As seen in Albemarle Magazine, May/June 2016 Issue
Slices of Life Series by Mary Morony
On a soft June morning in 1963, ten-year-old Helen lay in bed listening to the birds. She couldn’t remember if their maid Ethel had said pretty-pretty-pretty was a cardinal or a wren’s call. Then she remembered that a Carolina Wren sounded like Ethel’s husband Early’s truck trying to start. Without looking, Helen could identify sweetie-sweetie as a chickadee, jay-jay-jay as a blue jay, and the sad mourning coo coo of the dove. Bobwhites and whip-poor-wills were like jays, easy to remember since they basically told you their names.
Early, Ethel’s husband, said about whip-poor-wills, “They sang it over an’ over an’ over ‘gain jest in case ya missed it the first time.” Then he would laugh a laugh that sounded like the cackle of an old crackle bird. The child wondered for a minute if there was such a thing as a crackle bird. It sounded suspiciously like one Ethel’s reinterpretations like peckerwood for woodpecker. Ethel and Early, Helen thought, knew things she’d never imagined. They never ceased to impress her.
As the birds chirped and twittered, Helen followed her thoughts along until alighting on the question of what to do today. Older sister Sallee was off with their cousin Jilly. Her brother Gordy was – well, it didn’t make any difference where Gordy was. She had vowed after the last time he’d play with her never to do so again. She certainly didn’t want to spend another week slathered in calamine lotion and taking oatmeal baths thanks to his throwing one of her prized Breyer horses in what she later discovered was a patch of poison ivy. He didn’t even get into trouble for it, either. No, forget about Gordy.
She lay on the crisp sheets looking up at the ceiling as she planned her day’s activities. Helen did little without a plan. She would get Honey, her palomino —it was good that Sallee wasn’t here, she always took Honey— Dolly, her draft horse, and Dotty, her Appaloosa, ready to go outside. She wouldn’t take them just yet. She still had to build their paddock. It was a shame that Gordy was such a pain in the neck. Those Lincoln Logs of his sure would make a great barn. But it couldn’t be helped. He was definitely off limits, Lincoln Logs or not.
Should she get dressed first and then load the horses up? Her tummy growled, making the choice obvious: dress, eat, then ready the horses. Plan underway, she jumped out of bed, dressed and was downstairs at the breakfast table before her bed could get cold.
“Hi, there missy,” Ethel greeted smiling. “What you want fo’ breakfast dis beautiful mornin’? Gordy was up an’ out almost before I could get in the do’.”
“Ethel, ken I have a picnic for lunch? No fried chicken or debiled eggs, jest peanut butter an’ bananas with some lemonade.”
“I ‘spect you can. You got big plans, do ya?” She chuckled. “But whatta ‘bout breakfast?”
“I guess, hmm, some berries?”
“That’s all? How ‘bout an egg?”
“Okay. But make it fast, please. I gotta lot o’ work t’ do?”
“What kind o’ work you got?”
“I gotta build a whole farm, fences, an’ everything!” Helen pressed her lips together as she thought about the task ahead. “So if you wouldn’t mind, could ya hurry up? I’d appreciate it.”
Laughing out loud, Ethel said, “you’s a mess girl,” as she placed a bowl of blueberries on the table in front of her.
Helen blasted through her breakfast, had shouted thanks and goodbye and was out the door before the Ethel had the skillet in the sink. Back in her room, she gathered her livestock and a sundry tack into one spot. She told them to wait there; she would return as soon as she had secured safe grazing for them.
Not one to do things by halves, she surveyed the backyard for the perfect spot to lay her stake. Never mind that she had built several farms in the past. True pioneer that she was, to move on to a new homestead was the next great adventure. With the farm site determined, her next order of business was to gather the building materials. Her plan included a paddock ringed by a stone wall topped with a split rail fence like she had seen in a magazine featuring Virginia horse farms. Although she had never seen one in person, she liked the look.
By the time Ethel brought out her picnic, she had finished the wall and was apply herself to building the fence. Things were not going as she had foreseen. When she looked up in greeting her frustration was evident on her sweaty face. Ethel suggested using longer sticks as supports and lumbered off in search of just the thing. “Try these, stick ‘em the ground an’ cross ‘em over thee wall. That’s one nice lookin’ wall you built. How ‘bout you an’ me go on over there in the shade an’ have us a li’l picnic?” She patted the child’s damp curls, “You been workin’ hard. I bet a nice cool glass of lemonade will be jest the thang.”
“I’ve got so much more work to do,” she sighed, “the lemonade does sound good.” Looking back over her shoulder reluctantly, she left the fencing and headed for the shade.
“I tell you what since you is gonna have lunch with me, when we through, I’ll go get yo’ horses. I saw you had ‘em all ready t’ come out here. That way you kin put yo’ finishin’ touches on the farm an’ be ready when they get here. I heard Honey tellin’ Dolly she couldn’t wait to see the new house you was buildin’.”
Helen laughed, “Ethel you’re silly. Everybody knows horses doan’ talk.”