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Authors: Lee Smith

Tags: #Historical, #Adult

Fair and Tender Ladies (5 page)

BOOK: Fair and Tender Ladies
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I know I am telling to much Mrs. Brown, it may not be approprite nether.
But this come next, you will not belive it!
We was looking out real quiet at the snow, and Momma and Beulah was carding the wool and Ethel and Garnie asleep on the floor, you culdnt hear a thing but the crackling fire and a pop ever now and then if a isickle cracked offen the roof, when all of a sudden they comes the loudest whistle you ever heerd, rigt up close to the house.
So Silvaney commences to blubbering and runs and gets down in the bed. Beulah throws down her wool and comes over ther to look out but it is dark now, you cant see nothing.
Then we hear that whistle agin, real loud and real close to the house. It dont sound like anything I ever heerd, it sounds like a screech owl but it aint a screech owl, it sounds like a shreeking hant.
Lord Lord, my momma says. I look back at her and in the fires red ligt she looks almost pretty, I swear her face is diffrent all of a sudden, she touches her hair with a hand that shakes like a moth flying.
Well that set me back some, I will tell you.
But then I looked over at Daddy, and Lord it was the biggest suprise I had seed yet. Daddy set rigt up in the bed and throwed Granny Rowes quilt rigt down on the floor and swang his legs around like he was fixing to stand up, like he was a man that culd get up outen the bed.
While now outside, this whistling has switched to a tune, they never was a bird that culd whistle as good as that.
What is it, what is it? axes Beulah and me.
Lord Lord, is all Momma says.
Then they comes a loud pounding on the door, and then Daddy turns and grins the biggest grin and I recollected all of a sudden how he used to look, how he used to be such a handsome man, and what all he used to do. He keeps on grinning.
It is Revel, is what he says.
Well let him in girls, he said then, and I run to open the door and sure enough it is our uncle Revel that we have not seed for years, not since I was a little girl and him and Daddy fell out so bad. Revel lets out a big whoop and a holler and comes rigt on in and gives Daddy a hug. John Arthur, he says, and Daddy says, Revel. Then they look at each other for a long time and then Revel goes over and says Maude, how are you? to Momma who is trying to stay mad, but she cant do no good with that. Well shut the door then Revel, your letting out all the heat, Momma says, and he done so. And all the time, uncle Revel's big black dog is wagging hisself all over the house and licking at people and jumping up. Ethel wakes up scarred to death and crying and so does Garnie.
You hush now, Momma says, this is your uncle Revel, that you have heerd tell of, and then Revel says
to his dog and it does. This dog is named Charly, we come to learn. It minds the best and is the smartest of any dog I ever seed, Ill say that. Charly goes everwhere with uncle Revel.
And now I will tell you of uncle Revel hisself and what he looks like, he wears a big black hat like a cowboy hat and black boots and a long dark coat, he has a black beard and a mustashe and kind of pale silver eyes but he is not as scarry looking as this sounds. No, but Revels eyes is just jumping, just full of fire and foolishness. When he smiles, his teeth is like a slash of white in his face. His lips is as red and full as a pretty womans. Well then he goes out, and then he comes back in with a poke, and then we see he has brung us jawbreaker candy from town, and even Silvaney comes creepen down outen the loft to get hern, and uncle Revel looks at her and says, Lovely. He has brung whisky to drink and his banjer to play, he sings like a man on the radio. Mrs. Brown, you have never heerd such-like in all your life. And Daddy is setting up now and he axes for his guitar and Momma gets it but he cant do nothing except just pluck at it a little bit, Momma lays it there alongside of him on his pallet by the fire. Uncle Revel sings a bunch of funny songs. Now I have heerd tell all my life how uncle Revel cannot keep his hands off the women nor stay outen truble but what I think is, he is just a natural antic, he gets us all to laghing so hard we cant hardly stop. We sing oh I
go to meeting, I
go to meeting, I
go to meeting in a old tin pan. We sing Bile Them Cabbage Down and other tunes.
One time Revel looks at Momma and jerks his head at me and says, Thats the one Maude, she takes after you shel be truble all rigt, shel be wild as a buck like you, just wait and see, but Mommas face turns as dark as a stormcloud and she says Revel, Revel, all that is past, Revel your crazy, youl never grow up.
I hope not Maude, says Revel.
We sing Skip Tum Aloo and Saro Jane. Daddy has fell asleep by now and Revel gets up and gets Daddys guitar real gentle-like and hangs it back up where it goes. He kneels down by Daddy like he is praying and tuches his face. Dont nobody say a word. Then Revel stands up and puts on his hat and pulls on his gloves and tips up the bottle and drinks the rest of that whisky down. Ho Charly, he says. Cant ye stay the nigt, Revel? axes Momma, but uncle Revel says No Maude, Ive got to get on down the road now, and then he winks at her, and I am the onliest one besides Momma that sees it. In this wink they is a woman someplace waiting on him, and all of a sudden Oakley Fox pops up in my mind, this makes me so mad I liked to of died. Oakley Fox is stupid, hes too nice. I stomped on one foot with the othern, I was that mad, and Revel grinned at me, and said, Thats the one to watch Maude, to Momma. Then he picked me up and hugged me to him. His beard and mustashe is scratchy he smelled wonderful like tobaccy and whisky and out-ofdoors.
Ho Charly, he said.
And then he was gone.
So uncle Revel has come to call on Christmas Day I reckon, and has gone on his way agin, he has given us all them jawbreaker candys and also money, Momma says. She says thank God.
So I am wishing you a Merry Christmas Mrs. Brown and Mister Brown too down ther, it has been a lot happening, we are fine thogh and I remane your devoted,
My dear Hanneke,
I know you will not get this letter.
I know I will not send it, you are the Ice Queen so cold with your icy blue eyes and your cap like a snowflake and your long white stockings as white as the snow.
But it is snowing now and so I think of you, and sometimes it seems to me like you are more real than all of my Family, you seem more real to me now than the days that pass. It seems like I can not talk to my Family they is so many of us here in the house in the snow we have to keep the younguns in you can not bath yourself nor nothing and little Danny crys. They is noplace here you can go to get away from him crying, it is only when I am writting you this letter late in the nigt that I dont hear. And Daddy my sweet Daddy sleeps in the ligt of the fire now, he wont hardly wake up for a thing. The snow is driften plum up to the roof on the north side of the house and ever time you get the water from the spring youve got to bust the ice, and then youve got to haul it throgh all this snow, it is so hard, we have not got but one pair of gloves amongst us.
Yesterdy when I was the one hauling the water, it was coming on for dark, I slipped and fell coming down the hill and spilled my whole bucketfull of water, I just layed in the snow and cryed and it was getting dark all around me, I just layed there crying while nigt come on, and before long I culd feel my tears freezing on my face I was so cold, and all the air was blue. I tell you, I wanted nothing more than to lay ther, that blue air seemed so pure and sweet. I culd hear the wind go whoosh real gentle-like throgh the cedar tree and come whooshing acrost the snow and it was so quite there, the wind whooshed acrost my face.
But then Momma hollered out where was I, and the third time she hollered I said I was coming, and I went back up ther and got us some more water, and then I went on in the house. My leg had got cut and bleeding but I never even knowed it till I seen it in the ligt. I wuld of layed there forever if I culd of. Do you think this is evil? It is true thogh, belive you me.
Well that was yesterdy evening, and then we et us some sweet taters Momma had roasted in the fire and a pot of soup beans she had cooked with some fatback in them, and some cornbread Beulah made, her cornbread is bettern Mommas. So this was good. And Garnie and Ethel is getting some meat back on ther bones now Im proud to say, and Johnny he grows like a weed but Danny dont do no good, he carrys his head to the side and walks on a slant, it seems.
And then all of a sudden, in comes Gaynelle and Virgie Cline!
Never even knocked nor hollered nor nothing, just pushed open the door and poked those old black bonnets around it, Silvaney and Beulah screamed bloody murder and Ethel she went for the gun.
Law, law,
Momma said, but Daddy he slep on.
So the Cline sisters comes on in laghing like silver bells, then they see Daddy and goes over ther and bends way down and tuches him here and ther, ther hands is fluttering like butterflys down by Sugar Fork in the spring. Oh oh they said, John Arthur is going, and they tuched his forehead, he stirred but he never awoke. He is going they said,
Oh la.
For they had not knowed this, they never leave ther cabin hardly ever wich is way away upon Hell Mountain, Daddy used to take us up ther to hear ther storys.
Lord you orter see how they live! ther cabin is so little it is like a dolly cabin with everthing just so. They is two pallets ther with the prettest quilts, and two little old rocky chairs by the fire, and two cups and two plates on the table and two little brooms, and not a thing else. Gaynelle and Virgie Cline are maiden ladys, and have not been apart for a minute. They sit on the porch in little strate-back chairs with seats of woven hickory, smoking pipes. Ther faces are little and squnched up like apple dolls, they are teeny-tiny with curly white hair and dont way hardly a thing. Dont nobody know how they live exackly Daddy said, they do not farm nor raise a thing but beans and flowers in the yard, nor have a cow, but folks takes them food just to hear ther storys.
I think myself they live on storys, they do not need much food.
But I am telling how they come in here last nigt and like to have frigted us outen our wits and then Silvaney, now mark you it was Silvaney, I swear she knows moren folks think,
says, oh it must be Old Christmas! for this is when they used to come ever year, Janury 5 like clockwork and stay up all nigt and drink coffee and tell storys with Daddy, they did it when he was not but a child living here with his own momma and daddy and his sister Vicey and brother Revel. Daddy allus said it seemed to him that they were old ladys then, so dont nobody know how old they migt be now.
So Gaynelle and Virgie Cline were talking back and forth amongst therselves, and looken at Daddy, ther talking was too soft to hear good and it sounded like a nother langage almost, like bells in the snow. You culd tell they didnt know iffen twuld be better to stay nor go. Danny and Johnny was holding onto Ethels legs and peeping outen her skirt with ther eyes as big as a plate.
And you culd hear our daddy drawing ever breth.
I looked at Momma wich werent no good, Momma was looking wild and she bit at her lip, she had bit it so much it was all ready bleeding. Her hair was all over her head. She clutched up her skirt in her hands. And all I culd think of I sware was that snow outside I sware, where I had layed as I said for upwards of a hour and where it was so quite and peacefull. Lord it was like it drawed me out the door almost, it was like I was being pulled.
But then all of a sudden I heerd myself say, and it was
, mind you, I was the one that said it, Well now that youve come so far we hope you will stay, take off your bonnets come close to the fire and tell us a story. For it seemed to me that the only way I culd keep from running back out in the snow was to hear a story! Momma looked ill as a hornet at me but then she looked down at Daddy and then she told Beulah to make some coffee wich Mrs. Brown had sent us up here by Green Patterson. And the ladys sat down by the fire and we all gathered up around.
Dont tell Bloody Bones begged Beulah, whatever you do.
And just the mention of it set Silvaney off, I had to wet her face down to make her hush.
Tell Old Dry Fry, I said. This one is funny and Daddys faverite.
Well Old Dry Fry was a preacher man,
one of the ladys started, but you cant tell Gaynelle from Virgie, its not worth your truble to try. And when they tell a story it goes back and forth, first one to the other you know. She said, everbody knowed Old Dry Fry. And Old Dry Fry liked to eat so much, he wuld eat at two or three houses sometimes after meeting, and one time when he was eating, he et so much that he up and died. Well in the house where he died lived a man named Ray Doolittle and he said, Law me! We will be hung for murder! and so he wrapped Old Dry Fry up in a quilt and taken him down the road and leaned him up agin another fellers door. And when this other fellers old woman opened the door that follering day, why Old Dry Fry fell in the house and everbody said, Law me! its Old Dry Fry dead, we will be hung for murder! For everbody knowed Old Dry Fry.
BOOK: Fair and Tender Ladies
12.62Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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