Thursday, September 30, 2021
Wednesday, September 29, 2021
Tuesday, September 28, 2021
Now, while good tomatoes and fresh basil are available, this sandwich is a lunchtime favorite around here. Homemade pimento cheese on seeded bread with homemade mayo, thick slices of heirloom tomato, and a few leaves of basil for that je' ne sais quoi touch that lifts these humble ingredients to the stratosphere.
(With thanks to Vagabonde, who first suggested the basil.)
Monday, September 27, 2021
The Gran House was built in 1987 and is nestled amid the fields and woods of our hundred acre family farm. The house boasts a spacious kitchen and dining area with an adjoining laundry room.
The dining area -- big enough for a large family table -- opens into the living room with its cathedral ceiling, bookshelves, stone fireplace, and French doors to the deck behind the house. There is a second room (perfect as a family room, media center, or office) with a door to the front porch where a porch swing and rocking chairs invite you to sit and watch the sunrise.
The master bedroom on the main floor has a walk-in closet and its own bath. There is a second bedroom and another bath. Upstairs is a large space which can be used as one or two bedrooms, a studio, an office, an exercise room or . . .?
The Gran House is twenty minutes away from Marshall, forty-five minutes from downtown Asheville. The school bus stops at our mailbox -- a quarter of a mile down the driveway. The house is heated with propane, supplied with well water, and there is A/C. An inground propane tank serves heater, stove, and hot water tank. The rent includes basic lawn care. High speed internet is available. We are two miles from the Barnard bridge -- the put in spot for white water paddling on the French Broad. The farm itself supplies hiking and birdwatching opportunities. Garden space is available, as is space to keep chickens (if you supply the coop.)
Pets are welcome as long as they are compatible with farm life -- there are cows and chickens -- and with the various dogs and cats in our secluded cove. No smoking permitted in the house.Important--tenants must be vaccinated, if eligible. Rent is $1200 per month.
Sunday, September 26, 2021
She slowed at the sight of a shiny black car coming across Miss Birdie’s bridge. The driver, a dark-haired man who looked irritatingly familiar though she couldn’t call his name, threw up his hand and nodded before turning onto the hard road and disappearing around a curve.
Who was that? I know I’ve seen him before but not here at Birdie’s. A salesman?. . . too late in the day. . . odd, I thought I knew all of Birdie’s friends.
Miss Birdie was sitting on the front porch in one of her red-painted rockers. Her head was bent, one hand covering her eyes, as if she were praying, and she didn’t move as the jeep rattled across the plank bridge.
Closer to the porch, it seemed as if Miss Birdie was having a conversation of some sort.
Oh, dear. She’s been so sharp for all these years. . . I wonder… is she beginning to wander in her mind . . .
The old woman looked up as her visitor approached. “Why, honey, how good to see you. Reckon you thought I was just a-talking to myself like as if I had that Old Timers. Get you a chair and I’ll tell you what I was studying on.”
She drew a long breath and stared off across the road to the mountain beyond. “That feller was here just now. You might say he’s an old friend.”
Her wrinkled face gathered into a bemused smile. “ Yeah, buddy, an old friend is just what he is. Jay Caron . . .Jay Caron. . .that’s what he goes by now. I was saying it over and over so’s I wouldn’t forget.” Her brow furrowed. “When first I knowed him, back when I was a little un, he was Mr. Aaron, the peddler. And then, it was a few years back of this when Calven was tangled up with that no good feller his mama was living with, me and Dor’thy saw him up at that fancy place over beyond Burnsville--he was Jake Aaron then and his hair was just as siiver-
The old woman shot a sharp look at her visitor. “No, I ain’t a bit confused. When I was but little, when I was a young woman, and just now--hit’s the same feller ever time, no, not his son nor grandson. You got to understand, Mr. Aaron—Jay Caron-- ain’t like most folks. Names and looks might change but it’s still him. With him time don’t matter. He holp me out of an awful fix back before Luther and I wed and I’m right certain he had a hand in helping Calven get away from that evil feller they called Pook.”
The old woman fell silent, her eyes distant, gazing into memory. At last she roused herself and turned to speak.
“I been studying on things my Granny Beck told me many a year ago. She said that time was . . . in the old days the crossing betwixt one world and another was more frequent and seldom remarked upon. Not much was thought of it if the Little People—them the Cherokee called Yunwi Tsundi --sheltered a child for a night. . . or a year. . . those of the other world walked among us. And a man might walk in and out of Time.”
What is this? She doesn’t sound quite like herself. She sounds like she’s dreaming or as if someone-something?—is speaking through her. Though heaven knows, some of those stories she’s told me up in the graveyard. . .I wonder. . .
“What did he want? Now I couldn’t rightly say. He’s a nice spoken someone and we had a little visit. He was asking about my arthuritis and how was Dor’thy and Calven. Just a-chit-chatting, you know. He said he’d taken a notion to see me again, something about. . .what was the word. . . mitzy ? . . .something foreign. Then he hopped up and was off just before you come, saying he had other visits to make before dark.”
“Now, I see that look on your face. Don’t you fret none—not about that feller nor about my rememberer. I know what I know and Mr. Aaron ain’t never brought me nothing but good. He's been what you might call a guardian angel.”
The old woman stood, straightening up and taking a few tentative steps. She stretched out a gnarled hand, flexing her fingers and rotating her wrist.
“What’s more, honey, I believe that old arthuritis done gone off with him. I feel right peart now.”
NOTE:Jake Aaron, or later Jay Caron, pops up several times in my writing. He first shows up in Lydy’s tale (In a Dark Season) as a pack peddler Lydie meets in an inn just before the Civil War.
In Day of Small Things—spanning almost a century in the telling—Mr. Aaron’s a peddler with a mule, a mysterious someone with a car and driver, and a retiree living in a gated community.
He’s in Crows—at the beginning and at the end.
And, in an unpublished short story I’ve written. he’s an artist living in present day Marshall.
I don’t think I’m done with him yet . . . or maybe, he’s not done with me.
And while I’m talking wo0-woo (paranormal stuff,) I’m reminded of James Suttles who makes a present day appearance in In a Dark Season and helps out Sim in Crows. Could be a descendant/ancestor thing but on the other hand . . . (cue Twilight Zone theme music.)
Thursday, September 23, 2021
Wednesday, September 22, 2021
Tuesday, September 21, 2021
For years we raised pigs—not breeding them but buying two young pigs in the spring, feeding them through the summer and fall, and butchering them when the weather turned freezing—usually around January. When we moved to Madison County in 1975, this was a common feature of the local economy. Most of our neighbors raised feeder pigs; many cured the hams and sold them, keeping the tenderloin, side meat, backbone, and making sausage from the shoulders and trimmings for home consumption. Feeding pigs was a good way to use up extra milk or buttermilk (and when you keep a milk cow, as was another common practice that we adopted, there’s lots of extra.) It was also a fine way to dispose of kitchen scraps.
Most farms back then had a little wooden building that looked like an outhouse (most farms also had an outhouse) but was a ‘meathouse’, a place to smoke or cure hams and bacon. Clifford, our local mentor memorably once said of Richard Nixon, “I wouldn’t trust that man in my meathouse with a muzzle.”
When we had just moved here, Clifford assumed we would need a milk cow, a pair of feeder pigs, and a team of mules, and he made sure that we got these necessary adjuncts to rural life. He taught us how to milk; his wife Louise taught me to make butter. He helped John learn how to plow with Pete and Molly, our red mules. And he showed John all about butchering pigs (the worst part is shooting the pigs but that’s quick and the rest is very messy but fascinating—all those guts fit in there so neatly and there’s no way you could ever put them back.)
As the years went, Clifford and Louise moved away but pig butchering remained a social event of the winter season—usually Super Bowl weekend. On Saturday, John and a couple of his friends would do in the pigs, scrape off all the bristles, and cut the carcasses into quarters, leaving the meat in the barn to cool overnight.
Saturday always involved major amounts of wood fire, boiling water, and Wild Turkey or Famous Grouse. All I had to do was cook a really good lunch for the guys and maybe cut up the liver and kidneys to freeze for catfood. And render the lard. If I’d followed the mountain tradition, I’d have made liver mush and cooked the brains and boiled the heads for souse. But John assured me he really didn’t want any part of that tradition.
The next day, usually Super Bowl Sunday, involved reducing the quarter sections into slices, ribs, backbone, and sausage, then wrapping and labelling same for the freezer. The guys would set up our big maple dining table so they could watch the pregame stuff while they dissected the joints, and I would be in the kitchen, grinding meat for sausage and wrapping pork parts.
All the while out boys were growing up, we did this—the milk cow and the pigs. But once the boys were off to school, keeping a cow and raising pigs didn’t make economic sense. So, we stepped back from the traditional way of life—as had many of our neighbors.
But that’s not what this story is about. This story is about the very last time we bought pigs.
All the old farmers we used to buy pigs from had died or quit keeping breeding sows, and there were no young pigs to be had in our area. Finally, we saw an ad in the Asheville newspaper for feeder pigs, called the number, and got directions to a place on the other side of Asheville. Off we went in John’s pickup with a big metal dog crate in the back to put the piglets in.
The directions led us to a semi-rural area with nice tidy home, occupied, it seemed, mainly by Black families, but we couldn’t find the exact place we needed. At last a man we asked directed us to a nearby clump of woods where a derelict house trailer sat.
We got out and warily approached the trailer. It was surrounded by rusting washing machines, ruined upholstered furniture, and other assorted junk. It really didn’t look as if anyone could live there but as we stood, waiting for inspiration, the sagging trailer door swung open and the fattest man I’d ever seen leaned out. He was unshaven and his grimy white undershirt failed miserably to reach his greasy trousers, leaving a great bulge of pale belly flesh lolling free.
“What you want?” He eyed us suspiciously and we explained that we were looking to buy some pigs.
“They ain’t my pigs—they belong to a colored feller lives over there—up the road a ways. He’s at work now. You uns just go on back there and get you two then come back and pay me. I can’t get around so good so I can’t take you up there but you just follow that road there through the trees and you’ll find ‘em.”
The road through the trees was a pair of deep ruts—so deep that it was impossible to get out of them, impossible to avoid running over the rumpled carcass of a dead speckled rooster that lay in one track. Amongst the trees were several rusted-out school buses, more old appliances, some puzzling blue plastic stuff, and other things, possibly nuclear waste, that we really didn’t want to investigate.
At the end of the rut road was a series of pens, some with flimsy tarpaper roofs, and mostly constructed of old pallets that were held together with rusty wire. The little pigs—about sixteen of them—were in the leftmost pen and we peered into the gloom to see a scrum of black piglets, milling about in at least an inch of pig shit. (Pig shit, if you didn’t know, is about the most obnoxious and long-lasting smell there is. Cow manure is pleasant in comparison.)
But the piglets looked healthy, so John (my her0) crawled in through the low door to attempt to catch a pig, trying to ignore the slippery, stinking floor and to concentrate on the two largest pigs, about thirty pounders. He made a desperate grab and snagged a candidate by the hind legs, the accepted method for dealing with small pigs. Young pig squealed bloody murder and in the next pen, The Mother Pig from Hell reared up her six-hundred-pound bulk, put her front trotters on the flimsy boards separating her from John, and glared at him over the partition. She was solid black, red-eyed, and frothing (literally) at the mouth. Which mouth, by the way, displayed wicked yellow two-inch ‘tushes’ (tusks) on either side.
Mama didn’t like what John was doing with her baby and the pen shook with her disapproval. John, thinking quickly, opened the pen door and thrust the little pig out at me—but I had jumped up in the back of the truck at the first sight of Mama.
“Take the goddam pig!” he hollered. I did and he dived back in with the piglets, grabbed a random second pig, and was back in the truck in about thirty seconds, keeping a keen eye on the swaying and totally inadequate wall between himself and the Black Sow of Doom.
Piglets secured in the crate, we backed back down the ruts, over the rooster and past the appliance graveyard, paid the very fat fella, and headed home.
“Well,” I said, wiping the pig shit off my hands onto my jeans, “that’s as much fun as I’ve had in quite a while.”
“I’m just glad,” said John, “that your mother can’t see us now.”
On the way home we stopped at a little country store to get some cold drinks. John said I should go in as I had less shit on me, which was true.
As I paid for our cans of Coke, I became aware that all the grubby, tobacco-spitting old men lounging around the place were looking at me real strange and sniffing meaningfully in my direction.
I grinned as I climbed back into the truck. It had been a day to remember.