Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Just Around the Bend Part 3

Part Three
Chapter 1

When Joe Henry arrived back at Limestone Ridge Road, he drove to the lavender farm an' set the pots out to one side of the row where the destroyed lavender plants had been. Of course, there were many more plants in pots than had been planted in the row.

He wasn't sure about the distance needed between plants, so he left that for Vince. He did know the row weren't long enough, so he got the rototiller out. He tilled the area where the old plants had been an' slowly walked behind the tiller to break up the soil further back so Vince would not have to do so when he returned home for his next short visit.

He also stacked the broken an' dead plants in the compost heap. Seein' that it hadn't been turned in a while, he found the pitchfork Vince used an' turned the pile so it would continue to break down everything to make good compost. Ain't no sense in lettin' it rot from misuse.

When he drove back to his place, he saw Charlie an' Maggie in the big bee yard with another person, also wearin' a bee jacket but wearin' jeans an' no gloves. He paused in the road to watch for a bit an' suspected it was the state bee inspector for this district. Though the annual inspection had been completed early in the year, they was hopin' the inspector would have time to walk through their hives.

Beekeeping magazines had articles about a mite of some sort that was spreadin' through apiaries in Asia an' startin' to appear in Europe. Charlie read about the pest an' was wantin' to have the state inspector take a look before they buttoned up the hives for the winter, just to make sure the mite hadn't made it to Kentucky. There was no reports of the mite in the USA, but better to be safe.

As he sat in the truck the trio paused an' took off their veils to talk. Maggie saw Joe Henry an' waved. Charlie an' the bee inspector turned to see who Maggie was wavin' at. The bee inspector turned out to be a woman. She put her hand over her eyes to see. Charlie waved an' Joe Henry waved back.

He hadn't asked much about the state bee inspector. Though they spoke of "the inspector" a lot, they hadn't mentioned the inspector bein' a man or woman. From what Joe Henry could see from the short distance, she seemed a lot younger than he expected someone to be who was supposed to be an expert.

From what he could see, she wasn't unattractive. She was definitely taller than Maggie, tall, slim an' had brown hair. As he drove up the path to his place he grinned. When the sun hit her brown hair, it had them auburn highlights like he remembered his Mama havin' when she was out in the sun a lot.

He hadn't thought about his Mama in a right smart while. She was diagnosed with advanced breast cancer in the fall of his senior year of high school. The treatments for the cancer seemed like they was harder on her than the cancer was at times. He sat in his truck for a while as he thought of that final year of her life.

Joe Henry sat out of all the sports he loved that year. He didn't sing in the choir or participate in the extracurricular activities like most kids did that senior year. He didn't go on the trip to Washington, DC with the senior class.

His Mama held on, wantin' to see her only son graduate. She lost that beautiful head of hair with the auburn highlights. Though his Daddy, Henry Kay took her to a wig shop up to Cincinnati, she didn't like them wigs or the way they itched her head when she tried them on. Instead, she wore silk scarves on her head to cover her baldness. Friends an' family gifted her with many scarves an' even in her illness she was a fashion plate as she wore the scarves proudly.

She sat in a wheelchair, weak an' dyin' when Joe Henry walked across the stage to receive his diploma. She had fussed about his honors sash. Told him to make sure to wear it so it was even on both sides.

Afterwards she had Joe Henry an' Henry Kay help her to stand for photos. She said she was not goin' to be in pictures sittin' in a wheelchair at her son's graduation. Joe Henry kept that picture in a frame in his bedroom.

His Mama died in June. He an' his Daddy were on either side of her bed, holdin' her hand as she turned from one to the other, whispered "love" an' slipped away.

He wiped his eyes, got out of the truck an' grabbed his bag. Truman had seen him pull in an' came runnin' through the trees an' from the cabin store. That pup was all over Joe Henry, so glad to see him, coverin' his face with sloppy kisses.

Joe Henry walked through the trees to the cabin store to thank Lois Jones for watchin' Truman again. She was glad to see him, hugged his neck an' asked about the trip. There were no customers in the shop at the moment, so they sat to visit an' catch up on things. She had a big thermos of iced lavender lemonade that she shared as they talked.

"Joe Henry, I know there is a lot on your plate right now, but later in the year the honey sales will slow down. The bee hives will be closed up for the winter an' I suspect there won't be much for you to do. Bess said you might not mind helpin' me out on the Christmas tree farm late fall an' when we are openin' the fields up for folks to cut trees." Lois suggested.

"Wow, I think that could be a lot of fun. Plus, I weren't sure what I'd have to do after we finish with the bees for the season. I'd be happy to do it." He said with a big grin.

"Christmas is one of my favorite times of year. I was just thinkin' about my Mama. She loved Christmas. Daddy would always make sure we had a live tree for her to decorate. I even have a box with her old ornaments. I'll have to get a tree an' decorate it, even though it will be just for me." he added.

After a bit several customers stopped in. Lois an' Joe Henry each took the opportunity to help them as they shopped. Joe Henry watched Lois with amazement. She was a natural salesperson. She suggested, complimented folks on their choice, showed the customers other items to compliment their choices. Never once did she push or try to sell things the customer didn't want.

A few days later Vince was home for two nights. Mist told him to "Get his tail home an' check on things". He hated to leave her side, but there was still much to do. He was thrilled when he saw the pots of lavender plants. With Joe Henry's help the plants were in the ground, tagged for identification an' watered.

He found a binder to start a new record for that row of plants. He made notes an' took photos with his instant camera. Joe Henry shared about the trip. He told Vince about the Blue Sky Lavender Farm, the gracious folks he met. Vince was blown away when he understood how big the place was.

Joe Henry mentioned April in passin'. Told how the owner's daughter took him on a tour of the place. Said she was as enthusiastic as Vince about them lavender plants. He mentioned she was blonde an' had beautiful blue eyes.

Vince grinned as he watched Joe Henry talk. He didn't say anything, just grinned. When asked about Mist he just shook his head, got a little teary an' told Joe Henry she was holdin' her own.

"That's about it. She's holdin' her own. The baby is doin' good. Mist is OK, but ain't gainin' much strength. She is about the strongest woman ever." he told Joe Henry.

Back in the summer, Charlie an' Joe Henry cleared out a place in the big wagon shed for Joe Henry to make brooms an' walkin' sticks. Charlie remembered a shave horse was stored in one of the sheds. They dug around till they found it. After washin' it good to get the years of dirt off, they put it in place.

They made racks for sticks. Sticks have to dry for at least six months before they could be used. Charlie an' Joe Henry often walked the woods, lookin' for sassafras saplin's for walkin' sticks an' broom handles. Now an' again they would come across a saplin' of some sort that was twisted from honeysuckle that wrapped around it.

In their search through the barns an' sheds they found the ol' buggy that once belonged to his Great Grandfather, Samuel Carpenter. With a little work, some elbow grease an' a can of black paint they had the buggy in good enough shape to use.

They sat together on Joe Henry's porch in the evenin's along with Maggie. As they sat an' visited the men worked the bridles, saddles an' harnesses for the mules, cleanin' an' workin' the leather with saddle soap. When the leather was cleaned they carefully rubbed each inch with oil to keep the leather supple.

The buggy was pulled with only one horse or mule. For the next week they would take one mule then the other, place it in the harness an' ride up an' down the road. Maggie an' Lois would take turns ridin' along. It was a lovely, slow an' easy way to enjoy the leaves as they turned from summer green to the brilliant reds, yellows an' oranges of fall.

At Lois' suggestion Charlie made a sign that said, "buggy rides". The sign was placed in front of the cabin store. On Saturdays they offered buggy rides to folks. Joe Henry an' Charlie took turns at the reins. It tunred out to be pretty popular.

One Saturday late in October, the cabin store was busy. Lois had walked the hills an' gathered bittersweet, made small bundles wrapped with different colored twine. She also collected grape vines that she made into wreaths. Joe Henry's brooms an' walkin' sticks were hangin' beside Lois' wares with tables full of honey, balms an' lotions made with honey an' beeswax.

Joe Henry was back with the buggy after takin' a young couple for a ride. He was out of the buggy an' into the store visitin' with customers when Maggie called to him. She was standin' outside talkin' with a tall young woman when Joe Henry joined her.

"Joe Henry, this is Rachel McNew, our bee inspector friend. Rachel, this is our cousin Joe Henry Carpenter. He is livin' at the ol' Carpenter homestead an' has been helpin' out for Bess Asher, his Great Aunt."

Rachel was the same woman he saw in the bee yard when he stopped on the road. She was tall, slim with that dark brown hair an' auburn highlights that reminded Joe Henry so much of his Mama. She had hazel eyes an' just a few freckles across her nose an' cheeks.

When she shook his hand she grinned. He noticed she had a dimple in her right cheek. She chuckled as they shook hands, tellin' him she was glad to finally meet him. He grinned like an' ol' possum, blushed a little for he knew exactly what Maggie was up to.

"Joe Henry, Rachel wants a ride in the buggy, if you don't mind. She came just to enjoy the fall color in the hills. I told her it would be much better in a slow buggy ride."

"That sounds like a great idea, Maggie, but it is Charlie's turn. I don't want to go out of turn." he said.

"Oh no, he can't take his turn. He said to tell you he had to go over to the house. Nature called, don't you know. I reckon you'll have to go out of turn so's we don't disappoint Rachel. You don't mind, do you?" Maggie asked innocently.

"No ma'am. I don't mind."

He turned to Rachel, the bee inspector. "Madam, your coach awaits."

Chaper 2

Joe Henry helped Rachel into the buggy. He went up to untie his mule an' climbed into the buggy beside Rachel McNew. His face still burned with embarrassment as he guided the mule onto the road an' in the direction leadin' to the lavender field, Christmas tree farm an' that would eventually lead out to Pebble Creek Road.

Both of them were a little uncomfortable at first. Neither said anything much, other than commentin' on the "nice day" an' "Leaves are awful pretty". The other would quickly agree an' silence would again descend like a shroud.

Finally Rachel spoke up, "I am so sorry Joe Henry. I had no idea what Maggie was doin. She asked me if I'd like a buggy ride. Charlie was standin' right there an' I figured he would take me on the ride."

"She did walk up to him an' talk real quiet like. Then he said he had to go to the house for a few minutes. Maggie said not to worry, there was someone else that could drive the buggy. Land sake, that woman is ornery."

Joe Henry laughed an' both relaxed a bit. He sat back against the back of the bench an' she did the same. They both were quiet again until Joe Henry started to chuckle. Rachel joined him an' they both broke out into a good laugh.

"Don't worry about anything. Family is family. I know them folks like the back of my hand. I reckon my family thinks they have taken me back in to raise again. They mean well. I love them two a lot. Between them an' my Great Aunt, well, they all mean a lot to me." he said with a grin.

"Your Aunt Bess? You mean Bess Asher, right?" she asked.

Yes ma'am. That is my Great Aunt. She is 'bout as ornery as Maggie. She is awful strong willed. Maybe even hard headed. Us Carpenters see that as a family trait." he chuckled.

"Oh my, tell me about it. I know your Aunt Bess well. She definitely is a strong woman. She has strong opinions but is one of the finest folks I know."

Their conversation became easier as they rode. Joe Henry stopped at the lavender farm to show Rachel the new lavender plants. She knew all about what happened to Vince an' Mist. Maggie filled her in just after it happened.

They both laughed when he showed her the bullet holes in the hives. Joe Henry recounted ol' Jimbo shootin' up the hives as the bees was attackin' him. He almost was cryin' as he laughed an' told her of Jimbo gettin' shot in the leg an' hollerin' that they was snipers in the corn field an' it was a drug war.

Rachel laughed so hard she had to lean on one of the hives for support. They both laughed as they walked back to the buggy. They rode on past the Christmas tree farm an' talked about Lois findin' Mist.

Their conversation became quiet an' serious as they talked about Mist tryin' to keep her baby an' her declinin' condition due to the leukemia. Both said they were prayin' daily for Mist, Vince an' the baby within.

A while after they passed the Christmas tree farm they approached the ol', original Carpenter farm, cabin an' bee yard. Rachel asked if they could stop for a few minutes. She wanted to check on the hives.

Joe Henry agreed an' they stopped close to the ol' cabin. Joe Henry tied the mule to a tree an' they walked into the bee yard. Rachel said she wanted to check to see if the bees were bringin' in enough fall honey to do them over the winter. Things had been lookin' good in most of the yards, but she hadn't checked this one with Maggie an' Charlie.

Joe Henry was familiar with the routine. They each would walk beside a hive an' use their hip to gently lean the hive to see how heavy it was. Bees needed about sixty pounds of honey to survive the winter. By gently liftin' the hive, holdin' on to the top an' leanin' it with their hip, they could tell if the hive felt light or seemed to be OK.

There were bricks on top of most of the hives. When one of them found a hive that seemed to be a bit too light, they would stand the brick up on one end. The bricks were a common way to provide reminders about the hives. A brick on end meant there was an issue. Flat like it was supposed to be meant all was well. On one side usually meant to check again.

Joe Henry remembered there were thirty eight hives there this year. Rachel mentioned that they had a pretty successful year in this yard. They had raised a good number of queens, done a split in most of the hives an' had purchased an' introduced seven queens. All seven of the hives were in excellent shape an' the queens had been layin' like crazy.

Joe Henry mentioned he hadn't been in the cabin, barns an' buildin's. Rachel grinned an' told him she was gonna show him a secret. They walked around the cabin to a covered well.

"The well has some of the best water you'll ever taste. Let's draw up a bucket an' we can get a drink. We keep the bucket covered so nothin' gets in it."

She took the cover off the well, uncovered the bucket an' Joe Henry dropped the bucket into the well, usin' the crank to lower it down into the depths of the well. When he heard it hit the water an' make a big "glug" he cranked it up. Up in the little roof of the well there was an ol' Army surplus ammo case. Rachel took the ammo case down, opened it to reveal several tin cups an' a couple pint Mason jars.

At Rachel's suggestion they each took a Mason jar an' dipped into the bucket. Joe Henry took a sip an' had to agree the water was so good, cool, refreshin' an' a nice pause as they chatted.

Rachel winked an' reached up into the little roof to feel around an' take down a small ring of keys. Joe Henry laughed when he saw the ring of keys.

"That is another family trait. I think every Carpenter is required to have a ring of keys. At least one or two that no one knows anything about." he said with a smile.

"That is absolutely the truth. We are pretty distant kin, you know. My family has the same trait. Probably from one of our common ancestors." she told him.

That comment made Joe Henry pause. "We're cousins,huh? Didn't know that. Good to know you, Cousin."

"Well, not very close cousins, actually. We share the same 4th Great Grandparents. That makes us fifth Cousins, I suppose." she explained. "Course, we each have 64 fourth Great Grandparents. Probably most folks in the hills have some common ancestors. We may even have other connections. We may be double or triple, maybe even quadruple cousins." she laughed.

Joe Henry told Rachel he had to ponder on that. He didn't know much at all about his family, ancestors or the family history. She nodded an' told him he ought to dig a little. She said he had much to be proud of.

With keys in hand, they went first into the ol' cabin. It was small but clean an well kept. There was a table an' several chairs inside. Rachel mentioned that when they had work to do here in cool weather Charlie would bring a small kerosene heater to warm the place up.

Behind the cabin was a little structure with a tin roof. Under the roof were seven bee gums. Bee gums are made from hollow logs taken from bee trees usually. Early settlers would find bee trees an' cut the bee colony out of the tree, cuttin' above an' below the colony in order to bring the bees back.The piece of hollow log would be covered with boards an' placed on a board or even a stump or rocks.

Rachel explained that those seven bee gums were some of the original bee gums an' held colonies that had existed in those bee gums since his family started keepin' bees several generations ago.

Joe Henry was thrilled an' excited that those bee gums still existed an' some of the original genetics from those first colonies was bein' preserved right before his eyes. Rachel told him that she helped Maggie, Charlie an' Bess breed an' share bees from those gums. They was many bee yards all over several states with that line of bees as the foundation of their apiaries.

She took Joe Henry to the large barn just behind the cabin. Inside were rows an' rows of honey boxes - "supers" as beekeepers call them. All were stacked on their side. There were several lights overhead an' were kept on here as well as in the other sheds an' barns that they stored supers when not in use.

Each super was on its side an' a small distance from the next. The distance an' constant light from windows as well as the lights overhead kept wax moths out without the use of chemicals.

Their conversations had become comfortable an' easy as they walked through the ol' buildin's an' barns. Joe Henry had a lot on his mind. Realizin' how long the Carpenter family had lived on this ridge, how long they had kept bees.

He also let the fact that this quite lovely woman was his cousin, sure his fifth Cousin, but a cousin. He reckoned that changed things some, for him at least.

When Joe Henry looked at his watch he stopped an' told her they better go back. She looked at her watch an' with wide eyes said they had been gone for over an hour. They laughed like a couple kids playin' hooky as they ran to the buggy.

Joe Henry an' Rachel talked all the way back to the cabin store. They chatted like ol' friends. Though he didn't hurry the mule along, he didn't pause to take in the scenery.

When they arrived in front of the store, Maggie, Charlie an' Lois were outside. Joe Henry noticed a piece of paper taped to the "Buggy Rides" sign statin' that they were lettin' the mule rest but would resume rides soon. His face burned red as he helped Rachel out of the buggy.

Rachel said her goodbyes to everyone. She had to get home to Corbin. She hugged Maggie an' Charlies necks, hugged Lois an' walked over to Joe Henry. He held out his hand but she laughed, shook her head an' hugged his neck as well.

The two women noticed that Rachel hugged Joe Henry just a little longer than she had hugged anyone else. They smiled an' Lois winked at Maggie. Charlie was already talkin' with some folks what wanted a buggy ride an' he probably wouldn't have noticed anyways.

Joe Henry was animated as he told about the stop at he lavender farm an' their exploration of the original cabin an' bee yard. Maggie filled in a few more details for him an' they talked about the seven bee gums.

Maggie asked, "So, what did you think of our bee inspector?"

"She is pretty neat. I had a great time as we explored. We found a few hives that probably need supplemental feedin'. We really had a good time.", he said as he remembered the day.

"Y'all had a good time? That's nice to hear." Maggie commented slyly.

"Maggie, don't get all wound up. She's my Cousin, don't you know."

"Joe Henry, she's your fifth Cousin. Half the folks within a hundred miles are probably your fifth cousins. Good grief boy."

He shook his head, "But she's my fifth Cousin."

Maggie looked over her glasses at him for a moment, "So?"

Chapter 3

As the leaves began to display their full glory, the little cabin shop was busier than ever. Joe Henry an' Charlie had developed ads to go into the papers in Hyden, Manchester an' even over to London, Kentucky. Between the fall colors an' Halloween comin', well it was all hands on deck, like they say.

Lois sold all her punkins pretty quick. Charlie talked to Bobby Clark on the phone an' Bobby showed up midweek with the whole bed of his truck plumb full of punkins. He even had the wooden sides an' back on an' them punkins was about two feet above the actual sides of the bed. Joe Henry had to get a step ladder so's they could unload.

Funny thing was, they thought the little cabin store would only be open on weekends. So many folks was comin' by they had to open the store from 11:00 to 5:00 weekdays, from 8:00 till 7:00 in the evenin' on Saturday. Even though none of them was fond of it, they even had to open from 1:00 till 5:00 on Sunday. Maggie an' Lois both said they weren't skippin' Church to sell on Sunday.

One of the things Charlie Allen had asked Joe Henry to do when they opened the little cabin store was to take over the bookkeepin', not only for the store but for Carpenter's Bee Tree Apiary. He did his best, but things was gettin' to be too much for him. Though he did pretty well for years, he just weren't sure how to keep track of recordin' sales from the store, sales from honey wholesale, recordin' sales under the appropriate person when things were purchased at the store that was made by him an' Maggie, Vince, Lois or Joe Henry.

Charlie handed over the ledger he used for the last several years. Joe Henry laughed to see more than one circular stain from a coffee cup on the pages. Maggie kept receipts in a Rebecca Ruth Bourbon Ball Chocolate Candy box. All the receipts smelled like the bourbon ball candy what had been in the box.

Though Charlie's bookkeepin' was fine an' the receipts was laid in the box in order as purchases was made, Joe Henry realized some modernization was needed. He talked with Aunt Bess who showed up with a small electronic cash register. Joe Henry was able to assign numbers to the items they were sellin' both retail an wholesale. He also assigned a number to each "vendor" so's the cash register could spit out total sales for each of the folks an the farm by day, week , month or even year. It was somethin'.

'Course, he had to show ever'one how to use it. He was on hand for the first week to help figure stuff out an' troubleshoot, but Charlie, Maggie an' Lois all picked it up pretty quick.

Joe Henry spent evenin's doin' the bookkeepin' in the ledger still. He purchased folders for each month an' put them in his Grandpa's desk in calendar order. Aunt Bess was impressed as was Dudley Collins over to Berea. Dud Collins was the accountant Bess Asher used for the last ten years or so after her original accountant retired an' sold his business to Dud.

Even though Joe Henry kept the books for his Daddy's sportin' good store an' his college degree was in business, it took a while for him to get things in the order he wanted it to be in.

One of the issues that Charlie mentioned was inventory for the honey. For years most sales of honey was wholesale with a few sales roadside here an' there. Their method of inventory was a big chalkboard in the honey house.

The different sizes of bottles an' jars was written in white paint as well as types of honey, lavender, sourwood, comb honey, etc. Toward the bottom of the chalkboard the other products were listed, pollen in the different size jars, salves, lotions, tinctures an' such.

They would count whole cases an' multiply that by the number of bottles, jars, containers it held to get a count of full boxes. Partial boxes an' items that would set out were counted individually. As products were sold they would erase the existin' number an' write in a new number with chalk. It worked pretty well for years.

Problem was the change in retail sales. Charlie an' Maggie fretted that it weren't keepin' sales up right. Joe Henry suggested an inventory book/binder with a page or two for each item. The totals were in the binder an' as inventory was taken out of the honey house they would record what was removed on the appropriate page. Charlie an' Maggie thought it was great. When Joe Henry took inventory at the end of each month he would check the numbers for accuracy. Dud approved when he received the monthly an' quarterly reports from the farm.

Usually, once a month the stores that sold their honey an' products was contacted. Maggie made the calls an' took the orders. With her help, Joe Henry had three part order forms printed up that also served as invoices when the products were delivered.

Charlie an' Joe Henry took over most of the deliveries. They enjoyed travelin' from state to state to make the deliveries. The Carpenter's Bee Tree Farm truck was bigger than Joe Henry's an' Charlie's. When they had a big delivery they traveled in it. Joe Henry talked about buyin' a topper to use. With a topper they could deliver a whole lot more honey each trip.

They Charlie heard about one of them sixteen foot double axle enclosed trailers for sale. A local rock an' roll band broke up over some gal two of the fellers was crazy about. They fell out over her an' the whole band broke up, don't you know. Luckily the Farm's truck had the towin' capacity to pull the trailer.

The band sold the enclosed trailer to Carpenter's Bee Tree Farms. The service manager over to White's Chevrolet in Manchester had a side business an' not only repainted the trailer, coverin' the "Hillbilly Headbangers" name but also hand letterin' the farm's name, address an' even the phone number on both sides an' the back.

Bobby Clark, Aunt Bess, Lois, Maggie an' even Rachel McNew were on hand when Charlie an' Joe Henry were back with the new trailer.

They all had supper at Joe Henry's place. Maggie an' Aunt Bess had whipped up a big meal for everyone. They had city ham baked low an' slow in Coca Cola, whipped taters, milk gravy, green beans with two big ol' ham hocks in them, fresh chow chow made by Aunt Bess an' a huge pile of cat head biscuits. Maggie opened a jar of scuppernong jelly for everyone to put on the biscuits. Of course they was fresh churned butter an' plenty of honey on the table.

They all talked about the crowd they expected for the Halloween weekend which was only a few days away. Joe Henry had placed a special ad in the papers, Charlie had mowed part of the field so's folks could have plenty of parkin'. Bobby brought another load of punkins just for the Halloween weekend.

Maggie had seated Rachel next to Joe Henry's seat which was at the far end of the table. The two of them chatted like ol' friends. Rachel mentioned that she was an amateur photographer an' had a few lovely fall photos printed an' matted. She asked if she could put them in the store. All agreed it would be a great addition.

After Maggie an' Aunt Bess made a few hints an' remarks, Joe Henry blushed. They was Cousins, after all, as Joe Henry told everyone after Rachel left that evenin'. Maggie, Aunt Bess an' Lois all smiled an' nodded agreement. Charlie an' Bobby had already gone over to unload the punkins.

Maggie called most all of the stores to take orders that would be delivered just after Halloween. Charlie worked out a route that was a big loop takin' him an' Joe Henry down into Tennessee, over to North Carolina, up through Virginia, into the corner of West Virginia an' finally home through Kentucky.

With Bobby's help Joe Henry had built shelvin' an' removable partitions in the enclosed trailer. They determined the trailer could hold about 2,500 pounds of products an' planned routes accordingly.

As they were leavin', the mailman came by, stuffed the mail into the mailbox, waved an' drove on. Joe Henry walked to the mailbox to get the mail. He threw the mail on the seat between him an' Charlie as he got in. Charlie was lookin' at the pile of mail with a smile.

Joe Henry looked to see what Charlie was smilin' at. He saw an' envelope on top of the pile with a small red heart on the flap. He picked it up an' saw the return address was from April over to the Blue Sky Lavender Farm. His face was red as he put the letter in the side pocket of the door. He started up the truck an' they were on his way.

As they drove Charlie was singin' to himself,
"Blue skies
Smiling at me
Nothing but blue skies
Do I see..."

Joe Henry shook his head an' said, "Charlie, am I gonna have to put you out somewhere down the road an' make you walk home?"

Charlie just grinned.

Chapter 4

Joe Henry hadn't driven to Pebble Creek Road yet when he heard a noise in the back of the crew cab truck. Charlie was grinnin' when Joe Henry slowed down to listen again.

About that time Truman popped up from the floor of the back seat. He still had the coat over him that had hidden him as they started out. He stuck his head between the seats an' pushed an' climbed till he was in the front seat with Charlie an' Joe Henry.

"Truman, what are you doin' in here? Charlie, why is my pup in this truck?" Joe Henry groaned. "I'm gonna have to turn around now an' take him back."

"Nah, keep on goin'. He gets lonely sometimes, Joe Henry. That pup loves you. You know he follows you around the farm all day long. Me an' Maggie thought it would be right smart fun for Truman to come along. I've packed his food an' bowls." Charlie grinned.

"Charlie, we have two nights that we need to stay in a motel. What if they don't take dogs?"

Charlie sat back an' Truman got in his lap. "Don't worry about it. I talked with Bobby an' he went over my route an' figured out where to stop that does take dogs. It will be fine."

"Good grief. Sometimes I'm not sure who is plannin' my life." Joe Henry grinned as he reached over to pet his pup. "It will be good to have you along, Tru."

Charlie looked out the window as he spoke next, "We need to get onto the Daniel Boone Parkway as we head toward Manchester, Joe Henry."

"I wasn't goin' that way. Takes a bit longer to get to our first stop in Cumberland Gap, Tennessee if we go that way."

"Well, we have to go that way this time. We have to make a quick stop." Charlie said as he still was lookin' out the window, actin' sorta squirrely to Joe Henry.

"We need to make a stop in Manchester? Do we have a delivery to make there? I thought I did our delivery to Manchester a couple days ago when I went for groceries." he answered.

"Nah, we need to make a pick up."

"A pickup? What are we pickin' up, Charlie?" Joe Henry was beginnin' to get suspicious.

"Well, as Bobby Clark was helpin' me with the route an' motels to stop at, well he asked if he could go along. We have plenty of room. One of us can take turns sittin' in the back seat of this crew cab. Maybe even snooze a little. The other can ride shotgun an' keep the driver company. Why, now that I think of it, he can help unload an' even keep Truman company." Charlie added real innocent like.

"If that don't beat it. Y'all are somethin' else." Joe Henry chuckled.

"You don't mind, do you, Joe Henry?" Charlie asked carefully.

"Nah, it will actually be a lot of fun havin' him along."

Bobby was actually waitin' for them just off the Big Creek exit from the Parkway. He was parked at his brother's farm an' was standin' in front of a barn vistin' with his brother when they pulled up.

Charlie an' Joe Henry climbed out of the truck followed by Truman. Truman ran to Bobby an' had to nose around the front of the barn as the men all shook hands. Bobby introduced his brother Michael Lee to Joe Henry. Michael Lee was a big sort of older feller. Tall, portly an' had a full silver beard an' bushy head of silver hair. He definitely had a presence about him.

Charlie greeted Michael Lee with a hug as they shook hands. They were members of the same Lodge an' apparently saw each other often.

Bobby spoke up as soon as the "howdy's" were done.

"Joe Henry, I had an idea an' wanted to run it past you instead of talkin' to Bess. Y'all are doin' a right smart business this fall. Late November the Christmas tree farm will start havin' folks come to either buy a tree or cut their own. You mentioned the other day durin' the Halloween rush that you should consider buggy rides durin' that season an' keep the cabin store open." Bobby told Joe Henry.

"Yessir, I think we have one more big delivery yet this fall, but should have enough honey an' hive products for the store. Plus, we can always sell the other things we are puttin' in the store." Joe Henry nodded.

Michael Lee spoke up then, "Let me show you somethin' in my barn, Joe Henry."

He opened the barn door, reached for a light an' walked into the barn, followed by the others. In the middle of the barn was something covered by a canvas tarp. He pulled the cover off to reveal a sled with a front an' back seat.

"Me an' Bobby have been restorin' this sled for a right smart while. It is awful pretty but we don't have much to use it for. We was thinkin' you might want to have it. You could drive it back an' forth between the store an' Christmas tree farm durin' November an' December."

Joe Henry an' Charlie were both impressed. The Clark brothers had restored the sled, painted the body a beautiful red, cleaned up the brass an' chrome metalwork till it gleamed. Michael Lee's wife helped him reupholster the front an' back seats. It was a thing of beauty.

"Man, that is pretty. Great idea too... if it snows. But what if we don't have snow? I expect the road would ruin the runners." Joe Henry said thoughtfully.

Michael Lee grinned, "Oh, we have that all figured out. Watch this."

Michael Lee an' Bobby went over to one side of the barn an' came back with good sized wheels attached to bars. They had a small jack that lifted the sled as they bolted U bolts around the runners to attach the wheels. They then were able to push the sled easily with only one of them pushin'.

Bobby spoke up. "I know a man, Clyde Collins, over to Danville who has a couple horses. He's gettin' too old to mess with them, has some health issues. He'll give you them horses. I told him about you. He knew your Daddy, don't you know. Said he would be right proud to give them to you."

"He don't need the money, that's for sure. He's a widower, don't have no kids an' is a retired bank president. I've seen them horses many times an' they are in great shape, maybe six years old. He trained them to pull a hearse he restored for funerals, had a feller at the funeral home that drove the hearse. So they could easily pull this sled."

"What about Aunt Bess' mules? They could pull it too, couldn't they?" Joe Henry asked real innocently.

Bobby grinned real big, "Well sure, but mules ain't near as neat pullin' a sleigh at Christmas time. These are awful nice horses, Joe Henry. He said he'd even supply feed for you if you would take them. The barn has stalls enough. They've even been around Bess' mules an' they get along right good. Clyde don't want someone to get them who won't take care of them. He'll even help with their care an' pay for their vet an' farrier bills. I'll come help you with them if you'll take them."

"What about Aunt Bess? What will she say? An' besides that, I don't know a thing about takin' care of horses an' mules."

Charlie spoke up, "Joe Henry, it ain't a bad idea. I've had horses before, plowed with a team many a time. I'll sure be tickled to drive them horses an' help with them. An' that sled is awful pretty."

Actually, Joe Henry loved the sled an' had intended to use the mules to pull it if he bought it. The idea of a team of horses worried him a bit. Them along with the mules would be work. Him actually ownin' them horses sure tied him down a lot. He couldn't pull up an' leave easily.

"Almost like these mountains are doin' all they can to keep me here." he said to himself.

"Michael Lee, how much do you want for the sleigh?" he asked.

"How does three hundred dollars sound, Joe Henry? I'll even deliver it to Limestone Ridge road for you, son."

Joe Henry protested, sayin' that it weren't enough. Michael Lee said he was glad to sell it for that but they was a string attached. Joe Henry got out a check from his wallet. He didn't have too many bills an' actually had a nice nest egg in his bank account.

As he was writin' the check he asked, "So, what is the string attached, Michael Lee? Am I gettin' into trouble here? I work for my Aunt Bess Asher, you know. I don't want to overstep."

Michael Lee grinned a huge grin, "As y'all can see, I'm a big ol' feller with a big silvery head of hair an' beard. My ol' woman, Jane has made me a Santa suit. I have boots an' a big wide belt to go with it. I am gonna be Santa for the kids in the hospitals 'round here."

Charlie an' Joe Henry grinned like a couple kids as he spoke. Then Joe Henry spoke up again.

"So, do you need to borrow the sled to do that? I don't mind that a bit."

"Oh lordy no. I want to be Santa for y'all. I was talkin' to Rachel McNew when she was inspectin' my two hives. I told her about me gonna be Santa an' she said she could take photos at the hospital. I'll bet she could do the same for y'all. I could set up a chair in one corner of y'all's store. That would be a good reason for folks to take a sleigh ride from the Christmas tree farm to the store. What do you think?"

Joe Henry was thrilled, "I love it. I'll need to pass the idea by Aunt Bess an' make sure Maggie an' Lois are OK with it. Someone will have to call Rachel an' ask her."

Bobby spoke up, "Seems like you would be the right person to call Rachel, y'all bein' cousins an' all."

Bobby an' Charlie were both grinnin' big as Bobby said that. Joe Henry blushed.

"She is my Cousin, y'all. Come on now. That just ain't right. I'll call her when we get to a motel phone. I have my phone card with me." he said

The four men were all grinnin' an' talkin' all at once as they loaded Truman up an' said their goodbyes. They were already plottin' an' plannin. Charlie got in the back seat of the crew cab with Truman. Bobby joined Joe Henry in the front seat.

"OK, fellers, any more surprises or stops before we are on the road? Joe Henry asked as they pulled away.

Bobby smiled an' said, "Nope, let's head for Cumberland Gap. We can eat at Webb's Country Kitchen while we are there. I want some of their fried pork chops an' home fries."

Chapter 5

As the men made their way toward Cumberland Gap an' dinner time, they had quick stops an' deliveries to make along the way at two places in Corbin just as they got off I-75. Then once they got off the highway an' on 25E they stopped in Barbourville, Pineville an' finally Middlesboro, Kentucky to make deliveries.

As they were goin' into Tennessee, Joe Henry laughed an' mentioned to the others that he still remembered his Daddy an' Mama stoppin' at Cudjo's Cave several times as they would travel. Mama went on the tour just one time, but his Daddy took him through the cave four times altogether.

"Did the tour guide have you rub that knobby stalagmite along the way, sayin' it was Cudjo's head or some such thing? I remember me an' Maggie doin' the tour an' she weren't about to rub nobody's head what was all covered in limestone." Charlie laughed an' laughed.

"Yep, I rubbed it ever' time. Mama sorta rubbed it the time she went on the tour. One time Daddy took out his ol' red hankie an' gave ol' Cudjo a good shinin' with it. Said the ol' feller was lookin' sorta peaked." Joe Henry grinned.

Bobby chuckled an' added, "Yeah, I took the tour two times. Rubbed it both times. The tour guide told us that it was bad luck not to rub that head. He said we might get lost if we didn't. When he turned off the lights to show how dark it was in the cave, well, I accidentally bumped against an older gal what was in front of me. She screamed bloody murder till the guide turned the lights back on."

They all were still chucklin' an' talkin' about Cudjo's Cave an' the woman screamin' in the dark when they pulled off 25E an' down the road to Cumberland Gap, Tennessee. The town is sorta below the big ol' National Park an' the actual Cumberland Gap.

Joe Henry mentioned that Dr. Thomas Walker was the fifth Great Grandfather to one of his First Cousins. Dr. Walker named the Gap in 1750 when he an' a group of men explored the mountains an' all the way over past Barbourville. He was there nineteen years before ol' Dan'l Boone.

He pulled the truck an' enclosed trailer onto a side street an' parked. They wanted to be out of the road while they made a delivery an' ate dinner. It was a good place to park because they could go around the block to drive back out instead of tryin' to turn the truck an' trailer on the narrow streets of the little town.

They each grabbed a case of twelve one pound jars of Carpenter's Bee Tree Honey from the trailer an' with Truman walkin' beside Joe Henry, they made their delivery to a little gift shop a street over from Webb's.

As Charlie was introducin' Joe Henry to the shop owner an' makin' the delivery, Bobby walked on over to Webb's Country Kitchen. After they were done they headed back to the truck to roll down a couple windows an' put Truman in the truck while they ate dinner (noon time meal for city folks). Bobby met them an' told them he checked in with his friend Patty, the waitress at the restaurant. Patty checked with the owner Sue an' told Bobby to bring that pup on in.

Patty met them just inside the door of the restaurant. "I didn't get to hug your sorry ol' neck, Bobby. Come here an' hug me you rascal."

Bobby grinned an' blushed as red as Joe Henry often did, but he hugged Patty good an' even kissed her on the cheek. She told them Sue suggested they sit on the far side since they had Truman with them. As she seated them close to the front of the room, Joe Henry was lookin' over the little stage in the left corner of the room. It was set up with a microphone, several chairs an' several musical instruments.

"Honey, we have singin' an' playin' here ever' Friday an' Saturday night. Bobby comes down ever' so often an' sings one, picks his guitar if he brings it." Patty told Joe Henry. "Charlie there an' his wife comes down sometimes too. Have them bring you, darlin'."

Joe Henry shook his head as all three men ordered sweet tea. He obviously had been stuck in his own world too long. He didn't even realize that Charlie an' Maggie did anythin' but go to Church over to the local Baptist Church.

He told Truman to stop nosin' around an' lay under the table. Truman's tail was goin' hard as he crawled under the table, just knowin' a scrap or two would be fallin'. Joe Henry thanked Bobby for not only workin' to housebreak the pup, but also for workin' with him to train ol' Harry Truman when he would stop in.

Bobby ordered fried pork chops with home fries an' gravy over his pork chops. Joe Henry an' Charlie thought that sounded great an' they ordered the same. It were so good eatin' that none of the three said a word as they ate.

As they finished Joe Henry was lookin' at the little stage an' looked closely at the guitar sittin' in a stand. His eyes got big when he realized what was sittin' there on the stage.

"That's, that's a Martin guitar there. An' a Gibson mandolin. Just sittin' there." he stuttered.

Bobby swallowed a bite an' said, "Yessir, they belong to Johnny Lewis. He's sittin' over on the other side. Hey Johnny, hooo Johnny, come over here, brother. I want you to meet someone."

Johnny Lewis came over an' Bobby introduced him to Joe Henry. He already knew Charlie an' they shook hands as he asked Charlie how Maggie was. Charlie said she was fair to middlin' an' asked about Johnny's wife Mary. They talked for a bit before Johnny turned to Bobby.

"Reckon you could sing us one if you are done, Bobby? I've got another guitar in my car. We could play one or two if y'all ain't in a big hurry."

Charlie an' Joe Henry both said they were fine with hearin' a tune or so. Johnny went out an' came back with a guitar case. When he opened it up he had another beautiful Martin guitar. Bobby an' Johnny tuned the guitars an' started in on the song "Cumberland Gap"...

"Me and my wife and my wife's pap,
we're all going down to Cumberland Gap
Me and my wife and my wife's pap,
we're all going down to Cumberland Gap

Cumberland Gap, Cumberland Gap.
Hey! Way down yonder in Cumberland Gap."

After a few songs they started playin' an' harmonizin' on "Life's Railway to Heaven". As they started singin' Charlie got up an' walked over to them. He joined in, singin' in a high, pure tenor. Joe Henry grinned as he got up an went to stand by Charlie an' add his baritone. Johnny went to the lead an' Bobby dropped down to his deep an' clear bass voice...

"You will often find obstruction;
Look for storms of wind and rain;
On a fill, or curve, or trestle;
They will almost ditch your train;
Put your trust alone in Jesus;
Never falter, never fail;
Keep you hand upon the throttle;
And you eye upon the rail."

Johnny's eyes got big as they sang. He started grinnin' as he sang. Bobby, Charlie an' Joe Henry smiled an' sang on. They sang through the verses an' the chorus. Finally they got to the final chorus an' both men stopped playin' as they sang A cappella...

"Blessed Savior, Thou wilt guide us ,
Till we reach that blissful shore;
Where the Angels wait to join us;
In Thy praise forevermore."

They were so caught up in the song they didn't realize other folks had walked from the other room an' were standin' inside the doorway listenin'. Truman had crawled from under the table an' was sittin' right at Joe Henry's feet, ears lifted an' just as caught up as the folks were.

A young woman was standin' in the doorway an' spoke up, "Sure wish y'all knew some Peter, Paul an' Mary. Me an' Clark here just got married an' are on the way to our honeymoon over to Gatlinburg. We was wantin' them to play 'Wedding song, There is Love' by Paul Stookey but the band my folks hired didn't know it. They mostly played music Mama picked out."

Johnny smiled, "Young lady, I'll have you know me an' Bobby do know it. We ain't that old. Joe Henry, how about you an' Charlie?"

Charlie admitted he didn't know it, but Joe Henry did an' knew it well. As they discussed who would sing what part Joe Henry got brave an' asked if he could tune up the fiddle sittin' in the back of the stage an' play along. Johnny told him to "git on it, son". He quickly tuned the fiddle to the guitars an' the men had Clark an' the young woman, Dorothy come close. They did so an' held hands.

Joe Henry stood to the side of Bobby, just off the stage. He asked if he could start an' the other men looked at each other, surprised an' then both nodded to Joe Henry. He played a verse or so on the fiddle. Bobby an' Johnny were wide eyed. Charlie was grinnin' an' shook his head.

After a moment Joe Henry started singin' the first verse. Johnny joined him first, harmonizin' the tenor line. Bobby joined in singin' baritone in harmony with the other two.

They sang softly, all lookin' at the newlyweds as they sang...

"Well a man shall leave his mother
and a woman leave her home
They shall travel on to where
the two shall be as one
As it was in the beginning,
is now until the end
Woman draws her life from man
and gives it back again
And there is love
There is love."

The young couple was all teary eyed as was Patty an' a few others who was listenin'. They tried to give Joe Henry a ten dollar bill, but he told them no, said to spend it on their honeymoon.

Johnny shook Joe Henry's hand as they all put the instruments back in place. Bobby an' Charlie both slapped Johnny on the back. Patty was clearin' the table as they all sat back down for one last glass of sweet tea. Johnny joined them.

Johnny asked, "How long you been playin' fiddle, Joe Henry?"

Joe Henry hesitated, "Well, truth be told I ain't played in a right smart while. My Ex didn't care for what she called hippie music or hillbilly music. She told me I was too much a hillbilly for her when we got divorced. I'm suspectin' these days she was right, even though I wasn't born in the hills."

"You play awful good. You have lessons?" Johnny asked.

"Yessir, Daddy had me start in fourth grade takin' violin lessons. I can read music an' also play by ear. By the time I was in seventh or eighth grade I was listenin' an' playin' along to songs on the radio. That's when Daddy an' Mama decided to set me up with a friend from church who taught fiddle."

Joe Henry smiled a sad smile, "I played all the way through high school an' college. Played violin in the bands an' orchestra at school an' played fiddle with some of my buddies who loved country an' western music as well as bluegrass. We didn't have a real band, just played for parties an such."

Johnny asked him why he wasn't still playin' an' Joe Henry had to admit he sold his fiddle when he had to close down his Daddy's store. Sold about anything of any value to try to pay bills.

Joe Henry left money for his bill on the table an' went out to walk Truman as the others paid up an' visited for a bit longer. When he arrived back at Webb's the men were still inside an' in the side room. He joined them, had Truman lay at his feet.

Johnny looked at him for a long time, not sayin' anything. Joe Henry got a little uncomfortable. Finally Bobby nodded, Charlie grinned an' Johnny got up from his seat.

"Son, I knew your Daddy, even knew your Mama before she passed. You probably don't remember me, but I've seen you in years past. Back when all that was goin' on with your ex, you let someone else hog tie your soul. Seems like you have done untied the knots an' are gettin' your own self back. These boys tell me you are doin' pretty good these days."

Joe Henry smiled, not a sad smile. "You know, it took me a while to realize I tried to build a life on mistakes that started in the back seat of a car. I tried to do the right thing without havin' a good foundation, a real relationship. Forgive me for sayin' that, airin' my dirty laundry, but it feels good to say I am a work in progress."

Bobby laughed, "Boy, you ain't tellin' us nothin' we don't already know. Your Daddy sat right here with us more than once, lookin' for advice. Even Bess Asher came here an' sat, listenin' as folks played, talkin' with Henry Kay, talkin' with us about you."

Joe Henry got real red. He almost got angry, but quickly realized that, as his Aunt Bess an' his Daddy always said, "Family is family". All those folks had always known him, always loved him in spite of all that happened.

He was still a bit ashamed at all that happened, all his mistakes. He spent many nights, sittin' on the porch of that ol' family home place, workin' through things, talkin' to the Lord, askin' forgiveness of his God.

He spoke up, "You know, that is finally gettin' through my hard head. I can't believe how many stood in the gap for me, prayed for me, took care of me. How folks are still carin' for me."

Charlie smiled, "Cousin, you may not realize it, but we see you healin'. We see you carin' back. That is how we know you are doin' good these days."

Johnny pulled up a chair at the end of the table, "We talked while you were gone. We don't want you to hide your lamp under a basket. We figure you need to keep on bloomin."

He reached over to a chair on the other side of the table an' picked up a fiddle case. He opened it an' took out a beautiful hand made fiddle.

"This here is a fiddle made by Homer Ledford over to Winchester, Kentucky. He mostly makes dulcimers, is famous for his dulcimers. I've had it an' been workin' on sellin' it for a feller I know. Me, Bobby, Charlie, even Sue an' well, all the folks what is here in the restaurant passed the hat. We done paid for this fiddle an' want you to have it. You get to playin' again. You hear me?"

Joe Henry protested, but more than one person told him to stop it. Other folks had once again gathered in the doorway as Johnny had presented Joe Henry with the Homer Ledford fiddle.

Clark, Dorothy's new husband spoke up with a grin, "An' we threw that ten dollar bill you wouldn't take in the hat too! How'd you like them apples?"

Joe Henry had thankful tears in his eyes as just about ever'body in Webb's Country Kitchen hugged his neck. Charlie said they better be on their way. They said goodbye to all an' headed for the truck.

Charlie took the wheel, Bobby rode shotgun so Joe Henry could look over his new fiddle. Truman was glad to have his master sittin' in back an' after Joe Henry put the fiddle in the case the hound dog settled on Joe Henry's lap.

Not long after they were back on 25 E an' headed for a stop in Harrogate, Tennessee, Bobby asked if they might sing a tune or two. The others agreed an' along the way, between stops in Harrogate, Morristown an' over to Johnson City they harmonized an' sang.

While they were in Johnson City, Charlie called home to check on things. He took a small notebook out of his back pocket an' made a note or two. When he got in the truck he mentioned that they had an additional stop to make the next day an' had an' extra night on the road. They had about a dozen extra boxes of their artisan honeys along with them in the event of some extra sales. Neither of the other two minded a bit.

After Johnson City they headed for Ashville, North Carolina for the night. As they drove, Joe Henry remembered the letter with the little valentine on the back flap. He opened it an' read the letter with a smile. When he finished he looked up an' into the front seat.

"An extra stop, huh? Wouldn't happen to be in Hillsborough, North Carolina, would it? I understand some folks down there was wantin' to start orderin' honey from us." he said with a huge smile on his face.

Chapter 6

As they drove, the men planned their two deliveries in Ashville. One that evenin' an' one the next mornin'. The shop they would see in the mornin' opened at 8:30 an' they expected to be back on the road by 9:00. It was a four hour drive to Hillsborough, North Carolina an' the Blue Sky Lavender Farm.

Both Charlie an' Bobby ribbed Joe Henry a right smart while about the letter with that there little heart on the back flap. Ribbed him about how funny it was that all of a sudden them folks wanted to sell honey after him an' Bess Asher visited.

"I gar-un-tee it were because Bess Asher had such a winnin' personality that they want to sell honey. Ain't no other reason." Charlie surmised.

Bobby laughed hard an' added his two cents, "Yessir, ain't got a thing to do with no little ol' gal with strawberry blonde hair an' them laughin' blue eyes we all heard about. Not a bit about her. Pure business is all it is."

Joe Henry was blushin' an' slapped both men on the back of the head. "Y'all ain't right. Now, leave me alone."

Bobby asked about how business was for the weekend before an' week days leadin' up to Halloween on that Tuesday. Joe Henry an' Charlie both rattled on with excitement about how many folks came to the store. How much of all sorts of merchandise they sold. Joe Henry had to go back to the honey house to get more honey on Saturday.

Charlie spoke up, "I can't believe what a great year 1978 is gonna be. We have done better than ever with honey sales. An' the cabin store is goin' great guns. Them women are talkin' about keepin' it open on weekends through Christmas so's we can do buggy rides back an' forth from the Christmas tree farm."

Bobby laughed, "Just wait till they find out about the sleigh, Joe Henry's new horses an' ol' Santa bein' there."

"I already told her when we was on the phone. She whooped an' hollered. Lois was there havin' coffee with her an' she had Lois put her ear to the phone so's I could tell both of them. They was already jabberin' about where to put Santa's chair." Charlie beamed.

"Them gals. I'll tell you what, don't get in their way. Lois said she has three boys from over to Hyden that works for her. She is gonna have them clean up two stalls in your barn, Joe Henry. She don't want to wait till we are back home to get things ready for your horses." he said.

Bobby was thinkin' as Charlie spoke, "Y'all reckon you will have plenty of honey for the store an' the wholesale sales? I'd hate to think y'all might run out of honey an' lose business, retail or wholesale. Lots of folks come to the cabin store just for honey."

Joe Henry leaned up between the front seats an' spoke up, "Actually, I've got that covered. You don't know it, but I am a land baron an' one of them there entrepreneurs now. I ain't said much about it to anyone."

Bobby turned to look at Joe Henry, "Do what?"

"I don't know if you know ol' man Bob Breeden over to Stinnett. He has a place on Stinnett Gap Road. He's been a beekeeper for almost fifty years. Him an' his boy Jr. have been keepin' about twenty five hives. He even has a part of a barn by the bee yard that he made into a honey production room. Bob's in his late seventies an' his wife ain't doin' no good. Jr. is drivin' a truck long distance now." Joe Henry explained.

"I was over to the Henny Penny Restaurant in Manchester back in early September, havin' me some broasted chicken an' saw Bob. He asked if he could join me an' sat down an' had his dinner with me, asked how business was. I told him we was doin' awful good. He said what with his wife not doin' so good an' Jr. on the road he wasn't able to keep up with things in his bee yard."

Joe Henry smiled, "He asked me if we might want to buy his bee yard. Said he had buckets full of honey in his barn he never even bottled. Hadn't taken honey off the hives an' didn't know how good them bees was doin'. He even said the bee yard was on five acres what had been his Mama's home place. Said he could sell the land, barn an' all for one price. The ol' home place was gone though. Said there was a good well there, he had it hooked up to a pump an' it went to the barn. Had electric in the barn too. Told me the price of $10,000 for it all, land, barn, bee yard, even his equipment."

"So, did Bess buy it?" Bobby asked.

"Nope, I went an' talked to her about it. She said she weren't gonna buy it, said I was. Said it would rebuild my credit better than anything else. I gave Bob $1,000 earnest money. Aunt Bess came down an' we went to First National Bank over to Hyden an' Bobby Jenkins got me a loan with Aunt Bess as co-signer an' the bee yard an' all as collateral."

"We went over after Bob signed the deed an' all an’ worked the bees with Bob. I had the electric changed over to my name. Rachel McNew met us since them bees hadn't been inspected for years. Bob never even registered his hives. Didn't know he had to. Didn't know about an inspector even. They was a boatload of honey on them hives."

Charlie chimed in, "There was three hives with not enough honey to take off. Bob has ol' stock German Black Bee genetics that he has kept goin'. They are pretty rare these days. It is good to have that line of honey bees. Good for genetics. They are too far from our bee yards to get any of that line, so Rachel suggested we do some splits in the spring an' take some bees to our ol' original yard to add that line into some of ours."

Joe Henry added, "We took off maybe a thousand pounds of honey from those hives. The brood boxes were in good shape. Bob kept his hives up good. Bobby, when I asked him if he wanted to keep some of the honey, well he took me into a room in the barn I hadn't seen when we looked things over the first time. It was separate from the production room. I saw maybe twenty five gallon buckets in that room, all full of honey. That's sixty pounds per bucket Bobby. Maybe fifteen hundred pounds that has sat there."

"In that other room was even more buckets of honey, some from 1975 as well as 1977. That don't count what we took off them days. Bobby, there was over three thousand pounds of honey in that barn, all in buckets. Much of it had crystallized from just settin there. Bob Breeden had no way to sell much after Jr. started drivin' the trucks. Jr. was helpin' when he could, but just didn't have time. I felt awful bad, but Bob said he was glad to get them bees off his mind."

"What can yo do with buckets of honey that is crystallized, though?" Bobby wondered.

Charlie answered this one, "Aww, that's no problem. Honey always crystallizes. We have bucket warmer straps that go around the buckets an' slowly warm the honey. We've been puttin' buckets in our climate controlled room an' we made a bucket warmer out of an ol' chest freezer what was in the ol' barn by the cabin store. We have heat tapes on the bottom an' a couple light bulbs inside. We left it in the barn an' it can hold two buckets at a time. We don't want the honey to get over maybe 100 degrees as it warms up." When it is back to liquid we've been bottlin' it. Since Joe Henry owns it, it is now his honey."

"Is the honey still good?" Bobby asked.

"Oh my yes. Honey never goes bad. It is antiseptic, antibiotic, won't rot, spoil or mold. They've even found honey in them pyramids, heated it up an' ate it. An', a bonus, Joe Henry found about a dozen of the buckets marked sourwood honey." Charlie added.

Joe Henry leaned forward between the seats again, "I gave Bob Breeden another $1,000 after we saw how much honey they was. He didn't want to take it, said he didn't really need the money. I insisted. I've been savin' my money an' had it to give him. I think he appreciated my wantin' to give him more. Anyways, Maggie, Aunt Bess an' Charlie here insisted on markin' them bottles an' me splittin' the profit with the farm, since it was mine an' all. That is how we will do it from now on, me gettin' 50% an' the business gettin' 50% of the profit from that bee yard."

Bobby was pretty impressed at all this. He grinned an' said, "These here mountains are suckin' you in, ain't they? Gettin' a grip on you. Joe Henry, these mountains knew about you when you was born. They have whispered your name, claimin' you from childhood. They knew your Mama an' Daddy, your Grandparents an' Great Grandparents for generations. There is a strand that runs from them to us, never broken, son. Never broken. I'm glad for that strand that had run to you, pulled you home. These here mountains are home. I suspect you are figurin' that out."

Joe Henry absently rubbed Truman's ears as he thought an' pondered that statement for a long time, finally sayin', "Yeah, maybe I am home after all."

Chapter 7

Now, folks might say Joe Henry was a bit wound up about the visit to Blue Sky Lavender Farm. Though he was real excited, he was tryin' not to show it. Them other two knew it, though. The last thirty miles or so was just miserable for him.

Bobby an' Charlie ribbed an' kidded ever' single mile of the way. He was glad he was in the back seat so's he could slap their heads now an' again. Didn't do one bit of good though. They never let up that last few miles.

When they pulled up with the trailer right behind, they was met by the grunts of the biggest ol' pot belly pig any of them had ever seen in their whole lives. Mind you, they do get awful big. They don't stay cute an' little. Folks don't tend to stay cute an' little either, that's all I'm sayin.

As Bobby got out of the passenger seat that ol' pig ran toward him as fast as that pot belly would allow. It snorted, wheezed an' grunted. It stood there just darin' ol' Bobby to take another step. Charlie got out of the driver's seat real slow like, hopin' the pig wouldn't see him.

No luck though. It did see him an' ran to the front of the truck to stand guard so's neither of them men could move more than a foot or so from the safety of the truck. Joe Henry rolled down his window an' called out to them to be careful.

"Careful fellers. That looks like a man eatin' pig. I'll bet there are eight or nine inch tushes in that pig's mouth. It'll rip your legs open an' then eat your innards. Don't be climbin' up on this truck either. You think that pig has a mean streak? You don't want to see Bess Asher if she found out you dented the hood or top of this truck. I'll promise y'all that one."

'Bout that time here comes April with a broom in her hands. She starts hollerin' at that pig...

"Bart, Bart, what in the world are you doin' out here? Git pig, git back to your pen. Git now, git. don't mind him gentlemen. He was dropped off by some city folks what didn't know how big them pigs get. We found him wanderin' around the farm a couple weeks ago. Git pig, git." she hollered.

Joe Henry laid on the seat an' was howlin' with laughter as that pot belly pig took one more look, gave one more grunt an' turned an' ran from that little ol' gal April.

As April chased the pig back to a pen, maybe one hundred yards away, her brother in law Rick came out of a barn. He was wipin' his hands on a big red rag as he walked up to the truck. Joe Henry had already climbed out of the truck, followed by Truman who was the first to greet Rick.

Rick rubbed Truman behind the ears then held his hand out to Joe Henry, "Howdy fella. I am sure glad to see you. Who's these scoundrels you got with you?"

"Rick, this here is Charlie Allen. Mazie spoke to Charlie's wife Maggie on the phone. The big feller is Bobby Clark. He's just taggin' along an' causin' us trouble mostly. Charlie, Bobby, this here is Rick."

The shook Rick's hand an' he invited them all to go up on the porch. He said he would get Mazie's attention. April would be back as soon as she gets Bart in a pen.

Rick stood out in front of the house an' called toward a field, "Yoo, Mazie. Mazie. We got company, babe. Come on up."

Mazie was kneelin' in a newly plowed field an' had been plantin' more lavender plants. Like the Carpenter farm, business was gettin' better all the time. She waved when she saw the men standin' with Rick, stood an' started walkin through the field an' toward the house.

April was back before Mazie arrived an' grabbed Joe Henry an' gave him a big ol' bear hug. As usual, he blushed real big.

"I knew I'd make you blush like some kid. You ol' sorry thing. I am sure glad to see you. You get my letter, I reckon, didn't you?" she asked.

Charlie spoke up before Joe Henry could say a word, "Yes ma'am, he sure did. He was showin' that little heart on the back to ever'one he saw."

Now, Joe Henry had a ball cap on that said "Carpenter's Bee Tree Honey" He took it off an' swatted at Charlie, but the ol' feller was too fast for him. He slid behind Bobby for protection.

"Don't mind them, April. I think tormentin' me is their new hobby. Yes, I did get your letter an' Maggie talked to Mazie. That's why we stopped. We have the honey y'all ordered in the trailer."

By this time Mazie had joined the group, said howdy to everyone an' hugged Joe Henry with a hug not near as tight as April's. She told the men to have a seat on the porch an' she would get some sweet tea.

April had Joe Henry sit by her in the porch swing. He honestly didn't mind a bit. As they sat side by side he could smell her scent. It was a little lavender, a little soap an' a hint of perfume along with just a hint of that wonderful, hard to place scent of a beautiful woman. As they sat an' talked he inhaled deeply more than once, just enjoyin' the lovely scent of her.

She most likely knew exactly what he was doin', for she looked at him once an' gave a small chuckle. She leaned into him with a nudge before joinin' the conversation.

Mazie an' Rick was askin' about the trip, about how they came an' how many stops they had to go. She asked when they had to be home again too.

Charlie spoke up, "Well, ma'am, we have four more stops. One over to Raleigh, two in Richmond, Virginia an' one in Lynchburg. Then on home for us rascals."

Rick asked, "Do you have appointments at those stops, or just deliveries?"

Joe Henry thought for a moment, "Not really appointments. Just deliveries when the stores are open is all. We've been takin' our time. Me an' Bobby don't have to worry. Charlie might suffer Maggie's wrath if we don't get him home on time."

Mazie smiled an' leaned forward, "Charlie, you don't have a thing to worry about. I've already talked to Maggie. Joe Henry an' Bobby, we'd like for y'all to stay the night. You might remember that bunk house we have for retreats an' such. Y'all can stay there. We already have the heat an' water on, sheets an quilts on the bed."

April joined in, "You better say yes, Bobby. We have some things we want to discuss for real, some business to ask about. I also thought me an' Joe Henry could spend a little time together."

Joe Henry moaned an' rolled his head back, "Y'all are all so mean to me."

Bobby was grinnin' like a possum,, "Mean? Us mean? Joe Henry, these good folks want to talk business. What, do you think this is all about you?"

Charlie took up the chase, "Yeah, an' Maggie said it was alright. You gonna argue with her? She'll sic your Great Aunt Bess on you, boy."

April threw her arms around Joe Henry, "So, it is settled. Rick caught a big ol' mess of crappies an' a couple bass an' catfish. We've done cleaned them, Rick has the deep fryer out on the back porch an' me an' Mazie are ready to whoop up the best slaw an' hush puppies you ever ate. We are gonna have a fish fry tomight for supper."

Rick was grinnin', "Just give up, Joe Henry. Sounds like this gang has it in for you. You need a bed or anything for your pup?"

"Nah, he'll sleep beside my bed. I have a cage with us I can put him in if I need to." Joe Henry said.

"No need unless he might run off." Rick told him.

Bobby spoke up then, "That pup won't run off. I raised him an' been helpin' with his trainin'. He loves ol' Joe Henry, though I don't know why. He sticks to him like a tick."

They all laughed at that. Truman seemed to know they were talkin' about him an' stood up, looked around an' went to lay on Joe Henry's feet.

April leaned against Joe Henry an' whispered, "That pup must have figured our you are a pretty good fella, right easy to get attached to."

"Lord a mercy April. You are a sight." Joe Henry said, leanin into her a little too.

Chapter 8

When Mazie an' April found out that Joe Henry an' the other two drove straight through an' hadn't had dinner, they got to work. Mazie asked if a "fried baloney sammich" would do. All three answered with a definite "Yes ma'am".

Rick went out to the remains of the garden an' came back with some green onions, several leaves of lettuce an' even some big green tomatoes that he said he would fry with tonight's fish an' hush puppies. He took those inside an' came back with a gallon jar of sweet tea. After he filled everyone's glasses back up he joined the others on the porch.

"Joe Henry, Charlie, I have a question an' was wonderin' if y'all would mind me stickin my nose in y'all's business a little?" Rick asked.

Joe Henry chuckled an' replied, "Rick, go to it, man. Seems like that is everyone's hobby these days."

Rick just laughed, "Now, I'm not talkin' romance here, my friend, I actually wanted to talk about business a little before y'all have your dinner. I'll say this though, bein' sweet on a Barton woman ain't the worst thing in the world. You can take my word on it, take Daddy, Bud Barton's word on it. 'Course, Mama Irene Barton only became a Barton when she married Daddy."

Charlie an' Bobby hee-hawed at that. Joe Henry reverted to his usual red faced silence. Poor ol' Truman didn't know what to think as the two men laughed so loud. That pup stood up an' stood right in front of Joe Henry like he was protectin' his master. He weren't too worried though, his ol' tail was goin' ninety miles an hour.

"Actually, Joe Henry, I wanted to ask y'all about some of the businesses you an' Miss Bess told me about when you were here. The ones up an' down the ridge back home. You an' your Great Aunt run the Honey farm along with Charlie an' Maggie. Y'all have a company name, Carpenter's Bee Tree Farms that you label your honey an' hive products with. That is good marketin', good brandin'." he said.

Then he got to his point, "Vince is workin' to grow the lavender farm an' from what y'all said last time, Miss Lois does a right smart amount of business at the Christmas tree farm, right?"

Charlie nodded, "Yessir that is true. Vince don't do too bad most years. This year Vince an' Misty had a little hitch in their giddy up with all that has happened. Usually they do pretty well."

Rick paused an' thought for a minute, "So, I have been wonderin' why they don't have names for them farms, them businesses. Y'all sell Bee Tree Honey all over a couple states. When I go to the store, why, I never buy store bought honey. If I can get local honey I buy it somewhere, if not I go over to a store that sells Bee Tree Honey. I love your lavender honey."

Joe Henry spoke up, "You know, my business degree has been workin' overtime this year, but I honestly never gave that a thought. With some of the plans we've all made, continue to make, I can see your point. We need to encourage them to do that, help them come up with ideas for names. 'Course, it will be up to them to decide if they want to do it or not."

Charlie was listenin' an' noddin' at what Joe Henry said. When he finished, Charlie looked at him with an odd look.

Next thing you know Mazie an' April come out the door with trays filled with "fried baloney sammiches", green onions, tater chips, some home made peanut butter cookies (you know the ones with the criss cross design made with a fork) an' napkins. Mazie told them there was Duke's Mayo on the sammiches. Said they weren't gonna insult fried baloney with anything else. Joe Henry told her Duke's was his favorite anyways. Bobby an' Charlie agreed, afraid of losin' their sammiches.

As they ate they told Rick, Mazie an' April about Vince an' Mist. Said she was lookin' pretty peaked when they would see her. She was not gettin' better. The leukemia was takin' a toll on her poor ol' body. Even with the "special" brownies an' cookies friends brought her she wasn't holdin' her own any longer. The doctors had her drinkin' nutrition drinks as often as she could.

Joe Henry shook his head, "They say the baby is doin' OK. She is doin' all she can to keep that baby healthy. They want to try an' wait till after Thanksgivin' to take the baby. She must wait another four weeks before she starts chemo."

April was a little teary eyed, "Oh Joe Henry, that's over three more weeks from now. Poor Mist. Poor Vince. We've been prayin' for them. This is terrible news."

All agreed how bad the news was. The men ate their dinner with not a lot more bein' said as they ate. Seems like everyone had Mist, Vince an' the baby on their minds.

After the three finished dinner, April took them on a tour of the farm, showin' them the lavender fields, the barns, work sheds, dryin' shed an' even what her three nieces called the "pettin' zoo", the sheep, their pot belly pig (kept on a diet so's it wouldn't grow up big an' fat), the three goats an' the little Banty hen named Louise.

They asked about Bart an' April told them he weren't part of the pettin' zoo since he had been abandoned on their farm an' had a bad attitude. They enjoyed the walk, were excited to see the ponds an' small river at the back of the farm. Bobby mentioned he had suggested more than once that the stream back home on the ol' home place could have a small dam on it to make a big hole of water for better fishin'.

Joe Henry an' Charlie agreed an' said they would try to talk Bess into doin' so. They all enjoyed fishin'. Enjoyed eatin' fish even better.

As they walked back to the house, April casually wrapped her arm around Joe Henry's elbow. He smiled an' didn't blush one single bit as they walked an' talked. Now an' then they spoke quietly to one another. She would lean close as they spoke an' Joe Henry would inhale deeply, almost intoxicated by the scent of her.

When they arrived back at the house,April had them go on in. Mazie directed them to the dinin' room where Rick was already sittin' with a pad an' some other papers.

"Have a sit down, boys. Bobby, if you don't mind, I want to talk some business. Throw your two cents in if you have a thought or two along the way."

The sat down as Mazie offered them some more sweet tea. All three accepted as did April, who sat beside Joe Henry. Rick looked over a couple papers an them at Joe Henry an' Charlie.

"So, here is what I need to talk to y'all about. Y'all saw the orchard we have back close to the ponds. I have several varieties of apples, three heirloom apples that have been here for generations. There are plums, pears an peaches too. All told I have fifty or so fruit trees. They do pretty well, but I've been thinkin' an' maybe y'all could help me out. Maybe we could help each other out."

"I'm thinkin' if we had some bees here on the farm, the orchard would do right smart better as would our lavender an' other crops." he continued.

Both Charlie an' Joe Henry agreed. Bobby shook his head right along with them. All saw the advantage of havin' bees to pollinate orchards an' other crops.

"What do y'all think about havin' a "Carpenter Bee Tree Apiary South"? We hope to work with Vince an' Mist on growin' their lavender farm. We have about a dozen varieties of lavender growin' here, from white, pink an' a bunch of shades of purple. we have a couple dozen acres of lavender right now.."

Mazie spoke up, "We don't think we can be expert beekeepers on top of everything else we do, but think an apiary here would be good for the orchard, for the lavender an' for business. If y'all could put a bee yard here an' work with us to do the basics, well, y'all could come visit now an' again to check on them, give us advice as to what to do over the phone an' do the honey harvest."

April chimed in, "Joe Henry mentioned y'all have a couple smaller extractors an' plenty of equipment. You could either leave a small extractor here to do the harvest, or bring one with you when you come. You'd get the honey an' we'd get the benefits of the bees."

Rick asked, "What do y'all think?

Charlie an' Joe Henry were quiet for a while as they thought. Joe Henry borrowed a page from the notepad Rick had an' did some figurin'. After a bit he looked up.

"Well sir, I do think that an apiary here is a good idea. I agree that it would be great for your orchard an' other fields of plants. However, I don't think it is the best idea for y'all or us. I have an alternative though..."

April looked a bit disappointed. Rick an' Mazie both shook their heads, waitin' for Joe Henry's alternative.

"Rick, I don't think we could make any money on the honey, what with all the travel an all. Plus, ya'' would be doin' much of the work an' other than the benefit of the bees pollinatin' your crops, well, there ain't much in it for you." he explained.

"I think a better alternative would be for us to form sort of a co-op with y'all. Here's what I propose; this spring me, Maggie an' Charlie here start maybe ten nucs from splits. A nuc is a five frame sorta 'mini hive'. We get those buildin' up brood in some drawn comb we have in our yards. Y'all buy enough wooden ware, frames, foundation an' such for ten hives through us, we get a good discount since we buy in volume. We'll assemble the hives, frames an' install the wax foundation in the frames."

"When the nucs are doin' real good me an' Vince will come down like we planned before. We help you set up your apiary an' install the bees from the nucs to your hives. Now, we'll take our nuc boxes home with us an' the bees will be in your hives. They will already have a healthy queen an' workers. She will have brood an' you will have a kick start on your apiary."

Rick asked, "But what's in it for y'all?"

Joe Henry smiled an' continued, "You most likely won't get honey the first year but will have the benefit of ten hives that will fill out quickly. We use medium bee boxes an' will have enough boxes for you to add a super, a box on top the first box pretty soon after we install the bees. You'll need three brood boxes on each hive. There is a slight chance you might get some honey from a couple hives, but don't count on it the first year."

"We'll stay for a few days an' y'all can work with Vince on the lavender side of things. We'll trade you bees for lavender plants so Vince can grow that lavender yard. We'll trade our experience, knowledge an' some trainin' with honeybees for the same from you for us with the Lavender an' other crops here."

Rick an' Mazie both were noddin' as he continued again, "We will sell you honey for the first year or two so you can grow your apiary an' actually have enough honey to sell. We can bring a small extractor an' equipment to extract any honey the first year or two. Maybe we split that harvest some way to start. Then y'all will have the experience an' enough bees to have a viable apiary an' keep bees an' harvest honey."

He looked to Charlie, "What do you think, Charlie?"

Charlie nodded an' added, "I expect you are right, Joe Henry. An' Rick, if ya'll didn't want to be in the honey business y'all could still harvest, extract the honey into five gallon buckets an' sell it wholesale to us. We'd still need to come down now an' then, Vince too. I think we could benefit from y'all comin' up to visit an' help us. Sorta a co-op of our farms like Joe Henry said."

After a good bit of conversation, give an' take of ideas, they hammered out a plan that was pretty much like Joe Henry suggested. April gave her approval once she realized that a certain young man would be comin' an goin' to the Blue Sky Lavender Farm.

Mazie heard the phone an' went in to answer. In a moment she was back. "Y'all are in for a treat. That was Mama. We invited her, Daddy an' Sister June for supper tonight. Daddy had a buddy that was down to Wilmington. He brought Daddy a cooler full of shrimps. We are havin’ boiled shrimp an' fried fish tonight."

Rick grinned, "Y'all might need to drive to town to buy some pants a couple sizes bigger than what you are wearin'. We are puttin' on the feed sack tonight."

Chapter 9

Bobby, Charlie an' Joe Henry were escorted by April over to the bunkhouse. They grabbed their bags an' followed her. Joe Henry made sure to get Truman's bowls an' some food. Truman knew exactly what his master had in his hand as they walked. That pup danced around Joe Henry till he almost tripped that boy.

Callin' it an ol' bunkhouse really didn't describe it well. The inside walls an' ceilin's were all covered in beautiful pine boards. The front room was a big meetin' room with several dinin' tables an chairs, a ping pong table, book shelves with plenty of books an' not a TV in sight.

She showed them the smaller room that was set aside for a cabin counselor an' told them the bed there was better so they could all grab a bunk or flip a coin to see who got the big bed. All three said they would enjoy bunkin' together. They each picked out a lower bunk. Bobby said they ain't no way he was climbin' up to a top bunk. Said if he fell out them others would never let him live it down.

Joe Henry put water in Truman's water bowl an' the pup had a big drink as he waited for the food bowl to be filled. Luckily Joe Henry brought plenty of food for Truman. That pup attacked his bowl of food with relish.

Charlie mentioned he wouldn't mind takin' a rest in the counselor's room. Bobby said he would love to prop his feet up too. April smiled an' innocent smile as she turned to Joe Henry.

"I reckon ol' Harry Truman will want to take a walk after he is done eatin'. I can take a walk with you. Of course if you want to rest with the old men..."

Bobby threw a pillow at April an' hollered, "Git, git out of here an' leave us ol' men alone so we can get some rest. Listenin' to Joe Henry prattle on has 'bout wore us out, right Charlie?"

"Right as rain, Bobby. I ain't got a minute's sleep since we been gone, what with Joe Henry an' that dog snorin' like they do." Charlie moaned with a grin.

Joe Henry threw the pillow back at the other two, called to Truman an' went out. Bobby an' Charlie picked out an easy chair each, sat down an' kicked their shoes off. Both men settled back, closed their eyes an' smiled.

April an' Joe Henry walked over to where Mazie had returned to plantin' lavender plants. Joe Henry had lots of questions that he peppered both Mazie an' April with. Each explained how their farm worked, mentioned that the plants Mazie was plantin' had white blooms. White lavender was a favorite for bridal bouquets Mazie explained.

Though he didn't know exactly why, Joe Henry got a little red in the face. So did April. She quickly suggested that they go look at the greenhouse where they started lavender plants in both Spring an' Fall.

As they walked through the greenhouse with rows an' rows of little lavender plants in different phases of growth, April explained that they started plants with either hardwood or softwood cuttin's. They could take hardwood cuttin's in both Spring or Fall, but they took softwood cuttin's only in the Spring when there were plenty of soft twigs that hadn't hardened. The softwood cuttin's were easier to start, but Rick an' Mazie were very good at the hardwood cuttin's too.

She stopped an' turned to show Joe Henry a tray with cuttin's. She explained that they used a mix of perlite an' vermiculite as their rooting medium. That was the stuff in the tray. It had lots of water in it an' wasn't dense like dirt would be.

She gently pulled out a single cuttin' an' showed him the tiny roots already growin' in the rootin' medium. He reached for the cuttin' an' as their hands met, April laid her thumb over his fingers an' held on for a moment.

Joe Henry stood there, lookin' at the tiny roots, then lookin' into April's eyes. They were such an unusual blue. He could swear they looked almost like the lavender that bloomed in the field. He breathed deeply, inhalin' the wonderful scent that was uniquely her.

"Wow." He whispered.

"Yeah, Wow. Look right here, look real close, Joe Henry." she matched his quiet voice.

As he leaned in to look, she tilted her head, bumped her forehead gently to his an' kissed him. That boy hesitated for a moment. He was always a gentleman, always polite an' respectful to women. However, he realized that April kissed him, not the other way around.

Her hand holdin' the cuttin' dropped to her side. Joe Henry took her into his arms. He was a right smart bit taller than her, but it didn't seem to matter at that moment. Just for a moment she held onto the lavender. Then her hand let go an' it fell to the floor as she leaned into him, placed her arms around him an' held tight.

Truth be known, both April an' Joe Henry had thought about that moment since the first time they saw each other. It was a magical moment as they kissed, as they held each other. it was one of those moments that a man remembers for the rest of his life, that one kiss...
(pause an' take a deep breath)

About 4:00 the door to the bunkhouse opened an' a loud voice woke both Charlie an' Bobby from a deep sleep. They both jumped an' sat up.

"Y'all gonna sleep the day away? I got shrimps to boil. Ricky has fish to fry. Y'all are starvin' me to death. I am nothin' but skin an' bones as it is."

They both sat up, rubbed their eyes an' stood. Just inside the door was Bud Barton in the flesh. He was a short, stout farmer, dressed in overalls an' a work shirt. He had a ball cap advertisin' a seed company on his head an' when he took it off to wipe his head with a red hankie, they saw he had a fringe of hair around his bald head. They also saw his "farmer tan line" where that cap sat every day.

Bud walked over with his hand extended an' shook their hands as all three made introductions. Most folks that meet Bud Barton will tell you he has a personality a whole lot bigger than he is. He had a big voice, a firm handshake an' made Bobby an' Charlie feel welcome.

"Boys, I'm gettin ready to fire up my propane burner an' put a pot on to boil them shrimps. Mama Irene has some corn on the cob she dragged out of the freezer. I'm throwin' in a few taters for good measure. Ricky is already gettin' them fish ready, mixin' up the corn meal an' his special mix of spices he puts in the meal." he said with a big smile.

"I hope y'all are hungry, cause you ain't stoppin' till I am satisfied you done ate enough. Get your ol' shoes on. I've got my golf cart out here. You can help me set up an' we can' jaw while the water comes to a boil."

Charlie an' Bobby grinned as they put on their shoes an' joined Bud in the golf cart. He had Charlie get in the front seat with him. Said Bobby had longer arms an' could hold on to his pot in the back seat when they drove toward the house.

Before he started, he reached into his back pocket an' pulled out a small bottle, "Better have one for the road. Maybe two if your throat is dry. Mine is awful dry. I might need three or four snorts. I make this myself. Have a little tiny still an' make a couple batches for medicinal purposes. Mama Irene would be mad if she saw me offerin' you a drink once we get to Ricky an' Mazie's."

They each had a few snorts before he put the bottle back in his pocket. Bud drove the golf cart to the back porch of Rick an' Mazie's an' they unloaded the burner, propane, pot an' a cooler filled with shrimp, corn on the cob an' taters.

Just before the food was on the table, April an' Joe Henry showed up. They walked hand in hand till they noticed the old folks was watchin'. They quickly dropped their hands an' laughed as they walked closer. Bud an' Irene was lookin' Joe Henry over closely.

About that time a little red Ford Pinto pulled up. A tall, lovely blonde woman with braids on either side of her face an' big round sunglasses stepped out of the car. She had on a long flowin' skirt on an' a short sleeve white top. A crocheted shawl was casually wrapped around her shoulders.

She called to her Mama an' Daddy an' they grinned an' waved as she walked up the steps. She kissed them each on the cheek, hugged an' kissed her sisters an' hugged Rick. She then turned to the others.

"Boys, this here is my wild child, June. She is our baby. She already has a degree in biology an' is gettin' another in music. She plays the guitar somethin' awful, bless her heart. Can't carry a tune, but we love her anyway." Bud crowed.

Mama Irene slapped Bud on the arm an' grinned, "Don't believe a word that ol' man says. June is a school teacher. She teaches elementary school. An' if she thought to bring her guitar, well you can be the judge when she plays."

Man, oh man, did they all put on the feed bag. They ate, drank lemonade an' sweet tea till close to sunset. June did have her guitar with her an' pulled it out of the Pinto. She opened the case to reveal a beautiful vintage Gibson acoustic guitar. She tuned it an' soon was serenadin' the group for ever so long.

Then Charlie spoke up, "June, you need to get Joe Henry to get the fiddle the folks down in Cumberland Gap gave him an' have him play. Maybe y'all can play a tune or two together."

Though he protested, Bobby an' Charlie told everyone about his playin, how many years he played both fiddle an' violin. June begged an' her sister April got up, went to the truck an' dug around till she found the case, brought it back an' handed it to Joe Henry with a serious look.

He tuned it to June's Gibson an' as they talked about what they both could play, they settled on music by Peter, Paul an' Mary. They started with "Stewball" an' laughed as they finished. The group applauded an' asked for more.

June suggested an' they played "Lemon Tree". Then they played an' sang, "Puff the Magic Dragon". Joe Henry noticed that April had disappeared. He looked around an' saw her an' Mazie step out of the house with instrument cases.

Mazie took out a mandolin an' April had a couple flutes in her case. Everyone re-tuned an' together they played "Early Morning Rain", "Where have all the Flowers Gone" an' several other songs. After a while, as April laid her flute on her lap an' each would take turns singin' the lead an' all four harmonized like they had been singin' together all their lives. The women had, truth be told.

Joe Henry's baritone blended with April' high clear soprano, June's high alto an' Mazie's lower alto/tenor voices. Finally they started to sing, "Leavin' on a Jet Plane" an' Joe Henry took the lead.

The three women played quietly an' stopped singin' as Joe Henry laid his fiddle on his lap an' sang the last verse and chorus quietly an' alone.

"Now the time has come to leave you,
one more time let me kiss you
Then close your eyes, I'll be on my way
Dream about the days to come
when I won't have to leave alone
About the times I won't have to say
Kiss me and smile for me,
tell me that you'll wait for me
Hold me like you'll never let me go

'Cause I'm leaving on a jet plane,
don't know when I'll be back again
Oh, babe, I hate to go
I'm leaving on a jet plane,
don't know when I'll be back again..."

Then he almost whispered the last line,
"Oh, babe, I hate to go".

Chapter 10

Plans were initially to get up early an' slip out. They were sayin' their goodnights an' goodbyes when Mazie, June an' April realized their plan an' would have none of it. Breakfast would be ready at 6:00 a.m. an' they better be back to Rick an' Mazie's to eat.

At 6:00 sharp all three of them were at the door, knockin' polite like. Rick came to the door an' invited them in. Truman sat just outside the door but Rick called the pup in also.

A sideboard was covered with hot dishes, fried eggs, bacon, biscuits, hash browns an' sausage gravy. June came from the kitchen with a bottle of Bee Tree Farms lavender honey in one hand an' a jar of peach jelly in the other. She mentioned they made the jelly from their own peach trees.

June an' Mazie had them take a seat at a long harvest table. June poured coffee for each. Mazie called to Rick an' their three little girls to come eat. Them little girls had enjoyed the company the night before. They danced an' twirled as June, Mazie, April an' Joe Henry played an' sang the night away.

Joe Henry had Truman lay at his feet under the table. Finally, April came from the kitchen with a cheesy grits casserole that she added to the spread on the sideboard. Though the group ate an' ate the night before, appetites were revved up when everyone saw all the grub on that sideboard.

After they were all seated, Rick asked them to join hands so's he could say a blessin'. He said they always started their day this way, maybe not as much food but him, Mazie an' the girls would hold hands an' ask the Good Lord to bless their food, the farm, family, friends an' loved ones.

After breakfast, goodbyes were again said. Joe Henry an' April saw the need to take Truman for a walk since it was gonna be such a long day for the pup to ride in the truck. April said a pup needed a walk an' Joe Henry quickly agreed. They walked back an' behind the house with Truman in the lead, stoppin' to smell everything in his path.

They held hands an' didn't say much as they walked. They came to a small stand of trees an' Joe Henry turned to April.

"Oh my, I can't believe I'm sayin' this, but I'll miss you so. I like to write, keep a journal most days. I'll write if you will. I have a long distance card an' can call too."

April smiled an' her eyes were misty, "I'd like that a lot. I need to give you my number, mine an' June's actually. Daddy an' Rick built a house for me up the hill from Daddy an' Mama's house. Me an' June live there. Daddy started June's house last year. He has it under roof an' the outside walls up. He'll have it done sometime next year so she'll have her own place."

"Now when you call, make sure it is me you are carryin' on with. Don't want my little sister tryin' to steal you away." she laughed.

She stepped close an' Joe Henry leaned down an' held her tight. They leaned their foreheads together an' stood for the longest minute. Then he put his lips to hers, kissed her tenderly. Her lips were warm, soft an' salty from the tears that were now flowin' freely. Again an' again they kissed, holdlin' on, not wantin' the last moment together to fade.

They heard a horn honk once, twice an' Bobby Clark's voice callin' to them, tellin' Joe Henry to get a move on. They grinned, he kissed her softly one last time, brushed her tears away an' took her hand as they walked toward the house. Truman followed along, still smellin' everything in his path.

Once they were on the road with Bobby drivin', they were full of talk. They each had things to say about some of the ideas they went away with. Bobby started suggetin' names for the lavender farm, the Christmas tree farm.

They rolled around Lavender Hills, Lavender Holler, Purple hills, Busy Bee Lavender, Lavender Acres, Lavender Lovers. Charlie was quiet for a moment as Bobby an' Joe Henry chatted. He got a look on his face, then a smile an' leaned between the front seats from the back.

"Hey boys, how about Purple Mountain's Majesty Lavender Farm?" he asked.

They all loved the idea, liked that better than any of the other names they came up with. Joe Henry mentioned it was actually gonna be up to Vince an' Mist. Charlie smiled, looked at Bobby who was lookin' at him in the mirror. They nodded a slight nod to each other as they talked.

The rest of the trip an' deliveries was uneventful. Joe Henry an' Charlie dropped Bobby Clark off at his brother's place so he could get his truck an' they were back on the road. When they pulled onto Limestone Ridge Road Charlie was grinnin' from ear to ear. He was lookin' forward to seein' Maggie.

They pulled the truck an' enclosed trailer into the drive an' back to the barns where they were keepin' the trailer. When Maggie heard the truck pull in she was out the door of her house an' headin' to Joe Henry's place.

By the time Joe Henry an' Charlie had the trailer unhitched an' drove back to the house, Maggie had the front door open an' a gallon Mason jar of sweet tea on the table there on the front porch waitin' for Charlie an' Joe Henry. Charlie got out of the truck an' them two met an' Maggie gave her man a huge bear hug. Joe Henry told them he was gonna have to hose them down if they didn't quit.

Truman was glad to be home an' took it upon himself to explore an' make sure all was well on the farm. Maggie had Charlie an' Joe Henry sit, have a glass of sweet tea an' tell her all the news.

They took turns talkin'. When one paused for a drink of sweet tea the other would step in an' continue. Charlie mentioned April an' Maggie smiled. He also told her he spied Joe Henry smoochin' on that gal more than once. Maggie grinned an' slapped Joe Henry's knee.

Joe Henry was awful quiet an' let Charlie carry on the rest of the trip details. Maggie noticed an' watched him as Charlie talked. He told his wife about the co-op plans between the two farms. She thought that was a grand idea. Charlie mentioned they would need to talk to Bess about it, but thought it could work well.

Finally Maggie turned her attention to Joe Henry, "You are awfully quiet over there. What's on your mind?'

Joe Henry looked up, "I don't know Maggie. I'm not sure. April takes my breath away. She is the first girl I've really been taken with ever in my life. She is an amazin' woman, beautiful, smart, fun to be with. She an' I match up personality wise so well..."

He went on, "But I'm here an' she is there. Me an' Betty have been separated for a right smart while. It hasn't been a year since the divorce was final. I'm still workin' on me, but she makes me feel like I am who I was a long time ago. This trip made me feel better about things than I have in a good while. I don't know if I should feel this way so soon."

Maggie stood up an' stepped close to Joe Henry. He leaned into her side an' she wrapped her arm around him an' just stood there for a long while. Truman came up on the porch an' like a good dog does, sensed something in the air. He went over an' sat on the other side of Joe Henry. Truman sat on his hind legs an' placed his head an' front paws in Joe Henry's lap.

As Joe Henry rubbed Truman's ears he thought long an' hard about April, about his life, his choices over the years. Maggie patted him on the back an' sat back down.

Charlie spoke up, "Joe Henry, I'm gonna say what I think here, boy. I hope I don't get you mad. If you do, well, I reckon that may be more you not wantin' to hear this than me bein' wrong."

"Here's the thing. You said the back seat of a car weren't the way to start a relationship. That gal had her eyes an' then her claws on you before you knew what was happenin. We all saw it. Your Daddy saw it. Your Aunt Bess saw it. You, however, thought you needed to do the right thing, y'all sinnin' an' carryin' on an' all. Son, she got you in bed 'cause she saw dollar signs. Nothin' else. I doubt she ever loved you. What you should have done is run away from that sin, not embrace it."

He went on, "She thought your Daddy had money. She thought the sportin' good store was one of them geese what laid golden eggs. An' she wanted the money. Then she killed the goose after your Daddy passed. To her the store was all there was in your relationship an' it was gone. That's why she left."

"Joe Henry, other than a few gals in high school an' college that you have mentioned, well, maybe April is the first time you've ever really had a grown woman really interested in you. Not interested in money, what you have or don't have. Just interested in you. That's just how it is. That is my opinion. Now, here's the rest of it. Long distance relationships are hard to maintain. She is a lovely woman. She is definitely interested in you an' you in her. Take your time, boy. See what happens. One thing though, don't become too narrow minded. Don't dive too fast an' too deep into a relationship again. Never know where love might spring up even closer to home."

Joe Henry hugged Charlie an' it was Charlie's turn to blush. Maggie helped Charlie get his bag an' a few things he bought along the way an' they headed for their place. Joe Henry just sat for a while, sippin' sweet tea an' ponderin'

Chapter 11

A few days later, Clyde Collins called from over to Danville. He spoke with Joe Henry about his team of horses. Though he hated to give them up, he was just gettin too old to keep them. He told Joe Henry that earlier in the year he was ridin' one of them an' fell off, broke his ankle. It took a right smart while for him to get up. Luckily his horse walked back to him an' he was able to pull himself up with the reins.

Joe Henry asked about buyin' them horses, but Clyde would hear none of it. They were to be a gift from Clyde to Joe Henry. He did make Joe Henry promise not to sell them if he was takin' them. Joe Henry promised an' they made arrangements for him an' Bobby Clark to deliver the horses on Saturday. He would bring saddles, harnesses, bridles an' all when they came. He also would help Joe Henry now an' again to keep them up. He promised to show him how to put on their harnesses, bridles, even saddles an' all.

Bobby's brother delivered the sleigh while they were gone an' it sat in one of the sheds. Joe Henry noticed it was covered with a canvas tarp to keep it clean. He uncovered it, got in the front an' sat with a grin.

Saturday mornin' came an' Joe Henry was ready. A local farmer from over to Manchester delivered a load of hay bales on Thursday an' Joe Henry spent Thursday afternoon an' Friday puttin' the hay bales in his barn. Friday mornin' the local feed store delivered bags of grain an' feed Clyde had ordered an' paid for. The delivery man told Joe Henry that Clyde had already paid to have grain an' feed delivered on a regular basis for the next twelve months.

Bobby an' Clyde pulled into the lane an' down to the field. Joe Henry had the mules in their stalls an' the gate open. When Bobby an' Clyde got out of the truck Joe Henry hugged ol' Bobby an' shook Clyde's hand with a warm grip.

Clyde was a slight man, startin' to bend over a bit from age. He had a wild shock of snow white hair an' a white mustache an' goatee. He wore a gray Stetson fedora on his head, well worn an' with a light band of sweat around the brim of the hat. He was dressed in work pants, white shirt with a vest an' coat. He had a pocket watch in the pocket of his coat an' a leather thong goin' through the button hole on his vest.

Joe Henry an' Clyde opened the horse trailer an' Clyde had the horse back out. He let them loose after the gate was closed an' they walked to the water trough for a drink. Both mules put their heads out their windows to see what was goin' on. The horses eventually noticed the mules, walked over as if to say howdy.

The three men examined the sleigh next an' Clyde gave his approval. Joe Henry an' Bobby pushed the sleigh out of the shed as Clyde gathered the harnesses from the truck. With Clyde's help they harnessed the horses an' attached the harnesses to the sleigh.

Clyde took the reins an' urged the horse to walk. The team leaned into their harness an' the sleigh began to move forward. All three men grinned as they were pulled all around the field. Clyde made mention that the wheels moved freely an' were no problem for the horses.

At Clyde's suggestion, Joe Henry opened the gate an' they were up the lane an' onto Limestone Ridge Road. Clyde handed to reins to Joe Henry an' he felt pretty comfortable as the horses pulled the sleigh on wheels along the road. The ride was good, the wheels did well on the road. Joe Henry was very familiar with the mules pullin' the buggy an' this weren't much different.

When they arrived at the Christmas tree farm Lois Jones was standin' in the yard. They greeted her an' she commented on the horses, the sleigh an' mentioned they needed something else. She told them to hang on. The men waited. Lois came back with an ol' wooden box that clanged an' jangled as she walked.

"Clyde, reckon your horse would be frightened by bells on their bridle an' harnesses?" she asked.

"Oh lordy, no. I have rings all along the harnesses to hang bells on. Let's try them bells out." he told her.

The four took bell after bell from the box. They were brass, all different sizes an' had clips that attached to the rings. Though they were tarnished with age an' layin' in that box, Lois assured Joe Henry that they would shine up easily an' just be as bright as new.

Lois an' Bobby got in the back of the sleigh an' Clyde took the reins since they were ridin' with the bells. His horses didn't mind a bit an' the sleigh an' horses rang merrily as they made their way back to the farm.

Once there they saw Maggie an' Charlie standin' on the side of the road. They grinned as the sleigh approached. Clyde told them to get in with the others. He turned the team around an' handed the reins to Joe Henry. The team headed back toward the Christmas tree farm once again. Maggie started singin' "Over the river an' through the woods". They all joined in an' laughed as they rode.

Clyde made sure Joe Henry then Charlie an' even Bobby was comfortable drivin' the team of horses back an' forth between the farms before they dropped Lois off an' headed back. Bobby, Clyde an' Charlie unhitched the horses, put away the harnesses an' all. They took all the bells off an' put them back in the wooden box so's they could be polished up before Christmas. Clyde told Joe Henry he had more bells he would bring over in a few days.

At Clyde's suggestion Joe Henry led the mules into the field after they had brushed down the horses. The two teams met in the middle of the field, greeted each other as old friends an' then gathered round the two bales of hay Joe Henry threw out for them.

Though Joe Henry protested, Clyde told him he had made arrangements for hay an' feed for the horses an' Aunt Bess' mules for the next year. He said he had too much money in the bank an' nothin' better to spend it on. He didn't want ol' Uncle Sam to take any more than he had to give up. Better the horses an' mules than the government.

Bobby unhitched the horse trailer. Clyde told Joe Henry it was part of the deal. He promised to be back for the first day of the Christmas season to help with the horses an' make sure all went well.

Bobby an' Clyde headed for the truck. Joe Henry shook Clyde's hand an' thanked him. Clyde, waved the thanks off.

"Family is family, Joe Henry. Even though distant, family is family." Clyde said out the window as they drove off.

Chapter 12

Thanksgivin' was on the 24th an' the folks on Limestone Ridge were all ready for the holiday Season to commence. So many folks were stoppin' an' askin' anytime one of them was in town, folks stoppin' by to see then their season would kick off. Finally they had a meetin' an' decided to open up daily a few days later on Wednesday, November 15th.

Joe Henry an' Bobby Clark had taken shotguns in hand an' walked the hills around the area, shootin' down lots of mistletow that the woman made into little bundles an' decorated with simple red bows. With Rachel's help an' some explorin' of their own, Charlie, Maggie, Rachel an' Lois found enough wild grapevines to make almost fifty grapevine wreaths. Lois an' Rachel decorated these with pine branches, pine cones an' even some leftover bittersweet.

Lois brought pine roping an' the wreaths to the cabin shop. Rachel had a stack of beautiful fall an' winter photographs she had shot over the last several years of the mountains, the Corbin area an' Cumberland Falls. She matted an' framed them an' had a simple ribbon an’ bow goin' from corner to corner to make each look festive. They hung the photographs on every empty wall around the shop.

Joe Henry had completed two dozen brooms an' with Rachel's urgin' an' help he attached dried flowers, dried lavender an' even pine cones to the brooms. She took him to a craft store in London an' he bought little brass an' chrome bells that he put on the thongs of each of the thirty walkin' sticks he put in the casbin store.

On November 15th everyone was ready to go. Maggie invited herself to Joe Henry's kitchen to make breakfast for everyone. She told everyone to be there at 6:30 for they all had a lot to do. Bobby dove down as did Clyde. Aunt Bess snuck in unexpectedly an' Joe Henry was thrilled. Rachel hugged Bess an' the two went off to chat while Maggie finished gettin' things on the table with Lois, Charlie an' Joe Henry's help.

At Joe Henry's request she made a huge pan of butter rolls, his favorite. Mazie sent the recipe for the cheesy grits casserole after Charlie bragged about it an' it sat on the table. She said she wanted it to be simple so she only made a big basket of cat head biscuits an' enough sausage grave to feed an' army.

They gathered around the table, joined hands an' Clyde prayed the blessin' for all of them. Joe Henry opened his eyes to look at the other eight folks gathered 'round his table. Actually his Grandma's table, truth be told. He grinned a happy grin an' closed his eyes once more.

They all sat to eat, visit an' enjoy the early mornin' together. Afterwards Maggie, Lois an' Aunt Bess insisted on cleanin' up. There were plenty of extra biscuits leftover on purpose. Aunt Bess had already talked with Maggie an' brought cold country ham to have biscuit an' ham sammiches later in the day. As they did the dishes, Lois made two gallon Mason jars of sweet tea to keep them goin' durin' the day.

Rachel asked if she could go with the men as they hitched up the horses an' sleigh. Joe Henry smiled his agreement. They all walked to the barn. Joe Henry led the horses from their stalls. Clyde fussed with their manes an' tails, brushin' them till they were like silk. Bobby got the harnesses an' bridles as Charlie brushed the horse’s coats.

When the sleigh was ready an' the horses hitched they all stood back to admire their work. The bells had been polished an' Clyde added his bells to the others. The harnesses jingled with a light hearted jingle as they shook themselves, ready to go.

It was a cold mornin’, about 37 degrees out an' there was the slightest hint of snowflakes in the air. Aunt Bess came down to the barn with several quilt in her arms.

"I brought this for the sleigh. Folks are gonna need to cover up an' snuggle in this cold air." she said as she laid the quilts on the front an' back seats.

She looked at Joe Henry, "Joe Henry, why don't you an' Rachel take the first ride down to the Christmas tree farm? You can take Lois down to open up an' y'all ca ride back."

"Oh yeah, let's do!" Rachel said before Joe Henry could say a word.

Bobby, Charlie an' Clyde grinned as they helped Rachel in. Clyde gave the reins to Joe Henry an' told him to enjoy the ride. Before they could go, aunt Bess took the quilt, unfolded it an' placed the quilt over Rachel an' Joe Henry's laps. Rachel scooted close so they both could share the quilt.

They stopped at the house for Lois an' were soon on their way. Lois an' Rachel chatted as they rode. The horses walked a steady walk, bells singin' an' jinglin' all the way. Lois jumped out, patted Rachel on the leg an’ waved as she walked to her barn to open up.

Rachel scooted closer an’ whispered, "I've been waitin' for this ride. I am so excited. It is snowin' just a little, Joe Henry. Isn't this what Heaven will be like?"

Joe Henry nodded, told the horses "Get up" and breathed deep, smellin' the faint scent of pine trees, lavender an' home along with another lovely scent of a beautiful woman.

Chapter 13

When Joe Henry an' Rachel arrived back at the cabin store they were laughin' an' talkin' about the ride. The wheels worked just fine again. Joe Henry was explainin' that the bars attachin' them wheels could come off in about five minutes an' then the sleigh could be pulled through snow on the runners.

"Promise me you'll take me on another ride when there is snow. Oh, my, that would be even more like Heaven." Rachel said.

Joe Henry tied the horses to a post they secured into the ground a short way away from the store. Rachel followed laughin' an' urgin' Joe Henry to promise. He finally did. She slapped him with the mittens she was wearin'.

"Was that so hard?" she laughed.

Aunt Bess an' Maggie were already in the cabin store makin' sure things were dusted, in order an' straightened up. Joe Henry cut several Christmas trees for Lois days earlier an' they were in stands an' decorated. A sign directin' folks down the road to cut their own or buy pre-cut trees sat in front of each one.

Charlie, Bobby an' Clyde were outside. Clyde was hangin' grapevine wreaths on the wall of the cabin. Though most of the mistletoe was inside the shop, there were small nails between the wreaths that he placed bunches of mistletoe on. A wooden sign hung above the wreaths with prices accordin' to size. Lois had more wreaths on display inside an' outside of the barn at the Christmas tree farm.

Charlie an' Bobby were settin' up long saw horses they made to keep folks from parkin' too close to the cabin as well as to keep a path clear for the sleigh. The sleigh ride sign was in place directin' folks inside to pay.

Maggie opened the cash box an' filled the spots in the cash register with the appropriate denomination of bills. Aunt Bess an' Rachel were makin' sure the chair for Santa was just right. They had purchased red ropin' at a sewin' an' craft store that was attached to small posts Joe Henry made. The posts were set up so Rachel's tripod an' camera was in front of Santa an' no one would walk past as she was takin' photos.

Rachel had several cameras she would use. The first an' best was her good film camera. Folks would fill out a card an' a larger photo could be ordered an' mailed. Most folks would be satisfied with the instant photos.

In preparation for the season, Rachel found a professional style Polaroid Pro-Pack camera in the dark room over to Lincoln Memorial University where she taught part time. When she found out the camera was no longer used for student ID photos she bought it, found plenty of film packs an' was ready.

Flyers were printed an' posted all around within an hour's drive of the farms. Joe Henry was guest on radio shows in Hyden, Manchester, London an' all the way up to Mount Vernon. Bobby an' Aunt Bess mailed flyers to all the churches an' civic clubs in the area. They was hopin' for a good season. This bein' the first year, they didn't know what to expect.

As the store was gettin' ready to be opened, Bobby's brother, Michael Lee drove in. They directed him through the small woods an' to Joe Henry's house to park. Charlie an' Joe Henry had a narrow road bulldozed an' gravel laid down through the woods an' to the house so's they could go back an' forth without havin' to go onto the road an' around the bend with the horses or their vehicles. They also had a gravel pad laid a bit behind the cabin an' by the trees for them to park.

Michael Lee was lookin' awesome when they saw him. His wife had him usin' some of that bluing shampoo when he washed his hair an' beard to take any yellow out of his silver hair. He had a red ball cap on with the letters "SC" embroidered on the front. His red an' black plaid coat was just the right addition without him bein' in his suit.

He tried out the chair an' gave his approval. Rachel grabbed her cameras, lights an' tripod out of her car an' quickly set up to do a test run. Maggie, Aunt Bess, Charlie an' finally his brother Bobby sat on Michael Lee's knee for photos. Each received their instant photo. Rachel moved the tripod, the stands an' ropin' till she was satisfied with the results.

Michael Lee asked if a small fan could be placed to one side, as the suit would tend to get a little hot. Aunt Bess promised to purchase one in Berea an' have it for the Friday after Thanksgivin' when Santa would first appear. Maggie reminded all that from then on he should not be addressed as Michel Lee but as Santa.

Lois called an' invited everyone down for a quick dedication of the Christmas tree farm. She wanted them all to see the setup.

A few weeks before a refrigerated semi trailer was dropped off. Lois set up the tree baler on the side of the barn an' the two local young men that worked for her showed up along with Joe Henry, Bobby an' Charlie to help her cut an' bale Christmas trees an' stack them in the trailer. The trailer had its own generator an' once the trees started goin' in it ran 24 hours a day for the several days they cut trees.

They cut two thousand trees. There are about two hundred trees per acre so they covered ten acres to fill that trailer. Another trailer was delivered after a semi pulled that one away. All told they cut, baled an' stacked four thousand trees in the two refrigerated trailers.

Those twenty acres would have stumps pulled an' seedlin's planted in the Spring for their seven year cycle. Them boys moaned an' groaned as they thought of the Spring.

The piled into the sleigh an' Michael Lee's truck for the drive to the Christmas tree farm. When they arrived they all were thrilled to see a sign on the front of the barn, "Pine Hollow Christmas Tree Farm". Lois took Rick's idea to heart.

There were trees in burlap balls for purchase an' plantin', trees cut an' layin' accordin' to size against 2x4 rails for purchase. Saws hung on the side of the barn for cuttin' your own tree.

Inside Lois had the sales room with lights on, a wood stove burnin' to keep her an' customer's warm. Wreaths hung on the walls inside an' outside of the sales room. Mistletoe hung on nails all around the inside of the shop.

Outside there was a big sign directin' folks to the cabin store for other items, sleigh rides an' Santa. The place was awesome an' they all told her so.

The cabin store was ready to open just before 10:00. Joe Henry asked his Aunt Bess to say a quick prayer for their success an' safety. They held hands in a circle as she prayed. They all said "Amen" together an' went to their appointed places. Michael Lee/Santa excused himself before they opened the door. They didn't want Santa revealed days before Thanksgivin' weekend.

Bobby an' Charlie made a fire pit days earlier in the week an' they went to make sure it was still burnin'. There were benches made from 2x12's an' concrete blocks situated around the fire pit. A stack of firewood was off to one side. Bobby had a big thermos of coffee an' cups for him, Charlie, Clyde an' Joe Henry. They all figured folks could sit around the fire an' wait for their appointed times for the sleigh rides.

Joe Henry planned on bein' the gopher for everyone. Bobby, Clyde an' Charlie would take turns with him drivin' the sleigh so each could warm up between rides.

Joe Henry turned the sign on the door from "Shut" to "Open". They all hugged each other an' crossed their fingers.

Chapter 14

The cabin store was finally open. The horses an’ sleigh sat off to the side. Clyde sat with the other men around the fire an’ they talked, laughed an’ enjoyed the mornin’. The flurries of snow were on an’ off. Joe Henry even threw a little salt out on the walk in front of the store just in case. Clyde suggested him an’ Joe Henry go to the barn to get a couple things they would need for the horses.

Charlie cleaned up the small room that was used for tack a few days before the horses arrived an’ all the gear for both the mules an’ horses was hung or laid neatly. At Clyde’s direction Joe Henry found two large blankets for the horses.

“I wouldn’t worry if they was movin’ all the time, Joe Henry. I don’t like to see them just stand for long periods of time. We have coats I put on them in bad weather when I let them out. Can’t do that when they are in harness though. These will just lay over them to keep them from getting’ real wet an’ cold as we wait. We’ll take the blankets off to go for rides.” Clyde explained.

Once back with the others they threw the blankets over the horses. Joe Henry fussed even more than Clyde as to how the blankets laid. Clyde watched with an approvin’ eye. He walked over to the fire as Joe Henry was talkin’ to the horses an’ sneakin’ a few pieces of carrots to each of them.

“Our boy is growin’ up.” Bobby said thoughtfully. Charlie nodded his agreement an’ the men resumed their chattin’. Joe Henry joined them an’ the conversation turned to the horses. Charlie asked Clyde to remind him as to them horse’s names. Said they was getting’ to be too many animals to remember these days what with Joe Henry tryin’ to name the chickens even.

“They are Bud an’ Babe. Charlie, them horses are brothers, don’t you know. Bud is two years older than Babe. Babe is just a mite bigger than Bud. That's how you can know which is which. You need to remember their names as you drive them. They are right good at directions, better if you call them by name instead of just ‘horse’ or some such.” Clyde laughed.

Charlie laughed good naturedly an’ added, “Bess’ mules are Sug an’ Bob. I suspect Bess named the one after ol’ Bobby here.”

Bobby threw a stick at Charlie but they all laughed an’ agreed that mule Bob did look a lot like Bobby Clark. Even Bobby said he did see a strong family resemblance. He suspected they was kin on his Mama’s side. He had a couple Uncles that was right ugly too.

The cabin store was open, lights on an’ an air of excitement was all around. Rachel had a cassette recorder plugged in an’ a cassette of Christmas music playin’. Bess said it were awful early for such, but she thought it was a good idea. Said next thing you know stores are gonna be sellin’ Christmas decorations at Halloween.

They were all a little anxious about openin’ so many days before Thanksgivin’. They were afraid folks wouldn’t show up. They was wrong. Oh, so wrong.

About fifteen minutes after they were open two big ol’ Dodge vans showed up with a full load of senior citizens in each. Bobby an’ Aunt Bess’ mailin’s paid off already. They hoped mailin’ to all the senior centers, libraries, private schools an’ civic organizations would pay off. Seemed like it might be workin’.

About fifteen women an’ four men piled out of the vans. Joe Henry was glad for the salt he threw on the walk earlier. He went to the vans to help folks into the cabin store. Rachel automatically took on the role of greeter an’ welcomed each one as they entered. Bess an’ Maggie stationed themselves an’ were ready. Maggie at the cash register an’ Bess as floatin’ sales person. Rachel finished greetin’ everyone an’ went toward the back end of the rooms to offer help an’ suggestions.

When Charlie saw the vans unloadin’ he paused for just a moment an’ said, “Shame no one kept the orchard up. It sure would be nice to have some hot apple cider to see ‘bout now, wouldn’t it?”

“Orchard?” Joe Henry asked. “There was an orchard? Who did it belong to? Was it ours?”

“Lord a mercy, yes. Your Great Uncles Rob an' Tilman, Winston's brothers was the ones who kept it up. Your Grandpa Winston an’ them had some of the best apples around these parts. They was three or four real old varieties even. Apples some of the Carpenter brothers brought here back when they got land grants a right smart while after the war for independence an’ the War of 1812, don’t you know. Them was real old apples. Real good producers too. Shame no one ever took care of the orchard though.”

“Wait, Carpenter brothers came here sometime after the Revolutionary War? After the War of 1812? They had an orchard?” Joe Henry asked, right surprised.

“Yessir, Joe Henry. Don’t you know that? Bless your heart. Four Carpenter brothers. They came across the Gap an’ settled here in this area. They paid ol’ John Gilbert an’ his brother Felix to survey land for their land grants. Paid him to bring them here too. He was some kind of kin to them, y’see. Them boys settled close together so’s they could help each other, protect each other an’ so on. That was way before Leslie County existed. They took hunks of Clay, Harlan an' Perry Counties to make Leslie County. I reckon this area was originally part of Clay County when them Carpenter boys came to these parts. ”

Bobby spoke up then, “Them apple trees are still there, down the road. Big part of the trees is gone but there are probably a dozen or so still grownin’ an’ producin’ apples. I hunt deer down there. They come in for the windfall apples. Good huntin’ right there for rabbits an’ squirrel too.”

“Joe Henry, Clyde, y’all should see them squirrel when they get ‘hold of some of them windfall apples that lay there an’ ferment. They get all likkered up from the fermented apples an’ carry on somethin’ awful. They stagger ‘round. Can’t hardly climb a tree.” Charlie laughed out loud.

Bobby laughed an’ added, “We don’t shoot them squirrels, though. Don’t seem right to take advantage of them drunk boogers.”

Joe Henry said again, “They had an orchard? It is still there? Four Carpenter brothers?”

Bobby smiled an’ nodded. “You ever go down to the end of the big field below the barns? Past that fence?”

Joe Henry shook his head. He apparently didn’t know much about anything. He figured that land belonged to a neighbor. His mind was still staggerin’ as they thought about four Carpenter brothers who came here so long ago. One of them was his ancestor. They all came from one of his long gone Granddads. He told Bobby he hadn’t gone that far. Did think it was a neighbor’s land.

“Nah, that is part of the Carpenter farm. They put the fence up to keep livestock out of the orchard. Maybe me an’ you can go rabbit huntin’ there soon.” Bobby added.

A man an’ woman came out an’ said they paid for a sleigh ride. Said they was three or four others that was wantin’ to take a ride too, but they was married an’ wanted to go alone. Sort of “Romantical” the man said. His wife slugged his arm good naturedly.

Joe Henry an’ Clyde helped them into the back seat an’ Clyde covered their laps with one of the quilts Aunt Bess provided. They snuggled up like a couple teenagers as Joe Henry an’ Clyde climbed into the front seat. Bobby an’ Charlie took the blankets off as the others loaded the sleigh. With a wave of Joe Henry’s hand they were off. The brass bells jingled an’ rang a wintry tune that brought a lot of the folks in the cabin store to the door.

Bobby told Charlie he was runnin’ out for a while. There is two orchards between Manchester an’ London. He thought he would go an’ see if he could buy some jugs of apple cider an’ mullin’ spices so’s they could offer mulled cider. Charlie said he would stay an’ keep the fire goin’.

That was how ever’ day went from that Wednesday till the Wednesday before Thanksgivin’. Ever’ single day they had folks comin’ to shop, to take rides down to Pine Hollow Christmas Tree Farm. Lois was already doin’ real good as was the cabin store. Rachel was tickled as folks continued to not only buy her prints but talk with her about even doin’ weddin’s an’ special events.

They opened to a lovely day on the Saturday before Thanksgivin’. It snowed a light snow durin’ the night an’ the lane was beautiful. Joe Henry an’ Charlie had the plow blade already on the tractor but hadn’t had to use it yet. They planned to keep the road clear in both directions unless they had a big storm.
Toward evenin’ Joe Henry asked his Aunt Bess an’ Clyde to go over to the house with him. They got into his truck an’ he drove through the woods an’ up to the porch of the house. He helped Aunt Bess in. He had the steps swept off that mornin’ an’ neither Aunt Bess nor Clyde really needed much help.

Though the place was heated with a propane an’ had central heat, Joe Henry kept the ol’ stove burnin’ most days an’ every night. As they took off their coats an’ had a seat he threw another log into the stove before joinin’ them.

“I have a proposal for y’all. Aunt Bess, for you it is more of a strongly worded suggestion. Clyde, y’all both have been drivin’ back an’ forth. You from Danville an’ Aunt Bess from Berea. Y’all ought to consider stayin’ here with me for the next week or so. I’ve already moved up to one of the two bedrooms upstairs. Aunt Bess, you could take the big bedroom. Clyde, you can use the smaller room down the hall from the bathroom.”

They both protested, said they didn’t want to impose, didn’t mind the drive back an’ forth. Didn’t know if they was plannin’ on comin’ ever’ day. Joe Henry chuckled, told them they was ‘bout as hard headed as he was an’ said it was a good idea. They could both pack their suitcases that night an’ come to stay, after church the next day, of course.

“Aunt Bess, you know that Alma Jean what comes an’ cleans for you would take care of your place for a week or so. Clyde, you have someone who can do the same?”

Clyde was real quiet as he considered. Thought about it for a right smart while. He took his big ol’ red hankie out an’ wiped his eyes. Said it did get awful lonely, especially this time of the year. Said he would be glad to do so if Joe Henry didn’t mind. He sat real quiet like for the longest time after that, sorta ponderin’.

Aunt Bess said she thought it would be lovely. She always enjoyed comin’ to the ol’ Carpenter home place. She reminded Joe Henry she grew up on the farm. Said his Grandpa Winston did a lot to the house over the years, but the farm was always home for her.

On Sunday afternoon both Clyde an’ Aunt Bess moved in. Everyone thought it was a great idea. Joe Henry told Bobby he could stay in the other bedroom upstairs any time the weather was bad.

The Sunday afternoon crowd was huge. They were all thrilled an’ excited about Thanksgivin’ week, about Santa’s arrival the Friday after Thanksgivin’. They planned for Michael Lee to get dressed at Joe Henry’s an’ for Clyde an’ Joe Henry to deliver Santa through the woods to the cabin store in the sleigh.

Everyone gathered at Joe Henry’s after 5:00 to plan for Thanksgivin’ week. Aunt Bess an’ Maggie had two crockpots of soup cookin’ low an' slow all day. One had chili an’ the other beef stew. Aunt Bess baked beautiful big crusty loaves of bread to go with the chili an’ stew.

About 5:30 Michael Lee arrived. They hadn’t wanted the customers to see him. Lois arrive just after him. She had several folks at the last minute. They all gathered ‘round the table, joined hands an’ Joe Henry asked the blessin’.

As they ate, Joe Henry was glad for the long harvest style table. Years earlier the Carpenter family gathered on occasion for the different families to enjoy a meal together. As he looked around the table he had an idea.

“Now, y’all, I want to suggest somethin’ an’ it involves some of y’all more than me. Aunt Bess an’ Clyde are stayin’ here for the next week or so. Lois, I don’t know what your plans are, or yours Charlie an' Maggie. However, what do y’all think of us havin’ Thanksgivin’ together right here?”

The idea was quickly agreed to. Aunt Bess would purchase an’ roast the turkey an’ make the dressin’ an’ giblet gravy. Lois would make sweet potato casserole with them pecans an’ brown sugar on top as well as her wonderful yeast rolls. Maggie would cook green beans with ham hocks, mashed taters an’ several pies.

Thanksgivin’ dinner would be at 2:00. They all laughed an’ discussed the plans for their day of Thanks.

Chapter 15
Durin’ his time on Limestone Ridge Road an’ especially the times he would travel to Lexington to visit Mist in the hospital, Joe Henry would make one of his stops the University of Kentucky bookstore. If he was alone and didn’t have anyone with him, he would visit the other small an’ large bookstores around Lexington. He was always a voracious reader an’ spendin’ the evenin’s with his pup Harry Truman was comfortable but offered little in the way of entertainment.

As anyone in the mountains knows, television reception is very limited in the mountains of eastern Kentucky. Folks were startin’ to invest in huge satellite dishes to receive signals, but it was costly. Joe Henry shared an’ antenna high on the hill behind the barns. An antenna wire came down the hill to a signal splitter. Then two wires left the splitter. One to go to Joe Henry’s an’ the other went over to Maggie an’ Charlie’s. They received two channels from Lexington an’ one from Knoxville on a good day. When the weather was bad… nothin’.

In the past months he enlarged his small library of classic science fiction and fantasy with authors like Heinlein, Burroughs an’ Norton. He reread books from C.S. Lewis and Tolkein. A small bookstore owner had a nice variety of fantasy an’ Sci-Fi an’ after meetin’ Joe Henry a time or two, always had a few choice selections set aside under the counter for him to consider.

He also started seekin’ an’ collectin’ books about the flora an’ fauna of Kentucky, about the history of the state, the history of Appalachia. He added to his bookshelves “Dawn comes to the Mountains” by Samuel W. Thomas, “The Crucible”- the story an’ history of Oneida Baptist Institute, a settlement school in eastern Kentucky. The book was written by the founder, James Anderson Burns. He collected an’ read through all the Foxfire books that had been published. He even took home “Stalking the Wild Asparagus” by that Euell Gibbons man. That book an’ the Foxfire books led him to other books about all the plants, nuts, seeds an’ fungi that were edible an’ still pretty easily available in the hills of Appalachia.
As he talked about what he read, he found not only a lot of interest but willingness from Charlie an’ Maggie, his Aunt Bess, Lois an’ even Rachel to talk about the bounty of them hills, but also a willingness to go out an’ forage for many edibles to try. Together they often had wilted greens, made by fryin’ bacon an’ addin’ a bit of vinegar an’ sugar to the bacon grease while still hot. That was poured over the washed an’ cleaned wild greens they collected. Their plates would be filled with names like lambs tongue, “creasy greens” (watercress), wild dandelion, even wild violets. They prepared “chicken of the woods” a mushroom that grows on trees. A few times they found giant “puffballs”, one of Aunt Bess’ favorites. It was a large, round white mushroom that was sliced into “steaks” an’ fried in bacon grease. Add a little salt an’ pepper an’ anyone would chow down on that thing. They ate several recipes prepared from the roots of cattails. The roots tasted like potato when raw an’ tasted much like mashed taters when boiled if some butter, salt an’ pepper was added.

Bobby an’ Charlie took him rabbit an’ squirrel huntin’ many times. It was their favorite pastime an’ they found that though Joe Henry hadn’t hunted since he was a teenager, he still had a sharp eye an’ could walk quiet through the woods. Along the way he learned much wood’s lore. He was like an’ ol’ sponge as he soaked in the stories of them hills, stories of successful deer hunts, of the bravery of the early settlers, includin’ some of his kin.

He smiled as they talked about deer camp an’ remembered those times where fellers got together more to spend time in the woods with other men than anything else. Huntin’ was what it was all about, but deer had become scarce for many years an’ were just makin’ a comeback these days.
Joe Henry told them a lot of people, his ex included thought it was cruel, mean. Charlie tore him up one side an’ down the other when Joe Henry said he could see some of their point. Charlie reminded him that T-Bone steaks didn’t grow on them Styrofoam things.

Charlie said “How do you think early settler fed their families?  Or even our folks? A farmer can’t go out an’ kill ol’ Bossie the milk cow just to have a hamburger. Bringin’ home a deer could provide fresh meat for a hungry family. A fried rabbit or squirrel dumplin’s was a feast for poor families.”

Joe Henry soon learned why it was called “huntin’” an’ not killin’ when they walked miles seekin’ one or two squirrels. He began to not only appreciate but loved the time he spent with the other men. Even though Charlie was in his early seventies an’ Bobby just sixty two compared to Joe Henry’s twenty seven, they just enjoyed each other’s company.

Rachel took him into the hills with her camera an’ they “hunted” with the camera. She would look, pause an’ show him how she tried to frame a shot, tryin’ to get just the right picture in the view finder. She would give him the camera after she took a shot an’ let him do the same. After the photos were developed she would compare his shots to her shots. When she told him he had a “good eye”, he took time to buy a book on photography essentials from the University of Kentucky bookstore. He purchased good used 35 millimeter Canon F-1 from a pawn shop the day Rachel traveled with him to see Mist.
They spent time together lookin’ through their view finders at the beauty of the hills. Joe Henry again realized how shallow his life had become up in Ohio. He just hadn’t seen all that his family knew an’ appreciated. These days were revelations as he took time to just look around.

“Joe Henry, you are bloomin’ before our eyes.” Charlie told him.

“Charlie, I reckon. I’ve been a bloomin’ idiot up till now. About time, don’t you think?” he replied.

No one disagreed.

Some evenin’s, especially on the weekends, Bobby would stop by with his guitar an’ Joe Henry would tune up his fiddle an’ they would play, sing an’ talk for hours. Maggie an’ Charlie would come across the road to join them, a willin’ audience. Charlie would often join them with his tenor. Maggie added her alto voice when she knew the song.
It was a treat when Bobby brought a buddy along that played other instruments. One feller might have a dobro, another a banjo or mandolin. In good weather they sat on the porch an’ the music traveled up an’ down the road. When the weather changed they moved into the big room in Joe Henry’s place. The cool thing about those that visited was many of them were closer to Joe Henry’s age. After a few visits several became friends with Joe Henry an’ would travel to Limestone Ridge on their own to visit an’ play.
Maggie would often ask them to sing “My Old Kentucky home”. She was a big UK basketball fan as were the others. Joe Henry was just startin’ to follow UK basketball when he realized how little he knew an’ how rabid these folks around him was about basketball an’ them Wildcats. Mostly he just listened as they talked players, scores or statistics.

Don’t even think about talkin’ when a game was on the radio. Just sayin’.

Chapter 16

Oh my. Thanksgivin’ dinner was such a wonderful thing there on Limestone Ridge. It was ever’thing Joe Henry hoped it would be. When he moved in he wondered what he would ever do with the long table in the big kitchen. It seemed like that whole room was way too big. He considered puttin’ that big table away in the basement or someplace an’ gettin’ a little ol’ dinette set.

Thanksgivin’ Day was what a long table was for. The breakfasts an’ other meals shared at the home place proved the providence of not only a long table but a big kitchen, a big house. Talk about puttin’ on the feed bag.

It was so quiet as they said a blessin’. They adopted the custom of standin’ ‘round the table an’ holdin’ hands to pray before they ate. Aunt Bess asked if she could pray an’ all agreed. As she prayed, she said thanks for the food, named each one of those around the table an’ sayin’ a special prayer for Mist, the baby within that was soon to be the baby finally out. She prayed hard for Mist who was weaker every day but determined to have her baby.

As she prayed Joe Henry heard the back door quietly open. In just a moment she felt Aunt Bess’ hand let go an’ another hand, cold from the weather slip into his. He opened his eyes an’ turned his head to see Rachel smilin’ at him, coat still on. He grinned big an’ squeezed her hand. She squeezed back. Maggie was on the other side of Joe Henry an’ peeked also. Funny thing was, she squeezed Joe Henry’s hand too.

“Sheesh.” He thought to himself as Aunt Bess finished her prayer. “She’s my Cousin. Good grief.”
Everyone was surprised but glad to see her. Everyone except Aunt Bess. She told those gathered that she found out Rachel wasn’t able to go home to Virginia for Thanksgivin’ so she invited her to come join them. Not a soul minded an’ was glad for her company.

Joe Henry was in the noticin’ mode as they Aunt Bess said her “Amen”. He noticed Aunt Bess squeezed Clyde’s hand too. Caused a normally oblivious Joe Henry to wonder. He made a mental note to ask Maggie or perhaps even Aunt Bess about Clyde.

Folks watched as Maggie, Lois an’ Aunt Bess uncovered the bowls on the side board. She then went to the small table beside the oven where the turkey had been restin’. Meats of any kind need to rest before they are carved, that’s what Aunt Bess an’ Maggie always said. She brought the turkey to the table to the “Oohs” an’ Ahhs” of everyone. Charlie offered to carve an’ he took up the knife like a surgeon.

Joe Henry asked Rachel what she had in the big Tupperware cake container. She grinned an’ told him to follow her. They got up from the table as Charlie was carvin’ the turkey She took the Tupperware cover off to reveal a RED VELVET CAKE! He just stood there for a moment.

“A red velvet cake?” he asked as he used a finger to run along the edge of the cake. “With real actually cooked icin’ instead of that cream cheese stuff most folks make. I am impressed.

Rachel grinned, “I remembered you mentionin’ that it was your Mama’s prize recipe. I asked Bess an’ she just happened to have the recipe. I hope it is as good as your Mama’s.”

“We’ll see.” He said good naturedly.

They joined the others at the table an’ the bowls were passed around one by one. Plates were filled to overflowin’ for just a moment or two as they ate. Plates were refilled an’ finally it was time for dessert.
Rachel brought the cake to the table. Maggie sat an apple pie on the table along with a pecan pie. Bobby had vanilla ice cream in the freezer for anyone who wanted it with their dessert. All the men requested a scoop on their dessert plate along with a small sliver of each.

“Joe Henry, I have a surprise for y’all. That apple pie is from apples Charlie collected down at the ol’ orchard. It is right gnarly but them trees do put off a few good apples. They are pretty good to eat if you catch them when they are ripe. Mostly they are windfall an’ the critters get them.” Maggie told them.
Not too long after they started on the desserts Rachel asked Joe Henry about the Red Velvet cake. He added his “thumbs up” to everyone else’s since his mouth was full. They bragged on the pecan pie an’ all were amazed at just how good the apple pie was.

The phone rang an’ Joe Henry was up to answer it. While he was away the others continued to enjoy the desserts an’ chat. They wondered why the phone call was takin’ so long until Joe Henry came to the door of the kitchen. He stood in the doorway, leaned on the side of the doorframe for a long while. The others got quiet as they waited.

“That was Vince. Mist, Mist... She won’t make it through the next couple days. She begged them to make sure the baby was delivered. She wants to see her baby, to hold it in her arms. It is still a little early, but they don’t have a choice now. The doctors are goin’ to do a C-section in a couple hours. They have called a specialist in from Cincinnati. He was finishin’ up his dinner and is on the road now.”
There was no question for any of them. They all helped to put the food away. Coats were gathered an’ they all piled into Joe Henry an’ Bobby’s truck an’ headed for Lexington an’ University of Kentucky Hospital.

They arrived an’ went up to the maternity ward waitin’ room. Aunt Bess went to the desk to ask about Vince. She met one of the nurses who told her she would get Vince. He came out, hugged Aunt Bess’ neck an’ went down to the waitin’ room with the others. He hugged each of them, cried when he got to Joe Henry. He hugged Joe Henry’s neck an’ just sobbed.

Joe Henry felt helpless. He hugged Vince tight. The others gathered ‘round them an’ Aunt Bess prayed for Vince, for Mist an’ for the baby. She asked the Lord to be with the physicians, to guide their hands. She begged God to find a way to work a miracle an’ save Mist’s life. As she prayed the others wept, knowin’ that prayer was one that would not be answered.

Vince went back to the delivery room. The others walked, prayed an’ wept through the next several hours. Just a few minutes after 7:00 p.m. Vince came out to see them.

“I have a daughter. Mist wants me to name her Misty Dawn. She is awake now an’ wants to see y’all.

Chapter 17
One by one they all went in to see Mist. She was weak, her voice thin an’ low but she was glad to see them. She asked each to be sure an’ take care of Vince an’ Misty Dawn. Each promised in their turn to do all they could for her husband ab’ baby girl. Vince sat beside the bed an’ held her hand.

After they all had opportunity to spend time with Mist they gathered in the waitin’ room. The next day was the big day for the cabin store, the Pine Hollow Christmas Tree Farm. Santa was going to be there. Flyers an’ announcements were all over the counties around the farm. They decided to leave Aunt Bess an’ Joe Henry at the hospital. Lois could handle the sale of Christmas trees along with the young men that often helped her. Rachel would help Maggie an’ Charlie with the cabin store when she wasn’t takin’ photos an’ Clyde an’ Bobby would drive the sleigh.

Aunt Bess asked Bobby to go to her place an’ get a few things to bring back for her stay at the hospital. Joe Henry said he would be fine. The others prayed once again with Vince an’ left for home. Aunt Bess an’ Joe Henry settled in to wait. Bobby was back soon with a small bag filled with the things Aunt Bess asked him to pick up for her.

Neither of them said much as they sat. Aunt Bess had Bobby bring her Bible an’ he Sunday School book. She also had Bobby grab a notebook filled with the genealogy research she worked on for the last thirty years or so. She sorta figured Joe Henry could use a good dose of “who you are” as they waited together.

Joe Henry called Maggie later in the evenin’ to make sure everyone got back alright. He gave the update that basically was no news. The told Vince not to worry about them, to stay with Mist. He agreed an’ left them to stand vigil in the waitin’ room.

It was about 4:20 in the early mornin’ when Vince came to the waitin’ room an’ told them to come quickly. Mist asked for Aunt Bess. They followed him into her room an’ she smiled at them. She had oxygen goin’, an’ IV an’ a nurse by her side. They walked to the left side of the bed an’ the nurse moved so they could get close. Vince sat back in the chair on her right side, took her hand an’ laid his head on her hand.

She asked Aunt Bess to pray, told her she knew there was no more miracles. Baby Misty Dawn was the only miracle she prayed for. She turned to the left and asked the nurse if the baby was OK. The nurse, who thought she had seen enough to make her callous to the woes of sickness an’ dyin’ had tears in her eyes as she nodded an’ assured Mist that the baby was fine, was wonderful. She weighed five pounds four ounces which was really good for how early she was.

“We done good, Vince. We done good. Don’t cry sweetheart. I don’t mind dyin’. I ain’t afraid. I’m ready to go on home. I know where I’m goin’. I’m ready to see Heaven an’ my Lord, Vince. Don’t cry sweetie.” Mist whispered.

Chairs were brought in for Joe Henry an’ Aunt Bess. They sat with Vince through the early mornin’ hours. Mist whispered her love time an’ again to her husband. He whispered his love to her. She told him not to morn forever, to find a good Mommy for their baby. She made him promise he wouldn’t mourn an’ wait.

Aunt Bess told Mist she would make sure that Vince an’ Mist would be well taken care of. Mist whispered Vince’s name an’ Misty Dawn one more time an’ was quiet for ever so long. Her breathin’ slowed an’ finally stopped. The nurse stepped away an’ out of the room. In a moment a doctor came in to listen, look at the clock an’ set Mist’s homegoin’ time. He told them to stay as long as they needed.
Aunt Bess an’ Joe Henry sat with Vince for about fifteen minutes then excused themselves an’ went to the waitin’ room. An hour or so later Vince came out to join them. He told them he provided the name of the funeral home back in Hyden an’ someone would be there shortly. He sat quiet for ever so long before he took a deep breath an’ turned to Aunt Bess.

“Bess, we don’t really have any place to bury Mist. She hadn’t really had a real home for a long time. Our little home on Limestone Ridge was the only home she ever loved. We’ve been talkin’, you see. She wants to be cremated but we want to know if she can be buried in your Carpenter family cemetery. I know she ain’t family, but we don’t have anywhere else to go.” He said through his tears.
“Oh honey, of course you can. Do you have enough to pay for everything? Do you need anything?” Aunt Bess asked.

“I don’t know, Bess. We ain’t been married that long. I don’t know what she had or didn’t have. I just don’t know.” He told her then added, “I don’t want to bury her till sometime next week. I don’t want to always remember this weekend as the when I buried Mist.

“Don’t worry, Vince. Don’t worry. We’ll figure it out.” She told Vince.

The hospital staff apparently passed word around that Mist died. A right nosy social worker came an’ asked to visit with Vince for a moment after Mist’s body was taken out. Though the social worker suggested they speak alone, Vince refused an’ said his “family” was to stay. She then proceeded to tell Vince how difficult it would be for a single father to care for a newborn. Of course, “the baby” would need to stay at the hospital for a bit since she was delivered so early…

Vince quickly told the woman his daughter’s name was Misty Dawn, not “the baby”. The woman apologized an’ continued with how difficult it would be, him bein’ a man an’ all. Said he obviously had little experience raisin’ a child an’ her job was to have the baby’s best interest in mind.

Aunt Bess interrupted, “What exactly are you getting’ at lady?”

“Excuse me madam, but I am speaking with this new father who has no idea how to take care of a child. It obviously is not your concern.” The social worker said as she turned back to Vince.

“As I was saying, you have no experience as a father and your spouse has passed. It is our opinion that the best thing a man like you can do for your child is to give it up for adoption…”

Oh my. She couldn’t have hurt Vince more if she stabbed him in the heart with a butcher knife. He sat back wide eyed, stunned. Tears started to fall. He shook his head “no” but words didn’t come out.

The Bess Asher stood up to her full height over the social worker. “A few things for you to understand as you get out of here lady. First, my name is Bess Asher, I am a lawyer an’ still registered with the Kentucky Bar Association an’ have represented Vince AN’ Mist for some time now. Second, I’ve spent a lot of time with Vince an’ the mother over the past months. I know it was always the intention of Mist an’ Vince to raise that precious baby. Third, are you writin’ this down in your little clipboard of forms? You better be, ‘cause I am reportin’ you to this hospital’s Medical Ethics Board. This man just lost his wife an’ Misty Dawn’s mama for goodness sakes.”

The social worker sat stunned. Bess looked at her an’ pointed to the clipboard until she started writin’ notes at Bess’ direction. Bess waited till she stopped writin’.

“Now, the man has a whole group of family an’ friends livin’ all around him that plans to help him care for his daughter, includin’ me. We will be right by his side along the way. I have had children as have Maggie, Margaret Allen an’ Lois Jones. We are all related an’ are this man an’ his daughter’s support system. I can assure you he will have no problem raisin’ this child.”

Bess reached for her pocketbook, opened it an’ took out two business cards. “This is my card an’ it includes my phone number an’ mailin’ address. At this point if you or any others of your ilk wish to talk with Vince, make your official visits or inquire as the the well bein’ of that child you WILL contact me first. There will be no exceptions for you or any state or county health care worker. No contact without my approval an’ supervised by me. Do you understand?”

The social worker shook her head, wrote a few more notes on her forms. She sat there for another moment.

“You may leave now. I do expect a formal letter of apology from the hospital to Vince concernin’ this breach of good taste.” Bess added.

They sat for a few minutes after the social worker left. Vince was quiet but Bess told him not to worry. He was goin’ to be fine. Misty Dawn would be fine an’ they all would be there to help him. After a moment Vince started to laugh. Joe Henry joined him an’ finally Aunt Bess did also.

“Lord a mercy, Bess Asher. You cleaned her clock. I ain’t never seen you so angry. You seemed like you was gonna eat her alive.” Vince laughed.

They all agreed it did them good on such a hard day. They all went to the nursery area an’ stood lookin’ at Misty Dawn. She was in one of them baby incubator things. The nurses motioned for Vince to come to a door at the end of the hall. She met him, had him wash up an’ put on disposable gown, shoes an’ head cover. He was then able to stand by the incubator an’ touch his daughter through the openin’s on the side. He stood there, holdin’ her little hand for ever so long.

A good bit later they left the nursery area an’ went downstairs. Vince had his van there an’ he agreed to leave with them an’ go home to get some sleep. He could come back the next day to see his daughter again. They all walked out to the parkin’ lot an’ stood together for a while, quiet an’ reflectin’ on all that happened in the last hours. Eventually they got into their vehicles an’ left for Limestone Ridge.

Chapter 18
Friday was a day that few of the folks up on Limestone Ridge Road will forget. Most of all the loss of their dear Mist will forever be in their minds. They determined not to bother Vince as he definitely needed to sleep an’ planned to get back to University of Kentucky Hospital to be there with his baby girl, Misty Dawn. Even though he could only go in once an’ hour he planned on bein’ there as much as he could durin’ the next two or three weeks the doctors expected her to be there.
All around him the day was what they all hoped for. Cold with just a sprinklin’ of snow, clear skies an’ no forecast of bad weather for the weekend. About 7:30, before they opened the cabin store an’ the Pine Hollow Christmas Tree Farm, Bobby Clark showed up. He told everyone he had a surprise to show them. They all came out to the front of the cabin store. He walked to the bed of his truck an’ lifted out somethin’ long, large an’ flat. They all wondered what sort of surprise it was till Bobby unwrapped it.
Under the wraps was a beautiful sign that said, “The Cabin Store” in big beautiful letters. Underneath, in smaller letters were the words “At Carpenter’s Bee Tree Farm”. When he held the sign up for all to see, well, they clapped an’ cheered.
“I hope I ain’t steppin’ out where I shouldn’t be. I remember what Rick an’ Mazie suggested about havin’ names for these places an’ such. We have been callin’ this the cabin store from the beginnin’. I just thought that was perfect an’ had this made for the store as my gift.” Bobby told them.
No one was displeased. They all loved it. Maggie said they needed business cards with that name on it that folks could take along when they shopped. Needed that on future flyers they might pass out.
Bobby had Charlie an’ Clyde help his mount the sign on the side of the cabin store, right by the door. The women had to rearrange a few wreaths an’ some mistletoe that the sign displaced. After the sign was in place they all stood back to admire the sign. It was just what the place needed.
When Michael Lee arrived earlier Clyde met him at the door an’ told him Aunt Bess an’ Joe Henry arrived home in the early mornin’ an’ were still asleep. He quietly changed into his Santa suit an’ waited in the livin’ room for his grand entrance.
Clyde an’ Charlie took the horses, Bud an’ Babe out of their stalls earlier. The fed them grain an’ feed while they were brushed. The mules, Sug an' Bob stuck their heads out of their stalls when they smelled the molasses in the grain. Clyde grinned an' fed them some grain too.
Clyde worked on their manes an’ tails as Charlie brushed their coats well. They positioned the horses in front of the sleigh, harnessed them, an’ made sure all the bells were secure. They threw the blankets over their backs to wait for the appointed time.
The cabin store was to open at 9:00 a.m. with Santa wasn’t to arrive till 10:00. Clyde could see Bobby doin’ parkin’ duty as he looked up the path leadin’ to the cabin store. Folks started arrivin’ at 8:30, thirty minutes before the openin’ time. They decided they better go ahead an’ open the store early.
Aunt Bess had purchased two of them big ol’ 100 cup coffee urns like churches have. One held coffee an’ the other mulled cider. Cups, sugar an’ a big container of powder creamer were placed beside the urns as well as a jar with a lid. A sign told folks the coffee an’ cider was for sale but on the honor system an’ to pay by puttin’ their money in the jar.
Rachel was there an’ had a hat on with felt “elf ears” as she arranged her cameras, tripods an’ lightin’ in front of Santa’s chair. She grinned from ear to ear the whole mornin’. She also made little tickets so folks could purchase a ticket at the register to have pictures taken with Santa. She was so excited that mornin’.
They all gathered earlier to have a bite of breakfast at Joe Henry’s house. They were all subdued by the terrible news an’ said little. Before they left they gathered, joined hands an’ prayed as had become their custom. They prayed for the day but mostly remembered Vince an’ baby Misty Dawn.
The women gathered once again just before openin’ the door to say a quick prayer. Then it was a flurry of activity. The parkin’ area was fillin’ fast. Folks were buyin’ but not leavin’. A number of folks asked about sleigh rides, but no rides could happen till after Santa arrived.
At 10:00 sharp Santa stepped into the back seat of the sleigh. Clyde climbed into the front an’ picked up the reins. Charlie walked to the edge of the trees to watch an’ motion Clyde to head out. Bobby had to clear folks away from the sleigh’s path. So many parents was there with their kids. It was amazin’ to behold.
Bobby motions to Charlie. Charlie motions to Clyde an’ the sleigh was off. It jingled an’ jangled a Christmas-y tune as they came through the trees an’ to the front of the store. Michael Lee/Santa stood an’ laughed a hearty “ho-ho-ho” as they rode up. Kids got away from parents an’ were all around as Santa exited the sleigh.
Thankfully Rachel had the forethought to make the posts an’ ropes days before. The line to see Santa was along the front wall an’ out the door before they knew it. Kids waited patiently in line an’ parents shopped. It was incredible.
With all the sounds of bells, children an’ adults cheerin’ an’ shoutin’ it was impossible for Aunt Bess an’ Joe Henry to stay in bed. They both were up, got cleaned up an’ had a quick bite of leftover breakfast along with a cup of coffee before they walked through the trees an’ to the cabin store. They stopped at the fire pit to say howdy to Charlie, Bobby an’ Clyde before plungin’ into the crowd an’ enterin’ the store about 10:45.
Joe Henry saw Rachel an’ waved. She waved back but had damp eyes. He went over to see what was wrong. Santa stood up an’ joined them. That big ol’ man was a little tearful too as they whispered together.
“Joe Henry, several Mamas an’ Daddies have asked for Santa not to make any promises about presents. We all knew a lot of kids that might come would be from families that don’t have much. We just have been broken hearted. Santa is doin’ good at not getting’ teary, but it is so hard. It just makes me want to hug these babies.” Rachel whispered.
Santa nodded an’ wiped his eyes. He turned, chuckled a “ho-ho-ho” an’ asked who was next. Michael Lee was so amazin’ that day. He WAS Santa for all who saw him. He never promised anything, he just listened, loved an’ took time for each little boy an’ girl.
Joe Henry went back to the fire pit with eyes just as wet as Rachel’s. He told the others what Rachel an’ Santa told him. They all sat quiet for ever so long. All their eyes was wet with tears. Then Clyde spoke up.
“Joe Henry, Charlie, Bobby, do y’all think you can take care of the sleigh rides an’ the horses? Bess, I need you to take a ride with me. We’ll be back later.” He asked.
The men all said they would be fine. Bess seemed to know just what Clyde had on his mind as they left together. They said since the path back to the house was a bit slick, they better hold on to each other so’s they wouldn’t slip. Joe Henry watched them go an’ pondered on the fact that Aunt Bess wouldn’t take his arm as they walked from the house. She said it weren’t slick an’ she didn’t need no help.
Clyde stopped in the house, asked Bess if he could make a couple long distance calls. He said he would pay for the calls later. She told him to hush an’ make the calls. He told Bess what he had in mind an’ she agreed. She made a quick call as well. It was about twenty minutes later that they was ready to go. They loaded up into his truck an’ were on their way.
The whole day was busy. It was more than anyone expected. They had to make a sign to tell folks Santa was on a break so he could get somethin’ to eat at 1:00 an’ several times so’s he could go to the restroom.
About 3:00 Clyde an’ Bess came rollin’ up to the barn in his truck. The truck bed was loaded high with boxes. Clyde got out, motioned to Bobby to come help him. Bess was already openin’ to door to the barn when bobby walked up. The barn had a concrete floor an’ was always dry. There was one room that the family always kept up inside. It had a good door an’ sheet metal on the outside of the walls to keep critters out. They unloaded the boxes into that room quickly.
Bess took three big cloth bags made of red corduroy out of the truck as the men unloaded the boxes. Her call was to a friend that ran a fabric store. When Bess told her what she needed the ladies in the shop got to work on sewin’ machines that were for sale in the shop an’ made the bags for Santa. They picked the bags up on the way.
Clyde opened one box to reveal dozens of stuffed animals. Another box held small mesh Christmas stockin’s full of candy an’ treats. Clyde got all damp eyed when he said weren’t another child gonna leave that place empty handed. They had enough for a few days at least. Two wholesale places were orderin’ more an’ would have someone to drive to Tipp Top toy Company in Tipp City, Ohio that was a toy manufacturer to pick up more boxes of stuffed animals an’ Christmas treats to be delivered no later than Tuesday.
Bess, Clyde an’ Bobby filled the three bags. Bobby took two of the bags to the cabin store. The third was ready when the others were empty. Though they couldn’t do anything about the little ones that already left, they made sure every child had both a stuffed animal an’ a treat before they left.
About the time Clyde an’ Bess arrived Vince had come to the cabin store to visit with everyone. When he saw the toys an’ heard about the boxes of other toys waitin’ to be loaded into the red corduroy bags he stepped in an’ made it his job to make sure the bags stayed full. Rachel had another hat with felt elf ears she intended for Joe Henry, but she placed that hat on Vince’s head. He looked to see his reflection in a window. He nodded his approval an’ wore the hat for the rest of the day. He told Joe Henry he couldn’t just sit around that day. He had too much on his mind.
On a trip to the Pine Tree Christmas Tree Farm Joe Henry learned from Lois that the day was exceedin’ her expectations. She was sellin’ more trees than ever. Dozens of folks were cuttin’ their own trees. She called in both the young men that worked for her to keep up. She grinned constantly as she waved goodbye an’ went to help another customer.
It was way past closin’ time when the last customer left. Clyde an’ Charlie rode Santa back to Joe Henry’s place an’ took Bud an’ Babe to the barn where they were brushed good, put in their stalls an’ rewarded with extra grain an’ feed.
Maggie had baked a city ham, sliced it an’ put it in Joe Henry’s Frigidaire earlier. Lois baked several loaves of bread. Everyone made their way to Joe Henry’s an’ gathered for a quick bite. They all were worn out. They convinced Vince to share the meal with them before he went home. He was goin’ to the hospital the next morning.
As they ate Joe Henry suggested that Aunt Bess an’ Clyde stay with him a little longer than the weekend, especially since Mist’s memorial service wouldn’t be right away. Maggie agreed an’ said the weather was changin’ from day to day an’ she would feel better if they weren’t on the road goin’ to their respective homes. They looked at each other an’ looked back to Joe Henry.
“You sure I ain’t a bother, Joe Henry?” Clyde asked. “I wouldn’t mind enjoyin’ y’all’s company.”
“Not at all, Clyde. How about you, Aunt Bess?” Joe Henry asked.
“Well, if you are fine with a couple old folks, well I wouldn’t mind a bit.” She said as she gave Clyde a wink that she thought no one would notice.
Joe Henry did notice.
Clyde gave Vince keys to his farm outside Danville. It was only about 28 miles to the hospital from his place. Vince tried to say no, but Clyde was as hard to argue with as Joe Henry’s Aunt Bess. He took the keys an’ Clyde wrote down the directions to his farm an’ from his farm to the hospital. He told Vince they was plenty to eat in the Frigidaire an’ pantry an’ to help himself. He also shook Vince’s hand an’ palmed $200 into Vince’s hand. When Vince opened his mouth to protest Clyde gave him a look an’ Vince smiled a sad smile an’ hugged Clyde’s neck.
Friday was just the beginnin’. The whole Christmas Season was to be just as wonderful.

Chapter 19
Joe Henry knew that Mist had requested to only have a grave side service. Vince already contacted Brother Shelly who was saddened but had been visitin’ Mist on a regular basis an’ had been asked by Mist an’ Vince to preach her graveside service. Aunt Bess made contact with him to give him directions to the Carpenter Family Cemetery there on Limestone Ridge Road.
Joe Henry remembered it well. It was not too far past the low water bridge he first traveled across when he arrived. It was on a small hill to the left of the road with a gravel path goin’ part way up the hill. He had no opportunity to walk through it yet so didn’t know much about it.
Aunt Bess made a call an’ talked with Ronald Hyde from the Hyde Brothers Funeral Home in Hyden an’ arranged to pay the entire bill for Vince but asked that he not know it was her that paid.
Charlie an’ Bobby asked if they could prepare Mist’s final restin’ place. Since it was only an urn a big ol’ the backhoe the Hyde Brothers Funeral Home usually used weren’t needed. Bobby had a two man post hole auger they dug the grave with. It was plenty deep an’ wide enough for the burial. Hyde Brothers came to set up the tent, put down some AstroTurf around the small grave an’ place chairs inside the tent.
Vince planned the graveside service for 10:30 on Saturday, December 2nd so everyone in his small family could be there. Lois, Joe Henry an; the others insisted on a Saturday so his family could come. They put signs up an’ a notice in the paper that both the store an’ Christmas tree farm would be closed that day’.
Folks gathered at the foot of the small hill an’ walked up to the tent. Brother Shelly an’ Vince walked together at the head of the group. His family, his Mama, Daddy, two brothers an’ their families walked behind him an’ the folks from the area there were at the back of the group.
It wasn’t terribly cold that mornin’, but the wind was fierce an’ made the day feel colder than it was. With Bobby leadin’ they sang “Wayfarin’ Stranger” an’ will the Circle be Unbroken” before Brother Shelly spoke. He knew Misty better than anyone there in many ways an’ shared several stories that even Vince had not heard. He shared a warm message, remindin’ folks that Mist had become a Christian several years ago an’ told him more than once she was prepared to die. He said she had made her peach with the Lord an’ just wanted her baby girl to have a good life.
By the way, Mist’s father had been served with a protection order, tellin’ him he had to stay away from Vince an’ baby Misty Dawn. A deputy sherrif served the papers an’ told him to not even consider crashin’ Mist’s Memorial Service.
Vince left the urn on the small table when he left with his family. Ronald Hyde had already told Vince they would take care of things an’ he need not stay unless he wanted to. Vince asked to not stay an’ watch.
Maggie, Lois an’ Aunt Bess had prepared a meal for everyone that was already at Joe Henry’s place. Though he asked them to join his family for a meal, everyone from the ridge felt he also needed to spend time with his Mama, Daddy, brothers an’ their families.
The men from the Hyde Brothers Funeral Home completed the burial, took down the tent an’ loaded the tent, chairs an’ AstroTurf onto trucks. Aunt Bess took Joe Henry to meet his ancestors buried on the hillside. She invited Rachel to walk with her as some of the ancestors were also related to her.
They went from stone to stone, grave to grave as Aunt Bess told of each family member buried there. She pointed out her Mama an’ Daddy, Joe Henry’s Grandparents, her brothers buried beside them. She took them toward the back of the cemetery an’ pointed out the stones of his Great Grandparents an’ other relatives. Finally, she walked a few steps an’ pointed to four graves, side by side.
“The four Carpenter brothers, Joe Henry. The original settlers. Their families are buried all around.” Aunt Bess told him. “They are Daniel, your Great Great Grandpa, Joe Henry, Abraham, Judah an’ Jacob.”
She pointed at the tombstones as she spoke. They walked closer so they could read the time worn stones. Rachel leaned into him an’ took Aunt Bess’ hand.
“So, these four are related to me too, right?” Rachel asked.
“Yes, they are. Rachel, there was a fifth brother too. You might already know that. His name was Isham.” Aunt Bess explained.
“Wait, Isham Carpenter was one of my ancestors.” Rachel said.
“He was. He was your Great Great Grandpa, Rachel. He was the oldest an’ he stayed home to work the family farm in Hawkins County, Tennessee with his Daddy, David Carpenter. Isham had a daughter, Sarah who married Albert McNew. Albert McNew an’ Sarah Carpenter are your Great Grandparents.” Aunt Bess told her.
“I reckon I’m not as well versed on my family tree as I thought.” Rachel chuckled.
“Join the crowd, Rachel.” Joe Henry smiled. “I know so little about the Carpenter family tree it is shameful.”
“So, what does that make us, Bess?” Rachel wondered.
“That would make y’all fourth cousins, sweetie.” Aunt Bess smiled as she answered.
Rachel turned an’ kissed Joe Henry on the cheek. “See Joe Henry, we can be kissin’ Cousins!”
“I hear that kind of stuff is good to know here in the mountains. Don’t want folks not knowin’ who they are kin to an’ havin’ tater head babies or some such.” He replied.
Rachel laughed an’ slapped his arm an’ Aunt Bess looked right fierce at him over her glasses.

Chapter 20
A few days before Mist’s funeral service Vince was home from the hospital an’ Clyde’s place where he was stayin’. He mentioned he wished he had room for his Mama an’ Daddy as well as his two brothers an’ their families to stay Saturday night an’ go home on Sunday. He planned for his folks to stay with him an’ follow him to the hospital the next mornin’ as they went home. That was all the folks on the Ridge needed to hear before they got to work.
Joe Henry, Aunt Bess an’ Clyde put their heads together an’ talked with Lois, Maggie an’ Charlie. After their plans were in place, they sat down with Vince to explain how the weekend would go.
Joe Henry was the ring leader an’ spoke for the group. “OK Vince, here’s what you are gonna do. The womenfolk are gonna prepare a meal for everyone after the funeral. We will have it at my place since there is room for us all there. We all want to get to know your family.”
Vince nodded an’ his eyes began to well up with tears.
“Also, put some clean sheets on the beds in both of your bedrooms. Clyde an’ Aunt Bess are gonna be stayin there Saturday night. I’m bunkin’ at Charlie an’ Maggie’s for the night an’ you an’ your family will have this place for Saturday evenin’. There are four bedrooms so they can stay till Sunday an’ follow you to the hospital then. Your two brothers have kids? How many? Joe Henry asked.
“Brian has two boys. One is seven an’ the other is nine. Clint has one boy who is ten, I think. But, Joe Henry, that is too much.” Vince answered.
“Just hush an’ say thank you, brother. So, here’s what we will do. We’ll put each of your brothers an’ their wives in one of the bedrooms downstairs. I think we have enough sleepin’ bags for the three cousins. They can camp out in the livin’ room together. I’ll make sure they have flashlights an’ maybe some comic books or things to make it seem like an’ adventure. You an’ your folks can take the bedrooms upstairs.”
Maggie spoke up. I’ll be over with Bess an’ Lois to make breakfast here early so’s some of us can get to church that mornin’. Let everyone know I’m comin’ in at 7:00 a.m. sharp so they better not wander around nekkid. I’ve baked another ham an’ we’ll have leftovers. I’ll fry some ham up an’ make pancakes with real maple syrup. They youngin’s won’t want to go home when I’m through feedin’ them.”
By the time Aunt Bess, Rachel an’ Joe Henry walked in the door, Lois an’ Maggie had food on the side board, ice in a bowl, a big jug of sweet team made as well as the Mr. Coffee spittin’ out fresh coffee. Vince introduced the trio to his family again an’ they all chatted while the rest of the food was placed on the side board.
There was a huge platter of sliced city ham, more of Lois’ hame made bread, fresh, hot biscuits and fresh butter, plenty of honey in several varieties plus scuppernong jelly. They had tater salad, macaroni salad, ambrosia fruit salad with them little bitty mushmallows. Aunt Bess cooked a huge pot of her green beans with the butt end of Maggie’s ham. Green beans that Joe Henry helped her can back earlier in the year. There were a couple pies too. Clyde surprised everyone with big plates of his own home-made fudge an’ tater candy.
As always, they all joined hands to say a prayer an’ blessin’. This time they gathered in the livin’ room since there were so many of them. Joe Henry counted ten in Vince’s clan, Maggie an’ Charlie, Lois, Aunt Bess, Clyde, Bobby an’ he almost forgot to count himself. Seventeen folks gathered together.
Vince’s Daddy Kenny asked if he could say the blessin’ an’ all smiled as they quickly agreed. He asked the Lord to bless the food. Then he asked God to watch over that little baby Misty Dawn, to comfort his son as he grieved, to comfort him an’ his wife, the brothers an’ their families. To comfort all of them. He asked God to show Vince the paths he should take to raise that granddaughter right. He asked that each of those gathered together be blessed a double portion. He thanked God an’ those gathered for lovin’ an’ carin’ for his son, Vince.
By the time he got to the ‘amen” they all was boo-hoo-in’ like babies. They was huggin’ all around an’ Joe Henry got a box of tissues to hand around. Charlie an’ Clyde had big ol’ red hankies out an’ was honkin’ their noses like a flock of geese was overhead. That made everyone laugh.
Aunt Bess took over as traffic controller, tellin’ Vince an’ his folks to go first, then the brothers an’ their clan. The folks what lived on the ridge helped everyone get their plates filled. The grownups were seated at the big table an’ the three cousins had a card table set up just for them. It was complete with a tablecloth, several little green plastic army men at each plate with their names taped to them so they knew where to sit. Joe Henry told the boys they could keep the army men. He became their hero right then an’ there. They didn’t grouse about not sittin’ at the big table. Their army men had a few battles around the ham sandwiches as they ate.
Bobby an’ Clyde quickly became the heroes when they suggested they hitch up the sleigh an’ take the boys for a sleigh ride. For the next two hours they went from one end of Limestone Ridge Road to the other, back an’ forth.
At one point Lois waited by the road as they came by an’ suggested they go to her place an’ the boys could explore the Christmas tree farm with her. She told them she would make them all hot chocolate. Clyde asked if the grownups could get in on the hot chocolate an’ Lois laughed an’ told him maybe, if they acted right.
Late in the day the boys were delivered to Joe Henry’s place. Maggie an’ Charlie told Bobby to stay with them an’ Joe Henry that night so’s he wouldn’t have to drive home. Lois had been left at her place on the last trip to the Christmas tree farm. Clyde an’ Aunt Bess got into his truck to go to Vince’s place for the night. Clyde had a smile on his face as he helped aunt Bess into the truck.
Joe Henry watched them as he walked toward Charlie an’ Maggie’s place. He definitely needed to ask someone about them two.

Chapter 21
Maggie was up an’ at Joe Henry’s place at 7:00 a.m. as promised. Vince’s Mama an’ Daddy were already dressed an’ in the kitchen. Joe Henry set the timer on the Mr. Coffee the night before an’ they each had a cup of coffee. Maggie grabbed a cup out of the cupboard an’ joined them for a moment or two. They visited, talked about Vince, worried together about the baby.
Vince’s Mama reminded Maggie her name was Mary an’ Vince’s Daddy was Kenny. She suggested helpin’ Maggie fix breakfast an’ Mary quickly agreed. Mary cut the ham slices in half as Maggie made the pancake batter. Mary asked about the maple syrup an’ put Kenny to work openin’ the jug, pourin’ syrup out into the small Fiesta ware pitcher Joe Henry used for syrup an’ settin’ it in the microwave to be heated up later.
“Kenny, you can be settin’ the table while we work. Don’t just stand around like a pillar or piece of furniture. Get your sorry self movin’.” She told her husband with a smile an’ poke in the ribs.
“Now Mary, I know from your accent you ain’t no Yankee nor from up in Sandusky where y’all are livin’. Where ‘bouts are you from, girl?” Maggie asked.
“My, oh my, Maggie, ain’t from nowhere you would know. I am proud to be from real close to Frog Level, Virginia. It ain’t too far, maybe three or four miles from Tazwell, if you know where that is.” Mary told her.
“Well, I ain’t got a clue about Frog Level, but I know Tazwell real good. Been through there many a times. Went over that ol’ Clinch Mountain with Charlie to go to the Cherokee Lake to fish for crappie. Him an’ a few fellers went there most every year for a long time to fish.” Maggie went on.
They both agreed that goin’ over Clinch Mountain took either a pillow sack over their head or a snort of whiskey. It was a windin’ an’ curvy road with straight down drop offs not but a few feet off the road. They laughed an’ returned to getting’ breakfast ready.
Maggie pointed out where the silverware, plates, glasses an’ such were. She suggested the three cousins be served in mason jars. She thought they would like that. The butter was already out an’ in a covered dish on the table as was the salt an’ a pepper grinder.
“Maggie, I’m sure glas to see a pepper mill on the table. I ain’t much for that ground up stuff that sets around for years an’ years. We use that iodized salt since they watch my thyroid or I’d be usin’ kosher or sea salt all the time. I still use them to cook instead of that table salt.”
Maggie answered as she was stirrin’ the pancake batter, “You know that’s right. An’ you want to know somethin’ else? Folks even use that iodized table salt when they can. Want to spoil pickles an’ such, use that table salt instead of cannin’ salt. An’ don’t even get me started on that margarine instead of real butter. We get milk, a little cream an’ butter from a feller down the road a piece. He has one of them little home use pasturizin’ machines, don’t you know? Had to break Joe Henry from that margarine nonsense when he moved down here. Bless his heart.”
Between Kenny’s good natured grousin’, glasses an’ plates clinkin’ an’ the women visitin’ while they cooked, they made enough noise to wake the three boys. When they wandered into the kitchen Maggie told them there was a can of Nestle’s Quik on their table if they was needin’ a little somethin’ before pancakes. Their Grandpa poured the milk an’ they stirred up their chocolate milk in the Mason jars.
They whispered an’ carried on as they drank the chocolate milk an’ got dressed how it was like “olden days” an’ was how the early pioneers lived with sleepin’ bags on the floor an’ drinkin’ out of jars, ridin’ in a horse drawn sleigh an’ all. They then settled onto the sleepin’ bags to put on their socks an’ shoes an’ decide on old time names for themselves.
Maggie mentioned Brian, Clint an’ their wives were up an’ movin’ as she heard the doors openin’ an’ closing, faucets bein’ turned on an’ off. They chatted about Vince’s brothers an’ wives for a bit as Maggie started makin’ pancakes. Mary stepped close to Maggie as they cooked an’ talked in whispers for the longest time.
The front door opened an’ Joe Henry came in with Charlie, Bobby an’ Maggie right behind. Lois came in next with a big ol’ bowl of fried apples. Last of all was Aunt Bess an’ Clyde. They both blushed a little when they came in.
Blushed enough for Aunt Bess to speak up to defend her honor. “Y’all just get any nonsense y’all have out of your minds. We are old as these hills for goodness sakes. Slept in different bedrooms, thank you very much.”
Brian, Clint an’ their wives came down the stairs, hugged necks, said their howdys an’ went for the coffee pot which was already on the second go round. They checked on their boys an’ learned the three loved livin’ out in the wilds of the mountains, just like it was before America even had a name. The grownups all laughed as they asked Clyde an’ Aunt Bess if they knew Daniel Boone.
Vince was the last to join the group. He was just out of the shower an’ told Clint he probably took one of his well-known thirty-minute showers like he did as a kid. Clint’s wife told everyone that he still took showers like that. She an’ their son often would flush the toilet in the other bathroom just to remind him to get out of the shower an’ save them some hot water.
They all joined hands for the blessin’ an’ don’t you know, just before he started the front door opened. They all looked to see Rachel, cheeks ruddy from the cold, hair windblown an’ a smile on her face. Joe Henry told her to get a move on, there were pancakes an’ hungry boys waitin’.
She quickly removed her coat an’ came over to butt in an’ take Joe Henry’s hand. Aunt Bess, Lois an’ Maggie smiled, didn’t look at each other though. They just smiled.
As they ate Vince’s Mama Mary spoke up, “Vince, now, me an’ your Daddy have talked. I ain’t askin’ but am tellin’ you this. We have done already made arrangements with Brian to check on the house.”
She turned to the rest of the folks at the table, “Brian lives close to us up in Ohio, you see. Anyways Vince, Brian will be checkin’ the house while we are gone. We have a baby bed that Brian is givin’ you for baby Misty Dawn. We have the mattress, sheets, bumper pads an’ all. Clint’s neighbors sent baby clothes an’ we have Clint’s trunk full of Pampers their Church sent.”
She continued, “Vince, unless you have a terrible time with it, me an’ your Daddy are gonna stay with you at least through Christmas, maybe the New Year so’s I can help you get that baby girl settled in. You have enough room for us an’ we’ll try not to get in the way. That will give you time to work on your Master’s degree too.”
Vince got up an’ hugged his Mama. The other women told her they were happy to help too. Charlie an’ Joe Henry told Kenny he could come spend time with them whenever he wanted to. Plus, the cabin store an’ Christmas tree farm was goin’ great guns an’ they might need an extra hand.
About that time Joe Henry turned to Aunt Bess an’ Clyde, “I sorta figure y’all might as well hang around too. Bad roads, a long drive home, us needin’ the help at the cabin store an’ all…”
Maggie spoke up before Clyde or Aunt Bess could say anything, “Yes, you are. I’m not gonna be run ragged Bess Asher. An’ Clyde, you already offered for Vince to stay at your place as he went back an’ forth to the hospital. Maybe his Mama an’ Daddy can go stay at your place with Vince till the baby comes home.”
Clyde smiled an’ was already shakin’ his head, “Absolutely. Vince, you don’t have to ask. The beds all have clean sheets on them. I have a chest freezer in the garage plumb full. The pantry is full too. Y’all make yourselves to home. Bein’ with that baby girl is your main job right now folks. You are welcome to all I got.”

Chapter 22
Thanksgivin’ weekend was the busiest for the Cabin Store an’ Pine Hollow Christmas Tree Farm. However, the rest of the days leadin’ up to Christmas were pretty busy considerin’ it was their first year. Michael Lee was there not only on the weekends but in the evenin’s when he could be there. They put a schedule up on a chalkboard they found in the ol’ barn an’ also had it printed in the papers locally.
As they planned for the rest of their season, they had to take a look at the calender an’ their schedules. Christmas Eve was on a Sunday an’ Christmas on Monday. Lois wanted to go an’ spend time with her family so she planned on leavin’ on Friday, December 22nd. Two of Maggie an’ Charlie’s three youngin’s, their son an’ one daughter was plannin’ on comin’ in for Christmas an’ would be arrivin’ on Saturday the 23rd an’ stayin’ till Tuesday. Rachel wanted to go home to be with her parents an’ would be leavin’ on Saturday too.
Michael Lee said Santa could be there on Saturday the 23rd but not on Christmas Eve or Christmas. Clyde an’ Aunt Bess agreed to stay with Joe Henry an’ help cover things at the store an’ tree farm. They all finally decided to have their last day on that Saturday an’ close for the season at 7:00 that evenin’. They felt like the folks still around could cover the store, tree farm an’ sleigh rides.
Vince brought baby Misty Dawn home on Sunday, December 17th. He called the day before to let everyone know the doctors had given his baby gilr a clean bill of health an’ they expected to be home late in the afternoon. Maggie, Lois an’ Aunt Bess got busy preparin’ food for Vince an’ his folks. They already sat up the baby bed an’ things Vince’s folks brought (with his directions on the phone). The made “Welcome Misty Dawn” signs they posted all along the road so Vince would see them as they drove in
It was such a bittersweet homecomin’.
December would always hold wonderful memories for Joe Henry. Though they stayed busy with the Cabin Store an’ sleigh rides, he still had down time durin’ the day an’ evenin’s to spend with his Aunt, Clyde an’ the others. Finally, as he an’ Clyde sat by the fire an’ waited to see if there were folks wantin’ a sleigh ride, Joe Henry got up the nerve to ask his question.
“Clyde, I’m pryin’ here, but I’ve been noticin’ you an’ Aunt Bess have been enjoyin’ each other’s company…” he said cautiously.
Clyde chuckled an’ grinned like a kid caught with their hand in the cookie jar. “You noticed, huh? Reckon the others have too. Well sir, Joe Henry, it actually is nothin’ new. More like the stirrin’ of embers of a love long lost.”
Joe Henry sat quiet like as Clyde stirred the fire with the long stick he was holdin. Clyde stared into the fire an’ didn’t say anything for ever so long.
Clyde looked at Joe Henry an’ continued, “Y’see, Bess was my sweetheart as we was growin’ up. I tormented her when she was a little girl, chased her with handsful of worms, threw sticks at her, even pushed her into the creek a time or two. You know, the things a boy does when he likes a gal. I mooned for her when we were teenagers. Courted her finally an’ loved her from the time we was youngin’s. We promised each other our undyin’ love when I was sixteen an’ she was fifteen.”
“Then the war started. World War One. I was only sixteen when it started, but when I turned eighteen, I decided the good ol’ USA needed me more than my Mama an’ Daddy needed me at home. I joined up. The draft hadn’t started yet, but the newspapers an’ radio was full of the call to arms. I joined up an’ was sent “over there” as the song goes. I spent my last few days at home with Bess. I asked her to wait for me, to marry me when I got back. She told me she would. I wrote to her an’ her to me for a right smart while.”
He paused again then continued, “It was rougher than I imagined. It was terrible. It was wet an’muddy an’… it was war. Muddy trenches, men dyin’. It got to the point that I didn’t write, didn’t know what to say. I didn’t have anything bright, cheerful or comfortin’ to write, Joe Henry. I just stopped writin’. Bess knew I weren’t dead ‘cause my folks would know an’ tell her. I just coldn’t find any words to write. When the war ended in November 1918, well, I was twenty years old an’ sort of a lost soul. I didn’t go home, didn’t write to my folks. I just wandered around, worked odd jobs for a right smart while that year.”
Joe Henry asked, “What about Aunt Bess?”
“Bess figured I forgot her. That’s the same time Floyd Asher came home. Bess was finishin’ school over to Berea at the time. She went on to UK for Law School an’ that is where he met her. He came to court her an’ she figured I no longer cared, was a promise breaker. She found a man that loved her, wanted to be with her. She married your Uncle Floyd an’ I reckon that was meant to be. I came home eventually. I went to college, met my wife Doris an’ did fall madly in love with her. She was the best part of me. I honestly forgot the romance Bess an’ I had as kids.”
“Joe Henry, spendin’ this time here, thanks to you an’ the others, well, we got to talkin’ an’ that ol’ romance just surfaced. We both had happy, wonderful marriages. Neither of us ever strayed, never honestly thought much of the other. We are just both enjoyin’ the company of our childhood sweetheart. We are too old an’ too set in our ways to think about marriage. Me an’ Doris lost our only daughter when her dress caught fire as she stood too close to a coal grate. Doris never got over it. We tried but never could have any more children. Bess an’ Floyd lost a child too, so we have much in common still.”
Joe Henry smiled, “You love her, Clyde?”
“Yes, I do. I reckon I always have. Unrequited love. Unfulfilled love. I’m not sure you’ve found that yet, Joe Henry. It might be peekin’ ‘round, but I suspect you ain’t found real love yet.”
Joe Henry agreed an’ they sat an’ talked about those things men talk about when they get quiet an’ get serious. That was just one of many long conversations they ahd durin’ the days an’ weeks Clyde stayed with Joe Henry. He took that boy under his wings. Gave him so much life advice, listened as Joe Henry talked without comment, without criticisms. More than once Aunt Bess went to her room an’ to bed as they sat an’ talked long into the night.
Chapter 23
One mornin’, about 7:00, Aunt Bess woke to hear Joe Henry an’ Clyde talkin’ quietly. She smelled coffee an’ was surprised to smell biscuits too. When she went into the kitchen Clyde was at the stove finishin’ up some sausage gravy. A pan of beautiful, big ol’ biscuits sat on a couple pot holders on the table. The table was set at one end for the three of them an’ a cup sat beside the Mr. Coffee, waitin’ for her.
Joe Henry was at his place at the table with papers spread out, a ledger book open. Him an’ Clyde was talkin’ back an’ forth, discussin’ Carpenter’s Bee Tree Farm as well as his five-acre farm, twenty-five hives an’ buildin’s. They were discussin’ business, doin’ projections of honey production in the future based on records over the past ten years or so. Projectin’ expected income an’ how long to pay off his little far.
“Clyde, with a normal honey season I can expect up to sixty pounds of honey per year. I think that is a little to aggressive to project on. The harvest is gonna depend on the weather. A spring with lots of rain can wash out all the pollen an’ nectar. A drought in summer can dry up the flowerin’ plants, bushes an’ trees. I’d rather go with an average of forty pounds per hive that Charlie estimates based on his records over the past ten years or so. That would give me maybe a thousand pounds a year from my little bee yard. Apiary, I mean. I need to use the right terms.” He explained to Clyde.
He continued as Clyde stood at the stove, “If I figure a retail price of say $4.00 per one-pound bottle I have a gross income of $4,000. However, rather than sell it retail I need to make it part of the total production of the farm. Easier for me an’ more product. We’ll need to figure that out durin’ the season.”
Clyde finished the sausage gravy, poured it into a bowl, grabbed a big spoon an’ came to the table. He sat on the opposite side of Joe Henry from Aunt Bess. They joined hands; Joe Henry said the blessin’ an’ they all grabbed biscuits an’ ladled on the sausage gravy. Between bites Clyde talked about Joe Henry improvin’ his credit, tax implications of the little farm, deductions, depreciations an’ such.
Aunt Bess just ate, watched an’ listened. Her ol’ heart was swellin’ up like some kind of balloon as she watched those two men she cared for so much. She was pretty amazed at Joe Henry’s grasp on things.
As they ate Aunt Bess turned to Joe Henry, “We’ll sell your honey for you but won’t buy it from you. You purchase the bottles an’ have labels made for your apiary. You bottle the honey an’ we’ll sell it under your label. You keep 100% of the profit. That way you can pay off the loan faster an’ we don’t have to worry about all the bookkeepin’. I expect folks will like the chance to try your honey as well as the Bee Tree brand.”
Clyde told her that Joe Henry had been workin’ on a business plan, wanted him to look it over before he showed it to her. He said it was pretty good, real good actually. The business plan took existin’ production into account at all the Bee Tree properties as well as Joe Henry’s bee yard. Joe Henry had been readin’ articles from several beekeeper magazines he subscribed to as well as a few books he purchased along the way in the past months. He said he would have to redo some of the figures if he separated his place out but that weren’t a big deal.
“Aunt Bess, I think we should consider addin’ on to the honey house. Production is at full capacity with what we have. We currently have the two side wings goin’ off on the one side. I’m suggestin’ we either extend the central buildin’ or add another wing onto the other side. We would need to let a contractor take a look an’ give us suggestions.”
“If we do it off season an’ have some of the contractors around her do it soon we can save money an’ have it ready when honey harvests come. I also think we should increase the climate-controlled area so we can have a greater volume of honey ready an’ not crystalizin’ so we can keep it ready for the Cabin Store an’ folks that buy it wholesale from us.” Joe Henry told her.
He handed her a budget, complete with Clyde’s notes, depreciation an’ tax implications for the accountant to consider. He already called a couple suppliers to get prices of the equipment needed for enlargin’ the climate-controlled area as well as a couple more honey storage tanks. Different options were listed in order of preference.
“What size do you reckon the new wing should be?” she asked with an approvin’ nod.
“At least as big as the other two. Maybe a bit bigger. I’d probably even consider fixin’ up the old barn some an’ make it the place to store boxes, bottles an’ such. Actually, to store other products for the Cabin store too. I can do a right smart bit of that if I can get some of the boys to help, so it wouldn’t cost too much. That way we can dedicate the honey house to extractin’, production an’ honey storage. The supplies wouldn’t take up room we need in the honey house.” he explained.
“Well sir, I do think that is a good idea. Our accountant has been after me to get some more deductions for the business. Too much income an’ too little expenses on equipment an’ such. Joe Henry, I’m puttin’ you in complete charge of the honey house project. Be sure to get Charlie an’ Maggie’s input too. Get started when you can’. Spring honey ain’t that far off.”
“I was sorta thinkin’ the same thing about the ol’ barn. We’ve kept it in pretty good shape all these years but is was a tobacco barn. The concrete floor that was put in years ago is good an’ solid. The one room we used for the stuffed animals is too small to store much but is secure from critters. Why don’t you see about gettin’ the outside fixed up? The roof is in good shape. New boards an’ such to make it more secure an’ sound. Let’s get the inside cleaned out an’ let’s put some kind of walls up. Maybe we can divide it up into a couple rooms. I suspect that should be pretty easy to do. I’d want to insulate it somehow too. Probably should have it wired better. The few lights in the barn might not be enough. There is an ol’ wood stove back in there somewhere. We would use it when we stripped tobacco. I don’t know if it is big enough but we can put a wood stove back in for a little heat when we are in there. Maybe some sort of heat in rooms where we need to store inventory we don’t want to set in the cold. We’ve all sorta talked about tryin’ to keep the Cabin Store open most weekends year-round. I expect we’ll need room for inventory like you said. Mercy sakes. That’s a lot to do. I reckon we have a winter project on our hands.” she said.
“Let’s see if we can pay Bobby to help with the barn, get Charlie involved too. He probably knows a few men that could use the work this winter. Make that our first project. Put Charlie in charge of that with Bobby an’ you doin’ grunt work. Y’all could get that into shape an’ you get a contractor to start lookin’ at the honey house.”
He nodded an’ she continued. “You might want to eventually talk to Vince an’ you an’ him work up a business plan for the lavender farm. He’s been wantin’ to do one, but with all that has gone on, well he just don’t have the time.”
“One more thing, Aunt Bess. Bobby, Clyde an’ Charlie are gonna help me do winter dormant prunin’ down in the old orchard a little later this winter. We’ve already bushhogged an’ mowed around the trees. It looks like there are fourteen trees we can prune an’ bring back. When we was down there nosin’ around, we found tin strips with numbers still hangin’ from them trees. Grandpa, Uncle Rob an’ Uncle Tillman kept records on the orchard an’ numbered the trees for the records. Several are common but ther are two Green River trees, an heirloom Kentucky apple, an Anderson that is from Hawkins County, Tennessee, a Red Hill an’ a couple others we are still lookin’ up. Don’t know how many apples we’ll have next fall, but we are cleanin’ the orchard up an’ we’ll have more than one apple pie from Maggie.”
To say she was surprised an’ impressed would be an understatement. She laughed, shook her head an’ told both men to have at it. To herself she thought many good an’ wonderful things about her Great Nephew.

No comments: