Saturday, June 28, 2003

Fishin on the footbridge

Summertime in the mountains is a time to enjoy life. It is a time when ever'one is outdoors most times. Folks see each other passin' by more often an' "howdy" can turn into a good conversation merely by stoppin' for a minute as ye pass.

Early evenin' is a good time to visit with folks. Chores are done and most families sit out on the porch to enjoy the cool breezes come down from the hills into the hollers.

The holler where Uncle Billy lived was mostly populated by kin. His sister lived just past his cabin an' on the other side of the creek about a hundred yards up. Down the creek a good ways his younger brother lived with his wife. Further up the creek Hap Collins lived on a hill that looked down into the little valley the holler made an' where Uncle Billy's ancestral home was. Uncle Billy was the fourth generation to live in the cabin. Although his youngins still loved the place and came home when they could, he doubted any of 'em would ever live there.

For a couple of days now, his sister Goldie had family in. Her oldest boy J.C. was in from up north. J. C. brought his wife and two boys down ever' summer for a week or two to spend with his mama. They had walked down with Goldie last night an' spent the evenin' sittin' on the porch visitin'. Goldie had made blackberry dumplin's an' ever'body had filled their belly with hot blackberry dumplin's an' cold milk.

This mornin' as Uncle Billy worked in the field he saw J.C.'s boys playin' in the creek. All they had on was short pants. They played barefoot in the water for hours on end. They caught crawdads an' was a savin' 'em up in a half gallon mason jar. They fell in more times than Uncle Billy could count. He suspected their mama had tol' them to stay out o' the water in the early mornin' coolness. 'Course, bein' mountain boys, they listened for about ten minutes before one of 'em "slipped".

When he hitched up his two big ol' red mules they came over to watch and ask a million questions. Both wanted to try to plow with the mules. That would have been a sight to see. Them mules would have pulled them from here plumb over to tomorrow.

Later in the day he saw Jimmy, the oldest playin' by himself in the creek. Jimmy was a buildin' some sort of dam with rocks an' was a tryin' to chase little ol' silver minners into it. Uncle Billy watched as Jimmy tried more than once, only to see silver shadows flit the other way in the clear stream.

He walked over to the footbridge that crossed the creek an' stood an' watched for the longest time. As he watched, he couldn't help but remember the days he spent in the same creek. He reckoned he had chased the ancestors of them very minners when he was a youngin'.

"Jimmy, what are you'uns tryin' to do?"

"Uncle Billy, I am tryin to corner these here minners into a little pond so I can git them for fishin'. Daddy said he was a goin' fishin' later this week an' I want minners to catch me some crappie. I got me one in there now." He pointed to a little hole of water he had closed off and sure enough, there was one lone minner trapped an' surrounded by carefully placed rocks.

Uncle Billy chuckled and watched as Jimmy tried to splash a couple of the little fish into the rock circle.

"I reckon I know a way for ye to get ye more minners a little easier. Come on over to the house an' we'll see what we can do to set ye up for catchin' all the minners you'uns want."

Jimmy jumped out o' the creek an' followed Uncle Billy closely. He slipped and grabbed Uncle Billy's hand. He held to the hand as they walked up to the house, lettin' go only when they were standing on the rough boards of the porch.

"Son, take my Case knife an' go over yonder to that willer tree an' cut you a limb - more like a switch than a stick. Know what I mean?"

"Yessir, my Daddy made me cut a switch from here last year when I broke Gramma's window. I'll cut ye a good 'un."

"Don't open that knife up as ye walk, Jimmy. Wait till ye get there an' open it. A feller don't want to walk with a knife open an' fall on it."


Uncle Billy wandered into the darkness of the ol' cabin an' Jimmy went over an' cut a switch. He pulled the leaves off it and put it under his arm as he closed the Case knife back up. By the time he was back on the porch, Uncle Billy reappeared with Aunt' Del's sewin' basket.

"Let's sit down here an' see what we can do." Uncle Billy said as he sat in the porch swing. He dug through the basket till he found some strong black string an' a little bitty safety pin. He tied about three foot o' thread on the willer switch and tied the open safety pin to the other end. He carefully bent the pointed end o' the pin just the least little bit. He handed this rig to Jimmy an' disappeared into the house once more. When he returned he had a slice of white bread.

"Now, ye need to go down an' sit on that footbridge. Take a little bitty piece of white bread an' roll it to a tight ball. Put that on the end o' your safety pin an go a fishin' for some minners."

"Yessir. Do you reckon it will work, Uncle Billy? I ain't never fished for minners before."

"It'll work, Jimmy. Just be sure to pull 'em in fast. Your hook don't have no barb to keep 'em on there."

They both walked down to the footbridge together. As they walked, Jimmy slipped his hand into Uncle Billy's hand. Jimmy sat on the side of the bridge, feet danglin' an' baited his hook with a little ball of white bread. He had no more than put it in the water till a minner bit it. In his excitement he pulled hard enough to land a bass. The minner flipped off an' fell back into the creek.

Uncle Billy laughed with Jimmy an' gave more instructions on the subtle art of minner fishin'. As Jimmy got the hang of it, he would pull a minner up and quickly move it over his little ol' "pond" he had made. The pond was quickly fillin' with minners.

"Uncle Billy, this is the neatest thing I ever done. It is even better than fishin' for bluegill." Jimmy said with a grin on his face.

Uncle Billy watched for a while them went over to visit for a bit with J.C. and his wife. Jimmy sat on that footbridge all day catchin' minners. His Daddy looked out the window more than once to see the little boy sittin' in the golden sun, shirt an' shoes off as he fished for minners.

Later in the day little brother Eddie had to have a minner rod an' both boys fished and talked till evenin' came an' the shadows climbed down the mountains to the holler below.

Thursday, June 26, 2003

Sunday Carry In Dinner

Sunday afternoons are a right lazy time in the summer round 'bout Beloved, Kentucky. Most folks belong to the local churches and still believe that Sunday is a day of rest. This is more important in a mountain community because the farmers and miners usually work long hours six days a week. That there is the reason that Knuckles Dollar Store and the Henny Penny over in Manchester, the county seat is always closed on Sunday.

Booger Holler Holiness Church had a carry in dinner after Sunday services and folks sat an' talked for a long while. Sister Hazel Burns had brought some of her prize winnin' pies and made a beeline for Uncle Billy with a slice of pie.

Now, don't get confused here. Sister Hazel Burns is a spinster, ain't never been married. Folks around Booger Holler knowed she thought it was a sin that Uncle Billy was still unattached several years after Aunt Del passed on. Don't get her confused with Sister Hazel Budder who is the pastor's wife. Brother Woodrow and Sister Hazel Budder were close to Uncle Billy and did all they could to keep Sister Hazel from sinkin her teeth into that prize apple.

"Brother Bill, I want you'ns to try this here pie an' tell me what do you think of it." Sister Hazel always called him Bill. His name was Billy and there was nothin' that offended him like callin' him Bill. 'Course, bein' from the hills, Sister Hazel made it "Bee-ull".

"Name's Billy, Sister Burns."

"OK, OK, just try the pie." she said as she shoved a big piece of what appeared to be apple pie in front of him and laid a fork down by it.

Uncle Billy knew she weren't gonna shut up till he gave up so he picked up the fork and took a big bite off the point of that slice. Now this weren't no chore, for ever'one in the community knew Sister Hazel Burns made the finest pies a feller would want to dump into an empty mouth.

The pie crust was light and flaky. Sister Hazel used Crisco and swore by it. She also made sure she handled the crust as little as possible. Keepin' it cool was her secret to flaky crusts.

Uncle Billy smiled when he took a bite and said, "Sister Hazel, I don't reckon I had me enough to give y'all a good opinion. I better take another bite."

He bit several more times. A covey of church ladies gathered around Sister Hazel, some wipin' their hands on their aprons as they waited for Uncle Billy's judgement.

"Well, mam, I do believe that is one of the best apple pies I have ever had. Ye done good, sister. My tongue pret' near beat my face to death wantin' 'nother bite. Jes' don't let it go to yer head. It was mighty fine, but I don't want sinful pride raisin' it's head here in the church basement." Several of the menfolks and two of the ladies said "amen" in agreement.

Sister Hazel Burns laughed and fanned herself with her apron. "Bill, I swan, I don't rightly know what to say," she grinned slyly and giggled like a youngin', "I have done fooled ye."

"Ya have? How's that?"

"There ain't nary an apple in that there pie."

"There ain't?" Uncle Billy took another bite, "Sure tastes like apples to me. What is it? Quince? Pear?"

"No sir, it ain't even fruit. There ain't been an apple in a mile o' that pie. Hit is a mock apple pie."

"Mock Apple, well I do declare. It is good, though Sister Hazel. What is in it?"

At this point, Sister Hazel Budder came out with a tray and paper plates of little ol' slices so's ever'body could take a taste. Folks gathered 'round and took plates and commenced to taste the mock apple pie.

Sister Hazel was in her own pond a quackin' now. "Hit is Ritz crackers. That is all hit is."

Folks went on an' on about that there Ritz pie. Sister Hazel gave the recipe out agin an' agin.

Finally Uncle Billy spoke up, "Sister Hazel, y'all know that mock apple pie was named for the mock turtle, don't ya?"

"Well, I have heard of it...what do they use fer mock turtle, beef or pork?"

"Oh no mam, neither one. The mock turtle ain't beef or pork. It is a type of actual turtle, y' know."

Sister Hazel blinked an' looked at Uncle Billy, "It is? Well I sure didn't know that one."

Uncle Billy had drawn a crowd with this. Many knew where he was goin' with his statement and drew up chairs. Others smiled and grinned behind their hands.

"Yes, mam. The mock turtle ain't one that is easy to cook. They is right stringy. That is why it is so uncommon on the dinner table. They grow right big and folks say they nest up in the willer trees. They have legs longer than most turtles, y' see. The big 'uns have legs two, maybe three foot long...and them legs is double jointed ta boot. That is how they can crawl into the willer trees. An' they have right long necks too. They can sit on the bottom of the pond or river and snake that ol' neck up an' look at ya without comin' to the surface. That's why folks don't catch 'em much."

Sister Hazel Burns listened for a right smart while. "They don't come up? But why in the world do they call 'em 'mock' turtles?"

"Well, mam, they is called mock turtles for the same reason the mockin' bird has that name. They can make calls an' squeeks an' carryin's on like other critters."

He went on, "One day I was sittin' on the bank of the Red Bird River - up route 66 an' was fishin' for catfish. An ol' mock turtle saw me when he stuck that ol' snakey head up for a little bit o' air and ye know what that sorry thing did? It started meowin' like a cat. 'Meow, Meow' it said. I got m'self up an' looked and looked for a little ol' lost kitten. Mr. Mock Turtle went on down an' had the hunk o' chicken liver I was usin' as bait for his lunch. There's a right smart bunch of 'em in the Red Bird River."

"Later he started cheepin' like a little ol' bird what had fallen outta his nest. I commenced to lookin' an' he had another bite o' chicken liver. That ol' mock turtle did a squirrel, a couple of coons a fightin' an' a snipe before I caught on."

"Gee-oh, I do declare. The country is sure a different place from the city. It is amazin' what I don't know" sister Hazel sat down in a fold up chair. "I don't reckon I'll ever learn all 'bout the country."

"They is one other thing about mock turtles folks need to know if they is gonna hunt 'em."

"What is that Brother Bill?"

Uncle Billy looked at Sister Hazel and looked up to the side at Hap Collins and winked, "The mock turtle has them long legs and sharp claws. I tol' ye they can climb into willer trees. When times is hard and the crick is down they go a climbin' into trees to rob nests o' eggs. If they get real desperate they can jump down outta the trees and wrap them long legs 'round unsuspectin' critters, even folks!"

Sister Hazel said a little wobbly voiced, "They do? Even folks?"

"Yessum, they do! Other times they come up outta the muddy river after folks, grabbin' at they's feet an' ankles. You'uns know what they do iffn they get hold of ye?"

Sister Hazel, three of the womenfolks and eight youngin's that were listenin' shook their heads "no".

Uncle Billy looked right serious at Sister Hazel and said, "They pull yer leg...jus' like I'm a doin' right now."

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.