Friday, October 31, 2014

Miss Birdie's Halloween Visit

Why, Lizzie Beth honey, I didn’t think to see you this evening. Yes, I’m on my way up to the graveyard. You went up there with me this time last year  . . . and if I recollect right you took a kindly strange turn  . . . some folks ain’t easy about being in such places, especially on Halloween . . .

You want to go with me again? Well, what about that. I’ll not deny I’ll be glad of the company . . . no, it’s fine and I aim to walk. They’re giving snow for tonight and this may be the last of the nice fall weather. You and me’ll just take our time. That old arthuritis has slowed me down right much but ain’t nothing better for that than just to keep moving.

Oh, yes, that’s spice cake there in the basket. I do like a good spice cake this time of year – I put some fresh applesauce in this one and don’t it smell fine! We’ll have us a feast when we get up there.  

The leaves is still hanging on and didn’t that frost the other night just set the maples and gums on fire? And the yellows so bright in the late sun, Seems like the world couldn’t look no finer. Course, I say that and then come the first pretty snow and the world all a-sparkle and I think it the prettiest thing ever. Snow takes me back to me and Luther’s first days together . . . snowed in and a happy as we could be. You know them little snow globes? Luther gave me one when we’d been married for some time so’s I’d always remember them first happy days. There was a little house in that globe and you’d give the thing a shake and the snow would fly but inside that house you knew the folks was warm and happy . . . yes, sometimes I think a white winter’s my favorite time.

But spring . . . well, when old winter’s worn out his welcome, with his freezes and thaws, spring is like to a song in my heart – that pinky-greeny haze on the mountains as the trees begin to bud out and then the flowers in their turn . . .it plumb takes my breath away. But spring turns into summer and the garden coming on and putting up the beans and maters . . . a body don’t hardly have the time to appreciate summer. But sometimes in the middle of a cornfield and it so still but for the rustle of the leaves, seems like you can purely feel the corn growing, sucking up strength from the rich dirt to push up higher and closer to the sun and the blue sky . . .

How I do go on. I’m flat talking your ear off, Lizzie Beth. But I reckon what I’m trying to say is something about the wonder of it all, of life and the seasons’ turning. And how one leads into the other and there’s always something good a-coming . . . makes you wonder how a body can bear to turn loose of this life

Get you some of this spice cake . . . why, yes, I do leave a bit at every gravestone. Luther's granny told me about how her granny made what she called soul cakes and left them on the graves on Halloween. Seems her folks back in the Old Country had always done so and though Luther didn't hold with a many of the old ways, he thought a lot of his granny and he didn't take against me doing the same as her. Plus Luther purely loved spice cake

We'll walk about and share our cake with these folks -- Lathern and Benjamin Franklin Freeman and Vonnie . . . 

 This stone carved like two hearts is William Roberts and Little Loy –  now, there’s a story. And don’t a living soul know it but me. Tell you? Well, I reckon hit don’t matter – ain’t no one left in these parts what knew those two.

Little Loy was a tiny little thing – hardly come up to my shoulder and I ain’t what anyone would reckon to be a tall someone. She was the last of a big family and it fell to her to stay home and take care of her daddy when her mommy died and all the other ones had moved off. It’s a lonely life, watching others raise up families and all, but Loy was a sweet tempered thing and her daddy was the same. He offered more than once to go off to some old folks home so’s she could have her chance but Little Loy wouldn’t hear of it. When I first come to know her, I was not long married and still right young and she seemed like an old woman to me though now I come to think of it I doubt she was much beyond forty or so when her daddy passed away. I come up here one time, not so long after his burying and Little Loy was setting by her daddy’s grave and boo hooing like one thing.

I was  putting flowers on my Britty’s grave -- she'd been gone most a year -- and I was boo hooing some myself and when we saw each other we just naturally fell into one another’s arms.

Oh, Birdie, says she, your beautiful little girl . . . and Loy breaks out weeping again.

And you miss your daddy, says I, well, that's natural. It was just you and him for so long. 

She looked kindly shame-faced at that and wiped her face on her dress tail.  That ain’t it, Birdie, says she. I’m a-weeping for myself and the babies I’ll never have. She looked over at Britty’s little grave and her lip went to trembling – at least you had her for a time – and you’re young and they’ll be more. . .

Well, it come out that she was going through the change and that all these years she’d thought that the right man would come along and she’d be a mama at last but now she had to face up to the fact that  it  weren’t going to happen. We parted and I went on back to my Luther, thinking how lucky I was.

But not so long after that, folks started talking about Little Loy and the hired hand who was working at her place. Seems William Roberts had got off the train one day down at Gudger's Stand and had started asking around for work. Litle Loy happened to be at the store that used to be there and when she saw this tall skinny somebody in faded overalls looking for work, she knew she had a roof needed mending and timber needed cutting. And they struck a deal right then. 

It weren't more than a few months later that them two married down at the courthouse. Little Loy was decked out all in rose pink and from a distance she looked like a young un. William Roberts had put on some weight, for Loy was a fine cook, and he was wearing brand new overalls and a suit jacket that I believe had belonged to Loy's daddy.

Well, everyone had something to say about how foolish Little Loy was, marrying up with someone from away and so much younger than herself. This William Roberts, with his smooth face and awkward ways didn't look to to be near as old as Loy. Folks said it wouldn't last, that she'd wake up one morning to find her husband and her savings gone.

But time passed and those two was the most loving couple you ever saw. William Roberts worked like a dog to keep that farm going and while William begun to look older, seemed like Little Loy looked younger everyday. And at last she was mama to a flock of young uns . . .

No, it weren't no miracle. One of Loy's brothers and his wife was killed in a train wreck leaving five young uns behind. And Little Loy just leaped at the chance to adopt them. Oh, it was a sight to see them trailing into church -- big tall William and tiny little Loy and this whole gang behind them.

Afore long, folks forgot that William was from away -- and that those young uns was adopted. And the young uns made fine men and women. But one by one they moved off -- mostly to Detroit -- though they was good to send money home and they always come back for Decoration Day.

What?  . . . Oh, my yes, it's a happier story than that one I told you last year about poor Geneva. But I ain't done yet. See those dates on the stone? . . . yes, they died on the same day. They had both took the flu that was so bad that year. I was at the house trying to see was there aught I could do when the doctor came out of the bedroom, just a-shaking his head.

I can't hold out much hope for either of them, he says to the young uns who had come back from Detroit to see their folks.  Little Loy's age is against her and William won't suffer me to touch him. I believe he's afraid of being left without her. 

And he picked up his doctoring bag and off he went. 

So I stepped into the bedroom. They was side by side in the big bed, holding hands like a courting couple.  William was breathing heavy and it was clear to me he was on his way out and Loy didn't look much better, But there was something about  them that put me in mind of two people off on a journey together -- unsure of what lay ahead but happy in knowing they was together.

Little Loy opened her eyes and beckoned me to her. 

Honey, says I, is there something I can do for you? 

She nodded her head and whispered, Birdie, I told the doctor I wanted you to be the one to lay us out. We don't want to go to the funeral home, The young uns are here and they'll see to the burying. But I want it to be you and no one else who washes and dresses us-

And she took a coughing spell and I promised her I would do like she wanted. I tried to tell her that she could get better but I knew that weren't the case. The two of them had their feet on the road . . . Just remember, she said as I took my leave, you and you alone. You'll understand. . .

Well, I didn't, not then. But I had  done my share of laying out the dead. Back then the law weren't so hicky about autopsies and embalming and such.  And I was happy to do it for old friends like Loy and William. . .

So when I got a message the next day that they was both gone, I put together a basket with some of the things I'd need and hurried over to their place. The young uns was all tore up but they was happy to leave me to my work. 

It was early winter and the bedroom window was cracked open to keep the room cool. Them two was still holding hands and they looked so peaceful that I most had to smile.

Then I set about my work. Ladies first, says I and took Loy's hand loose from William's so I could get her nightdress off and wash her before putting her into the dress the young uns had chosen to bury her in. 

It's the last thing we can do for our dead before they're buried and it can be a kind of holy thing, washing them careful and particular.  I wept a little, thinking how I was going to miss my old friends, and I got Loy all fixed with her pretty lavender dress on and her white hair brushed smooth and then I begun on William.

I got his pajama shirt off and was surprised to find a bandage round his chest. Sometimes folks cough so hard that they can crack a rib and I figured that was what had happened.  Then I went to pull off the pajama bottoms. Oh, my heavens! I cried out. 

You all right, Miss Birdie? one of the young uns called from the front room. 

Just fine, honey, says I, unwrapping the bandage. It was just that I  . . . stubbed my toe on the bedstead is all. I'll have your folks all ready in a few more minutes.

Lizzie Beth, I had told a flat lie. For what had startled me wasn't no stubbed toe. It was William Roberts  laying there -- And William was a woman. 

As I bathed and dressed William Roberts' corpse, I marveled at how those two had kept this secret all these years.  And wondered how I would manage to keep it myself.

And now I've told you. But you'll not tell it around. And like I said, ain't no one living that remembers them. Their young uns came back for Decoration Day for quite a few years after that but then they got old and we didn't see no more of them. 

I'll leave this piece here for William -- or whatever her name really was -- and Little Loy.  Whatever they were, they was the lovingest pair I ever did see.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

What Does It Take?

I'm reading the opening of a novel (that shall remain nameless) and I hate everyone in it.  Well, except for one minor (so far) character to whom I am pretty much indifferent. And there are situations (non sexual) that make me want to go take a bath -- and remember, I live on a farm where manure and chicken butchering are facts of life.

So I'm asking you all -- what would make you quit reading  something? (Beyond boredom or bad writing, I mean.)  Different people have different triggers for throwing a book across the room or deciding to read no farther. A few people have put my books down for the 'bad language,' With me it's animal abuse -- but that's not the problem with this book -- it's just a matter of a bunch of people I don't particularly want to spend time with.

I have finished some books that creeped me out -- and then wished that I could forget them, I have finished others, in spite of the animal abuse, or whatever, and felt that I learned something valuable -- but that I would never read that book again. (And mostly, if I really like a book, I do re-read.) The play "Death of a Salesman" is one that I read and recognized as powerful and moving -- so much so that I would never choose to go see it. 

As I said, the problem with this particular story is a bunch of unlikable characters and a pathetic/semi-crazy protagonist. I'm waiting for some redeeming qualities in the unlikable characters and some way of understanding or connecting with the main character.

A more or less standard rule of writing fiction is to have a main character that people like or identify with or somehow feel connected to -- so that the reader feels invested in finding out what happens to that main character. (An exception to this -- and of course there are exceptions, would be Ron Rash's Serena -- the title character is so staggeringly evil that the reader may well be hypnotized, like a deer in the headlights, into staying with the story. And Rash's beautiful writing doesn't hurt.)

So, I'm asking again -- what makes you put a book down? And can you remember a novel with a main character you hated but were fascinated by?

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Oops, I Did It Again

We had a second celebration for John's birthday last night. Ethan made a quick trip up from Atlanta; I made a chocolate cake. (One of the best and moistest ever, though I say it myself --'Siren's Chocolate Cake' from the SOUTHERN JUNIOR LEAGUE COOKBOOK.)

Four layers with freshly made citrus marmalade between the layers.

And fried chicken  -- I forgot to take a picture till most of it was done. John is convinced that fried chicken on the wood stove in the ne plus ultra  of fried chicken and I have to agree it was pretty delicious.

A mostly homegrown, mostly Southern feast -- mashed potatoes and gravy, corn, and green beans. The green beans were the ringers -- store bought and briefly steamed rather than cooked forever with fat back in the way of the South.. 

Of course there was more bubbly -- and I ended the evening feeling a bit weak and silly.

 But the kittehs refused to do this post for me.