Sunday, July 15, 2007

The Road

Life had changed him, death stopped by and robbed him of a Daddy, Mama, his family, his kin.  Jimmie walked numb through the mourning, the handshakes, hugs and prayers.  Hands reaching out to him just never could reach through the fog to pull him back into living.

Though he was almost ready to leave home, Jimmie had not pulled up anchor and drifted away from that house deep in the holler not too far outside of Beloved, Kentucky.  He had a summer job at the Carnegie Library.

That is where the deputy sheriff found him the day his folks slid into the guardrail to avoid that deer.  Their truck tumbled down a ravine and settled on its side more than 300 feet below.  Their horn cried long and loud until Uncle Billy Gilbert drove by, windows down.  The smashed rail and braying horn caused him to stop.  All Uncle Billy could do is cry and pray when he got to the bottom of the ravine.  It was too late to do more.

Jimmie sat for days in the home his folks had brought to life with harmony, smiles and the joinery of heart, hearth and table that makes a mountain home.  He looked into a dusty hearth without seeing.  He walked the halls and stood on the big wrap around porch without feeling.  One moment he rose for a bit from the hurt when he heard the creak of the porch swing.  His head turned to look before reality reminded his conscious mind it was only the wind.

No one called from the library to remind him he needed to come to work.  Neighbors had been kind, had brought a mountain of food to show their love before the funeral.  Now they all seemed to have deserted him.  Reality was they didn't want to be a bother.

Jimmie needed the bother.

This went on for two weeks.  The only person that realized anything was wrong was a little bitty fellow that was the last person to offer help.  He was short, thin and of no social consequence.  He didn't bathe often, he kiddingly told folks he was H2O intolerant.  His name was Peanut Chappell and he was distant cousin to Jimmie and his family.  The longest conversation Jimmie had ever had with Peanut was over the quality of the moonshine that ol' Bert made over on Double Creek, near Peabody.

Jimmie might have thought it odd if he had not sunk so low, had not been so far from living as he was, when Peanut stopped by in his Daddy's old International truck.

"Jimmie, I hate to bother you, but I really need someone to help me.  There is a real problem and I can't find anyone else who could help solve it."

Peanut had to beg and cajole Jimmie for over half an hour.  Finally Jimmie agreed to help.  He sat and looked at nothing as the truck rumbled down a road he didn't recognize.

After nearly twenty minutes they stopped and Peanut told him they were "there".  They both got out and Peanut told Jimmie to have a seat on a big log that had fallen on the side of the road.  Road was actually an exaggeration.  This was little more than a growed up path to nowhere.  Jimmie didn't notice.

"Jimmie, here is how it is.  You are worthless right now.  You are in some kind of way an' no one is doin' a thing about it.  Specially you.  do you think your Mama would like what she sees?  Shucks man, you haven't even had a bath in days.  I know!  I am an expert in that area.  You need a good kick in the pants is what your Daddy would say and I am givin' it to ya.  I am leavin' an' you are not comin' with me.  You can sit here on your sorry tail an' die if you want.  Or you can get up an' walk home.  Take time to think as you walk, ol' boy.  I got you about 15 miles from anyone, so you are on your own"

As he spoke these words, Peanut became more than he ever was before, or after in his life.  The good Lord must have laid this on his heart, for he never had a moment like this again.

After Peanut drove off Jimmie sat there for a while in the same funk as before.  Then he got mad.  He got plain ol' ticked off.  How dare Peanut Chappell preach to him.  How dare him leave like that!  Hey, how dare he leave without a bit of food all this way.

Then he noticed the brown bag layin' by him.  Inside were half dozen biscuits, a couple small tomatoes, some sliced ham and a peach.  A note was scrawled on the bag, "love you man." in Peanut's simple handwriting.

Jimmie got up and began walking pretty slowly.  He just had to follow the road back.  It wasn't really hard going, just tedious.  He carried the bag in his left hand and didn't think at all as he walked.

Since Peanut picked him up late in the day, Jimmie ended up spending a uncomfortable night in the holler, cold and alone.  He was already feeling that way inside... all he needed was to feel that way outside.

In the morning he ate more of the food Peanut had left and sat for a while wondering what in the world Peanut thought this would accomplish.

He walked till about 10:00 and as he walked around a corner he saw an old board with words painted in white paint; This a way Jimmie".  It pointed up a dry branch.  He figured Peanut had a shortcut so he obediently followed.

At the top of the hill was another sign; "See what God had wrought.  It is all in His plan".

Jimmie looked out over the hills and hollers that were home to all his family for nearly 200 years.  He saw his town of Beloved, the Carnegie Library, cars and trucks moving along the roads below.  Some were leaving and some coming into town.

Far up the hill he saw the little church where his family worshiped... Where his Mama and Daddy were buried.  He could see the mounds of bright colored flowers still heaped on the raw earth of their graves.  Tears stung his eyes as he looked over the hills of home to that place where they lay.

Why would Peanut do this to him?  Why?

He read the sign again, "See what God had wrought.  It is all in His plan".

You don't need to know all Jimmie said, the rants, the curse he threw at the hills, at God, at his Daddy for worrying more about a deer than his own family.  He cursed the day he was born, the day that the deer was born, he cursed one and all without prejudice.

Then he sat, he slept finally and woke during the long night.
It was warm there that night, almost like he was meant to be there.  He saw the lights of little cabins snuggled up to the feet of the hills, worn down hard by god years ago.  He felt worn down like the hills.  As he watched, the lights went out in home after home till only a few pole lights lit the little village of Beloved.

Jimmie didn't sleep.  He sat and watched as the world slept.  He searched his heart and wondered about a plan that allowed his folks to die.

The next morning he rose and turned to go, only to find himself facing an overgrown cemetery.  He walked inside the gate and wandered through the stones.  Dozens of pioneer families were buried there, many with only sandstone markers on their graves.  He read the names, the dates, the simple expressions of love.

He came to one stone that was different.  In the midst of all the graves was one small stone that said simply, "Lucinda, Beloved by me"

Peanut had walked quietly up behind him.  "That is why our hometown is named Beloved.  A man named by Felix came here, had that meadow that is our town surveyed for a farm.  He meant for his wife to see it, it was for her.  He got her here, this far and she fell, was hurt and died in his arms.  She saw the place, just never got there.  She said to him, 'what a beloved place.  That is what he called it.  He built other cabins an' when a few folks stopped, he invited them to stay.  He could have just sat up here an' died too.  He didn't though, he went on down the road."

They sat for a while till Peanut spoke again, "I cain't figure it out, Jimmie.  I have studied on it a good bit, I don't have no kind of answers.  I reckon this was sort of silly  I just know you gotta get on down the road now.  I'll take you home, lets go."

Jimmie looked at him for a moment and thanked Peanut for the offer, then told him he needed to walk.

That's what he did.  He just walked on down the road toward his home.

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