We are wrapping up our extended #ExcerptWeek with a contribution from popular blogger Linda Bethea, which I know you’re going to enjoy! Thanks for taking part, Linda. The floor is yours!
Everything Smells Just Like Poke Salad
Excerpt from Chapter Twelve
Most farm business was conducted in Cuthand, but Daddy would sometimes catch a ride with the mailman or hire a ride to go to Clarksville by himself to take care of things. However, on a few, glorious occasions I would awaken before daybreak to find Mama putting breakfast on the table and hurriedly packing food in the blue-banded, enamel water bucket. This could only mean one thing. We were all going to Clarksville! It didn’t matter what went in the bucket. The occasion made everything special.
A family trip to Clarksville was rare and logistics had to line up just so. The weather had to be right, conditions perfect, and the need great. A pleasurable jaunt for the entire family was certainly not sufficient reason for a trip to town. As we loaded into the wagon, Mama casually mentioned something to Daddy about meeting for the noon meal in the wagon yard after she talked to the doctor. What in the world could she have to talk to the doctor about? We didn’t even know the doctor in town. The few times we’d had a doctor, it had been grumpy old Dr. Bohl.
“Mama, what do you have to talk to the doctor about?” I asked.
“Oh, nothing for you to worry about. Just a little woman trouble.” That sounded good to me. Maybe Mama was going to ask the doctor about getting us a baby. I’d always heard the stork brought babies, but after hearing whispers at school, had begun to suspect it had something to do with doctors. I always wanted a baby sister.
“Mama, can you ask the doctor about getting us a baby?”
“I cannot,’ she snapped. “Scat and tend to your own rat killing.” That was the end of the doctor talk.
I loved the old enamel water bucket with its three wide bands of blue, admiring it again as Mama packed our food for the trip. The bottom band was deep cobalt, covering the bucket bottom and extending one third of the way up, cool and mysterious, like deep water. The middle band, a lovely sky blue darkened to another dark cobalt band at the top. A wire handle and wooden handgrip finished the bucket off. Unlike most items in our home, the precious bucket was used only for special occasions and had escaped the usual nicks and chips of daily wear. Its perfection elevated its station in my view.
Mama lined the bucket with a clean towel before filling it with biscuits that had been split and sandwiched with fried dry-salt meat. She would add a jar of canned beans, boiled eggs if the hens were laying, fresh tomatoes, onions, and cucumbers. If she’d had time the day before, she might have made tea cakes. Just before leaving, Daddy always stopped at the well to fill the water jar wrapped in tightly stitched burlap and soaked down before sliding it in the shade beneath the wagon seat. It mattered little that this was the same meal we would have eaten at home. It would be a feast today.
Even though we were going to Clarksville, some things still had to be done at home first. While Daddy milked, I fed the chickens, John slopped the hogs, and Mama and Annie made the beds and did the dishes. Mama spread quilts in the wagon to soften our ride. We shared the wagon with boxes of tomatoes, cucumbers, and tow-sacks bulging with fresh-cut corn, okra, and green beans. Mama might even have butter and eggs to sell, if the hens and cow had cooperated.
The leisurely ride in to town was a pure pleasure. As the horse plodded down the deep, sandy track that bordered a creek, John and I hopped off to run along in the deep cool sand behind the wagon. Grasshoppers jumped from weed to weed in the ditches as we chased them. Sometimes the horse stopped and got a cool drink in the shady creek while John and I waded downstream, so as not to muddy the horse’s drink. We could go quickly from sand to water as we didn’t have to take off shoes; we were barefoot, as always. When Annie joined in the creek, she had to take time to pull of her shoes and socks. Since she was bigger, she didn’t go barefoot all the time. Though I was having a wonderful time, it still crossed my mind to wonder what Mama had to talk to the doctor about. What if she had typhoid fever again? I knew she’d had that years ago and it had nearly killed her. Mr. Boyles had gone to the doctor in Clarksville before he died. What if Mama was dying?
I was heartsick and scampered back on the wagon to sit on her lap a few minutes. She felt the same as always, warm, soft like a pillow and smelled of talcum powder.
Once we got to town, Daddy parked in the shade in the wagon yard, fed and watered the horses, and he and John went to the hardware store to do some trading. Mama sold butter and eggs at Anderson’s General Store for seventy-five cents before heading to the dry goods store to look at the yard goods. Annie and I went along. I held my breath a minute as Mama fingered some beautiful pink flowered print, then sighed in disappointment as she moved on to ask Miz Jones to cut three yards of that unbleached domestic, instead. I wanted to cry. Just before leaving, Mama turned and told me, “Come pick a card of these pretty buttons for that yellow and red-polka dress I’m making you.”
Oh, it was so hard to choose. On the rack of button cards, there were stars, ribbons, flowers, kittens, and bunnies. How could I ever pick? Finally, high at the top, I spied the best of all. Six red ducks marching along in yellow raincoats and rain boots. I’d found my buttons! “Duck buttons, Mama,” I cried. “Duck buttons.”
Mama could work magic with a couple of feed sacks, some yellow rickrack salvaged from an old dress, and new duck buttons. I could have put Shirley Temple to shame in my yellow and red-polka dot dress with the six adorable ducks splashing down the front. Those buttons were so special Mama saved them and used them again and again after their first incarnation.
Shopping complete, the three of us walked across the square to the corner drugstore for ice-cream, waiting till it was time for Mama to go see the doctor. When we slid into a booth, I had to make a huge decision: chocolate, strawberry, or vanilla. I worried over it, quizzing Mama and Annie which was best, finally choosing vanilla, just like I always did. When Annie let me have a taste of her strawberry, I was happy, knowing I had made the best decision, again. We licked our cones carefully, not wasting a drop, knowing we wouldn’t see ice cream again till our next trip to Clarksville.
Annie’s friend, Margie, came by and sat down as we finished our cones. They visited a minute then Annie asked to go to the library across the square while Mama went to the doctor. Since Mama could see the library from the doctor’s office, surely there couldn’t be too much harm in that. Mama lectured Annie on her behavior, told her not to step a foot outside the library no matter what, not talk to any boys, not to talk in the library, and that she’d be better there when we came back for her. I wondered how Annie could talk to boys if she couldn’t talk in the library in the first place. I also hoped the library didn’t catch on fire since Annie had to stay inside no matter what, but I knew better than to point any of that out to Mama.
Mama took my hand and with the other held the rail of the staircase, pressing me against the inside wall as we made our way to Dr. Payne’s office directly over the drug store. People in Clarksville enjoyed joking about the names of their three doctors, Drs. Payne, Reed, and Wright. While we waited for Dr. Payne, Mama made me sit up straight, brushed my hair out of my eyes, giving me last minute instructions. “Don’t move out of this chair till I get back. I’ll be right in the next room. Miz Brown is right there if you need anything, but don’t you bother her.”
When she called Mama in, Miz Brown pinned me with a hard look, making sure I didn’t feel free to bother her. I was too shy and worried to bother her anyway. Mama must be dying if she is spending money on the doctor. A small fan oscillated on Miz Brown’s desk and a few flies meandered through a hole in the screen and stopped by for a little taste of me sweltering in the corner, waiting for Mama and her bad news. I could have moved two chairs over and caught a small breeze, but dared not move without Mama’s permission. With no experience at doctor’s visits, Mama’s illness intensified with the wait. Eventually Mama reappeared, looking just the same as before. I hurried to her side as she counted out eight quarters into Miz Brown’s hand and took a receipt. As we turned to go, Dr. Payne stuck his head out of the office and spoke to her, “Miz Holdaway. I forgot to tell you. When you come back in two weeks, be sure to bring a sample of urine.”
I felt sick. A sample of urine? A sample of urine? Why in the world did we have to bring Dr. Payne a sample of urine? Mama had already given him two dollars. I knew better than to open my mouth in the doctor’s office but was tugging on Mama’s skirt as soon as the door shut behind us on the landing.
“Mama? Mama? Where are we supposed to get a sample of urine? Dr. Payne has a lot more money than us. If he wants a sample of urine, why can’t he buy his own?” Mama shushed me but explained once we met Daddy and John at the wagon.
Author & Blogger Linda Bethea
Linda Bethea lives with her husband and dog in Greenwood, Louisiana, five miles from Texas, now retired after thirty years as a Registered Nurse. Everything Smells Just Like Poke Salad is her first book, though two more are nearing publication. Kathleen Holdaway Swain, her eighty-eight year old mother illustrated and collaborated on it, even doing the delightful cover illustration. Linda is a wife, mother, and grandmother, and part of a large extended family she writes about often on Nutsrok.wordpress.com. She has an incredible memory and sees every day as an opportunity to tell a story. Linda comes from a long line of gifted storytellers, which is actually the basis of her recent book and Nutsrok blog. She wrote Everything Smells Like Poke Salad to capture the stories she’s heard all her life over family meals and at the knees of her grandparents and mother. Nothing was more captivating than hearing one of them say, did I ever tell you about the time…..
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Everything Smells Just Like Poke Salad