Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Heavenly Crown

Today I was waiting for the snow to melt, still stuck up here in the house. I was able to make it down to the mailbox using my 4-wheel drive, but I don’t like to do that too often since it ruts the road.

The dogs are going crazy and I look out to see a brand new pickup truck I don’t recognize stuck and spinning further impassible ruts in my road. It’s four teenagers come to tell me that that they have tried everything to catch the sheep and have failed. Well, of course, I say—they are sheep. I know how kids around here handle livestock and Mutton and Chops will not be caught using such roughness. In fact, anyone who knows sheep knows they won’t be caught by strangers. It’s just how sheep are.

I’m sort of pissed because I know that now they have been harassed, they are going to be hard for even me to catch when the snow clears enough for me to get down there.

Anyway, I’m pretty sure after a few veiled references that they are informing me that they are going to shoot the sheep.

Luckily, they harassed them so badly that they are now standing in the pasture looking at me and the teenagers, so this did not come to pass.

So—sheep are home and let’s hope they stay that way.

Today’s story is about a bit of folklore I came across. I haven’t gone into much detail about what it actually is in the story as I did in the madstone story. There is something called a “heavenly crown” or a “death crown”. It forms in the feather pillow of a sick person who is bedbound, making a circle of woven together feathers where the person’s head laid. Often, they will remove and save these. I think there are a few on display at the Museum of Appalachia. The significance of them is that if one forms, it means that the person’s sins were forgiven when they died.

The Heavenly Crown

He waited on the steps of the jail, his eyes looking down at the cracks in the pavement, wondering about the bits of grass that managed to crack the cement. Tiny seeds were able to make the stones break apart as they sprouted in the mortar. He didn't know how they got there, but he knew well enough how something tiny like a seed--or a baby --could grow, destroying the place it lived.

He didn't know how his boy got the way he was. He thought he brought him up right--never sparing the rod and making him fly right. He never let him use bad language and whipped him till his back bled every time he back talked his Ma. He had made sure he attended Sunday school and taught him to respect his elders. It was a great mystery to Clevon how his boy Amos grew up to be mean as a snake. No sir, it didn't make any sense how Clevon had managed to raise up a sinner.

That psychologist lady the state sent over when Amos was fourteen made is sound like it was all Clevon's fault. Said he should of got help after the puppy thing happened when Amos was ten. The boy killed a whole litter of the neighbor's puppies, bashing their heads against a tree.

Clevon told her, "It weren't like they had souls or nothing. He didn't kill human babies like a lot of doctors do ever day."

"You're missing the point," the psychologist lady told him.

That lady made it sound like they didn't beat him for the right things or maybe they shouldn't have beat him at all. Maybe they should have just let him run wild like city kids being all sass and no manners. One thing about Amos, he had beautiful manners. Always said "please", "thank you" and ma'amed and sirred his elders. That woman they said he forced himself on, they said he held the door for her before he threw her in the car. God's truth, you can look it up in the court transcripts.

Clevon heard the door open and looked up as they wheeled Amos out. The boy was gaunt and his eyes burned in his face. Yellow skin covered his bones, making it look like there was no flesh under them--like he was nothing but skin-upholstered bones. His lips were chapped and the red birthmark-looking rash he got while in jail covered his neck and part of his face.

He licked his lips with a white tongue and said, "Hey, Dad."

Clevon's eyes grew moist, seeing the state the prison let his boy get in. They said he had the AIDS and that he was dying. They said they were letting him go home to die--that he couldn't hurt anybody anymore but Clevon didn't believe that for one minute. He figured he'd get him eating good again and put some weight on him. No way, no how his boy had the AIDS.

Clevon drove Amos back to the house where he put him in his old bedroom where all his trophies from middle school gathered dust. The drive tired the boy out and he went right to sleep. Clevon had a big plate of biscuits and gravy ready for him when he woke up and brought them to him on a tray.

"I'm sorry couldn't be there for Ma's funeral," he said. He pushed the biscuits around on the plate, but didn't seem to be able to eat anything.

"As soon as we get you on your feet, we'll go visit her."

Amos laid back, looked out the window and pushed the biscuits away, "Yeah, Dad. We'll do that."

Clevon nursed Amos the best he could, but he just couldn't seem to get him to eat. He didn't think it possible for the boy to get any thinner, but as he lay on the bed over the next months, never being able to get up, he wasted away. The home health lady came by every day to bathe him and look at his medicines.

"You should move him to a hospice," she said.

Clevon said no, he just needed to gain some weight. Home was the best place for that. Clevon tended the boy, expecting the skeleton to flesh out--expecting him to eat--but he became hotter, thinner and more silent each day. Clevon worried for the boy's soul and sat next to him reading his Ma's bible aloud.

By the time Clevon finally asked Amos, "Son, have you turned to Jesus? Have you given it all up to Him?" Amos couldn't talk. His eyes darted around the room, but Clevon wasn't sure what he saw.

Amos died in the night, his young strong heart finally stopping, winding down to nothing. Clevon sat next to the bed all morning with him waiting for the funeral home to arrive. He couldn't get the idea out of his head--that maybe Amos hadn't turned his sins over to Jesus. And if he had, what if he had handed the wrong sins over? What if Amos didn't know which sins he needed to repent?

Clevon got up and rummaged through the boy's dresser until he found an old pocketknife. He pulled the boy's pillow from under his head and sliced the seam open. There, nestled where the boy's head had laid all these months was Clevon's proof and solace. He pulled the circle of interwoven goose feathers from the pillow.

The beautiful thing twined intricately together brown and white feathers in a starburst. Clevon held the death crown--the Heavenly Crown--in his hands and wept. It held the shape of Amos' soul and proof of his redemption.


  1. Mike Golch said...
    Hi Just came to visit from Jo's site.I reallly like the Moutain dulicmer that floats as a person scrolls down.Thats really neat,do you play it??
    Manerva said...
    Glad everyone is home safe and sound!
    bonnie said...
    Yes, glad to hear Mutton & Chops did not get converted to their namesake meats before their time.

    BTW - it's the 29th! Congratulations, and thanks for an amazing month of short sweet storytelling!
    Leeuna said...
    Rosie, You continue to amaze me with your talent. This has to be your best story yet. I think it is the voice in which your wrote it...maybe the conversational tone you used...whatever it is, you just keep getting better.

    Thank you so much for a wonderful month of entertainment. I'm sorry to see it end.

    Glad you got your sheep back. Have a good weekend and stay warm. :)
    Hayden said...
    ugh. neighbors. mixed blessing.
    threecollie said...
    Thank you for the wonderful month of stories. I enjoyed them immensely.

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