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The Manchester Enterprise: A Boy's Memories Bits of Clay

Message from Momma

I thought my wife had awakened me from another difficult dream. But I was wrong. She was still asleep. Then I realized it must have been Momma.
That night when I closed my eyes for another night’s sleep I had no idea what my mind had in store for me.
I was at my childhood home where I grew up on Paw Paw but the time was the present. I was baby-sitting my youngest grand baby Caylen. We were the only two home at the time in my Momma’s old house.
I was in the kitchen cooking and had placed Caylen in a crib in the back bedroom. As I was cooking and cleaning Caylen began to get a little fussy from the inattention and no matter what I said or did she wanted out of the crib.
I remembered that my daughter Leslie had told me before she left Caylen with me that she had put a bag of seedless grapes in a zip-lock bag in the diaper bag. I figured that she might just be hungry so I decided to put a few of the cut-up grapes in a small bowl and take to her.
I was right. She jumped with excitement as I handed her the bowl with the grapes in it and she began to eat them.
I went back to my work in the kitchen glad that the grapes had done the trick. I hadn’t been in there too long when I noticed that I hadn’t heard from her in a little while and I called her name but Caylen didn’t answer.
My mind then began to remember back to a time when my Momma had told me that once she had almost choked to death eating a grape. She warned me be careful when feeding grapes to a small child.
I took off in a hard run towards the bedroom yelling Caylen’s name with no answer. As I neared the bedroom I caught a glimpse of a shadowy figure out the corner of my eye flash by the window.
All of a sudden, as I headed through the bedroom door, it slammed shut just in front of me tight. I then noticed long gray hair like that of an aging woman had gotten caught in the edge of the door as it slammed and it pulled through the crack of the door slowly until it disappeared inside the room where Caylen was.
I grabbed the door handle and twisted it left and right but it wouldn’t open. I called out Caylen’s name again and again but I never heard a word. I pulled and pushed on the door but it wouldn’t budge.
Then, from inside the locked bedroom I heard a loud cough and a faint cry. At that moment the door suddenly swung open. As I entered the room Caylen was saying, “Mammaw! Mammaw!” A cold chill ran down my spine.
Who could it have been that prevented Caylen from choking? And why was she saying, “Mammaw?” I thought, Caylen only knows Margy by “Mimi” and Karen, her other grandmother, as “Nana”. Mamma had died before she was even born but then I remembered that both Leslie and I have a photo of my Momma on our refrigerators and when we point at the picture Caylen calls her “Mammaw”.
My senses then noticed a familiar smell of perfume in the air of the bedroom. It was the perfume that my Momma always used, Jovan Musk.
I glanced around the room and there on a usually empty nail that was driven into the wall of the bedroom was Momma’s purple housecoat.
After that, I come to the conclusion that Momma must have been the one who saved Caylen from choking on the grape peel, much like she had said she almost did years before.
Suddenly I felt a soft pat on my back as I lifted Caylen from the crib and I turned around expecting to catch a glimpse of my Momma’s ghost as it faded in the room.  
But as I turned around I awoke from the dream. I thought that it must have been Margy patting me on my back trying to awake me from another nightmare but she was still asleep.
Next morning I ask her after she awoke if she had tried to awaken me from my sleep in the night but she said she hadn’t. I then retold this story that I’m telling you and she sobbed like a baby.
I told Margy then that I thought that my dream was a warning from my Momma to make sure that Caylen only eat sliced-up grapes. She agreed.  
I re-told the story later to my son-in-law Jason as we made an early morning trip to London. It really hit home with him.
After we got back to Manchester told Leslie that she should call me and let me tell her about the dream that I had had the night before.
 Leslie cried too as I told her how real it seemed and how I felt someone patting me on my back to assure me that everything would be okay now.
I firmly believe that Momma had found a way to trigger my mind to caution both of us about the danger of the grapes that Caylen had recently grown fond of.
And for that Momma, I thank you again.

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Momma's teepee

My parents were married for 50 beautiful years. And during those 50 years there were only a handful of times that I can remember when my parents got mad at one another.

One time in particular was when I was about 7 or 8 years old. I never knew why my Momma got mad at Daddy that day but it must have been something pretty bad. It was surely a day that I will never forget.
I can’t recall too much about the morning leading up to when Momma went missing. The day must have started off like a hundred before. But something that day happened and Momma must have felt like she had to get away. This is my story about that day.
I had been outside playing and had come in to the house for dinner but dinner wasn’t ready. That was the first thing that made me think something just wasn’t right.
I yelled for Momma but she didn’t answer. I then began to go from room to room to see where she was but after a quick search of the house, I couldn’t find her.
I then went outside and circled the yard yelling for Momma, but I didn’t get an answer. I was starting to get worried. That wasn’t like my Momma to just disappear.
I then began to ask my brothers and sisters when they had last seen Momma and from the answers I got, she had been gone for an hour or two. Now I was getting really worried.
We began to yell louder and louder for her but still no one answered. Momma’s disappearance upset Darlene so much that she began to cry for her. Where could she have gone, I asked myself.
We never had a telephone yet so there was no way to call anyone to find out what might have happened. So all of us gathered together and decided to split up in pairs to try to find out where she might have gone.
A couple of my siblings took the dirt road going from house to house to see if anyone had seen her. No one had seen hide nor hair of her.
We knew Momma spent a lot of time in the woods from time to time so the rest of us hit the hills to see if she might have gone there picking berries or something.
Ronnie and me went to the left in the woods and Gary and Anthony went to the right. Every so often we would stop and yell loudly “Momma!” It didn’t take us long before she answered us. We ran to the sound of her voice as fast as we could.
We found Momma about halfway up the mountain in a flat where she had built herself a teepee. Yes, I said a teepee, just like an Indian would have.
When we got to her I could see that she had been crying and I hugged her tighter than I ever had before in my life. She was so happy to see us and I could see that she was upset at herself for scaring us the way she had. She kept saying that she was sorry but I didn’t really know why. I was just glad that we had found her.
We stayed there for a little while as we walked around admiring her building skills with her teepee. Momma had tied long poles together with a grapevine for the skeleton of the teepee and had woven the outside with tree branches she had cut. She was the type of person that could do almost anything and her teepee proved it.
Momma realized it was now time to go home as she took us by the hand and slowly walked with us off the mountain towards our house. Everyone came running to her half crying and half smiling just glad that Momma was found safe.
Later, I finally got up the nerve to ask her why she had left and why she had been crying and she told us that she got upset at Daddy for something but she didn’t want us to worry. “Everything is going to be okay”, she assured us.
Momma was right. When Daddy got home that evening they made up and that made the rest of us happy again. I never did find out what had happened that had caused her to get so upset that day and really I didn’t want to know. I think there are some things better left unsaid.
I hadn’t thought about that day so long ago for quite some time until I was out hunting deer sheds earlier this year. As I walked along the bench in the mountain to where the teepee had been some 50 years ago I stopped for a rest and remembered how scared I was on the day Momma had gone missing. A tear rolled down my cheek as I remembered running to her open arms and she hugged us tight.
I sat there on a fallen log a few minutes searching the woods for some faint reminder of her teepee that she had built so skillfully long ago when she had gotten mad at Daddy, but nothing could be found.  
I did however see why I thought she had chosen the picturesque spot in the mountain for her teepee as the morning sun rose over the ridge and lit up the flat with it’s warm morning rays.
Yep, it was the perfect spot for a teepee and it was also the perfect spot for a person to shed a tear.

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The Ballad of Barbara Allen

This week’s story is dedicated to the memory of Laura Belle Sibert who passed away recently at the age of 91.

Laura Belle also lived on Paw Paw when I was young and came to our house many times to visit with us. Her favorite song to sing when we had our guitars out was “Barbara Allen”. Everyone wanted to hear her sing the song because she knew more verses than almost anyone.
There are many versions of the old English song (and I can’t remember all of the ones that Laura Belle sang) but these are the words taught to me by my Momma. She also loved the song.

The Ballad of Barbara Allen

In Scarlet town where I was born,
There was a fair maid a-dewellin’
Made every youth cry well-a-day,
Her name was Barbara Allen.

Was in the merry month of May

When all the flowers were a-bloomin', 

Sweet William on his death-bed lay

For the love of Barbara Allen.



He sent his servant to the town

To the place where she was a-dwelling

Said, "You must come to my master's house,

If your name be Barbara Allen."



So slowly, slowly she gets up, 

And to his bedside going

She drew the curtains to one side

And says, "Young man, you're a-dying."



"I know, I'm sick and very low, 

And sorrow dwells within me

No better, no better I never will be.

‘Til I have Barbara Allen."



"Don't you remember last Saturday night

When I was at the tavern, 

You gave your drinks to the ladies there

But you slighted Barbara Allen?"



He reached up his pale white hands

Intending for to touch her

She turned away from his bedside

And says, "Young man I won't have you."



He turned his cheek onto the wall

And bursted out a-crying

"What I do to thee I do to all

And I do to Barbara Allen."



She had not walked and reached the town

She heard the death bells a-ringing

And as they rolled they seemed to say,

"Hard-hearted Barbara Allen."



"Oh Mother, oh mother go make my bed

Go make it long and narrow

Sweet William died for me today

And I'll die for him tomorrow."



Sweet William was buried in the old church yard

And Barbara there a-nigh him, 

And out of his grave grew a red, red rose, 

And out of hers, grew a briar.



They grew and grew to the old churchyard, 

Where they couldn't grow any higher, 

And there they tied in a true love's knot.

The rose wrapped around the briar.

Dedicated to Laura Belle Sibert -12/6/21 – 2/4/13

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The old rusty nail

I was watching a show on TV the other day and it was about how people were paid to implode a building or tear it down just to build something new, bigger, or better. I thought it was such a waste of how they destroyed everything and didn’t try to save any of the building materials.

It reminded me of the time long ago when my Daddy bought the old Horse Creek Baptist Church that had to be torn down to build the new one that we have now. It was in the early 70’s and my Daddy knew that there would be plenty of salvageable building materials in that old church that could be used again.
An auction was held on the church’s ground and when the gavel fell at the end of the day Daddy was the highest bidder. There was only one stipulation to the purchase, whomever got the bid had just 6 months to have it torn down and everything removed.
There wasn’t anything wrong with the old church except the fact that the congregation had grown to where they needed more room. The old church had been built when carpenters took pride in their work and used only the best of materials. Daddy knew that he could use the salvaged material from the church.
The demolition was slow tedious work. We tried to save everything. The first thing we removed was the oak hardwood floor from the auditorium and anywhere else that was covered with the flooring. It was beautiful. There were thousands of pieces ranging in size from two feet to twelve feet.
We loaded the hardwood into Daddy’s old pickup and transported the wood to the loft in our barn. It was like an assembly line with each of us passing the pieces hand to hand to the loft and then stacking them neatly to make sure they wouldn’t warp. It took many trips to get all of the wood to the barn.
Next, we took out the large windows from the auditorium. The windows were huge. Each set had two large 12-paned windows about 4 feet wide x 5 feet tall. We got them all out without breaking a one. One of the neatest things about the big windows was the heavy iron ballast in the window sash that were tied by a rope to the heavy windows to make raising them easier. I had never seen any like that before.
After removing everything from the inside of the church we started taking it down starting with the roof. We put up the longest ladder we could find on the lowest side of the church and climbed up. Near the ladder, the ground was probably still 30 or so feet down and on the high side it was 40-50 feet to the bottom. It was scary just to look down.
Once on top of the roof we still had to have another shorter ladder to take down the steeple. After that was done we started removing about 3 layers of old shingles from the huge roof. The work was slow and the sun was hot. I hated the job because I was so high up and the ground so far away. It made me nervous, to say the least.
The first half of the day the job went pretty fast but I sure was glad when dinnertime came and I got to put my feet on solid ground. After a sandwich and a pop we took a short break and then climbed the ladder to the roof again. I really did hate this job.
Working from the eve of the roof (the very top) we shoveled the removed shingles down the roof and over the edge to the ground. I had been cautioned several times that day to be aware of loose shingles and to never step on top of one but I wasn’t careful enough.
A couple of hours after dinner I was trying to hurry and finish the job I hated so much when I stepped on a loose shingle. My foot slid out from under me and my butt hit the roof with a thud. Down the roof I started sliding fast towards the edge with my hands grasping for anything to stop the slide.
I was screaming for help but there wasn’t anything anyone could do, it happened so fast. I was panicking as I tried desperately to stop my slide with my feet and my bare hands with no luck. It didn’t look good as I neared the edge of the old church. I thought for sure that I was a goner.
Then, a miracle happened. With only about two feet to go from the edge of the roof an old nail sticking up from the under side of the roof, that had been bent down underneath the shingles, pierced deep into the palm of my left hand. Suddenly my slide was stopped.
I really believe that if it hadn’t been for the old rusty nail that someone had left years ago during construction I would not have survived that long fall.
When I got down from the roof of that old church that day I thought that if I could have found out who left the old rusty nail, I would have thanked them. Little did he know that his mistake would be the only thing that stopped my slide and save my life.
I then realized that the Lord was really the one who I needed to thank because he must have known that the old rusty nail would be needed one day to catch me. I felt he was surely the one who allowed the carpenter to miss his mark on that day so long ago.
Oh and by the way, Daddy ended up building three rent houses from the materials we saved from the church.

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When old Jim Died

When I was growing up very few people could afford a car or a truck and many had never even seen a tractor, much less owned one. That’s why almost every family had to have a mule to just survive. Times were tough and a mule was versatile. He could be ridden on the bad muddy roads where a car couldn’t dream of going or across the mountain where there were no roads. He could be used to plow the garden, pull a wagon or drag logs out of the hills for building purposes or for firewood.

But today, mules are almost a thing of the past. So for those who don’t know much about a mule, here is a little history lesson before my story starts.
A mule is the sterile hybrid of any two equines of dissimilar species. The most common hybrid is of the male ass, known as a Jack, and the female horse, or mare. However, the opposite cross is not all that uncommon, and mule people tend to call this offspring of a male (stud) horse and a female ass (Jenny), a hinny.
Mules are sterile and cannot reproduce. This does not affect the normal sex drive, though, and mules will breed, although they can not conceive. There have been stories through the years of mare mules giving birth, but to my knowledge, none have been substantiated.
    Mules will often grow to a size larger than either parent, and they live longer than the horse. They tend to have more endurance and strength than a horse of the same size, and they tend to be easier keepers. As a general rule, a mule will stay fat on pasture where a horse might not do so well. They are disease resistant and are more tolerant of heat and cold. All in all, it costs less money to keep a mule.
    Mules tend to develop trusting relationships with the rider or owner. If treated well a mule will be your best friend, but mistreat him just once and he will neither forgive nor forget. Many a good mule has been ruined by one single fit of temper.
Mules are generally more intelligent than horses. Mules and asses both share a very well developed sense of self preservation. Seldom will a mule allow you to put him in a dangerous situation, nor will he allow himself to be overworked. Caution in a mule is often mistaken for stubbornness and the uninitiated usually wind up regretting any attempt at forcing the animal to submit. That’s where the old saying “as stubborn as a mule” comes from.
The mule became the most important animal to a mountain family and my family was lucky just to be able to afford one when I was growing up.  Every family depended on the mule to  help raise a garden to feed their family and have enough to put up for the cold snowy winters. So when our mule got sick, it was serious business.
One year our mule had gotten out of the pasture and wondered into a neighbor’s green corn field and gorged himself on the tasty corn.  Daddy said old Jim had eaten so much that he was foundered. He could tell by the way Jim’s belly was swelling up. I was told that this is where the old saying “as sick as a mule” came from.
The only veterinarian was a black man who lived on Town Branch named Snooks Drake but we couldn’t get up with him. So Daddy then turned to Pap Paw Burkhart who had once doctored one of his mules back to health after doing the same thing as old Jim had, so he sent me to get Pap Paw and bring him back to the field where Jim was. Pap Paw on the way out of the house grabbed a box of Arm and Hammer baking soda from the cabinet and followed me back to the field. He looked Jim over and came to the same conclusion, too much green corn.
Pap Paw then said he needed a few things to administer his remedy from the house. He said go get me an empty pop bottle and a piece of rubber hose. He told us any hose would work, so we cut a piece for the garden hose and hurried back to the field by the barn. Pap Paw then poured baking soda into the pop bottle and filled the rest of the bottle to the top with water. The mixture began to fizz like crazy!
The water hose was then fitted over the neck of the pop bottle and inserted into Jim’s mouth and down his throat, much to his dismay. But as I said earlier, mules are smart and I believe old Jim knew that we were trying to help him so he didn’t act like he cared too much. Either that or he was just too sick to refuse the hose.
After the bottle of soda and water was down Jim’s throat, he began to get a little uneasy. He began to move around nervously while Daddy held the halter tight so that he couldn’t escape and run off.  The mixture then caused air to escape out of both the mouth and his rear end as Jim bucked and kicked while his belly swelled up bigger and bigger.
Pap Paw told us we had done all he could so Daddy turned old Jim a loose and he ran out of sight through the field passing gas with every step. “Now, we just have to wait and see if it works,” Pap Paw said.
Next morning, we were up at dawn to check on Jim to see if the medicine had worked. We didn’t have to go too far. Just past the last place we saw Jim go the night before lay his stiff body on the side of the hill across the branch from the field. Old Jim was dead.
Now we had a dead mule and no way to bury him. It was early summer and the hot sun made Jim swell bigger and bigger with each passing day. After the third day in the sun old, Jim just exploded. It looked as if a grenade had went off inside him.
Times sure were hard back then and Jim’s death made it even harder. He had given his all for many years to help raise our family and I felt so sorry for him lying there wasting away. I knew that Jim deserved better but there wasn’t anything else I could do.
I quietly said a few words over Jim as tears streamed down my face. I then turned away from his carcass to walk home and never return anymore. I only wanted to remember him as the way he was, not just as a mule but as a member of the family who had always done his best.

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e-Edition A-Section 7-17-14

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e-Edition B-Section 7-17-14

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e-Edition C-Section 7-17-14

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