Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thanksgiving Prodigal

Thanksgiving was a quiet day for Billy Gilbert. Since his wife Del died he mostly spent Thanksgiving alone. It wasn't that he didn't have folks who invited him to come be with them, he had turned down half a dozen invites for Thanksgiving this year. Around the little mountain town of Beloved, Kentucky everyone knew "Uncle Billy" Gilbert. He had an abundance of friends, neighbors and kin within a few miles.

Uncle Billy was also sought after by just about ever' older woman in the community. Hazel Williams led the pack. She had proclaimed about a year after Aunt Del Gilbert passed that "William Gilbert Senior was gonna be her man one of these days".

When Uncle Billy heard that second or third hand he just laughed, shook his head an' said, "That ain't ever gonna happen, y'all. No one could ever fill Del's place, especially not Hazel Williams. She don't even know my proper name, for goodness sakes."

Her statement just rubbed him the wrong way for a whole bunch of reasons. First an' foremost was the plain ol' fact he weren't interested in her or any other woman. He was 78 years old, set in his ways, content with life an' just not lookin'.

Mostly Hazel was plain ol' aggravatin'. She was the worst gossip that lived in Beloved, nosy, a busybody an' not much of a cook. She would drop by his ol' farm up the little holler to pay a "social call" an' to check on "poor ol' Bill" way too often for Uncle Billy. He got to parkin' his truck in the barn just so she would think he was gone an' leave him alone. Now an' again she would catch him out in the barnyard or on the porch. She would get out without an invite, stroll up an' take over his time, stayin' for hours if he couldn't think of anythin' to get up an' go do.

An' he hated that she called him "Bill" or "William". That weren't his name. No one called him Bill an' never was he William! His name was simply Billy Gilbert. That was his given name. Actually since his son was born he was Billy Gilbert Senior. He was Uncle Billy an' his son became "Little Billy" or for many it was "Little Bill". When he got older Little Billy had asked to be called Will instead of Little Billy. It made sense to have their names a bit different an most folks did call him Will, though some of the older kinfolks still referred to him as Little Billy.

Uncle Billy had told Hazel that his name wasn't Bill or William a thousand times. He suspected she was just uppity an' thought Billy was too common a name.

Well anyway, Uncle Billy had plenty of invites, he just preferred to be alone on Thanksgiving. Actually he was only alone Thanksgiving afternoon. By evenin' his ol' cabin became the meetin' place for a dozen men an' boys who always showed up with plates full of leftovers from their family feast.

It had started spontaneously several years before, two years or so after Aunt Del had passed. Folks got worried that Uncle Billy was spendin' Thanksgiving alone an' more than a dozen men an' boys showed up carryin' plates an' bowls prepared by wives wantin' to make sure the ol' man of the holler had some good food in his belly. They all spent the evenin' sittin' around, sharin' leftovers, tellin' stories an' enjoyin' the good company of men raised together.

That had become an unofficial custom for many of the fellers in the community. By evenin' they would kiss their wives an' family goodbye an' make their way to the little holler where Uncle Billy lived. They would have hands full of good food as they headed in the door of the ol' cabin. No one knocked, they all just went in. They were expected.

Uncle Billy stirred a huge pot of soup beans as he thought of the get together that would happen later that night. He had already made two cast iron skillets of regular cornbread an' two skillets of cracklin' bread (cornbread with cracklin's baked in). He would make a couple more skillets of cornbread before all them boys got there later. That was what he had made himself the first year an' it had become a tradition. Actually, he hadn't made soup beans the second year an' fellers asked him where the soup beans was!

As he stirred the soup beans he heard the screen door slap as it shut. Strange that someone was there that early. He really hoped it wasn't ol' Hazel Williams.. She snuck around an' would show up on Thanksgivin' now an' again. He wiped his hands on a dishrag an' turned to see who had come in.

Imagine his surprise when his son walked into the long kitchen an' just stood for a minute. Y'see, since Will had married Jennifer he didn't come home much. They lived in Akron, Ohio where Will was a veterinarian. They had a fine home up there an' Jennifer didn't think much of the mountains. Didn't think much of the home place where Will was raised. to her Will was William, though it wasn't his name at all. His diplomas said, "Billy Gilbert, Jr", the big sign outside the vet clinic had "Billy Gilbert, Jr, DVM" but she called him William, never Will, Billy or even Bill.

Oh, and she was always Jennifer. Never Jen, Jenny or any other nickname. She made it clear the first time Uncle Billy called her Jenny that her name was Jennifer.

Uncle Billy stood in shock for a minute, not know what to say, what to do. He nodded at Will, "Hullo youngin'. How you been?"

Will stood quiet for a bit, "Howdy, Pappy. Them some soup beans?"

"Yep, they are. You wantin' some?"

"Wouldn't mind a bowl, Pap. Any cracklin' bread?" Will asked.

"Better believe it. You allowed to have some?" his Daddy asked with a grin. Uncle Billy knew Wil snuck a bite of good ol' mountain food when he could. Jennifer didn't approve, of course. She didn't approve of lard, bacon grease, soup beans, corn bread, fatback, bacon, ham, fried chicken or most of what Will ate growin' up in the mountains. Because of Jennifer, Will's diet was almost that of a vegetarian with only a little fish or chicken thrown in.

That was all it took. Uncle Billy didn't know why Will was there, but knew somethin' was wrong. His boy just didn't come 'round on holidays, didn't come round much at all. Jennifer didn't like the mountains, didn't like the little holler, didn't seem to like mountain folks. Strange that she would marry a mountain boy. she did her best to wring the mountains out of Will.

Will grabbed the back of an ol' ladderback chair that sat by the table an' dropped into it with his eyes already wet. "Oh Pappy, she left me. Jennifer up an' moved out. I went to a convention to get some continuing education classes an' when I got back she had mostly cleaned the house out. Most of the furniture was gone. Divorce papers were on the kitchen counter an' a letter."

"Son, didn't you know? Had things been that bad?"

"Pap", Will looked up into his Daddy's blue eyes. His eyes were the same shade of dark blue, his features a younger reflection of the older man. "Pap, I thought things were OK. Jennifer was never much of romance, huggin' or warmth. I thought things were OK. She left me for a lawyer, Pappy. He was the one who drew up the divorce papers!"

His Daddy didn't know what to say. He just pulled out another chair an' sat down, waitin'. He knew Will wasn't done. "Pappy, she took all our bank account. She took the car, took most of the furniture, even my basketball signed by Adolph Rupp! She is askin' for half of my retirement fund. She couldn't take that without the courts or she would have drained it too. She wants the house to be sold and wants half of the proceeds. I don't know what I'm going to do."

Uncle Billy stood, went over to his son and wrapped his arms around his boy's shoulders. Will cried hard as he leaned into his Daddy. "I don't know either, son, but I'll help you any way I can."

"Can I stay for a while? I can't go home right now. I don't want to go home right now."

"Of course. You know you don't have to ask."

"Oh Pappy, I haven't been much of a son." Will cried. "I am so sorry. I was to worried about pleasing her that I stayed away, I pushed you away."

"Yep, you did. No doubt, you did."

"I am so sorry, Pappy. So very sorry. Will you forgive me?"

"Son, Will, Billy Boy, I already have. No need to even ask."

"Why Daddy? Why would you forgive me already?"

"Do you remember the story of the Prodigal Son? I know y'all don't go to church, but do you remember when I read it to you, when you learned about it in Sunday School?" Uncle Billy asked.

"Of course I do. But I am not the Prodigal. I didn't ask for my part an go away to some foreign country and waste it. I haven't come back asking to be your servant." Will was a bit indignant, thinking his Daddy was being a little judgmental at the wrong time.

"Of course not. That ain't the point at all. Y'see, that Daddy forgave his son before he ever showed up, walkin' toward home. It is a Daddy's nature to love his youngin's in spite of what they do, of what they are. A good Daddy forgives, loves an' waits, not because of what they do, but in spite of anything they do. He loves them because they are his."

"Oh." was all Will could say.

"Now Will, I need to go down the road to Hap's to make a couple calls or we'll have a dozen or more fellers comin' in after while. I need to tell them not to come this year. Me an' you will sit, eat some soup beans an' cracklin' bread an' just visit."

As Uncle Billy got up he hugged Will once more, went over an' turned down the soup beans to a simmer. "Stir these a couple times while I'm gone. Don't want our supper to burn."

Will sat for just a minute before he stood up, "Pappy, don't make them calls. I want those men to come over. I need them to come over. I need to laugh, to hug the necks of a few cousins and old friends. I need to be around mountain folks right now."

"You sure, Will? What if they ask questions? What if they get nosy? What you gonna tell them?"

"I'm sure, Pap. After all, wasn't there a feast at the end of that story? I'll just tell them the truth. I'll tell them the Prodigal Vet has come home." Will laughed.

"That's fine, boy, but I ain't killin' my cow."

Friday, October 31, 2014

Little Ol' Towns

They ain't much very special 
About little ol' towns
Hidin' deep in the mountains
Not much business around.

Why, they can't even afford 
A single stoplight in some
They roll up their sidewalks
Before the sun ever sets.
Folks still sit out on porches
Ol' men whittle an' wait
Drinkin' sody pop an' Moonpies 
Chewin', spittin' to boot.

They tell lies, swap knives

Laugh at their own jokes
Their wives still are pesterin'
While they sit a' jesterin'

Women still gossip over coffee,
Tea and a fresh baked crumb cake
They rant, rave an' rail on
At the messes their husbands make.

Ornery youngin's wander yards,
 Back alleys an' half empty streets
Prankin' an yankin' a little gal's hair
Hootin' an' hollerin', fillin' the air.

It ain't much of a place
To raise youngin's ye know
Ain't even no movies
Not many places to go.

Yet as they talk of their town
The place they was raised
Folks get all misty, red eyed an'
Weepy, rememberin' how it was.



Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Foggy mornin' in the mountains

The fog is thick, as if the clouds dropped down to wrap misty arms around the mountains an' fill the hollers to the brim. Darkness latches onto the fog an' pushes hard agin the on-comin' day.

The thick damp mist muffles the sounds of dawn. Birds are feather fluffed an' quiet, waitin' for the sun that still hides behind the clouds. Roosters wander out of the hen house damp an' bedraggled, not willin' yet to crow an' call in the dawn.

Big Ben clocks ring harsh in the not yet day, unwindin' as they cry "rise an' shine". Ol' men reach out an' lift the clock to stare with sleep sandy eyes, seein' it ain't yet sunrise, thinkin' Big Ben must be lyin', must be wrong.

But mantle clocks an' that big ol' number 18 sized pocket watch, coin silver case an' 17 jewel sure both speak the same truth. Mornin' has come, no sun has risen, but mornin' has come home to the hills.

As they rise up, womenfolks sit on the side of the bed, gatherin' their long hair into buns, pullin' strands tight an' under tortoise shell combs. Aprons on, they head for the kitchens to throw kindlin' into cook stoves, light a fire, wash up an' get breakfast together.

The menfolks are more verbal as they stand, groan moanin' an' unsteady with mornin' aches to pull on overalls, drag on worn out socks and slowly tie up scuffed brogans. In cabins up an' down the creek they wander to the kitchen, wash up in the pans of water warm an' waitin' for them, grab a sup of water from the dipper before they lift the pail, head for the well to draw fresh water an' then to the barn to feed the mules, milk the cows an' begin the day's work.

It is mornin' in the mountains, hidden by the fog, not delayed.

Monday, June 02, 2014

Mornin' in the Mountains

Though dawn is still far away
Old eyes blink once, twice, open.
Nothing stirs in the early darkness
Big Ben alarm clock steadily ticks
Counting time, keepin' the beat
Keepin' a steady pace, onward till morn.
The yellowed newspapers pasted tight
Against the walls are still unseen
Old news, oxymoron long forgotten
Now keeps out the wind an' cold.
Deep feather bed is a sleepy nest
Quilts are hand stitched security
Pulled chin high an' held tight
Against the day, the morn, the dawn.
Then high on the hill, just there
A lone robin wakes, shakes an' sings
Inside a blink, a yawn an' ol' leg creaks.
Ol' dog's long vigil held on the floor
Curled nose to tail on a braided rag rug.
Them creakin' bones made ol' dog stir
Tail thumpin' 'gainst ancient chestnut
Hand hewn, sandstone smoothed puncheon floor.
Deep in a holler, down the creek
An ol' ramblin' cabin sits quiet like
Coiled tight like a spring, waitin'
For the ol' Big Ben to ringle jangle
Mornin'! Good mornin', Get up an' go.
Soon lights will lighten, brighten windows
Push through the humid darkness
Coffee, boiled long, strong, aroma thick
Will seep through every door,
Curl in every corner, warmin' hearth an' heart
It is mornin' in the mountains.

Friday, May 09, 2014

Stormy Mornin' Chores - Part Two

Uncle Billy paused as he brushed ol' Joe and thought for just a minute before he began;"Mornin' to you too, Lord. This here is Billy Gilbert. I've got a few folks on my mind this mornin'. Thought I might lift 'em up to y'all an ask for a couple blessin's for 'em.

 First Lord, than you for my dear wife, Del. She is such a blessin' to me. I know I don't deserve her, just like I don't reckon I deserve Your love either. But I sure am grateful for both her and You.

I know that Will ain't where he should be with You. Don't know what to do about that. He just don't want to hear me tell him much of anythin' these days. He's my boy, Lord. He is just as hard headed as I am an' I suppose that is some of the reason why he don't come home much. He don't take much to farm life or mountain life either. Well, bless him an his wife Helen. Yep, I know she don't think much of us, thinks we are poor an' dumb. I don't reckon she cares for us, but as long as she loves him, well that is fine, just fine."

He brushed for a good bit, ponderin' an' studyin' on what he had prayed about. He sort of sniffed a little an' wiped his nose an' one eye on the sleeve of his shirt. That boy Will hadn't been home in several years. He wasn't much for writin' either. Now an' again Uncle Billy an' Aunt Del would go over to Hap Collin's house an' call Will. They would talk for several minutes to Will an' have a quick "Hello, how are you?" from Helen.

Those conversations always ended with Aunt Del cryin' an' Uncle Billy just wishin' they hadn't bothered.

He started again, a little more quiet than before, "Father, how do you do it? We stray, don't talk to you in years an' You still love us. I just don't know, Lord. I just don't rightly know." He spoke softly as he brushed.

"Anyway, don't forget to help out the Collinses up on Little Creek. That youngin' of theirs has the asthma. This past winter was awful hard on her. I suspect the coal grate they heat with ain't doin' her much good a'tall. Bless our pastor an' his family. Keep him preachin' the word, Lord. He is young but is doin' fine."

He brushed for a while an' studied on things a bit more, "Well, Joe an' you too Lord. I have to get in. Del will have breakfast for me an' I don't want her a'fussin'. Not that she does. She puts up with a lot, I reckon."

As if on cue ol' Joe snorted an' Uncle Billy laughed, "I don't need any comments outta you, you sorry mule. I swear if that mule wasn't listenin', Lord."

The mule was led to his stall. Uncle Billy threw a scoop of corn into the feed box before he left. He remembered the pan of eggs an' picked them up as he left the barn to head for the cabin. When he opened the kitchen door the lights were out still. He held the door open as Ol' Dog came in.

He knew Del had been tired, she just had not bounced back as quick this last time she was sick. Though he weren't much of a cook, he knew he could fry some bacon an' eggs. They was left over biscuits in the icebox he could warm up an' though she would fuss, she would appreciate him lettin' her sleep.

He carefully measured scoops of JFG coffee as he threw them into the ol' pot. He poured in the right amount of water an' put the pot on to boil. Some folks thought boiled coffee was awful strong, but him an' Del liked it that way.

The cast iron skillets were in the oven. He carefully lifted one out an' shut the oven door right quiet like. He put the skillet on the gas stove, turned the burner on to heat the cast iron before addin' the bacon. Now, this was what ever'body called "country bacon". It still had a rind on one side. He liked to gnaw on that rind after the softer part of the bacon strip was gone. Aunt Del tol' him all that grease weren't good for him. He was 76 an' still goin' strong. He planned on bein' 'round for quite a few years.

The oven warmed up for the biscuits as he fried the bacon. When it was warm he put five biscuits in to warm. He still crept around the kitchen, not wantin' to wake his wife. He knew he should drain some of the bacon grease off, but he liked his eggs good an' greasy. He cracked six eggs into the pan after it cooled a bit. Three eggs came out before the yellow was cooked through. He didn't like a cooked through yolk.

Breakfast was on the table. He even made gravy. Nossir, it was not up to Del's standards, but it would do. It would do. He quickly fed Ol' Dog then headed for the bedroom.

He walked into the bedroom and called, "Del, you better get your sorry self out of that bed. I have done made breakfast. The day is half gone."

"Del? Del, darlin', y'all better wake up now." He stepped closer as he called her name, yet she didn't stir.

"Del? Dellie, are ye alright? Sweet darlin', wake up now."

Aunt Del Gilbert didn't stir, she didn't move as he stepped right next to their bed. This was the bed her Daddy had made them when they took up housekeepin'. Uncle Billy's eyes started to fill with tears.

"Oh Del. Can you hear me? Wake up now, Dellie, honey. Open your eyes an' let me know you are OK." he pleaded.

His pleading didn't change a thing. In his heart of hearts he knew. Though he begged her to answer, he knew she never would answer again. He stood for the longest time lookin' at the bed, at the still figure of his wife. He hadn't realized just how thin she had become. When he looked at her now he saw she was tiny under the quilts.

He took his bandana out of his back pocket an' wiped his eyes. The tears didn't stop as he sat on the side of the bed. He gently took her hand, noticin' that her weddin' band was loose on her finger. He smoothed her hair with his other hand. Though she was only a year younger than him and was 74, he still saw that auburn haired gal he loved, that he teased an' tormented as a school boy.

Her glasses, hair pins an' the tortoise shell combs she kept in her hair were laid carefully in a small china plate she kept on the nightstand. He closed his eyes an' could still see her taking the combs out of her hair, pullin' the hair pins one by one as she placed them on the plate. She carefully took off her glasses, folded them before placing them with the combs an' pins.

When he got in bed the night before, he had reached over as he had every night he was home for the last 58 years of their marriage an' kissed her gently on her lips.

" Good night, sweet Dellie." he had whispered, just as he had on their weddin' night.

"Good night, Billy Gilbert. I love you, husband." was her reply that first night an' ever' night since. Last night was the last time he would ever hear those words. Never again in this lifetime would he hear her confess her love.

He sat on the side of the bed for hours, just holdin' the hand of his childhood sweetheart. There had never been another. Never would be another for him.

When he finally stood up he saw Ol' Dog layin' across the threshold, guardin' his masters, watchin' with eyes that knew with a canine wisdom that death had come to visit.

Each mirror he covered with sheets as was the custom in the mountain. He opened the face of the clock an' stopped the pendulum. The clock would not be started again till after his darlin' was buried.

He sat down and quickly ate his breakfast, the only meal he would have that day. Neighbors would try to get him to eat, but he had too much to do. He redded up the dishes an' washed them. No one was comin' into Del's kitchen to see a mess. It weren't goin' to be that way.

He got a pencil an' paper an' started makin' a list of what he needed to do. First thing was to go over to Hap's house an' call Will. Then over to the church to tell the preacher an' his wife. Hazel, the preacher's wife would arrange for women of the church to come an' wash Del's body an' dress her.

He went to the chiffarobe an' selected Aunt Del's best dress. He laid out a slip, stockin's an' shoes too so the church women wouldn't have to dig through his wife's things. He thought for a moment an' got Del's pillbox hat too. She would want to wear that hat even though it was more common for her to wear a bonnet around the farm an' even to town.

He looked again at his beloved, made sure her eyes were closed an' her hair smoothed. "Come on, Ol' Dog. I'm gonna need you to guard the door till the womenfolks get here."

He put the list he had made in his pocket, thought for a moment an' realized he needed to stop an' see Big Bill about diggin' a grave for Del. With another quick note added, the list went into his shirt pocket. He walked to the truck, got in an' just sat for so very long, lookin' at the little cabin they had called home.

It all changed this mornin'. The whole world changed was all he thought, over an' over as he started his truck, put it into gear an' backed up.

Stormy Mornin' Chores

Uncle Billy Gilbert woke up earlier than usual but just laid in bed for a good while. His ol' bones ached this mornin' an' he knew just what it meant. He wanted to roll over an' get a bit more sleep, but it was goin' to be an early mornin'. He could doze in his chair later in the day, there'd sure be time later. His ol' bones told him so.

He sat on the side of the bed an' reached for his sock, slipped them on an' rose to put on his dungarees an' work shirt that hung on the ancient ladder back chair sittin' by the bed. He moved slow, not wantin' to wake Aunt Del. He stopped to hear her slow, steady breathin' and knew she still slept on. No sense in them both wakin' this early. Arthur would keep plenty of company, "good ol' Arthur-itis" he chuckled to himself. "You sure did wake me early. You an' that storm movin' across the ridges yonder." he thought.

Even as he dressed he could see flashes of lightnin' high on the mountain in the distance. He was hopin' to get the milkin' done before the thunder got too bad. His ol' milk cow Sue got cranky durin' storms an might either kick him or the bucket over. 'Course, folks used to say a cow's milk would sour if a feller milked durin' a storm. Uncle Billy didn't take no truck to them ol' wive's tales.

Uncle Billy eased toward the back door real quiet like. Aunt Del made him keep his work boots by the back door. His son Will had bought him some real fine leather slippers to wear indoors, but he was content with just his monkey socks if he couldn't wear his boots. The leather slippes sat under the bed, side by side. If Will ever came to visit he would slip them on an' brag on them heartily an' then slide them back under the bed when Will left.

"Billy, Billy are you up already" Del asked softly. Though no one else was in the ol' cabin she still whispered in the early mornin'.

"Yes, Darlin'. Storms a'comin'. I need to get ol' Sue milked." he answered.

"Get what eggs is our there too. That way I won't have to go out in the rain. You want me to start fixin' breakfast early?"

"Nah." he said, "Stay right there in that bed for a while. I'll milk an gather the eggs. Them hens won't be out in the yard this mornin' either. I'll feed them in the hen house. I reckon their layin' might be off if'n it storms hard."

"Yes, I'd imagine so. You sure you don't want me to cook you some breakfast now?"

"Lands no, Sweet Darlin'. I'd get my belly full an' never get the milkin' done. You jest lay there an' get a little shut eye. I'm thinkin' I'll brush ol' Joe this mornin'. He'll be wantin' out an' I don't want him a'boltin' when it commences to thunderin'."

"Alright, Billy. Maybe just for a few more minutes. I wouldn't mind dozin' a bit longer." She said as she laid back onto her feather pillow. "Don't let that dang mule kick you, you hear me?"

"Yes mam." he chuckled. Joe was a little ornery an' didn't like thunder one bit. He kicked through his stall more than once durin' storms.

Uncle Billy worried about Aunt Del right smart these days. She was awful frail an' just didn't bounce back when she was sick. "I'll be back in later. I expect I'll bring the milk in in a bit an' then back to feed the chickens an' brush Joe."

He sat down to put his boots on an' tie them up tight.  He called Ol' Dog who was layin' by Uncle Billy's easy chair. Ol' Dog had been watchin' an' waitin' for that call. His ol' tail started thumpin' the floor an' he stood up an' bounced over to the door. Ol' Dog would get breakfast when Uncle Billy did. While Uncle Billy milked an' saw to his other chores,

Ol' Dog would make his rounds, inspectin' the farm for any sign of foxes, coons or possums. If he sniffed up trouble he might disappear for most of the mornin', wanderin' back when he finally gave up his hunt.

When the door opened Ol' Dog ran out to the barn, Uncle Billy followed a good but slower, milk bucket in hand. Sue heard him as he headed for the barn an' let out a low beller, lettin' him know she had been waitin' what must seem like forever to a milk cow.

"Hold on Sue. I'm a'comin'. I'm a'comin'. He grinned as he walked into the barn, opened her stall an' let her out to the center of the barn. She walked over too the manger on the side wall an' waited as he filled it with silage. She started eatin' slowly an' turned her head to watch as Uncle Billy picked up his milk stool an' positioned it an' the milk bucket. He had filled another bucket with water an' carefully washed Sue's udder before he started to milk. With practiced care he leaned his head onto Sue's side an' began to fill the bucket. Warm streams of creamy milk squirted into the bucket. The smell of the barn, warm milk an' ol' Sue warmed his heart.

Sue was part Jersey an' had lots of cream in her milk. Aunt Del made butter several times a week an' had Uncle Billy take her around to sell her butter up an' down several hollers. She would churn it an' then mold it in one of her butter molds. Hard to believe but some folks didn't milk anymore an' even bought that nasty white margarine that had to be squished around with the yellow colorin' to get it to even look like butter. Give him real butter any day.

He took the bucket of milk inside an' sat it on the side table. Del was still sleepin' as he went back out, closin' the door quietly. He filled a pan with cracked corn which he scattered on the ground in the hen house. The hens were waitin' for him as he stepped in. He gathered the eggs, placin' each in the empty pan. He sat the pan an' eggs on a table an grabbed his curry comb as he walked over to Joe's stall.

He stopped to pull off part of a bale of hay that he put in the other manger on the wall opposite from Sue who was still slowly eatin' her silage. He opened Joe's stall an' Joe walked out an' over to his manger to begin eatin' his hay. Uncle Billy slipped his hand through the curry comb and patted Joe on the side.

As he an' the mule stood side by side, Uncle Billy saw the thunderhead movin' toward his place, pushin' up the holler pretty fast now. The sky lit up several times an' the thunder rolled an' echoed up an' down the holler. Rain hit the tim roof all at once. Man an' mule had turned their heads to see the lightnin' an' see the rain head toward them. Joe finally turned back to his feed an Uncle Billy turned to his task.

"Mornin' Joe. You doin' OK this mornin'?" he asked. Joe's ears perked up but the ol' roan mule just kept on a'eatin'. Uncle Billy Gilbert grinned, started brushin' his mule an' commenced his mornin' prayers...

"Mornin' to you too, Lord. This here is Billy Gilbert. I've got a few folks on my mind this mornin'. Thought I might lift 'em up to y'all an ask for a couple blessin's for 'em."

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Ghosts an' Spooks an' Haint's

Now youngin's, did I ever tell you about the things in the barn?
Them things that linger in the shadows an' corners all through the day,
Just waitin' till dusky dusk an' deep dark night to slink an' slither out.

Them things what have spider web-y fingers to caress your face an' neck with bad intentions. They are sure enough in there, waitin' for ye.

'Course y'all might just hear the haints what clank an' moan. No, not the wind whisperin' an' whistlin' through the cracks in them ol' boards.

That is sure what they want you to think, but it ain't that a'tall.
They is ghosts an' spooks an' haints, y'all, ghosts an' spooks an' haints.

They creep an' crawl about, dancin' in the dusky spaces, knockin' an' cryin',
Maybe even callin' your name, real whispery like.
Don't go, don't listen, just sit real still an' wait.

Mornin' always comes, they always hide
Always sneak into some corner, some hidey hole.
They are plumb afraid of the mornin', afraid of the light

But they are there, sure enough.

They want you to think they are done gone,
They is ghosts an' spooks an' haints, y'all, ghosts an' spooks an' haints.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Hens, eggs and Uncle Buck

Much of the time when I post stories or poems they tend to be warm or even bittersweet. Today I have a story on my mind that is not so much of either. It is a story of childhood, of the harshness of nature and the love of a kind and gentle Uncle that had a terrible task.

When I was a boy I loved wanderin' around my Grandma and Grandpa Hollen's farm. The smokehouse was dark and full of mystery. It smelled of old corn meal, salted meats an' oiled tools. The barn was down a path, just a little further than the smokehouse, but off limits till I was a bit older. When  I was finally old enough to go there I would climb the steps of that log barn, look down the square openings to the mangers below where the two mules, Joe and Dick would eat hay. It was wonderful place to explore.

Between the smokehouse and log barn was my Grandpa's orchard. The trees were ancient, low and
gnarly an' the apples sometimes just as gnarly as the parent tree. They were, however, most wonderful to a little boy who could go out and pull one from a branch an' eat it right there on the spot. Grandma would patiently gather the apples, peel and slice and make fried apples, canned apples, apple sauce or maybe dry them and later make fried apple pies in her cast iron skillet.

The branches had been twisted and formed low so fruit was easy to harvest. I always thought Grandpa or maybe my Uncle Buck (his real name was Bert, but he was always Uncle Buck to me) shaped and nursed them trees in the ol' orchard to that shape just for us to play on. The trees grew together with age and for a little boy it was hard to tell where one tree ended and another began. It was a paradise made for little boys an' my brother and I played there sometimes for hours.

When the sun would start to set it became mysterious an' scary. There were secrets in the orchard too. Secrets I didn't know till I was a grown man. Secrets mostly forgotten by all but me an' one or two older relatives. Secrets not evil, but sad. That, however, is a story for another day.

Behind the smokehouse was the hen house. It was sort of a lean-to that was attached to the back of the smokehouse. Grandma would open the door, step in an' gather eggs in the folds of her apron. If I was there she would give me an egg or two to carefully carry inside an' place in the big bowl that all the eggs were placed in.

The chickens roamed the farm, only goin' into the hen house at night. Grandma fed them in the yard between the house an' the smokehouse each day. A big ol' tractor tire had been cut in half an' she would pour the dishwater into it. Them chickens would rush for that water to find tidbits of food that had fallen into the dishpan. A few hens an' the rooster would fly into the apple trees to roost. I loved to hear the big ol' red rooster startin' to wake up an' crowin' back in the orchard.

Most of the hens nested in the hen house. Now an' again one would start nestin' in the weeds an' it was my job to watch an' find their nests. Young hens would lay eggs in a nest in the weeds an' just leave it. Critters would often get the eggs an' sometimes folks had egg suckin' dogs that would rob ever' nest they could find. Occasionally an ol' hen would nest long enough for chicks to hatch an' out of the weeds a hen would stroll one day with little ol' yellow chicks right behind like some sort of parade.

When I found a nest with chicks I would tell Uncle Buck so he could get the nest an' take the hen to the hen house. Chicks didn't live long out wanderin' around in the weeds. Uncle Buck could put the hen an' chicks on one end so she couldn't get out while they grew up.

One summer day I was playin' at the end of the orchard, climbin' one of the low limbs an' playin' Tarzan. As I surveyed my domain I heard a quiet "peep" an' searched the grass below. I saw a nest an' an ol' hen an' realized I had missed her nest. I went to get Uncle Buck an' he followed me back to the nest.

He shoo shoo-ee'd the hen off an' started to pick up the eggs. He stopped an' knelt down for a closer look. I bent over to see what he was lookin at. The eggs were hatchin' an a couple chicks were strugglin', not yet out of their shells. Uncle Buck was right quiet like an' told me to go into the smokehouse an' get a basket for him.

I was sort of surprised but did as he asked. Normally he would just gather nest an' all in his hands, carry it to the hen house with the ol' hen cluckin' an worryin' right behind him.  This time he gathered the eggs an' chicks up one by one an' laid them in that basket. I asked him what he was doin' an' he said he had to do somethin'. Told me to go to the house.

Then he walked down the hill to the creek - named Little Creek an' headed toward Red Bird River. I followed him an' he kept sayin', "Stevie, go on back now. I don't want you to see this."

I followed him anyway an' when he got to the river he walked downstream a way an' knelt down. He sat the basket on the ground an' I realized he was gonna drown them chicks. I started cryin' an' ran to him, beggin' him not to drown them. I cried an' he took me in one arm, sat me on his knee an' showed me the basket.

When Uncle Buck got upset or mad he would stutter a little as he did now, "I di-didn't want you to s-see this, Stevie. Them flies have done blowed these eggs as the chicks would b-break a little hole. That damn hen left them too much an' the flies blowed them eggs."

I looked an' saw that the chicks were covered in fly larvae... maggots. Uncle Buck didn't want them to suffer an' be eat up alive. I stared an' cried. I asked him if I could pray for them an' he said yes. I don't remember my exact words but it was something like, "God, I am sad them chicks are hurt an' mad at them flies. I am sad Uncle Buck has to do what he has to do, so take care of these chicks an' help me an' Uncle Buck get over bein' sad an' cryin'. Amen"

Uncle Buck told me to go stand where Little Creek ran into Red Bird River. He walked further downstream an' knelt again. Carefully he laid each egg into the deep water. I sort of figured it was like a burial at sea an' told him so when he walked back to me.

He didn't say nothin' as we turned to walk back to the house. I reached up an' took his hand. He carried the basket in his other hand as we stepped from stone to stone in the creek. He held my hand the whole way an' helped me in the "slippy" places.

When we got to the little dirt road that led up to the house I pulled on his hand, "I reckon we had to do that, didn't we,Uncle Buck?"

"Yessir, we did, Stevie."

"I love you Uncle Buck."

Uncle Buck just grinned that bashful grin he had. My Daddy's family was never much for sayin' that mushy stuff. Instead he tucked that basket under his arm an' rubbed my ol' burr haircut real good. Uncle Buck was my favorite.

Many years later I sat by his bed as he breathed his last few breaths. I held his hand for a long time. I don't know that he was aware I was there, that I held his hand, but I did. I leaned over an' whispered to him, "I love you Uncle Buck.". As he was takin' those last few breaths tears rolled down his cheeks.

I'm told that happens a lot in those last few minutes, just a natural thing an' he probably didn't even know I was there. Didn't matter to me. I stood an' held his hand an' remembered all the times I spent with him. Memories of eatin' watermelon right in the rows of the garden, goin' swimmin' an' jumpin' off his arms as he threw me up an' into the river.

An' I remembered holdin' his hand as we walked home that terrible day. I don't remember ever sayin' that to him before that day. I don't know how many times in my life I told him that. Only thing I remember now are those two times

Those two summer days, the first time and last time I said, "I love you Uncle Buck".

Sunday, March 09, 2014

Big Dad Walker

Though the world has changed so much in the last 40 or 50 years, I can still remember the ol' fellers that would sit on the front porch over to Feltner's Store up on Spring Creek. They would arrive after chores were done an' just sit, talk an' whittle away with their Case knives. There is an art to whittlin' that most folks don't really understand. They weren't carvin' anything. They was just shavin' long curls of wood off the sticks they carried, just to have them curl off an' lay in great piles at their feet.

One of my favorites was ol' Big Dad Walker. Him an' Big Mom lived just up the road from the store an' he would walk down most afternoons to sit with the other fellers an' jaw for a while. I always had to laugh when folks mentioned Big Mom for she was about 5'2" and can't have weighed 100 pounds drippin' wet. Big Dad Walker was over 6' tall and a pretty big feller like his name said. Don't know why folks had to call his wife Big Mom.

I remember stoppin' by the store years ago. Big Dad  an' Henry Feltner were the only ones sittin' on the porch. Henry Feltner would come out an' sit with a cup of coffee when there was no customers. Henry was right quiet an' liked to listen to the others as they spun yarns. Both men greeted me as I climbed the steps an' they told me to not be in a hurry, to sit an' visit for a while.

Henry went back into the store to refill his coffee an' came back out with a paper cup of coffee for me just the way I liked it, two sugars an' enough cream to make the coffee all caramel lookin'. He told me Big Dad had been talkin' about the sheriff election an' that Gib Gilbert was about to be reelected again. Gib had been sheriff for as long as I could remember.

That was all the cue that Big Dad needed. Henry grinned an' winked at me real sly like as he sat back in his ol' ladder back chair. Big Dad peeled off one of the longest curls of pine off the stick he was whittlin' on, cleared his throat an' spoke up...

"Well sir, I heard some rumors an' goin's on about Gib Gilbert. Don't know as what you'll be wantin' to hear them, seein' as how y'all are kin an' all." he said as he looked over his glasses at me.

Big Dad knew that Gib an' I both went back to ol' Felix Gilbert who was my Great Great Great Grandpa. Gib was maybe my 5th cousin, maybe a 6th cousin.

I spoke quickly, not wantin' the story to get away, "Kin is kin, but politics is different, Big Dad. The voters want to know." Henry chuckled into his coffee cup, knowin' I was gettin' Big Dad primed, loaded an' ready to go.

"I know right smart," he said quiet like, "but I'll just tell y'all of one incident that happened when he was collectin' names on his petition to run. It is bound to make a feller stop an' think when they gets into the votin' booth.

Way I hear it, Gib Gilbert had been collectin' names on his petition of folks who would support his run. He started awful late, don't you know, just forgot to start the petitions, y'see, since he had been Sheriff so long.

When he realized he was almost a hundred names short on his petition the deadline was the very next day. Mrs. Gilbert told him she didn't think he had time to go round an' gather up that many names on the petitions. But ol' Gib is an inventive man, just like all the folks in your family. " Big Dad said with a sly smile.

That was true enough. My Great Grandpa had invented the paper airplane years before the Wright boys ever flew. They was cousins of ours, don't you know. They done stole his idea an' became famous, y'see.  Other kin invented them bobble heads they give away at the ball parks, the weed whacker an' even nicotine gum...'cept it was really just some country ham, sliced real thin like an' applied to the skin with a piece of duck tape,  smoked good an filled with nicotine after it hung for a year over Sophie Precious as she smoked 3 packs a day at the counter of her store, Precious Smoked Meats, but that is another story for another day.

Big Dad went on, "As I heard it, bein' inventive an' all, he loaded Mrs. Gilbert up in the truck, grabbed the clipboards with the petitions an' took off down the road. He stopped over to the graveyard by Booger Holler Holiness Church where your cousin, Hazel Nutt Budder is married to the preacher, Woodrow Budder.

They drove half way round the circular road through the graveyard an' stopped. Gib an' Mrs Gilbert got out an' Gib told her to start writin' the names on the stones on the petitions, usin' different ways to sign the names till they got the names they needed.

Now, Mrs. Gilbert knew better than to correct her man. After all, he was a politician an' he know how these things worked. Who was she to argue? They both went to work, signin' up the folks who was buried there.

After a while Mrs. Gilbert counted the names on the petition on her clipboard, went over an' counted the names on Gib's petition an said, 'Gib, we have done collected 131 names, more than you need to turn in your petitions. I reckon we can go on home now.'

Gib looked at her like she was some sort of Martian or Yankee or somethin'. 'What?' he said. 'Quit now? No mam.' Gib pointed to all the gravestones on the other side of the cemetery.

'See all them graves? Them folks have just as much right to vote as these other do! We are gonna work till we have ever' one of them registered.'

That is exactly what he said to her. That is the way I heard it told to me." Big Dad whispered to us with a crooked smile on his face.

Henry Feltner sat there for a minute or so studyin' on what Big Dad had said, shook his head, threw the cold coffee in his cup onto the ground an' went into the store.

I sat back an' laughed as Big Dad lowered his head, peeled off another long curl of pine an' grinned to himself, "Yessir, that is just the way it happened, least that was how I heard it an' all."

I can still see him there in my mind, gray hair pushed under his ol' beat up hat, long grizzled beard coverin' his chest an' much of the black tie he wore with his white shirt most days, black coat an' ol' work pants completed his wardrobe an' were always clean though well worn.

His smile an' them dark brown eyes were always full of orneriness an' stories. He always had a good word for folks, always was the first to laugh at himself an' the stories he told.

copyright 2014 Stephen  Hollen

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Mountain Survival Guide for Yankees Part 1

For much of my life I have not realized that those of us from the mountains or the south, especially those of us from Appalachia, have an unfair advantage over the city born and raised, the Yankee and now the northern retiree with a pension to spend that comes to our hills, buys property and seeks to live among us.

Not that we mind them coming to the hills. They often find opportunity to buy vegetables an' fruits from our farmer's markets, junk from our barns when we have yard sales an' those knick knacks we might make an' sell.

A good example would be fellers who take ol' tobaccer sticks an' clean them up, spray with a little polyurethane, drill a hole at one end an' tie a leather strap through. They then sell them to the unsuspectin' Yankee for $10 each. Them Yankee folks think they got a bargain an' the farmer is glad to get rid of one of the thousands of ol' sticks in their barn.

Note; the above was for the mountain folks an' should be disregarded by you Yankees with money to spend. Them walkin' sticks are one fine deal an' I can give you a better deal if you want to buy a couple.

So, for those folks who still have their trainin' wheels on when it comes to mountain livin', here are a few helpful hints to make your time in the hills better!

First of all, understand that we don't give directions like you do. Often our directions are based on landmarks, or more important for you to remember, former landmarks that might no longer exist but are remembered by those who have lived here for generations.

Example: "Y'all go down this here road for a couple miles till you come to where Ray Bob Wilson had his cow barn. It is gone now, y'see. Turn left at the next road an' go, oh, I don't know, maybe a mile or two till you come to the field where Jr Simpson keeps his big ol' Angus bull. Now, he don't always have that bull in that field, but when you get to that field you take a right, go up the hill yonder an' look for a barn with squirrel hides nailed on the side of the barn. That is where Homer Poovey lives. Y'aint goin' to Homer's, I know. Charlie Jenkins is who you asked about. He lives right across from Homer in the single wide trailer there with his wife an' three youngin's."

Second, though we have our own dialect an' you may have to listen real close, y'all will get it after a while. We talk R E A L slow so you can keep up... bless your hearts.

First rule of grammer:understand the "Multiplicity Rule" of mountain grammer. Words are often spliced together for ease of use. An example of the word/words you might encounter?

TH'AIN'T. Words spliced? "They Ain't" How used? "Thain't no way I am gonna drink no espresso. I want coffee, black an' high test!"

Second, y'all will often hear the polysyllabic pronunciation of monosyllabic words. That is just how we say things down here in the hills. A good example is the word or name "Bill". Say it to yourself an' then understand when we say the same word/name it is pronounced "BEE-UHL". Not every monosyllabic word can be pronounced polysyllabically. Don't try to understand it. It ain't fittin' for you to do so.

On another note, don't try to imitate us. All of us in the hills have heard some northerner come down to the hills an' think it is funny to make a show of sayin' "You-all" or "Whut" instead of "What". It is offensive and will just honk folks off. Y'all won't make neighbors that way.

Last of all, don't think that because mountain folks talk slow or say "ain't" an' "y'all" that we are slow or stupid. Great men an' women have come from the hills an' the south. Dialect has nothin' to do with intelligence.

Yes, you may know Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton (all rich, by the way), but you might not remember Alex Haley, Mother Jones, James Agee, Homer Hickam, Jennifer Garner, Colonel Harlan Sanders, The Judds, Napoleon Hill, Dr. Bill Blass or John F. Nash, Jr., just to name a few famous Appalachians. (go ahead, google them)

They represent authors, musicians, actors, historians, engineers, a "rocket scientist" as well as other scientists, labor activists and businessmen/women. All of them might be called "hillbillies".

We are a proud folk with deep roots in them hills.

Oh, an' by the way... don't call us Lil Abner, Jethro, Daisy May or Daisy Duke. We all have lots of cousins an' know where y'all live. lol

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Walkin' the Antenna Wire

Lige Wilson sat in a chair under a maple tree in the front yard of his grandson's home an' watched as the feller from the satellite company placed a dish on a post he had secured next to the house. When he heard that Matt was getting satellite he asked if he could drive over from Teges Creek to watch. Though he had heard about them dish things, he had to see for himself.

Television had not done well in the mountains. For some reason radio and television waves just didn't cooperate and bounce down into the hollers like they should. Seems they travel in straight lines an' just flew over the tops of the hills. No one could ever explain to him how the radio waves did land in the bottom of the holler after dark.

The boy from the satellite company was Tommy White, grandson of Chester White who lived over to Teges Creek. He talked with Lige as he worked, explainin' what he was doin', how things worked and that there were satellites high up above the world shootin' signals down everywhere. Lige told Tommy he weren't too fond of the idea of them signals hittin' ever'thing. It just didn't seem fittin'.

"Now, Lige, the signals don't hurt a thing. They are harmless, light waves an' sound waves are all around us, even before TV" Tommy said as he finished up. There was a Mason jar full of sweet tea waitin' for him there in the shade an' this was his last install for the day. He eased over to the shade and had a seat by Lige.

"Didn't you and my Grandpa share a TV antenna line years ago? I heard y'all were the first to have TV back in the late 60s."

Lige smiled, took a swig from his own sweet tea, "Well yes, but that was way different from this here. We had to string antenna wire up the mountain an' then only got two channels an' they was sometimes so fuzzy a feller didn't know if he was a watchin' a basketball game or a soap opery. An' they was always problems with that antenna wire."

Tommy grinned. He suspected they was a story comin' on. "Problems?" he asked innocently.

As if on cue, Lige leaned back an' started in, "Oh lordy yes, all sorts of things happened to that dag-gone wire. Y'see me an' your Grandad agreed to split the cost to put it up the mountain an' split it at the bottom of the hill. We bought several hundred yards of the wire. It were actually two wires, not coated an' separated ever' few inches by a hard plastic piece so they didn't touch. We walked the mountain unrollin' that wire, securin' it to trees with staples, clearin' branches an' brush to make sure it didn't get broke.

It took all weekend to get it up the side of the mountain. We only paused for church Sunday mornin' an' my wife Betty an' your Grandma carried on somethin' terrible about us workin' on Sunday. We had to though, we didn't want to lose a day of real work on our farms to string that wire.

At the top of the mountain we found a tall lodge pole pine up there on the ridge. We carried a ladder up there an' cut all the branches off'n it. We mounted one of them big ol' aluminum TV antennas to the top of that tree with metal straps an' guy wires an' dozen's of screws so it would stay in a big wind.

Folks came from all over to see the TV's when we was done. We had TV night 'bout ever' Saturday night at our place or your Grandpa's place. We took turns, y'see. The women fixed cakes or pies an' coffee an' folks usually brought somethin' to share. If was loads of fun."

"Sounds like it was" Tommy said, "a lot different from today."

"Yessir, it was," Lige went on, "it was more of a get together. You should have seen your Grandma an' Betty carry on when the wrasslin' show was on. They wanted to get in that ring with them fellers.

Problem was critters would break the antenna wire an we would have to walk the wire, lookin' for breaks an' repair the wires where they was broke. Squirrels would run the wire, y'know. We always knew when they was runnin' the wire 'cause you could see a fuzzy shadow of a squirrel runnin' across the picture."

Tommy nodded in earnest as he was listenin', unaware the story had gone from fact to tall tale all at once.

"Tommy, I remember one time we was a'watchin' a UK basketball game when all of a sudden these tree like things appeared real fuzzy like on the bottom of the screen. The picture went to movin', jigglin' an' goin' all wobbly like. Ever' body hollered an' me an' Chester grabbed our tools an' started up the hill. As we climbed, Betty hollered up that the picture got better for a while then went to bobblin' an' wobblin' agin. Strange noises was a comin'' out the speakers" Lige said.

"What happened then?" Tommy asked.

"Well sir, we climbed the hill, followin' the wires, lookin' for a break. Then we saw it! The wires had been pulled loose half way up the mountain. Staples were ripped right out of the trees. We saw the antenna wire on the ground an' it was a movin'! A snakin' this way an' that.

We followed it as best we could, seein' as how it was a twistin' all over the hill. We heard terrible noises, roarin' an' growlin' an' snortin' an' carryin' on. We knew we was gettin' close, boy, so we kept on goin' in earnest."

"Then what? Then what" Tommy was leanin' forward in his chair.

Lige looked Tommy right in the eye, "Son, when we got to the ridge they was a mama bear chasin' a huge 12 point buck all over the top of that hill! We had never seed anythin' like that. Mama bear was a roarin' an' growlin' an' all wound up in that antenna wire. She was chasin' that buck aroun' an' tryin to get hold of it.

Tommy, that buck was all wrapped up in that wire too! They was both hurt pretty bad. Then we saw what all the commotion was about. A half grown cup was a hangin' from antenna wire stretched between the rack of that 12 point buck! Sure as I am sittin' here, that is what had the mama bear all riled up.

That young bear must have been crawlin' on our antenna wire when the buck came through, got its antlers caught up in the wire that was hangin' low from the bear's weight, pulled ever'thing loose as it tried to get away. The mama bear heard the youngin' carryin' on an' came to save her cub. Both got all wound up an' mortally hurt tryin' to escape, get to the cub or just get out of the mess.

Both the mama bear an' the 12 point buck died from their wounds. I raised up that cub an' it still comes round home to visit when it is in this neck of the woods." Lige paused, took a long pull on his sweet tea an' sat back.

"Oh, ho ho! What a story, that was great. You had me goin' there for a while." Tommy laughed so hard he almost fell out of his chair. "That was one of the best tall tales you ever told."

Lige looked serious, "That weren't a tall tale. Ask your Grandma. Better yet, they was 14 folks watchin' the game that day. They saw the whole thing play out in fuzzy shadow interference on the TV. They thought the UK game had been interrupted by some nature show. All over top of the UK game as they watched."

"Uh huh, Sure they did, Lige" Tommy chuckled.

"Tommy, let me ask you somethin'. You've been to our cabin. Y'ever notice that taxidermy deer mount on the wall? An' the bear skin rug hangin stretched next to it?" Lige asked.

"Yep, I sure have." Tommy still was laughin'.

"Have you seen all those stripes, bald streaks on that bear skin? An' how about all the wire wound around the antlers on that 12 point rack. Ever notice that?"

"Yes, but, but I figured that was just somethin' you had stuck up there. It weren't... it weren't?" Tommy felt a little confused. "You mean, they are? They are the real bear an' buck that was caught in that antenna wire?"

Lige just smiled, "Tell you what, Tommy, bring your Grandma over for dinner Sunday after church an' you can take a look for your own self an get the womenfolks to tell you the story."

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Mrs. Chappell's Wild Ride

Well sir, yesterday was full of excitement over to Booger Holler and at the home of my Cousin Peanut Chappell! I was not there, but heard all about it over to Buster Hollen's Barber Shop when I stopped in to get a trim.

Seems Cousin Peanut's Mama, Mrs. Chappell (we pronounce it MIZZ in the hills, of course) had determined to face the 8 inches of heavy snow and get out of the house to get some root vegetables an' gather the eggs from her hens over in the henhouse. Now that henhouse is actually a shed sort of thing built onto the side of the barn and there is a door from the barn into it. This makes it easy to go into the barn, get some corn and step in to feed and gather eggs.

She put on her husband Vergie's worn out ol' work boots that she often wore in muddy or icy weather. She thought they had better soles than her day to day shoes an' they came up over her ankles. She sort of figured they would keep the snow off her feet better. As she left the house she grabbed a big ol' dishpan so she could gather the eggs in it an' carry in some taters an' other root vegetables from the barn to make supper later that afternoon.

Goin' out weren't no problem. She was careful an' grabbed onto the clothesline post along the way to steady herself. The deep snow was covered by a sheet of ice an' her feet crunched through as she walked.

Once in the barn, she shelled some corn off the cob and put it into her apron as she held the bottom hem up to make a pouch for the corn. Steppin' into the henhouse caused a flurry of feathers an' cluckin' as the chickens gathered round her to peck at the corn as she tossed it to the ground. Though there was a small door for the chickens to get outside, they hadn't ventured out much in the snow an' it had almost closed up their exit.

She was right disappointed that they was only three hen eggs in the nestin' boxes. This cold an' snow had put the layin' hens off for the last few weeks. She gathered the eggs into her apron and went back into the barn.

After she carefully laid them eggs in the dishpan, she went to the back of the barn an lifted the angled door that led from the barn into the root cellar. Vergie had been right smart to build the barn with the henhouse an' the root cellar built on. She stepped down the two steps an' turned on the flashlight that hung from some balin' wire just inside the door. It gave her enough light to grab some taters, carrots an' turnips before she went back out an' into the barn.

That is when things went from normal to excitin'. She put them root vegetables in the dish pan, went out the barn door, turned to make sure it was latched an' turned back to start to the house. She noticed that it had started snowin' hard again when she turned an' took a step.

It was that turn that did her in, I reckon.

Y'see, Vergie had got himself a new pair of work boots a couple years back because the old ones was worn out and the sole was rubbed as slick as a slate rock from years of work an' wear. When Mrs. Chappell stepped out an' turned around she lost her feet out from under herself an' went down on her backside.

She let go of one side of that dishpan an' the eggs an' root vegetables flew out. When she put her hands down to catch herself the dishpan somehow got under her backside an' she landed in that dishpan on that icy snow.

That was just enough to start her skiddin' over the yard an' toward their ol' Ford truck. As she saw it comin' up fast, she laid back like one of them luge sled fellers goin' feet first. She went right under the truck an' out the other side but went to her left an' right into the dry branch that runs along the yard.

Once she hit that dry branch it was all down hill an' feet first. She commenced to squallin' an' carryin' on to beat the band. Vergie is a good bit hard of hearin' an' he thought it was just the snow an' wind comin' down the mountain an' through the holler. He sat back in his easy chair, closed his eyes to take a little ol' nap, smiled an' just listened, glad to be in on such a bad day. He couldn't wait for the hot beef an' vegetable soup Mrs. Chappell was goin' to make that evenin' for supper.

Well, things weren't goin' so good for his wife. She was a goin' down that dry branch like a locomotive, squallin' into the wind, the snow hittin' her in the face an' beginnin' to cover her all over. Folks paused all over the mountain, wonderin' what they heard. Most thought it was just the snow storm that had hit.

Then her foot caught on the branch of a cottonwood tree an' she commenced to spinnin' round an' round in that dish pan! The spinnin' made her squeals an' squalls sound like some sort of police (pronounced po-leese) or sheriff car or fire truck. Ever' one knew they was no fire trucks close by an' a few, includin' Dr. Percival Poovey (a purveyor of potent potables - he made 'shine an' sold snake oil on the circuit), was hopin' the sheriff weren't comin' after them an' made themselves scarce.

Just imagine that sight! Some critter comin' down the dry branch, all white an' snow covered, spinnin' like a top an' bustin' your ear drums with its carryin' on. It scared several youngin's who was sleddin' behind Booger Holler Hard Shell Baptist Church. They ran inside the church, found the preacher an' confessed they had stole some cigarettes an' had a smoke! They wanted right there to get themselves right in case that was judgement that had screamed down the mountain an' by them

Mrs.Chappell commenced to doin' some very unladylike cussin' an' carryin' on as she continued her wild ride, twirlin' like one of them there dervishes folks read about in the National Geogramic. Snow had completely covered her an' she almost looked like a purdy white weddin' cake or some store bought sweetnin' spinnin' on display in a big ol' picture window.

Finally the branch started to level off an' she dug the heel of one boot into the snow to slow her wild ride down an' stop the spinnin'. She hit a log across the branch, flew into the air, still hangin' onto the dishpan an' landed on the hood of her middle boy, Walter Nutt Chappell's (Folks call him WalNutt) vintage AMC Gremlin. Her face smashed up agin the windshield an' the wipers started to clean the snow an' ice off her face.

WalNutt had been startled as a huge snowball landed on his Gremlin. Y'all can just imagine how shocked he was when the wipers revealed the face of his little ol' Mama, all squishy agin the windshield.

She blinked a few times, grabbed an' held the wipers and stared fierce like only a Mama can. She pointed a finger at WalNutt an' spoke quiet like, "Get me off'n here an' get me home.

He lifted her off the Gremlin, shook her good an' hard to get all the snow off an sat her down. She didn't take too well to the shakin' an' slapped him hard.

"I said GIT me home, boy! An' never tell anyone about this." She said to him as she looked up into his frightened eyes. She threw her dishpan into the back seat, got in the AMC Gremlin and sat starin' straight forward.

He swore he wouldn't breathe a word of it to anyone. He drove her home, helped her in an' went out to the barn to gather the eggs an' root vegetables. He was plain ol' shocked that not one of them hen eggs was broke. He took them into the house, woke Vergie to say "Howdy" and was on his way.

WalNutt Chappell went directly to Buster Hollen's Barber Shop an' waited till he was in Buster's barber chair to say, "Fellers, do I have a story to tell you!"

I didn't hear it first round. I was over to Knuckle's Dollar Store when I was told I needed to stop in the Barber Shop to hear about Mrs. Chappell's Wild Ride!

I heard it there and now have told it to you just as it happened. I wouldn't lie to you 'bout it! That is just how it happened. I'd rather eat fried chicken than lie to friends.

Sunday, February 02, 2014

Stolen Heart

 My heart was stolen long ago
Not by a gal who winked an' smiled
Nor a beauty with angelic voice
It was not captured by feminine wiles
Or even kisses tender, soft
I cannot note a certain time
A point I knew it true
It was'nt love at the very first sight
Not second or even three
Wasn't smitten with much ado

My heart was taken away from me
In a quiet and subtle way
I did not know or realize it then
Just how my love had grown
How could I not have known

Then one day I just stopped and knew
Just had to look around
My heart was rooted deep you see
Sunk down, tied in, anchored deep
In the hills all around me

 In my dreams I wander there
Through oaks, magnolias, pines
I walk in hollers deep and old
Along a rugged ridge
Each footstep planned and sure
I trace the grain of chestnut wood
On planks of tobaccer barns
As if I touch my beloved's face
Or hold her tender hand
For I am smitten by this place
The mountains and this land.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Snow Drifted Dreams

From his window the old man sits close to the coal grate an' watches sleepily as snow curls an' drifts around the barn on the hill.

It finds crevices and crannies to sink into, forming swirls, whirls and spirals of glistenin' white as the wind lifts and throws snow like a youngin' explorin' their first snowfall.

As the lumps of coal crackle and pop his mind looks back an' peeps into windows of memory, to times when he was young an' full of himself. Times when he would lace up his boots, throw on a coat an' wander up to the barn to make sure doors were tight latches, mules were fed an' content. Times when he would throw kindlin' into that ol' barn stove, light 'er up an' create a small spot of warmth an' escape from his cabin.

Not that they was chores that had to be done right smack dab in the midst of a winter storm, you see. A feller just needs to get out of his little ol' cabin an' see the world, work his hands an' body now an' again.

When the stove was goin' good a few lumps of coal thrown in would burn for such a long time. Then the real chores could be looked to. His tobaccer had been stripped an' was sent to the big warehouses to be sold not too long after they opened the sales floors in late November. He kept a good eye on the leaves as they hung in the barn. When they came into case there was always a flurry of work as the leaves was graded an' tied into hands. His tobaccer base weren't so very big back then, but it made for a fair to middlin' income when he was a raisin' tobaccer.

On them long winter days a feller would sweep the dirt floor to get up the remnants of the tobaccer gradin'. Tobaccer knives would be sharpened, oiled an' hung back up. Tables an' benches checked for boards needin' replacin'.

One of his favorite chores was to repair an' oil his harnesses, lines an gear for his mules. Inch by inch he would pass the well oiled leather through his hands, lookin' for cracks or dry spots needin' oil. Them ol' mules would snort an' cough, wantin' to be put into harness an' sent out to work. They got just as tired of the weather but icy ground could mean a broke leg for an ol' mule, so they stayed put.

There were times when chores could wait. Times when mules was fed an' brushed down, stalls were shoveled out, dirt floors swept clean. Those times was the best, the finest. Those times he would put a chair close to the stove an' just sit, damp boots close to the heat an' steam risin' from them as they dried. Don't know why men sit an' stare at an ol' stove as it crackles,pops an burns. He always suspected they was a studyin' on somethin'. That is what he would do, just sit an' study on the deep things of life.

The ol' man grinned an' blinked. He sat in his cabin for ever so long lookin' into the embers of coal that wormed an twisted in the grate. Yep, he could an' should get his coat on an' wander up to that ol' barn. They was always chores to be done.

He leaned back into his chair, pointed his feet toward the coal grate and smiled. Them chores could wait for a while yet. This here fire felt pretty good too.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

A Cabin Waits

In my early morning dreams and sleepy drifting I wander down an old dirt road and just as I turn the bend I see an ol' cabin just waitin' for me. It is carefully placed at the head of a holler, sourwood trees full of bees just a buzzin' on hillsides that rise high above. Though it is day, there is a light in the window to let me know I am welcome an' the cabin waits for me.

I ease up onto the porch an' sit in one of the sturdy rockin' chairs, ancient an' well worn but made well, just as the cabin is. I look out on the road an' realize the view is perfect. The sound of cicadas catch my ear an' I sit back to listen as they hum a mountain tune.

Just over to the right of my vision I see a creek slappin' an' dancin' over rocks an' divin' deep in them calm spots. Water skippers skate along an little ol' minnows dart here an' yonder. As I watch my vision almost glazes over, like they are a hypnotizin' me. But they ain't, I see it just then, they are a spellin' my name, tellin' me I am home.