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Appalachian Ink

Home of Anna Wess, Writer & Ghost Chaser

Don’t Tell ’em About the Lights

“Don’t tell ’em about the lights,” Granny had always warned me. “Too many folks out there will blame ’em on the ol’ devil. And they’ll take ya down to the church house and have ya prayed on and think ya got hellions in ya. So just don’t tell ’em.”

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I first mentioned the lights to Granny, back before the thoughts of seeing such things might just mean that I was just another strange bird like her, and she said she’d always seen them, too. Whenever trouble or sickness fell, the lights would come calling. And quite frequently, they’d come on bright and happy days, too, just to let us know they were there. Sometimes they’d hover. Sometimes they’d sail through the air like dandelion seeds on a breeze and disappear into the walls or dance upon the cracked ceiling plaster. I’ve seen them since I was a small child; the dainty orbs of bright light have always been there. I’ve called them angels. Spirits. Stardust. Faeries. But still, I do not know what they are or if they have a name. I reckon the perfect things of this world don’t require names at all.

Now it never occurred to me that not everybody saw the lights. It’s like the mountains that jut up in every direction around us; they’ve always been here, and we take their constancy for granted. We rarely, if ever, just set back and marvel at the wonder of them and how they came to be, with their faithfulness and wisdom as steadfast as time itself. It’s the same with the lights. They’ve always been here. They are as commonplace as the rising ridges.

Granny said the lights would come to her when she or one of her babies were ailing or fevered. They’d come in a rush of swirling white and hang above the bed and dance on the ceilings. And then they’d quietly disappear, leaving not so much as a trace of them having been there, and the sickness would leave with them.

One Christmas Eve while I was gazing at the twinkling lights on the tree, I mentioned the other lights to Mama. Now she didn’t think I was a strange bird or that I was taking up with hellions at all. She told me I was a lot like Granny, which I already suspected a great deal. And she asked me what the lights looked like, for she had never seen them for herself.

They can come one at a time or they can come in swirling myriads. They’ll put you in the mind of those small white bulbs on the Christmas tree, only they do not hang on a string or twinkle to get your attention. They are free and mystic and meek. They make no commotion or sound. They just hang in the air as pretty as you please, as if somebody placed them there just so. Sometimes they will vanish if you look directly at them. Or, most of the time, they will linger for a moment – just long enough to prove their presence – and then gently drift away to wherever it is they came from.

Just to be on the safe side, Mama had my eyes checked by a doctor, even though I’d sworn I could see just fine. 20/20, if not better. I didn’t have astigmatism or sugar or a rogue speck of dust in my wake. Not even the remnants of a bad dream or one of Granny’s ghost stories. No, the lights were really there, I swore to Mama. And maybe if she looked with sensitive eyes, one day she might see them, too.

Now I figure there’s a right plentiful handful of mysteries that can’t be explained away with logic or common sense, or even with the Good Book. It’s not a dictionary, after all. I reckon there are more lights out there flickering in the lengths of shadows and even in the broadest of daylights, too. And there are other strange birds like me and Granny. I know it must be so.

Others who stumble in and out of this earthly veil, who dream of things that have not yet been spoken of or came to pass. It’s the gift, Granny told me. We’re sensitive souls. The Almighty gave us somethin’ extra. That’s why we can see farther.

I asked her why just us?

“It’s not just us,” she said, her words as undaunted as the humming of the jar flies, and she went back to canning her strawberry jam, adding a pinch of sugar and a satisfied nod to the mix.

Oh yes, there are others. More than you can shake a stick at. Some of them have pretty magic rocks and cryptic cards and even crystal balls, and other things that would garner them getting prayed on for certain. But most just have sensitive eyes like Granny and me. She never had use for magic rocks and didn’t need the luck of the draw to tell her what she already knew. This ain’t no carnival, and I ain’t no fortune teller. But I know what I know.

There are others still, others that have the gift and ignore it or disregard it as mere coincidence. They know things without being told. The tiny hairs on their arms and the backs of their necks stand on end even on the sultriest of days. They get foreboding notions about a particular house without having ever stepped over its doorsill. They have mystic recollections of strange places and heirloom rooms they’ve slept in, and dismiss it all as a dream or amnesia or blame it on their spicy supper or the full strawberry moon. They’ll hear a song in their heads and know they’ve heard it before, maybe even sang it once or twice, and their ears will perk up and they’ll cock their head like a whippet, and wonder just how they remembered the lyrics to an old song they’ve never heard. They know your words before you’ve spoken them, and dismiss the oddity away as déjà vu and wonder if they’re just strange birds like me and Granny.

Well, we got used to those lights. They didn’t come ’round every day, but often enough to let us know they were watching. I was beside Granny’s bed the day she up and decided to leave this world, and in the moments before she became memory and legend, those faithful lights came, and the room grew crowded with them. As always, they made no commotion or sound. They whorled upwardly away and out of sight, beyond that earthly veil, and took Granny with them. And that time, Mama said she saw them, too.

I still figure there’s a right plentiful handful of mysteries that can’t be explained away with logic or common sense, or even the Good Book. And I still heed Granny’s advice and don’t tell most folks about the lights. A plentiful righteous handful of them would surely blame them on that ol’ devil, just as they do any curious thing that can’t be named or explained away. But still, I reckon the perfect things of this world don’t require names at all.

And the way my sensitive eyes see it, that ol’ devil gets far too much credit already.

How To Speak Hick, Part Two

I can’t figure anything that perturbs me any more than having to repeat myself when I know good and well it’s not going to make any never mind anyhow. But I reckon some folks have to hear some things twice for them to take, and far be it from me to spoil what’s left of any Appalachian grace I might have been born with or had instilled upon me by dear ol’ Granny.

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Cousin Snooty drove on down here from the city last week for Aunt Margene’s funeral and commenced her same ol’ predictable assumptions about me and Mama and every other rube that still has enough gumption to call these hills home, just like she did last year at the reunion.

There’s only one thing we hill dwellers enjoy more than a reunion or a back yard cookout, and that’s a funeral. No offense or ill will toward Aunt Margene; she was better than ninety and hadn’t had herself a good day since 2012 when she had the big one and lost all her faculties and fashion sense. Aunt Margene would have rather ran toward the light than be seen without her hair done and her face on, so for a grand ol’ broad like her, there are worse things than being dead.

After the funeral we all met up back at Aunt Margene’s house where all the casseroles and pies and dainty little pinwheels of cream cheese rolled up in Virginia ham were all spread out. We were all just sitting around looking through her picture albums and chatting and swatting at gnats when Snooty started her nonsense.

“I forget how much of an accent you all have until I come down here. If you ever go to the city, people will think you’re simple!” she warned us.

The gall. As if any of us had any notion at all to go to the city. As much as I detest having to repeat myself, I figured ol’ Snooty is one of those folks that have to hear a thing twice, so I obliged her.

When you come to the hills, we are not the ones with the accent. The accent belongs to you, dear Cousin. We tawk and point our fangers and plant flares in perdy pots on the porch and tell true tales about specters and peculiar things. Ain’t nothing simple about it. And while we may have had our mouths warshed out with soap a time or two, we don’t see the need to bleach our natural dialect. I speak and read and write English just fine. I’m fluent, Snooty. Why, I can even tell you think you’re better than your own mama. But you just remember that strawberries don’t fall off of crab apple trees. It’s a good thing Granny is gawn, or she’d get some soap after you to this day.

Now Granny had a mouth on her, too, but she’d have never admitted to cussing or repeating untruths. I recollected the time years ago when Aunt Margene hadn’t come home from church yet and Granny had said Margene went to shit and the hogs ate her. I’d heard her say that more times I can recollect. Ol’ Cousin Snooty got a scowl on her face when I mentioned that, and accused me of being vulgar. “What an awful thing to say!” she spat.

It ain’t cussing and it’s certainly not vulgar unless you point a fanger at somebody while you’re saying it. Years ago when Granny had an outhouse, the girls had to walk by the hogs and the rest of the critters to do their business. It’s good old fashioned history. That’s all. We’re all historians here. Granny was a book all by herself, indeed. And she’d tawk about anything and everything without so much as a blush or a twitch. She once told Mama that she made the ugliest bed she’d ever seen, and that meant she’d have an ugly husband for sure. And worse yet, he’d probably be one of them no hellers from the Primitive Baptist persuasion. So Lord no, Granny wouldn’t have cussed on purpose to save her life.

Snooty turned her nose up at all those scrumptious casseroles and little ham pinwheels and shook her head at all the meringue pies and warned us that our arteries would harden and our hearts would give out before we were old women. She had brought herself one of those salads from one of the fast food joints in town instead. She went on to accuse Mama of cooking with lard and rolled her eyes at the thoughts of it. “That’s what happened to Margene,” she said. “The lard got her.”

Well pardon me, salad shooter, but Aunt Margene and Granny ate those same casseroles and sweet confections for years on end and they both lasted nearly a century. They’d have never bought a box of wilted lettuce from a drive-thru window and suffered through eating it when they didn’t have nery an idea where those greens even came from. Lord no. Granny survived many a winter without anything but a fire and her flour and lard and the vegetables that she’d canned up from the garden that she raised and harvested herself. She made her own butter and milked her own cows and conjured meals fit for mountain royalty. Just ask your mama. She’ll tell you, too. And if you must know, nowadays we cook with Crisco. You can’t beat it with a stick.

And besides that, that’s what country folk do after somebody goes on to the hereafter. We eat and tawk and tell stories. It’s a religion that requires no rule book. You’re privy to it yourself, if you’d just throw that awful salad out to the bickering blue jays. They’ll eat it and complain almost as much as you do.

And don’t be thinking those tasteless greens from only God knows where will give you the same charm that Aunt Margene used to have before the stroke got her. Ain’t a soul in the city that could have rivaled her when she had her hair all permed and platinum and her face decked out in her Estée Lauder. And she’d have bitten her tongue off before she’d had the effrontery to insult folks in their own house on the day of their funeral. And that’s the truth if I ever told it.

I reckon I take after Granny. I tawk about anything and everything without a blush or a twitch. And I like casseroles and homemade pies and stories about how we came to be what and who we are. Ain’t enough money or city contention in the free world to connive me into thinking that folks beyond these hills are any better than Granny or Aunt Margene or Mama or me. Or you neither.

We took to the porch for coffee and to sort through all the cards and letters folks had sent to wish us well or tell us of their fondness and memories of Aunt Margene. Mama looked around after a spell and asked where Snooty had went. I said I didn’t know, but I was pretty sure she’d taken a casserole or two with her. Maybe she went to gobble them up where we wouldn’t see her and accuse her of hardening her arteries.

Either that or she went to shit and the hogs ate her.

Sittin’ Up with Granny Corn

Never let the truth get in the way of a good story. And always remember, you have the power to change how your story ends. That last chapter is all yours.

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Cornelia Hale had been sick for a good long while, and that was the solemn truth. She’d been pent up in that fine house on the hill since her dear Jim up and died, with nothing and nobody but her money and memories to tend to, and one ain’t nearly as valuable as the other.

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Cornelia had always been uptight and conventional, always minding her manners and putting her white shoes away after Labor Day. That’s how good girls behave if they want to marry well and be respected. And at sixty-seven, she realized that her prudence hadn’t earned her anything but sorrowful glances and loneliness. So in her last days on the hill in that big fine house, Cornelia figured she’d just about had enough. And she was sick, and that was the truth of it.

She’d bought herself a casket long before she ever had need of it, right after her dear Jim had passed on. It was the prettiest casket she’d ever laid eyes on, with rose gold trim and blushing coral silk lining and an ornate pillow with the finest scalloped lace. It would make a fine bed for a conventional widow’s long sleep.

Oh, they wouldn’t miss her, she knew, not her ungrateful Jimmy Junior or his two boys, both as ingrate and hard-boiled as their daddy. She’d wished and prayed for a daughter, but the Good Lord had not seen fit to bless her with one. Instead she got that miserly son and those two savage grandboys, the only living relatives set to gain her meager fortune when she passed on. And oh how they always mocked her with that awful name they called her. Granny Corn! they’d holler when they visited from Dayton. Hey, Granny Corn, give us a dollar! Granny Corn, fix us some biscuits! Granny Corn, when you die off, this big fine house will be ours!

            But she couldn’t just die off without a fine wake like her dear Granny had back in Kentucky. Cornelia was just a small girl then, and folks had come from miles around and sat up with her granny all night long by lamplight, and the church ladies brought more food than Cornelia had ever set eyes on. Her dear sweet daddy played the fiddle and folks talked and sang and even danced in the company of her poor dead granny. As direful as it was, that wake was one of Cornelia’s best old memories.

Now Cornelia didn’t have a soul she’d call a friend in town except Esther, her maid of more than a decade, and Esther was just about the kindest woman Cornelia had ever known, an absolute angel on loan from Heaven.  Esther could whip up the finest bread pudding that Cornelia had ever tasted, and she kept the Hale house clean as a whistle and the hardwood floors shining and polished like new money. And Esther was just about the only woman in town that didn’t hold a grudge against Cornelia for taking Jim Hale off the market and stealing him away from the rest of them. Oh, her Jim had been a fine catch back in their glory days. He’d had a bouquet of girls in town to pick from and he’d gone and married plain ol’ Cornelia.

But she’d never been a fool, and Cornelia knew good and well that her dear Jim had carried on with quite a few gals from that bouquet. She’d told Esther about how Jim would sneak off in the evenings, claiming he had some paperwork to do down at the store, and would soon after be parked in the driveway of Loveline Jenkins down on Suffolk Avenue. Loveline was the one that got away, Cornelia supposed, and maybe Jim had regretted marrying so young and had mourned the carefree days of his youth so much that he sought out pretty Loveline when his ordinary life was just too much to tolerate. Cornelia told herself that she felt sorry for Jim, God rest his soul, and he’d been a hard working husband and a good father to Jimmy Junior despite his taste for Loveline and a flowerbed of others like her.

Esther had never married. She was round and plain, even more unremarkable than Cornelia. At least Cornelia had her height and slender figure going for her, never mind the plainness of her face or the bump on the bridge of her long nose. Cornelia could pass for a woman half her age from a rearview perspective. She filled out a bathing suit as well as Jimmy Junior’s snotty Yankee wife, and she’d seen the appreciative glances she’d gotten when she and Jim would vacation down at Myrtle Beach, from men and women alike.

Cornelia hadn’t seen the ocean in the ten years since Jim had been gone. She had often dreamed of the repose she’d found there at the water’s edge, how the salt air had invigorated her senses and made her feel like a girl again, the way she did before Jim Hale had swooped her up in a furious hurry and made her his wife. She couldn’t for the life of her figure out why he’d chosen her instead of Loveline. She figured it was the way she’d looked in her bathing suit, and perhaps he’d not looked much at her long face and hawk nose at all, and he’d only seen the rest of her, as men tend to do.

Now Cornelia had insisted she didn’t want an obituary in the newspaper; she had always thought it was awfully tacky for a lady to tell her age and share her business, no matter if she’s dead or not.  But in a small town, folks know you’re dead before the devil does, and thanks to Jim, God rest his soul, Cornelia knew firsthand just how fast bad news gets around. Instead of a somber funeral, Cornelia had wanted a good old fashioned wake at her house, just like her own dear Granny when she had left for Heaven.

Esther promised Cornelia she’d have the whole shebang catered and folks could sit up with Cornelia and eat ham biscuits and drink iced tea and even dance a jig on the porch if they felt the notion. Esther had called the funeral parlor and had that fine casket delivered to the house. She made all the necessary calls to Jimmy Junior and the church ladies informing them of Cornelia’s demise and how her mistress had wanted an old fashioned wake at the house, and folks would be welcome to come by from three until nine, seeing as how most people don’t keep late hours anymore and it was beyond Cornelia to inconvenience a solitary soul on her behalf. And by the following afternoon, baskets of flowers and pots of chicken and dumplings and tins of casseroles galore lined the long table in the Hale dining room.

Cornelia was laid out in that fancy casket right there in the sitting room, her elegant hands clasped in repose over her chest. A veil of pink chiffon was draped over the open lid to shield folks from looking too closely at her hawk nose and plain features. She was still proud, dead or not, and Esther had made sure her mistress would not be glared upon too harshly.

Folks from town and beyond came calling to pay their respects to poor Cornelia Hale. They all walked by her casket and commented how good she looked and what a nice touch the pink veil was and, good Lord, they hadn’t even known the poor thing was sick.

Oh yes, sweet Cornelia had been sick for years, Esther told them. Sick of loneliness and small mindedness and running into Loveline Jenkins at the supermarket. Sick of looking at the same old walls in the same old rooms and hearing the same old stories about Jim, God rest his soul, and how wonderful he was when she knew good and well they were just saving face. Most folks ain’t smiling; they’re just showing their teeth. Yes, Cornelia Hale had been sick a good long while. But Esther didn’t say any of that. She’d just nod and wipe at her eyes with her handkerchief.

The grandboys stood in silent tandem by all those casseroles and nitpicked at the ham and stuffed handfuls of creamy pastel butter mints in their pockets. Jimmy Junior’s snotty wife gave them an earnest look of contempt and they shoveled the mints back into Cornelia’s Royal Albert china bowl.

Jimmy Junior straightened his tie and discreetly asked Esther where his mother kept her will and where she put the title to her Coupe de Ville. Esther replied that she didn’t know, and it wasn’t a lie. Jim left all their arrangements with Delaney Snodgrass, Esquire, who at that very minute was helping himself to a heaping plate of Esther’s famous bread pudding where he sat all fat and smiling on Cornelia’s wrought iron glider out front.

Old Man Davis from down the road fired up his fiddle, and before too long there was a whole soiree of church ladies clogging with bare feet out on the porch. Esther couldn’t recollect that many folks ever coming to see Cornelia in all of the ten years she’d stayed on with her. Old Man Davis took a flask of ‘shine out the pocket of his overalls and hollered a prayer for Cornelia into the great yonder, took himself a healthy sip and passed the flask around like the good Christian he was.

Now ain’t it somethin’, Esther thought to herself. Ain’t it queer how a death will bring folks out of the woodwork. Life is as fragile as Cornelia’s china bowl full of sweet butter mints. Ain’t it somethin’ how folks will only celebrate your life when you’re dead and gone.

Esther pulled those rotten grandboys aside and told them how, in her day, folks used to sit up with the dead and carry on until the wee hours of morning, and good Lord, wasn’t Cornelia’s wake just about the best party she’d ever seen. She told them about the time she’d gone to a back yard funeral years and years ago, and it had been mid-summer and hot as blue blazes, and the dead man in the pine box was sweating like a mule. The preacher kept wiping sweat off the dead man’s brow, and that was the truth if Esther had ever told it.  And if it wasn’t a horrible enough sight to see, just maybe that poor man had come to after he was buried, whatever affliction that he suffered long worn off, and he realized too late that he was in the ground, and no preacher left to wipe his sweat away.

And hosts of other dead people, like Cornelia’s granny, and other poor souls that had started to reek and turn. They sat up with them, too, all night long by the light of oil lamps and starlight while the church elders sang their direful dirges and the kin women wailed, and they put the children on pallets on the floor right next to the coffin. It was to keep the rats and vermin from gettin’ to the deceased, Esther told them.

            The grandboys stood there with their mouths agape in disbelief, and Esther watched on as they ran to Cornelia’s casket and gawked at her, waiting for a jerk or a bead of sweat. But Cornelia didn’t move behind that pink veil or reek one iota. One of the boys reached out and laid his hand on Cornelia’s, and when hers didn’t move, he jerked his back quickly.

“We’re sittin’ up with Granny Corn!” he hollered and they both grabbed a handful of those coveted butter mints and rushed out the front door in a swoop of a hurry.

In the last moments before sunset, Esther thanked everybody graciously and politely ushered them out. She reminded them that Cornelia didn’t want a big fancy funeral, and she wished to be buried privately. Jimmy Junior told Delaney Snodgrass, Esquire, that he’d be calling for the will first thing in the morning. Delaney tipped his hat and gave Jimmy Junior a sideways grin. Old Man Davis placed a sprig of jewel weed and a rambling rose in the casket with Cornelia and whispered that he’d always thought she was the handsomest woman to ever grace the hills.

As the Hale house cleared out, empty except for Esther and Cornelia, the evening sun lit atop Clinch Mountain and cast high mournful shadows in the twilight of Cornelia’s perfect wake.

It was then that Cornelia decided to open her eyes and throw that pink chiffon veil out of her face and rise up out of her deathbed. She straightened the creases out of her dress and got herself a healthy woman’s portion of chicken and dumplings and went out to sit on the porch with Esther.

“I’m the handsomest woman to ever grace these hills,” Cornelia exclaimed.

“And won’t folks be glad when they find out you ain’t dead at all!” Esther said.

Cornelia licked her spoon and studied on Esther’s words. “In the mornin’ when Delaney tells Jimmy Junior I traded the house for a condo in Myrtle Beach, I don’t figure he’ll be glad at all.”

“He’ll get over it,” Esther said with a chuckle.

“I’ll send him a postcard while I work on my tan,” Cornelia said and flashed Esther a grin.

The two of them sat there on the porch in the falling dusk, basking in the afterthoughts of it all. Oh yes, memories were much more valuable than money. And Cornelia had plenty of both, and gumption and moxie to boot. Maybe that’s why Jim had married her after all.

Nobody would believe it, Cornelia knew. They’d make a ghost story out of her and call her crazy.  But all legends end up between some pink veil, she knew, in a mist that blurs the truth from tale, and one day those rotten grandboys will tell their own spoiled young’uns about the time they sat up with Granny Corn, who laid alive and well in a pretty coral casket for over six hours and attended her own wake.

In the silent cloak of the night, Esther and Cornelia loaded down the Coupe de Ville with suitcases and umbrellas and sweet smelling suntan lotion. Cornelia figured she’d be the best looking dead woman to ever walk the sands of Myrtle Beach. Esther and Cornelia laughed and talked and sucked on handfuls of pastel butter mints until they saw the morning sun rise up from the Atlantic.

 

 

Copyright Anna Wess, 2016

 

 

 

 

 

A Granny Witch’s Cookbook

Now it was in the Springtime, as I recollect it, when the mountain was dotted with petite dabs of fresh pale green, a virginal shade from the Master artist’s sage palette, when I sat at the dinette in Granny’s modest kitchen, looking out the window at the blooming redbuds that stood out like merry boughs of cotton candy along the hillside. Winter had retreated, and the whole blooming world seemed to rise up from the dead.

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It was that day that I first saw Granny’s cookbook.

Her spindly fingers found the pages she sought out quickly. It was nothing more than a spiral bound notebook, truth be told, the page edges frayed and tattered with several decades or more of elbow grease, garden soil, and that good ol’ Granny magic.

Oh, magic, indeed. Now Granny would have never proclaimed herself to have ever been more than a mountain sister, a daughter of the Highlands, or one of the heirs to the Appalachian throne of mystery and the craft of her foremothers and the wild blue.

I said, “Granny, what you got in that book?”

“Nothin’ I don’t know already,” she said.

Now Granny never did read the words in that tattered cookbook; she knew all the recipes already, like she’d said. Instead she took out a pencil from her silverware drawer and made notes in the margins as I watched on.

Granny was older than those pages, and I’d once asked her just how many years’ old she was. She had laughed and opened her mouth wide enough for me to get a glimpse of her sparkling gold eye tooth — an honest to God golden tooth! — and then she told me she couldn’t say, because it would likely scare me to death.

 If anybody asks, I’m thirty-nine, she’d say. Now thirty-nine seemed awfully farfetched to me, and I knew Granny was twice that, if not more, and the lines etched into the furrow of her brow and forehead could easily hide a good eighty or even ninety years’ worth of scribbled secrets. And I listened well when she would speak, for she didn’t spew out words just to hear her head rattle or make idle noise. She said things that ought not be spoken in company, and she divulged her thoughtful contention when I’d dare to look upon her mystic countenance.

Granny was so old that she appeared to me like a candle that had been burning from both ends, and the wax of her had melted into a shapeless, expressionless, indomitable figure that wore a red gingham apron and a high and mighty mound of graying black hair that sat atop her resolute form in a mess of bobby pins and whorls of practicality. Her lips were thin and intentional, her words firm and absolute. She was oddly beautiful.

I recollect vividly the things she spoke of, and I have not released a single breath of them until this day.

She said that where God has walked once, the Devil has made his rounds twice. And that ol’ Devil is especially jealous of us women, and for no other reason than we hold the opportunity for life inside of us, and that men want to either love us or have us, and they hate us when they can’t or when we won’t let them. And it ain’t no wonder that we live longer than the menfolk, because we have more to do.

Ain’t nobody gonna save you ‘cept you, she said. So quit looking for that storybook thoroughbred and take up your seat on the ol’ mare. She’ll serve you better and carry you further. She’ll take you beyond those cotton candy redbuds and up into the yonder where nobody and nothing but the wild painters squall and the winsome Jenny wrens warble. They’ll sing a song just for you, if you let them. Listen with your ears and heart wide open.

Go out into the grassy flats where the honeysuckle and jewel weed flourish; they’re meant for more than just a passing butterfly. They’re for you, too. Those old touch-me-knots can take the sting out of poison ivy and the pleurisy root can cure what ails the aching and grieving chest. And ain’t nothing as delectable as the pokeweed that’s been fried up with cornmeal and a flick of table salt if you pinch ‘em off just right. And if you’re ever in the worst kind of shape, good ol’ yeller root in enough quantity can stave Death itself away.

But I witnessed stranger things, too, like when local girls from the holler would come up to have Granny look into their coffee cups and study the ominous grounds within, and she’d tell them of births or meetings of destiny, and even warn them of approaching dangers or faintness of their hearts. She’d more than once been known to let the neighbors’ daughters look behind their backs with mirrors down her spring water well, and tell them if they mused blindly enough, they’d get a glimpse of their fate or fortune. And she’d blown more than a few fires out of the sting of warts and even a broken heart or two. I’d seen it with my earthly eyes or I’d likely have dismissed it as a chimera or hallucination.

But as Granny said, where God walks once, the Devil rounds twice. There are vipers lying in wait of you amidst the plentiful saving weeds, and more than one mountain sister has fallen casualty to the snare of a rattler or copperhead or a handsome man ready to strike. Look for snake spit on the clover and never reach blindly into an inviting bough of cloying raspberry or a plentiful display of chicory or romance. There’s much worse than poison ivy to be found up in these woods.

And never forget, just as Granny once warned me, that there’s always somebody bigger and meaner than you are, and even if a woman is too tired to feud and wrangle, she ain’t never too spent or old to hold her peace and pull a trigger.

When the lights would go down in the late evening, after the supper dishes were cleared and put back in the cupboard, Granny would share a sip of her reserved home brew with me, and we’d lay out in the yard with the crickets underneath a blanket of the brightest stars that the Heavens ever conceived, and she’d talk about regular things, like how to get a perfect stitch on a Drunkard’s Path quilt (have a few nips of ‘shine first) and the secret to fixing the best biscuits this side of the Mason Dixon (a loving pinch of sugar in everything, even the gravy) and she’d remind me that the best things must be figured out for one’s self. I could tell you all day long it was a mistake, but you’d have to make it yourself to know for sure.

Granny is long gone to the Hereafter now, and I last saw her in final repose in her modest casket, her proud chin pointed heavenward and her spindly fingers crossed over her chest like a warrior’s armor.  Even though I stood in the funeral parlor and looked upon her still figure, knowing well that there was not enough yeller root in the free world to bring her back from that long sleep, sometimes I still hear her voice when the mountain falls quiet in the twilight of the evening. I hear her telling me about the pokeweed and pleurisy root and her warning of the vipers. And, of course, where God makes one round, the Devil makes two.

As for that tattered cookbook, I couldn’t discern a single recipe. The words were written down with a pencil from Granny’s silverware drawer, and have all but faded completely into oblivion. But isn’t that how the most precious of things are? Graying moments become memory, and just like Granny, memories don’t stay.

Every so often I look at those timeworn words, so obscure and so secretly veiled, and I remember that Springtime day by her kitchen window, when the fading Winter had withered away and the cotton candy redbuds dotted the hillside, and the whole world seemed to rise up from the dead, and I can’t help but wonder if Granny ever existed at all. How supremely clever. And how like her. I have no choice but to make those old mistakes for myself, just as she had laughed and said I would. But regardless of pokeweed or saving yeller root or ‘shine beneath the stars, one thing is for certain.

I am thirty-nine. And always will be, if anybody should ask.

 

People love bad news. They’ll rip it from its delicate wrapping like some sweet confection and devour it like they haven’t eaten in weeks. And they’ll gladly save you a piece, hoping you’ll take a bite big enough to choke on. But they never want to eat their own candy, of course. Bad news is only good if it comes out of somebody else’s cupboard. And some folks can eat and gorge and stuff themselves all day long and get good and fat, but never full.

Around these parts, we’ve got bad news aplenty. If you take it upon yourself to assume that nothing racy happens in a small mountain town, you ain’t been around enough blocks or bends in the dirt road yet. I won’t be the one to shove a piece of sugar-coated gossip down your gullet. Lord no. But I’ll do my solemn best to tell you how it is.

Here in Richlands, a speck of nowhere on a Virginia map, a place that can only be found by accident or circumstance of birth, the bad news abounds. And I’m not dredging up talk of extramarital affairs or gay folks in the closet or who met who at the Timberline Lodge last night. We’ve got enough of such talk, but the decent and intelligent among us don’t bother with such trivial things. Those are simple little morsels. Table scraps, at best.

I’ve always preferred the main course.

This proud little place once boomed and echoed throughout the mountains of Central Appalachia and into the waiting world, with abounding coal and its grim black dust that settled in the lungs of our fathers and grandfathers, rendering them old men by the time they were fifty. The worst escape and remedy out there in those vibrant days was a little pot or a Quaalude left over in the glove box of Uncle Jimmy’s ’77 Chevy Van. We didn’t run dry like a prohibited still; all that coal still lies deep in the ground like buried treasure, as plenty as it ever was, but new ways of thinking have bound it up, locked it away with other nefarious things deemed not good for us. With no industry comes no work, and with no work comes despair, and with despair comes the dope. It’s a perfect circle made of fool’s gold, like a band on the finger of some unfaithful storybook lover. It goes on and on, ‘round and ‘round, long after the sweetness of trivial gossip has worn off.

You can’t get good and fat off that bad news. And there are no second helpings, no salve to soothe the longing for the return of the bright and booming days. They are buried right up there deep in the mountain with Papaw and the others lost to the black dust. And those days did not die proud like a worn out coal miner. Not in the least. Their demise was calculated. The powers that be have set out to clean us up, and have all but murdered us for our trouble. And now we are more unclean than ever, thanks to those powers and watchful eyes that be, eyes that have never seen a sunset from the top of House and Barn Mountain or heard the direful echo of a lone guitar from a front porch and beyond one of our high and lonesome ridges.

And the churches, they have cropped up everywhere in this town and others like it, and another springs up just about every week, passing around collection plates and letting poor folks know without saying so that it’s better to invest in the next life than this one. They buy prayers instead of supper, and they go to bed hungry for good news.

I’ve heard songs on the country radio say the South will rise again. Well I’m here to tell you that it certainly will not. The South of Rhett and Scarlett, those romantic antebellum days, are gone with that fair wind they still pine over.

But we are not Southerners. We are caught in this heirloom place, situated between the veils of what was and what is.  Time itself slows in its tracks here, and it is often difficult to discern the past from the present, and the living from the departed. We are the children of Appalachia, the blood borne sisters and brothers of the mother mountains. We are not to be found in a historical romance novel on a shelf at the grocery store. Nobody tells sweeping epic tales about us; we are not the fairytale types. We tell our own tales and create our own endings. We always have. Always.

But just like the South, we will not rise again. We cannot, for we never fell.

While Atlanta was a burnin’, the grandmothers of our grandmothers were living high on the hog in the splendor of these mountains, unsung and unseen, save for the embers glowing in the night from the moonshine stills up and down the hills and into the cryptic hollers. Granny never had the need to flaunt her good manners or attend some formal debutante ball. There was work to be done, and nobody but her to do it. She didn’t own dark skinned folks like they did in the good and gone South, and would have been too proud and too prudent to partake in such a disgrace. But don’t let Granny fool you none; she can rip a rug on the front porch and stomp the flatfoot at the hint of sweet smelling fiddle rosin.

And while Atlanta was a burnin’, ol’ Granny was up in the highlands picking all that good pokeweed and the dandelion greens and the pleurisy root. She never asked a soul for a dime or a pardon, and she didn’t own a couch to faint on; she didn’t have time for such a notion. And if she ever promised to shoot you, it was best to heed her words; Granny wouldn’t waste her breath, her advice, or her last bullet on a warning shot.

Dellie Norton

While Atlanta was a burnin’, they were all up in here in the abundance beyond the cliffs and crags, building an empire in the oldest mountains on this continent. We’ve been afforded an odd and complicated legacy, we descendants of ingénues and miracle workers and storytellers. And yet still we love that bad news, and love to tell it and retell it and add our own bits of seasoning to the narrative.

But we’ve always chosen how our tales would end. We’ll not go away anytime soon. We’ll not burn out and let that southerly wind carry us away into some forgotten novel.

We are not storybook lovers. We are the real thing.

And we’re due for a feast. Not sweet confections or scraps from someone else’s table. We’ll pick ourselves up from this fall. And that’s all it is, a stumble off the constant path, the one that we’ve been traveling for as long as the path itself has existed. And it’s been here a mighty long time.

There’s work to be done, and nobody but us to do it, as always. We will not rise again. But we will stand. We will dig our way out, just as the menfolk have done for ages. Granny would shoot us if we didn’t. You know it’s the truth.

In the meantime, supper is on. Don’t be choking down too many of those sweet confections. They’ll just broaden your hips instead of your thinking. Save yourself some room for Granny’s ‘shine; you’ll be deserving it when your work is done.

And don’t be fretting too much about poor ol’ Atlanta. I hear they, too, are doing just fine.

 

 

 

O, Death: Mysteries of the Long Sleep

There are worse things than death. But still we fight it tooth and coffin nail, no matter how much pain or sickness has eaten away at our very bones. We fight that inevitable sleep, like new babies not wanting to miss the next taste of sweet milk or bright flicker of light. We fight to keep our eyes open. We run mad into the night. We medicate and pray and curse until that old sleep finally wins.

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Photography by Shelby Lee Adams

And it always wins.

It was not always so desperately fought, that long sleep. Death was the bastard cousin nobody liked but welcomed anyway, for its visit was as natural as the sunset. It was as common as birthdays and Christmas and Winter. Less than a century ago, many a house here in the mountains had two front doors. One for good days, and the other that opened into a parlor for sittin’ up with the dead and the company that would surely come. Funeral doors, they were called, and they opened into a quaint room where folks could come and go as they pleased and look upon the dearly departed without having to set foot into the rest of the house and spoil their welcome.

In those somber old days, death visited so frequently that it had its own room.

And folks would sit up all night with the deceased and dance the flatfoot and sing hymns and drink ‘shine and wail and pray for good measure. They sat up all night to keep the cats and rats and vermin from creeping into the coffin. And sometimes they’d pay good money to get their pictures made with the deceased, for remembrance of good times and history, for both were fleeting in those days. It wasn’t unheard of for folks to take the dead and prop them up on the couch or the porch or wherever they were most comfortable and had their immortal pictures taken. And there are more than a few photos of regular caskets in regular living rooms in family albums and on mantles throughout these hills, even nowadays.

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Photography by Shelby Lee Adams

But in the olden times, they’d sometimes have to wait for days on end for family to receive word of the recently dead, and they were left to do their best to preserve the remains for viewing. They’d place cloths soaked in camphor and alcohol and even salt water upon the faces of the dead, to preserve a more natural color and assure a decent enough body for viewing.

Death is not beautiful to look at. But that’s only the physical side of that bastard cousin. We are more than these shells we walk around in, I promise you.

I have personally been privy to the witnessing of death itself, many times, both by circumstance and destiny. Death is not beautiful, as I said, despite those romantic scenes in black and white movies and the tragic parts of lovelorn novels. Death is dressed in plain clothes and agape mouths and the most astounding silence you can fancy. Death comes one of two ways: it either comes peaceful and serene, or it comes kicking and screaming. Most times, it is the former, thank our loving God and nature. But regardless of the final way, it is like that proverbial train wreck; we cannot help but look upon it despite its accursed plainness.

And you and I both know why.

Death is our most solemn and looming adversary, and yet our most sought after mystery. We hope beyond our grief to gain some knowledge from it, to see or hear or know something that Life has never told or shown us. That place beyond death is the only nirvana we have not yet been or have even seen pictures of, and yet it is the final place we will call home.

But I can tell you a few of death’s secrets, ones that I have witnessed with my own mortal eyes. And these are the truth.

Many folks on the verge of departing from this world see and even speak to those who have gone before them. I’ve seen them reach out with confident hands and happy smiles and let their fears dissipate into old remembrances and nuances of whispers from their Mama or Daddy or their dear ol’ Granny. I have seen the lights flicker—actually flicker and tremble with an electric energy I cannot see—at the very moment when a body lets go of its crowning breath.

I have felt the room grow crowded with nobody I could see and felt the brush of shoulders against mine when I was the only living soul with the departing. I have witnessed other flashes of light, whirls of flyspeck orbs of white in a spinning spiral, fleeting and sure, above the heads of the nearly gone.

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Photography by Shelby Lee Adams

But no, death is not beautiful. It robs the body of its rosy lips and bright eyes. It stiffens the jaw and stills the chest. It erases the lines of worry from the face and removes the person you knew from that still figure and sends them into that spiral of light. And you cannot go with them. Not today.

But I have been privy to witness many a dying, as I said. And each time it has been an odd sort of blessing, and while I don’t long to meet ol’ death, I know for certain that one day we shall meet in some trench that I was unable to escape. And I know beyond knowing that those lights will flicker and Granny and Daddy and the others will show up, and I’ll be happy to see them again, and they will pull me into that spiral of a white whirlwind and I’ll be away with them.

To where, I really can’t say for sure. I haven’t seen that place yet. But wherever that nirvana is, they are, and I will be also. But no, not today. I still have things to do. And so do you.

And I can’t say that I’ll go willingly when the time creeps upon me. After all, things are pretty good the way they are. I like it here. And yes, sometimes even pain becomes comfortable, especially when compared to the otherwhere. But I figure I was content, wherever I was, before I was born. And it’ll be the same when the long sleep comes.

Still, I don’t imagine I’ll just greet that cousin with open arms.

There are worse things than death. But I will likely still run mad into the night, even though I know for certain that in the waiting end, we are not alone. I’ll still fight that sleep, waiting for that sweet milk. And beyond my heavy eyes, I will remember the flickering lights and the rooms crowded with nobody I could see. And Granny will tell me that supper is waiting, and to hurry up and get on home. And I’ll be glad to go.

And I will not fear death. I will run free. I will find ol’ Death before he finds me!

Monsters Don’t Only Come Out at Night

Some of us were born with a sense of destiny, I believe, an innate knowing that we were meant for more than this, that something out there in the wild yonder awaits us and knows our names. I also perceive that there are a few jagged stones placed in our paths by the monsters out there. And yes, they are real, too.

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I am remembering the baby dolls now, the ones dressed in frilly little flowered dresses with those ominous eyes that close and open when you put them to bed. You know the ones I recollect, and their dead eyes and long black lashes, the perfect silent mouths, the rosy cheeks and the stiff flaxen hair. And the soft empty heads that cave in if you put them under enough pressure. Soft headed, big eyed monsters. That’s what they were to me.

Myself, I tend to be hard headed, or so I’ve been told. I’ve questioned everything for as long as I can remember. And I remember everything. And I don’t reckon there’s one frilly dress in my closet. And my mouth is not perfect or silent, God knows. And it never was. But I’d get a doll every year at Christmastime because I was a girl, you see, and girls get dolls and pretend tea sets and play pretties that usher them into womanly woes. I hated those baby dolls. I wouldn’t keep any of them in my room for fear that when I’d close my eyes at night, they would open theirs. So I’d hide them beneath a quilt in the closet, and make sure the door was completely shut so they couldn’t peek at me as I slept.

It was all an omen, and I know this now. I always attributed life to everything—the trees in the yard, Mama’s old ugly jalopy, and those dolls that I forced to live under a blanket in the closet. And I never felt sorry for them.

As time crept on, I happened to meet some folks that escaped the confines of their closets. Oh, yes. Real, honest to God, living and breathing baby dolls with stiff flaxen hair and pretty, empty heads.

Oh, you know the ones I’m talking about. That girl with the perfect cut and highlights and designer clothes and perfect life. The woman with the big ivory castle on the hill with the new car and flawless figure and pristine manicure that shows off her platinum wedding band with the vulgar diamonds that cost more than anything you’ll ever own. Or her handsome husband, the fella’ with the successful business and their passel of beautiful Dresden-headed children and the bank account his few friends envy. The people we think we wish we were, those fortunate ones with all the loveliness and perfection we wish we had, and not a struggle or stretch mark to show for it all.

But don’t let them fool you none. That same perfect woman never finishes a meal even if she’s hungry and spends more money than that fella’ can make on beauty creams promising youth and the erasure of the lines from the nights she was up late wondering where he was when her calls went to voice mail or weren’t answered at all. And she already knows where he usually is, and that other woman’s name, too. But she can’t pay for that fine house and new car or feed that passel of children by herself, so she just downs her pride with her pills and goes to bed.

And yet she lets everyone believe she’s just fine and puts on her lipstick same as always and trades her dignity for a Cadillac and groceries and frilly dresses. But she is no baby doll, no matter how she’d like to be, despite her rosy cheeks and stiff flaxen hair. But her pretty head is soft… And that’s her downfall. She thinks in squares, always worried about what folks will say. She’d rather choke on her pride and pills than let her crazy out and drive down to that other woman’s house in the night and drag her old man out by his expensive tie.

It occurred to me after fighting my own dolls that the perfect people are often the most flawed, and go to greater lengths to hide it. And they’re good at it, most of them.

And some, not so much.

I recollect when I was twelve, on the verge of burgeoning womanhood and wild notions, an uncle attempted to get me alone and bribe me into touching him with promises of cassette tapes and pizza. I assured him that my father would kill him for sure, and dispose of his sorry bones up in the holler. And he knew it wasn’t a far fetched threat; Daddy had been to prison for murder already, and wouldn’t have a second thought about shooting a monster with a box of cassettes and intentions of stealing innocence from his only daughter. I never spoke to that uncle again until I was an adult, and he never apologized. I suspect he thought I’d forgotten. But I did not and have not, and never will.

That assuming uncle is now dead, and I don’t miss him. And while I don’t think it’s fine to be glad somebody is dead, I think it’s perfectly fine to be glad that they’re gone.

The fabled boogeymen don’t all live under beds or in closets or between the pages of books or movies we shy away from looking at. Some of them walk right by us in places we’d never expect to see or even look for them, like the grocery store, or the church house, or our own living rooms. Some monsters sleep in regular beds like regular people and disguise their horrible faces with charming smiles and big round doll eyes.

Some of them know your name and where you live. You may even know their names, too.

Be ready for them. Be hard headed. Know and understand that some folks aren’t smiling; they’re just showing their teeth. Everybody who’s supposed to love you won’t. Step out of that cold limelight and ride that dark horse. This ol’ world has enough victims already. Drag that fella’ out by his expensive tie. Don’t worry about what folks will think or what they’ll say. You’ll sleep better at night. Don’t conform to such square thinking. They can put you in a box when you’re dead.

Cassettes or Cadillacs, the stories end the same. Mama and the Good Book tells us to forgive those monsters for our good. And I might, in my own time. But I’ll not hide what’s been done to me beneath a quilt in the closet. I’ll recognize the monsters and tell them that I was made for more than this. I was born with a sense of destiny. And I’ll make my own music, and sing it like nobody and everybody is listening.

If there’s anything those awful dolls taught me, it’s not to hide beneath the quilts. And some folks can bathe all day long and still not be clean.

And just as all witches aren’t ugly, some monsters don’t only come out at night.

Old Girls Like Us

They don’t expect much out of us Tazewell County girls. We were ruined from the start, thanks to geography and circumstances beyond Mama and Daddy’s control. I reckon they did the best they could with what they had.

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Shelby Lee Adams photography
They didn’t expect much out of Mama or her Mama neither. Or Daddy, for that matter. Not that he seemed to mind.

But no, they don’t expect much out of us girls especially. We talk low and slow and don’t speak up when we should and hide our grins when we laugh at things we shouldn’t be laughing at. It’s bad manners, you know, to speak or laugh out of turn. Especially if you’re wearing a skirt. Speak only when spoken to, girl.

They never came right out and said it, but it was implied and suggested, and even in the Good Book, too. Mamaw once told me that God liked boys better, and I believed her for the longest time. And maybe I still do, if I get to thinking on it. Looking back now I can surmise how come she figured such a thing. Always implied and suggested, just like everything else.

There was this one girl I used to know, a little wiry thing with dirty fingernails from climbing trees and fighting boys. She chopped off her hair when she was twelve, just to spite them all. Cut it clean up to her ears. She hated it as much as they did, but she’d have eaten dirt before she’d admitted it. That girl said what she pleased. She said what needed saying to whoever needed to hear it. She took up for those who couldn’t fight like she could, and wore bloody fists on occasion and a broken heart on more than a few. She had a big mouth and a big head. And could outrun boys twice her size! Oh, she didn’t care if they never expected much out of her! I recollect daydreaming about how she would one day fool or damn them all whenever she got the mind and money to do it. She chopped the locks off, of both her hair and her spirit. She was the most free soul I’d ever known.

I still envy her.

There were a few that tried to tame that girl and force her down from the trees and tell her to be quiet and remind her that God likes boys better. And one or two succeeded. For awhile, at least. But you can’t cage a free spirit. That’s got to be a bigger sin than speaking out of turn or cutting off your hair. Surely God would agree, no matter what that ol’ book says.

A half truth is a whole lie, or so I’ve heard.

I haven’t seen that girl in years. She is a mere vapor, now gone forever. I miss her. I wonder what she would have done with her big mouth and big head had she not been ruined by civilized thinking and left the trees for the call of words instead of the wild.

But my hair has grown back out, at least. And my nails are short but they are clean. As of now I am thirty years older than twelve, but I haven’t found a cage to suit me yet.

No, they never expected much out of us Tazewell County girls. And the woman I am now knows why.

We’re easier to handle when we do what’s expected, especially old girls like us. We make things easier on everybody else when we hide our grins and stay on the ground and don’t complain about anything. They have it made until we chop those locks off. 

Chop them off, young sister, while you’re looking down on them from your trees. And may you never find a cage big enough to tame you. Oh, I still root for the underdogs and get a bloody fist every now and then. That wild girl is still in me somewhere. Sometimes her loud laughter comes from my mouth and surprises me.

No, I reckon they never did expect much from us Tazewell County girls. And I figure that’s their misfortune. There’s a pretty smart handful of old girls like us looking down from the cedars. And most of us can still outrun the boys, even if God does like them better. And one of these bright days we just might fool or damn them all whenever we’ve got the mind and money to do it.

You just never know.

This House Has a Soul

Some folks will tell you that nothing lasts forever. They’ll remind you, without knowing for certain themselves, that everything that is will soon enough be what was. That dead men tell no tales, and ashes to ashes, and all those other warnings of ends. Those folks cannot see beyond the darkness of their finite assumptions.

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I endeavor to know and see that everything lasts forever. Everything. Me, you, those fabled ashes, all fallen down as they may be. And as for the dead not telling more tales? Oh, yes they do. You just have to know how to listen properly, and see with the right eyes.

And beyond such bold notions of everlasting everything, I am here to tell you one more tale too wild to be true, but is: some houses have souls.

Hearts, too. As broken as yours, and thrice as big, capable of entrapping memories and moments in its very walls. Some houses remember your name and the sound of your voice and the fall of your footsteps. Some recall you as a child, and perhaps, your Mama and Daddy as children, too. It’s the old houses that have the oldest souls and the densest of memory laden walls.

I think of an old house in particular as I ponder these things. The Christmas tree would be up by now in the living room, a fresh Fraser fir from the mountain, cut and covered in silver tinsel, and popcorn on an endless mile of thread, precisely and carefully needled through and strung on the aromatic branches by three or four of us grandkids, the red and green lights reflected off shiny glass orbs in our fascinated eyes, and soaking into the walls of the soulful house.

And the presents! Oh, they were stacked as high as my knees and upward, and the oranges tasted sweeter than any ordinary summer orange. Nobody could have ever convinced us we were just poor hill folk. No, sir. We were royalty on those bright nights, new socks and coats and all.

Mamaw is in the kitchen baking buttermilk pies and basting the fattest turkey you’ve ever heard tale of and reminding us kids to not run our fingers through with her best sewing needle. And Mama says if we do, she’s a’ gonna bust our tails good for us and we’ll all get coal in our stockings. She doesn’t mean a word of it, we know. Daddy plays Elvis on the record player and cousin Tommy dances a jig right up in the middle of the living room, and Mamaw swears to God he’s a heathen for such an awful display. The aunts and uncles and Mama and Daddy are at the dinette playing cards, and Mamaw praises the Lord and warns them good and proper that they’ll go to Hell for gambling, and it’s a good thing they were playing for popcorn instead of money, otherwise they’d have to do it out on the porch and out of her house.

They would laugh and say “oh, mother,” and carry on like there was no tomorrow. But there was a tomorrow, and we all knew it even then. And a yesterday. Papaw thought of those yesterdays as Elvis sang “I’ll be Home for Christmas,” and he would sit in his rocking chair and cry silent tears for the home in a distant Kentucky that remembered the worn out old man he was as a child, a home that stood dark and still somewhere up in a forgotten holler. But he remembered it. And perhaps that old place remembered him, too.

Yes, there is a tomorrow. It’s here. It’s now. Papaw has been long gone into the hereafter, and Mamaw has joined him. And so has Daddy and all the uncles. All of the children have grown up and scattered here and there. The cards have long ago been dealt and all the popcorn strung or eaten or thrown out to the winter birds.

And the house is now empty. It stands dark and silent against the backdrop of the faithful mountain where the Fraser firs grow forever green.

But the house has a soul. Oh, for certain it does. It has seen and heard and loved too much. It misses us. And on silent nights I imagine the echoes of heathen laughter and the faint nuances of Papaw’s tears still linger and seep from the walls and keep the old house warm and waiting.

We make other houses home now. And they have listening walls, too. But the oranges aren’t as sweet as I remember. And I am now the one with the silent tears.

Nothing lasts forever? Oh, yes it does. Everything lasts forever. Everything. And I’ll be home for Christmas, as I have always been. As they have always been. And always will be. They are still there, waiting for us.

You just have to know how to listen properly, and see with the right eyes.

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