Tuesday, December 25, 2007

As my gift to you, my readers, I offer the following Christmas tale...and a little puzzle at the end. Props to Friend Scot for giving me the story idea, which is a mishmash of our discussion while driving home from his family's gathering last night.

Merry Christmas to you all and I hope you are having a joyous holiday!

The Blessing

Sukey sat on her haunches with her back to the mossy side of the poplar tree. She burrowed her face deeper in the frayed woolen scarf around her neck and blew warm breath into the oily wool to warm her nose up. Her shotgun felt heavy in her hands and the barrel seemed cold. It were funny, she thought to herself, how gunmetal never seemed to warm up no matter how tight you held it to yourself.

The moon was full like a white pumpkin sitting up in the sky with its tiny star friend just down to the left of it. It lit up the ridge, kissing the mountaintops. Sukey thought it looked like quilt pieces of blue against darker blue with a little line of silver edging. For sure, the moon right filled the sky tonight.

It were the best type of night to catch the varmint, she thought to herself. A varmint can’t bear to sit home sleeping when the moon were that big in the sky. So she waited and watched over the barnyard. She just hoped she wouldn’t have to be out here half the night to catch the thieving bastard.

They’d already lost half their chickens to the winter night raider and that was how Sukey found herself spending that Christmas Eve propped against the poplar tree in the shadows looking over the barnyard. Christmas or no, they couldn’t afford to lose no more chickens.

Sukey turned her face to that night sky and wondered what sort of night it were the night Baby Jesus entered the world. She wondered if he had entered the world in the usual way, all bloody and slimy and screaming. She wondered if his mommy had hollered a lot like her Mommy had when little Wivonnie were born. They seemed to sort of gloss over that part, she thought. She reckoned there must have been a fair amount of hollering. A fair amount of blood, too. And she thought that star they was always talking about must have been almost as bright as the moon were tonight.

Off in the distance she could hear the serinadin’ going on. Usually she would have joined them, but since they moved to the tarpaper shack here on the Bessenger farm to share crop, she didn’t have near as much free time. There were a few hilltops that glowed an extra bit from the bonfires.

Sukey wiggled her toes in her hobnail boots to warm them up. Leastways she had some socks on to keep her toes a bit warmer than if she’d not had them. So there was a blessing. You had to count your blessings, the preacher man was always saying. Lord, she thought, thank you for these socks.

It were so bright that you could see everything in the barnyard. A few of the cows were eating the corn fodder they’d left out for them. They’un’s couldn’t tell it were time to sleep, she reckoned.

Sukey watched them for a moment and wondered if they would kneel to pray as the old legend said. It was the night that the animals supposedly talked, and Sukey wondered what they would say if they could. She reckoned they’d say something like, “Mmmm, these here corn shucks is good!”

She dozed off there in the cold for a moment, her head falling heavily into the warm nest of her scarf. Her 12 gauge lay on her lap, crooked open and waiting for her shell.

It was the snuffling that stirred her. She smelled it before she saw it. It was the smell of wet dog, like a hound come up from the creek and had shook all over her. But it was also stronger and stinkier. She knew that smell, did Sukey.

Quietly, she slid two shells into the chamber. It sure wasn’t what she had expected to find out here and she was pretty sure it wasn’t what was killing the chickens, but it sure would be a good Christmas if she could kill it.

She sat tensed as it ambled into the clearing. The moon tried to light it up but is showed as a great black shadow. The cattle moaned in alarm and clattered around in their pen, moving to and fro.

Sukey took aim low on the chest of the beast where she knew its heart was. The shotgun roared and Sukey felt her shoulder wrench backwards into the mossy bark of the poplar tree. The bear dropped to the ground with a bellow and then was quiet.

Sukey stood and cautiously approached the dead bear. She kept the shotgun pointed at it. She stood there for a minute to make sure it stayed down. She rubbed her hands on her pants and stomped back to the shack. She saw a light go on as she climbed up onto the porch.

Her Papaw was there as she closed the door behind her and rested the shotgun against the wall.

“Did you get it?” He asked.

“Na, but I did get a bear!” She said with a gap-tooth grin.

“Don’t you tell tales to me, girl!” Her grandfather said to her.

“Don’t believe me? Fine! But I’m tired and I ain’t strong enough to string it up and dress it, so you better get Daddy and do something afore the wolves get it.”

She picked up an orange from the table. It was a rare treat that they only had at Christmas and it was the only special thing she and her little brothers and sisters would have on Christmas morning. She dug her fingernails into the rind and breathed the tart sweetness, so rare and precious.

It was the happiest Christmas ever. Ma fixed a huge bear roast and they sat around the table with the rich gamy grease smeared on their faces, their bellies full. They ate well for weeks off of that bear. And Sukey thought, yes, preacher man is right. You gots to count your blessings. Lord, thank you for this here bear.

Many years later, Susannah Kinston sat, her eyes lowered towards her bridge hand at the Lady’s Auxillary Club. They had gone around the room telling stories of their favorite childhood Christmas experiences. Susannah shifted in her Chanel wool suit and adjusted her gloves.

“Well,” she demurred, “We always had oranges. I do love a nice orange.”

“Thank you, Lord, for all my many blessings,” she thought, “and thank you, Lord, for sending that bear. But I think I’ll keep that between the two of us.”

*********************************************

As an extra Christmas puzzle, I’m mentioned the name of Sukey’s little sister, Wivonnie, in the story. This is spelled phonetically according to how the Appalachian people sometimes pronounce it and has a common spelling that you would recognize. What is it?

10 Comments:

  1. Anonymous said...
    Rosie,
    Thank you. Great story. Merry Christmas to you.

    Ed in GA
    Peggy said...
    Thank you Rosanne for the story. I love spending time on your blog reading about your animal friends and listening to you tell stories of mountain things. Do hope your health has improved. You are a blessed lady and so talented. The one thing I miss, is hearing about your goat babies. Merry Christmas sweet lady.
    Cappy said...
    Merry Christmas!
    Libby Spencer said...
    Great story. Merry Christmas to you and yours.
    Granny Sue said...
    Enjoyed your story. I'm guessing that the name is Yvonne, or perhaps Livonia or Wynona. But my first choice would be Yvonne.

    I liked your character--she seemed very real.
    Rosie said...
    Yes, Granny Sue! Yvonne is pronounced Wivonnie here!
    threecollie said...
    Thank you for the wonderful story. You are so very talented!
    Hope said...
    Hi Rosie,
    I just came here by way of Peggy (Hidden Haven Homestead) and was intrigued right away by that story...maybe because I'm a Hillbilly! :) Thanks for sharing that. Now it will take me days to read your whole blog and archives! It's like finding a book you haven't read yet but you just know you're gonna love it!!

    Hope
    vonne said...
    What a beautiful story. My mama always talked about what a treat it was to get oranges at Christmas when she was a kid growing up in KY. Btw, she named me Lavonne, but growing up as a kid, in KY., they always called me Vonnie. :)
    Mallow said...
    I would guess Yvonne also.

    I hope you had a nice Christmas Rosie. Hugs to you.

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