often, lookin’ at this an’ that. Aunt Bess told them about how the farm used to be, about how she would like to see it become. They rode for a right smart while, takin’ a side path that Joe Henry hadn’t taken. After a few minutes they came to the abandoned foundation that was almost invisible through the weeds.
Joe Henry helped both the women off their mules an’ they walked to the ruins, lookin’ around as they walked. Joe Henry asked what had been there.
“Well, this was Uncle Judah’s place. I always walk careful here for there is a good well here that Uncle Judah found. It is covered by a big slab, but I still walk careful.”
“Uncle Judah was a water douser. Some folks called it water witchin’, divinin’ or even doodlebuggin’. He would take a forked willow stick an’ could find water anywhere, if they was water to be found. Them other brothers wanted to have homes down in the lower fields. Limestone Ridge is still a ridge but is between these two higher hills. Daddy always said Judah walked these hills for days till he was satisfied he could find a home site up here that had water. He found this an’ it was some of the sweetest water I ever drank.” She continued.
“Joe Henry, I’d sure like to find a way to open the well up. Take the slab off but have it so it was safe to leave open an’ be able to come here an’ take a sip of water.”
Joe Henry promised that he would get with Charlie an’ Bobby an’ see what could be done to open but protect the well. Aunt Bess walked around till they came to a part of the fouondation that was high enough to sit. They all sat an’ aunt Bess was still for a right smart while.
“I know y’all both saw me slip that little ring into Clyde’s hand. Figured as nosy as you two were you’d be askin’ me about it. So, I better get done with it so’s y’all don’t worry yourselves silly.” She said with a sad smile.
“Before Clyde went off to war, he asked me to marry him. I said yes an’ told him I’d wait for him. You know that. He bought that little ol’ ring an’ gave it to me before he left. Weren’t much to it. It was just a thin gold band. It was his promise that he’d be back an’ we would be together. I wore it every day. Never took it off for the longest time. Even when he stopped writin’ I didn’t take off for ever so long. Finally I took to wearin’ it on my right hand so’s it didn’t look like I was married or engaged or anything. When I met your Uncle Floyd I was till wearin’ it on my right hand. I took it off for good not too long after I met Floyd.” She continued.
“I often wonder what would have happened if I kept that ring on my left hand. What if I kept it on an’ waited? Oh, don’t get me wrong, I was head over heals in love with Floyd. He was a wonderful husband. But I still pause at times an’ wonder about that broken promise.”
“Did Clyde know you still had that ring?” Rachel asked.
“Yes, I showed it to him. I told him the same story I’ve told you. We sat an’ cried together as we told each other the stories of what happened. We wondered together about out broken promises. I’ve been wearin’ it on a chain, kept it out of site but Clyde knew I was wearin’ it around my neck.”
“Y’all still loved each other after all these years.” Joe Henry said as he took his Aunt’s hand in his.
“I reckon I did. Not like I was pinin’ for him all that time. Not like I loved him at the expense of Floyd. I sorta forgot about Clyde for a long time. Even though we became friends later in life, even though I helped him an’ his wife with legal things, wills an’ such, we never mentioned it. Never considered it. Youngin’s, it just resurfaced over the past year. I’m glad for it.”
She was quiet for another moment or two, “Y’see, I took that chain an’ ring from around my neck that mornin’. Took the ring with me on purpose. I wanted the last thing I could do for Clyde, my sweetie, my childhood sweetheart an’ my first love, I wanted to give him that ring. Not give it back to him, for he gave it to me many years ago. I wanted to give him MY ring. I wanted him to have my reminder that I loved him. I loved him once, loved him again. I’ll always love Floyd Asher, don’t you see. This is different though. I broke a promise once. Forgot what love looked like. Forgot love was patient. Even though no one else might know, I wanted Clyde to carry that ring with him till we meet again. Like I said, I am glad that Clyde an’ his love for me bloomed again, even in the last years of our lives. I reckon there is a lesson in that. I am glad.”
“We are too, Aunt Bess. He was a blessin’ to all of us.” Joe Henry told her.
She squeezed his hand an’ looked him over, “An’ don’t think I don’t know who picked that fedora out for you. He never named it, but I know his tastes. He did right by you with that hat, honey. He done good. Now, let’s get to them snacks an’ that sweet tea you brought. I’m about to spit dust I am so dry.”

Chapter Seven
“Joe Henry, before you an’ Vince go off to visit Rick an’ Mazie, well, I’m thinkin’ we need to do a little updatin’ to the Cabin Store.” Aunt Bess said when she called Friday mornin’.
“Yes ma’am. What do you have in mind?” he asked.
“I believe we need a little more room in the place first of all. If we are gonna make a go at openin’ year-round we’ll be usin’ the livin’ room an’ what was the bedroom for sellin’ an’ so on. Only space left is the bathroom. Ain’t nary a place for us to sit down. So, I’ve been talkin’ with Maggie an’ Lois. Called Rachel an’ she an’ I met down in Corbin when I was travelin’ down that way. We have come up with what we want. I want you to get with Charlie an’ get things started. Charlie will ramrod it while you an’ Vince are gone.”
Joe Henry chuckled as he spoke with his Aunt. Them women had a plan already in place. They just wanted him to get it started with a contractor.
“OK, I’ve got a pen an’ paper. Go ahead. What do y’all want to do to that little ol’ cabin?” He asked.
“Well, first of all we want to add maybe fourteen feet or so onto the back of the cabin. Make that into two rooms. One small room with a door at the far end for an office an’ a place for us to sit when there are no customers. Knock enough wall out in the livin’ room to have a pretty big openin’ between the livin’ room an’ that bigger area, not just a doorway. We want to take the door to the bathroom out an’ cover it with wall. Knock a door out from the existin’ bathroom into the new office. That way we don’t have to go from the sellin’ area into the bathroom. Also, customers won’t see the bathroom an’ we can direct them to the new bathroom in the barn waitin’ area.”
Joe Henry was grinnin’ as he wrote the instructions down. “Y’all have been busy, Aunt Bess.”
She chuckled, “I ain’t done yet. Have they take the wood stove out. It was fine this last year but we need to put in heatin’ an’ air conditionin’. Folks want that now a’days. Us gals don’t want to smother this summer. The office needs some kind of cabinets an’ a counter we can keep a microwave an’ maybe a Mr. Coffee on. An’ one of them little college Frigidaire’s too. You getting’ all this?”
Joe Henry laughed, “Yes ma’am, aunt Bess. I know better than not lettin’ y’all get what you want. I’ve got it all.”
Aunt Bess laughed too, “Oh no you don’t. I ain’t done. I have money to spend. You are gonna have to get that electrician feller to wire it all up. While he is doin’ that an’ them boys are buildin’, well sir, we want to add a porch onto the front too. Porch with a tin roof, of course. That electrician will need to wire up a couple ceilin’ fans with lights so’s folks can sit in the rockers an’ enjoy the day when they shop?”
Joe Henry laughed once more. “Rockers? From my porch?”
“Oh lordy no. We have been goin’ to yard sales, flea markets an’ some of them antique malls. We’ve bought vintage rockers for that new front porch. Me an’ Rachel found some dressers an’ a pie safe to display this an’ that in. When Maggie went with us, we found several tables to use instead of the shelves we put on the walls. We think it will make the palce much more invitin’. Oh, an’ we found a Hoosier Cabinet too. We’re takin’ the doors off so’s we can display things in it too.”
“Got it. Is that all?” he asked.
She thought for a moment, “No, one more thing. We found a nice old door with a big glass in the top of the door. We want them to replace the old door with this one so folks can see in an’ we can see out. An’ a real wood screen door. We want a real screen door so’s we can’ have the big door open on nice days.”
“Tell Charlie to have them start with the covered porch and door, screen door too. I reckon those can be built right fast durin’ week days an’ not get in the way of folks comin’ to shop.” She added.
Joe Henry was lookin’ over the list, “Aunt Bess, maybe they could get started on the new addition at the same time. They could do that, get it under roof, wired an’ all, even cut the door out in the backside of the bathroom before they needed to cut the wall out an’ do the work inside the livin’ room. Oh, you want drywall on the alls in the new addition?”
“No, we want boards for the walls. Boards runnin’ horizontal. No stain on the boards but seal them so they don’t turn or nothin’. That way we can’ put up racks, shelves an’ such into the boards that might damage drywall.” She told him.
Joe Henry called Bobby right after he talked with Aunt Bess. Bobby made a couple calls an’ showed up Saturday mornin’with a feller followin’ him. He wanted the contractor to meet with Charlie an’ Joe Henry as quickly as possible. They went over the list of things an’ walked around the cabin an’ did some measurin’. When they sat down to talk in the Cabin Store, they waited as the contractor, a man named Ralph Shackleford did some figurin’.
“Boys, it is actually not too difficult. I’ll need to get a man I know down her to work on the heatin’ an’ air. We already installed a new electric panel in the cabin when they upgraded the on in the barn, so I think we are good there. The cabin is thirty-two feet long. We can start on the porch this week. I believe we can get it done in a couple days. Since it is for folks to sit under when they shop, let’s make it twelve feet wide. I’ll get in touch with the man that does metal roofin’ for me when I leave here today. I’ll have him get the roofin’ here ASAP. We’ll get the lumber an’ bring it when we come. Y’all need to get that ol’ door here though. It could be some work to get it installed. I suspect they are gonna want a good lock on it too. Y’all might want to talk with them an’ make sure it is OK we put a deadbolt in the door.” Ralph told them.
“Now, I know a boy that works for me when I need extra help. I’m gonna hire him to ramrod the porch while I work on the addition in back. I’ll have the electrician that did your other work come this week an’ wire an’ install outdoor celin’ lights when we finish the porch. I have a gas-powered auger I’ll bring to dig the postholes for the post for the floor joists. We’ll put those in with Quickcrete so they will be good an’ stable. We can put the floor joists on as soon as the posts are in. I expect we can have the floor done right quick. So, the back-side addition will be fourteen by thirty two with a twelve foot room at the far end. We’ll get that under roof, get it insulated an’ ready for the electrician before we start on the board walls.” He said as he looked over the list.
“This ain’t real hard. Bess wants a metal roof on the addition too. If we start this week I reckon we can have it done in maybe three weeks, four tops. She already called me an’ I’ll call her back with my estimates once I talk to the HVAC guy an’ electrician. My boys can do all the rest.”
Ralph shook hands with everyone an’ left.
Bobby looked at Joe Henry an’ Charlie an’ smiled, “Well, boys, the women have done gave us our marchin’ orders. Charlei, I suspect me an’ you could help a good bit an’ save Bess some money. I’ll talk with Ralph if you are OK with us workin’.”
“Might as well, Bobby. Maggie can do most of what needs to be done as we get ready to get the new bee season goin’. Still too early to do much. With Joe Henry’s help we got the hive boxes cleaned up, painted the ones that needed it, put in new frames an’ foundation where needed. We are actually ahead of the game. Anyways, this project will keep me out of Maggie’s hair an’ out of trouble.”
Joe Henry told them that he wasn’t goin’ to be much help as him an’ Vince were finishin’ up their business plan, layout for the new fields an’ such for the lavender farm for the next week or so. They planned on leavin’ in a week to visit several lavender farms on the way down to Blue Sky Lavender Farm in North Carolina. Vince’s folks was comin’ down that weekend an’ would be takin’ care of Misty Dawn while they were away. They planned on bein’ gone for at least ten days, maybe two weeks. He told them although Vince said he would really miss his baby girl; he was right excited to get things goin’. Plus, he also found out Bud Barton was not only a corn farmer, but was sort of an expert on heirloom corn varieties. He talked with Bud by phone an’ they was gonna get together to talk so Vince could get back on track with his Master’s degree research.
Joe Henry was figurin’ to himself as they talked. “You know, fellers, when this is done there will be more new than old to the Cabin Store. It is gonna be real nice, but I reckon I need to up my game with advertisin’ if we are gonna pay for the additions.”

Chapter Eight
Ralph Shackleford showed up early on Monday with a big ol’ flatbed truck he parked in the gravel parkin’ area between the Cabin Store an’ barn. The truck was loaded with lumber, an auger an’ supples needed to get started. Two men were in the cab of the truck with Ralph an’ a car pulled in with four more men.
Two men got to work measurin’, hammerin’ in corner stakes to make sure both the porch an’ back addition would be square as they dug holes to sink the support posts needed. When they finished with the porch area they started on the back. They attached two by twelve boards to the front an’ back of the cabin to support the floor joists to as they worked.
A couple men quickly had the auger goin’ an’ diggin’ the holes. As holes were dug they cut the pressure treated posts, dropped them into the holes an’ poured in the Quickcrete. Water was added when the posts were straight an’ square so’s the cement would dry an’ harden. When the pier posts was in for the porch they started on the holes for the addition.
Ralph went from place to place, makin’ sure everything was square, checkin’ the height of the pier posts. It didn’t take long for the cement to harden an’ the floor joists to go into place. The men worked in unison, measurin’, sawin’, totin’board to one place an’ another. By the end of the day the piers an’ joists were in. Charlie an’ Bobby were on hand all day, helpin’ with everything as needed. Addin’ them to Ralph an’ the six men he brought advanced the work better than Ralph expected.
“Tomorrow we’ll put the subfloor down in back an’ the porch boards on the porch, boys. I’ll have these fellers take the plywood off the truck an’ stack it off to the side. I don’t expect rain so won’t have to cover it. I’m havin most of them to come right here in the mornin’. Me an’ Red over there will go to the lumber yard to get the studs an’ posts needed to work on both places. My buddy that runs the roofin’ company will be deliverin’ the metal roofin’ tomorrow too.” Ralph told them.
“I expect we’ll get the porch mostly ready for puttin’ the roof on tomorrow. We’ll finish that up Wednesday an’ get the roof on Wednesday or Thursday if it don’t rain. I plan on the electrician to be here either Thursday afternoon or Friday mornin’ to do the wirin’ an’ put up the fans. The porch should be done by the weekend. Then we can get the addition under roof, insulated an’ wired up. That is what will take the most time.
Well sir, true to his word, Ralph had the front porch done an’ complete with the fans installed an’ workin’ by the end of the work day Friday. Saturday mornin’ the women all showed up ready to get things arranged on the porch. Aunt Bess drove up in her ol’ farm truck with Rachel right behind. They had half a dozen rockers of all shapes an’ sizes stacked an’ tied down in the back of the truck. Lois, Lottie an’ Maggie shoo’ed the men away as the women unloaded the rockers.
Under several rockers was a beautiful new handmade porch swing. Lois an’ Lottie unloaded it an’ took it to the end of the porch closest to the barn. Joe Henry an’ Charlie was off a bit as they watched. Aunt Bess called to Joe Henry an’ told him they needed to hang the porch swing. She pointed out a beam under the roof that neither Joe Henry nor Charlie noticed before. She made sure Ralph installed a six by six beam to hang the porch swing from. It was about five feet in from the end.
“We ain’t gonna get rained on when we are sittin’ out here watchin’ the rain. If the swing was at the end, we would get our hair wet when the rain came in.” she explained.
Charlie laughed real hard an’ looked at the beam.”I thought this was all for the customers. Y’all plan on havin’ time to sit an’ swing?”
Bess looked right mean at Charlie, “Get a movin’ Charlie Allen. Don’t forget who cooks your meals an’ is standin’ there with her hands on her hips. You an’ Joe Henry only have one little job an’ that is to get our porch swing up. We are doin’ all the hard work arranngin’ things.”
Joe Henry an’ Charlie hung the porch swing as instructed. Aunt Bess an’ Rachel tried it first, followed by Lois an’ Lottie an’ finally Maggie who patted on the palce beside her an’ invited Charlie to try it out with her. Everyone gave their seal of approval.
“Joe Henry, you try it too. You done a little of the work. Left most of it to poor ol’ Charlie though.” Aunt Bess told him.
He took a seat, started to swing an’ nodded his approval. Aunt Bess watched for a minute before she spoke up.
“Rachel, you might as well sit an’ see how it feels along with Joe Henry. Go on. Sit down an’ swing for a bit. You’ve been busy helpin’ me load the rockin’ chairs an’ all. Take a load off your feet.”
Both Rachel an’ Joe Henry blushed as she sat beside him. She whispered an apology as they pushed themselves back an’ forth on the swing. They sat quietly as the others discussed just where to place the rockin’ chairs. Maggie tried the lights on the fans an’ tried all three settin’s to see which was best an’ didn’t blow up too much of a breeze.
Aunt Bess suggested they better take a look at the new addition in the back an’ they all left Joe Henry an’ Rachel swingin’ in the porch swing. Rachel laughed an’ shook her head. She apologized again to Joe Henry. They all knew he was travelin’ with Vince in just a few days an’ planned to spend time with April. Rachel felt funny that they were tryin’ to push her onto Joe Henry. She repeated his mantra, that they were Cousins after all.
Joe Henry sat for a moment before speakin’, “Rachel, you know an’ I know they mean well. I need to spend a little time with April. Need to see if there is even a possibility that she an’ I really have anything more than a few hours together down there an’ some letters an’ phone calls. I’m just a dumb guy. I don’t know, I’ve made a huge mistake before. I was always taught that the promises made before that alter durin’ a weddin’ was sacred. That to have an’ to hold from this day forward should mean somethin’. I don’t want to make a mistake if I ever really do want a forever an’ ever relationship.”
“Oh, believe me, I understand. Do you know how hard it is to be in my late twenties an’ not married? At every weddin’, every funeral, church service an’ event folks come up to me with some fella hyped up with anticipation, wantin’ to fix me up.” Rachel said.
“I ain’t broke, so I don’t need to be fixed up. I am not stupid, ain’t too bad lookin’ an’ don’t need no help. I think when the time comes I can find my own man.”
Joe Henry laughed, put his arm around her an’ started to smooch her on the cheek. He started to tell her she weren’t too bad ugly, even though she had the same homely genes he had. Thing is, she turned just as he started to kiss her cheek an’ for a moment their lips met. Not planned, but it happened.
They both sat away from the other, embarrassed. Sort of like tryin’ a forbidden fruit. Joe Henry apologized. Rachel apologized an’ stood up, said she was gonna see what the other women thought of the new addition. Joe Henry said he better be getting' back to the house to let Truman out.
As Rachel turned to step off the porch, she saw Aunt Bess, Maggie, Lois an’ Lottie standin’ just a few feet away from the end of the porch. Every one of them grinnin’ like a possum. Joe Henry saw them out of the corner of his eye an’ kept goin’. Rachel looked at them hard.
“Oh, good grief, ya’ll.” she said.

Chapter Nine
Vince an’ Joe Henry were packed an’ ready to go. Joe Henry drove down to Lois’ place first an’ dropped off Truman. Lois always watched Truman when Joe Henry had to go anywhere. After he had a lengthy goodbye with Truman, Joe Henry drove back to Vince’s place. Vince’s bags were on the porch an’ Vince came out holdin’ his baby girl, Misty Dawn. He kissed her an’ handed her to his Mama. He picked up his bags, deposited them in the back end under the tonneau cover along with Joe Henry’s an’ they were on their way.
They turned on the radio as they drove an’ sang along to several Bee Gees songs. Vince laughed as they sang “Stayin’ Alive” an’ “How Deep is your Love”. Joe Henry told Vince maybe they should listen to an’ sing along to some Barry White an’ practice their deep voices for when they talked to the ladies. It was good for two guys to be on the road an’ enjoyin’ the drive.
Vince suggested they stop at what he called a “fish joint” he knew about down in Tennessee to eat dinner (mid-day meal for Yankee folks). It was called “Cowboys” an’ was down by Norris Lake, not too far from Johnson City. He claimed they had a fried seafood platter that was the biggest her ever saw. Said he wasn’t able to finish it the first time he was there.
As they drove up to the restaurant Joe Henry commenced to givin’ Vince a hard time about getting’ fish at a place called “Cowboys”. Why that name? Didn’t it sound a lot more like a steak place? Was Vince sure they even served fish at all? Was he actually sober when he ate there? Why not “The Bilge Water CafĂ©”?
They were still laughin’ when they went in. Vince pointed out the big barrels of peanuts in the shell on either side of the door. Told Joe Henry you was supposed to throw the shells on the floor an’ pointed to shells already on the floor to prove it. They both took one of the bowls stacked beside the barrels an’ filled them with peanuts.
A waitress in a cowboy hat, white blouse an’ a jeans vest with a short jeans skirt escorted them to their seats. She laid the menu in front of each of them with a wink. Vince told Joe Henry his wink was a sympathy wink. The hostess really felt bad for such an’ ugly feller as Joe Henry was.
Joe Henry slapped him on the head with the menu before openin’ it. They both ordered sweet tea an’ the fried seafood platter. They chatted an’ ate peanuts as they waited, dutifully tossin’ the shells on the floor. When the waitress showed up with the tray, Joe Henry exclaimed “Oh Mama” out loud. The waitress, named Trish, laughed an’ told them to not hurt themselves. She placed a platter in front of each of them boys. Bowls of lemon wedges, tartar sauce an’ cocktail sauce were placed between them.
Both had ordered the cole slaw at Trish’s suggestion an’ she put a bowl of the cole slaw beside each of their platters. That platter had a heap of onion rings, two fried stuffed crabs, big ol’ catfish fillets, fried jumbo shrimp, fried calamari, fried clams, four fried oysters an’ big ol’ hush puppies. Just to be health conscious they had a couple boiled shrimp an’ half dozen boiled crawdads on the side of the plate.
Vince dug in first. Joe Henry was right behind him an’ they didn’t talk for a long time. Trish came by to fill their sweet tea an’ asked if they needed anything else. Joe Henry only moaned. Vince shook his head NO! When they took a moment to breath, Joe Henry admitted it was all Vince bragged it to be.
When they left, they both noticed they smelled just like fried fish. They took a walk down to a boat dock to get their food to settle an’ get rid of some of the fried fish smell. As they walked down by the boat slips, they saw an’ older lady sittin’ on an upside down five-gallon plastic bucket. She had a Zebco rod an’ reel an’ was fishin’ by herself.
They said howdy to her an’ she talked with them as she fished. She explained that all the men came down real early an’ took all the good spots. Durin’ the winter all the folks that lived around the boat dock threw their cut Christmas trees in around the dock to make places for the crappie to gather.
Vince asked her how she was doin’ an’ she picked up her stringer to show five real nice sized crappies an' one white bass. She used minnows, “minners’, as she called them an’ a little bitty gold hook. She told them too many folks used big hooks an’ the crappies had what she called a “paper mouth” that was thin an’ tore easily if a big hook was used.
She laughed an’ told them a story about a group of “city folks” that didn’t know much about fishin’ for crappie. She said they was fishin’ there about two weeks before. She usually was up early an’ at the dock by 5:00 a.m. an’ often fished midday when she had time an’ visitors filled the dock. As usual, she knew where to fish, where the sunken Christmas trees were an’ each mornin’ had a nice mess of fish.
When she would get up to leave, them city fellers would run to get her spot, hopin’ to catch crappies. After the first two mornin’s they made their way down to the dock early so’s they was there before her. They watched carefully as she would choose a spot, would watch every move she made. She purposefully moved around a lot, not lettin’ them know where the best places to fish were at.
Finally, one older man got brave an’ asked her why she was catchin’ so many crappies when they was not doin’ as good. She held up her bait, a minnow on one of them little gold hooks an’ told them they was two secrets to her success. First was them little gold hooks. She only bought them at a little bait shop in Bean Station, Tennessee, just about five miles away. Said to ask for Fay’s favorites when they was there. Second, she hooked the minnow in the tail, waved it in a circle while repeatin’ the words, “Minner, minner, silver an’ quick. Fetch me a crappie, fast an’ quick”. Then she spit on the minnow before castin’ into the water.
She laughed an’ told them she didn’t do any such thing. “That feller at that bait shop is the crankiest man I’ve ever seen. I wouldn’t shop there for nothin’. An’ my name ain’t Fay. It is Joan! Also, I am a Christian woman. I ain’t castin’ no spells on minners an’ I sure ain’t spittin’ on my bait”
She laughed as she told them ever’ one of them men hightailed it to that bait shop. Came back later with little bitty gold hooks. She stood in the dock’s store an’ watched them city slickers sit an’ do exactly what she told them to do. Didn’t help though. They didn’t know where the Christmas trees was sunk.
She invited them to stay an’ visit an’ go home with her. She said her husband usually took a nap mid-day but would be up around two or two thirty an’ she would fix them all an early supper of fried crappie an’ the best hushpuppies they ever ate. They thanked her for the invite but said they needed to get goin’ if they were to get to the motel where they planned to stay that evenin’. After a few more minutes of conversation an’ fishin’ advice, they told her goodbye an’ walked back to the truck an’ were on their way.
They planned on goin’ to Lynchburg, Tennessee that evenin’, about a four-hour drive to visit a lavender farm Vince had been in contact with. They had an appointment the next mornin’ at 10:00 with a man named Burly Wilson. Since they had plenty of time, they decided to not go the highway an’ take the side roads. They enjoyed the drive, the signs of spring an’ the slower pace of drivin’. They talked an’ made a couple stops along the way at stores that caught their eye.
When they were getting’ close to Lynchburg, Vince asked Joe Henry if they could stay after the visit to the lavender farm to tour the Jack Daniels Distillery that was there. Joe Henry said he was in no huge hurry. Vince looked at him, grinned an’ slugged Joe Henry in the arm.
The visit to the lavender farm went well. Burly Wilson was an’ older man with lots of knowledge. His lavender fields covered acres an’ acres. He told Vince to be sure an’ add lime to the soil as the lavender plants prefer soil to be a little alkaline. Also, don’t put mulch up to the plant stems as it could cause the plants to rot. He mulched with chipped wood between the rows as he had a gas-powered chipper an’ could chip plenty of branches an’ saplin’s in the woods on his property. Said it was worth the investment to get free chips.
Vince bought two dozen potted lavender plants of a variety he knew Burly grew. Him an’ Burly both thought the weather was warm enough to travel with them plants. Burly warned him to be sure an’ take the plants out from under the tonneau cover to give them light when they got to where they was goin’ an’ to keep them watered. They told Burly goodbye an’ were soon on their way to the Jack Daniels Distillery.
When they got there Vince was lookin’ forward to the tour an’ learnin’ about Jack Daniels Whiskey. Joe Henry told him that Bourbon could only be called Bourbon if it was from Kentucky, since Bourbon was invented, sort of accidentally, by Elijah Craig in Georgetown, Kentucky. Jack Daniels was whiskey. Vince said he was lookin’ forward to tryin’ a sample durin’ the tour.
Joe Henry stopped, looked at Vince an’ started laughin’. “You do know this is a dry County, right?”
“Yeah, so?” Vince asked.
“Vince, it is a dry County here. They are not allowed to give samples or even sell their whiskey here. It is a dry County, brother.” Joe Henry laughed.
“Well, I’ll be…” was all Vince could say.

Chapter Ten
Vince slept a few minutes longer in their motel room while Joe Henry had his shower. He was up at 6:00 an’ ready to get cleaned up an’ on the road. It was goin’ to be eight hours an’ thirty minutes or so to get to the Blue Sky Lavender Farm. They decided the night before that if they were up an’ finished breakfast by 8:00 they could be there by suppertime. Joe Henry took a few minutes extra to shave real good. He wanted to look his best for April.
When Vince got up, he took a sniff an’ gave Joe Henry a hard time as he pointed out that there was a strong odor of “Old Spice” in the air. He wondered why Joe Henry needed to shave when they were goin’ to see Rick an’ Mazie. Joe Henry still had his damp towel which he rolled up into a rat tail an’ commenced to whackin’ Vince with it till Vince ran to the bathroom an’ shut the door.
“Vince, you know why I shaved. Why in the world would you even bother? Might as well look your sorry ol’ nasty road worn self.” Joe Henry said when Vince came out of the bathroom.
“I don’t want you to make me look bad. I know how you are. Probably tell them you picked some hobo up along the road. You’ll try to keep me from sittin’ down at the supper table if I know you.” He laughed.
Once they loaded up an’ checked on the lavender plants in the bed of the truck they were on their way. The tour guide at the Jack Daniels Distillery recommended a local mom an’ pop restaurant for breakfast. They both had the “two-fer” special. That was two eggs, two pieces of bacon an’ two biscuits covered in sausage gravy. A couple small glasses of orange juice an’ coffee for both of them were all they needed to provide an’ amazin’ country breakfast.
The waitress was a college girl an’ was chatty as she served them. She kept the coffee flowin’ an’ topped off their orange juice, even though she weren’t supposed to do so. They left her a good tip as they left an’ hit the road.
“8:05, Joe Henry. We are right on schedule. If I need to stop for you to take a cold shower, just let me know. I do need to tell you it will add time onto the trip though.” Vince told Joe Henry.
Vince started out drivin’ an’ they listened to country an’ western music for most of the mornin’. Their conversations were mostly about the song, the artist or band singin’ it an’ other songs the group played. The day was bright as they started out, but they ran into a little rain as they drove.
They stopped at a Stuckey’s close to Crosby, Tennessee, not too far from the North Carolina border a little after noon. They both had a ham sandwich, some tater chips an’ a sweet tea before they hit the road once more. Joe Henry bought a pecan roll to share as they drove the remainin’ four hours or so.
As Joe Henry drove, the conversation became more serious. Joe Henry told Vince about his conversation with Aunt Bess. He admitted that he was more than a little worried that he could fail. He didn’t want to fail, didn’t want to make bad decisions. He honestly wasn’t sure why his Great Aunt put so much trust in him after he allowed his Daddy’s business to fail.
“You have been doin’ pretty good so far, Joe Henry. I’ve looked at your business plans, talked with you about things too many times to count. I count on you for advice. I trust your instincts. I think you have put some fresh ideas into the farm, the business.” Vince told him.
“Let me ask you a more personal question, though. What about April? You talk with me about her a lot. You seem to be pretty into her. What about her? Have y’all talked about any kind of future?”
Joe Henry was quiet for a moment as he drove. He finally looked over at Vince, shook his head an’ smiled a half smile. Vince didn’t say anything more. He let Joe Henry drive an’ think for a while.
“Vince, I just don’t know. I do have some deep feelin’s for April. I might could love her, might love her already. I’m scared my friend. That’s another thing I messed up pretty bad. I don’t want to do that again. I don’t even know if April would consider movin’ to Kentucky. We haven’t really talked about that sort of thing. Right now, we just love talkin’ about love.”
Vince nodded his understandin’ an’ they drove for a while, neither one talkin’. Finally, Vince spoke up an’ told Joe Henry he was scared about tryin’ to raise Misty Dawn by himself. He wanted to pursue his Master’s degree an’ be a good Daddy, run the lavender farm.
“I guess I want to be all things to all men, Joe Henry. I’m not always sure about just me. I sometimes feel the same sort of things you feel. I understand better than you think. Plus, I’m lonely, bud. I am so lonely since Mist died. It is so hard bein’ a single Daddy. I love it, but it is hard, man.” Vince said quietly.
Then he turned to look at Joe Henry an’ asked, “What about Rachel?”
“What do you mean, what about Rachel?” Joe Henry asked. “You know she’s my Cousin, right? Sorta wrong, ain’t it? Sure, she is awesome. She’s one of the prettiest women I’ve ever met. I just don’t think that sort of thing is looked upon as right.”
“Good grief, Joe Henry. You are such an idiot. You told me she was your fourth cousin. Do you know how many fourth cousins you could have? Dozens. Hundreds. Plus, my friend, there is no laws, no moral codes, no wrong thing with marryin’ a fourth cousin. Good Grief.” Vince told him. “You kinda tick me off with that stuff. She is an amazin’ woman. She is special to you, you depend on her, you trust her, you spend time with her. Don’t you like her?”
“Well, sure I do. I’ve just never thought of her like that. I don’t know, Vince. I sort of have a thing for April.” Joe Henry admitted.
“Your loss, my friend. Your loss.” Vince said.

Chapter Eleven

When they pulled up to the front of Rick an’ Mazie’s home, Joe Henry beeped the horn an’ got out of his truck. Vince was right behind him as they walked toward the porch. The screen door flew open an’ April ran out, squealin’ an’ hollerin’ Joe Henry’s name. She jumped into his arms, wrapped her legs around him an’ gave him what might be one of the biggest kisses he ever experienced in his entire ilfe. He had to step back an’ lean against the truck as they continued to kiss.
Rick an’ Mazie were not too far behind an’ Rick held his hand out to Vince, “I’m afraid I won’t be greetin’ you the same way. I’m Rick an’ this is my wife, Mazie. She is April’s sister. You probably figured out the monster that is suckin’ the life out of Joe Henry is April.”
April finally allowed Joe Henry to come up for air an’ led him up to the porch. He greeted Rick an’ Mazie an’ they all sat in the chairs around the front porch. April sat by Joe Henry an’ asked Vince how the trip was. Vince decided to be a little ornery right off an’ told them all he didn’t get a wink of sleep since Joe Henry snored so loud. Plus, Vince added, he had terrible gas all night.
They all laughed. Joe Henry got red an’ Rick told Vince he would fit right in. They talked for a good bit about the trip, the progress on things back home an’ such. Mazie told them that her Dad, Bud was havin’ them all over to his place at 6:00 for a good ol’ time pig roast. He put the pig on early that mornin’ an’ it was about time to head over. April said Vince would get to meet her folks an’ her younger sister, June.
April took Joe Henry an’ Vince to the bunk house an’ helped them put their bags down before she took them back to the side of the house where two golf carts waited. Rick an’ Mazie were in one an’ invited Vince to ride with them. April took the wheel of the other an’ they were off across the field toward Bud an’ Irene Barton’s place.
Bud was at the big homemade smoker an’ was takin’ the pig off piece by piece. He told Rick an’ Joe Henry to come help him as he lifted the long metal tray up an’ carried it over to a table to carve an’ shred the meat. He had knives, tongs an’ other utensils on hand as he attacked the pig with the experience of a long time cook.
Irene told them that June was bringin’ some of the folks she works with over from the school. They were on their way an’ bringin’ other food to add to the spread that April, Mazie an’ Irene were layin’ out. Bud told Rick to get somethin’ for Vince an’ Rick to drink. He also mentioned that he had some awful good whiskey, just in case they felt a chill comin’ on. Told them he already was feelin’ a chill himself.
As Bud was finishin’ up with the pig, they heard cars comin’ up the gravel driveway. Three cars pulled up an’ June got out of the first one. She came over, hugged Joe Henry an’ then hugged Vince. Vince grinned as she hugged him. She them turned to motioned to her friends an’ they poured out of the cars.
“Folks better know what they are doin’ if they invite hungry teachers to come eat. I can’t say much about their cookin’. They are all school teachers an’ too poor to afford good eats. Plus, their palates have been ruined by elementary school cafeteria food. It is what it is, though” June told everyone.
Four women an’ two men joined them an’ were introduced all around. The men brought soda pop an’ ice, admittin’ that they weren’t much for cookin’. The women made up for it though an’ loaded down the already groanin’ table with even more food. Bud made everyone stand up an’ join hands as he said a blessin’ over the food.
Then they all had at it.
Rick, Mazie an’ June took Vince under their care an’ visited with him. Joe Henry tried to be cordial to everyone, but April had other ideas. She was just plain ol’ tickled to see him. Bud was asked to show the teachers around the farm an’ he easily agreed. When Vince learned Bud was takin’ the others on a tour, he mentioned he would like to see the farm too. June told him she would take him on a tour if he would like. He agreed an’ they headed off toward a field that would soon be filled with corn, shootin’ up an’ takin’ off.
April an’ Joe Henry joined Rick, Mazie an’ Irene. They asked him about the trip, about how things were goin’ back home. They sat an’ talked, enjoyin’ the early evenin’ till the teachers came back with Bud. They begged off, sayin’ they better get goin’. They got into their two cars after they said their goodbyes. Asked April to tell June they would see her at school and were off.
Vince an’ June soon joined the others an’ Vince had what seemed like a thousand questions for Bud. He told Bud about the projects he had been workin’ on with heirloom varieties of corn. Bud got up an’ told Vince to follow him to one of the barns.
June laughed, “Oh my, Vince has hit one of Daddy’s favorite topics. He has been talkin’ an’ workin’ to preserve old time corn varieties for years. He is afraid of corn monocultures with no varieties. Afraid disease or blight of some type could wipe out all the corn crops if they become a monoculture. He will talk Vince’s ears off.”
Joe Henry nodded, “I suspect he will have a contest on his hands. Vince is pretty intense about the same types of things. I don’t understand half of what Vince tells me. It is definitely good for him to have someone to talk to.”
Rick an’ Mazie got up to help Irene put things away. Joe Henry stood up to help but Irene told him an’ April to take the gold cart an’ go for a ride. She suggested April show him June’s house that was almost ready for June to move in. Both April an’ Joe Henry agreed quickly. They were in the golf cart an’ away in a flash.
June wandered into the barn after she helped her Mama put all the leftovers away. She walked up to her Daddy an’ wrapped her arms around his left arm to stand an’ listen.  Bud patted her hands as he talked.
“Don’t let this one fool you. She may be teachin’ elementary school, but she has a bachelor’s an’ master’s degree in botany as well as her teacher’s certificate. She has been helpin’ me with my records, crops an’ plannin’ things here on the farm since she was in high school. I’m hopin’ one day to have the girls take the farm over an’ run it together. They already do a right smart lot of day to day operations as it is.” Bud bragged.
They walked through several barns, Bud pointin’ out things, answerin’ questions that Vince would raise about the farm, the corn crops he raised, any heirloom varieties he might have seed for. June took over an’ led Vince an’ her Daddy to a room used of the farm’s office. She took down several notebooks an’ showed Vince their records, their notes on growth, diseases, production of modern an’ ol’ time varieties.
She was proud of the one notebook filled with notes, photos, pages of records on the popcorn crop they started when she was a sophomore in high school. These days they raised a whole field of their popcorn variety that she actually crossbred. They sold hundreds of pounds, almost one thousand pounds of popcorn last year.
Vince was really impressed. “We came to talk about the lavender farm, but I can’t believe how much y’all know about heirloom varieties. I need to spend some time talkin’ with y’all as well as Rick an’ Mazie. “
Bud told him he was welcome to spend all the time he wanted. Both him an’ June would be happy to help in any way they could. They went back to the house, sat together in the cool of the evenin’.
June went into the house an’ came out with a windbreaker that had the name “Barton’s Best” on the front with the words “Gourmet Popcorn” underneath. She handed it to Vince so he wouldn’t get a chill as they sat an’ talked. Bud handed Vince a whiskey bottle an’ suggested a slug of the contents might stave off the chill. Vince took a slug an’ handed it back to Bud. Bud then handed it to June an’ she poured just a little into the glass of Coke she was drinkin’.
They talked well into the evenin’ before Bud told June to take Vince back to the bunkhouse. As they rode away from her Daddy’s place, June asked if he would like to see her new house as it was almost finished. He agreed an’ they headed in that direction rather than goin’ to the bunk house.
By the time they arrived at the home site, April an’ Joe Henry were long gone an’ off explorin’ the night on their own.

Chapter Twelve
The next week was busy for both Joe Henry an’ Vince. Joe Henry spent time with Vince as he met with Rick an’ Mazie. Joe Henry wanted to learn as much as he could so as to help Vince when he could. They talked genetics of the lavender plants, best practices, fertilization, soil composition an’ even drip irrigation. Rick gave Vince advice on how much bigger to make the lavender farm. Mazie talked at length about products made with the lavender. Rick had definite ideas about mulchin’ the rows between the lavender plants. Vince an’ him went round an’ round about usin’ chipped wood or not. Vince sorta liked the idea of usin’ rolls of plastic between the rows of plants. Rick was afraid it would create too much water runoff an’ starve the plants of water.
When he wasn’t workin’ with Rick, Vince was over to Bud’s place talkin’ with him about corn, the history of corn in America as well as goin’ over the hybrid books that June kept over the years. June sat down with him each night after she arrived home from school to go over the notes she made in the various crop notebooks. They had their heads together constantly.
When there was opportunity on the weekend, Bud an’ June took Vince to meet a couple other farmers that were workin’ to create viable hybrids from heirloom corn. They left early in the mornin’ an’ not get home till after dark. Vince would go on an’ on at night as him an’ Joe Henry settled in at the bunkhouse. He was so excited that the trip was a goldmine for his degree work.
When April wasn’t workin’ she was spendin’ time with Joe Henry. They were just in their own world. They went for many walks, sat an’ watched the sun go down an’ a few times They got up early to meet an’ watch the sun come up as they sat on Rick an’ Mazie’s porch drinkin’ coffee.
Oh my, their care for each other an’ passion was a thing to watch. No one had any doubt as to where the time they spent together might lead. Joe Henry felt that he might just have met “the one”. April had similar things on her mind.
After they had been there a week, they still had at least another four or five days planned for Vince to get everything he needed before they went back to Kentucky. Early one afternoon Joe Henry an’ April decided to take a picnic an’ go to the pond to sit an’ enjoy the day. They took one of the golf carts so they didn’t have to walk an’ carry the picnic basket, blanket an’ cooler.
As they sat an’ ate they paused an’ kissed often. They laughed an’ talked an’ just enjoyed the passion of two young people who might be in love. After a while they both got quiet. They sat an’ Joe Henry threw rocks into the pond. Finally, he started a conversation they both wanted to start.
He told her how he felt about her. That he thought it might be love. He was honest an’ pretty transparent about his life before he moved to Kentucky, to Thousandsticks. He told her about his Daddy dyin’, about Betty. He told her how they met, how they got physically involved before they were married, how he felt like he had to marry her after that, Told her about the divorce, the bankruptcy an’ losin’ his Daddy’s store.
It scared him a lot, but he felt like he needed to see where things might go with April. He wanted her to know exactly what he was, who he was.
 April listened with a knowin’ smile on her face as he spoke. Finally, she told him she knew she could love him. She was a little scared to because of the distance an’ the fact he had been divorced. She also said she had wanted to have this time to talk but was afraid to start. Afraid of where the conversation might take them.
Then Joe Henry told her about his life on Limestone Ridge Road. He smiled broadly as he spoke of those folks, of his Great Aunt that April already knew. He grinned as he talked about how his life had changed. He told her of his plannin’, of the business plan he developed for Carpenter’s Bee Tree Farm. He bragged that him an’ Vince was workin’ on a business plan for the lavender farm as well.
April thought for a long while after he was finished. They sat for a good bit before she finally spoke up.
“I reckon you are pretty attached to that Ridge, to the folks there, right? I mean, seems like that is the place you want to be, where your heart is, right?” she asked.
Joe Henry thought for a moment, “I suppose that is right. Never thought of it much, but yeah, I reckon that is true. It is where my roots are. Where the family has been for generations, April. That place is what changed me, the old me into this new version of me. I like this version right well.”
They sat for a long time. Neither of them said anything for what seemed like an eternity. The day was lovely. The sun was bright an’ warmed them as they sat together. April scooted closer to Joe Henry, took his hand in hers.
“I suspect that in spite of how we feel about each other, we both know what will happen. What needs to happen for the best for both of us. I am so hurt an’ broken by my own heart, my own head right now, my darlin’ Joe Henry. Oh, I would love to tell you to take me home with you to Limestone Ridge. I would love to go an’ spend my days with them wonderful folks you love so much. You don’t know how I want to ride one of your ol’ mules into the hills an’ ride beside you for hours. Joe Henry you can’t imagine...” she broke off with a small cry.
“I can imagine. I guess I knew this all had to be too good to be true. I reckon I’ve done it again. Right thing, right time, wrong places.” he said in a whisper.
“Oh babe.” she said, “Not wrong in any way. Right for so many reasons. I wish it could be different, I wish my heart, my roots were not as deep here as yours is there. I hoped that you would not only fall in love with me, but that this place could call to you, would make you fall in love with all of us, with this farm, with our way of life. I prayed that you would want to come here, marry me an’ be with me here, right here for the rest of our lives.”
“Problem is, my sweetheart, I made a promise that me an’ my sisters would be here, carry on our lives here, keep our family together, our farm together. Daddy an’ Mama are getting' older an’ we want to keep the place alive. We may lose Daddy an’ Mama one day, but this will be their memorial, the monument to our family an’ the generations that made it work, that kept it for us.” she cried as she told him.
Joe Henry squeezed her hand tight, “I know. I suppose I’ve always known. I reckon that is why I care so much for you, April, sweetie. You were so much like me. Problem is, what I saw in you, what attracts me to you has strings, has an anchor sunk in right here in this place.”
He took her in his arms an’ kissed her, hard an’ long. Her tears ran down as they kissed. He cried for what might have been. Their kiss was salty with tears an’ the lost promise of love. Their hearts broke with promises never made, never to be fulfilled.
They sat till long after the sun went down. They kissed an’ whispered to one another again an’ again. That moment changed each of them a little. Made a place in each heart, a secret room that would soon be locked, never to be opened again. They both suspected they would find love, real forever an’ ever love but both knew their love would never be. You see, their hearts already were filled with love that could not be broken, love for a place that anchored their hearts far from each other.
When they climbed into the golf cart to head back, they were quiet. April drove slowly, not wantin’ life to seep back in. She stopped the golf cart before they were back. She turned, took Joe Henry’s hand an’ spoke in a soft voice.
“Joe Henry, would you stay with me tonight? Love me like we could love each other? Hold me as we sleep? Oh, Joe Henry, stay with me tonight. Stay with me one time, make love to me just this one time. I want you, need you, sweet Joe.”
Joe Henry was quiet as he looked into her eyes. She began to weep as he took her into his arms. He held her for ever so long.
“April, we both know I can’t. Oh, how I want to hold you, make love to you, remember those tender moments forever. I can’t though. If I did, we both would be sorry. It wouldn’t be love. I promised myself, my Lord that the next time I did it would be with my wife. I can’t break that promise. I did before, I can’t again. I think you know that too, don’t you? He told her.
“I know. I know an’ was ashamed when I asked. I just can’t bear to see you leave soon. I just thought...” she said.
“I know, darlin’. I am afraid if I did, I would feel honor bound to stay, to marry you, to do what’s right. We both know we are doin’ what is right. No matter how much it hurts.” he whispered to her.
She drove on an’ stopped the golf cart in front of the bunk house. He took her into his arms an’ kissed her. He promised he would kiss her again an’ again before they parted.

Chapter Thirteen

When Joe Henry stepped out of the golf cart he stood for a long time. Not wantin’ to go in just yet. April drove away with tears in her eyes. They both still wanted to spend as much time together as they could. Though she didn’t look back, Joe Henry waved as she headed toward her home.
Joe Henry went to bed early. He had much on his mind an’ he didn’t want to talk when Vince came in. He was sound asleep when Vince arrived an’ slept a deep sleep. His sleep was filled with dreams of the “might have been”. Even as he dreamed, he knew he made the right decision. He knew they both made the right decisions.
He was up an’ in the shower bright an’ early the next mornin. Both Joe Henry an’ Vince were stayin’ in the bunks an’ usin’ the counselor quarters to rest, visit, use the bathroom an’ shower. Vince didn’t wake up till after Joe Henry was fully dressed. Vince sat up, rubbed his eyes an’ stood to look for his jeans.
“Joe Henry. I hate to give you bad news, but you have to go home, brother. My Mama called last night an’ spoke to Mazie. I don’t know any details, but there is a problem. Somethin' is goin’ on. I wish I knew more, but I think you better go. Mazie said Mama told her you needed to get home. No one is hurt or sick. I don’t know but something happened. It sounded like some kind of emergency.” Vince told him.
“She didn’t say? No idea what it is?” Joe Henry asked even as he was packin’ his things to leave. “Aunt Bess is OK? Maggie an’ Charlie?”
“I wish I knew, my friend. I got it third hand. My Mama called late; said she probably shouldn’t say anything. She told Mazie an’ Mazie told me late last night after you were in bed asleep.” Vince replied.
It was over six hours to get back home. Vince still had things he wanted to achieve before he went home. Joe Henry was torn between goin’ right away an’ leavin’ Vince with no way home.
“What about you? How will you get home? I can’t just leave you.” Joe Henry said.
“I’m good Joe Henry. This give me more time to get some research done. Rick said maybe he could bring me home an’ look things over at the lavender farm. You go on.”
Joe Henry gave Vince a hug. He asked him to tell everyone he had to leave. He also planned to call April when he arrived home an’ knew what was goin’ on. It might be better this way. They said the things they needed to say last night. It could be even more difficult if he stayed. Their feelin’s might lead to them doin’ something they both wanted but was such a terrible idea at that point.
He was in his truck an’ gone by 7:00. He figured if he got a quick breakfast, he would be home early afternoon. Once on the road, he stopped at a truck stop for gas an’ slugged down two eggs, two slices of bacon with biscuits an’ coffee. He filled the truck up with gas an’ was on the way.
Every mile was filled with worry. He stopped at a pay phone to call, but there was no answer at Charlie’s or Aunt Bess’ house. He decided by the time he got anybody he would just waste time talkin’ when he was needed at home. The miles seemed to be goin’ in slow motion as he drove. Worry filled his mind.
Finally, he got off the Daniel Boone Toll Road at Big Creek an’ headed for Thousandsticks an’ Limestone Ridge Road. He was just fifteen minutes from home. When he drove up, he noticed that work had stopped on the Cabin Store. He expected to see Charlie, Bobby or some of the men workin’ that time of day. It looked like both the barn an’ store was almost finished but nothin’ was goin’ on. He thought it was odd.
He pulled into his drive to see a strange car parked in front of the house. When he got out of the truck an’ started up the steps he saw bright flowered cushions on his rockin’ chairs an’ the porch swing was missin’. He unlocked the front door an’ went in.
Joe Henry didn’t know what was goin’ on, but he felt like he was in the Twilight Zone or somethin’. He looked around an’ it looked like someone else’s house. His couch an’ love seat had flowered slip covers on them. There were cheap pictures on the wall in plastic frames, looked like that Home Interiors stuff he hated with a passion. He walked into his kitchen an’ the long harvest table was missin’. He saw it out on the back porch along with all the chairs. In its place was a chrome an’ glass dinette table with four chairs. A plastic plant was in the middle of the table.
He looked around an’ saw that all his Fiesta ware was missin’. A stack of plain white dishes sat on the sideboard. He shook his head, not knowin’ what was happenin. Did Aunt Bess have a change of heart an’ hire someone else to take over? Had he done somethin’ wrong?
He went to the Frigidaire to get some sweet tea. The sweet tea was gone an’ the Frigidaire was filled with diet RC Cola. He opened the freezer an’ the freezer was filled with Banquet TV Dinners. TV dinners for goodness sake.
An’ the kitchen curtains were gone. Even the curtains had been replaced. What in the world was happenin’? Was he in some kind of dream or nightmare?
Then he heard the basement door close. He turned around to see who was in his home. He stopped dead in his tracks right then an’ there. His mouth opened. He went numb.
The woman who stepped out of the basement door was the last person he expected to see. She smiled an’ said, “Oh Joey, dear Joey. Welcome home honey. I am so glad you are home. I didn’t know how to contact you once I arrived. I just can’t believe it. I am finally here.”
He just stood there for a minute before frownin’ an’ askin’, “Betty, why are you here? What have you done to my home? What are you doin’ here? Why did you break into my house? Who let you in? I sure didn’t invite you.”

Chapter Fourteen

Betty stepped away from the door an’ smiled a big ol’ smile, “Oh Joey, I am so glad you are home. I didn’t know how to reach you to tell you I was here. No one around here is any help at all. Bunch of hicks. Anyway, you are home. I am so glad to see you.”
She went over to Joe Henry an’ wrapped her arms around him to hug him. He didn’t respond. He just stood there stiff an’ with his arms at his side. She stepped away an’ motioned around with her hands like one of them women on “Price is Right” or something. It was as if to say, “Looky here what I’ve done.”
Joe Henry had not hugged her back, did not smile, he crossed his arms as she motioned. He had no idea why she was there. He had no idea how she figured out where he was. He hadn’t seen her for nearly two years, except for the final divorce hearin’ an’ the bankruptcy court.
“As I said, why are you here? What are you doin’? I don’t know what you are thinkin’, showin’ up here like this. Breakin’ into my house. What have you done to my place? Where are my dishes? What have you done with my stuff?”
That is when he noticed his fiddle was hangin’ on the wall. He looked at Betty with a hard look as he walked over to the wall an’ took it down. He looked it over to make sure she hadn’t damaged it. She had loosened all the strings an’ had it hangin’ from a nail by a piece of fishin’ line. He looked around but didn’t see the case or his bow.
“Why did you hang my fiddle on the wall? Where is my case an’ bow? Where have you put the things you have moved? I can’t believe this.” Joe Henry said with more anger than he felt toward her in a long time.
“Oh honey, you know you just don’t have the decorating knack that I have. This place was so plain. It was depressing. You can see I have really cheered it up so much with a little touch of Betty here and there. It was too backwoodsy. Too hickified for me.” She explained.
“And that old violin. I thought it would make a nice touch for you hanging there on the wall. Not to my tastes though. I almost put it in the thrift store pile with everything else. Don’t worry though, the case and the other thing are in the stacks of stuff in the basement. I think it is under the sheets and those dirty old quilts I took off the beds. Honestly, you men...”
“Betty, why are you doin’ this? Why are you even here? Why did you spend your money buyin’ stuff for my house? What gives you the right to break in here an’ do damage to my stuff?” he said angrily.
“Well first of all, you were the one who always wanted to work things out. You wanted to stay together, said it was the right thing to do. You kept throwing up that ‘Till death alone parts you’ stuff. I thought you were serious about it. That’s why I am here, to give you a second chance.”
“Besides, I didn’t spend my money. I didn’t have much to spend and it is your house, after all. Why didn’t you tell me about this place? Did your Father leave this to you and you never told me about it? Did you try to hide it because of the divorce? If you did it may be mine too.” she went on.
“What do you mean you didn’t spend your money?” he asked.
They it hit him. He turned an’ looked toward the high shelf in the kitchen where he kept that ol’ antique peanut brittle can. It was gone. Gone like so much else in his place.
As he walked toward the shelf, she laughed an’ walked to him, put her arm around his waist. He pushed her arm away.
“Joey, Joey. Honey, you always kept your secret stash in that peanut brittle can. When I saw it, I knew exactly what was in it. Bless your hillbilly heart, honey. I just knew you wouldn’t mind me taking a little bit of your secret stash to fix the place up for us. It needs to reflect my taste as well as yours.” she said
The peanut brittle can held the money he received when he sold brooms an’ walkin’ sticks he made. It was his mad money for little fun things. He had been savin’ for a long time.
“There was over $1,500 in that can, Betty. You stole $1,500 from me.”
“Now, Joey, you always said what was yours was mine and what was mine was yours. Share and share alike and all that nonsense you always spouted. If we are going to make a go of it, if we want to try again you have to be willing to give up some of your selfish ways for your little Betty.” she cooed.
Joe Henry hated it when she tried that “coo” nonsense. He really didn’t know what to do, what to think. He wanted to call the sheriff an’ have her arrested. He walked around, went upstairs, looked in every room. She had taken the quilts off the beds, put cheap Kmart bedspreads on each bed. She even took the curtains down in the kitchen and both bathrooms.
He went out on the back porch to see what was there. Under the long harvest table were boxes filled with his things. Boxes with his things thrown in, not put in carefully. He went to the basement to find his quilts, sheets, curtains an’ the Fiestaware dishes. He noticed that several cups an’ a plate were broken an’ layin’ on top of the other dishes
When he went upstairs, he confronted Betty, “How did you get in here? Why do you think I want to give you another chance?” he asked.
“Silly Joey, you always kept a key under the mat. It was right there where you put it. I think you always knew I’d be back home.” she said with a smile.
“Didn’t anyone try to stop you?
“Oh, I talked with your neighbors. They apparently used to work for you. I told them who I was, and I would be kind of taking over with you. I had to lay them off, honey. They are too old to do the things me and you plan to do.”
“Plans? You mean like the stupid plans that you had that ruined us, destroyed my Daddy’s business? Your plans that bankrupted us? Those plans? Your plans that ended when you left me for another man? The plans that left me with bills you made by ordering thousands of items on credit for the store with no authority?” He was almost shoutin’.
“Honey, I found your little business plan. Bless your hillbilly heart. You just don’t have a clue. It is almost the 1980s. You need to get with it. Your plans were a mess.” she told him.
That’s when he saw his business plans layin’ on the dinette table. He picked them up an’ when he looked through them, he found she had crossed things out, changed things, even tore whole pages out.
“I told the old couple we had to let them go. I plan to hire migrant workers to run the bee stuff. Have them come in in the spring to start things an’ come back to harvest the honey. We can put bunk beds in that barn for them to sleep on when they are here. Saves us a lot of money.”
“And Joey, I have such a great marketing idea. We’ll dump that Bee Tree Honey crap. It is just nonsense. We can call it ‘Betty’s Bees’. Isn't that lovely. I know we’ll be rich.” she said with a grin.
“Betty, we are divorced. Been divorced for over a year. We were legally separated for a year or more before that so you couldn’t do any more damage to the store and my credit. The damage was done. Done by you, Betty. I can promise you we are not going to use Betty’s Bees or any of your other ideas.”
“Are you sure, Joey? Are you positive we aren’t still husband and wife? Don’t be too sure baby. We are meant to be together.”
Joe Henry stood there lookin’ at Betty for a long time. Finally, he picked up his coat an’ things an’ left. He needed to leave.

Chapter Fifteen
Joe Henry stopped at the Cabin Store. All work had stopped. The barn was almost finished an’ most of the work was done on the Cabin Store, but it seemed like they all left when Hurricane Betty swept in. He walked over to Charlie an’ Maggie’s an’ knocked. Maggie pushed the curtain on the window to one side to see who was at the door. When she saw Joe Henry, she opened the door with a sad smile. She cried when he stepped in. Charlie an’ Maggie both hugged him an’ told him to sit down.
They told him about Betty showin’ up. They told him that she said she was Joe Henry’s wife an’ just took the house over. She apparently read his business plans the second day she was there. When they were workin’ on the Cabin Store they told Betty who they were. That’s when she fired them. Maggie was all teary eyed as she relayed the events to Joe Henry.
“Maggie, she can’t fire you. You don’t work for me. I technically work for you. That is the way Aunt Bess hired me. An’ it ain’t even my house she is messin’ with. None of that is mine. It is Aunt Bess’ stuff, her house, her business.” he said.
They talked for a long time. Maggie got up to get some coffee for the three of them an’ noticed that Betty was on the front porch lookin’ for Joe Henry. She came back, sat down an’ told him Betty was askin’ who the mules an’ horses belonged to. They told her they were Bess Asher’s. She had no idea who Bess Asher was but said she would have to get someplace else to keep her livestock as Betty was allergic.
“She said they was gonna be a lot of changes when she was done with things, Joe Henry. She is wicked, I’ll tell you. Wicked.” Maggie said.
Joe Henry agreed an’ asked to use their phone to make a long-distance call. They told him to go ahead. He took his lawyer’s business card out of his wallet an’ called. Charlie an’ Maggie went into the kitchen while Joe Henry talked to his lawyer about his divorce an’ several other things he needed advice on. When he hung up the phone, he walked into the kitchen to join them
“Well, I don’t know what she is tryin’ to pull, but we are definitely divorced. We legally separated over two years ago to separate our finances an’ all then. The divorce was final fourteen months ago. He said she called a month or so ago, snoopin’ around an’ tryin’ to get my phone number or address. He didn’t give it to her. His secretary told him she got it from one of the boys I played ball with back in high school. I’ve talked to him a few times and we keep up with each other. I sent him a Christmas card an’ he gave her my address off that card. She said it was an emergency an’ she needed to get in touch with me.” he told them as he shook his head.
They sat an’ talked for a long time before he left an’ walked down to Vince’s place to see Misty Dawn an’ Vince’s parents. Vince’s Mama apologized for not tellin’ Vince more of what was goin’ on. They all were kind of in the dark when Betty showed up. They just didn’t know what to do, what to say. They invited him to stay for supper. He sure didn’t want to go home right then an’ agreed. They had fried pork chops, potatoes au gratin, a salad an’ green beans for supper.
Joe Henry sat with them, held Misty Dawn for a long time before he decided to walk down to see Lois an’ Lottie. When he knocked on the door, he heard Truman bark an’ come to the door. When Lois opened the door, Truman jumped into Joe Henry’s arms. What a homecomin’ that was. That was the one he was expectin’, not the one that happened at his place.
The three of them sat till way after dark talkin’. Truman was right at Joe Henry’s feet. He told Lois an’ Lottie about the crazy things Betty said. He told them she stole his money, bought things. She put slip covers on the couch an’ love seat, put Home Interiors stuff on the walls. He was angry about her treatment of his fiddle an’ the Fiestaware that was his Grandparent’s dishes.
Lottie advised him to call the law on Betty. Lois agreed. Joe Henry laughed an’ said he was considerin’ it. He couldn’t believe Aunt Bess hadn’t stepped in already.
“She knows all that is goin’ on, Joe Henry. She knows an’ told us all to stay away. She said you needed to handle things. Said you wouldn’t feel right if we all interfered.” Lois told him.
“She was right, as usual. I need to think. Need to decide what to do. I can promise you this, I am gonna send her packin’ right quick.” he promised.
Joe Henry hugged them both, left with Truman at his side an’ walked down to the ol’ cabin they used for storin’ things. He unlocked the door an’ went in. He needed some time to sit an’ think. Once he sat down in the front room, Truman was right at his feet. He pondered for ever so long.
Just before midnight he walked back to his place. He quietly let himself in the back door an’ noticed Betty had taken over his room. As usual for her, she had a sleep mask on an’ earphones with music playin’ to help her sleep. She never knew he was back as he slipped into the other bedroom with Truman an’ shut the door.
Tomorrow was the day. Tomorrow was the showdown. He was takin’ his place back.

Chapter Sixteen

When Joe Henry got up an’ went to the bathroom, Truman was still asleep on the bed. When he got in bed the night before, Truman climbed in right beside him an’ slept against Joe Henry all night long.  He used the bathroom, washed his hands an’ face an’ went out into the livin’ room. Betty was already up.
“Good morning, sleepy head. Glad you survived the night. It was wonderful, wasn’t it, sweetie? I knew it would be after so long. I’ve made breakfast for you” she told him with a syrupy voice.
Joe Henry looked an’ saw a box of Fruit Loops on the table with a white bowl an’ a spoon beside it.
“Thanks, but you know I don’t like Fruit Loops. That’s your cereal. I’ll just have coffee. Also, what in the world are you talkin’ about? What was wonderful? What has been so long? Good grief, Betty.”
She tried to look hurt, “Oh Joey, you don’t even remember? Come on now, honey, you know I slipped in late last night an’ got in bed with you. A few tickles in the right places, a kiss here an’ there an’ you were the animal I remember. Don’t tell me that wasn’t as good for you as it was for me?”
“What? What?” he almost laughed.
“You are tryin’ to kid me this mornin’. That was a wonderful way to welcome me home. Plus, I know it may be a little early to hope, to think, but something special may have also happened. It's the right time for it. You an’ I just found each other in a moment of passion in our sleep, but it was meant to be. I’m thinking it may have happened last night.” she said with a sweet, sweet little innocent smile.
“What do you think happened last night, Betty?” he asked, knowin’ what she was hintin’ at.
“Joey, you are always so dense. When we made love, when I surrendered myself to you, to your passion, well, I think you got me pregnant. Isn’t it wonderful?” she whispered.
Joe Henry got up, went to his bedroom, found her suitcase an’ started throwin’ any of her things in that he could find. He had almost everything in the suitcase an’ a pillowcase. He stopped an’ went to the phone an’ called Charlie.
“Charlie, you an’ Maggie need to come over right now. Call Lois an’ Lottie too. I need your help. It is an emergency.” he told Charlie.
Betty was still in the kitchen, puttin’ the Fruit Loops away as he called. She didn’t see that he had been in the bedroom yet. She sat down an’ was lookin’ through Joe Henry’s business plan when Charlie, Maggie, Lois an’ Lottie came in. Joe Henry was waitin’ for them. He led them to the kitchen where Betty was sittin’ at that dinette.
“First of all, Betty, this is not my place. It belongs to my Aunt an’ I work for her. None of this is mine. None of the things you have broken, trampled an’ destroyed are mine an’ they sure as heck aren't yours to damage or change. Secondly, this is Charlie an’ Maggie Allen. They are my Cousins an’ my supervisors. I work for them technically. You can’t fire them, you silly woman.” he said with a huge smile on his face.
“Now, y’all are my witnesses here. This is my EX-WIFE. I confirmed with my lawyer that not only are we divorced, but we were legally separated for over a year before that. She has no right to be here. She broke in here illegally. She stole over $1,500 of my money, damaged items belongin’ to my Aunt. Betty is  trespassin’. I did not an’ do not give her permission to be here. I am givin’ her an’ hour to take her things an’ leave or I will call the law.”
Betty tried to get teary-eyed, “But what about last night, Joey? Didn't you making love to me mean anything to you? Were you only using me? And I told you I think you made me pregnant. What will I do if I am carrying your baby?”
Joe Henry laughed out loud.
“If you are pregnant, an’ I suspect you know you are an’ are tryin’ to entangle me since you probably don’t even know who the daddy is. I have a little surprise for you. Somethin’ to end your little game. Y’all come with me.” he said to the others.
He went to the door of the bedroom he slept in, opened the door for everyone to look in. Truman was just wakin’ up. He was layin’ right smack dab in the middle of the bed. That pup lifted his head to look at everyone, gave a big yarn an’ his tail started goin’ a mile a minute. They all started to laugh. Everyone except Betty.
“I don’t understand, Joe Henry. What does that have to do with anything? Why are you showing us that dirty old dog?” she asked pitifully.
“Betty, I was goin’ to try to be nice. I was goin’ to tell you to leave real nice like. That ‘I’m pregnant’ act did it for me. You see, my dog slept right there in the middle of the bed all night, right up beside me. He never moved all night long. He never got off the bed an’ you sure didn’t take his place. I didn’t have sex with you. Haven’t in over two years an’ a half year, almost three years as you well know. You've been givin’ yourself away to at least two men I know about. This is it, sister. You are gonna leave as soon as you get your stuff. As a matter of fact, y’all help me take them slip covers off, take the Home Interiors pictures off my walls. Get the bedspreads she bought with my money she stole. I’ll put them Dish Barn dishes in a box an’ you can take them too.” he said with no little triumph in his voice.
“You have taken advantage of me one time too many, ol’ gal. This is it. Keep what’s left of the money you stole to buy gas an’ go somewhere else. I know you hate the mountains. You thought you had an ignorant hillbilly sugar daddy. Well, I ain’t your Daddy, definitely ain’t your baby’s daddy an’ you ain’t getting' no sugar from me. I am proud to be a hillbilly an’ I love this place just the way it was.” he told Betty.
“Y’all, I noticed her car is unlocked. Put everything in her car. Betty you get to packin’ or I’m callin’ the sheriff to have you arrested for breakin’ an’ enterin’ an’ theft.”
Lois spoke up with a big grin on her face, “Joe Henry, the $1,500 she stole would make her theft a felony.”
“Excellent. I’m sure you will look good in prison stripes. I hear PeeWee Valley Women’s Prison has some nice views this time of year.” he said.
Betty called every one of them vulgar names an’ cussed like a sailor as they took things off the beds, off the walls, as they pulled off the slip covers. They stacked the dishes in her back seat, piled everything else onto the dishes. She grabbed all her personal belongin’s an’ shoved it all into the front seat of her car.
As she was getting' in, she turned, “You are a loser, Joe Henry Carpenter. You deserve these hill rats. You deserve to be workin’ for some hillbilly aunt that probably pays you nothin’ to do her farm labor. I never loved you, hated your Father and that stinkin’ store. He didn’t appreciate what I did for him. You didn’t appreciate that you married way above your status when you married me.”
They all just stood on the porch an’ listened as she ranted.
“I’ll tell you something else. I robbed your wonderful Father blind. I stole clothes, shoes, all sorts of things from that rat hole of a store and sold them to people for half what they were worth. I took money out of the cash register to buy pot. You idiot, you didn’t even know I partied behind your back. Oh, and Joe Henry, you crap kicker, I had my first affair six months after we were married. My first one, do you hear?” she ranted as she got in, shut the door an’ drove away.
As she drove away, she stuck her hand out the window an’ apparently was pointin’ to something in the sky with her middle finger.
Joe Henry just stood there. Maggie hugged him, then Lois an’ Lottie hugged him. Charlie put his arm around Joe Henry’s shoulder an’ just stood by him.
“You OK, Joe Henry?” Charlie asked.
“You know, Charlie, I am. I really am. I just learned a lot of things just now. I am just realizin’ it wasn't my poor business sense, or Daddy’s failin’ health that drove the business to the ground, was it? Maybe I could have made a go at the Sporting Goods Store if Betty hadn’t come along. You know though, if not for all that I wouldn’t be right here, right now, would I?” he told Charlie as he gave him a big ol’ bear hug.
Maggie tapped on Joe Henry’s shoulder, “I’m callin’ Ralph an’ tellin’ him to get his sorry crew back over here to finish the Cabin Store. The rest of y’all get all Joe Henry’s things back in place, I’ll help after I call Ralph. We got some work to do here, youngin’s.”

Chapter Seventeen

Joe Henry loafed around the next day. He went to the Cabin Store to say howdy to Ralph. They went over what had been completed an’ what was left. He walked down to the lavender farm with Truman to look the lavender field over. Vince’s folks came out an’ visited with him before he left.
When he got back to the Cabin Store, he asked Ralph if he could spare some time to go with him up the ridge behind the barn. Told Ralph they would have to ride the mules or it would take a right smart piece to walk. Ralph grinned an’ said it sounded like fun.
After Joe Henry saddled the mules, they rode to the abandoned home place of Judah Carpenter that Aunt Bess showed him. They got off the mules an’ walked around for a bit, just enjoyin’ lookin’ around. Joe Henry pointed out the slab that covered the well Judah had found by dousin’.
“Ralph, Aunt Bess told me she would love to have a sip of the water in that well once again. I’ve been thinkin’ about it for a right smart while. While we was on our trip I studied on this place. Reckon y’all could use what’s left of the foundation to build a little shelter of some sort, put a tin roof on it? Just posts with half walls. Maybe make a picnic bench to put in the shelter. Also, take the slab off an’ build up around the well so’s no one would fall in? Put a roof over it an’ a cover. A bucket on a crank like folks used to have. I want a place Aunt Bess can come to. I want her to have a sip of that water once again.” Joe Henry asked.
Ralph walked around for a minute before answerin’, “Yessir, we sure could. We can use these stone walls of the foundation to make the back an’ one side of the shelter. We’d put posts up an’ the tin roof, make half walls on the other two walls. I can make benches built right into the half walls as well as a picnic table. We can take some of the stone foundation that has tumbled down to build up around the well. I’ll put posts up to hold the roof, make that of tin too.” he told Joe Henry.
“We can use y’all’s tractor to pull a farm wagon up here with supplies to build this. We’re almost done with the store. We have things leftover we could use for this project. I’d say give me two, maybe three days for this.”
Joe Henry shook his hand an’ grinned. He grinned all the way back to the farm. He did warn Ralph not to breathe a word to his Aunt Bess.
Once back at the farm, Ralph did a little figurin’, looked over the left over lumber an’ made a call to order the metal roofin’ an’ some additional lumber for the shelter. He also talked to one of his men about a special project he had in mind that would be a surprise for Bess Asher and Joe Henry Carpenter.
He smiled as he wrote some notes in his work calendar, “Family is family, after all.”.
The next day, while most of the men worked on the Cabin Store, Ralph an’ his buddy Red showed up with additional lumber an’ supplies for Joe Henry’s project. They borrowed the farm tractor an’ a flatbed wagon. They went through the scrap pile an’ found quite a few pieces of lumber they could recycle. The metal roofin’ was delivered by midday an’ the two of them headed up the hill an’ down the ridge.
The first job was to clear the area where the shelter would go. They had an ol’ beat up lawn mower that whacked the weeds down close to the ground around the foundation. The hand dug post holes with a post hole digger. Several posts went right up against the two sides of the foundation. The other post holes were quickly dug an’ the posts were in with Quickcrete around them to keep them secure.
While the Quickcrete hardened Ralph an’ Red used a crowbar to take the slab off the well. It was a dug well an’ Judah Carpenter had actually used stone to line the well down to about fifteen feet or so. They could see water when they shined a flashlight down the hole.
Red used a shovel an’ hoe to level the ground around the well. Ralph carefully poured a gravel base an’ then they used Quickcrete they mixed in a bucket to pour a foundation for the raised housin’ that would be built around the well. While they waited for the Quickcrete to dry they collected an’ sorted stones from the ol’ foundation that had fallen in. Those stones would be used to build the circular wall around the well.
When they had enough stones for the well, they went back to the posts for the shelter. Ralph had placed two posts close enough for an entry in the front of the shelter. They started buildin’ the roof by puttin’ up boards all around the top. They then made simple roof trusses an’ nailed them in place. Boards were placed horizontally over the roof trusses an’ the metal roof was laid piece by piece.
By the end of the work day the basic structure was completed an’ the two men had most of the half wall completed. Ralph told Red it was time to call it quits but Red asked if they could work a while longer. Both men smiled an’ decided to work a little longer. Ralph continued to work on the shelter an’ Red started layin’ stones for the well structure.
Two hours later they finally stopped, grinned at each other an’ headed back to the farm an’ their trucks. Joe Henry met them after they parked the tractor an’ Ralph told him their progress. Joe Henry said the other men planned to complete all the inside work, trim, electric an’ sealin’ the boards on the walls in two days. Ralph said him an’ Red would be finished them too.
The next day Ralph an’ Red went over the plans for the Cabin Store with the men workin’ there. They then headed to the tractor an’ came back to the trucks to load a few more supplies. Ralph drove the tractor an’ Red sat on the flatbed wagon.
Once at the site they quickly got to work. Ralph had decided to make a few changes to the original plan Joe Henry envisioned. He knew it would be a huge surprise, but one that would be welcome. Red mixed up mortar an’ was back to work on the well. He carefully fitted stone an’ mortared each into place till the stone work circlin’ the well was waist high. Usin’ a stone hammer, he chipped an’ fitted flat stones he found an’ set aside to create a flat rim on the top. He dug two post holes an’ placed posts on opposite sides of the well to build the roof on. He had cut an’ built a cover with a handle for the top of the well while he was home the night before. A few cuts to boards with his hand saw an’ he had miniature roof trusses for the well’s roof. He installed those, cut the recycled scraps of metal roofin’ to fit an’ onec those were nailed on he mounted a pulley just under the roof of the well.
Ralph had found some odds an’ ends at his farm that Red used to make the crank. Once that was installed, Red secured the rope they brought to the crank bar an’ wound the rope around it. He called Ralph over, they tied the bucket Joe Henry gave them to the end of the rope an’ let the bucket down into the well.
They used the cups from the top of their thermoses to sample the water once they drew up the bucket.
Ralph grinned, “You know Red, Bess Asher was right. That is some of the sweetest water I’ve ever tasted.”
Ralph an’ Red devoted the rest of their time that day an’ the next to finishin’ the shelter an’ the special additions they were goin’ to surprise Joe Henry an’ Bess Asher with.

Chapter Eighteen

Since March 17th was on a Saturday, Joe Henry planned a Saint Patrick’s Day party an’ carry in to reveal the new Cabin Store an’ Barn to everyone. The women were like a bunch of the honeybees when then got into the store an’ started placin’ things they bought to display, to mount on the walls, to decorate the place. Joe Henry had a couple loads of gravel delivered to enlarge the parkin’ area. Charlie used the farm tractor to level an’ smooth the gravel.
Everybody started showin’ up about 11:30. They all had green on for Aunt Bess warned that anyone not wearin’ green would get pinched time an’ again the whole day through. Joe Henry invited Ralph, Red an’ the rest of the workers to join them since they put in so much work on the place. As soon as folks arrived they would take their covered dishes into the newly renovated barn where tables were set up. They then couldn’t wait to walk around an’ admire everything.
Joe Henry was glad to see Rachel when she arrived. He hugged her an’ told her to come on it. Aunt Bess wasn’t too far behind. Charlie had a fire goin’ in the fire pit an’ there were bags of marshmallows on a small table as well as pointed sticks to roast them marshmallows. He said that was his “carry in”.
Bobby Clark showed up an’ immediately pulled his guitar out of his truck. He found a place to sit an’ play while folks came in. Joe Henry walked down to the house an’ got his fiddle. He spent time tunin’ it after Betty left. He wanted to make sure she didn’t do any damage when she was messin’ with it. He walked back from the house, tunin’ as he walked. He sat by Bobby an’ they started playin’.
Red came over an’ asked, “I heard y’all pick some. Mind if I get my banjo an’ join you?”
Of course, they didn’t. Soon Red was playin clawhammer banjo right along with Joe Henry’s fiddle an’ Bobby’s guitar. Folks pulled up chairs an’ sat to listen. It was just what they all needed. Red suggested some Celtic tunes since it was Saint Patrick’s Day. They all agreed an’ took off on one tune after another.
After everyone took the tour, enjoyed some music an’ visited around, they ate. It was a great day an’ they all had so much to talk about. Maggie an’ Lois took the women aside to tell them about Joe Henry standin’ up to ol’ Betty the Snake as they had been callin’ her. Lottie jumped in with her own details as they told the story. Aunt Bess grinned, laughed an’ said she was glad to hear that. Rachel smiled an’ nodded her agreement.
Joe Henry walked down to the barns an’ loaded bales of straw onto the flatbed farm wagon. He drove the tractor up to the gatherin’ an’ told everyone to get on board for a little side trip. Ralph was grinnin’ like an’ ol’ possum as him an’ Red laid a big flat piece all covered with black plastic on the wagon. They found some wooden boxes to use as steps to help Aunt Bess, Maggie an’ the other women on board.
As Joe Henry drove the tractor up the hillside behind the barns everyone laughed an’ talked. Aunt Bess said she hadn’t been on a hay ride for years an’ years. Most didn’t have a clue where they were goin’ till Joe Henry stopped a short distance from the Judah Carpenter homestead. Ralph insisted that Aunt Bess get off first an’ go to see what the surprise was.
Ralph told Joe Henry to help Aunt Bess get to the shelter. Everyone else followed. Aunt Bess gasped when she saw the well waitin’ for her to draw up a bucket. She got tears in her eyes when she saw the shelter. Joe Henry was stunned when he saw what Red an’ Ralph built.
For rather than an open air shelter, Ralph designed the shelter that was fourteen by sixteen with half walls on the bottom an’ they screened in the rest of each wall. He an’ Red built a screen door for the front. Inside they used pressure treated lumber to make a real floor rather than just have a dirt floor. There were benches on the two sides an’ a foldin’ picnic table set up in the middle of the shelter.
Red walked up with the mystery item wrapped in black plastic. Him an’ Ralph unwrapped it to reveal a sign that said, “Judah’s Place” in big letters. Under that were the words “Rest and Relax”. Red hung it over the door of the shelter on nails already in place.
Aunt Bess was overwhelmed. Joe Henry had several tin cups that he brought out. Aunt Bess let the bucket down into the well, drew up a bucket full of water an’ took the first drink. She paused, took another drink an’ grinned. She lifted her cup an’ told the others to try a sip of the best water she ever tasted.
They all stayed there for almost an hour. Finally they got back on the wagon for the hayride back to the farm. Aunt Bess sat beside Joe Henry the whole way, holdin’ his hand an’ grinnin’.
As they rode along she had a thought, “Joe Henry, do you think you could find one of them heavy duty grills like they have in the state parks an’ all? We ought to put one up there so’s folks could go up there to relax, maybe roast some hot dogs or grill a hamburger or two.”
Joe Henry thought that was a grand idea an’ promised to find a grill like that. As they talked he suggested they could even offer hay rides up there an’ back, similar to the sleigh rides they offered at Christmas time. Both agreed that would be an excellent thing to offer on weekends.
When they arrived back at the Cabin Store an’ barn, Aunt Bess asked if Joe Henry would walk with her to the house. She wanted to share something with him.

Chapter Nineteen

When they got to the house Aunt Bess sat at the harvest table. She put her purse on the table an’ told Joe Henry to sit with her.
“First of all, Joe Henry, I am relieved you took care of things with Betty. We knew she was trouble a long time ago. Your Daddy suspected she was stealin’ for a right smart while. He knew she was when she started stealin’ merchandise. He even did a background check on her. I know, don’t be mad at your Daddy. He was concerned about you. He let things go because she was your wife. He didn’t know what to do. I didn’t either.” She told him.
Joe Henry chuckled, “I wish I thought to do a background check on her. Lordy, Aunt Bess, what did I get myself into?”
She smiled an’ patted his hands, “Don’t matter now, Nephew. You done got shet of that trouble. I am proud of you, proud of who you are an’ how far you have come. Now, I want to talk about something real serious with you. Something I can’t talk to you about with the others around.”
That worried Joe Henry. He got big eyed when she said that. She laughed an’ assured him it was good, nothin’ bad at all. She told him she wanted to talk about some legal things with him. He sat back, wonderin’ what it could be. She opened her purse an’ took out several legal documents.
“Joe Henry, you know that I’ve been doin’ Clyde’s legal work for some time. I helped him with his wills, him an’ his dear wife. I helped him with everything except his investments an’ taxes. Have for several years. I think you know that.” She said as she opened one of the documents.
“Yes ma’am. I do know that. You told us all, but he told me too.” He said
“Well, sweetie, Clyde changed his will a couple months back. He doesn’t have any heirs. He tried to leave it to me but I told him I was as old as he was. Didn’t know what I would do with his estate. Anyway, he changed his will a while back. He asked me to sit down with you an’ give you an offer, if you want it.” She continued.
“An offer? What kind of offer is in a will?” Joe Henry was puzzled.
“Joe Henry, Clyde wants me to offer you his home, his farm an’ the entire tree house village. That is, if you want it. It is yours free an’ clear. He even set aside money to pay any inheritance tax on the property. It is up to you though. It is yours, if you want it.”
Joe Henry was stunned. He sat back, didn’t know what to say. He sat for a long time, silent. He got up an’ walked around the kitchen, looked out the window for a while.
“He wanted me to have it? For real?” he asked.
“If you want it.” She replied.
“Can I think about it? Can I ponder what I would do with it?” he asked, a little confused.
“Of course, sweetie. Take your time. Let’s go back to the party.” She said as she stood up an’ headed for the door.
The party was still goin’ on an’ in full swing. Charlie had unhitched the mules an’ saddled them when several folks asked if they could ride back up to the shelter. For the next hour or two folks rode there an’ back. Joe Henry sat an’ played the fiddle as Red an’ Bobby played. He pondered as he played.
Rachel was there, talked with the women but was a little distant from Joe Henry. She didn’t know what to think after she heard the events with Betty an’ Aunt Bess told her what she knew about Joe Henry an’ April. Though she didn’t say much, she had other things on her mind as well.

Chapter Twenty

In the late afternoon, Joe Henry asked Aunt Bess to ride up to the shelter with him. She walked to the steps on the side of the paddock an’ mounted. They rode up the hill an’ along the ridge toward the shelter. They talked about the shelter, about the well an’ how sweet the water was after all those years. She told him what she knew about Uncle Judah.
When they arrived, he helped her off her mule an’ they went into the shelter to sit an’ visit. He thought a good drink of the well water would do both of them good. He drew a bucket an’ opened the big lard can he had placed the tin cups in. After dippin’ each of them a tin cup full of water, he went back in an’ sat by Aunt Bess.
“Aunt Bess, you said Clyde’s place was mine if I wanted it, right?” he asked.
“Yes, that is exactly right Clyde said it was yours if you wanted it.”
“Here’s the thing, I love that place. Every part of it reminds me of Clyde. I would love to live there if things was different. Problem is, I’m sort of attached to livin’ here, livin’ in your house, the ol’ Carpenter home place. I’ve thought all day about this. Prayed about it too. I want to honor Clyde, but I have another idea, if it is possible.” He said to her.
“What is that, Joe Henry? What is your idea?” she smiled as he spoke.
“Can I take it an’ give it to a nonprofit or foundation or something? Could I set something up where I could hire someone to live there, take care of the place an’ rent it out to churches, scout groups, even other non-profits an’ even family groups? Get someone to be the resident caretaker, scheduler an’ such. Maybe have a retired couple, maybe retired missionaries or a retired Pastor an’ wife to live there as part of their pay. They could get paid with the proceeds, income from the place. That’s what I have in mind. What do you think? Is there a foundation or somethin’ that could take it an’ do that?”
Aunt Bess sat for a moment, got teary eyed an’ then hugged Joe Henry. He sat, a little unsure of what she was thinkin’.
“So, you don’t want it? You want to give it away?” she asked seriously.
“Not so much give it away, Aunt Bess. It is an amazin’ place. I want to share his wonderful place with as many folks as possible. I want his passion, his hobby to live on. That will be Clyde’s memorial. Is that possible?”
“Yes, darlin’, it definitely is. There is a foundation that you can give it to. I think they would be happy to oversee it, find just the right couple to run the place. I do think that will be a wonderful memorial to Clyde.” She said with a knowin’ smile. “I can draw up the paperwork when I get home. I actually have a document for you to sign when we get back to your place.”
They rode back to the barns an’ Joe Henry helped his Aunt Bess climb off the mule an’ down the steps attached to the fence. Charlie was there to unsaddle the mules an’ give them some feed an’ a good brushin’. Joe Henry an’ Aunt Bess went to the house an’ sat at the table once again. She took one document from a bundle of papers out of her pocketbook an’ opened it. She took out a pen an’ handed it to Joe Henry.
“Joe Henry Carpenter, this is a contract of sorts. Clyde asked me to make the offer of his place to you, if you wanted it. You chose not to take it but to allow me to give it to a foundation, to set it up as a place for others to enjoy, to be a memorial for Clyde. Is that correct?” she asked with all seriousness.
He chuckled, “Yes, Bess Asher, that is correct an’ is my wishes. I reckon I am foolish for givin’ it up. I don’t have two nickels to rub together of my own. I just feel right about that. I think that is a good thing, maybe a God thing.”
“Good, I need you to sign this here, here an’ here. Initial here. This shows you have declined possession of Clyde’s home, his farm an’ the treehouse village. It is your intention that it be given to a foundation to administer an’ run for the benefit of others.”
Joe Henry smiled, signed where she pointed to an’ sat back. He felt great, felt like he did a good thing, felt like Clyde would be smilin’ right now. He felt like he did what God wantd of him at that moment. He almost felt like he passed one of life’s big tests. He felt like he was a mile high.
“I think I just done good, Aunt Bess.” He said with a smile.
“Oh Joe Henry, Nephew, you don’t know how good you’ve done just now. Clyde felt like he knew you better than anyone else. He saw you for what you would be one day. That man I loved believed in you more than you believed in yourself. We sat down when he wanted to rewrite his wills an’ talked about you for a long time. He told me he wanted to leave you something. He also wanted to see if you were the man he thought you were. You just proved he was right. He knew you better than I did.” She started to cry a little.
“I am so proud of you. I know your Daddy would be proud of you, your Mama too. Honey, your life has been changin’. You are doin’ so good, I am glad that you are my kin. Joe Henry, Clyde is about to change your life again.”
He was so confused. “What do you mean? I don’t understand. I loved Clyde an’ he did make me a better person, a better man. I just gave away his home an’ his passion. How is he goin’ to change my life again?”
She picked up the other document that was layin’ on the table. She handed it to him an’ smiled.
“This is Clyde’s will, Joe Henry. He wanted to prove you were the amazin’ man he knew you to be. He wanted to prove it to me. More importantly, he wanted to prove it to you. The offer of his place over in Danville was a sort of test. It was kind of an’ ‘either/or’ choice for you. He knew you would choose well. He knew that you could see the future of his place just like he saw it. He wanted to make his place exactly what you suggested. That was his dream, Joe Henry. He just didn’t live to see it come to pass.” She said as tears fell on the will.
“What sort of either/or choice? I am so confused, Aunt Bess. Am I in his will? I just gave away what he left me. I don’t understand.” Joe Henry shook his head as he spoke.
“When things are set up with the foundation to take his home an’ the tree house village, you are to oversee the place. The foundation will receive it as a gift from you an’ from Clyde’s estate. You will be named as trustee of the place. You will need to do the hirin’, develop a business plan just like you did for the farm. Do you think you can do that?” She questioned him with a knowin’ smile.
“Sure, it would be my honor, Aunt Bess. I already have some ideas.” He was havin’ a hard time talkin’ as he was getting’ choked up. “One thing though…”
“Yes, honey, what’s that?”
“I want it to be called “Clyde’s Place”. Is that alright, Aunt Bess?”
“I think that is wonderful. Sure, it is your privilege. There is more to the will, though. Much more. When you gave up his farm, his home an’ the treehouse village, when you signed the document I had you sign, you executed the other option in Clyde’s will.” She explained.
“I did? What does that mean?” he still didn’t have a clue.
“Joe Henry, Clyde left you everything else. His stocks, bonds, properties, bank account, his life insurance an’ even the proceeds of his annuity. Now, there will be some inheritance taxes an’ such to pay, but I already have the accountant we both use, his investment advisor an’ an estate lawyer workin’ on things. Clyde loved you, believed in you an’ wanted you to enjoy life like you never have before. He also wants you to be wise with what he is leavin’ you, Nephew. You see, you are at this moment a very wealthy man.” Was her explanation.
“Wealthy? Me? I don’t deserve anything like that. I didn’t do anything. I shouldn’t…” he stuttered as he started to cry.
“Baby don’t cry. He knew what he was doin’. Remember, he was a Bank President. He was one of the owners, the majority owner of the bank where he worked. He was an extremely wealthy man. You are a very wealthy man, Joe Henry. He’s left you a couple letters. I want you to take them an’ read them. He’s given you a list of folks he works with, who help him with his investment. He suggested you sort of keep all this quiet. Don’t let on that you just became a multi-millionaire. I wouldn’t even tell the folks around here. No one know what I have, what me an’ Floyd had. I believe that’s best. He wants you to still be yourself. An’ son, you better not leave me high an’ dry on the farm.”
“I’m, I’m rich? Really rich, Aunt Bess? Multi? I’m a multi-millionaire? Why?” he was in shock.
“Because he knew he could trust you. You proved it a few minutes ago. He gave you a blessin’ that he knew you could handle. He knew you would see the same dream he had for his place. That was proof that you are exactly the man he knew you were. You are so much like him. He saw in you a fellow dreamer, a doer, someone who will step out of the crowd an’ take the reins. She told him.
“He had a lot to say to you. He just ain’t here to tell you a lot of things he hoped to tell you. I have five letters right here. They are all for you. One for you to read now. One for you to read after you meet with everyone, his advisors that are now your advisors. To read after y’all get things settled. I’m tellin’ you what he would tell you, take your time an’ listen to their advice. There is a letter for you to read after one year, one letter for the five-year anniversary. Most of all, he wrote you a letter for you to read on your weddin’ night. He told me that one was the most important one of all.” Aunt Bess explained as she laid five sealed letters in front of Joe Henry.
Joe Henry sat an’ looked at the envelopes without touchin’ them. On the front of each was the instructions an’ time to open that envelope. Each was written in Clyde’s own hand. He got up, took the four envelopes to be opened later an’ placed them in the peanut brittle can he had already replaced on the high shelf.
He turned as he put the can back, “Aunt Bess, I’m a multi-millionaire. I am almost breathless. How much is that?”
She thought for a moment, “Well, it isn't quite that easy, what with estate taxes an’ all. Here in the Commonwealth of Kentucky the inheritance taxes are steep since you are not close family. Clyde had quite a bit set up before he died to avoid as much as possible. You will have a hefty tax rate, plus since it is a right smart amount that Clyde left you, you’lll have federal inheritance taxes to pay. If I were guessin’, based on what the accountant has already done, I expect you’ll be left with maybe fourteen or fifteen million. Kentucky’s rate on the estate is goin’ to be in the high teens percentage wise. Federal taxes ain’t goin’ to be high because you are below the ceilin’ for big inheritances. It’s a lot to figure out, Joe Henry.”

Interlude – First Letter
My dear friend Joe Henry Carpenter;
Well sir, I suppose since you are reading this, I’ve gone on home to be with the Lord recently. It also means your Aunt Bess gave you the opportunity to accept my home, farm and the tree house village and you declined. I am so happy that you chose, as I knew you would, to decline that gift. I’m hoping my plan, your plan now, ran in the same vein and included setting up the farm as a retreat or camp.
You also know now that I’ve left you the rest of my estate. I suspect you have many questions. I know I would have questions if I were you. So, here is my reasoning for the gift of my financial estate:
I have no heirs to speak of. Sure, there are some great nephews and neices I’ve never met. They’ve never met me, never had any part of our family. Never cared to know me. Without a will, if I were to die intestate, they would be heirs that could inherit, if they even knew I existed. I suspect lawyers would do their best to find them and run up huge fees for their service in order to award my estate to strangers who are my kin. Though I’ve needed lawyers, I’m not particularly fond of a gang of lawyers trying to divide up my things. Frankly, I’m not interested in some distant relatives squandering my estate.
I do need to add a caveat here. I actually am leaving my estate to a relative- you my boy. You see, we share a common ancestor. Your ancestor, Stephen Carpenter married Rebecca Collins. Rebecca’s Father John was my ancestor. And yes, since I mentioned it, Bess and I were Cousins. (Something to think about, isn’t it?)
The time we’ve spent together, you and I, has been a joy and blessing to me. Normally, a young man like you might not want to spend time with an old buzzard like me. You did, though. You opened your home to me. You spent time with me, listened to me. More important, you sought my advice. I loved the times we spent pouring over your plans, adding one thing, discussing the finer points. I enjoyed the few times we didn’t see eye to eye and would present our thoughts to each other to come up with a better idea in your plans. Kid, you have a brilliant mind, a passionate spirit and a generous heart. You showed me love and respect. Those are assets one cannot get enough of.
I see a lot of me in you, Joe Henry. I see a young man that has made his share of mistakes. A man who was sort of lost and without a purpose in life. I also have watched as you found your anchor, your purpose. Through your work ethic, your compassion and your humble attitude you’ve won us all over. What I see these days is a leader, a man who knows where he is going.
You already know my wife Doris and I lost Rosie, our only child in a tragic accident. She was only five years old. We tried but were never able to conceive again. I never knew the joy of watching my child grow up. Spending time with you showed me what it might have been like. I imagine your Dad watched you with pride, just like I’ve watched you lately. He watched you and loved you, in spite of instead of because of the circumstances you found yourself in.
My friend, I suspect you lead with your heart more than a lot of folks. That probably is what got you in trouble in your youth. You followed your heart, sure, maybe even your hormones and did what you thought was right. I respect that, Joe Henry. I understand that.
My estate is yours without any strings. Do with it as you see fit. Use it to enjoy life. Find a way to use this gift to make your life all you would want it to be. Now and again do something for yourself that is crazy, makes no sense, something you wouldn’t normally do or purchase. Have some fun with your money!
Most of all, remember, “To whom much is given, much is required”. I have also given you a great responsibility, perhaps a great burden. Along with much wealth I give you a challenge;
Do good.
I think you will know exactly what I mean by that. I trust you to make a difference in the world, especially in our mountains. Here in our mountains we have terrible poverty. Throwing money at problems won’t solve much. That is an important piece of advice. If I thought it would solve issues, I would have passed my fortune out a few dollars at a time. Find a way to be a light in the darkness. Seek the wonderful things, nourish goodness, kindness, respect.
Encourage education when you can. Lift folks around you up. Help them to be the somebodies they can be. Be a mentor, be a friend. Joe Henry, be a cheerleader for these mountains.
Grow goodness.
Two last things I want to mention, on a more personal nature. First, your Aunt was my first and true love. Don’t think I didn’t love Doris. I did love her and was ever faithful. But the heart cherishes that first true love, my friend. I tried to give my fortune to Bess but she refused. When I told her I wanted to give it to you she was so excited. She knew that was the right thing, the best thing, a God thing. God winked at us right then, when I named your name.
She sees you as I do. A treasure hidden that no one has found. You need to know her desire is to make the farm self sustaining. She hopes for it to be a place to lift others up, to provide for family and to show the world what a “bunch of hillbillies can do”.
Help her to see that vision come to pass, Joe Henry. You now have the resources to help her establish that vision.
Last of all, remember this quote from Proverbs 31:10 “Who can find a virtuous woman? For her price is far above rubies.”. You have a few of those virtuous women around you. Learn to trust them, listen to not only their counsel, but the counsel of the wise men around you. What a tribal counsel you have. Lean on them. They have done right by you so far. Trust your family.
And, my dear young friend, let me give you some advice I should have listend to years ago. When you find that ONE virtuous woman, well, let me quote from my favorite movie, South Pacific. Below I’ve written a few of the lyrics to a song Bess Asher and I both love. I sang it to her a while back. She blushed an’ got all teary eyed. I know you are grinning, thinking of us two old fogeys getting romantic, me singing to your Aunt Bess. However, the song has some good advice I wish to pass along to you.
Anyway, as I close this letter, I hope you will miss our times together. I’ll see you again on the other side of the Jordan. I can’t wait to hear how your life turned out when we meet over yonder. And take this piece of lyric as my advice.
“Some enchanted evening
When you find your true love,
When you feel her call you
Across a crowded room,
Then run to her side,
And make her your own
Or all through your life you
May dream all alone.

Once you have found her,
Never let her go.
Once you have found her,
Never let her go!”

So, dear friend, with those words in mind, I wonder if you know what so many of us already believe. I’ll leave it right there.

With love and gratitude

Clyde Collins

Chapter Twenty-One

When they walked back to the party, Joe Henry was full of thoughts, happiness, a feelin’ that he just was given a gift he didn’t deserve. He felt humble. He was just lost in his thoughts when Maggie came up an’ nudged him. He turned an’ smiled.
“A lot on your mind these days?” Maggie asked him.
“More an’ more every day, Maggie. More an’ more every day.”
“Well, I ain’t one to tell you what to do, but I know someone else that seems to have a lot on their mind. You might want to take a minute to visit with her.” Maggie said pointin’ to Rachel sittin’ in the porch swing by herself.
Joe Henry nodded an’ walked over to the porch an’ approached Rachel, “Can I swing with you?”
“Sure. Have a seat.” Rachel said real quiet like.
“Seems like I ain’t had much time to visit with you. I’m sorry for that. I’ve been wantin’ to talk to you.” he told her.
“That’s alright. You’ve had quite a time in the last few weeks. Last thing on your mind was catchin’ up with a cousin.” she said as the swing started movin’ slowly. They both pushed in rhythm with their feet.
Joe Henry realized that things weren’t like they had been between them. He didn’t know where to start. He didn’t know what was wrong. He wasn’t sure if she was mad, upset about something or what was wrong.
“So, I guess you heard about Betty the Snake showin’ up an’ all, didn’t you?” he asked.
“Yes, you’ve been the talk of the Ridge. I’ve heard all about it. We’ve all heard about it. I suppose that was a good thing for you, right?” she asked without really carin’ if he answered.
“I suppose. I sure didn’t expect to ever see her again. It was weird, Rachel. I was just shocked. Angry too. I couldn’t believe she just came it an’ tried to take over. An’ she stole my money. Tore stuff up. Tore up stuff that was Aunt Bess’ stuff. Can you believe it?” he asked.
She shook her head “no” an’ they just sat for a long time, swingin’, not talkin’. Just sittin’ there with nothin’ to say.
“I guess you heard that April an’ I had a long talk, decided things just weren’t right for us to continue our relationship. You remember how I told you about her an’ all. I thought there might be love in the air. Problem is, Rachel, it just wasn’t the one God has for me. I guess I don’t know how to find true love. I guess I don’t know how to find that one special woman meant just for me. You know, what I mean, my one true love, my soul mate. Two strikes so far, Rachel. I just haven’t found her yet.” he explained to her with a real earnest voice.
“You know, Joe Henry, maybe you already did. Maybe you just never saw it. Maybe love was right in front of you, waitin’, hopin’ you would notice. Maybe you didn’t see, never saw it it till it was too late. Maybe it's already happened, your three strikes an’ you’re out. Maybe you’re already out.” Rachel said as she looked away from Joe Henry an’ out at the folks still visitin’ an’ sittin’ around the front of the Cabin Store.
“May be. I don’t know, may be. I hope not, I really hope not. I hope there is that one perfect woman out there for me. Someone who is my best friend. Someone I can talk to. You know, a partner I can talk to just like I talk to you. Oh well. Someday, I reckon. Someday, somewhere. Somethin’ to think about though. Hey, you’ve been awful quiet today. You doin’ OK?” he finally asked.
Rachel didn’t know if she wanted to talk with him about anything right then. She suspected he wasn’t really listenin’, had other things on his mind. She did have a lot on her mind as well. She did have things that she wanted to talk to someone about.
“No, I’m not OK at all. I’m terrible as a matter of fact. Not important though. I’ll work it out. It is just a lot to take in all at once.”
“What? What’s wrong? Did I do something? Was it something I said? Did someone here hurt your feelin’s today? You can tell me, Rachel. We’ve always been able to talk to each other.” He reminded her.
“I might as well tell you. I don’t have anyone else I can tell. You’ll find out soon enough. Joe Henry, they hired a new full-time art professor at the University an’ he plans on teachin’ all the photography an’ videography classes I teach as well as his other art classes. That will give them two art professors in the department. They don’t need me as a part time professor only teachin’ photography an’ videography classes. I ‘m the odd man out. I won’t have a job after this semester. All I’ll have is my occasional photography gigs an’ the income I get as a state bee inspector. That isn’t much at all. I just don’t know what I’ll do. I sure don’t want to work at some store as a cashier or be a waitress again. I did that in college an’ I’m not cut out for bein’ a waitress. I definitely don’t want to move home with my parents at my age.” She said with a sigh.
“Oh no. your job is gone? What will you do?” he wondered.
“I don’t think I can stay here. I’ve been offered a job doin’ kids photo sessions at Kmart an’ other department stores. I would travel all the time an’ get to see a lot of the country but I would be gone all the time. I’ve talked to a couple colleges that have shown some interest. None close to here though. Probably all part time positions. That would be my preference. I’d rather teach at a college somewhere instead of takin’ pictures at department stores. If I could get a decent offer, well, I could do some weddin’ photography on the side an’ do OK. I’m hopin’ one of the colleges I’ve spoken to will call me to come for interviews. I have a portfolio I’ve put together. We’ll just have to see.”
“So, you’ll have to leave? You can’t stay here? You’ll move away? Just like that you have to start over?” he was startled.
“Yes, Joe Henry. That is exactly what I’m sayin’. I reckon there ain’t much left for me here after the semester is over. Maybe I struck out too. Like I told you, maybe it is just too late.”
She stood up an’ walked off the porch an’ toward her car. Joe Henry saw she was cryin’ as she got in her car an’ left. He was stunned. He didn’t know how to feel right then. Seemed like one of the best days of his life earlier in the day, but it sure didn’t feel like that just now.
Problem was, he couldn’t imagine what Limestone Ridge would be like without Rachel bein’ there. He didn’t want to think about her movin’ somewhere else. He definitely hated the thought of her drivin’ from town to town an’ sittin’ around a department store, waitin’ to take pictures for some company. She needed a better life than that.
Joe Henry pondered the things Rachel told him. He thought of their many times together, their long talks. He remembered her smile. He smiled to himself as he thought of the first time he saw her standin’ there in the bee yard with her beekeeper suit on. He remembered when he saw her face as she lifted off the hooded veil, shook her hair out, turned an’ smiled.
He sat there, lost in his thoughts an’ memories. Life hit him in the gut just then. Folks talk about them “Eureka” moments. Joe Henry had an “I am an idiot” moment just then. In that moment, he realized Rachel was a huge part of the things he loved about Limestone Ridge. Some of his favorite moments was when he was with her. He felt like some kind of dope after sittin’ there tellin’ her about April, about Betty the Snake. What was he thinkin’? You don’t tell a woman that sort of stuff. He was oblivious to her hurt an’ her sadness. It was all about him. All about “poor little ol’ Joe Henry, loser in love”.
Loser in love was right. Three strikes an’ out. He didn’t even realize he had been up to bat.
He got up an’ walked down the road to the low water bridge. He stood an’ watched the stream moves ever so slow under the bridge. He picked up a couple sticks an’ tossed them into the water, watched them travel under the bridge an’ come out the other side of the bridge. He chuckled as he remembered playin’ “Pooh sticks” with Rachel.
As he walked back to the farm, he couldn’t get Rachel off his mind. What would life be like if she was gone?

Chapter Twenty-Two
Before the party broke up, Vince an’ Rick pulled up. Everyone was excited to see Vince an’ Joe Henry was tickled to see Rick so soon. He invited them to grab a plate an’ get something to eat. They shook hands, hugged necks an’ went for the food. Much of it had been put in coolers or covered so it wouldn’t go bad. They found enough to fill their plates plumb full.
Everyone wanted to know how Misty Dawn acted when she saw her Daddy. Vince smiled an’ talked for a long time about seein’ his little girl. He wanted to bring her down, but his Mama just put her to bed when Vince arrived.
Bobby an’ Red were playin’ bluegrass in the back of the barn an’ most of the folks had gathered to listen. Joe Henry sat with Vince an’ Rick as they ate. Vince filled Joe Henry in on all he learned, how his research was goin’.
“Joe Henry, I need to talk to Bess tonight. I want to see her face to face instead of tryin’ to talk on the phone.” Vince finally told him as they had a little dessert.
“She’s still here. She’s stayin’ all night with me. You want me to get her?” he asked.
“Not yet. I need to finish eatin’. I need to talk with you. Rick is here for moral support right now, my friend. I’m real nervous. You see, Bud offered me a job with him to help around the farm, help Rick an’ Mazie grow their lavender business an’ help getting' an apiary started there like you an’ Charlie talked about. I’ve worked with Maggie an’ Charlie for the last couple years an’ I think I could be a big help as they get into bees. Main thing is Joe Henry, I can have access to all Bud’s research, all June’s research. She an’ I have spent a lot of time together goin’ over the hybrid books, their records. She has been a huge help to me. She is very special. June actually helped me with a few things I hadn’t explored yet.”
Vince was grinnin’ as he talked. When he spoke of June, he had an’ an even bigger smile on his face. Rick had a cautious smile as they talked. Rick didn’t want hard feelin’s an’ didn’t want anyone to think Vince was abandonin’ the folks on Limestone Ridge. Joe Henry asked what would happen to Vince’s lavender farm. Vince said he thought Joe Henry knew enough to keep it goin’. Maybe it just would not expand any time soon.
“Joe Henry, June is goin’ to continue to live with April for now.  Me, Misty Dawn an' my folks can move into that new house together. Mama an’ Daddy was lookin’ to move south in retirement. They will live with me for the next year or so while I get situated. I feel really bad about this, but it's a good opportunity for me. I hope everyone understands. I hope you understand.” Vince said.
He told Joe Henry he needed to talk with Aunt Bess. He left Rick with Joe Henry an’ went to look for Aunt Bess. Joe Henry saw them walk toward his house. He stayed an’ enjoyed his visit with Rick.
About an hour later Vince came out of the house an’ back to join Rick an’ Joe Henry.
“Bess was very understandin’. She said she would handle things with the lavender farm, transfer to someone else, do the buy outs an’ such. I think she knew it would be hard for me to stay here, Joe Henry. You see, it’s not just about the job Bud offered me. That’s part of it, but it’s more than that. Truth be told, it is so hard for me to be here, knowin’ Mist laid on that hillside an’ in the cold so close to home. Hard when I remember how I was beat. I still can’t forget that I lost Mist because of what happened at our place down the road. It’s a good opportunity, Joe Henry, good for me an’ Misty Dawn. Good for me to be away from my place here. I hope y’all understand.”
Joe Henry really hadn’t thought much about that. He didn’t realize how hard it would be for Vince every time he walked into his home, saw the lavender fields, walked down to the Christmas tree farm where they found Mist.
Finally, he smiled an’ a couple tears fell, “I do understand Vince. I didn’t before. I did think you was desertin’ us. Forgive me for that. You do what’s best for you an’ that little baby girl. Them folks are wonderful.”
“I know, Joe Henry. I know.” Vince told him.
“And Vince, I suspect you an’ June will have to spend plenty of time together as you finish your research. Who knows what might happen?” Joe Henry said with a smile.

Chapter Twenty-Three

At his Great Aunt’s urgin’, Joe Henry made appointments with Clyde’s attorney, investment advisors, accountant, and his insurance man. They all worked with Joe Henry to sign the appropriate paperwork, establish accounts an’ in the case of the investment advisor, begin developin’ an investment portfolio that was more suited to a young man like Joe Henry. Clyde had worked hard to make sure as much of the wealth would be transferred to Joe Henry easily. There was, an’ would be, quite a bit to go through probate.
Clyde’s accountant, John D. Hargis talked on the phone with Joe Henry almost daily after they met to go over the process an’ the developments as they happened. Like Aunt Bess warned, Uncle Sam an’ the Commonwealth of Kentucky both wanted their share of the proceeds. It was going to be a lengthy process. There was, however, a significant amount of cash readily available for Joe Henry almost immediately. John D., as he liked to be called established a bank account separate from the one Aunt Bess helped Joe Henry set up. Both Joe Henry an’ John D. felt it best that that account not be in either Manchester or Hyden. Too many folks might learn about Joe Henry’s wealth. That was somethin’ that Joe Henry didn’t want.
John D. Was in his early thirties an’ when Joe Henry visited his office there was always bluegrass music playin’ softly in the background. The got to talkin’ about music an’ bluegrass right quick. When John D. learned Joe Henry played the fiddle, he mentioned he played the banjo an’ was right respectable on the mandolin an’ guitar if he had a chance. Joe Henry told him he weren’t sure how to do it so no one would figure anything out, but John D. needed to come to the farm sometime or better yet, down to Cumberland Gap an’ to Webb’s Country Kitchen to play with him, Red an’ Bobby Clark.
Joe D. grinned, “You mean ‘Bottlecap Bobby Clark’?”
“Yessir, I sure do. Why, you know who he is?” Joe Henry asked.
“Oh my yes. I’ve listened to an eight track of his music for years. I finally wore it out. I not only know Bobby but we are kin. He is a fine man an’ a great musician. I’ve never had the chance to play with him. I’ll have to go down to Cumberland Gap sometime when y’all are goin’ to be there. That would raise less suspicion.” He told Joe Henry.
As the different representatives worked through the process an’ established Clyde’s probate in the next two weeks, Joe Henry was taken aback more than once by the sheer volume of paperwork, taxes an’ hoops to be jumped through. Bein’ a wealthy man was more work than he ever realized. John D. assured him it would get easier an’ would mostly run on automatic once probate an’ satisfyin’ the tax men was done.
All this was ever on Joe Henry’s mind as he worked around the farm. It was an interestin’ time for him. He would work all mornin’, go in for dinner (the noon meal for city folks who don’t know any better) an’ listen to his answerin’ machine to see if there were messages he needed to return. After he ate it was back to workin’ around the farm, helpin’ Vince on the lavender farm, workin’ with Charlie an’ Maggie in the bee yards. It was a whirlwind, those last few weeks Vince was on the Ridge.
All that while, Joe Henry couldn’t get Rachel off his mind. She stopped by on the weekends. With all that was goin’ on, she stepped in an’ not only helped Charlie an’ Maggie, but suggested Joe Henry help them an’ she would help Vince as he worked in the lavender fields. She helped him several weekdays as well as the weekends as he prepared to leave.
Joe Henry had little time to spend with Rachel. Every time he thought he might have time to spend with her she always found somethin’ else that needed her attention. Vince needed help, Maggie called her into the bee yard to look over a new queen or a hive that was week. Joe Henry seemed to be last on her list of folks to spend time with.
He needed to find time alone with Rachel. He had much to say.

Interlude – Letter Two
Dear Joe Henry,
I didn’t make things easy for you, did I? I must chuckle as I write this. I am sorry I am gone an’ can’t walk with you through the process. Do know that I was careful in choosing advisors over the years. I have complete trust in each of them. Allow them to work through probate, taxes and establishing accounts for you. I trust them, you can too.
I’m hoping John D. suggested bank accounts away from your area. Too many folks are nosy and will gossip and tell your business. I suggest you keep your bank account open that you already have. Now and then deposit some extra cash in it so you can do things quickly. I worked with John D. to make larger purchases through an’ account that was sort of a blind account. It didn’t have my name on it. Instead the name on any checks we used “Sea and Sea”. Get it? My initials, C and C. Well, I always thought it was funny. I think folks thought it was from someone who was some sort of sea captain or had interest in ocean going enterprises. John D. always signed the checks so I wouldn’t have to and so my name wouldn’t be on them.
Now, like I told you before, take some time to settle in and understand what you have, my friend. Don’t go out and start spending like there is no tomorrow. Find a way to make a difference for you, for others without being flashy. I’d suggest you find a way to disguise your help, so folks don’t realize it is you stepping in to help.
Do enjoy your wealth. Take care of yourself. Have some fun now and again with it.
Problem is, when folks know you have a little wealth and you give it away, well sir, hangers on appear out of the woodwork. It is amazing how many long-lost cousins you’ll have showing up at your doorstep with wonderful and hugely profitable ideas.
Before you know it, someone will show up asking you to bankroll a Dodo Bird restoration project that they are hoping to establish… with your money. Don’t fall for it and keep your investments close to your chest just like a good hand of cards.
Oh, and don’t go to Las Vegas! Take my word for it, the house never really loses. I learned that lesson years ago. Didn’t lose much but lost enough that Doris was angry at what I lost. That’s another story I wish I’d told you as we spent time together.
Joe Henry, do me a huge favor. Find a way to give a gift to your Aunt Bess from me if I was unable to give it to her myself. I plan to give it to her soon, just don’t know when you will be reading this.
I have a safety deposit box that John D. can get into for you eventually. Inside there may be a locket that I bought too many years ago. It is gold and shaped like a heart. Inside there are two pictures from back when we were kids. My picture is on the left, Bess’ is on the right. There is also a small lock of her hair under the photo. I never had the chance to give it to her when we were young. If it is still there, if I was unable to give it to her myself, make sure she gets it. Make sure she knows I kept it safe all these years.
Well, enough for now. I’ll have some things to tell you in a year. Trust your advisors. Trust your family. Trust your own self and your decisions, my friend.
I remain, faithful even in parting,
Clyde Collins

Chapter Twenty-Four
The next couple weeks were busy for Joe Henry. Charlie an’ Maggie. They had to get the bee yards in order, make sure all the hives were alive, the queens layin’ an’ the hives healthy. As they went from yard to yard, they found a few dead hives. Throughout the winter they checked on things, but it wasn’t a good idea to crack hives open durin’ the winter.
Much of their checkin’ in the winter was to carefully lift the cover on warm days an’ look in to see if their candy boards were adequate for the rest of the bad weather. A candy board is simply granulated sugar with just a tiny bit of water added. They would knead it to make it solid. A narrow frame was filled an’ placed on top an’ inside the hive with a hole in the middle for the bees to get through to access the candy board.
By late March the queens were busy layin’ an’ preparin’ for the spring an’ all the flowerin’ plants, bushes an’ trees. Better to be ready now than to have things get away from them. During the winter they cleaned up honey supers/boxes, put together new frames an’ added beeswax foundation that the bees would build comb on. They also prepared the boxes that already had drawn comb an' would be ready to add on top of the brood chambers once the blooms were on an’ nectar was flowin’.
Rick stayed with Joe Henry while Vince prepared for the move. Vince an’ Rick spent ten days preparin’ the lavender fields at Vince’s place with Rachel’s help now an’ again. They planted the lavender plants Joe Henry an’ Vince acquired on their trip. Rick helped Vince prune an’ mulch. Vince borrowed a chipper from a neighbor an’ they were able to find enough downed branches an’ saplin’s that needed trimmin’ to mulch most of the paths between rows as well as around the plants themselves.
Kenny, Vince’s Daddy went back home to pack an’ get things ready to move down to the Blue Sky Lavender Farm. He put their house up for sale an’ set things up so his son Brian could work with the realtor. Vince’s parents had already been downsizin’ an’ preparin’ to move south. For retirement. This move came at the right time.
Vince’s Mama stayed to care for Misty Dawn while all this was goin’ on. The women on the Ridge all stopped to visit as often as they could. It was goin’ to be a big change once Vince was gone. They all had fallen in love with that little girl.
March 31st came an’ Vince was packed an’ ready to leave the next day, which was Sunday. Joe Henry planned a big send off for Saturday an’ asked Rick to stay, but he said he better get back an’ prepare for Vince an’ his folk’s arrival. Charlie fired up the stoker stove in the barn that mornin’ since there was still a little chill in the air. Maggie, Lois an’ Lottie put up tables, made things look festive with cut branches of forsythia. The yellow of the flowers was a promise of spring an’ many good things.
Maggie an’ Lois both fried chicken so there would be plenty. Maggie made her world-famous tater salad an’ her sweet tater casserole that Vince loved so much. Aunt Bess made a huge pot of green beans with plenty of ham. Lottie had become the bread maker on Limestone Ridge an’ added two loaves of sourdough bread as well as a loaf of whole wheat an’ two loaves of regular white bread. She also had a sourdough start in a jar to send with Vince.  That was at June an’ Mazie’s request after Rick bragged to them as to how good Lottie’s breads were.
Vince’s Mama made her version of Waldorf salad that Vince loved so much. Aunt Bess made a couple pecan pies. When things were getting’ ready to start, Rachel arrived with a Coca Cola cake that looked amazin’. Joe Henry tried to swipe his finger along the edge of the plate to taste the frostin’ but Rachel slapped his hand. She smiled just a little when he pulled his hand away.
Joe Henry hoped that was a good sign. He was so glad to see her. Honestly, he hadn’t thought about much else other than Rachel in the last couple weeks. He was haunted by his stupidity when it came to her. He laid in bed each night an’ considered things that could be, things that might have been, things he could have said an’ done differently.
As he watched her arrange the cake just so, he asked her if things were better an’ she got just a little teary eyed an’ told him that she had a couple interviews mid-April. He hugged her then, but she didn’t hug back much. Joe Henry stood watchin’ Rachel as she walked away.
Vince came up beside Joe Henry as he stood watchin’ Rachel visit with the other folks. Bobby Clark joined them an’ after they shook hands the three of them talked for a while. Bobby wished Vince lots of luck an’ asked who would take over the Lavender farm. Vince said he wasn’t sure. It really wasn’t his to decide but he had some ideas.
“What do you mean it’s not yours to decide? Did you already sell the Lavender farm or something? Who decides?” Joe Henry was surprised.
Bobby spoke up then, “Joe Henry, you don’t really know? You aren’t one to ask much, so I’m goin’ to tell you. I reckon I’m speakin’ out of turn. Vince, maybe you ought to have told him sooner. See, your Aunt sorta owns the lavender farm. The business is Vince’s, but your Aunt owns the farm an’ has leased it to Vince for the last five or so years. Vince can sell the business to someone, but Bess would have to approve it.”
Joe Henry stood there, lookin’ at Vince. Vince shook his head an’ told Joe Henry that was the way it was. Said Bess was workin’ with him to buy him out an’ they had come up with a price. She had paperwork drawn up for him to sign that day after the get together was done.
Joe Henry nodded an’ walked away in a daze. Truman had been wanderin’ through the crowd, beggin’ an’ getting tidbits as the women prepared the food. Truman saw Joe Henry walkin’ to the road an’ ran to catch up.
Joe Henry walked all the way down to the lavender field an’ stood in the road lookin’ at the place. He walked into the lavender field that was so well tended. He looked things over with a new vision. He stood an’ thought about the business plan him an’ Vince had labored over. Vince had suggested that Joe Henry could keep things goin’ at a basic level, but Joe Henry stood an’ pondered about what might have been, what could be.
He spoke out loud to Truman, “Buddy boy, that just ain’t enough. It ain’t enough to just let this all go. We can’t do that. Can’t do that at all. I better do somethin’ about this. I can’t let things just fall apart.”
He turned an’ ran back to the Cabin Store an’ barn. Folks were still arrivin’ an’ Joe Henry figured he had at least thirty minutes or so before they would eat. He found his Aunt Bess an’ asked her to go with him to the house. She told the other women she would be back shortly. Joe Henry took her by the hand an’ they walked down to this place an’ into the house. He pulled up a chair from the harvest table an’ had her sit down.
He was almost out of breath when he started, “Aunt Bess, I can’t just let things fall apart. I don’t want things to change so much. We need to keep the lavender farm goin’. I’m afraid I won’t be able to do it justice an’ work the bee yards here as well as my bee yard an’ oversee the workin’s of Clyde’s Place. I have a suggestion, not sure what you will think. I don’t know if you’ll agree, but I have to try.”
“What is it, Joe Henry? Does Vince leavin’ have you this upset? What’s goin’ on?” she asked real worried.
“Aunt Bess, I want you to sell me the lavender farm. Bobby told me you own the land but are buyin’ Vince’s part which is the business. I want to buy the business an’ lease the farm an’ house from you.” He told her.
Aunt Bess’ eyes got wide, “Why would you want to do that? You have this place. You’ve made this your home. Why buy his part of the lavender farm?”
“Not for me. Not for me at all. I want to buy the business an’ offer it to Rachel. I want to set something up so she can live there, make the lavender business her own. That way she can stay here. She won’t have to leave. I don’t want her to know, though. I don’t want her to know it's me.” he was desperate.
“It’s not that easy, sweetie. I don’t actually...” she started.
Oh please, Aunt Bess. She's losin’ her job at the University after the semester is over. All she’ll have is her bee inspectin’ job. She’s goin’ to be interviewin’ for jobs out of state. She's so much a part of our Limestone Ridge family. We need her. We all have learned to depend on her. She is always there. Don’t you realize how much she means to me… I mean to all of us? We’ve got to do somethin’. I’ll pay you anything you want. I’ll buy the land an’ all. I’ll give you double what the business is worth. Please Aunt Bess. I can’t, we can’t let her go. I’ll give you anything you ask.” Joe Henry begged.
“Who can find a virtuous woman, for her price is far above rubies.” Aunt Bess whispered to herself as she clutched a small gold heart hangin' from a necklace around her neck.
“Please Aunt Bess. You can’t let her go. Please help her.” he pleaded.

Chapter Twenty-Five

“Well, honey, I need to talk with the other folks that are owners along with me. It ain’t that easy. I don’t really own it like that. There is more to things than I’ve explained to you. Let me talk to some folks. Maybe we can work something out. Even if we did, that don’t mean Rachel will want to be a lavender farmer. She might not even want to stay here.” she said finally.
Joe Henry had tears in his eyes at this point. When Aunt Bess gave him some hope, he wiped his eyes an’ stood up. He gave her a big ol’ bear hug an’ said he needed to wash his face. Aunt Bess went back down to join the others. As she visited around, she took one person then another aside. She spent the rest of the day talkin’ in private, first to one, then to another.
Folks had little goin’ away gifts for Vince an’ Misty Dawn. They prayed together one last time, ate together once more, hugged an’ laughed together like they always did when they were all together on Limestone Ridge.
After the meal was over, Bobby approached Joe Henry. He was watchin’ Aunt Bess an’ Rachel walk toward his house. Maggie, Charlie, Lois an’ Lottie were right behind them with Vince bringin’ up the rear.
“Bess wants you to join us at the house. Misty Dawn’s Grandma will watch her while we go over.” Bobby said quietly.
Joe Henry followed Bobby to the house. He wasn’t sure what everyone was goin’ there for, but he figured he would know soon enough. The two of them went in to find everyone gathered at the long harvest table. Aunt Bess stood at the far end. She had a stack of papers an’ a notepad in front of her. Lois had a three-ring binder as well as a note pad of her own. Aunt Bess told Bobby an’ Joe Henry to have a seat.
Aunt Bess spoke clearly, “My name is Bess Asher, and I am senior member an’ controllin’ owner. I call this joint meetin’ of Carpenter’s Bee Tree Farms, LLC an’ the Four Brothers Trust to order. If no one has a problem with it, we’ll dispense with Lois readin’ the minutes. Lois will make notes for both the business an’ trust today an’ provide them to everyone later. All votin’ members are here. Lois, please record that in addition to me, you, Charlie, Maggie an’ Bobby we have three others in the meetin’. Be sure an’ record that they are Joe Henry, your sister Lottie an’ Rachel.”
Joe Henry an’ Rachel both looked confused. Neither said anything but looked at each other with wonder an’ curiosity. Joe Henry shrugged an’ shook his head. Lois was takin’ notes as Aunt Bess spoke.
“First order of business is to receive Vince’s resignation from our group an’ his wish to sell back his shares of Carpenter’s Bee Tree Farms to the company. We all understand his need to move on an’ I personally wish him well. I plan to keep him in my prayers as well as Misty Dawn for a long time to come. All in favor?” She asked.
Joe Henry watched as Aunt Bess, Charlie, Maggie, Bobby an’ Lois raised their hands. He still wasn’t sure what was goin’ on.
“Next item of business. As y’all know, Henry Kay an’ I set down provisions for the passin’ of his shares of the business to Joe Henry at such time as the rest of us deemed appropriate. At this point, all of us in private conversations have agreed it is time. We have drafted a unanimous motion to award Joe Henry his inherited portion of the Farm. To make it legal, all in favor?” she continued.
They all raised their hands together, Maggie had tears in her eyes right away. Then Lois joined her as did Aunt Bess. Rachel sat quietly, not sure what any of this had to do with her. She felt out of place. Joe Henry was just flabbergasted. He sat quiet an’ teared up as they all smiled at him.
“At this point, as the primary beneficiary of the Four Brothers Trust, I also need to award and designate Joe Henry Carpenter as co-beneficiary of the trust, ceding to him his Father’s portion that was set aside in the trust for him either upon my death or my decision to award it to him. Henry Kay set up conditions to that award. I have asked the others to consult an’ confirm with me their opinion of the requirements. We all agree that Henry Kay’s conditions have been met.”
“Joe Henry, the four Carpenter brothers each received a land grant. Together those land grants totaled a little over two thousand acres. Along the way about one hundred twenty acres were sold to neighbors or children. Some time ago, the family set aside the remainin’ acres in our family trust. Me an’ your Daddy were the only survivin’ heirs. He wanted to make sure you would be a good steward before his portion was given to you. Pretty much all the land you have walked or rode on belongs to the Four Brothers Land Trust with you an’ me as beneficiaries. It is set up with a parallel Foundation that we use to give grants, scholarships an’ such. Today I’ve established you as one of the beneficiaries of the trust. You will be sole beneficiary upon my death as my portion transfers on death to you. These folks here are also our trustees an’ members of our board. Though we are the only owners, the trustees will continue to oversee the trust along with us.” she explained.
“On to the next matter. The owners an’ trustees of the Bee Tree Farms LLC wish to buy back Vince’s portion of the farm. We have established a fair price with Vince for his ten percent of the value of Bee Tree Farms, LLC. I need to mention for Joe Henry’s behalf as well as explainin’ to Rachel that we each own a portion of the business. I own thirty percent. We have just given Joe Henry his inherited thirty percent today. Lois owns fifteen percent as does Charlie an’ Maggie. Vince owns ten. The contract we all have is written in stone. None of us may sell to anyone outside the company. The company may buy shares back, which is what we are doin’. All in favor of the buyback an’ providin’ Vince a cashier’s check for the purchase price?” she asked.
They all raised their hands. Bobby whispered an’ told Joe Henry he had to vote too, since he was now a member an’ owner. Joe Henry asked about Bobby’s share. Bobby explained that he was a member at large on both the company board and the trust. He was also Vice- Chairman. He did not own any of the business or land but received a stipend from the Board.
Aunt Bess looked around the table. “Here’s how it works, youngin’s. No one pays rent or a lease payment on the land. Each business, the honey farm, the lavender farm an’ the Christmas tree farm all run their business free of any rent. We each pay fifteen percent of the profit from each of the businesses to the Bee Tree Farms LLC to keep things goin’, to pay taxes an’ to fund the foundation. I need to be honest here. We have a whole lot of money in the business’ accounts an’ in the trust. Way more than we have ever spent. We have much more than we could spend in my lifetime or even Joe Henry’s. This land will be ours for generations to come. We don’t have to worry about someone dyin’ an’ having to pay high inheritance taxes. We all do what we can to make lives of folks in these parts, in the mountains better.”
“Next item of business will be a surprise to all of you. Clyde left his home, farm an’ his tree house village to an anonymous heir. It is that heir’s wish that Clyde’s estate gives the farm, house, all the tree house village to the Four Brothers Trust as a gift to set up as a retreat of sorts. We will administer the place.
I’m settin’ Joe Henry up, with his permission already given, as administrator of the place. It is bein’ named ‘Clyde’s Place’. Joe Henry will be recruitin’ an’ hirin’ a retired couple, maybe a retired missionary couple to run the place, sort of like we do things here. All the paperwork is completed an’ with your permission, I would like for us to accept that gift. All in favor?” she paused an’ all hands were raised.
“Last item of business. This is a recent development an’ one all of us have talked about in the last little bit today. Rachel, we want to offer you the lavender farm. We’re not givin’ it to you. You'll have the same deal as the other folks. You will work the farm there, live there rent free like the rest of the folks. The profits will be yours with fifteen percent goin’ to the company. You keep the rest. As far as ownin’ part of the company, you will earn one quarter of that ten percent share of the company that we are buyin’ back from Vince each year for four years. At the end of four years, the full ten percent of the company will be yours.” Aunt Bess told Rachel.
“Additionally, after discussin’ it with Maggie an’ Charlie, an since it will take a while to get the lavender farm goin’, we want to hire you part time to help with the bee yards, honey harvest an’ such. We don’t want to lose your knowledge an’ experience. You can keep your inspector job an’ do photography on the side. Bobby suggested we even set up one part of the barn for Santa at Christmas an’ as a studio for you the rest of the year. I can talk numbers an’ details with you later. Vince can talk with you an’ give you an idea of the income of the lavender farm. We think it should give you a decent livin’, but want to give you a little cushion to start.” she added.
Rachel shook her head, “But I don’t know that much about runnin’ that farm. I don’t know much about raisin’ lavender, harvestin it an’ such. Why me?”
Vince grinned an’ spoke up. “They are hirin’ me to be a consultant for you if you accept. I’ll be available by phone any time. I will come back regularly the first two years to help get Joe Henry’s business plan for the lavender farm implemented. Joe Henry has learned a lot an’ can help you. The others can help too. I’m leavin’ you some books an’ also all my notes an’ records. I’ve added to Joe Henry’s plan with about twenty pages of notes for you to get started with. I think you can catch on right quick. Besides that, none of these folks want you to leave.”
Rachel’s eyes got big an’ she started to cry. She turned to Joe Henry, “You told. Why did you tell? You shouldn’t have told, Joe Henry. Why did you tell?”
Joe Henry felt about six inches tall. He sat there an’ watched her cry. He just didn’t know what to say, what to do, for he had betrayed her secret.
“Rachel, honey. I’m speakin’ out of turn here. He will probably be as upset with me as you are with him right now. You shouldn’t be upset with him, though. You need to know something...” Aunt Bess started.
“Joe Henry looked at her, shook his head, “No Aunt Bess, don’t.”
“Honey just sit there an’ shush. That child needs to know. You need for it to be known. I know what I’m doin’. I’ve not guided you wrong yet an’ I ain’t about to start now.” Aunt Bess said gently.
She looked at Rachel, “Darlin’, you need to know someone came to me, begged me to hire you, to ask you to run the lavender farm. Someone asked me, begged me to sell them the lavender farm business. They said they would do anything, pay anything to help you. That person pledged anything they had for you, honey. They begged me to help them get you to stay.”
“But, but I haven’t told y’all about my situation.  I just found out in the last little bit. Why would you care so much? Why would you place so much trust in me? How could y’all even know...” she said almost to herself.
Vince spoke up, “Rachel, you an’ I both know who that was. We all do. We’ve all known why, even before he knew. I told him when we traveled together that he might lose something real valuable if he wasn’t careful. We all have been watchin’, waitin’, prayin’.”
“Prayin’ for what? Why were you prayin’ an’ waitin’? Why do y’all want to offer me this?” she asked.
Joe Henry stood up; his eyes full of tears. “Aunt Bess said something to herself an’ I heard just enough to know what she whispered earlier. Clyde told me the same thing in a letter recently. She said, ‘Who can find a virtuous woman, for her price is far above rubies.’ She was talkin’ about you, Rachel. You are that virtuous woman. We all know that. We all want you to stay. You are a part of us. A part of all this.”
“And you, you want me to stay?” Rachel asked him as he walked over to her.
“Rachel, I was the one who asked. I begged her to sell me the lavender farm so I could give it to you.  I couldn’t stand the idea of you leavin’. I begged Aunt Bess to do something. I reckon I need to do it myself. Seems like that works a whole lot better for me. I want you to stay. I need you to stay. We all need you. Most of all, I need you, Rachel. Be a part of all this. Be a part of our Limestone Ridge family. Honestly, you already are. Like Aunt Bess tells me, ‘family is family’. They wouldn’t let me leave here. I’m joinin’ with them to beg you to stay, run the lavender farm. Help us make this place all the things we all dream of. We all need you. I need you. Stay with me.” Joe Henry told her.
She nodded her head an’ looked at Aunt Bess. Told her an’ everyone ‘yes, yes, yes”. Aunt Bess asked everyone to vote an’ all hands went up. Not one eye was dry as they voted. Aunt Bess went over, pulled Rachel up an’ hugged her. One at a time they all hugged Rachel.
Everyone hugged her except Joe Henry. He took her by the hand an’ asked her to go with him. He led her down to the barn an’ asked her to go for a ride with him. Together they saddled the mules an’ rode up the hill, down the ridge to the little shelter named “Judah’s Place”. He reached up, took her by the waist an’ helped her off the mule.
They walked ‘round an’ looked at the place. Joe Henry opened up the lard can, got a tin cup out an’ drew up a bucket of water. He dipped the tin cup in the bucket an’ handed it to Rachel. She smiled an’ looked at him as she took a drink. He drank deep when she handed it to him.
“Why did you want me to ride up here with you, Joe Henry?” Rachel gave him a serious look an’ waited.
He looked at her, walked to the side of the ridge an’ looked out over the land that the four brothers found, settled an’ preserved. He looked back at her an’ motioned for her to join him. When she did, he took her hand an’ stood there for a bit without speakin’. That felt good, felt right to both of them. Joe Henry pondered that her hand in his felt like their hands were molded by the Creator to fit just right.
“Rachel, I ain’t no prize, that’s for sure. I was ignorant. I didn’t realize what you were tellin’ me the other day. I didn’t see the forest for the trees. I didn’t realize how much I would miss you, how much a part of my life you already are. I didn’t realize maybe God put the right person in the right place at the right time. I’m hopin’ you feel the way I think you do about me. I don’t want to rush things, but I wanted you to stay for me.” He told her.
“I wanted you to still be in my life. I want to date you; I want to spend time with you as my girl. I want for people to know you an’ I are together. I want to court you, as Aunt Bess says. I definitely want to be more than fourth cousins. I know that’s dumb, but I was told I would know when the right woman came into my life. I would know.” He said earnestly.
“Well, I know. I believe our hearts are bound, anchored together, just like my heart is anchored to this place. Rachel. I know I haven’t even had a real date with you, but I want you in my life. Not just now, not just for a while. Forever an’ ever, amen. So, what do you think?” he asked an’ hoped.
“Oh, you silly boy. I’ve just been waitin’, hopin’ you would see what I saw, would know what I knew. Joe Henry, I knew the mornin you laid your head on my shoulder an’ slept when Clyde died. I prayed an’ asked for wisdom right then an’ there. You ain’t the prize some might want, that is absolutely true. I’m thinkin’ you might be the prize I need. I’m hopin’ Vince was kiddin’ about you snorin.” she laughed.
“Here’s the thing. I don’t want to jump into things. I don’t want to scare folks that we are makin’ some rushed decision. I’m goin’ to move into Vince’s place. We’re goin’ to work together to make this place amazin’. We’re goin’ to help other folks get a leg up like you’ve talked about. Boy, I may even marry you some day if you mind your Ps an’ Qs. We’re not getting’ joined at the hip right away, but you are mine. Put that in your pipe an’ smoke it as my Granddaddy says. I’m just glad you finally figured out it was OK to fall in love with your Cousin.” she was so serious as she talked with him.
“I’m glad too. Oh, Rachel, I have so much to tell you...” he started.
“Joe Henry, shut up for a minute an’ kiss me. I’ve been waitin’ for months an’ months for you to kiss me.” she grinned.
An’ he did. Again an’again, he kissed her.
Finally, they came up for air an’ he took her by the hand, “I have some things I need to tell you, Rachel.”
They sat in the shelter house for a long time. Joe Henry told her all about his meetings with Aunt Bess. Told her just a little about Clyde’s either/or choice. He told her he had no idea that he owned anything, especially the farm, land or business with Aunt Bess. He was pretty shocked at the turn of events earlier that day. Then he took a deep breath, looked her in the eyes an’ smiled.
“An’ Rachel, I need to tell you one last thing. I think you need to know what else was in Clyde’s will...”
As he spoke, Rachel listened, wide eyed, mouth open. When he was finished, she had tears in her eyes. She asked him if he was sure about her. She asked if he really wanted her. She reminded him he was goin’ to be able to have anything, anyone he wanted from then on.
Joe Henry smiled, took her hand an’ led her to where the mules waited. As he helped her onto her mule, he grinned, “I have no doubts at all. We are goin’ to do wonderful things for a lot of folks, my Rachel. We are goin’ to live, really live. With or without money, we are goin’ to live happily ever after. An, darlin’ Rachel, if you do marry me one day, I’m thinkin’ we can afford to have a whole herd of babies to fill up this farm.”
She agreed, but told him he’d have to wait for that... just not too long. She grinned then told him as they rode back to the house to be thinkin’ about what happens next.