Wednesday, December 10, 2008

New Day


An old man lays quiet in a cold room. The only heat in this ancient log cabin is a coal grate in a connecting room. Visitors and city folks might call the place rustic or perhaps even rambling. The old man and his weary dog call it home. "A place to get in out of the cold" is his usual description.

It is a collection of rooms added on one at a time by several generations. Old man and dog rest in the lower bedroom, cabin actually, as that part was the first cabin built and that stood alone on that spot for many years.
It is small and simple and also has a coal grate that has not often been used. A Great Granddad built the original cabin when he moved his family up the holler to avoid another raid by Yankee soldiers seeking to destroy a local salt mine and keep Confederate soldiers from buying salt.

The parlor is simply another cabin built a few years later. It was laid out and logs were stacked fifteen feet from the first cabin. A dogtrot of plank wood connected the two cabins and became a second bedroom for several generations of kin. Along the full length of these structures is a shotgun kitchen, it is filled with stove, tables, Hoosier cabinets and a hand pump for water. A plastic tablecloth covers the kitchen table, washed off so many times the pattern has disappeared.

The fire has been banked and ashes dumped into a bucket. The careful red flames flicker slowly and occasionally light up a corner where visitors might see peeling wallpaper... and underneath layers of newspapers and Sears & Roebuck catalog pages carefully glued on the walls by womenfolks intent on keeping the winter wind out.

Snow covers the ground all around the cabin. Footprints come and go from the cabin to the barn. Footprints that themselves seem weary and worn. Footprints of an old man and an ancient dog who faithfully follows his master as he has for more than fifteen years. A milk cow and a couple pigs sleep in the barn, their breath collecting as ice crystals on their snouts. Their bodies and the muck around them steam in the cold night.

Though nearly a foot deep, no attempt has been made to shovel the snow. It really isn't necessary in the barnyard or around the cabin. Deep snow is a good insulator for the cabin and safer footing for the old man than patches of ice would be. His 1969 Ford truck sits safely in an outbuilding, untouched by the winter weather.

A single path goes over to the smokehouse that is full of hams, bacon, side meat, ham hocks and cloth-sleeved sausage, all butchered, cut, cured and smoked by the old man who rests fitfully in the cold bedroom yonder. The smell of burnt apple wood and hickory is sweet and ashy in the chilled night air. The snow shows evidence of the door being opened once and shut as a survey was taken of this smoky meat, as if to assure the owner that all was well, supplies were taken in and safe. He could weather any storm.

A similar path leads to the side of a hill, where there is a root celler, full of Irish taters, sweet taters, apples, beets, turnips and cabbages all covered with straw to insulate and keep rot away. Rough shelves are filled with all sorts of canned goods, fruit, kraut, beans, tomaters, pickles and jellies. Here and there are jars of home canned meats like sausages fried, placed into jars and processed.  Chicken, beef and deer meat are clearly marked as to when they were processed and canned.  All are lined up in Mason jars that sparkle in the moonlight.

Not all are products of the old man's hands. Many are from neighbors and well meaning widow women who have had their eye on the man since he lost his wife years ago. Another brief survey is evident and the last trail leads back to the cabin.

Inside an old man lays quiet in a cold room. He listens to the short crackles of embers as they fight to stay alive till morning. His old dog raises its head to listen for strangers who won't come in this snowy weather. Satisfied, he lowers his head to his paws and closes rheumy eyes.

On the bed, the man watches as memories play on his eyelids, memories of youth and vigor, of running free through the hills, chasing rabbits with his dog, now a pup in his mind's eye, up a holler and through miles of brush. He dreams of friends, youthful and smiling, waving at him from a forgotten porch, laughing at a joke he just can't catch in his memories. He tastes hot meals, sips sweet tea and basks in the remembered warmth of summers long past. Secretly, he savors his first taste of moonshine once more.  A gentle smile crosses his lips as his mind lingers over his first kiss.

As he drifts between this world and the promise of sleep.  He dreams of a little ol' dark head mountain gal he teased in a one room school, who he watched grow into a beautiful woman. He smiles gently as he remembers their first kiss, their wedding day, their many days together in this cabin.

A tear slides through a series of wrinkles as he remembers once more her passing on, her promise to wait for him on the other side of the Jordan. In that moment, his spirit decides, his body reluctantly obeys and takes one last breath. The room stills.

As if a signal has been sent out, the embers seem to glow less. In his sleep the old dog hears his master call and lets loose of the old bone of life and lopes along into forever.  He sees someone standing on the far bank of a river and without hesitation he jumps in and begins to swim.

On the other side of the river, a young man waits beside a beautiful woman who is smiling bright as day. The dog pulls himself out of that river and shakes his years away like water collected in his fur. He is young, made new.

The new dog, man and wife turn once more, look over Jordan and smile a sad smile, knowing others will soon follow. They turn and see a city, bright and inviting.  They step forward together and walk toward Heaven and home.
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