Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Miss Birdie in the Graveyard--10 Years Ago--A Repost

Why, Lizzie Beth honey, how proud I am to see you! Come on in and git you a chair. I'm just waiting on that spice cake in the oven to be done, then I'm aiming to take me a little walk. Maybe you'd like to come along . . . iffen you ain't skittish about visiting the graveyard this evening. 

No, me and Luther never made much of Halloween and they weren't no young uns dressed up and asking for candy like they do now. Some of the older boys from Bear Tree Creek used to take Halloween fer an excuse to go hoorahing around -- knock over an outhouse or set someone's porch furniture in the road. And once them chain saws come in, we learned not to go out driving on the road of a Halloween night for like as not one of them rowdies would take a notion to cut down a tree to where it would lay acrost the road. Pure meaness . . . 

There's that timer a-buzzing. Let me turn that cake out and we'll carry it with us. . . I'm proud you'll go with me.  On Halloween I always like to go up there towards dark. I'll get my stick and a sweater -- it's right mild out but as night comes on, it'll be cool up on the hill.

No, I druther walk. I know you could run me up there in that Jeep of yours in no time but long as I'm able, I'll climb that hill on my own legs.

Hear those leaves rustle underfoot! How good it seems to smell that woods smell again. And look how clear the branch is running, just dashing over the rocks and shining like diamonds in the sun. See that green clump? I believe they's still some branch mint down there. That frost the other night didn't hurt it though it has brought on the red in the maples and sourwoods along with the yallers on the hickories and the gold of the oaks. I looked up this morning and the mountainside looked like it was wearing a crazy quilt. 

Oh, listen to me running on. All these years and I ain't tired of the woods -- nor of life neither.  Dor'thy thinks I'm right quare for wanting to go up to the graveyard so much -- I heared her tell someone at the grocery that she thought I was pining to be with Luther and that I might not be long fer this world.

Well, that ain't so. I always have been a one for visiting the graveyard -- I like to talk to  Luther and Cletus and my angel babies. The older I get, the closer they seem. And you know, on this night, of all the nights in the year, the spirits is closer to us living ones. Hit's like they is a thin curtain of mist hanging betwixt their world and ours and on Halloween, that curtain lifts . . . 

And here we are  Let's us set down and have us some of this cake while it's yet warm. I put a jar of milk in the poke too . . .

Yes, this is a right old burying ground. Not just my family but lots of folks is resting here. I've gotten to know most of them . . .
Get you another piece of that cake. No? Then let's wander about and I'll tell you what I know of some of these folks.

Now that headstone over yon -- the pink one that says Lathern Gentry and Ester, his loving wife. Well, Ester ain't there. Pore ol Lathern set such a store on having a fine fancy stone that he had it carved all but the dates quite a few years afore there was any need for it. He liked it so good he talked of having it brought home and set in the yard but Ester put her foot down. So Lathern worked it out for the stone carver to keep it at his shop till it was needed so as to show folks what fine work he could do -- and it is  fine work -- just look at all them lilies and them pigeons there. 

Lathern was so proud of that stone that every Sunday, he'd say to Ester, 'Well, let's take us a little ride," and every Sunday they'd set out and before they went to wherever it was -- his brother's house or up to visit the grandbabies, he'd have to make a stop at the stone carver's place where that stone was set out in the yard. Ol Lathern, he'd get out and walk around it, just admiring it, and then he'd take a rag that he'd brought along special and wipe that stone till it shone. Ester, she just stayed in the car. She told me that after the first two or three trips to see the stone, she purely lost interest, and that after a year of such, she plumb hated the thing.

Well, Lathern passed on at last and he's there beneath his stone. But Ester wasn't but in her sixties and afore long, she married a preacher who'd lost his wife and  she lived another thirty years.  Her dates are there on the stone because Lathern had contracted with the carver to add them and though Ester had outlived the carver too, his son came out and did the job.

Where's Ester buried? Over in Buncombe County, in Leicester. I heard that when she was nearing the end and her young uns asked her which husband she wanted to be buried with, she said neither one, that it might be more restful to be on her own. And then when they asked her what kind of stone she wanted, she just said, 'Surprise me.'

That one? Oh, now that's Geneva's. Her folks was awful pore and I reckon that was the best they could do -- just a fieldstone with a cross carved on it. Truth to tell, they never got over the way it was that Geneva died  -- felt like they couldn't hold their heads up in church nor anywhere else. They packed up the family and moved off, leaving Geneva and that sorry little stone behind.

This was the way of it. Geneva was a dancing fool -- and her family was some kind of strict Baptists that held dancing was the devil's work. But Geneva had learned to clog and to buck dance from some of the other young uns and whenever she got word that there was gong to be a play party at someone's house, she would slip out her bedroom window and walk through the night to wherever the dancing was. Oh, she was the prettiest little thing -- long pale gold hair, like the color of the full moon, and great blue-violet eyes that always put me in mind of pansies. All the fellers was wild about her but, so far as I know, she never took up with none of them -- all she wanted to do was to dance till the music stopped and get back home before morning. Her folks never suspicioned a thing for the longest time.
Law, hit makes me sad to think of it. Such a sweet girl... They ain't no harm in dancing and I know how the joy of it can fill your blood . . .  where was I?

Oh, yes -- came a time when an ill-natured somebody -- a girl whose feller had spent too much time looking at Geneva -- took it upon herself to go round to Geneva's family and tell them what their daughter had been up to. Well, her daddy took on something awful. Every night he chained her to her bed like a dog. But what he didn't know was that her hands was so slender that she could be out of that chain everwhen she wanted. And she wanted, oh, how she wanted. But she tried to heed her daddy and she stayed home for several months.

Then come October, Geneva got word of how there was to be a grand play party up on PawPaw on Halloween night. Folks had been talking of it fer the longest time and Geneva purely ached to be there. So on Halloween night, once her folks had gone to bed and the house was quiet, Geneva inched that shackle off her wrist, put on her best dress, and clumb out of the window. She walked quick through the crisp night air, with just the light of the moon to guide her. Afore long she could hear the fiddle singing and the thump of dancing feet and just as she come into sight of the cabin, all ablaze with the light of oil lamps in every window, she felt a heavy hand on her shoulder.

"I'll not be trifled with like this," said her daddy, who'd been following her, creeping along as soundless as a cat. Geneva whirled around and tried to say something, anything, but the coldness of his ice blue eyes froze the tongue in her mouth. 

"We'll go back home now, daughter," said he and off they went with never another word between them. 

As they reached the clearing where their house stood, her father motioned her up onto the big flat rock that her mother used for drying apples.  "Take off yore little shoes," said he and Geneva done what he said.

"Now," says he, "can you swear to me that you won't never go dancing again? I have told you that such is against God's holy word and I'll not stand by and allow sinning from a young un of mine."

Oh my, how Geneva wanted to make that vow. She hated that she was causing her daddy pain but she knowed that the dancing was too deep in her blood -- that sooner or later she'd go back to it, breaking her word and breaking her daddy's heart too. So she hung down her head and didn't say nothing. Her bare feet were cold on that rock and her eyes filled with tears.  

"Well, then, daughter," her daddy said, bending down to pick up something on the ground. "I'll have to help you to stay off of the paths of sin."

And then, through a blur of tears, Geneva saw the moonlight shine on the axe head, heard the ring of the steel on stone, and felt the shock and sharp pain as the blade come down across the long pale toes of her right foot. She saw her toes fall away and felt the warm gush of blood, 

"That'll take care of yore dancing," said her daddy, and he-

Lizzie Beth are you all right? You look like you're getting swimmie headed. Set down here on Wesley's headstone; he won't mind.

The rest of the story -- are you sure? Well, all right then. 

Geneva's daddy stanched the wound and carried her into the house. From all I ever heard, him and her mother done the best they could to care for Geneva but all too soon the wound mortified and sent  poison through her body. Pore little Geneva died within the week. And there she lays.

No, there ain't no dates. But I can tell you what they should be: 1892 to 1908 -- not but sixteen years of age, she was.

You best be getting on, honey. You look pale as if you'd seen a ghost. I'll be fine -- me and the road down is well acquainted. And I got that cell phone Dor'thy give me, should I have any trouble. You get along home. Be sure and tell that handsome feller of yours I said hello.

The sun was sinking as she made her way down the hill but Elizabeth knew better than to argue with Miss Birdie.  Before she rounded the curve that would hide the graveyard from sight, she took one last look back. Birdie was moving among the gravestones, the container of spice cake in one hand. At each gravestone she paused, spoke a few words, and laid down a bit of the cake. At the pink headstone -- Lathern's, was it? -- Birdie took a rag from her apron pocket and wiped the stone top to bottom, talking all the while.

A sudden breeze lifted the dry leaves on the path and above on the hill. As the leaves swirled in the light of the setting sun, it seemed to Elizabeth that shadow shapes clustered around Miss Birdie, like chickens clamoring for grain. Miss Birdie held out her arms and gathered the shadows to her while off to the side, where Geneva's lonely stone lay, amidst the falling leaves a slender form with flowing moon-colored hair danced and danced and danced . . . 

Sunday, October 29, 2023

There Seems to Be an Art Critic in the House

Rummaging through my painting stuff, I came across these mutilated attempts. I can't decide if Bailey chewed on them because she liked them or hated them.

Which reminds me of a story. Early in our marriage, we acquired a dog--a Beagle/Brittany Spaniel mix. Juno was a puppy and, as puppies will do, she chewed up things. Including our checkbook. When John and I went to the bank to get a new one, the teller asked why and John said, "My wife chewed up the checkbook."

 The look that teller gave me was priceless.  It took a moment, but then John realized what he'd actually said and quickly corrected his mistake.

 I treasure the memory.

That's Juno, our first of many dogs, below--painted by John's uncle Robert Skemp--a well-known portrait painter and marine artist. Right good at dogs, too. It took him about twenty minutes.


Friday, October 27, 2023

Painting Day

My friend Louise came over again for a day of painting. I worked on Pink Plemmon's little store--I took a picture of it many years ago and always meant to get around to it.  Trying to be more sparing and impressionistic with my color but can't do without the ink lines . . .

I also started doing little sketches of some of those dresses I've been remembering. These below are from the Sixties and Seventies--back when I made a lot of my own dresses.

As we chatted, Louise revealed that in her San Francisco days, she has owned an embroidered, sheepskin Afghan vest (a garment I lusted after back in the late Sixties) as well as a pair of Frye boots (a big deal at the time.) I'm encouraging her to paint her memory of them.

I know when I was young, I sketched a lot of dresses. (But even more horses.) Unfortunately, my drawing skills haven't improved. But it's harmless fun and keeps me off the streets.


Thursday, October 26, 2023

Wednesday, October 25, 2023

The Past Casts Long Shadows

Like my blog friend AC, I am sometimes wakeful in the wee hours. It doesn't bother me; instead, I take the opportunity to remember stuff--walking through the interiors of various houses has always been interesting: some things are detailed down to the smell; others, like the interiors of certain drawers are a blank.

Monday night I began thinking about the role of clothes in my life--the outfits I remember fondly, or with embarrassment, as the case may be. 

 1955. I was in the eighth grade and circle skirts were THE thing. You know, the ones with poodles. There were also other iterations. I convinced my mother to buy me a midnight blue taffeta circle skirt which I wore with a balloon-sleeved blouse (another fashion crime of the era). The blouse was white, sprinkled with tiny gold stars, and so transparent that a sturdy full slip was a necessity. I think there was a cinch belt too.

I know I wore this outfit to a dance at the Hyde Park Rec center. (At this time the parents of my group of friends were trying hard to socialize us--dance classes at Arthur Murray, dances at a local venue we all called the O-A-K (actually it the meeting place of an organization called Omega Lambda Kappa, but we didn't know from Greek letters.)

All I remember of that dance at the rec center (aside from my stylish duds) was Jimmy Warren and Suzy Rosenberg breaking away from the staid fox trot and 1-2-3 backstep that Arthur Murray had taught us and putting on an exhibition of jitterbug. They spun and twirled, faster and faster. He may have thrown her over his head; I know he slid her between his legs and back in one particularly impressive move.

My mind roamed through the closets of my past: the fringed leather vest from our year in Iowa, the little linen shifts (made by me) from my days teaching at a prep school, and my embroidered jeans and long skirts from my time at Independant Day School (aka the hippie school,) Villagers, Capezios, Lanz--all names that once set my heart racing.

Who needs sleep when you have memories? I'm going to explore this further--in the daylight hours. 

What about you all? Any garments from your past that conjure up memories?


Monday, October 23, 2023

To the Top of the World

Sunday was heart-breakingly gorgeous, and we went with friends to see some property they were thinking about purchasing.
One piece comes with two funky barns and a lovely view.

We poked our heads in the gray barn and found what looked to be an ad hoc sort of a gentlemen's club--a couple of lawn chairs, an empty whiskey bottle, and other evidence of leisure activity.

Country charm, as a realtor might say.


Adjoining this acreage and higher up was another bit of land with a nice house and a fine view. 

So much to love about these mountains! But wait, said Justin, you need to see the place where I'm working these days. It's just up the road. . .

So we piled into our various vehicles (all 4WD, up being the operative word here.) After twisting and winding up and up and up a one lane gravel road for what seemed like a very long time, we came to Justin's work site.

Now, that's a view! (Yes, we cautioned Josie to stay away from the edge.)

It was breath-taking. And the wind's gentle murmur and the sparkle of the sun on yellow leaves enhanced the experience.

Blue Elephant was along for the adventure, of course.

The rather tiny house that Justin and Gilberto (of Good Morning Builders) are working on is set a little below the top for protection from the wind.  I assume it's meant as a vacation house--the road could be a real challenge in winter.

What a great spot for contemplation!

I look forward to seeing pictures of it when it's completed.

So much beauty down the backroads of our county. (This particular backroad is just across the street from Josie's school and there are many houses and farms along it.) 

Saturday, October 21, 2023

Josie Didn't Expect This!

When the bell rang for school to be out, it was hailing! I didn't expect that! I caught some in my hand and Meema took a picture of it on her car. (The hail I caught melted right away.)

When I got in the car, Meema gave me my new copy of Ranger Rick. On the way home, I read some of it all by myself.

When we got home, I immediately went to work on a new jigsaw puzzle with a princess and a unicorn. Meema did some but I did most. I am good at jigsaw puzzles.

When the puzzle was all together except one piece that we couldn't find, some of the Castle People had a meeting with Hildegarde and Gertrudis. The two new ones want to help fight the bad guys.

We did some reading and then it was time for crafts. I had an idea, and we got a basket and went outside to collect some leaves.

They were pretty wet but I got some anyway.

The maple leaves are the prettiest.  By the way, I am wearing one pink Croc and one sparkly Croc. It is not a mistake; it is fashion.

Back inside. I have a nice piece of white cardboard to make my leaf picture on.

Elmer's glue works better than the glue stick. 

I made a fairy named Josie. She has wings and a wand (Meema cut out the star for me.) I cut up little pieces of the leaves' stems to make her feet and her fingers. (Her arms are kind of long.) She has a flower in her hair. Her eyes messed up a little because the marker didn't work so good on the leaf, but I think she still looks pretty good.

I think we will do more crafts next time.