What My Heart Wants to Tell
by Verna Mae Slone
Chapter Index | Chapters 17, 18 and 19

Chapters 20 and 21

Chapter 20

Sarah Alverta was my sister's name but I always called her Sissy. She was born with a normal mental capacity, but when she was eighteen months old, she had a fever that lasted six weeks. The doctor called it a brain fever. When she recovered she could not talk and her mind never grew anymore, but remained as the mind of a two year old. She might have been taught some if she had had the right teacher. We ourselves could have done more for her, if we had been rash with her; but we loved her so much we gave her her way in everything. The whole household was run to suit what we thought was best for her. My sister Vada was the one who loved her the most and took constant care of her, sleeping with her at night, washing her clothes, even diapers.

She was a few years older than me, but I soon learned that whatever she wanted of mine, I was supposed to give her. I did not resent this because I had been taught that she was someone very special. I remember once I had a fried egg in (end of page 104) my plate and she reached with her hand and took it and ate it. I thought it was a big joke and laughed.

Once we were playing near the chair shop where my father was making chairs. The little nobs and ends of wood that were left as scraps from the ends of the finished chair post, made very nice playthings. With a child's imagination they could become anything from a father and mother with a whole family, to a table covered with pots and pans. To me there could be anything. All Sissy liked to do was beat them together to make a loud noise, or pile them up in a large heap and then kick them over.

I can remember many happy hours playing with Sissy and these wooden scraps. But what I am going to tell you next was told to me by my father.

He heard a loud noise, looked out, and found me pulling and tugging at Sissy. She was hitting me and kicking but I would not let go. Both of us were screaming and crying.

My father came running and parted us and demanded, "What are ye doing? Ye know ye must never fight with Alverta."

"But, Papa," I said, "There was a big worm. It might bite Sissy."

He went back to where we had been playing and he found a large copperhead, which he killed.

We did not get much candy, but each time my father went to the store he always brought back three large red and white peppermint sticks of candy, which were called "saw logs." There was one for each of us: Alverta, Edna, and me -- the youngest of all the kids. Sissy wouldn't eat candy. I don't know if she just did not like the taste, or if it hurt her several decayed teeth. But she loved the red and white striped color, so she always wanted one, mostly to play with. My father would always tell me, "Now don't ye take Alverta's candy, but ye watch her and when she gets tired (end of page 105) of playing with it, you can have it to eat. "I would follow her around for hours, and sometimes wait until she took a nap, but sooner or later, I got her candy.

Alverta loved anything that was red. One Christmas my sister Vada got a large apron, which was then known as a coverall. It was something like a sleeveless dress that opened up and down the back. The color was a bright red with a small, springly, flowered design. Alverta fell in love with it at once and Vada cut it up and made a dress for Sissy. She had this pretty red dress on that Easter morning that had such a sad ending.

Several boys had met in the large "bottom" or meadow just across from our home at the mouth of Trace to play a game of "round town," a game somewhat like baseball. Lots of girls had come to watch from our porch and yard. Everyone had on their new clothes for the occasion.

When we heard a terrible scream, everyone ran in the house and found Alverta's clothes on fire. Lorenda ran for the water bucket, which was empty. Vada began tearing at the burning clothes, but before Renda could get a bucket of water from the well, all Alverta's clothes were burned.

My father had just been gone for a few hours on his way to Wheelwright, where he had a job as a "planer" in a carpenter shop.

Someone sent for a nurse who stayed at the Caney school. Someone said, "Who will go overtake Isom?" Hazy Caudill said, "I have the fastest mule, so I will go."

In my childish trusting mind I thought "everything will be alright again, when Papa gits here." The next thing I remember was running to meet him, when I saw him coming, and he hugged me until it hurt. I did not know until later that he had been told I had been the one who got burnt.

Sissy lived until about midnight. I can still see my father (end of page 106) as he pulled the sheet up over her head and told the nurse, "It's over." (end of page 107)

Chapter 21

I remember the first time I ever heard of Mrs. and Mr. Lloyd, who founded the center and school that are now Alice Lloyd College. My father and Frances had gone to the corn crib and shucked two "coffee sacks" full of corn for the next mill day. Alic Jacobs had a mill house. He had built a dam across the creek to catch the water. The power of this water, when the gate was opened, would turn the large millstones and grind the corn into meal. In payment for this service he took part of the corn for himself. There was a kind of wooden dipper called a "toll dish," a small one for his portion of one-half bushel, and a larger dipper for a full bushel. Each man's corn was ground in turns, depending on his arrival. (I guess this is where we got the nickname a "turn of meal," meaning a sackful.) This gathering of a group of men was enjoyed by all. It was a time to catch up on all the news, and enjoy a lot of joking and laughing. Every young boy thought himself grown-up when he was allowed to go to the mill. (end of page 108)

All the women took great pride in seeing how nice and clean their meal sack looked. Some would stitch their name or initials on the sacks so as not to get them mixed up. Others, who did not like to sew, would tie their sack with colored string. These meal sacks were of very heavy material, a cream color with a small red or blue stripe running lengthwise along each side.

This particular time Papa and Frances came back from the crib with the corn. Renda went to the quilt shelf and got a clean quilt. After sweeping the floor and moving everything out of the way, she spread this large quilt on the floor, and Papa poured the corn on top. Father and the older girls placed their chairs around the corn, close enough so that they could pull the edges of the quilt up over their knees, somewhat like an apron. Then they began to shell the corn, letting the grains fall onto the quilt. The smaller kids sat on the floor around the edges and shelled too. Sometimes Papa would have to start ours for us by shelling two rows of grain. This was called "rowin' it."

We would throw the cobs in a pile in the corner of the room to be used later for fuel to burn in the grate or cook stove. After a while the younger ones tired of working, and anyway, by that time there were enough cobs for us to play with. Edna would place them on top of each other in the form of a square that looked a lot like a log cabin. When it was very tall, she would let me or Sissy give it a push, to watch them all tumble down. Sissy loved to do something like this. Sometimes we would build houses, fences, and roads. We had just as much fun with our cobs, as children now do with electric trains and tinker toys.

After a while I began to listen to the grown-ups talk. Renda said, "Did you know Bish Johnson went over on Reynolds Fork and got them strange people, who come from off yonder, to come here on Caney to live? He give (end of page 109) them some of his land, if they would come over here. Why do you think he did that Paw?"

"I don't know fer shore, but it may be fer the best," Papa answered.

"I can't see why they want to come here. Some people think she is goin' to bring in teachers. If she does, our own teachers will lose their jobs."

"Well," Papa said, "let's wait and see. Don't try to judge the other feller until ye know all the facts."

Then Frances said, "Well, some people think they are working for the government and will find out where all the moonshine stills are and report them to the revenuers."

Edna looked up and asked, "Well, Papa do ye guess these strange people believe in God like we do?"

And my father answered, "Well, I think everyone in the whole world believes in God. These folks don't believe exactly the same beliefs we do, but they have promised to not interfere with our religion, politics, and our moonshine stills."

Everyone was silent for a few minutes; then Frances spoke up and said, "Some of my cousins at school said Mrs. Lloyd has been givin' people some clothes and things, not new store-bought clothes, just old clothes."

Renda Said, "'Lo, I would not want to wear somebody else's clothes, if I did not know whose they were. Why, they might be dead people's clothes."

"Or even been wore by some old nigger," Vada said.

Father said, "Vada, why do you hate niggers so?"

"I don't know; just 'cause Granny Frankie did. You know Granny said a nigger did not have a sould like white folks do."

"Your Granny did not believe that. She just talked to hear her head rattle. A nigger is just like anyone else; some good, some bad. I would druther be a black man with a white soul, than a white man with a black soul." (end of page 110)

Renda said, "You know all I can remember about Granny Frankie is: one day I asked her why the rusty spots were on the Rusty Sweet apples and not on other apples, and she said, 'Nature.' And when I asked her what nature was, she answered, 'Hair on a nigger's nabble, that's nature.' Granny shore love to joke."

By this time all the corn was shelled. My father made a three-cornered opening by catching the edges of the meal sack with his teeth and both hands. Renda got a plate from the shelf and using it as a shovel, she scooped the corn up from the quilt and put it back in the shelf. While they were doing this, Edna and Frances had put all the cobs into an empty coffee sack and placed it behind the stove.

Soon, we were all in bed asleep.

I shall never forget one Christmas when I was about five years old. I had been looking forward to the holiday eagerly, ever since Preacher Billie had gone from house to house all up and down Caney Creek, even to the very head of each hollow, making a list of everyone's name and age. We had all been promised a "Christmas gift" from the Center school.

Even all the baking and stewing and cooking of all the good things to eat, did not make as big an impression as the thoughts of this package soon to be mine. I talked about it by day and dreamed about it by night.

At last the day before Christmas arrived and Father went to get our gifts. It seemed like hours and hours before he returned with two large bags with his name in big letters and a "Merry Christmas from C.C.C.C." written on one side.

We never even thought of waiting any longer, but tore into bags at once.

Inside were smaller packages in bright colored wrappers, (end of page 111).

(Back of Book Cover)

This book was written to honor my father. I loved him so much that I was not willing to let the memory of him die. He is only one of many mountain people....God knew that it would take brave and sturdy people to survive in these beautiful but rugged hills. So He sent us His very strongest men and women, people who could enjoy life and search out the few pleasures that were contained in a life of hard work.

"But so many lies and half-truths have been written about us, the mountain people, that we are made to feel ashamed, when we really have something to be proud of.

"So with God's help, I hope my brain can say to my hands what my heart wants to tell."

End of Chapters 20 and 21
Verna Mae Slone

Chapter Index | Chapters 17, 18 and 19


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