Afore I even get started, let me jus' say that this page, an' them what follers, is jus' me tryin' to put down on paper the twists an' turns of my own life. I think its kinda hard sometimes, to try to talk about yer life. Hard to know where to begin tellin' the way things was, as the years go by. I don' rightly believe in miracles like in the bible. But, sometimes, it does seem like some kind of wind blows in from nowhere an' moves ye along in some fashion ye hadn' never even thought about. When yer jus' a kid, it seems the grown-ups seem to know ezackly what it is they are doin'. But now, havin' walkt my own lonesome valley, I've come to realize that maybe it's the same fer mos' ever'body. We all jus' take it a step at a time, jus' doin' what we was thinkin' we wanted to do, until some kinda wind in the form of some thing or somebody blows into yer life, an' ye find yerself doin' things you never thought you'd be doin'. An' this kinda mysterious shiftin' aroun' starts way back when yer a kid, or maybe even before ye was born. That's how it all seems to me somehow, when I try to think about it. So now, I reckon I'll jus' get started tellin' this story, unless some kinda wind blows in an' changes my mind.
LITTLE PITCHERS HAVE BIG EARS
I reckon as a kid I was always overhearin' stuff I wasn't s'posed to be hearin' at all. But, there's somethin' about the way grown-ups now an' then would take to mumblin' and mutterin' real quiet-like, that made me want to know what it was they knew that I didn't know. What I wasn't old enough to know, I reckon.
But fact is, I knew about what happened to Jackson before they did. I knowed it all along. Like the other day, I was on the front porch swing, readin' a comic, an' listenin' to grandaddy out in the yard talkin' acrosst the fence to old man Withers. An' they was goin' back an' forth about it. Spittin' tobacca. Talkin' about the day they found Jackson down by that bend in the tracks. Sayin' he was prob'ly drunk when that train run over him. Sayin' he probly had it comin', the way he was always chasin' skirts over there in Round Town. Hell, I knew that. Ever'one knew that. Jackson knew ever' woman from here to the county line. He even knew some further out than that. For all I know, he might've even been my daddy.
Anyway, grandaddy was standin' there with one boot up on a fence rail an' pickin' his teeth when he looked around an' saw me. An' he kinda shooed me off with his hand, tellin' me to go on in th' house. I guess they was about to be speckalatin' about how when they was pickin' up pieces of Jackson off th' tracks, he had a purty obvious bullet hole in th' back of his head. Hell, I knew that already. I'd seen Jackson many a time stumblin'down the road late at night, comin' back from Round Town. An' I remember that night, I was up late an' Jackson never did come wanderin' by. An' I remember the sound of that gunshot off in the night, jus' minutes afore the train came roarin' by, blowin' a long warnin' whistle. An' to tell ya the truth, I gotta purty good idea who done it.
IF THE TRUTH BE TOL'
This is has to do with me, an' June bug. I s'pose my aunt Junella was my most favrite person in the whole world. She was always lookin'out fer me when granny got too fuzzy in her head. We had a special way of bein', me and aunt Junella. She tol' me to call her June bug. An' she called me Dawson. That's how special it was. O'course my real name was Jeremy. But she said, I look like Dave Dawson. He was a flyin' ace with the RAF in the war, an' I had lotsa comics about his adventures. An' sometimes at night, I'd lie on the couch with my head on June bug's lap an' read my Dave Dawson comics to her while she was justa arunnin' her fingers through my hair.
"Dawson, jaws clenched, pulled back, prop-clawing into the blue with his guns blazing. He looked down over his shoulder as the Zero burst into flames and spun out of control toward the sea. 'Better luck next time,' he laughed with a sneer."
"Damn!" June bug said. (Y'know, I don't think I ever been as close to heaven as those evenin's with June bug.) Then she'd tuck me into bed, an' she'd give me a kiss goodnight. Her lips was all painted up, an' she smelled like Jasmine. An', I knew she was headed over to Round Town. Probly lookin' for Jackson.
June bug sorta drove me crazy. I didn't know it at the time. I wasn't ol' enough to have a hard-on, but somethin' about watchin' her standin' in front of a mirror, takin' big rollers out of her hair, pullin' nylons up her skinny legs, askin' me if the seams was straight, tryin' to puff a cigarette an' put on lipstick at the same time, was makin' me kinda crazy somehows. Seein' her one night come home with a black eye didn't help neither. An' when she hung herself, it was not something a young man such as myself could hardly bear.
So, yes. I got grandady's rifel, an' one night I shot the son of a bitch. An' you can send me to hell, if'n it pleases you all that much. I don' rightly care no more. But you know, an' I know, my Aunt Junella wouldn't kill herself. It was Jackson made her tie that knot aroun' her neck. He's surely in hell by now, but when I get there, he'll have more hell to pay. So help me, god...or not.
HOW I GOT MY NICK NAME
This here's the story about Catfish Cooper and the Wizard. An' in a way, I reckon its about me too, seein' as how it was a life changin' experience. It was my gran'daddy what tol' me about Catfish Cooper. I was jus' a kid, you know. He said ever-body fer miles aroun' knowed about ol' Catfish Cooper. Anyhow's one day I was jus' sittin' on the porch steps, an' he commenced to tellin' me the whole story.
"Y'see, Dawson, Cooper Harlan was onct a little feller jus' like you. An' there weren't a thing in the world Cooper like to do more than to go noodlin' down by the river." When I asked gran'daddy what noodlin was, he said, it might be better I didn't know, "cuz noodlin' can get inta yer head, an' purty soon you'll take to noodlin' yer life away. That's what happen to Cooper, anyhows." Well, I begged an' I pleaded, an' finally he said he'd show me all about noodlin', but I weren't to tell granny or she'll think I's surely be on the road to ruin.
Well, me an gran'daddy took the path out back o' the chickens, an' on down to the river. An' he was tellin' me how Cooper Harlan had a special kinda thing about catfish. He never like to eat catfish, cuz' he liked catfish too much to actually eat one. Well, I stood there on the bank o' the river, an' gran'daddy, he jus' took to wadin' out in the water.
"Now, y'see here, Dawson. See how this big ol' tree done stretched its big ol roots down into the water?" I nodded, all ears an' eyes. "Well, them ol' catfish they like to hideout in places like that. They like got themselves a little underwater cave down in there. So, Cooper, he figgered if he just reached down in all them roots and branches, an' stuff, he might jus' find hisself a catfish. So he took to noodlin' aroun' under the water." I watched as gran'daddy, up to his belt in the water, bent down an' slowly stuck his hands down in the water under them big gnarly ol' Sycamore roots.
"Ye gotta sneak up on 'em nice an' easy-like. Ye gotta jus' move yer hands real slow an sneaky-like." Gran'daddy was plum up to his arm pits in the water, talkin' real quiet. "I know yer back in there, big boy," he was sayin'. Suddenly, he jus'jerked up in the air, makin' a big ol' splash, an' he had a big fat flathead catfish in his hands! "Well, looky here! If it ain't Mr. Whiskers, hisself! I've a mind to jus' put you in my big ol' fryin' pan! Here, take a holt of 'im, boy." Well, no sooner than I wrapped my hands around that fish, he just took to wigglin' so bad, he got loose, an' plopped back in the water! Gran'daddy jus' laughed an' laughed. So, anyhows, as we walked on back up to the house, I knew it was true what gran'daddy said about how noodlin' can go to yer head. It was all I could think about. O'course, I didn't say nary a word to granny about it, but I was already makin' plans to go noodlin' that very next mornin'.
I reckon I was sorta like Catfish Cooper. I didn't really wanna catch me a catfish an' eat 'im. I jus' sorta wanted to catch 'im, an' talk to him a bit, an' then let 'im go. In fact, I had a dream one night where's I was talkin' to a catfish, an' he was talking right back. An' he was tellin' me how hard it is to be a catfish, sometimes. I kept askin' my gran'daddy to tell me more about ol' Catfish Cooper. That's when he tol' me about the Wizard, an' how Catfish Cooper turned into a catfish one day.
"Ye see," he said, there came a day when Cooper was out noodlin' an' he pulled up the biggest ol' catfish anybody had ever laid eyes on. That catfish was bigger than you. In fact, that ol catfish could swaller you, an' ask for seconds." I was kinda scared hearin' that, but gran'daddy said that catfish don't really like the way people taste. Anyways, Catfish Cooper named that catfish the Wizard. An' as the story goes, Cooper Harlan caught that fish over an' over, an' had many a conversation with 'im over the years. "Fact is", he tol' me, "Catfish Cooper one day, when he took to deathly ill, said he wanted to be cremated, an' fed to the Wizard so as how they'd be together forever an' ever. Well, I knew right there that ol' Catfish had done lost his mind. But seein' as he was tellin' me that, an' seein' as how it was his last request, I took it purty seriously." (Well, I was tryin real hard at this point in th' story to wrap my little brain aroun' that notion.)
"Did the Wizard eat Catfish Cooper?" I askt, not sure I was really wantin' to know. "Well, I reckon he did," gran'daddy said. "Y'see, I felt obliged to take that box o' Catfish's ashes an' go lookin' for the Wizard. It was the' least I could do fer a friend, even supposin' he was crazy. So, I took to rowin' aroun' in the river until I spotted the Wizard stirrin' the water up. An' I started dumpin' them ashes all aroun'. An' I'll be darned but what that ol' Wizard just jumped up outa the water and snatched that whole box of ashes right outa my hands."
I reckon I'll never ferget that story my gran'daddy tol' me. An' I took to noodlin' mos' ever' day. I was hopin' one day I might see the Wizard myself. An' whenever I noodled some flathead out of his cave, I'd always tell 'im, "Tell the Wizard I'm lookin' for 'im." An' one day, I'll never ferget, I was sittin' there on the bank of the river, an alla sudden, this big ol' catfish poked his head up outa th' water, an' he had a big ol' smile on his face. So, I jumped up real excited like, an' shouted, "Hi there, Catfish!" An' I swear on my gran'daddy's grave, that fish opened his mouth, and Catfish Cooper hisself said, "Was you wantin' a word with me, or was you wantin' to talk to the Wizard?" An, ever' word o' this story I been tellin' ye' is the honest to god truth, or my name ain't Catfish Dawson.
THE WAY THE WHEELS STOPPT ROLLIN'
This here story is mos'ly 'bout my brother Axel. He was a coupla years oldern'n me, an' he liked to remin' me of that quite a lot. But, I did love 'im a lot. I surely did. I used to call 'im 'THE Axel', cuz there was always some kinda wheels goin' aroun' in his head. But, somehow, after he went an' killt Jackson fer making' our aunt June bug so crazy she hung herself, he didn't seem the same no more. Like his wheels was gettin' outa balance, or somethin'. An' it didn' seem to matter that I had tol' ever'body I killt Jackson in order to protect Axel back then. I was jus' a stupid little kid, but Axel, he'd already been in trouble over one thing or another, an' I was worried they'd jus' haul 'im off to jail. I got off easy sure enough, although they did send me off to some special kinda doctor to see if I was crazy. But, even after all that dust settled, it somehow messed up Axel's head, an' he weren't never the same. He took to keepin' to hisself a lot. An' one day he jus' up an' hopped a north bound freighter, an' flat disappeared.
I don't know 'xactly what it was about growin' up in Shrewsbury that made for one kinda calamity or another. When the Axel rolled outa town, granny, she took to mos'ly readin' the bible on the front porch an' mumblin' to herself. An' gran'daddy, well, he jus kept a goin' about his work, but he didn't seem to have much to say about anything any more. It was like it didn't matter whether the sun was shinin' or not, Shrewsbury seemed stuck in some kinda a dark cloud.
Me an' my cousins, we took to holdin' burial services in the back yard. We musta buried ever' dead thing we come across. One day we buried a cat gran'daddy shot on account it broke into the hen house an' made off with a chicken. We buried a mouse, a butterfly, an' even an ol' earth worm what drowned in a rain puddle. (Firs' time it occurred to me that worms ain't got no idea how to swim.) An' we was quite ceremonial about all this payin' of respeck to the dearly departed.
"Lord, we call upon thee now to take this here little earthworm here into yer heavenly hands, struck down in life so young on account of no fault of his own. An, we pray lord you will have mercy on his soul. Amen." We would then take to singin' a coupla respeckful hymns. "Thar's pow'r in the blood, pow'r in the blood...."
Jus' when it looked like the sun might shine again, we got us a pichur card from Axel. It was right purty, but, Axel's writin' didn't make much sense. Fer one thing, it didn't even look like his hand. Fer another, it said: "Is this here the way it always is here in Baltimore?" Gran'daddy though, he just kept a starin' an' a starin' at that card, turnin' it one way, then th' other. Then he said to me, "Get yer bag together boy, we gotta get a move on it." I askt' him where we was goin', an' he jus' said, "Baltimore".
It was a long damn train ride, I can tell ye that. Seem like we stopped ever' town between here an' there. You could smell them wheels smokin' on th' rails as we rolled inta one town after another. I never saw so many strange faces in my life hoppin' on an' off that train. Where the hell is ever'body goin' was what I kept athinkin' all through the night. I was excited when we got to Baltimore, I could almos' smell we was close to finding Axel.
It wasn't anything like I thought it might be seein' Axel again. First of all, it took forever to find him. And secon' of all he was dead. I'm as rough an' tumble as they come, I reckon, but it was purty damn hard to look at my brother, The Axel, laying naked in the morgue. An' it weren't jus' he was naked, but his skinny body was all streaked with black lines what looked like train tracks all over his arms. An' his legs, too. The official man that let us see him said he had a cardiacal arrest, or somethin' like that cuz of something he called 'junk'.
Ever'thing else is kinda a haze. We headed home with Axel in a box back there in some cargo car, an' the ride home was longer than the ride there. We gave Axel an honoarble funeral.
"Lord, we call upon thee now to take this Axel here into yer heavenly hands, struck down in life so young on account of no fault of his own. An, we pray lord you will have mercy on his soul. Amen."
I miss Axel. An' some folks say he had it comin'. But, I reckon I don't see it that way. He jus' did what he had to do, an' found it hard to live with. But, like I said b'fore, I'da killt Jackson too, he jus' thought of it afore I did. Have mercy on his soul, Lord. An', me too.
FINGERS OF LOVE
I guess this here is all about how I came to confessin' my undyin' love for Annalee Ann Akkerson. I think there mighta been somethin' special there all along, but at a certain age yer jus' too wet behin' the ears to know it; or at leas' have any kinda words to say about it.
Annalee, she lived all alone with her mama jus' aroun' the bend from my granny's house. An' I had cause to go over that way now an' then, cuz my Granny was always wantin' me to tote a big pokeful of 'taters, an' 'maters, an' corn, an' such to poor Missus Akkerson on accoun' of she lost her ol' man down in the coal mine a few years back. So, Missus Akkerson was always right glad to see me comin', an' she always was sendin' me back with a coupla jars of fresh pullt milk from her cows.
Annalee's mama alway callt her Anna, an' some folks callt her Annalee. But, I always likt to call her Anellyann. Somethin' about sayin 'Anellyann' musta given me a special place in her heart somehow, cuz she was always so smiley faced aroun' me. An' I remember one of my first admirations about Anellyann was that she had such strong hands fer such a skinny little girl. I noticed that when she was milkin' the cows. She'd jus' yank away on them teats like thar weren't no tomorrow.
I reckon it was one partikalar Sunday at the special revival I saw Anellyann sittin' on a foldin' chair under the tent all by her lonesome. She lookt right purty sittin there in a dress her mama made her, an' her hair was all hangin' down aroun' her. So, I jus' sit down beside her an' I don't know if I was more nervous about her beautifulness or about the visitin' preacher man what was about to scare the hell outa ever'body, but my hands was gettin' sweaty, an' I didn't know what to do with 'em. I knew if'n I tried to sit on 'em, I'd look a fool, so I jus' crossed my arms an' sorta stuck my hands unner my arm pits. Maybe Anellyann felt the same way, cuz she sorta crosst her arms too.
An' jus' as the preacher man steppt up in front of ever'body, I suddenly felt my fingertips atouchin' Anellyann's fingertips. An' while the preacher man started diggin' into ever'body's minds about the wages of sin, me an' Anellyann's fingers was carryin' on in little but pow'rful ways. Somehow, as the preacher was gettin' all foamy in th' mouth talkin' about the consequences of livin' a sinful life, an' thinkin' sinful things, me an' Anellyann's hands was takin' over our very souls. The preacher, he was goin' on an' on about how hot it was under this here tent, but how hell was hotter than that. Hell is a fiery pit of boilin' brimstone. Hell is where you burn forever an' ever. I could feel my face gettin' red, an' I could feel the sweat drippin' down an' makin' my head all itchy. But it weren't on account of thinkin' about hell. It was on account of Anellyann.
That very next afternoon, at the revival meetin', me an Anellyann got baptized down by the creek. I reckon I should tell about that next. Fer now let me say, there's two kindsa fires' in this ol' world, in my opinion. Two kindsa burnin'.
MY BURNIN' AFFECTION FOR ANELLYANN.
I went home that night, layin' in my bed thinkin' about Anellyann's fingers. I run my fingers through my hair pretendin' they was Anellyann's fingers. I had this pow'rful feelin' somethin' had come over me, or took aholt of me. It was scary to think about. All the love stories I'd ever learnt growin' up in Shrewsbury seemed to have unhappy endin's. Like folks got caught up in some giddy spinnin' whirlpool that sooner or later sucked them down to the bottom of the sea, or somethin'. The idea that me an Anellyann might be drowned in our destiny of love made it hard fer me to go to sleep that night.
That next afternoon I wandered on over to the tent meetin' keepin' an eye out fer Anellyann. I didn' see her nowheres, an' I was feelin' like a fool. Jus' as the preacher man stepped up to lay it on us agin, I saw her slip in under the tent way over on th' other side an' sit down. My heart was thumpin'. Did I jus' imagine we was rubbin' our fingers together? An' the preacher started goin' on an' on about how's we are lowly creatures, an' I had to admit it in that moment. He likened us to mangy ol' dogs wanderin' lost, lookin' fer love. I couldn't help but nod my head sadly.
I thought that man would never quit beatin' me down lower an' lower. But, finally, we all stood up an began singin' the invitation song to come to Jesus. I thought that song would never end. An, all of a sudden I saw Anellyann walkin' right up to th' front of the tent aimin' on givin' her heart to Jesus! I knew I couldn't in no way compete with that guy, so I figgered maybe I should get on up there too right next to Anellyann so the preacher an' ever'body includin' Jesus would know me an Annalyann was in this together.
Next thing I knew, we was all wanderin' down to the bend in the creek whare the baptizin' pool was. An' then that preacher man took Anellyann by the hand and led her down into the water gettin' her purty little dress all wet. An' then all of a sudden, he just pushed her back into the water like he was tryin' to drown her. I wanted to kill him! She came up agaspin' an' sputterin' water with her hair all wet all over her face. Then that preacher man waist deep in the creek, lookt up at me an' motioned fer me to come on down. I was purty mad by this time, but I waded on out there. He was standin' there with one hand raised up prophesyin' somethin'. I was jus' lookin' over there where poor pitiful Anellyann was sittin' on the grass with a blanket aroun' her. An then he went an' shoved me underwater. Well, I jus' grabbed holt of his arm an' yanked him down too. Pullt him plum under water. When we come up, I could tell he was plenty mad, but what could he do with ever'body standin' there on the bank? So, I jus' stomped on up the bank an' sat down nex' to my Anellyann while the preacher man was tryin' to catch his bible which by now, was floatin' away aroun' the bend.
So, me an' Anellyann was surrounded by all these grown-ups huggin' an' kissin' on us, an' praising the Lord about how's we done give ourselves to Jesus. It was almos' more than I could bear. I didn't give myself to nobody, 'cept Anellyann. Ever'body started headin' back home, an' me an' Anellyann we took to walkin' down the road not sayin' much. Our clothes was startin' to dry out, but I did notice the way Annalyann's dress was kinda clingin' to her, an' it was clear she was growin' up. An' me too, I reckon. Finally, Anellyann, she said,
"Did you feel any differ'nt comin' up outa the water?" An' I said,
"Well, I ain't much used to swimmin' in my clothes, but, it felt purty good, I reckon."
"But, I mean about Jesus, an all," she said, not lookin' at me but jus' sorta starin' down the road.
"Naw, I didn' feel much differ'nt. I mean, I don't got no bones to pick with Jesus. I kinda think the guy gotta raw deal, when you come right down to it. But, hell, I gotta nuf to deal with in this world to be worryin' about the next one."
Anellyann kinda nodded, an' then stopped walkin'. She was lookin' out at ol' man Withers' tobacca patch. An' she said,
"I reckon I was thinkin' I'd come up outa the water, an' ever'thing about livin' would seem a lot better. But, it all seems the same to me."
I took her hand, then an' there.
"Only differ'nce I see, is that me an' you, Anellyann, we're in this ol' world together now." She smiled, an' we walked on down to her place holdin' hands, an' not sayin' much more. I was right hungry when I got back to granny's, an' my clothes was almos' dry.
BLOOD ON THE HAY
'Long about the end of summer, me an' Anellyann found more than one excuse to skip off down by the river. An' o'course I took the opportunity to tell her about how I was known as Catfish Dawson to some. She kinda liked calling me Catfish (an' o'course I likt hearin' it). An' she took to noodlin' like a snappin' turtle takes to a finger; onct she got her hands on a catfish there weren't no lettin' go 'til she was good an' ready. She was right spunky that way. An' onct I tol' her about the Wizard an' how it swallered Catfish Cooper, well, she was bent on the idea that we oughta catch that ol' Wizard an' make 'im talk. I foun' myself more an' more in love with Anellyann with her talkin' that way since it was my sentiments ezackly. But, I reckon that weren't gonna happen til nex' summer seein' as how Anellyann had to go back to school. As fer me, well, I had to go back to school too, if'n fer no other reason than to keep all them horny boys away from her. But, first I had to get the hay up.
Gettin' up hay in late August was like goin' to hell fer a vacation. I ain't sayin' I ain't got the muscle fer it, but I was kinda scrawny fer my age. Especilly given them Sullivan boys I had to work with. They was as gritty as they come. They'd yank a bale an' toss it on the wagon like it weren't nothin' to talk about. An' I could see 'em jus' a grinnin' when I had to sorta bump a bale up with my knee, an that would jus' barely get it there. But then there came this day one of them Sullivans made a remark about Anellyann I did not take kindly to. An' I knew it was my moment o' truth. I droppt the bale I was holdin' an' jus' stared at him. An' somehows I mustered up the courage to say,
"Looka here, Tommy. You ain't got no call to say somethin' like that." Well, he jus' took to laughin' an' said,
"That Annalee, she's quite ripe fer the pickin' don't ye think?" When he said that, well, I was about to blow my gasket, even if he did look like a goddamn giant in that moment. There's some things what's sacred to a man, an' Tommy Sullivan jus' stepped on my toe. An' by now, the wagon had done pullt to a stop, an' ever'body was lookin' aroun' to see what the matter was. I had this memory in that moment of my Aunt June bug tellin' me how I was jus' like Dave Dawson takin' them Jap Zeros out over the Pacific. I remember my hands curlin' up makin' fists. An I remember I said,
"Looka here Tommy, I jus' try to get along like the nex' man, an' I don't wish a bad thing on anybody. But, you got no call to be talkin thata way. Now, no doubt, you can lay me out deader than a door nail, but by god, I'll get a lick in afore I go down." I was kinda hopin' he'd agree with me, but when he began curling up that big meaty hand of his, I knew it was gonna be a differnt kinda story. To this day, I don't have any notion how I did what I did then, an' to tell you the truth, I don' recollect that much about it. But, I don't think I'll ever ferget that sound of my knuckles breakin' Tommy Sullivan's nose. An' I remember how his nose was gushin' blood out over some bale of hay he had his face down in. Its a hard thing to ruin a man's face thata way, but none o' them Sullivan boys has had a bad word to say about Anellyann ever since. Bein' a Christian now, I went to bed that night, an' after prayin' about Anellyann, I said a little prayer for Tommy too, hopin' his nose would be alright in awhile.
ABOUT MA DAWG'S EYES, AN' NELLY'S EYES, TOO
In all honesty, I never saw a dawg with eyes as purty as MaDawg's. MaDawg was gran'daddy's dawg. She follered him ever' where he went. Granny likt that about MaDawg, 'cause gran'daddy sometimes would go off into the woods or go out in the field workin', an' she knowed that if'n somethin' happened to gran'daddy, MaDawg would come arunnin' an' let her know. In fact, I still remember one day when MaDawg showed up on the porch jus' abarkin' her head off. So we hurried on out to the field, an' there was gran'daddy standin' next to the tractor. He was in a really bad temper 'cause while he was putterin' aroun' on the motor he accidentally knocked it outa gear, an' it run over his foot. His foot was still under that big ol' tire when we got to the scene. He yellt at me almos' like I did somethin' wrong.
"Get the hell up on there boy, an' drive this damn contraption offa my foot!" I reckon he was kinda embarrassed, so we didn't bring the subject up after that. Me an' granny though, we had a few giggles about it between ourselves.
I guess I'm kinda gettin' off the subject, 'cause I was really about to tell you about 'Nellyann's eyes. Yer gonna think I'm zaggeratin' when I tell you on account of bein' in love with 'er, but, it's true. Nellyann had eyes like honey. They was a golden yeller, an' they was practically adrippin' down her face. Sometimes, I jus' wanted to lick on her eyes. An' this leads me to tell you about how I got in big trouble with Nellyann's mama.
Me an' Nelly was pickin' up walnuts one day on our way home from school. They was big and round and not green anymore. The husk was all black and brown and mushy. Jus' right for peelin', an eatin. An' the juice in that husk was as dark as gran'daddy's t'bacca spit. Well, I got me this big bright idea that I would paint Nellyann's eyelids with that juice. So, I got some o' that juice on my fingertip an' rubbed it all aroun' on Nelly's eyelids. I reckon I shoulda knowed better, 'cause that walnut juice onct you get it on yer fingers won't wash off at all. But, when yer young as we were, an' in love like we were, you can do some purty stupid things sometimes.
When I got back to granny's she was waitin' at the door. She tol' me Missus Akkerson had just callt her on the phone, an' she was cryin' like a widder, 'cuz her little Nelly Ann had come home lookin' like a raccoon. Granny hardly ever gets mad, but I could tell she weren't any too happy about this foolishness. She tol' me to go to my room an' stay there. I remember sittin' on the side of my bed, an' thinkin', "Lord what have I gone an' done now?" I guess the thing I learnt, is that if'n yer not real careful like, love can get you into a whole mess o' trouble.
It took about two weeks fer Nelly's eyelids to look normal again. An' ever' time granny sent me over to Missus Akkerson's with some produce from the garden, it was a serious walk of shame. But, I took my licks, an' apologized to Nelly's mama over an' over, an' she finally got over it, but not without givin' me a serious piece of her mind several times over.
THE DAY GRAN'DADDY CRIED
It was a re'glar ol' day, like any ol' day. MaDawg curled up on the front porch at the foot of the chair gran'daddy always set in. But, on this partikalir day, MaDawg never got up again. She jus' went an' died without any final words. Died in her sleep. Gran'daddy had jus' sit down in his chair an' bent over to scratch MaDawg's ears. That's when he felt she was cold as ice, an' stiff as a board. Gran'daddy, he took to sobbin' for about a minute. I'd never seen gran'daddy shed a tear about anything 'til that day. He pickt MaDawg up in his arms and said,
"Go get the shovel, son." When I got back, he was standin' under the ol'oak tree an' MaDawg was lying on the ground there at his feet. We took to diggin', an' gran'daddy was sayin' this is where MaDawg would like to be, I reckon. Unner this tree." We buried MaDawg an' jus' set there unner the tree. It seemed real quiet an' peaceful. Then, he got up sayin', "She was a good ol dawg, wasn' she, son?"
"She was the best dawg in the worl'" I said. He nodded, an' patted me on the shoulder then walked off into the woods. He stayed there 'til the sun was goin' down. We ate supper that night, an' nobody felt like talkin' about anything.
I walked down to Nelly's house jus' as it was gettin' dark. When she came out the front door, suddenly, I just started cryin' like a baby. She hugged me, an' I tol' her about MaDawg. An' I guess I jus' sorta broke down. But, to tell ye' the truth, I think I was cryin' about a little bit of ever'thing, an' the way it all stacks up after awhile.
ME AN'NELLY GOES ON A DATE
Well, the county fair was comin' up, so I askt Nelly if she'd like to got to it with me. O'course she was quite beside herself with the idea. So, I spent the nex' few days doin' chores fer granny an' fer gran'daddy too so as I'd have a little money to take Nelly on some of the rides, an' get some cotton candy, an' maybe win her a big ol' teddy bear at the shootin' gallery. Granny put me to work on the back porch pluckin' a coupla chickens, an' gran'daddy said if'n I'd shovel the mule shit outa the stall, I could take ol' Jake to the fair. I hadn' even though about how I'd be gettin' myself and Nelly to the fair, so, the mule was the perfec' solution.
So, that day I saddled up ol' Jake, an' stuck a coulpla carrots in my pocket in case he needed some persuadin' along the way. Gran'daddy came out an' stuck a hanky in my back pocket. He said, "Well now, when a boy is out with a gal he oughta have a hanky with 'im, 'cause ye never can tell." I didn't have no idea what he meant, but I jus' took his word fer it.
Well, Nelly, she come runnin' outa the house, an' she was the purtiest site I ever saw. She had her blue jeans tucked down inside her red cowboy boots, an' she had on that long-tail white shirt I gave her. My going to church shirt. She like to sleep in it at night, an' I likt that idea. An', she had her long black hair tied back in a pony tail longer than ol' Jake's. An' you never saw such a gal in yer life. I know you think I'm jus' goin' on an' on, on account of havin' a mighty big crush on her, but its the truth.
So, we took off on down the road. Nelly had her arms all wrappt aroun' me, an' talkin' in my ear.
"I got us some baloney sandwiches to eat on the way," she said. That was probly a good idea since ol' Jake, he was never one to set any worl' speed records. He was mos'ly a plow mule, so we was likely to get hungry afore we got where we was goin'. Anyways, after we went on awhile, an' cross't Carpenter's bridge, we pullt off, an' went down by the river to a spot I knew about. There was a little tricklin' spring there with drinkin' water we'd prob'ly want after them baloney sandwiches. We kinda got silly sittin' there on the bank of the river eatin' our baloney sandwiches. Guess we was jus' excited to be together.
"Anelly Ann?" I said.
"Yes, Dawsonly Daw?" she replied with a giggle.
"You sure are purtily purty," I said.
"Well, I thankily thank you," she said.
"Yes, Dawsonly Daw?"
"You reckon I can kissily kiss on you?" She blushed like a peach about to fall from the tree.
"I reckonly reckon you can, Dawsonly Daw." Well, I leant over to 'er, an' she closed her eyes, an' jus' as I presst my lips to hers, we both jus' took to laughin' an we wound up slobberin' all over each other. That was our firs' kiss, an' I'll never ferget it.
We continued along toward the fair actin' sillier than ever. She had her arms wrappt aroun' my belly, an' was tryin' to tickle me. "Quit it, Nelly Ann! Yer gonna make me run ol' Jake off the road in a minute!" She put her chin on my shoulder an' said,"You sure are a good kisserly kisser, Dawsonly Daw."
"Well, you jus' wait 'til I get you up on top of that ol' Ferrisly Ferris wheely wheel. I'm gonna kisserly kiss on you big time!"
"Right there in front o' ever'body?" she said.
"You bet yer little red bootily boots!" I replied.
Well, we had us a good ol' time at the fair. We was lookin' at all the blue ribbon chickens, an' cows, an' pigs. An' Nelly Ann, she fell plum in love with 10 little baby pigs that was squealin' an' climbin' all over each other try to suck on their big ol' mama. She made me promise that someday I would buy her a baby pig. An' o'course I said I would. An' I musta spent I don't know how many quarters at the shootin' gallery tryin' to knock down a bunch o' cans with a bee-bee gun. But I finally did win a pink Teddy bear for my Nelly.
But, I reckon the best thing of all was kissin' on Nelly Ann on the very top of the ferris wheel.
"Ever'body's lookin' at us," she said. I looked down an' saw several people pointin' up at us an' wavin'. I waved back. "They's jus' jealous," I replied. Then I went to kissin' on Nelly 'til the wheel stoppt, an' we had to get off. We was both kinda dizzy by then.
After gettin' sorta sick on some cotton candy, we rode ol' Jake back down the road. Nelly Ann decided to name her teddy bear Fuzzly Wuzzly, an' said she was gonna sleep with Fuzzily Wuzzily ever' night. I tol' her I was right jealous thinkin' about that. She giggled, an' just laid her head on my shoulder. I was quite happy, but I was thinkin' about how I was gonna somehow make a life fer me an' Nellyann. An' how I would buy her a whole lap full of little baby pigs one day. I felt a new kinda determination. It was a real grown up kinda feelin'.
ME AN' NELLY GOES HEART TO HEART
I knew it was gonna come aroun' sooner or later. You can't jus' go on about yer business when some kinda things like fallin' in love happens. We was sittin' on the bank of the river havin' been noodlin' aroun' to no avail. An' Nelly tol' me how much she misst her daddy. He died when the mine collapsed, along with five others. My Gran'daddy was almos' killt that same day. It took three days to dig 'im out. An' he was purty broke up from head to toe. He was purty damn mad at God fer the whole sorry mess. But then, he mos'ly blamed the coal company fer puttin' men in harm's way so's they could get rich.
"Ever' mornin' I'd write a little note to my daddy an' stick it in his lunch box," Nelly tol' me. "It didn' say much. Like, 'I love you, daddy.' Or sometimes, I'd draw a little picture. It never entered my mind that one day he'd jus' be gone. Dawson, you gotta promise me, you ain't never goin' down in the mine. You gotta promise, you hear?"
I nodded, although it was zactly what I was thinkin' about doin'. There ain't much work to be had in Shrewsbury if'n you don' work for the coal company. I knew I had to make a livin'. How else could I hope to take care of Nelly? I jus' sorta held Nelly since she was all teary-eyed. But, I knew I had to do somethin'. An' I knew I had to tell her about my own mama an' daddy, an' why they ain't aroun'. An' that's a hard thing to talk about. I gotta take some time to figger out the words for such as that.
Nelly went on about the day Tommy John C'rothers come up to the house an' tol' her mama the bad news.
"Mama, she jus' fainted right there in the doorway. I guess I knew it was all real, but somehow I still had a hard time believin' my daddy weren't never comin' home. Wasn' 'til I saw him lyin' in the box all ready for buryin'. He didn't look right. His hair was combt too much. An' it lookt like he had some rouge on his face. I had a lock o' hair Mama cut off my head. She tol' me I should put it in the box with daddy. So, I stuck it in his shirt pocket. When they took to lowerin' my daddy in the hole, I jus' couldn' watch it. I just buried my face in my mama's dress."
I held onto Nelly's hand while she was opening up her heart like that.
"I know you miss your daddy bad. He was a good man. Ever'body talks about him that way. He was good as gold." Her eyes was wellin' up an' spillin' down her cheeks. I gave her gran'daddy's hanky. She sniffled aroun', an' blew her nose, an' wipt her face off, an' jus' sorta smilt at me.
"Dawson, how come you never talk about yer mama an' daddy?" I sorta shrugged. "Well, Nelly, there ain't that much to say, I reckon. I don't have nary a memory of my daddy. Granny says he came from some other parts, an' swept my Mama off her feet. Granny said his name was Bobby John, an' that he was a charmer an' a drifter. Some man what liked to ramble from one place to the other. Granny said nobody ever knew what his las' name was."
"What about yer mama? Do you remember her?" Nelly said.
"Well, sorta. Her name was Jolene, ever'body callt her Jolie. Her sister, my Aunt June Bug, she tol' me my mama was the purtiest gal from far an' wide."
"Well, where is yer mama?" Nelly askt.
"I don't rightly know. Granny says she left town one day so as to go find Charlie, an' never came back. That's how I wound up livin' with Granny and Gran'daddy. I guess they're the closest thing I got to havin' a mama or a daddy. I got a pichur of my mama I'll show you one day. She was right purty. There ain't no pichurs of Charlie."
More an' more, me an' Nelly was beginnin' to know more about one another. An' more an' more, I came to the realization that I needed to take care of Nelly. An' I needed her to take care o' me. Its funny how when yer growin' up yer life don't seem all that unusual until ye start talkin' about it.
OF PIGS AN' LEAVES, BIG IDEAS, AN' SEX
Fall come along, an' I went on back to school. I never took much to book learnin'. But I did like readin' certain stories like Robinson Crusoe, an' Swiss Family Robinson. An' one day walkin' home with Nelly, I tol' her I'd like someday to have a little baby girl named Robin. She said she would like to have a baby girl named Bluebell. We kinda decided if'n we ever did have us a baby girl, we'd name 'er Robin Bluebell. An' o'course sometime later we did have a little baby girl namt Robin Bluebell, but, I ain't nearly to the point of talkin' about that part of the story, since other stuff took place afore that.
Fall is a purty time in Shrewsbury. The hills are all yeller, an' orange, an' red. An' its also when gran'daddy took to killin' a pig, so's we'd have good fat eatin' in the winter. Renderin' pigs is a big ol' deal aroun' this town. Ever'body shows up at the hangin' place, an' its a strange mixture of excitement an' horror, as one hog after the other gets strung up an' gutted. Ever'body helps ever'body get the job done. An' not much goes t' waste. I remember when I was littler I thought that ol' widder woman down the road was a witch of some kind, on account of how she'd come with buckets an' pails, to catch the blood. Granny said she made some kind of puddin' out of it.
The nex' few days after the big killin', would be like a big party. Pigs laid out over embers, or turnin' on spits. The men folk tendin' the fire an' samplin' one another's home brewed corn whiskey. Granny likt to work with the pig fat. She'd fry up rinds that was so crunchy an' good you could get right sick eatin' so much of 'em. Me an' Nelly mostly was observin' all this, an' when we had the opportunity we'd sneak off into the bushes and get to kissin'. An' we was beginnin' to feel up on each other's bodies too.
I was feelin' a big clock tickin' where me an' Nelly was concernt. I had taken to lookin' at My Uncle Blaine's maps. He had maps of almos' ever' state 'cause he was once a truck driver. There was a coupla places what caught my fancy. Charleston, South Carolina was one of them. There was some islands off the coast there, an' I could imagine me an' Nelly livin' on an island. An' I could maybe get me a fishin' boat. Savannah, Georgia seemed another interestin' place, fer the same reasons.
One day, me an' Nelly took to walkin' down by the river. It was kinda breezy when we was walkin' 'long the path through the trees, an' leaves was fallin' all aroun' us like a little rain shower. Nelly was runnin' aroun' tryin' to catch the purty leaves as they come aspinnin' down aroun' us. She lookt right happy doin' that. My mind was still wonderin' what I was gonna do if'n I didn' work in the mine. An, I was also thinkin' about how me an' gran'daddy got to get to cuttin' an' cordin' wood fer the winter that was surely on its way.
Me an' Nelly sat down along the river watchin' the leaves fall spinnin' into the water, an' movin' along like they was in a slow dance to the ocean. Nelly said somethin' about feelin' sorta hypmatized watchin' the leaves go by in the water. I nodded. But it give me this idea about me an' Nelly hoppin' a slow train to the coast. An' I also realized I needed to be savin' ever' dime I come by, an' then some. I didn't tell Nelly right off about my idea, 'cause I knew this was somethin' I needed to think long an' hard about.
THE COMIN' OF AUNT ARNELLE
I was quite happy that granny askt Missus Akkeron an' Nelly to have Thanksgivin' with us. An' I was quite willin' to do anything granny or gran'daddy askt of me, to make it real speshal day. We had a whole week off from school. I hauled wood, an' I skinnt about 7 or 8 squirrels gran'daddy shot, an' went out with 'im huntin' down a coupla turkeys. I likt my time with gran'daddy a lot. He knew a lot of stuff. An' I was keen on his ever' word. He taught me how to walk like an indian through the woods. Pushin' branches aside careful an' silent like. An' steppin with the front part of my foot first an' then lettin' my heel down easy. That's the way the indians snuck up on creatures. So as not to make crunchin' sounds. We got us two young turkeys that day. Gran'daddy said the big ones tend to be right tough fer eatin'. 'Course, I volunteered to pluck an' clean 'em too, an' turn 'em over to granny.
I reckon the most excitin' thing I want to tell you about gettin' ready fer the big day, has to do with my ol' Aunt Arnelle. She was actually my great aunt. She was granny's blind sister. An' she was even older than granny. She'd come to stay with us a coupla weeks before. An' granny tol' me she'd be right beholdin' to me, if I was to keep an eye out fer Aunt Arnelle 'cause she needed help walkin' about an' gettin' the feel of things. She had a way about her that was unlike reglar folks. She was always a feelin' ever'thing. When I'd come up to her, she'd take to feelin' on my face with her hands. She'd feel my ears, my hair, my eyes, my nose, my mouth almos' like I was a lump of clay. She had a real scratchy voice, an' I loved takin' care of her. I'd sit with 'er on the front porch, an' she'd tell me to get her little brown bag made of leather. Onct I handed it to 'er, she'd take out a corn cob pipe, an' some tobaccy, an' light it up. Then she'd tell me to go get her banjo. It was purty beat up lookin' banjo, but onct she got holt of it, you would not believe the sounds she could make. An' then she would take to singin' in her really scratchy, crackin' voice that was both awful an won'erful at the same time.
"Onct thar was a time, it was quite some time away,
I fell in love with a girl with hair as black as sour hay.
An' I knew right then an' there, with my fingers in her hair,
I was gonna take that little girl away."
Well, as it turnt out, Aunt Arnelle had made that song up right on the spot. An' she tol' me it was about me an' Nelly. I guess granny musta tol' her how me an' Nelly was an item. I jus' could hardly wait to present Nelly to my Aunt Arnelle, so she could feel on her face, an' know what a purty girl she was. An' I guess Nelly's hair was sorta like sour hay, although I hadn't thought of it that way afore then.
MY BIG PLAN
I couldn' help but think there weren't much future here in Shrewsbury. I promist Nelly I wouldn' go work the mines. An' I was happy to make that promise. I was thinkin' about my gran'daddy comin' home from the mine. He was black from head to toe, 'cept aroun' his eyes. He lookt like a dead man walkin' when he come home. He was like a dark shadow of hisself. He barely had the time to scrub up on th' back porch, an' have some dinner afore he was out workin' the field. The sun would go down with him workin' the field. The moon would come arisin' up, an' he'd still be workin' the field. In the light of the moon, he lookt ever'bit as black as when he come home from the mine. I knew I had to find a way out, else I was jus' lookin' at a pichur of my future self.
One day, I grabbt Nelly by the hand an' took her down by th' tracks. I tol' her how the train always slowed down comin' aroun' the bend. An' how if'n we was to run along with the train, we could jump it, an' take a ride to Round Town. It weren't but about five miles. We could walk back home after that. An' this is what I likt about Nelly. She jus' said,
"Ok, Catfish. Let's do it!" I jumpt first when I saw a boxcar with the door open, an' reacht out my hand. Nelly come arunnin', an' afore you knowed it, we was sittin' in an empty boxcar. Matter of fact, that's where me an' Nelly first had sex. I ain't gonna tell you about that, on account of bein' a gentleman where Nelly is concernt. I will say, it was quick an' fast, 'cause we hadn' ever done it afore.
(End of Part I)
In Part II, Dawson begins to consider how to make a life for Nelly and himself. As the story unfolds he makes some life-changing decisions that lead them both into a whole other world of experiences.
(If you have missed some episodes, or if you don't know the story at all, Part I is posted here.
DAYS OF DAWSON
PICKIN' UNCLE BLAINE'S BRAIN
I likt sometimes to go down to my Uncle Blaine's place jus' down the road a ways from Granny's. He livt in an ol' barn, 'cept when ye went inside, it lookt like a reglar ol' house. That gave me an idea about me an' Nelly someday livin' in a barn.
Uncle Blaine was an interestin' feller. He wen' aroun' in a sleeveless unner shirt all the time, an he had a coupla tattoos. One was a hula girl that was almos' naked. When he helt out his arm an opened and clost his fist, the muscles in his arm would go up an' down makin' the hula girl look like she was dancin'. He had an interestin' mustache too. He kinda lookt like a detective I saw in a movie onct. He had a lot of books an' magazines layin' aroun' all over the place. Mos'ly cowboy stories, or crime stories, or magazines about boxin'. He used to be a boxer once hisself. Ever' Friday night he'd sit in front of his television watching the Friday night fights. He knew all them boxers by name, an' he could usually tell me who was gonna win. He tol' me a lot of truck-drivin' stories, too. He'd been jus' about ever'where. Even all the way to California where all the movie stars lived. He even saw Marilyn Monroe onct in a parade. She was in a big yeller Cadillac convertible, wavin' at ever'body. He said she blew him a kiss.
I askt Uncle Blaine how far it was to Charleston, South Carolina. He said it was about a day's drive, maybe a little more. When he said,
"Maybe you oughta go there some day," it was like he was readin' my mind. I tol' him about my idea of maybe workin' on a fishin' boat, an he thought I could make some good money thata way. He said a young feller like me oughta get out an' see the world afore it all goes t' hell. I likt bein' aroun' my Uncle Blaine, he always set my mind to thinkin'.
HOW MY AUNT ARNELLE BECAME MY FAIRY GODMOTHER
I was sittin' on the front porch with my Aunt Arnelle, an' she was askin' me about school. Then she said,
"Come over here, Dawson." I stood nex' to her, an' she took to feelin' on my face again.
"Well, look at you!," she said. "You got whiskers already." Then she took to feelin' my arm. "An' you got some muscle on ye too. How olt are you now?" I tol' her I was almos' 17. An' then she askt, "How olt is that little Nelly girl?"
"She turnt 15 back in April," I tol' her. She nodded, like she was thinkin' it over.
"I reckon ye'll be goin' down in the mine, afore long," she said.
"Aunt Arnelle, I ain't so sure I wanna work down in the' mine. I wanna do somethin' differnt, but I ain't right sure jus' what."
"Well," she said, reachin' out an feelin' fer my hand. "Reckon I can't blame ye' fer that. An' a man knowin' what he don' wanna do is helpful fer figgerin' out somethin' else." She squeezed my hand an' said, "What do ye reckon yer good fer?"
"Well, I dunno. I'm purty good at fishin'."
"Well now, a man what can catch a fish won' ever go hungry. O' course he's gotta go where the fish is."
"That's what I was thinkin'," I said. "There's lotsa fish in the ocean."
"Well then," she said, "Well then, that's somethin' fer ye to think about, I reckon."
"Yes, ma'am, I think about it a good bit." She sorta yanked on my hand, an' said,
"Dawson, help an' ol' lady back to her room, I need to get my beauty rest now."
"Yes, ma'am," I said, grabbin' her arm to help her get up. She moaned an' groaned as she pullt herself up. "Oh, these ol' bones is gettin' to me," she said.
I helpt her back to her room, an' she askt me if'n Nelly likt fish. I tol' her she did, an' that she was right good at noodlin'.
I set Aunt Arnelle down on the side of her bed. She moaned an' groaned on her way down jus' like she did tryin' to get up.
"Dawson, go over yonder an' get me that cigar box on top o' the chest'o drawers." I got it an' handed it to her. "Now this here, is between you an' me Dawson, ye' hear?" I nodded,
"Yes, Ma'am." She opent up the cigar box an' took out a roll of paper money wrappt in rubber bands. She held it out an' said,
"Now you take this, an' hide it away. An' don' say a word about this to anyone. This is jus' between me an' you, an' yer little Nelly, ye hear? It's a nest egg. An' its up to you to hatch it, an' make it into somethin' so you an' Nelly can get a leg up in the' world." I bent down an' hugged her, an' I was clost to cryin'. "Oh, don' hug me so hard, boy, you's gonna break my poor ol' bones. Now help me lay down," she said. I eased her back on the bed, an' swung her feet up.
"I love you, Aunt Arnelle," I said.
"I love you too, Dawson. This here's between you an'me, you hear?"
"Yes ma'am," I said. I kisst her on her forehead, an' tip-toed out. Aunt Arnelle gave me almos' fifty dollars. Forty seven, to be ezact. That was about forty-three dollars more than I'd ever had in my life. I tucked it down in a sock, an' hid it unner my mattress. That night I dreamt I was fishin' off the coast of Charleston.
Well, I always thought I was in control of my life until Nelly come along. But, when winter come, me an' Nelly got more an' more clever about how to sneak off an' be t'gether. To tell ye the truth, we had sex in jus' about ever' place you could think of, an' then some. Down by the river, in the bushes behin' her mama's house, an' in the barn when we was suppost to be milkin' the cows. There was somethin' about all that we jus' couldn' help, even though we was scart most o' the time even when we was doin' it. It weren't so much about it bein' some kinda sin. It was mos'ly about bein' scart we'd make a baby, an' not know what to do about it. It's a crazy kinda feelin'. Its like yer brain just blew away with the wind. Love is some kinda run-away train reelin' down the tracks. An' we both knowed we was outa control, but knowin' that weren't much help. There jus' wern't no brakes on this train. An' las' week Nelly misst her period.
The nex' few weeks played on my mind a good bit. Sometimes the future lookt like a dark cloud sweepin' in over me. An' sometimes, it weren't thata way at all, an' somehow I could make ever'thing work out. Nelly was actin' a bit scart about the idea that maybe there was a baby startin' to grow in her belly. But, somehow she was like me in thinkin' that somehow we would surely get through this, an' that it was jus' meant to be.
O' course we didn't make mention of all this to a soul until one day, sittin' on the porch with Aunt Arnelle an' helpin' her git her pipe lit, an' she just come right out an' said,
"Dawson, d' ye reckon little Nelly would make a good mama someday?" I felt all red in the face, but I knew Aunt Arnelle bein' blind couldn' tell. Still though, she had this supernatural way of knowin' things sometimes. I placed her pipe in her bony hand.
"Yeh, I speck she probly would," I said. Aunt Arnelle sat there rockin' back an' forth in her chair, an' puffin' on her pipe. "I reckon it ain't a good thing fer an ol' lady like myself to be smokin' tobaccy," she mumbled, holdin' her pipe between her teeth. "But if'n the good Lord didn' want me a smokin' it, why'd he go an make such a plant? Besides, it ain't near as bad as goin' down in the mines an' breathin' that black dust day an' night. But, the Lord made all that coal too. Sometimes I wonder what the Lord was thinkin'. He decides to make people an' put 'em here on the earth, an' then he goes an' makes all kindsa stuff to put in their way so they jus' go trippin' an' stumblin' along day after live long day. Dawson? she said feelin' the air fer me.
"Yes, ma'am," I said, steppin' up close where's she could grab holt of my arm.
"When I get to heaven I speck I might just give that man a dressin' down."
"Yes, ma'am," I replied. Then she just busted up laughing so hard her pipe fell into her lap an' started burnin' a hole in her dress. I grabbed the pipe an' brushed the hot ashes off 'er.
"You'll make a right good daddy someday, Dawson," she said.
"I surely will try my best," I said.
"I speck you will," she said as she fisht aroun' in her pocket fer her tobaccy pouch. I don' know what come over me, but suddenly I jus' said,
"Aunt Arnelle, if I was to tell you somethin' would you promise to keep it to yer self?"
"Come on out with it, son," she said. "I doubt ye could tell yer ol' aunt Arnelle anything she ain't heard afore." I took a swaller, an' I could feel my heart beatin' a bit faster.
"Aunt Arnelle, me an' Nelly might have us a baby in th' works already."
She reached out her hand again to grab my arm. Her arms was long an' skinny, an' pale 'cept fer bein' speckled with liver spots the color of garnets.
"Well, hell son, I already figgered that." She said that the las' time Nelly was here, she went to feelin' on her t' see how she was growin', an she jus' had a feelin'. Somethin' about how warm she felt, an' somethin' in Nelly's voice what gave it away. She said,
"Looky here, Dawson. You, an' Nelly too, you's jus' babies maybe havin' a baby yerselfs. But it's manageable. I ain't sayin' its gonna be an easy thing, but yer spunky, an' so is she. So, don' go climbin' the walls or jumpin' in the river about it. Y' hear?"
"Yes, ma'am," I said clutchin' back at Aunt Arnelle's hand.
"Now lissen here, Dawson, here's what I want ye to do."
"Yes ma'am, I said thinkin' she was about to tell me how I might best deal with the situation.
"I want ye to get yer fishin' pole an' go catch yer Aunt Arnelle a big fat catfish or two. I ain't had no catfish in Lord knows how long. Would ye do that fer me?"
"Yes, ma'am," I replied. "I'll get ye some right good eatin' Aunt Arnelle."
She laughed in that cacklin' way an' said,
"Now that's the spirit, son. An you jus' bring them ol' catfish to Aunt Arnelle here, so's I can get a feel of'em afore they go in the fryin' pan."
I caught six catfish fer Aunt Arnelle that afternoon, an' sure enough she took to feelin' on ever' one of em. "That's a puny little fella there," she said, runnin' her hands over one of em. "Oh, my," she said feeling on another one. "Tell yer granny this one is mine."
"Yes, ma'am." I took the fish out on the porch an' cleaned 'em up fer granny;s skillet. An' I kept thinkin' the whole time how lucky I was to have an aunt like Aunt Arnelle.
THE REALY BIG DOOR WHAT OPENT ONE NIGHT.
I was stoppin' in on my Uncle Blaine to give him a pokeful of produce granny was sendin' him, and a big ol' slab o' bacon too. My granny, seems like she was always lookin' out fer ever-body. O'course I was right thankful that she was considerin' Nelly, an her ma, Missus Akkerson, almos' like they was family. She was always sendin' me there with canned goods an' such. An' this was quite helpful regardin' Missus Akkerson's opinion of me. I'm jus' prayin' she won't wanna kill me if Nelly does turn out to be with child.
But, this partickalar night I was carryin' supplies to Uncle Blaine. When I got there he was out unner the hood of some kinda big box truck. He tol' me he jus' got it, an' it was a 'frigerator truck. The whole back of the truck was one big ol' 'frigerator. An' he tol' me he was tunin' it up 'cause he was plannin' to be makin' runs down to Georgia an' haul fish an' crabs back to a coupla restaraunts over in Round Town. But most excitin', he askt me if I wanted to ride shotgun with him an' help with loadin' an' unloadin'. I couldn' hardly believe my ears! Go to the coast with my Uncle Blaine?! An' he said he'd pay me a dollar fer ever' box I loaded, an' he'd buy my grub along the way, an' even a motel room if we had to stay over somewheres. It was a dream come true somehow. I would have a job, an' I'd get to scope out the ocean an' the coast, an' maybe find some place fer me an' Nelly down the line.
I could hardly wait to tell Nelly the next mornin', an' the words was practikally spillin' out of my mouth. She was all mixed up about it. She likt the idea of livin' by the ocean, but she was mos'ly concernt about leavin' her Ma. I promist her that if we could find us a place, an' I could get a fishin' boat, we'd come an' get her Mama. She'd be a big help to us if'n we did have us a baby, an' besides she needs to get out of this town too. Maybe find another man in her life. Nelly kinda likt that idea. She said sometimes at night she hears her mama weepin' all by herself in her room. I said,
"That's what I'm talkin' about." Me an' Nelly kisst after that an' when I felt on her, her breasts seemed to be swellin' out
LIVIN' ON A WISHBONE?
My granny an' gran'daddy gave me their blessin's. They said that if'n I was with my Uncle Blaine, ain't too much harm could come my way. I ain't never heard so many stories in all my life as on that ride to Georgia with Uncle Blaine. He tol' me about killin' a coupla fellers in the war, an' he said it weren't nothin' like how they show it in the movies. He said it made him puke his guts out, an he even thought about killin' hisself so as not to have to kill nobody else. An' we talkt about his sister, my Aunt June Bug, an' how she was the sensitive type, an' how he thought about killin' Jackson hisself, 'cept when he got back from the war he swore to hisself he weren't never gonna kill nobody again.
We picked up a good load of fish in Savannah, an' then we went on down to this island callt Ossabaw Island 'cause they had a lotta smoked hams there he reckoned he could sell. Seems like there's a lotta pigs on Ossabaw Island. An' they was said to have a taste that was differnt from reg'lar pigs.
We got us a motel room, an' wandered aroun' on the beach. I could har'ly believe I was lookin' at the ocean. It went on all the way over to the other side of the world. An' you could tell with yer own eyes how the world was round, 'cause now an' then you'd see jus' the tip of some ship out there on the line between the water an' the sky. Like maybe a smokestack, or a flag pole, or somethin'. Then a coupla minutes later you could make out a big ship comin' this way. It was just churnin' its way over this big watery part of the ball, comin' to America.
The island was like a paradise. Like some place Robinson Crusoe woulda' likt. There was palm trees ever'where, an lotsa bushes what looked like palm bushes. Uncle Blaine says they are yuccas an' palmettos. An' me an' Uncle Blaine walkt out on the beach an' I jus' run out in the water with all my clothes on like some kinda crazy person. It was simply amazin'. I pickt up a lotta little seashells to bring back fer Nelly. We went down along this harbor that had fishin' boats bobbin' aroun' all over the place. They was beautiful, an' I wanted one more than ever. We talkt to some of the fishermen what was hangin' aroun' on the wharf. Some of 'em had boats, an' went out in the ocean to catch all kinds of fish like sea bass, an' flounder, an' mack'rel, an' who knows what all. An' some of 'em took people out on fishin' trips an' they said they made good money doin' that. O' course I was takin' it all in, an' was imaginin' bein' like they was.
There's a coupla more things t' tell ye about this island. They got some real unusual pigs runnin' around ever'where. Uncle Blaine says they been here fer hunerts of years. The firs' explorers from Spain brought 'em over, an' let 'em loose, an' they's jus' been runnin' aroun wild ever since. An' they don't look like the pigs back home. They's real hairy lookin'. I got a pichur card of an island pig to send to Nelly. An' I got another pichur card showin' the island from up in the sky. It lookt like a big ol' wishbone! I sent that to Nelly too. On the back I wrote, 'Wouldja like to live on a big ol' wishbone?'
We stayed the night on the island, an' I could hardly sleep. I jus' kept lookin' at the big ol' moon comin' up over the sea, an' thinkin' an' thinkin. I jus' sorta had a feelin' this might be a place fer Nelly an' me. It would be a hard row to hoe to get us here, but, I was feelin' like I might be jus' enough a man to do it. Like, as long as I had Nelly by my side, there weren't no stoppin' me.
MY NEW FOUN'T WEALTH AN' POPALARITY
When me an' my uncle got back home to Shrewsbury I was wantin', o' course, to see my little Nelly right bad. But afore that, we had to run our goods over to Round Town an' hand off these crates of fish an' hams to three differnt restaraunts, an' two grocery stores. It was hard work, an' while I was unloadin', Uncle Blaine was dealin' with propryitors who was all ready with the money. They seemt purty happy with this stuff we was deliverin', an they was gettin' a real deal too, since my uncle was under-cuttin' the other distribators, an' besides, our fish was fresher, an' them island pig hams was an outright delacisy.
My arms was plenty tir'd when all was said an' done. Them fish crates was packt in ice, an' my hands was icy cold an' wet. An' them big ol' smokt hams was like carryin' pails o' well water. But, when we pullt outa Round Town an' Uncle Blaine handed me a big ol' fistful of dollars, I weren't nothin' but excited. I was suddenly like a rich man. I was thirty one dollars closer to my dreams. We had a few crates left over back in the fridge, an' Uncle Blaine said,
"We oughta have us a big ol' cook-out t'morrow night, ye' reckon?" I was nearly delirious with happiness as we pullt back into Shrewsbury.
Uncle Blaine pullt two big hams outa th' back of the truck an' said,
"Here, take this one to granny an' gran'daddy, an' take this one to Missus Akkerson. An' tell ever'one ye run onto that we's havin' a ocean fish fry tomorry night out here behind my barn 'long about sundown." Well, that was the beginnin' of somethin' that we turnt out doin' on more than one occasion, an' soon the folks of Shrewsbury lookt forward to seein' our ol' truck pull into town. This was makin' me an' Uncle Blaine quite pop'lar with nair ever'body.
I was near trippin' all over myself headin' back to Granny's. Gran'daddy's eyes lit up like I hadn't seen in a good while when I showt him the ham an' tolt him about the island pigs. 'Course Granny was beamin' since she likt seein' Gran'daddy thata way. I showt Aunt Arnelle the wad o' money I made, an' she felt on it, an' said,'
"Well, looky there, Catfish Dawson. That nest egg of yourn is jus' gettin' bigger an' bigger, ain't it?" I don't know if I ever been as proud of myself in my life, but I tried actin' as humble as I could since no one likes braggarts much.
RETURNIN' TO NELLY
Well it was dark by the time I made my way down the road to Nelly's house. The moon was jus' beginnin' to come up behind the Hickory trees atop Injun Ridge. Tree frogs was harmonizin' ever'where. A stream of yeller light seemt to come from Nelly's house when she opent the door, an' I could see her like a shadow runnin' down the porch steps. Nelly jumpt inta my arms,
"Oh, Catfish, you was gone so long I thought you'd never come back." I hugged her my face buried in the sweet smell of her hair.
"It weren't but three days, Nelly," I said. "But, I sure did miss ye." It wasn't that I'd been gone so long as much as that we'd never been away from one another since we had come to be so speschel to one another. When we got up onto the porch where I could see her face, she lookt purtier than ever. An' even though it had just been three days, her breasts was lookin' more full an' round than afore. She tol' me what I had just figured out in th' same moment.
"Its true, Dawson. We're gonna have a baby. Mama took me to the doctor."
"So yer mama knows about it?" I whispered.
"Mmmhmm. She figgered it out jus' by lookin' at me. But she wanted the doctor to look me over an' make sure ever'thing was gonna be alright. Nex' July, Dawson. That's what the doctor said. He said sometime about in the middle of July." I lookt down at the front of her dress, but I couldn' tell much diff'rence. But, when I run my hand down over her I could feel she had a little more belly than afore. I suddenly felt embarrassed an' scart to be about to face her mama.
"Is yer mama mad at me, Nelly?"
"Uh uh. But she don' know ezackly what to make of it." Jus' then, her mama appeart at the door. She steppt out with a thin smile on her face.
"Hello, Dawson," she said, givin' me a hug. I felt like cryin' in that moment.
We all sat aroun' the kitchen table fer a good while talkin', Nelly, an' her mama, an' me. Missus Akkerson had her hands squeezed t'gether in front of 'er on the table. An' she was kinda starin' at 'em, an' her thumbs was goin' slowly aroun' one another. "Well," she said, without lookin' up. "I knew my Nelly was growin' up, but I reckon I didn't know jus' ezackly how much she was growin' up." She lookt over to Nelly an' sorta smilt a little. I was lookin' at how thin Nelly's mama was, an' the lines in her face, but through all that I could see where Nelly got her purtiness. She had the same honey colort eyes, an' the same thick mop of hair, but hers had some wisps of gray streakin' through all that darkness.
"Missus Akkerson," I stammered, feeling my face turnin' red. I jus' want ye to know that I love Nelly with all my heart. An'...an' I plan to do my dead level best to make a good life fer her - an' fer us. An'...an', I'm really sorry about all this, but, but..." She reacht her hand out acrosst the table an' put it on my hand which by now was shakin' a little because of knowin' that me an' Nelly had done somethin' that was destined to change all of our lives fer better or worse. "Dawson," she said quietly. "Things are jus' what they are, an' they ain't no undoin' any thing. Now, we kin get through this one way or 'nother, but I ain't real sure myself jus' how." We sat there fer a minute, an' she was jus' kept pattin' my hand. Then Nelly broke into cryin'.
"I ain't gettin' no abortion, mama," she sobbed. She got up from the table to walk away, but here mama grabbt holt of her hand.
"Come here, chil'," she said, pullin' Nelly right onto her lap like she was a baby.
"I ain't sayin' you should get no abortion. I was jus' tellin' ye like what the doctor tol' ye' about what kinda choices ye' got now in this situation." She wipt Nelly's eyes with her fingers, an' sorta brusht her hair back. "Lord knows, I weren't no more older than you, when you started growin' in my belly. An' if'n I'd got me an abortion, I'd a never knownt all the meanin's, an' joy of bein' yer mama, an' havin' you in my life." Nelly took to sobbin' again, an' buried her face in her mama's hair. Her mama jus' sorta sat there rockin' Nelly a little in her arms, an' hummin' a tune an' sorta whisperin' some of the lines. " Oh chil' o' mine, sweet chil' of mine, a little pale flower on a tangled vine..." I was tryin' my hardest to fight back tears of my own, an' wishin' I had a mama in that moment. To hol' me, an' tell me it'd all be all right." I was clenchin' my jaw tight, but my eyes was fillin' with water. Nelly's mama reacht out and took my hand again, an' pullt on it. "Come over here, Dawson," she said. I stumbled up an' went to her, an' she put her arm aroun' my waist. So, there we were that night. Me, standing there with my hands up to my face takin' deep troubled breaths, Missus Akkerson's arm arount me. Nelly clingin' to her mama's neck, her face still buried in her mama's hair. "We'll get through it, chil'ren," her mama kept sayin'. "We'll get through it."
Walkin' home from Nelly's I felt like a limp wet rag. Like I needed now t' jus' sleep fer a good while. Tomorrow I would have more talkin' an' thinkin' to do. I doubt Aunt Arnelle talkt to my granny about my situation since she said she'd keep it to herself 'til I was ready to say more.
I never got aroun' to givin' Nelly the handful of little shells down in my pocket. An' there weren't really a time to tell her my idea about us living on the island. I probly need to talk to Uncle Blaine too, an' see what he thinks about it all. Nelly gave me a note from my teacher at school about the homework I was behind on 'cause of skippin' off t' Georgia. Missus Shire said she needed t' talk t' me if'n I had any notion of gradiatin' in the spring. I had a whole lot to ponder, an' I was too tired to ponder anythin' else that night. I wen' to sleep hopin' I'd have a dream of talkin' to the Wizard agin an' get some advice.
SORTIN' STUFF OUT
I woke up that next mornin' without any new realizations but figgered I'd jus' have to deal with these responsibilities an' intentions one by one. Havin' breakfast with gran'daddy an' granny, I jus' tol' 'em that me an' Nelly was soon to be havin' a baby, an' I had a lot of figgerin' to do about it all. Granny said she had a feelin' somethin' was afoot, an gran'daddy jus' slapped his knee an' shook his head a bit. I tol' 'em I was thinkin' about lookin' for work along the coast, an maybe findin' a place where me an Nelly could live. Gran'daddy said,
"Well, ye can't jus' go runnin' off thinkin' th' answer to ever'thing is somewhere out there in some other place." An' granny said,
"Well, the boy's gotta do somethin' pa. Ye' know he don't wanna work in the mines, an' ye can't blame 'im fer that."
"Well ma, I can't argy about that. Nobody with half a brain would wanna spend his life in a hole in the ground," grandpa answered.
"Well then, maybe ye ought heed yer own advice," granny said. "We kin surely get by without you goin' down there ever'day. It almost killt you onct. How many men, like Nelly's daddy is buried up there on th' hillside on account of that goddam mine?
Yer day could come along any ol' day. I think about that all day, ever' day. You need to lay down that damn pick axe afore ye wind up killin' yerself with it."
"I think so too, gran'daddy, an' when I start makin' some money I'll help y'all out as much as I can." I pulled a ten dollar bill out of my pocket an' laid it on the table. "I'm gonna start payin' my way from here on out. Ain't no need in you an' granny workin' so hard to feed my mouth. This here is jus' a down-payment on ever'thing I owes ye both fer raisin' me all these years." Gran'daddy pushed the bill back over to me.
"Ye better hold onta that son, lord knows yer gonna need it." I pushed the bill back inta the center of the table, an' pushed away t' leave. "I gotta get off to school. Ye need to lissen to what me an' granny is tellin' ye, gran'daddy. Yer gettin' too old to be breakin' yer back the way ye' do. An' I ain't ready to be buryin' ye yet." I walkt out after that. That ten dollar bill sat there in the middle of the table fer three days. So,I finally snuck it under granny's mattress knowin' she'd find it sooner or later.
FACIN' MISSUS SHIRE
I gave Nelly the seashells I had gathered up an' she likt 'em a lot. She said she could make a necklace out of 'em. I tol' her a little bit about Ossabaw Island too. But mos'ly I wanted to talk to her about us meetin' with Missus Shire after school so she could maybe unnerstand our perdicament. I was a little nervous knockin' on her office door 'cause I knew I had a lot of explainin' to do. Me an' Nelly set down in the chairs she had beside her desk which was all piled up with books an' papers.
"Me an' Nelly was wantin' to talk to ye about stuff what's been happ'nin' with us lately." She nodded.
"Ok, let's hear it," she said turnin' in her chair to look at us. "I know somethin' is goin' on. Nelly, you've missed several days bein' sick. An' Dawson, you seem to have taken to ditchin' school without even an explanation. The past few weeks neither of you have completed more than a few of your assignments, and what little you have done is not up to what I have come to expect of you."
"Yes, ma'am," I replied. "An' we both feel right bad about it, an' want t' make amends. She lookt over to Nelly.
"Nelly, what's your excuse?"
"I been meanin' t' tell ye, Missus Shire, but I didn' know ezackly what to say."
"Missus Shire", I said steppin' up to tell her. "Me an' Nelly are expectin' a baby." She sorta frowned a bit, an tapped her fingers on her desk.
"Well, that could be a good thing, or it could be a hard thing. You aren't the first young'uns in the world that found themselves dealin' with something a bit beyond their years. I will say that many times, it doesn't work out too well."
"Yes, ma'am," I said. "We're tryin' to figger out how make it be ok. We're wantin' t' make the best of it."
"Nelly?" she said, "So you I guess have been gettin' up sick in the mornin's I suppose." Nelly nodded. "An' Dawson, you've been cuttin' classes to be with Nelly?"
"Not ezackly, Missus Shire. I jus' knew I had to be lookin' fer some ways to make money fer when the time comes. So, I took t' workin' a coupl days a week fer my uncle."
"When exactly is this time that's to come? When will yer baby be here?"
"Come July," Nelly said. Missus Shire then started tellin' us some things she thought we might best do if'n I was to graduate in the spring, an' if Nelly was to pass on t' the nex' grade. She tol' us it was gonna be hard, but not impossible. "Nelly, yer likely t' have more days ahead of ye when yer not gonna be feelin' very clear-headed. An' Dawson, I can talk to the principal and perhaps arrange for you to be able to finish this year part-time so ye can work a coupla days every week. But, Its gonna take each of you all can do to stay up with everything. I would like to see both of you make it on through school, but I can't jus' let you slide. I want you each to meet with me after school one day of every week from now 'til June. An' I'm gonna be real clear about what needs to be done here. Now, I believe you can both make a go of it. Ye seem to suit each other well. But, it's a rough road yer gonna have to be walkin' fer a good while. An, I think ye both need to be visitin' the doctor real reglar, 'cause ye got a lot of learnin' to do about havin' a baby, an bein' good parents." We was noddin' our agreement with ever'thing she was tellin' us. As we was leavin' she said,
"I'm happy fer ye both, don't think I'm not, but ye got a lot of growin' to do, an' in a very short time. I believe ye can do it, so don't make me look a fool down the line by screwin' up. The lord helps them what helps themselves."
"Yes, ma'am," I said. "We's gonna do our very best, an we wouldn' ever' want to do anything what make you fall unner a bad light." She sorta smiled, an' shook her head.
TOO MANY DOORS
As the winter moved in, an' wore on, me an Uncle Blaine made a few more trips t' th' coast an' Ossabaw Island, or 'Wishbone Island' as Nelly an' I had come to call it. Nelly got use't to my bein' gone a coupla days an' ever' time I come back her belly was gettin' a bit rounder. One day, as I as pressin'my ear to her belly t' hear what our little chil' might be thinkin', I heard a funny gurglin' soun', but Nelly said it weren't nothin' but indigeschun, or somethin' she ain't et yet. But one day, with my ear to Nelly's belly, I swear on my granny's bible, I heard our baby say, 'cat..fish...'. Nelly laugh't it off, sayin' I was crazy. She said it was a fart that was goin' aroun' in circles down below the baby somewheres. But, I maintain that baby said 'catfish' long afore it was born.
Uncle Blaine, he had a good unnerstandin' of how I was lookin' fer a way to make a life fer me an' Nelly. An' he knew I was thinkin' maybe about findin' this life on Ossabaw Island. So, he give me this notion of jus' talkin' to some of the local folk there about workin' on one o' their boats. An' he tol' me I gotta get my feet wet first an' understan' about ocean fishin', seein' as how it were a bit more complicated than noodlin' down along the river. That all made perfeck sense t' me. So, I started askin' around when we nex' went to Ossabaw.
Lookin' back now, I thank my lucky stars I run onta this ol' feller namt' Rufus out there on Ossabaw Island. He was an ol' grizzly kinda guy, with greyin' whiskers an' a sunburnt baldin' head, an' he had 'im a real nice fishin' boat. We'd been gettin' some really nice fish from 'im. He had a trawlin' boat, an' he pullt all kinda creatures outa th' sea. An' afore I could tell 'im I was lookin' fer work, he begun to go on about how he was gettin' kinda olt fer this kinda business, an' how it was breakin' his back. Uncle Blaine said,
"Well, if yer lookin' fer some help, Dawson here's a good man."
"You know the sea much, Dawson?" Rufus askt me.
"Well, I can't rightly say I've ever even been out on the sea. But, I don' know - I jus' sorta got a feelin' lookin' out at it that I'd take to it right quick." The ol' man chuckled.
"I been to sea some forty years now, an' I still think she knows me more than I know her. It's like paddlin' aroun' in the mouth of the world. An' you never know but what it might jus' swaller ye' one day, or chew yer boat up, an' spit you an' yer boat out. Wrap its big ol' waves aroun' ye' and toss you up on the beach like so much seaweed. It ain't no tropical vacation, I'll tell ye' that much." Rufus was sendin' shivers up an' down me. He was talkin' about the sea the same way gran'daddy talkt about the coal mine - a big mouth in the ground what's swallered many a man.
"Yeh, I reckon its a dangerous thing out there," I said, starin' off at the endless water. "Still, if it came down to it, I reckon I'd rather have the sea swaller me than the ground."
"One or th' other will swaller ye' sooner or later, ain't no doubt about that." Rufus grumbled. "You come back an' talk t' me in a coupla weeks or so, an' if ye still got it on yer mind, I'll take ye out there one day, an' ye can see what ye think then." I shook his hand.
"I'll do that Rufus," I said. "I appreciate ye, an' I hope t' show ye what I'm worth."
"You ain't got nothin' t' prove to me son," he answert. "It's the sea what wants t' know what kind o' man ye are." I follwed his hand with my eyes as he gestured back over his shoulder with his thumb at the sky an' water. I lookt out at the sea an' felt them goosebumps run up an' down my spine like a squirrel on a tree.
MY SCATTERT BRAIN
Ridin' back to Shrewsbury with Uncle Blaine, my mind was wanderin' far an' wide. I nair thunk myself t' death, if ye wanna know the truth of it. Uncle Blaine sorta opent a little door fer me, an' who steps in, but Rufus. An' Rufus said he'd take me out on his boat so as I could get a little unnerstandin' of the ways of the sea. An' I was thinkin' about so many things what gotta play out yet, like tryin' t' keep up with my schoolin', an' me an' Nelly havin' a baby, an' Granny an' grandaddy, an' what's to become of them, an' Aunt Arnelle, too. I felt there were things grabbt holt of my han's an' my feet, an' stretchin' me out in ever' direction. I had a lot on my plate, that's fer sure. An' Missus Akkerson, what about her? In a way she was tryin' to be the mama I never knowed, but if'n she were to be my mama that would get right confusin' 'cause that would make Nelly my sister. I fell asleep thinkin' these things while Uncle Blaine kept us between the ditches tryin' to make our way home in a ol' truck what smellt like fish. I had a dream about big fishes eatin' little fishes, an' bigger fishes eatin' big fishes, an' the biggest fish chasin' me aroun' out there in the sea. It scart the hell outa me, an' I awoke to Uncle Blaine poundin' on the dashboard with his fist 'cause the radio weren't playin nothin' but static.
Uncle Blaine got a little outdone with me on that ride back home on acoun' of the wooden crate I'd squeezed between us on th' front seat. It weren't the box itself that was gettin' on his nerves so much as the squealin' noises comin' from inside. I couldn' help myself back there on Ossabaw Island an' I bought a little baby island pig fer Nelly. An' that little pig went 'whee, whee, whee' all the way home. Uncle Blaine said, "If I have to hear that squealin' much longer, we's gonna pull off by the side of the road an' cook us up a little pig! I swear to god, we will!" I knew he was jus' foolin', but I aplogist anyhow.
Anyway, when we got back, I snuck the little feller into Missus Akkerson's barn and penned 'im inta one of the stalls. I tol' Nelly that my granny was sure wishin' fer some fresh milk, an' she grabbt a jar an' we headed out to the barn. As we approacht, Nelly stoppt an' said, "Listen, Dawson." I pretended I couldn' hear the little squealin' sounds comin' from the barn. "There's some kinda critter in the barn, Dawson," she said.
"Wunner what the heck it is, Nelly?" I said.
"Might be some ol big rat, or a coon," Nelly said, as she bent to pick up a stick.
"Careful, Nelly," I said. "It might be an ol' wildcat, ye' know how they cry jus' like babies."
We walkt slowly inta the barn, an' I nearly busted out laughin' at Nelly sorta tip-toein' real careful like.
"It's comin from that stall over yonder," Nelly whispered. "Here, Dawson, take this stick, I'm scart. We walkt real slow over to the stall, an' I was holdin' the stick like I was ready to club whatever it was.
"Take a peek in there, Nelly. See what it is." Nelly peeked into the crack 'tween a coupla boards.
"Dawson! It's a baby pig!!"
"Well, I'll be darnt!" I said. She swung the gate to the stall open.
"Oh, Catfish," she said. "It's one o' them island pigs! You got me a baby pig!" Nelly got down on her knees an' grabbt the little feller inta her arms. "Oh look at 'im, Dawson! Ain't he the cutest thing in the worl?" Then she went on talkin' about his cute pink snout, an' his velvety floppy ears. Then she started talkin' baby talk to 'im. "Are ye' a hungery little pig?" She went an' gotta few pulls off one of the cows, and brought it back an' helt that pig like a baby on her lap. She was laughin' with happiness tryin' to feed that jar of milk to her pig. The little guy was gettin' some of it, but jus' as much was spillin' onta Nelly's jeans. She didn' seem to mind a bit. I was happy jus' seein' Nelly be happy. "Look, Dawson," she said, runnin' her fingers along the white stripe that run down the little pig's back through his coarse black hair. The stripe forked inta two stripes runnin' half way down the little pig's front legs.
"Looks like a big ol' wishbone," I said. O' course that was the firs' thing I had noticed when I saw that little pig at the market back on th'island. "Do you like 'im, Nelly?" "I LOVE 'im, Dawson!" she said. "I jus' love, love, love 'im! 'Wishbone'. That's his name!" She held 'im up in 'er hands, an' lookt at him. "That's yer name isn't it, Wishbone?" The little pig squealed, an' Nelly laught. "Yes! Wishbone! Did ye hear that Dawson? He said 'Yes'!"
We playt with Wishbone in the stall there, passin' the bottle of milk back an' forth, an' Wishbone would run to one an' then th' other, wantin' more milk. When we got up to leave, little Wishbone started follerin' us. He follered us all the way back to th' house where we run onta Missus Akkerson on the front porch.
"What in thee world!?" she said.
"Mama, look! Dawson bought me a pig!" Nelly said, pickin' Wishbone up an' holdin' 'im up fer her mama to see. Missus Akkerson said,
"Now ain't that jus' what we need - another mouth to feed." Then she took Wishbone from Nelly an' helt 'im, an' lookt at 'im, an' I could tell she was warmin' up t' the little feller. "Well, all right, I reckon," she said, handin' 'im back t' Nelly. "But yer gonna have to figger out how to feed 'im yerself. An' he ain't allowed in th' house, neither!"
"He can live in the barn with the cows," Nelly said. "He likes cows. Don't ye, Wishbone?" Wishbone let out a squeal. "See, mama?" Nelly said.
HOW THINGS CAN TURN SOUR ALL OF'A SUDDEN
Well, after a week back home catchin' up on my homework at school, an' helpin' gran'daddy keep the woodpile up, an' jus' bein' with Nelly an' pettin' her purty ' roun' belly, it came time to hit th' road agin with Uncle Blaine. I showt up bright an' early an' ready t' git back t' th' ocean.
When I walkt inta my Uncle's place, he was on the couch lookin' like death warmt over. I went over to 'im an' his whole unner shirt was soaking wet, an' he had beads o' sweat drippin' down his face. I went an' got a rag an' soaked it in col' water, an' wipt his face off.
"What's come over ye' Uncle Blaine?"
"Don't rightly know," he mumblt. "Somethin' bit me, I reckon."
"Well, I'm gonna go git granny," I said.
"Ye need t' go on an' make the run t' th' coast, Dawson. Thar's folks countin' on us both here an 'nere."
"I ain't goin' nowheres til I git granny over here," I said.
I ran over t' granny's an' tolt her Uncle Blaine was in a bad way.
"He got th' fever like I ain't never seen, granny." Granny went to gatherin' up a bunch of stuff an' stuck it all down in a poke. By th' time we got back t' Uncle Blaine's, he had done fell off th' couch onta th' floor. Granny droppt t' her knees.
"Oh, my lord! What have ye done t' yerself, son?"
"I think a Copperhead done got t' me out by th' woodpile, mama." Granny took t' openin' her poke. She pullt out a strait razer an' took to examinin' Uncle Blaine's legs.
"Dawson, git me a pot outa th' kitchen." When I come back, Granny had found th' bite on Uncle Blaine's ankle, an' had cut inta it with her blade. She took to
suckin' on it, an' spittin' it inta the pot. Spittin' out mos'ly blood, it lookt t' me. I felt right dizzy awatchin' that, but, I couldn' keep from watchin'.
Finally granny said, "I reckon he'll make it alright Dawson. Ain't no Copperhead gonna take my boy, so don' ye' worry about it none. Ye did a good thing to come an' git me, though." She pullt out a big chaw o' gran'daddy's tobaccy outa her poke, an' chewt on it a bit, then laid it on Uncle Blaine's ankle, an' wrappt it with a dish rag. "Ye run on now, Dawson. Y' got bus'ness to atten' to, I reckon."
"Yes, ma'am," I said. I walkt out t' the truck feelin' weak in the knees, an' knowin' I still had a long drive t' the coast ahead of me. Fer the first hunert miles, I felt th' wind had done droppt my sails t' th' bottom o' the sea.
THE PELIKIN'S FOLLY
When I left fer the island, I tolt Nelly I might stay a day or two longer. I was hopin' t' git out on th' water with Rufus. I got a room at the Three Little Pigs Motel about a block off th' beach. It was an old but interestin' place, an' it was purty cheap. They had a big ol' pink neon sign out by th' road that was of 3 pigs, an' the sign sorta flickert off an' on makin' it look like they was dancin'. The rooms was sorta like little houses in a row, an' out front of them was a playground, an' a big cover't picnik place with a barbecue grill. It lookt like a place Nelly would like if'n fer no other reason but them pink dancin' pigs.
My little place had a tiny kitchen off t' one side with dark vanisht cabinets. An' there was a tv by the bed. It was right nice ackshully, even though th' bed were a bit lumpy. I took a walk jus' after sunset down t' the beach. It was real quiet, an' out there, way out on the ocean was the moon lookin' like it was comin' up from th' other side of th' worl'. I sat there on th' sand watchin' sevrel pelikins flyin' low over the water, an' then they would nose dive right inta it. They was catchin' fish jus' like them Kingfisher birds did back home along th' river.
Th' nex' mornin' I set out lookin' fer Rufus. I fount 'im out on th' dock foolin' with some big ol' nets he had laid out there.
"So, ye come back, did ye?"
"Yes sir, I was hopin' you'd take me along t'day," I said.
"Well then, firs' thing ye kin do is help me get these here nets untanglt."
"Yes, sir," I answered, bendin' down t' help out.
"An' quit callin' me, 'sir'. Jus' call me Cap'n," he muttered.
"Yes sir, Cap'n."
"All right then, matey, let's get t' work. It's the early boat what catches th' fishes." I was quite excited. It seemt like I was in some kinda story like Robinson Crusoe was. We finally steppt aboard the Pelikin's Folly. That's what the cap'n callt his boat. He fired up the motor an' it made a low steady rumblin' soun' you could ackshuly feel. "Haul anchor, mate!" he hollered.
"Aye, Cap'n," I shouted back. I pullt the anchor up turnin' on a big ol' crank. That durn thing was heavy, an' I had to use both hands t' crank it up. Then off we went. I was beside myself with exsitement. I was doin' it! I was goin' out t' sea. Me, an' the Cap'n. Them big nets we straightent out was danglin' out over th' water on big ol' long outriggers on the sides of th' boat. Th' wind was blowin' my hair, an' there was seagulls cryin' an' swoopin' about. It felt like some kinda heaven t' me.
'Bout an hour off th' coast, we droppt our nets, an' slowed down to a crawl. The Cap'n showt me some things about how to control the Pelikin's Folly. There was a big ol' steerin' wheel with knobs goin' all arount it. An there was a big lever fer goin' faster or goin' slower.
"Now, over here, we got yer controls fer the outriggers," the Cap'n said. "Ye got yer port rigger- that's the left one. An' ye got yer starboard rigger on the right. One lever will raise and lower the outrigger an' net, th' other swings each of the riggers in over the cargo hold where we can store the catch an' keep it cold. But afore we dump the catch in the hold, we gotta look it over fer critters we don't want, or if'n they're undersized. I'll show ye how t' do that in awhile."
Cap'n Rufus let me take th' wheel awhile as we slowly cruised in a big circle in the middle of th' ocean. I was in a watery kind o' heaven. Imaginin' myself sailing into unknown seas, an' discoverin' unknown places. I knew my destiny was to one day be 'Cap'n Dawson' an' explorin' th' watery mouth o' th' earth.
Cap'n Rufus tapped me on th' shoulder an' pointed south.
"See that darkness out there, mate? That's rough weather comin' at us. See how the water is gettin' more choppy? Better let me take the wheel, mate, we need t' be bound back t' Ossabaw."
"Aye, aye, Cap'n," I said. I went aft (that's what th' Cap'n callt th' back o' th' boat) an' pondert the darkenin' horizon. Suddenly, the Cap'n shouted,
"Hoist th' starb'ard rigger, mate." I ran up t' th' wheelhouse an pullt on the lever like th' Cap'n had showed me, an' the rigger started risin' outa th' water like a big ol' fishin' pole 'cept there weren't jus' some fish on th' other end. There was that big ol' net all swellt out with a hunert or more fish, and' dripping long wet strands o' green seaweed. "Wheel 'er t' the hold, mate," the Cap'n shouted over his shoulder. I swung th' big mess o' fish toward the aft a th' boat, an' it come to a stop t' one side o' th' hold. The Cap'n glanct back an' nodded. "Hoist the port-side, mate, an' bring 'er in." I was havin' the time o' my life an' my heart was poundin' with the exsitement of all this. The Pelikin's Folly was kinda pitchin' aroun' an' bobbin' up an' down on the waves which was gettin' bigger, an' even splashin' up onta the deck, an' my stomach was gittin' a bit upset about it. The Cap'n threw me a coil o' rope, an' shouted, "Now, tie yerself down mate, we're headin' home." The Cap'n jammt down on one o' them levers, an' the boat's moror soundly was roarin', an' we was gettin' outa there. It was startin' t' rain now, an' I tied th' rope aroun' my waist up by th' wheelhouse, but close enough to th' starb'ard side so's if I had t', I could throw up over th' side. I weren't sure the Cap'n would appreciate it if'n I was to puke all over th' deck.
Fer about twenty minutes or so, we was chargin' over th' waves, an' I got nearly knocked down by one what come crashin' up over th' side. But, then it seemt, things sorta settlt down, an' we was gettin' ahead o' th' storm. I could see Ossabaw Island out there ahead of us. But, it took another while 'til we finally was chuggin' inta th' harbor. My legs was all wobbly by then.
ACHEY MUSCLES AN' SUNBURNT SKIN
THE Cap'n slowly pullt th'boat in along side th' wharf, an' there was two fellers approachin'. Cap'n threw a rope off t' 'em, an' they tied th' Pelikin's Folly down, then climbt aboard. The Cap'n was givin' 'em orders about cullin' th' nets, an' gettin' th' fish on ice, an' they hurriet aft.
"C'mon, Mate," the Cap'n said, throwin' a leg over th' side o' th' boat. I walkt along beside of 'im, an' my legs was still feelin' all wobbly like I was still out there on th' sea. He tol' me them fellers was a coupla hands he hired on most ever' trip, t' take care of th' haul. An' he said, if we hadn' a had to run outa that storm we coulda done a good bit of that cullin' an' storin' ourselfs while we was cruisin' home. He said her preferrt it thata way since then we could pitch the cull critters back inta th' sea. In this case he said, most o' the cull will get solt off t' some o' th' local fishermen as bait, or chum.
We turnt off inta a place callt Gypsy's. It was a saloon at th' end of the wharf. Cap'n callt it his waterin' hole. He bought me a big ol' mug o' beer. I don't reckon I had even tasted beer but a time or two, although onct, Gran'daddy let me take a pull off a moonshine jar. He swung his mug over t' mine as I was pickin' it up, an clinked it loudly.
"Here's t' yer health, mate. Bottoms up." It took me awhile t' drink that big mug down, 'cause I weren't uset to it, an' my stomach was still doin' a few flip flops. Meanwhile, Cap'n was already startin' on his secon' go 'round. He fisht down in his pocket, an' counted out some bills an' slid 'em to me over the bar. "Ye was right salty out there, mate, fer yer firs' time. Ye wanna go out again sometime, ye jus' come on down here lookin' fer me." I nodded.
"I'm sure I'll be back Cap'n, 'cept I load my truck an' run back home with it, an' spend a few days there. Me an' my girl is gonna be havin' us a baby."
"Ye don' say?" the Cap'n said with a big grin, an' slappin' me on th' back. He hollert out t' the gal behin' the bar, "Marnie, git my mate here another cold one!" I weren't quite sure if'n I could down another mug, an' still walk back t' The Three Little Pigs Motel, but, I didn't wanna miss this chance t' be talkin' with the Cap'n. He tolt me a few stories about some times he'd had out on th' sea that sorta made my hair stand on end. But, there weren't no changin' my mind by then. I knew this was what I wanted t' do.
The Cap'n tolt me that if'n I was t' stick with it, an' get a bit more unner my belt, he'd move me on up t' first mate, an' I'd be makin' more money than what he jus' give me. I wasn' sure at first what it meant to be 'first mate', since there weren't no other mates but me. He said them other fellers was jus' hands he uset when we come in, but he wouldn' trust 'em out on th' sea. I was purty dizzy walkin' back t' the motel, an' my body was startin' t' feel like a sack a green taters, but I felt proud o' myself too. An' seemt like the Cap'n felt like I could handle this task I'd set out fer myself. When I foun' out that bein' first mate meant that if'n somethin' were to happen t' the Cap'n, or as he put it, if'n he got swallert by the big mouth, I'd take over an' get The Pelikin's Folly safely back t' harbor. The thought of all that sorta scart me a bit.
I fell onta th' bed an' could hardly kick my soggy shoes off. My muscles was complainin' about anything I might ask 'em by then, an' my skin felt generlly tender from bein' in th' sun all day, an' from them crashin' waves smackin' me aroun' a time or two. I remember picturin' Nelly in my mind, an' then, th' lights went out. I woke up th' nex' mornin' still in my clothes an' my shoes.
THE TALE OF THE TURTLE AND THE PIG
After spendin' a day at sea, I decided t' spend the day wanderin' Ossabaw Island an' gettin' t' know more about the place. First off, I went to this store down by the wharf that had a lotta gear fer folks that was the sea-goin' type. I foun' me a pair o' big ol' rubber boots the man in the' store callt Helly Wellys. They was a bit like what the Cap'n was wearin'. The man said they was real easy to kick off if you was to fall overboard. He said if'n ye was wearin' some boots ye' couldn' git off, they'd fill up with water right fast an' you'd sink down to Davy Jones' locker. The pichur of drownin' in boots full o' water was enouf to convince me to buy me some Helly Wellys. An' I got me a big ol' waterproof floppy hat too that had a chin strap so's it wouldn' blow off yer head in a storm. Then I went an' bought me a straw hat cuz I was hankerin' to walk th' beach, an' I was sunburnt enouf already.
After puttin' on my Helly Wellys an' my straw hat, I set off fer th' beach. I soon fount out that ye can walk th' beach fer ever an' ever. After awhile, lookin' up an' down the beach I was all by myself. Not a person anywhere's nor a house. Jus' sand, an' ocean, an some grassy dunes, an' beyond them, palmetto groves. I saw an island pig comin' out of a grove an' down over a dune, but when he saw me, he turnt an' went th' other way. Goin' a ways further, I come acrosst a man takin' pichurs of a big ol' turtle. Th' turtle lookt like he was jus' paddlin' about in the sand with his big flipper feet. The man was takin' pichurs of all this. When he was finisht, I askt him about what it was that big ol' turtle was doin'. He tol' me these Loggerheads come up outa th' sea an' make themselves a nest in th' sand, an' they lay their eggs there. As we stood there watchin', sure enough, that turtle laid three big eggs in the hole he dug. Then he sorta crawlt outa th' hole an' took to coverin' them up, kickin' sand over 'em. Finally, he just waddled off inta th' ocean an' disappeart. The man said she wouldn' come back, she'd jus' leave them eggs to hatch all by theirselves, an' then the baby turtles would crawl off inta the sea too.
I askt th' man if them Loggerheads was good eatin'. He tol' me people have eaten sea turtles fer centuries. But, fact is, these days, many are thinkin' its not a good idea cuz purty soon all the turtles would be gone fer ever. He tol' me that here on th' island the turtles got big enouf problems all ready on accoun' of the pigs. Seems these island pigs got themselfs a taste fer turtle eggs, so they patrol the beach lookin' fer nests, an' root 'em up with their noses. He said as far as he was concernt, it was a big problem cuz the island folks like their turtles what come to visit, but they like their pigs too.
I sat fer ahwile on th' beach jus' list'nin' t' th' sea roll in. An' I laid back an' clost my eyes, an' jus' lissnt. I felt like a baby bein' rockt t' sleep.
When granny hollered fer me, I was on the back porch gettin' a big ol' tuna I brung home ready to cook on th' grill. A speshul treat fer granny an' gran'daddy. I callt back to 'er, an' she came out an' handed me an envalope.
"This came in th' mailbox fer you," she said. I lookt at it. It was made out t' Jeremy Moorhead. That was me, alright, but ain't nobody callt me that fer a long time. Not sinct Aunt June bug re-namt' me Dawson. Ever' since then ever'one callt me Dawson or by my self-given nickname 'Catfish'. Then I read who it was from. Missus Jolene Moorhead. I lookt up at granny. She was smilin' at me.
"Is this from my mama?" I said, my voice sorta crackin'. She nodded.
"I'll let ye read it by yerself, an' if ye wanna tell me about it ye can, Dawson." She turnt an' walkt inta the house.
I sat on the porch step an' lookt at her name on th' envalope , not hardly knowin' what t' think. It was from somewheres in Texas. I opent it up, my hands sorta shakin' a bit. It was two pages long, an' written in a nice hand.
"My Dearest Jeremy,
How I have missed you and Axel over the years! I suppose I don't deserve for you or your brother to ever wish to know me since I left you there so long ago. But not a day has gone by but what I haven't wondered how you were, and how you were growing, and what you looked like as the years passed. I suppose you are both handsome young men now. I know and truly have prayed that my mother and father would look after you both. I knew then when I left, that it was the best I could do.
Perhaps you have wondered whatever happened to me, and where did I go, or if I was even still alive. It's a long story, Jeremy. For now, let me say that when I left Shrewsbury, I didn't even know where I was going at all. I was just wanting to find your father and,................as it just so.....happened,........."
I woke up on the sand aroun' sunset, still thinking for a minute that I was readin' a letter from my ma. I ain't never had no kinda dream about her. In fact, mos' days I didn' even think about 'er at all. I realizt I had jus' slept fer sev'ral hours when I was suppost t' be loadin' up fish t' take back t' Shrewsbury. At that point I reckon'd I'd need t' stay over another night at th' motel.
HEADED HOME AGAIN
Rufus had his hands load me up with some crates of shrimp, mackeral, and tuna. He notisst m' boots an' tol' me I coul keep 'em in the locker on the Pelikin's Folly. But, I tol' him I was plannin' on wearin' 'em home so I could show 'em off. He laughed at that, but said,
"Well alright then, but ye' are plannin' on comin' back ain't ye?"
"Aye, Cap'n," I replyd. "I'm a sea-farin' man now!"
He laughed again. "Well, ye' go an' holler that at that ocean out yonder, an' see if it don't put ye t' th' test, mate."
I waved at 'im as I pullt away.
"See ya nex' week, Cap'n!"
When I got home an' unloaded my truck over in Round Town, I askt granny how Uncle Blaine was doin'.
"Well, he's some better, I reckon, but he's still a bit puny if ye' ask me. He's been kinda worryin' about lettin' ye make that run by yer lonesome. Now, where did ye git them funny lookin' boots?"
"Them's my sea-goin' boots, granny. I done went out t' sea, an' me an' Cap'n Rufus caught all them fish I jus' brung back."
"Lord, have mercy, I do declare!" granny said.
"I made me a whole lot o' money, granny. The Cap'n, he paid me fer helpin' 'im bring in th' fish, an' then I got me some more money sellin' em over in Round Town." I pullt a big ol' wad o' dollers outa my pocket.
"Well now, ain't that a sight!" granny said. I pullt off sevrel bills an' stuck 'em in her hand.
"Now you take this granny, an' go buy yerself a bonnet an' some perfume. An' I ain't takin' no fer an answer. Granny took t' cacklin' so hard she almos' lost her teeth.
"Now, wouldn' I be th' talk o' th' town sportin' a bonnet, an' stinkin' up the air!
Maybe I'll jus' git me some o' them boots like yourn. They'd be right handy sloppin' the pigs."
"Well, y' jus' go on an' git whatever yer heart desires, but while yer at it, git gran'daddy a big ol' cigar, an' git my aunty some o' that there cherry smokin' tobaccy she likes." She took t' laughin' agin.
"Well, alright then. Yer somethin' else, Dawson, I do declare. They went an' broke th' mold when they made you!" I kisst granny on th' cheek, an' took off t' see my Nelly.
It'd only been a few days, but I swear, Nelly lookt like she swallered a whole watermelon. I took to rubbin' on her belly, an' suddenly I ackshuly felt it movin' aroun'!
"Did ye' see that Nelly? That little baby was tryin' to feel my hand." Nelly giggled. I think that baby is jus' sayin' she ain't quite ready t' meet yer acquaintense." Missus Akkerson gave me a hug, an' then said,
"Well look at you!" She pointed at my big rubber boots. I kinda shrugged like it weren't no big deal.
"Aw, thems jus' my sea-goin' boots." Missus Akkerson made us all some hot chocolate, an' we sat aroun' the table, an' I tol' 'em about my latest adventure.
"Dawson, I'm scart yer gonna git yerself drownt, an' leave me an' the baby all alone in th' world." I tryed t' calm 'er down.
"Cap'n Rufus said he ain't never seen no man take t' th' sea like I did. He said he would make me his first mate, if'n I stuck with it." 'Course I didn't tell 'em about how we had to fight off a storm, an' how I almos' puked my guts out, an' couldn' walk straight when I got back on land. I figgered there's some stuff a man can't tell a woman, 'cause they'd jus' get all emoshunal.
"What does that mean, Daw - 'first mate'?," Nelly askt.
"It means I'd be makin' me a whole lotta money, Nelly. Enough t' get us a little place on th' island. An' a place where's you'd have yer own room too, Missus Akkerson.
"Oh.lord have mercy, Dawson. What in th' world would I do on some island?"
"You wouldn't have t' do a thing, Mssus Akkerson. Onct you see Ossabaw Island, you'll wanna live there, I jus' know you will."
I sat out on th' front porch with Nelly fer a spell, an' I tolt 'er about my dream of gettin' a letter from my mama. She said maybe it was some kinda premanition. I shrugged an' said I didn' know zackly what it was. Then I tolt her about th' island pigs an' how they was stealin' eggs from the turtles. She weren't none too happy about that. She said she would never allow Wishbone t' do such a thing. That's my Nelly, she has such a sweet little heart.
SOMETIMES WHEN YE CAN'T OPEN A DOOR, SOMEBODY COMES ALONG.
I guess I've been feelin' purty good about myself, braggin', an' so on. But, I figgered I was gonna have t' think positive even if'n I was flyin' by th' seat o' my pants. Things come along sometimes, where ye' jus' gotta step up t' th' plate. I was fixin' t' be a daddy in th' wink of an eye. It weren't no time to be suckin' on my thumb. Truth is, I was quite scart about all these things. But, I figgered that sometimes ye' jus' gotta pretend yer way inta some other way of bein'. If it weren't fer my love of Nelly, ain't no way I'd be doin' what I'm doin' now. I gotta admit, there's times I jus' wish I was down along the river with gran'daddy noodlin' aroun' fer a catfish, or lettin' Aunt Arnelle make over me like I was a baby. I got this feelin' that somewhere inside of mos' ever' body no matter how olt, there's a little baby what wants to jus' be rockt t' sleep.
When I went over t' see my Uncle Blaine, he was actin' like he was back to normal, but I knew he weren't. I did convince him that we oughta grill this big ol' tuna I brung him. I brung him some of his favrite beer, too. We stood about the grill watchin' that big ol' fish cook up. I askt 'im who won the fight last night. He said,
"Sugar Joe. He's got a helluva upper-cut." He kinda motioned with his fist. I went t' tellin' 'im all about my experience on Ossabaw, an' about Rufus. An' I laid out a big wad o' dough he had comin'. He pusht it back at me.
"I don' need it Dawson. Ye' keep it fer yerself, ye' hear? The govermint keeps sendin' me checks ever' month, an' I kin get along jus' fine on that. I guess they's feelin' guilty fer makin' me go out an' kill people."
We took to just pullin' big chunks o' that tuna while it was still on th' grill, an' washin' it down with beer. Uncle Blaine tolt me he didn' rightly want t' be goin' on th' road. He got a taste of it fer ol' times sake, but he'd been down too many roads already. I tried t' tell 'im otherwise, but he jus' wouldn' hear it. He tolt me t' jus' take th' durn truck, an' see if I could make a life.
"But, I need ye' Uncle Blaine," I said. "Y' know so much about how t' do this kinda thing, an' I'm all wet behin' the ears." But, Uncle Blaine, he had his mind made up.
"Only thing, I want from you, Dawson, is fer you to figger out how to get the hell outa this town. Now, you owe it to yerself, you owe it to yer purty little Nelly. An' you kin do it. If ye' was to do that much, I'd feel like I done a right good thing t' lend ye' a hand." I tried t'give 'im a big hug, but he jus' pusht me away.
"Get offa me, boy. I'm jus' givin' ye' the fight of yer life. I'll be in yer corner. But, it's all up t' you. It's you whats got t' go an' take on ever' contender." With that he started re-enactin' Sugar Joe's fight. "He was dancin' aroun'. He was up on his toes. Dancin' in a circle. Fast little jabs. Talkin' t' the man. Then, in the seventh roun' he let go an uppercut outa hell. He droppt the man t' th' mat. See what I'm talkin' about, Dawson. That's th' way life is, it's a fight. Ye' gotta get in th' ring, an' talk some serious bus'nuss. Ye' see what I'm sayin'?" We then took t' sparrin'. I was jabbin' an' jabbin' inta Uncle Blaine's big meaty hands. An' he was sayin', "That's what I'm talkin' about. That's what I'm talkin' about. Bring it on. Is that all ye got?" I'll never ferget that night. I'll never ferget my Uncle Blaine. In some ways he was kinda like th' daddy I never had.
MY DREAMS KEEP GETTIN' BIGGER
Me an' Nelly met with Missus Shire once a week like she tolt us t' do. She said I'd been doin' a purty good job keepin' up with my school work, an' she give me an 'A' on the report I wrote about the problem with the pigs an' the turtles on Ossabaw Island. But she did say, however that my spellin' was somethin' awful, an' I got a lot of room fer improvement where that was concernt. Nelly was an expurt speller. In fact, she won the big spellin' bee an' was pronounct th' best speller in th'county fer her age group. Whenever we was t'gether, she'd take to makin' me spell words. She knew some words I ain't even heard of. Like 'antidisitaryentabalism', or somethin' like that.
I made sev'rel more runs to th' island as spring was approachin'. An' me an' Cap'n Rufus was gettin' t' be a reglar team. I was gettin' right good at handlin' the Pelikin's Folly, an' one day th' Cap'n took hisself a nap on th' deck an' I brought 'er all the way back t' th' harbor by myself. I was really gettin' the fever fer th' sea, an' the Cap'n tolt me he was gonna make me 'first mate' come May. An' most excitin', he took me out t' this part o' th' harbor where he had an ol' boat house. He tolt me that if I wanted to, I could stay up in th' loft, instead o' payin' fer a room at The Three Little Pigs Motel. He had an ol' wooden boat dry-dockt below. He said it was his very firs' boat.
"She's a tired ol' lady now," he said pattin' his hand on the side of it. "Paints peelin' off, an' th' motor's blown t' hell. Been sittin' here fer 'bout ten years now - gettin' dry rot here an' there. I always thought I'd whip 'er back inta shape one o' these days, but I jus' ain't had th' time. I climbed up on' 'er, an lookt aroun'. There was dust ever'where, an' big flakes of blue an' green paint. There was an ol' trawlin' net full o' holes sittin' in a tanglt heap. "I reckon I out-growed 'er anyways, she ain't but half the size of The Pelikin's Folly. I walkt aroun' th' back an' dusted off the painted letters there. She was callt 'Aunt Chovy'.
"You want me t' help ye bring 'er back, Cap'n?"
"Naw, I reckon she'll jus' fade away over time. She was a spunky gal in her day though. I was jus' a kid like yerself when me an' my daddy built 'er. Guess I jus' keep 'er aroun' fer sentimentil reasons." I turnt an' lookt at 'im.
"Rufus, would you be willin' t' sell me this boat?" He took t' laughin'.
"Son, if'n you were t' take this ol' gal out on the water, you'd be drownin' in about ten minutes."
"I'd fix 'er up, Rufus. I'm handy. I could do it. I could bring Aunt Chovy back t' life, I jus' know I could. Can't ye' jus' pichur it, Cap'n? Aunt Chovy out there bobbin' aroun' like in the old days?"
"I'll tell ye' what, mate. You take ye' some time t' think about what yer talkin' about. Come May, if'n ye still got it on yer mind, well, we'll talk about it. Ye' can't take a boat out on th' water without the coast guard inspectin' it an' givin' ye a license fer it. Fer that matter, ye ain't even suppost t' be handlin' The Pelikin's Folly without a license to do that. I let ye' take the wheel a time or two, but if'n the Coast Guard was ever t' stop us, me an' you both would be in a heap o' trouble. Now, there's a place over in Savannah where ye' can take classes on seamanship, an' navigation. That's yer startin' place. Then, ye'll have to take an exam. If ye pass that, then yer a bona fide able-bodied seaman. Ye' see what I'm sayin', Dawson? There's a lot more to it, than meets th' eye. An' I can't even tell ye' how much it would take to bring Aunt Chovy outa th' mothballs. So, ye go, an' put all that in yer pipe an' smoke it. I ain't sayin' no, I'm jus' sayin' ye' can't go puttin th' cart before th' horse."
I knew Rufus was tellin' it t' me straight. I got a whole lotta learnin' t' do. I had more on my plate now than ever afore. I swept out th' loft of th' boathouse, an' made me a list of things I needed to get t' doin'. It was a long list. Lookin' back on it now, I musta lookt like a crazy person t' have such notions. An' on the drive back t' Shrewsbury I couldn't get th' Aunt Chovy offa my mind.
SOME DAYS ARE SUNNY, SOME AIN'T.....
Drivin' away from th' island, I was lookin' forward t' seein' my Nelly again. An' I was thinkin' myself t' be th' luckiest man aroun'. I had Nelly in my life, an that alone filled me with some kinda sense of really havin' a life. An' we was havin' us a baby. An' I wasn't workin' in th' coal mines. I had me a dream of a whole other kind I'd a never dreamed possible. Th' island seemt like some magical place where me an' Nelly, an' our baby could all be happy t'gether. An' my sock of money I was savin' was gettin' fat. In fact, I had even started puttin' my earnin's in a second sock. That's what I was thinkin' when I pullt in t' Shrewsbury. But as I drove slowly on through town an' aimin' t' go on t' Round Town t' deliver my goods, I somehow was gettin' a strange feelin'. There weren't a soul to be seen. No chil'ren playin' in th' yard or wavin' at me. Nobody sittin' on the porches, nobody in th' fields. It was like on a Sunday mornin' when ever'body was off t' church, or was sleepin' off a drunken Saturday night.
I pullt aroun' t' th' back of Conner's Shopalot t' deliver a crate o' shrimp. Ol' man Conners came out, an' waved me this way an' that as I backt up t' his door. He had a kinda grim expresshun on his face as I climbt down outa th' truck.
"Sorry about yer Gran'daddy, Dawson," he said.
"Whadya mean, Mr. Conners?" I said, feelin' a lump in my throat.
"Y' ain't heard yet? Number Nine collapst' th' other day. Yer gran'daddy an' six others is trappt down in th' hole. It's been some 47 hours now, an' things ain't lookin' too good, I'm sorry t' tell ya." I askt Mr. Conners if I could store my other deliveries in his freezer 'so I could go on up t' th' mine. He said I could, o' course. He even had two o' his stock boys help me empty out th' truck. I headed out onta th' county road toward th' mine. Now I knew where ever' body was. They was up at th' mine. I kept takin' big breaths along th' way, knowin' what I was about t' face. I'd been up there afore, back when gran'daddy almos' met his end, an' Nelly's daddy did meet his.
Turnin' up th' dirt road leadin' up t' th' mine, I could see cars an' trucks parkt ever' which way. An' lotsa folks millin' about. The air had a dusty haze what smellt of coal. I had a sick feelin'. It's a rare day fer a mine to collapse where somebody ain't dead. It was mos'ly a question of who an' how many. I pullt th' truck in as close as I could get t' the entrance of Number Nine. I could see Nelly walkin' my way. Her face lookt dirty an' streaked with where she'd been cryin'.
She grabbt onta me.
"It's bad, Daw. Its real bad," she sobbed. I helt her an' lookt over t' the black hole in th' side of th' hill.
"Nelly, ye' need t' git yer mama t' take ye home, sweetie. Y' don' need t' be breathin' this kinda air, or seein' this kinda stuff."
We walkt up th' hillside. I spotted granny sittin' on th' back of Uncle Blaine's pick-up. Missus Akkerson, too. Granny's face lookt numb an' without expression.
"I'm afeared th' day has come, Dawson," she said hoarsely. Missus Akkerson had her arm aroun' granny, an' was holdin' her hand.
"Stay here, Nelly," I said. I turnt an' walkt up t' the mine entrance. There was a lot of loud talk goin' on amongst th' men folk. An' they all lookt like ragged soldiers come away from a war. Clouds of dust was issuin' forth from th' mine entrance, where men was comin' in an' out. I saw Uncle Blaine leanin' on th' side of a coal truck, a pick axe in his hand. He seemt covered head t' toe in black coal dust. He cought an' spit t' one side as I come up.
"Its purty bad, Daw," he muttered, wipin' his mouth with th' back of his hand. I went t' grab the pick outa his hand, but he yankt it back. "Lissen t' me, Daw, ain't no use ye' goin' down there. Them men is way down in there. We's already runnin' outa time, an' we ain't no wheres near gettin' to 'em."
"What th' hell happent, Uncle Blaine?" I said, lookin' up towart th' hole.
"Yer gran'daddy an' six others was way down there in a tunnel offa Parlor Seven. All we know from the signs was somebody musta struck inta a pocket of firedamp, an' the whole place jus' exploded. Mos' of Parlor Seven crumblt, an' we don' know beyond that." I knew a bit about firedamp. It was a danger of legendary purporti'ns. Nine times outa ten, a blow out is accoun' a somebody strikin' inta a pocket of gas, an' that's all it takes. It's been known to take out a whole hillside.
"Ye know if'n anybody kin survive it, gran'daddy could," I said, tryin' to hold out some sense of hope. Uncle Blaine stared at th' ground, an' shook his head.
"I'm tellin' ye straight, Daw. Only reason anybody's still diggin' is they don' know what else t' do. We ain't got halfway acrosst Parlor Seven yet, an' them men was down a shaft beyon' that. They're gone, an' ever'body knows it. Th' only hope now is we might come acrosst their bodies an' bring 'em up fer a proper buryin'. Even that is gettin' doubtful."
The sun was goin' down, an' there was th' sound of generators powerin' up, an' makeshift strings of light begun to flicker on. I walkt back toward granny an' th' others.
"Granny, its best I git ye back t' th' house now. Missus Akkerson, you an' Nelly best get some rest. Thank ye fer lookin' after granny." I took Nelly by th' hand. "Nelly, ye help yer mama git home. I'll be by in th' morning, ok? Granny, stay put, an' I'll pull th' truck on up here t' git ye." Nelly walkt back with me t' my truck. "Nelly, it looks right bad," I said, as calmly as I could muster. "We got some dark days ahead now, ye need t' rest up cuz there ain't nothin' much t' do now e'cept t' mourn an' try t' heal up." I held her a minute, caressin' her hair as she took t' cryin' on my shoulder.
"I don't unnerstan'," she sobbed. "I jus' don' unnerstan."
I backt th' truck up to where granny was sittin', an' helpt her climb in. Nelly walkt off with her mama, lookin' back over her shoulder at me. Granny was silent th' whole way home As we neart th' house she said,
"He promist me he was gonna hang it up afore th' year was out."
We foun' Aunt Arnelle slumpt down asleep in her rocker on th' front porch. '"Granny, ye go on an' lie down now, ye' hear? I'll get Aunt Arnelle t' bed." Granny nodded, an' shufflt off t' her room. I went back out on th' porch t' git Aunt Arnelle.
"Auntie, wake up, Auntie," I whispert, nudgin' her shoulder. I took her hand, an' realized in feelin' her cold stiff fingers, she was dead. I pickt her up an' put 'er in her bed, an' covert 'er up like she was jus' sleepin'. I figgered granny needn't know til mornin' else she might jus' collapse her own self. I sat out on th' porch steps fer a long time watchin' th' moon come up. The mine had swallered a few more of us, an' in a way, it seemt it had swallert all of Shrewsbury, an' all of my dreams of some kinda t'morrow.
THE SHROUD OVER SHREWSBURY
It was a week of seemingly never endin' sadness. It seemt all the women of th' world was wailin'. Five men was lost an' buried ferever down at th' bottom of that Number Nine mine. The coal company sent out its condolences of flowers, and sympathies, but nobody cared to be cordual t' men what don't really care beyond their profits an' their li'bilities. We was glad t' see some feder'l inspectors come inta town. An' we was hopin' they'd shut th' operation down, even though it would spell even worser poverty fer th' families of men put outa work. The inspectors came an' they went. I 'speck they made their reports t' somebody else in Washin'ton, but few expect'd much to come of it.
It's hard t' bury men the mine done buried already. Granny kept a wanderin' through gran'daddy's clothes. She gave me a coupla his shirts, an' it turnt out there was a pair of his boots what fit me, too. One thing I know is that them boots won't ever be wanderin' down no more black holes workin' fer th' man. It was an oath I took in tryin' gran'daddy's boots on.
The coal company said they was plannin' to put up a memorial t' the lost miners, but that weren't much consolation. Granny laid out gran'daddy's best outfit on her bed, an announct we should bury these in th' back yard, an' pay our repecks to gran'daddy. Me an' Uncle Blaine went over t' th' funeral home t' make arrangements fer buryin' poor ol' Aunt Arnelle. She died of heartache, I e'spect. That ol' rockin' chair on th' porch lookt sorta lonely an' lost without 'er. Granny give Uncle Blaine Arnelle's ol' banjo. An' her ol' corn-cob pipe was laid out aside th' dress Auntie would be buried in.
"She's gonna be mighty sore if'n she gits t' heaven, an' God won't let 'er smoke her pipe," granny said with a tearful chuckle. Missus Akkerson an' Nelly came over an' helpt granny get Aunt Arnelle dressed fer th' afterlife.
In my mind I was more mad than anythin' else. I was so tired of seein' my family, an' other families in Shrewsbury suffer at th' calloust hands o' the coal company. Somehow, I figgered if I could ever git me an' Nelly out, we'd be lookin' fer ways to help others a'scape such fate as this. I was burdened about what would become of granny, even though Uncle Blaine tol' me he was aimin' t' look after her.
Its a strange mix o' feelin's to love a place, an' yet, t' hate it. But that's what Shrewsbury had come to repersent t' me. I was lookin' forwart to gettin' throuh that week an' headin' back t' th' island where all my dreams was standin' by wonderin' where I was. An' I had a notion t' take Nelly with me. She could use a little bit of that breeze off the ocean t' soothe her worriet mind.
POW'R IN TH' BLOOD
That whole week I was a broodin' man. If I wasn' worryin' about granny endurin' the loss of her husban', and the loss of 'er sister, all in one day; then I was worryin' about Nelly who lookt too pale t' my likin'. She lookt worn out from all this, an' it made me worry she might go an' lose th' baby if'n she didn' get some rest. Granny put gran'daddy's clothes, an' a few other things in an ol' wood trunk. She askt me to dig a big enouf hole in th' yard to bury it. She tol' me t' write gran'daddy a note if I felt so inclined, an' put it in th' box. I did that even though all I could think to say was, "Thank ye' fer takin' care o' me, gran'daddy."
The nex' mornin' we held a little buryin' ceremony. The hole I dug was right there next t' where me an' gran'daddy had buriet Ma Dawg. I figgered gran'daddy woulda likt that. There weren't but a few folks attendin'. Missus Akkerson, Nelly, an' Uncle Blaine. Granny sat there in a chair I had set out fer her, an' watcht as me an' Uncle Blaine put th' trunk down in th' hole an' covert it up with dirt. Missus Akkerson sung a hymn real sof'ly, an' Nelly joined in. It made me wanna cry, but I knew I had t' jus' help granny get through this, if there is such a thing as callin' a life done. Uncle Blaine stuck a wooden cross he made inta the little hill of dirt. He had painted gran'daddy's name on it. "Cyrus Moorhead". Granny handed me a basket of flowers she had pickt outa the yard. Mos'ly Rose O' Sharons, an' Marigolds. She tol' me t' set it down by th' cross. We all jus' stood there fer a minute payin' our respecks, an' there weren't a sound but fer some birds a twitterin' in th' tree overhead. Missus Akkerson said in a very quiet voice that she had brought down some dinner fer us, an' we all walkt back t' th' house. I helt Nelly's hand along th' way, an tolt her what I needed now.
"Nelly, after dinner I want ye t' go on home an' lie down."
"We gotta bury Aunt Arnelle tomorry, Dawson," she replyt.
"I know. But between now an' then, I don't want ye liftin' a finger, ye' hear me, Nelly? That's what I need ye t' do."
"Yes, sir," she answert. It was funny she callt me 'sir'. I reckon she was jus' bein' polite.
We buryed Aunt Arnelle th' nex' day in th' little cemetery behin' th' church. There was a good han'ful of folks there. Some of 'em widders of th' other men that died in th' mine. The preacher went on an' on, but I didn' lissen t' much of what he had t' say. There was sev'rel ladies of th' church that sung a few songs. An' as they broke inta 'Pow'r In Th' Blood', I took t' thinkin' if'n there was any pow'r in th' blood it weren't from some lamb of god, it were in the veins of th' people of Shrewsbury an' other places, jus' tyin' t' make a livin' fer themselves, an' dyin' along th' way. I had gran'daddy's blood in my veins, an' I damn sure wasn' gonna spill it out in some coal mine. I was more sure about that than ever afore.
Goin' back t' school near the week's end after sev'rel days of funerals, Missus Shire an' th' other teachers all seemt t' want t' help us young folks deal with what happent. Missus Shire read to us from some book callt 'The Prophet' by some man from another land that she said was a spiritchaly wise person. An' she assignt us t' read this essay callt Self Relience, wrote by a feller namt Emerson. I did read it that very night, an' he made a lot o' sense t' me. I even unner-lined some of the stuff he said. Like, "A foolish consistensy is th' hobgoblin of liddle minds." Now, ain't that th' truth? I decided if me an' Nelly ever had us a boy baby I'd like him to be callt Emerson. Emerson Moorhead.
NELLY KETCHES FIRE
Another week rollt by, an' it lookt like life had ever' intenchin of jus' keepin' on keepin' on. I would wake up t' th' smell o' bacon cookin'. It weren't granny, it was Uncle Blaine. I 'member sorta starin' at him there at th' stove. He said,
"Don't jus' stan' there, Dawson. Go git yer granny an' tell 'er t' come t' th' table." It seemt like some kinda spark had gone out of granny fer awhile, but then it seemt she got a bit of her self back. I 'member her sayin', "Git away from that stove Blaine, ye don' know how t' scramble an aig." An' I ' member Uncle Blaine smilin' at me, an' givin' me a wink.
I talkt t' Nelly an' her mama about me takin' Nelly with me on a run t' Ossabaw Island. Missus Akkerson sorta frownt upon th' idea, but Nelly convinct her mama she could do it, an' I promist t' take good care of her, an' tolt her I knew a doctor on th' island even though that was a bit of a lie. But, I figgered surely there was one. Nelly was beside herself in the idea of goin' with me. I'd fillt her head with so many pichurs of th' island, an' now she was gonna see fer her own self.
THE BIGNUSS OF NELLY'S EYES
I have a mem'ry I reckon will be in my mind fer ever. It was standin' on th' ferry alongside th' truck as we was headin' over t' th' island from Savannah. Seagulls was swoopin' an' circlin' all aroun. Nelly was holdin' on to th' railin' an' lookin' ahead at th' island. Her hair was blowing ever which way, an' her eyes was bigger than I ever seen.
"Look, Daw; a pig!" she shouted as we approacht land. There was a pig sure enough, walkin' on th' beach like he was out fer a stroll. I laught at her excit'mint.
"That's one o' Wishbones kin folk, I reckon," I said. T' this day I don' think there's a thing could make me happier than makin' Nelly happy.
BACK T' TH' THREE LIDDLE PIGS.
Nelly started laughin' an' pointin' as we approacht th' motel. "Look, Daw! Dancin' pigs I lookt up at th' neon sign.
"Huh. That's funny. I ain't never seen them doin' that afore. They mus' be happy t' see you." She gigglt.
I interduced Nelly t' Mr. Lombard who owned th' motel. He was mighty slick about it all.
"Well now," he said, shakin' Nelly's hand. "So yer the gal Dawson's always goin' on about. An' now I see why. This island needs a purty gal like you around." Nelly blusht somethin' fierce. I coulda paid Mr. Lombard extry fer makin' over Nelly thata way.
ALL SHOOK UP
When we got t' our room Nelly took a shower fer th' longest time. An' then she came out fin'lly in this purty little calico cotton gown lookin' like a dream boat.
"Well, Look at you!" I said, sittin' up on th' bed.
"Do ye like it, Daw? I made it jus' th' other day cuz' my ol' gowns won't fit over my belly no more." I reacht out an' grabbt her hand.
"Come here you purty little thing." I pullt her down on th' bed an' commenced t' kissin' on her fer a few minutes. Then I decided I need t' take a shower my own self. Now, I ain't gonna say no more about that night, cuz a man don' say what's between him an' his gal. But, I will say, we droppt a lot o' quarters inta the vibratin' bed machine. But, ye' know, even though we had been lovers fer a good while, an' was even havin' us a baby, that was the firs' night we had all t' ourselves all the way inta mornin. An' we woke up huggin' each other jus' like th' way we fell t' sleep.
NELLY FALLS INTA MY DREAM
That mornin' at th' motel, Nelly fixt us some scramblt aigs fer breakfuss. They was 'speshully good cuz she made 'em. It sorta felt like we was marriet, or somethin'. She sorta fussed at me fer pinchin' her liddle bottom while she was stirrin' up th' aigs. But, I could tell she sorta likt it too.
We took us a liddle walk on th' beach, an' Nelly was barefootin' it in th' waves, an' sayin' stuff like,
"I jus' love it, Daw! I love, love, love it!!!" We took t' layin' down on th' sand an' watchin' th' birds swoopin' aroun' an' th' clouds rollin' by. Nelly was as high as a Georgia pine. I pullt her dress up an' rubbed on her belly.
"Quit it, Daw. Sombody might see us!" I ignort her an' kisst her liddle belly button which was stickin' out. She took t' yankin' on my hair.
"Stop it, Daw!" Right about then, this liddle ol' lady come walkin' by with her dawg. Nelly yankt her dress down, an' I smilt an' waved at th' woman who was pretendin' not t' notice us.
Anyway we went walkin' on down th' beach fer a good while. I kept lookin' at Nelly's big roun' belly.
"Ye' know, Nelly, yer belly is cuter than a sackful o' puppies."
"Oh, shut up, Daw!" she replyt.
"Come on, I wanna show ye' somethin'" I tolt her. I led her offa th' beach, an' though a sorta jungle of Palmettos. I knew we was somewhere's near Rufus's boathouse.
OUR HOME SWEET HOME
Nelly lit up when I showt her th' boathouse. Up in th' loft she started goin' on about curtains an' lamps, an' stuff like that. I was thinkin' more practikle thouhts like how t' put a toilet in th' place, an' git runnin' water. We wound up havin' sex on th' floor, an' got a bit dirty since I hadn' swept th' place out all that good. An' if yer readin' this, don't go thinkin' no dirty thoughts about my woman. It were more a sweet kinda thing. We weren' even that horny. But, I gotta admit, when she grabbt onta me, an' said,
"Do it t' me, Daw - I ain't gonna break," it was over in a flash.
We cleant ourself's up as best we could, an took to examinin' the Aunt Chovy.
"I think she's a purty boat, Daw," Nelly said. "Maybe my mama could live down here in th' cabin." I nodded. Hell, I didn' care. I jus' wanted to git us outa Shrewsbury. Once again, I was lost in thoughts of plumbin' issues. But, I didn' wanna bother Nelly about that none, I jus' wanted her to have the same dream as me.
Later, we took a walk down th' main street runnin' through Ossabaw, lookin' at things in th' store winders. Nelly wanted a fabric she saw that was mos'ly blue, but had liddle boats all over it. She was wantin' t' make curtains fer th' boathouse. We foun' a nice small green shag rug at a thrift store too. I got 'er a nice big floppy straw hat she likt a lot. It had a red ribbon aroun' it. An' she lookt so purty, it would bring tears o' joy t' a glass eye.
IN THE ARMS OF THE WISHBONE
We then went on down t' th' wharf, an' sat down at this little out-door place that was servin' up fryed clams. Darn, them things was good. A coupla seagulls took t' divin' down on us, an' one acshully tryt t' snatch a clam offa my plate. Nelly shriekt, as I shooed it off with my hands. I tosst a clam out across th' wharf, an' them birds pounct down on it, an' took t' a reglar tug o' war. They took t' flappin' their wings an' fightin' over that clam. Nelly tosst another clam down, an' that seemt to' settle th' argyment.
Nelly was likin' the smell of the sea air, an' the fishy fragranse of th' markets as we walkt along lookin' at th' boats bobbin' about. An' who comes a shufflin' outa the tavern but ol' Cap'n Rufus hisself.
"Aye, matey!" he exclaimt slappin' me on th' back. "You done gone AWOL on me, have ye?"
I innerduced im t' Nelly. He shook her han' an' said, "Well now, my mate here tol' me he had him a purty liddle gal, but he didn' tell me you was a gol-durn-tootin' doll! Ye kinda remin' me of a mermaid I saw onct off th' coast of England. You sure do!" Nelly was gigglin' an' blushin' as th' cap'n kept a shakin' her hand th' whole time he was goin' on thata way. "Come on now, me an' my mate here will take ye fer a little spin on th' Pelikin's Folly."
We walkt on out th' pier t' where th' boat was, an' I tol' Rufus about the mine collapsin' an' my gran'daddy an' th' others. He shook his head, an' said,
"A ol' mine like that is jus' another kinda mouth what swallers people now an' then, ain't it? Like this big ol' ocean. Its right terrible, Daw, an' I'm sorry t' know yer family is goin' through that sufferin'. Life kin ride a man hard sometimes, an put 'im up wet. It's a cryin' shame, that's what it is," he said, shakin' his head as we approacht th' boat.
We climt aboard the Folly an' th' Cap'n made Nelly a place to sit on a big burlap sack full of nettin'. "Now you jus' make yerself comfer'ble here, an' me an' the mate will take ye fer a liddle cruise aroun' th' island. Its been a good while since I had me a lady aboard." He started th' Folly's motor an' took t' th' wheel. He smilt back at Nelly over 'is shoulder. "Are ye ready, yer majesty?" Nelly nodded an' gigglt. So off we went. The Cap'n was puttin' on a reglar show fer Nelly, singin' sea-goin' songs like he was some kinda pirate. He pointed ahead to a large rocky crag stickin' out. "Now that there is Danger Point. Many a ship ben tosst agin it, an' many a man has swallered th' anchor tryin' t' nabigate aroun' it. But, don' ye worry none, missy. Me an' the mate here, we know what we're doin'. Ain't that right, mate?"
"Aye, Cap'n, th' Folly 'ere's a salty dog, an ye kin bowl me over an' call me Crab Legs, if'n I ain't tellin' th' truth," I shouted back, tryin' t' talk like a sailin' man. Nelly jus' laught.
When we rounded th' point, Nelly stood an' lookt off t' the beach. "Look, turtles!" she shouted. "Aye, turtles, ahoy!" the cap'n replyt, givin' me a wink. Nelly oohed an' ahhed like a liddle kid as we chugged along. Th' Cap'n tooted his horn at another boat passin' by, an' they tooted back an' waved.
"People's frien'ly, ain't they?" Nelly said, wavin' back.
"Now, I'll show ye a speshul liddle spot," th' Cap'n hollert, turnin' th' wheel twart th' shore. He idled th' Folly inta a channel bounded by palmettos an' some live oaks that leaned out over th' water. Spanish moss was hangin' down from the limbs like tanglt fishin' nets set out t' dry. It was sorta like we was in a jungle tunnel. Nelly was stretchin' out 'er han's an' feelin' th' moss, an' pullin' some of it down.
Th' channel opent up inta a kinda swamp in awhile, an' up ahead was a long rickety lookin' pier.
"We're in 'th' arms o' th' wishbone' now, an' this as fer as we can go," the Cap'n said, as we eased up t' th' pier. I threw th' rope off, an' jumpt down t' tie th' Folly off.
"Now, watch yer step, yer Majesty," Rufus said, holdin' Nelly's arm as she steppt off th' boat. "This here is 'WISHBONE SALT' ", he said with a swing of his arm as we walkt out t' th' end of th' pier. "This is where the water gits no more than knee deep." We lookt out at the marsh that had tree stumps stickin' up
outa th' water, an' places that lookt like liddle islands of tall grass. "Wanna git yer feet wet, missy?," th' Cap'n said t' Nelly.
"Heck, yeh!" Nelly replyt. So, off we went wadin' aroun' in th' marsh. Nelly was excited about th' liddle fish swimmin' aroun' her feet, an' a 'cashunal crab movin' aroun' on th' sand below. She lookt mighty cute holdin' her liddle dress all bunched up above her knees.
Rufus pointed out a green heron flutterin' up from th' water, an takin' t' th' air. It was quite purty with its wings stretched out, an them long legs trailin' behind.
Here an' ever' where, there was clumps or islands of tall grass that would sway back an' forth in th' wind. We saw an island pig peekin' out from one of 'em. Th' cap'n said they likt t' nose aroun' in th' grass lookin' fer aigs, since some of th' local birds like th' Savannah sparrow likt to make their nests down in the tall grass.
"Them pigs sure like aigs, don't they?" Nelly said with a frown.
"Well Nelly, we eat aigs too," I said in defense of th' pigs.
"I know," she said. "But we don't eat sparrow aigs, an' heron aigs, an' turtle's eggs. We jus' eat chickin aigs."
Well, I started t' say that an aig is an aig is an aig, but, I didn' wanna git in an argyment right in th' middle of havin' fun.
"Come on, Nelly. Th' Cap'n sez th' tide's startin t' come up inta th' wishbone's arms, an' th' suns goin' down." I took her han', and we took to splashin' our way back t' th' boat. "We need to git us some supper, an' some rest. I'm worriet you been over doin' yerself."
"I'm fine, Daw, but yer right," she said. It was a purty site goin' over th' water with the sky in lots of colors. Jus' the sound of seagulls, an' th' Folly chuggin' along. An' up ahead ye' could see all the harbor lights twinklin'. Tomorry, we need to load up th' truck an' head back t' Shrewsbury.
TH' EVER CHANGIN' SEEN
Me an' Nelly talkt us a blue streak mos' all th' way back t' Shrewsbury. Nelly said she likt Cap'n Rufus a lot, an' I was glad t' hear that. An' o' course Nelly went on a long time dreamin' about th' boathouse. She'd already figgert out where th' baby bed should go, even though we ain't even got a baby bed. An' she figgert we needed t' make a little pig house fer Wishbone, an' a fence aroun' it what would have flow'rs growin' up on it. I didn' wanna bust Nelly's bubble but, I reckon'd them flow'rs wouldn' last long on accoun' of how Wishbone semt t' have a taste fer all kinds o' things. When she started awonderin' where our liddle baby would go t' school, I finally did say that I thought we was maybe gettin' a liddle ahead of ourselves. But, the mos' important thing was that me an' Nelly both had our hands now on this dream that was jus' gettin' bigger.
Even with the dream sittin' there in th' back of our heads, we had a lot on our plate t' take care of back in Shrewsbury. School, fer one thing. I'd be gradiatin' th' followin' month. At least I was hopin' an' prayin' that were th' case. An' as usual, me an' Nelly was both a bit behind in our school work. But, as usual, Missus Shire continu'd t' have the patience of Job, an' helpt us catch up as best she could.
Uncle Blaine had took t' practickly livin' at granny's house. There was so much gran'daddy used t' do, that granny was too feeble t' manage. There was the garden patch, an' th' animals, an' there was always one thing or th' other needin' fixin', like the fence rows, an' the shingles on th' house where th' rain was threat'nin' t' git in. I tryt to lend Uncle Blaine a hand with these things, as I best I could. He tolt me that if'n me an' Nelly ever changt our minds, we could move inta his place. Granny had willt th' farm t' him an' he was thinkin' one day he'd rent his ol' place out. Anyways, he needed t' be here with granny t' look after her an' th' place in general. I knew me an' Nelly wouldn' be changin' our minds. There weren't no way I could ever work in th' mines, an' there weren' too much else a man could do in these parts. But, it did put my mind t' wonderin' but what if'n we was still here in Shrewsbury when the baby came due, maybe me an' Nelly could stay at Uncle Blaine's ol' place fer a spell. An' afferall, I knew Nelly would want her mama close by when th' baby made its gran' entrance inta th' world.
THE CALM AFORE TH' STORM
Well, t' make a long story short, I did gradiate come June. I felt kinda silly wearin' this purple gown an' funny hat that day. In fact, I thouht th' whole bunch of us lookt kinda like a bunch of quackin' ducks out there in th' schoolyard in front of th' bleacher stand. I was proud of my diploma thouh, an' showt it about. Other than my birth certificate, an' my driver's license, this was th' only official proof there was that I existed. I did thank my teacher Missus Shire fer helpin' me get thouh all this. I thankt 'er sev'rel times over. She tolt me that while I coulda done a lot better, I should git a special award fer bein' th' mos' interprizin' student in a long time. That made me feel right good, I gotta say.
Nelly agin got th' best spellin' award, an if'n they was to give out a wors' spellin' award it woulda gone t' me I'm sure. Missus Shire did tell me onct that I may not be able t' help my bad spellin'. That maybe I had this problum she callt 'dis-somethin'-or-other'. An' she tolt me it don' mean I ain't smart. It's somethin' else alt'gether. I think one of the bes' things Missus Shire did fer ever'body was t' make them feel good about themselfs. And if not good, then at least, ok.
With school behin' me, an summer comin' on, I had more time on my hands. An' good thing I did since there seemt ever more things t' do. Nelly was lookin' pregnanter than ever with only two months t' go. She took t' takin' it easy at her mama's house. She was sewin' things, an' even knitted a pair o' baby boots. One was pink an' th' other was blue. Since she was now a senior in school, she also took t' readin' a coupla books that was requirt fer the fall. She would read t' me from the story about Ivanhoe, an' I enjoyt hearin' her read a lot more than I likt readin' my own self.
I took t' collectin' ol' plumbin' pipe here an' there an' pilin' it behin' granny's barn. I knew if'n we were to go an' live in th' boat house one day, I was gonna have to put in some plumbin', an a concrete septic tank out back of th' place. Rufus tol' me he'd help me figger all that out if an' when th' time come. Mos'ly my days was split between helpin' Uncle Blaine with granny's farm, an' hangin' out with Nelly at her mama's place. I took over milkin' Missus Akkerson's two cows cuz it had got too hard fer Nelly t' squat down on a low stool an' manage. An' funniest thing of all, me an' Nelly acshuly taut Wishbone t' git th' mornin' paper outa th' front yard. He was one smart liddle pig. Missus Akkerson said it was high time Wishbone earnt his keep.
GRANNY TAKES ME T' TH' CLOSET DOOR
Between gradiatin', an' th' time the baby come, I made two more runs t' th' island, an' went out t' sea with the Cap'n. True t' his word he made me his first mate, an' we proceed t' celebrate a liddle too much down at Gypsy's place that affernoon.
With my extra earnin's I went shoppin' aroun' Ossabaw fer a baby bed. I foun' one at a thrift store, an' tuckt it away in th' boat house fer some future day I was still tryin' t' git workt out.
Granny sat down with me on the front porch one day, an' she askt me if I could maybe take her somewhere's she was really wantin' t' go. I tol' 'er I'd take 'er anywhere her heart desirt. Then she begun t' tell me how she had a brother nam't Jonah. Jonah Farlow. Seems granny was a Farlow afore she marriet gran'daddy an' become a Moorhead. I'd never heard anybody mention th' name of Jonah, although I remembered Aunt Arnelle tellin' me about Jonah gettin' swallert by a whale in th' bible. So, besides granny havin' a sister Arnelle, she had a brother too. I had an uncle I never knowed about. Then granny proceed'd t' tell me why Jonah's name didn' come up much.
"Jonah was about two years older 'en me," she said. "An' while ever'body said he was a differ'nt kinda chil' from the very beginnin', it weren't nothin' ye could rightly put yer finger on. But when he was 'long about 16 or 17, it were like his mind went fer a walk in th' woods, an' never came back. An' ever' now an' then he'd take to talkin' kinda crazy to somebody that weren't even there. One day, he took th' only radio we had an' busted it up inta millyun pieces with daddy's sledge hammer. That's when folks begun to get a bit scart of 'im. 'Course I was his sister, an' we'd been right close when we was liddle, but I was even scart of him my own self."
"Well, what happent t' Jonah, granny?" I askt. "Did he wind up in jail, or somethin'?"
"Well, I'm fixin' t' tell ye," she replyt. "The sheriff's people, an' a few other folks come out an' convinct Ma an' Daddy that Jonah would be better off if'n he was in a speshul place where people could help him get his mind straiten'd out. So, they took 'im off t' a asane asilem. They tryt talkin' t' him, an they was givin' 'im speshul medicines fer th' brain, an' they even run some electrickal wires inta his head, but, nothin' seemt t' help. So, my brother is still in th' asilem t' this very day."
Granny's story sorta gave me chills. I remember'd seein' this movie about Frankenstine an' this docter that was attachin' all them wires to this guy's head.
"So, Dawson, I was thinkin' that I'd like t' git t' see my brother one more time afore I leave this earth, or afore he does."
"Well, I'll take ye t' see 'im, granny," I assurt her. My mind was fillt with a bunch of questions I hadn' ever thouht of afore. Like what granny's ma and dad was like, an' what th' worl' was like back then. An' what was Aunt Arnelle like when she was a liddle girl. An' where did gran'daddy come from?
Th' asane asilem was about two hours drive north of Shrewsbury. An' we did git t' see Jonah. There weren't much left of th' man, t' tell ye th' truth. He was skinny as a rail, an' it seemt his skin was red an' sorta peelin' off ever'where. Th' docter said it was on account of bein' out in th' sun too much, an' on acount of th' medicine that caust his skin t' be more sensitive t' light. Jonah didn' say much, an what he did say, I couldn' hardly unnerstan'. He did kinda smile when granny talkt t' him thouh, an' helt his hand. I think that meant a lot t' granny. An' maybe it meant somethin' t' Jonah, too.
On th' way back t' Shrewsbury granny tolt me she had used some of th' money th' coal company give her when gran'daddy died, t' take care of buryin' Jonah in th' family plot where Aunt Arnelle was. An' she tolt me that if'n she was t' die afore Jonah did, she wanted me an' Uncle Blaine t' know these things.
That whole experiance of learnin' about Jonah, an' all this talk of buryin' folks put me in a mood fer sev'rel days. In th' cemetery, the stones carryt two dates; when th' person was born, an' when they died. An' a life of a person was all th' years between the one date an' th' other. It was a simple thouht I guess, but it occurt t' me that while we know when we was born, we never get t' know when we died, or how long we lived, 'cause onct yer dead ye can't add or subtract anymore, or figger how olt ye' lived t' be. I had this feelin' that this life I had t' live was th' only life I had t' live, an' if I was to live it, I best be gettin' on with it. Suddenly, jus' holdin' Nelly in my arms seemt t' have a deeper meanin' than ever.
TH' MARRYIN' KIND
I was sittin at granny's table this one mornin' sippin' on a cup of coffee, an' granny pusht some biscuits jus' outa th' oven in front of me. She'd also made up a bowl of red-eye gravy to drip over th' biscuits.
"Granny," I said. "I wish ye'd teach my Nelly how to make this here gravy."
Granny sat down with her cup of coffee.
"Well, I wouldn' be surprised but what Nelly might already have a handle on that. Her mama's a real good cook, y' know." I nodded, as I dug into my breakfast. "Daw, I'm unner th' assumptshun you an' Nelly are of the marryin' kind ain't ye?"
"Yes, ma'am. That's somethin' we gotta git doin' soon, in fact."
"Well, sooner th' better, Daw. Ye' know that baby could come along any ol' day now. Ye don' want yer baby t' be born a liddle bastard chil'."
"Gosh, granny. I never even lookt at it like that," I said, settin' down my fork.
"Well, you know how folks take t' talkin' aroun' these parts. Fer all they know yer jus' gonna let Nelly bear this chil' alone. That's th' way their minds git t' workin when they can't thinka nothin' else t' talk about." She got up an' she shuffled over t' th' pantry an' come back with a jar o' honey. "Make yerself a honey biscuit," she said handin' me th' jar.
"I love honey, it's th' coler of Nelly's eyes," I said. Granny chucklt. I leaned back in my chair, eatin' my honey biscuit.
"Lesseee...t'day's Tuesday. What about Sunday, granny? Sunday affernoon. Reckon that would be a good day fer marryin'?" Granny sipped on 'er coffee an' nodded.
"Sure. I could marry ye myself if'n ye like."
"Really, granny? Ye know how t' marry folks?"
"Well, o'course. In fac' you an' Nelly might not know, but I was th' one what married Missus Akkerson t' her husban', may he rest in peace."
"You marriet Nelly's mama an' daddy?!" She nodded and smilt.
"Well, somebody's gotta do it. O' course afore I could marry ye, ye'll have t' go down t' the county seat, an' fill out a marryin' form fer th' judge t' sign, an' ye'll probably have to get a health check-up too. The way it works Daw, is that t' be marriet by law ye gotta have a judge sign yer certifikit. But, as far as gettin' marriet afore God, well, mos' anybody kin do that."
"I reckon I need t' go talk t' Nelly an' her mama about all this," I said.
"Sounds like a reasonabl' startin' place t' me," granny smilt.
Well, I wen' over t' Nelly's house an' tol' her I was goin' t' the county seat t' git th' marryin' papers so we kin git marriet come Sunday. Nelly smilt at first but then put on a poutin' frown.
"Dawson Moorhead, you ain't even askt me t' marry ye' yet! Now you jus' go back out on th' porch, an' come back in an' do this right!" Women's got their ways about things, that's one thing that I was figgerin' out one day at a time. I went an' pickt a daisy from out by th' mailbox, an' then knockt on th' front door. I was surprist when Missus Akkerson opent it up.
"Oh, Hi, Misus Akkerson is Nelly in?" She sorta smilt at me, an' said,
"Come on in, Dawson." Then she hollert t' th' back o' th' house. "Nelly, Catfish is here!"
"Oh, hi, Daw!" Nelly said, like I hadn' jus' been there a minute ago. I steppt up t' her an' got down on one knee, an' said,
"Miss Annalee Ann, would you do me th' kindness of marryin' a poor boy such as me come Sunday?" She put her hands to her face an' took t' gigglin'. I was tiltin' my head back t' see over her big roun' belly. She took th' daisy I was holdin' out, an' went t' pluckin' off th' petals one by one.
"Well, let's see now. He loves me...he loves me not...he loves me...he loves me not.." Meanwhile, she was droppin' th' petals down on my head an' face. "..He loves me...he loves me not...he loves me!" she said, at last. She reacht down an' took my hand, so I stood up. "So is that a 'yes', Nelly?"
"Well, I reckon yer han'some enuf, but ye'll have to ask my mama's approval seein' as how I'm still such a chil'." I turnt to Missus Akkerson, but she weren't there.
"She's in the front room, Daw," Nelly said, pointin' t' the doorway. I walkt inta th' front room. Missus Akkerson was sittin' in her chair readin' th' newspaper. "Missus Akkerson," I said, gittin' down on one knee again. She laid her paper down on her lap an' said,
"Dawson Moorhead, what are you doin' down there?" I stood back up.
"Missus Akkerson, could I be so bolt as t' ask fer yer daughter's hand in holey matramony?" I could hear Nelly in th' doorway behin' me trying to keep from gigglin'. Missus Akkerson sorta lookt me up an' down.
"Well, I don' know. Yer a right scrawny lad t' my eye. How might I know ye'd take good care of my Nelly?"
"Well," I stammert, "I gradiated from school, an' my teacher tol' me I was quite enterprizin', an...."
"Oh, Daw!" Missus Akkerson said gettin up on her feet an' huggin me. "O' course ye can marry Nelly!" Nelly come over laughin'.
"We was jus' havin' fun, Daw. Yer granny tolt us ye was comin' by t' ask."
"So, ye will marry me, right?" I said.
"Yes, o'course I will. But ask me again like last time so mama can see."
So, I droppt t' my knee again, an' Nelly handed me the daisy with no petals on it.
"Miss Annalee Ann, will you..." Nelly bent down an' yankt on my head. "Yes, Dawson. I will! Now git up here an' give me a kiss." So I kisst Nelly with Missus Akkerson standin' right there watchin'. That had t' be one o' th' mos' embarassin' moments of my life. An' fer some years after at family gatherin's I had t' hear th' retellin' of this story about me askin' Nelly t' marry me.
MY SEKERT PROJECT
I went back t' granny's an' saw Uncle blaine out by th' barn tinkerin' with th' tiller motor. I tol him th' whole story about how Nelly an' her ma had put me through th' wringer. I was thinkin' he'd be consolin', but he just laught his butt off, an teast me even more.
"That's a good one, Daw! I gotta remember that one!" An' he did. He brought it up all th' time. An' after awhile, I took t' bein' a good sport, an' actually took t' re-enactin' th' scene myself.
"So, yeh. I gits down on my knee, jus' like in th' movies, with my hair all slickt back an' ever'thing, an I sez t' Nelly...."
But, I gotta tell ye', I don' know what I'd a done without Uncle Blaine. He tol' me I needed t' git Nelly a ring. I hadn' even thouht o' that.
"Hell, jus' make 'er a ring Daw," he said. I tolt him I wouldn' have no idea how t' do such a thing. He tol' me he'd made plenty a rings fer girls jus' t' git in their pants. He pointed t' th' tattoo of the dancin' lady on 'is forearm. "I made a ring fer that little gal right there." The more I hung aroun' Uncle Blaine, th' more I realizt he had done some wild an' crazy things in his life. We went over t' his place after dinner, an' he showt me how to make a ring fer Nelly.
He showt me somethin' lookt like a bar o' soap.
"This here's cuttlebone. Birds like to peck at this stuff cuz it sharpens their beaks. Now, watch this." He took an ice pick an' started makin' a groove in the cuttlestone, round an' round. "See?" he said, "I'm makin' a circle 'bout th' size of a ring. Now, you do that on th' other side. Ye' gotta try t' imagine her fingers. Does she have skinny fingers?"
"Well, acshuly, she's got purty strong fingers from milkin' cows."
"Well, alright then," Uncle Blaine said, "Try t' imagine that one finger, an' make ye a circle what will go aroun' it." So, I sat there goin' roun' an' roun' with the ice pick tryin' t' imagine Nelly's marryin' finger while Uncle Blaine sippt on a beer. Affer a while, he said, "Alright, that looks good." He went in th' back room an came out with a propane torch an' some wire. "This here is silver solder, Daw. It melts real quick-like. So take this torch an holt it while I light it up. I watcht as he lit it up, an' turned th' knob down 'til there was just a liddle pointed blue flame. "Now, take this wire, an hold it over th' cuttle bone, an' try t' drip th' silver inta th' groove ye made." The meltin' silver was splatterin onta th' floor, but Uncle Blaine said not t' worry about it. He tol' me t' drop the cuttlebone inta some water in th sink. "Now jus' git that cuttlebone, an' break it in half, Daw." I did, an' the ring fell out t' the bottom of th' sink. I pickt it up. It had globs of silver all over it, but it was a ring. "All right," Uncle Blaine said, "Let's call it a night." He gave me a file an' some sandpaper an tolt me t' work th' ring down t' my likin'. On th' way back t' granny's, he askt me if I had some kinda stone t' put in th' ring. I tol' him no. He said, "Well, look Daw, jus' go down by the river an' find ye a little purty pebble. It's got t' be real liddle - no bigger 'an a pea. Tomorry I'll show ye how t' put it in yer ring. Firs' thouh, ye need to shape the ring down, ok?" I nodded.
THE WAY THE DUST SETTLES
I sat on th' side of my bed that night, filin' an' sandin' away at Nelly's ring. I made some little groove marks all along it I thouht made it look more fancy. Tomorry I need t' find a stone fer it. I got t' thinkin' about lots o' stuff. I was thinkin' about how th' town of Shrewsbury almos' seemt back t' normal; people out workin' th' fields, women folk out hangin' laundry in th' yard, chil'ren runnin' aroun' an' waitin' fer the ice cream truck. Ye' wouldn't know if ye' just pullt inta town, that a few weeks ago the whole town was torn apart, an' death was in th' air, an' clouds of black coal dust was swirlin' all about, an' seven men got buriet alive.
I laid back on my bed an' slid the ring on an' off my pinky finger. I was imaginin' me an' Nelly standin' by th' Rose o' Sharon bush an' vowin' t' always be t'gether come hell or high water, an' kissin' Nelly right there with ever'body watchin' an' knowin' we jus' sealt th' deal.
I did find th' perfec' liddle pebble fer Nelly's ring down along th' river. It was quite tiny, but it was round an' colort a yeller orenge that the sun shined throuh. Uncle Blaine said it was quartz. I rollt it aroun' in a wet rag of toothpaste an' bakin' powder 'til it was nice an' shiny. Uncle Blaine helpt me set th' stone inta th' ring by makin' a hole that fit it, an' stickin' it in there with some horse hoof glue. It lookt perfekt, an' th' stone lookt like th' very light in Nelly's eyes.
Sunday, our marryin' day, was on a June 6. Uncle Blaine said it was a good omen, on accoun' of that was th' day in history what markt th' beginnin' of th' end fer Hitler. I likt that idea. Fer me an' Nelly it was th' beginnin' of th' end of our lives in Shrewsbury, an' th' start of a whole new life.
TH' COMIN' OF THE BRIDE
Uncle Blaine tolt me I don' need t' have me a Best Man at th' weddin' 'cause I was my own best man. But I begged 'im 'cause Nelly was havin' a Maiden of Honor; her mama. He fin'lly said he'd do it. Granny tolt me that when th' hour come, I was t' go stand by th' Marryin' Bush an' wait fer my bride. I was a bit embarrassed when I discovert my best Sunday pants was a bit shorter than what they used t' be. I guess my legs had outgrown my need t' go t' church over recen' months, so I was surprist. Th' weddin' was t' be at two in th' affernoon, an' I had some kinda scart feelin' all mornin' fer some reason. Uncle Blaine come in an' I never afore seen him all slickt up. He give me a tie an' showt me how t' tie it. It lookt kinda silly t' me in th' mirror. He kinda lit up when I showt him th' ring all polisht up.
"Oh you got it made now, son. Her liddle eyes is gonna pop out when she sees that!" He tol' me he'd keep it in his vest pocket 'cause as my Best Man it was his job t' hand me th' ring when it came time t' put it on Nelly's finger. He lookt me up an' down an' said I lookt hotter than a two doller pistol. "Alright, Daw. Ye' ain't got a trouble in' th' worl'. All you gotta do is jus' stan' still by the Marryin' Bush an' wait fer yer bride t' show up. Kinda keep an eye on 'er 'cause somtimes gals git all light-headed in times such as this, so ye' wanna be ready t' catch 'er if she goes t' faintin'." I took a big swaller, thinkin' about the idea of Nelly faintin' on me.
TH' MOMENT OF TRUTH
I stood out in th' yard by the Rose O' Sharon bush. Uncle Blaine tol' me that Nelly an' her mama had done slippt in t' the back door of granny's house. He steppt up aside me an' said we prob'ly ought be facin' toward granny's front porch 'cause Nelly would likely be comin' out in a coupla minutes. Granny appeart from aroun' th' side of th' house in her best Sunday dress, an' carryin' a bible. She was wearin' white gloves. She smilt at me as she approacht.
"Yer lookin' right handsome an' respecktabl', Dawson," she said. She pullt off one of 'er gloves an' wet a coupla fingers with 'er mouth an' slickt down th' top of my head a bit. She nodded an' smilt. "Mighty respecktable, in deed."
A couple of granny's lady friends appeart an took t' talkin' with granny a bit. A woman I think was Missus Akkerson's sister came out of th' house an come up t' me, an' shook my hand. She was real frien'ly an' tolt me she was glad t' meet me. An' the mail man, Arnold, even showt up along with Matty Jenkins, an ol' timer, an' long-standin' friend of my gran'daddy's. Then, it seemt ever'thing got real quiet, an' ever'body was sorta lookin' off t' th' front porch. Then there was th' sound of music comin' from an open winder off th' front room. It was granny's ol' record player playin' weddin' music.
"Don't ferget t' breathe," Uncle Blaine whispert in my ear.
I heard the screen door squeak open, an' then there was Nelly, an' her mama standin' at th' top o' th' stairs. They was arm in arm as they begun slowly steppin' down. I could tell Nelly was tryin' to look down over her belly not t' miss a step. She had a bouquet of Black-Eyed Susans in her hand. Then, there she was, comin' across th' grass. She lookt like somethin' outa a fairy tale. Her dress was white an' lookt like gauze, an' it went plum down t' her ankles. An' there was a chain of white daisies wrappt aroun' her head like a halo. She was lookin' right at me, an' smilin'. I felt a bit dizzy, an' my knees took t' quiverin' a liddle 'til Uncle Blaine pokt me in th' ribs with his elbow. Then there she was standin' there right in front of my eyes.
"Hi Catfish," she said, an' there was a liddle giggle went throuh th' crowd.
"Golly, Nelly," was all I could manage t' say. Granny cought a liddle, an' we turnt t' look at her. The music went off with a loud scratch like somebody jus' yankt on th' needle. I felt in a daze, an' there was a liddle gust of air that made th' hair on th' back of my neck stand up as granny took t' talkin' th' marryin' words.
"Today marks th' beginnin' of a holy an' eternal bond between a man an' a woman. Jeremy Moorhead and Annalee Ann Akkerson stand here t'day t' join their hearts t' gether as one." Th' soun' of granny's voice seemt t' be goin' in one ear an' out th' other faster than I could ponder a thing she was sayin'. My eyes went to a bumble bee over granny's shoulder snugglin' down into a Rose O' Sharon blossom.
"Jeremy Moorhead, do you take Annalee Akkeron t' be yer lawful wedded wife?.... Jeremy??" Fer a brief minute there, I had plum forgot my own name.
"Yes ma'am, I do." Then granny took t' recitin' the various circumstances like, "...fer better or worse?....in sickness an' in health?....from this day forth?"
"Yes ma'am. Yes ma'am. Yes ma'am...." Then she went t' askin' Nelly them same questions. Nelly's eyes was wellin' up like a river about t' spill th' bank. "Jeremy," granny askt, "Do you have a ring?" I nodded, an' Uncle Blaine tugged on my arm an' handed it to me. Nelly helt out her hand an' it was shakin' a liddle. She lookt down an' gaspt as I slippt it on her finger. Somehow, it got stuck on her middle knuckle. She pullt it off an' lickt it an' handed it back t' me.
"Now try it," she said. There was liddle giggles goin' off in th' circle of folks aroun' us.
"Annalee, do you have a ring?" granny said. I hadn' even thouht about that. But Nelly nodded, an' took a ring her mother handed her. I recognized it right away. It was her daddy's weddin' ring. She had showt it to me a long time ago. It was loose on my finger when she slippt it on. I guess Nelly's daddy had bigger hands than me. Granny then pronounct us husban' an' wife an' tolt me I could go ahead an' kiss my bride. Nelly had a coupla liddle tears runnin' down her face, so I kisst 'em off, an' then kisst her on th' lips while ever'body was clappin' hands an' cheerin'.
Aroun' th' back of granny's house an' unner a big Sycamore, there was a table wih a purty cake sittin' on it, an' plates of cookies, an' things. Granny had done went an' made a chocalate cake that was four stories tall. Four layers, anyhow. It musta been a foot tall if it was an inch! There was a little man an' woman on th' top. I knew right away they was granny's salt an' pepper shakers that Uncle Blaine brung her from Japan when he come home from th' war.
Well, we all had some o' granny's cake, an' then we was just standin' an' sittin' aroun', an' ever'body seemt t' be talkin' at th' same time. I jus' kept lookin' over at Nelly bein' frien'ly with ever'one, an showin' them her ring. Uncle Blaine give me a key t' his house an' tol' me he an' granny had cleaned it up an' made it comfertable if'n we wanted to have our weddin' night there. Funny as it seems, I hadn' even given a thouht t' where me an' Nelly was gonna be sleepin' now that we're marriet folk.
MR. AND MRS. MOORHEAD
We was plenty tired by th' time we said goodbye an' thank you t' ever'one, an walkt down th' road t' Uncle Blaine' house. Nelly was barefootin' it in th' dirt an' carryin' her purty shoes. The front porch light was on at Uncle Blaine's place. There was a note on th' door. It said: 'Welcome home fer awhile'. It was signt by granny an' Uncle Blaine. I opent th' door an helt it fer Nelly.
"Daw,' she said. "Yer su'post t' carry me over th' threshold." I reacht both arms aroun' her an' picked her up by her bottom. "Daw," she gigglt, "Not thata way!"
"Too late now," I said, haulin' her on inta th' house. So that's how our first night together as husban' an' wife began. Granny had made Uncle Blaine's bed up with fresh linens an' a purty quilt. An' Uncle Blaine had set a bottle of wine, an' two glasses on th' table by th' bed. I reckon, at this point, I'll jus' leave th' rest to yer imaginashin. I will say, we woke up th' nex' mornin' naked an' feelin' embarrasst about it somehow. But, we got over that, an' wound up stayin' in bed at leas' another hour.
That was 'er name, Coraloo. Mos' folks callt her Curly, 'cause she had th' curlies' hair ye' could imagine. She was Missus Akkerson's sister an' she livt on down th' river about an hour if ye' was rowin' a little with th' curren'. Curly was a bit younger 'an Missus Akkerson, an' she was an intarestin' gal. Ye' could tell she had her some educatin' on accoun' of th' way she talkt, an' th' stuff she talkt about. She could talk about somethin', an then talk even more about it.
Like there was this one day we was all sittin' out on th' porch at Nelly's mama's place, an' Wishbone came a trottin' acrosst th' yard. When he come a waddlin' up th' steps, Curly said,
Why Nelly, yer liddle pig's got cherry eye!"
"One of 'is eyes has been lookin' sorta red th' pas' few days," Nelly said, as Curly bent down t' look at Wishbone's face.
"Yep, that's cherry eye, alright," she said. "Pigs git it all th' time rootin' aroun' in slop." I askt 'er if it would go away affer awhile, an' she tol' us that
sometimes it does, but sometimes it don't. She said if'n ye' don' keep an eye on it, it can run away on ye' an' ye'll wind up with a blind pig on yer hands. Well, Nelly likt t' had a fit when she heard that.
"Oh no! We gotta git Wishbone over t' the vetranaryian, Daw!" she said with a scart look on 'er face.
"Nelly, don't git yer unnerpants all tanglt up," Curly said. "Ye kin fix this all by yer self." She wen' in th' house an' come out with a big leather bag, like a saddle bag. "Here's what we're gonna do," she said fishin' aroun' in 'er bag. She pullt out a big squeeze bottle what lookt a bit like a baby's bottle. She handed it t' Nelly. "Now, you kin do this, Nelly," she said. "Dawson, you hold onta Wishbone an' try t' hol' 'is head still. This here is saline solution, Nelly. Ye' kin make yer own with reg'lar table salt an' some warm water. Now you just go on an' squirt some of it inta that cherry eye." Nelly squatted down best she could an' grippt th' bottle with both hands. The water went squirtin' all over Wishbone's face, an' on me too. When Curly tolt 'er t' hold it closer t' Wishbone's eye it workt a lot better. Curly said if we was t' do that fer a coupla days, Wishbone's eye should clear up ok. I askt her if it was callt sailin' solution 'cause of all th' salt water in th' ocean. But she tolt me it weren't 'sailin' solution, it were 'sayleen s'lution.
It turnt out Curly knew a lot about babies, too. She'd even delivert a few. She askt Nelly if she could take a look at 'er belly. So, we wen' in t' Nelly's bedroom an' Nelly laid down. Curly slid Nelly's dress up. I was kinda bendin' down t' watch.
"Quit lookin' so hard, Daw!" Nelly said. Curly run her hands around on Nelly's belly.
Don' take t' fussin' Nelly," Curly said. "He needs t' know about all this as much as you do. Yer a'dominal muscles feel purty strong, that's good," Curly said as she felt aroun' on Nelly. "An' yer baby's azackly where it oughta be. Nice an' low, an' head down. "Now, let me go scrub up my han's, I need t' check on another thing or two, but I think yer lookin' good, Nelly." Nelly yankt her dress back down when Curly left.
"Quit lookin' at me so much, Daw. It's embarassin'."
"Well, I got t' Nelly. I gotta know such stuff about my own wife. What would happen if'n we was off by th' river, an' the baby started comin' out? I'd have t' deliver 'er all by myself."
"Well, ok, I reckon," Nelly said. "But, ye' don' have t' look like yer enjoyin' it so much."
Curly come back in, and set down aside Nelly on th' bed. She put some vaseline on her fingers. "Now, Nelly, this won't hurt, darlin'. I'm jus' gonna feel aroun' a bit an' see if ever'thing seems alright fer ye t' have this baby, ok?"
"Daw," Nelly said, "Go sit down over there yer blockin' th' light." I could tell Nelly was gittin' flustered, so I backt off a bit an' set down. Hell, I guess I'd feel a bit funny too with somebody feelin' up inside me.
All right Nelly," Curly said. "Yer pelvic wall feels good an' healthy, an' yer pelvic bones is nicely spread. I think that baby will come a poppin' right outa there when th' time comes."
"Do ye reckon, its a boy or a girl?" Nelly askt.
"Well," Curly said, wipin' her han's with a cloth, "Lookin at the way yer baby's percht, an' jus' feelin' the easy way it moves aroun', If I had t' guess, I'd say its a girl. But I could be wrong, wouldn' be the firs' time. But you know how boys are," she said, glancin' over t' me, "They tend t' kick an' fuss a lot."
I likt Curly. She seemt t' always know what she was talkin' about. An' I was more than happy when she tol' us she was plannin' t' come an' stay at Missus Akkerson's place a week afore th' baby was due. She said they wasn't a thing t' worry about, an' she'd be right here t' help.
Y'know, I try t' be brave in th' face of th' unknown. When yer up agin a wall, ye jus' gotta try yer best t' get over it, or aroun' it, or even unner it if ye have to. But, it helps t' have somebody in th' sitiation with ye. So, I was mighty relieved t' know that Curly aimt t' be lendin' a hand. I gave her a big hug when she left.
"Don' worry, Daw," she said. "I'm gonna help ya'll git through this. You jus' act nice an' calm aroun' Nelly, even if yer not quite feelin' thata way It'll help Nelly t' jus' relax an' git ready."
That's what Coraloo said that night above th' sound of Nelly screamin'. She said that in this case it meant that th' baby's here. They was French words. But, t' make th' short story long, let me tell ya about that night. It was a Thursday. July th' 'leventh.
Nelly was goin' about th' house with one hand down on her lower back, an' th' other rubbin' aroun' on her very big belly. An' she was mutterin' stuff like, " Oh, I jus' feel tight as a big ol' tick," an' "Oh, me, I fell like I'm about t' pop! I'm like a big ol' balloon about t' pop!" I wisht she wouldn' keep talkin' about poppin'. I been nervous ever since Curly said she thouht th' baby was gonna 'jus' come poppin' right outa there'. I was beginnin' t' think maybe I needed t' have a big ol' apple basket on hand t' catch this flyin' baby! I sat on th' couch with 'er, an' tryt t' rub her back an' her shoulders. One minute she'd say, "Rub me harder, Daw. Do it really hard." Then th' nex' minute she'd say, "Ow, dammit! Don' rub me so hard, Dawson!" I knew women was complicat'd, but I was really jus' beginnin' t' know jus' how complicat'd.
IN TH' NICK OF TIME
I knew Coraloo would be comin' that affernoon, an' I was glad about that. I kept havin' these pichurs in my head of th' baby suddenly poppin' out, an me runnin' fer th' basket. I was sittin' there holdin' Nelly thinkin' about that, when Nelly said in a very quiet voice,
"Uhh Ohhh..." I lookt down where she was lookin' an' there was a puddle formin' aroun' Nelly's slippers. I said,
"Don' worry, darlin', that's happent t' me afore too." Nelly said,
"I didn' jus' pee myself, Daw. My water jus' broke." Well, ye' might as well have rung th' four alarm bell. "Oh no! Yer beginnin' t' pop!" I said. I ran t' th' back door an hollert t' Missus Akkerson who was hangin' out clothes. "The baby is comin'! Th' baby is comin'!" She come arunnin' in a hurry. We run in th' house t'gether, an' there was Nelly standin' there moppin' up th' water with a rag unner 'er foot.
"My water done broke, mama," she said, wipin' her foot aroun' on th' floor. Missus Akkerson lookt at me.
"Dawson, I'm glad ye callt fer me, but jus cause 'er water broke don' mean th' baby's about t' come flyin' out like Tinkerbell. Nelly, you go clean yer self up, an' put on a fresh gown, y' hear? I'll come an' help ye' in a minute. Ye' need t' jus lie down now."
"Yes, mama," Nelly said.
I sat out on th' front porch steps lookin' up an' down th' road fer Coraloo. I was a fish outa water, fer sure. I somehow started thinkin' about noodlin' in the river with gran'daddy, an' about ol' Catfish Cooper. An' it occurrt t' me that havin' a baby is sorta like noodlin'. Mos' th' time yer jus' patien'ly waitin', an' then when that ol' fish come poppin' up, ye' grab it fer dear life. It made me feel a bit better t' think about that baby like it was a catfish 'cause I'm quite good at catchin' catfish.
I could see red dust risin' down th' road, an' I heard th' rattle of Coraloo's ol' panel truck, an' then th' motor backfirin' as she geart down aroun' th' bend. I made a note in my head t' tune her motor up for her. An' then there she was pullin' up t' th' house.
"Len' me a han', Daw," she said as she climbt out. We wen' aroun' back of 'er truck an' she opent th' doors an' handed me a stack of towels. "Run these in t' Charlie," she said.
"Charlene, Daw," Curly said. "My sister. Nelly's mama. I jus' always callt 'er Charlie."
That was th' firs' time it acshuly occurt t' me that Missus Akkerson had a firs' name.
"Nelly's water done broke," I tol' her.
Curly nodded an' reacht inta th' truck fer her saddle bag, an' some other stuff.
"That's good," she said. "Yer gonna be a daddy t' night," she said, tossin'' me a big smile. "Are ye' ready?" I nodded, but I don' know if any body kin acshuly be ready to see a whole new baby come inta th' world. Nevertheless, I sight a sigh of relief knowin' Curly was here. I didn' have t' act like I was the cap'n of th' ship anymore. Curly could be th' cap'n, an' I'd try t' be her handy first mate. An' now we was about t' venture out on th' sea of life.
THE CLOCK TICKT ON AN' ON
We had us sev'rel chairs pullt up aroun' Nelly's bed. There was a coupla candles an' a oil lamp flickerin'. There was a 'lectric light in th' ceilin', but Nelly said it was too bright. Curly an' Missus Akkerson an' Nelly talkt sorta quiet back an' forth. I mos'ly sat there holdin' Nelly's hand. Her palm was sorta sweaty.
"Daw, git yer Nelly a nice col' cloth t' wipe 'er face with," Missus Akkerson said.
I was in th' kitchen wringin' a rag out at th' sink when I heard Nelly yell somethin' awful. When I hurriet back in, she was sorta huffin' an' puffin'. Curly lookt at her watch.
"Seven minutes," she said.
I wipt Nelly's red face down. She had her eyes closed.
"Don' leave me, Daw," she said almost like a whisper.
"I ain't goin' nowheres, Nelly," I said.
Th' nex' half hour or so was like bein' on a roller coaster. There'd be minutes of quiet, an' then what seemt an eternity of moans an' screams, an then quiet again. Nelly even cussed a few times. An' onct she grabbt at my arm so hard, her fingernails drew blood. Curly tol' me three times t' go wash my hands. I don' think my han's has ever been so clean. Missus Akkerson an'Curly helpt Nelly scoot down t' the bottom edge of th' bed. An' Nelly had her knees drawed up.
"Ok, here we go," Curly said, it's startin' t' crown." I lookt over her shoulder an' could har'ly believe it. The pink wet top of th' baby's head was slowly pushin' out from b'tween Nelly's legs. Curly stood up from th' chair between Nelly's legs an' said, "You best be sittin' down fer this, Daw." She pushed me down in th' chair. That was th' firs' secon' I realizt Curly was plannin' on me catchin' this baby when it come flyin' out. Curly laid a towel across my lap. "Jus' hol' yer han's down here, Daw," Curly said, pushin' my arms down. Nelly was makin' gruntin' soun's, an Curly was sayin' "Nice an' steady, Nelly. Jus' nice an' steady."
It seemt my eyes was stuck wide open. I ain't sure I was even breathin'.
"Nice 'an quiet-like, Dawson," gran'daddy said. "Jus let that ol' catfish come to you." Th' baby's head was gittin' bigger. I could see its liddle nose. "Put yer han's unner its head Daw," Curly said. "Jus' nice an' still like. That's it. Don't try to pull on it. Jus' let it slide on inta yer palms. Thata boy."
"I think that ol' catfish is about ready t' make its move, Daw," gran'daddy whispert. I nodded.
The baby's head got free an' suddenly turnt t' one side. "Perfect," Curly said. "Jus' cradle its head, Daw. Slide one hand unner its back. That's it. Here it comes. Th' baby's arms slippt out an' they jerkt inta th' air like tryin' t' catch somethin'. My han's was wet an' slipp'ry, an' there was steam comin' up from between Nelly's legs. "Jus nice an' steady, Daw," Curly said, bendin' down close t' me. "Here it comes, jus' cradle it right down on yer lap."
"Holt onta her, boy," gran'daddy hollered. It seemt like it jus' plopped right down on my lap all of a sudden. "It's a girl!," Curly announct. The baby lookt all slimy an' bloody, an' it was wavin' its arms an' kickin' its feet, an' cryin' like a wil'cat. I could hear Nelly cryin' too. Curly took t' wipin' on th' baby's eyes an' nose, an' mouth.
"What's wrong with 'er," I said.
"Ain't nothin' wrong with 'er, Daw. She's perfekt," Curly said.
"Why's she screamin' then?"
"Its when they don't cry you worry, Daw. Now, wrap yer towel aroun' her an' lift 'er up here t' her mama. Bring 'er right up here 'tween Nelly's legs."
"What about th' cord?" I said, lookin' at it danglin' out from th' towel.
"We'll git t' that in a minute. Jus' put 'er up there on Nelly's belly." Nelly's han's reacht out fer it.
"Its a girl," I said.
"I know, Daw," she sobbt. "Its Robin Bluebell."
I wen' up aside Nelly an' watcht her rub her fingers aroun' on Robin Bluebell's face. She was gigglin' an cryin' at th' same time. I put my face down close an' lookt at th' liddle baby. She was lookin' right back at me.
"Hello, Robin Bluebell," I said. I knew right there in that moment, smellin' Nelly's hot breath on my face, an' lookin' inta Robin Bluebell's eyes, that I was a goner fer sure. And to this very day, that remains true.
"Go ahead an' see if'n she'll take yer tit, Nelly," Missus Akkerson said. Jus' rub it agin her mouth, an' milk it a liddle. There ye' go." I stood hypmatized watchin' that liddle baby suckin' on Nelly. Her liddle fingers was even tryin' t' hold onta Nelly's tit.
"Come 'ere, Daw," Curly said. "Feel on th' cord. Do ye feel any pulse?" I felt it an' shook my head no, as I lookt at th' cord danglin' down 'tween Nelly's legs an' disappearin' inta where it all started. Curly rollt th' baby over a bit on Nelly's belly an' handed me a string. "Tie a good ol' fashiont' knot right there, Daw," she said, pointin' up close t' th' baby's belly. "Tie it good an' tight. Perfekt, Daw!" she said. She handed me another string. Now tie ye another one right about there. She pointed a few inches further down. "You get th' honors, Daw," she said, handin' me a straight-edged shavin' razor. I har'ly recall ezackly, but, I cut th' baby loose. Curly laid out a towel unner Nelly's bottom, an' a pan t' catch th' after birth. Missus Akkerson give me a big hug, "Congratulations! Yer a daddy!" I nodded, but I was a bit weak in th' knees, I don' mind tellin' ye. Then Curly hugged me. I hugged her back real hard, an' thankt her fer bein' here. "Why I har'ly had anything t' do," she said. "You brouht that liddle girl inta th' worl' all by yerself, didn' ye? Nex' time ye needn' be callin on me t' help. Yer a natchural!"
"Ye got 'er, Dawson!," gran'dady hollert. "Yer a born noodler! Lord, what a fish!"
ROBIN BLUEBELL SITTIN' BY TH' WISHIN' WELL
Well, I'd be lyin' if I said th' rest of th' summer was a piece o' cake after Robin Bluebell came inta th' world. She was a joy beyon' compare, that's fer sure. An' it was amazin' to hold 'er on my lap, an look at 'er, an' t' think that if me an' Nelly hadn' been so in love, there wouldn' be no Robin Bluebell in th' world.
It was tirin' nevertheless. A liddle baby needs a lot of payin' attenchun to. I sometimes wondert what it was I used t' do with all my time afore Robin Bluebell come along. It was a nice thing t' be stayin' at Uncle Blaine's place. It was close t' granny's, an' close t' Missus Akkerson's house too. An' jus' about ever' day one of our kin was droppin' in. An' if granny an' Missus Akkerson came over t' gether, they could sit in th' front room playin' 'pass th' baby' all affernoon! Granny likt t' hold Robin Bluebell on her lap an' sing songs. She made one up that sorta went,
"Robin Bluebell sittin' by th' wishin' well,
Won't ye come an' sit a spell with me...."
Missus Akkerson likt t' play on th' floor with Robin Bluebell. She'd put Robin on her tummy an' say,
"Come here my yeller-eyed girl! Come to maw-maw!" O' course, Robin Bluebell hadn' yet got th' hang of crawlin', so her liddle arms an' legs would be wavin' all aroun' like she was swimmin'.
It had been a month or more since I made th' run to Ossabaw. Nelly said she an' Robin Bluebell could go stay at her mama's if'n I wanted to try. I sorta felt mixt up about th' whole thing. I was itchin' t' work on th' boathouse, an spen' some time on th' water with Rufus, but at th' same time I was wishin' I could be with Nelly an' Robin Bluebell. O' course I had always felt that way leavin' Nelly when I went out on runs, but she was olt enough t' unnerstan' what I was tryin' t' do. But liddle Robin Bluebell won' have no idea where I diasppeart to. An' I was even sorta scart she might not remember me when I come back.
So, it was a bit differ'nt this time pullin' outa Shrewsbury. More lonesome. I had loaded all the plumbin' pipe an' fixtures I'd been savin' inta th' back o' th' truck. So, I jus' drove on inta th' night thinkin' about th' nature of plumbin' as it applyt t' th' boathouse. Then I sorta daydreamt I was bobbin' aroun' on th' sea in th' Aunt Chovy, an' Nelly an' Robin Bluebell was on th' shore wavin' at me. Then I thought about how I need t' git a coupla cigars fer when I fin' Rufus an' tell 'im I'm a daddy. Then I took t' hummin' Granny's song.
"Robin Bluebell sittin' by th' wishin' well,
"Won't ye come an' sit a spell with me...."
Then I took t' wonderin' about my mama again. Nothin' new to think about in that regard. Jus' the same ol' questions that come t' mind now an' then. Who was she? Is she still even in this ol' world? Why didn' she never come back? It seemt my mind, like my truck, was in high gear the whole night drivin' along. Takin' bends an' bumps along th' way, barrelin' inta th' future an' hopin' fer th' best.
Close t' bein' there, I drove th' last lick of highway jus' as dawn was breakin' an' t' either side of me was endless Savannah grass swayin', an' a low hangin' fog seemt t' have wispy fingers danglin' down onta those tall blades of pale yeller grass. It was very dreamy an' I felt like I'd been dreamin' all night long.
Jus' off th' wharf where the ferry pulls in, there was a diner lit up, an' I could see a coupla fellers in there. My stomach was actin' purty hungry, so I pullt th' truck up t' it. Five or six cars was already creepin' onta th' ferry t' make the return run. Folks that workt in Savannah, I suppose. The air was misty an' give me a chill, but it felt good t' breathe it. Sorta like that sailin' s'lution Curly was talkin' about. Th' diner was nice an' warm inside, an' there was th' smell of bacon fryin.
When I climbt back inta th' truck with a full belly, an' a brain full of coffee, the sun was up above th' water an' the sea had turnt t' molten silver. I drove on out t' th' boathouse an' unloaded my plumbin' pipes. There was a bunch o' sticks in th' ground out back, an' string runnin' from one t' th' other. I weren't sure what t' make of that. Then I saw the pink paper taped t' th' door. It was a permit fer a septic system an' access t' th' water main. Rufus had done give me a leg up. I went in, an' said hi t' th' Aunt Chovy then went upstairs an' set up th' baby bed I'd bought awhile back. It made me smile t' look at it.
GITTIN' MY SEA LEGS BACK
I foun' a coupla cigars at th' newstand down by th' wharf. One of th' newspapers there, Th' Savannah Sentinel, said Buddy Holly was dead. Big John what run th' stand tol' me it was a plane crash up north somewheres. I remembert on th' radio as I was drivin' through th' night hearin' "Peggy Sue", an' they was sayin' somethin about Buddy Holly, but th' static was so bad I couldn' make it out. I wonnert if Nelly had heard about it yet. We both likt that song.
I spotted Rufus down along side his boat talkin' t' a coupla other fellas. I wen' back t' the newstand an' got a coupla more cigars. Rufus saw me comin' an' afore I even got to 'im, I shouted,
"I'm a daddy!" They all took t' slappin' me on th' back an' shakin' my hand, an' I passed out my cigars. Rufus tuckt his inta his coat pocket.
"We'll jus' save this fer this affernnoon, 'cause we need t' have us a celebration down at Gypsy's place." Th' other fellas agreed, an' I made a note in my head t' not git so drunk as last time.
We idled outa th' harbor aboard th' Pelikin's Folly, an' I tol' Rufus about how me an' Nelly went an' got marriet, an' then had us a baby a week later. Rufus laught.
"Yer a salty dawg, that's what you are."
In a way, goin' out t' sea agin with Rufus was like some kinda shot in th' arm. Me an' th' Cap'n fell inta a rhythem droppin' th' nets, an' circlin' around on th' water. He hollert at me, as we began reelin' in a nice size ketch.
"It's good t' have ye back, mate!"
We turnt our ketch over t' th' Cap'n's shore hands, an' headed down t' Gypsy's. Rufus an' I clinkt our beers, an' in awhile them other fellas showt up. They'd been trawlin' out beyon' Danger point in their boat, th' 'Ham An' Aigs'. They said they got a big mess o' tuna. Soon there was a cloud of cigar smoke hangin' over our table an th' boys was ribbin' me about my new bride.
"Come on, Daw. We want th' juicy details." I jus' laught an' shook my head. Rufus said,
"I'll tell ye boys, I done seen her. She's a gol-durn mermaid, that's what she is. She's got eyes made outa gold, an' hair as black as a moonless night, ain't that right, mate?" I nodded an' shrugged, tryin' t' low-key th' Cap'n's drunken ackerlaids. I jus' ain't one t' brag.
Them boys got me good an' drunk that night despite my bes' intenchins. In fact, I jus' left my truck where it was, an' walkt a crooked line on over t' the Three Liddle Pigs motel. I left out fer Shrewsbury mid-mornin' th' nex' day. Aside from a splittin' headache, an' a churnin' stomach, I was feelin' purty good. I was headin' home.
On th' radio I heard more details about Buddy Holly. Sev'rel others died too, in some snow field up in Indiana. It was a bit scary thinkin' about how people kin jus' be dead all of a sudden. I turnt my mind t' thinkin' about Nelly an' Robin Bluebell. It seemt t' me life requirt a certain recklessness, but a certain price can come with it. From there on out, I jus' kept my mind on th' road.
TH' LONG RUNNIN' BLUR
When I finally got th' fish an' shrimp unloaded over in Roun'town, it was dark again. When I pullt up t' Uncle Blaine's place there stood Nelly an' Robin Bluebell standin' 'neath th' porch light. I was so happy I was laughin' as I took our liddle baby outa Nelly's arms. She lookt right cute with dryed milk in th' corners of her liddle mouth. We sat in th' front room fer awhile, an' I helt th' baby an tol' Nelly about my trip t' th' island, an' how Rufus done got th' septic plan all figgered out. Nelly took t' brushin' the tangles outa her hair, an' she lookt a bit tired. We slept that night with Robin Bluebell between us. I kept wakin' up fer fear I'd roll aroun' an squish th' liddle squirt.
Lookin' back now, that whole firs' year bein' marriet t' Nelly, an' bein' a daddy, seems like one long runnin' blur. Nelly got her cute liddle figger back an' was gittin' ready t' go back t' school an' finish up. I was makin' runs t' th' island ever' other week. With th' help of one of th' Cap'n's friends, we got th' boathouse plumb'd. His friend, namt Blackjack had a backhoe an' dug out th' hole fer th' tank. I was surprist t' find out they was makin' a drop-in tank now made of plastic. No more haulin' rocks an' mixin' up concrete. Ye just droppt th' tank in th' hole an' took t' runnin' pipe. Seemt like more an' more stuff was bein' made of plastic. Even milk bottles was bein' made of plastic. An' Robin Bluebell had a plastic baby bottle that seemt easier fer her to hold than them ol' heavy glass ones.
Somewhere along th' line, me an' Nelly both notict somethin' peculiar about Uncle Blaine. He was goin' over t' Nelly's mama's house quite often. He was always makin' some excuse to go over there. Missus Akkerson an' Blaine acted like it was jus' normal, but me an' Nelly had an idea there was somethin' goin' on between them two. It reminded me of how I used t' make up reasons t' go over to Missus Akkerson's so as t' see Nelly again. Nelly said she was gonna talk t' her mama an' find out what was goin' on, an' I tol' her I would try t' pry somethin' outa Uncle Blaine. T' make a long story short, when Thanksgivin' came aroun', neither me nor Nelly was surprist when Uncle Blaine an' 'Charlie' announct they was gettin' marriet. T' make this story even shorter, granny marriet them off on Christmas day in front of th' Christmas tree. By then, liddle Robin Bluebell was crawlin' all about on th' floor, an' she took t' likin' suckin' on th' pink nose of a stufft bunny Santa brung her. She was also babblin' an' warblin' a lot, an' I took t' callin' her 'Bluebird'.
"Blue bird sittin' by th' wishin' well,
Won't ye come an' sing a song t' me....."
By th' time spring rollt aroun', Nelly was close t' gradiatin'. Missus Shire let Nelly nurse Bluebird in her office onct or twice a day. Me or Nelly's mama one, would carry Bluebird over there, an' we usually brouht Nelly a snack too. As it turnt out, Nelly was excust from classes a month early on account of she had done met all th' requirements. So, she was home then until th' big gradiatin' day ceremony. I decided it was time t' make another quick run t' th' island.
MY NEAR DEATH EXPERIANCE
Me an' Cap'n Rufus had gone out beyon' Danger Point that day 'cause of all th' talk of how th' tuna was runnin'. We got us a purty big haul on th' firs' drop. But, th' sea was gettin' choppy so we turnt th' Folly about. The nex' things that began t' happen, happent so fast it's hard t' describe. Bes' I can recall, we suddenly took a rogue wave over th' tail on the starboard side. It come plum' all th' way over us knockin' me against the port side rail, an' spinnin' th' boat a full ninety d'grees jus' in time t' take another wave crashin' down on th' bow of the Folly. It was like Sugar Joe's one-two punch. I grabbt a line an' tied myself off an' turnt t' holler at Rufus. About that moment, here come another wave crashin' down atop th' cabin. I could see the Cap'n hangin' on t' th' wheel with one han, an' reaching fer a rope with th' other. I saw his knees buckle an' then he was gone. One more wave hit, an' I heard the sound of boards breakin' like bones. We had been tosst against a rocky outcroppin' of Danger Point. I went hand over hand along th' rail lookin fer some sign of Rufus in th' swirlin' water that was breakin' on th' rocks. I finally saw him bobbin' about clingin' to a coupla planks that broke off th' Pelikin. The boat was tilted off t' one side on the rocks, an' th' motor had quit upon th' firs' hit. I crawlt inta the cabin lookin' fer th' life preserver, an' grabbt ahold of the lever fer th' trawlin' arm, an' it was workin'. I droppt th' arm down inta th' water as fas' as I could an' I could see Rufus grabbin' fer the nettin' that was fallin' down all arount 'im. I pusht up on th' lever, but th' arm wouldn' raise. Meanwhile th' crashin' waves was jerkin' th' boat all aroun' on th' rock makin' grindin', splinterin soun's. The Cap'n held onta th' nets an' I tosst him a line. It took me sev'rel trys but I eventu'ly got it t' him. He tied hisself off an began t' try t' climb th' net while I was pullin' as hard as I could. I finally got where I could reach down an grab holt of th' Cap'n's coat sleeve. I could see then he was bleedin' down one side of his head. He manag'd t' hike one foot up over th' rail, an' then I pullt him on over an' down t' th' deck. He took t' coughin' an' spittin', an then said in a raspy watery voice,
"I 'bout swallered th' anchor that time..." After wrappin' his head with some gauze from th' first aid kit, an gittin' him some fresh water, we decided we best try t' climb up on th' point afore th' Folly come apart. We made it t' a shelf about twelve or so feet up, an' there we sat watchin' th' waves feedin' on th' Folly an' carryin' it off a board at a time. My mind was racin' with th' realazashin that me an' th' cap'n had jus' escaped th' fate that had befallen so many afore us. It was an hour or more afore a team of Coast Guard fellas come aclimbin' over th' rock above us an' tosst us a rope an' sling.
DRINKIN' OFF THE CURSE
Th' medic tolt Rufus he needs t' git some stitches in his head else he'd have a purty big scar.
"Jus' leave it, Rufus said. "Any man been t' hell an' back oughta have somethin' t' show fer it." Mos'ly th' Cap'n was wantin' a whiskey t' burn th' chill off.
There was a handful of fellas hangin' out aroun' th' bar at Gypsy's when we walkt in.
"Good god almighty, Rufus! What th' hell happent t' ye? Ye look like death eatin' a cracker," they was sayin'. Th' Cap'n waved 'em off an callt fer a double on th' rocks. He put both han's on th' bar an' muttered,
"Th' Folly's done gone t' th' bottom, boys. We got throwed up onta Danger Point an' she split plum in half. Ever'body seemt t' gather aroun' an' th' place got quiet.
"My mate here pullt me outa th' water otherwise I'd a been chum down there on th' bottom with my boat."
One of th' fellers bought me a shot. We toasted th' cap'n sev'rel times an retol' th' story in great detail. When the night was done, me an' th' cap'n had entered th' annals of local legen'. By th' nex' day mos' ever'body on Ossabaw Island was talkin' about th' curse of Danger Point. I was mos'ly thinkin' how was I gonna explane this t' Nelly without scarin' th' daylight outa her.
TH' TRUTH OF CONSEQUENCES
I stayed on at Ossabaw two days more affer callin' Nelly. I jus' tolt 'er that we had bumpt th' boat inta rock an' was tryin' to see if it could be repaired. I felt bad fibbin' like that. The Folly was gone, Rufus seemt in a daze he couldn' shake, an I was in a dark mood myself. There weren't no way t' tell Nelly all that.
Me an' the cap'n threw an ol' fashioned drunk that night passin' a bottle back an' forth in th' boathouse.
"A cap'n ain't a cap'n if'n he aint gotta boat, cap'n," I said. I could hear my own words comin' out funny bein' half-plastered. "An a mate ain't a mate without a cap'n," I added, tryin' t' stand up.
"We's high an' dry now, that's what we is," the cap'n said takin' another pull on th' bottle. I climt th' ladder up onta the Aunt Chovy almos' fallin' off half way up. "This here's a fine boat," I said. "Jus' needs a can o' paint, that's all."
"She had 'er day is all I kin say," the cap'n muttered.
"Wif' all doo respeck, cap'n," I slurred, "She's jus' been a sittin' here like a widder woman waitin' fer her man t' come back." Rufus handed th' bottle up t' me. I climt atop th' cabin an' waved it about,
"Oh, cap'n! My cap'n! Our ferfil trip is done.
Th' ship has wheathert ever' rack,
An' th' prize is one..." I hollert.
"She needs a new motor," th cap'n mumblt, 'an' sev'rel buckets o' tar."
"The Aunt Chovy will rule th' seven seas," I hollert.
The cap'n helt onta the side of th' boat t' keep from fallin over, an lookt up at me.
"Ye know what you are, mate? Yer crazy, that's what you are. Crazy as a loon."
STRANGER IN TOWN
There was plenty other boats trawlin' the water so I could get my seafood t' bring back, but it felt bad that The Pelikin's Folly was gone. I wasn' a first mate anymore, an' th' cap'n wasn' a cap'n anymore either. But th' good thing what come from our drunken rantin' in th' boathouse, was that, yeh, maybe we could git th' Aunt Chovy back on th' water. She weren't nearly th' size of Th' Pelikin's Folly, an' we wouldn' be able t' compete with th' larger boats, but, th' cap'n would git some o' his dignidy back, an' I'd be his firs' mate again. Besides there was a sentament'l reason too. Rufus built that boat with his daddy, an' I know he would feel happy t' see it bobbin' about in th' water instead o' rottin' away ferever.
When I got home liddle Bluebird come a crawlin' acrosst th' floor an' acshuly pullt herself up on my pant leg.
"Well, look at you now," I said. I pickt her up an' sorta nibblt on her cheek. She had fat liddle cheeks. Nelly fried up a chicken granny give her, an' we sat aroun' eatin', an laughin' at Bluebird suckin'' on a leg bone.
"Did ye get th' boat fixt, Daw?" Nelly askt. I squirmt a liddle in my chair thinkin' what t' say.
"Well, I weren' really wantin' t' talk about it, Nell. But, the Folly went t' takin' on water, an' sunk. There ain't no Folly no more."
"Oh, Daw," Nelly said with a worriet look on 'er face.
"It'll be alright, Nell. We're gonna fix the Aunt Chovy up, an' we'll be back t' fishin' in no time."
"Poor Rufus," Nelly said.
"He'll be alright Nelly, he's a tough ol' bird."
I walkt over t' granny's th' nex' mornin' t' see how things was goin'. She said ever'thing was dandy e'cept Uncle Blaine an' Charlie kept comin' by, an' gittin' in th' way.
"Sometimes they act like I was born yesterday.
"Sit down, Daw, an' lemme fix ye a cup o' granny's coffee. Are ye hungry?"
I tolt 'er I jus' had my brakfuss. She sat down with me an' took t' talkin' about th' baby.
"That liddle Bluebird, she's gonna go some place, ye' mark my words. I never seen a chil' so spunky." O' course I was beamin' quite proudly t' hear such talk. But then she put 'er cup down an said in her serious voice, "Daw, I gotta tell ye somethin'."
I lookt up at 'er hopin she weren' gonna tell me she had one foot in th' grave. "It's about yer mama. She come by here while ye was gone."
"My mama?" I repeated.
"Uh huh. She was wantin' t' see ye. I tol' 'er about Axel dyin' an' she took t' weepin' fer awhile. She wants t' see ye, Daw, an explane 'erself."
"Well where is she?" I askt, my heart sorta thumpin' over this news.
"I don' rightly know, but she said she'd come aroun' Saturd'y t' see if ye was aroun'."
"Well, I'll be aroun'," I said. "I reckon I should hear what she has t' say."
"Well, I'll leave that up t' you t' decide. But, I will say, it's a hard tale she's got t' tell."
"What do ye mean, granny?" I replyt.
"I ain't gonna say, I'll leave it t' her t' tell ye her own self."
When I tolt Nelly this news, she tol' me she had seen a woman out on th' road lookin' over at her playin' with Bluebird in th' yard.
"Ye reckon it mighta been yer mama?"
"Could be. What did she look like?"
"She was kinda skinny, an' she had really short hair, that's all I could make out. I walkt tow'rd th' road t' say 'hi', but she jus' walkt on."
"Somehow, that soun's like her," I said.
WHO IS JOLENE MOORHEAD?
Saturday mornin' Nelly took Bluebird over t' her mama's house. She said that if my mama was t' show up, it might be best if I talkt with 'er alone at first. I foolt aroun' out in Uncle Blaine's shed fer a good while. He had a lot of tools an' he tolt me t' look aroun an' see if there was any I wanted t' borry so as t' work on th' Aunt Chovy. I foun' a good set of wrenches that might come in handy fer workin' on th' boat's blown motor, an' a set of chisels I figgered could be useful. Then, from behin' me I heard her voice.
I turnt aroun' but with th' mornin' light streamin' in th' doorway all I could make out was a long an' skinny silowette. "It's me, Jolene," she said steppin' inta th' shed. My heart sorta skippt a beat not knowin' what t' expect from this meetin'. I reacht out an' shook 'er hand.
"Granny said ye was by th' other day," I said.
"Yeh," she said, "I come by t' try t' make amends with ever'body. I guess I ain't askin' fer much more than that. You kinda look like I thought ye might," she said, with a thin smile. "Ye sorta favor my daddy I think."
"Do ye know about th' mine?" I askt.
"Yeh. Mama tolt me. It breaks my heart t' not ever see 'im again. I guess its th' price I pay fer my recklessness."
"Would ye like t' go up t' th' house an' have a cup o' coffee? I reckon we oughta sit an' talk a spell," I said. I really didn' really know how t' talk with 'er, or what t' say. She was my own mama an' yet, such a stranger t' me. As we walkt up t' th' house I could see her a bit better. She was skinny as a rail an' her skin seemt a deathly white. Her hair was espeshuly odd. It was short, an' it was stickin' out here an' there like it had been cut by a drunk with a butcher knife.
"I weren't sure ye'd even talk t' me, Jeremy, she said, as we went up th' porch stairs. An' I couldn' rightly blame ye if ye didn't."
"T' tell ye th' truth, I'd always kinda hoped t' at leas' know who ye was," I replyt.
I pointed t' a chair on th' porch. "Why don' ye sit down an' I'll git us some coffee," I said. She sat down an' I turnt t' th' door.
"Black," she said.
"Jus' black coffee if'n ye don' mind," she said. I nodded an' went in. I took a big breath while I was fixin' th' coffee. When I was liddle I used t' imagine seein' my mama an' runnin' t' her an' huggin' her. But, I wasn' feelin' none of that now. An' yet, I was feelin' somethin', I jus' wasn' sure what. Maybe jus' scart fer some reason. I lookt at 'er out th' window over th' sink. She lookt from some other time, some other place. She sure didn' look like a Shrewsbury gal. She had on a plain black dress with no sleeves, an' she had on red high heels, an' she had a red purse what matcht her shoes. I watcht as she reacht inta her purse an' pullt out a cigarette, lit it up, an' took a long draw.
"That's my mama," I tol' myself. "That's th person what brought me inta th' world. How come I don' feel some way I always thought I would on a day such as this?"
I handed her a cup of coffee an' sat down. '
"I'm marriet now," I said. She nodded.
"Mama tol' me ye marriet Charlene's liddle girl. I'll bet she's purty. Her mama always was."
"Yes ma'am, an we got us a liddle girl of our own now."
"Jeremy," she said, settin' her cup down on th' porch rail. "I jus want ye t' know I'm sorry t' have misst all yer years of growin' up. An' sorry Axel is gone fer ever. See here?" she said, showin' me her arm. It was a small black tattoo. A black heart in sev'rel pieces, an' two black tear drops b'neath it.
"This here is fer Axel," she said, pointin' t' one of th' teardrops. "An' this one down here is fer you." I took a swaller an' jus' nodded.
"I guess I jus' wonnert what happen t' ye?"
"I could tell ye ever' bit of that, Jeremy," she said, takin' another draw on her cigarette. "'Course if I was t' tell ye ye'd prob'ly hate me if'n ye don' already."
"I don' hate ye," I replyt. "I jus' don' unnerstan'."
"Do ye know about yer daddy, Jeremy?" she askt.
"No, not really. Granny tolt me his name was Bobby John. She said he was th' wanderin' type." Jolene nodded.
"He was that alright. He weren' no good t' any body, leas' of all, me. Ye got a liddle bit of th' best of 'im maybe... th' same cheekbones, an' maybe in th' eyes a liddle."
"What ever become of him?" I askt.
"Well that's th' hard part of th' story, Jeremy," she said, starin' off t' th' road. I lookt at 'er. She lookt like her pichur that granny showt me, e'cept a lot older, an her hair wasn't purty like it was back then. She took another draw on her smoke, then lookt at me. "Are ye sure ye wanna know?" I nodded. "I killt 'im Jeremy. Shot 'im in th' head." My jaw droppt. She lookt away agin. "He had it comin' an' I don' regret it e'cept it cos' me fifteen years in th' Nebraska penetenchiary. Fifteen years that's gone fer ever."
"Why? Why did ye kill 'im?" I said.
"Jeremy, when yer daddy come along I was purty young an' stupid. Mama didn' want me t' have anything t' do with 'im. But I thought I was crazy in love. I follered him aroun' from town t' town like a fool. He started t' take offense at ever thing I did. Took t' beatin' up on me. One night he had me pinned t' th' floor screamin' at me an' slappin' me aroun'. Broke my nose. I grabbt his gun outa th' fron' of 'is pants an' shot 'im in the head. He bled out on top of me. Have I said enough yet?" I nodded.
"They sentenct me t' 39 years, but then changt it t' a lesser offense because of th' circumstance."
"So, ye been in jail all this time?" She nodded.
"Fifteen years of sittin' in a cell. I coulda callt, I coulda writ, but I was too ashamt at th' time of th' mess I done made of my life."
Jolene tolt me she was livin' in a boardin' house up in Freemont about 40 miles north. She askt me if I'd be willin' t' drive her t' the bus station in Round Town. I tolt 'er I could take her over there in the truck. I tolt 'er a liddle bit about th' plan me an' Nelly had t' move t' Ossabaw Island, an' tolt 'er a bit about Bluebird.
"I reckon that makes you a granny," I said. She laught. "Granny Jo," she said kinda quiet like almos' t' herself. "I'd would love to see 'er sometime, Jeremy. But it soun's like ye'll be movin' far away," she said.
"Well, we ain't leavin' til maybe June or July. Nelly's gotta gradiate from school first. Robin Bluebell' will turn one year olt come June 11th, we should be here fer that. Would ye like t' come fer th' birthday party?" Jolene nodded an' then started in t' cryin'.
"I'd love that so much, Jeremy. I know I don' deserve it, an' I know you don' deserve havin' me come awaltzin in t' yer life such as I am."
"Well, I reckon liddle Bluebird might like havin' an extry granny aroun' now an' again." She laught an' then took t' sobbin' even more.
I gave her a hug goodbye an' her cheek was wet agins' mine. I gave her my handkerchief t' wipe the runny black mascara off her face. She handed it back an' boarded th' bus.
"June 11th," I shouted. She waved an' nodded then was gone. I checked my handkerchief a coupla times on the way home, lookin' at the black smudges as thouh it was some proof that I acshuly did meet my mother. An' I did like 'er even thouh her life seemt one big mess.
NELLY'S BIG DAY
When I got back from th' bus station I parkt th' car and walkt over t' Missus Akkerson's house. We sat aroun' th' kitchen table an' I helt Bluebird on my lap as I tol' them about meetin' my ma an' how she come t' killin' my daddy an' went t' jail all these years.
"I never likt Bobby John," Missus Akkerson said. "But when he come throuh town he swept Jolie off her feet. I tolt 'er he weren't good fer nothin', but she jus' said I was jealous. I guess she fount out th' hard way. I don' rightly wish anybody t' git shot in th' head, but I reckon if anybody mighta deservt it, it woulda been Bobby John. I'm sorry t' say such a thing, Daw, bein' he was yer daddy, but I swear he was born bad." I nodded.
"Somehow, it don' seem t' hurt me much, 'cause I believe what Jolene tolt me about 'im. I do wonner what 'is last name was thouh, an' where he hailed from." Nelly's mama said she never knew Bobby John's las' name but there was prob'ly some way t' find out.
I was still talkin' about th' experience when me an' Nelly turnt in that night with Bluebird squirmin' between th' two of us. Nelly was right sweet t' jus' lie there an' lissen, an' run 'er fingers throuh my hair.
Nelly gradiated with honors. Not only was she th' bes' speler, but she was voted mos' likely t' succeed at somethin'. An' they askt her t' say somethin' t' her classmates. There was a hunert and fifteen of 'em that year. Twict as many as when I gradiated. Mos'ly it was on account of all the Round Town kids bein' added in t' th' school. It was kinda strange 'cause I use' t' know ever' kid in th' school, and now they lookt like a lot of strangers.
Nelly stood up in fron' of ever'body, an I could tell she was a bit scart.
"I jus' wanna say this is one of my happies' times in my life. An' I wanna espeshuly thank Missus Shire who kep' me keep agoin' when I jus' wanted t' give up." Ever'body clappt when she said that.
"An' I guess ever'body knows me an' Daw had us a baby along th' way. We didn' ezackly mean fer that t' be th' case, but I wouldn' ever wish t' change the fact at this point. But I wanna say, it weren' easy. It was hard, real hard. So, if'n ye fin' yer self thinkin' you wanna have you a baby too, ye' might wanna think that one over another time or two. Ye' can't hardly git any sleep at night. Ye can't jus' decide ye wanna jus' play aroun' all affernoon. Ever'thing, an' I mean ever'thing changes. An' ye can't wish it away, an' ye can't run away. I love my liddle baby an' wouldn' change a thing, but if yer thinkin' its jus' a barrel of fun, it ain't. I ain't gonna preach at ye. Yer th' same as me. But, I am tellin' ye, ye better think twict. Thank you, an' I'm gonna miss you all."
I was right proud of Nelly that day, an' it made me think a lot about all th' times when I was off t' th' island tryin' t' figure out a life, an' all those times Nelly was there at home lookin' after Bluebird, an' tryin' t' git her homework done. An' ever'thing she said t' all them kids was th' truth. As if that weren't enuf fer one day, I set Bluebird down on th' grass t' hug Nelly, an she pullt 'erself up by my pant leg, an' took off walkin' throuh th' crowd teeterin' all over amidst a world of giant people. Bluebird had a gradiation of 'er own.
One thing I did learn about in school is this invisibl' force callt gravidy. Gravidy is this thing that keeps ever'thing down on th' ground instead of flyin' off inta th' air. A coupla years back, th Russians sent a big ball up inta space an' it didn' come back down. They callt it Spudnik, I guess 'cause it lookt like a 'tater. Anyways it jus' stayt up there floatin' aroun' fer a coupla years, but finally th' fingers of gravidy found it, an' pullt it back down.
An' it ocurrt t' me that places like Shrewsbury or any place ye been mos' yer life has a kind of gravidy of its own. An' ever'time I drove off t' th' island, I could somehow feel th' tug of Shrewsbury on me, wantin' t' pull me back. Don' know how many times I went back an' forth, an it seemt ever'time I turnt aroun' an' come back I made real good time 'cause of th' gravidy pullin' me back. Maybe even people got some kinda gravidy of their own. People get stuck on each other 'cause of that. Th' way I'm stuck on Nelly, an' she's stuck on me. An' even though my own mama lef' me all these years, an' even though I don't rightly know ezackly who she is, there seemt some kinda gravidy there when I firs' saw her. I don' know how t' describe it, but I know somehow I felt it.
BLUEBIRD'S BES' PRESENT
Robin Bluebell was about t' turn one year olt, an' me an' Nelly decided we should have that day in Shrewsbury, even thouh we was both feelin' ready t' try t' make th' move t' th' island. An' it even felt more important now on accoun' of Jolene. I think it would be helpful t' her t' know she had a gran'baby in 'er life, so I was hopin' she'd be comin' fer Bluebird's birthday.
Jolene came that day. An' she came wearin' a wig that lookt outa a fashi'n magazene.
It kinda wrappt aroun' 'er neck in a smooth straight line, an' it had sev'rel colers of hair in it. She whispert t' me that she jus' didn' wanna come lookin' like she'd jus' been in jail fer fifteen years. I found it hard t' not keep starin' at 'er. Charlie an' Jolene hugged an' went on about how they knowed each other all these years. Uncle Blaine was bein' right gentlemanly offerin 'er his seat on th' sofa. An, Nelly pullt me over an' whispert that she thouht my mama was purty, an also tolt me that Bluebird musta got her liddle roun' chin from my ma. But best of all, an' mos' memerable, was Robin Bluebell sittin' on Jolene's lap an' they was playin' some han' clappin' game, an' then Jolene sorta sobbed a bit an' said,
"Never in my life....never in my life..." An I knew then an' there that gravidy had it's arms aroun' all of us. Jolene spent th' night with us. We made her a pallet on th' couch. I was happy that she was there that night even thouh she seemt still such a mystery t' me.
THE MORNIN' AFTER
When Bluebird fidgit'd an' kickt me an' Nelly outa bed like she always does in th' mornin', I could smell coffee perkin' an' Jolene was already up an' smokin' a cigarette out on th' front porch. She didn' have her wig on, so her short hair was all spiky an' stickin' out here an' there. She was sittin' on th' swing, barefooted an' wearin' a long white wrinklt cotton slip. She lookt skinny in th' shoulders, almos' bony. She stretcht 'er arms out an' yawned. I pushed th' screen door a bit an' poked my head out.
"Y' know," she said, "There was so many times sittin' in my cell I would imagine walkin' down this road an' my mama walkin' me t' school." She stood an' came towart me. "Bet th' coffee's ready 'bout now," she said.
We all sat aroun' th' kitchen table a good while. Jolene helt Bluebird on her lap, an' she an' Nelly took to talkin' about th' baby an' how sharp she was fer jus' bein' in the worl' liddle more th'n a year. Finally Jolene handed th' baby t' me.
"I reckon I oughta run down t' mama's. Do ye think she's doin' alright, Dawson?" That was th' firs' time she didn' call me Jeremy. I didn' even think about it at the time, but later lookin' back it seemt it meant somethin' t' me.
"Well, I reckon granny's doin' purty good. She took it purty hard when gran'daddy an' Aunt Arnelle died an' on th' same day. Uncle Blaine an' Charlie look affer her a lot," I replyt. Jolene was lookin' down at th' floor like she was deep in some kinda thouht, but noddin' her head like she was hearin' me.
Blaine drove Jolene t' the bus station that day an me an' Nelly tol' her we wanted her t' come an' see us when we get moved over t' th' island. Nelly seemt t' see some emptiness in me that affernoon an' she hugged me, an whispert,
"Its a lot, ain't it Daw?" I nodded.
ME AN' MY BABY, AN' TH' DEEP BLUE SEA
It took nigh onta two weeks fer me an' Nelly t' sort out stuff, an box stuff up, an' git ready t' move t' th' island. We soon realizt we was gonna have t' make two trips. We'd go t' th boathouse fer about a week an' get organized, then we'd come back an' git th' rest of our stuff. So, when we pullt out of Shrewsbury it weren't too hard sayin' goodbye since we'd be comin' back in a few days. I set up an orange crate on th' seat of th' truck between me an' Nelly fer Bluebird t' sit on an' that workt purty good e'cept Bluebird kept wantin' t' crawl onta her mama's lap an' poke 'er head out th' winder. Mos'ly thouh, we was drivin' throuh th' night, an' Bluebird was sleepin' in Nelly's arms. I realizt I was prob'ly gonna need t' get me a reg'lar car with a back seat purty soon.
IN THE BEGINNING
We pullt onta th' island jus' affer dawn, an'I rememb'r th' firs' thing we did when we got t' th' boathouse was t' jus' crumble onta th' mattress on th' floor and lay there.
"We're here, ain't we, Daw,?" Nelly askt, lookin' over at me. Bluebird was crawlin' aroun' on top of us.
"Uh huh," I said.
"An' ever' thing's gonna be ok, ain't it Daw?"
"Uh huh," I said again. Bluebird crawlt up on her mama an' took her face inta her tiny han's, an' lookt right inta her eyes.
"I'm hungwy, mama!" Nelly laught an' jumpt up. She open'd th' box granny an' Missus Akkerson had fixt fer us with sandwishes an' such. Then we all jus' sat aroun' on th' mattress eatin' bananas an' lookin' around. Somehow it seemt th' whole world was startin' over.
The nex' few days seemt fill'd with haulin' stuff inta th' boathouse, an' movin' stuff aroun'. Nelly hung th' curtains she'd made, we fixt up a liddle corner by a winder t' be Bluebird's corner with her bed, an' her toys, an' we fixt th' kitchen corner up t' Nelly's likin'. Th' place was startin' t' look purty crowded already. Rufus came by one day an' helpt me build a platform about four feet up over Bluebird's corner, an' we tosst me an' Nelly's mattress up there.
Saturday mornin' me an' Rufus went over th' Aunt Chovy. He'd already been scrapin' off loose paint an' blue an' green peels an' chips of it was all about. He had a good part of th' motor broke down too. Bluebird went a walkin' an' crawlin' all aroun' on th' boat an' in no time was the dirtiest chil' I ever saw. She had her firs' bath that affernoon in th' kitchen sink.
Sunday we spent on th' beach. We laught a lot at Bluebird splashin' about in th' surf an' shriekin' as th' waves would come rollin' in like they was about t' git her. Monday mornin' we headed back t' Shrewsbury.
TH' NEVER ENDIN' GOODBYE
When we got back t' Shrewsbury, I foun' Jolene sittin' at granny's table in th' kitchen talkin' to granny. Ever'body stood aroun' huggin' ever'body. Bluebird run aroun' from one grown-up t' another an' wasn' hurtin fer attenchin by a long shot. Uncle Blaine an' Charlie come by fer lunch, an' it seemt somehow like a Sunday affernoon. When we finally headed over t' Uncle Blaine's ol' place fer th' night, it was in the big mess we left it in. We put off any cleanin' and packin' of more stuff 'til th' mornin' an' turnt in.
I laid there holdin' Nell an' tolt her how Uncle Blaine had talkt t' me out in granny's yard about th' idea of turnin' his place over t' his sister, Jolene.
"He an' yer mama has decided t' fix her place up better an' they'd live there, an' he wanted Jolene t' come back t' Shrewsbury an' git her life started over," I said. Nelly thouht it was a good idea an' she said it would prob'ly make my granny happy too.
"An' then," she added, "whenever we came t' visit, Bluebird would have three grannys. Charlie, Jolene, an' granny." I jus' nodded but I didn' have th' words t' say about how happy I was t' think my mama had come home or about th' idea that maybe one day we might acshuly come t' know each other like nothin' ever happent.
Once we got th' last of our things packt inta th' truck, an' Uncle Blaine's place swept out nice an' neat, we walkt over t' granny's t' say goodbye again. It was harder this time, even thouh we promis't we'd come back one week in th' fall. Ever'body seemt happy an' a bit teary eyed at th' same time. It turnt inta a reg'lar parade with ever'body walkin' back with us t' th' truck. Then ever'body was huggin' ever'body agin. Uncle Blaine handed me an envelope an' tolt me t' read it later. Jolene kisst me on th' cheek an' then wipt it off with a smile, an' steppt back as we climbt inta th' truck. I heard granny call as I pullt away,
"Ya'll come back ye hear?" I pickt up speed as we rounded th' bend in the road an' I coul' feel th' gravidy of all my growin' up pullin' at me, an then lettin' go.
TH' TUNNEL OF LOVE
The drive into th' night settled down inta white lines an' stripes, an' bends in th' road, an' ever' now an' then, a car whizzin' by goin' th' other way. I pickt up a radio channel comin' from New Orleans. Nelly seemt sound asleep nex' t' me with Bluebird's head on her lap. Elvis come on th' radio.
"Since my baby lef' me, I foun' a new place t' dwell,
it's down at th' end of lonely street at the..." Nelly sat up straight all of a sudden, an' lookt over at me.
"Daw," she said. "Promise you'll never leave me."
I laught. "I ain't never gonna leave you, darlin'."
"You promise?" she askt.
"Yes. I promise."
"On yer granny's bible?"
"Yes, on my granny's bible, an' on yer granny's bible too."
Nelly lookt out th' winder. "I never knew my granny. But I think she was an atheist." She lookt down at Bluebird, an' run her fingers throuh Bluebird's hair. "I love you, Daw," she said, leanin' her head agins' th' pillow by th' door. She closed her eyes an' then started cryin'.
"I ain't never gonna leave ye' Nelly," I said quietly.
"I know," she sobbed, "I jus' miss my mama."
I thouht about my mother. It was a lot of mixed up thouhts. How me an' Axel got lef' there at th' end of lonely street. How she come back. How here I was now leavin' her. How it all was sorta grabbin' me an' shakin' me aroun'.
"I miss my mama too," I said t' Nelly, but I think she was asleep by then. She woke up an' yawned just about dawn as I idled th' truck onto th' ferry.
"We're almos' home," she smilt. I nodded, an' lookt out onto th' sea where Ossabwaw Island was waitin' t' greet us.
MY BOOK OF WRITIN'S
Time flew by on Ossabaw Island. Lookin' back on the liddle stories I scribblt down over the years, I wish I had written even more along the way. Seems like there's always more t' say about any one place, an' th' world within that place. That was true of Shrewsbury, and it has been true of Ossabaw Island for some time now. Robin was three by the time me an' Rufus finally was able to tow th' Aunt Chovy back to the water's edge. She wasn't the biggest boat bobbin' aroun' in the harbor, but I think she was the purtiest. Me an' Rufus trawled up an' down along the barrier islands, and hauled in enough t' make most days worth while.
Of course, we made trips back home to Shrewsbury every now and then, one time on account of granny dyin'. I guess Robin was 7 or 8 years old when that happened, her first unnerstandin' of how people come an' go, I reckon. Nelly was pregnant then. Many people came t' the church yard fer granny's funeral. People from places far away that I had never even seen before. People re-tellin' stories of when granny was jus' a liddle girl. Many grey-haired folk who musta grown up with granny. An' ever'body seemt t' be happy that Nelly an' me was soon t' be havin' another liddle Moorhead. Of course, I don't really guess I'm a Moorhead seein' as th' daddy I never knew was of some other name. Mama said it was Chalmers. Bobby John Chalmers. My mama was lookin' right purty, an' lookt like she put on a few pounds. She was workin' at a lady's shoe store over in Round Town.
All of Shrewsbury was startin' t' look older to me. More faded. More like a place that had seen better days. Just a few country lanes along the river on the edge of a now bigger than ever Round Town.
Uncle Blaine's old place was a bit of a bright spot. Since my mama had moved in she had worked the land up around the place into a fairyland of flowers. All kinds of flowers. She said she dreamt of havin' a flower store one day. Most of the flowers around granny's coffin were flowers my mama had raised in Uncle Blaine's yard. There's something special about all that.
Me an' Uncle Blaine dug up th' box of gran'daddy's belongings we had buried under the oak tree in granny's yard back when grandaddy got killt an' buried in th' mine. We didn't open the box. We just laid it alongside granny's casket when they lowered her into th' ground. It seemt like a comforting thing to do.
My mom, had come to visit us on the island. Nelly's mom, Charlie came too, with Uncle Blaine. We didn't have room in the boat house for company, so they all stayed over at the Three Little Pigs Motel. Nelly was due to deliver and everybody seemt t' want t' be around. I was glad Jolene and Charlie were there to help out.
We had just turned in when Nelly's water broke. I callt over to the motel that night and it seemt Jolene an' Charlie were at my door in just a matter of minutes. I was mostly tryin' to keep liddle Robin calm. She had been excited all along that she would be having a liddle brother or sister, but then, the sound of her mama wailing when the contractions rollt around was making her scart.
Nelly, laid back on th' couch an' gave birth to Emerson about one in the mornin'. I woke up Robin who had fallen asleep on th' floor to tell her th' baby was comin'. She stumblt sleepily over to her mama jus' in time to see Emerson's head push out. Her eyes got real big then. My mom was th' one t' catch th' liddle feller as he came slidin' into th' world. Uncle Blaine was standin' in th' doorway applaudin' as I pullt Robin up close by me so she could watch me cut th' cord. I tolt her I was making her liddle brother a baby button jus' like I made one for her eight years ago.
Nelly was the sweetest gal a man could want. I don't know why she put up with the likes of me sometimes. I usually came home smelling like a fish in the sun. But, days went on this way. Robin turnt into a tomboy wantin' none of the frilly stuff. She mostly talked about turtles and how the pigs an' the turtles need to be kept apart. She walked the beach sometimes shooing pigs away from turtle nests. Nelly liked to go along with her, and they always took Wishbone too. They had him on a leash. Emerson, on the other hand, stuck up fer the rights of the pigs and thought turtles were stupid, and pigs were smart. Me an' Nell bit our lips many a time in these debates. I guess we figgered they was both right.
After awhile, our little Robin grew up. She went off to school over on Skidaway Island studyin' t' be a marine scientist, and she was specializing in the plight of th' sea turtles. Emerson, he started takin' classes in seamanship while still in high school. Me an' Nelly was proud of both our young-uns. They were beginning to live out lives in a whole different way from what we had known growin' up.
I made a delivery run to Shrewsbury and planned t' bring my mom back t' th' island fer awhile. It wasn't 'til I got t' her house that I learnt a hurricane had come up from the Carribean an' was threatenin' to hit th' barrier islands. The sky was black as we neared the coast an' th' rain was blowin' sideways laying the Savannah grasses low. It turnt out the ferry had stoppt runnin' on account of the rough seas. I was tolt that power was out all across Ossabaw, an' there weren't no way to try t' call Nelly or the kids. I was hopin' they had gotten to a safe place somewhere to ride the storm out. I was havin' a scared panicky kinda feelin'. I offered a local fisherman a good bit of money if he'd take us over on his boat.
"We might do alright," he said, takin' th' money. "Th' worst of it is gone further north now." I tried t' get my mama t' stay in Savannah while I went over t' find ever'body, but she wouldn' have any of that.
TH' BLACKEST KIND OF BLACK
What we saw was fright'nin'. The diner by the ferry port was still standin', but th' roof was peeled open like a can of sardines. There was a trawler laid over on its side out behind the diner amid up-rooted palms. There weren't nobody in sight. I asked th' fisherman to take th' boat on around t' th' other side of th' harbor where the boat house was. An' that's when th' nightmare began fer real. The boat house an' the little row of beach houses there, were now only flattened piles of painted boards an' shingles. There was some upside down cars in what was once the palmetto grove. And nobody anywhere. Me an' ma walkt about in th' debris. There weren't no sign of Nelly or Emerson. Ever'thing we owned was scattered about. We saw a coupla fellers down a ways tryin' t' put out a fire from a busted gas main. They tol' us most folks was over in an emergency center that was set up in the gym at the high school.
We hurried over there. My mind seemt frozen somehow, like it couldn' absorb th' insanity ever'where aroun'. I think my mama was about th' same. The gym floor was scattered with several dozen people, some of them cryin' or holdin' bloody cloths or pieces of their own clothes t' themselves. There was a coupla doctors an' some other folks movin' about from one person t' th' next tryin' t' manage th' pain an' sufferin'. We walked through th' maze of hurtin' people lookin fer Nell an' Emerson. I saw Nelly layin' cover'd in a blanket. She broke inta heavin' sobs as I knelt an' reached fer her face. She could hardly speak. She jus' sorta whispert an' the only thing I could unnerstand was when she said,
"Emerson...?" I laid down nex' t' her an' helt her.
"We'll find him," I said. But, I don' think she heard me. I think it was the moment she give out an' died. I held her face an' put my ear t' her mouth, there weren't no breath. Her eyes was shut. She was gone. Nelly was gone. I remember my mama kneelin' down an' huggin' me, an' cryin'. An' then it seemt th' whole world went quiet. A doctor tol' me I was in shock, an' tolt me it was true. Nelly was gone.
LOST AT SEA
We never did find Emerson. The wreck of the Aunt Chovy washed up two days later. I felt sure the sea had swallered my son, but I walkt th' beach fer a long time still hopin' fer a miracle that never come. Amidst th' wreckage of th' boathouse I found a liddle wooden boat Emerson had made a few years back. It was layin' in a puddle of mud half covered with seaweed. It seemt like all my tears come down in that moment, sittin' there lookin' at that liddle boat. They was tears that flowed all th' way back inta my chil'hood.
Robin Bluebell had left Skidaway Island the mornin' of th' storm an' had weathered it out with some friends over in Savannah. It was somehow th' biggest heartache ever t' hold her an' tell her that her mama an' her liddle brother was gone. She sobbed a coupla times an' then fainted in my arms.
We carried Nelly's body back t' Shrewsbury in th' fish truck. I felt like it was what she would want. She went down inta the ground out behind th' church where th' family plot was. Buriet alongside her own daddy, an' Granny, Gran'daddy, Aunt Arnelle, and Junebug. I lookt around at all the grave stones an' wondered where my own might stand some day.
Uncle Blaine tol' me t' take granny's old house an' try t' make a new start somehow. But after talkin' with Bluebird an' my mama about it, I realizt I needed t' go back t' th' island an' finish what we'd started. So, that's what we did. My mama decided t' go back with me an' Robin t' help figger out how to make a life all over again. She'd done such herself when she came back to Shrewsbury after bein' shut away in jail fer so long, an' she tolt us we could do it. If she could do it, we could do it. It was hard without Nelly around. She'd always been my reason fer doin' anything.
It took several years fer us an' fer ever'body on Ossabaw Island to figger out how to put that world back together again. It took some kinda stubborn determination to even try. Th' island would never quite be the same because of the many who died that day. Rufus hung on fer a few days but finally fell to the toll the storm had taken on his cripplt body. Uncle Blaine sold granny's house an' sent us th' money t' git started again. We couldn' of made it without that, but it was a sinkin' feelin' t' think of that warm place of my chil'hood bein' lived in by people I didn' know. But, there ain't no goin' back in time.
We got us a liddle house a bit further back from th' beach although we could still see the water an' watch the sun come up each day. Mos'ly it was jus' me an' my mama. Robin was livin' a life of her own, maybe writin' her own stories now. After wanderin' away fer awhile livin' a hippie kind of life, she finally did return to Ossabaw with a boyfriend, an' pregnant. She an' several others started an inland sanctuary fer th' island pigs, an' eventually made appeals t' th' government t' get them pigs on an endangered species list. An' th' turtles became more plentiful on th' island now that the pigs don't wander th' beach rootin' up their eggs. People came from far an' wide t' visit th' pig sanctuary an' t' watch them turtles come in from th' sea.
Mama's mind got t' where it weren't quite right. She was havin' a hard time makin' sentences. She was quite forgetful an' I looked after her as best I could.
One day I was out along th' sunny side of th' house puttin' in a small garden patch when who come waddlin' outa th' palmettos but Wishbone. He was a big fat muddy mess, but I never was so happy t' see a pig in my life. He lives with Robin now, over by th' sanctuary.
An' now, I've done give up on fishin' th' sea. But, I got me a liddle boat an' enjoy takin' tourist folk up an' down th' waterway, an' back in th' Wishbone salt marsh, an' visitin' th' other nearby islands. Robin comes along with me most days. She tells the visitors on board all about the history of the turtles an' th' pigs, an' about respectin' life in general. I'm a gran'daddy now to Annie, a spunky liddle chil' I nicknamt 'Dewdrop'. My feelin' over all, I guess, is that Nelly would be happy t' know how things turnt out, given that there's somethings ye can't do anything about.
Mama died last year while out picking flowers. I found her there lying on her back in a bed of black-eyed susans. I thought she lookt purty there lookin' up at th' clouds rollin' by. I shut her eyes and sighed a deep sigh.