The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Ozark Dreams and Mountain Memories - Part 14 of 24

By Lillie A. Emery © 1988

Issue: October, 1988

Editor's Note: This is a serialized, true story of a poor Ozark family in the 1930's through the eyes of one of their children; experience their hardships and heart warming togetherness as they struggle through and celebrate life in the Ozark Mountains.

Whenever Papa and the big boys were busy otherwise and not using the horses, Jonathon, Andy and I would, if we had our chores done up, saddle some of them up and go riding. Of course Mama wouldn't let me go traipsing off very far from the house if she knew about it, but I'd figure out lots of ways to get away. By the summer I was twelve I could ride just as fast as the boys. It was really a dream come true to be able to sit on a galloping horse and just lean forward in the saddle and meet the wind head on. It had taken lots of practice for me to quit bouncing up and down in the saddle and get over my fear of falling off a horse. Then after I read all those yellow backed westerns, I was determined to ride fast.

One of the mares Mr. Shaughnessy left there for Papa to use was my favorite. At first Ben and Earl called her Wild Woman for she was so high spirited it took them a long time to be able to walk up to her and put a bridle and saddle on her. Then after she sort of tamed down we all called her Wild Lady for she was still a little unpredictable. If she was trotting along and something a little unusual happened like a rabbit running in front of her, she would lay her ears back and leap forward and run as if she was being chased by demons. Us youngest ones were not supposed to ride her at all but every chance I'd get I'd saddle her up and go down in the back pasture or down the logging road by the creek and see just how fast she could run and how smooth I could sit in the saddle. If Mama had ever seen me riding Wild Lady at breakneck speed like I did, she would have collapsed from fright.

Sometimes I'd just go riding through Mr. Shaughnessy's woods, pasture and go to the top of a tall, steep hill that looked out over the creek valley. The view from there was beautiful and it was the only hill I knew where I could see three houses from. To the right was the Shaughnessy house where we lived. Straight ahead was Widow Blooms' house by the creek and farther down the creek was the Martin family's house. No matter what the season was that was a lovely place to sit and just daydream. It was so peaceful there it seemed like there was no need to worry about more money or good crops or anything like that. So mostly when I was there I'd just sit and watch how the creek wound around through the fields and looked so pretty through the gappy places where there were no trees to dim its view. Sometimes I'd pretend I was a great lady or a princess and there wasn't anywhere or anyplace I couldn't go. There'd always be plenty of other princesses and princes just my age in my fancy dreams.

One day as I sat there looking at the creek below and how it meandered through the woods and fields and by Widow Blooms' house and the Martin family's house, I imagined that I was a beautiful princess found in the forest by a band of knights from King Arthur's court and that for some strange reason I couldn't speak a word but they knew I was a real princess lost from some castle, and so they built a golden raft all bedecked with pink peach blossoms, white dogwood blossoms and lavender, wild Sweet William blossoms and a red velvet chair for me to sit on as I drifted down the wide river that wandered by several castles. Thus the knights figured a King or Queen would recognize me as their own lost princess and take me back to my own castle.

As I sat there daydreaming about floating by all those castles, the creek below became a beautiful river and I could just see all of the bejeweled queens, kings, princesses and princes watching as I drifted by on my raft. Widow Blooms' was standing by her castle wearing a satin lace trimmed gown and lots of pearls and sparkling jewels in her crown, and the Martin family had a castle as tall as the trees. Mr. and Mrs. Martin were the royalest of royalty in all Scotland and their children were the fairest and bravest bunch of princesses and princes in the land. And they all wore royal clothes and lots of sparkling jewels.

My splendid reverie was broken right there by a mess of hounds baying and yowling and boys yelling. I got up and got on Wild Lady and just sat there a minute listening. The barking and yelling was getting closer so I just waited a spell to see what all the ruckus was about. Then I saw a rabbit headed toward me followed by three of the Martin's hounds and just behind them was Joe Henry and Tom Henry; and way behind them was a little towheaded boy. He was Lil Young Sam their little brother, I knew without a doubt.

Their rabbit went leaping right by Wild Lady just a few jumps ahead of the yowling, leaping dogs. The rabbit disappeared as it ran down a draw filled with wild huckleberry bushes. The gaunt hounds, with their long ears and tongues flapping around their hungry mouths, lunged into the same bushy draw and disappeared too.

It took me a few minutes to get Wild Lady quieted down and by then Joe Henry and Tom Henry were standing looking at me as if I were a ghost or a witch or a spook. They were skinny and real tall to be just fourteen and fifteen years old. They had a thick mop of yellow sun bleached hair that almost covered their ears and disappeared at the back down their tattered shirt collars. Their patched calf length overalls showed sun browned ankles and bare feet. Joe Henry was carrying a heavy twenty-two gauge rifle.

They just looked at me. I just looked at them. Then we all three just looked at Lil Young Sam as he stumbled up the hill breathing low and sobbing loud as he wiped his runny nose on his raggedy sleeve. Joe Henry looked up at me and said, "Hits the danged truth. He haint no good fur huntin' rabbits. Hit jest naterally looks lik' he haint never goin' to learn to trail 'em or tree 'em or no other danged possums or coons neither." Lil Young Sam said between sobs, "This here big toe, hits my toe," and he reached down and put a grubby, little, dirty finger to a swollen bleeding toe and continued, "Hits bleedy an' hits wantin' me to be seein' Mam." Tom Henry said, "Yep, hits jest like Pappy sez, hits lik' he's no more good than a girl fur he'd ruther stay at the house with Mam than be goin' huntin'." I looked at the poor little boy's bleeding toe and said, "He ort to be took home so's your Mam can wash that in warm lye soap water and tie it up with a clean rag and a dab of salve." Joe Henry said, "Hit don't look like a danged bad toe to me atall an' we haint goin' back till we got a rabbit or two."

Lil Young Sam sat down leaning on his bare knees that stuck up through the holes in his overall legs and continued to sob. I was getting plum mad. I just sat there on Wild Lady and looked at them two tall, tattered, sassy talking sprouts and their poor little brother and thought about me sitting right there a few minutes before daydreaming about them being real princes standing down there by a castle with their royal family. What a shame, for it was all just a waste of time because there they were standing where I could look at them and they were the awfullest looking pair you could ever imagine as princes. They had tobacco in their mouths and a dirty string with a rabbit's foot around their necks and not even caring if their little brother was bleeding to death or getting blood poison.

Then I said, "It is a bad looking toe and you ort to be ashamed, for you should take him to the house so's he can get that toe doctored up. Ain't you afraid he'll be bleeding to death or die from blood poison?" Joe Henry said, "He--er, heck nope, fur hit haint a bad lookin' toe atall." I said, " It is a bad looking toe and you ort to be ashamed. Here I was just a sittin' and a thinkin' before you all came a runnin' up that hill that you were kind princes but you're not. You're just mean and hateful to your own little brother."

Joe Henry spat out some more tobacco and said, "We haint no princes an' we haint even knowed there war folks aroun' these parts by that name. Hit seems like you ort to be knowin' we is Mr. Martin's young'uns an' none of the Prince folks. Where's about does them fellers live anyhow?" I said, "Silly, there ain't no Princes living around here. I just read about them in a book and they all live in a land far away." Joe Henry said, "He-er heck, I hant been knowing how to read no books no how."

I said, "Why Joe Henry Martin, ain't you never learned to read yet?" He said, "Nope an' I haint a hankerin' to neither no how. My Pappy sez plowin' an' plantin' is all folks needs to be a knowin'." I said, "Your Pappy is wrong for there's lots more folks ort to be knowin'." Joe Henry said, "My Pappy knows everthin' folks need to be knowin' but ifn he haint knowin' everythin', I haint goin' to be the one tellin' him he haint knowin' hit all."

I said, "Your Pappy ort to know Lil Young Sam there is too little to go traipsing around trying to keep up with you two big boys running rabbits up hills an' things like that for he'll get to danged many busted toes an' bad leg aches doin' that." Joe Henry said, "Hits jest too danged bad but he's jest got to learn all about huntin' ways for Pappy sez the night Lil Young Sam right there was born at our house, me an' Tom Henry rights here an' Pappy took Lil Ole Sam, that dawg that runned that away in 'em huckleberry bush, him wuz jest a pup then, we all went a huntin' an' we catched five possum an' two coon.

Pappy wuz rite proud of Lil Ole Sam fur bein' such a fine hunter an' only a pup, so's when we gets back to home, him rites there wuz already born an' Pappy named him Lil Young Sam so's he could be Lil Ole Sam's master an' a good hunter likes him too. And hits the truth, he's that dawgs master fur he purt near follows him everywheres."

Just then one of the boney hounds came and snuggled down against Lil Young Sam. Joe Henry said, "See, hits jest lik' Pappy sez. He's that dawgs master an' he's he's jest got to learn to trail 'em an' tree 'em." I said, "That don't matter atall, about that dog and you all catching a big mess of possum an' coons the night Lil Young Sam was born for maybe it was meant that he ort to be something like a farmer or a house builder instead of a blamed hunter."

Joe Henry said, "Well Mam done said hit might be that away. For she sez 'for her Pappy up an' died he read out of a book to her about that Jesus feller an' 'fore he wuz twelve years ole, he wuz helpin' his Pappy put up houses an' sheds an' stuff like that then he up and ran away from his Mam an' Pappy an' ended up bein' a preacher feller an' lots of other boys in that same book never learned to do no huntin' atall an' their Pappy's never helt hit again' them."

Then he looked at me and asked, "Have you ever been reading out of that there same book?" I said, "Sure, that's the Bible, an' ain't your Mam and Pappy got one of them?" He said, "Mam, she looked after her Pappy's 'till the danged house burnt down an' then they's never got no more books atall." I said, "You all ort to go to church for sometimes there's five or six folks at once with Bibles there an' they read stories out of them." Joe Henry said, "We haint goin' fur my Pappy haint got no more use for them preacher fellers than he's got fur the givernment fellers."

Just then Lil Young Sam said, "My toe hurts bad fur to see me Mam." I looked at his toe again and it was swollen lots bigger and I said, "Mercy be, blood poison is setting in for sure. Hand him up here quick an' I'll take him to Widow Blooms right down there so's he wont die." When them two big boys saw how scared I was Joe Henry and Tom Henry both helped lift Lil Young Sam up to the saddle to ride with me and then we all headed toward Widow Blooms' house with Lil Ole Sam running along yowling in the mournful way of hounds.