Read Fair and Tender Ladies Online

Authors: Lee Smith

Tags: #Historical, #Adult

Fair and Tender Ladies (32 page)

BOOK: Fair and Tender Ladies
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But you know Momma—bound and determined to have it her own way, and now that we are all getting older, I see how we take after her, Beulah, all of us. I know this is something that you don't want to hear.
Well, nevermind. Nevermind, it's all water under the bridge as Granny says. Anyway, when they were hitching up Sal to the plow, Victor stopped dead in his tracks and stared at the plow for a while, kind of puffing his breath in and out of his whiskers and mumbling something you couldn't hear. Victor is heavy now, he wears a straw hat and suspenders. He pushed that hat way back on his head. His face was all red from climbing up the hill.
I do believe that is Daddy's plow, he said finally, and Oakley said, Yes it is.
Well, humph humph, was what Victor said, or all you could understand. But Victor stood there looking at the plow for a while, all redfaced, until Oakley said, Well, let's get a move on, and we did. And now I wonder what all was going on in Victor's mind—if he had come back from the war sooner, we might of all stayed up here all along. Or if he never had gone to the war in the first place. Because it sure took the starch out of Victor in some way, I mean the war. He is not up for farming now, nor anything else much either. But I will tell you, he flung himself into the plowing, and Stoney did too, as much as they were able. Mostly they burned off brush and let the Gooch boys and Oakley hold the plow. After while Victor came up on the porch and visited me and Ethel, and we got to talking about the time we fooled Garnie with the chestnuts. I thought Victor would bust a gut laughing. Ethel was darning socks which I never get to, and making a lot over little Joli whose so pretty. But Ethel doesn't want no children of her own, not her! She says she has done took inventory, and they are already full up! Ethel is just as spunky as ever, she does not give a damn what folks think. And Ethel will make two of Stoney Branham, who has shriveled up while she has expanded. But Stoney is wirey, Stoney is game. He liked to work himself to death that day on the hillside, and said he will be looking for his share of the profits! He struts like a banty rooster, giving orders. Of course he is fooling, he doesn't mean it, but him saying it is good because it allows Oakley not to feel so beholden.
Oakley has got a little beat down, of late.
When the plowing was done, we drug the field with an evergreen bough.
By then it was sunset, and the field tilted dark and pretty against the wild red sky. We all walked down together, me and Oakley with our arms around each other's waists, the way we like to walk, and Ethel and Stoney, and Victor leading Sal, we walked down off the mountain, but I looked back once more to see that field, that sky. The field is so steep it looks like the side of the globe that Mrs. Brown used to keep on her desk, and it is curved like the curve of the earth. And all the sky beyond it is just huge. That night it was plum red, too. We walked through sarvis and dogwood and apple blossoms. Even the lilac bush by the back door had buds on it, you remember Revel brought it to Momma one time from far away.
Well, so much for the plowing.
We planted our potatos in the dark of the moon, later that spring, just Oakley and me. We planted when the signs were in the legs. Granny came by the house that afternoon to say,
It is a fine night for planting potatos,
so that is what we did. Only we got to giggling. Oakley says he doesn't believe a word of this
plant in the dark of the moon
stuff. But it is fun. First we got us a cup of blockade liquor that Oakley had put by someplace, and we drunk it down and checked on Joli and Martha. Sound asleep. Then we got the kerosene lantern and the seed corn, and set out for the field. It was so dark you couldn't see your hand in front of your face, and windy. Lord, was it windy! My hair was whipping around my face and my skirt blew up all around my legs, I felt like I was going to fly. It was the windiest, wildest night. Well, we got to cutting up, and Oakley grabbed me and gave me a big hard kiss, and one thing led to another. Before long we had fell right down there in that soft black field beneath the soft black sky. I know you don't want to hear this, so I won't tell it. But we did it, all the same.
Oh Beulah, Beulah, Beulah, write to me. I feel like I don't know you any more. But I am still
Your sister,
January 7, 1931
Dear Miss Torrington,
You can not immagine what a big surprise it was when the box arrived from Boston, nor how I felt to open it up and find the clothes, and the books for the children. My husband Oakley wants to join me in saying, Thank you. Please tell your nieces and nephews how much we appreciate the clothes. My daughter Joli reads the books aloud to Martha who can not read. But Joli is sharp as a tack! I know you would love to have her in your class. I try and fail to immagine your class, your school, or even you, Miss Torrington, after all these years.
To answer your question, I do not read much any more. I do not have the time. Sometimes Oakley gets me books from the Presbyterian School when he goes to town, or Ethel or Geneva will bring me a book when they come up here, but often I send them back unread, I confess it. Ever since my little twins were born, it is like I don't have near enough hands, or time either one. The time just slips away.
The twins are Bill and Danny Ray, born Christmas Eve 1929, now they are already one. They keep me hopping, believe me! They look just like my husband Oakley.
You are good to send these things, Miss Torrington. I hope from the bottom of my heart that you are well. I cannot immagine your life, no more than you can mine.
But I will always remain your thankful student,
January 10, 1935
Dear Miss Torrington,
We thank you for the box from your school, it arrived just in time for
January 4, 1937
Dear Miss Torrington,
I am sorry I have not written to thank you for the boxes you sent us this Christmas and in the past. You are so kind.
I would like to announce to you the birth of my daughter LuIda, 1935, and of my baby Maudy, last summer. So you see how it is.
Happy New Year 1937, from
June 10, 1937
My dear Silvaney,
It seems so natural to me now to write your name, yet it has been years since I have done so. Years. And in all truth I can not say why I have got my old yellow paper out tonight, nor my pen that Miss Torrington gave me so long ago.
Silvaney, Silvaney, Silvaney.
Lord it does feel good to write your name. Silvaney. Silvaney. I have missed you so. For years I could not get over the fact that you will never come to us here, I had sulled up about it, you know how mad I can get! My mind could not move around this fact, to write you a letter. You or anybody else. But now all of a sudden this time is past, I can not say how or why, and again I am dying to write.
It is the craziest thing.
Somehow, I have been dying to write to you ever since the lights came on last week, now this is the rural electrification project I am talking about. It is really something. They have put in poles and run electric lines all the way up Home Creek, it's the law! Some day they may come up this holler too.
Last Tuesday me and Oakley were sitting on the porch, just resting after dinner which I don't get a chance to do much of, and lo and behold, all up and down the bottom, lights came on! And you can see them shining on the lower slopes of Bethel Mountain too, they twinkle like stars. Oakley said Ho! and started praying. But I said, Oakley, it is nothing to be scared of, or pray about. It is just the rural electrification which we have heard tell of. Praise be to God! said Oakley who has gotten real religious. I think you ought to say, praise be to the Appalachian Power Company, I said, and Oakley laughed. You are a sassy woman but you are mine, he said. We both got up and stood gripping the porch rail, looking out on this space that we have looked out on for so long, this side of Bethel Mountain that we feel like is ours for sure.
Who all do you reckon lives over there?
Oakley asks real slow.
I don't know, I told him.
But I know what he means. It is like we have owned that mountain, owned this view. It is like there has been nothing out there but what we have seen with our own eyes or heard in the night, nobody living there but what we made up in our heads. And now—lo and behold—there is lights all over the bottom of Bethel Mountain, there is somebody there clearly, people living in our view. I counted 14 houses, maybe more, it's hard to tell, the way the lights will cluster, the way they will twinkle through distance, in all that clear blue air between here and there.
Who all do you reckon lives over there?
I don't know. I can not immagine. But looking down the fork toward Home Creek, I can see the lights of the neighbor people's houses—the Rolettes, Oakley's folks, and the Breedings who live now where the Conaways used to live when we were growing up. Oakley went on to bed but I stood there, holding the rail real tight and staring. I stared down Home Creek and over on Bethel Mountain. I felt like I didn't know anybody.
Who all lives there?
It is a mystery. I heard Maudy start up fussing, start to cry, and I felt my breasts get tight the way they do, I unbuttoned my blouse to ease them and stood there in the breeze and looked out at the lights—it was just like Christmas across the bottom, like a lovely lady's necklace laid out on the side of Bethel Mountain. Oh, those lights! Maudy was crying hard. My milk started running down so I went inside and fed her, and then went to bed and laid there beside Oakley but I couldn't breathe right, couldn't think. In my mind I could still see the lights.
BOOK: Fair and Tender Ladies
10.46Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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