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The Old Farm Revisited

Uncle Jep and Aunt Grace had been gone forty years.  I had inexplicably turned into an old man.  Without doubt, this will be my last trip through the Valley.  

My father’s youngest sister, Esther, had passed away.  The funeral was in La Junta. Aunt Esther, at 95, had lived not only long, but well.  I would have made no effort to attend the obsequies were it not for her oldest son, Hugh.  I mean, I thought highly of Aunt Esther, but she is gone.  Hugh, though, is a brother to me.  He is but six months younger than I and we grew up together.  We were best pals from the time we were five until I went to the farm to work for Uncle Jep. Hugh and I maintained our friendship throughout our lives, and now we are two old guys in their late seventies, spouses gone, and most of our friends laid to rest.

I am living in Tulsa now.  I can no longer drive, thanks to tunnel vision, but my son, Marvin, lives nearby and he was willing to make the trip.

The burial and the four-day visit were soon over, and Marv had to be back for work next week.  Hugh and I made arrangements to meet in San Antonio at Christmas.  Marvin and I were eastbound, had an early start on the day.  As we drove we chatted about the days I spent in the area in my youth.  Marvin perceived that I was waxing nostalgic, and it was he who suggested we might drive up to the old place where I had spent so many good days with Aunt Grace and Uncle Jeptha.

We neared Holly and turned north.  It was a matter of a mere three or four miles, and there was the spot.  What memories welled up as I looked around the place!  The old house where I had eaten so much of Aunt Grace's wonderful cooking and fantastic pies, where I had listened to so many of Uncle Jep's yarns, was still standing.  It was clearly well-cared for, seemed to have recently received a fresh coat of white paint.  The old cedar shingle roof had been replaced with modern red tern roofing.  The chimney at the peak of the house was gone, replaced by the PVC vent utilized by modern furnaces.  The propane tank beyond the house gave testimony to modern ways.

The old barn was gone.  In its place stood a much smaller pole barn, its blue steel siding likely to withstand the blasts of winter and the heat of summer for many decades to come. The windmill was no longer present, but a watering tank for the stock was still located where the mill once stood.  As we had passed numerous circular fields it was evident that modern irrigation was being practiced and wind power was replaced by electric power in the barn lot and by diesel fuel in the fields.

Just beyond the barn was a very sturdy pen in which was a lone Simmental bull.  Sudden mental flashback to Uncle's story about Red Hurd's purchase of a bull all those many years ago.  Beyond the bull's pen was a windbreak of Black Hills spruce extending about 10 rods to the east.  On the other side of the trees, a fenced pasture was host to about thirty head of nice cattle. 

Behind the house, we saw an old red Dodge truck, but no other vehicles.  Waal, we parked in front the house and went up to the door anyway.  Knocking brought no response, and as much as I would have liked to walk part of the property, just for old time's sake, doncha know, I wanted even more not to get arrested, or worse, shot, for trespassing.  We returned to the car and drove another three miles to the little knoll on which lay the burial plots for my Aunt and Uncle.  We parked beside the road.  With my pocketknife. I cut six pretty brown cattails from the swale.  These I carried with me to lay on the graves of my departed loved ones.  So ended our brief foray into my past.  We got back on the road and headed eastward.

Marvin was subjected to my recounting of Uncle Jep's tales for the next few hundred miles, but he was a good sport about it.

© 2015 David W. Lacy

Epilogue: Uncle Jep's Tales

A note from Uncle Jeptha's auditor.

Jeptha Miller was born in Hawkins County, Tennessee in 1876.  Right proud he was that he was an American when the nation celebrated its centennial, though of course he did not remember that celebration.  He always hoped and often said that he would “be around fer the 200th anniversary, too.”  That was not to be, though, as Uncle Jep passed away in 1968 just two days after his 92nd birthday.

Jeptha moved with his family across Clinch Mountain to Scott County, Virginia when he was but a slip of a lad, nine or ten years old, I think.  In 1894 he and Aunt Grace were married and established their home in Hawkins County.  Grace was my grandmother’s sister, and hence my great aunt.  To me, she was always  "Aunt Grace."  Jeptha and Grace left Tennessee in 1902 and moved West where they settled on the High Plains of Eastern Colorado.  They lived out the rest of their lives a few rods and a skimmer handle from Holly and came to love the dry land and its people.

These tales spun by Uncle Jep are no doubt true, for never truer man lived.  And whether the characters and events existed in the hills or on the plains, or only in the mind of the Old Uncle, they all contain within them the truth of life and living.  Uncle Jep was kindly and generous to a fault.  Should you need it, he would give you the last scrap of food in his house, or literally the coat off his own back.  But he would kick your butt, too, if you slacked off on the job or carried less than your fair share of the load.  He was a flawed man, though.  He did not take kindly to being interrupted when he was spinning a yarn, and he could not abide a person who would kick a dog.  This latter was because, he opined, “A dog will not turn on his friends, which is more than can be said of some people.” 

While some of these tales are represented as having been told me during breaks as we worked together, or around the supper table of an evening, many of them I heard from Uncle Jep in his last four or five years during visits to the home place some years after I had moved away from the Plains and had a family of my own.  Some of them I heard many times, for Uncle Jep did not believe that a tale was diminished by repetition.

The family believed Aunt Grace died of grief and a broken heart. She passed a day and a half after Uncle Jep died.  They were buried side by side on the same day in a little cemetery on a prominence on the High Plains they so dearly loved.

Uncle Jep’s patois, or lingo does not represent itself to be a dialect, so one should not look for that.  Imagine you hear the Old Uncle’s delivery in a deliberate way, not quite a drawl, but slow nevertheless.  We recall that Mr. Miller grew up in East Tennessee and Southwest Virginia, so it is natural that some of the expressions he used may well originate there.  But remember also that he lived sixty-six years of his adult life in a very specific Western locale.

A note from vanilla

I hope you have enjoyed this little experiment in fiction we cooked up over the past year.

© 2014 David W. Lacy

A History Lesson in Rogersville

Caney Creek, Tennessee
October 1, 1901

“Hidy, Miss Dora!”  It was Uncle Jeptha.  I was in town with Mama.  “Miz Rutledge, Ma’am!  Fine day.  Might Dory sit here on this bench with me whilst you shop?  I get her a sassparilly.”

“Please, Mama?” 

“Certainly.  Now you be right here when I get back, hear?”

“Do you know about the war thet was fought right here, Chile?”

“You mean the War Between the States, Uncle?”

“Thet’s the one.  Waal, they was a big ol’ battle right here where we are a sittin’oh, thirty-seven, thirty-eight year ago.  Way afore your time. Afore mine, too.  Ha!" 

“My Grampa Rutledge was in the war.”

“Most ever’one hereabouts were.  See, the thing is, Tennessee were with the South, but lots a fellas hereabouts had fit for the United States years afore, ‘n they join with the Union.  Lots a families plum split apart account a thet.   Your Aunt Grace Grandaddy were one a them.  He join the Union army, go off to fight for the North.  But one November he get a short leave, come home to see his wife ‘n kids.  ‘N whilst he were here, His cousin Avery, Avery were Reb all the way, Avery tell the sojers in grey thet ol’Steven were at his house.  So they capture him, send him to prison camp.  Waal, sad ending account a Steven tuk sick there an’ die.  Never get home again.

"So thet is how come your Aunt Grace fambly have nothin’ to do with Avery’s chirren ‘n gran’chirren to this day.”

“Oh, that is a sad story, Uncle.”

“War is a sorry bidness, Honey, a sorry bidness.”

Mama pick me up then and Nellie Belle carry us home.

Please, God, don’t ever, ever let there ever be war again.

Goodnight, dear Diary.

© 2014 David W. Lacy 48

Making a Mountain of a Molehill

I read through Dora's diaries.  They covered her life from age seven to her eleventh birthday.  I shared a sample of the diligence and effort she expended in keeping the journals, and while entries were not made on a daily basis, they did present a picture of the life of a little girl in the Appalachian hills at the turn of the century.

My purpose in obtaining the diaries was to find stories from Uncle Jep as told in his younger day, a time before I knew him.  So I am not sharing further the intimate details of Dora's life, but rather I have selected a couple of stories as told by Uncle Jeptha and recorded by the youngster who listened to them.

Caney Creek
June 29, 1900

I was in Uncle Jeptha's garden today.  He was hoeing the corn.  Aunt Grace was picking snap beans.  I would help her with them later.

"Girl," Uncle Jeptha said, as he stopped and leaned on his hoe handle, "you see thet biggest ridge yonder?  The Great Ridge?  Do you know whut thet is called?

"Of, course, Uncle Jeptha.  It is Clinch Mountain.  Everyone knows that."

"Good.  But do you know how it come to be?"

"A course, Uncle.  God made it.  He made everything."

"Waal, yes, I s'posin' He did.  But do you know how He make hit?"  'Course you don't, but you need to know, so I'ma tell ya.  Way off north an' east a here, way up in Ol' Virginny, way back afore any these ridges was made, there live a mole.  You know whut a mole is, Girl?"

"Course I do.  Look yonder just the other side the fence, a runnin' through the grass there.  There is a molehill, right there!"

"Why, so there is, Chile.  So you know how it come thet a mole will burra in the earth, jes' so."  Waal, this here mole I'ma tellin' ya about was no or'nary mole.  He were the King of all the Moles, 'n he were the hugest mole thet ever was.  Why, he was so huge, thet when he stood on the ground his head reach mought nigh ta the sky!"

(I see Aunt Grace set her bucket down, stand up straight and lean against the fence.  She is looking square at Uncle, but he pays her no nevermind and go right on with his story.)

"So it happen one sunny day King Mole stick his head in th' groun'.  Mole don't like the sunlight, doncha know, 'n he start a flingin' dirt with his giant claws, twel he gone plumb underground, then he start to move along, as a mole will do.  An' he head off to'rd Tennessee, 'n he keep agoin'.  Why, he never come up out the ground twel he were all the way 'tother side a Rutledge.  You know where Rutledge is, Girl?'

"Course I do, Uncle.  My daddy come from Rutledge.  He grew up there.  He says the town is named for his people."

"Good Girl!  Why, yes hit were named for yer Daddy's people.  There is another story there.  But anyway, as you can see, that mighty molehill make by King Mole is now call Clinch Mountain.  Yep, thet were some mole, thet were."

"Now, Jeptha Miller," that was Aunt Grace a chiming in, "why are you fillin' the child's head with such foolishness?"

"Now, Hon, whut can I say?  Thet was the way hit was."

"Run along to the house now, Dora, Sweetie," said Auntie. " I'll be right in 'n we will make some nice lemonade, then we'll snap these beans."

So I did, and we did.
Good night, Dear Diary

© 2014 David W. Lacy 47

Dora's Diary

The postmark was "Rogersville, TN."  I ripped the package open, and there inside were the two "books" Dora had written as a child, obviously very old but remarkably intact.  The edges of the paper tended to crumble a bit as I thumbed through them.

The covers of the books were pasteboard, carefully cut to enclose Dora's handmade pages.  On the front cover of the first one was painstakingly printed


The second book, or Volume 2, was labelled similarly, but it was done in cursive writing, appearing to have been written by a girl of ten or eleven, a little heart dotting the "i".  
I opened the first "volume" and on the first page, I read this, all in painstaking manuscript.

August 11, 1895
Caney Creek, Tennessee

Today is my birthday.  I am now seven years old.  My friend Myra and cuzzins  cousands Leroy and Effie came over for cake this afternoon.  Leroy give me a willow whistle he had carve, and Effie give me a hankie she had embroydee.  Myra's was the best, tho, coz she is my best fren.  I shall keep it near my hart, and you will have to guess.

Mama say now I am seven I kin go over to Aunt Grace and Uncle Jeptha house by myself tomoro.
Good night, dear diary.
Dora M. R

Second page:

August 12, 1895
Caney Creek

Oh, Diary! Today I walk by myself over to Aunt Grace house.  As I walk thoo the gardein in front the house, I hear Uncle Jep call "Dora! Over here!"

"Hidy, Uncle Jep!"

"Oh, my ain't you all grown up?  Those shoes are new.  Do they feel as good as they look?"

"Oh, yes, Uncle.  Mama and Daddy give them me for my birthday.  Acourse I know they's my new go-to-school shoes, an' I won't be a wearin' of them again until school, but are they not the pertiest shoes?"

"Sturdy, nice lacing, good support for yer ankles.  Bet they got 'em in Kingsport?"

"I don't know, but I surely like them!  Is Aunt Grace in the house?"

"Not really, cause here she come now with goodies for the good.  That would be you and me.  And her, a course."

Good night, dear Diary, Mama jus come in to put out my light.
Dora M. R

Editor's note:  The young girl was a credible writer, a fairly good speller, and faithful to the tales.  However, she was not much on punctuation, so some has been added for clarity.  Entries otherwise presented as Dora recorded them.

© 2014 David W. Lacy 46

Dora's Treasure

Years after Uncle Jep and Aunt Grace had passed, I was conversing one day with one of their nieces.  Dora was daughter to Aunt Jean.  She was a mere slip of a girl when Jep and Grace got married in 1894, but she remembered being at their wedding.  At the time of my visit with her, Dora was set to turn ninety the following month, and although she may have lost a step or two, she was still in full possession of all her marbles, so to speak.

Dora had grown up in the area with Aunt Grace and Uncle Jep, knew them well in her formative years. As you know, my time with this wonderful couple was during their later years.  I shared a few of Uncle Jep's stories with Dora, then she opened my eyes to a side of Uncle Jep I had not known.

"Uncle Jeptha used to tell me stories, too.  They seem to be somewhat different, though, from the tales he told you.  Fortunately, when I was a girl I kept a diary, and when Uncle Jep would tell me a story, I would faithfully record it in my journal.  I was but thirteen when they moved to Colorado, so you must remember that the stories were told to a very young girl.

"My diaries from that time in my life were recorded on newsprint Daddy got in Rogersville.  Mama always said fancy books for writin' down stuff simply were outside the range of our needs.  'But,' she said, 'if you really think your life is worth writing about, you will find a way.'  And I did. Leftover ends of newsprint rolls and stubby pencils, that was my way.  I cut nice sheets, kept them in a special drawer, then when I had enough done, I would punch holes in the corners and tie them together with knitting yarn.  I am not long for this world, and there is nothing in those books of which I am ashamed, so if you would like to have them, I will get them to you."

I felt as though heaven had opened and manna had dropped into my hungry mouth!  To actually have records of Jeptha's early stories seemed a dream bigger than any I had dreamed before!  I was so excited that I actually told Cousin Dora that very thought.  She smiled and quipped,  "Waal, as Uncle Jep would have said, don't get yer hopes higher'n you can reach.  They are only the scribbles of a youngster, and the tales are certainly different from what you are used to."

Dora was true to her word.  She could have been home not much more than a few days at most when she mailed a package to me.  It contained two "books" bound with red yarn.  Though she had started the diary when she was seven years old, and though it was written "with a stubby pencil," the treasure was every bit as wonderful as I had hoped.

I mailed a thank-you note with birthday wishes the very next day.  Crossing it in the mail was a letter from Dora's son, Ephraim, telling me that his mother had passed, and that she had mentioned, during her last day of life, how much she appreciated the time spent with me reminiscing about the Old Auntie and Uncle Jeptha.

© 2014 David W. Lacy 45

Moving On

It was Summer, 1952, and I had been with Aunt Grace and Uncle Jep for several years.  "Boy," Uncle Jep said late one evening.  Aunt Grace had already retired for the night, quite unusual for her to toddle off to bed before Uncle Jep.  "You have been with us for a good long time now, and I know we could not have done without ye.  But you are a man now, an' it is clear to me this ol' place is not likely to be able to pervide for you.  Place jus' kin not keep up with mod'n needs.  Not equipped for it, not enough land for it.  Been good to me and your Aunt Grace, an' she'll see us thoo twel we shuffle off this mortal coil.  But you need to get on with your life."

"I know," I replied.  "I have been explorin' some possibilities, yet I am wondering, can you take care the place if I am not here?"

"Good of you to ask; but I hev th'answer to thet.  Yer cousin, Archie, hev a boy, jes' turn sixteen.  He desire to send him here so's I kin polish him out, so to speak."

"You have already agreed to take someone else on?"  I was incredulous.

"Don't get all offended, now.  'Course you are welcome here's long as ya like,"

"No, no.  It's not that."  I burst out laughing.  "I just yesterday agreed to take a job over to Wichita, an' I didn't know how I was going to tell you."

"Waal, now.  I reckon it's my time to be offended."  The he laughed.  "But I'm not.  Having your help has been a God-send, but 'tis shorely time for you to make a life for yerse'f."

© 2014 David W. Lacy 44

Road Trip with Auntie

"Tomorry," said Uncle Jep, "I want you should take the V-8 'n drive your Aunt Grace over to Liberal, so's she kin visit her Aunt Laura.  Sam 'n I have too much to do over to his place fer me to take off, 'n I won't much miss you around here for a couple days, leastways, no more'n I miss the woman."

"What? Where's tonight's tale?"

"Nah, you need get on ta bed 'n get some rest. An' I doubt not thet your Aunt Grace will more than fill your want of tales afore you get home."

The sun jumped above the horizon as we passed Coolidge.  As the day brightened, so did Aunt Grace, and soon enough she was rolling along as fast and as smoothly as the pickup was running.

"Did your Uncle Jeptha ever tell you," she asked, "about the time he went off to war?  No?  I thought not.  He'll talk about most anything, but that is a part of his life he'd rather forget.  You see, it was in February of '98, I think, when the Maine was sunk in Havana harbor.  You know about that, don't you?  Of course you do.  You have been to high school, after all.  Well, by late Spring the people across the country were getting quite worked up about Spain and her involvement in Cuba and in other parts of the world.  Must have been pretty general, otherwise how would the people in that little corner our world where we lived get incensed about something so far away?  So, Jep, he decide it was his fittin' and patriotic duty to join up.  The President was pleading for more troops.  Now we were living in Tennessee, but Jep still owned twenty acres in Scott County, so in order to be with his buddies from his boyhood, he joined up with the Second Virginia Volunteer Infantry.  They send him off to Camp Cuba Libre in Jacksonville, Florida."

Aunt Grace went on, filling me in on Jeptha's military training, the crowded conditions in camp, the miserable summer heat, and the mosquitoes.  Always the mosquitoes.  Presently we are in Garden, and Aunt Grace need to stop for a rest break, not to mention that I need that, too.  After a few minutes at a Phillips 66, we drove over to the city park where we stretched our legs and ate the sack lunch Auntie had prepared.  Then we were on the road southward toward Liberal.

"Well, wouldn't you know it?  But another week of training, then they would ship Jep off to Cuba.  Then it happened, not on the training grounds, but as he was walking along toward his quarters when he steps in a hole, breaks his left leg, shin-bone between the knee and the ankle.  Then, what, ho!  His buddies are shipping out to the war, and he is stuck in Jacksonville, set and plastered, but it would take time to heal.

"So it is that Jeptha is put on "desk duty."  The sergeant tells him, "Rejoice, you are now a clerk."  They set him down in front of one of them type writing machines, which he's never seen in his life, and tell him, "Write up this stack of orders."  Well, Jep is always conscientious, and he's a fair to middling quick learner.  Tells me in his letters to me before his stint as clerk is over that the tips of both his index fingers have calluses on them.  But the worst part was the heat.  He thought it had been hot in July, but come August, he thinks "hell has come."

"So then in the middle of August, the war comes to an end.  Of course the military is still needed to enforce the peace now that Spain has agreed to pull out  and grant independence to Cuba.  Well, Jep might have been assigned to a unit and shipped over, but the army decided that they would muster him out, as they had no longer need of so much infantry.  They take his rifle, give him thirty dollars and tell him he is on his own.  On his own, six hundred miles from home.

"Of course he did make it home, as you well know, and for which I am ever grateful.  But it would be in your best interest if you avoid asking your uncle about his military service."

© 2014 David W. Lacy 43

Dog Tales and Pickle Jar

Did I ever tell you about Coonrod Smithers 'n his hounds?

Uncle, says I, you told me about Coonrod and the congressman only a week ago.

Why, says Uncle, so I did.  I recollect we leave Coonrod standin' aneath the big sycamore along of the congersman, 'n Jack 'n Jill.  So le's move 'em fum under there whilst we wait for Sam.

Waal, Al 'n Smithers, they leash the dogs an' head on back home, amblin' along, fur piece to go, but no hurry to get there.  'Sides, the dude is not use ta scrabblin' thoo rocks 'n scrub ina dark.  Anyways, they greeted loudly by the dogs pen up ta home, 'n jes' as they open the gate, Abraham let out a fe-rocious "Ur-A-ur-urrr," an' sure 'nuff, the first crack a daylight appear in the East!  Thet ol' speckled cock shorely keep time, right enough.  He think he make the sun come up, I do b'lieve.

Coonrod stir up a farr in the kitchen stove, crack open a dozen brown hen eggs, stir 'em up with a drap a milk, chunk a hunk a butter size a yer fist in thet ol' black skillet, let 'er sizzle, 'n thow in them eggs.  Bit a streak o' lean sizzlin' in Henry Adam, Rod's gran'ma's fryin' pan, 'n whilst breakfas' a cookin', Al 'n Rod partake a couple snorts a Peck's pizen.  "Whoo-ee!" say Alfred.  "'Em are some squeezin's!

Waal, they get down to bidness, devour them vittles 'n talk hound.  "I tell ya, Al, ol' pal, I once shuck the dumbest dog on God's green earth off on a slicker fum Asheville.  Dog one a them accidental dogs.  Dam was a beagle, 'n sire was on'y God above know whut.  But hit were a purty thang, an' I work her anyway.  Good nose, but no sense, ya see.  Anyways, she'd track 'n she'd bay, but on'y heaven know whut she mought tree.  Let her off leash one moonup, she catch scent 'n holler fum here to Kentuck, mought nigh.  Wind up the crack a dawn twenty mile fum home with a chipmunk up a tree!

So this Everett guy, fum over to Carolina, here lookin' my dogs, see this oddball, tricolor she were, but dumb.  "Thet dog hunt?' he says.

"She shorely do," I say.  Bein' the righteous fella I am, I went on,"She will fin' scent or tree quarry, but whut she tree may not be the biggest coon you ever see."

"Wha' cha want for her?"

"Oh," says I, "she not yet thow'd a litter, 'n I sorta 'spect ta use her fer stock, accounta she have such a fine nose."

Anyway, we haggle back 'n forth a bit, 'n he pay me seventy dollars* fer the bitch.  Three week later I get a letter fum Everett.  He write, "First time out with Mollie she raise a coon right off.  Coon knows he is tailed, runs to my pond other side the pasture.  I came up on her in time to see the coon take to water, swim out about twenty feet and wait for the dog.  She come up, leap into the water.  Coon waits.  When dog gets near enough, that raccoon jump on the damn dog's head, hold her under until she doesn't move any more.  Coon swims off, and $70 floats to the surface, deader than last week's pork chop.

"Not that you didn't warn me that that was one sorry dumb dog, but could you make some sort of adjustment on my loss?"

I write back 'n say, "Certainly.  I got a whole passel a pups ya kin pick from, 'n prices range from $70 and up."

Well, the congersman got in his swell rig, head home with two fine Redbone Coonhounds trottin' along ahind on they tethers.  An' Coonrod is chunkin' a sack a new Morgan's an' a couple a banknotes inta the stone crock where he store his not-likker.

*If seventy dollars seem small potatoes to you, consider that in 1888 a retail clerk might earn $10 a week for eighty hours work, while a skilled workman in a factory could make perhaps twelve dollars a week.

© 2014 David W. Lacy 42

Coonrod, Coonhounds, and the Congressman

Did I ever tell you about Coonrod Smithers ‘n the Congersman?  I know Coonrod when we live over to Virginny, ‘twoulda been, oh, 1888 thereabouts when I first met him.  I, a boy, ‘course was always attracted ta dogs, ‘n a' course huntin’ was a big thang, too.

Now Coonrod’s real name were Rodney Smithers.  He breed ‘n train Redbone Coonhounds,’n more, he would drop ever’thin’ to go a huntin’, so ever’one call him “Coonrod.”  He tell me one time thet he was born a couple ridges yonder, ‘n down in the holler, thet his birth name was Rodney Smith.  But he grow up to fin' thet ever’one thereabouts was name Rodney Smith, or so it seem to him.  Why, he said, I could pick up a rock, shut mah ahs, give hit a heave, ‘n hit a Rod Smith whutever way she went.  Anyways, he think on a way to solve the prollem, make hisself more unique, ya mought say.  He first think to change his first name, but he was afeard he mought need ta pick one a them Bible names, you know, that no one else have never heard of, like Hophni, or, Zeruiah.  Nah, he din’t like thet.  Too unique, mayhap.  So then he thought, Why, I shoulda thunka this afore.  I’ll jes’ add “e-r-s” ta th’ enda mah las’ name.  Fum this day for’d I’ll be Rodney Smithers!  An’ thet work fer him.  So like I say, ever’one call him “Coonrod.”

Waal, Coonrod raise Redbone 'hounds, train ‘em, run ‘em.  An’ he hev a few other hounds aroun’, too, you know, beagles an’ the like.  Kep’ a brace a big ol’ bloodhounds, Ezra an' Nehemiah was they names.  Kep’ 'em fer the sheriff who use 'em right frequent in thet region, I mean a man could get lost an’ hid out twel the resurrection, were he a mind to.  Anyway, people come fum all over the Cumberland, even fum as far away as Washington Dee Cee.  No, really.  He one time had a senator or such-like drive all the way down to see his animals.  Man drive inta the burg an’ ask aroun’ where kin I fin’ Redbone Coonrod?  Like he think that is Smithers’ name.  Well, people thereabouts moughty suspicious people in tailor cut duds ‘n drivin’ a carriage with a pair hosses woulda cost a king’s ransom anywhere on earth.  

Waal, Ed Markham, you shoulda known Ed.  Whut a character!  Ed had been around some, an’ he not on’y had seen the elephant, he could tell the tale twel tears run out your eyes fum laughin’!  Or f'um cryin', for thet matter, if'n hit were a sad tale.  Ed Markham know this dude, re-cog-nize he is the Yewnited States Congersman fum the next district to th’ north.  So the man’s bonafides is establish.  An’ he din’t really drive thet rig all the way fum Dee Cee; he were home durin’ campaign time, take a day off fum stumpin’ to clear his mind, he tell Coonrod.

Waal, this congersman know his hounds, ‘n excited?  I guess not.  He tell Coonrod he never see purtier dogs anywhere, ‘n he been lotsa wheres.  So nothin’ would do but thet the gentleman stay over ‘n run some dogs with Coonrod thet night.

Waal, Smithers have a pair a hounds he like ta run together, on account one has the better nose, yet t'other is better at tree.  An' atween 'em, no coon gonna escape.  The sun set; darkness settle on, slow-like, then the moon rise, 'n the hunt is on!  Coonrod an' Alfred, the guest's name is Alfred, walk up the ridge 'bout a mile, Jack and Jill to leash.  Jill have the nose.  They settle aneath a huge beech tree, unclip the leashes.  Away!  Soon enough, Jill excitedly cries "Scent!" then settles into bay as she and Jack follow the quarry through the woods.  Coonrod, listenin' carefully, know ever' meanin' of ever' yip 'n beller, know right where the dogs are at ever' moment, and soon know right where they headin'.  He and Al, they are now "Al" and "Rod" to each other, begin the long night walk, knowin' that at the end the prey will be high up a tree.

Then, Jill still speakin', Jack cries, "Tree!" and the arrh! arrh! arrh! that signals the end of the chase continues until our stalwart hunters join the hounds at the base a huge sycamore.

© 2014 David W. Lacy 41

Dance 'n Skedaddle

Did I ever tell you about the time the Slonikers bust up Freddie's Oasis?  Waal, the Slonikers come out here from Omaha.  Think they get into the raisin' end a the cattle bidness, doncha know.  They had live in the city, smellin' the city smells, 'n livin' the city life.  They accume-u-late some coin, doncha know, 'n think to get into the country, raise some beef 'n live the country life.

Anyways, the Old Man Sloniker, he buy a bit a land over by Towner, 'n lease a whole gob lot more, he set to run a thousand head a Herefords, put his boy Junior to oversee th' operation.  No doubt they mought coulda done this in Wyomin', or Kansas, or could maybe even stayed in Nebrasky.  But they come to Colorado.  The thing is, Mrs. Old Man Sloniker, Rhea was her name, an' Mrs. Junior Sloniker, name of Cynthia Anne, bless their hearts, get to missin' the city life.  They both love dancin' an' music, an' the whut-not thet goes with them in the nightclubs they frequent back in Omaha.  But they truly is no such nearby.  Yet they learn a this honky tonk, plumb over to Burlington, mought nigh, where a good time of a Sattidy night was easy ta come by, 'n the booze flowed, 'n the fiddlers 'n pluckers was right pleasant ta hear.

So, a Sattidy of a July they get in Old Man's big long phaeton and head on north.  They get to the Oasis the musicians is gettin' warm up real good, 'n they start in with a couple drinks, Junior 'n Cynthia Anne test out the dance floor.  Presently, Old Man 'n Rhea cut loose, an' those cowhands 'n clod busters, not to mention even the fiddlers 'n pluckers, scarce never see anyone who kin dance the way thet ol' couple kin!  Well, I needin' to abbreviate this tale, les'n we don't finish afore bed time.

After a few more dances, an' doubtless a few more drinks, th' four Slonikers is all astandin' alongside the band, aclappin' they han's 'n stompin' they feet, whilst several other couples is whirlin' aroun' th' floor, when of a sudden, Junior  let out with a mighty "Whoo-eeee!" just as a, shall we say hefty, couple swirl apast them.  Hefty Guy turn loose his partner, turn back to Junior and say, "Whut did you say?  Soo-ey?  You callin' my gal a pig?"  An' athout awaitin' a answer, Hefty slug Junior raght in the mouth, bust out the lef' front bunny tooth.  Plumb out.  Then Old Man Sloniker grab Hefty by his lay-pel 'n holler, "Whut for did you hit mah boy?" An' athout awaitin' a answer, Old Man slug Hefty smack in his considerable nose.  Which instantly spray blood ever'where.

'N thet were the signal fer the freefrall ta commence!  Fists start a swingin' all over the room, furniture start a flyin', chairs abustin' up over tables as people dodge, 'n over heads if'n they don't.  'N the four Slonikers as a man of one mind, 'n thout  a word ta one another, decide it is time to be som'eres else.  They hit the side door, pile inna car, an' hit the road.  Not a moment too soon did they act, neither, 'cause less 'n a mile up the road 'n afore they get to the turnoff where they head back south, fum th'other direction come two po-lice cars, si-reens a blarin' 'n red lights aflashin', headin' right to th' Oasis!

Ever after thet, whenever they agoin' out, Cynthia Anne tell him, "It's 'yee-haw,'  Junior.  Yee-haw."

© 2014 David W. Lacy 40


Did I ever finish tellin' you about the day Jonas Hurd damn me to hell?  Waal, Preacher gone on out ahead, 'n Grace and I, we were a walkin' tord the door 'n th' whole time I'ma thinkin' whut am I gonna say to Hurd if he's awaitin' there on the porch to re-ceive the congrat-u-lations a th' people on his fine sermon this mornin'.  Sure 'nuff. There he stand.

Now, you know me.  I have allus been one to strike whilst th' arn is hot, take th' bull by the horns, doncha know?  So when he put out his hand to shake mine, I quick-like grasp all four a his fingers in my hand an' squeeze.  He have a moughty big hand befittin' a moughty big man.  But I know if he grasp my han' I will not get home twel he was ready to let me go home.  So I have a pretty powerful grip, and as luck would have it, my hand reach around his fingers.  "Fine message, Brother Hurd," I say, "I shorely pray thet them whut need it will heed it afore it is too late."  Grace standin' aside me have her right hand in the crook a my left elbow.  She make a fist an' poke me in the ribs.  Hard.  I look at her, and her face is all made up in a disapprovin' scowl.  Lies!  Account I look into her eyes, an' the truth is dancin' there to the tune of laughter.  But she keep silence.

Waal, I release a startled an' still silent Jonas an' say, "By the way, do let us know when thet new young'n get here!"  And we traipse on down the steps, past the hitchin' rails, an' inta the road, where we turn left tord home.  We scarce ten steps along, an' certain'y not yet outa earshot the door a the church when Grace bust out full-bore with thet musical laugh she have.  She catch her breath in a minute and say, "He truly skin you this mornin', stretch, 'n salt yore hide, 'n nail it to the woodshed wall!"  Then she laugh some more.

Waal, you have to b'lieve me when I tell ya thet the rabbits in the grass poke their ears up, whilst the squirrels climb down headfirst, ahangin' on the trunk a th' trees to get a glimpse a th' wonderful creature whut make such musical sounds in their woods.  Even Owl open his eyes, right in broad daylight, to get a peek at this wonder!

Then we start to skip.  I'm not a lyin'.  We were skippin'!  Skip near halfway home, twel we mos' near use up the strenth we need to get us the last mile a the journey.  We sit for a few minutes on a big branch thet lightnin' had knock out th' walnut tree last week to catch our breath.

"I love you, Silly Man," crooned Grace.

"And you know I love you, Darlin' Angel.  I'ma livin' in Heaven right here on Earth!"

© 2014 David W. Lacy 39


Did I ever tell you about the time the preacher send me to hell?  Oh, yes; right there in church, too, of a Sunday mornin'.  I was still a young man, 'n Grace 'n I had walk over ta church on a glorious Spring mornin'.  Now our reg'lar preacher, Harley Marston, had been ask ta preach at the big First Church in Kingsport, huge brick buildin', white steeple a pointin' ta heaven.  Why, it seem thet steeple almost reach to heaven, sometimes. He accept, a course.  He arrange for Jonas Hurd to fill the pulpit on this day, and fill it he could!

Now Jonas were a deacon in th' church, 'n a jackleg preacher.  Mountain of a man, he were.  Goliath come to mind.  In fact, the kids over to Plum Grove School call him Goliath.  Ahind his back.  To his face, they call him "Mr. Hurd, Sir."  Hurd farm over by the school, an' he is the trustee that oversee the teacher, 'n he is responsible for the properties 'n all thet sorta thing.  Jonas work five or six acres tabaccy, 'n it's a well-known secret thet he run a still sommers back in his woods.  Take good care his fambly, though, an' this mornin' there sit Maudine Hurd, center th' front row to the right of the preacher, three a her kids on one side a her, four on th'other.  She set to deliver the eighth, too, any day now, hit look like.

Anyway, Hurd takes the platform, plops his Bible down on the pulpit, raises both hands, look to the ceiling 'n holler with a mighty voice, "Lard, give us a voce a thunder 'n a tongue a farr as we divide thy holy Word of truth to these sinners among us.  Ay-men, 'n ay-men."  I do believe the Lord coulda heard him wheresoever He moughta been.  All creatures could have heard him two mile around.

Then he light in.  "Look to God's Word, Revelation, chapter twenty-one, 'n verse eight."  His Bible is sittin' there on the pulpit, but he not needin' to look at hit, account he know what he gonna say.  An' he quote, "But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is "the second death."  

Now he is loaded for bear.  "Now we good folk, here.  Wouldn' you say we was good folk? They's no fearful unbelievers, no a-bom'nable, nor murderers amongst us, well as fer all those sinners I jes' read about, we are not them.  Are we?  But wait!  Liars!  All liars!  But Brother Hurd, you say, we'ns not liars.  Really? Whut is a lie?  Is a lie vicious 'n mean?  Oh, it kin be.  Is a lie told to hurt someone, or to gain a  edge on someone?  Oh, it kin be."  And right here, Jonas step from behind the pulpit and walk to his left, all the way to the left side th' platform.  Where he stood direckly afront of me, me a sittin' third row back, next th' wall.

"Oh," he shout, "but a lie is any untruth.  It is a tale told big, stretch beyond the limits of whut really happen.  It is in innocent fun.  NO!  It is a lie, an' all liars shall have their part in the lake of farr.  Oh, sinner,"  'n he is lookin' direckly inna my eyes, "do not let your lyin' tongue be cast inta hell farr, along a the rest a yore body, where parched 'n swollen hit will writhe in agony along a th' rest a yore body, forever 'n ever.  For all eternity.

"Kin you imagine?  All eternity.  You cannot.  See brother Seth a sittin' just yonder?  Brother Seth has live ninety an' nine years, 'n yet the span a his life is no more'n a flyspeck on th' vault a God's sky above, compared to whut eternity is.  Oh, sinner, repent of your lyin' ways.  Prostrate yourself afore God Almighty 'n plead, beg, I say, for His gracious mercy on yore sorry soul afore it is too late." 

With that, Goliath step down fum the platform, Bible under his arm, 'n march straight down the aisle 'n out the front door.

I look at Grace, she look at me, 'n 'thout a word, we rise together and head tord the door.

© 2014 David W. Lacy 38

Aaron Gets Home

Did I ever tell you how Aaron Moss make his trip to Virginia after I tell him "no"?  Waal, I bleeve I tell you Moss was some mad when he left here.  I tell him check for trains, 'n I learn much later thet he drive on in to Lamar to do jest thet.  He park his Ford by the depot, 'n is walkin' over to the agent when he run inta Estel Estep.  Then I get the story from Estel when I take Grace over to town to get some yard goods, 'n "notions," as she call 'em.

"Hidy, Uncle Jep!" say Estel as I was astandin' afront th' Mercantile.  I am surely glad to run into you, on account I been needin' to see you.  Not on'y do I have a tale to tell, I have a package for you under the back seat the car.  Can we walk on over and get hit?  There, the Reo, just yonder."  He points.

"Sure, Estel, I'll walk with ya.  Needin' sump'n ta pass the time.  How you?  Marcy?"

"Oh, just swell, Uncle.  We come in from McClave this mornin', Marcy doin' some shoppin'.  You know how it is with the ladies.  Now see, it was the middle July when I run inta Aaron.  He tell me his daddy die, 'n he wantin' to get home.  "Wouldn' be a chance you could drive me over to Clinchport, would there?"  he says.  "I'd pay fer the gas and th' eats on the road."

Well, now.  Marcy had jes' been on me about she wantin' to see her mama, an' I been a draggin' my feet.  Opportunity often knock on'y one time.  I say, "Why, Aaron, I am glad you ask.  Marcy 'n me would be glad to carry you over to Clinchport.  What say we leave, five of a mornin'?"

"I spare you the details, but we got our campin' gear together, tie four spare tires to the top, 'n take off for the hills.  It warn't twel we were on the road thet Aaron start in on you.  'Dod busted, dad blasted, ding blamed. . . 'n on and on. . .  cheapskate, miserable ol' Coot."  Man, you musta really rub his fur the wrong way!"

"Waal." says I, "if you spend long enough time to get him to Virginny and back, then there is nothin' I could tell you thet you don't already know."  Estel roared with laughter.

Estel continue with his report.  "So we get to the hills, Aaron look up his sister, 'n she's no spring chicken.  Did Aaron tell you his pa was over a hunnert when he die?  Yep, had ta be, too, on account Mavis gotta be more'n eighty.  Well, they two 'n 'm gonna take care they pa's bidness, 'n we will pick the old man up on Monday-- four days down the road.

"Then as we are standin' aside the car sayin' our farewells to Mavis, she hand a package to Aaron and say, 'Please to take this to Jep Miller, Brother.  There are some little things there for him, and for Grace, too.'  'Har!' snort Aaron.  'Take it with ya when ya die, 'n give it to him in Hell!'  He drop the package on the ground, scoot around and get in the car.

Long story short, I pick up the package an' sneak it into a spare tire, then later when we a campin' the night, I hid hit under the back seat.  Here, I'll get it for ya."

"Waal, I thank ya most kindly, Estel.  I'll let Mavis know we got hit.  Most likely Grace is done shoppin' by now, 'n here come Marcy, too."  Tip my hat.  "Howdy, Ma'am.  Fine day, idn't hit?

"Oh, by the by, Estel, did Aaron thank you fer the trip?"

"He did, Uncle.  Paid all the expenses, too, and give me a exter five dollar bill when I drop him ta home."

© 2014 David W. Lacy 37

Hothead, Hot Day, and Hay

Did I ever tell you about the time I get crossways of ol' Aaron Moss? You know Aaron.  Crankiest ol' man ever walk the earth.  You think I'm cranky?  Spend a day with ol' Moss.  No, spend five minutes with him.

Now I know Aaron since the bear come over the mountain.  He 'n his daddy live over on the Clinch when I was a kid.  Waal, Aaron come on out West along a th' rest a us when we all come out here in oh-three.  He settle over atween Bristol and Granada, do all right.  Jes' on'y hisself, ya know, ol' hard head bachelor.  Never marry, luckier the women, I say.

Anyway, one miserable hot summer day, '27 I think hit was, maybe '28, me a mowin' hay on Mark's place.  I have thet mower I get from Ames over to Towner.  You remember Ames?  Nah, not Robert, thet's not hit.  What was his name?  Sorta uncommon name, hit were.  Oh, yes.  Oren.  Oren Ames, married Mildred Tuttle fum over to Lamar, y'know.  Her daddy was the Express agent over there.  So I have this team, Clyde and Aubrey, a pullin' 'n a ring come loose on the doubletree.  Din't break off, y'know, but needin' attention afore it does.

So I'ma sittin' there on a stump, a bindin' and a twistin' some hay warr around the thang, when this rattledy ol' T-model drive up 'n stop.  I first din't re-cognize thet Ford, then ol' Moss, he get out, amble over where I'ma workin', asnappin' his galluses 'n atwirlin' thet toothpick he allus have atween his teeth.

"Hey, Miller!" he say.  "I see ya broke down agin, allus sump'n breakin' on account a ya too cheap ta buy new.  All a time buyin' someone else's headaches."

"And a good day to you, too, Moss.  Whut kin I do fer ya?"  See, I know he din't come all th' way out here fer nothin'.

"I get right to the p'int.  Too hot ta stand here ajawin'.  I want you ta keer me back to Virginny.  I jes' get word my pa die.  Hunnert two year ol', he were.  I need to get back 'n settle up his affairs, see he had anythin' worth savin'."

"I am sorry," says I, "for the loss a yer pa.  But, no, I cannot take you back there.  Aside fum my work and responsibilities, I hev no car, on'y thet ol' double T truck."

"No, no! No is not a cherce.  We take my car, a course."  I look at thet flivver, 'n not a recent one, either.  Prolly twelve year ol' if it's a day.

"I said 'No', Aaron.  Now run on into Lamar an' check about train schedules.  You kin get to Kingsport on the train."

Waal, Moss allus did hev a short fuse.  Hoppin' mad?  I guess not!  I thought he die on th' spot, a jumpin' up 'n down, beatin' his arms in th' air, a cussin' 'n a stompin'.  Call me ever'thin' but a gentleman, 'n as he get to his car, he turn back and holler, "I'll get ya fer this, Miller.  Jes' you wait 'n see.  You'll be sorry!"

He jerk the crank, jump in an' putt on down the road.  I prolly shoulda been a little skeered.

© 2014 David W. Lacy 36

Wedding Bells

Did I ever tell you about the night yer Mama and Daddy get married?  Did they ever tell you? I'm sure you see the perty pitcher, them astandin' aside a thet cake yer Mama's Aunt Grace make. Doesn't matter. They was too eyes-on-each-other to see whut I saw, so le's re-pair to th' parlor an' be comfortable. Grace, hon, could you bile up some a thet sassafras root I shave th'other day?  Jes' have a hankerin' for a nice hot cup!

Waal, son, yer parents have plan their weddin' at th' church there on the corner.  But they plan it for Christmas Eve.  Whyever they would do thet, I've no idee.  Six-thirty, it were, the ceremony, I mean. Suppose ta be six-thirty, I mean.  Ever'body in town, hit seem, were there, ever'body, that is, 'ceptin' the groom.  Now, yer Mama is Grace's first-born niece, 'n course Grace and yer grandma, they allus been close, 'n there they are, next of each other on the front pew.  I'ma sittin' a row aback a them.  Now, there is no one west a the Miss'ippi a better worrier then yer grandma.  If'n she have nothin' ta worry about, then she worry that there mought be something she ferget ta worry about!  So then Mary, she is a frettin' somethin' fierce, 'n Grace, she is tryin' to calm her nerves.  Mary is convinced yer Daddy has been kilt on the way over, or somethin' worse, whatsoever thet might be.  Waal, standin' her daughter at th' altar, thet would be worse!

Then aback a me, I hear the whisperin's, even some gigglin' amongst the younger set, unseemly as that mought a been.  An' I hear ol' Millicent Page, she mutter, "An' him a preacher!  Well, I never."  An' I'ma thinkin' "We all know you never."  But the devil made me think it, forgive me, Lord.

Waal, Brother Morgan, he's the minister, doncha know, with a big smile on his face, ask ever'body to join in singin' "Silent Night."  So we did hit.  An' yer Daddy still wa'n't there.  Then we sing "Hit Came Upon a Midnight Clear," 'n mos' folk still lookin' et th' clock on the wall.

Yet as you already know, Daryl arrive, an' ever'thin' else go on without a hitch.  Er, ah, I mean ever'thin' go on as plan, includin' the "hitch."

Waal, the celebratin' 'n th' cake 'n ever'thin' was special, but we all notice thet Daryl's trousers was bespattered with a good bit of mud.   An' his shoes, well, the less said the better.  Seems th' ol' Chevrolet he drive skid off th' road and get stuck in a barrow pit.  Lucky fer him, 'n fer you, too, mayhap, Ol' Bascomb come along on his hoss.  The hoss take care the prollem.

"What'd I owe ya?" Daryl ask.

Ol' Bascomb say, "How many horsepower thet machine got, son?"


"Waal, look t'me like ya shoulda got the thirty-six horsepower model.  'Night, now!"

 'N all's well thet ends well!

Grace!  Hon, could I maybe have one more cuppa thet tea afore I toddle off ta bed?

© 2014 David W. Lacy 35

Not for Want of Trying

Waal, I don't have ta ask; I know I have never tole you this one.  Don't talk about it, but hit's been many year a gone now, 'n I know your curiosity is higher'n a kite, now thet I mention this a while ago.

I was a lad, seventeen, I was, a growin' up in the hills.  Stringbean, I moughta been called.  Six-three, thereabouts, 'n a hunnert seventy pound.  Wiry.  Tough, too.  Could work a fourteen hour day should it need be.

Anyway, your great grandparents live with their fambly over to the next holler.  I know them all my life.  Got six chilren, they did, 'n your grandma was the oldest the bunch.  Now she turn nineteen, she marry ol' Sam.  The next girl to her is Grace.  I know Grace since we were both in nappers, but you know, she jes' one of the kids.  Then, like I said, I am seventeen and of a sudden 'n I know not why, hit hit me thet she was the gorgeousest, most angelic creature what ever walk, an' I know I want her to my side forever and ever.  'Course I had to convince her thet is where she want to be.

Waal, thoo good fortune more than great skill, I woo that girl, win her over.  No detail needed; we jump the broomstick, I have jes' turn eighteen, 'n she is seventeen.  Now to be clear, "jump the broomstick" is on'y a manner of speakin', for we got the papers we need over to Rogersville, 'n Preacher Marston perform th' ceremony right there in Palmer Baptist Church.  Everythin' legal and righteous.

We have agree thet we want kids.  Lots and lots a kids, on account she come from a happy fambly with lots a kids, 'n my parents have a right smart passel 'n 'm, too.  Seem the right thing to do.  So we do the right thing, 'n behole! Grace is with child.  Two happier younguns you never see!  But it warn't to be.  On'y two month after she tell me the good news, she tell me when I come in from work of an evenin' thet she lost the child thet afternoon.

We grieve some, 'course we did.  But soon enough, she tell me good news again.  An' this time it go the same as it did with the first one.  Two sadder people you never hope to meet.  So this time we go over to Doc Barrett, an' we talk with him, 'n he examine the little lady, 'n we talk some more.  He advise us that it is likely Grace cannot bear chilren, an' it would be wise for us to take steps to avoid pregnancy.

This is when we decide to pull outa the hills and start a new life away fum the folk we grow up with.  We move to Colorado.  After a while, we go to the city to talk with a special sort of doctor.  He tell us the ol' doctor in the hills was right, 'n the best thing for us is for Grace to have surgery, insure her well-being, doncha know.

Thet was a long time ago.  The rest of the story you know.  You see afore you the two barren ol' people we have become.  Plans in this ol' life don't always work out the way we want, but we are blessed.  We have whut we need, we have friends and neighbors, lots of lovin' nieces 'n nephews, 'n I still have the most angelic woman on this Earth, an' life goes on.

© 2014 David W. Lacy 34

A Memorable Moment

It is one of the most undesirable and one of the most important tasks around the place.  Uncle Jep and I are digging a new pit preparatory to moving the outhouse.  It doesn't have to be done often, but when it has to be done, it has to be done.  Mid-afternoon and the zephyr speeds the evaporation that cools our sweaty brows.

"That's got 'er." hollers the Old Uncle, "Come on up.  We need a break afore we start the move.  Worst part now is fillin' th' ol' hole."

I didn't have to be told twice.  Clammered out the pit, admired my handiwork.  A neatly dug hole, if I do say so myself.  We ambled over to the garden where we had left our canteens.  I flopped down on the ground, Uncle sat on Aunt Grace's "prayer bench."  True.  Auntie loved to sit in the garden, listening to the bees and admiring the abundant produce, the grapes on the arbor, the melons on the vines twining through the rows.  And there she would pray, for "It is all a gift from God, and to be ungrateful is one of our worst sins."

I took a long draught from my canteen.  "Ah!  Now, Uncle, give us today's tale."

"Waal,"  he draws the expression out as though it should be written 'way-all,' "I don't have a 'tale' today, but I do have somethin' on my mind thet I been needin' to say to ya.

"You been with me an' yer Aunt Grace how long now? Goin' on four year, I think.  You come over here not dry ahind yer ears, whut?  Sixteen, you were.  I tole Grace, 'I never be able to deal with a teenage kid, all smart-alecky, know ever'thing, they do.'  Waal, I may a been right, but I was wrong. You not on'y a good kid, you have work hard, been a real blessin' to these here two ol' folk.

"Now I know I am a cranky ol' man, can get moughty critical sometime.  But what I hafta say is, You are a son to me.  Never had a chile, y'know.  That is a long an' difficult tale, don't rightly know can I ever tell it you, nor to anyone, come to that.  But Grace and I want you to know that had we ever had a chile, we would have hope hit would be one jus' like you."

Uncle Jep arose from the bench, his old bones audibly creaking.  I rolled over, hopped up from the ground, and we started to stroll back toward our job site. Without a word, on account I was all choked up, doncha know, as Uncle would say, I put my right arm around his shoulder.  He swung his left arm over mine, and we walked just so back to that hole in the ground.

© 2014 David W. Lacy 33

Captain George

Did I ever tell you about your fambly's military hero?  Captain George, that would be.  Amazin' how a man rises in rank after the service is over, idn't it?  Waal, a course you don't have any idee whut I'ma talkin' about.

George was your Aunt Grace's grandfather.  Oh, yes; that would mean he was your grandma's grandfather, too, so he is your great-great grandfather, if I count aright. At any rate, George was born around 1825, so by the time hostilities were a wamin' up atween us and Mexico, this strappin' young fella decide he is fit to fight, so he join th' army, an' the army in its wisdom ship him aroun' here 'n there, have him clerkin' mos'ly.  Now I check this out with the archives, on account I had been tol' so many stories about the glory of "Cap'n George" when he serve in th' army.  His record clearly show that he rise all the way to "Private" in the service, 'n that he had a spotless record, so far as performin' his duties.

So he get out the army 'n go on back home to Hawkins County, 'n I reckon on account he served the country honorably, folk begin to call him "Cap'n."  An' it stick, twel his chilren and gran'chilren actual come to believe he was a officer in th' US Army.  People begin to tell tales of his military exploits, 'n by the time Mary an' Grace are young women, ever'one know that ol' George was a mighty hero, a fightin' man, successfully engage th' enemy and live to tell about it.

Waal, sir, you know me.  Ol' Jep Miller allus believe in honor to him to who it is due.  But th' tales was jes' a gettin' too powerful to believe, 'n thet is why I research ol' George's military history.  Now I want to take nothin' away fum th' man.  Un'erstan' that he perform his duties as they was give to him, and thet he was a honorable man.  But he never get farther fum home 'n Richmon', 'n he never engage anyone in combat, lessen he hafta protec' his personal gear in his quarters.  I dunno about thet.

So Private George in the US Army get a mighty promotion to Captain George in private life.

© 2014 David W. Lacy 32

God's Rubble

Did I tell you about our trip to the mountains?  Oh, yeah, I recollect I was tellin’ you we were at th' Royal Gorge.  Well, sir, that same afternoon we drive on up to Cotopaxi, find a spot by the river ‘n pitch our tent.  Got the tackle out and flung our lines in th’ river.  We catch three nice rainbows, oh, ten, eleven inches. ‘Course I caught one an 'em, ‘n Grace, she caught two.  Always have to best me, thet woman.  Waal, they was mighty fine eatin’, cook as they were in the arn skillet we bring along.  Your Aunt Grace, she make some fry-bread to go along with, an’ a han’ful a coffee in th’ ol’ tin pot asittin’ on the farr.  Moughty fine.  Mought near as good a meal I ever eat.

Son, I tell ya, sleepin’ on the ground, nothin’ but a ol’ comforter underbeneath me is no way for a feller to treat his ol’ body.  Thet will not happen again, no matter what a hotel mought cost.  So I finely get upright in the mornin’ and got the ol’ bones to move on thoo the aches ‘n pains.  We get a good start, anyway, drive on up to Salida.  Pretty little town, tho’ I can’t fer the life a me see whut for people live up there.  Nice scenery, can’t eat it.

So we drive on up to Buena Vista, lovely scenery along the way, your Aunt Grace say.  Now we are up by the headwaters our Arkansas River, it come a bubblin’ down out the mountains.  We drive on up to Leadville, that little V-8 85 workin’ it’s heart out, but she don’t falter, no sir.  Now we drive thoo the barennest places I ever see, higher, higher, climb right to the top a th’ world.  Nothin’ness ever’where ya look.  Even Grace, who see beauty in ever’thing, say, “What do you suppose the Good Lord want with so much rocks and bare lan'?”

Waal, I fancy I know th' answer to thet.  I tell her, “Hon,” I say, “the Bible say God create ever’thin' in six days, an’ He rest on the seventh.  Now he mought nigh get done with his work, ‘n he see thet th’ sun have gone down, night acomin’ on.  So he have all this leftover scrap, ‘n he gotta dis-pose of it afore dark, so He tuk and dump it all out here in the middle a Colorado!”

“You ol’ fool,” say Grace.  “Well, no; maybe  you are right this time.  I sure see no use for all these rocks."

Waal, t’make a long story short, we go on into Leadville, try to visit one a them there mines, jes’ ta see what the fuss is all about.  Prollem is, catchin’ one’s breath up there is not all thet easy.  Like ta starve for air.  Grace, she suggest we stay in thet ol’ hotel over yonder, ‘n I say I druther die on the road then to hafta stay in this place another hour.  I’ma wantin’ home really bad.  So we get in the truck an’ head on out.  Darkness catch us just past Salida, but I’ma goin’ home.  Did her, too.  Find a station in Canon, fill ‘er up, ‘n drive on thoo the night.  We get home two o’clock in th’ mornin’ and if’n I never get out the county again in my lifetime, hit will be plenty soon enough.

© 2014 David W. Lacy  31

A Hole in the Ground

Did I ever tell you about the time we toured thoo the mountains?  Waal, the rains come in '39 'n by the fall of '40, harvest time, doncha know, things begin to turn around.  It seem time to get shed of th' ol' double A, 'n when I find ol' Hartmyer over to Syracuse have this nice '39 pickup he buy new, 'n now he want to sell hit, I have Gene take me on over to see hit.  Bought 'er, havin' survived the drought pretty good, still had a few pennies tuck away, an' now a bumper crop acomin' in.

Anyhow, Grace an' I decide to see a bit of the great State we live in.  Mostly we see nothin' but along the river atween here and Canon.  So we get the borry of Roper's tent--  you know Ephraim 'n Martha Roper.  They come over here fum Kentuck in '18 or '19, I think it was.  I know it was after th' war. They not kin to us, but Martha' mama grow up in the hills, was a friend of your Aunt Grace.  So then Grace 'n I, we get in the new truck, new to us, hit was, and head on west.  Nothin' much to stop for twel we get to Canon, on account we travel thet road many a time, 'n we wantin' to see the mountains!

Waal, we see the sweep of the San Juans to the south and are anxious to head on west into those mountains.  But first we treat ourselves to somethin' the like a which we have never done.  We check into th' St. Cloud Hotel.  Oh, my!  You shoulda seen thet place.  Chandeliers, the woodwork.  Shoulda eat in thet dinin' room; whut we did.  Venison prepare to tantalize yer memory ever after.

Middle th' night, though, Grace say she hear a strange noise, open the door and look down the hall.  There was a little girl, six, seven year ol', bouncin' a ball agin the wall.  She tell me, "This make no sense, three o'clock of a mornin', so I walk down to tell her she ought not be doin' thet, an when I get five, six steps from her, she jus' disappear!  No girl, no ball.  Ever'thing quiet as a tomb."  Waal, Grace, she not as young as she used to be, and, well, you know.*

Next mornin' we drive on past the penitentiary.  Even plumb out to Holly people hear tales about thet place, the whippin's an' 'specially the gas chamber.  Now we drive right on by.  No stoppin' there for us, no sir.  But on'y yet a couple more mile up the road we come to a turnoff for Skyline Drive.  Waal, why not?  I can now tell ya why not.  One way road, scarce wider than the tread th' truck, twists an' switchbacks, white-knuckle, I was, afore th' road dump us back into Canon.  Then we have to find our way back ta th' highway, and go right past the Pen and the Skyline turnoff again afore we drive on up to th' Royal Gorge.

I hear about this Royal Gorge fer years.  Now thet we are there, I will say thet is some hole in the ground.  Guy up there tell us, "Way back, hunnert years agone, a Scotsman visit this country, sightseein' hereabouts.  Standin' right on this very spot, he accidental drop a penny in a little crevice, start diggin' fer it.  An' here you see the mighty hole he dig afore he find thet penny."

Waal, our trip jes' gettin' started, but we got work to do.

"Uncle," I said.  "Go on with the story.  There shall always be work."

"You tried thet afore.  Now get up offa yer haunches."

*I heard years after Uncle told me this story that many people have seen the little girl with her ball.

© 2014 David W. Lacy

Shoemaker, Make Me a Shoe

Did I tell you about the time my Uncle Mumford broke the Hammer?  Not what you are thinkin’.  Uncle Mumford an Aunt Louise live over to Rye Cove, Louise were a Boxley, you know from over to Pennington Gap.  The Boxleys quite prominent, they was.  Own the grist mill, have a bakery and run the general store over there.  Prosperous, too, they were.  But Louise, she fall hard for Mumford.  Meet him at a community sing.  Mought be his mellow voice win her over afore she even get to know him.  I dunno.  Anyways, they been wed now over fifty year, so I guess things work out.

But the time I speak of now, Mumford were still a young man, oh, not all that young; had teenage kids ‘n all.  Now he work for Carter Boskin.  Carter were the Hammer.  That’s whut I call him, on account ever’body look to Carter like he is a nail needin' ta be driv.  Demandin’est, meanest, onriest ol’ skinflint ever come through the Gap.  Like the Boxleys over to Pennington, Boskin own up most the main bidness in Rye Cove.  But he nothin’ like the Boxleys who is the kindest, honestest folk on the face a th’earth.  Anyway, Carter, he think since Mumford work for him for fifteen year that he had him pretty well hammered, could tell him to do whatever he want.  Now Mumford, he run the shoe shop for Boskin, an’ he were a fine craftsman, make leather goods and shoes the envy of ever’one.  So Boskin get it in his head to open another shoe shop over to Big Stone Gap, an’ he tell Uncle Mumford to go on over to the Gap two days a week and work out that shop.
“Say what?” my  Uncle ask.  How I’ma get to and from Big Stone Gap?”
Carter not used to being questioned, roar, “What good is that new Ford you got, you don’t drive it?  You take your car, of course."
”What kind travel allowance I get for thet?”
“I give you two dollars a week.  More’n enough to pay fer the gas for two trips. You come out ahead.”
“I come out ahead?  Whut about the tarrs, an’ whut about th’ wear ‘n tear on my vehicle?  Whut about th' extry time?  I cain’t do that fer two dollars a week.”
“You cain’t do that?”  Carter raises his voice even higher, shout, “You cain’t do that?  You will do that.  You work for me, ‘n I give the orders around here.”
“Whut did you say?”
Very calmly, and with no rancor in his voice, Mumford reply, “I say ‘No.’  I will not do that for two dollars.  You add hours to my week, you give me no raise, an’you jus’ tell me to wear my car out to make you e’en richer’n whut you already are. No.”
“That, Mr. Miller,” in his iciest tone, “is insubordination.”
“Duly noted.”
“Yer farred!  Get offa my propity.”
So then, you mought ask, were you attendin’ to my tale, how did Mumford Miller break the Hammer? Mumford start a shoe shop in his home, a back-alley operation ya mought say.  Warn’t hardly weeks gone by twel Mumford had all the bidness he had over to Boskin’s store, ‘n Boskin with the new shoemaker he had harr’d, youngster fum Kingsport, had nothin’ goin’ on in his store.  Couldn’t pay the he'p, whole place a drain on his re-sources.  Carter were some mad, but he swallow his pride and go to Mumford, beg him to come back, offer him more money, no foolishments about travelin’ ta Big Stone Gap.

“No,” said Mumford.  “I have a thrivin’ bidness my own now, I don’t need ta work fer any old penny-pinchin’ skinflint, and thet 'specially means you, Mr. Boskin.”
“I understand.  But, truth be told, thet store is killin’ me.  Tell you whut I’ll do.  I’ll sell you the equipment an’ the building as she stand.  Nothin’ down, say $90 a month twel you pay me off.”
“I din’t hear anything about how many months this $90 go on.”
“Why a bargain like that, you will want to retarr in twenty year.  So, until you retarr.  Then I will pass the deed over to you.  You sell or rent the buildin'.  Nice nest egg fer your old age.”
“So again I am workin’ for you.”  Tell you whut I will do.  I’ll move my bidness into thet building, change the name to “Miller and Boskin,’ give you one American dollar, cash money, an’ in exchange you will give me the deed to the buildin’ and a bill of sale for the contents.  Your name will still be in the eye a the community ‘n you will have nothin’ whatsoever to do with the bidness outside a thet.”  Take it or leave it.”

He tuk hit.

© 2014 David W. Lacy

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