What My Heart Wants to Tell
by Verna Mae Slone
Chapter Index | Chapter V | Chapters VII - VIII and IX

Chapter VI

I know that my father carried the mail when he was only seventeen. He was chosen by his parents to be the mailboy because his other brothers were larger and more able to do the heavy work. Also, because he was small, he was a less load for the mule to carry, not that there was ever much mail. Sometimes there were only a few letters in the "mail pockets."

He made only one trip each week, going somewhere near Harlan. He started out early Monday morning, getting to the end of his route on Wednesday evening. Then on Thursday, the journey home would begin. Sunday was spent at home. He must have spent the night with folks along the way, sleeping on the floor or sharing the bed with some of the menfolks. The mail pockets he had to keep with him always. That was his sworn duty. He would place them under his feet when he ate, even at the table, and under his head at night. It wasn't that he did not trust the people he came in contact with -- this was a requirement by the government. And before you could become a mailboy there was a swearing-in ceremony. One of the things you promised to do was keep the mail bag that contained the first class mail with you at all times.

A mountain boy might not respect the laws of his government and even have contempt for anyone who enforced them, but his word was his honor. That he would not go back on. To call someone a liar to his face was putting your life in danger. So when Kitteneye "took an oath" to keep the mail with him at all times, that was just what he did.

He had many stories about his first job as a mail boy. One night a very bad storm came up all at once and he had to spend the night under a cliff. This cave had two separate rooms, divided by a large rock, which probably had been part of the roof at one time. But it looked safe enough and having no other choice, he and his horse were soon bedded down. He slept sound. He remembered waking up a few times during the night and hearing someone snore, but did not get aroused enough to pay attention to it. He slept very late the next morning and when he looked under the other side of the cliff, he found some footprints that told him he had spent the night with a bear.

Another time Kitteneye was delayed for some reason and had to find shelter with an old couple, who shared their only food with him, green onions. They had only one bed, so he slept stretched out before the fire. Next morning after chopping them some wood and piling it in the corner of the cabin, he continued his journey. He often worried how these old folks made out that winter, or if spring found them still alive.

He often carried his lunch -- a piece of corn bread and saltback. He said he never knew how this grub could take up such a small place in his pocket and fill up such a big hole in his belly.

And once when his mule broke through the ice he almost drowned trying to save the mail. Some way he managed to get out of the water and onto the mule's back. He did not remember anything else until he woke up in bed at the post master's house several miles away. He had not been able to call out when he arrived before the door and just by chance did they find him. His feet were frozen to the stirrups and they had to "prize" his fingers loose from the mail pockets.

The winters were much colder back then. Sometimes the creeks would stay frozen over for weeks at a time. Then the mule would have to have "ice nails" in his shoes.

One such cold spell caught a snake in the middle of the stream as he was crossing from one side of the creek to the other. There he stayed, frozen stiff for many days. It happened to be close to the trail that Papa and his trusty mule, John Barney, were ambling along. As the long hours spent in the saddle were lonesome, looking for this frozen snake each time he passed became a pasttime and a small break in the monotony. He wondered what would happen when the water thawed.

As luck would have it, he chanced to be there when Mr. Snake finally was released from his prison and slowly but surely climbed the bank. Kitteneye saw, understood, and remembered.

Grandchildren, you get your education one way and he got his another.

End of Chapter VI
Verna Mae Slone

Chapter Index | Chapter V | Chapters VII - VIII and IX

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