CHAPTER 27 – PART 3
Uncle Billy was late, but just as somber was advancing; we heard the familiar rattle of his cart and the rhythm of sixteen horseshoes beating a tattoo on the new frozen ground. The wind had shifted to the north before sunset and was blowing a strong gale. The four blacks pranced to the driving post where Uncle Billy tied a horse from the leading team securely.
Mother lit the lamp and Uncle Billy warmed his hands on the stove as he said the wind was blowing on a tree across the road. He and Mr. Shelby had to cut it so they could move it.
Pulling his purse out of his pocket, he hesitated, then said, “Tora,” to his mother, “just pull down the shade, you can’t be too careful.” A tramp slept in my barn last night and I felt like I was being followed through the woods. I’m pretty sure I saw a man jump behind a tree. I whipped the beasts into a race. Let’s count this money so I can go on before it gets darker.
I can still see Uncle Billy as he stood there, nervously biting into a chew from the twist of tobacco he took from his hip pocket. To me, he looked like the pictures on our Sabbath School cards of the ancient patriarchs.
I said, “Father, Uncle Billy looks like Moses.” Father said, “Yes, but you don’t see any tobacco juice at the corners of Moses’ mouth. Father never failed to point out the rudeness of the habit of chewing tobacco, because our church condemned the use of tobacco. “Keep all the dirt out of the way,” some thought, including tobacco. Uncle Billy and a few others were chewing or smoking. They were not expelled from the church, but were simply considered incomplete “overcomers” and in a lower spiritual layer.
Mother lowered the blind by untying a string and letting the blind unroll. Uncle Billy then counted the money. Most were paper money, which impressed me. Mom carried it into the living room and placed it carefully between the pages of the huge family Bible that was still on our center table. She felt it was a safe place because we had a small Bible and Ellis and I had our school wills to read. The big one was only used to register marriages, births and deaths and to give an atmosphere of contemplation to the home.
After Uncle Billy left, father and mother counted all their loose change and found they were three cents short. I remember it because Ellis contributed his big penny the size of a half dollar. I contributed my two cent coin. We cherished them and it was a real sacrifice to give them up. They were given to us by a peddler who always spent the night with us when he walked through our community, maybe twice a year.
Father and mother never fired a peddler or anyone else who wandered off when they asked to stay the night. They never charged anyone to stay, so the hawkers usually gave us kids a little trinket or maybe a handkerchief for Ellis and a hair ribbon for me. Mom gave us each a drawer in the Singer sewing machine for our belongings and they weren’t cluttered; therefore, one element was keenly missed.
At supper, the six-mile trip to Peebles, where the pawnbroker lived, was discussed. We children would have liked to go there because we had never been further than Tranquility in our memory. This peaceful little village included our church and parsonage, Blair’s store (formerly Wilson), Wright’s forge, Dr. Gaston’s house and his little office in a corner of his yard and a few other houses, the Jonas Elmores, the Walkers, Alfred Blair, Frank Blair, Ralph McCreight, the Sanford McCulloughs and the Old Wilson Stone House. All of these and a few more were nestled among the hills either side of the covered bridge that spanned George’s Creek near the store. Some were along the pike, others a bit back and joined by lanes. There were no streets. This village and the four miles between there and our home was our world. We stayed with Aunt Lou the few times that mom and dad went somewhere further away.
A comment was made about the tramp in Uncle Billy’s barn and Uncle Billy thinking someone was following him. The father said: “Uncle Billy was full of imagination because if he saw anyone it was probably a hunter looking for a quail or a rabbit because dusk was a good time to Catch them and the hunter probably disappeared behind a tree for Uncle Billy to don’t stop to tell him a war story.
We liked staying with Aunt Lou as she would tell us extra stories just to keep us from getting into trouble. She didn’t get mad at us easily, not even the time we discouraged her widowed son-in-law from staying for supper. We were afraid she would be angry this time as she was always happy to impress anyone with her salty bread and she had produced a perfect batch just before she arrived. On the rare occasions when her bread came out flat, she was always depressed; so you had to be very careful.
We went outside under the open window and, in imitation of a rooster, Ellis sang “Shu-ma-ker’s go-on-ne”. I followed in imitation of a turkey gobbler. “I doubt it, I doubt it, I doubt it.” Soon he got up and left. She looked at us moodily, but later said to her mother, “I guess he got the hint,” and she looked amused.
But the time we smeared elderberry juice on our faces and came screaming at the door, she nearly fainted; then when she saw what we had done, she got really angry and blew us away. After that, we experienced the kind of things that brought something more than stories.