Peevish Pen

Ruminations on reading, writing, rural living, retirement, aging—and sometimes cats. And maybe a border collie or other critters.

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Location: Rural Virginia, United States

I'm an elderly retired teacher who writes. Among my books are Ferradiddledumday (Appalachian version of the Rumpelstiltskin story), Stuck (middle grade paranormal novel), Patches on the Same Quilt (novel set in Franklin County, VA), Them That Go (an Appalachian novel), Miracle of the Concrete Jesus & Other Stories, and several Kindle ebooks.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Old Christmas & Stories

January 6 is Old Christmas—Twelfth Night—Epiphany. According to some mountain folk, this is the real Christmas, the day the Magi arrived.

Strange things are said to happen on Old Christmas. Ghosts walk the earth again, animals talk, flowers bloom out of season.

Today—like the preceding week—has been unusually warm. My japonica bush down at the farm is in bloom. I did yardwork in shirtsleeves. I had an unusual day, though. More about that later.

One of my favorite poems is about Old Christmas. This poem tells a story about a mountain woman watching for her husband to return from hunting when she is visited by an estranged friend. The poem is a conversation between these two women:

Old Christmas Morning
by Roy Helton (1886-1960)

"Where you coming from, Lomey Carter,
So airly over the snow?
And what's them pretties you got in your hand,
And where you aiming to go?

"Step in, Honey: Old Christmas morning
I ain't got nothing much;
Maybe a bite of sweetness and corn bread,
A little ham meat and such,

"But come in, Honey! Sally Anne Barton's
Hungering after your face.
Wait till I light my candle up:
Set down! There's your old place.

"Now where you been so airly this morning?”
"Graveyard, Sally Anne.
Up by the trace in the salt lick meadows
Where Taulbe kilt my man."

"Taulbe ain't to home this morning . . .
I can't scratch up a light:
Dampness gets on the heads of the matches;
But I'll blow up the embers bright."

"Needn't trouble. I won't be stopping:
Going a long ways still."
"You didn't see nothing, Lomey Carter,
Up on the graveyard hill?"

"What should I see there, Sally Anne Barton?"
“Well, sperits do walk last night."
"There were an elder bush a-blooming
While the moon still give some light."

"Yes, elder bushes, they bloom, Old Christmas,
And critters kneel down in their straw.
Anything else up in the graveyard?"
"One thing more I saw:

I saw my man with his bead all bleeding
Where Taulbe's shot went through."
" What did he say?” "He stooped and kissed me."
“What did he say to you?”

"Said, Lord Jesus forguv your Taulbe;
But he told me another word;
He said it soft when he stooped and kissed me.
That were the last I heard."

"Taulbe ain't to home this morning."
"I know that, Sally Anne,
For I kilt him, coming down through the meadow
Where Taulbe kilt my man.

"I met him upon the meadow trace
When the moon were fainting fast,
And I had my dead man's rifle gun
And kilt him as he come past."

But I heard two shots." "'Twas his was second:
He shot me 'fore be died:
You'll find us at daybreak, Sally Anne Barton:
I'm laying there dead at his side."

I didn’t see any ghosts out and about today—at least not yet. Because today is the last day of black powder season, I did see my fair share of rednecks. One of them—JP the milk truck driver—started haunting me early. Maggie and I had no sooner gotten the paper at 6:08 this morning and were halfway back to the house at when he drove by and blasted his horn. Even though, it was dark, I could plainly make out his pickup truck under the dusk to dawn light at the end of my driveway.

Later, after I’d put Maggie in the kennel and fed dogs and horses, I was scattering birdseed on the deck railing about 8: 55 when he drove by again and blasted his horn. Enough, I decided, and called the police. I asked them to patrol the area. A few minutes later, after I’d started yard-work, I saw the cop car go by. A half hour later, one of the unmarked cars went past. Later, I saw a game warden. I felt a lot safer.

A few hours later, as I spread mulch near the mailbox, a newcomer from down the road came along pushing her two kids in a stroller. We stopped and chatted. I asked the little girl if she liked horses. She nodded; I invited them to visit Melody and Cupcake. The woman said she’d go on down the road to the front fence. I walked part way with her and—when I didn’t see the horses in the front field—went to the back field to call them. I vanished into the pines, as it were.

While I was hidden from view by the pines, JP drove down the road, stopped beside the woman and kids and demanded, “What do you think you’re doing?” “Looking for the horses,” she said. “Where’s your old man?” he asked. “Do you mean my husband?” she said. Then he saw me emerge from the pines, and he drove to his buddy’s driveway a couple of hundred feet down the road.

The woman didn’t know what to think. I explained who the guy was and some of the things he’d done in the past. Then we visited with Cupcake and Melody. Turns out the woman’s older daughter loves horses and used to show. Just the kind of folks some of us want in the neighborhood.

Now, I’m perplexed. Did JP think that the woman was me? (I’m at least 25 years older, much fatter, have light hair, and don’t have two small children in stroller. He’s seen me close up several times—like the time last March 4 when he approached me and fired his shotgun three times into the ground while I got my mail from the box.) Or—was he trying to pick up a woman alone on a stretch of country road? Did he just want to intimidate her because he and his kind don’t like all the newcomers who “ain’t from around here” in the neighborhood? Or is he just . . . ? Well, I wonder what the story really is.

The afternoon was even more interesting. On my way home from Union Hall, two stained glass doors in Donna’s antique shop caught my eye. I stopped in to see if there was a story behind them. Turns out, Donna didn’t know of any. They were way out of my price range and I have nowhere to put them, so—tempted though I might be—I didn’t buy them. As we chatted, a guy came into the store. Turns out he’d been wanting to meet me. Ralph and I are kin—third or fourth cousins. We talked genealogy (I found out the old Smith Cemetery is the one at Water’s Edge, and there used to be a Smith’s Chapel there, too.)

Then Pete from next door came in. I mentioned something about today being Old Christmas, and I ended up reciting the above poem. Talk turned to ghosts, and everyone had stories to share. Donna once lived in a haunted house; Ralph and I had both smelled strong perfume from a ghost, plus Ralph had once seen what must have been a ghost. Pete told a story about a relative who’d been frightened in a cemetery.

So, I went to find out the story behind the stained glass, and heard other stories instead.

A most interesting day. Y’all have a Merry Old Christmas!

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Blogger CountryDew said...

Hope all is well now and things are settled with your neighbors for a while.

12:19 PM  
Blogger Les Berkley said...

Found this on a search for Helton's poem, which I remember from grade school. I am in the process of finishing rewrites on a story based (very loosely) on 'Old Christmas Morning'. I notice that you have corrected the punctuation from the version that is usually found on the 'Net.

There's a magazine interested in the story, so perhaps you will see it soon.


11:34 AM  
Blogger Becky Mushko said...

I used a version from one of the Perception in Literature textbooksfrom the 1970s. In that version, Lomey's dialogue was in italics and Sally Anne's was plain text.

Since Blogger's quotation feature puts it all in italics, I changed the color of Lomey's dialogue.

"Old Christmas" is one of my favorite poems.

1:12 PM  

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