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Sweet Creek Holler
Part One 1 When I--Virginia Carol Shortt--was just six my daddy was killed. My sister, June Marie, who was nine, read me all about it in the newspaper. It said my daddy, Jed Shortt, a coal miner for the Clancy Valley Coal Company, was shot in the back and the bullet came out under his arm. It said the man who shot him, Donald Struthers, was arrested and charged with "man's laughter." That's how Junie read it--man's laf-ter. When I asked Mama, who knew everything, what man's laughter was, she said, "It's not man's laughter, Gin-Gin, it's man- slaw-ter, and it means murder." For a while there were so many neighbors andkinfolks pouring in and out of our house, I didn't think much about murder and what it would mean to Mama and Junie and me. But then one day all the relations were gone, and the warm June sun threw a stillness over our little coal-company house. We moved around from room to room just touching stuff and looking at each other and wondering what was going to happen to us now that Daddy was gone. Mr. Josh Clancy, the owner of the Clancy Valley Coal Company, came to see Mama and told her she would have to move out of the coal-company house. The houses in the camp, he said, were reserved for coal miners and their families, and the coal company let you live there for free as long as you worked for them. Mama just hung her head and said she didn't know what in the world she was going to do. Then Mr. Clancy looked like he wished he was someplace else. "There's no hurry, Mrs. Shortt," he said to her. "I'll see if I can help you find a place." That was in 1948, and me and Mama and Junie and Daddy had lived in Clancy Valley Coal Camp for as long as I could remember. It was a part of the coal-mining area nestled in the rugged Appalachian Mountains of Virginia's far western point. All the houses were alike, square brown wooden boxes. There was a partition running down the middle of each house that separated the quarters ofthe two families living there. You went to the company store for food and clothes, and you paid with little tickets the company gave you. You went to the company doctor when you were sick, and he gave you medicine for free. There was a movie house, too, in Clancy Valley that cost just ten cents to get in, and Daddy and Mama took us to lots of shows. And we got popcorn and ice cream. Now, if we had to leave and live in a new place, I wouldn't know what to act like. I'd never even seen another place except Coaltown, the county seat. A few days later Mr. Clancy came back and said there was a house on Sweet Creek Holler three miles down the river that Mama could buy for only two thousand dollars. It was right below his own house, and he took Mama to see it. That night Poppy came to visit us. Poppy was Daddy's daddy. He was an electrician in Mr. Clancy's mines. Me and Junie loved Poppy and Granny better than anybody else except for Mama and Daddy. Poppy was always laughing and joking and swinging us over his head like rag dolls, but that night he didn't laugh a bit. He sat with Mama in the kitchen and cried, and they talked real serious. I wondered where Granny was, but I didn't ask. There didn't seem to be a good time to butt in. Finally, Poppy said he could raise a thousand dollarsfor us. The other thousand Mama would get from Daddy's life insurance. So it seemed like we would be moving to Sweet Creek Holler.
Poppy borrowed a truck to move us and the way was long and hot because I had to sit all scrunched up amongst Mama and Junie and Poppy in the cab of the truck. I thought I would suffocate to death. Sweet Creek branched off from the Levisa River valley over a big steel bridge. Then the truck started snaking up the dirt road to the house we were moving to. The holler was skinny between the mountains. The road was chiseled out of the side of one mountain base, and was just barely wide enough for the truck to travel without slipping into the creek. Houses were stuck on the sides of the hills, many with stilts underneath to prop them up level. Others had footbridges running from the road across the creek and on to the front porches. Some were made of cinder blocks, a few were white board, or brick, but most of them were tar-paper shacks. People came out of their houses and stood on their front porches or in their little bitty yards to see who was passing by in a big truck all loaded down with stuff. Potbellied mamas carried their babies on their hips and squinted their eyes into the cab of the truck. Dirty young 'uns swung on a gate or twined their half-naked bodies around a porch post and lookedat us. The men were still in the mines. Around every curve, a bunch of children scattered like chickens to get out of the road where they were playing marvels or jump rope, hopscotch or May I?, and twice Poppy had to slow the truck while first a pig, then a cow grumbled and moved out of the way. I was getting pretty tired when all of a sudden we stopped beside a brown tar-paper shack and Poppy said, "This is it." It was a four-room shack with a patch of weeds out front that was supposed to be the yard, and running alongside the road was an overgrown garden shaped like a piece of pie and ending at a bridge below. The house, yard, and garden were all closed in by a rusty wire fence with a sagging gate opening to the creek in back and another opening to the front. Across the creek, the mountains loomed straight up to the sky, and on the other side of the road in front, they humped up again. The mountains were all green in June, hunkering over the valley like bent-over giants, holding Sweet Creek Holler close in one deep wrinkle away from the rest of the world. The sky was a channel of blue you had to look straight up to see. Poppy started unloading the truck, with Mama doing all she could, and they told me and Junie to stay out of the way. Then some men came by and offered to help. These were big rough men with coal dust all over them, on their way home from work.They had hollow eyes and sharp features and hands like shovels. Poppy had told us that the men of Sweet Creek were independent miners who owned their own homes and were paid with money instead of company tickets. Junie and I were standing beside the gate, watching and listening, when this little redheaded gal with her thumb in her mouth came up and gouged me. She held out a paper poke without saying a word. I took the poke and she turned around and ran back into the shack next door to ours. The poke wiggled. I peeped in, and out jumped this li'l ole puppy dog, just licking me all over and wagging his tail. He was a short, stumpy, brown armful. Me and Junie started giggling. "Kain't we keep 'im, Mama? Huh? Please, Mama?" I begged. "I reckon so, Ginny." She smiled at me and the puppy as she carried Daddy's RCA Victor into the house. It didn't take long for the men to have everything in place in the house. Mama started fixing supper while Poppy thanked them for helping. Then Poppy got in the truck and hollered goodbye as he was driving off. Supper was soup beans, fried taters, side meat, corn bread, and green onions. Mama thinned cannedevaporated milk to wash down the corn bread. It was good. After supper, me and Junie played with the puppy while Mama put things away. We bounced an old sock in front of his nose and watched him make for it. I found out if I let out a Boo sound with my lips right loud, that puppy would light into me like he was bound to tear me up. We got to giggling over that teeny dog thinking he was so big. "You're funny and you're my buddy," I said to him. "Buddy!" Junie said. "Let's call him Buddy." "Okay," I agreed. "It's a good name." The living room was bare, with a plain wooden floor. Our old familiar furniture--a blue messed-up couch, two matching chairs, a bookcase, a lamp table without a lamp to go on it, and a cedar chest with all of Daddy's stuff in it--somehow seemed out of place. I felt an emptiness and a longing for the old coalcamp house, and for Daddy, too. Mama took some yellow crocheted daisies and tied back the dotted-Swiss curtains left behind by the last owners. Then she sat down to rest, and I climbed up on her lap. "Will we ever see him again, Mama?" "You mean Daddy?" "Yeah." "Who knows anything for sure, Gin-Gin." "We'll see him in heaven, won't we?" "That depends on what you make heaven out to be. As for me, I just don't know what heaven is." "Mama, it seems to me heaven orta be a place where you see people you loved and who died." "Maybe it is." "Are we gonna starve, Mama?" "'Course not!" "But can you feed me and Junie and you and Buddy, too?" "I'll do my best." "Will you have to get a job?" "I might if I can. But what can a woman do? Schoolteaching's about all, and that takes a year of college. I just went to the eighth grade." "But you can read real good." Mama laughed a little. "That's because I was raised on the top of Grant Mountain, and there was nothing to do but read. So I got plenty of practice. It's a wonder I didn't go cross-eyed like my brothers said I would." Mama sighed deeply and hugged me close. "We've got your daddy's Social Security. It'll have to be enough for now." "Mama, was Daddy stealing something when he was shot?" "What! Who in the world told you that?" "I heard them men out there talking when they were helping us move in. They said Daddy was stealing something from Donald Struthers, and that's why he shot 'im." "Well, that is a great big lie, Ginny Carol Shortt. Don't you ever believe such a thing about your daddy. He never stole a thing in his life." "I was just saying what they were saying." "Don't repeat things like that. That's how little stories turn into big, ugly lies. People are always talking about things they don't know nothing about." Although Junie didn't like to sleep with me because I sometimes wet the sheets, we had always shared a bed until Daddy died. Then I naturally moved into bed with Mama. Now, in this new house, Junie could have slept by herself in her own bedroom. But she was afraid. She was too proud to say she was afraid, so I didn't say anything either. Her bed was moved in beside ours, and nobody ever said why. That night I slept tight beside Mama in the dark June night to the sounds of catydids, crickets, frogs, and Sweet Creek rippling over the rocks in the dark outside our bedroom window. It was the first time I had the dream. I dreamed of a rosy room with a real high ceiling and a big, fancy, tinkling light with sparklers in it. It was a sitting room with a soft, rose-colored couch and all kinds of knicky-knacks scattered around on glass-topped tables. There was a funnynoise all around me, in my head, filling me up. Like a clock maybe ... no, lots of clocks. Yes, it was many, many clocks ticking together ... tick ... tock ... tick ... tock ... real loud. I came awake to the stillness, feeling like I lost something. Copyright © 1988 by Ruth White
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Book Description Turtleback Books. School & Library Binding. Book Condition: GOOD. Spine creases, wear to binding and pages from reading. May contain limited notes, underlining or highlighting that does affect the text. Possible ex library copy, thatâ€™ll have the markings and stickers associated from the library. Accessories such as CD, codes, toys, may not be included. Bookseller Inventory # 2817333170
Book Description Turtleback, 1992. School & Library Binding. Book Condition: Used: Good. Bookseller Inventory # SONG0833591576