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Authors: Lee Smith

Tags: #Historical, #Adult

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BOOK: Fair and Tender Ladies
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They all toled storys about Revel and Daddy, and after a while when it started getting dark, Momma toled agin how she had come ther, and the midnigt ride. I rember I was setting on the top step then and listening to Momma tell it inside and I was all full up with wanting, wanting something so bad, I culd not of said what it was. The smell of the camphor was making me sick and the moon was coming up full. It was kindly cold on the porch but the house was so full of folks.
Here Ivy, here Ivy, said Oakley Fox and put a pint jar of corn likker in my hand.
Lord Oakley, where did you get this much likker? I said, and Oakley said he had got it out back where the men were, by the smokehouse, and they was plenty more where that come from.
Lets me and you get drunk, he said but Mrs. Brown I am proud to say that we did not for I said No Oakley, but we drunken some of it, just to taste you know, it tasted awful I thoght and then Oakley give the rest to my aunt Tenessee who was sitting there on the steps too, now this was a big mistake as I will relate to you now.
You know my aunt Tenessee is not quite rigt in the head but she isnt quite crazy ether. In fact she is smack inbetween I gess you wuld have to say, but more crazy than not. Tenessee hasnt never lived apart from her sister Garnett, this is Granny Rowe, who does everthing for her, even shell the beans! So Tenessee dont do a thing, but she dresses up as much as she can, and thinks she is beutiful. Some of her get-ups looks so bad you wuld die to see it, she laghs la-di-da and thows back her head. Her hair was so blond and fine at one time but now it is nearly white only she dont know it, she dont know she has gotten old. The bad thing about Tenessee is, she will go up and show herself to men sometimes, everbody around here knows it and buttons her up and takes her back over on Dimond Fork or down to the store where they will keep her until somebody can get up with Granny.
But I have heerd tell that one time something nasty happend to Tenessee, and yet a nother time, a drummer come to Majestic and seed her ther in the store and fell plum in love with her and took her walking and give her a perl necklace and then axed ther daddy for her and wuld not take no for an anser nor listen to any sense. When he finely said yes, they say that Garnett, this was Granny then, took to her bed weeping. But this drummer was in love, and proposed to take Tenessee over to his people in Huntington West Va. wich he done, but after a wile he brung her back! and carried her up this holler in a buggy as far as they culd go. She was wearing a new green suit wich he had boght her, and a big yaller hat. Carried a new little bead purse.
This drummer he walked her up to the porch dressed fit to kill whilst Garnett and aunt Vicey and Daddy and ther Momma and Daddy was all setting there watching them climb the holler and not knowing what to say. And then that drummer, they say he clicked his heels together like a man in a play and he said,
Well my love, it has been an honor,
and he give a little bow to her and then a little bow to all of them, and walked off down the holler without so much as a bye-your-leave, and them all watching too suprised to say ary a thing, Tenessee waving goodbye goodbye with a little lace hankerchief that she pulled out of her black bead purse.
She has got it still Mrs. Brown, that lace hankerchief wich is now all gray and soiled from her holding it. She still keeps it in the bead purse and takes the bead purse everwhere. Why she had it ther sitting on the steps, the nigt we berried my daddy.
And Tenessee never has said one word about where all she went or what she done in those three months she was gone, or even if she got maried. I gess she dont know if she did or not. It dont matter anyway. The drummer went into politics we have heerd, and lives in Charleston West Va. where he is famous.
So my aunt Tenessee was drinking this likker wich Oakley had give her, when Mister Green Patterson stood up on the porch and cleared his throat like he was fixing to say something, now he is real important at a berrying, and Tenessee giggled. Mister Green Patterson cleared his throat agin and says, Well, is everbody here that is coming? and Victor says yes. Clarence Wayne is not coming in for the berrying? Mister Green Patterson axed and Victor said no, nor was anybody else yet to come, he said. Then Mister Green Patterson said we had best get on with it, and him and the other men went in and lit some more lamps that they had brung up from the store, and stood up around the coffin.
Do you want a prayer Maude, Mister Patterson axed Momma, and she said Lord no, Green.
But aunt Tenessee out on the porch started laghing and laghing, she said,
Father Son and Holy Ghost, the one that drinks the fastest can have the most.
And so Granny come and taken her back in the other side of the house. The men stood ther around the coffin the rest of the nigt, it is just what you do, with little Garnie standing amongst them so big-eyed like a little owl. Momma stood too with her face as hard as a mans face, not crying now nor looking like she ever culd of cryed, and they stood ther all nigt, and come first ligt they nailed the coffin shut and carried it outside, Early Cook put drawer handles on the sides to carry it with, and off we went, everbody that had stayed the nigt and was not drunk.
It was the softest palest prettest morning. Everthing smelt so new because of the rain, it was like Genesis in the Bible. They caried Daddy in the box real easy, he didnt way hardly a thing, with me and Momma and Granny and Ethel and Garnie and Tenessee follering. We left Danny and Johnny back at the house with Beulah. Victor had gone ahead with some boys to dig him a grave at the berrying ground, and Silvaney run off in the woods. We past by the smokehouse and then we was on our way throgh the orcherd it was like the ocean I think thogh I have never seed it, or it was like clouds, white clouds on ever side. Somehow in the pale perly ligt these apple trees seemed the prettest I have ever seed them, and smelled the sweetest, and this on the day we berried my daddy wich shuld of been the worstest in my life, but somehow it was not. It was not. For he had been sick so long, and had got so little, that it was not like we had talked to him there on his pallet by the fire for a long time, Mrs. Brown. It was like we had talked to ourselves.
Now,
I thoght, Daddy is free to go, and the sun come up then and those white flowers looked even pretier, bees buzzing all throgh them.
Get away, get away, said Tenessee, batting at a bee with her hand, and it obeyed her. Tenessee is good with animals, she has got a house cat that follers her everwhere around ther cabin at Dimond Lick, and one time she trained a deer but Major Little shot it by mistake.
We past throgh the apple trees and past by Pilgrim Knob where our chickens run, and then we started up Blue Star Mountain on the trail we took when Victor taken us up ther after chestnuts, it seemed like years ago. We past by sarvis and redbud and dogwood, and all the trees had little pale green leaves on them now I saw, the oak trees had leaves as big as squirrel paws, all was a pale pale green. Tenessee talked to herself all the way in her singsong voice, but Momma clumb with her jaw shut tigt and her eyes set strate ahead. Are you all rigt? I axed her one time, and she said yes. We past by the path that went to the bald where the chestnut trees is, and we past by the rocky-clifts where Daddy used to bring us after black-berrys, and this was the fartherest I had ever been up ther before. We was out of the tall woods by then, moving throgh scrub pines, so you culd see the sky wich was blue as blue culd be, I reckon it was about seven in the morning by then, and one or two hawks was flying circles up ther. Ethel pointed up but did not speak. Tenessee and Granny had dropped behind.
Ho!
Victor said and then we were ther. It was not much to see. Him and the Conaway boys had dug a big hole and the dirt was all red and muddy, piled up beside it. It was a little clearing on the hillside, that is all, where the trees dont grow. I dont know exackly how I thoght it wuld be, may be like the sematary at the Methodist Church in Majestic wich is pretty with flowers and gravestones. Well they is none of that here at the Rowe berrying ground up on Blue Star Mountain. Theys little mounds, that is all, and some so old they have sunk in insted of humped up, and some old wooden markers you cant hardly read and some you can. And theys four lattice houses bilt up ther, two of them falling in, one of them bilt over the grave that holds Daddys daddy and momma, to keep out animals I reckon.
They put Daddys coffin down into the grave.
It was Mister Green Patterson and Mister Delphi Rolette and Stoney Branham and Roland Fox and Dove Yates and Victor, all of them sweating by then, and they taken off ther hats and bowed ther heads and everbody was looking out of the side of ther eyes at Momma who looked for a minit as if she wuld speak, but then she bit her lip and set her jaw and turned away, and the Conaways started shovelling.
Rest in peace,
Victor said just about to himself, he looked down at the ground when he said it.
I went over and sat on a rock by myself while they shovelled, but after a wile we heerd the sweetest singing, this was Tenessee who had got up ther at last. She stood on the edge of the woods and sang When I can read my title clear, to mansions in the skys, I will bid farewell to evry care, and wipe my weep-ing eyes. Been a long time travelling here below, to lay this body down. It was Garnies song wich he used to sing at his preachings, when we wuld play Town. But Garnie did not sing. Instead he was starring down into the grave wile they filled it up until you culdnt see the coffin any more. Momma looked up in the sky, shading her eyes with her hand, and I looked too and seed them hawks still circling. They was a little wind up ther, clean and cold. Silvaney come out of the woods and watched Tenessee singing God be with you till we meet agin and I sat on the rock.
Then they were done shovelling and Tenessee was done singing and Momma turned to me and smiled the first smile she had smiled since Christmas and said Gentlemen, I thank you. And I felt my soul lift up like the hawk flying.
It was over.
I know Victor and Early Cook will go back up ther and build a little lattice house to cover his grave, I heard them say it, and I know the preacher man will pray for Daddy too bye and bye when next he comes, iffen Momma will allow it. But it is finely over.
And you will not belive what has happend next!
When we come back to the house the firstest thing we saw was Danny and Johnny out in the muddy yard wearing nothing but ther drawers, this was so irreglar as you will gess.
Hidy! Hidy! they hollered. Beulah has got a baby.
Lord lord, Momma said and we come busting in as fast as we culd and sure enogh, Beulah was laying in the bed all warshed out looking and smiling, and blood everwhere.
Holp me Granny, Beulah said, and Granny Rowe done all the rest of it, and I got to hold the baby wich is named John Arthur after Daddy, a little boy. Granny Rowe says that sometimes it happens like that, one spirrit goes and a nother one comes direckly, but you cant make too much out of it. Granny Rowe says it is nothing but natural, that is all. Tomorry, Victor says, we will start to plant.
And so I remane your devoted,
 
IVY ROWE.
My dear Mrs. Brown,
 
To anser your questin, YES I will love to come! My momma has said at first that No I may not come, it will spoil me rotten, but now she says yes I may come, to get me out of her hair, I will have to be good and watch my Ps and Qs. So I may come when your nice is visiting, Victor will carry me down to your house on his way back to work with the company as he has got our garden put in now, and they think so highly of him over ther.
I remane your exited and grateful,
 
IVY ROWE.
 
PS, I will see you soon!
Dear All,
 
I know you will want to hear from me and how I am getting along. Well the anser is, fine. Molly Bainbridge is the nice of Mrs. Brown, her whole name is Margaret Mae Bainbridge wich I love so much I culd eat it with a spoon. It is like a Party name isnt it? I know you rember our Play Parties in the woods. Now as I write this letter I am sad all of a sudden, I dont know what has come over me, I think of you All so. Please do not think I am fancy, nor spoilt, nor putting on Airs. It is not so, as I will tell you direckly. Things is not all what they seem ether.
BOOK: Fair and Tender Ladies
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