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A Hilly Billy Tale

By Jenny Wren


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Scene: On top of a tall mountain in Tennessee

Site: A Cabin

On top of a tall mountain in the state of Tennessee, an old rustic cabin sits, not just any old cabin, but the happy home of Grandma Jenny.

Jenny loved being tucked away from city life, living on top of that mountain in Tennessee was the ideal country life that she adored. There was nothing modern about her life, she was old fashioned, and so were her surroundings.

Inside the small wooden cabin, as soon as you walked through the door, you got a scent of the freshly baked apple pies that were cooling on the window sill, a treat for tonight’s special gathering.

Grandma Jenny and her granddaughters, two to be exact, were moving around the room, each doing something to prepare for the guests that would arrive for the campfire dinner later on that night.

The girls were cleaning up the mess from the apple pies, while Granny continued cooking, making Cole slaw and homemade baked beans from scratch. The girl’s eyes beamed when they saw their grandmother preparing a large pitcher of cherry flavored kool-aid.

"Ummm, good ole kool-aid," one of the girls said with a smile. "Can’t wait until itis icy cold."

When the kitchen was in order, nice and neat, the girls walked down to the creek to fetch the hotdogs that Grandma Jenny had put into a canister. The girls found the canister just where their grandmother had put it….in a deep hole in the ground beneath the cascading waterfalls. Grandma Jenny had told them that this is like having an ice box outside because just like the one inside the cabin, the dug out hole kept things cold and fresh too.

The girls were excited about the cookout that Grandma Jenny was preparing. Every Saturday night the girls and a few of their kin folk would stop for a late night hotdog and marshmallow roast, ‘marshmellers’ as Granny would say. They would roast hotdogs and marshmallows over a crackling campfire. The kids always loved the gooey, burnt treats that they roasted themselves, using a long broken twig and inserting the marshmallows on the end of the stick, and then they would stick the twig into the fire and watch the marshmallows turn black. It was good and ready by then.

"You make sure there is enough wood to keep that fire a-goin now," Granny said. "We will be having company coming by for this here roast," she added as she barked out orders to the girls.

The ‘younguns’ snapped to grandma Jenny’s orders, throwing more wood onto the fire to keep it burning hot while Granny sat in her favorite chair, the old rocker that molded special to fit her old tired bones.

As the girls waited for the guests to arrive, they sat around the fire, waiting for the hotdogs to brown. One of the girls spoke.

"Grand-mammy, tell us a story of our ‘old timey’ ancestors."

Granny just sat back in the old rocker and rocked slowly as her eyes rolled upward as if she was searching her brains for a tale worthy of her precious family. The ones sitting there waiting eagerly and with deep anticipation. They loved their Granny’s tales. She would kind of get carried away in the reverie of telling stories of their kin folk. "The story telling will begin tonight, when everyone arrives," said Granny.

By nightfall, a few kin had already arrived, including Granny’s brother. It was dark as they sat around the fire waiting for the tales to begin. The flames of the fire crackled and popped into the darkness, sending sparks flying and swirling skyward. They loved Granny’s storytelling because of the way she told the tales. It was as if the story was taking place right then and there, right before their very eyes. The kids loved hearing their grandmother celebrate their family’s long and colorful history.

Granny had a captive audience and she knew it, so it was not surprising when she would become a bit ‘hammy’ in her telling of these tales. Grandma Jenny made herself comfortable as a story seeped into her head. She leaned forward in the old rocker and spat ‘tobaccy’ juice straight toward the fire.

"No Granny, not in the fire! We are cookin!" said one of the granddaughters. Granny only smiled as she sat back and began her story.

"Long ago, when your great-grand pappy wuz alive, and the younguns wuz little, their precious pa died a horrible death."

Granny’s brother, Bubba who had also arrived for the campfire gathering, was not looking too pleased to hear this particular story. He hated it! Even Grandma Jenny would become a bit upset as she got into the retelling of the story, all because it bought back all the terrible memories of it all. Bubba’s face winced and his mouth frowned up as Jenny Wren began relating the true tale. He watched as the children began to gather around and sit at their grandmother’s feet. Bubba could tell that the young folk were very interested because it suddenly became quiet as a mouse when Grandma Jenny began to speak.

"I guess it is time for these younguns to know the truth of their kin," Bubba said under his breath so that his sister could not hear his mumbling. His eyes too, were on Jenny as she began the story.

"Your poor ole grandpa Buford," said Jenny as a vivid picture of the main character in her story popped into her head. "You know, his name wuz Buford Alexander."

"Whatever happened to our grandpa Buford, Granny?" one of the young boys asked.

"Why son, your poor old grandpa died after he fell head first into a great, big, old whisky barrel that he was getting ready to run off in his whiskey still. There he was, upside down with his toes pointing straight up to the heavens. It was almost dark when the younguns found him, head down in a barrel of mash."

"What is mash?" asked one of the girls.

"Mash is a combination of cornmeal, sugar and yeast," said Granny Jenny. "It had soured and that’s what they used to make whiskey back then. The younguns were bringing grandpa Buford his supper, cause whisky making takes all day and nearly all night to run off and bottle up," said the old lady as she paused a moment to swish a wad of tobacco around in her mouth. She turned her head to spit the black juice onto the ground, and then she continued. "Yep, he wuz dead," she assured the listeners. "Even a fool could see that. He was deader than a doornail. And he wuz blowed up in his belly like a great big ole toad frog that wuz fixin to let out a big beller."

The young attentive girls who were sitting at their grandmother’s feet looked a little amused as their eyes grew big and danced in the fire light, the reflection of the campfire catching the expressions on their faces. They were filled with excitement and wanted to hear more.

"Then what, Granny?" someone asked.

"Well, by then, I wuz not about to have those old, nosy biddy women who lived on this mountain near us start telling that my pa was a drunk and a moonshine-maker. Shucks, he still had a little pride left and I wanted to preserve that. When the younguns toted him home, I could see that he had already embalmed himself in that sour mash.

"Why, he actually made a sloshing sound as they flung him from the wagon to the porch," said Granny.

The look on the young girls’ faces showed that they were in shock and awe as they covered their mouths with their hands. It was evident to Granny that her listeners had a vivid picture of their grandpa and what was happening. And then she continued.

"I figgers, there is no need in having to pay out good money to have him creamed too. I decided right then and there, yes-siree bob. That we were just going to cremate him ourselves." Granny kind of stumbled over the word ‘cremate,’ she gulped hard and then took a deep breath before she continued the tale again. Shirky, Granny’s cousin stirred the embers in the campfire to keep the flames ignited, the flames brining back memories to the storyteller. "This here flickering flame reminds me of that big ole fire we built under pa that night. Do you remember that, Bubba?" Granny asked. Bubba remained silent as he nodded his head yes. "That fire burned for three solid days before we could ever get your grandpa plum put out. I swear, he set the woods on fire twice before we got finished so we could finally bury his remains."

Grandma Jenny sat, letting her mind wander as she stared into the crackling flames, her mind taking her back to long ago.

"Yes siree, this here old campfire sure does remind me of what happened. Smells like it too!" she said as she snarled up her nose just a bit. She then rose from the old rocker as tears began to fill her eyes. "I don’t think I’m all that hungry tonight," she said. "Here it is thirty years later and I still miss grandpa so very much." To her, it was like her father had just died…..all over again.

Sadness filled the old lady’s heart as the past met up with the present. She was filled to the brim with both good and bad memories; enough to rest her weary, gray, haloed head on in her old age. As she walked towards the cabin she grabbed the tail end of her apron and wiped the tears that had gathered in her eyes at the memories of her pa. Grandma Jenny teetered a bit inside the cabin door after she stepped on an old rattler that her dog had left on the porch. The dog was the family pet that guarded the house and its occupants from intruders.

Everyone watched in silence as Granny entered the house and closed the door behind her. She did not look back at the guests who were still seated around the campfire…stunned.

"Granny Wren could never let go of a sad memory, could she?" said Bubba to his cousin Shirky.

Shirky was lost for words as he tried to respond to Bubba. "Did that really happen?" he asked, letting the words stammer from his lips. Bubba kind of curled up his lips and nodded his head yes.

By now, the rest of the children sat around the fire with a blank look upon their faces. They stared at Bubba, and then their eyes darted back towards the flames of the campfire which roared and snapped at them. They were still thinking about Jenny’s tale.

A few moments later, Bubba and Shirky began talking about something else, changing the subject altogether. Every now and then you could hear their laughter ring out in the night on top of the old Tennessee Mountain.

At last, the children began to roast marshmallows and hotdogs again as they became more at ease. However, after they began to think of their deceased grandpa….burning…not many hot dogs were eaten that night.

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