Tuesday, June 17, 2003

Miss Hazel

One of the problems with bein' an older man in a small community is the older women, or more specific, the older women what think a feller needs another wife. Uncle Billy has his share of "women friends" as folks call 'em.

He hardly has a week go by without one of the ladies of the Booger Holler Holiness Church stoppin' by with a hot pie...knowin' he has a weakness for pie in general an' berry pies in particular. They drive up, get out of their ol' cars and start a bellerin', "Bill, oh Bill! Y'all home? Howdy in the house." or somethin' like that.

Well, first off, anybody what knows Uncle Billy knows he don't take to folks callin' him Bill. His Daddy named him Billy and he has been Billy from day one. If he is in a feisty mood he'll plain tell folks, "Name's Billy".

He don't mind visitors, he just don't want the church ladies to come a courtin'. He's heard 'em talkin' 'bout how he needs a woman to take care o' him since Aunt Del died. They took him on as a project, kinda like makin' a quilt for a new baby. Them women folks saw he was alone and they just don't like it one bit. No one bothered to ask his opinion.

Ms. Hazel was the worst o' the bunch. She set her mind on marryin' up with Uncle Billy and she was after him like a chicken after a june bug. "Bill, O Bi-illl" she called when she stopped by. "Bill, I was a makin' pies an' thought of you just a sittin' here by your lonesome all the time. What with no woman-folks around to take care of you. I thought y'all might like a little sweetnin'. Oh Bill..." That was the words out a her mouth ever' time she stopped.

Uncle Billy was sittin' out in the barn workin' on a chair he was a makin' for Roscoe Collins over on Little Creek. Roscoe already had two of Uncle Billy's chairs an' wanted two more to sit out on his porch. Said they sat better than store bought chairs when a feller was takin' it easy in the evenin'.

When Uncle Billy heard Ms. Hazel callin' he jumped up an' looked our through a crack in the logs of the barn. He had been meanin' to rechink them logs, but today he was mighty glad for the clay that had fallen out.

"Oh Lordy, it is Ms. Hazel, Old Dog. She's got another pie." he looked to Old Dog for support, but Old Dog was a sleepin'. "You ain't no help a-tall."

Uncle Billy looked around. There was only the one door to get out. He had thought of makin' another door in the back of his workshop to get into the barn without goin' out and back in through the big barn doors, but there was never much need...till now. He was like a cornered rat in a corn crib. He scrambled 'round an' round lookin' for some relief.

Finally he looked up into the hayloft. There was sweet escape. Without a second thought he grabbed a' hold of a plank and pulled his way into the top of the barn and hid behind a tall stack of hay bales.

When Ms. Hazel stuck her head in the door and called, "Oh Bill, Mr. Bi-iilll." she saw no one and would have gone on, leavin' the pie in the kitchen with a note she had already written. Old Dog, however had turned traitor. Old Dog had woke up an' was sittin' an' starin' straight up into the hayloft where Uncle Billy had made good his escape.

"Bill, are you up there?" Ms. Hazel called. Old Dog wagged his betrayin' tail and stared up into the hayloft ...and barked! Old Dog barked! It was as if to say, "Here he is, hidin' like a treed coon. Shoot 'em down, shoot 'em down."

Uncle Billy sheepishly looked down. Hidin' was one thing, hidin' when a feller was caught was 'nother. "Lo. Ms. Hazel. It's Billy, not Bill, mam."

"Oh Bill, I am right proud I caught ye. I have a blackberry pie I made. When it came ot to the oven I thought of y'all sittin' here all alone. Why don't ya come on down an' we'll have us a piece?"

"Much obliged, Ms. Hazel, but I reckon I'll be up here for a right smart while."

"Why's that, Bill?"

"Well mam, y'all never lived on a farm, have ye?"

Ms. Hazel laughed, "No sir, but I wouldn't mind a farm."

Uncle Billy grinned a little, "Well mam, I reckon I better keep on lookin' 'round up here. They is a snake up here somewhere. One o' them hoop snakes."

"Hoop snake?" Ms Hazel asked weakly as she stepped back a step.

"Yes mam. A hoop snake has been gettin' into the chickens an' eatin' the eggs. I reckon it is eatin' near a dozen a night."

"Hoop snake?" she asked as she stepped out the door and looked around.

"They is the worstest kind, Ms. Hazel. They don't crawl like mos' snakes."

"They don't?"

"No mam. When they want to travel fast the get hold of their tail with their teeth and make a round circle...a hoop like. Then them things can roll down a hill like nothin' I have seen a whole herd of 'em rollin' after a young deer. I reckon they could run down a youngin' or old folks like us." Uncle Billy added this a little too gleefully as he looked down from the hayloft.

"What do they do when they run a feller down?"

"Well, they eat 'em I reckon. I ain't never stayed around to see. When a critter is caught and starts to squealin', I usually get gone." As Uncle Billy spoke, he took out his Case knife an' rubbed it agin the log close by. It made a sad squealin' noise. He looked back into the hayloft innocently.

Ms. Hazel heard the sound and looked around the farmyard with eyes big as dinner plates. Then Ms. Hazel remembered something she had to do in Beloved and told Uncle Billy she would put the pie on the kitchen table. Her leavin' was faster than it had ever been.

As her car pulled away, Uncle Billy climbed down from the hayloft chucklin'. He stood in the yard and watched the dust fly from Ms. Hazel's ol' car as she made her way as fast as the dirt road would let her.

That very afternoon Uncle Billy cut in a back door from his workshop into the barn. He also made sure to oil the rusty hinges of the door leadin' out into the field back of the barn. He didn't use it often, but a feller never knew when it might come in handy.

Old dog slept on the porch that night...not at the foot of Uncle Billy's bed.

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