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Authors: Lee Smith

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BOOK: Fair and Tender Ladies
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He is gone,
Momma said. Yor Daddy is gone now, dear God I never thogt Id live to see this day. I knowed it was coming I gess but I never thogt it wuld relly come, dear God, may his sweet soul rest in peace.
Mommas face was like thunder and lightning, it was terible to see. Then she leaned back down and give Daddy a big kiss on the lips. Oh Momma Momma, Ethel and Beulah and me started crying, and we come over to her, and she said girls, holp me up now.
Daddy just layed ther as slite as a boy, with nary a line on his face, he looked so young in death, like he must of looked when Momma run off with him, all those years ago. Now she looked 20 years oldern him. But a course he had not done nothing but layed ther, just layed ther was all he culd do for years while Momma had been out fighting the world alone. We come over one by one and kissed our Daddy on the cheek or just tuched him, Beulah culd not bring herself to kiss him she toled me later, but it was not bad atall, his cheek was still warm and his beard scratchy as in life, I culdnt get it in my head that he was dead.
Momma took off her apron and pinned up her hair.
Theys a lot to do now girls, Momma said. Ivy you go on down to Home Creek and tell all the neghbor people, and ax if one of them Conaway boys can go for Victor, we will want Victor home now, and get somebody to tell Early Cook we will need a coffin for John. And Ethel you go on over to Dimond Fork for Granny Rowe and Tenessee, and Silvaney, you get up from there rigt now, get up this minit Im telling you. And Garnie you have got to let go of yor Daddys hand now it aint rigt, yor Daddy is dead, Garnie let go of his hand now,
let go.
Ivy cant you do something with Garnie now Momma said, and she and Beulah went and got Silvaney up and took her over in the other side of the house to sleep. Silvaneys skirt was all muddy and twisted, who knowed where Silvaney migt of been? Beulah was as big as a house, she had to move real slow, and Curtis Bostick had not come up here courting since afore that big snow in Janury. Momma said it was just one more cross to bare. Beulah leaned way back when she walked, balancing her belly, you culd tell it was hard for her.
They went off with Silvaney and I said Garnie, Garnie! This is not one of yor play funerals now Daddy is relly dead now. Will we sing? Garnie axed and I said no honey, I reckon not, we will berry Daddy, it is a good thing the thaw has come so we can do it. Then one day this summer they may be a funeral when the preacher comes it wont be for months you know this Garnie, get up now, and he done it at last but his face was so odd-like Ill never forget it, so serios and brigt-eyed like a funny little rat.
Where is Daddy now? he said and I said, he is dead Garnie, he has gone to Heaven I reckon where his chest dont hurt no more and he can breth good, but I knowed in my hart this was not so for ever since he got sick he has not gone to meeting nor prayed, this is
years
now. I can scarce recall meeting myself, and Momma is not religios ether, she has not took us to meeting since Daddy got sick and she took up figting agin the world.
Garnie looked at Daddy real hard.
He aint in Heaven,
Garnie said, and something about the way he said it given me the allovers and I shivered just like I was froze.
Well he is too, iffen I say he is, I toled Garnie, and I says, who are you, such a crazy little old boy, to say any diffrent? Who are you to say whose in Heaven and whose in Hell?
So Garnie shet his mouth then and never said another word, but his little eyes was shiny and dark as the buttons that go up the front of Granny Rowes good dress. Garnie is too intrested in dying and Heaven, it is not rigt Mrs. Brown, mark my words.
Daddy layed ther real peacefull like a sleeping boy like he wuld of been so suprised at all of the hulla baloo. Go ring the bell, Momma said to Garnie, coming back, and he done so, and I heerd its ringing ever afterwards as I started down the mountain for Home Creek. Water was running everwhere, water water bounding offen ever little clift and shining in the sun, and the sky just as blue as a piece of cloth in Stoney Branhams store. Buds had busted out on all the bushes and trees. It was hard walking in all the mud. I got it clear up to my ankles I kept slipping on stones I was crying too, it was like I culdnt hardly stop crying.
For Daddy had loved the spring. He used to plow and hold the plowed earth to his face, he loved how it smelled, I recall him doing that when I was not but a little thing, and him saying to Babe, isnt this good now? and dont this smell just like spring? and Babe rolling his eyes and snorting like Daddy had lost his mind.
Farming is pretty work,
Daddy said. But Babe hated farming, he run off as soon as he culd, and I for one was glad to see him go and hope he is gone for good. Daddy loved the dogwood and the redbud and the sarvis and how they looked blooming all by therselves up here on Blue Star Mountain afore everthing else got green. He used to take us way up on the mountain in the wee early spring to tap a birch and get the sap, he cut off a big piece of bark for us to lick the inside, it tasted so sweet, I recall he said to me one time
Now Ivy, this is how spring tastes. This is the taste of spring.
I rembered how he took us down to the creek to look for tadpoles, and how he played his guitar outside after supper, propped back in a chair on the porch playing fast tunes like Cripple Creek. By the time I got down there to Home Creek I had mud clear up my ankles and had tucked up my skirt all around my waist, I didnt care who saw what, I didnt care for nothing. Daddy Daddy was all I thogt. And coming down that mountain, sick with crying, I heerd Garnie ringing and ringing and ringing that bell, Mrs. Brown it has rang in my head now for days. DAD-dy, DAD-dy, DAD-dy is what it says.
Well I got myself down to Home Creek I reckon and went to the Foxes house but I do not recall this so good, I was all wroght up as I said. And all what happend next I do not recall so good nether. It was like Garnie ringing that bell had switched on some big awful machine that started rolling and going and wuldnt quit nor slow down for nothing, it kept on rolling till things was finished and done with.
Tomorry Ill tell you the rest.
 
 
Early Cook made the coffin for Daddy and then him and Mister Delphi Rolette come up here in Mister Delphis wagon as far as they was able, and highsted the coffin up here on ther sholders the rest of the way. Mister Delphi got so red in the face he had to take off his coller and lay in the yard for a wile before him and Early Cook culd start on back. Early Cook is a thin old pokerface man who dont say a thing unlessen you drag it out of him. Momma paid him cash money for the coffin, she said thank God for Revel Rowe, it is Revels money wich will get John Arthur berried.
Then Victor come busting in, he had rid all nigt to get there, and hugged us all. Momma never shed a tear afore she saw Victor, but as soon as he come in the door, she started in crying, and culdnt stop for a thing. It scarred Silvaney so to see Momma like that, for as a rule our Momma never cryed nor smiled nor
nothing,
but Granny Rowe who was there by then said No Silvaney, it is good for Maude to cry, Maude has got crying backed up to last her
years,
now you get up from ther and let yor momma cry, and Silvaney done it to my suprise, she will mind Granny Rowe bettern she will mind anybody else. Granny Rowe got Silvaney and Ethel out there making mudpies with Johnny and Danny to keep them outen the house, and she got Beulah in ther making coffee and ginger biskit for them that wuld come direckly, she got Garnie a-halling wood and she got Momma to set on the porch finely iffen Victor wuld set beside her, wich he done.
Victor has growed up a big handsome man, you wuldnt hardly know him, he has got the clearest dark brown eyes and a big sweet grin. He is a man now thogh, he is smoking cigarets. He said, I reckon I will lay off awile now Im here and not go back till we get done planting, wich was the first I had heerd one of usuns ever telling Momma what was what.
Momma nodded and sighed, it was like she scarcely heerd him, holding onto the arms of that rocker and starring down the mountain towards Home Creek throgh the springy washed-clean air.
Or do ye reckon to plant at all? Victor axed her, Have ye thogt of selling this land and moving to town? You used to be a town girl, Victor said. Victor grinned at Momma.
Momma looked at Victor like he was talking in a forren langage, as in French. Why Victor this is John Arthurs land and it was his fathers land before him and itll be yourn now, when you want it, I will keep this land for you. Momma looked at Victor like he was crazy.
But Victor shuck his head and ducked his chin and grinned and said oh Momma, I dont know, we will start in planting tomorry iffen hits good wether, but I dont know iffen I aim to farm or not, I will tell you the truth as I see it. My boss man Cord Estep says they is a golden oppertunity in the lumber trade for a man like me.
A man like you, my foot! hollers Momma. You aint a man yet. You shet up all this foolishness, you have gone and got your head full of fancy notions is all, now I wont hear another word, Momma says with all the old fire, and Victor says yessum, but I knowed he was telling a lie. I knowed he wuld take off when he got good and ready and seek his fortune, as in the storys.
And I got to feeling agin like I felt when Garnie was ringing that bell, like it was a big machine rolling and rolling on and I culd not do nothing but hang on the back and holler.
Momma starred off down the mountain smoking one of Victors cigarets, I had never knowed her to smoke a cigaret before.
By God I will run this farm, she said.
Ethel! Ivy! Come in here now girls and holp me, Granny Rowe said then, and we done what all she said. You never know what you can do iffen you dont have to do it, now thats the truth. Granny Rowe sent Ethel up to the spring for water whilst we undressed Daddy and when Ethel come back, we warshed him off. He was so little it was like warshing a little bitty child, or a little shadder of a man, it did not seem like our daddy. And then Momma come in with the white wool berrying socks and we put them on him, and his good black suit, and his tie. Granny wet the comb and parted his hair but when Momma saw it she screemed, she said it was parted on the wrong side, so Granny changed it. Momma wuldnt tuch him herself now, she just cryed and cryed. We had to do everthing.
They was a lot of people coming up the holler by then, they was all out in the yard by the daffodils wich was blooming ther crazy heads off. Then Momma got the berrying quilt and they rapped him up in that, his own Momma had made it, years before. When Momma got it up out of the hope chest they was a nother quilt in ther that I had not seed before, a real pretty mostly blue crazy quilt, and I said, I have never seed this quilt before nether, and Momma said no, this-uns for me, and so we left it laying rigt ther.
Now I think this is
awful
Mrs. Brown, do you? I will not keep a berrying quilt nor any socks, so holp me God. I think it is awful, I had to warsh his face, we put quarters on his eyes to keep them shut, after Victor and them lifted him into the coffin and Granny Rowe tyed a rag under his chin to keep his mouth closed, and put a camphor cloth acrost his nose and mouth so he wuldnt turn black.
Garnie come in at this time and wuldnt hardly leave Daddy alone a minit so it got to be his job to stay there by the coffin and get that rag ever oncet in a wile and put more camphor on it. Beulah culdnt stand the smell, she went over on the other side of the house to lay down, she was feeling faint anyway.
The house was the fullest of people Mrs. Brown that it has ever been before or since. Everbody come up there from Home Creek, Mister Delphi Rolette and his crazy wife who acted like she was the one dying, she took on so, and all the Foxes including Oakleys sweet momma Edith and Oakley hisself and Dreama and Ray and his daddy, and bald-headed Thurman Conaway who has got a goiter and his wife Maxie who was a Breeding, and all ther children. They was about ten children out in the yard, so Victor went up in the loft and got down that old blowed-up hog bladder for them to play with. Daddy used to make us a playball outen the hog bladder ever time we killed a hog.
Poor little old Johnny and Danny was scarred to death, they hadnt hardly ever seed no other kids, they hung back and helt onto each other just peeping around the side of the house. When you see a whole passel of children like that, you know for sure it is something wrong with Danny, he goes along slaunchways as I said.
Then Green Patterson come up here, and Stoney Branham and a bunch of other men from the store that had knowed Daddy all ther lifes and used to play poker and tell tales with him afore Momma put a stop to him drinking so. This was Dove Yates and Troy Counts and Woody Elswick and a whole bunch of others, and they had brung some likker, and the women had brung food. Lord it was the mostest food you have ever seed, devilled eggs and chicken and dumplings and sweet tater pie and blackberry jam cake and such as that, setting all over ever place, and that little Garnie he et and et. And Daddy in his coffin was laying there in the middle of it all, with his eyes shut down by silver money and his mouth covered up by the camphor cloth.
Momma sat by him in a strate-back chair and helt his hand. Finely she had let Ethel and me pin back her hair, and she had put her lace coller on. It smelled awful in the house, even with the winder open, and the door, from all that camphor, but Momma just set there and people wuld come and set with her and finely as the evening come on, they was a lot of folks ther on the porch and in the yard too, they was all eaten and drinking.
Dont you recollect the time when John Arthur and Revel got that dynamite and took and blowed up Sugar Cave? said Mrs. Kirk.
Lord yes and dont you recollect that time the high Sheriff come all the way up here after Revel, they said he had daddied a baby down there in Majestic, it was the Sheriffs nice as I recall, and Revel put on a old ladys dress and bonnet, it must of been his mommas or his grannys, and set on the porch there smoking his pipe and allowing as how Revel had just lit out of here the day before, headed for Wheeling, West Va.?
BOOK: Fair and Tender Ladies
5.78Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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