Monday, January 06, 2020

Just Around the Bend Part 1


Joe Henry Carpenter pushed the last of the boxes into the back end of his truck, closed down the tonneau cover an' shut the tailgate. He leaned against the back of his truck, elbows on the tailgate an' looked at the house he was leavin'.

For a long time he just stood there, eyes unfocused as he thought an' pondered.
It wasn't his home anymore. To be truthful, it hadn't been his home for a long time. Wasn't really his idea of a house or a home. Betty picked it out. Betty wanted it. Betty pushed an' begged till he agreed they should purchase it, even though he was afraid they really couldn't afford it.

He was right. The sporting goods store that his Daddy Henry Kay Carpenter opened an' ran back in the early 50's just didn't have the sales in the late 1970s that his Dad had back when the place started.
Henry Kay moved from down near Beloved, Kentucky to Kings Mills, Ohio just after the war. He ran a "beer joint" with a cousin for several years till he met Sally Lunsford. Sally was a Christian an' devoted Baptist. Henry Kay did his best to court her, but she told him she didn't go in for beer joints, drinkin' an' carryin' on.

Truth be told, he was tired of the hours they had to work, the late nights an' early mornin's cleanin' the place up to get ready for the next day. He weren't much for standin' behind the bar all afternoon, evenin' an' night either.

Henry Kay sold his share of the beer joint to his cousin, took a job in a local factory for a couple years. He started goin' to church. It just happened to be the same church Sally Lunsford when to. One thing led to another an' Sally married Henry Kay.

They dreamed of openin' a business of their own. When Henry Kay's bowlin' team was lookin' for somewhere to order team shirts with no success, well, Sally suggested they should open a sportin' goods store.

It started out small. Henry Kay kept on workin' at the factory while they rented a shop, ordered a small amount of sportin' goods an' took the plunge by buyin' a second hand embroidery machine.
Henry Kay had a cousin who had a small printin' press in his basement. Together they designed an' printed business cards an' flyers. Both Henry Kay an' Sally took flyers 'round to all the schools, bowlin' alleys, churches an' so on.
The store was simply named "Carpenter's Sporting Goods". It was the only place in town where a softball team could order shirts for the whole team AND get names embroidered on the shirts. Of course, they even sold shirts for bowlin' teams an' could embroider team names on the back an' individual names on the front.

Things took off pretty quickly. After a year Henry Kay was able to finally quit the factory. They bought a buildin' an' the store did pretty good. Back then it was the place schools came to order uniforms, equipment, trophies.

When his Mama passed they hired a young woman part time to take over the embroidery jobs an' help our around the store. Betty Jean Smalley seemed like she fit right in. Even though he weren't much for it, she patted on Henry Kay, hugged him as she passed him by. Told him how good the store was doin'.

Henry Kay would just shake his head an' roll his eyes when she weren't lookin' He just weren't much for that sort of carryin' on. Weren't much of a hugger. Didn't think Betty meant it much either.
Betty had an eye for Joe Henry early on. She would laugh at his jokes, wink an' wink an' blink her eyes at him, Act all coy like 'round him. She even commenced to bringin' the three of them lunch she made on the days she worked.

Henry Kay warned Joe Henry that ol' Betty had more than a part time job on her mind, but that boy didn't listen. It weren't to long before Joe Henry an' Bobby was datin'.
As he looked back, he didn't really remember actually proposin' to Betty. He did remember her pullin' him into a jewelry store an' them walkin' out with approved credit an' a quarter carat diamond engagement ring on Betty's finger.

They took off one Friday mornin' an' got married in Jellico, Tennessee, just like his Mama an' Daddy did. She said it was romantic an' wonderful. He just thought it was fast. Henry Kay didn't know anything about it, other than he knew he was short handed that day.
Move ahead a couple years an' Henry Kay got the cancer. It was them cigarettes. He knew he shouldn't smoke. He sort of resented it when Betty, who was family now, made him go out back of the store to smoke. Said it made "the merchandise" smell bad. She made him go outside to smoke in his own store.

Even when he started coughin' all the time he went out back, even in the rain to have a smoke, back behind his own store. He got the cancer. He didn't spend much time in the store. Joe Henry could handle things. Henry Kay just didn't feel much like workin'.

When his Daddy died Joe Henry did his best to run the sporting goods store the same way his Daddy did. Betty had many, many other ideas. She wanted to change the image of the store, wanted to bring women in. She said the old stogy image of a sportin' goods store with baseball bats, uniforms, football gear an' such just wasn't invitin' for the ladies.

With her encouragement Joe Henry changed the name of the store to "Sports!". They added exercise bikes, treadmills, women's clothin' to exercise in an' all sorts of female oriented things.
Folks started goin' elsewhere to order team uniforms. Betty didn't have time for embroiderin' shirts an' such. The team sports equipment was moved back in the back corner of the store as the place was more an' more oriented to the things Betty wanted.

Others saw the divorce comin' well before Joe Henry. Not that he was happy. He just had been taught that marriage was a promise, a commitment to each other to stay together, no matter what.
They had to declare bankruptcy along the way that last year. Seems the store had pushed them way over their heads with all the new merchandise. Henry Kay an' Joe Henry hadn't really ever separated the store an' their personal finances.

Joe Henry an' Betty saw each other just two times in their last five months together. They were there together for the bankruptcy an' for the divorce hearin'.

Then Betty left. She wished him well. Told him she still thought well of him, but she had to spread her wings. He just had too much "small town" for her. Said he was still to much of a hillbilly. Said she just didn't want to be married to "Lil Abner". Said he was too much like his Daddy.
though she meant it as a complaint, Joe Henry thought that was the best thing she ever said to him. He was proud to be a lot like his Daddy.

Joe Henry pushed on the tailgate to make sure it was closed. He stepped toward the front of the truck an' paused as he took hold of the door handle.

The store, the merchandise, everything his Daddy worked for was gone. The house was gone. Betty was gone. Joe Henry didn't know exactly what he would do next. He did know where he was goin' next.

He made a promise to his Great Aunt Bess Carpenter to come spend a while with her. She had plenty of room an' was one of the best cooks Joe Henry knew. He had nowhere else to go an' easily agreed.
As he started the truck an' drove away he didn't look back. Nothin' to look back for. His next stop was the home of his Great Aunt Bess.

Joe Henry’s Aunt Bess Asher lived near Berea, Kentucky. Her place was up a gravel road an’ on a ridge. She had a few neighbors up an’ down the ridge but Aunt Bess lived at the very end of the road on about three hundred ninety acres. About eighty acres had been farmed over the years an’ the rest was woods. For many years the farm produced tobacco an’ later on, corn, hogs an’ a few steers each year.

Aunt Bess always said there was a hog for herself, for the Church of God preacher, the Church of Christ preacher an’ the Methodist preacher. Several steers went to market an’ she would give a hog an’ half her steer to her preacher over to Hopewell Baptist Church. She also kept him an’ his family supplied with eggs an’ vegetables from her garden. If she liked you she might even give you some honey from her two beehives.

The thing y’all need to know is that Aunt Bess Asher let folks know exactly what she thought. A person didn’t have to check for a jar of honey to know if she liked folks. It usually were no secret as to who she had no time for. She didn’t care for “trifling” folks. Especially trifling women.

Aunt Bess an’ Uncle Floyd, her late husband, always kept mules that Uncle Floyd not only plowed with but showed at several County Fairs around Eastern Kentucky. For that reason Uncle Floyd an’ a couple of the men that worked for him kept trails cut through the woods. Uncle Floyd always told Joe Henry that the land had been given to an ancestor of his as a land grant after the Revolutionary War.
Joe Henry didn’t turn the radio on once as he drove from Kings Mills, Ohio to Berea, Kentucky. As he drove he was lost in thoughts, regrets, memories an’ “what might have been”. Though the trip was familiar an’ a trip he usually enjoyed, he didn’t really see much of the late summer scenery. He just was on his own personal autopilot as he drove.

The Berea exit came all too quickly. He turned off an’ instead of goin’ left toward town an’ through Berea to his Great Aunt’s place, he turned right. There was a little antique mall just a couple miles up the road. Wanderin’ through would give him a few minutes to compose himself an’ prepare for seein’ his Aunt Bess.

The ladies that ran the places said their “howdy” an’ told him they hadn’t seen him in a right smart while. He smiled an’ told them he hadn’t been down in a while but figured he’d be ‘round more. They asked if they were anything he was lookin’ for but he replied that there weren’t a thing he was lookin’ for. He was just lookin’.

Toward the back there was a booth that had several quilts, some kitchen tablecloths from the 40’s an’ 50’s as well as quite a bit of milk glass. His Mama collected milk glass for many years but gave it all away when she was sick. Said Henry Kay an’ Joe Henry didn’t have no need or appreciation for her milk glass.

He dug through the stack of old quilts an’ found one he liked a lot. It was a fan pattern an’ colors that Betty would have hated. Truth be told, Betty didn’t like quilts at all. She gave all the quilts Joe Henry had to the Goodwill not too long after they married. He liked the feel of old quilts on the bed. He liked to cover up with an’ ol’ beat up quilt when he was sick. Betty weren’t much for nursin’ Joe Henry when he was sick. She didn’t really care much for an ol’ beat up quilt for Joe Henry to cozy up in either.

“How much are y’all gonna take me for if I want this nasty ol’ quilt” he asked with a little smile on his face.

The ladies grinned an’ went for the sale, “Now you know that quilt is in good condition. That ain’t no cutter quilt. What does that tag say?”

He held the tag up for them to see, “Says $50 but that is bound to be wrong. This ol’ dirty thing ain’t worth $20 an’ I am bein’ generous at that.”

“Now boy, you an’ I know that quilt is worth near $80 if it were up in Ohio where the Yankee folks get all wound up about quilts an’ such. I can give y’all $5 off, but that poor ol’ lady what has that in her booth needs to feed her family too.”

Joe Henry agreed. He knew that they always gave ten percent off if folks would ask. He also knew that up in Ohio it would be sold for a lot more. They put it in a grocery bag an’ he put it in the back seat of his truck. He turned right from the parkin’ lot an’ headed for Aunt Bess’s.

He was glad to see that the road to Aunt Bess’s had been graveled an’ oiled earlier in the summer. He still drove slow, not wantin’ the oil to get all over his truck. His slow speed was most likely to put off the moment he would see his Aunt. Though he loved her, he dreaded that moment.

As he pulled off the gravel road an’ into the gate he saw his Aunt sittin’ on the front porch in that rockin’ chair she favored. He could already tell her apron was full of green beans an’ the paper bag beside her on the floor had the strings an’ ends thrown there after she broke the beans.

He slowed down because the chickens were reluctant to get out of his way. It was almost like them chickens knew it was Joe Henry. He still remembered an ol’ rooster that grieved him somethin’ terrible when he was a little boy. He smiled when he thought of Aunt Bess realizin’ that rooster was chasin’ her Great Nephew.

That was probably one of the best plates of chicken an’ dumplin’s he ever had that weekend after that rooster got gone. No one ever said much about what happened, but both Uncle Floyd an’ Aunt Bess grinned the whole time they ate that meal.

“Revenge is best served with dumplin’s.” Uncle Floyd said when he got up from the table an’ went to the sideboard to get a toothpick.

Joe Henry laughed as an ol’ hen went running toward the porch, carryin’ on like it were tellin his Aunt he was tryin’ to run over her.

Aunt Bess was up, dumpin’ the remainin’ green beans in a basket as she moved to the steps an’ toward Joe Henry’s truck. He was always amazed how spry she was at 80 years old. She came toward him with arms open. He reached out an’ hugged her tight. He stood there for ever so long. Aunt Bess never made a move, knowin’ exactly what that boy needed.

“Come on up. We’ll get your things later. I’ve got sweet tea in the Frigidaire an’ plenty of ice. Don’t have no chicken an’ dumplin’s but I fried a chicken earlier an’ it is on the sideboard. I have some slaw an’ tater salad made up. I’ll fix both of us a plate an’ we can eat on the porch.”

Joe Henry nodded an’ followed her up the steps. She pointed toward the porch swing as she opened the screen door an’ went in the house. The slap of the screen door as it closed was a welcome sound to Joe Henry. He sat down on the porch swing an’ absently began to use his feet to push the swing gently back an’ forth. He smiled as he remembered sittin’ in the middle of this swing. His Uncle Floyd on one side an’ Aunt Bess on the other, them doin’ all the pushin’ with their feet since his didn’t quite reach the floor.

It weren’t too long before Aunt Bess was back. The tray she carried was covered with a tea towel an’ there were two Mason jars full of ice cubes an’ tea so sweet a feller could cut it with a knife. One big bowl was filled with fried chicken (better believe she friend her chicken in a cast iron skillet), another with cole slaw, a third with her tater salad. Along with the two plates for their meal was a plate with several biscuits an’ a little ol’ bowl of real butter.

Both filled their plates with a good helpin’ from each bowl. Aunt Bess buttered a biscuit for each of them an’ they ate slowly, talkin’ about her garden, about neighbors an’ family. It was exactly what Joe Henry needed just then. As they talked he ate a leg, thigh an’ both wings. He loved the wings when Aunt Bess fried them. They were perfect, crunchy an’ good to gnaw on to get every little bite.
“I suwanee child. You must be starved. I’ve never seen you eat so much. I have some dessert but I reckon you ain’t got room…”

“Aunt Bess, what do you have? A feller always has room for some sweetenin’, as you always say.”
She grinned, knowin’ full well he was gonna have dessert before they ever started eatin’. “I have some butter rolls. That is if they ain’t too plain for you.”

Oh my. Butter rolls were one of Joe Henry’s favorites. Made with dough rolled thin an’ cut into squares. Each square was filled with a big spoon of butter, sugar an’ cinnamon before the corners were pulled together an’ all the edges pinched together. Them rolls were placed in a deep pan with a little water. As they baked the butter an’ sugar melted an’ made a sauce the butter rolls floated in. ‘Course, Aunt Bess always called the sauce “butter roll gravy”.

“You’uns need a little of this butter roll gravy on that butter roll.” She would say. That was exactly what she said as he followed her into the kitchen to sit at her long table. It was covered with the same red an’ white plaid plastic tablecloth he remembered from his childhood.

She placed a bowl with a huge butter roll in front of him along with a soup spoon. A cup of coffee followed an’ they sat an’ had their sweetenin’ in the kitchen.

She finished first an’ sat back to look at her Great Nephew for several moments. He knew she was lookin’ him over but didn’t pause as he finished his last bite an’ took the last sip of coffee. He sat back an’ looked sheepishly at her.

“We’ll get you settled tonight, baby. I’ll help you bring your things in. You take the bedroom in the lower house. I’ve got fresh sheets on the bed an’ several quilts I made years ago. I don’t think you will need anything else but a fan. I have one that fits in the window. They is a stick in the window to hold it up but put the fan in an’ it will hold the window open.”

He nodded an’ followed her out to his truck. She helped him carry his boxes an’ suitcases in an’ put them in the lower bedroom. She opened the chifforobe in the corner by the outside door, reached for a handful of hangers that she laid on the bed.

“Get yourself unpacked. We’ll have supper around 6:00 but we’ll just snack around with leftovers. I’ve got a couple bushels of green beans that need pickin’. You can help me pick an’ we’ll talk as we work. Sound alright with you?”

He smiled a sad smile an’ hugged her. “Yes ma’am. It sounds great.”

It was about 5:30 in the morning when Joe Henry heard the first stirrin's in the kitchen. As he slowly woke he could smell coffee brewin' an' heard the sound an' smell the smell of either bacon or ham fryin'. Knowin' his Great Aunt Bess like he did, he suspected she was fryin' both. She was always sayin' he was to skinny for his own good. Said he was gonna snap in half one of these days.
He smiled an' pulled the sheet an' quilts down just a bit. As he ran his fingers through his hair an' sat up he enjoyed just layin' there, listenin'. Early last night he lay an' listened to mice playin' in the walls as he drifted off to sleep. The noises of the crickets an' peepers in the hills around the place as well as the mice runnin' an' playin' in the walls of the o' house were like a lullaby to his weary mind.
Aunt Bess called from the kitchen, as if she knew he was already awake, "Better get up boy. I'll be throwin' your breakfast out to the hogs any time now."

Joe Henry laughed as he stood up an' reached for his jeans. That was his wake up call throughout his childhood when he would visit Aunt Bess an' Uncle Floyd. Up to this point the hogs had always gone hungry.

She was pourin' coffee into their cups when he entered the kitchen. Though he stopped in the bathroom along the way to do a quick clean up an' wash his hands, he knew she would ask, "You wash your hands?"

"Yes ma'am, I did."

"Sit down there. I've poured coffee but I know you'll want to doctor it yourself." she said as she placed the sugar bowl an' a half pint mason jar of cream beside his cup.

He grinned as he poured enough cream into the cup to color the coffee a light brown. Two spoons of sugar were added under his Great Aunt's watchful eye.

"It is a wonder you haven't rotted your teeth right out of your head. Grab my hand so's I can say grace."

He took her hand an' she squeezed his hand gently as she prayed, "Lord, I am mighty thankful for the many things You have done blessed me with. Thankful for this home, for all the years Floyd an' I spent together. I'm thankful for this food an' the blessings you have given me to raise it, put it away an' enjoy the bounty of your world."

She squeezed once more an' continued, "Lord, I don't know all that is on Joe Henry's mind an' heart right now, but You do. Pour out Your peace on him. Give him direction an' wisdom as he makes decisions, as he seeks the next steps he needs to take. Most of all Lord, an' I'm sayin' this to you as I pray Joe Henry, make this time an' my home a sanctuary for him as he pauses, ponders an' heals. Amen"

That was all she had to say about or to Joe Henry. She didn't ask questions, inquire or pry. She knew it wasn't the time yet. To everything there is a season, as the Good Book says.

That table was laid out with a breakfast big enough for a couple more folks. Big ol' cat head biscuits, real butter she churned in a gallon jar churn, honey from her hives, fried eggs, ham an' bacon as Joe Henry suspected. They was fried apples as well an' a big bowl of gravy.

Now, y'all should know that Aunt Bess didn't ask him or anyone else what stuck their feet under her table how they wanted their eggs fixed, how they wanted this or that. She cooked an' y'all ate. She didn't ask an' wasn't gonna worry about a person likin' what she fixed. Eat it or not. That is how it is.
They talked about the day as they ate. Both mentioned this or that tastin' good, how the ham was cured just right. She mentioned she had an ol' settin' hen what weren't layin' any more. She hated to say it but one of these days the ol' gal would end up making a fine pot of chicken an' dumplin's.
"I'll get you to help me with a few chores before we pick beans his mornin'. The dew is awful heavy an' I don't want to get soaked as we pick."

Later in the mornin' the sun an' heat of the day had dried the dew an' they headed for the bean patch. The rows were full of beans an' they each picked a bushel. Joe Henry was glad no one was watchin', for his "elderly" Great Aunt finished pickin' her bushel well before he did.

They went to the porch with the bushel baskets of green beans an' went in to wash up before they started the job or breakin' beans. The bean plants had them hairs on them that irritated a person's skin sometimes.

When Joe Henry came out of the house the ol' screen door slapped behind him an' he grinned, just feelin' good about the chore before them. He sat down in the rocker beside Aunt Bess. She handed him a dish towel to put on his lap. Her apron was already full of beans. A bucket was in front of both of them an' a wash pan was on the floor waitin' for Joe Henry to pick it up.

The wash pan was on his lap an' he dropped a big ol' handful of beans in the dish towel. Aunt Bess was several handfuls of broken beans ahead of him. He broke off the ends, pulled the strings an' carefully broke the beans into several pieces. The broken pieces went into the wash pan. Strings an' end pieces went into the bucket as they would finish each pile of beans from their laps.

Aunt Bess paused, holdin' a bean in her hands as she looked at her Great Nephew. He knew she was lookin' at him an' didn't look up for a minute or two. When he did she had a crooked smile on her lips.

"Boy, you never would look up straight at anyone one when you was feelin' guilty. Thing is, I have no idea why you would feel guilty about anything. I reckon now is a good time to talk about things. We can talk, break beans an' when I get enough we'll stop for a bit so's I can put some beans in jars an in the pressure cooker. We have an' awful lot of beans to break, wash an' can before the day is up. Might as well work through things. Don't you think?"

Joe Henry looked into her eyes, so dark they was almost black. He didn't see a bit of condemnation, regret, anger or blame as he looked at her. Like he always did when he sat on her porch, Joe Henry felt safe. He knew it was time to talk about all that happened.

He started from the beginnin'. He told Aunt Bess that he had been a fool. That he should have seen that Betty didn't have the same hopes an' dreams as his Daddy had. For all that matter, he wasn't even sure he did. He didn't want to be a store clerk for the rest of his life. That might be why he let Betty talk him into things he didn't really want.

He admitted that his relationship with Betty was more about... well, he was uncomfortable tellin' his Great Aunt, but his relationship with Betty was more about...ahem, "physical attraction" than love.
Aunt Betty paused an' laughed loud an' hard. "Do you really think you are the first Carpenter what fooled around before you was married? I could give you a list of cousins, even Uncles an' Aunts. Won't do it though. That ain't my story to tell."

She shook her head, "Y'all just let the wrong organ make decisions for you, boy. Seems like your head an' heart didn't have much to do with it."

"No ma'am, I reckon you are right." he told her with a tear or two in his eyes.
He talked about gettin' into debt. Talked about makin' bad business decisions. Told her about the shame of losin' the house, losin' the business, declarin' bankruptcy. He cried time after time that day. Confessin' his guilt, his weakness.

Finally he said, "I let my Daddy down. He never knew it because he was dealin' with the cancer. He struggled for two years an' I just didn't spend enough time with him, with the business. I tried Aunt Bess, but I just didn't know which way to turn sometimes."

He cried an' looked at her for a long time. She got up, dropped the beans back in the basket, put his beans in his basket an' stood him up. Aunt Bess was tall for a woman but thin as a rail. She wrapped her arms around him an' let him cry, sobbin' into her shoulder. His arms wrapped around her, he let everything go.

That is the way most of the rest of the day went. They would talk for a while, he would cry an' grieve. They would break beans, wash beans, can them an' put jars in the pressure cooker. She stopped to hug that boy many times throughout the day.

By evenin' they put the last jars in the pressure cooker. Joe Henry cleaned up the baskets, threw the strings an' bean ends to the chickens an' put the bushel baskets back in the shed.

Aunt Bess fried up a some bacon as the pressure cooker hissed an' jiggled. Joe Henry went to the garden, found a big ol' beefsteak tomato an' pulled some lettuce. They toasted bread an' made huge BLT sandwiches.

As they ate they were quiet for the longest time. Finally Joe Henry said, "I lost everything Daddy ever worked for. I don't have anything left. I ruined all he had."

She was quiet for a long time as they ate their BLTs. Then she said, "Not exactly everything."
Joe Henry looked up an' waited.

"Your Grandpa Winston, me an' brother Rob had a place. It was our Grandpa's an' we inherited it when he was gone. Brother Rob didn't have no children an' left his part to me an' your Grandpa. Your Grandpa left it to me since I was the last of the siblings. That is just the way we did it. Uncle Floyd an' I only had our one daughter, Christine. When she passed I planned for everything to go to your Daddy. It was our intention to pass everything along to you before I was gone."

"I never did so for one reason an' you know her name. She was triflin' Joe Henry. I never did care for her an' ain't ashamed to admit I was right. You know it an' I know it. She weren't gettin' her hands on our legacy."

He grinned. "I know you are right an' you did the right thing. I am so sorry."
She shook her head, "Nothin' to be sorry for. I knew it weren't time. I knew things would work themselves out. They have."

She stopped an' took a bite of sandwich, drank some milk before continuing.
"You never cared to go down home with your Daddy. You probably never thought about it, but he went down often to take care of our place, what was ours. I reckon you was there a few times."

"Yes ma'am I was. Don't remember much about the palce though." he admitted.

"Well Joe Henry, here is what I need you to do. I am gettin' too old to take care of this place an' the homeplace. I'm hirin' you to go down, look things over an' take a hand in runnin' the place."

He shook his head, "Aunt Bess, I don't know nothin' about runnin' a farm or anything like that..."

"I know. I know. You can learn. All you have to do is ask. Folks down there will know who you are. I've already called ahead an' they are expectin' you. They'll get the ol' home place ready for you. I'll pack a few things you'll need to settle in. Take some time, look around an' get into the swing of things. I'll be down later in the fall to see how you are doin."

He knew it was a battle he would never win. She was set on him goin' down an' runnin' a farm he didn't hardly remember. Man, oh man. What was next was all he could think.

The days extended into weeks an' the weeks turned into a month for Joe Henry as he stayed an' visited with his Great Aunt Bess. Truth be told she did appreciate the help as she worked her garden. They broke plenty more beans. With her help an' watchful eye he learned to use a needle an' heavy thread an' stitch a long string of beans to hand an' dry. His Aunt called them "leather britches".

One mornin' they had got into the beans early as they was no dew. They had a bushel of beans they were sewin' onto strings. When he asked about why she dried beans when her canned beans were so good she stopped in her tracks. She looked at him like he was some sort of stranger.

"You mean to tell me you ain't never had a big ol' pot of leather britches?" she asked with some incredulity.

"I reckon not. Don't even know what they are, Aunt Bess."

She grinned. "We'll have to fix that right now. Run out to the smokehouse. I have eight or nine smoked ham hocks hangin' out there. Cut one off for me an' bring it in. They is a big knot between them. Be sure an' don't cut the knot or the next one'll slip off. go on quick. We are in for a treat tonight."

Joe Henry went out to the smoke house an' paused as he opened the ol' wooden door. The inside was dark an' the smell of smoke still heavy after years an' years of use. The walls were lined with tin to keep the smoke from seepin' out the sides. Along the top there was plenty of cracks for the smoke to seep out, but the idea was to keep the sweet wood smoke in as long as possible.

In the kitchen Aunt Bess already had a big half gallon jar of dried beans open an' was washin' a mess of them in a colander.

"I like to wash the leather britches of real good before I put them in the pot to cook. Don't want no bugs or their leavin's on my beans when I eat 'em."

She dumped the dried beans in a pot, added water an' after washin' the big ham hock for the same reason, she threw it in. The burner was turned on low an' she explained that any green beans, fresh picked from the garden, canned or dried should be cooked low an' slow.

Joe Henry laughed an' agreed. He commented on some of the "Foo foo" green beans he had at restaurants where they barely cooked them, threw some chopped up garlic on them an' acted like they was amazing. They both shook their heads as if to get the taste out of their mouths.

After the beans were strung an' hangin' an' the beans simmerin' they both poured a mason jar of sweet tea an' went out to the porch.

As she rocked an' Joe Henry swung on the porch swing they didn't talk much. Aunt Bess finally spoke up.

"Tomorrow we'll saddle my mules an' go for a ride. I don't much like to ride by myself these days, though I do so more than my neighbors think I should."

Joe Henry smiled and agreed. He loved to ride those ol' mules through the hills around Aunt Bess an' Uncle Floyd's place. When he was a little boy he would ride in front of Uncle Floyd. As he grew older he graduated to ridin' behind Uncle Floyd an' finally as a teenager he was able to ride by himself.

After Uncle Floyd died he would come down an' ride with Aunt Bess. Like Uncle Floyd, she thought mules was much better than horses to ride in the mountains. They were more sure footed an' equipped for the hills.

"I sure miss Uncle Floyd, Aunt Bess. How long has be been gone? Fifteen years?"

"No, he ain't been gone that long. I was sixty eight when Floyd died. He was seventy two. It has only been twelve years since he's been gone." she answered.

"Sure seems like longer." he said quietly. He was afraid he opened a conversation she didn't want to have.

"It does, sure enough. I married that man when I was sixteen an' he was twenty. We lived on the farm next to this one back then. We knew each other most of our lives. 'Course back then it weren't nothin' to get married that young."

She smiled an' looked out at nothin' much as they talked. "I sure loved that man. I miss him ever' single day. Each day, each year seems like forever to me. Now, I know I'll see him in Heaven. He told me to look for him when I crossed. Said he would be waitin' for me."

Joe Henry got a little catch in his voice. "I wish I knew what that was like. Don't know that I ever will."

"Ah, now get over yourself boy. you ain't the only one what ever made a mistake in marryin' without gettin' to know your partner."

With that she stood an' headed for the screen door. "I'll be right back." she called over her shoulder.
She came back with a handful of papers, a pen an' a book. She laid the book in Joe Henry's lap an' handed him the pen. He wasn't real sure what was goin' on.

"This here is your employment contract. Like I told you, I am hirin' you to keep an eye on the ol' home place. Make sure the farm is runnin' right an' so on. Read it over. I am payin' you a salary an' not an hourly wage. I trust you to do your part for me."

"Yes ma'am. you know I'll try to do right by you. You do know I ain't worth much on a farm. I don't really know much about runnin' anything. I failed Daddy an' I am afraid I'll fail you.

"Oh nonsense." she said as she shook her head. "Read it, sign it an' plan on packin' your truck an' headin' down on Saturday. Folks have things ready an' waitin' for you."

The ol' Carpenter homestead was near Thousandsticks, Kentucky. That is between Manchester an' Hyden. It was about a ninety minute drive from Aunt Bess's farm.

Joe Henry read the contract, said the salary was too much. She told him not to worry, she would be takin' taxes out of his pay just like she did ever'one else.

"I reckon you'll have enough to make do after you pay Uncle Sam. Do you owe money on your truck? Any bills after the divorce an' bankruptcy?"

He assured her that he didn't have any outstandin' bills. The truck had been his Daddy's an' was his free an' clear. She was satisfied with his answers an' after he signed she took the carbon papers out from between the pages an' gave him a copy to keep.

"This ain't a handout Joe Henry. I expect, your Daddy would expect for you to earn every penny. You have always been a hard worker. Pull your weight an' you'll always have your own reward."

"Yes ma'am." was all he could reply. He wasn't sure why she was doin' this. He still felt so empty, like such a failure after he lost his Daddy's business.

He ate several plates of the leather britches that night. He admitted he had missed a treat by never eatin' them before. Aunt Bess grinned as he took bite after bite. She loved to see folks eat good food.
They rode through the woods for hours on them ol' mules. It was a perfect day. They started out while the mist still hung on the tops of the mountains. aunt Bess led the way to the top of a ridge before she paused. He rode up beside her an' saw what she was pointin' out with her outstretched hand.
In front of them the whole of the mountains seemed to ride. for miles an' miles the ridges an' hollers rose an' fell. It was till summer an' y'all would think that it would just be solid green. The reality was that there were dozens of shades of green. Light an' dark shades.

It caught his breath as he looked out over the hills of home.

Aunt Bess said quietly, "Behold, what God hath wrought."

The rode most of the day. both were saddle sore when they finally sat on the porch after supper. The evenin' was perfect. His visit with his Great Aunt was his balm in Gilead. His soul weren't healed, but as Aunt Bess told him, "You ain't healed yet, but the wounds seem like they is scabbed over." He had to agree.

"You all packed?" she asked.

"I am, Aunt Bess. I appreciate all you do for me. I love you."

"Oh lordy, don't start with no love fest. It is just what family does. Tomorrow is your day, Joe Henry. Tomorrow is, as always a new an' glorious day."

It was Saturday mornin'. The day started out glum an' overcast. It weren't the sort of day he wanted to say his goodbyes in. He wished he could stay a day or two longer. Aunt Bess had other ideas. She told him no bird was ready when Mama pushed it out of the nest.

"They is just a couple things before you head out. It is fixin' to rain so you be real careful as you drive. You don't know the roads down home like you should." Aunt Bess told him as she looked over her glasses at him.

Of course, he knew exactly what she meant. Over the years Joe Henry lost interest in comin' down home with his Daddy. Sure, he spent some time with Aunt Bess an' Uncle Floyd. He just never had time to go with his Daddy to the ol' home place. Nothin' there but work from what he remembered.
There was always the store to tend, always time to stay home with his Mama to help in the store. Plenty of time to hang around with his friends, do all the things a young man does as he spreads his wings. Family, especially extended family just sorta fades into the fuzzy background of life.

"I'll be careful. I have good tires on the truck, Aunt Bess. I still know the way, mostly. I have the directions an' map you drew out. I don't think I'll get lost."

She grinned, "I know, I'm just a worry wart. Them hills get hit with fog on a rainy day in summer. Just ask if you need to. Most ever'one down home is family. Anyone you ask will know you, even if you don't remember them. Just tell them who your people are. Folks will most likely ask that same question."

"Now Joe Henry, I've called Bobby Jenkins over to First National of Hyden. I'm havin' your paychecks deposited there. Bobby will take care of all the paperwork when you stop in there. I've also set up for you to get a credit card with me as co-signer. We need to start rebuildin' your credit."
Though he shook his head an' started to protest, his Aunt was on a roll.

"You have an account at Hyden Grocery too. If you want to go over to Manchester for groceries I've set you up an account at Dobson's Store there. Both will send you a bill at the end of each month. Bobby will get you some checks ordered when you go over to the bank."

Joe Henry felt a little helpless as Aunt Bess talked. For a moment it made him feel all the hurt an' anger at himself. The thought that he failed was simmerin' in the back of his mind right then.

"Get that look off your face an' nonsense out of your mind. I know you an' know exactly what you are thinkin', boy. Family takes care of their own. Mountain folks take care of their family. You Daddy did exactly the same more than once for some of his nephews an' nieces. Me, your Daddy, Uncles an' Aunts stepped in many times to give a leg up to ours. We paid for college, helped with down payments on homes, paid hospital bills. The Carpenters take care of their own."

He had no idea. He was actually stunned as she spoke. It occurred to him that the partial scholarship he received to go to Cumberland College might have been a family thing. It had a requirement that if he would work off half his tuition, the scholarship would pay for the other half. That was never a problem. He worked the other half off in the cafeteria durin' the school year an' workin' with the maintenance crew in the summers. Joe Henry really didn't avoid hard work. His Daddy taught him that.

It started to sprinkle drops of rain as they stood by the truck. He was lookin' off in the distance, not focusin' on anything for a right smart while. When he looked back at his Great Aunt she was smilin' an' lookin' steady at him with her dark eyes. A few drops of rain were on the lenses of her glasses. She took her glasses off, reached into her apron pocket for the hankie she always carried there.

"Go ahead an' ask. I suspect you already know the answer."

"My scholarship to Cumberland?"

"Yep. Yours an' several others. We always found a way to help the next generation do better than we did. One day I'm hopin' you an' some of your cousins will find a way to do the same." Aunt Dell explained.

She told him she was goin' in. Told him to get goin' for the rain was supposed to get worse though she didn't take much truck with the weatherman's predictions. She then told him "Arthur" was tellin' her it was gonna storm.

"Arthur?" he asked.

She laughed as she hugged him one more time. "Yes, Arthur Ritis. Gets to hurtin' right smart when a big storm is comin'. Now get on the road. Be careful."

He grinned as he started up the truck. His Great Aunt stood on the porch an' waved as he turned the truck around an' headed out the lane.

As he drove, the rain did indeed get worse. Drivin' wasn't too bad while he was I-75. When he got off at London an' took the to toll road he slowed down a good bit. The rain turned into a storm. The last twenty or thirty minutes of drivin' turned into a good bit longer as he became less an' less familiar with the roads.

When he got over to the roads he needed to follow to get to the ol' Carpenter Home place he went off the toll road at Thousandsticks, paid his toll an' pulled over to read the directions an' look at the map Aunt Bess drew.

He felt pretty good about the directions an' the little bit he remembered about the roads. Head back west an' away from Thousandsticks to Big Branch Road. From there he took a right onto Bowling Branch Road. He was kin to the Bowlings. His Great Grandma was a Bowling. The family came from over to Hawkins County, Tennessee back in the 1800s.

Aunt Bess warned him that the creek just after you turned off onto Bowling Branch Road might be up. There was a low water bridge that could be under water if there was a real big rain but she didn't expect it would be a problem since it weren't supposed to rain that much. The water was muddy but nowhere near flood level as he crossed the low water bridge.

His last turn was the first (an' only) right off Bowling Branch. Though there was no road sign, Joe Henry knew it was Limestone Ridge Road. Aunt Bess told him the ol' home place an' the house was just a short piece up the road.

He drove slow, lookin' for the house. Finally he recognized the ol' tobacco barn that stood on the property. Just past that he saw a little cabin not too far off the road. The yard was growed up an' though Aunt Bess told him folks would get things ready for him, well, it looked like they forgot he was comin' or didn't expect him so soon.

She gave him a ring of keys jest before he left an' showed him the key to the lock on the home place door. He had to admit as he sat in the truck waitin' for the rain to slow down that he didn't remember which key she pointed out.

Aunt Bess was just like his Daddy when it came to keys. Daddy always had a big ol' ring of keys that Joe Henry was never able to match to doors or locks. Must be a Carpenter thing.

He finally gave up on the rain slowin' down. He got out of the truck, ran up to the porch an' fumbled with the keys. There was a hasp an' big lock on the ol' door. It took him a couple minutes to find the right key in the half light of the storm.

When the door was open he felt around an' found the light switch. At least the electric was on. As he looked around it was evident that no one had prepared the place for him. He was more than a little aggravated as he saw all the furniture covered with sheets.

He was just wet an' cold. Aunt Bess could not be blamed. She depended on others an' they dropped the ball. He settled down an' started takin' the sheets off an' foldin' them carefully.

It wasn't such a bad place. Small, but he could make due. It was just him after all. There was a couch, ol' arm chair an' a rocker. He uncovered an' ol' iron bed in the bedroom. The mattress was not bad but there was only a sheet on the bed. No problem for him as he still had that quilt he bought as well as a couple others Aunt Bess gave him. There was no pillow but a quilt folded up would be fine.

He checked the electric box an' found the fuse that was for the bathroom an' well pump. The fuse was out of the socket an' layin' inside the box. When he screwed it in he heard the pump come on. He did the same for the water heater a bit later when he felt like the pump's tank was filled up.

As he expected, there weren't a bite of food in the cupboards. So much for folks takin' care of folks. He was thankful for the food Aunt Bess had send him off with. At least he won't be hungry for a couple days.

The bank would be close tomorrow as it was Sunday. He'd head for Hyden to do his business at the bank, get a few groceries as well as sheets an' a pillow for the bed. He started a list of things he would need; sheets, pillow, soap, shampoo, dish soap. He added a dish towel an' dish rag to the list. At least there were some basic dishes, pots an' pans in the cupboards.

He could make due. He sure wasn't goin' to complain to his Great Aunt. Where else could he go?
There was a little shed with an open front behind the cabin. There was plenty of coal in a pile just inside the shed as well as firewood. He found a coal bucket an' brought enough coal an' kindlin' in to get a good fire goin' in the Warm Morning stove.

He was as settled in as possible by evenin'. He remembered an' was glad for the boxes of books he had in the back end of his truck. A quick trip in the rain for one of the boxes, a quick dig through the contents an' a sigh as he found the first book to read durin' his sojourn in the hills of Kentucky.

He smiled as he sat, opened the book an' began to read, "In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.".


The storm did not stop. It rained, thundered an' filled the hills with lightnin' all night long. Sometime in the early mornin' the power went off. Joe Henry didn't notice because he stayed up late readin' an' slept right through the power failure.

He was always a late night reader, even when he was growin' up. When he was a boy he kept a flashlight an' a stack of comic books under his bed in a cardboard box. When he knew Mama an' Daddy was asleep he would grab the flashlight an' a handful of them comics. The sheet an' blankets thrown over his head made a great tent to sit an' read in. Years later his Mama told him they knew he stayed up an' read after bedtime. She always figured if that was the worst he ever did she could live with it.

Joe Henry had plugged in the alarm clock radio that was by the bed the night before an' set it for 7:30 a.m. No sense in sleepin' late the first mornin' he was there. He planned on gettin' up, havin' a piece of the banana bread Aunt Bess packed for him an' havin' a shower.

He grabbed some of the sheets that covered the furniture to add to the sheet that was on the bed. His quilts on top of the sheets an' the folded up quilt made a decent place to sleep. Not the Taj Mahal, but what could he expect?

When he did wake up it was way past 9:00. He realized the power was off when he looked at his watch an' then at the clock radio. Even though he knew there was no power he still flipped the light switch off an' on several times after he was dressed.

"Just great. Just so very great." he groused as he wandered through the little cabin. No electric also meant no water, no hot water especially. That meant no shower till the electric was on.

"I'm sure glad everything was made ready for me. I'm gonna have to tell Aunt Bess 'our people' ain't as reliable as she said."

When he was packin' up, Aunt Bess told him that everyone on the road was kin. They was gonna get things ready for him, knew he was comin'. All he had to do is ask if he needed anything.

He hadn't seen a soul when he arrived last night. Not a single car or truck passed since he got up. From what he saw of the road it ended in a dead end maybe a quarter mile past this cabin.

"There is nobody else livin' on this road. I know this is the right road. I remember that ol' barn. It even has that sign that says, 'Carpenter's' on it."

He was right, of course. The sign was decades old an' was just a piece of an old sign that had faded an' fell apart years ago.

Even though it was rainin' it was warm an' humid. He didn't sleep very well when he finally did get in bed. He had a bad case of bedhead, needed a shower an' didn't know if there was even a bar of soap in the place.

"Yep, they got things ready for me, sure enough. Workin' on this farm is gonna be a trip. I don't even know what I'm supposed to do. This is crazy."

He eventually cut a piece of the banana bread. When there was a little light outside, he took one of the quilts, his book an' the banana bread out to the porch. He found a chair folded up in a closet that he sat beside the table on the porch.

He dove into the book an' read for a couple hours. He forgot the time, just as he did the night before. The lights finally came back on about 2:00 p.m.. He didn't realize they were back on till he heard the well pump kick on.

Thankfully, he had not opened the Frigidaire too many times an' the few food items Aunt Bess gave him were still cold, still good when he went in to make himself a quick meal.

The storm seemed like it settled over the ridge where he was. It rained as hard as Joe Henry had ever seen all day. After he showered he decided to just stay there for the day. The bank an' store could wait till Tuesday.

He did feel bad that Aunt Bess was payin' him though. He needed to earn his keep. With that in mind he got on a nylon jacket an' pushed through the tall weeds an' sweet grasses to the ol' barn.

He had the ring of keys in his pocket. Though the weeds were high, he spotted a padlock on the side door of the barn before he left the porch. It took him a minute in the rain to find the right key. He chuckled at the big ol' ring of keys. Why in the world didn't Aunt Bess an' Daddy get rid of some of them ol' keys.

Once inside he could see just a little since there was a window at one end. The contents of the barn were a mystery in the half light.

He noticed a big hooded electric light hangin' in the rafters. After a quick search he found a switch an' turned on the light. The barn started out as a tobacco barn. There were still tall sections on hinges every few feet on both sides. When tobacco was hung in a barn like this the hinged sections would be opened to let the hangin' tobacco air dry.

It had apparently been years since the barn was used to hang tobacco. It was full of machinery, odds an' ends, even an ol' Maytag ringer washer. At the front end of the barn were stacks an' stacks of white boxes.

When Joe Henry wandered close he saw that the white boxes were actually hive parts. Bee hives! Finally he remembered that his Grandparents raised bees years ago. Seemed like his Daddy said the family did pretty well with them, had a good business.

On the front of many of the boxes the name "Bee Tree Honey" was painted. Bee Tree Honey. He had seen honey jars back home with that name on labels. Must have been his Grandpa's honey.

He had a small revelation. He went back outside, around to the front side an' looked up at the faded sign. Sure enough, the faded words were legible from there. The sign said, "Carpenter's Bee Tree Honey".

Joe Henry ran back into the barn. When he walked back to the white boxes he stopped an' sat down on a crate for a while. " Carpenter's Bee Tree Honey". He wondered just how much he didn't know, didn't seem to care about when he was a kid. Actually even as an adult. All the times his Daddy asked him to come down to the Carpenter home place to help out with things. He always had "better" things to do.

"Better things." He said out loud.The words seemed hollow, empty as he said them in the ol' barn.
Joe Henry piddled around in the barn for the rest of the day. Not really workin', just openin' drawers in work benches, openin' boxes an' a barrel or two.

He looked in the white boxes. They were clean an' well taken care of. He wondered how long they had sat in this ol' barn. He wondered if his Daddy ever helped with the honey, with the bees.

"If these boxes could talk. I wonder how much of my family's history they could tell me. I wonder how much I've missed." he whispered to the barn.

"I wonder why I am here by myself?"


The rain continued throughout the day. It rained hard all through the night an' into Tuesday. It seemed like the storm cell had hung up on the tall point of the mountain just east of the ridge. Joe Henry couldn't remember too many times he had seen a storm as bad as this one.

The power went off several times throughout the night an' into the day Tuesday. Though he knew he needed to go into town, he just didn't favor the idea of gettin' out in that rain. Besides, he still had a decent supply of food Aunt Bess sent along.

Breakfast was more of the banana bread an' a cold bottle of Yoohoo. That bottled chocolate drink had been a favorite of his growin' up an' well into his adult life. Aunt Bess had a six pack of it ready for him to pack away when he left. It weren't as good as a big mug of coffee, but it would do.

The power flickered an' finally gave up the ghost about 10:00 or so. He remembered seein' an ol' coal oil lamp in the barn when he was diggin' around. A quick trip in the pourin' rain rewarded him with not only the lamp, but revealed that the lamp was almost full of coal oil.

He ran back inside an' sat the lamp by the kitchen sink. The glass chimney needed a good cleanin' if it were to give off much light. Before he started cleanin' the lamp he looked out the window over the sink. Rain was pourin' down from the end of the gutter where a downspout had fallen off.

Joe Henry stood there just for a minute before he turned an' headed for the bathroom. The day before he found a little ol' worn out bar of soap up on top of the shower. He grabbed that bar of soap, a wash rag an' a towel he found.

Joe Henry shucked off his pants an' shirt. took off his shoes an' socks. He was grinnin' like an ol' possum an' was out the door an' to the end of the porch in his underwear. Lookin' around to make sure they was no cars comin', he slipped off his underwear an' ran to the back of the cabin with soap an' wash rag in hand.

When he was a kid he loved sneakin' out when there was a hard rain to stand under a gutter an' take what he called a "cowboy bath". A good ol' cowboy bath was exactly what he needed right then. He stuck his head under the fallin' water. Man, oh man, it was colder than he thought it would be.

Joe Henry danced around, jumpin' in an' out of the water, dancin' in the rain. He was naked as a jaybird. He laughed an' danced in the rain. He soaped up, rinsed off an' then washed his hair with the bar of soap. He figured he didn't need to impress no one that day.

He had such a great cowboy bath. It lifted his spirits an' when he got back to the porch he dried off, danced around some more. He threw his arms out, doin' a shake at the rain. He laughed out loud.

"Here I am world. Butt nekkid an' clean as a whistle. I sure needed me a cowboy bath. I reckon it is good for the soul."

Then he chuckled an' said to himself, "There are a lot of folks in the world I wouldn't want to see takin' a cowboy bath."

With that he went in, finished dryin' off an' got dressed. He decided he better get to town before the low water bridge comin' in was flooded over. He hummed to himself as he cleaned up the coal oil lamp. The power comin' on would be nice, but he wouldn't mind an evenin' readin' with that ol' lamp.

He started up his truck an' pulled out of the yard an' onto the road. The gravel road was full of the yellow clay mud he remembered from his childhood. That mud was gonna be all over his truck by the time he got back from town.

The storm an' rain had actually lifted his spirits. Truth be told, the memories caused by that cowboy bath did much for his attitude. He mused an' considered the memories he had of travelin' down to Uncle Floyd an' Aunt Bess' home. He dug through memories, tryin' to remember the few times he did visit the Carpenter home place with his Daddy.

Those memories were few but he did remember them an' the folks he met fondly. Seems like they was lots of folks that knew his Daddy. Lots of family back then. Oh well, they probably all died off. That is why there weren't anyone around like Aunt Bess said.

Bless her heart. She is gettin' old, after all. She just don't remember things as well as she should. Ain't her fault though.

He repeated those thoughts out loud as he drove slow around the bend toward the low water bridge,

"Bless her heart. She is gettin' old after all."

Just about that time he saw the low water bridge in his headlights. The day was still dark. Clouds an' the storm completely blotted out the sun that day.

Actually he didn't see one bit of the low water bridge. It was completely covered with muddy storm waters. The little stream frothed an' swirled, right angry. The bridge was completely flooded.

Joe Henry figured that the water might not be so very high over the bridge if a person knew the bridge well. Problem was he only crossed that bridge in his truck that one time comin' in.

He carefully backed up an' found a place to turn around. He grinned as he drove back to the little cabin. A day in the warmth of the cabin, warmed up with a small coal fire in the Warm Morning stove, the glow of that coal oil lamp an' a quilt on his lap was exactly what he needed. Add a good book that an' it was gonna be a little ol' slice of geek heaven in the hills of Kentucky.

"This might not be so bad, after all." he said as he pulled into the cabin's yard.


Tuesday was a fine day to stay inside an' read. The power was off all day. Joe Henry got a lot of readin' done between sittin' on the porch an' sittin' inside by the coal oil lamp. That ol' cowboy bath did a world of good.

Wednesday was just as rainy as the day before. He drove down to Bowling Branch Road to see if the flood water had subsided enough to get across. No such luck. He turned around, turned back onto Limestone Ridge Road an' headed back to the ol' cabin.

His truck radio was tuned to WWXL over to Manchester an' the announcer read a weather report that just plain ol' aggravated Joe Henry.

"Well folks, the National Weather Service is sayin' to expect rain for the next several days. There is a storm cell that has settled into our area an' just ain't in no hurry to leave. We are expecting two to four inches of rain in the next 24 hours. Looks like rain is expected to continue through Friday. There is another front right behind this one, so keep your umbrellas handy."

The announcer continued, "Folks in low lyin' areas should move to higher elevations. There are already reports of floodin' in a number of areas, includin' Big Creek an' Eriline. Red Cross has set up a shelter over to Goose Rock Elementary for those who may be flooded out of their homes."

"Today's weather report is sponsored by Knuckles Dollar Store. The place where your dollar buys you more. Y'all come on down to Knuckles Dollar Store."

Joe Henry turned the radio off quickly. He didn't want to hear Knuckle's Dollar Store jingle one more time. It was one of them "ear worms" for him. When he heard it he would end up hummin' the jingle or singin' it to himself all day long.

Probably still would, truth be told.

Wednesday became Thursday an' the rain still continued. There were times that the rain would stop for a short while or would just be a sprinkle. Never did let up for long though.

The constant rain did little for his mood. The cabin fever that set in with the hours an' hours of rain didn't help. The only bright spot, if they was any bright spot at all, was the power comin' back on.

One cowboy bath was fun. Havin' to take them on a continuous basis wasn't much to brag about. A good hot shower with that little ol' piece of soap felt pretty good.

He was tired of readin'. Tired of just sittin' around. Tired of not know what he was supposed to do. He was no kind of farmer. He wasn't sure he even liked the mountains. So far the mountains were a soggy mess. Stupid yellow mud all over his truck. Caked on mud.

"I am so over this place. Tired of eatin' banana bread. Tired of tryin' to get by with what little I have left from the food Aunt Bess gave me. Tired of this stinkin' little cabin." he groused.

"Yeah, they will have things ready for you. Folks are lookin' forward to seein' you. Just ask. Uh huh. Sheesh. I don't want to hurt Aunt Bess, but I am thinkin' of goin' back home. If this was some kind of inheritance I'm not sure if it is worth messin' with. I'm not sure Aunt Bess could afford to pay me to do nothin'."

He knocked around in the barn for a right smart while. Still diggin' around into the piles of junk that sat around the barn. He felt awful bad that there wasn't really any work for him to do. There sure wasn't any family to meet an' greet him or tell him what his job was.

As the day was fadin' an' the rain was just misty he went out onto the porch an' sat. He didn't take a book, didn't want to read. He had his jacket on since it was a bit cool. He zipped it up until the hood was over his head an' the front coverin' his mouth.

Joe Henry was glum. When he was a little boy he loved readin' "Winnie the Pooh". He never was particularly fond of Eeyore. Didn't like how down an' out Eeyore always seemed. As he sat on the porch he pondered exactly why Eeyore was always so down.

"Probably because he lived in a place like this." he said to no one but himself.

As he sat, feelin' all sorry for himself, he heard a noise comin' from the woods back behind the cabin an' barn. He listened carefully. There, he heard it again. Something was movin' around in the woods. He could hear it real plain.

"Great. Just my luck there are coyotes or bears here. Yeah, a bear to come over here an' tear things to pieces. Good grief."

Though the thought of a bear was in his mind, he really didn't believe a bear was walkin' in the woods in this rain. He went to the end of the porch an' stood, peerin' into the misty woods.

There was a little path between the trees an' as he looked he saw something, should say someone walkin' in the rain. Why, it was a woman. Why in the world would a woman be wanderin' through the woods here in the mountains?

He shook his head as he watched her come toward the cabin. It was a little bitty roundish woman. She had an apron on like his Aunt Bess always wore an' big ol' black gum boots that went up high on her legs. The tops were covered by her dress. She had an umbrella over her head, had a bonnet on an' wire rim glasses. She also had a look on her face that was part concerned an' part amused.

"Hooo, howdy. who are ye?' she called.

Joe Henry just stood there, struck dumb to see an ol' woman walkin' out of the woods. He pulled the hood down off his head but didn't move.

She called out again, "Howdy, who are ye?

Finally he found his voice, "I'm Joe Henry Carpenter. Who are you an' why are you walkin' in them big woods? Are you lost?"

The ol' woman laughed as she walked closer an' then up onto the porch. She continued to laugh harder an' harder. Joe Henry didn't know what to think.

"Boy, I ain't the one lost. I reckon you are. You've had ever'one worryin' about you when you didn't show up on Saturday. Your Aunt Bess thought she scared you off an' you went back to Ohio."

She closed her umbrella, shook it an' sat it against the cabin wall. She reached into her pocket, took out a hankie an' wiped her glasses off. She sat down in his chair an' took her bonnet off. Joe Henry just stood where he was.

I'm Margaret Allen. Folks call me Maggie. My husband is Charlie Allen. My Daddy was George Lee Carpenter. Me an' Charlie are double cousins to your Aunt Bess. She an' I are second cousins. Charlie is second cousins to her to. I reckon that would make me an' Charlie fourth cousins to your Daddy an' fifth cousins to you."

She grinned an' held our her hand, "Howdy Cousin!"

He shook her hand an' almost whispered his howdy.

She continued, "We've been worried sick, wonderin' where you were. Had things all ready for you. Even had some of your kin invited over for supper Saturday night to introduce you to them. When you didn't show up we all et anyways. No sense in wastin' food, don't ye know."

"No one had any idea where you was. It weren't till the rain let up an' Charlie smelled smoke. At first we was afraid a lightnin' strike lit the mountain on fire. Then Charlie said it smelled like coal burnin'. We didn't know where anyone could be burnin' coal till Charlie remembered they was a pile of coal over here."

She laughed as she looked Joe Henry over. "Charlie was all for callin' the sheriff. Said it were probably some gypsy or hobo what was a squatter here. While he was lookin' for the number for Jimmie Gilbert, the deputy, an' a cousin of yours, well, I grabbed my umbrella an' stuck my feet in my boots an' was out the door. He hollered after me that I was libel to get shot or be kidnapped or some such. I reckon he'll be along in a bit. He can help us pack your things up an' cover ever'thing back up."

Sheesh, the women of this family must hit ever'thing head on.

"Pack up?" he asked.

"Well sure. We've got the ol' Carpenter home place ready for ye. I suspect you'll like it better than this ol' place."

"This ain't the Carpenter home place?" he asked with his eyes wide.

"Land sakes no, child. This was the buildin' we all used for sellin' an' packin' our Carpenter's Bee Tree Honey an' honey products. Your Daddy an' Charlie fixed it up when they hired Bobby Jenkins to work for us a while back. Bobby had a hard time after his placed burned down. Didn't have no place to go an' they weren't no jobs for an' older feller like him. He lived here an' worked for us all as long as he could. Finally got his Social Security an' was able to get an apartment over to Hyden in the Senior housin' over there, two maybe three years ago. He's been dead 'bout a year now. We ain't used this place for anything since he moved over to Hyden."

"So, where is the home place? How do you get there?"

She laughed again. "Boy, you stopped too soon. If ye had just drove around the bend 'bout 100 yards past this place you would have seen it. It sits back from the road but the mailbox is right on the road. Says 'Carpenter' big as day. Our place is just across the road an' down a bit from it. The store, bee yards an' bee shed is just beyond us."

"Bee yard? Store?" he asked as he leaned heavy against a post.

"Sure, youngin'. What do you think your Aunt Bess was hirin' you for? Me an' Charlie is gettin' old. Some of the cousins an' neighbors help when honey harvest comes in, but we need help. Other folks need some help too. You will have plenty to do. I guarentee you will earn your keep. Hope you ain't afraid of workin'."

Still in shock, he shook his head, "No ma'am. I ain't afraid of hard work."

About that time Charlie came through the woods. He was as little an' short as his wife Maggie. Where she was plump he was skinny as a rail. Introductions were made an' the three packed the few belongin's that Joe Henry had in the cabin, covered ever'thing back up with the sheets. At Joe Henry's insistence that they not walk back in the rain, they all piled into the truck.

"Why didn't you never go over to town an' go to the bank or the grocery?" Charlie asked.

"Well, I would have if I could have. That stream is up an' has covered the low water bridge for days. I tried several times but was afraid of goin' off the bridge."

Charlie looked over at Joe Henry, "Why didn't you just go the other way?"

"What other way?"

"Why not go to the other end of this road an' onto Pebble Creek Road? They ain't no creek to cross at the other end." Charlie told him.

"Didn't know there was another way. Actually I thought the road ended just up the way. I guess that is a dead end, huh?" he asked.

"Yep. Road curves an' goes past us, past quite a few folks before it dead ends into Pebble Creek Road. Bowling Branch Road is shorter, but most of us folks go the other way just 'cause of that low water bridge. Ain't the best bridge in the county, don't ye know." Charlie chuckled as he explained.

"I wish Aunt Bess had told me all that. Sure would have helped a lot."

"She said she did." Maggie said.

"Nah, she must have forgot. Her map an' instructions are right there." he said as he pointed to the directions Aunt Bess gave him.

Charlie picked the pieces of paper up, looked them over, turned them over. He nudged Maggie, pointed to something an' looked over to Joe Henry.

"Son, when you was readin' the map an' instructions, did ye ever turn them over?" Charlie asked.


"Did you ever turn the pages over?" Charlie asked again.

"No, why?"

"Well, I ain't got no college education, but on the back is ever'thing you needed to know. Tells you to go past that little cabin an' barn, says the ol' Carpenter home place will be just past the bend on the right. Says we will be lookin' for ye. Tells you our names an' 'bout anything you needed to know." Charlie laughed an' Maggie joined him.

Joe Henry finally joined them an' they all three laughed hard as the truck turned the bend an' headed for the home place.

"Sheesh," Joe Henry chuckled. I was about the strangest stranger in a strange land, weren't I?"