Tuesday, December 22, 2009
Sticky sugar laced spit, mingled with Kelly green and red food coloring, tinged with the fragrance of peppermint, rolled down and dripped off the young boy’s chin. There was just no way a person can eat the folded brightly colored ribbon candy and get it all in their stomach.
Christmas time was about the only time you would be aware of the “Christmas ribbon candy”. The unique flavor each year would snap the lucky person immediately back to years prior. The sweet peppermint flavor seemed to enrich itself each year, hardly any aftertaste similar to that of cheap cough syrup this year. The folded and looped ribbon was a constant row of caverns to catch oral juices that flowed with the mere thought of the first lick.
Other treats danced around but not sugar plum fairies. The ribbon candy was dispensed from what was referred to as “The Sack”. Other goodies were also placed in the sack. The contents were usually made up of an apple, an orange, various nuts, candy peanuts, (the kind that looked like a beige peanut), candy orange slices, (covered with gritty sugar crystals), and the famous ribbon candy. The exact date of origin is a mystery, but the Daddy’s Daddy had done the same routine. The piney woods of pre –world war two celebrated Christmas on a different scale than what we are accustomed to today, but times had not changed much at the time of this episode.
These sacks were originally left by Santa Clause as he passed though the communities. The name and distribution evolved over the years. The boy always referred to them as THE SACK, but as time brought him gray hairs and children, they called them PAWPAW’S SACKS. The boy has the opportunity to do the PAWPAW sacks now. He likes doing them. They added a lot of smiles when he first became acquainted to THE SACK and its sticky consequences. Over the years they have been enjoyed by many folks. They have no official direction of etiquette. The Daddy always had extra for unexpected opportunities. I often wonder who all remembers those SACKS.
Today’s version has changed a little. Due to allergy and choking hazard awareness, the contents are prepackaged and individually wrapped. The apples and oranges still use their natural wrappings. One thing that I am sure has not changed and that is the message and thought that weaves the smiles from the past to the smiles of the present. I feel, The Christmas seasons of the past held a different message than today , but when you think about it, Christmas seasons today hold a different message than those of yesteryear.
A Merry Christmas to “ALL YA”LL”!!
Monday, December 21, 2009
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
“She’s with my mother.” Hazel took another deep pull on the cigarette and a long stuttering exhale. “It’s best.” I am trying to save up some money so that I can rent our own house. With a yard. Maybe a swing set. She is twenty four months old.”
“Oh, you have a kid?” In Hank’s mind that could have been a statement as well as a question. Hank really didn’t know what to say. He knew there were too many scenarios that could be a part of this story. He was not sure he even wanted to know. Clingy. That was what really went through his mind. He felt he was going to learn more. “And, the dad?” Raul came to mind.
“Lives in Miami, I think. Who knows? I don’t care and I really hope he never comes back into the picture. He wrote the book on flakey. I don’t know why I couldn’t see through him. I don’t know. That is the main story. I moved down here to be with him. He was supposed to have contacts here. We met in Memphis. I grew up most of my years near in Jackson. A couple of months after I found out that I was expecting, he told me he had to go to Miami for a few days. He needed to meet up with some guys on business. That was over two and a half years ago. He called a couple of times, but then stopped. I don’t even know if he is alive. Who the hell cares?” Hank handed her another beer and she turned it up. Hank like the way she drank straight from the bottle.
“What’s his name?”
“Robert. Actually Roberto, but he thought that sounded too foreign. His family was able to get out of Havana a few weeks before Fidel Castro and the rebels took over the government. They had owned a sugar cane plantation but now it is lost to the Castro government. A few relatives such as cousins, aunts and uncles still live there. They would like to come to The States but I don’t know any news since Robert left.” Her empty bottle clattered as it bounced in the bottom of the trash can. Hank opened two more. Both took heavy long drinks from the damp bottles.
“What the hell was he supposed to do while he was in Miami?”
“I don’t know. He talked quite a bit about this guy that he was dealing with. His name was like Billy Ray, over there. He had two names together. I can’t remember. Maybe Jimmy, John, James or something like that. Robert never said what he did, actually. He always had money. In the beginning he was nice enough to be around even though I never really understood his business. It is really strange how you can think you know someone yet, know so little about him.”
Enough, I guess. Billy thought but didn’t speak. I don’t guess I would tell the whole story to a stranger either.
“It must be close to nine o’clock. The band is warming up.”
The wooden floor did very little to dampen the sounds and vibrations that were coming from the bar underneath Hazel’s one room apartment. The drums were doing most of the damage. The electric guitar was accompanied by an acoustic stand up bass. A menagerie of other instruments rounded out the mostly un-electrified combo. Dixieland was still King in New Orleans. The Beatles had recently changed the mask of the American music scene but the southern gulf coast was still heavily influenced by its own ethnic music.
“At least they take long breaks, sometimes over an hour. That is when I get my best sleep.” Hazel snickered. She slapped her hand over her mouth to attempt to catch the forgotten previous swallow of beer. Hank chucked as he finished the last of his. He was tired of the serious talk. The beer was beginning to relax some of his tension. Billy Ray didn’t move a muscle.
Hazel sat up straight and dropped her feet to the floor. “Take the couch. I haven’t heard from Angelique in a day or so, but I don’t want to intrude into here space. I am not interested in any foolishness so I am giving you the benefit of a doubt. Ya’ll can clear out in the morning.” Hazel used her best act of strength. She was fairly sure of her assessment of Hand and Billy Ray but cautiousness was strength within itself.
The day’s events rolled around inside Hank’s head chasing the buzz. It seemed like an old black and white movie to him. He felt he was watching himself instead of being himself. He was ready to get back to Sattersville. The couch was actually comfortable. The beer, the scent of cinnamon candles and the consistent rhythm of the band pushed him into a deep cavern of sleep.
Billy Ray squeeled out bursts, gasping to get his breath. He was lying on his back but didn’t have the strength to get up. The drums from downstairs were deafening. He tried to roll to his side but it was as if he were glued to the floor. The lack of air made him feel faint. The room was awash in a red harsh glow from the neon signs outside. A blue hue would alternate the red accompanied by a soft buzzing sound. Gasping, he reached for his throat. He was sure that something had twined itself around his neck and was cutting off his wind. A steady, consistent cadence was pounding in his head. A figure was crouched over him like a panther. It was swaying from side to side while remaining on its all fours, keeping time to the drums. Its mane was laced into long skinny strings that reminded Billy Ray of the rope quirts that his granddaddy made to train the plow horses. Every now and then he could feel a sting as a beaded end whipped across his face. Its eyes were burning and had pupils of a cat. Elongated instead of round . Billy Ray could recognize the strong aroma of garlic but was unable to understand the gibberish being spewed from its mouth. He could feel the warmth of candles that had been placed on the floor around him. Nothing of this sort was in his memory. He felt sick.
Monday, December 14, 2009
Today I stopped in to take a peek at what Liza at Middle Passages was writing about. She had posted about a fifteen year old blogger named Jeanna White. I will admit that the first time, today, I was at Middle Passages, I thought “Naaaaa, just a young girl writing about silly things and giggly topics.” I passed up. Later today, I thought, “That ain’t fair. Liza has always been right on. Not much nonsense. Good writing. So I jumped a couple of sites and ended up at http://www.astheplotthickens.blogspot.com/ .
This old codger was amazed. I am not a writer, but I could use her blogsite as a textbook for some topics.
My point? Young people today need all the encouragement they can get so I invite each of you to give her a visit and see for yourself. Don’t let me influence you, but I think you would be missing something for yourself if you missed this opportunity to see what she is doing.
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
“Let me help you with that.” Hank started toward Hazel.
“I have it, but stay away from that. That’s Angelique’s stuff. She wouldn’t want anyone to be messing with it. Besides it don’t need to be messed with by anyone who doesn’t know anything about it.”
Billy Ray stepped back and turned toward the kitchen area. “What is all that? I think I seen something like that in a movie once. It all reminded me of on of my cousins. Everyone in the family was afraid of her. My kin folks said she was different. That she had the gifts.” Billy Ray took the sack from Hazel and placed it on the kitchen table. The second drawer he opened, he found a bottle opener inside. The first bottle he handed to Hazel then he opened two more for himself and Hank.
“Who is Angelique?” Hank asked as fermented gases escaped in a whisper. Billy Ray shook his head and didn’t say anything.
“My roommate. She works down at Jackson Square. She goes on late in the afternoon and works late.”
“Is she an artist or something?”
“Like me. She waits tables and on the week end she freelances at other clubs.” She offered nothing further and no one asked. “She will probably be in later. Or maybe not. She keeps pretty much to herself.”
The first round was quick and Billy Ray did the honors again with the bottle opener. Soon that round was history. Even as everyone’s eyes adjusted to the disappearing sun, it was getting dark. Hazel took a box of strike anywhere kitchen matches and lit several candles throughout the room. The yellow glow softened the mood and finally everyone began to relax.
“Let’s move to the sitting area. These kitchen chairs are wearing my butt out.” Billy Ray got up and fell into one of the armchairs. The arms were covered with crocheted lace. It reminded him of his grandmother’s house. He wished he was there now instead of this strange city with nothing that he was used to.
“Come on.” Hank pulled Hazel’s chair back and picked up the damp paper sack. He didn’t figure the beer was going to have time to get hot. He stuck the bottle opener in his shirt pocket and ambled over beside Billy Ray and just fell into the other arm chair. Hazel shot him a disapproving look. She pushed an ottoman next to one of the windows facing the street and gently sat down. Pulling her knees to her chin her silhouette resembled a kitten staring out the window. The reflections of the neon light from the bar downstairs illuminated her soft outline as she perched on the foot stool.
“Look, we are going to have to be getting along. We have probably caused you enough grief as it is. We were only trying to help, but it seems that we may have done more damage than good.” Hank looked at Billy Ray. Billy Ray had dozed off. He never could drink much. Beer would put him to sleep in a heart beat. “Billy Ray, you are going to have to wake up.”
“Don’t bother him. He is alright. I certainly don’t have any plans. Throw him that pillow and blanket from that bed over there. I am not sure Angelique is going to be back tonight. Where are you going to go anyway. I am kind of spooked. Hell, you’re a stranger but I don’t know what else to do. One of you can sleep on the couch the other can make a pallet in the floor.” Hank walked over handed the pillow and quilt to Billy Ray.
“Here man, cover up with this. It ain’t going to get cold but you will have it. You can have the couch” Billy Ray stood up. He took the quilt and pillow.
“I can’t stretch out on the couch. I think I will put down here on this rug. I am worn out. It will feel good.” He kicked his boot offs and stretched out on his back. Almost instantly his deep regular breathing indicated that he was out like a light.
Hank turned one of the chairs to face Hazel. He handed her another beer. The warm evening made them extra refreshing. She was smoking a cigarette and still staring our the window. Turning toward Hank she took the bottle and then turned back toward the window without saying a word. He leaned back in his chair and just waited for several minutes before he said anything again. All he could see was her outline, totally void of features.
“You’re right. I am a stranger but I think you may be stranger.” He felt his attempt at light humor had fallen short of its target. Her only response was another turn of her head in his direction. She picked up a fresh cigarette and put in between her lips. After a few minutes, she struck a match. The tip of the cigarette glowed like a tiny beacon as she sat motionless. Hank waited and stared. He felt certain the time would come when she would talk if she wanted to.
At first it was hardly noticeable. A tiny up and down movement of the coal of fire. A few minutes went by. The ash had grown to over and inch and the cigarette had not moved again until now. Quickly it began to shake up and down. Hank was not certain his eyes were focusing properly. The ash broke loose and fell to the floor. The movement continued but not a word was spoken. In a swift motion, Hazel brought one of here hands to her face and just as quickly put it back down. The glowing beacon traveled another inch or so. Another swipe of the hand and she dropped the cigarette into her empty beer bottle. Both hands smeared both cheeks. She turned toward Hank. Her eyes were moist and her chin was taunt and quivering.
“I feel like I want to tell somebody.” Hazel dipped her head and inhaled three short stuttering breaths.
Monday, December 7, 2009
“Turn right here and the second street to the left. There is a bar on the right. Turn right into the drive way and go to the back. I live upstairs over the bar.” Hazel was sandwiched in the middle between Hand and Billy Ray. The three or them were packed into the pickup. It made the sharp turns easier to hold onto her seat. It was a good thing. She seemed to have gone into a trance, showing no emotion. “Right here, right here.”
Hank turned into the driveway and jerked the gear shift into low gear and gave the pickup too much gas.
“Where you going?” Hazel snapped out of her daze. “Pull under the stair case. Leave the driveway open. Others have to get in and out.” She seemed irritated all of a sudden. “Come on let’s get up and inside.”
The steps could not have been original. The bar and apartment was a wooden structure with many repairs added over many years. The stairs looked like they belonged in the French Quarter. Rust covered them completely but you could see the intricate wrought iron work was from the Spanish style. The Spanish had almost as much influence on the style of architecture in the French Quarter as the French. The rails seemed out of place here. Hank felt the same way. How did he and Billy Ray get here much let Why were they here?
“What are we going to do now?” Billy Ray was looking first at Hank and then to Hazel. Both boys ended up looking at Hazel waiting for some kind of response.
“How the hell do I know? Hell, I don’t even know who you two are. You come waltzing in the place and don’t even know what you want to order. You sit down and boom, the next thing I know you’re sticking your nose in where it don’t belong and this black man probably kills Ramone.
“I thought his name was Raol “
“Hell no, Ramone was Raol’s brother. Either way it ain/t going to be good. If he,,he killed him the law is going to be after us. Probably will be anyway. If they ain;t Raol is meaner than the law. He is mixed up with them somehow anyway. Some kind of contract enforcer or something or another. Ain;t no way this is gonna come out good. Damn. I don‘t even know your names except what ya‘ll were hollering at each other on the way over here” Hazel dark eyes were in full blaze.
“I’m Hank and this is Billy Ray. We kind of grew up together. At least in the same town. Not much other than that. We just came down here to pick up some soy bean seeds for the man we both work for. We didn’t mean to intrude but it was just a natural reflex when we though someone was hurting you. It could have been anyone, and we would have acted the same. I am sorry if we made thing bad for you. Really.”
“I don’t know what happened, exactly, either. I went out with Raol a couple of times. Nothing serious. I am not even sure he is interested in me or any woman. He was always fairly polite and, well just kind of plain. Not much conversation but always serious. Ramone, the one you say is Billy Ray hit with the barstool ,asked me several times to go out and I always turned him down. I guess that he decided today to take a new approach. If you could spring for a couple of bucks, I can run down stairs and get a few beers. They have sandwiches too, it either of you is still hungry.”
Hank gave her a ten and she shut the door and clanged down the Spanish wrought iron steps. He wondered if that would be the last they saw of her.
As far as efficiency apartments go, this one was exceptionally large. Some of the older buildings were built with the second floor for lodge halls or banquet rooms for the primary businesses on the ground floor. They were just large open space rooms. It looked like this might have been one of those situations with changes made to lay out an apartment. A kitchen was on one end and a bathroom had been added in the corner of the same end of the apartment. A series of dark oval braided rugs were laid out to get maximum coverage over clear yellow pine boards which were used predominately throughout the south. A sofa and three mismatched stuffed arm chairs were arrange to separated a sitting area from the dining table and four straight ladder back wooden chairs that comprised the eating area. Hand and Billy Ray had never seen such an assortment of beads and flowered cloth used in decorating a house. They had lived fairly simple lives. The opposite end of the apartment was laid out for the sleeping area. There were no bed frames but two set of mattresses were neatly arranged with a folding screen making a division between the two bedroom areas.
“I don’t know about all this Billy Ray. I think me and you have gotten ourselves off the reservation a bit.” Both of them were fairly active trying to satisfy their curiosity of the surrounding. “The lights must go off a lot down here because of storms. I never seen so many candle as she has sitting around. Looks to me like, she might burn the place down on top of herself.” Billy Ray did answer. He was standing in front of a dresser or table object that appeared to have a black table cloth draped over it. He was just standing there with his hands by his side. “What are you doing there Billy Ray?” There still was no reply. Hank walked over to look around Billy Ray and see what his amusement was.
A small wooden box was open sitting in the middle. A small leather bag lay in front. It was open and had spilled some coins and a small blue crystal along with several bleached bones onto the table. There were several cards not similar to the one they were used to playing with in the back of T.J.’s Texaco. An unusual map with drawing not familiar to either one of them was sitting underneath a candle and one corner of the box. A small black doll and stack of feathers were obscured from view behind the open lid.
“Hank, what the hell is all that?” Billy Ray’s face could not hide the distrust and uneasiness he was feeling
Friday, December 4, 2009
"Hank, what the hell is all that?" Billy Ray's face could not hide the distrust and uneasiness that he was feeling.
Thursday, December 3, 2009
Here in lies the meat of this post. I have a CALLENGE for you nice folks out there. Everyone of you. It is easy and within the grasp of each individual. I will explain the challenge at the END of this post.
I have stressed on many occasions, “I am the most fortunate person I know.” One of those fortunes is that I am lucky to still be acquainted with quite a few of lifelong friends. I am talking about from second grade, in school, forward. Kids have been born. A number have been added along the way and these “new comers” are most often subjected to the reenacted episodes that we “old timers” have experienced along the way.
Every March, for the past ten years or so, a small group of us go to a cabin on a river in the piney woods of Texas for a weekend. Several years ago, out of the blue, one of the cast of characters presented a “Letter” that was given to him by a patient of his. It had to do with the location of our campsite. There is an old railroad trestle that crosses the river about a hundred yards downriver from our camp site. All of us had know him since childhood. One of my running buddies has two boy and they have been coming along every year. They were spooked as youngster and still are wary today. We were all amazed at the “letter’. I will post at a later date.
This past year, it was my turn. I remember a tale that my Daddy had told at this very spot many years earlier concerning a Dumb Bull. The early Dumb Bulls were made with an old wooden nail keg or a hollow log. A rawhide was stretched over one end and a string or piece of leather was threaded through it. Pinching the string in your finger and pulling it through the fist will make an awful amplified sound. It has been said that Ben Jameson’s cows broke out the lot when his brother in law set one off down the in the river bottom. I built a modern day dumb bull with a metal bucket. The banjo picker buddy furnished me with the banjo hide for the head of the dumb bull.
The scene needed to be properly set. I went to Barnes and Noble, my favorite store, and bought a leather bound writing journal. I conjured up a story based loosely on a legend of “The Black Panther” that roams the woods throughout the river bottom. I hand wrote into the journal or I would repost, but I have the one that I wrote in my Grandson’s book. I will try to post it later also. After a supper feast of fried catfish, fried taters, red beans and rice, sausage and light bread, followed with a few swallers of partaking liquid., we all settled around the campfire.
I started in telling about the traveling peddler that made his yearly rounds through Bug Skuffle, a crossroads community, then on through “Dog Neck”, an agrarian community before coming into the railroad town of Sacul, which was named after Mr. Lucas. (That’s Lucas spelled backwards ). The peddler sold a chamber pot to Old Man Jamerson. Well when he got it home his wife discovered that it was defective. She made the old man take off to get his money back from the peddler. I hate Reader’s Digest versions, but there ain’t no way around it. Old man Jameson found the peddler’s wagon in the river but all he found of the peddler was his skull with staring eyeballs lodged in the forks of a sweetgum tree where “The Black Panther” had been interrupted from his supper. He could not see the panther but he could hear the squalling screeches. The End - of the fireside chat.
It took me a pretty good while to read the whole thing. I embellished it much more than the version that you just got. The banjo picker played a background dirge all the while. I haven’t mentioned it but that banjo picker is the most liberal person I have ever run across. More than ,,,well anyhow,, but, I have written a law that we can’t talk politics or religion down on the river. We will never agree on politics, and we all probably gonna get that camp out together in that hot spot anyway ,,,, sooo the point is, it was then and there I decided that I would start a blog and here we are. If I have any readers left, that is.
One of the side effects of riverside partaking of the firewater is that you have to “check on the dogs” sometimes during the night.
Everyone finally settled in for the night. The banjo pickers two boys, 20 and 22, along with his son-in-law took the tent. The picker and I took the cabin. The night was absolutely picture book perfect. The air was cool and the fog was lifting up from the warm water of the river. The moon was about three quarters full and after your eyes adjusted, you could see throughout the river bottom with ease. A full chorus of life was singing, echoing off the water and trees. I thought that I could actually hear a water snake swimming its zig zag path toward the far river bank.
The moon had winched its way toward far side of the river and was peeking through the tiny first buds of spring from the elm trees. It was three AM and the dogs needed to be checked on. The crisp night air cut sharply through my cotton jogging pants. Socked feet made little sound stepping onto the wooden porch, but the creaking of pulling gravity emitted tiny squeeking grunts from the aging boards as I was careful to step lightly, not to make excessive noise. I had used my fiddle rosin to double coat the leather string that was the vocal cord of my new Dumb Bull. Never, do I believe, that I had witness such peacefulness.
“Ahhhhhh, ain’t this great?” I then took holt of the leather string and pinched.
EEEEEEEAAAAAOOOOOOOOOOAAGGGGGGGGGG!!!!! The high frequencies mellowed and finished into a deep roaring bass as my grip reached the tip of the leather cord.
EEEEEEAAAOOOAAAGGGGG!!! A faster zip changed the vocal tone to a more frenzied yelp.
Frogs, crickets and all river creatures went nuts. The echoes bouncing off the trees finally reached the old trestle and disappeared around the river bend just as the second volley escaped from the throat of the monster.
“Son of a Bitch!” The tent came to life. “What the…?” “What’s that racket?”
Search lights erupted sending illuminated circles dancing a jig across the fabric of the bright orange tent.
“Bert, what the hell is that?” The picker grinning in the moonlight
“Danged if I know!” pinching the cord and giving a pull.
EEEEEEEEEEEEEAAAAAWWWWOOOOOOOOOWWWWW,, ENENENNNNNAAAAOOOWWWWW,, - two pulls in a row
“Shoot that thang”, me looking at the picker with a grin and a nod
“It don’t matter, just shoot out there everywhere.”
Blam, Bang, Blam-Blam
The tent had turned into a vegamatic on steriods. Good thing I had already checked on the dogs. Tent flap zippers were a zinging, flash lights a’flashing. It looked like searchlights at a Kung Fu world premier opening. Easing back inside the cabin, I slid my new friend under my cot and covered it with a spare blanket.
“What the hell was that?” was asked more times than I could count.
The picker and I did our durnest to keep our sober and concerned face so as to mask our hysteria.
“The Panther”, one of the boys finally said softly. A nervous chucked as he spoke didn’t totally convince himself or the others that he was just kidding.
Me nor the picker ever divulged the true secret and they may have figured it out. I am sure they have decided on some logical answer, but I would bet the farm that if any of you, as strangers, asked them, they would definitely remember it vividly and each differently.
MY CHALLEMGE to you: Take time to make a special effort to “talk” to someone. Tell a story. Write it down. I challenged everyone at the camp to add a story to the journal. Everyone was giddy with excitement at the thought and opportunity. The picker has it now. I am going to call his liberal ass and push him to get it done. I read a lot and I read a lot before I knew about blogging and I can tell you this,,I have read better stuff from you folks than what I have paid money for. Any questions?