Friday, July 18, 2003

Company

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.
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