Story Time

Each new day in our lives begins on a fresh clean piece of white paper, a new tale waiting to be told.

Barbed in the Holler October 18, 2011

Filed under: STORY — Marilyn Denny Thomas @ 2:54 pm

Moonlight in the Holler

This little misadventure took place during a weekend trip to Jonesborough, TN, to attend the International Storytelling Festival with three of my friends–Christmas, Suzanne and Rabbit. I realize my friends have strange names but you should meet them and then you would understand.  The festival as well as the oldest town in Tennessee—decorated with hundreds of hay bales, pumpkins, corn stalks and chrysanthemums—turned out to be purely delightful. However, due to my being the wimp of the crowd and Rabbit’s need to study, she and I left Suzanne and Christmas in town one late afternoon and headed back to the house in the holler to rest my weary body.

As we turned and twisted through the pretty streets and set the GPS for Malone Holler, we recalled the need for breakfast supplies for the next two days. For future reference, let me warn you that the lady in my GPS does not know that Jonesborough boasts a large and modern Food City within one quarter mile from the school yard in which we parked. She thinks the closest grocery store is at least three miles away. So much for modern technology.

She also pays no attention whatsoever to the fact that one’s vehicle is in a parking lot and gives directions from the road outside the parking lot. We didn’t know she didn’t know that so Rabbit and I, led by Lucy Arnez in the GPS, circled Food City a few times before we decided we were not getting anywhere and then ignored Lucy like the plague. It’s amazing what one learns about an area when one is lost. Fortunately, I find getting lost an interesting activity and Rabbit joined in like the cool trooper she is.

Eventually, we invited Lucy to join in our search for our lovely house in the holler and just before dusk, we turned up the narrow path between horse and sheep pastures that led to friend Ellen’s amazing Serta Sleeper mattress. By this time, my body was screaming for a bed as well as the ice pack I had left at home in eastern North Carolina.

Malone Holler Lane is interesting in that it is firstly a narrow paved road which soon becomes an even narrower path and then, way up the mountain into the holler, the way changes to an extremely narrow gravel path. At that point, one’s vehicle tilts, front up and back down and the motor says something that sounds like, “I don’t want to do this.” Thankfully, my Honda van boasted a little extra horsepower which encouraged it, and us, to continue on up the mountain…howbeit slowly.

Now, just before we reached Ellen’s house (which sets atop an extra hill just for additional fun), I caught sight of a flock of plump white sheep nibbling peacefully in the back pasture to my left. I yelled to Rabbit, “Oh, look at the pretty sheep!”

“Where?” Rabbit turned her head this way and that and saw no sheep. That was due to the fact that now that the van was on a roll, it had moved on up the path a few feet where the woods blocked the view of the sheep. I must make an interjection here. The beautiful sunny day was close to the state of twilight, at least up in the holler. But I did so want Rabbit to see the sheep so I suggested that we drive around the narrow curve just past Ellen’s house in hopes that the sheep might be more visible. However, as we rounded the curve moving at about one mile per hour, the path ahead was filled with people who looked as if they were having a party beside two pickup trucks. Obviously, we could not go that way.

Now, at that point Lucy and I had no choice but to back down the tiny gravel path although I did have a choice to forget the sheep and reverse the van only a few feet so as to then put the van in drive and jerk up the hill to Ellen’s house. Still, being a person who enjoys the enjoyment of others, I was determined that Rabbit should see those darn sheep. And so, after looking carefully in all rearview mirrors as well as the backup mirror Pete bought just for me, I continued to back a few more feet around the curve. All of a sudden, while Lucy was recalculating, Rabbit and I felt and heard a tiny little crunch.

I asked, “What was that?”

Rabbit stuck her head out her side window and replied, “It’s a barbed wire fence.”

“Ohhhh, poor Pete,” I groaned. Did I mention this was my fifth backup incident in the past few years?

But don’t forget that twilight falls fast in a holler and by now it was almost dark. That is my one and only excuse. I still couldn’t see the barbed wire in the backup mirror. The sheep were forgotten as I eased the van from the barbed wire while Lucy said with a rather devil-may-care attitude, “Unverified territory.” We crept up the hill to Ellen’s welcoming door. I opened my door, which was very difficult because the hill leaned to the passenger’s side, and said, “Oh, I hope it’s not bad,” as Rabbit jumped out and said, “It’s bad.” The bumper looked as if it had been cut in streaks with barbed wire which it had.

Now, like dear, wise Scarlett O’Hara, I said to Rabbit, “I’ll think about this tomorrow. Just let me get to the bed for a couple of hours before we have to go back to Jonesborough and collect Suzanne and Christmas.”

Rabbit retrieved the house key from her jean’s pocket while I looked about my picturesque surroundings, admiring everything in sight. The moon shone through the trees and the night breeze had just arrived to cool off the warm sunny day. Lucy and the wounded van were hiding around the corner where I couldn’t see them and all was well. That is, until I heard Rabbit say, “This key won’t open the door.”

Well, I did that thing all humans do and said, “Let me try it.” The key went into the lock but refused to turn. We set our bags down to think —groceries, remember?— and Rabbit came up with the idea that perhaps the key was to the front door of the house. While she traipsed around the house in the almost dark, I perched my weary body on the lone seating place on the deck, a bench with no back. Before she returned, my back had begged me to lie down on the bench thereby relieving the weight of gravity so I did.

My problem-solving friend had not solved our problem. The key may have been for the front door but we’d never know because the storm door was locked, too. Rabbit said the only thing to do was for her to walk up the mountain behind Ellen’s house to Ellen’s son’s house where Ellen was staying and ask for another key. I’m sure she took one look at me and knew I wasn’t going anywhere. After working through the anxiety of whether or not unfriendly dogs might come charging down the mountain as she got closer to the house, brave Rabbit scooted up the mountain.

I thought she would never come down. To this day, I don’t know what she was doing that entire time. It seemed like hours. I closed my eyes for quite a while but sleep did not come. The bench may have been half my width and hard as a rock, definitely not Ellen’s wonderful mattress. I got so bored and the moon looked so lovely shining through a leafless tree that I struggled to balance my body so that I could take pictures lying flat on my back. It was a bit difficult but I must say that I came home with a few awesome pictures of a harvest moon in the holler, peeping shyly through the trees.

Finally, Rabbit appeared and that’s another thing I don’t know. How she got down that hill without me seeing her. Anyway, the story was that our key actually was the key to the front door but we had locked the storm door from the inside of the house that morning making entry impossible. And so, Ellen would now drive through the holler and down the mountain after her son hoping to get another key so that we wouldn’t have to camp out which, had I been younger and less in pain, might have been an exciting adventure on such a lovely moonlit night in the holler.

Rabbit informed me that Ellen would be back in about twenty minutes or so if she could find her son. I wondered if I would be able to get up by then but I kept that concern to myself. My friend had done a good job of taking care of me and I was reluctant to cause her more concern. And so, we both took pictures of anything and everything until the wonderful sound of Ellen’s tires was heard coming up the driveway. Rabbit took off around the house to get the key while I struggled to get off the bench before anyone had the pleasure of watching me.

We had forty-five minutes to rest before joining Lucy in the van and driving back to Jonesborough to get our friends. Christmas and Suzanne may have never known about the barbed wire had we not told them but being the blabbermouths that we are, Rabbit and I could hardly wait. As for Pete, that was another story, one I might tell another day.

 

A Bit of a Misadventure

Filed under: STORY — Marilyn Denny Thomas @ 2:19 pm

Sometimes Pete and I start out to do one thing and end up doing something totally different. Not by choice, of course. Somehow, life just happens. One perfectly beautiful October day, I packed up to head to Kure Beach and Pete said, “Meet me in Wilmington at the jewelers and you can get your wedding ring re-sized while I take care of something else.”

Now, I must regress a bit here just because, even though I’m right brained, I prefer to tell a story in chronological order. It may be my only left brained activity. Anyway, many years ago, I woke up in the middle of the night in great pain. We were staying at the beach and Pete had gone to sleep watching a ballgame on TV. The source of my sleep disturbing pain was obvious. The third finger of my left hand was swollen to incredible proportions. My wide gold wedding band looked like a tourniquet, causing my finger to look like some type of red sausage about to burst from its casing.

Let me tell you, I tried everything imaginable to get that ring off my finger from peanut butter to olive oil to soap. Nothing worked. In fact, the pain grew worse and I began to worry that it might explode. All the while, Pete snored away on the couch. Finally, I knew I had to get help and Pete wasn’t it. I said, louder than usual, “Pete! I’m going to the hospital to get this ring off my finger.”

He said, “Okay.”

Throbbing in pain, my finger held gingerly in the air, I drove the twenty miles to the hospital praying that I wouldn’t be forced to have my finger amputated. I wasn’t sure what the ring finger on my left hand did for me but I was certain it served a much needed purpose as did all my parts.

I learned a lesson that night. If one is forced to use emergency room services, it’s much better, and quicker, to walk in with a really strange problem rather than something normal like pneumonia or a gall bladder attack. It was a fairly slow night in the ER and that helped as well. For one of the very few times in my life, I was the woman of the hour, the star of the show. The entire staff of the New Hanover Memorial Hospital ER joined in the search to solve the mystery of how to get my wedding ring off my finger before the finger started turning colors other than red. Not one soul offered me a pain pill but I quickly gained such camaraderie with the staff that I almost forgot the pain in the delight of solving of the mystery.

Soon after each nurse or whatever used his or her own tried and true method of ring extraction, a nurse who was standing by said, “You know, I was just reading a story in a magazine about this very thing. Now, where did I put that magazine?” She wandered off with her forefinger on her lips and came back reading as she walked. “Okay,” she said to me, “stand by the wall and raise your left arm as high as it will go. Let your arm lean a little on the wall to give support. Then just stand there.”

I obeyed. By then, I had begun to focus on the pain again. It was unavoidable at that point in the evening’s activities. I can’t remember the time it took, but before too long, we all checked my finger and voila! One of the guys pulled my ring off as easy as pie. (Have you ever wondered about that phrase “as easy as pie”? I don’t really get it but it fits here so who cares?) Now that I recall that harrowing night once again, I think that might have been one of the most enjoyable moments the staff of our hospital ever experienced. I know I was one happy camper and after a few hugs, goodbyes and no charge, I whisked back to Kure Beach and to my waiting king-sized bed.

Pete was still asleep on the couch.

Now, one must remember that I said all that to say this: I was never able to get my wedding ring on my finger again and being one who has hardly ever visited a jewelry store in her life, I continued to forget to have the ring resized. For years. That is, until last Christmas when Pete left a note in my stocking asking me to please give him the gift of wearing my wedding ring again before one of us died. And that’s why I drove into Wilmington to meet Pete at the jewelers.

Alrighty then.

Pete called to give me an address for the GPS and I obediently punched it in. However, because my husband speaks multiconversationally (the ability to carry on five conversations at one time), I was a bit concerned he might have given me someone’s phone number so I very carefully drove west on Market Street looking for the store. I think I was almost there when the blue lights started flashing. I looked into my rearview mirror into the eyes of one of Wilmington’s finest and wondered what on earth he was stopping me for. I had never gotten a ticket in my forty-eight years of driving, a record of which I was extremely proud. Well, except for once when I was taking my little girls to my sister’s house in my bathrobe because I was sick and the speedometer was wrong. But back in those days they had this process in which one could plea to Jesus and the whole deal was wiped from my record. I’m sure that would be politically incorrect these days so I was on my own.

The very polite, shaved-headed policeman—aren’t they all?—said that my vehicle license expired last December and it was now October of the following year. I said, “Oh, my goodness. I didn’t know that.” After asking for my driver’s license and registration card, he went back to his car to “call it in.” In the meantime, I called Pete and asked him, “Do you happen to know why we don’t have 2011 vehicle license on the van?” He had no idea and replied, “I’ll be right there.”

I have no clue how he found us on that heavily trafficked street but he did. Pete happily showed the quiet cop a paper that proved we had a license and the unemotional guy said, “That’s the form to send in for your license.” Somehow, because the thing looks exactly like a registration card, either Pete or I had stuck it in the glove compartment. More than likely, ‘twas I. Pete studied the card again and laughed out loud. The polite policeman did not laugh. He had no sense of humor whatsoever. He did, however, add to the conversation. It just so happened that when he “called it in” he discovered that our vehicle inspection was way past due and, guess what? So were my driver’s license. They were to be renewed by September 15 and it was now October 15.

Pete said, “I remember bringing that notice home.”

I said, “I do, too.”

The policeman, who must have had some type of deformity in that he couldn’t smile, handed me a citation and drove away.

I must say here that my husband is a miracle man, a problem solver of the highest order. Within an hour, we had picked up a form at one DMV office, driven to another DMV office where I got my license reinstated, had the van inspected at another place and had driven back to the first DMV office to get the vehicle license and then stopped over at the jewelry store to leave my wedding ring. The only holdup was deciding whether or not to be an organ donor. When the guy asked me, I replied, “Would anyone want my 65-year-old parts?” He had the same deformity as the policeman and with no personality whatsoever, he said, “I can’t advise you on that.” I said, “Okay, make me a donor. They can browse through and see if anything is usable.”

In the parking lot after all was said and done, while Pete stuck the sticker on the license plate, I said, “Bye, shug.” He gave me a quick hug and I could tell his mind was already working on the next problem and I might as well have been Nancy Pelosi.

It was a beautiful day at the beach. The next day, I mean. That particular one was by then pretty much yesterday.

 

STORYTIME ALERT! June 3, 2011

Filed under: Author Comments — Marilyn Denny Thomas @ 10:32 am
NEW!

 Arrivederchi, Y’all! is here!!!! Read more about it on Marilyn’s website www.marilyndennythomas.com

Feel the need to get away from it all? Come take a trip to Italy with a delightful group of women, The Seven Sisters, as they refer to themselves. The “sisters” no more than enter the airport in Rome when surprising events begin to overrun their long-awaited vacation. In the delightful tradition of Fannie Flagg and Ann B. Ross, Thomas’s characters seem as familiar as the neighbors next door or perhaps your own very best friends. From the regal Diana to the child-like Christmas, each of the sisters adds her own special flavor to this enchanting tale laced with mystery, hilarity, adventure and romance.

EXERPT from Arrivederchi, Y’all!:

Our little company of weary travelers fitted perfectly into a large waiting taxi and within a few minutes after going through customs, we were groggily riding through the Italian countryside, going up to the center of Rome, the ancient city built on seven hills. Having made the journey before, Diana laid her head back on the seat, hoping to take a quick nap before the great city came into full view. Suzanne took the time to catch up on her notes. Jules, tucked away in the middle seat, happily watched for the grand structures of old Rome to appear. Lyn, sitting next to the window, pressed her face against the glass, watching, waiting and weeping. She was the one who had a strong aversion to leaving home, and now, here she was—on foreign soil for the first time in her life.

The Italian driver—happy to have six well-dressed Americans with nice fat purses in his vehicle—excitedly exclaimed in broken English…evidently, one of the few English phrases he knew, “Where to?”

”The Barroco near the Trevi Fountain,” said Diana. The driver, nodding his head in affirmation, seemed to repeat the name of the hotel, but we couldnʼt really tell. All eyes turned toward Diana who said, “Si,” to the driver and then closed her eyes. Evidently, all was well.

However, Lyn could not bring herself to close her eyes and leave the groupʼs welfare to a total stranger in a foreign land―a stranger who couldnʼt speak our language, at that. She could just picture Aubrey Joe Williams, our hometown police chief, giving Pops the word that his wife had been kidnapped by the Italian mafia and was being held for ransom in an undisclosed cave somewhere in Sicily. Then she began to wonder how much she was worth. Her mind scanned the last bank statement. No way could Pops get her back with the exorbitant ransom money kidnappers required these days. Tears spilled down her cheeks once more, some at the thought of never seeing Pops and her children again and others rooted in the overwhelming sense of excitement she had felt since the plane landed. The tears, as well as their roots, were all tangled up. She was an emotional mess. Struggling to hold back sobs, Lyn reached over Suzanne to get a tissue from her bag.

She quickly pushed aside her problems. “Whatʼs wrong, Suzanne?”

There was no reply.

“Suzanne!” Lyn gently shook her friendʼs shoulder.

Most everyone was taking a snooze, but Jules was wide awake in the seat ahead. She turned around. “Whatʼs wrong?”

“I donʼt know,” said Lyn. “Suzanne looks really weird, and she hasnʼt answered me. I guess she could be asleep with her eyes open.”

“No, sheʼs not asleep.” Jules was worried. “I donʼt like the looks of this.”

Considering that Jules is usually one of the most positive thinking of our group, Lynʼs worry thermometer rose a full degree.

Suddenly, Suzanneʼs head slumped over on Lynʼs shoulder, and she closed her eyes. “Oh, no! What are we going to do?”

Jules turned back and yelled at Diana who was sitting in front with the driver, Tony, evidently the name of all Italian cabdrivers. “Something is wrong with Suzanne! Tell him to pull over and call 9-1-1 or else get us to a hospital quick!”

Dianaʼs eyes were round as the moon over Rome which, by the way, had just come in view. Itʼs a wonder the soft blue irises were not circling in her eyeballs considering the impossible predicament she now found herself in. Natural concern over Suzanne competed violently with the quandary of how on earth to explain all this to the broken-English speaking driver. Suddenly, however, she began to think more positively. Perhaps chubby little Tony understood English better than he spoke it. It didnʼt look very probable, but who knew? His big dark eyes were darting about from one woman to the other, obviously wondering what was going on in his cab.

“Tony,” began Diana in her usual confident and regal manner. “One of our friends is showing signs of dire physical distress, and she needs to get to a hospital. Can you get us there or should we call 9-1-1? Is there such a thing as 9-1-1 in Italy?”

Tonyʼs eyes were growing ever larger, now darting here and there and anywhere but on the road ahead. The traffic was becoming dense and chaotic, exactly like my travel books described. Lyn was terrified. The headlines in the county paper changed from “Seven American Women Kidnapped by Terrorists” to “Traffic Accident in Rome Kills Seven American Women.”

Beautiful old buildings shone brightly up ahead. The goal was in sight, but like the lady in my GPS box back home, we had some recalculating to do. Tony was obviously confused. At some point in the river of lovely Italian words he spewed out, Diana realized he thought she was talking about September 11, 2001…a la 911. Consequently, Tony, who looked just like Tony in my favorite movie, Lady and the Tramp, was as frightened as the seven women. And now, the cab was stalled in bumper-to-bumper traffic with the possibility that one of his passengerʼs middle sections was wrapped in explosives just waiting to be detonated.

Tony jumped out. Flailing his arms about and screaming something indecipherable in Italian, the man went from vehicle-to-vehicle warning people like Paul Revere on the eighteenth of April in 1775. Diana, lips pressed tightly together, turned to stare at Annie and me, her eyes almost as big as Tonyʼs when he alighted from the cab. My mouth was probably as round as Dianaʼs eyes.

Annie murmured, “Hmmm.”

 

MISSION POSSIBLE December 20, 2010

Filed under: STORY — Marilyn Denny Thomas @ 8:34 pm

Location: Earth/Destination: Jerusalem

We arrived in the Christian year of our King, 2240, or the year 6000 on the calendar of the Jews. Earth’s weather was perfect. The time of the year the earthlings call October was bursting with gorgeous colors almost equal to those of our land, but not quite. Regardless, as we hovered over the eastern coast of the United States, our entire entourage couldn’t help but gaze in amazement for quite a while until Captain Ezra reminded us that time was now of the essence. I stared at him like he was crazy until I remembered that for a certain part of our journey we would be limited, in many ways, the same as mankind. Each of us had agreed to the strange time limitation as we stood before the Great King to receive His instructions for the mission as well as His blessing.

Having been given permission by the King Himself, we had entered Earth’s atmosphere somewhere over the western deserts of North America. We then followed the ribbon of highway called Interstate 40 as it wound its way across an incredible diversity of land and foliage. Our navigator, Percival, the most experienced of our team except for Captain Ezra, gave us quite a detailed description of each area as we passed over. We laughed when the Captain said we were like far-out tourists and Percival asked, “What are tourists, Captain?” Funny thing was, nobody knew.

Our ship spun like a beam of light and headed east toward our final destination, the great city of the King—Jerusalem.

My name is Marcus. I’ve been on innumerable missions but this is my first to Earth, the one planet in this specific universe every light being hopes to visit. Furthermore, this is also the assignment every messenger dreams of. Not since Gabriel’s last visit has one of us been so honored. He’s with us this time as well, of course. There would be no mission without him. I haven’t talked to him at all. We have orders not to interrupt his preparatory contemplation. I can’t imagine how he is feeling. My anxiety level would be off the charts! But that’s me, not Gabriel. He’s Mr. Calm, Cool and Collected, as the earthlings say. And so big and bright! Gabriel’s presence fills space like a giant galaxy moving through a universe. Experience counts, too, of course, and no light being’s can match the big guy’s.

Percival told me that Gabriel is even more somber than usual because this is probably his last mission to Earth. He said that after this assignment is complete, there will be no more need for the famous messenger. But I doubt that. Perhaps the King will need him again in this universe, but if not, certainly in many others.

As for me, my assignment is certainly nothing compared to Gabriel’s. Ha! Captain Ezra heard me saying that a few light years back and called me to the carpet, so to speak. Said I had been listening in to earthlings’ conversations much too often. Part of my task was to study their ways and speech before the journey began, but the Captain warned me that comparing ourselves one to the other is wrong and certainly not allowed in our line of work. And so, I’m trying not to compare myself with anyone, particularly Gabriel. Actually, I am very happy carrying out the work I was created to do.

Along with my friend, Ariel, I am the group’s historian and I love it. Planet Earth has been my personal assignment since I was created and I couldn’t have asked for a more interesting subject. In my opinion, there is no place in any universe that has a more exciting history than this little ball of water and dirt. I remember when I first heard of Earth. Being an historian of extensive expertise, my assignments have taken me to worlds far beyond Earth’s galaxy, far outside the universe in which Earth orbits around its sun. And then, like historians everywhere, I spend a great deal of “time” in the Great Library, studying the works of thousands as well as writing my own books and reports within its hallowed halls. For me personally, the Library is the most fascinating building in the Kingdom and I esteem myself most honored in having the ability and the expertise to maneuver my way through its never-ending corridors filled with data files, shelves and media storage facilities. I am rattling on, I know, so I will try to pilot my way back to the purpose of this journal which is to record my own personal and onsite view of the third greatest and final event in the history of planet Earth.

Because our air ship cannot be seen by earthlings unless the Captain allows it in certain situations, we are able to sail through Earth’s atmosphere at very low levels, sometimes almost touching the surface of the planet. It’s been reported that man, in Earth’s long ago past, has described our ship as a “wheel within a wheel” with fire in its center. While studying the Great Book together, Percival and I have often discussed the matter in minute detail. Once, we stared at the ship for many Earth hours, finally coming to the conclusion that the prophet was correct in his assessment, although somewhat simplistic.

In all the universes I have visited in the Kingdom, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything to compare with this small place called Earth. Not that it’s better than other places, just unique. Its history is as well. I wasn’t with the Great King at that point, but many of the messengers who were there at Earth’s creation say that it was one of the most joyful events the Kingdom has ever experienced, before or since. Percival is quite old and he has told me many times that all the messengers, seraphim, cherubim, and most all the creatures of the Kingdom were standing on tiptoe, as it were, watching as the King called new life into being. Water, wind and fire, the power of which man has not yet fully tapped, burst forth out of nothing and nowhere. Truly, it was a sight to behold.

We are now soaring rather high above a mighty ocean called the Atlantic. Gigantic waves are rolling, topped with a white froth that looks rather like the snow we saw on the mountain tops in the Rocky Mountains of America. It was from this ocean that dry land first appeared and with it, incredible numbers of life forms, some still unknown to man. The depths of the waters are unfathomable to earthlings although our ship could dive to its massive floor in just one of Earth’s seconds if we so desired. However—and this is a strange phrase to come from a messenger’s pen—we do not have time. We have an appointment on a hill just outside the Great City, Jerusalem.

(to be continued)

 

Lizzy Grissom…Chapter 7 November 9, 2010

Filed under: STORY — Marilyn Denny Thomas @ 10:58 am

“Mr. Nate! Mr. Nate!” Frank Waller yelled and beat on the door until Nate opened it, standing in his long underwear with a lantern in his hand.

“What in the world’s wrong with you, son?”

“Nothin’, sir, but my sister, Bessie, is sick as a dog. She’s all fevered and talkin’ outta her head. I think she’s gone crazy but Ma says she’ll be alright. Ma said to ask Miss Laney if she can come stay with Bessie while she helps Doc Kennedy birth a baby.”

Frank’s face turned red at the thought of birthing babies. He hung his head a bit and said, “Papa’s gone coon hunting and there’s nobody to look after Bessie but me and I ain’t much good.”

Nate laughed. “Well, Miss Laney’s asleep, but I’ll…”

“I’ll go, papa.” Lizzy had awaked during Frank’s loud banging and came to see what was going on. “Mama needs her rest. I can take care of Bessie.”

“You sure?” Nate’s eyes squinted as he looked down at Lizzy.

“I’m sure. Bessie and I are good friends.” Lizzy turned to get dressed.

“That girl can be ornery sometimes. She might be somethin’ terrible in a fever.” By the time the words left his mouth, Nate remembered little Frank still waiting outside the door.

“I didn’t mean Bessie is….”

“It’s the truth, Mr. Nate. Bessie can be ornery as all get out. But she’s good to me.” Frank eyes filled with tears which he immediately brushed away.

“I’m sure she’s a good sister, Frank. And she’s a good person when she wants to be, just like the rest of us.”

Frank nodded.

Lizzy rushed back, hurriedly dressed in a blue cotton frock that set her blonde curls and blue eyes ablaze. Nate mused that she always looked more dressed up than most people, even in the plainest clothes in the middle of the night.

“I’m ready, Frank.” She stood on tiptoe and kissed her daddy on the cheek. “Bye, Papa. I’ll send Frank over to let you know how things are going.”

“You do that. I’ll be praying for Bessie.” Since Nate prayed for Laney when she was buried in grief over the death of her two youngest children, he had decided that praying was worth the time after all. Laney said he had received a gift of faith. He said that whatever it was, he was glad.

Lizzy hurried down the steps after Frank. “Lead on, my knight in shining armor!”

“Your whut?” Frank glanced back at Lizzy.

“Oh, never mind.” Lizzy smiled and stepped up to take Frank’s arm.

She could sense his blush in the pitch dark. “This is how a gentleman escorts a lady.”

Frank glanced about to see if anybody was looking. It being after midnight, there was no need for concern so the little fellow gladly escorted the pretty lady to his house where his mama rushed out to meet them.

Just before Frank and Lizzy reached the dirt road in front of Hannah’s house on back street, a low groan was heard that caused them both to jump and gasp at the same time. It sounded like a ghost on Halloween.

“You young’uns hurry up,” yelled Hannah. “Babies don’t wait for slowpokes.”

“There’s somethin’ in the ditch, Ma,” Frank yelled. He wanted to search but was too scared.

Clinging to Frank’s boney arm, Lizzy crept over to the ditch and peered down, her eyes squinted to see through the darkness. “He’s right, Cousin Hannah. It might be a hurt animal.”

“It ain’t no animal. It’s Uz Brinson. I can smell him from up here.”

“I do believe it is. Run get your mama’s lantern, Frank. We can’t let him stay here all night. There might be water in the ditch.”

“Miss Lizzy, this is one of Uz’s bedrooms. He don’t know nothin’ better ‘cept when he makes it to Miss Emmy’s loft.”

“Well, tonight he will. I’ll put a quilt on the porch.” Lizzy placed a hand on both hips, staring down at what she could see of Uz Brinson.

“How we going to get him out, Miss Lizzy?   He ain’t no skinny drunk.”

“Yes, you’re right. Hmmm….”

“What on earth are you two doing?” Hannah didn’t look too happy as she sprinted across the dirt road.

“It’s just old Uz, Ma. He’s in the ditch again.”

“Oh, Lord. What is going to become of that man?”

“I sure don’t know,” said Frank, amazed that a man could fall asleep in a mucky ditch.

“You go on, Cousin Hannah,” said Lizzy. “I’ll send Frank back to get Papa. He’ll get him out of the ditch and up to the porch. I’ll go sit with Bessie.”

“Alright, if you think you can handle it. Thank the Lord, Bertha’s the one giving birth. She’s had plenty of experience.”

Lizzy smiled. It wasn’t like Hannah to speak of the birthing experience.

The door opened to reveal Nate Gresham in his long johns once again. “Frank! What do you want now?”

“Miss Lizzy said to get you to help us get Uz Brinson out of the ditch.  I said he lives in the ditch, but she said he might get pneumonia tonight or even the mad itch. I said the mad itch is worse ‘cause I had it one time, but she said pneumonia can kill you.”

Nate struggled to gulp down the laughter that was rising in his throat. “Let me pull my pants on and I’ll be right there. You run on so Lizzy can watch Bessie and you can watch Uz.”

The little fellow plopped his hat on his black hair that hung in his face the same as his papa’s and turned to hop down the stairs. “See you later, Mr. Nate.”

Nate pulled his suspenders on and smiled. Frank didn’t seem too worried about all the traumatic events going on in the middle of the night. Actually, Nate wasn’t either. As Frank noted, Uz lived in ditches and it hadn’t killed him yet. Of course, Bessie’s condition might be a bit more serious. However, it was known all around Beulah that even a low fever made Bessie crazy as a bat as Frank often said. He had much rather watch Bessie than Uz. The old drunk likely wouldn’t move a muscle for a day or two.

And there he was, right where Frank had left him, flat on his back in the shallow, muddy ditch. Uz’s mouth was opened wide which caused Frank a lot of speculation on what might crawl into the large cavity during the night. Watching the old man might not be a bad idea. But Frank’s curiosity got the best of him and off he ran to the house to tell Lizzy that Nate was on his way and to see what Bessie was doing.

“Frank!” Lizzy looked up as the boy came tiptoeing in. “You’re supposed to be watching Uz,” she whispered.

“He ain’t doin’ nothin’ and he sure ain’t goin’ nowhere.”  Frank crept over to the bed and looked at Bessie. She was red as a beet, hot and fevered. Her hands and arms were weaving in the air as if she were trying to catch lightening bugs in June.

Lizzy looked worried. “She’s really sick, Frank, and I don’t know what to do except keep putting cold cloths on her head. Most of the time, she pulls them off.”

“She’ll be alright, Miss Lizzy.” The little brother, however, looked concerned himself.

“Lizzy Grissom!”

The inexperienced nurse ran out of the front bedroom and threw the door open. “Hush, Papa! Bessie’s sick…real sick.”

“Where do you want me to put Uz?”

It was then that Lizzy noticed Nate’s muddy load hanging across his shoulder like a dead animal of some sort.

“Don’t put him in the swing. He’d fall out,” said Frank, coming out the door with hat in hand.

“I’ve already spread a couple of quilts on the porch, Pa. Let me help you ease him down.”

“He won’t know it if you drop him,” Frank commented. “Want me to help?”

“You place that pillow under his head when we lay him down. Make sure his head doesn’t hit the planks.” Lizzy’s lithe body wasn’t really helping much but she tried.

“Ma’s gonna be mad,” Frank noted somberly. “You put that ol’ drunk’s muddy head on her embroidered pillow case and, like Pa says, ‘the wrath of God’s gonna fall on us.’”

Lizzy held Uz’s head in her arms, thinking about Frank’s words of wisdom.

“He might be right, princess. Frank, go get something else for a pillow…and hurry. Liquor’s heavy.”

Frank’s gift of avoiding any work that wasn’t necessary kicked in quick. “He don’t need no pillow. Won’t never know he didn’t have one.”

Lizzy looked up at her daddy and nodded. Gently, they both eased Uz’s full weight to the quilt and straightened the body somewhat. Uz let out a loud and terribly uncouth snore which woke him up for a second or two.

“Where…where am I?” His glazed eyes roamed from face to face.

“You’re on my Pa’s front porch and you’re drunk as a skunk,” replied Frank.

“I ain’t drunk. There ain’t been nary drop of liquor in Uz Brinson t’nite.”

“Well, you must have filled up yesterday.” Nate smiled in pity for the old man who instantly dropped back into his drunken stupor.

“Wheeeee!” The eerie noise came from inside the house.

“Oh, no! We forgot Bessie!” Lizzy jumped up to run in the house but stopped short when she saw the mud all over her dress and hands. “You go sit with Bessie, Frank. I’ll be there as soon as I get this mud off me.”

“Alright,” said Frank, “maybe she’ll say something crazy.

“Sounds like she might,” agreed Nate, worry spreading all over his face in the light of the lantern. “Think you’ll need me, Lizzy?”

“No, probably not. I’ll send Frank if I do. Maybe Cousin Hannah will be back soon. Oh, wait, Papa. Hold the lantern for me to walk around the house to the pump. Hannah will not be happy if I track this mud on her clean floors.”

Nate was almost back in bed by the time Lizzy finished washing up and got back to Bessie’s sick room. “She’s talkin’ now,” said Frank. “Saying all kinds of crazy stuff. Trying to catch oysters in the air. Now, ain’t that somethin’? Bessie don’t even like oysters. And I don’t either. I cain’t imagine why anybody’d eat one of those slimy things. Can you, Miss Lizzy?”

“Let’s change the subject, Frank. My stomach is not feeling so good.”

“Don’t you get sick on me, Miss Lizzy. Ma says me and Bessie didn’t get one bit of her nursing ability. Wish I’d a gone coon huntin’ with Pa.”

“Well, I don’t. I need you to help me, Frank. Now, take this pan and get me some fresh water from the pump.”

The little boy with floppy black hair reached out for the pan and gave Lizzy a half smile and a nod.

When Frank was well out of hearing, Lizzy eased down on her knees beside the bed. “Lord,” she whispered, “please do something. Bessie is getting hotter. I reckon you know that, but Mama says we need to tell you what we need because you like for us to talk to you and let you know we believe you can do something. Sometimes, when I think about little Mary Alice and Nathan, I get confused and I’m scared to pray. A lot of folks around here believe that whatever’s going to be is going to be and it can’t be changed, even by prayer. But Mama always reminds me that you came to see me when I was tiny thing and took my fever away. So, Lord, all I know to do is to remind you about that day and ask you to take Bessie’s fever away, too.”

“What’re you doin’?” Frank stood at the door, his mouth scrunched to the side in thought.

“Praying.” Lizzy blushed. Unlike her sometimes rather odd mother, Lizzy wasn’t comfortable with praying aloud in front of others.

“I did, too.” Frank passed the pan of water to Lizzy, his head hung in embarrassment.

The night was getting longer.

 

 

Excerpt from sequel to SWEET BEULAH LAND October 4, 2010

Filed under: STORY — Marilyn Denny Thomas @ 11:44 pm

“Lizzy Grissom!”

Her ears perked up. Swanee, old Simon’s wife of more years than either could remember, hobbled towards Lizzy with a white grin on her dark wrinkled face. She had kept a special place in her heart for Lizzy since the girl was a little blonde toddler chasing the chickens on Jeb Gresham’s farm. Lizzy started to get up to give Swanee a hug.

“No, no! Don’t get up. I’ll jest try to get these old bones to bend so I can sit wid you. Been a long time since I made me a clover necklace.”

“I’ll make you one, Swanne. You’ll be a queen!”

“Yo de princess, girl. It a wonder your pretty little haid ain’t big as a watermelon.” Swanee shook her head and chuckled.

Lizzy smiled politely but she didn’t laugh. “Do you think I’m spoiled, Swanee?”

Swanee took one long look into Lizzy’s blue eyes and saw that the girl was serious. “Hm, well, maybe a little bit. But all chillum need spoilin’ somewhat. Just that most don’t get it.”

Lizzy smiled. “You spoil Queen; you and Uncle Simon, too.”

“Well, dat girl ain’t right, you know, and she need all de love she can git.” Swanee’s brown eyes filled with tears.

“What’s wrong? Did I hurt your feelings?” Lizzy was tenderhearted to a fault.

“Oh, no. I jest worried about Queen. Me and Simon is gettin’ on in years and it won’t be too long afore we join Mister Jeb if he be where we goin’. And then, what will happen to Queen? She know how to do most things but she ain’t too good at cookin’. Sometimes, she forget to eat and Simon and me has to shove it at her.” Swanee’s voice began to crack.

Lizzy took her calloused hand in hers and squeezed it tight. Sympathetic tears ran down her face. “She’ll be alright, Swanee. Aunt Sarah Jane’s crowd will look out for her and we’ll come out as often as we can.”

“That’s nice; real nice.” Swanee wiped the tears away with the hem of her apron. “Thank you, Miss Lizzy. I feel better now.”

“Come on,” said Lizzy, “and lie down in the flowers with your crown on. You’ll feel like a queen in your pretty pink bed. And smell like one, too!”

Old Swanee managed to bend her bones to lie flat on her back in the bed of pink thrift.

“Now, close your eyes,” ordered Lizzy. She quickly picked some of the thrift as well as more clover flowers and scattered them all over Swanee’s body. “Now, look at yourself first and then I’ll tell you what to do next.”

Swanee bent her neck to see what Lizzy had done and smiled.

“Don’t you look like a queen?” Lizzy giggled, her blonde curls bobbing.

“I looks like a corpse; dat’s what I looks like. They be comin’ wid de shovels afore long.”

Lizzy laughed. “You look beautiful, Swanee.”

“I ain’t never been tol’ I wuz beautiful, girl. Makes me feel kinda good eben if you lyin’ right through yo teeth.”

Laughing hysterically, Lizzy rolled over in the flowers and ended up on her back beside Swanee.

“Now, look up, Swanee. What do you see?”

“I see de sky and what left of de ol’ oak tree.”

“Want to know what I see?”

“Reckon so.”

“I see a hallway—my books call it a corridor—through the oak leaves into the land where the princess lives. I see soft blue everywhere to make her feel good all the time and I see white castles and even a chariot for her to ride in. I see….

“Does you see a prince anywhere up dere?”

For a few moments, Lizzy was silent, pondering Swanee’s question.

“No,” she whispered softly. “I never see a prince. I wonder why?”

Swanee sensed the sadness in Lizzy’s voice and it nearly broke her old heart. “Well, de days ahead belongs to God, child. Only He knows de future. But I’m tellin’ you, sure as I’s a lyin’ on dis here ground, dat I see a prince in dem clouds.”

“You do?”

Swanee heard the excitement rise in Lizzy’s voice and she was glad. Even though Nate and Laney had raised Lizzy to know a lot of love, her childhood had been filled with grief. It was time for a dream or two to come true.

“Can you tell who it is, Swanee?”

“Hmm, no, I cain’t quite make it out. He look kinda tall but he could be short. Cain’t tell. But he shore do have a purty smile. I can see dat real good.”

“Oh, that’s wonderful! If he smiles a lot like Papa, I just know I’ll like him.”

Swanee was quiet for a long while; Lizzy, too. One light as midday and one dark as deepest night, they lay side-by-side in the pink flowers.

Lizzy’s eyelids were getting heavy and her breathing was slowing down. She was almost asleep when she heard Swanee through the haze of dreamland.

“He comin’ soon, Miss Lizzy.”

Lizzy jumped out of her grogginess and rolled over at the same time. “He is?”

“Yep, I think he be comin’ soon.”

“What should I do to get ready for him?” Lizzy’s faith in Swanee’s predictions was solid.

“Nothin’, child. You been ready. Yo mammy and pappy de ones ain’t ready.”

By that time, Lizzy was on her feet dancing around the oak like a forest fairy. Swanee wondered if she even heard her last words. The old colored woman and everyone else in Beulah worried about the day Lizzy Grissom would marry and leave her mama and daddy. Nate and Laney had held onto Lizzy with all their hearts since losing their other two children fifteen years ago.

Swanee lay still, hoping the Good Lord would see fit to make a prince out of one of the local boys so Lizzy could stay in Beulah forever.

 

HOW TO MEET ONE’S NEIGHBORS September 24, 2010

Filed under: Essays — Marilyn Denny Thomas @ 1:53 am

RT and I were living in married student housing in Chapel Hill in late summer of 1966, the year we were married. The little settlement of old army barracks from WWII was called Victory Village, and aptly so. Only a few of those old buildings still stand and it’s easy to understand why. They were constructed out of some type of material related to cardboard. Since we lived on the end of the barracks, RT and his friends thought it would be a great idea to nail up a basketball goal on the outside wall of our living room. Sadly to say, the ball goal didn’t last long. Renters all the way from our tiny apartment to the end of the barracks complained that their dishes rattled and their furniture moved every time the guys played ball. Not to mention that it’s hard to study when one’s body is shaking.

Nevertheless, we had a great time that summer. RT and his college buddies attended a class or two and then played golf, basketball or whatever until twilight when RT would come driving up for dinner with at least one friend in tow. After I washed dishes (By the way, did I mention that I worked at  the hospital from 8 am to 5 pm and then cooked supper?) someone usually showed up to make a foursome in bridge. In those days, I could play bridge half the night and still get up bright and early to get to work on time. Sometimes, RT studied but not until he had to. It was a good thing he had a very sharp mind.

Nevertheless, whenever a big test or exam was coming up, RT headed to one of his two favorite study havens: the UNC campus library or the laundry mat which I liked best because he killed the proverbial two birds with one stone. He dumped the dirty laundry in the machine, put in his quarter—yes, a quarter—and then stuck his head under a hair dryer to keep out the noise. For the next couple of hours he focused on his textbook  and notes and was only interrupted when the washer stopped and it was time to load the dryer. But the night on which my story occurred, a couple of days before exams, RT chose the mausoleum-like quietness of the vast university library.  The plan was that I drop him off, buy groceries at our favorite market in Carrboro, rush back to the apartment, clean and vacuum and pick RT up in front of the library at 10 pm. I happily followed the plan.

If you have ever been to Chapel Hill, you may have noticed that the charming university town is very hilly. If you didn’t notice, perhaps you guessed because of its name. Well, Victory Village was no less hilly than the other sections of Chapel Hill’s city limits. In fact, our barracks on Daniel’s Street was situated on a hill with its backside towards Pittsboro Road and its front facing another set of barracks across a narrow street and down a slight hill. There was very little space for parking and so, early on, we had decided that our stick shift Dodge would be safer parked under a fairly large oak tree up the hill beside our house. And that’s right where I parked it on the infamous night of which I speak.

Marking tasks off my list one by one, I had made it to vacuuming our K-Mart rug when I decided to take a quick break. That’s when I heard all the commotion outside. Curious, I looked out the window and was shocked to see at least fifty people milling about in the street. Talking, laughing and gesturing, the crowd grew at an alarming rate as I peeked out the window. At first I wondered if I had missed hearing about some event in the Village, but on second thought I knew that no one would have planned something for a week night during exams. Married students are pretty serious about graduating.

Finally, my curiosity got the best of me and I went outside. To this day, I cannot tell you how long it took for the scene before me to sink into my consciousness. Although I am very much a visual person, my audio components clicked in first that night. “Whose car is it?” Dozens of people threw that question around from one end of the swelling crowd to the other. One guy yelled, guffawing with laughter, “This is better than The Fugitive!” I think it was when my next-door neighbor walked over to me and soberly asked, “Where is RT?” that the scales fell off my eyes and I saw clearly that our blue Dodge was sitting in the living room of the barracks down the hill and across the street.

I never told a soul the car was mine.

I nodded affirmatively to my helpful neighbor whose husband was in dental school and really needed his rest. And then, I followed her to her car and stared about me as she eased through the masses and carefully drove me to the library where RT wasn’t waiting on the sidewalk because it was not yet 10 pm. Did I tell you how big the UNC library is? And, one cannot call out for one’s husband because silence is the essence of any library, much less one of such noble stature.

I tiptoed along the corridors of the grand edifice and peeked into each room, floor by floor by floor. My silent search took quite a while but at last I found RT with his head in a book, oblivious to the fact that his prized Carolina Blue Dodge had crashed through our unknown neighbors’ apartment wall.

I whispered in response to RT’s surprised expression. “You have to go home.”

All through the maze of wide corridors and long hallways, I struggled to explain what had happened. Understandably, grasping the fact that one’s vehicle is resting in another person’s living room while one is studying in a quiet, peaceful library and one’s wife is vacuuming the floor is quite a feat. RT tried but until we turned onto Daniel’s Street, my story just didn’t make sense.

By that time, the audience was massive. Hundreds, the Chapel Hill paper read the following day. RT edged his way through the cheerful throng and up to the car where all the Chapel Hill and Carrboro policemen had now congregated. Bless RT’s heart, he was the one who had to fess up that his car was the culprit, although he had no idea how or why it had happened considering he was studying in the library the entire evening. He had a good alibi. His wife—moi—however, did not. I was the last person to drive the car and park it under the tree. Therefore, I was quickly placed in the number one spot on the suspect list.

I will have to admit that I had experienced some pretty anxious moments driving that Dodge. As noted, Chapel Hill is very hilly and for some unknown reason, most traffic lights just happen to be at the top of a hill. You haven’t had much fun until you’ve clutched and braked a 1965 Dodge at a red light on top of a hill and then tried to balance your left foot and right foot so as not to roll back down the hill and into the vehicle behind you before you get going in a forward motion. However, I had been driving the Dodge a couple of months and thought I did everything just right when I parked it under the oak tree.

Evidently, I did not…do everything right, that is. Whatever I did, the Dodge backed down the hill all by itself, made a slight turn so as not to hit a tree and ended up in our new neighbors’ house. To top it all off, the neighbors—whom we had never met—had subleased their apartment for the summer to two little old ladies who were going back to school for their nth degrees and, thank God, were not sitting on the couch when the Dodge came through the wall.

All in all, a good portion of the citizenry of Chapel Hill had an exciting night, even the little old ladies. The following day, we met our new neighbors who thought the entire debacle was hilarious. I still feel a little guilty, but then I think of the friendship that was sealed that summer and has lasted for 44 years and I don’t feel guilty a bit. Jan still phones us every Super Sunday and all through the year.  It was worth it all.

Our beautiful friend after 44 years

 

 

 
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