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Aunt May story feedback.

Missouri -- Ma Betty

Well-known member
Do you all want me to keep on going?
Are you kidding & leave us with a cliff hanger? If you want to try & sell ,your story as a book deal I can agree just quit b ut if it is just for us who are interested & enjoying the story which actually is like my mom & my childhood--she gathered Ginseng & Lady Slipper while Cliff & I dug Red Root or Blood root a cheaper paid med & took a lot of dried up root to make a pound! Up to you but sure enjoying your & Aunt May's time together & your surviving the mountin wilderness! :thumbup: Thank you! Ma Betty
 

Missouri -- Ma Betty

Well-known member
I'm really enjoying it. Not just the storyline. But your ability to build mental images with words is excellent. But if you are planning on publishing it, don't spill all the beans.
Greg reminds me of Grace Livingston Hill or the Westerns by Zane Gray--both excellent writers! My dad didn't like all the descriptions but I did, as it placed you right there in the scenery! I Was an AVID READER but eyes & illnesses prevent a lot of reading now! Get tired & have headaches too easily! Keep up with writing & may God Bless you to get them published--Although the cost is high to get started! Remember the Waltons & John Boy's stories--he loved to write & was good at it! Ma Betty
 

Greg(E.Tn)

Well-known member
I'm really enjoying it. Not just the storyline. But your ability to build mental images with words is excellent. But if you are planning on publishing it, don't spill all the beans.
I’m not worried about someone stealing it. It’s intended as a tribute. If I do get it “published”, it will be in a magazine or newspaper to honor her.

I appreciate the vote of confidence; I needed that.
 

Greg(E.Tn)

Well-known member
OK, here's some more:

During the first few days of my visit, I was sure she was crazy. She said crazy things, and played tricks on me. One morning I made the mistake of telling her I was “bored”. “Why don’t you walk to the store?” She offered. It’s only a couple of miles away, if you take that shortcut through Indian Gap,” she pointed to a dent in the top of a mountain about two miles away. “There’s a good trail starts down by the spring at the foot of that spur. “ Go ahead,” she prodded, “exercise’ll do you good.”

I must have walked about fifteen miles that day, round trip, and never did find the store. When I limped back into the front yard, utterly exhausted, I found her sitting in her rocking chair, puffing her rollups, grinning at me. I asked her why she sent me on a wild goose-chase.

“I just wanted to see how far you’d walk,” she cackled.


One Sunday, she asked me to take her to church. Aunt May’s church was named Sulphur Springs Primitive Baptist Church. It was created in the 1870’s, and was your typical white square one-story plain wood building, with a tin roof, plank floors, and four glass windows that everything looked wavy when you looked through them, the glass was that old. It had unpainted, unlaquered, hand-made church pews made of local wood, a coal stove, and for years and years, no electricity. It sported dual Male/Female outhouses next to the creek. “You probably don’t remember it, but you’uns was up here visiting one year and the preacher killed a big copperhead out next to the outhouses.”

I had only been in her church a couple of times, back when I was a little kid, but I remembered it well, because it scared the heck out of me. That’s probably why I remembered it so well. The first time, I was probably four or five years old. It was me, mom and dad, my brother and sister, and of course, Aunt May and Uncle Willy. Besides us, there were probably fifteen or twenty people sitting inside. It was boring, but that changed when the preacher started shouting, then it got scary. My mom noticed my agitation and asked me what was wrong. “Can I go outside?” I whimpered. She seemed to understand, and nodded her head silently. I never went back in the church after that. From then on, I played in the creeks and explored the “hollers” with the other kids, while the grownups attended church services.


Driving down the old dirt road, we passed the occasional metal trailer or clapboard house. We came to a bridge across Frying Pan Creek, where a one lane road crossed; a small rusted metal sign at the intersection bore the single word “Tiny.” “What does that sign ‘Tiny’ mean, Aunt May?” I asked. “Well, you just passed Tiny, Virginia, population about five, since that’s how many people live in that house yonder,” she replied. “That’s where your older brother Jackie knocked Liz Kiser’s head off with a rock.”

I didn’t have a reply to that, so she filled the void. “You were too young to remember, but your brother, Jackie was about seven or eight, and was just then entering that stage of a young boy’s life I like to call “rock throwin’ stage.” He loved to throw rocks. Well, see that wide place in the creek? That’s where the church holds their baptizin’s. Hit’s just deep enough to dunk somebody. You all were up here on Sunday during a baptizin’, and Jackie was up on the bridge there skipping rocks in the creek on the other side. The creek bank was lined on both sides with people kneelin’, prayin’, and singin’; preacher Elijah Powers was leading the prayer, and everybody had their heads down and eyes shut, when your uncle Kermit heard something going, “skip-skip-skip-WHACK, and Liz Kiser, who was kneelin’ and prayin’ beside him, just kinda slumped over in the water. Kermit grabbed her up , and exclaimed, ‘Liz, what in the world has happened to you?’ That black hat with the little flowers all over it that she wore on special occasions was sittin’ all askaddle of her head, and her glasses were hangin’ by one ear. She gave him a lopsided look, spit water a bit, and blurted, ‘Somebody has knocked my head off with a rock!’ Nobody saw who did it, because everybody’s eyes were shut during the prayin’ , but they finally remembered Jackie up on the bridge skippin’ rocks. He was good at it, too.”

I’d never heard that story, and said so. “They didn’t figure out who did it until way after you all had gone back to Knoxville,” May replied, “so nothin’ else was ever said about it. Nobody liked Liz Kiser anyway. She gossiped too much.”

We pulled into the “parking lot” of the church. No pavement, no gravel—just a rutted, muddy yard with chug-holes, and a small white wood outbuilding with a tin roof where firewood and coal was stored for the winter sermons. The church had two doorways in front, and both door stood open. Like the outbuilding, it was made out of wood planking, painted white, had three windows on each side, and a single small chimney for venting the woodstove. The preacher was standing outside, greeting his church members as they arrived. He wore threadbare black slacks, a white dress shirt, and black tie. He was tall and slender, and looked like he had missed a few meals. Aunt May had told me on the ride down that Primitive Baptists didn’t believe in paying their preachers, because they thought it was wrong to make a profit spreading God’s word. From the looks of his thin profile, I could believe it. He was so skinny a brisk wind might blow him away.

That church only had sixteen wooden pews, hewn out of native Beech, and the congregation barely numbered thirty people, and yes, the two outhouses where the preacher killed the big copperhead was still in the same place. “This church used to draw a lot more people back in the old days” , May offered. When I was a little girl, there’d be so many people here for Association meeting that the church would be packed, and people would be standing all around the outside of the church hanging their heads in the open winders, listening to the preachers preach. I still remember the horses and buggies down in the yard there, and a few old timey cars. Not now though. The old people have all died off, and the young’uns don’t care anymore, for the most part.””
 

Missouri -- Ma Betty

Well-known member
OK, here's some more:

During the first few days of my visit, I was sure she was crazy. She said crazy things, and played tricks on me. One morning I made the mistake of telling her I was “bored”. “Why don’t you walk to the store?” She offered. It’s only a couple of miles away, if you take that shortcut through Indian Gap,” she pointed to a dent in the top of a mountain about two miles away. “There’s a good trail starts down by the spring at the foot of that spur. “ Go ahead,” she prodded, “exercise’ll do you good.”

I must have walked about fifteen miles that day, round trip, and never did find the store. When I limped back into the front yard, utterly exhausted, I found her sitting in her rocking chair, puffing her rollups, grinning at me. I asked her why she sent me on a wild goose-chase.

“I just wanted to see how far you’d walk,” she cackled.


One Sunday, she asked me to take her to church. Aunt May’s church was named Sulphur Springs Primitive Baptist Church. It was created in the 1870’s, and was your typical white square one-story plain wood building, with a tin roof, plank floors, and four glass windows that everything looked wavy when you looked through them, the glass was that old. It had unpainted, unlaquered, hand-made church pews made of local wood, a coal stove, and for years and years, no electricity. It sported dual Male/Female outhouses next to the creek. “You probably don’t remember it, but you’uns was up here visiting one year and the preacher killed a big copperhead out next to the outhouses.”

I had only been in her church a couple of times, back when I was a little kid, but I remembered it well, because it scared the heck out of me. That’s probably why I remembered it so well. The first time, I was probably four or five years old. It was me, mom and dad, my brother and sister, and of course, Aunt May and Uncle Willy. Besides us, there were probably fifteen or twenty people sitting inside. It was boring, but that changed when the preacher started shouting, then it got scary. My mom noticed my agitation and asked me what was wrong. “Can I go outside?” I whimpered. She seemed to understand, and nodded her head silently. I never went back in the church after that. From then on, I played in the creeks and explored the “hollers” with the other kids, while the grownups attended church services.


Driving down the old dirt road, we passed the occasional metal trailer or clapboard house. We came to a bridge across Frying Pan Creek, where a one lane road crossed; a small rusted metal sign at the intersection bore the single word “Tiny.” “What does that sign ‘Tiny’ mean, Aunt May?” I asked. “Well, you just passed Tiny, Virginia, population about five, since that’s how many people live in that house yonder,” she replied. “That’s where your older brother Jackie knocked Liz Kiser’s head off with a rock.”

I didn’t have a reply to that, so she filled the void. “You were too young to remember, but your brother, Jackie was about seven or eight, and was just then entering that stage of a young boy’s life I like to call “rock throwin’ stage.” He loved to throw rocks. Well, see that wide place in the creek? That’s where the church holds their baptizin’s. Hit’s just deep enough to dunk somebody. You all were up here on Sunday during a baptizin’, and Jackie was up on the bridge there skipping rocks in the creek on the other side. The creek bank was lined on both sides with people kneelin’, prayin’, and singin’; preacher Elijah Powers was leading the prayer, and everybody had their heads down and eyes shut, when your uncle Kermit heard something going, “skip-skip-skip-WHACK, and Liz Kiser, who was kneelin’ and prayin’ beside him, just kinda slumped over in the water. Kermit grabbed her up , and exclaimed, ‘Liz, what in the world has happened to you?’ That black hat with the little flowers all over it that she wore on special occasions was sittin’ all askaddle of her head, and her glasses were hangin’ by one ear. She gave him a lopsided look, spit water a bit, and blurted, ‘Somebody has knocked my head off with a rock!’ Nobody saw who did it, because everybody’s eyes were shut during the prayin’ , but they finally remembered Jackie up on the bridge skippin’ rocks. He was good at it, too.”

I’d never heard that story, and said so. “They didn’t figure out who did it until way after you all had gone back to Knoxville,” May replied, “so nothin’ else was ever said about it. Nobody liked Liz Kiser anyway. She gossiped too much.”

We pulled into the “parking lot” of the church. No pavement, no gravel—just a rutted, muddy yard with chug-holes, and a small white wood outbuilding with a tin roof where firewood and coal was stored for the winter sermons. The church had two doorways in front, and both door stood open. Like the outbuilding, it was made out of wood planking, painted white, had three windows on each side, and a single small chimney for venting the woodstove. The preacher was standing outside, greeting his church members as they arrived. He wore threadbare black slacks, a white dress shirt, and black tie. He was tall and slender, and looked like he had missed a few meals. Aunt May had told me on the ride down that Primitive Baptists didn’t believe in paying their preachers, because they thought it was wrong to make a profit spreading God’s word. From the looks of his thin profile, I could believe it. He was so skinny a brisk wind might blow him away.

That church only had sixteen wooden pews, hewn out of native Beech, and the congregation barely numbered thirty people, and yes, the two outhouses where the preacher killed the big copperhead was still in the same place. “This church used to draw a lot more people back in the old days” , May offered. When I was a little girl, there’d be so many people here for Association meeting that the church would be packed, and people would be standing all around the outside of the church hanging their heads in the open winders, listening to the preachers preach. I still remember the horses and buggies down in the yard there, and a few old timey cars. Not now though. The old people have all died off, and the young’uns don’t care anymore, for the most part.””
True about all the people being at church but it was when I was young during the 30's & 40's & early 50's--many people came on Decoration Day (Memorial Day) & we had dinner on the ground (literally table cloths & quilts spread on the ground)--Plenty of yummy food to eat & lots of good farm cooks came & brought dishes & dishes of home cooking! Good story; so much like mom, me & our relatives! Your Aunt May could have been one of my aunts! Sorry, I don't mean to take anything away from your fascinating story But people used to respect God & attended church services! Ma Betty
 

Greg(E.Tn)

Well-known member
Nighttime, I didn’t get much sleep. Aunt May’s snoring was so loud and nauseating—when she breathed in, it sounded like she was choking to death, near to dying--when she breathed out, I swear the glasses would rattle in the kitchen cupboard. I tried sleeping in the glider bench she had on the front porch, but the mosquitos ate me up, and the noise from all the bugs and tree frogs was nearly deafening. I’d wake up in the morning exhausted, try to go back to sleep, but Aunt May’s bustling in the kitchen would keep me awake, and I’d remember what she said about being up at five in the morning to fix me breakfast, so I was obligated to lumber out of bed into my clothes, and join her in a kitchen that was hotter than seven hells.


One morning, digging into a breakfast of biscuits and gravy, sliced ham, and scrambled eggs, I asked, “Aunt May, have you ever talked to a doctor about your sleep apnea?” She just looked at me. “Well, I might have, if I knew what that was.” “Your snoring, “ I blurted. “ It’s a dangerous condition, and if you don’t address it, it could cause you to die in your sleep.” Well, she just plopped her knife and fork into her plate with a clank, and sat back in her chair, gazing at me with a look that literally oozed amazement, amusement, and derision, all at the same time. She considered what I’d said, then picked her knife and fork back up, and pointed the knife at me, tip first. “First of all, I DON’T snore. Second, I’m 82 years old, and out of ALL the ways I can think of to leave this here life, dying in my sleep ain’t really something I'm much worried about. “ She took a bite of biscuit…….chewed……

“Greg. The good Lord will take me when it’s time for me to go Home.” She sat quiet for a second or two, then added, “Besides, I miss Willie.”

She took another bite of biscuit. “ Do you remember your uncle Cooger?” He was an Owens’ on my side of the family, and lived over across the Big A Mountain in Honaker, not far from Abingdon.” I had a vague memory of visiting his family when I was a kid, but nothing more, so I just shook my head. “He was in the big war, like Duane and Jeryl and Norman, and was in some little town in France somewhere during the winter and accidentally fell into a canal, and got his clothes all wet.” She took another bite, chewed for a while, then continued. “ He ‘bout froze to death. Well, his sergeant sent him back behind lines to get dry clothes, and when he got back, turns out his whole company had been wiped out by the Germans. “

She looked hard at me then, as if warning me to keep my mouth shut. “ He survived the war, came home and got a job coal mining. You know about Black Lung, right?” “Oh yeah, I know”, I replied. Well, a few months went by, and he got sick from all the coal dust in the mines he was breathing and laid out a day, sick. When he went back to work the following day, they told him the man who replaced him was crushed to death in a mine collapse.”

She went on. “Years and years later, he went out ‘Sangin’, and got way, way up on the side of a ridge, and decided to take a rest, and eat a bite. There was a big rock wall, all mossy-grown with roots and stuff sticking out of it, where way, way back, somebody’d decided to build a fence out of mountain stone for some reason or another, and he figured it’d make a fine place to stop, so he plopped himself down with his back to that rock wall and took lunch.”

“ He was sittin’ there, eatin’ a sandwich and drinking coffee from his thermos, enjoyin’ a beautiful fall day, and he kinda nodded off a bit, ‘hit being a nice sunny afternoon with the breeze sighing through the treetops and all that, then something woke him up. He sat there a bit, trying to figure what it was, and then he felt something touch him on the back of his neck. He told me later it was light as a whisper, but it had been just enough to wake him up. So he sat there, and it happened again, and again, just a hint of something barely touching the back of his neck, and finally he just couldn’t stand it no more; it was irritating the heck out of him, and, figuring it was probably a leaf or some weed getting blown about by the wind, touching his neck, he turned and leaned around to see what it was.”

She gave me that hard look again. “It was a Copperhead, coiled up, back in them rocks. It’s head was barely sticking out, and it was smelling the back of his neck with it’s tongue.”

“If It’d bit him, it woulda’ killed him.”

There was a long, long pause in the story as she sat there, not eating, reflecting, peering into the past. “He was 78 years old when he passed. His boy came to visit, and he was lying on the couch that afternoon, reading a book, while his wife Cory, his son Vaughn, and his wife were in the kitchen getting dinner ready and the table set. They called him to dinner two or three times, but he never responded. “

Big, big pause.

“ He’d died in his sleep, his book laid open across his chest.”

She smiled, and nodded. “He was reading some western novel by Zane Grey, I think, and he’d finished a chapter and laid that book down on his chest and just……..died. The last sentence in the chapter he’d finished read, “You’ll have no reason to worry about me when I’m gone.”

“He did that a’purpose. I know it as sure as I’m sittin’ here. I think he knew it was his time, and the Lord graced him with the privilege of sending one, last message to his loved ones, letting them know that he was at peace and that THEY should be at peace with his departing.”

I didn’t have much to say after that, so I just dropped my eyes into my plate, and sat there, silent.

“Now, if you through feeding your face, why don’t you go cut me some firewood? You look like you could use the exercise, and exercise’s good for sleep.”
 

Digger

Moderator
Staff member
Greg, You've written one of those extremely rare stories that the reader hopes will never end! (y)
 

Greg(E.Tn)

Well-known member
Greg, You've written one of those extremely rare stories that the reader hopes will never end! (y)
Thanks amigo--that's the kind of compliment newbie authors like to hear. :drinking:

My aunt wasn't a crazy as I make her out to be--I just went that route to fit the ending, as you will see here in a few.

After her husband died, she lived alone for a few months, then one of her son's moved her to Abingdon with him and his family.

That lasted about a month--she couldn't stand it, so they took her back, and she lived there alone for several more years, and her sons and local relatives checked in on her from time to time to make sure she was ok.

Imagine an 80+ year old lady living alone in a mountain hollow, with only a wood stove for heat, no car, outside toilet, but she FINALLY did get running water. :thumbup:

Here's a Ricky Skagg's song that kinda touches on that life:


 

Missouri -- Ma Betty

Well-known member
Thanks amigo--that's the kind of compliment newbie authors like to hear. :drinking:

My aunt wasn't a crazy as I make her out to be--I just went that route to fit the ending, as you will see here in a few.

After her husband died, she lived alone for a few months, then one of her son's moved her to Abingdon with him and his family.

That lasted about a month--she couldn't stand it, so they took her back, and she lived there alone for several more years, and her sons and local relatives checked in on her from time to time to make sure she was ok.

Imagine an 80+ year old lady living alone in a mountain hollow, with only a wood stove for heat, no car, outside toilet, but she FINALLY did get running water. :thumbup:

Here's a Ricky Skagg's song that kinda touches on that life:


Love your story--Please keep going!!!!!
That is the way mom, Cliff & I lived when dad was working at other jobs away from farm life! She did have the mail carrier & the school bus on occasion to get to town & back--take one to town & come back home on the other! They allowed it during Cliff's & my years in school! No postage stamp? Just put money in the mailbox & letters were stamped at the town postoffice--our running water was -- we grabbed buckets & ran to & fro to our Spring; therefore, running water! Springbox kept milk, cream & butter cold! Oh, the good ole days! :lol: :sneaky: Ma Betty
 

Greg(E.Tn)

Well-known member
Will do. Nearly to the end:

Some mornings, after we’d tidied the kitchen up and got the dishes washed, Aunt May and I would sit on the front porch and drink coffee. I remember sitting there with her one morning; it had rained all night the night before, but the sky was crystal clear, and the sun had just popped it’s eye over the ridge across the way, and as the rays of sunlight filtered into the hollows, little clouds and wisps of mist would rise slowly towards the sky. It was so beautiful and relaxing.

Aunt May said, “Rabbits are making coffee.”

“They’re WHAT?”

“Rabbits are making coffee, “ she repeated, stone-faced. That smoke’s coming from their little campfires they use to brew coffee. That’s how they warm up after it rains all the night long.”

“Rabbits can’t make coffee,” I muttered to myself, almost under my breath.

If you don’t believe me, climb up there and look. If you ease up slow and quiet, you’ll find a group of rabbits, circled around a campfire, brewing coffee.”

By now, I knew better than to do that.

I settled into a little routine for the next few days—get very little sleep because of Aunt May’s horrible snoring, get up, eat some breakfast, sit out on the front porch with her, watching the mountain wake up, then do some chores. Maybe cut some firewood for her stove, or bring eggs up from the henhouse, or mow her tiny yard with the ancient push mower that weighed a ton that she kept tucked away in the woodshed behind the house. It didn’t have a motor, but it didn’t need one---. It was one of those old timey ones they used way, way back before civilization, before gas-powered lawnmowers. It wasn’t too bad, though—her yard was so small it took less than an hour to mow both the front and back.

Then I’d hit the woods, trails, and hollers…….

In the evenings, after supper, we’d sit on the front porch and watch the day end. Sometimes we’d drink coffee, and Aunt May would smoke her last roll-up of the day. We’d listen to the gentle, melancholy calls of the Screech Owls seeking their mates, tree frogs peeping plaintively, and the occasion haunting songs of Whippoorwills. Days ended early at May’s house because the mountaintops were so close to the house, there never really was a “sunset”. Once the sun surrendered to the mountain around four o’clock in the afternoon, it would be almost shady until full night. The skies changed color from bright to dark. I found myself enjoying the evenings, sitting with Aunt May

After a few days, I noticed that her stories changed from crazy yarns about “haints” and “revenoors” and wild “painters”, to accounts of her personal life growing up, endless bitter winters, her pioneers ancestors, and stories about her boys, husband, and her relatives. She told me about local people like “Fighting Dick” Colley, who was a famous War of 1812 hero, and Jonathan Swift (not the author), who, back in the 1700’s had silver mines all over, but no one had ever found them.

Her ancestors had come to America as indentured servants to various Scottish and Welsh adventurers during the latter half of the 18th century, completed their services, then sought land on the “frontier,” setting forth into what then was known as the Unknown, to hack out their piece of land with axe and sweat, bearing their children along the way, living off the land, taking what it offered, but not much else. Her descendants had served in the Revolutionary War, War of 1812, both sides of the Civil War, and others, all the way up to World War II. Most had served, and returned home alive; others were buried on steep Appalachian hillsides in family plots bearing their family name. There were no real jobs to be had until the logging industry, and later, the coal mines came, and most were more than glad to have a means to earn money to purchase items they considered luxuries—items most city dwellers took for granted, like store-bought soap, real candy, and clothes they didn’t have to make for themselves. Her family had lived for generations in that tiny niche of Dickenson County, and other than those who went off to war to serve their country, most had never seen a real city, unless it was a picture in a magazine.

There were no schools like I was accustomed to—one and two-room cabin schoolhouses were the norm, and I took for granted the education was lacking, but Aunt May said otherwise. Her teacher at the “grade school” down near Tiny taught not only the “Three R’s” but also philosophy, biology, science, and a smattering of foreign languages. One of her friends at that school later grew up and had five children—all boys—who eventually left the mountains to continue their education.

All five became doctors.

Her husband, Willy, had served in World War 1. His uniform was hanging in her closet, a silent testimony to all of those mountain boys who had been called, and answered that call. Her three boys, Norman, Duane and Jeryl, were all drafted into service during World War II at the same time, and they all made it back home alive. She told me the story late one evening while we were sitting on the porch. The war was on, they were all in France, fighting in the war, and she was in the house one day, sweeping the kitchen floor, when she heard her son Duane shout, “Oh Ma, Oh Pa!” She just looked at me. “Greg, I heard his voice so loud and clear I dropped my broom, and went running all through the house, looking for him. I thought—Duane’s come back from the War! I looked all over the house, but he wasn’t there. I finally realized I was imagining things, and I think I might have cried a little then, and then I heard Willy shout from down in the yard, ‘May! May! Duane’s home!’”

“Well, I run out on the front porch and there come Willy, running just as fast as he could from the barn down the way, walking stick in one hand and basket of eggs in the other. But I didn’t see Duane anywhere.”

“Well, where is he?”

Willy stopped and looked around. “He’s here somewhere. I heard him yell out-- ‘Oh Ma, Oh Pa.’”

Months, later, after the war was over, all three boys came home safe. They had lots of stories to tell, but the one that made May cry the most was when Duane told of hugging the bottom of his foxhole in France during a mortar attack, when the German .88s were falling all around like the end of times. The shock and blasts of the exploding shells were so intense that Duane was sure that night was his last. “I thought I’d never see you again,” he said, tears streaming down his eyes, and I yelled out, “Oh Ma, Oh Pa!”
 

Missouri -- Ma Betty

Well-known member
Will do. Nearly to the end:

Some mornings, after we’d tidied the kitchen up and got the dishes washed, Aunt May and I would sit on the front porch and drink coffee. I remember sitting there with her one morning; it had rained all night the night before, but the sky was crystal clear, and the sun had just popped it’s eye over the ridge across the way, and as the rays of sunlight filtered into the hollows, little clouds and wisps of mist would rise slowly towards the sky. It was so beautiful and relaxing.

Aunt May said, “Rabbits are making coffee.”

“They’re WHAT?”

“Rabbits are making coffee, “ she repeated, stone-faced. That smoke’s coming from their little campfires they use to brew coffee. That’s how they warm up after it rains all the night long.”

“Rabbits can’t make coffee,” I muttered to myself, almost under my breath.

If you don’t believe me, climb up there and look. If you ease up slow and quiet, you’ll find a group of rabbits, circled around a campfire, brewing coffee.”

By now, I knew better than to do that.

I settled into a little routine for the next few days—get very little sleep because of Aunt May’s horrible snoring, get up, eat some breakfast, sit out on the front porch with her, watching the mountain wake up, then do some chores. Maybe cut some firewood for her stove, or bring eggs up from the henhouse, or mow her tiny yard with the ancient push mower that weighed a ton that she kept tucked away in the woodshed behind the house. It didn’t have a motor, but it didn’t need one---. It was one of those old timey ones they used way, way back before civilization, before gas-powered lawnmowers. It wasn’t too bad, though—her yard was so small it took less than an hour to mow both the front and back.

Then I’d hit the woods, trails, and hollers…….

In the evenings, after supper, we’d sit on the front porch and watch the day end. Sometimes we’d drink coffee, and Aunt May would smoke her last roll-up of the day. We’d listen to the gentle, melancholy calls of the Screech Owls seeking their mates, tree frogs peeping plaintively, and the occasion haunting songs of Whippoorwills. Days ended early at May’s house because the mountaintops were so close to the house, there never really was a “sunset”. Once the sun surrendered to the mountain around four o’clock in the afternoon, it would be almost shady until full night. The skies changed color from bright to dark. I found myself enjoying the evenings, sitting with Aunt May

After a few days, I noticed that her stories changed from crazy yarns about “haints” and “revenoors” and wild “painters”, to accounts of her personal life growing up, endless bitter winters, her pioneers ancestors, and stories about her boys, husband, and her relatives. She told me about local people like “Fighting Dick” Colley, who was a famous War of 1812 hero, and Jonathan Swift (not the author), who, back in the 1700’s had silver mines all over, but no one had ever found them.

Her ancestors had come to America as indentured servants to various Scottish and Welsh adventurers during the latter half of the 18th century, completed their services, then sought land on the “frontier,” setting forth into what then was known as the Unknown, to hack out their piece of land with axe and sweat, bearing their children along the way, living off the land, taking what it offered, but not much else. Her descendants had served in the Revolutionary War, War of 1812, both sides of the Civil War, and others, all the way up to World War II. Most had served, and returned home alive; others were buried on steep Appalachian hillsides in family plots bearing their family name. There were no real jobs to be had until the logging industry, and later, the coal mines came, and most were more than glad to have a means to earn money to purchase items they considered luxuries—items most city dwellers took for granted, like store-bought soap, real candy, and clothes they didn’t have to make for themselves. Her family had lived for generations in that tiny niche of Dickenson County, and other than those who went off to war to serve their country, most had never seen a real city, unless it was a picture in a magazine.

There were no schools like I was accustomed to—one and two-room cabin schoolhouses were the norm, and I took for granted the education was lacking, but Aunt May said otherwise. Her teacher at the “grade school” down near Tiny taught not only the “Three R’s” but also philosophy, biology, science, and a smattering of foreign languages. One of her friends at that school later grew up and had five children—all boys—who eventually left the mountains to continue their education.

All five became doctors.

Her husband, Willy, had served in World War 1. His uniform was hanging in her closet, a silent testimony to all of those mountain boys who had been called, and answered that call. Her three boys, Norman, Duane and Jeryl, were all drafted into service during World War II at the same time, and they all made it back home alive. She told me the story late one evening while we were sitting on the porch. The war was on, they were all in France, fighting in the war, and she was in the house one day, sweeping the kitchen floor, when she heard her son Duane shout, “Oh Ma, Oh Pa!” She just looked at me. “Greg, I heard his voice so loud and clear I dropped my broom, and went running all through the house, looking for him. I thought—Duane’s come back from the War! I looked all over the house, but he wasn’t there. I finally realized I was imagining things, and I think I might have cried a little then, and then I heard Willy shout from down in the yard, ‘May! May! Duane’s home!’”

“Well, I run out on the front porch and there come Willy, running just as fast as he could from the barn down the way, walking stick in one hand and basket of eggs in the other. But I didn’t see Duane anywhere.”

“Well, where is he?”

Willy stopped and looked around. “He’s here somewhere. I heard him yell out-- ‘Oh Ma, Oh Pa.’”

Months, later, after the war was over, all three boys came home safe. They had lots of stories to tell, but the one that made May cry the most was when Duane told of hugging the bottom of his foxhole in France during a mortar attack, when the German .88s were falling all around like the end of times. The shock and blasts of the exploding shells were so intense that Duane was sure that night was his last. “I thought I’d never see you again,” he said, tears streaming down his eyes, and I yelled out, “Oh Ma, Oh Pa!”
That is true & does happen--my daughter was dreaming or having a nightmare one night in her teens (someone was trying to grab her) & she yelled out, GRANDMA in her sleep; as she spent a lot of time with her father's mother while we worked & her grandma heard her call to her while she was, also, sleeping! Grandma called the next morning to find out what was wrong or what was going on--Spiritual Communication is very real; especially in times of danger awake or asleep! Ma Betty
 

Greg(E.Tn)

Well-known member
She was born in 1904; the story takes place when she is around 81-82. She was 83 when she passed. As I mentioned earlier, I didn't take a two-week trip to see her--I just used that as a lead-in to write a story about how she grew up, her husband, children, and life.

When I was a kid, we used to see her two or three times a year, tops. When I got into high school, and later, college, I got interesting in other things, as you can imagine, and stopped visiting her, but my mom and dad continued to go up there. I wasn't there when she passed, and I didn't attend her funeral, because I was too "busy" with my job. :cry:

I actually wrote a much shorter version of this story for a college class I was taking while I worked midnights. The course was entitled, "Appalachian Literature and Writing," and was taught by famed literalist Wilma Dykeman. She wrote some very encouraging compliments on the back of it, as well as some constructive criticism regarding my punctuation errors, and I still have it to this day.

Again, my intent regarding the story's "resurrection" is a way to memorialize her life, and pay tribute to her. I hope to get it published in some Appalachian literature magazine, or at least, perhaps, one of the local newspapers in SW Virginia.

BTW, she actually DID kill a Copperhead with a butcher knife in her front yard---cut it's head off---and the newspaper actually DID write an article about it.
 

Missouri -- Ma Betty

Well-known member
She was born in 1904; the story takes place when she is around 81-82. She was 83 when she passed. As I mentioned earlier, I didn't take a two-week trip to see her--I just used that as a lead-in to write a story about how she grew up, her husband, children, and life.

When I was a kid, we used to see her two or three times a year, tops. When I got into high school, and later, college, I got interesting in other things, as you can imagine, and stopped visiting her, but my mom and dad continued to go up there. I wasn't there when she passed, and I didn't attend her funeral, because I was too "busy" with my job. :cry:

I actually wrote a much shorter version of this story for a college class I was taking while I worked midnights. The course was entitled, "Appalachian Literature and Writing," and was taught by famed literalist Wilma Dykeman. She wrote some very encouraging compliments on the back of it, as well as some constructive criticism regarding my punctuation errors, and I still have it to this day.

Again, my intent regarding the story's "resurrection" is a way to memorialize her life, and pay tribute to her. I hope to get it published in some Appalachian literature magazine, or at least, perhaps, one of the local newspapers in SW Virginia.

BTW, she actually DID kill a Copperhead with a butcher knife in her front yard---cut it's head off---and the newspaper actually DID write an article about it.
Do you have a clipping of the newspaper article concerning her & the Copperhead? Would be nice if you did or could get a copy to go with your Memorial story for her? Your story about her could have been me, my family & great Aunts, Uncles & Great-Grandparents & most likely many others could say the same! Those were times when trying to recover after The Civil War & the 1928 Depression! Ma Betty
 

olfart

Well-known member
Your Aunt May was an amazing woman, but I think you missed the point of my previous post. You said her descendants (kids, grandkids, etc.) served in the Revolutionary War, War of 1812, etc. when I suspect you meant her ancestors. Yeah, I know... I'm being nit-picky. :devilish:
 

Greg(E.Tn)

Well-known member
“When me and Willie first moved here, we had them three boys, but not much in the way of food and clothes, ‘cause there weren’t no jobs,” she explained one evening. She rocked a bit. People had to do what they could to get by. Hit was a poor, poor time. Talk about a Depression? I’ve lived in a depression all my life.” She rocked a little more, took a pull on her rollup, and continued. “ Willie and Hawk ran a moonshine still, and sold moonshine to the logging company down at Sand Lick. That brought in some money. Then he cut trees for the timber company, and then here come the coal mines, and he did that. Lots of people died from the Lung, but Willie didn’t get it. People talk bad nowadays about the mines, but if it hadn’t been for the timber industry and coal, I doubt we’d have gotten by. Matter of fact, the coal mines did more for the poor people of these mountains than welfare ever did. The mines gave us jobs, a way of making a living, and we got to keep our dignity.” She looked over at me, “No Sutherland ever asked the government for anything.”

She was quiet for a while. “ We also had a little girl. Sarah was her name. She didn’t live too long, died of a fever when she was still just little, barely walking.” She took a couple of draws off of a roll-up cigarette, then went on. “Well, Willie had that moonshine still down in the holler below Hawk’s cabin, and he was down there, running off a batch. He come back home that evening , but he wouldn’t talk for the longest time, and I knew something was bothering him. He acted like he was scared. He didn’t say much at all, and we finally went to bed. He just laid there--breathing real heavy. Finally he said, “May, I ain’t gonna drink no more.” “He said he had been laying there kinda drunk beside the still that afternoon, and he saw something coming down the path that looked like a little girl. It got closer and closer, and he finally realized, it wasn’t a child at all—it was a little baby doll toddlin’ down the path, wearing a pretty white dress. It got closer, and closer, and he said it was right spooky. He said that baby doll walked right up to him and stared him in the face.”

“May”, he said, “It had Sarah’s face. Looked just like her.”

She sat quiet a minute, and stopped rocking for a bit. Then suddenly:

“And snow—snow like you’ve never seen, “ she added, rocking away. “Snow usually begins up here in November, and most of the time, you won’t see the ground until the next April. It’s hard up here in these mountains. But I can’t live any place else.”

She said she and Willie didn’t have an automobile until the 1950’s—it was an old Willys Jeep, which was a necessity in a land where the roads weren’t much better than animal trails. “Before that, it was either ride a mule, or walk,” she said, and most people walked to church, walked to school, walked to the logging camps for work, or to the mines.

I asked her about the story she told me when I first arrived, about the “ghost” of Hawk Sutherland rocking in the chair. She grinned, “I was just messing with you about that. Hawk was Willie’s older brother. He was a bachelor, and lived in the cabin around the side of the ridge. Hawk was kinda “quare”—he never married, and he kept a little garden near his cabin, and had a pet blacksnake that would follow him around as he tended his garden. He loved to feed the doves, too. Of an evening, he’d come over and have supper with us, and him and Willie would talk. It was a right regular thing.”

“Well, one night he didn’t show, then another night passed without him. So, the next evening, Willie went a’walkin’ around the side of the mountain to check on him, and found him in bed, soaking wet with fever. It was pneumonia. Willie came back and got me to help, and it was full dark when we both carried Hawk back to our house and put him to bed.

She just looked at me. Closest hospital back then was in Bristol. Hawk died in bed that night.”

She rocked for a bit. “The next morning, ‘bout daylight, I stepped out on the front porch. That fence right yonder in the front yard was lined all the way across with doves. I don’t know how, but somehow, them doves know’d Hawk had died.”
 
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