She heard the first “clunk,” and then waited for the second one. There it was. Could set your clock by it. Before the first “clunk” there was the unmistakable sound of Granny’s gait; she maneuvered with a walking stick outside, but in the house eschewed it. She was in a sort of perpetual slow lurching forward mode, one foot forward and dragging the other slightly.
The redhead knew the routine so well, ever since she had come to live in the “old house,” where her husband lived with his mother. When she thought about it a bit she figgered she married ok, a good looking, strapping man with a house, although old, free and clear and thirty five acres of good land with a nice creek running through it. Perfect teeth, he had perfect teeth, and his skin turned dark brown in the summertime.
He had the land because the siblings had signed a quit claim deed, with the understanding that he would take care of his widowed mother for the rest of her life.
Sarah thought about all this, and all that had happened since she and Russ had gotten married in 1932 – she had been nineteen, he twenty-one. And she thought about how she had been workin’ in the mill at Bessemer City, and how she would turn over a goodly amount of her pay to Ed Marley, her daddy – but she would always buy herself a big orange drink off the “dope wagon” every payday, and also some kind of candy bar.
Then she thought about how the mill work was hard, and long hours, but was better than the hard work on the farm; hoeing, pulling fodder, “laying by.” But there was some fun; a corn shucking, for example, where people would bring food, and shuck corn and have a good time.
And that was where she had met Russ, at a corn shucking at her daddy’s. Russ had dated Mary, who broke up with him and wound up marryin’ Joe Beck Clonger. Sarah remembered that her daddy had told her that she had married Mary’s “castoff.” Sarah was not shocked by what he said; she very well knew he could be mean.
Edgar Marley, or “Big Ed,” as they called him, could have a sharp tongue and could be very stern. He was called “Big Ed” because he had a son named Edgar, who became “Little Ed.”
“Big Ed” worked his young’uns hard; Sarah had lots of memories of that – when “Big Ed” had done all he could at his place, about fifty acres in the Costner Community, he would hire himself, his two red mules, and all the kids out to whoever was clearing “new ground.” New ground was land that the timber had been cut off of, and the clearing aspect was to get rid of the stumps so that the land was tillable.
Sarah thought about how hard that work was, for “Big Ed” was a taskmaster. He didn’t holler at the girls so bad, but if he thought one of the boys—“Little Ed, Ray, or Alfred— wasn’t putting out he would raise his voice and holler at them.
“You boys had better work harder, and I mean it. If you don’t you are liable to wind up on the chain gang, and that’s where you oughta be if you don’t get goin’.” “Big Ed” yelled it loud, and you could hear the meanness in his voice. Sarah remembered it very well. She thought about how mean he could be.
Then she thought about her momma, who also was still living, and about how her momma tended to be a little sickly. She remembered that when her momma or one of the kids complained about being sick that “Big Ed” would say, “You don’t need no doctor,” and give ‘em an asaphetidae bag or castor oil or Havecol.
Sarah turned sad when she thought about how “Big Ed” would go to the doctor if he thought there was something wrong with him. “He was tough and mean. I respected him, but I didn’t love him,” she thought. And it made her feel sad. She shook her head as she lay in bed beside Russ.
“I could have stayed in school at Costner, and even gone to high school,” she thought. She felt a little bitter about this, and then got mad when she remembered what “Big Ed” had said when she wanted to stay in school.
“You need to work on the farm,” he said curtly, and that was it. Sarah got madder when she recollected how her grades were good at Costner School, as good as her older sister Ila’s. In fact one of her teachers, Winnie Thornburg, had bragged on her. But apparently this meant nothing to “Big Ed,” for he dropped her out and put her in the fields. Sarah seethed at this as she recalled how “Big Ed” had let Ila go to high school.
“Ila seemed the favorite,” Sarah thought as she lay there. She thought that maybe it had something to do with being able to play the organ – Ila could play by ear. Sarah had tried it and could not pick it up; it made her feel bad.
Sarah thought about how sometimes she might be too sensitive. When she was in this mood she always thought about how tough her sister Lucille was; had been to hell and back.
Sarah remembered the whole situation very well. Lucille and her husband, Roy, had been up for two nights in a row – all night long – while two of their boys had the whooping cough. They were real sick, I mean real sick, and it was winter time, so they had to keep a good fire going in the pot-bellied stove that heated their little three room house. Somehow during the night, Lucille’s husband Roy got up to revive the fire and instead of pouring a little kerosene on the coals, he grabbed the wrong can, and accidentally poured gasoline on the embers. There was an explosion, and he was burned badly, but survived. In fact, he seemed to be recovering until he got pneumonia.
Sarah remembered that the pneumonia killed Roy, leaving Lucille with three little boys to raise by herself.
“Probly what made her so tough,” Sarah thought, as she lay in the bed. Then she thought about how months after the fire and death of her husband, Lucille would come to visit and Sarah could smell the burn smell, the nasty fire smell, coming off Lucille’s purse. Once she thought of saying something about it like “Lucille, why don’t you get yourself a new pocketbook,” but as they say, Sarah “thought better of it,” figgered it would embarrass Lucille, and she needed no more woes to deal with.
Russ started moving around in the bed, and sat halfway up and said, “What’s botherin’ you, Red?”
“Whaddaya mean,” she said.
“I’ve been watchin’ you for forty-five minutes – course you didn’t know it – and I could see the look on your face change back and forth, and I could see those green eyes, that I love so much, burn, and then dim. Anything wrong?”
Wendell reflected a moment, realizing it was time to get up, get the young’uns straightened out, cook breakfast, and get everybody goin’ down the road of life.
“I swear, Monk, you surely have a wild imagination. Now get on up and get ready for work.” Monk smiled and pecked Red on the cheek.