James Still remains one of the most beloved and important writers in Appalachian literature. Best known for his acclaimed novel River of Earth (1940), the Alabama native and adopted Kentuckian left an enduring legacy of novels, stories, and poems during his nearly seventy year career.
The Hills Remember: The Complete Short Stories of James Still honors the late writer by collecting all of Still's short stories, including his stories from On Troublesome Creek (1941), Pattern of a Man and Other Stories (1976), and The Run for the Elbertas (1980), as well as twelve prose pieces originally published as short stories and later incorporated into River of Earth. Also included are several lesser-known stories and ten never-before-published stories. Recognized as a significant writer of short fiction in his day -- many of his stories initially appeared in The Atlantic and The Saturday Evening Post and were included in The O. Henry Memorial Award Stories and The Best American Short Stories collections -- Still's short stories, while often overshadowed in recent years by his novels and poetry, are among his most enduring literary works. Editor Ted Olson offers a reassessment of Still's short fiction within the contexts of the author's body of work and within Appalachian and American literature. Compiling all of James Still's compelling and varied short stories into one volume, The Hills Remember is a testament to a master writer.
Front MatterFront Matter (pp. [i]-[iv])
Table of ContentsTable of Contents (pp. [v]-[vi])
IntroductionIntroduction (pp. 1-8)
Integrally associated with eastern Kentucky and often considered “the Dean of Appalachian Literature,” James Still (born July 16, 1906) was reared in Chambers County, Alabama. He attended Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, Tennessee, then Vanderbilt University in Nashville, and finally the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana, before moving to eastern Kentucky during the early years of the Great Depression. Still would call the Cumberland Plateau home until his death on April 28, 2001. He lived primarily in Knott County, Kentucky—either at the Hindman Settlement School in Hindman or eleven miles from that town in a log house on Wolfpen...
Sweet AsylumSweet Asylum (pp. 9-16)
The blooming of the late Elberta peach trees on the east side of the house and the disappearance of Caesar Middleton’s winter growth of beard were simultaneous declarations of spring’s triumph over late frost and recurring quinsy—a sign more reliable than the first mockingbird, or the sudden vapid lengthening of Blue Jonny’s weather string.
Middleton’s customary ritual, the careful grooming of his beard into a masterpiece of tonsorial workmanship, was foregone this April morning. He came downstairs at five-thirty for his usual breakfast, a ration of white meat fried in buttermilk batter, hot biscuit, and coffee. After the third...
The Hills RememberThe Hills Remember (pp. 17-19)
“Ole Aus has been shot!”
These strange words poured down into Rangey, the hill-town county seat. Old Aus Hanley was dying on the left bank of Troublesome Creek with a load of buckshot in his back. Men shouted the news hurrying to their stables. The courtroom was suddenly empty of tobacco-chewing spectators, jury, and judge. The dry creek bed became a stampede of men on mules and horses, some riding bareback, threshing their mounts with heel and spur.
Sheriff Byson, his black hat slanted against the wind and the ends of his red mustache curled toward his ears, called to...
Incident at Pigeon RoostIncident at Pigeon Roost (pp. 20-22)
Cotton Wallin’s face shone like black ivory in the straw-yellow glow of the oil lamp. Perspiration crowded out of the crinkly mat of his graying hair and glistened in oily drops on his forehead. He sat motionless beside his daughter’s bed, watching for a sign from her purple lips. Her half-closed eyelids were drawn down like dark scallops. For an hour there had been no recognition of suffering in her face, but as he watched, her left hand lifted from the pillow and began to work over the Pine Bloom quilt, her bloodless fingers pulling at the loose frays of...
Murder on Possum Trot MountainMurder on Possum Trot Mountain (pp. 23-25)
It was pine-blank murder. There was no getting ’round that. And it was about as simple a piece o’ business that been done on Caney Creek from the mouth to the head in many a sweet day. But there always something that lets the coon out of the trap. A fellow does a grain o’ something that goes agin’ him, or draps a careless word that sets the woods afire with deputy sheriffs.
When Clayt Darrow first mentioned it to me, I tells him he’s a damn fool right off. If you want to kill a man you better put...
These Goodly ThingsThese Goodly Things (pp. 26-27)
“It’s a sight on this green airth what that woman has done to this hollow,” Granny Henderson said, brushing a wisp of gray hair back neatly with a wrinkled hand and lifting her eyes toward the mountains rising before her cabin door. “Ain’t nary woman here in these Kentucky hills got the git up and go like Mrs. Keyes. She puore lives her religion.”
I drained the glass of spring-cooled buttermilk Granny Henderson had just brought me and placed it upon the window sill. “Is Mrs. Keyes a mountainbred woman?” I asked.
“Mrs. Keyes is furrin to these parts,” she...
All Their Ways Are DarkAll Their Ways Are Dark (pp. 28-32)
The mines on Little Carr closed in March. Winter had been mild, the snows scant and frost-thin upon the ground. Robins stayed the season through, and sapsuckers came early to drill the black birch beside our house. Though Father had worked in the mines, we did not live in the camps. He owned the scrap of land our house stood upon, a garden patch, and the black birch that was the only tree on all the barren slope above Blackjack. There were four of us children running barefoot over the puncheon floors, and since the year’s beginning Mother carried a...
Horse DoctorHorse Doctor (pp. 33-37)
Ole Treble Finney’s mare was bound to die. I reckon Ole Treble thought more o’ that mare than he did his passel o’ young ’uns. And a powerful sight more’n he did his woman afore she left his house for him and the devil to lock horns in.
Ole Treble was a mighty hard man to git along with. He’d kilt two men, I’d heered it told. And his wife had stripes on her like black runners where he’d beat her. She’d carry them marks to the grave, I heered it said.
I reckon all o’ Treble’s sins piled together...
Bare-BonesBare-Bones (pp. 38-41)
It was quiet on that day, and the willows hung limp over Troublesome Creek. The waters rested about the bald stones, scarcely moving. I had walked along the sandy left bank to Jute Dawson’s homeseat, and in the soundlessness of the afternoon young Clebe had not heard me enter the yard and climb the puncheon steps.
He sat at the end of the dogtrot with a long-gun sighted into the kitchen, his crutch leaning against one knee. His right eye was closed to a bead, and I waited until he fired. There was a metallic ring of a bullet striking...
One Leg Gone to JudgmentOne Leg Gone to Judgment (pp. 42-44)
It was quiet on that day, and the willows hung limp over Troublesome Creek. The waters rested about the bald stones, scarcely moving. I had walked along the sandy left bank to Jute Dawson’s homeseat, and in the soundlessness of afternoon young Clebe had not heard me enter the yard and climb the puncheon steps.
He sat at the end of the dogtrot with a rifle-gun sighted into the kitchen, his crutch leaning against a knee. His eyes were closed to a bead. I watched without speaking until he had fired, and the sound of a bullet striking pots and...
A Bell on Troublesome CreekA Bell on Troublesome Creek (pp. 45-46)
Uncle Jabe told me about it during one of those rare intervals when he grew reminiscent. Usually at such times he had a way of looking toward the past as though the future was a shadowed, uninteresting thing to be endured when it arrived.
I began to realize that after all Uncle Jabe had the forward look. We were walking up Troublesome Creek, picking our way carefully over the frozen stones on the left bank. Suddenly a school bell rang silver clear on the frosty air.
Uncle Jabe stopped, lifted the ear-flaps of his woolen cap, and listened. When the...
The ScrapeThe Scrape (pp. 47-52)
I was walking up Ballard Creek and reckoning to myself that foxes were abroad and sparking on such a night when I happened upon Jiddy Thornwell sprawled in the road at the mouth of Sporty Hollow. Though the moon was low and the ridges in the shadow, there was enough light to yellow the ground along the creek.
On seeing Jiddy I expected to tickle-toe past and go on to the square dance at Enoch Lovern’s where I’d headed. I was traveling late on purpose to dodge rowdies of his ilk. A body with the gumption of a gnat wouldn’t...
The Quare DayThe Quare Day (pp. 53-57)
There had been no rain during the whole of August. At the month’s end the winds came and blew through Little Angus valley, drying the creek to a shallow stream, and now it lay without motion like a long thin pond. Under the banks the waters were stained with shedding willow leaves. The wind had settled before the dew dried on the parched grass. Nothing stirred in the cool air pocketed in the damp hollows.
The sun was high above the hills when the sky beyond the ridge took on a yellow cast. There were no clouds other than a...
Job’s TearsJob’s Tears (pp. 58-65)
The fall had been dry and the giant milkweed pods broke early in September. Lean Neck Creek dried to a thread, and all the springs under the moss were damp pockets without a sound of water. Father had sent me over from Little Carr in April to help Grandma with the crop while Uncle Jolly laid out a spell in the county jail for dynamiting a mill dam. I was seven and Grandma was eighty-four, and we patched out two acres of corn. Even with the crows, the crab grass, and the dwarfed stalks we made enough bread to feed...
The Egg TreeThe Egg Tree (pp. 66-74)
The hail of early June shredded the growing blades of corn, and a windstorm breaking over Little Angus Creek in July flattened the sloping field; but the hardy stalks rose in the hot sun, and the fat ears fruited and ripened. With the mines closed at Blackjack all winter and spring, Father had rented a farm on the hills rising from the mouth of Flaxpatch on Little Angus. We moved there during a March freeze, and the baby died that week of croup. When the sap lifted in sassafras and sourwood, Father sprouted the bush-grown patches, and ploughed deep. With...
Lost BrotherLost Brother (pp. 75-79)
I’ve seen men die.
I reckon I’ve seen a half-a-dozen drap in their tracks without loosenin’ their brogans. I seen Ruf Craig swallow a bullet square in his mouth and go down with his teeth clenched, his lips drawed, and nary a speck o’ blood droolin’ out.
I seen Brag Thomas soak up a plug o’ lead in his heart last gingerbread election. He never batted an eye. Jist sort of sunk down in the mud, his eyes standin’ pine-blank open. When they laid him out it tuk five nickels to hold his lids down.
Oh I’ve seen men head...
Brother to MethuselumBrother to Methuselum (pp. 80-91)
Here on Oak Branch of Ballard Creek we are nearly all kinfolks. We mostly marry amongst ourselves, live and die where we were born, and don’t try to run after the rest of the world. Let one of us get twenty or thirty years along, outlast pneumonia fever, typhoid, and grippe, we’re apt to inhabit this earth a good long spell. Two or three got to be a hundred or so, so agey they looked liked dried cushaws. But not another who started living square over again after they had passed the century mark as did Uncle Mize Hardburly. He...
So Large a Thing as SevenSo Large a Thing as Seven (pp. 92-99)
I was seven on the twelfth of April, and I remember thinking that the hills to the east of Little Carr Creek had also grown and stretched their ridge shoulders, and that the beechwood crowding up their slopes grew down to a living heart. Mother told me I was seven as we ate breakfast. Father looked at me gravely, saying he didn’t think I was more than six. Mother said I was seven for sure. Fletch looked down into his bowl of boiled wheat, for he was only five and stubborn. Euly laughed, a pale nervous laughter edged with a...
Mole-BaneMole-Bane (pp. 100-104)
Our house burned in March and we lived that spring in the smokehouse, sleeping in two beds pushed close into the corners, and with strings of peppers and onions hanging from the rafters overhead. We planted our garden early, using the seeds Mother had hoarded, but it was long before the vegetables were ready for eating. Mother cooked under a shed Father built against the house. There was no abundance of food and we ate all that was set before us, with never a crumb left. Father told us the mines were closed in the headwaters of the Kentucky River...
Journey to the ForksJourney to the Forks (pp. 105-108)
“Hit’s a far piece,” Lark said. “I’m afraid we won’t make it afore dusty dark.” We squatted down in the road and rested on the edge of a clay rut. Lark set his poke on the crust of a nag’s track, and I lifted the saddlebags off my shoulder. The leather was damp underneath.
“We ought ne’er thought to be scholars,” Lark said.
The sun-ball had turned over the hill above Riddle Hargin’s farm and it was hot in the valley. Grackles walked the top rail of a fence, breathing with open beaks. They halted and looked at us, their...
Uncle JollyUncle Jolly (pp. 109-115)
The pawpaws got ripe while Uncle Jolly laid out a two-week spell in the county jail for roughing Les Honeycutt at a box supper on Simms Fork. Father rode over to Hardin on a borrowed mare to see him, taking the word Grandma had sent us. I went along, riding behind Father, carrying three pawpaws in a poke. They were fat ones, black and rotten-ripe, smelling sweeter than a bubby tree. We reached the head of Little Carr Creek when the sun-ball stood overhead, and it made us hungry to smell the poke, mellow in the heat.
“How many paws...
Bat FlightBat Flight (pp. 116-126)
The flat fruit of the locust fell, lying like curved blades in the grass. August ripened the sedge clumps, and the days lengthened until Father came home from the mines in middle afternoon, no longer trudging the creek road at the edge of dark, with a carbide lamp burning on his cap. He came now before the guineas settled to roost in the black gum beside the house. We watched the elder thicket at the hill turn and plunged down to meet him as he came in sight. Fern was the swiftest, reaching him first and snatching the dinner bucket...
Pigeon PiePigeon Pie (pp. 127-129)
“1868 it was,” Grandma said, and her words were small against the spring winds bellowing in the chimneytop. She spread her hands close to the oakknot fire, blue-veined like a giant spider’s web. “That was the year pigeons came to Flat Creek, might nigh taking the country.”
I squatted on the limerock hearth before an ashhill where the bread baked, holding a broomstraw to know when it was done. We had not eaten since morning, and my hunger seemed larger than the ashhill where the bread was buried.
“Them pigeon-birds were worse than a plague writ in the Book,” Grandma...
Twelve Pears Hanging HighTwelve Pears Hanging High (pp. 130-138)
“Hit’s me so thin that keeps the baby puny, a-puking up his milk, holding nothing on his stomach,” Mother said. “If I got a scratch, I’d bleed dry. I need a tonic, fleshening me up, ’riching my blood.”
Nezzie Crouch sat on the meatbox watching Mother string tiny beans, too young to be picked. She had come up from Blackjack to learn about our moving, walking three miles to carry the word back to the camp. The question waited in her eyes. She took a fresh dip of snuff, holding the tin snuffbox in her hand and pushing the lid...
Two Eyes, Two PenniesTwo Eyes, Two Pennies (pp. 139-150)
“A fair place you’ve got here,” Uncle Lott said. He sat in the kitchen after supper, under the white bloom of the lamp, his chair leaned against the wall. We had moved out of the hills into the coal camp at Houndshell two days before, and he had come to stay a spell with us. His eyes rounded, looking. Three flybugs walked stupidly across the ceiling, wings tight against their bodies, drunk with light. Fern peered through the smoky windows into strange dark. Lark crawled around the table, pushing a matchbox, playing it was a coal gon. “Never you lived...
On Quicksand CreekOn Quicksand Creek (pp. 151-160)
Aaron Splicer drove a bunch of yearlings into our yard on a March evening. Heifers bawled and young bullies made raw cries. We hurried out into the cold dark of the porch. Aaron rode up to the doorsteps, and Father called to him, not knowing at first who he was. “Hello?” Father spoke, and when he knew it was Aaron, called heartily, “’Light and shake the weather.”
Aaron opened his fleeced collar, rustling new leather. His breath curled a fog. “If this Shoal Creek mud gets any deeper,” he called, “it’ll be beyond traveling. A horse bogs to the knees.”...
The PloughingThe Ploughing (pp. 161-164)
I ran into the fields one April morning, thinking to climb to the benchland where Uncle Jolly was breaking new ground. The sky was as blue as a bottle. A rash of green covered the sheltered fence edges, though beech and leatherwood were browner and barer still for the sunlight washing their branches. I began to climb, hands on knees, the way being steep. I went up through a redbud thicket swollen with unopened bloom and leaf, coming at last to where Uncle Jolly was ploughing. The bench spread back to a swag, level as creek land, set up against...
The Force PutThe Force Put (pp. 165-168)
“Fetch the lamp,” Pap said. “I can’t see by the light of this blinky lantern.”
Saul Hignight’s calf had a cob in its throat, and he had brought it to our place on Sporty Creek in the bed of a wagon. He lifted it in his arms, letting it down onto a poke spread upon the ground. It was a heifer, three weeks old, with teat buds barely showing.
I went after the lamp, but Mother feared to let me hold it. She put the baby in the empty woodbox and gave him a spool to play with. She lit...
On Pigeon Roost CreekOn Pigeon Roost Creek (pp. 169-181)
I remember the day the court woman came up Pigeon Roost Creek. It was around the first of October when there’s a frost pinch in the air and the moon comes up rotten-ripe and full in broad daylight. I was sixteen then, and I’d been in the hills barking squirrels, carrying a rifle-gun near heavy enough to crack my shoulderbone. A day-burning moon always was lucky for me. I’d got two bushtail squirrels and was coming down a woodsy swag to the county road when I saw a little side-pacing filly trotting over the ruts. A woman came riding straddleback,...
The StraightThe Straight (pp. 182-192)
I shall call him Abner Stegall, which was not his name. When I moved to Mule Creek country, it was he who declared to B. J. Claymore and the storehouse crowd, “My opinion, the feller’s been rode out of Linemark School on a rail, else he’d not o’ left a good job.” And later, when this notion proved false, he told them, “There must be an enemy after his hide. The ground got hot over there and he tuk off. For what other cause earthly would a man come backside of the county and endure a fox’s life? The next...
Sunstroke on Clabber CreekSunstroke on Clabber Creek (pp. 193-197)
The last food jars had been given out at the relief center on Dry Creek when Sebe Hammers pushed through the crowd. “I shore want you to git over to my homeseat this day,” he said. “You hain’t never been thar. The other govermint visitor was scairt of my woman. I reckon she is a grain crazy, but she wouldn’t harm a hair.”
Sebe was a short man, firm and heavy, and built close to the ground. He stood there wiping his raw eyes with a handkerchief, a small print square of cloth you could have pitched broomstraws through. It...
The Hay SuffererThe Hay Sufferer (pp. 198-202)
He was eating radishes in my garden, a spider of a man no more than five feet in height, arms and legs bony, the skin of his face as weathered as the leather cap he wore. I had been at table eating a noon meal when I heard something sneeze and had come outside to investigate. “Hello?” I spoke into the yard. “Howdy,” a voice replied, and I discovered him squatting by the radish bed. He sneezed twice, in the manner of a cat. He reached a hand into a canvas budget beside him and got a handkerchief to brush...
I Love My RoosterI Love My Rooster (pp. 203-215)
We lived in Houndshell mine camp the year of the coal boom, and I remember the mines worked three shifts a day. The conveyors barely ceased their rusty groaning for five months. I recollect the plenty there was, and the silver dollars rattling wherever men walked; and I recollect the goldfinches stayed that winter through, their yellow breasts turning mole-gray.
We were eating supper on a November evening when Sim Brannon, the foreman, came to tell Father of the boom. Word came that sudden. Father talked alone with Sim in the front room, coming back to the kitchen after a...
Snail PieSnail Pie (pp. 216-221)
Though Maw’s face was pale with anger, she didn’t speak until Grandpaw Splicer and Leaf and I pushed back our plates. Grandpaw went to the barn to light his pipe, and Leaf followed to ask about the rattlesnake steak Grandpaw claimed he once ate. I crawled under the house, squatting beneath the kitchen floor, listening. I had a mind to learn whether Pap was going to tell of catching me chewing a wad of Old Nine. Maw was as set as a wedge against tobacco. She wouldn’t spare the limber-jim. I heard her heel strike the floor impatiently; I heard...
The MovingThe Moving (pp. 222-225)
We stood by the loaded wagon while Father nailed the windows down and spat into the keyholes to make the locks turn. We waited, restless as the harnessed mare, anxious to hasten beyond staring eyes. Hardstay mine was closed for all time and idle men had gathered to watch us leave. They hung over the fence; they crowded where last year’s dogtick stalks clutched their brown leaf-hands into fists.
I saw the boys glance at our windowpanes, their pockets bulging with rocks. I spied into their faces and homesickness grew large inside of me. I hungered for a word, a...
The Proud WalkersThe Proud Walkers (pp. 226-238)
We moved out of Houndshell mine camp in May to the homeplace Father had built on Shoal Creek, and I recollect foxgrapes were blooming and there was a spring chill in the air. Fern and Lark and I ran ahead of the wagon, frightening water thrushes, shouting back at the poky mare. We broke cowcumber branches to wave at the baby, wanting to call to him, but he did not then have a name.
Only Mother forbore stretching eyes to see afar. She held the baby atop a shuck tick, her face pale with dread to look upon the house....
The Stir-OffThe Stir-Off (pp. 239-249)
“Come Friday for the sorghum making,” Jimp Buckheart sent word to me by Father. “Come to the stir-off party, and take a night.”
Father chuckled as he told, knowing I had never stayed away from home. Father said, “Hit’s time you larnt other folks’ ways. Now, Old Gid Buckheart’s family lives fat as horse traders. He’s got five boys, tough as whang leather, though nary a one’s a match to Gid himself; and he’s the pappy o’ four girls who’re picture-pieces.” He teased as he whittled a molassy spoon for me. “Mind you’re not captured by one o’ Gid’s daughters....
Locust SummerLocust Summer (pp. 250-261)
I recollect the June the medicine drummer and his woman came down Shoal Creek and camped three days in our mill. That was the summer of Mother’s long puny spell after the girl-baby was born; it was the time seventeen-year locusts cried “Pharaoh” upon the hills, and branches of oak and hickory perished where their waxy pins of eggs were laid. Wild fruit dried to seeds, and scarcely would birds peck them, so full their crops were with nymphs. Mulberries in the tree behind our house ripened untouched. Lark and I dared not taste, fearing to swallow a grub. Fern...
Hit Like to ’a’ Killed MeHit Like to ’a’ Killed Me (pp. 262-263)
Some fellers don’t never git growed up. They git killed down.
One time I like to ’a’ got killed down. I was a leetle boy, and I tried to go a steepy place and thought I’d take a shortcut. They was an ol’ path right side by the hill, and they was a big lot o’ bushes thar. I fell amongst the bresh, went a-rolling down that hill, and my leg got hung in a fence at the bottom, and like to ’a’ broke hit.
But that hain’t all. That’s a beginning. Once Grandpaw he tuk me up to the...
Mrs. RazorMrs. Razor (pp. 264-267)
“We’ll have to do something about that child,” Father said. We sat in the kitchen eating our supper, though day still held and the chickens had not yet gone to roost in the gilly trees. Elvy was crying behind the stove, and her throat was raw with sobbing. Morg and I paused, bread in hand, and glanced over our shoulders. The firebox of the Cincinnati stove winked, the iron flowers of the oven throbbed with heat. Mother tipped a finger to her lips, motioning Father to hush. Father’s voice lifted: “I figure a small thrashing would make her leave off...
The Sharp TackThe Sharp Tack (pp. 268-274)
I wouldn’t know you from Adam’s off-ox, and I’m not the pattern of a man to butt into the affairs of others. Say I, Let every man-jack attend to his own affairs and stay out of the shade of the next fellow. What’s not a body’s business, play deaf and dumb to it. But lately strange tales have been drifting from Wiley Town, lies strong enough to melt the wax in a body’s ears. They concern the Man Above, and what concerns Him concerns me. As his disciple, whoever steps on His toes mashes mine.
For half of a lifetime...
Maybird UpshawMaybird Upshaw (pp. 275-281)
To the day I perish I will recollect Maybird Upshaw being hauled into my yard on Shepherds Creek in a wagon. She was my wife’s kin, widowed by her second husband’s death at the mines; she was the largest woman ever I set eyes upon.
The threshold creaked as Maybird pushed into the house. She sat on a trunk as we had no chair of a size to hold her. She dwarfed my wife and made a mouse of the baby. I recollect she sighed, “I’ve come to visit awhile,” and breathed deep with satisfaction. “I aim to rest me...
Pattern of a ManPattern of a Man (pp. 282-291)
I take my pen in hand to ask your support of my candidacy for jailor of Baldridge County on August 5th. I’ve heard you lost out in a school shuffle last year. They say you were ousted as teacher at Spring Branch in the middle of the term and have rented land off of Zeb Thornton and are trying to farm. It chokes my heart to think of one with your learning digging holes and plowing balks. A schoolteacher with paper hands battling dirt!
If any county needs top scholars, it’s Baldridge. I’m bound there’s a politician behind the deal,...
School ButterSchool Butter (pp. 292-301)
“If Surrey Creek ever reared a witty,” Pap used to tell me, “your Uncle Jolly Middleton is the scamp. Always pranking and teasing. Forever going the roads on a fool horse, hunting mischief. Nearly thirty years old and he has yet to shake hands properly with an ax haft or a plow handle. Why, he’ll pull a trick did it cost him his ears, and nobody on earth can stop him laughing.”
But Uncle Jolly didn’t need to work. He could pick money out of the air. He could fetch down anything he wanted by just reaching. And he would...
The NestThe Nest (pp. 302-308)
Nezzie Hargis rested on a clump of broomsage and rubbed her numb hands. Her cheeks smarted and her feet had become a burden. Wind flowed with the sound of water through trees high on the ridge and the sun appeared caught in the leafless branches. Cow paths wound the slope, a puzzle of trails going nowhere. She thought, “If ever I could see a smoke or hear an ax ring, I’d know the way.”
Her father had said, “Nezzie, go stay a night with your Aunt Clissa”; and Mam, the woman her father had brought to live with them after...
A Master TimeA Master Time (pp. 309-317)
Wick Jarrett brought the invitation of his eldest son, Ulysses. “He’s wanting you to come enjoy a hog-kill at his place next Thursday,” Wick said. “Hit’s to be a quiet affair, a picked crowd, mostly young married folks. No old heads like me—none except Aunt Besh Lipscomb, but she won’t hinder. ’Lysses and Eldora will treat you clever. You’ll have a master time.”
Thursday fell on the eve of Old Christmas, in January, a day of bitter wind. I set off in early afternoon for Ulysses’s homeseat on Upper Logan Creek, walking the ridge to shun the mud of...
A Ride on the Short DogA Ride on the Short Dog (pp. 318-325)
We flagged the bus on a curve at the mouth of Lairds Creek by jumping and waving in the road and Dee Buck Engle had to tread the brake the instant he saw us. He wouldn’t have halted unless compelled. Mal Dowe and I leaped aside finally, but Godey Spurlock held his ground. The bus stopped a yard from Godey and vexed faces pressed the windows and we heard Old Liz Hyden cry, “I’d not haul them jaspers.”
Dee Buck opened the door and blared, “You boys trying to get killed?”
We climbed on grinning and shoved fares to Roscoe...
The Fun FoxThe Fun Fox (pp. 326-333)
The day I opened the Keg Branch School I rolled my sleeves to display my muscles, and I kept a pointing-stick handy.
Keg Branch was in the upper part of the county—“the jumping-off-place,” some folk call it. The highway played out miles this side, and the creek bed served as the road. The behavior at the school was notorious; but I was eighteen, anxious to undertake my first teaching job, and the Keg Branch position was the only one open.
The superintendent of county schools had given me ample warning. “All sorts of chicanery will be attempted,” he had...
The Burning of the WatersThe Burning of the Waters (pp. 334-345)
We moved from Tullock’s lumber camp to Tight Hollow on a day in March when the sky was as gray as a war penny and wind whistled the creek roads. Father had got himself appointed caretaker of a tract of timber at the far side of the county, his wages free rent. We were to live in the one-room bunkhouse of an abandoned stave mill.
Father rode in the cab with Cass Tullock, and every jolt made him chuckle. He laughed at Cass’s complaint of the chugholes. He teased him for holding us up a day in the belief we...
Chicken RoostChicken Roost (pp. 346-368)
A horseman broke out of a cove into the road as Godey and Mal approached, declaring to the world, “I’ve been here and I’m done gone.” That this was the new jockey ground was evident from the squeals and neighs issuing from it.
“What’s the trouble, old son?” Godey inquired. “Too early to be skipping off.”
“Two hours from now there won’t be a soul hereabouts.”
“Don’t go away mad,” said Godey.
“Mad?” cried the horseman, giving his mount a cut with a switch. “I’m madder’n forty hornets.”
At the behest of Judge Solon Jones, the county agriculture agent had...
The Run for the ElbertasThe Run for the Elbertas (pp. 369-387)
As Riar Thomas approached the Snag Fork bridge, the truck lights picked up the two boys sitting on the head wall. Glancing at his watch, he saw it was nearly one o’clock. He halted, pulled the cardboard out of the broken window, and called, “I’ll open the door from the inside, it’s cranky.” The boys sat unmoving. “Let’s go,” he said, “if you’re traveling with me. A body can’t fiddle in the peach business.”
Godey Spurlock began honing his knife on the concrete, and Mal Dowe got his out too. “Pay us before we start,” Godey said. “We hain’t going...
Encounter on Keg BranchEncounter on Keg Branch (pp. 388-389)
“You know Adam Claiborne over to Thacker? I mean the welfare Adam who works for the government. Well, sir, I’m wanting to send him some word by you. And I want you to write it down as I say it so you’ll get it straight. Tell him that me and that woman has done quit each other and living apart and I want him to see her and learn what she’s got to talk about. Tell him not to specify anything. And tell Adam I want to see him on particular business before the next court sets. Tell him to...
Plank TownPlank Town (pp. 390-394)
We were living at Logan’s camp when Uncle Jolly appeared on the plank road, heading toward our house. We hadn’t seen him since spring. He arrived on an idle Thursday when only the loggers were at work, and folks sat visiting or being visited on porches. The mill operated three days a week. The saws were quiet, the steam boiler sighing instead of puffing. Smoke raised from the burning sawdust mountain as straight as a pencil.
Word had reached Uncle Jolly that Dan had lost two of his fingers and they needed transporting for burial on Sporty Creek. The third...
From the MorgueFrom the Morgue (pp. 395-400)
“Where are you speaking from?”
“The morgue—Gary Independent,Gary, Indiana. This long distance is costing a bundle.”
“Using other people’s phone’s costing you a lot of money? I wasn’t born yesterday.”
“The paper pays, naturally. Let me get to the point. You had your one day in the sun. I’ll give you another one—the day you die. But I don’t want another obituary nobody will read. I want dynamite to go off. I want a bang. Everybody has something in their lives that’s so contrary it lights up their world. I want the obit page to sizzle when...
AcknowledgmentsAcknowledgments (pp. 401-402)
PublicationsPublications (pp. 403-406)