Saturday, July 31, 2021
Friday, July 30, 2021
Thursday, July 29, 2021
NOTE-Miss Birdie does go on . . .
So you come back to find out what went with Elroy. Couldn’t no one understand it, how a boy from an ordinary family like his could turn out so outrageous. Why Artis and Rhodie—
You want to know more about them first? Well, ‘sides from being extry good musicianers, they was just plain folk. They made a real good crop of baccer every year like we all done, along with a big garden, and they raised pigs and chickens and kept some milk cows. Rhodie was a one for making butter—she used an old hand churn that had belonged to her granny. Wouldn’t have one of the electric churns—said the old churn made the best butter. And, though I always prided myself on my butter, I have to admit hers was better. Seemed like even her winter butter always tasted of summer.
One time when me and Luther was loafering around of a Saturday, I said, “Luther, would you run me up to the Terrell’s this morning? I want to take back those quilting patterns Rhodie let me borry.” And that was true but the fact was I had a notion to see just how she made her butter and I knowed she always did a churning of a Saturday morning.
Luther was always ready to go visiting and we clumb I the old truck and set off. When we got to the house, things was as usual—young uns playing in the yard—Billy burying a bone, Joybelle leading around a little gang of chicks she’d hatched out, and the other two boys shooting marbles. Rhodie was setting on the porch with that old clay churn at her side, but her hands was busy with knitting. I was aggravated to think that I’d got it wrong about this being her churning day.
Then I saw the wooden dasher going up and down, only weren’t no one holding it.
“Well,” said Luther, “Maybe Artis has rigged some kindly of a clockwork machine to make it go. He always was right handy with machines. I mind how when he was just a young un, he-”
I didn’t hear the rest of what he said—something about a flying sled and a water witch or some such. I headed for the porch with those quilt patterns in my hand and got a good look at that churn. There weren’t no machinery attached to it nowhere and still that dasher went up and down by itself while Rhodie kept on with her knitting. She didn’t notice me at first for the young uns was making a racket and she was looking close at her knitting. The dasher was just a-pumping and you could hear the cream a-sloshing about in the old churn. Then I heard her kindly whispering to herself.
“Come, butter, come.
Churn, old churn, churn.
Sweet as summer hay
Fine as flowers in May-“
I stepped forward and held out the quilt patterns. “I brung ‘em back. And now that I’m here, I’d admire to help you with your butter.”
Rhodie kindly jumped, like as if she’d been half asleep. Then she put her hand on the dasher and stopped it going.
“Why, Birdie, I’d like that.” She peeked under the churn top and nodded. “Why, it’s begun to gather—I must have nodded off.”
And we went to the kitchen and I helped her to wash and print the butter and never saw anything out of the ordinary in her way of doing. When we was done and had visited a spell, she give me a jar of buttermilk to take home. I used that buttermilk to make biscuits Sunday morning and they was so light, we had to weigh them down with ‘lasses to keep them on the plate.
But, like I said, except for Elroy, there weren’t nothing out of the way about that family.
What did Elroy do? Well, I’m a-getting to that. Now I told you what good musicianers they all was. And I told you how the band teacher up at the high school took a big interest in Elroy and showed him how to play all manner of instruments, even that big old wrap-around horn. And that same teacher let Elroy listen to all manner of records of strange music— outlandish stuff called jazz and beboop.
Couse, I reckon Elroy knew better than play that music around home. But it had took ahold of him and one Saturday, when the family band was playing in Asheville at that Shindig on the Green—law, how long that’s gone on. Me and Dor’thy went in several times last year and it’s still a sight on earth, all that music and dancing . . .
Anyways, the Terrell Family Band was big doings back then and folks crowded in to hear them. Rhodie was on the big old bass fiddle and Artis was on the banjo. The young uns played fiddles and guitars except Elroy who played mandolin, though sometimes right in the middle of a song he’d switch to something else
They was in the midst of Sally Goodin, just a-going it—me and Luther ahad made a special trip into Asheville just to see them--and law, folks was going crazy, dancing and whistling and hoorahing like one thing. They handed the lead around to each young un in turn, oldest first and down the line, and they all done some right good licks and folks clapped and whistled but you could see the crowd was waiting to hear Elroy.
And while Tick was bringing her break to a close, sawing at that fiddle till the bow strings was waving in the air, I saw Elroy turn and step to the back and lay his mandolin down. He come back with a thing like a skinny black stick in his hand and when Tick finished up and took a little bow, Elroy stepped to the microphone and commenced to tootle. I mean, there weren’t no tune whatsoever, just a run of notes up and down, and you couldn’t dance to it at all. The crowd fell quiet and I heard a feller nearby—a real dude and a Yankee, by the sound of him—tell his friend, “That hillbilly on the clarinet sounds like Miles Davis! I mean, the kid has got it!”
I weren’t sure what ‘it’ was but didn’t have time to ask for just then the booing started. Artis and Rhodie hustled the young uns off the stage and Rhodie’s face was as bright red as the ripe mater that hit Elroy in the back as he was leaving.
When things had quieted down some and me and Luther was making our way back to where we’d left the truck, I saw that Yankee feller again. He was surrounded by Terrells and seemed to be talking big, waving his arms about. I caught the words “recording contract” and “our studio in New York.” But Luther was in such a plagued hurry that that was all I heard.
It was a few weeks later that we took our Sunday drive and went to see how the family was holding up after that scene at the Shindig. I had wanted to go the next day, but Luther allowed as how in times like this, a family just needs to be to themselves.
But after a few weeks, the curiosity was getting to both of us and we went on over of a Wednesday, not knowing what to expect.
Well. We got to the house to see everything in an uproar and Rhody bustling about in a great taking.
“Birdie,” says she, “I’m so glad you come by. Me and Artis and Tick is going to New York City to see Elroy doing a show with some famous jazz musicianer. He has signed a contract for more money than you can imagine and his record company has got us rooms at some fancy hotel. Now who would of thought it?”
They was all just a-laughing and carrying on so that I had to be happy they’d got over the awful way they’d been booed out of the Shindig.
I hugged Rhodie’s neck and Luther shook hands with Artis and we wished them a good trip.
“And Tick’s going too? I asked, trying not to stare at the getups the three of them was wearing—goggles and leather helmets like in the pictures of Charles Lindbergh.
Rhodie laughed. “Even though Elroy’s going to be rich, I ain’t wasting money on bus fare. Tick’s a-going to take us.”
Me and Luther looked at one another and didn’t ask another question that day.
Elroy went on to do real good with his jazz music He changed his name, so as not to embarrass his folks, and the Terrell family always said they still loved him, no matter what.
Which is how folks ort to be with their young uns, even when those quare young uns don’t fit into their ordinary family, don’t you think so?
Wednesday, July 28, 2021
Now where was I. Oh, yes, I was telling you about Elroy. Course they was all of them bumfuzzled when he did what he done, but I believe it was Tick took it the hardest. Tick? She was the oldest girl and had always looked after Elroy, him being the least un.
Yes, I reckon Tick is a right quare name for a girl. But it was all that anyone ever called her. Hit weren’t her real name, of course. Her real name was Luna but when she went to school and told the other young uns as how she could fly, they all laughed and begun to call her Luna-tic and then just Tick, and the name stuck, long after the others had forgot where it came from. Like I said, no one believed her about the flying, but it’s a fact that her folks always sent her to get the apples offen the tallest trees. And she was a right smart of help when it come to barning baccer—getting them heavy-loaded sticks up to the highest tier poles.
Why, that same day Billy treed the cat, it was Tick what went up and got the pore critter down safe. I was setting right there, and I do declare, if I hadn’t know it weren’t possible, I’d a said I seen her shoot up to the top of that great old locust tree and just hang there in midair calling Kitty, Kitty. But her folks didn’t pay it no mind, so me and Luther didn’t like to say nothing. And just then Marvel set in to playing his new mandolin and one by one the rest of the family brought out their instruments and lit into Angeline the Baker. Now, ordinary as they was, in every other way, those folks could purely play!
Making music--that was all that Marvel ever wanted to do. But on a farm there’s always something needs doing, and he was bad to bow up whenever his mama made him put down his mandolin and sent him out to do some kind of chore. And of all the chores there is, Marvel hated picking beans the worst. Why Rhodie said it had got to everwhen she sent him out to pick beans—whether just a mess for dinner or a whole lot for canning—pretty soon it would start to rain and back he’d come to the house with nary a bean in his hand. Now you know you mustn’t fool with bean vines when they’re wet for it spreads that bean blight they get. Anyhow, here comes Marvel, just a-grinning, knowing she wouldn’t send him back till the vines was dry.
“I watched him one day,” Rhodie told me. “The beans was coming in good and I’d sent him and Little Elroy out to pick all they could. Off they went with their baskets and when they got down to the bean patch, I saw Marvel stand for a minute, kindly staring at nothing. Hit looked like he was talking and then, all at once, it come on to rain. I mean, a real frog choker. The young uns come running back and, when Marvel had gone into the house, I asked Elroy what it was Marvel had been saying and Elroy said all he knowed was Marvel had been whispering like and then it rained. Just like it always did whenever Marvel didn’t want to do an outside chore.
Now hay making season was coming on and Artis and Rhodie begun to fret about what might happen. You know you got to have fine dry weather to make hay and if Marvel took a notion. . . well, you can see the fix they was in. Then Artis recollected hearing that an old man on the other side of the mountain—Banjer Ben they called him-- was having the driest season ever over there and was looking to hire someone to help him water his crops.
“Rhodie,” says Artis, “here’s what we’ll do. We’ll send the boy over to stay with Banjer. He’ll go willing for I know he’s powerful eager to learn some of them old tunes Banjer plays. And I’ll tell Banjer to get the boy to help with the watering . . . one way or another.”
Well, the upshot was that Artis and the rest of the family had four days of fine weather and got the hay in and the beans picked. While on the other side of the mountain, it rained most every day and Banjers’s crops was saved. And Marvel came home, all rested up and happy as could be, with twenty-seven new tunes he’d l earned.
Will you look at the time! Dor’thy’s coming to take me to the grocery store and I best go find my pocket book. We’ll get to Elroy sooner or later. Oh, he was an Elroy, that's for sure. Hard to say how a young un like that ended up in such an ordinary family.
NOTE FROM VICKI: I don't know about you all but sometimes I get the feeling Miss Birdie is funning with us.
Tuesday, July 27, 2021
Why look who’s here! Come right in and git you a cheer. I been studying on that old house you asked me about. Hit was the Kendalls lived there—nice folks all of them, and just as ordinary as can be --. . . all of them, ‘cept Elroy, the youngest boy.
Me and Luther used to visit them now and again of a Sunday evening—Rhodie was some kind of cousin to Luther. I been trying hard to think of anything about them worth tellin—they was just the usual run of folks, ‘cept Elroy.
Elroy? Why everyone knowed about Elroy. Though, come to think on it, it’s been sixty years and more since folks made such a fuss over the whole thing. And all his family is gone now—in the graveyard or moved off. I reckon the talk has died down.
In the beginning Rhodie and her man Artis was big in the Holiness Church—you know, like the one we went to back of this to see Belvy prophesying. Artis and Rhodie both handled them snakes and both was bit several times though it weren’t but copperheads and they come through all right. Rhodie and Artis, I mean.
It weren’t getting bit that made them up and walk outten the church like they did—it was the preacher calling Rhodie out in church for not dressing modest which according to him meant a skirt down to her ankles. Now it was summertime and Rhodie was a good size woman and the heat rash like to killed her when she wore those long sleeves and long skirts, so she had took to short sleeves and skirts halfway betwixt her knees and her ankles. And she had told the preacher why. But then he points at her in church and calls her a backslider and a bad wife and mother and says she was in sore need of prayers.
And at that, all the Kendalls , Artis and Rhodie and the five children stood up and marched out of the church, never to return. Now I wasn’t there, nor was Luther but someone who was said that first one and then another, even Rhodie and the girls, broke wind as they went out the door—from a little high pitched poot from little Elroy to a great old rumbling growler that was Artis’s farewell. They always was a musical family. I believe church broke up right quick that evening.
Them Kendalls was all of them musicianers—had a family band playing the old time music. Artis on banjo, Rhodie slapping the bass, the two girls fiddling, and the boys playing guitars or mandolins. As time went on, Elroy really shone—he could sing real high and play any instrument you could name. When he went to school in Marshall, the feller that ran the band just latched on to Elroy. That was where the trouble began.
The other young uns never give no trouble whatsoever. Not to say trouble. There was a summer Bill, who was around eight years of age, decided he’d rather be a dog and then maybe he wouldn’t have to go to school. He was bad to run around nekkid but being as they lived off the road, his folks just humored him. “Hit’ll save on laundry,” Rhodie told me one Sunday afternoon as we sat on the porch and watched Billy tree a cat. He was a sight on earth and a good as a picture show.
Did he get over it? Well, in a manner of speaking. Rural Free Delivery had just come in and Billy took to chasing the mailman and offering to bite his leg. The mailman put up with it a time or two till Billy got him a good one and tore his pants leg. So the mailman he told Rhodie (with Billy listening) that the Animal Control would have to be notified and Billy would have to go to the shelter and stay in a little cage for two weeks to make sure he weren’t rabid.
Billy’s eyes got wider and wider and before the mailman finished talking, he was edging toward the porch. And he was through the door and looking for his clothes before the mailman was done. Just your ordinary young un’s antics.
Hit must have run in the family. One of the girls, I think it was Joybelle, took it into her mind that she was a chicken. She didn’t pull her clothes off but she took to setting on little nestes she would make out in the woods. I recollect me and Luther was setting on the porch with Artis and Rhodie one evening, eating on the finest, yellowest pound cake you ever saw. Luther reached and got him another piece, and then pointed to Joybelle who was clucking and scratching around the yard, and he asked Rhodie what she was going to do about Joybelle.
Rhodie she just laughed and said, “I’m just a-going to leave her be. We can use the extry eggs. Get you some more of that cake.”
Law, how I do run on. And I ain’t even got to Elroy yet. Now he was something else—like to broke their hearts at first. But I reckon that story’ll keep for another day.
Monday, July 26, 2021
Saturday, July 24, 2021
Many years ago I turned down the offer of some dahlia roots on learning they would need to be staked and also should be lifted at the end of the season and stored in the cellar to be replanted the next year. It seemed like an awful lot of work for a flower that, while showy, sometimes reminded me of faded plastic flowers on roadside memorials. And over the years, as I tried (and failed) to establish plantings of delphiniums, calla lilies, poppies, and many others, there was something satisfying about holding to that tenet: I don’t do dahlias. It freed me up to lust after improbabilities like Himalayan blue poppies. (a still unfulfilled lust.)
I don’t do dahlias. Or makeup.
For a very long time I haven’t done makeup beyond, if I’m going out, a dab of powder on my shiny red nose or an inept pass with an eyebrow pencil over my fading eyebrows. In my late teens and for most of my twenties, I did the whole number: foundation, powder, eyeshadow, mascara, lipstick. It took a long time. But it was the custom of the time and place. Without makeup, I felt naked. “Putting on my face,” I’ve heard women call the makeup routine. Now, were I to try it, I’m pretty sure it would feel as unreal as clown makeup.
I don’t do makeup. Or religion.
I went from Methodist Sunday School unquestioning belief to Episcopalian confirmation classes to study of world religions. Along the way I became increasingly and uncomfortably aware of the harm done by religion/blind faith. Speaking of Christianity alone, start with the Crusades and the Inquisition and go on to the Indian Schools and Magdalene Homes, not to mention the support for slavery in some churches. Uncomfortable but at the same time I came to a realization that I no longer truly believed in any of it. It was freeing.
I’d like to add news and politics to that list of things I don’t do, but I believe that keeping up with this is important for the survival of, well, everything. But I’m sure if I try, I can find more things not to do.