Writing Contest Winners 2013
First Place Poetry Rita Quillen “Spring Meditation of the Mad Farmer’s Wife
Second Place Poetry Crystal Kieloch “Mamie Bell”
Third Place Poetry Anonymous
First Place Short Story Carolyn Gilliam “Headin’ Home”
Second Place Short Story Prichard Perreault “The Babe In The Box”
Third Place Short Story Claudia Ware “No Regrets”
First Place Essay Scott L. Joyce “This Old House”
Second Place Essay Linda Landreth “Stink, Stank, Stunk”
Third Place Essay Scott L. Joyce “Lena Bell’s Baby Boy”
First Place Poetry Catherine Tyson “The Soldier”
Second Place Poetry Kendra Woods “A Family of Coalminers”
Third Place Poetry Emmily Woods “Changes”
First Place Short Story Megan McCoy “Saving Grace”
Second Place Short Story Kendra Woods “A Journey To a Heritage”
Third Place Short Story Catherine Tyson “The Best In The World”
First Place Essay Catherine Tyson “Fireside Stories”
Second Place Essay Dalton T. Parks “Our Appalachian Heritage”
Third Place Essay
Spring Meditation of The Mad Farmer’s Wife
For Wendell Berry
Ask and it shall be given-Seek and ye shall find.
So farming is a laying up
Of earthly treasures and fat surprises.
Morels amid brown leaf bed,
Brave onions shoving their way into the light,
New pears hanging like joyous tears waiting to fall,
Spring gobbler Kabuki-
silhouettes in the skyline.
These quests are low stress.
But treks to find calves in late winter-
A different matter all together.
She walks beside, then behind
Choosing the path with care
Crunching grey and brown stubble
Under heavy boots, heavy breathing,
Soon he stops, turns his face
To sun, moon, star
Listening for life.
Generations of ancestors
Imprinted this imperative: there is no other purpose
Here, no meaning, except search and find.
The day is ripening, the rising sun
Saffrons the land
And then he stops, turns to her,
His face breaks into a big grin.
He reaches for her, pulls her close.
The line of grey woods ahead yield
Yet another new spring calf
Dancing on new legs, sniffing the air.
The Mad Farmer lifts his hand
A blessing and a greeting.
Aunt Mattie Sloan smelled the rain a-ridin’ in on the soft wind from the south. She shuffled to the edge of the porch, her cane thumping hollow against the unpainted planks worn smooth by three generations of Sloans traipsing in and out of the home place. All gone now but her. She wasn’t really a Sloan although she’d carried that name longer than she’d carried her poppa’s—nigh onto seventy-five years.
A lot of livin’ had been done in this old house. And dying. Guessed she was next, which wasn’t as troublesome as it once would have been. She’d be happy to see all the folks that had gone before. Wasn’t nobody her age around anymore.
Aunt Mattie lifted her eyes to the mountains in the distance. Without her glasses she could only see shapes, but no clouds shadowed the mighty Powell. Still, the rain, hit was a-comin’. She’d been telling the weather afore it happened ever since she was a little girl. She’d never been wrong neither, not once. But she’d learnt early to hold onto her thoughts after her big brother had poked fun at her and made the other kids laugh.
Havin’ regrets about long ago happenings was a waste of time better spent elsewhere, but Aunt Mattie sometimes wondered if she’d a-stood up to her brother’s unkind ways when he was a boy, if he’d a-been a better man. Another question not to be answered in the here and now. Might never be answered. Maybe that was best. For the most part, she’d quit trying to outguess life’s reasons.
Aunt Mattie turned back to the table by the front door and lifted the dipper from the bucket. She finished watering the white petunias fightin’ for space in the tin cans crowding the edges of the porch. It’d been so warm the past winter the petunias had seeded themselves, maybe knowing she couldn’t do it anymore. Like they was blessing her for all the years she’d cared for the ones that came before. Once she’d have set the flowers out to drink the comin’ rain, but the bending and toting had got to be too much for her.
In the bigger can hanging from a rafter, she watered careful-like around the nest built by a hard-working wren. Course the momma and her babies were long gone, but Aunt Mattie considered it disrespectful to destroy anybody’s home whether they were in it or not. In the past leaving it was a promise they’d see each other again. Though she wouldn’t be here next year, she was counting on her birds to be back, a thought which gave her pleasure, and she took pleasure when she found it nowadays, a smart way of thinking that had come late to her.
Wrens, though, they’d been hatched smart, a-nestin’ safe on this porch since before she’d come to the Sloan house as Mr. Coy Sloan’s bride. From day one she’d been too busy to sit and watch, but her spirits had lifted every time the birds’ cheerful songs passed though the screens, serenadin’ her while she’d been doing what women always did, cooking, cleaning, and seeing to it that everybody in the family had what they needed. And Coy’s parents had needed a lot.
It was amazing to think she was older now than they’d been when Pops Sloan had sat out on the front porch waiting for his time to come. The coal mines had rotted his lungs. And Mom Sloan was plumb worn out from having eight kids and raising six more belonging to her sister. Mom and Pops Sloan had been happy when Coy married and brought her home with him. Everybody in Lonesome Holler knew the Evanses was hard workers. Just like the wrens.
If Aunt Mattie ever came back as some people believed, and if God gave her a choice, she’d show up on this earth as a perky-tailed, purposeful little brown wren, hopping about and bringing joy to people. When she was young she’d never thought about such stuff as birds being smart, or flowers blessin’ her, or even people coming back, but somewhere along the way such thoughts had took hold.
Aunt Mattie took the bucket inside to the kitchen. She propped open the back door and, then, the front, using the smooth rocks she pulled from nearby Butcher Creek over fifty years before. It took something strong to hold the heavy doors of the shot-gun style house against the funnel of air sweeping through, a blessed relief after the heat of mid-day when catchin’ a body’s breath was hard work for a ninety year old woman who no longer asked why God let her live when he’d taken all the people that mattered to her.
A knock at the front door pulled her from her thoughts.
“Aunt Mattie, it’s me, Glenn.” She heard the squeak of hinges as he let hisself inside. “Momma sent her suitcase.”
When Aunt Mattie got to the front room, the black-headed boy was a-waitin’ respectfully just inside the screen door, a suitcase in one hand and a small white bowl in the other. He gave her a shy smile. “I also brung you some wild strawberries. Still warm from the sun.”
The way she liked them.
Johnnie Lynn had raised a thoughtful boy, but Aunt Mattie wasn’t about to embarrass him by sayin’ it. Instead she reached into her apron pocket and pulled out the envelope with his name written on front in her spidery scrawl. Underneath that, she’d printed Tom’s Creek Scrip—earned by Hugh F. Evans, father of Matilda Evans Sloan.
She’d been tempted to sell the scrip to a collector back when she could have used the money, but she was proud now she hadn’t. Nobody deserved it more than her young neighbor who refused pay for hauling in buckets of coal every winter and carrying out the ashes. And nobody else ever brought her strawberries, now that her Coy was gone.
Glenn left the suitcase open on her bed, and with a last thank you, hurried away, holding tight to his gift, his pleasure still a-showin’ on his face. Aunt Mattie smiled as she eased down into Mom Sloan’s rocker by the open window, the one that caught the breeze. She capped the berries as she ate, taking her time, enjoying each little gift. When finished, she wiped her red-stained fingers on her flowered apron and leaned back, closing her eyes. The strawberry taste lingered sweet upon her tongue.
Coy had come calling all winter that year of their marriage. He’d been twenty-five, and she, sixteen. Should have been the other way around. She’d at least had a chance of having him longer, had life worked out different.
They’re hiring on down at Bullitt. Pay’s good,” Coy said. Like she didn’t know the mines was the only place in the Holler where a man could find regular work.
He’d walked into the kitchen while she was cleaning up after supper and spoke to her back, knowing how she felt about losing him every day into that black hole.
Mattie figured hit was a-comin’. A proud man like Coy didn’t like to see his family do without. She finished wiping the crumbs out of the corn bread skillet and set it aside afore she spoke, not looking at him, but out the window at the last light of day.
“What about your promise to Mom Sloan?”
“She knows times is hard right now.”
“We still got food on the table, so I reckon we be doing all right.”
“Winter’s coming on.”
So it was. And the vegetable garden had done poorly. Mattie hadn’t canned nearly enough food to last them until next year when the crops staring coming in. Because of the drought, game was scarce, too.
“Sounds to me like you’ve already made up your mind.”
“Just wanted you to get use’ ter the idea.”
He’d left and she’d finished the dishes, looking out at the colors of God’s settin’ sun, asking why He gave beauty with one hand and took it away with the other when He made it so that a man had to go deep into the earth to make a livin’.
Then Coy was gone. Crushed beneath a mountain of rock. He didn’t live long enough for the black lung to kill him like it had Pops Sloan and her daddy.
Little Evan was only five when the good Lord had seen fit to take him, through she’d prayed, and begged, and pleaded, and tried to bargain, though she knew God didn’t bargain. It’d hurt when she lost her Coy, but it’d tore her heart to pieces when she’d lost Evan. It wasn’t nothing that could ever stitched back together, neither.
The rain announced itself with fat plops sounding on the tin roof and by chilling the air comin’ through the window. Aunt Mattie reached to the back of the rocker and pulled her momma’s crocheted afghan around her shoulders. Feeling fatigued, she closed her eyes again.
More than once she’d tried to imagine Evan all growed up with a family of his own, but he was forever etched in her memory as her little boy on that happy day when he’d discovered Magic Bubbles.
“Time to go,” Coy reminded Mattie and Evan. They’d climbed into Coy’s black Ford pickup and headed down the mountain.
Town was busy that payday Saturday, everybody either headed to the A&P or Nickel’s Hardware to buy supplies they couldn’t grow or make. But, first, Mattie took Evan down to the five and dime. He had a nickel to spend and she a quarter Coy had given her to buy some of that sweet smelling soap she favored.
Outside Woolworth’s children were blowing bubbles in the barely moving breeze. She and Evan stopped to watch. Clear, but glistening with colors, the bubbles lifted in the gentle air, one or two floating higher and higher until they, too, popped like the ones below. She was as struck by their magic as Evan. But finally she remembered Coy was a-waitin’, and though he was a patient man, he hadn’t been feeling too good, the skin circling his eyes all dark and his chest rattling when he coughed. She reluctantly pulled Evan away and into the store. He looked up at her, his eyes filled with the wonder of what they’d just seen.
Inside, he stopped in front of the bubble display, his eyes still wide, but he remembered her teaching him not to touch things that didn’t belong to him. But he wanted to. You could tell it in his face.
“This, Momma. Please?” He opened his hand that clutched the nickel. He hardly ever asked for anything. Mattie looked at the price. Nineteen cents.
She still remembered the look on Evan’s face when he’d left the store with his Magic Bubbles in hand, but she couldn’t remember the name of the soap, although she still had a hard sliver wrapped inside the clothes she was to be buried in. They was folded neat in the bottom of her granny’s trunk, out of harm’s way from the stray mouse that moved out of the fields and into the warmth of the house every fall when the frost started hittin’.
Funny how people likened passing over to frost. Early frost for the young ones and late frost for the old. Early or late, it meant the same to people who raised a garden. Either end of the season frost killed. Heat, though, the fever had took Evan.
“Poppa, come look, I blowed a gazillion bubbles.”
Any other man would have called it a-wastin’ time and hard earned money, but Coy, bless his heart, watched Evan and said, “Those are mighty fine bubbles, son. You’re a mighty fine bubble-blower.”
While she’d respected Coy like the Good Book taught, he’d slipped into her heart that day.
Aunt Mattie opened her eyes. She kept the Magic Bubbles tucked away in the china cabinet along with Mom Sloan’s best dishes, where the bottle was safe. Whenever she held that last gift in her hands, it was like touching Evan. God had reasons she didn’t understand, but it’d taken her a while to get that.
Later that afternoon when the ground had dried a little, she’d go up to the gravesite and blow Evan a gazillion bubbles. When the bottle was empty, she’d drop the wand back inside and tighten the lid. Then she’d tuck it away in a spot she’d already chosen, a cubby hole beneath the folded wings of the sweet angel that watched over her little boy.
Somehow the memories of Aunt Mattie’s past had come to be more real to her than any thoughts about the future. She was surprised at how easy it was lettin’ go of her tomorrows. She’d been making her peace. And she was a mite curious about what was through that door, or behind that veil as the Good Book said, and as Preacher Anse Mullins liked to go on about.
But here she was sittin’ and lettin’ the day get away from her. She still had much to do before evening time when Johnnie Lynn was coming to pick her up and take her down to the old folks’ home. The good people there was expecting her at a certain time and she didn’t want to start off on the wrong foot.
Late that day as Johnnie Lynn carried the suitcase out, her kind face grew troubled. “Come stay with us, Aunt Mattie. I don’t like thinking about you living with strangers.”
“They won’t be strangers once I get to know them.”
“They won’t even know you’re there.”
“Can’t be sure of that.”
“We’re going to miss you.”
“I ain’t being far. You’ins can visit.”
Aunt Mattie was grateful for the invitation, but Johnnie Lynn didn’t know what she was trying to take on—how caring for declining folk sucked up your youth. While Aunt Mattie had knowed it was her duty to care for Coy’s people, ‘cause they was her people too, nobody owed her the same. Maybe her daddy’s momma had it right. Just go into nature and let the end come surrounded by God’s beauty. She still might do that. While she had her mind.
Before leaving, Aunt Mattie turned and took a last look around. The plate on the wall caught her eye. Now chipped and cracked with its flowers faded, it’d been Coy’s gift to her their first Christmas as man and wife. She’d leave it a-hanging. Her memories kept it new and in her heart.
“You ready, Aunt Mattie?”
“I am now.”
Aunt Mattie pushed the rock aside and pulled the door to behind her. There was no need to lock up. There wasn’t nothing to steal. Least wise nothing she’d miss. Her treasures lay elsewhere.
For seven days, the unrelenting deluge fell on saturated ground and rivulets formed to separate the grass into independent islands.
Addie watches from the window and her tears compete with the rain for persistence. It seemed a lifetime of remembrances would consume her. Her body heaved repeatedly with wistfulness so pervasive it invaded her innermost spirit.
The image of a child clad in a red plaid raincoat with attached hood stomping in the puddles, shod in high red boots came to mind. Her mother always referred to them as goulashes. The child constructs a dam with her hand, then lets the water go. The youngster bends, catches the water in a bucket, swirls it around, and giggles with sheer abandon. How sad, Addie reflects, that children are no longer encouraged to play in the rain.
A fierce gust of wind twists a branch of the huge oak tree almost in two and it becomes a giant paintbrush wiping the scene away. Sheets of water slap at the window and Addie instinctively recoils. Another look reveals a ship. A young man and woman stand on the wet deck, spirits filled with dreams and hopes for a future, unsaid except in their eyes. The drizzle they stand in turns into an icy rain that stings the skin, yet they do not notice at first because they are in love. Great swells rock the ship and they run for cover.
Familiar words play through her mind. “Rain, rain go away, come again another day…”
The blanket of rain continues as a reminder of another storm. A couple is inside a cottage by the sea. It had started harmless enough, but the downpour continued. Soon the cottage foundation began to give way. Possessions lost, they only had time to save themselves. Addie never viewed rain quite the same way again. Not even when the grandchildren innocently dropped pebbles in the aftermath to make circles in still water.
All of that was long ago and far away. The rainstorm ceased and with resolve Addie made her way back to her bed where she lay across the top to study the pattern of the mauve and blue flowers on the comforter, sheets, and window coverings. Ripples of sunlight pirouetted across the room. A memory flashed. It was the day she and her husband had hung the flocked wallpaper. How hard it had been to line up the design. Laughter overcame the frustration. Six children were conceived within these walls. She had cradled each of them in this bed. Many a night when the storms of life came, they had held one another close.
The nightstand still bore the teeth marks of their first puppy. The phone on the stand had been the bearer of good and not so good news. She kept the secret that she was glad when the ringer ceased to work for it reduced the alarm of calls that came in the darkness. They never bothered to replace it.
With her worn finger, Addie traced the outline of the flowers on the spread as if each petal represented an episode of her life. Harmony and discord, peaks and valleys, some events more significant than others. The fan overhead whirled and sent cool breezes upon her. A single tear escaped and ran down the side of her lined face onto her furrowed neck where it finally dissipated. She took a deep breath as if to suck in all the memories of this room.
It was important to her to hold onto the laughter, tears, dreams, plans, and passion that took place here. This last day within these walls, she wanted to cherish every moment as long as she could. What was ahead would be unknown to her. Yet she had concluded that she must move forward. To stay was to stagnate, though she had resisted to the end. It was time.
Addie stood and whispered good-bye to the room, and as she shuffled, her gnarled hands stopped to caress the curvatures of each piece of furniture. What stories they could tell. She would take nothing but her recollections for they would endure. She could re-visit them anytime she wished.
“Are you ready?”
With no regrets, Addie left the room.
This Old House
Scott L. Joyce
The house that I live in is ninety years old. The original structure was built in 1923, and my grandparents moved in after the end of World War II. My mother was born here in 1949, and died, in the same house, in 2008. This is where I grew up, raised by my grandparents and later my aunt, following my parents’ divorce. In his will, my grandfather left the house to her, and eventually, as part of an heirship it will belong to my older sister and to me. The building, of course, has seen numerous additions and improvements over the years. The kitchen was expanded, the wide front porch enclosed, a portion of which became part of the living room. One bedroom was converted into a dining room, two additional bedrooms were added after my sister and I were born, and many years later, a wheelchair ramp was built when my auntie got sick. I have wonderful memories of this house, and I have a few terrible ones, as well.
Over the years it has been not just a home, but the white clapboard, silent patriarch to several generations of my family. No matter where I have travelled, or in which of the eighteen different states I have resided, this house was here, waiting. I think, somehow, I knew, have always known, that I would come back. When I graduated high school, knowing everything and absolutely nothing, I left for college – to study Theatre, to become an actor, to live a life in the arts! I was off to bigger, brighter, bolder things. I was ecstatic, I was pretentious, and I was oh so terribly young. I didn’t become a professional actor, primarily because I couldn’t really act. Oh, I found work as an actor, on many occasions, but my heart wasn’t in it. Not really. Ultimately, I think I was just chasing an escape. Doing something for the wrong reasons is nearly as tragic as having never done them at all. I discovered other talents, though; other things that I have enjoyed, and in which I have succeeded.
As I get older, I am becoming more settled. The word comfort has become increasingly more important to me. A comfort in things, and in people. In memories. In home. Sometimes I touch things around my house that remind me of my grandmother, standing places where she stood, remembered mostly through old photographs that I have inherited. I have her rolling pin, her cast iron skillet. Our kitchen has the same china cabinet with glass doors, where she hung her mops and brooms from side clamps made of metal. The top-center flour bin pulls down, and still has a working, crank-sifter. At the foot of my bed sits her cedar chest, where I keep my great-grandmother’s quilts and it is my most prized possession.
This morning, I stood outside at about 5:30 am, smoking a cigarette, waiting for my coffee to cool. Snow had fallen overnight, but the air had become warmer as dawn approached, and the snow from the rooftop was beginning to melt. It was absolutely quiet, save the whirring central air unit of the duplex across the street, and a gentle, beating tattoo as the snow became water, and dripped into the gutter’s drain. I wondered what would become of the old house after I too, am gone. Will my niece or nephew live here? They are twenty and twenty-three now; I still struggle to comprehend that. Perhaps it will be one of their children. They may choose to sell, or to tear down in order to build something new, more modern. I hope not. I hope that they will return, as well. I wonder what stories they will tell, what dreams they will remember. What photographs will they cherish? Will they still know that the best cornbread in the world comes baked in my grandmother’s skillet? I wonder if they will teach one of their children to roll biscuits with her one-handled rolling pin. Will they one day find stacks of paper stashed away with the quilts? Discovering words that their odd uncle had written, on mornings like this when he couldn’t sleep, and would sit in a dim room, typing away, as he so often did, with only the house as company. I like to think so.
In the 1960s, several years before I was born, Dionne Warwick sang “A House is not a Home.” Luther Vandross shared the sentiment two decades later. But it is really, it certainly is a beginning. Pop-song sentiments aside, this house is the place to which my grandparents lashed their dreams. My grandfather was 30 years-old when they moved here. Nearly a decade younger than I am now. My auntie is now 76, but she was just a girl of ten when they began living here. I see her now, in the big comfy chair we bought her, a chair I like to call “The Throne”, and I try to imagine her at that age. At ten years old, at Christmas or her birthday, on a Sunday morning, getting ready for church, helping to care for my infant mother.
These are the things that make a home, surrounded by white clapboard, and held together with the presence of terrible and wonderful things to come.
Stink! Stank! Stunk!
Stink! Stank! Stunk! Most of us have sung or have heard the famous song, “You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch,” from the musical based on the book by Theodore Seuss of How TheGrinch Stole Christmas. It states, “You’re a mean one Mr. Grinch, You really are a heel. . . . Your soul is full of gunk Mr. Grinch; The three words that best describe you are as follows, and I quote, “Stink, Stank, Stonk.” Well, regardless of the different poetic license used, what my best friend and I did stunk. It all started with the five letter word STINK.
In 1952, I was seven years old and my best friend in the whole world was Molly. At age ten, she was much more mature than I was. I thought Molly knew more than me about everything, and she was my constant companion, especially in the summer. Her family was devout Catholics. Her religious difference to my family’s Presbyterian choice added to Molly’s authority, mystery, and allure for me.
Molly lived a short distance from my house, up on a hill side. Almost every day, I would run up to her house or she would come down to mine. When we got together, we played with our Betsy Betsie, walking, or princess dolls, and our glamour paper dolls. On our “L” shaped front porches, we played “House” with each one of us taking turns being the mother, the father, or the child. As we played, our radios blared out Lloyd Price with “Lawdy Miss Claudy;” the Clovers singing, “I Played the Fool;” the Sallows sang, “Beside You,” and the latest song hits kept us company while we played. Each Sunday night, we listen to the radio story of The Shadow, with its menacing first line, “Who knows what evil lurks in the heart of men? The Shadow knows!” Molly read Nancy Drew mystery books to me until I learned to read them for myself. The Secret in the Old Clock was my favorite since the clock pictured on the cover of the book looked just like the one that stood in Molly’s living room. We looked at the glossy pictures in our parent’s Look and Life Magazines. We swung and did flips on each other’s backyard swing sets until one of our parents called us back home for lunch or for dinner. After we ate, we continued to play at my house or Molly’s house. In the cooler twilight evenings, we played outside with the neighborhood gang in games of “Tin Can Alley,” “Kick the Can,” or “Hide and Seek.” I would run right along with Molly seeking an unknown hiding place. She whispered to me, “Put your head down. We don’t want them to find us!” Sometimes it would get too dark to really see who was “it,” and we all had to go home. We didn’t watch TV because no one owed a television set.
Molly and I talked on the phone for hours. Many early morning conversations went like the following:
“When are you coming down (or up)?”
“Soon, my mother said I could.”
“I’ve got on my green shorts and my green and pink polka dot short sleeve shirt. Why don’t you wear your green shorts too?”
“OK, sure. Let’s play dolls. I’ll bring Ruth, my curly blond haired walking doll, and Susan, my black braided hair Princess doll, ok? See you in a few.”
“Ok. Hurry, I can’t wait”
One day Molly called me and the phone conservation was very different. Something had happened between her and Louise, a 14-year old girl that lived across the street from Molly. They were friendly with each other, but they were not best friends. Louise seemed ok to me. The neighborhood consensus was that she and her family were snooty and stuck-up, so most of us just left them alone. From Molly’s tone of voice, I knew that she was agitated and mad. She seemed beside herself with anxiety and anger as she said slowly in a gravely voice, that I had never heard before,
“I’m so MAD! I could kill somebody! Can you come up?’’
I said, “What’s wrong? What happened?”
She answered, “Can you come up?”
“Well, I guess so; I’ll go ask.”
“No, no, don’t tell anyone you are coming. Just slip out and come on up. Can you do
that? Hurry, and come on up?”
“Yea, my mom’s going to the store; I’ll wait until she goes out, and then I’ll
leave; but I’m sure it would be ok. Do you want me to bring anything?”
Again, I could hear and feel the agitation in her voice as she quickly answered,
“No, as soon as she leaves come on and hurry!”
When I got to Molly’s house, she was alone. This was very unusual, because her mom, the mother of seven children, was what we called a “home body.” She always seemed to be busy at home doing laundry, ironing, canning food from their summer garden, or cooking. When her mom did go out to the store or to Catholic Mass, one of Molly’s brothers or sisters was home with their younger sister.
I asked, “What’s up? Where is everybody? Is your brother Mike upstairs?”
“No, and be quiet,” she said.
“Why to we have to be quiet if there’s no one is here? And, what the devil is wrong with you anyway? I’ve never heard you so mad.”
Without telling me what was going on, or why she was so angry, she turned to me and said, “Here, help me with these things. I’ve got something very important to do. Come on. We don’t have much time.”
To my utter astonishment, she handed me a large shiny gray handled straight bristled paint brush, while she carried, what looked like a gallon can of paint, and a long red handled screwdriver.
I asked her, “What are we going to do with these? Where did you get these things anyway? Is that paint in that can?”
She said, “Out of the basement in my dad’s stuff. Now come on. Let’s go.”
“But, won’t your dad miss them? Then, you will be in big trouble?”
She answered, “No, dummy, he’s at work. I’ll return them when I’m finished. He’ll never know.”
Obedient and confused, I wearily followed Molly out her front door, saying, “OK, but what in heaven’s name are we going to play with this big black paint brush and that large can of paint? And, what’s the big screwdriver for anyway?”
“Just shut up, and come on,” Molly answered as she rushed down the front wide steep gray concrete steps of her house and into the street.
Carrying what I thought were strange, yet intriguing things with which to play, we hurried down the hill to the corner of the two intersecting neighborhood streets. Molly stopped on the slanted city sidewalk in front of Louie’s gravel driveway that lead to her house.
Molly said, “Stop here. This will be perfect.” She stooped down and started using the metal screwdriver to pry open the bulky can of paint.
I watched her with confusion as I stared down into the can of tar-looking black paint. “Molly,” I asked, “Just what are you going to do with that paint?” She seemed not to
hear me as if she were utterly transfixed on her urgent actions. Slowly and almost out of breath, Molly said,
“I hate, hate Louise. Hate her. I just wanted to kill her. But this is just as good.”
I said, “What is? Molly, what happened? What did Louise do to you? What’s
wrong with you anyway?”
Angrily, she answered, “That’s for Me to Know and You to Find Out!”
Gee whiz, I thought, they must have had a huge fuss or something really awful and
terrible had happened between Louise and Molly.
Urgently I said, “Please, please tell me. I won’t tell anybody. You know I won’t tell.”
She empathically answered, “No, you really don’t need to know. Look, it’s enough
for me to tell you that Louise is just a mean evil person. That’s all you need to know, OK!”
Well, I thought I didn’t want Molly to be mad at me too. It was upsetting to have her yell so loudly at me. She had never before hollered or talked so mean to me. I was a little scared as I nervously answered,
“Well, I guess that’s good enough for me. So, do what? What do you want me to do?”
Again, in that low furious voice, she told me, “Just watch me. You’ll learn. I’m going to
paint big black letters on this sidewalk a sign that says ‘Louise Stinks.’ Now, everyone driving or walking by can read it. Then they will know too just how terrible she really is.”
I said, “What? Do you even know how to spell stink? Is it s-t-i-n-k or s-t-a-n-k?”
In disgust, she answered, “Of course I do! It’s s-t-i-n-k!” Then, she started to paint a
giant capital letter L on the light gray cement city sidewalk.
I watched her as she kept painting those big black letters. Then, with some hesitation and resolve, I joined in and said, “Well, at least let me paint the s’s. I’m good at s’s, as you know my last name starts with an S.”
Molly’s plan worked. When we finished, we had a huge sidewalk sign that read
The offensive hateful words were painted in bold black paint on the sidewalk, at the cross walk of our two streets, in front of God and everybody, and right in front of Louise’s own house.
Later that afternoon, when Louise’s outraged mother confronted Molly’s mom and Molly, with the unthinkable terrible transgression that had been done against her daughter, Molly soon confessed. Yes, she had done the sign. But, she was not alone. Linda was right there with her. However, the newly opened can of black paint and black paint on the unclean paint brush were soon found by Molly’s dad in their basement. This evidence made Molly more to blame than me. Besides, I said I hadn’t even been sure how to spell stink. So, I could not have done all of the menacing sign by myself.
Of course, we were both punished. First, Molly’s mom ordered us to scrub the paint off the sidewalk. She made us carry two wash buckets filled with Tide and Borax detergent water in them down the hill to the embarrassing sign. We each had to use a stiff-haired scrub brush. Despite our best efforts, our scrubbing and scrubbing didn’t work. But, in the hot sun, we sweated and scratched the skin off our knees trying to get rid of the abusive words.
In addition to this, we were both spanked. Because Molly’s mom believed the Biblical teaching of, “Spare the rod and spoil the child,” Molly’s punishment was worse than mine. Her outraged mother gave her a spanking on her bare legs with bamboo switches. Molly first had to walk to the near-by school yard, where the Bamboo grew, and retrieve some short branches. Then, she had to carry them back home knowing and thinking that these were the very Bamboo sticks her mom would use to spank her. I got spanked too, but only with my mom’s hand. I knew Molly’s was more painful.
I cried as my mom lectured me with, “If I ever catch you doing something as hurtful and foolish to anyone ever again, I’ll spank you harder. I’ll never let you play with Molly again. Do you understand?” I knew my mom was really upset with me, and that made me feel all bad inside about what a dreadful deed we had done.
Louise’s father finally painted over the sign with his own black paint. However, Molly and I felt guilty, and were forever reminded of, the mischief that was covered over by the black slabs of paint on the neighborhood sidewalk. We both thought that everyone in the neighborhood talked about us. They must have thought that those two “little girls” could not have done anything that bad. But, yes, we had.
Molly and I were not allowed to see each other for two whole weeks. But, after about a week, we got to again talk on the phone. We still couldn’t play together for another week. We were not allowed to go, see, or even speak to Louise, or any of her family. When we walked up or down the hill, in front of her house, we had to make a wide circle in the street that led us away from Louise’s house.
On the whole, our friendship was never again the same. We both knew that what we had done was wrong. We were distressed by and regretted our actions, but we didn’t really talk much about the incident. Moreover, Molly never told me the story of what had happened that made her so angry and furious that she had thought up such an awful thing to do to someone.
Was my special friendship with Molly forever changed? Yes, as I grew older, and we continue to play, I remembered my mother’s warning and questioned her authority and actions more. “I’m not so sure we should do this. Are you?” When Molly was promoted to the ninth grade, our close friendship waned.
Then, did I ever join in with other friend’s actions, in order to get along and be accepted, even though it might not have been the right thing to do? Yes, I did, but, I tried to be more cautious and considerate of others. Was this my first encounter with graffiti and bullying? Yes, it wasn’t done with a can of spray paint, but the words were as hurtful. The whole episode of being involved and under the strong influence of another person taught me to be more guarded and thoughtful with willful friends. I tried to stop and analyze what I understood about the entire situation. I also learned that once my thoughts were put in writing, they could not be taken back. My words might later be regretted. I also learned how wrong it was to intentionally hurt someone else’s feelings, regardless of how injured I felt.
In retrospect, when thinking about this childhood escapade, everyone affected in this situation felt about Molly and I like the Grinch song goes, “YOU nauseate me, Mr. Grinch With a nauseous super naus.” We were the “bad banana(s) with a greasy black peel” with a “brain(s) . . . full of spiders.” We were the revolting “mean ones” of that summer. At seven years of age, this experience, and with its consequential loss of some personal virtue, was stinky, it stank, and it honestly stunk!
Lena Bell’s Baby Boy
Scott L. Joyce
My grandmother’s name was Lena Bell. My favorite photograph of her was taken in 1934, when she was just 17 years old. What I love most about this faded image is the smile behind her eyes and the mischievous way her lips are pursed, so evidently red, even in black and white. She knew a naughty joke or two did Miss Lena Bell. From stories that I have been told, and from my own experiences, I can assure you that my Gran was the epitome of a great Southern lady. She would never leave the house without a girdle, a pair of heels, or a handkerchief. As she got older, and her diabetes worsened, she had to forego the heels, but illness never stopped her from being immaculately put together.
I can remember sitting on a swivel stool, watching while she styled her hair for church. She would stand in front of her favorite mirror, attaching a hair “rat” to the back of her head. The rat was a styling tool, a structured ring whose texture had softened and thickened as loose strands of her own hair were taken from her hairbrush, and over time, repeatedly wrapped around it. Her snow white hair would then be swept back over the rat, bobby pinned into a signature coiffure, and sprayed within an inch of its life. The effect was quite impressive.
I write about my family so frequently because it is only recently that I have come to recognize what a huge part they have played in the person that I have become. I loved my grandmother dearly, and I miss her terribly. I was Granny’s boy, and she went nowhere without me. My auntie likes to joke that, had my grandmother been alive when it was time for me to go away to college, she would not have allowed it. Or if she had, she would have enrolled herself at the same school, making sure to be assigned to a dorm room within spitting distance of wherever I happened to be living.
My favorite place to be, when I was very small, was sitting on the living room floor, right at her feet, in front of her blue rocking chair. I ate snacks there, I watched television there, and it was there that I felt the safest. Nothing could harm me when my grandmother was that near. I think that my need to stay so close to her had much to do with both of my parents leaving. When they divorced, and then both remarried, there was never a discussion of where I was to live. To this day, I am unsure whether my parents chose to leave me, or whether my grandparents wouldn’t allow them to take me. I like to think that Granny and Papa wanted me so badly that they couldn’t bear to part with me; however, as time goes on, I grow more certain that it was the former.
I attached myself to my grandmother and grandfather with a hopeless desperation that only an abandoned child can feel. If I sat on the sofa, instead of at Granny’s feet where I could wrap one arm around her leg, then I was too far away, and I couldn’t prevent her from leaving. If I slept in the same bed as my grandparents, then I would be able to reach out for them in the night, should I wake up frightened and unsure of where I was. It was only then that I could be certain they would still be there in the morning. Surely, I would hear them during the night should they get up to leave. Often, my grandfather would lift me out and return me to my own bed, but I always found my way back, snuggling between them, with my little shoulders pressed against my grandmother’s back.
I think that children, on the whole, are underestimated. They are often described as resilient when talking about issues of divorce, loss, or death; however, too often they are discounted, or left out of the conversation entirely. Profound damage can be inflicted upon children that are excluded from trying to understand changes that affect them. Children are so much more aware than they are given credit for.
As an adult, I see many of my own childhood fears returning. I tend to be clingy, and as time passes, my comfort level with change lessens. I have found a rhythm in how my life works now, and it has become very important for me to have that constant. When I was in my early twenties and thirties, working in professional theatre full-time, I would go almost anywhere they would take me. I worked from Vegas to Vero Beach, from Maine to Idaho, and I loved every minute. I have come to realize that my constant moving around was a defense mechanism created through losses in my childhood – the divorce of my parents, and the eventual deaths of my grandparents. You see, as an adult, if I kept moving, then I controlled who was allowed to get close. I controlled when it was time to leave. It became my game to win or lose, my choice to stay or go.
As a child, when things are taken away, and no explanation is given, a germ of doubt begins to grow, a small, dark tinge of uncertainty pokes through. Children ask so many questions, that after a time, the answers become automatic for the adults around them. “Why is water wet, Daddy?” “Where do flowers go in winter, Mommy?” “If Uncle Jeff can see me from heaven, why can’t I see him?” Those annoying little questions, asked over and over, “But why?” “But why?” I think it is simply an attempt to remove doubt, to quash the tinge of uncertainty. Children don’t understand, until they are taught to. If no time is taken, if no real answers are given, before you know it, they have grown into the restricted reality of, “That’s just the way it is. Stop asking so many questions.” But how magnificent it is to ask questions! I want to know about things all the time, new things, fun things, things I didn’t know I wanted to know! I read constantly, books, magazines, pickle jars, it doesn’t matter. I am constantly looking for something that I didn’t know before. Yesterday, I learned that there are 25,000 species of orchids found in the wild. 25,000! I also learned that there is a 40-foot stretch of Route 66 on permanent display in the Smithsonian. I am not sure how my new found knowledge will benefit me, but that doesn’t make me cherish it any less.
My own inquisitiveness comes from my grandmother. I think that for her, raising me, was on many levels, a house divided. She was torn between having me know the truth about my parents, and maintaining what was in the best interest of my scared little mind. I know that I asked an endless number of questions, about everything. I don’t necessarily remember, but I have been told. I also know what a pushy bastard I am today, so it leaves little doubt in my mind that my grandparents and my auntie spent much of their time breathless from how much I demanded to know.
I still demand answers, constantly. The vast majority of the time, I don’t get them, but it sure as hell doesn’t stop me from asking. And I am never afraid to admit that I don’t have the answer. My grandmother, when faced with question number 3,008 from her little boy, once said, “I don’t know the answers, but if we ask enough people, surely someone must know!” It was her way of telling me to never stop asking, to never stop searching. Truth is universal, how we each arrive at its door is not.
This year I turned forty years old, but no matter how much time passes, or in what part of the world I find myself, I will always be that little boy sitting on a swivel stool; the cotton-haired, trembling child who held so tightly to Miss Lena Bell.
Sparks explode from the fire making me jump back with a start. Granddad smiles at me and tousles my hair. I smile back and settle down again. Cassie stretches out lazily next to Granddad’s chair resting her head on her small black paws. I pull my coat tighter as the wind whips up more sparks. I can hear the boy’s chatter coming from the house. Once in a while there is a yell or a laugh.
“It’s 4 to 0 Tigers,” Elias shouts from the porch where he is keeping the baseball score. I peer up at the sky trying to see the stars between the swaying boughs of our cherry tree. The calf out in the field bellows like an elephant letting us now he is still angry about being separated from his mama. The fire emits a cheery glow, which rests upon us. Far off in the distance thunderheads threaten to replace the stars with their angry gray mass. For now they content themselves with whipping up fearsome gusts of wind. Granddad asks if I would get him a beer. With a smile I nod and get up to go to the house. As soon as I step unto the porch and open the door, it’s like turning the volume on high. My cousins and siblings yell and race around the living room playing some game they made up. I can see my little brother Ambrose in a corner moping. As soon as he sets his eyes on me he runs up and starts to complain.
“Catherine …..” I can’t make sense of the rest because of the noise.
I drag Ambrose into the kitchen where it’s a little quieter. Kneeling down so I’m eye level with him I try to shut out the ruckus going on in the living room.
“What is it?” I ask.
“Well,” he starts with a sniffle, “Nicholas is playing with Timmy’s cell phone and I wanted to play with it too, but Nicholas shoved me away and I didn’t get to play with it and Nicholas is just such a big jerk,” Ambrose says, hardly taking a breath between sentences.
“Well, Ambrose, I agree. Nicholas can be mean, but why don’t you come outside with me. You can roast a marshmallow and Granddad will tell you a story.” I say this as I take out a Sam Adams from the bottom of the fridge.
“Marshmallows?” Ambrose asks, interest sparking into his electric blue eyes. I nod.
“OK.” Ambrose takes the bait and I help him with his coat and boots.
We trudge outside and shut the door on the vibrating living room.
“Here you go, Granddad,” I say handing him the beer.
“Oh, thank you, Catherine.” He holds the beer up to the firelight and then takes a long sip.
“Can I have some?” Ambrose immediately asks.
“No, Ambrose,” I chide, “You wanted a marshmallow remember?”
I take a skewer and wiggle a marshmallow onto the end.
“Now don’t fall into the fire,” I warn Ambrose as I hand him the skewer. He snatches it from me and hunkers down pushing it into the flames. I smile as the marshmallow explodes into flames and Ambrose quickly blows it out. Pulling it off of the skewer he sinks his teeth into the charred black glob.
“How about a story Granddad?” I ask.
“What kind of story?” Granddad asks.
“Oh you know, a Lud and Gub story,” I say.
“Hmmmm.” Granddad takes his time to think up one of his fictional tales.
“Oh, did I ever tell you about the time we went horse back riding?” he asks. I shake my head.
“Well…” Granddad settles back to tell his story.
“One day me and my friend Lud, went horse back riding. We got ourselves some horses and went on a trail ride. Lud really liked horses and we were having a great time. But all of a sudden there was some rustling over by the woods and then we heard a howl. It was a big wolf!”
I look over at Ambrose, who is sucking his finger and listening with the greatest interest. “Boy did those horses take off. They went flying off the trail and into the other side of the woods. And Lud’s horse ran right under a tree, and his head hit a branch and..” “And he fell off and got a big cut on his head,” I break in. “He sure did,” Granddad says with a chuckle. “And he had blood running out of that cut, and I had to take him to the hospital to get all stitched up.”
“Did he die?” Ambrose pipes up.
“No, no,” Granddad says. “The doctors helped him out and he was fine, but he’ll always have a scar where he hit his head.”
“Did he ever ride horses again?” I ask.
“No way. Ever since that day he’s never again ridden a horse.”
I rest back against the stump we use as a seat and smile. There’s nothing like being with people you love and hearing stories by the fireside.
Our Appalachian Heritage
Dalton T. Parks
The Appalachians are a very beautiful site. They go from Newfoundland to Alabama. The Appalachian Highlands dominate the land of the Eastern seaboard. They have ridges, peaks, hills, and valleys that create a belt almost 2,000 miles long and 320 miles wide. They played a role in our country’s economic industry. Woodsmen found many gaps and valleys in the Appalachian Mountains where they moved to.
Coal has also played an important part in our area of the country. The Appalachians produced and developed the most production of coal in the world. Higher elevations provide or furnish iron, stone, oil, gas, and timber. As times keep changing people want to change to natural resources which could cause Appalachian people to move away. Coal is vital for the people of the Appalachian community, and we need to pray that coal will still be able to be mined here.
The Appalachians cover many towns and counties such as: Castlewood, Lebanon, Abingdon, St. Paul, Saltville, Russell County, and Washington County. As time has gone these towns have prospered, populated, became tourist attractions, and some have now turned into near Ghost towns. But even though these towns have become outdated they still show us of Gods beautiful creation.
The term Appalachian best describes people and their descendants who have lived or were born in the Appalachian range, the Appalachians has a population of 22 million people and 406 counties. Even with its beauty some people from different states judge us on stereotypes and call us “poor white trash” which in no way describes people in our area. We are loyal, caring, and religious people who help others.
Population growth in the Appalachians began when the immigration of the Scotch-Irish occurred. It lasted for over 58 years and came in five waves. The immigrants in the first three waves found their place to be in Philadelphia and Pennsylvania. After those waves they found themselves in Virginia and beyond. 350 immigrants who, sailed the boat known as the Thistle that landed in 1739, are the best known Highlanders. A lot of these immigrants came from Argyll shire in southwest Scotland. Immigrants from Ross, Sutherland followed as the years have passed. This is how the Appalachians have grown in population.
The most well-known language in the Appalachians is English. Our dialect can be hard to understand for outsiders. A popular myth says Appalachian English uses words and syntax from Elizabethan times. But, evidence shows linguists it is a false accusation. Appalachians do try to practice and shape their communication; but when you grow up hearing one way to speak it becomes hard to change. Also, direct eye contact could cause a sense of hostility or aggression.
Home life in the Appalachians is very religious and patriotic. They love their rights and their country which is a very good quality to have. Most of the families are quite large and usually don’t quit growing. Children are expected to be honest, loyal, and hard-working citizens. Parents do not let their children show rude behavior nor disrespect others. They make sure that their children grow up to be exceptional men and woman.
Churches are mostly Baptist, some Catholic, and Full-Gospel in the Appalachian community. Some of the churches do not allow themselves to go to certain events such as: fairs, gatherings, and kid parties. Some even try to test their faith by handling dangerous animals. They usually use the King James Version of the Bible.
We are a very nice area and we have always showed love and care. The Appalachians beauty will always be here. The towns might be a little run-down, but they are still a part of our history. It will also keep populating with people who will keep showing our love and car