Betsy, Stanley and Herb

blog june 012“I’ve had all I can stand from that old bastard; I’ll fix his wagon, I surely will.” She poked around the crowded kitchen counter for her wild herb book, a quarter at the Salvation Army store in town. “Of course not,” she mumbled, “don’t matter anyway. I read holes in the pages and ought to be able to find what I’m a-lookin’for.”

Betsy took her sweet time to traverse the steep gravel driveway, with tiny sideways steps on the steepest parts. She wouldn’t fix nobody’s wagon but her own if she tumbled ass over teakettle and broke her fool neck.

The woods looked a whole lot more weedy and crowded than the pictures in that little book. She could almost feel the turkey mites and spotted ticks crawling up her legs, urging her into the knee-high weeds at the edge of the great mess of sycamores. Stanley spouted off something degrading about those trees when they’d gone out to see Katie’s new baby girl – junk trees, 50 foot weeds. She didn’t care for them either, but didn’t believe it necessary to pour ugly all over every minute of every hour. He must not respect her at all to talk like that.

Cabin June 2015 030She waded into the weeds, and on into the forest. From the gang of sycamores, she angled around a big tangle of blackberries and headed for what seemed a likely spot. The gravel dust from a pick-up speeding up the road fell before it reached her, mostly. “With no regard for anyone,” she called after it, “Young heathens, think you own the road?”

She pulled the tablespoon from her pants pocket and dug up a Snail Flower, roots and all. She came up onto the porch, sweat pouring off her gaunt face. He sat there lounging without a care, reading some science fiction garbage, and didn’t look up. An hour later, she stepped out, clean and smiling. “Here Stanley, I made you some iced tea.”

He took it, nodded thanks, and went back to reading.

The next day, she scowled at the bookshelf where her herbal should be. What has she done wrong? Had she not steeped it enough? She was getting less confident of the book calling for leaves and stems and roots and all. Boil just the roots? She was sure sick and tired of looking for that book.

Her legs looked bad with a dozen red and intensely itchy spots on each one. She dabbed each with ointment and wrapped her legs feet to thighs in wide Ace bandages to fend off any more of them. She picked her way back down the driveway, in past the sycamores. Silverseal had to be the right one. There, behind that fallen tree. Out came the tablespoon. “Here, sweetie, I made you some iced tea.”

It rained all day the next day. She fidgeted, upset to be out of Tylenol again. Late afternoon, the showers slacked off to a drizzle. In a yellow slicker, she headed out once more. Badger Borage, right there, had to be.

“I made you some iced tea.” She held it out at arm’s length, not wanting to feel his body heat, not wanting him to detect her anticipation.

“No thanks.” He laid his open book on his lap and looked into her eyes. “What’s this sudden need you have to make me weird iced teas lately? Are you up to something?”

“Of course not. Can’t wife make her husband iced tea on a hot day without suspicion?”

She still had quite a bit of the Badger Borage potion, and made a half batch of oatmeal cookies withOaty close plenty of it in the mix. “Here, Darling, I made you cookies.”

He looked at the artfully arranged plate with an eyebrow raised. “Have a few with me?”

She set it down by him. “You want me to go into a diabetic coma?” She stomped away.

He walked into the kitchen about an hour later and caught her brooding at the kitchen table, an unopened National Geographic at her elbows. He waggled the plate and put it in the sink. As he passed her, she asked, “Did you eat them all?”

He pulled up a kitchen chair and leaned toward her. He moved a wisp of gray hair from her face, gently tucking it behind her ear. “You wanted me to eat them all, didn’t you?”

Her eyes started to water. “That’s why I made them.”

“Our 45th wedding anniversary is Thursday. Katie wants us to come over and have a big dinner. Will you be going?”

“What a stupid question. Why wouldn’t I go?”

“Will I be going?”

A tear fell down her cheek. More tears. He held her close and patted her back.

She leaned back from his embrace. “Let me up. I want to make me some iced tea. Then we’ll go together.”

“I put your cookies in the trash can. I want you to go to Katie’s with me Thursday and then again at our 50th anniversary.”

“Two places every five years, that’s about right.”

“I quit going places with you because you twist everything into something negative. I want to live a few more years and you make that into a negative. The last time I wanted to take you to a dinner and a movie and you said I don’t like your housekeeping and cooking. You didn’t used to be that way. Do you hate me that much?”

“No, I don’t hate you and I’m not always negative and you’re not perfect! My head hurts so bad and you don’t even know it cuz’ your head is always stuck in some book! You don’t pay attention to me anymore at all!”

He reached in his back pocket and handed her the missing herbal. “You refrain from poisoning me and I’ll get you to a doctor, okay?” He picked up her hand, kissed it and held it to his heart. “I love you and always have. I’ll not stop loving you no matter what. I want you to be well and will get you to the doctor as soon as I can. I Care. Okay?”

She blinked her wet eyes. “Okay.”


Huntin’ Frogs

1955. “Mama! I done struck oil! Black gold! Millionaires!”

Valerie stretched her kneaded dough balls into the bread pans, covered them with a tea towels and rubbed her hands on her apron. “A millionaire, is it? What have you been up to, Punkin?”

“Mama, Californy is the place we oughta be! Look!” Vicky thrust black, oily hands up to her Mama’s face.

Val grabbed a wrist and critically studied the oil, getting a smidgen of it between her forefinger and thumb. Feeling the slick consistency reminded her of motor oil. “Where did you find this, young lady?”

Whole Creek“I was walking the creek lookin’ for a frog to take to show and tell.”

“First, I warned you about water moccasins and copperheads in them woods, specially around the creek. You was around Snake Harbor, wasn’t you?”

“No ma’am. I was down where they put that great big old tile that you can walk through. I saw me one copperhead, but he was baskin’ on a rock and paid me no mind.”

“Baskin’ was he? Second, you got a month left before school starts back. How many times have I told you to quit draggin’ wildlife up here?” Val stopped a moment and looked at her daughter sideways. “How was you finding oil without digging, and why would you be digging for frogs? Fess up, Punk.”

Vicky shuffled her muddy Hush Puppies. “It was right there in a little pool, honest, I didn’t do no diggin’ at all. Cain’t we be millionaires anyhow? And move to Beverly?”

“Well, I am gonna get a shovel to dig with. Let’s go see what this came from.”

By the time she got back to wash up and fetch the tractor, her bread had overflowed the pans and had bubbles all over it. She slopped it all back into the kneading bowl and into the icebox. “I’ll deal with you later! I gotta find straps!”

Her small tractor chugged up the shallow creek bed toward the giant tile right at dusk. They had cleared a ton of matted leaves and dug through thick clay to discover a Desoto stuck there according to the hood ornament they’d busted off. Val slipped the end of as strap around the front axle by feel. It made a sucking noise as it came from the muck. The back bumper had to be tied back on. “This looks pretty good for being 30 or 40 years old, don’t it Punkin?”

Eddie had left all his tools behind when he traipsed of to Mexico with that tart. Val sniffed ‘good riddance’ in the southern direction and backed the rusty wreck , with both bug-eye blog june 081headlights still attached, into the shed where he’d always parked his fancy Chevrolet. While they waited for the mail order Desoto book to arrive, they did a monstrous lot of water toting and cleaning. They dug up the tail lights. They transferred the corked jugs from the trunk safely. They also solemnly buried a disorderly skeleton near the pet cemetery. It seemed the unlucky fella had been running whiskey and got caught in a flood before the tile was put in, it could have even been before TVA.

1965. Val sat on the porch rereading the Desoto book section on steering because some dreams never die. When the car rumbling down the gravel road slowed to turn up her driveway, she dropped the book in her lap and resumed shelling butterbeans. An angular Dick Tracy kinda man got out of the really flashy Studebaker Avanti and walked up the step. White with tangerine seats! A fleeting picture of her Desoto with that color scheme flew through her mind. Refurbishing that beast had not progressed very far the past year or ten.

“Mrs. Eddie Beauchamp?”

“Mrs. Valerie Beauchamp. What can I do for you?”

“I am Vince Padget, and I understand you found a wrecked Desoto.”

She kept shelling beans. “Who says?”

“I heard it from my sister who had a friend who’d heard it from a teacher at an educator conference in Louisville. She said your daughter had done a show and tell on it.”

She set the bean basket at her feet and rose. “I’ll let you see it if you’ll tell me your interest. I’m thinking it might be worth a thousand dollars or so, depending on the buyer.” The guilty feeling from naming such an exorbitant amount made her face flush.

As they stood by the heap, he laid a hand on it. In a hush, he said, “This could well be it.” He straightened and stated, “My father drove such a car and disappeared in these parts in 1930.” He turned to her. “There would have been whiskey jugs.”

“Over there under the hay.”

“There would have been bones.”

“Over yonder, see that green lump with the white cross on it?”

“I’ll give you $10, 000 for the car, jugs and bones.”

“Mr. Padget, if that was your daddy, you take all of that with my blessing. We had no twinklin’ that any family would come to claim any of it.” She held out the book. “You can take this too. I won’t need it.” She bowed her head and imagined the Lord smiling in her direction.

He went back to his Avanti and returned with a black leather case. “In our family businesses, we mainly use cash. I brought quite a bit of cash, thinking you might be difficult.” He passed the case to her. “Take it all, for your generosity.”

“I can’t take all this, sir. What do you think the car is worth just as an antique?”

“Adding the sentimental value, I believe the contents of that case will cover it.”

She figured Padget probably wasn’t his name at all. “Would bringing this back give yourthe_logo_of_de_soto_motor_company mama some rest, finally knowing what happened?”

“I know it would.”

“Then just take it!”

“My honor will not allow it. I see no car here; do you have one? Does that roof leak? Will that tractor last another season? That little girl on your porch, will she be able to go to college? All I ask is that you don’t go into detail about me or the family. I would advise putting a grand in the bank as payment for the car, as many people know you had it. Keep the rest private or you’ll give half to the government in taxes. That doesn’t seem right to me. The government doesn’t appreciate private, family matters.”

Shady money. Should she give that black temptation back and send him on his way with what he came for? Or could it be that case of his was full of gray money, like the gray water from the washing machine that bypassed the septic tank. Not everything has to be officially processed. “I will accept your money and keep mum about it, I promise you. God bless you and your family.”

She bought a barely bruised Ford pick-up out of state and got her kitchen done up all modern. She bought a sewing machine you didn’t have to peddle and steam iron. She traded in her tractor for a better one and had been getting good corn crops in. She planted fifty apple trees in the old cow pasture, had a deep well put in and swapped her wringer washer for the a new boxy kind. She spread all that spending out over a few years, trading at different places. The apple trees grew stately and bountiful.

1965. As the Kitchen Aide kneaded the bread dough, Val hugged Vicky and grinned. “Look at the mixer, ain’t it the cat’s meow? It’s all your fault, you know that Punkin? All we got now is your fault for huntin’ frogs.” She looked at her daughter sideways, adding, “You just keep getting them good grades and you can study biology at the college. I hear they cut frogs up and look in their innards.”

Vicky opened the fridge for a Wink. “Mama, that’s dissection and we’re doing it this year in High School. She leaned back on the kitchen counter and took a long slug of the citrus soda. “College is really expensive and I don’t know if my grades are good enough for a scholarship. How much of that gray money we got left?”

“None of it. All of it got invested around here and now it’s our farm and orchard bringing the cash in. If you want more than that, you’d best go frog huntin’ again.”

Vicky thought about all the sweat and toil put into the farm; the money helped but wouldn’t have stretched nearly as far without her Mama’s dogged determination. Taking a deep breath and puffing it out, she made the internal commitment to get that scholarship. Frog money already gave her an amazing start, now it was her turn to do the rest.

A Single Wild Blossom

Greta sweltered at the keyboard, trying to get one more article done. Just one more! Think! She worked full time plus at the factory at salary, meaning they didn’t pay overtime. She sold books from her mother’s outrageously huge library online and did copywriting for six Keysbusinesses. She also had to care for her increasingly senile mother and keep the house and property up, all hundred acres of it. In all her spare time, she tried writing articles to sell to magazines.

She put the laptop on standby and leaned back to wipe the sweat from her chin, under her nose and off the back of her neck. Though she felt guilty, she woke the computer up and opened her silly romance story. She knew it was plotless and didn’t care. This story came as close to holding the man of her dreams in her arms as she was likely to get.

He did not meet the ruggedly handsome stereotype. He appeared tall, pale with dark hair, and walked with easy, mindful grace. He proved strength did not required bulging muscles. He did not flaunt his intelligence or his advanced degree in some physical science.

Annoyed to find herself rereading this stuff again, she clicked her article on how the local town worked to support the Little Brown Bats that were having a hard time. Every time she went to laud the townsfolk for erecting a hundred gaily painted bat houses, her subversive mind veered over to why the bats were failing: Bulldozing the forests to sell off the timber and let a contractor build cheap houses. No snags, no natural bat houses. No forest with streams and life – no bounty of insects for food. What good would a million bat houses be when they nailed them up by heavily sprayed farms?

Single BlossomRicky had a fun sense of humor, witty, and he smiled often. He often simply touched her as he walked by. He never bought her an expensive, plastic shrouded bouquet of hothouse flowers; he would bring her a single wild blossom and smile with his blue-violet eyes.

Lawd, if she couldn’t get the damned article written, she should mow the grass. She wiped the sweat from her eyes and went to the front door. Heat shimmered above the car and the dog lay sprawled on her back in a scrap of shade. On second thought, she decided to keep her intended late evening appointment for that. A vision flashed before her and soon she had the bowl of rocky road cradled in her hands.

Ricky volunteered to make dinner and asked whether she preferred cheddar or Swiss in the soufflé. Swiss, sweetheart. He would use fresh eggs from their own little flock of Cochins. She scraped the last marshmallow from the bowl, remembering how some refugee predator from a cleared woodland had killed her four hens one at a time, one a week, never able to get the heavy birds over the inadequate fence. Ricky would put a fence over the top and fasten it well, he’d know how to do it right and get right on it.

A knock on the door made her jerk and her heart race. She stood and pulled her wet tank top from her body. On the front porch, the retreating brown van had left a box. She bought it in and unpacked her super tornado whirlwind fan. She plugged it in and plopped in front of it. She wiped the tears from her eyes.