Sunday, December 31, 2006
Where I am from, we always have hop'n'john on New Years Day. I was surprised that folks here didn't know what hop'n'john was. I suppose in an area where the best food is always plain and good that the custom of eating a poor man's meal to assure luck throughout the year might seem strange here.
The traditional New Years meal for my family would be hop'n'john...black-eyed peas cooked with smoked ham hocks or jowls mixed with rice...collard greens and pig tails and cornbread. It would stick to your ribs until the next time you had it...usually the following New Years Day.
Though collard greens and pig tails were a year-round favorite. It's hard to find pig tails anymore. Once, when my best friend from college visited home with me, my mother played a very sly trick on her. Therese was in the kitchen while my mother was filling the plates to place on the table. My mother calmly selected a particularly succulent pig tail from the pot to put on my plate. Therese watched in horror.
"Let's play a trick on Rosie!" My mother said and proceeded to hide the pigtail under a pile of greens on my plate. She maintained a girlish nature throughout her life and though I was only told later of the trick, I can see her eyes glinting with amusement.
Therese was cutting her eyes at me during the meal, but I didn't quite know why.
When I discovered the pig tail on my plate, I held it up on my fork for all to see.
"Gee! Thanks for the pig tail, Mom!" I said, before putting it in my mouth and savoring the familiar combination of fat, pigskin and gristle.
Damn, I love a good pig tail.
My Mom was funny that way. She totally set my friend up.
My mom has been gone over 20 years now. I still miss her sly sense of humor and drama.
I hope you are all out there having a wonderful New Year's Eve.
And tomorrow, remember to eat some poor man's food for the success of your new year. And give your Momma a call.
Pig tails optional. But highly recommended.
Saturday, December 30, 2006
Every once, in a very great while, I start looking around for places to submit work to. I know I should. I know I should be collecting the stack of rejection letters that are rightfully my due. But I'm sorta lazy, you know?
But, I did start looking around last night, with a mind to develop a short piece of fiction to submit to some Southern journal or another that might be interested in the sort of work I do.
I ran into storySouth, and they sure do seem to think a lot of themselves. And they do seem to be aimed at new writers and seem to push them fairly aggressively.
But while reading the sort of thing they were interested in, I sort of felt like old Knowlt Hoheimer from Spoon River Anthology...stuck in eternity looking up at a "granite pedestal bearing the words, 'Pro Patria.' "
They are looking for writing from "the New South". What the hell does that mean, anyhow?
My writing is largely in reaction to what I see as "the New South". I despise the whole concept of the loss of our traditions, language, culture and our dark and adorable eccentricities. I stood by powerlessly and watched my beloved Lowcountry bulldozed and turned into a damn paradise for northern retirees. Thank you very much, freakin' Hilton Head. The cypress bogs where the O'Quinn boys faded into the landscape like skinks on a log are now drained and dotted with little saltbox houses selling for 500,000 in gated communities. The beautiful ebony-skinned Gullah peoples are now flung wide and far, unable to pay the exorbitant property taxes. Daufuski Island is a damn golf resort.
Why in God's name would I want to write about such a rape? It's obscene.
So yes, I chose to move to a place that still had its culture largely intact, though I'm pretty sure in another 20 years this place will be just like Beaufort county. And I do write about these people and they do seem stereotypical at times.
But they are real people. I have no intention of cleaning them up or changing my writing to make them conform to whatever handy template some Appalachian studies professor has decided they must fit into. They may be poor, but they are certainly not impoverished. They may be illiterate but they are smart as hell. I love these people. They deserve to be written about as they really are because that is quite a wonderful thing.
So yeah...I guess I am a "Dead Mule" writer. I only recently came across that term and it's not that surprising since I, like my influence Flannery O'Connor, have avoided Faulkner's influence fairly assiduously. Though, honestly, I've never run across a dead mule that I could write about. Dead bears...but no dead mules. Honestly...I can see the appeal. I just hate it that I didn't think of it first.
So, I ran into The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature. I think I'll wait until they are taking submissions again and give storySouth a pass. Their laurels are probably really comfy to sit upon.
And another of my pet peeves...what is it with Southern writers and editors living in places like Nu Yolk City? Are we just good enough to write about but not good enough to live amongst? How does one keep any sense of verisimilitude living in a place like that...not that I don't love Nu Yolk, but I found it hard to write Southern while mindlessly circling Atlanta on 285. God bless Lewis Grizzard, I don't know how he did it.
I know Atlanta is supposed to be the epicenter of the "New South", but as many times as I've lived there, I always felt insulated from what I saw as the "Real South".
The Real South is about the little place in Perry, GA with the railroad out the back door that served the best country ham biscuit I ever ate. It's about Mrs. Snodderly's little backwoods store that sold salt-rising bread on the outskirts of Andersonville, TN. It's also about feuding about what makes the best base for barbecue sauce...mustard or katsup? It's about the little place off the John's Island causeway that throws steaming blue crabs down on newspaper. It's about R. A. Miller making his painted tin artwork next to the Esso station where he pumped gas at for 40 years.
The Real South is still out there. And I'm going to write about it as long as it is.
Friday, December 29, 2006
I've got gobs of this stuff put up in the freezer, but I particularly like it after it's just been drained and pressed just a bit.
Home cheese-making is undergoing a resurgence right now. It's both a science and an art. It, of course, helps if you've got fresh milk as I do. But it's by no means a given if you want to give it a try. Cheesemaking suppliers carry calcium chloride that you can add to your store bought milk to get a firmer set.
Another one of my favorite simple cheeses is Labneh. This is a soft cheese sort of like cream cheese that is basically strained yoghurt. It's a middle eastern cheese and I first heard of it from my friend Therese who remembers her auntie keeping the culture in the fridge.
You don't need any special equipment to make yoghurt. Just scald your milk then cool to about 95 degrees, add a container of your favorite brand of plain yoghurt(though I've used the vanilla flavored Activia with very delicious results), stir, then pour into quart or pint sized mason jars and seal. Then place in a small Igloo cooler and top up with hot tap water. Close the cooler and leave overnight. In the morning, put the jars in the fridge to chill...and voila...delicious yoghurt!
If you'd like some Labneh to spread on your french bread with some jam...just put a 100 percent cotton man's handkerchief in a strainer and pour the yoghurt in there. Gather the four corners of the hanky and hang overnight. Labneh is very fine textured so it does take a while to drain.
If you really catch the cheese making bug...after mastering some of these very simple cheeses, you'll be ready to move on to mozzarella, feta, brie and then the hard cheeses.
Here are some cheese links that I love...
Dr. Fankhauser's Cheese Page
Dr. David Fankhauser is a professor of biology and chemistry. His cheese-making instructions are some of the clearest out there. His cheeses are designed so that they can be made from readily available ingredients. But he doesn't just have cheese! Try out his recipes for home-made root beer, ginger ale, lemon ice and Limoncello! He is probably my favorite resource on the internet for cheesemaking and other goodies folks don't think they can make at home.
Fias Co Farm's Dairy and Cheese Page
From just up the road, over yonder, from me...this is an excellent comprehensive cheese and goat dairying site.
Serving the Amish and those without electricity since 1955. I find them a bit expensive but where else are you going to find a carved wood shoulder yoke for carrying water or a kerosene powered egg incubator? I ask you...where?
New England Cheese Supply
A bit "tony" but has everything you need for cheesemaking...including the animal base rennet I use to more closely approximate European cheesemaking techniques.
Hoegger's Goat Supply
Out of Fayetteville, GA, this family run operation gets high marks from me. I've had some bad experiences with Caprine Supply so I always steer people to Hoeggers. They are just so nice and easy to get along with. Lots of great cheesemaking supplies and other fun books and things. Their catalog is very fun and I look forward to it each year.
Great place to get all your cultures! They supply both hobbyists and commercial cheese makers.
I hope everyone is having a very happy Food Porn Friday!
This story is for an assignment from Wordsmith's Unlimited. Read the original assignment HERE.
“What in tarnation?!”
Ennis stepped back out onto the porch to watch the UPS delivery van try to make its way back up the rutted gravel drive that led to his house up in the holler. The driver had just thrown the package up on the porch rather than navigate the sea of blue tick hounds and dead cars in the yard. Its wheels stuck and spun a few times in the mud but it finally made its way back to the main road.
He squatted down on his haunches and turned the red box around in his hands, then spit a stream of tobacco juice out into the bare dirt yard. It barely missed a game hen scratching for bugs in the dirt. He wondered how much he could get for the box at the pawnshop in Newport. He wondered if it were worth anything.
Probably not, he thought, since the damn thing wouldn’t open.
He stood and scuffed his worn boots on the weathered wood of the porch. He’d been expecting a delivery but this sure wasn’t the immersion heater he’s ordered for his still operation. And he sure as hell needed the damn thing since he was almost out of quart jars and needed to do another run.
“Ennis? What were that?”
He turned to see his woman standing there in her tattered housedress. Her hair was mussed from sleep, its brassy blond ends contrasting sharply to the blue-black roots next to her scalp. The left side of her face was creased with sleep lines and she hadn’t put her teeth in yet.
Wordlessly, he handed the red box to her.
“Awwww, this here’s right purty!” she crooned as she caressed the box. “Where’s it come from?”
Ennis let another stream of tobacco juice snake out into the yard.
“Think it h'ain’t s’posed to be here.” He said with his long gaze fixed toward Snowbird Mountain, etched against the Tennessee sky.
Later that day, in Charleston, SC, Mrs. Davies-Smythe, in her elegant home on the Battery, tearfully opened a package to find an odd piece of hardware, an immersion heater, instead of Mr. Davies-Smythe’s cremains.
“What in tarnation?!”
Wednesday, December 27, 2006
I was cleaning out the OS 9 machine and found this old PS6 stitch of the farm. I so love my place.
I spent quite a few hours today at Big Creek Market and Deli. It's the local watering hole and greasy spoon. Mostly folks just come in and hang out. It's not a smoke-free environment. The air is redolent with the smell of sausage and ham sizzling on the grill in the back. They most probably use lard. You can get a grill cheese sandwich or just about anything to fortify your daily allowance of vitamin "G". The food is actually really good, but be sure to bring your lipitor with you. It's a down home country grill. They open at 5 am during bear season.
But mostly people come for the gossip.
I was there trying to rip a copy of Akira Kurasawa's Kagemusha and some older titles on Bubba's ancient Windoze machine...and in the process try to figure out exactly why he was having trouble ripping DVD's on his machine. Part of the problem seemed to be that he didn't have a DVD burner. I had a really hard time convincing him that it wasn't there. It doesn't seem to matter how many times I explain that I have drunk far too much of Steve Job's coolaide and only sort of know my way around a PC, I still get called out to fix the local computers. They really think I'm smarter than I actually am.
So, it is now all over the mountain that I watch "jap" movies with subtitles...in black and white no less. It would have been okay if I could have confirmed when asked that they were "kung-fu" movies. But I couldn't, so that is no doubt another brick laid on my merry road to hell. Between the fact that my church uses real wine for communion and this...well, I guess there's just not much hope for me.
An old buddy of mine was there. He is a font of stories, but it's really hard to get him to talk without him lapsing into dirty jokes with an agricultural theme.
Today he told me, "I wuz born on the mountain and lived in a cave."
The cave part isn't true and there was some punchline that I didn't quite get or catch....something about why he was always "hankerin" for something. It was probably risque in his fashion. But he was indeed born up on Hall's Top.
He had told me once before that he didn't get his first pair of shoes until he was 12 years old. I asked him how he got around in the winter.
"Well, we just didn't go out much."
I also asked him about how old he was when he first went into Newport. I knew that some people lived their lives here without ever going to the closest town.
"Weeeelll, I guess I were about them boy's age." he said, pointing toward a young man dressed in RealTree cammo who is about 17 or so.
"H'it were called Cabbage County 'cause my Daddy'n'em raised cabbages. One day we took all them cabbages ter market."
He pulls a long drag off of his hand-rolled cigarette with those amazingly weathered hands.
"We hitched up the ox and took them 'long the river all the ways to Newport. Lord, I thought that were the furthest piece!"
Oxen, while very sturdy, are not very fast. The drive he's talking about is about 15 to 20 miles. I can only imagine what that must have been like, riding on the bumpy gravel road in a wagon full of cabbages. That road is now a pleasant drive over a nice blacktop, but during his time it was a rutted, one lane path that was probably washing out into the Pigeon River in places.
"So, tell me," I ask, "Where did you go to school?"
"I only went one day." He tells me. "H'it were up at Raven's Branch."
I knew about the Raven's Branch school.
"One day?" I ask.
"Well, I only had one pair of britches and the goat ate them. So I didn't go back."
Speaking of goats...still waiting, damnit!
Tuesday, December 26, 2006
I've always loved that Kate Bush song. Even after her voice began to grate upon me...as it unfortunately did after a while...that song about the dream of letting another feel the empathy that the narrator so keenly feels still plays in my head. I thought, for a long time, that everyone felt empathy. By that, I mean the ability to actually imagine others suffering, pain and hope. Empathy is no good unless you can feel the positives as well. But I was wrong about that. Not everyone feels that.
And if you do feel it, it is kinder and more polite not to let on that you do sometimes. It can be intrusive and that whole "I feel your pain" thing just trivializes it.
I look back and laugh at how much I was so amazingly wrong about in the past. I like the feeling of being wrong. It's funny and it makes me feel giddy and light.
Deals with God are a recurrent theme in the oral traditions here. In the outside world, those who believe in a god or gods make deals all the time. Many times, those with no strong belief make deals with God. It's sort of become a figure of speech. I'm sure I've done it before.
Here it is different. It's deadly serious. You don't make a deal with God unless you mean to keep it. The God of the mountains is the old testament God, He who canst "draw out the leviathan" and all that. He's real big on smiting and throwing His weight around.
To me, the god of the mountains is as foreign as Gilgamesh's Anu. But I can see why He's taken so very seriously. He's quite the Badass.
Scottie related a tale to me of his great-great grandfather.
As a young man, Cletis was a moonshiner of some repute. I'm not quite sure how much the sampling of his own wares had to do with this story, but that doesn't make it less life changing for Cletis.
One evening, he was making his way home from his still that was up in the woods not too far from my house. Night had begun to fall and he was feeling his way home in the darkness of the new moon. Even today, since we have no city lights to pollute the night sky, the Milky Way is clearly visible in the night sky, stretching its jeweled arms around the earth. The nights of the full moon are as bright as a lit city street. The nights of the new moon are a womb-like blackness.
While passing a hand-dug spring well, a claw reached out and grabbed Cletis by the leg, dragging him into the deep, cold, wet darkness. A violent struggle ensued, during which, Cletis came to the realization that he was grappling with the Devil.
Time and time again, Cletis was pulled under the surface of the freezing water and rose gasping for breath, only to be pulled under once more.
So, he made a deal with God. In his deal, he promised God quite a lot. And given the circumstances, I think that was understandable. Basically, he handed God a blank check in return for helping him survive this situation.
Cletis survived to beget many generations to follow him. He forswore drinking and the making of white whiskey. He brought all of his children up in obedience to what he believed God wanted. His ideals are still practiced by his ancestors today.
I'm not sure if he was right or wrong. It's not my place to judge his epiphany. I do know that his deal was made in fear, and that sits uneasily with me. The brand of Christianity he practiced feels cold and unforgiving to me.
I much prefer the deal another man made with God.
While his beloved wife lay dying in the hospital, he swore to never drink again, if only God would save his love. She survived and he hasn't touched a drop of alcohol in thirteen years. They are the happiest couple I know.
I like the idea of making a deal with God out of love rather than fear.
I don't hear much about women having epiphanies of this sort. Usually it involves men, moonshine and running around on one's wife. It's just another version of the "reformed rake".
I suppose I'm not surprised that empathy is so suppressed here. You have to be quiet and still to experience empathy. That's sort of hard to do with Cletis' brand of faith, which is loud, brassy and talkative. It's the problem I have with the whole "witnessing" thing. It doesn't let anyone get a word in edgewise and is all about "me".
They sure do sing good though.
The man is quiet about his epiphany. I only heard about it in passing, he doesn't talk much about it, he just acts. There is no need to talk about it. His love shows through with each glance at his wife. His love is his prayer.
I don't know if God cares about the motivations we have when we try to barter with Her/Him. But my God visits me in the form of tiny goat hooves, joking dogs, laughing streams and baby chicks. This requires stillness.
My hope is that if I ever need to seriously barter with God, that the preferred method of payment will be love.
Monday, December 25, 2006
I'll have a story up soon. But as I mentioned...it's a really dark one and I don't want to put it up during the holidays. Or at least until after Christmas.
So...I'm just going to pratter about aimlessly.
I still have no goat babies. We are getting very close now, though. Last night she started the restless pawing and laying down. Then getting up and doing it all over again. It's sort of annoying. I'm working on my computer and it's like trying to fall asleep next to someone who keeps tossing and turning.
I've had many conversations with Betsy, my Goat Yoda, over the past week. She agrees that it does indeed sound like delivery is imminent. I discussed with her the problem of Blinkin's skittishness. The Winkin', Blinkin' and Nod trio came from a place where they were shot at with a shotgun full of ratshot every time they got out. They are, understandably, distrustful of people. I'm concerned since I may have to milk Blinkin' if one of these babies comes out needing to be bottle raised.
Betsy says I should smear myself with the birth fluids and allow Blinkin' to lick them off of me, thus associating me with the kids. I'm not sure at what point in this procedure I'm supposed to recite the lesbian tone poem to interpretive dance movements....but I'm sure it's gotta be there somewhere.
Now for an awkward segue into what I fixed for dinner today....
My friend Scott came over today for Christmas lunch. Overjoyed with the prospect of getting to cook for someone other than myself and dog children (who, quite frankly, do not have the most discriminating palates), I went rather overboard. Though it isn't Friday, I thought I'd share my holiday menu.
Grilled Winter Squash Medley
Cornbread Dressing with Apples and Walnuts
Creamed Sweet Corn
Turkey Craw Pole Beans
Sweet Potato Booze Souffle
Dill Pickled Green Tomatoes
What I loved most about this meal is the fact that I grew and harvested all of the vegetables including the pumpkin used for the pie right here on the farm. I made and canned the ginger pear chips and the dill-pickled green tomatoes. The meal was a huge success and even Scott's 6 foot 9 inch frame was stuffed to capacity.
I really miss feeding people.
Hope everyone had a great day and ate entirely too much. I know I did.
Gotta go....Blinkin' is having contractions!!!
Sunday, December 24, 2006
I got nothin'.
Just wanted to wish everyone a happy Holidays and a Merry Christmas if you are of that persuasion. I have strong feelings about inclusivity during this time of year. Too many people feel alone and sad during these cold nights. I just want to give everyone of every faith a great big hug.
Pardon my syncretization.
If you want to read some previous Christmas themed posts...
The Night the Animals Talked.....
For some reason, I always end up spending Christmas Eve with one of the Winkin', Blinkin' or Nod trio on the porch. This year it's Blinkin'. Last year it was Nod. Year before that, I think I actually spent the night nursing Winkin' through entero up in the shelter.
The Grinch Who Stole Christmahanukwanzakah
I can't tell you how very disappointed I am that this post from last year is still relevant.
Nihil est incertius vulgo, nihil obscurius voluntate hominum, nihil fallacius ratione tota comitiorum. ~CiceroI find the mob and public opinion parts of this quote particularly relevant...and wish the absurd politics could be left out.
We need to bring our troops home from the "culture wars" as well.
So there is your sweet and sour. Take one. Take both. Find balance.
And no...ain't got no stinkin' babies yet. I'm afraid to let her off the porch because she'll probably go down the mountain and have them, and I'll be damned if I'm going to cross Big Creek in the dead of winter to scale up and carry kids back down the mountain.
Saturday, December 23, 2006
Well, this was taken at midnight. She's made herself a nice little nest out of the bale of straw I put out there. I originally just put enough down for bedding but she decided to use the entire bale.
I've got someplace to go Saturday so may not be able to blog much tomorrow. Off to bed now. I guess she'll wake me up if she starts to drop.
Friday, December 22, 2006
Killing time still while waiting for the kids to arrive. Damn. I think she means to wait til Christmas. It's a real pain in the ass since her "lying in" is happening on the back porch where I can see her from my computer. The herd doesn't want to leave her alone. I originally thought this was because of some tender goatly concern. Now I think they just want her snacks. It's keeping Max, the cocker spaniel stock dog, very busy.
With being tied to the house and all, I've been sifting through blogs I might like to know better. I ran into Rum and Monkey which has the greatest personality generators. I normally hate those things, but these were very witty. I took the "Which Famous Homosexual Are You?" test.
And, of course...
Which Famous Homosexual Are You?
Brought to you by Rum and Monkey
Maybe I should have answered the "Have you decimated a village?" question differently.
Other amusing tests include "The Historical Lunatic Test" (I'm Niklas Tesla...Huh?) and the "The Goddamn Rock Solid Ghetto Shiznit Name Generator" (I'm "Ass Machine G"..they seem to know things about me that I don't reveal very often...scary).
Some of my favorite past blogs have had a feature on one day of the week. South Knox Bubba, who I miss desperately in his original form, used to have Friday Bird Blogging with his wonderful bird photos. I really want to do that.
So, I'm wracking my brain over what in the world I'm talented enough at to do such a feature as I'm pouring more "glugs" of bourbon into the sweet potatoes...and wondering how many "glugs" of bourbon the sweet potatoes can withstand without losing their "loft" in the oven...when it came to me.
Without further ado...I give you....
Here is the recipe in its original form from my mother's hand...
4 cups cooked sweet potatoes (pureed)
2 sticks butter
4 whole eggs
3 tablespoons flour
1 and 1/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup white sugar
1 and 1/2 cups cream
pinch of salt
1 teaspoon lemon juice
juice of one sour orange
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup of Bourbon Whiskey
Bake sweet potatoes until tender. Peel warm and place in a large mixing bowl. Add soft butter, eggs, flour, sugar, milk and vanilla and beat at medium speed until light. Add the spices, lemon and juices to the Bourbon and slowly add to the potato mixture. Pour into large greased casserole. Bake at 425 degrees for 5 minutes then reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake 45 minutes to an hour.
When done, top with marshmallows and place under broiler for a few seconds….watch closely.
Now, my sister and I have simplified it and played with it over the years. My primary goal is to go heavy on the bourbon flavor. My sister fancies it up and foregoes the marshmallows at times to serve with whipped cream. You can torch the top with caramelized sugar. I find that a can of sweetened condensed milk along with one egg makes it richer and goes better with the strong bourbon. I also sometimes steep white raisins and pecans overnight in the bourbon. The primary flavors are sweet potato, orange and bourbon. It can be served as a vegetable with the main holiday meal or as a dessert.
The above photo is in the first baking stage and is a bit homely. I'll try to get a picture of how it is served for presentation.
My sister has begged me to get the cookbook into shape for publishing. Yes, I have written a cookbook. My family's history in food going back over 150 years. It's called "Our Kin Cooks". I gave it one year to my siblings for Christmas. I promise this year to try to get the rewrites done and put the damn thing into .pdf and get it up on CafePress or somewhere. But for now...you are just going to have to deal with "Food Porn Fridays".
Since a few of you asked about Blinkin' ...she's fine. No kids as of yet.
I got her up on the milkstand late last night and palpated her abdomen. It was really cool to feel the kids kick back. There are at least two of them in there. Wouldn't it be cool if she had triplets? Around two a.m. she decided she'd had enough of being separated from the herd and slipped her collar so she could go sleep with her grown daughter, Nod.
I've got her on the back porch now with a nest of clean straw. I'm not really worried about her since she doesn't seem to be very worried for herself. I think her milk has a ways to draw down yet. Her udder should get even more full before she freshens. She is starting to make funny goat noises and is nipping at her flanks. I think I could still have 24 to 48 hours until kidding. I'm not sure since I've never seen Blinkin' kid before and I don't know what her usual routine is.
I'm going to try to get pictures of the actual kidding if I can. I may be too busy, but hopefully she'll not need any help.
Needless to say, it's hard for me to concentrate on my writing while I'm in my role of goatherd.
I went to town to get supplies today. My buddy, Scott, went along with me. It was sort of nice having someone make the rounds with me to the Co-op and the Farm Supply. We ate lunch at the dreadful Chinese place. Scott really likes it. There used to be a really good authentic place, but the Chinese buffet is more popular with the locals. They do serve frog legs and I do like a nice frog leg now and again. And it's way better than what they call Chinese food in the UK. I'm not sure what curry on chips has to do with Chinese food. I never got that.
I'm wondering what to name the new babies. Do you think I'd go to hell if I named one "Jesus"?
I wonder how that would look on the ADGA registration if I bother with it. "Old Maid's Aerie's Jesus Marimba". I sort of like the sound of that.
Yeah. It's definitely getting warm in here.
Wednesday, December 20, 2006
So...I'm getting in the jeep to make my once monthly big market trip when I look down in the pasture and see that Blinkin' s udder has filled out. Oh, joy. Looks like I'm getting goat kids for Christmas.
Blinkin is one of my farm goats that has some meat goat bred into her. But she's been bred to one of my lovely Nubian boys so the kids she has will qualify as grades and in a few generations their kids will qualify as American Nubians.
Her udder isn't great since she's got one forked teat, but she's really hardy and I'd like to pass that trait on to my herd. Blinkin' can almost thrive on air. I've got her tethered and bedded under the back porch so I can keep an eye on her. She's in early labor right this moment. I know she's going to be happy to get those babies out of there. You can't tell from the photo but she's really huge. I'm thinking twins at least.
I've got all my kidding supplies out and am sleeping on the sofa tonight in case she starts to drop in the middle of the night. The Saanans aren't due for another few weeks but it looks like the boys took care of Blinkin' earlier than expected.
Cross your fingers for us that they are doe kids. I gots too many boys right now anyway.
I'm in for a long night, looks like.
I just don't know what to say.
Please just go to this link to find out way too much information about penis sizes from across the globe.
Rising up in protest over the long and short of penis size
Very flattering to the French...but we so knew that already.
Tuesday, December 19, 2006
I've got some stuff to do tonight so I'm not going to bore you with much here. Just picking up some odds and ends before I forget.
There were some research items about Lizie and Martha that I didn't use in Cat Fur Jelly.
Martha and Lizie were what we call down in the Lowcountry of South Carolina, "root women." They knew all of the traditional remedies that could be made from the wild-gathered materials on hand here.
Medical care up here was spotty at best. A friend is fond of telling "birthing" stories...the gorier the better. She's told me a gang of them and they always seemed to include a doctor, so I thought maybe the situation wasn't as bad as I'd been lead to believe. Until she let it slip that many of the "doctors" were actually veterinarians and who is to say they weren't just untrained horse doctors. There was a tinker who used to come through here and pull teeth.
So, Lizie and Martha's skills would have been much in demand.
One of their recipes involved making a tea from oak, alder and wild cherry bark. This was supposed to be used as a mouthwash to draw infection from teeth and gums. Henberry was used as a soporific and for kidney ailments. "Kidney ailments" appears to be a euphemism for cystitis or any sort of burning pain in the nether areas. The roots of Queen of the Meadow were also dug for "kidney ailments". Ground up mountain laurel leaves were mixed with laying mash to worm chickens. Kerosene was given for lots of things. The ginseng that grows up here was used much as it is in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)...as a stimulant, tonic and for boy stuff. Tetch me Not was used for snakebite(probably not a very efficacious use) and for skin problems including poison ivy(actually this works).
I continue to collect remedies that were used here.
A few notes left over from I'll Fly Away.
There were two schools that I know of thus far that were near here. There was the Bell Hill School, a one room schoolhouse teaching grades 1 - 8, that stood where the current Hall Family Reunion is held each year on Hall's Top. The other was a two room schoolhouse called The Raven's Branch School. This would have been up Raven's Branch way somewhere. It taught grades 1 - 5 in one room and grades 5 - 8 in the other. Most people here 50 years of age and older only have an eighth grade education since the closest high school was in Newport.
I'm working on a very difficult, dark story right now. It's called "The Dark Hole". It's going to be the closest I've come to emulating the school of the Southern Grotesque as practiced by my influence Flannery O'Connor. I so love her, but I'm having a really hard time locating the subtle nuances of humor in this very dark, racially charged story. Also, I love these people up here so much, that I tend to turn a blind eye to the obviously grotesque in them. I know it's there...it's just really hard for me to look at.
Monday, December 18, 2006
It was long ago, and far away-ish (well, six hours down the interstate), and having nothing to do with Appalachia.
I'm not quite sure what the equivalent to this is. It's a past memory that keeps playing over and over in my head. A mnemonic earworm perhaps?
I have Kim Crawford over at Velociworld to thank for this. His post about the carillons of Atlanta and this phrase in particular....
And having the carillonneur get a lap dance during his performance of I Gave my Love a Cherry could add a sweet Marquis de Sade angle....was what started this. Damnit.
I was nineteen years old in 1980 and experienced the most surreal night of my life. Even though I was so young, I seemed to sense that it didn't get any stranger than this. But I reserved my judgement since I expected to have many, many more exciting things happen to me. And they did. But none more bizarre than this night.
My best friend, Therese, and I were in Dr. Bernie Dunlap's documentary film studies class. We were both madly in crush with him. Therese and I were very discriminating about our crushes. The sheer force and raw power of Dr. Dunlap's intellect made him particularly worthy. One day, as we sat near the front, hanging on his every word, he said something particularly smart. I looked over at Therese, and she had opened herself up like a flower on the auditorium chair. She then breathed out a loud and very long sigh. Everyone heard it...including Dr. Dunlap. He looked behind him as though he couldn't possibly be the cause of such an exhalation.
He had a way of blinking rather quickly before turning his attention upon you.
Therese blushed three shaded of red, and I, while I did not exactly shame myself by acting out what I was thinking, blushed with her.
He is president of Wofford College now. His hair has silvered but he's still quite the fox. All these years later, I still blush quietly as I watch Kurosawa.
It was for the incredible Dr. Dunlap that we made several treks to my small home town of Bluffton, S.C. We were making a student film for the class and decided that Bluffton would make a good subject. I think we had big ideas about making it a sort of kino-eye sort of thing, but I'm also relatively certain that neither of us had any idea what that really meant at the time. But what Vertov said...well, it just sounded real smart.
On one of our trips, we took along our good friend Jim. Jim was also in school with us. He actually would be a better person to tell this part of the story and he's always been an amazing storyteller. Jim was slight and had a foxy, clever face topped with a shock of ginger-colored hair. His eyes were a very light, light blue and sparkled with sly intelligence. Jim was also gay. This last bit of biographical information isn't at all gratuitous since it was Jim's gayness that got us into this mess.
One day, after a busy day of lugging around extremely heavy super-8 film equipment, we decided we deserved a night on the town in nearby Savannah. Being the good host that I was, I wanted to include Jim and show him some of the gay bars in Savannah. The problem was, that while I knew where all of the gay bars in Columbia were, I didn't know anything about Savannah's gay nightclub scene. It would have been entirely inappropriate to ask my parents about this, so we decided just to go and explore the city ourselves.
Therese and I both wore vintage 1940's dresses and threw some old vintage furs over them. I'd like to point out the weirdness of this in 1980 Savannah, GA. Savannah's become quite the cosmopolitan city since SCAD arrived. It's not unusual to see goth kids running about the streets these days but Savannah in 1980 was a preppy's wet dream.
I took them to some of my old haunts on River Street, then our search for a gay bar began in earnest. Oddly, none of the strangers we blindly approached on the street could tell us where to find a damn gay bar. I'm not sure what criteria we were using for choosing whom to ask, but it's a miracle that we didn't get the crap beat out of us. I suppose our youth and naivete gave us some small degree of protection.
I was quite frustrated at this point. So we headed up to Bay Street where I remembered a bar that I'd not been to before. It had a rather unsavory reputation and I thought, well, maybe it's a gay bar. I'd been warned to stay away from this place but no one ever really told me why.
The Lamp Post had been on the dark end of Bay Street for as long as I could remember. We parked the car across the street and got out. I suppose that having my two friends with me made me a bit braver than I should have been.
As we locked the doors to the car, a heckler drove by and shouted, "Hey! Carpet and Bedspread!"
I didn't quite understand it, but Therese caught right on. They were referring to our shabby chic vintage fur coats. I was crushed, but Therese seemed to think it was pretty funny. Hmmph.
We approached the darkened doorway with a bit of trepidation. I'm not sure who opened the door first. I remember the stale scent of beer and cigarettes that was even heavier than most bars. It's almost like that wet dog smell. But beer-y.
We walked in and barely had time to get our bearings when two rather tired-looking Asian women converged on Jim. They began chattering at him quite animatedly.
I couldn't quite make out what they were saying, since my eyes were too busy popping out of my head, but I remember him replying, "No, really...we are okay!" Then, "Thanks, but no...really." Then, "No, please, we'll just have a drink."
By the time Jim had convinced the very persistent and tired-looking Asian women that he was not in the market for whatever they were offering, we were inside The Lamp Post and committed to this particular adventure.
My first impression of the place was it was dark and red. The walls were papered in fuzzy velour-like paper. There was an oddly shaped bar with lights over it and poles emerging from it going up to the ceiling. Sort of like the poles firemen slide down. There was red shag carpet upholstering some surfaces. A line of booths was against a wall. There were a few small pool tables set into alcoves in the back. The floor was stickier than usual. The place seemed entirely populated with tired looking Asian women and sailors.
We absolutely should have left then. But for some reason, we felt it might be rude just to walk out without having a drink first.
Let me explain something about Southerners and our tradition of good manners. If one is brought up correctly, and the three of us certainly were, you are gifted by your parents with an almost pathological need to be polite. For one's first 25 years, good manners are dispersed in a shotgun-like fashion, without any particular focus or aim. You just do it, no matter what situation arises since it could take days to figure out if this is a situation in which one might be allowed to be less than polite.
Later, through experiences just like this, we gradually learn when it is acceptable to just walk away. But we weren't there yet.
We took seats at one of the booths and a tired-looking Asian woman came and took our drink orders. When our drinks came, we started revamping our battle plan. This, most certainly, was no gay bar. After a few sips of our drinks, Jim passed around a vial of "poppers".
Under the residual effects of the poppers, Therese decided to go ask the Greek sailors in the pool room if they knew where a gay bar was.
Also under the residual effects of the poppers, Jim actually decided to use the men's room in this place.
Surprisingly the Greek sailors indeed knew where the gay bar was. Success at last! Who in the world would have believed that manly seamen from half-way around the world would know the location of a gay bar in Savannah, GA. I mean, who'd a thunk it? I figured it was just dumb luck.
Therese and I are sitting in the booth waiting for Jim to return from the men's room. He does seem to be in there for quite some time. While we are waiting when...unexpectedly and totally out of the blue...a naked Asian woman wearing only pasties and a g-string climbs up on the unusually shaped bar with the fireman poles. We both look at each other. Then we look at the Asian woman who is starting her act. Then we try very, very hard not to look at the Asian woman.
But it's really quite impossible since the booth we chose to sit in is about 10 feet from where she is using the fireman's pole in a most unorthodox fashion. A black man in a tattered army jacket pulls a pair of hand puppets out of his pocket and lets the puppets have a conversation with the woman's pelvis.
Who, for God's sake, brings puppets to a strip bar?
Did he just start to walk out the door to go to the strip bar and go, "Oops, wait a minute...almost forgot my puppets. Can't be without those at the strip bar."
I just can't seem to avert my eyes quickly enough and they keep being pulled back to this Fellini-esque scene.
Jim finally returns from the men's room. His face is white and his freckles stand out in sharp relief to his pale skin. He describes the men's room as being a bloodbath of crushed red velour and shag carpeting.
Evidently, there was a very large black woman in a red lace teddy who had taken up residence in one of the men's bathroom stalls.
Jim, the polite young Southern man that he is, thought immediately he's made the faux pas of entering the lady's facilities.
"Oh, please," he said, "I beg your pardon!"
Before Jim can make a graceful exit, the large black woman says, "Tha's alright, honey! Come on in!"
Evidently, he wasn't in the wrong place.
We decide to leave what was left of our drinks and make our way to the gay bar that the Greek sailors so kindly gave us directions to. We are quiet on the way there. Each of us processing what we'd just experienced. We knew we had just had one of those experiences that we would tell over and over again. It was to become one of our myths, our legends.
I remember the relief I felt when we entered the clean, safe confines of the gay bar. Everything was polished hardwood and trac lighting. Nice smelling gay people were milling about laughing. A drag show was going on up on the stage. A pleasant androgynous man took me up on a game of backgammon and flirted with me.
I flirted back.
Sunday, December 17, 2006
The land her family used to own is now a wide, smooth lake that rolls up its shores each winter. In the summer, the TVA lets the water flow in and the banks of mud are once more serene stretches of liquid. You can still see the road that went through that once lovely farmland in the winter. They left the grain silos and only those peek out of the water during the summer. It's called Dutch Bottoms.
You have to be careful about waterfront property in Tennessee. Half the year, your lakefront home looks out onto vistas of mud.
Her grand daddy was advised to move "high up" for his health. It was just in time, for the TVA was taking over the land to make Douglas Lake. They bought most of Hall Top Mountain and the clan moved there. Most of that land is out of the family now, but they still have a huge reunion up there each year.
Her father met her mother while walking down the Old Fifteenth with his fiddle strapped on his back on his way to a revival meeting. She was doing the laundry on a big rock in the stream. That rock is still there. They began meeting there on a regular basis, but she was forbidden to see boys, so it was on the quiet. They decided to run away together and on the next laundry day, her mother wore her good clothes under her laundry smock and they ran off to Clayton, Georgia and got hitched.
Her family moved around a good bit, her father chasing jobs in the cotton mills of South Carolina, before coming back to the mountain. He was a stern and unforgiving man. He had spent his youth wildly, playing his fiddle at dances and frequenting gospel meetings. It was perhaps his youthful experiences that made him so very strict with his daughters. A hard man to love well. He was cruel at times. She wonders if he'll be there in the afterlife.
Once, she wore a new pair of shoes to church. It was a five mile walk and her feet were raw. She had been forbidden to accept rides from boys, but just this once she did, since she could barely walk. Her father beat her within an inch of her life for that transgression.
The last time he beat her, she swore she'd kill him if he touched her again. He didn't and she left her home to go out in the world.
When she was growing up in that stern household, they lived on a farm on what is now Coggins road. They just tore the old farmhouse down. Often she'd comment on what a pretty farm her daddy had over there with the land all cleared and whatnot. The new people hadn't kept the place up in her eyes. They had a penchant for saving old machinery and cars and the stretch of road that her family once lived on was now decorated with hundreds…maybe thousands…of junk automobiles.
That family has an interesting story. Their daddy was a scout for geological surveyors up here in these hills. It was said that he knew where all of the rich mineral deposits were, hidden beneath the shifting stone of the hills. He couldn't read but he could dowse for minerals with eerie proficiency. My neighbors told me that there was a story that when the old man died, he had stored all sorts of gem stones in the junk cars. So the boys had to be careful what they threw away since their inheritance was hidden in old engine blocks.
The men of this family have a curse. They all die young at exactly the same age. At least most of them. Enough to make the men nervous.
She remembers the nights spent in that old house. She remembered waking up in the middle of the night as a child screaming. Huge Norway rats infested the farmhouse when they first moved in and they'd often awaken to find rat bites on their faces and necks. She has an uneasy relationship with the wildlife up here. She is terrified of snakes after having come across a nest of them mating in the creek. She says there were hundreds of the things intertwined there in the water. She still has nightmares about them.
Life was hard here, but the memories are now softened with time. In deep winter her father would wrap all of the children's legs in burlap sacks for the three mile trudge through the snow, crossing frozen creeks, to the school house. They didn't have a way to take the burlap off and would have to wear the sacks all through the school day.
The delicious freedom she experienced when she left home to work in the Magnavox factory in Greeneville was short-lived, but she traded it for the life she has had all these years, with the man she loved. They raised five strong children and farmed. It was a good life.
Her husband died nine years ago. She recalls the winter night he passed with clarity and tears up as she speaks of it. She still keeps his name on her door and her phone listing still bears his name. It's very much like he is still living at times when she speaks of him.
They had a wood stove for heat at that time. The night was wickedly cold and bitter and he was loading the stove with firewood.
As he placed crammed too many "night logs" in the firebox, she chided him about it.
"You best not be doin' that," she said, "You're gonna drive us out of the house and then where would we go?"
He wisecracked at her as he often did, "Guess I'd better find another place to sleep, then."
"Shall I pack your bags fer you?" She cracked back at him.
Her eyes tear up and she says to me, "I weren't being mean, this was just what we always said to each other."
I could so see the easy nature of their relationship. The deep love and level of comfort they had reached with each other during their long lives together.
He had indeed overloaded the stove that night. The creosote jammed the flue and smoke began to billow through the house. He had already gone to bed, leaving her to deal with the mess. She went through the house closing off doorways in an attempt to contain the smoke billowing into the house.
"I guess I should have checked on him, but I didn't." She said, missing him with every breath. Loving him with every single piece of herself.
He died in his sleep during the night.
Sometimes I take her out for a drive and she points out to me the ghosts of the thriving community that once lived here. The mountains are jealous of the land we take for our use. Places that fifty years ago were homesteads are now forest. All that remains of her childhood and young adulthood here are in many cases a teetering stone chimney left on a spot where she once laughed and danced.
I can sense the sadness in her when she points out a stretch of forest and says, "Back whence I was young, that was the prettiest farm with all sorts of beautiful flowers."
Sometimes when we are driving about, she will break into song. Her voice is sweet and melodic and mixed with the dissonances that typify atonal singing up here.
We will wind around the mountain roads singing "I'll Fly Away".
Friday, December 15, 2006
It's that time of year again.
I took this photo last year down at the Hartford Exxon which has now been fancied up into the Pigeon River Smokehouse. Their barbeque is okay. I'm something of a barbeque snob though, so it's hard to please me. Once you've been spoiled by the likes of The Pink Pig or Maurice Bessinger's Piggie Park...well, it's just hard to please me in respect to barbeque.
Now, I tried really hard to boycott Maurice's back in 2000 when all of the debate was going on. And it's true...he's a terrible racist. But the siren song of pulled pork cooked slowly over oak embers and tangy mustardy sauce would draw me back to my shameful addiction. Boy howdy, the man knows his pig. Guess it takes one to know one that well.
His brother, Thomas, also has outstanding barbeque in Charleston. I actually prefer it to Maurice's and they also have the most amazing onion rings that are coated in a puffy sweet bread-like coating.
I don't know how I got on this tangent about barbeque when I actually meant to talk about bear hunting, but I guess I'm just waxing nostalgic for the foods and sights of my homeland in coastal South Carolina. But there is something about barbeque and hound dogs that just seems to fit so well together.
The Tennessee barbeque is okay, it's just not something to dream about. Or maybe I haven't gotten out like I used to and roamed in search of the perfect piece of pig.
So, back to bear hunting.
Every year about this time, they hunt the black bears that are everywhere here. The hunters use dogs. There will be one dog that is the lead pack dog and the most valuable one, who sits on top of the dog box in the back of the truck and sounds when he gets the scent.
They've gotten very high tech here with this sport. The lead dogs are outfitted with GPS collars. The hunters can be seen standing around with little satellite dishes trying to pinpoint where the dogs have got the bear treed or cornered.
I remember the hunter who had these dogs told me that they had almost lost a few dogs when the bear turned on them the day before these photos were shot.
They have lots of bear hunting clubs here. My favorite is the "Po' Boys Bear Club". I was quite covetous of their club T-shirts. I really really wanted one. Off season, the clubs involve themselves with bear conservation. Last year they rescued a cub, not an itty bitty one...just one that had gone off from its mother recently. He'd fallen in the French Broad and the Bear Club members went and rescued him and got him to the wildlife rehabilitator.
I grew up in a family of hunters and fishermen. I still enjoy going on a squirrel hunt now and again and I still love to fish.
This has been a really news filled year for Black Bear. We had the death of a young child in the Cherokee National Forest earlier this year. People were on high alert after that. They caught and killed one bear that turned out not to be the culprit before finding the one that did. I think I heard they found human DNA on the one they finally decided was the one who killed the kid. I remember driving through Cherokee on my way to Bryson City to pick up my new bucks and saw the rangers out with their sniper rifles. Everyone was a little jumpy after that.
Then, some idiot in Gatlinburg got out of his car to go after his unleashed dog who was going after a mother and her two cubs and almost got whacked. The mother bear did get whacked in the end and the two cubs ended up being raised by wildlife rehabilitators.
I haven't seen a live bear since I came here, though I often hear the hounds running them through the woods. I did see a magnificent bear that a hunter had shot and was taking to the game station. I'd never been that close to one before.
They eat the meat here. It seems that men really love it, but most of the women I've spoken to don't care for it much. I haven't had an opportunity to try it yet. I'm hoping to get some bear fat this season to render down into lard to make soap with. We'll see.
I was told when I first came here that if a man brings you a bear haunch that it is tantamount to a marriage proposal.
Of course, you get to be the one to cook it.
I'll stick with barbeque for now.
Thursday, December 14, 2006
The Indians called this place "Shaconage". The land of blue smoke. It fairly seems to cry out for misty figures who fade in the fog and leave no footsteps in the wet springs where they tread.
But the reality and history here is so much more fascinating. I have yet to hear one ghost tale related to me by someone who actually grew up here.
Once, I brought a couple of filmmaker friends from Asheville to visit a local woman. They had come to visit me for the day and wanted to make a film based on Appalachian ghost stories. I really didn't have any ideas for them, but was able to get her to retell my favorite eerie, but true story.
There is a sheer rock face across from my house. It rises three hundred feet in the air from her north pasture. The top was once cleared and a small homestead used to sit on the edge of cliff. A young woman with two children lived up there with her old father. They farmed the steep slopes on the other side with steers.
They used to plant corn in places no one could plant today. You can still see the little terraces on the sides of the mountains where the steers pulled the plows.
She was married once. But the man took off to live with another woman down in the holler, leaving her with the two babies, a toddler and an infant.
I'm not sure exactly what the grim tale was about the relationship between the girl and her father. Maybe he was just mean as a snake. Maybe he drank. I'm just not sure, but for whatever reason, the two did not get along. She was dutiful, though, and was taking care of him in his later years.
It happened on one of those cold, cold nights we have here in the mountains. The sleet and snow was hitting the tin roof of the cabin, being driven by 40 mile per hour gusts. The wind sounded like a panther cry, like a woman screaming. It was on a night like this that the old man decided to die.
As he lay dying by inches and on his last night on earth, he cursed his girl.
"Mark my words, girl," he told her, "for as sure as I'll die on this night, I'll come back and haunt you. I'll drive you mad for sure. You see if I don't!"
As the warmth seeped out of his now dead body in the middle of a cold winter night, the daughter made up her mind. She bundled up her two young ones and scaled down the cliff with them in the dark, in the snow and driving ice and wind. She arrived at the woman's house seeking shelter late that wintery night.
Her hands were cut and torn from her climb down the sheer rock face. She had bruises over most of her body and was shuddering with cold. It was a miracle that she didn't plummet to her death. It was a greater miracle that neither of the babies had a scratch on them.
The next morning she left the two babies with their father and went to Knoxville. She checked herself into what was then known as the "Sanatorium" but is now the State Mental Institution. I suppose she expected her dead father to make good on his promise to drive her insane, and thought it best to be in an appropriate place when it happened.
Many years later, the woman tried to go get her and bring her home, thinking the fear might have gone out of her.
The woman looked at her over the steaming vats of laundry with haunted eyes.
"This would be my home now." she told her.
She lived out the remainder of her days at the Sanatorium, patiently waiting to go insane.
There are no ghosts here. The dead still live with the living.
Monday, December 11, 2006
I fall in love with dead people. It's an unfortunate habit of mine.
Last spring, I made a pilgrimage to visit the graves of two women who had captured my affections, though I'd never met them. If I had only come here a few years earlier, I could have actually met them and spoken with them. To me, this is like visiting the ruins of the great library of Alexandria. I have no idea what treasures they took with them, but I'm sure they had stories to tell me. Almost two hundred years of life experience on these hills lay buried here.
It was early spring and the trilliums were coming up and the water was high in the creek. I wandered around their barn and checked out the ramps patch they had planted. Pulling one up, I tasted the garlicky sweetness of the leaves before starting the long hike up the mountain, with ramps on my breath. The smell of spring here is green, damp and cool. It smells like snow melting up in the Gulf.
I first heard of Martha and Lizie from the Busbee family. They were long-time neighbors of the girls and even the youngsters remember the two fondly. They were twin sisters, spinsters, who lived with each other their entire lives. They were born in 1906, which would have put them at the right age to have attended the mission school where Catherine Marshall's mother, Leonora, taught. I don't know if they actually went to that school, but the conditions here were in keeping to that time period.
This is a harsh environment for a woman to live alone in now. I can only imagine what it must have been like for them, but at least they had each other.
Mrs. Busbee remembers the girls in their prime. They were quite the two beauties. They had long blue-black hair, caramel-colored skin and the light colored eyes that may have pointed to a Melungeon ancestry. She remembers seeing them sitting out on the rocks in the middle of the creek singing and washing their long black hair. I'm reminded of the siren's scene from Oh, Brother, Where Art Thou when I think of them in their youth.
I asked her why they never married. Evidently one of them almost did, but it didn't work out. Neither could stand to leave the other. They were both very devoted to their parents and gave up their lives to care for them. By the time their Daddy died at 102 years of age, the girls were 56 years old. Their mother died six years later at the age of 103. By then the girls were 61 and the days of wine and roses were long past. From what I know of Martha and Lizie, they never considered this a sacrifice.
Their lives were long, but hard. They farmed burley tobacco and their barn still stands on the property. Growing tobacco is brutal work that involves suckering the plants, tying it up on sticks and hanging the crop to dry in a well ventilated barn. The nicotine can enter your bloodstream from your hands as you handle the plants making you sick and headachey. Most everyone here has the experience of working tobacco.
The remnants of their life were still there, scattered about the floor of their cabin. No one had been here in the six years since they died so it had been broken into and animals were using it as shelter. But here and there were little vestiges of their lives. An unwashed tea cup sat by the sink and unwashed dishes were waiting for someone to come along and tidy up. Sun blasted canning jars waiting for summer. And most poignantly, a rack of clothes hanging, waiting for someone to get dressed for church. Untouched. Six years.
Needlework was their passion. They constructed some of the most beautiful quilts known to these parts. In a dreadful miscommunication, some distant relatives in Georgia bragged to their delinquent sons about how there was a fortune in those quilts. The boys thought that meant there was actual money sewed into the skilfully designed and executed quilts. So they made a road trip to rob the old women.
The girls were beaten within an inch of their lives and left for dead by the nephews. The boys ransacked the cabin and stole everything of value. Most tragically, they ripped apart all of Martha and Lizie's quilts looking for the "fortune". The fortune they left shredded in a million pieces all over the floorboards of the cabin.
Luckily, neighbors found the girls and got them to the hospital. The nephews were caught and sent to jail. How betrayed they must have felt by this.
But, by far my favorite remembrance of the girls is the story of the Cat Fur Jelly.
Martha and Lizie were overly fond of cats. No one is really sure how many cats they had. I believe it was over 50 though it's hard to tell here since cats tend to form feral colonies easily. It's possible that even Martha and Lizie didn't know how many cats they had. In their later years, it was said that the girls even smelled of cats. No one said anything since they were so beloved in the community.
A relative from Florida gifted the girls with several crates of citrus fruit one year. It was way too much for the two of them to eat without it going bad. Like everyone in the mountain community, Lizie and Martha canned fruits, vegetables and jams and jellies for the winter months. So, the girls decided to make a big ol' batch of marmalade with all of that beautiful fruit. They put up a gang of jars of the stuff with the fruit in their tiny little kitchen.
Come Christmas, they went around giving gifts of the beautiful orange jam. Everyone was ever so pleased.
Mrs. Busbee was one of the recipients. She held that jar of jam up to the light and it was fairly swimming in cat hair.
I'm sure the girls were never told. Mountain folk are just too kindly to make such a thing known.
It was a long hike up the mountain to their grave site. They were buried in one of those little family graveyards so common here. It seemed that no one had visited here since they were buried in 1999. This made me sad. Everyone is so concerned about keeping the graves tended here. They put "fresh" artificial flowers on the graves each season and think kindly of their dead relatives. Even the graves of the forgotten are tended as long as they are in one of these small cemeteries. But Martha and Lizie were the last of their branch, I suppose.
They even had their own gravestones made before they died. They knew this would be their fate. And I suppose it will be my own one day.
Someone had placed a huge, beautiful conch shell on top of their headstone. I wondered who had done that and what it must have meant. Did they take a trip to the beach once and play in the ocean? Was there some happy memory shared between who left this and the two?
I don't think they mind that in six years, only some stranger has made the trek up the mountain to see them. I hope they know that I only had the best intentions. I need them to be remembered because they truly are beautiful to me.
Sleep tight, sweet girls. I will remember you.
Sunday, December 10, 2006
I'm just putting a short post in tonight. It's Sunday and I usually take a bit of time off from writing on Sunday. But the deal is that I must write something.
A friend came over to my house and we watched Brokeback Mountain. This is not the sort of film that shows at the Newport CinemaPlex. Well, I started choking up around the last time they see each other and it was downhill from there. I'm glad I didn't see it in a movie theater because I would have quite shamed myself. I'm not one of those people who weeps tidily. There are some women who manage to look quite lovely as tears trace out of their eyes. That's just not me. When I'm by myself, I can really rip loose with a good cry. But since I had company, I did try to restrain myself. A bit.
There's just something lovely and cathartic about a good cry. I feel like the ground must feel after a nice hard rain.
Then we got on the subject somehow of domestic violence in the community.
I think we were talking about getting "whoopin's" as children. My parents never laid a hand on me when I was growing up. They never needed to. My mother was gifted with "the look". This sort of way that she looked at you and pursed her lips that was absolutely unquestionable. It was worse than being hit. In a second, my mother could telepathically convey all sorts of horrors that would occur(but never did) if I did not immediately cease whatever it was that I was doing.
The conversation segued into domestic violence. The women here are very strong. The men have good reason to be afraid of them and if not of them, then of their male relatives. If someone threatens to kill you up here, it's definitely not a joke.
There is this tale of a woman who lived up the road more towards Del Rio. Her husband was known to take a violent turn when he got all likkered up. This one evening he came home drunk, no doubt on some of the excellent white lightning that is made up here. They tell me our community supplies the Tennessee State House with hooch, it's that good. It also makes excellent vanilla extract and elderberry cordial. Not that I'd know or anything, but it only costs 6 bucks a quart.
The husband takes a swipe at the wife and then passes out in the bed. She gets out her needle and thread and sews him up in the sheet on the bed. Then, she goes out and finds a stout stick and proceeds to beat the crap out of him, all the while him being unable to escape from his "shroud".
I'm not sure how he managed to extricate himself from this situation. I imagine that is a tale unto itself. But he left her after that. Told all his buddies that he was afraid to be in the same house with her.
I love that story.
Payback is certainly a bitch.
Saturday, December 09, 2006
I've known Hope for over half of my life. We were in school together at the University of South Carolina. She was a graduate student and I remember really looking up to her. I was a silly, callow undergraduate and she was one of the people I idolized.
Hope can remember when I first started to write, back when I took seminars under William Price Fox. He told me I needed to get out there and "live". I probably took his advice a bit too close to heart...for I have certainly done that. Perhaps with a bit too much enthusiasm. Now I have some real things to write about.
She had and still has a voice as big as the sky. I remember going to the old Grow Cafe in Columbia to hear her. It was a really wacky old place. I remember the dusty floors and the smell of stale Budweiser blended with clove cigarette smoke and old dusty floors. The Grow had this mural of The Incredible Hulk painted on the wall outside. I guess it was sort of a dive...but it seemed sort of exotic and hip to me.
I can see Hope standing up there with her guitar. I can still remember how her voice filled that room. She was one of my "coolest" friends. She still is way up there on the "coolness" factor and lives in New York City.
My main influence was rural South Carolina Southern Baptist church music. And I would attend the Pentecostal churches during revival time and singing conventions. And there was the country music that was played on the radio. Johnny Cash and Hank Williams were like a member of the family. For years I thought Johnny Cash was my Daddy's best friend and in a way I believe he was.She and Steve Tarshis will be releasing their first album, "Wilderness Lounge" in early 2007. They've recently been named finalists for the Independant Music Awards for two of their songs. You can download some of their work from Supersonic EPK.
If you like them...and I know you will...please buy "Wilderness Lounge" when it comes out!
|Sweep My Yard Clean|
Written by: Hope Nunnery and Steve Tarshis
One baby cooing in the fruit crate
One sleeping in a drawer
An angel kicking in my belly
Jesus please don't send no more, but
Mister Sweet pea standing yonder
Reverend peeking through the crack
Deacon hunkered by the corn crib
Satan crawling up my back
Sweep my yard clean
No more tracks 'round my yard
I sure could use some comfort, but I
Keep my broom standing guard
In black dark night of lonesome
A sweet voice called to me
Say "baby my name is Jesus
Let me rock you on my knee"
Never knew my Daddy
Never knew my Daddy name, but
Now I got a Daddy
Sweet, sweet Jesus is His name
Sweep my yard clean
No more tracks 'round my yard
I sure could use some comfort, but I
Keep my broom standing guard
Cut a heap of broom straw, it all
Bunched and tied with twine
Gonna whoop that old temptation
I ain't no mans concubine
Sweep my yard clean
No more tracks 'round my yard
I sure could use some comfort, but I
Keeps my broom standing guard
Isn't she cool?
Thursday, December 07, 2006
I'm tired. I have that punchy feeling where you can feel your blood vibrating in your veins.
I hate that.
I was just falling asleep this morning as the dawn charged over the horizon. I'm not sure why I stayed up all night, but I just did. So when the phone rang at eleven, I wasn't really half awake. But six hours is better than nothing.
So...I got nothin' for you today. I'm really really happy with Little Men. That's the sort of work I do when I'm well rested.
This morning was warmish in a weird way and the clouds came closing in on the blue sky. By afternoon it began. Great white globby snow flakes. I so love the first snow. I had to run to the store and stood out in it for a moment. In a moment of madness, I lifted my head to the sky and stuck out my tongue, letting those icy clumps fall and melt. They felt like little fairy needles.
Perhaps it was the exhaustion. I experienced a rare moment of Zen seeing on my way home. I stopped the jeep by the "Rope Hole", a local swimming hole with a rope swing. I saw the snowflakes falling on the rushing mountain water in a moment of crystal clarity. I zoomed in with my entire being to the moment before the snowflakes hit the water. I think they seemed to pause for a moment, as though knowing death was near.
I have no words to describe how unspeakably beautiful this was. It was a visual haiku.
But I have no words for you now. I'd just drown you in adjectives.
Wednesday, December 06, 2006
They started showing up when I hit my thirties. They may have been there before and I just failed to notice them. Suddenly, they would be there. Creeping up on dirty, bare feet; cutting glances in my direction; shy, they were, like small, feral creatures in the snow.
Sometimes they brought gifts. Bull frog tadpoles in jars, deer skulls or other assorted bones, fresh trout just caught, ducks just shot or rabbits and animal skins. I have graciously accepted these offerings and let them watch as I placed the tadpoles in small porch aquariums to mature, proudly displayed the bones, cleaned the fish and dressed the game and birds. The latter would sometimes include an anatomy lesson.
"See that? You don't want to cut that...it's a bile duct and it's connected to the liver. You have one inside you too!"
They would come by bike, by foot and once in a while on horseback. Sometimes they timed their entrance to the start of the barbecue grill. Sometimes they came with questions, sometime tears and sometimes to rescue me.
I've always called them my army of little boys. Puck's friends. My little men.
I don't know why they came. I have no idea what it is about me that draws 9 to 13 year old boys to my doorstep. There was one girl once. She was a corn-rowed tomboy with sickle cell. She would arrive on her bike with the rest of the gang wearing a backwards baseball cap and a snaggle-tooth grin. Some days she wasn't there. She was in the hospital.
When I lived in Columbia, I was in graduate school. My hours were irregular and involved long nights at the theatre. So I would be home during the day when the latch-key gangs of the Olympia neighborhood were running wild in the streets. Before long, every one's Mom had my phone number so they could call their wayward offspring home.
"Is he over there bothering you again?"
"No...it's okay. He's just cleaning out the tadpole nursery. Do you need me to send him home?"
"His dinner's ready."
"No problem...I'll see that he heads out right away."
Olympia was a really cool neighborhood. It was an old textile mill village with wonderful old homes dating back to the turn of the century. Most of the original people who settled there were from the Appalachians. You can find these mill villages all over the eastern seaboard. Folk from the mountains would leave in droves to work in the textile mills. Most would work through the cold winter and return home to "make a garden" in the spring. This is a fairly common story heard here. Sometimes entire families would go. Children as young as five were put to work in the mills doing dangerous things that only quick small fingers could do.
Sometimes they lost those fingers.
Most of the families here in Grassy Fork have some sort of mill heritage. Some stayed behind and settled permanently in the mill villages. These people were called "lint heads". The term started as a pejorative but now, it has been reclaimed. It's rarely used in a negative sense anymore. The interesting thing is that no matter how many generations removed from the mountains, the people who stayed seemed to hang on for dear life to their Appalachian heritage. These villages for a while, before gentrification, were little oasis' of mountain culture plopped down in the middle of major cities.
If what happened to me in Olympia had not happened, I would have gladly stayed there.
I really loved it there; my mill house looking out over the abandoned mill, my lint head neighbors, Granny Wilson with her purple hair and feral chihuahuas and my army of little boys.
Two of them, brothers, were frequent visitors. Ryan and Jeremy. Ryan was of the age where he would excitedly relate stories that I'm sure, his mother would rather not have spread around.
"Miss Rosanne! Guess what WE did! Momma an' me...we went over to her ol' boyfriend's house...you know...the really mean one? We slashed his water bed and water...well...it like went ever'where!"
The mill house they lived in was catty-corner to mine. The yard decorations were simply wonderful. For a while, a toilet graced the front yard with one of those little fishing boy statuaries seated on top of the tank and fishing into the bowl of the toilet. I thought it inspired. They hung sheets in the trees for Halloween and you never knew what was going to show up there at Christmas.
One day, as Jeremy was walking with me and my dogs, he got a quizzical look on his face.
"My Momma, she says you're a 'dite'."
I cut my eyes at him. I could tell he was confused.
"So Jeremy. Do you know what a 'dite' is?" I asked, repeating the mispronunciation.
"Well, sure!" he replied with a bit of false bravado. "I've got lots of friends at school who are boys and there's nothin' wrong with that."
I really loved my life there. I loved those people.
When I moved here, a new crop started coming up to visit. They would show up with pellet guns and bare feet. It always amazes me how the mountain children can run and scamper over the sharp rocks. I forbade them to come on the property without shoes. It took a few times to get them to obey. I still have projects that little boys like to help with. Building a rabbit trap just like the one my grandfather built for me. Holding lengths of wood steady while my circular saw rips the wood. Tending to newly hatched chicks or bottle-feeding baby goats. Gigging frogs in the pond.
It's an army of one right now. Only one left...my amazing helper, Adam. Adam at 11 can start any two cycle engine capable of starting. He has climbed down the cliff to retrieve dogs and goats. He's helped me run fences. He's a great kid. It seems sometimes that he's carrying around a very old soul.
As I said, I have no idea what draws them to me. Perhaps it is because my own interests, my simple pleasures, have remained fairly juvenile. I enjoy gigging for frogs. I like building rabbit traps and the breathless anticipation each day as you check them. I love a walk in the woods with my .22 hunting squirrels with my dogs or fishing in the creek. I like to go down to the creek on the hottest day of the year and swim in the ice cold water. Finger painting is fun and ever so sensual (remember the squishy feel of the tempera and that amazing smell?). These things still hold great pleasure to me. I still like doing the things I liked doing when I was 10. Except eating paste. I gave that up.
Just as mysteriously, they vanish. Like the litter of possums I hand raised, they disappear into the woods of young adulthood, clambering over the fallen leaves of their experiences. Sometimes, as with Ryan and Jeremy, I never hear from them again. I can only hope that some gift from me goes forth with them. I sometimes wonder where they are. If they are on some lonely desert fighting for their lives. If they have enough to eat. How many times has their heart been broken.
I'll never know. It is my way to walk softly in this world.
But sometimes...sometimes...I hope rather desperately that they still like to watch tadpoles grow into frogs.