Thursday, December 25, 2003

Christmas in the Holler

Christmas Eve Service was always wonderful at the Booger Holler Holiness Church. Sister Hazel Budder, the wife of Pastor Woodrow Budder was in charge of the choir an' them folks practiced since summer on the songs they sang on Christmas Eve. The Church was decorated just right an' aromatic cedar trees were trimmed an' lighted to get everyone in the mood.

Brother Woodrow reminded folks the reason for the season in a short message of 'bout five minutes at the end of the singin'. Ms. Hazel invited Uncle Billy Gilbert to come over to her house for Christmas dinner. Since Aunt Del died Ms. Hazel had done set her hopes on Uncle Billy. Everyone but Ms. Hazel knew that were a lost cause.

He thanked her, but said he was goin' to stay home. Other folks invited him without the hidden desires Ms. Hazel had an' he would smile an' turn them down too. He told folks Old Dog needed company tomorrow. 'Course, they invited Old Dog then, but Uncle Billy Gilbert just would smile an' again say no.

Christmas Morning in Beloved was glorious. There was just enough snow to make a white Christmas like a greeting card in the little town. Annie Pankey's store, Pankey's Hankies, had the window lighted an' her Santa collection called to hearts young and old to stop an' look. Beloved Baptist Church had it's bells playin' Christmas Carols quietly all morning. Folks that lived in town got out an' swept the sidewalks, just as an excuse to visit with each other. The wonderful smells of Christmas dinners cookin' filled the cold mountain air.

Up in the holler, Uncle Billy an' Old Dog got up early, as usual. He put a pot of coffee on after he let Old Dog out. He sliced a piece of fruitcake (laced with rum, but I'm not a'tellin') that his son Bill sent him. Bill had tried to get him to come up north for Christmas. His son meant well, but that boy's wife just didn't have goodwill in her voice as she fussed in the background of that call. He declined graciously. He just wished Bill would come home one Christmas an' bring the grandkids to spend Christmas day with him.

He'd stirred the fire when he got up an' now he added some coal to make it burn long and slow. Some folks didn't like the smell of a coal fire, but Uncle Billy Gilbert knew the smell was the heart of the hills. Coal was the heart, the lifeblood and the burden of the mountains.

Later in the morning, him an' Old Dog dozed in front of the fire. He planned on goin' for a walk up in the hills sometime during the afternoon. Plenty of day left for that.

All around Beloved folks were celebrating Christmas with their families. Customs were a little different, but the basics were the same, family, cheer, the joy of giving an' little ones gathered close to see what Santa left.

Meals were served and bellies filled as the day past all too quickly. Belts slipped to the next notch an' quite a few folks sat and dozed while company droned on about work, family or the common woes of life.

Hap Ledford sat for a while studyin' on somethin' after an early Christmas dinner. Evelyn could tell somethin' was on his mind an' she asked him what was in his head.

"Would you mind if I didn't help with the dishes an' went down to take Uncle Billy a little plate or something?"

"My goodness, Hap, I was waitin' for you to ask. I have a basket ready for you to take. I baked him a loaf of sour dough bread like he likes an' sliced him a couple of pounds of that country ham. You know how he likes them country hams he cures, but won't hardly keep one for himself. You go on an' spend some time with him. Tell him we all love him."

Hap grinned as Evelyn walked from the kitchen with a basketx filled with bread, country ham, and some of her prize winnin' strawberry jelly. He thought Evelyn didn't see him as he stopped in the shed an' put a quart jar of his elderberry wine in the box. She was standin' inside the door watchin' through the window, grinnin' like a possum over roadkill.

Roscoe Collins was sittin' by his wood stove in that chair Uncle Billy had made him back in the summer. Roscoe swore that them store bought chairs just didn't feel near as good as a chair Uncle Billy crafted. He wondered out loud what Uncle Billy was doin' on Christmas Day an' Rhoda was out of the kitchen, through the covey of grandkids an' lookin' at him with her dark black eyes.

"Why don't you get out of that chair an' go see? You know the chair I mean, Roscoe? The one you asked Uncle Billy to make. The one he wouldn't take a dime for."

It didn't take him long to get his coat an' head for the door. Rhoda handed him a grocery bag filled with turkey, oyster dressing an' half of the stack cake she made. That cake was wonderful, seven layers with jam between each layer. For good measure she sent Uncle Billy a whole vinegar pie. Men needed a little sweetnin' this time of year.

Henry Kay Snoddy didn't need no proddin' over to Bear Rump. Orvina an' him had planned for this visit. Orvina hadn't slept good so she begged out an' sent Henry Kay with some fried chicken, city ham, sweet potato casserole an' a big bowl of home growed greasy beans. Uncle Billy gave her the seeds for them beans.

Daw Collins was already on the road as was Junebug Burns an' his Daddy. Each had boxes an' bags of holiday treats. Junebug had made potato candy an' fudge with his Mama an' made sure that most of it went to Uncle Billy who had never told on him for swipin' Ms. Hazel's prize winning tomatoes.

By the time Junebug got there the big livin' room of Uncle Billy's house was near full with men an' boys, all on an errand of love on Christmas. Uncle Billy answered the door an' his faded blue eyes filled with tears as he saw Junebug standin' with an open container of potato candy.

"Thought you might want a little o' my candy I made." Junebug grinned.

"Get in here, boy, or I'll be a tellin' on you."

Uncle Billy had opened all the boxes, bowls and covered plates as he placed them on the table. He got out every plate an' saucer he had along with all the forks, knives and' spoons in the house.

He spoke loudly, "Fellers, I know I can't eat all this before it goes bad. Now y'all are gonna have to help me before I let you leave. Henry Kay, I'll vouch for you with Orvina, so just you stay right there. If you don't mind, boys, I better say a word of grace."

The men an' boys stood, took off caps an' hats an' bowed their heads.

"Lord, I thank you much for the fellers that came away from hearth an' home to bring some Christmas cheer to this ol servant of yours. They humble me, Father with their love. The wives, Mamas and families they left at home to stop by here fill my heart right good with their generous spirit. 'Course, Lord, these is mountain folks an' You expect no less from us. Now, I thank Ye for the food, the love shown to each other an' the men that stand here, shoulder to shoulder. We have all stood beside each other before, balin' hay, puttin' up tobbacer, bowin' heads in church or lodge. This is my family, Lord. I am humbled an' blessed by their sorry ol' hides. Amen...Oh, an' Lord, keep Henry Kay out of hot water with Orvina for stayin' so long. Amen"

Men an' boys grinned through the tears that Uncle Billy's prayer brought. The lined up, oldest first down through the youngin's an' took plates an' feasted as only men gathered together can do.

No one noticed that Uncle Billy waited till every single guest was served before he went to the cupboard an' got a bowl. Every saucer an' plate was used. He filled his bowl with a little of everything, not wantin' to hurt any feelin's. When he went into the big room, no one had to get out of his chair, them fellers just knew it was his an' saved it for him.

Ol' Dog was a layin' by it, tail a thumpin' as Uncle Billy sat. That dog knew that Christmas dinner was goin' to be fed to him, one scrap at a time by Uncle Billy's hand. Ol' Dog had him trained that way.

There is nothin' better than men gathered together to eat, laugh an' talk. That ol cabin hadn't heard as much joy in a while. Uncle Billy sat an' grinned as he just listened an' watched each face. It was a good Christmas. He wished Aunt Del were there an' a secret tear fell down his cheek when no one noticed.

There was a knock at the door an' Junebug went to answer. A covered dish was left on the porch in front of the door an' Junebug saw Ms. Hazel's car drivin' away. He took the dish an' the note with it to Uncle Billy.

The note said, "Bill, I just know you are forgotten an' lonely in that cold empty cabin. Here is a little something to fill your sad, empty belly. Don't be too proud to stop in later tonight for a visit."

Uncle Billy grinned. He hated to be called Bill. His name was Billy, given to him by his Daddy. Ms. Hazel never would understand. He was alone since Aunt Del died, but never lonely. He was never sad an' obviously could never be forgotten by all the folks that loved him.

The cabin wasn't cold or empty, nor was his heart. It was filled with gladness of a life well spent.

Daw Collins came over about then an' started on a huntin' story. Uncle Billy knew he would have to put in his two cents about that story.

Men an' boys gathered closer as their grand ol' storyteller cleared his throat an' said, "Now, Daw, you left your part in all that out. Here is how I remember it."

There was a warm glow from the windows of that ol' cabin that night. A warm glow inside as men an' boys stayed late into the night.

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Just Thanksgiving

Things around Beloved, Kentucky get right busy at Thanksgiving time. The Merchant's Association gets together and puts up the Christmas decorations so the little town snuggled into the hills of Clay County will be festive for the Thanksgiving Day Parade. The weather has turned right smart cold an' folks have on their winter coats as they go about their business.

Annie Pankey is havin' her "Thanksgiving Weekend Sale" at "Pankey's Hankies". Most folks know she has more than hankies. Her little ol' shop is full of antiques, quilts, old lace an' 'bout any type of fancy napkins or tablecloths a person could want. She has her big front window stuffed full of Santa figures. She has a big ol' collection of Santas. That window hardly holds them all these days an' they threaten to overrun the counter space. Annie is a bit odd at times, but there is no place in town that has more Christmas spirit that her place. Stop in an' she's bound to offer y'all some hot mulled cider or some o' her award winnin' punkin bread. Right in the middle o' the store is a harvest table covered with the prettiest quilt Annie has. It is a nativity scene, all sewed from scraps of cotton material. The sheep are made from a fuzzy white material an' when little ones come into the store they can't keep their hands off them sheep. Annie don't care none. She is tickled they want to touch it.

The Beloved Merchants Association sponsors the parade ever' year. It is a big thing in them parts. They usually have four or five fire trucks from over to Manchester an' as far away as Hazard. The Clay County High School Marching Band invites all the surroundin' counties to join them for the parade. Folks expect maybe six bands marchin' this year.

The Veterans of Foreign Wars will be there all in their uniforms an' the Viet Nam vets promised to have a unit there again. It done them boys proud to be a part of the Fourth of July Parade an' folks sort of reckon they will be in all the parades from here on out.

The street lights have fresh cut holly an' cedar branches and a little mistletoe wired to each pole. Local boys try hard to trick their sweeties into standin' under the lights so they can grab a smooch. The girls know the mistletoe is there and they act so' avoid the streetlights like the plague. It is a hoot to watch the boys persuade an' the girls do ever' thing but walk under that mistletoe.

The Christmas banners are hung across Main Street from some of the street lights. One says, "Happy Thanksgiving, Beloved!" on one side an' "Merry Christmas, Beloved" on the other.

The Baptist Church has that bell tower with the loud speakers in it. They couldn't afford real bells, so they have a tape player that plays bell music at certain times. Startin' on Thanksgivin' Day they add Christmas carols to the player an' a couple of times a day the bells play a carol or two.

Thanksgiving is the day the police put bags over the twelve parkin' meters in downtown Beloved. It only costs a nickle to park for two hours, but from Thanksgiving to the day after New Year's the meters are covered an' parkin' is free.

The Carnagie Library has a tree put up that Henry Kay Ledford cut way back in the hills. He claims it took him four days just to drag that tree out. It's decorated with cranberries an' popcorn an' cut out ornaments made of construction paper that the youngin's in the readin' programs worked on. Each ornament has glitter along the edges an' there is one of them light wheels that turns an' has four different colors of plastic that the light shines through. You know what I mean, now. It shines first blue, then red, green an' finally yellow on the tree an' the glitter on them ornaments just twinkles.

Folks say that a feller is comin' to the parade that has two live whitetail deer he has trained to pull a little ol' sled on wheels. He dresses up like Santa an' lends them deer an' they walk through town like they was Santa's reindeer. 'Course, they are whitetail, not reindeer, but the youngin's don't care a bit.

The will be popcorn balls, hot mulled cider an' candy, (probably them mushmaller peanuts an' sticks of candy canes) for anyone wantin' some on Thanksgivin' Day before the parade. The Masonic Lodge is also havin' another Thanksgiving Day Turkey Fry. 'Bout ever'body eats at home early an comes to the turkey fry in the evenin'. Cousin Peanut is persona non grata these days an' probably won't even show up for a free meal.

It is gonna be some kind of day on Thanksgiving. Y'all ought to be there. The parade starts at 9:00 a.m. If you need a place to eat early, stop by our place for a bite. Now, if y'all want to come to the Turkey Fry, don't forget to bring a covered dish. An' if you need an idea what to bring...bring green beans or a pie. Don't even think of bringin' some ol' store bought can of warmed up beans. We want the real thing.

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

the sweetest tomatoes

The Clay County Fair was a goin' full tilt. The rides were full with long lines for all the good rides. The feller at the pony rides didn't have much to do till some proud mountain mama came along an' their youngin' started squallin' about ridin' a pony. He would perk up then an' grin. He could shame a quarter from even the poorest soul for a pony ride.

The bench outside the rabbit barn was a gatherin' place of sorts for many of the older fellers at the fair. It was close to all the food vendors, but far enough away from the midway and all the loud games an' rides that a person could get a little good conversation in.

Uncle Billy sat by himself on the bench. Several fellers had come an' gone over the space of an hour. All had news to offer about which youngin' won in this or that 4H barn. The turkey judgin' was goin' on an' Uncle Billy expected a report soon from that contest.

He had spent most of the mornin' makin' brooms an' talkin' with folks. His hands had another idea right now, though. Ever' now an' again he suffered with a little arthritis. Today it was worse than it had been all week. He reckoned it was keepin' his hands wet an workin' with the broomcorn for such long periods. He sat with one hand in the other. For good measure he would rub the knuckles softly, hoping to rub the ache out.

As he sat there, he heard someone callin' his name. "Hey, Uncle Billy. Uncle Billy, over here. Here."

There was folks goin' all different directions an' Uncle Billy couldn't see where the voice was comin' from till Junebug Burns plopped himself down on the bench beside Uncle Billy. Junebug had some sheep that were going to be judged later that day an' he was right smart nervous about it. Folks were sayin' that his sheep were the best to come through the fairgrounds in a long time. Junebug hoped that was true. He could use the money from a good auction to put away for college. He wanted to go to college over to Cumberland Baptist College to study an' be a teacher. He promised anyone who listened to him that he would come back an' teach in his hometown of Beloved when he was done.

"Uncle Billy, you look right tired."

"I reckon sleepin' on a cot in a barn ain't as peaceful as I might like, Junebug. How 'bout you?"

Well sir, I just don't mind it a bit. They is so much to do here I don't sleep much anyways."

Uncle Billy chuckled, "I don't know that I would repeat that to your Mama, Junebug."

"No sir, that might be a foolish thing to do."

"How are the sheep this year, Junebug? Think you'll win it?"

Junebug sat an' studied a little while before he answered, "Well, I don't rightly know. Lots of folks have stopped by an' looked 'em over. I think I got as good a chance as anyone."

Junebug watched Uncle Billy rubbin' his hands for a second or two, "Them hands hurtin' you?"

"Yessir, some days is better than others. They hurt more in the mornin's than any other time."

"Mine don't do that none."

Uncle Billy grinned, "No sir, I reckon they won't for another 60 years or so."

"You hungry, Uncle Billy?"

"Mountain men are always hungry. You?"


Uncle Billy chuckled. He figured Junebug had spent his money on games an' was lookin' for a good meal. "Reckon you want to go over an' get somethin' to eat with me?"

"Nope, I got somethin' for you an' me to eat right here."

Junebug reached into a bag he was carryin' an' pulled out two of the prettiest red, ripe tomaters Uncle Billy had ever seen. Junebug had a salt shaker in his hand as he handed the bigger one to Uncle Billy.

"Those are nice tomaters, Junebug. I appreciate that. Nothin' better than a tomater with a little salt."

Junebug already had a mouthful as he agreed. The two sat an' ate slowly, each enjoyin' the sweet taste of the tomaters. Ever' now an' again a little juice ran down their lips. Both were quick to catch it and place it back in their mouths. The tomaters were just that good. A feller didn't want to waste a drop.

Uncle Billy chuckled, "I reckon we are both eatin like we are starved. Only thing could make these better would be sittin' in the garden eatin' 'em right off the vine."

Junebug grinned, "Onliest thing could make 'em better is you an' me sneakin' into that garden after dark an' sittin' between the rows eatin' 'em in the moonlight."

"Now, Junebug, what garden did you sneak into? Are these from someone's garden? When did you sneak out?"

"Uncle Billy, I ain't sneaked off the fairgrounds. I promised Pap I wouldn't an' I keep my promises. Just don't ask no questions."

Uncle Billy looked at Junebug for a long time. He had slowed his eatin' down at the prospect of eatin' ill gotten gains. He studied the small piece of tomater he had left for a long while. "Junebug, they don't sell tomaters here at the fair, do they?"

"No sir, they don't. Eat up, Uncle Billy. You are askin' too many questions."

Uncle Billy sat up. He knew something was wrong!

"Junebug Burns! Where did you get these tomaters?"

"Uncle Billy, here is the way it is. Ms.Hazel bugs me to death at church all the time. She tells me to stand up straight, wipes my face with spit an' a hankie if she thinks she sees a little dirt. She tells my Mama on me all the time an' I get in trouble from her carryin' on. Her tomaters was already judged an' won a blue ribbon. They was a whole basket full an' I felt like she owed me a couple."

"Ms.Hazel? Oh, Junebug, if you get caught there will be no end of this! Of all the folks to swipe tomaters from...Ms.Hazel. That woman is a thorn in my side too, Junebug. She will have out hides if she catches us. I'll have to go over to her house for a Sunday dinner to apologize. That woman wants to get her hooks in me anyway, son."

"Well, I reckon we better eat up real fast, Uncle Billy. Don't want anyone seein' us eatin' her tomaters, do we?"

With that thought, both man an' boy put the last bite of sweet, red tomater in their mouth and swallowed hard an' fast. Both grinned a little as they sat on the bench in front of the rabbit barn. Neither said anything for a long time.

"Uncle Billy?"


"Stolen tomaters is the best."


"They are, Uncle Billy. Sneakin' in an' swipin' a tomater makes it sweeter. You said they was good."

"I reckon, boy, I reckon. Just don't tell anyone we ate Ms.Hazel's prize winnin' tomaters. Just my luck I'd have to end up marryin' the woman to end her shame."

Junebug looked at Uncle Billy with a grin that sliced from ear to ear. They shared a secret that bonded them that day. In the years to come Junebug would grow closer to the old man. Eventually he would learn to make brooms from Uncle Billy. Years later he would sit in a barn makin' brooms an' tellin' stories Uncle billy told him on days just like this one. Them tomaters changed the directions of Junebug's life.

Junebug was right. There is nothin' sweeter than a swiped tomater...

Unless it was pullin' somethin' over on Ms. Hazel. Man an' boy both enjoyed that sweet, red secret.

Friday, October 24, 2003

First Frost

There is a chill in the air tonight.
Chickens started roostin' pretty early too.
Twilight and the fog is already started down
Covering the underbrush, slidin' round the trees.

There is a brittle feel to the air.
Like it is hidin' icy fingers,
Waiting to reach out and wrap frosty hands
Round cabin, barn and farmyard.

There is a bone cold feel this evenin'.
Feller needs a coat to go check the barn,
Needs a sweater round the house.
Get that stove a going good, now.

There is a frost just a settlin' in.
Just wait and you'll see, brother.
Grass will be icy blades under foot,
Cracklin' like cellophane as you walk.

There, there it is in the window corner.
See it yonder, there, first frost,
Sneakin' into the cabin near bedtime.
Thinkin' a feller won't see the signs.

There is first frost tonight.
Cover your roses and them mums, now.
Crackly, crinkly frost on the window.
Extra quilts on the bed tonight.

Wednesday, October 15, 2003


Years ago, when I was a little feller, I dreamed of being a cowboy. It was just after the birth of television and westerns were the rage. TVs were always and only black and white and there were some folks still who had old radios that had been adapted with a cathode ray tube.

On Saturday mornings the western was the rule and Roy Rogers was the King of the Cowboys! Dale Evans was beautiful and I loved her as only a six year old can love a woman. When I turned five my Mama bought me and my little brother Roy Rogers outfits. They were complete with white shirts with little red roping on the edges of the collars that matched the red bandana the outfit came with. The pants were black with red piping going down the seam that matched a black vest with red trim. The red Roy Rogers hat topped off the outfit easily.

Now, I won't even brag about the beautiful leather gunbelt and two chrome metal six shooters with real plastic bullets that fit into the holdres on the gunbelt. I never could figure why it came with them plastic bullets since they didn't fit the gun. It was a jim dandy cap pistol.

I wore that outfit all the time. Mama has pictures of me and my little brother standin' in the doorway at Christmas in our Roy Rogers outfits...just as proud as any cowpoke could be.

My Grandma and Grandpa lived just down the road from us- a short walk. We spent plenty of time at their house. Grandma could make cookies like you never ate in your life. They had a big ol' poodle dog called Bobo an' my little brother used to pretend it was one of them rodeo bulls and wrassle with it.

Grandpa used to love to have his hair combed. He would pay me the huge sum of ten cents to comb his hair. Now, when I could I would comb for a minute or two and quit. He never let me go with just a minute or two. The deal was a good combin' and it usually took near ten minutes to satisfy him.

I would sit on the back of his chair with my legs draped over his shoulders and comb and comb. He loved that so much. Most of the time he fell asleep as I combed. More than once Grandma would lift me off his shoulders as he dozed.

Now, I gotta tell you something. Combin' hair for a livin' at the age of five or six can get right borin'. There ain't much to it. To top that off, Grandpa loved to listen to the Cincinnati Reds on the radio. So I would sit there and comb while he listened and dozed.

To make it fun I would pretend as I combed. Bein' a cowpoke in trainin', I pretended mostly about cowboyin'. In my mind I would ride an' rope an' shoot em up with the other cowboys. I would catch the crooks an win the gals.

Didn't figure out what to do with the gals when I won 'em for a long time.

Then I decided combin' Grandpa's hair was sorta like curryin' a horse. I had done both. Actually, I had curried and brushed my other Grandpa's mules, but mules is sorta like horses.

From that day on Grandpa became my favorite horse Trigger an' I was Roy Rogers. Grandma didn't know why I called her Dale sometimes, but went along with things. I would take that comb and comb Trigger's mane over and over. It grew longer as I combed. It was a heck of a lot more fun since Grandpa sat an' became Trigger for me. Roy Rogers couldn't be caught combin' Grandpa's hair. It was more respectable to comb Trigger than Grandpa!

Then one day I almost fell off the back of the chair. As I slid backwards I caught Grandpa by the ears and held on. He grabbed my hands to help me up. Right then and there I had an idea. As I sat in front of Grandpa, recovering, I noticed his ears looked a bit longer!

What if I pulled on his ears on a regular basis? Reckon he would start lookin' more like a ridin' and ropin' pony?

Well, I started then and there pullin' on his ears every time I combed his hair. I would sit there and comb, smelling the slight scent of Brylcreem, dreamin' of bein' a cowboy and ridin' the range. When he would doze off to sleep...jerk - his ears would get a tug.

Now he didn't like it much, but he put up with it for the hair combing. He didn't care much for me huggin' him as I left and callin' him Trigger. I don't know what he thought of my attempts to comb his hair to look like Trigger's did on the big screen or on TV. In my eyes he was lookin' more ands more like Roy's famous horse.

I tried to get him to count to ten with his feet, but he wasn't takin' that. When I tried to put that rope in his mouth that one day...well, I got a spankin' no cowboy should ever have to get.

It has been years since I combed Grandpa's hair. He finally got tired of it when the tops of his ears started droopin' over a little.

Never got me a Palimino horse like Trigger. Someday I will. Someday I will.

And I'm gonna name it.......


Friday, September 19, 2003

Just a Taste of Fall

I reckon the weather will be changin' fast now.
The tomaters have done all they're gonna do.
There's plenty of green ones to fry still.
Doubt any will ripen, weathers turned a bit.

Up in the hillside there's a buck workin' his antlers.
Just a rubbin' that velvet off hard an' fast.
He's gettin' ready for courtin' days right soon.
Listen, hear him thrashin' agin the tree?

Tobaccer's in, hangin' up there,high in the barn.
Stand in the barn door an smell real deep.
Nothin' sweeter smellin' than a cash crop dryin'.
Soon enough folk's be a strippin' 'baccer again.

Dang squirrels are a cuttin' on hickory nuts.
Sittin' on the tin roof, cuttin' an' a cuttin'.
They's gettin' fat, ready soon for a long nap.
'Course, one or two of 'em might be comin' for dinner.

Field corn stalks are turnin' brown, whispery dry.
Tractor's sittin' ready for work tomorrow.
Couple o' days an' the corn cribs will be full.
Them deer will be gettin' their fill 'bout now.

Yessir, weather's changin.
Just a taste o' fall in the twilight.
Light'nin' bugs havin' one last dance.
Mist creepin' down like a quiet quilt.

Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Cosmic Bunny

Years ago, not too very far from my hometown of Beloved, Kentucky some of my kin lived on Arnett’s Fork, right near Peabody, Kentucky. Now up on Arnett’s Fork was a one room schoolhouse where a whole herd o’ my kin was schooled. Mz. Birdie Sue Poovey was the schoolteacher back then.

My Cousin Peanut used to hang around the schoolhouse a good bit. Mz. Poovey wanted to think Cousin Peanut was a tryin’ to better his self. Truth was he had it real bad for Ms. Poovey. He would come in on cold mornin’s right early an’ start a fire in the woodstove, sweep up, clean the ‘rasers. Now, he had an odd way of cleanin’ ‘em. He would beat ‘em on his self till they come clean. He figured all them words on the slate board was in them ‘rasers an’ if he slapped ‘em on his self he might get some learnin…we’d call it by osmosis. Didn’t help none a’tall.

One day Mz. Poovey got a letter from the education an’ learnin’ folks at the Space Program. Said they had been sendin’ seeds an’ critters up into space to see what it would do to ‘em. They was a lookin’ for schools an’ teacher folks to raise some o’ them there seeds to see what they turned out like.

Mz. Poovey had been to the drive-in over to Hazard an’ had seen some o’ them Martian movies an’ was not inclined to raise some kind o’ turnips that was gonna mutate an’ take over the earth. She read the letter out loud to Cousin Peanut that they was carrot seeds, lettuce seeds, punkin an’ cucumber, mushmelon, watermelon an even corn an’ bean seeds. ‘Course they offered lil ol’ monkeys an’ bunnies an’ rats an’ mice to folks if they had the right facilities for keepin’ ‘em.

Well, Peanut heard ‘bout them monkeys an’ would not leave Mz. Poovey alone. He wanted one o’ them monkeys, sure enough. He kept on an’ on till Mz. Poovey agreed to write for some o’ the seeds jus’ to keep Peanut happy.

Mz. Poovey forgot she had been teachin’ Peanut to read back at Christmas time so as he could write to Santy Claus. She had filled out the form for seeds only an’ had it in an unsealed envelope layin’ on her desk. When she took the youngin’s out for recess Peanut got into the letter an’ marked with an X the space where you said you wanted a monkey an’ had the facilities to care for it.

A month or so later here come a big ol’ crate for Ms. Poovey. Peanut was there when it was delivered. When Mz. Poovey opened it they was all kinds o’ seeds, books to be readin’ ‘bout them “gramma” waves an’ all, log books to track the growth o’ the seeds. Inside the box also was one lil ol’ white bunny rabbit.

Peanut said, “That ain’t no monkey!” an’ Mz. Poovey ‘bout whipped him right then an’ there. She tol’ him he had to take care o’ that bunny an’ he groused a while an’ then said alright. He made a little cage an’ they kept it for a right smart while inside the school house.

Them seeds come up real fast an’ Peanut noticed they was a lot o’ carrots. They needed thinnin’ out, so he pulled a few ever’ day an’ fed them to the space rabbit. Ever’ day it got bigger an’ bigger. He sort o’ figured he might jus’ fatten it up for Thanksgivin’

Over the summer it got huge an’ by fall it was ‘bout big enough to take huntin for razorback hogs. Peanut tried to train it to hunt hogs, but it were not much for hog meat. It did get good at trackin’, though.

That fall he brought it back to school. Mz. Poovey commented on how big it was a getting’ an wondered if it was cause o’ them gramma waves. Peanut mentioned he had been feedin’ the grammaw wave food to Cosmo the Cosmic Bunny, as he called it.

Then one day it got a whiff o’ the coal oil in the lamp sittin’ on the table in the back.

The next mornin’ when Peanut got there it had broke out o’ the cage an’ was a drinkin’ the coal oil. He thought it was a gonna die, but it didn’t. It got bigger, matter o’ fact.

A few days later it climbed through an open window an’ got in the shed where the 5 gallon can o’ coal oil was an drank it all.

Then that cosmic bunny got loose. It went to the next farm, smellin’ the coal oil. It had been taught by Cousin Peanut to track an’ it was a trackin’ coal oil. It drank three five gallon cans…an’ got bigger.

It went to the next farm an’ the next, breakin’ into sheds, garages an’ barns an’ drinkin’ coal oil.

One day it sniffed a little propane comin’ from a leaky tank. It took them big ol’ teeth an’ bit a lil hole in the pipe from that tank an’ drank ‘er dry. All 300 gallons o’ propane. That there cosmic bunny got even bigger. It were bigger than a young heifer by now.

It took to climbin’ creosote ‘lectric poles and suckin’ ‘lectricity right from the wires! I ain’t a lyin’ to ye, I’m tellin’ a story here.

Folks saw it hoppin’ away, big as a chicken coop. They ran for their guns an’ fryin’ pans, but it were wily an’ got away ever’ time..

Bigger an’ bigger, gigantic got that cosmic bunny. It took to diggin’ holes in the road deep enough fer it to lay on it’s back in. When a car would drive over it…bunny claws would dig into the sides o’ the car an’ them bunny teeth would puncture the gas tank an’ suck ‘er dry.

With ever’ drink it got bigger an’ bigger… an’ mean, that cosmic bunny got mean. It chased a pack o’ redbone coon hounds up a tree an’ ate ‘em, tree an all!
It was a garglin’ moonshine an snortin’ dynamite. Ever’ day to drank gallons o’ coal oil, gas an’ even got hooked on diesel. They it dug into a coal mine an gorged on soft coal. It et hundreds o’ tons o’ the finest Kentucky coal.

That cosmic bunny took to breakin’ into tobaccer barns an’ chewin’ whole crops o’ tobaccer. An it could spit, Lordy, you’uns don’t even want to see how far it could spit.

Cousins, it had got big as a coal truck an’ was headed for my hometown o’ Beloved. Kentucky. It was suckin’ down coal oil an’ gas on the was an destroyin’ ever’ thing in it’s path. Folks figured it was them grammaw waves what ruined that cosmic bunny. ‘Course, Annie Pankey thought it got mean after it got into Percival Poovey’s moonshine. Lot o’ folks do get mean when they drink his shine.

Folks got scared, ‘cause if that cosmic bunny got to town it would find gas stations, the Propane Co-op an’ the coal yard by the railroad. They was afraid it would destroy the whole town o’ Beloved. Cars, propane tanks an ever’ drop o’ coal oil was moved from it’s path.

It got closer an’ closer to Beloved. Ever’ mile or two it would find a car or truck some one had abandoned an’ would turn ‘er up an swaller down the gas, regular or ethyl, if it could get it.

That cosmic bunny was hungrier an’ hungrier. It was bigger than an’ elephant, near as big as one o’ them dinosaurs by then. As it got hungrier it slowed down more an’ more.

Folks held their breath an’ hid their youngin’s.

Finally it was just over Big Hill, close to Goose Rock an’ followin’ the road straight up Route 66 to Beloved. They was panic in the streets unlike anythin’ ever seen in Beloved since the prune juice factory had the fire in 1921, sending over 100,000 gallons of boilin’ prune juice down the streets o’ Beloved. Now, that were a disaster.

That rabbit got to Big Creek, past Teges Creek an was passin’ Paddy Rock with a look on it’s face. Folks was scairt, sure ‘nough.

The sheriff an’ a bunch o’ fellers was a drainin’ ever gas tank in it’s way. They let the propane out o’ ever’ tank, shut off the ‘lectric at the ‘lectric co-op. They even drained all the stills along the creek. Finally they weren’t a drop o’ anything in that cosmic bunny’s path.

It started a wailin’, cryin’ fer a drink o’ somethin’, it were dry an’ had the cotton mouth. Nothin’ worse than a cottontail with the cotton mouth.

Then , just two miles from town it stopped. It’s ol’ ears started a quiverin’, it’s feet was a kickin’ an’ a diggin’ asphalt chunks as big as washtubs out o’ the road.

Then if fell over, kicked a couple o’ times an’ was still.

Them space program folks was in town, waitin’ to try an’ capture it. They was the first out to the body. Army men from Fort Knox was there an’ wouldn’t even let ol’ Cousin Peanut get close. Peanut was a blubberin’ like a baby over that cosmic bunny.

They hauled in a ‘frigerated railroad car an’ loaded that cosmic bunny up, gramma waves an’ all an’ hauled it away. Some folks say they took it to Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio – that’s where them Martians are stored what crashed at Roswell, New Mexico, ye know. Other folks said it was hauled all the way to Roswell. Some folks didn’t much care where it was took, as long as it was took.

‘Bout a year later Mz Poovey got a letter from that education program with the space folks. It explained that them there gramma waves sure enough did somethin’ to that cosmic bunny…but Percival Poovey’s moonshine got it all whacked in the head.

They also determined what happened that day as it got closer an’ closer to Beloved.

See, it didn’t die……

It just ran out of gas.

Saturday, August 23, 2003

County Fair Midweek

Uncle Billy sat on his shavehorse and inspected the sassafras stick clamped in the jaws of the bench. It was dried well and was straight. The bark was still on it an' would mostly stay that way. Folks at the fair didn't much want a good kitchen broom or house broom. They wanted somethin' pretty to hang on a wall or some such thing. He thought it was nonsense, but the fancy ones sold, so he weren't gonna raise much fuss.

He set his drawknife aside. It was too big for shavin the sassafras stick. He only wanted to take the rough off the bark an' maybe have a few places the wood would peek through. Folks liked that real good. He picked up a spokeshave and set it to the rough bark of the stick.

Folks standin' an' watchin' smelled the sassafras as soon as he took the first stroke. Several of the youngin's took deep sniffs real loud. Uncle Billy chuckled an' looked up.

"Y'all like that smell don't ye?"

Course, the youngin's nodded their heads to beat the band. Nothin' smelled better than fresh sassafras. Uncle Billy set the stick he was workin' on aside an' picked up one that was rougher an' not fit for makin' a broom handle. He kept a couple o' sticks like that layin' round for just such an occasion.

"Let me give you'uns somethin' to carry round an' snort on for a while." he said as he picked up his drawknife an' slid it quickly down the stick. The fragrance filled the area around him with the sweet smell of sassafras. He quickly made a small pile of shavin's and handed a couple to each youngin'. In the back o' the group was a little ol' girl with blond hair an' brown eyes. She was a grinnin but hid behind her mama as Uncle Billy approached.

"Come here, darlin'. I got a special one for you."

She timidly walked closer an' Uncle Billy took a long curl o' sassafras an' dangled it from her ear like an earring.

"What 'bout the other ear?" she asked.

Uncle Billy laughed right hard when she spoke up. "Here ye are, darlin'. One for the other ear. Gal's gotta look good for the fair."

She felt each one as if to be sure they were in just the right place and grinned. Uncle Billy handed out the rest o' the shavin's. More than one grownup reached out a hand for their own shavin'.

As folks left Uncle Billy went back to work on the broom handle.

Later in the evenin' he stopped to get a bite to eat. As he was headin' over to the Clay County Pork Producers booth to get a big ol' grilled and butter-flied pork chop he saw that little ol' gal walkin' with her mama.

When she saw Uncle Billy she grinned an' pulled back her hair from her ears. Right there, danglin' from each ear was a long curl of the finest red sassafras the mountains o' Kentucky ever did grow.

Uncle Billy chuckled an' hollered out, "Are you a flirtin' with me? I'm too old for you now!"

Don't ye know, that little ol' girl grinned, blushed an' ran to catch up with her mama as fast as she could.

Wednesday, August 20, 2003

Sunday Dinner on the Grounds

Lordy, will y'all looky at the tables out yonder under the maple trees. They are plumb full of food. I don't know if the preacher will be able to get done preachin' before his tongue starts a beatin' his lips to death if he smells all this here good food. Mama used to say they wasn't nothin' better than a dinner on the grounds here at Booger Holler Holiness Church.

The Women's Missionary League set up four o' them foldin' tables. Ever' one of 'em is plumb full. Why don't you'uns walk over an' take a look with me. Now keep your hands to your own self. One thing I don't stand for is youngin's stickin' dirty ol' hands into the food.

Looky there, that first table has all the salads an' such. There is three kinds o' tomatoes! Big ol' Better Boy beef steak tomatoes, regular slicin' ones an a big ol bowl o' them little tommy-toes. I like them best. See there, someone has sliced some o' them tommy-toes with onions an' poured I-talian dressin' on em. Mmm, fresh from the garden green onions, sliced bell peppers, banana peppers, cucumbers sliced both ways an some in vinegar with onions sliced thin enough to read a paper through. There is some of Sister Hazel Budder's layered salad an' beside it home made slaw. I hope that is Sis Carpenter's slaw. She makes her own dressin' don't you know. Oh, right there, big wedges of iceberg lettuce an' fresh made roquefort dressin'. I know someone is gonna have wilted lettuce, they just don't want it to sit too long, so they have to make it up hot an' fresh. They is no place on earth with better fresh vegetables than right here in Beloved, Kentucky, sure enough.

Well, I better move on to the table with meats an such before I get full from lookin'. There, I knew they would be fried chicken. I see 7 different kinds of fried chicken. See that bowl there? It's Sister Delly's chicken. She has a batter recipe I would give my right arm for. It is a big secret though. She won the County Fair with it 10 years runnin' before they retired her chicken an' made her the Fried Chicken Queen a year or two ago. Oh, Looky, looky...Uncle Billy has baked a whole country ham an' sliced it up right thin. Them is the beaten biscuits he makes sittin' there. Since his wife died he has been makin' 'em with her recipe. Chicken an' dumplins AND squirrel dumplins. There is a city ham for folks don't like country ham. Cain't 'magine who that would be though. Oops, almost missed the chicken fried steak an the big ol' bowl o' milk gravy sittin' by it. Whew, looky at the plate o' sliced beef roast. Wait a minute, see there on the end? That kettle with them boiled hot dogs in it? Can you imagine? Don't even think about eatin' one o' them hot dogs. Yessum, I know it is terrible to bring hot dogs to a spread like this, but they is another reason ... Peanut Chappell brought 'em. Y'all don't want a thing he had hold of. Just you take my word for it.

Well, come on now, we got two tables to go. Green beans, fresh from the garden an' cooked long an' slow with ham pieces. Some folk still use salted jowl or fatback. I like them beans best. Gee oh, a bean pot full of baked beans. Now, them is good eatin'. Course over there is a big pan o' baked beans with bacon on top. Mashed taters with country gravy, sweet taters with mushmellers on top, sweet tater cassarole, fried irish taters, tater salads...four tater salads, one with bacon in it. Green bean cassarole, ham an' tater cassarole, squash cassarole an' stuffed zuchinni boats. Pickled beets, pickles o' ever' description. Little ones, sliced ones, big ones, pickled eggs, pickled baloney, pickled okra, even pickled green beans.

Well, better get a look at that there de-ssert table 'cause it will empty first. Chocolate cake, carrot cake, that there Mexican Fruit Cake Sister Budder makes an' ever'one has to have the recipe each year. She comes with copies run off on the mimeo machine 'cause she knows folks will ask. Apple pies, mock apple pies, apple pan dowdie, apple cobbler, peach cobbler, blackberry cobbler, blueberry cobbler, peach pies an' fresh, sweet peaches peeled an' sliced. Pecan pie, shoofly pie, sugar pie, lemon pie, vinegar pie. Strawberry shortcake with real whipped cream. There it is. Looky yonder in the middle, a home made chocolate pie. I don't know who brings that 'un, but I am gonna cut me a piece now an' get the recipe before I leave this here church today.

Well, youngin's, we done missed the card table set up with home made bread, biscuits, cornbread, Mexican cornbread with hot peppers an' cheese in 'er, big ol' yeast rolls, them twisty crescent rolls, breadsticks with butter an' garlic powder sprinkled on top. I reckon that's my diet, missin' the bread table!! Don't you'uns go spreadin that I am on a diet. I just am a watchin' what I eat.

Oh, Lordy, we best go in an' start a prayin' for our sinful ways right now, cause I just got some gluttony flung on me!!!

Friday, August 15, 2003

Hungry for the Hills

Sometimes a soul just gets hungry,
Not homesick exactly.
More like hungry for the hills
Like there is an empty spot
Needin' ancient low mountains
Worn before men ever came.
Hills that wear on a soul
But become the lifeblood of a man.

Eyes that grieve for mountain laurel
Dogwoods bloomin' high on the hill.
Lookin' for tobaccer grown tall
The dark wood of a well worn barn.
Glancin' around for a hand waved
Arms thrown high in greetin'.
The smile of a dark eyes little girl
Man's heart's hers even before she grows up.
Eyes ache for the glimpse of a mountain woman.

Mind races to the hills
Tastin' yellow dust on grinnin' lips
Thrown up on an ol' dirt road.
Almost there, almost there
Past barn and field.
Through creek an' up holler
Under the sourwood tree
Over the mountain path
There, go down that deer trail

See it, See it?
Coveyed tween two hills.
Tin roof gleamin' bright
Washed by God's good rain.
Logs stacked ageless and aged.
The drystacked rock chimbley
Just buzzin' with mud daubers
Stealin' little ol' bits.
Smokehouse an' barn ancient brown
Well bucket swingin' joyfully.
It heard from the deep waters of the well
Who heard whispers from the branch
News trickled down from the creek
Found out as you forded the river.

Walk on up now to the cabin.
Been waitin' patiently for you'uns.
Feet knock on each stair
Feelin' the strength of the mountains.
Screen door sings it's ache as springs stretch.
Latchstring is out,
Go in, go in.
The cool of the cabin wraps around
Familiar smells rush to greet
Each beggin' like a dog
Smell me, smell me.

Black woodstove has waited patiently.
Logs at the ready, matches dry.
Windows suck light in
Rockin' chairs ache for the sittin.
Rest here, rest here.
The heart is home.
The soul is fed.
Eyes taste and see
Comfort food, soul nutrition.
Appalachian mountains reach up
Through rock foundation
Through poplar plank floors.
Into travelin' feet wantin' rest
Tendrils of the hills lace into the spirit.
Like briars they sprout easily in willin' soil.
Seeds of them hills bloom quickly.
Turnin' the desert of livin'
On the wrong side of the Ohio
Into an Eden of bein' home to the hills.

Monday, August 11, 2003


Junebug spent all day workin' in the sheep barn the first day o' the fair. The 4H sponsors wanted to make sure the barn looked good as folks went through. There were always chores to do. Junebug swept the lanes between the sheep pens over and over to make sure no one stepped in anythin'. He helped haul about a thousand wheelbarrows of sawdust to scatter on them lanes too.

The fellers what was doin' the sheep shearin' wasn't comin' till the next day, so Junebug had plenty of time in the evenin' to walk around with his cousins an' friends an' look the fair over. He had one of them cotton candys right off. He went over to the Methodist Church booth an' got some chicken an' noodles like he promised his Mama. He knew some o' them ol' ladies would tell on him if he didn't try to eat right.

Him an' Eddie Carpenter walked down through the rides an' into the sideshow area. They were right strange things there, sure enough. Last year he paid a quarter to see the biggest rat in the whole wide world. That feller talkin' 'bout it kept on hollerin' about it all week till Junebug had to take a look. After he paid his quarter he climbed up some stairs an' looked down into a pen with a big ol' rat lookin' thing. He sure didn't want to see that in his Daddy's corn crib. (His science teacher later told him it weren't a rat but a capybara. Junebug looked it up in an encyclopedia an' sure enough it was!)

Well, Eddie an' Junebug stopped in front of a tent that had a sign said, "Zambina the Gorilla Woman". The feller out front told them that Zambina was the missin' link. Them boys had to see that missin' link woman. They paid their quarter an' went inside a dark tent with a bunch o' other folks.

When the lights came on the man from out front was standin' on the stage with a nice lookin' red headed woman in some kind o' zebra skin with grass stuck in her hair an' all. Junebug looked real close. He thought the feller looked an awful lot like the man with the giant rat last year.

That feller tol' the folks that Zambina was the missin' link again an' said when she was put in a hypnotic trance she "regressed through the various and sundry stages of evolution to her ancient ancestor, the giant ape...known today in modern science as the gorilla.". Eddie giggled an' said she was really one of them orang-o-tangies cause she was redheaded an' all. Junebug tol' him to hush cause the feller said it had to be absolute silent.

"Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, I am about to perform a feat of hypnotism and cause Zambina to regress back through millions of years of evolution. Please be silent, because I cannot be responsible for what might happen if her primitive urges get the best of her psyche. Quiet now as I begin..."

The feller paused an' the woman stepped into a big ol' cage with iron bars. He locked her in an' put the key in his pocket. Junebug's eyes got real big as he saw her standin' in that ol' cage. He poked Eddie and pointed. Eddie was as white as a sheet. This show had to be the real thing.

"Zambina," the feller whispered right loud, "Think gorilla. Think Gorilla, Zambina. Gorilla, Zambina"

He whispered an' muttered this over an' over. Then it some kind o' scary music started up an smoke was a risin' all round. Funny lights started a flickerin' an' Zambina started changin'. She humped over right funny an' her arms an' face gor real hairy. She got bigger an' bigger till she looked like one o' them gorillas, for sure. Finally she was a full time, real for sure gorilla!

Then some woman screamed an' all heck broke loose. Zambina broke out of her trance when that woman done screamed. That gorilla lady broke open that ol' cage an' jumped out. She looked around an' saw that talkin' feller that tranced her. She grabbed him an started beatin' on him an' carryin' on somethin' terrible. Man, oh man.

'Bout that time Eddie Carpenter got scared an' ran out the flap as a big ol' man with a shotgun came it. He fired it in the air an Zambina froze as she was pickin' up the hypnotizin' feller. The big man pointed the shotgun at Zambina and she dropped the feller to the ground.

Junebug looked up at the top o' the tent an' noticed it didn't have a hole in it from the shotgun blast! He turned to watch what was a goin' on.

The shotgun man walked calm like toward Zambina, callin' her name an pointin' the gun at her. He got a whip off a chair in the front an' cracked it a couple o' times an' Zambina hunkered down like an' ol' cur dog. Folks started cheerin'. Junebug reckoned they knew that feller had saved their sorry lives.

Both them fellers got Zambina in the cage an' locked it back. The hypnotizin' feller tol' the folks the show was over since Zambina was stuck as a gorilla till they got her calmed down. As Junebug left he saw the movie projector high in the tent an' figured it must a been part o' the way Zambina changed. 'Course, he weren't gonna tell Eddie that. Sorry friend he was, runnin' off like that.

When Junebug got back to the sheep barn, Eddie was already tellin' ever'one there about Zambina. That show as gonna make some cash over the weekend. Junebug threw in his two cents here an' there, but didn't say much. It was Eddie's story after all.

Junebug saw Zambina's transformation three times that week. He later recognized Zambina walkin' around in regular clothes. He said howdy to her an' winked.

Zambina grinned, winked an' held her finger to her lips. Junebug made a zippin' motion over his lips an giggled as he walked toward the rides back on the back lot.

Tuesday, August 05, 2003

The Other Side of the Fair

Saturday morning started fast for Junebug Burns. He was up early to get his sheep ready for the Clay County Fair. He had been in 4H for a couple of years now. At 13 he thought he might be goin' to his last fair as a 4Her this year.

Junebug's Mama had called to him at about 6:00 a.m. an' told him he better get a move on or his Daddy wouldn't be a takin' him to the fair till later in the day. The mornin' was cool in the holler where they lived. The creek that ran down the holler kept the nights cool an' the days humid in summer.

He was up an' dressed right quick. A white tee shirt, ol' denims an' some P.F. Flyers was all a feller needed at the fair till judgin' day. His Mama had made sure he had enough shirts, drawers an' clean socks. she said no boy o' hers was gonna stink, even though they was a stayin' in the sheep barn all week.

Lordy, he better hurry. If his Daddy got on the tractor he would have wait an' go that evenin'. On top o' that he'd have chores to do all day instead o' bein' at the fair.

He ran out to the barn while his Mama was cookin' breakfast. As he went out the front door onto the porch he could hardly see the tobaccer field down the way for the fog. That fog was heavy on the barn as he reached it, swirlin' around it an' makin' it look like it was stuck off by itself. He could'nt see em, but he heard the chickens a carryin' on an' his sister's banty rooster crowin' like it was cock o' the walk.

As the big ol' door swung open, his sheep started callin' to him somethin' fierce. All the bleatin' made him smile a big smile. These were the best two sheep in all the 4H group. Well, that's what he thought. His Daddy weren't one to throw around words an he said they was good stock. That there was as good as a ribbon to Junebug.

He got his cane an' opened the pen. Them sheep was out an' into the barnyard quicker than greens through a duck. He walked behind an' beside them as he herded them toward the truck. His Daddy already had a ramp up to the back o' the truck. It took just a shake to get 'em in an' close the back end o' the pickup. They was big wooden slat sides on the truck that folks would build to haul livestock in pickup trucks. Junebug had put plenty o' straw on the bed o' the truck. He handed in some hay for the sheep to eat as they traveled.

One thing can be said o' Junebug's Mama. She weren't lettin' her menfolks go to the fair hungry. Her table was an old harvest table made o' poplar by her Grandad. The two long sides folded down when not in use an' could be pushed agin the wall to make room in the kitchen.

Today it were covered with a red an' white checked oilcloth tablecloth. Five plates sat on the table an' cloth napkins were by each plate. The plates was what folks call carnival glass an' had been won at the County Fair over several years by Junebug's Daddy when they first took up housekeepin'. The days before the Clay County Fair were always right special 'cause the carnival glass dishes would come out. They was a warm gold color, almost opaque.

The forks an' knives an' spoons was in each drinkin' glass like always. Mama always set the table like that. When folks was done they put their forks an' all right back in them glasses an' set 'em over on the sideboard for washin'.

In the middle o' that red an' white oilcloth was more food than a feller could shake a stick at. They was a big platter o' fried eggs, a bowl o' grits an' some fresh churned butter to dab on top. Down by Junebug's Mama's chair was Bob White Syrup an' some buckwheat flapjacks. A big ol' bowl held thick home cured hickory smoked bacon, sausages an' a little ham meat. They was two kinds o' gravy on the table; milk gravy an' red-eye gravy made from the grease off that ham.

Junebug's Daddy grabbed his Mama's hand, an' Junebug an' his two sisters joined the family circle as his Daddy prayed for the food:

"Dear Lord, I am right grateful for all the food sittin' before us, Lord. Y'all have done right by us from day one an' for that I thank thee. I give thanks for this farm an' for the crops. That rain the other day was appreciated, Lord Jesus, but I ain't gonna squawk none if y'all care to give us another one. I'd ask y'all to watch over they youngin's an' keep 'em healthy. Bless my Mam, dear Lord, cause she has taken the palsy something terrible. She is a shakin' so bad that she cain't hardly hold a glass o' milk. Now, Lord, y'all know I don't like to ask no favors or want special treatment for us, but if y'all see fit, jus' bless ol' Junebug with a champion this year. He has worked hard on them sheep an' done a right good job. Amen."

Junebug had opened his eyes when his Daddy started talkin' to the Lord about him. His eyes was as big as hen eggs when his Daddy bragged on him to the Lord Jesus. Junebug couldn't believe it. Them must be good sheep if his Daddy was a askin' the Lord to bless him.

He didn't stop grinnin' as he' emptied his plate. That grin stayed on his face as they rode to town an' even when they unloaded the sheep into their pen.

He had a sleepin' bag an' a suitcase with him that he put in the pen next to his sheep. A dozen other boys had done the same around him. At the other end o' the barn the girls was layin' out their beds an so on in pens next to their sheep. A couple of parents was there too, all set up in stalls in between for the rest o' the week. They were the 4H sponsors this year an' would ride herd on the youngin's in each barn.

Junebug hugged his Daddy an started to turn back to the barn.

"Ain't you a forgettin' somethin'?" his Daddy asked.

"I don't reckon."

"You ain't asked me for any spendin' money."

"Well sir, I saved a right smart bit this year. I thought I would do 'er on my own."

"Good man, Junebug. That makes me proud o' ye." His Daddy sounded real funny when he said that. Sort o' like he was chokin' or somethin'.

He hugged Junebug agin an' walked to the truck. "I'll be here Wednesday for the judgin', son."

"OK, Daddy. I'll be a seein' y'all then."

As his Daddy drove away, Junebug stuck his hands in his pockets. He felt somethin' in the left pocket where he kept his Case knife. When he pulled it out he saw the $10 his Daddy had slipped in as he was a huggin' him.

That grin crept to his face again. It didn't leave most o' the day.

Wednesday, July 30, 2003

County Fair part two

The Clay County Fair was goin' full tilt. Sunday was always a good day at the fair. Folks still came to the fair after church dressed in their "Sunday go to meetin'" clothes. Little ol' girls had on their dresses, white socks an' either black patent shoes or saddle oxfords. Boys had their cowlicks pressed down with a little luck an' a lot o' spit. Their shirts were pressed white and their shoes shined. Mamas and Dads herded youngin's almost as good as the 4Hers in the barns did their animals.

Uncle Billy sat outside the exhibition hall takin' it all in. He had made brooms an' a few milk stools all weekend till Sunday. He never worked on Sunday. Never did, never would. He didn't sell any of his brooms on Sunday either, though he didn't fault others if they wanted to work or buy an' sell. It was just his personal beliefs was all.

They had a church service on the fairgrounds for all the folks what were missin' church by bein' there an' tendin' their animals or booths. Uncle Billy always led the singin' with his deep bass voice.

A couple years back a collection was taken up to buy some o' them Broadman Hymnals. Each an' ever' one was stamped "Fairgrounds Church Meeting" on the front in gold letters. Inside each one was the name of the folks what donated it.

The preachers around the community took turns doin' the service an' this year it was Brother Harley Davidson's turn. The preacher would always appoint someone to fill his pulpit while he preached at the fairgrounds. Brother Harley was from the Church of God. He asked Jesse Gilbert to fill in for him. Jesse was home from college an' was goin' to make a preacher when he got out.

Uncle Billy watched the parade of folks as they walked 'round the grounds, hands full of this an that, stuffed animals, painted canes, waffles an' cotton candy. More than once a feller would stop an' pass the time o' day with Uncle Billy. They talked about all the important things o' the day...the weather, cattle prices, which youngin' was gonna take the grand champion steer this year. Now that was a hot topic.

When it got dark folks would start comin' round an' settlin' in around Uncle Billy an' Homer Wilson. Both them fellers was storytellers an' ever'one wanted to get as close as they could to hear all them fellers had to tell.

They did a round robin, tellin' a story then sittin' down whilst lookin' at the other, almost darin' 'em to beat that one. Folks was as quiet as the dead, jus' wantin' to hear what they said. It usually went on for two or three hours, goin' from short funny jokes an' such to longer stories an' maybe a scary one or two.

Homer Wilson said, "Now, that is the way I heerd it, an' I reckon fur as I knowed it was true enough." He sat down an' looked to Uncle Billy who stood an' looked over the crowd...

"Now, let me see here. That reminds me o' the time...."

Monday, July 28, 2003

County Fair

"County Fair days in Clay County", folks jus' plain ol' light up when they hear them words. Womenfolks have been puttin' away canned goods all summer just tryin' to get one of them blue ribbons. They fuss over the way every cucumber spear looks as they pack jars for picklin'. They carefully pour hot jelly into jars so no foam appears. They look like they got somethin' wrong with 'em as they shake an' jiggle jelly before it gels...tryin' to get bubbles out.

Uncle Billy walks Old Dog out to the truck and loads him into the front seat. Old Dog knows they are a goin' to the fair. His tail ain't stopped thumpin' for near two days.

The back of the truck is loaded with a cot, an ol' ladderback chair, a couple quilts and Uncle Billy's shave horse. They is a suitcase in the front with his clothes for the week. He has been goin' to the fair as long as he can remember. He has stayed the week at the fair for more years than he cares to count.

He stops an' studies the back o' the truck for just a while an' realizes he don't have no wood to work with at the fair. He always takes his shavehorse an' makes brooms an' milk stools each day in the exposition barn. Back in the back Uncle Billy an several other ol' fellers will set up their cots in stalls what once were used for calves before the cow barn was expanded. 'Lectric fans sit in the winders an' keep a breeze a goin' day an' night for to cool them ol' fellers. They sit around in the evenin' an' talk up a storm. If they was a prize fer jawin', one of them fellers would git it, that is for sure.

Uncle Billy's stride is long as he makes his way to his work room in the barn. He carefully selects about 50 sassafras sticks for brooms an' half agin as many for legs for his milk stools he will make. He already threw some lil' ol' maple logs from the woodpile into the back of the truck for the seats o' the stools. Folks buy them as fast as he can make them. Some folks know he donates all the money to the Oneida Institute for youngin's what cain't afford to pay their way.

As he is walkin' out he grabs his oilcan an' an Arkansas whetstone. Them drawknives is gonna get dull usin' 'em as often as he will this week.

He grins as he throws the sticks in the back an' reaches for the ol' truck door. There is nothin' better than a county fair. He can jus' smell the food now. French fries with a load of vinegar on 'em, them big ol' crispy waffles an' some cotton candy for sure. He eats one of them ol' sausage sammiches 'bout ever' day. 'Course, for supper he goes over to the dinner tent an' has whatever the Eastern Star ladies has fixed for the daily special. Usual Monday is fried chicken, Tuesday is chicken an' dumplin's. Wednesday is that I-talian night an' he don't eat none o' that ol' spaghetti. He jus' don' favor it none at all.

As he drives he cain't help but grin. They is nothin' better than County Fair. The horse show starts that evenin' an' goes through Sunday. It always has been Friday to Sunday an' is the highlight o' the weekend. The 4H judgin' starts Monday early with the rabbits an' poultry.

Next weekend will be a busy time for Uncle Billy. He has auctioned the 4H animals for years. They is new auctioneers 'round the county, but no one has done the 4H auction for near 50 years. He loves workin' the crowd, tryin' to git as much for them animals as he can. It ain't above Uncle Billy to shame folks into raisin' a bid. A load o' youngin's from 'round Beloved went to college with 4H money thanks to the shamin' of Uncle Billy. He reckoned he was gonna have to turn it over to someone one of these days, but as long as he is able, he was gonna do 'er.

The man at the back gate saw Uncle Billy through the windshield an' waved him through. He pulled up an' rolled his window down, "How's it lookin', Joe?"

"Lookin' right good, Uncle Billy. I reckon that Sizemore boy might win with that big ol steer he brung in. You seen it?"

"Yessir, I did. It is as fine a steer as I have seen. How 're the sheep an' goats comin' in? I heard them boys over on Martin's Creek ever' one has an entry this year."

"That is a fact. They all look good. Their Daddy would whup ever' one of 'em if they didn't keep them animals up good. He won I don' know how many ribbons an' trophies in his day."

"Well now, he did from what I recollect. Well I better get on."

"Have a good time this year, Uncle Billy"

"Y'all can bet on that one."

Uncle Billy grinned as he drove into the fairgrounds. He pulls up to the exhibition barn an they is half a dozen youngin's see him an' come runnin'. They have his cot an 'bout ever' thing else in his stall before him an' Ol' Dog can get out. They are a grinnin' as hard as he is.

He rubs the burr headed Arnett boy with his big ol' hand like he has done ever' year. "That's for luck." Uncle Billy tells the boy. It must have worked 'cause last year he won for best of show with his market turkeys.

Uncle Billy looked over the hurry scurry of the fairgrounds and his grin got even bigger, "Yessir, they is nothin' better than a county fair."

Friday, July 18, 2003


Gettin' dishes redded up is not an easy chore for most menfolks. When a feller lives alone it is easy to do the simple things, like washin' a mug you drank out of, or maybe swipin' at the plate you ate off with a little water, soap an' a dishrag. Gettin' ready for company comin' meant makin' sure dishes was clean an' spotless.

Well sir, Uncle Billy had been dreadin' the time it was gonna take to wash them dishes, but he didn't want his boy, Will to come an' him an' his wife seein' dusty dishes an' start that racket about comin' to live with them. He had heard it too many times.

"Daddy, we know y'all love it here, but we love you. It is a lonely life here alone on this farm with just that ol' sooner dog to keep you company. We have decided to make a room for you in the basement. It's a walk-out basement, all finished, don't ya know. We'll take your bed an' some of the quilts Mama made an' fix it up right nice."

"Yes, Father Billy, it will be lovely. The grandchildren will love to have you there. You can play with them all the time. You can watch television with them and even with us. I know you will just adore the Ed Sullivan Show. Why, you will be right there and it will be wonderful for all of us. It will give William and I opportunity to spend time with friends more often too."

Uncle Billy hated it when his daughter-in-law called him Father Billy. Made him feel like some kind of priest or somethin'. He weren't too fond of her an' her high falootin' ways anyhow. Called Will "William". That woman could make "William" sound like she was cussin' sometimes.

Well, they was comin' an' he was glad for that. It were proper for a boy to come home to see his folks. It was a long time since Will had been home. He reckoned it had been over two years since they had come down to see him. Will wrote now and then, but since they weren't no phone lines in these parts, it was hard to talk to each other.

His grandkids weren't allowed to do the things kids should do. They was always dressed too good to play in the creek or run the mountains like Will and his brother Johnny had done. They brought books an' read the whole dang time they was there. Readin' was good, but a youngin' needed some fresh air.

The dishes was washed an' the beds made with fresh sheets. Uncle Billy had aired the quilts for the day an' they smelled fresh with mountain air an' the hint of cedars that grew beside the clothes line.

For good measure he had gone over to Dobson's an' bought a little candy an' some store bought cookies. They liked that soft sugar-stick candy right good an' the lil' ol' girl, Margaret took to them mushmeller peanuts. He didn't know why they called her Margaret. Not Mag, Maggie or even Marge...just Margaret. The boy was supposed to be named after him, but that boy's name was William. His name was jus' plain ol Billy. Not William or even Bill but Billy, an' he tol' folks so.

Well sir, he dusted right good an' swept the whole house out. The winders was open an' he had got some sourwood flowers off the sourwood trees in the hillside above the cabin. It was sourwood time an' the hills was jus' full o' bees just a buzzin' round them sourwood blossoms. It were a magical time. The air was sweet with the smell an' the bees just never quit. He wished he could take them youngin's up into the hill to let them sit with him an' jus' watch the bees a workin'.

Their mother wouldn't even let that happen. She would jus' have a fit it it were even mentioned. He could hear her now, "Bees are dangerous. We don't want our children rushed to the hospital with thousands of bee bites" she would say.

"Bee bites!" he grumbled to himself. "I'll give her bee bites. She is the reason Will don't come home. He loves this place. He gets rested in jus' the short time they're here. I can see it in his face, Old Dog. She is jus' leachin' the mountain out of him an' he don't know it."

Old Dog looked up from where he lay an' his big ol' tail thumped in agreement a couple of times before he dropped his head back onto the floor. Old Dog agreed with most ever' thing Uncle Billy said. They was two halves to one man, or so Uncle Billy said.

Old Dog was also too dusty an' was always losin' hair all round the house, acordin' to his daughter-in-law. He would be given to a neighbor to live the rest of his days in the country if Uncle Billy came to live with them. He needed to be in the country, was their reasonin'. Old Dog would jus' pine away for the hills they said.

Funny how they saw that 'bout Old Dog an' not Uncle Billy.

Ever' thing was ready an' the house was sweet with fresh mountain air an' sourwood blooms. Uncle Billy sat on the porch swing with a mug of his strong, black coffee in his hand an' waited for them to come up the creek.

Will always started a honkin' that horn when he got to the curve in the creek. Them kids would be a hollerin' out the winders an' carryin' on any time now. 'Course the daughter-in-law thought that was a terrible thing, but that was one time Will had a little of the mountain backbone he was born with. He always did honk that ol' horn to beat the band.

"Traffic through Cincinnati mus' be terrible, cause they was usual here by now." Uncle Billy thought as he sat round 'bout 2:00. "It can sure slow a feller down is what Will always says."

At 5:00 Uncle Billy got a little worried an' walked around the farm a little to get the kinks outta his bones. Old Dog an' him looked over ever' plant an' fence in the farmyard as he waited.

At 6:00 he decided he better not wait supper an' had a fried baloney an' tomater sandwich with a little mayo on 'er.

Uncle Billy normal didn't stay up till 9:30, but he figured they might have had problems. At 10:00 he went over to Hap Collins an' Hap drove with him to the Post Office over to Goose Rock. It was a long drive, but the Postmaster, S. B. Lipps, had one of the only phones anywhere other than in Manchester. It was a party line an' S.B. had to get on the line an' tell Sister Hazel Budder that Uncle Billy needed to make a call to his boy to see if he was all right.

Will answered right off an' tol' Uncle Billy that his wife, the daughter-in-law, didn't want to expose herself to all that pollen from them trees blooming on the hillside. "They are a terrible allergy producing bother." were her exact words.

He said work was pretty busy these days, anyway and the children were in summer sports, Little League and swimming team. It just wasn't fair to ask them to give up their sports to drive down and just sit in that cabin. If he could get television it might be different for them.

Uncle Billy listened an' tol' Will to take care an' write soon.

As Hap drove him home he seemed to age a year for ever' mile they drove. He almost seemed to bend over with his age as the road took them from Goose Creek back home. He fell asleep an' leaned his ol' gray head on the cool window of the truck.

Hap woke him when they got back to the farm an' Uncle Billy reached out his hand, as he always did when he saw Hap. The two men looked at each other an' Hap saw a tear fall down from the tired blue eyes.

Only time Hap ever saw Uncle Billy cry in public was the evenin' Aunt Del died an' Uncle Billy walked all the way up the road to ask him to go into town an' get Charlie White, the undertaker. He stood at the foot of Hap's steps that night an' cried like a baby, too upset to tell Hap what had happened. 'Course, Hap knowed it was Aunt Del when Uncle Billy showed up a' walkin'.

Uncle Billy looked him in the eye an' tried to say somethin', anythin'. He shook his head an' turned away, "Times change, Hap. Times change."

"They sure do, Uncle Billy. They sure do."

Uncle Billy turned an' waved over his shoulder as he went into the dark cabin.

Monday, July 14, 2003

Raggedy Taggedy Shaggedy Man

I'm the raggedy man an' I love to roam,
I got me a house but it ain't my home.
Unfettered feet, unshackled will,
I'll make my home in yonder hill.

I'm the raggedy man, the taggedy man
The raggedy taggedy shaggedy man.

Don't want no job, no car, no bills,
Song of the dove is my only thrills.
In the mountains so much to see,
Look for me there, 'cause there I'll be.

Cause I'm the raggedy man, the taggedy man
The raggedy taggedy shaggedy man.

The Lord an' me, we had a talk,
He come down here an' took a walk.
Looked all 'round, had to agree,
Said them hills is the place for me.

Yes, I'm the raggedy man, the taggedy man
The raggedy taggedy shaggedy man.

When you get to Heaven before I do,
Don't you think I'm a comin' too.
Don't want streets of gold or a city fair,
Cain't go to Heaven 'cause I'm already there.

Oh, I'm the raggedy man, the taggedy man
The raggedy taggedy shaggedy man.

Wednesday, July 02, 2003

The Things in the Smokehouse

Y'all ever go into the smokehouse
All alone an' by yourself?
Late at night when the hooty owls are a-huntin'
An' tree frogs are a-screamin' bloody murder?

It's a scary thing, I tell you'uns that.
Why, the door itself is agin ye.
Hinges screechin' like they ain't ever seen oil
An' the door's heavier at night than in the day.

Lookin' into an ol' dark smokehouse is a frightful thing.
It smells good, like smoked meats an' sweet woods,
But don't you'uns be fooled an' be off'n yer guard.
They is things what is in there, waitin' for ye.

Them hams hangin' high ain't jus' curin' as they sway,
An' that big ol' strip o' bacon, why'd it move?
Somethin' ain't just right, there ain't no wind.
Things is in there, don't go in.

Y'all can looky 'round the logs from the outside,
See, see 'em move, see them shaders flit and jump?
Don't even think o' stickin' yer nose close to the chink,
Them things will a-get ye nose.

I heerd tell of a youngin' what was sent out late,
Sent to get peppered bacon for next mornin's fare.
His dang brother shut the door on the lil feller.
In the dark, he saw them things in there.

His Mama heerd him scream, beg to be let out,
When that older boy was sent to open the door...
He weren't there, was gone, not a hair.
Them things in there, they took 'em.

All the youngin's reckoned he was a foolin'
Somewhere laughin' an' waitin' fer a while.
Later, his Mama sent 'em out into the weeds an' bushes,
But he weren't there...them things was though, I know.

Now y'all can laugh an' make a lot o' fun,
I know it don't make no sense a-tall.
Ain't nothin' in the smokehouse, ye say,
Ye looked this mornin'...cain't see a thing.

But they is things in there,
I don't rightly know if they is spook or haint,
Could be a smokehouse ghost or booger,
But I do know they is things in there.

Want to see, to listen, to take a lil ol' peek?
You'uns come down,now, late at night,
I'll take ye, an' shut ye in the smokehouse fer a while,
Ye can see fer yerself...if things is in there.