Humble Creek Holler
I lingered on the bank of the creek. The cold water slapped the soles of my feet. The ground was cool, too, though the places where the sun kissed me – my shoulders, one knee, an elbow – were warmed and so balanced the chilling effect, and I felt quite comfortable standing there. The birch leaves had yet to fully fill out the spring canopy, and through their patchwork pattern, I could see out across our mountain, many miles distant. Slowly, I inhaled the deep green air.
This was the place I came everyday to draw our water, and I should not have been dawdling. Still, my thoughts hung heavily in the bright spring morning, and I didn’t much feel like returning to our homestead. The watering hole rested upstream of our place, and small bits of the day’s festivities were carried up to me, wafting by on the breeze. I could faintly hear a child’s cry of glee, a parent’s reprimand. I could smell the pig that turned on the spit, and despite my foul mood, my mouth watered at the flavorful scent. I sighed. I hefted up my buckets and began to weave my way back down the well-tramped path to our cabin. My feet, often bare as they were today, knew well the path home, the feel of each pebble under each toe.
I passed beneath the “thinking tree,” the place Daddy would send me or Sis to consider both our childhood indiscretions, as well as our earthly sin. It was an enormous white cedar tree that stood proudly alone in a small clearing between stands of other, less self-assured varieties. Some folks called the cedars the tree of life, and the trees often dotted the landscape within our local cemeteries, intermingled among the squat square tombstones, equal signs of both hope for the departed, and last ditch desperate attempts to make amends.
Mam had no use for Daddy’s tree, however. Sin or the overzealousness of a little girl were both exactly equal reasons for the switch. I had learned – probably somewhere around my fifth or sixth year, as I recall – that the more slender the sapling, the more memorable the punishment. Mam would send us, me or Sis, off to choose our own stick, you see, then apply the necessary punishment. The slightest wisp of a twig could leave a raised welt that prevented sitting, or sitting comfortably, at least. But a more substantial branch provided more wallop. In the end, we discovered, it was really a losing argument either way one went in their choice.
Off in the thick underbrush somewhere behind me, I heard a twig snap. Too loud to be merely a squirrel, or even a deer, yet I thought little of it. I assumed it was Montrose, and continued on. We still thought him to be harmless back then. Folk do love a good story, and there were plenty surrounding Montrose. He had lived here - out here - in the seclusion and wildness for all of my years on earth. Some said he had lost his mind when his mother died and left him an orphan. Others whispered it was the shame of not having a father that drove him finally mad. And there were a scant few who blamed his condition on a woman, some unknown, unnamed vixen who had stolen his heart and possibly his sanity. Somewhere in there truth might be found, or not. But the known facts were simply that one day Montrose arose, like any other seemingly normal day, packed himself a bedroll, and strolled out of his house, never again to know the feel of a soft goose down pillow under his head, or the glow of a welcoming hearth at his feet.
A group of my young cousins, the infinite offspring of my father’s four sisters, played in the side yard. They had, in the center of the group, a chipped yellow pottery bowl full of soapy water. With a small wooden hoop, they made large and small luminescent bubbles, which now floated lazily in all directions, and lended preciousness to the scene. I remembered playing the same game when I had been their age. Percy, one of the especially naughty little boys, ran around with a stick, trying to harpoon as many innocent orbs as he could. A great wail went up from one of the girls, and one of the aunties dispersed the group, rambunctious children running in all directions away from the interloping adult, and reforming in smaller groups at the edge of the lawn. The family gathering had officially begun.
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