Monday, June 23, 2003

Auburn Memories

The oddest things can make a feller remember times past. It can be something as simple as a smell or as complex as a series of happenin's that can make an' ol' mind wander down paths forgotten for so long that weeds have done growed up in the way.

It was early evenin'. Not quite twilight just yet. The birds was still carryin' on around in the holly bush that growed by Uncle Billy's bedroom window. They didn't bother him much durin' the day. He did, however, take exception to them bein' his wake up call ever' mornin' at the crack o' dawn. Now an' agin a Junebug would fly by, buzzin' and strokin' to keep it's hard shell body afloat in the warm evenin' breezes.

The day had been spent in the woods. It was mushroom time and folks in these parts loved them sponge mushrooms. In town, there in Beloved, they called 'em morels, but folks round the hills an' hollers out in the country 'round about Beloved jus' called 'em sponges...or maybe spikes if they was them long thin pointy ones.

When folks found a good spot, they kept it secret like for as long as they could. Didn't want no one comin' in on your sponge spot if ya could keep it a secret. Most folks knew they was to be found around dead wood. Old orchards were a wonderful spot to hunt 'em. A feller could find 'em by the bucket full in the remains of an old orchard.

In front of Uncle Billy was a galvanized bucket full of the rewards of his day. Them sponges were big. He didn't go out right away, he always waited a day or two and was always rewarded with big mushrooms.

As he sat pickin' through 'em, he brushed dirt from each one and laid it out on an ol' dish towel he had layin' on the worn boards of the porch. He bent over to lay a handful on the dishtowel an' as he was a raisin' up, something in between two logs caught his eye.

Now, when folks have a log cabin, it is right handy to use the chinks between the logs to store things. They was a butcher knife kept in a chink out the back door. When ya brought a mess o' green onions from the garden it was used to trim 'em up before they was brought inside. Uncle Billy kept a couple old cotton rags in chinks here on the porch for gnat smokes if the bitin' bugs got outta hand.

Today he saw somethin' he hadn't noticed before. In between two logs, lower than he would put things, somethin' caught his eye. He reached for it and gently pulled it into the light. His hand trembled just a mite as he looked at an old set of tortoise shell hair combs.

He sat back and he almost stumbled into the memories the combs revealed. In his mind's eye he saw Aunt Del, sittin on that porch long after the day's work was done. They would sit an' talk, have one last cup o' coffee or maybe some sassafras tea with a little sourwood honey in it. Neither one of 'em would talk much. Mostly they enjoyed the quiet of the early evenin'.

As Aunt Del sat she would take the hair pins out of her hair and lay 'em in her lap. Her apron would fill with the handful of pins that held her hair in the tight bun she wore all the time.

Uncle Billy sat back and saw her again, unwinding her hair to it's full length. If she stood it would go near to the floor. In the evenin' she would have a big ol' brush in her apron pocket. She would take that comb out and brush through her hair agin an' agin. He closed his eyes an' he could just see her sittin in the rocker, brushin' her hair.

It had been many years since it was the rich auburn it was the day he first saw her over to church. Back then, years ago, she wore it long and hangin' down her back.

First time he really noticed her, she sat in church with a couple other youngin's. Her hair threw gold off'n it as she flipped it over the back of the pew. He had sat and jus' watched her laugh an' talk to some of the other gals as they waited for the mornin's singin' to start. She looked back and her dark eyes flashed bright when she saw Billy. Her lips broke to a grin and lashes lowered as she blushed. He had got caught lookin'. He blushed in turn.

It took him a while to find a reason to talk to her. He knew from that day in church that she was the only one for him. She had been too. For a week o' Sundays he jus' sat in the back o' the church and caught glimpses as often as he could without gettin' caught. Once he talked to her for the first time, he got up a head o' steam and never quit.

Uncle Billy never stopped watchin' Aunt Del. She was the apple o' his eye. She would always ask him what he was a lookin' at when she brushed her hair. He would always tell her he was a watchin' some young auburn headed gal throwin' her head back like a young colt, her hair a swingin' this way an' that. Now, she never let him see cause she would always turn her head and brush, but a smile crept onto her lips ever' time he said that.

Uncle Billy sat and held the tortoise shell combs and looked deeper. When Aunt Del finished brushin', she would plait the long, heavy hank o' hair and wind it into a bun. Hair pins would pin it in place for another day. Then she would place one comb into the hair on either side of her head. Her brush would go into her apron pocket an' she would sit back and sigh...each night it was the same...a sigh to indicate her day was done.

Uncle Billy came back to the present day and wondered why she had left her combs there in the chink o' the logs. Why hadn't she had them on that day several years back? He had searched the house for 'em after Aunt Del died. Some of the women folks had come to help get things ready an' had asked for 'em to fix up Aunt Del's hair.

His work worn hand wiped a tear from his eye an' he sat back. Then he would have give anything he had that day to be able to place them in her hair as he said the last goodbye. Today he was more glad that he had not found 'em. He reckoned Aunt Del hadn't wanted 'em to be found. Tears flowed agin his will an' he had to get his ol red hanky out and wipe his nose an' eyes more than once.

Old Dog came over to check on his master, eyes seemin' to be full o' worry. "Don't worry 'bout me, Old Dog. I am a just gettin' soft in my old age, now. Don't go a worryin' 'bout me." he said with a gentle smile.

He put the sponge mushrooms back into the bucket and sat back. For the rest of the evenin' he sat and rocked, lookin' out at the hills he loved. His eyes caught ever' movement, from the hummin'bird suckin' nectar out a' the four o'clocks to the lightnin' bugs as they danced up out of the grass to fly and court each other in that age old ritual of twilight.

As the smoky fog came down the hillside to cover the holler, he sat and looked out. In his hands, held tight were two tortoise shell combs. His eyes looked, but his mind was focused on an auburn haired gal back yonder.
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