Monday, October 31, 2016

Miss Birdie in the Graveyard -- Amory and the Wild Girl

Why, Lizzie Beth, how good it is to see you. I was just lamenting that you and me couldn't go up to the grave yard this year. I've made that trip every Halloween fer I don't know how long and it seems hard to miss it. But 'pears I'm gonna be stuck here a while yet.

Well, what about it! If you ain't brought me some spice cake. I fancied I was smelling spice cake but then I thought it was just my imaginer working overtime 'cause of I was thinking about the graveyard on this day when I usually carry spice cake up there. 

Oh, my, Lizzie Beth -- it's still warm. Law that's good! I thank you kindly.

Yes, I was laying here just naming them over, all my friends and family up there. Luther and Cletus and my angels, along with Little Loy and Ester and all them I told you of. . .

And I was thinking of the smell and sound of the fallen leaves and the way the colors stands bold against the sky. . . 

Look there out my window --  there above the roof. See how the pines dance against the sky. Them trees and that sky is keeping me where I need to be when this room starts to close in on me and the everlasting sound of the TVs fills up my ears and that poor old woman down the hall cries out -- she ain't right in her head, the aide told me, and thinks folks are trying to kill her.

The aides and nurses here is a good bunch and today there was a new one  with the reddest hair you ever saw come in to bring me my breakfast and that red hair set me to thinking about Amory Wills and his wild girl. I ain't told you of Amory yet,  have I?

Push that commode aside and set in the wheelchair, why don't you? 

Luther it was who told me this story and he had it from Amory's nearest neighbor Gid Cutshall.

Now Amory was the last of his family and lived up 'Simmon Cove, in the old house where he was born. One by one his sisters had married and his brothers had gone off to Detroit, leaving Amory to care for his mama -- his daddy had died right young. And his mama was a sour sort, dragged down by the hard times she'd seen but when she took sick and couldn't hardly go, Amory cared for her better'n any daughter might have. It was one of those wasting sicknesses and she lingered on for several years, getting littler and meaner every day till she plumb swivvled up to just a little piece of hatefulness. 

Neighbors come by to try to lend a hand but she run 'em off one by one, saying Amory could do for her. And Amory would just shake his head and say she weren't no trouble and he didn't mind.

Finally the old woman passed away and all the neighbors began to hope that Amory, who weren't yet forty, might have a chance to make him some kind of a life. He was a fine-looking feller and more than one young woman made sure to take a pie or some such up to him, by way of being neighborly after his mama passed. 

But seemed like Amory weren't looking to make a match with no one. Oh, he ate them pies and the girls would find the pie tins in their mailboxes, washed clean. Some of 'em kept trying but when they got no more encouragement than a clean pie tin, at last they give it up, figgering he just weren't the marrying kind. 

 Now it fell out that a fox or some varmint was particular bold that fall after Amory's mama passed and was about to eat up every chicken in the holler. Amory had lost several young hens -- taken right from the chicken house -- and he determined to set a trap and make an end of the slaughter. "Or I'll have no eggs for breakfast nor fried chicken on Sundays," said he.

So he set him a trap right where the varmint had broke in before.  And come morning, when he hurried out to see had he done any good, he'd caught something, all right -- he could see the red fox color there against the fallen leaves. But  as he got closer, lo and behold, it weren't no fox, but a young woman, her tangled red hair blazing in the rising sun.

She was skinny and ragged and scared to death. The trap had closed on her ankle and she hadn't been able to work it loose though her white skin was bloody with the struggle.

Now this was back in the Thirties when there was all manner of tramps and hobos and wanderers -- folks whose farms had been foreclosed on and who'd taken to the road in search of someway to make a living. Amory figgered she was likely one of these and, tender-hearted as he was, he set down beside her, talking gentle as he eased the trap from her slender ankle.

"If you're hungry," says he, "come up to the house and share my breakfast, Eggs is better cooked with streaky meat and I've got cornbread a-bakin'."

She looked up at him for the longest time with her strange pale yellow-brown eyes and at last she nodded. And when he got the jaws of the trap loose and helped her to stand, she followed him like a puppy to the house. At first she balked at entering the door but Amory left it wide as he went to fixing some breakfast and by and by, in she crept. And when he set two plates on the table and took his seat, by golly, down she sat in the other chair and lit into that food like she was a starving thing.

 She was still eating while he filled a zinc washtub with water he'd heated on the stove, laid out soap and towels along with some of his mama's clean clothes, and went out to do his chores, leaving the wild girl mopping the egg yolks from her plate with a piece of corn bread.

"You'd feel better, was you clean," says he and off he went with never a thought for his few valuables. And when he come back, there she sat on her chair, scrubbed clean, hair shining like a sunrise, and wearing a pale green dress that his mama had sewed before she got so sick. And then the girl smiled at him.

Amory's heart turned over in his bosom. But he knew he must go easy and slow and he asked her did she want to stay on a while and help with the farm. "I can give you my mama's room and plenty to eat but cash is scarce just now," says he. And her eyes got wide and she looked toward the open door but then she looked back at him and smiled that smile again.

From what I heard, Amory treated her like a wild thing he was trying to gentle -- fed her and talked soft to her, and left the door half open so's she could leave ever when she wanted. 

Word got round that Amory had a woman living there with him. Of course, all them pie makers got their noses out of joint and had to traipse up there to see who it was had won over the bachelor they'd all tried for.

"They's something uncanny about her," said one, after trying to talk Amory and the wild girl into coming to church. "She don't say a word, just sets there squnched up close to Amory and him stroking that ugly red hair of hern like she was a cat. He says her name is Ruby but he don't appear to have no notion of what her last name is nor where she come from."

"I don't believe she does a lick of work around the place," said another. "Did you ever see such pale skin? And those eyes. They just ain't natural."

Well, the tale of Amory's wild girl was a nine day's wonder but by and by folks stopped talking about her. Times was hard and everyone had to tend to getting their own living without worrying about this stranger up 'Simmon Cove. And Amory had always been a solitary somebody anyway.

It weren't till sometime the next summer that Amory appeared at Granny Cutshall's house, wild-eyed and weeping. "Come quick," says he. "I believe Ruby's near her time."

Granny packed her midwife's bag and got up on the mule behind Amory and they set off at a pace she said like to have been the end of her. As they drew near the cabin, a vixen with something in her mouth dashed under the mule's nose and up into the woods but Amory didn't pay it no mind, just hauled Granny Cutshall offen that mule and towed her into the house.

The bed in Ruby's room was empty but the covers was thrown back and the sheets was all streaked with blood. Amory stood gaping then let out a cry and ran out of the cabin, calling for Ruby.

Him and Granny Cutshall searched and searched but not a sign of the wild girl did they find. Granny managed to make Amory understand that the stains on the linens was just what come with birthing -- and that sometimes women got took quare after childbirth.

"Women," says Amory. "Women sometimes do." 

And he cast a terrible look all around the slopes of 'Simmon Cove afore putting Granny back on the mule and carrying her back home.

He never was the same after that. Let the house fall down around him and let his garden grow up. He tended a big patch of field corn though to feed the mule and the great flock of chickens that he kept. Folks said that every night he'd let one of those chickens loose and set there near the edge of the woods, waiting to see did a fox come for it.

It was a few years later, folks begun to fear something had happened to Amory for his mule had come down the road, without its halter on. A few men went up to check on him but he weren't in the cabin nor the barn. 

What few chickens was left was all up in the trees, like something was after them and the men began to study the ground, looking for tracks.

"Over here," says one. "There's boot prints leading off into the woods. Maybe he's gone after whatever has the chickens so stirred up.

They found him, dead as a hammer, and curled up by a big old rock, the size of a Chevrolet truck, Gid said. Something had dug out a den under that rock -- foxes, by the rank smell of it, they said. 

There weren't a mark on Amory -- he looked to have died peaceful and happy. There was a kind of a smile on his face and wrapped around his hand was a long hank of the purtiest bright red hair you ever saw.

You what? You got to leave now so you can take some ginger cake to my folks up in the graveyard? Now if you ain't a good somebody. Just tell Luther and Cletus and all the others that I'm holding my own and I'll be along to visit with them before the year is out.

And, Lizzie Beth? When you go sharing out that cake amongst the stones, when you come to where Amory lies there on the edge of the woods, you put some on his stone then fling another piece out amongst the trees -- just in case the wild girl's nigh.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

In My Mind . . .

Down at the pond -- another year . . .

Look for Miss Birdie tomorrow . . .

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Friday, October 28, 2016

It's All Connected Somewhere . . .

A while back I discovered that one of the CNAs here went to school with my friend Ruth's daughter. Cool. She told me who her folks were and when she mentioned her dad's name, it sounded familiar -- as in someone I'd heard of but didn't actually know.

When John was here yesterday and the CNA was in the room, I asked the name again to see if it rang a bell with John.

"Oh, yeah, he bought a pair of our Milking Devon steers to use as oxen."

And, lo and behold, she had a picture on her phone! Her and her dad and the oxen with yokes he'd made. It was quite a few years back . . . fifteen? twenty? . . .

But how about that!

Thursday, October 27, 2016

The Clay Girl

The Clay Girl by Heather Tucker is an amazing debut. The story of Ari, youngest of six sisters in a most dysfunctional family is told slant -- in language so poetic, so allusive, so enigmatic that for the first few pages I found myself agreeing with one of Ari's teachers later in the book as he reads one of her stories: "I haven't a clue what half of it means but I feel it, I see it, and on some level I understand it completely." 

The puzzlement clears soon and it becomes obvious that Ari is telling her story in the only way she can --sideways because the full on reality is too harsh.

The novel follows Ari from eight -- when her father kills himself, her mother has a breakdown, and the sisters are doled out to various relatives -- to sixteen when she has an opportunity to put into action the lessons life has taught her. During those eight years, Ari bounces between wonderful, nurturing situations and people -- and other people and situations that will test all her resilience.

The beauty of the writing and the indomitable spirit of young Ari keep this book from being depressing. Horrible things happen -- but so do wonderful things. 

Highly, highly recommended!

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

At thr Wound Center

I went yesterday to the Wound Healing Center to have the big gouge on my right leg looked at. I was loaded into the facility's van at about 7:20 and whisked off to my appointment. No peregrine this time but beautiful  pre-sunrise skies with pink clouds. And the waiting room featured a panoramic view-- construction up close but then trees, slowly being gilded by the rising sun and mountains in the distance that went from dark masses to shapes where every cove and ridgelet was defined.

In the exam room they did some tedious measurements and left me to await the doctor. I was stretched on a table by another panoramic window and as the sun washed over me, I could almost imagine I was at a spa.

The doctor arrived and tinkered with the wound, tidying up this and that, and told me that he proposed to put me in a pressure bandage to speed the healing. It will stay put till I go back next Monday for him to take another look.

This whole experience of being more or less helpless and dependent is at once annoying and humbling.  But it swung into sharp perspective when one of the nurses, asking how the accident happened, nodded, unimpressed.

"We see lots of accidents caused by a vehicle rolling on a slope. One poor lady got her hand caught in the door and it was completely de-gloved."

She wasn't talking about a glove either.  Counting my blessings . . .

Monday, October 24, 2016

Another Autumn...

Waltz Me to the End of Time -- re-post from 2013

That? That piece of sheet music came from Miss Annie's house. After she passed away back in '65, the property went to a nephew who lived in Alabama. He came and  spent a few days going through her things, packing up what he wanted -- there was the prettiest little writing desk -- and then he had some dealer come in and take away the rest of it so they could put the house on the market. 

 The nephew was named Charles, if I remember right, and he was real nice.  I asked if I could have that music to remember her by and he told me I was welcome to it. He let me take some of her books too. He said he'd never known his aunt and had been surprised to get the lawyer's letter saying he'd inherited her property. He asked me all kinds of questions about Miss Annie and I told him what I could.

Miss Annie was  the sweetest old lady you ever saw and when I was growing up I loved to go visit her. We would sit in the parlour and have what she called cambric tea --  mostly warm milk with a little tea to color it -- and fresh-baked ginger cookies and sometimes  she would play her old-fashioned music box for me. How I loved to hear that funny, faraway sound . . .  

Oh, at first she seemed older than the hills to me -- though I don't believe she was much over seventy when she passed. She was white-haired and stooped over and wrinkled up like one of those apple dolls they used to make. But her eyes were bright and when I'd been around her a bit, it always seemed as if  there was a girl my age hiding inside that old body. 

Miss Annie had the merriest laugh . . . like silver bells ringing.  And I could see from the photograph of her on the mantlepiece that she'd been a beauty when she was young -- tall and willowy with light hair done up in one of those pompadours they wore back then.  There was a photograph of a handsome young man in an old fashioned uniform there too and she kept the two kind of turned to face each other. 

When I asked her who he was, she told me that his name was Darby C. Bell  and that he was the love of her life. . .  they had been engaged when he went off to fight in World War I -- and he had died in France.

I didn't know what to say...I think I was afraid she might start crying. But she seemed not to mind talking about him and she showed me her engagement ring  -- a round amethyst circled with pearls. She said her fingers had grown so knobbly with arthritis that she couldn't get it on anymore so she wore it on a chain around her neck and inside her dress. 'Next to my heart,' she said.


When I went home that evening, I asked my mother why Miss Annie had never married.  Mama smiled.  'You're not the first to wonder. According to your grandma, Annie could have had her pick of fellas after her fiance died. But she was independent -- Darby had that house built before he went off to war and his will left it to her along with enough money that she didn't have to marry. 

'It was a puzzle to everyone as the years went by -- your grandma said all the neighbors thought at first Annie was mourning Darby and after a spell, she' d have enough of loneliness and say yes to one of the men that was after her.  But the funny thing was that she never seemed really to mourn, not really. She was always as bright and cheerful as she is now. And every night  in summer, when the windows were open,  they'd hear the sound of that music box. . .

'I guess some folks mourn differently than others,' Mama said and sent me to wash my hands and set the table.

After supper that night,  I recalled that I'd left one of my school books at Miss Annie's.  Mama and Daddy and  Tommy were watching Hogan's Heros when I slipped out of the house into the chill November air.  I hurried across the road and up to Miss Annie's porch where a lamp still burned in the window. I just hoped she wasn't getting ready for bed. 

I was about to knock on the door when I heard the faint sound of the music box and Miss Annie's silvery laugh. Puzzled, I stepped to the window and looked through a slit in the Venetian blind.

I could hear the music more clearly now -- a lilting waltz -- and suddenly Miss Annie came into view --  twirling slowly about the parlour floor. Her right arm was stretched out to the side and her left was bent up as if her hand rested on the shoulder of an invisible partner.

It was so silly . . . and so heartbreaking -- this bent over old woman waltzing with an imaginary partner.  Somewhere between tears and laughter, I watched . . .

And as Miss Annie circled in front of the lamp at the window, I could see her shadow on the opposite wall . . . 

Straight and willowy and graceful, Miss Annie's shadow waltzed in the arms of  the shadow of a tall young man. And the music played on and on . . .

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Sunday, October 23, 2016

Puddin' Head Wilson and Others

I read Mark Twain's Puddin'head Wilson as a Classic Comic over sixty years ago. So when I had a chance to download the book for free, I did. 

I remembered it was about how two children, one the son of a slave woman and the other the son of a wealthy couple were so identical in appearance that when the slave mother, who had the care of the babies, switched them in their cradles, no one knew and the two grew to adulthood unaware of the truth.

I remembered there was something about fingerprints -- a fledgling science at the time of the novel.

The book is an interesting read for Twain's picture of small town America in slavery days. And, of course, for Twain's wit.

But I was surprised at the memories that came back as I read -- I think that I read this particular comic at my friend Ann Hunsberger's house -- very possibly up in the tree house in the big oak by the sidewalk. I can't be sure but that was what flashed into my mind as I read, along with hazy memories of some of the comic panels -- a closeup of a flashing knife. . . a picture of the two little boys in one little wagon -- one in fancy clothes, one in plain . . .

My Kindle is loaded with all sorts of things to read and listen to. David Sedaris and Let's Explore Diabetes With Owls keeps me company through the night and Patrick Tull is waiting to read the first five or six Aubrey-Maturin books to me. I've just finished Social Life in Old Virginia Before the War and have begun The Lemoncholy Life of Annie Aster.

And am reminded I need to have my recently purchased copy of The Clay Girl brought to me . . .

So many books . . . and so much time . . .

Deborah Gurd Gregorash