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Rennie's Way

Rennie's Way

With a Foreword by Wade Hall
Illustrations by Len Slone
Copyright Date: 1994
Pages: 232
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  • Book Info
    Rennie's Way
    Book Description:

    "This first work of fiction by Verna Mae Slone, firmly grounded in her own background, is set in the 1920s and 1930s in a closeknit community in eastern Kentucky, where family roots run deep. At its center stands as strong and resilient a heroine as any in American literature. Verna Mae Slone, a native of Knott County, Kentucky, is the author of several books, including the bestselling memoir, What My Heart Wants to Tell.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4579-2
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Foreword
    (pp. v-x)

    For two hundred years and more, Eastern Kentuckians and Southern Mountaineers have been recorded and distorted by writers from the outside who have visited for a few days or weeks, observed the ʺpicturesqueʺ mountain people and their ʺquaintʺ culture, and hurried back to their desks in New York or Boston or Chicago to write their stereotypes. Fortunately, the region has lately been raising a homegrown crop of talented writers who see their native land and people from the inside out. Numbered among these recent writers are James Still, Harriette Arnow, Jim Wayne Miller, Wilma Dyke-man, Cormac McCarthy, Heather Ross Miller,...

  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. 1
    (pp. 1-5)

    Rennie sat before the dying fire, elbows on her knees, chin cupped in her hands, hunched over like an old crippled woman. Only her face showed that she was a child of twelve. She was so tired, bone-tired, completely exhausted. Not the kind of tiredness that would go away after a few hoursʹ rest, but a dullness that enveloped her spirit and soul. Hope had been crushed from her being, leaving only an instinct to survive and an inherited stubbornness to fulfill one purpose: to push all memories of her mother out of her mind. To shut out everything. But...

  5. 2
    (pp. 6-13)

    When John Slone and Mary Gent got married, he brought his wife home to live with his parents. That was mountain custom. The youngest boy always kept his old folks as long as they lived, and in return they would give him the homeplace. The sturdy old log house on Lonesome Holler had been handed down time and again. The Slones had lived on Caney ever since Little Granny Alice had brought her family from East Virginia in 1790. They were the first white people to live there, maybe the first people, period. There was no evidence that any Indians...

  6. 3
    (pp. 13-18)

    The first winter after the old folks died, Mary was too busy to get lonesome. All the neighbors up and down Lonesome Holler had chipped in and helped out. One man dug and hauled coal for her. He also cut and dragged in enough wood to do her for the winter, and in payment he used Johnʹs mule to haul his own wood and coal. Another neighbor milked and fed the cow and took a share of the milk in return. Come spring, someone would do her plowing if they too could use the mule. Mary knew she could raise...

  7. 4
    (pp. 19-25)

    In the yard of the old log house there stood five old apple trees, aged and gnarled yet still fruitful, with their apples and leaves giving shade and comfort as well as rusty beauty. Under one, Rennie had built a playhouse furnished with flat rocks covered with sheets of green moss. The table was set with broken pieces of old plates and bowls, cared for as treasures. An empty peach can was the water bucket. Here Rennie spent many hours with her rag dolls, rebraiding their yarn hair and washing their clothes. Her mother had made the dolls from quilt...

  8. 5
    (pp. 25-28)

    The summer before Sarah Ellen was born, Mary wasnʹt able to do all the work. Rennie stayed home from school to help her.

    ʺI wish ye didnʹt have to miss so much school,ʺ her mother said.

    ʺI donʹt give that no never mind,ʺ Rennie assured her. By early September Maryʹs feet were swollen so badly she could no longer wear her shoes. Instead she wore a pair of Johnʹs old socks. She lay in bed most of the time or sat with her feet propped up on a chair. She had put away all the garden stuff, filling all the...

  9. 6
    (pp. 28-38)

    Everything had gone wrong that morning. Rennie had planned on doing the family wash, and now it was raining. She lay there in bed listening to the musical splattering of the softly falling rain, glad she had remembered to bring in the stove wood that Pa had chopped. She was also glad that the night before sheʹd set the washtubs under the leak of the house to catch water for washing. She had to remember, when she got up, to cover the tubs with boards, so the fry chickens wouldnʹt fall in and drown. There was no danger yet, though;...

  10. 7
    (pp. 39-44)

    So far Pa had never discussed making a garden. He had spent several days plowing the corn field until it was almost dark, coming in so tired that he went to bed without even reading his beloved Bible. Rennie always rechecked to see whether he had fastened the barnyard gate. Sometimes she felt as if she were the parent and he the child. She knew he didnʹt have the strength to follow that heavy plow back and forth around the hill, using his foot to turn over the iron shovel at the beginning of each new row.

    Now Pa had...

  11. 8
    (pp. 45-49)

    For a few days after the garden was planted Rennie didnʹt have much work to do. Pa was still breaking ground for corn. Miss Rose had left the books she had promised. Rennie hurried through her morning chores, then made a pallet for Sarah Ellen by placing a folded quilt on one end of the porch, and sat beside her and read. Every now and then she checked to see how far the sun had crept across the floor; she mustnʹt forget to have dinner ready when Pa came in. She didnʹt think he would approve of the books she...

  12. 9
    (pp. 50-56)

    Pa was getting along so slowly with his plowing that Rennie was afraid he wouldnʹt get the corn planted in time. Again and again he would be asked to come to someoneʹs home to faith doctor the sick or hold prayer. He never worked on Saturday but went instead to church with Big Jed and Uncle Tom. The Old Regular Baptists had a meeting on both Saturday and Sunday once each month, neighboring churches using a different weekend. Rennie hated herself for not wanting her father to spend so much time doing the Lordʹs work. But if Pa didnʹt raise...

  13. 10
    (pp. 56-60)

    It was one of those beautiful mornings—the sky so blue, just a few puffs of clouds—as the sun came slowly over the edge of the hills, drying dew from the ground, inching its way across Lonesome Holler.

    The day before, Johnnie had told Rennie that the huckleberries were ripe enough to start picking. Pa had promised to stay home with Sarah Ellen. Last washday Rennie had saved the rinse water and had cleaned all the empty glass fruit jars. She had asked Miss Rose if she wanted to go with them. They would be taking a jug of...

  14. 11
    (pp. 61-67)

    John had sold the sheep, saying there was no need to keep them, as Rennie had never learned to spin. The money he received for them paid the yearʹs taxes. He gave Rennie two dollars and told her to buy shoes for herself and Sarah Ellen. Rennie had taken two of her motherʹs dresses to Aunt Nance; the older woman had promised to make a dress for Rennie and something for the baby with the cloth. Rennie felt bad about cutting up her motherʹs things, but Aunt Nance reminded her that that was what her mother had told her to...

  15. 12
    (pp. 68-78)

    By the middle of June, Rennieʹs garden began to come in. There had been green onions, lettuce, mustard, and radishes before then. She had gathered them when they were very small and had washed, drained, cut, and mixed them together in a large bowl. Just before they were to be served she killed them by pouring hot grease over them.

    After the first of July, Rennie was kept busy for five or six weeks putting away the fruits and vegetables as they became ripe. There didnʹt seem to be enough hours in the days. She even begrudged having to rest...

  16. 13
    (pp. 78-86)

    By her first birthday Sarah Ellen could almost walk by herself. She pulled herself up and began walking around chairs and things. Rennie was afraid that she would fall and get hurt.

    Johnnie said, ʺLet her alone. A few bumps wonʹt hurt her. Ye canʹt protect her all her life. Yeʹre worse than an old hen with one chick.ʺ

    Johnnie was grouchy these days. He still hadnʹt found any work. The cold nights had forced him to move from the barn into the room up in the loft. He had brought his fiddle with him and hid it in the...

  17. 14
    (pp. 87-92)

    The long winter days found Johnnie more restless than ever. Now that it was too cold to stay in the barn he couldnʹt play his fiddle. One day he came home from Long Billʹs store with a large paper box. He cut a big square from one side and drew a fox-and-goose game chart. With two red grains of corn for foxes and twenty-two white for geese, he and Rennie played for hours. Every night after she had washed the supper dishes and cleaned the table they would place the board between them, and while Pa read his Bible they...

  18. 15
    (pp. 92-99)

    For the next two weeks Hank refused to go home. Each day Joan or Jane would come for him, but he would put up such a squall that theyʹd just go back home without him.

    ʺDonʹt ye want to see yer new sister?ʺ theyʹd ask.

    Hank would stomp his foot and yell, ʺNo, I donʹt see no cause fer another sister. I got too many, anyhow.ʺ

    ʺHank, her stay with me,ʺ Sarah Ellen would beg. ʺHank, her my sister.ʺ And everyone would laugh and just give in to the two little bosses.

    ʺHeʹs no extra trouble,ʺ Rennie would say. ʺYe...

  19. 16
    (pp. 99-108)

    ʺJohnnie,ʺ Rennie said one morning as he was getting up from the breakfast table, ʺAunt Nance said fer me to tell ye she wanted to see ye about somethinʹ, when ye had any spare time to come up there fer a while.ʺ

    ʺWell, I didnʹt have anythinʹ in mind fer today, so Iʹll go right now.ʺ Getting his hat from the peg on the back of the kitchen door, he went whistling up the hill. In a few moments Rennie heard a lot of loud squealing and giggling from Aunt Nanceʹs house, and she knew the kids had been watching...

  20. 17
    (pp. 109-116)

    Every two or three weeks Miss Rose would stop by to see how her namesake was doing. She would always bring her something—a sweater, a pair of soft shoes, or a little toy of some kind. She also brought clothes for the older children. These had been sent to them from Mrs. Lloyd from the Community Center.

    ʺI donʹt feel jest right to be takinʹ these things,ʺ Susan would say with a smile. ʺI donʹt like to be beholden to anyone when I have no way to pay her back.ʺ

    ʺTheyʹre sent to Mrs. Lloyd from her friends up...

  21. 18
    (pp. 116-118)

    It was true that the brush piles in Susanʹs field didnʹt get dry enough to burn before it was time to plant her corn. She knew that when the oak leaves got to be the size of a squirrelʹs ear, it was time to plant her corn. It was about the middle of April. All her children who were big enough to handle a hoe she took to the field. Beginning at the bottom, they shaved the weeds, cutting them as close to the ground as they could, and removing as little of the topsoil as possible. Each child shaved...

  22. 19
    (pp. 119-122)

    Now that warm weather had set in, Johnnie was sleeping in the barn loft. It really wasnʹt so bad up there—an old quilt thrown over a large pile of shucks. An old mother cat and her family of five had their home in the opposite corner to keep him company and to frighten away the rats and mice that might want to visit him.

    Johnnie stayed awake long after he climbed into his makeshift bed, thinking about his feelings for Rennie. He had never had a girlfriend. He had never sparked any girl. He didnʹt know how a boy...

  23. 20
    (pp. 123-130)

    Rennie came out on the porch and looked up and down Lonesome Holler. What a warm day to be the first of November. A smoky haze hid the usually bright blue sky. A soft warm breeze was bringing down the last of the leaves from the almost bare trees and flipping Rennieʹs hair across her face. ʺThis is the settinʹ in of Indian Summer, a good time to get the rest of the fodder and corn into the barn. We have all the potatoes dug. Weʹll need some paper to wrap all our sweet potatoes in. I think Iʹll see...

  24. 21
    (pp. 130-132)

    Back then little boy children didnʹt begin to wear pants until they were three or four years old. Till that age they wore dresses just like the ones worn by little girls of the same age. The only difference was that boysʹ dresses had a row of buttons all up and down the back, while the girlsʹ buttons were in front, and sometimes the boysʹ dresses had a half belt reaching from side to side in the back. In winter their underwear was the same—long legs, long sleeves, a three-button drop seat in the back made from cotton ʺoutinʹʺ...

  25. 22
    (pp. 133-138)

    Rennie didnʹt get to line the walls of her kitchen with the pages from the magazines as she had planned. For the next two weeks she was busy helping her father get the last of the apples, cushaws, pumpkins, and sweet and Irish potatoes stored away for winter use. John took up some of the boards from the floor of the front room close to the hearth, exposing two now empty holes in the earth. They had been there for many years and had been used every winter for the same purpose. Into one hole he poured the Irish potatoes...

  26. 23
    (pp. 139-147)

    Everywhere up and down Lonesome Holler, Joan and Jane were known as ʺThe Girlsʺ or ʺSusanʹs Girls.ʺ There never were two sisters as different in personality or looks. Joan was short and heavy set, with black hair and brown eyes. She never ran out of something to talk about. Jane, on the other hand, although the younger, was taller by an inch or two, slim as a fence rail, and had blue eyes and curly yellow hair with almost a tint of red. She hardly ever spoke a word. Yet you never saw one without the other. It sure was...

  27. 24
    (pp. 148-151)

    Rennie grew up in a place and at a time when how a person looked didnʹt matter all that much. Girls werenʹt encouraged to try to make themselves appealing to the opposite sex. ʺPretty is as pretty doesʺ was not just said, it was taught and observed by the young folks of that day. Even had they known about make-up they wouldnʹt have been allowed to use it, nor would they have had the money to buy it. Every woman and girl wore her hair long. To bob your hair was a sin and was thought of as the sign...

  28. 25
    (pp. 152-158)

    The long months that Rennie had spent caring for her father had taken a lot from her both physically and emotionally. It had kept her housebound. She had been thankful for the large supply of books that Mr. Spradlow had left in the tall bookshelves in Johnnieʹs house. She had sat by her fatherʹs bed many hours reading. Sometimes John had asked her to read the Bible aloud to him, but he would soon drift off to sleep. Susan and Aunt Nance had spelled her many times, giving her a chance to catch up with her other work. But John...

  29. 26
    (pp. 158-165)

    It wasnʹt long before Mr. Tate got his chance to meet Rennie. It had begun raining just a little after school began one day—not a heavy rain, just a steady fall that kept up all day. He didnʹt let the children out for recess, only the brave ones that had a call from nature and had to go to the outhouse. He tried to keep the children amused by letting them sing songs. Noon came and still the rain kept coming down. They ate their dinner inside. It was so dark there was no thought of trying to have...

  30. 27
    (pp. 165-171)

    The next three years were long years for Rennie. It was hard to adjust to being alone. Her father and Sarah Ellen had taken up so much of her time, there had never been enough hours in the day to get all done that needed to be. Now she found herself hunting up jobs to do just to pass the time.

    Winter was the worst. She got out a quilt that her mother had started and never finished before she died. Rennie thought she would try to finish it. Looking at the tiny stitches and even design almost discouraged her....

  31. 28
    (pp. 172-173)

    The years slipped away one at a time, winter following summer. Johnnie was still working at the sawmill. Sarah Ellen was now in the eighth grade. One evening when Johnnie was having supper with them he said, just as casually as if he were telling her about buying a mule, ʺIʹm gettinʹ married this next weekend.ʺ Rennie was too stunned to speak. She knocked over a glass of milk, and in the fuss of cleaning up the mess, she had time to get control of herself.

    ʺYeʹre what?ʺ She spoke at last and hoped that her voice sounded normal.


  32. 29
    (pp. 174-179)

    Rennie never knew for sure what happened between Sarah Ellen and Hank that broke up their friendship. It must have been something very upsetting to both, for they didnʹt try to make it up. Hank quit coming home on the weekends, and when he did he never stopped at Rennieʹs house, and if Sarah Ellen saw him passing, she went inside. He stayed at the shanty with the other men that worked for Johnnie. Just as soon as he finished the eighth grade, Johnnie gave him a job as gin hand around the sawmill and to help with the cooking,...

  33. 30
    (pp. 179-185)

    Rennie decided that it would be best for them to go to the school and see if Sarah Ellen would be accepted before they bought her clothes. There were always more wanting to go than the school had room for.

    Sarah Ellen had been helping Rennie with the garden work and hoeing corn. They now had the corn laid by, and there wasnʹt much to do in the garden except wait until canning time. That morning the sun came up bright and promised a nice day for traveling, so they put on their prettiest dresses and cleaned and shined their...

  34. 31
    (pp. 186-188)

    When Johnnie drove up to the school, sure enough, Ruth was at the big gate in front of the post office. The gate was the only break in the rock wall that enclosed the school.

    ʺWell, I see ye really mean business,ʺ was her greeting to Sarah Ellen.

    Johnnie began unloading the truck and placing the boxes on top of the rock wall. ʺWhere does this stuff go?ʺ he asked Ruth.

    ʺOh, yeʹre not allowed to go to the girlsʹ dorm.ʺ Ruth didnʹt even look toward him as she spoke.

    ʺOh, shorely they wouldnʹt care fer me. Iʹm an old...

  35. 32
    (pp. 189-195)

    Sarah Ellen loved school, but there were a few things she didnʹt like. For one thing, the beds were so hard—no springs, just a thin flat pad on the hard rough boards. She often thought of the big goose feather bed that she had shared with Rennie.

    Not being allowed to talk with the boys didnʹt bother her the way it did some of the other girls. Many broke the ironclad segregation rule. They had several ways. One was by passing love notes to each other, nicknamed ʺthree cornersʺ because they would be folded up into small, three-cornered parcels...

  36. 33
    (pp. 196-203)

    Hank went to the school drunk more than once and caused a lot of trouble. One time he got himself arrested and put in jail. Johnnie went and paid his fine, bailed him out, and gave him a good tongue lashing. Rennie was afraid he would get Sarah Ellen expelled from school.

    Then there came that awful night! Rennie had gone to bed early, very tired. A noise woke her up. She listened and thought she heard a horse or mule coming up the hollow. Then everything was quiet again. Then, just as she was dropping off to sleep, someone...

  37. 34
    (pp. 204-206)

    It would be four more years before the sisters saw each other again. Sarah Ellen had promised Rennie sheʹd write every week. She kept her promise. What Johnnie had said to her had sunk in. She told Rennie all about her classes, the folks she lived with, her friends. ʺWish you could see these libraries,ʺ she would say. She sounded happy, but Rennie worried that Sarah Ellen was just making it sound too good. She must be having some troubles and making some mistakes, but if so she didnʹt share them with Rennie.

    Rennie wrote to Sarah Ellen every week,...

  38. 35
    (pp. 207-217)

    Rennie had awakened that morning at the first rooster crow, but she had lain in bed until she heard the birds twittering in the apple tree outside her window. ʺNo use wasting lamp oil by gettinʹ up before itʹs daylight,ʺ she told herself. Yet out of force of habit she hurried through breakfast. She didnʹt mind staying alone, but it was so hard to cook for just one person.

    Breakfast over and the few dishes washed and put away, she went out to the edge of the porch and looked up the holler and then down, noticing each house, checking...

  39. 36
    (pp. 217-222)

    It was after dark Friday when Sarah Ellen and Johnnie arrived. There were several boxes in the back of the truck that Sarah Ellen had brought with her. Johnnie offered to carry them into the house, but Sarah Ellen told him there wasnʹt anything that would be hurt if left on the porch overnight. ʺAnyway, one of those boxes is full of books that I brought Rennie, and if she gets into them I wonʹt get a word from her all weekend.ʺ Sarah Ellen smiled at her sister.

    ʺBring Betsy and the kids over Sunday after church fer dinner,ʺ Rennie...