Here I am in the hills of Kentucky, wading in the creek barefooted, letting the slippery green ooze penetrate inside my toe linings as the craw daddies scurried backwards trying to escape the fury of the top of my Blue Mason Jar. I have to honestly admit that I was in the lower parts of Heaven and I never wanted to advance to the upper part, for these were the greatest days of my life.
The trees called my name, the wind whistling through the sounds of the summer of 56 whispered to me in soft tones of passion telling me, “Mary, give it your best, Mary give it your best, because one day you will have to grow up and be like all the rest, you know that bunch from outer space, the people called, “grown ups’!
My dress that Mammy always made me wear was tucked way up between my legs and tied in a hard knot as high as I could tie it keeping it from dropping and flopping in the waters of the creek of Coneva Holler. I thought “I hope no one finds us because I have to catch more crawl dads than Zinna does today, Today is my day to be the winner”.
Zinna Estep, being my best friend, was one of the coolest kids around, and you know something, she was the baby of the family just like me.
We were the champion Kool Aid drinkers of Coneva Holler, in Perry County, Kentucky. We spent all day together every day, seeing how long we could be best friends before we grew up. Our recreation for the day had already begun, seeing how many games we could play or how many things we could do before the sun set on our day.
The summer sun roared in from the top of the sky, beating my brain in and scalding my scalp, making my hair redder than normal and making those ugly brown spots pop out all over my round chubby cheeks. I splashed up and down that creek, getting so vert hot. Sometimes, I could actually feel the sweat forming in my hair and roaring down my face like gushers from Mt. St Helens. Then I would take my crawl daddy hands and wipe the sweat across my face. The dirt and grime from the creek collecting and falling onto my pretty little green t-strap dress.
Zinna was one of those lucky people who had yellow-blond, white hair and chocolate skin. She never had a pain from sun-burn, she just kept getting browner and more browner. Her skin was like the raven beauty of an Indian maiden from the hills of Arizona.
We splashed happily up and down that creek, from one end of the holler to the other, Every now and then we would raise our heads up to see a member of the outer space gang act strange. Half way down the holler there was Emory Barrett out in that corn field with that old black mule, with that thing behind it. Mom said they called it a plow. That old mule just slowly walk along, then Emory would push that strange looking thing, and the ground would rise and fall, rise and fall. As we were peeking out from the side of the creek, Emory spotted us and stopped that old mule and just stood there and looked at us, spitting a chow of tobacco through the air from his jaw and taking his sleeve and rubbing it across his face.
He said, “morning girls, what ya all up to this fine day”! Zinna said, “weeee just wading the creek, hunting crawl dads and seeing if we can find some ripe black berries”. Emory said, “girls, let me make you a deal”? I kind of looked at him from the corner of my green eyes and said, “What kinda deal ye talking about Emory”? He said, “I will give you each one a quarter if you will help me pull the weeds from my mater patch”. I looked at Zennia, she looked at me, having the same thought at the same time. If we had a quarter, we could go down the holler a little ways to Adam Owens house and get us a grape dope and a bar o candy. At the same time we both said, “yeah”.
Emory led us behind the house to the mater patch. Mater patch it was, I had never seen so many maters in one place, all the way from his back door, straight up the hill into the woods. We tip-toed through that mater patch for hours while the sun paraded in an out of the vines making dancing shadows on the ground, giggling at the baby rabbits scurrying in out of the big tall vines and banks, with those pink noses twitching from side to side.
After the sun shadowed the hill-side, we promptly collected our quarters, rescued our Mason jars from the side of the creek bank, waded out in the middle of the creek and just sit down. I knew for sure that I was in for a killing, mom was going to kill me for getting that green dress wet and muddy, but right now, I need not think about mom, because that grape dope and candy bar was just around the corner.
We cleared the middle of the holler safe inside the arms of that little creek that ran from the head of the holler all the way down and underneath the big highway where mom told me that I could never venture. She would say, “Now Mary Alice, don’t you ever step one foot on that big high-way, if you do, I will cut me one of those willow switches in the back yard and nettle your legs really good”! She always threatened me with those willow switches. I am sure they hurt something terrible, but as of that minute, I had never felt one nettle.
Around the bend, there was Lizzie out in the yard with a knife and a kettle. Everyone called her “Old Lady Lizzie”. Her name was actually Lizzie Gross. I told Zinna, “Look at her, she is at it again, she is picking Plantin for supper”.
Zinna shushed me right up and told me to be quiet, because she might come after us with that knife. So I shut up and we tried to ease our way on down the creek trying not to splash one splash that could be heard above a whisper.
All of a sudden, Zinnia began to slip and slide, she had done it, she had found one of those infernal rocks with all the green slime on it and there she went sliding backwards screaming at the top of her lungs. I grabbed a hold of her arm and set her upright just about the time that a short dumpy figure holding a knife in one hand and a kettle in the other hand glared at us from the bank of no return.
We sit there shaking all over from head to toe, and this scratchy voice like the wicked witch of the west said, “girls, you come out of that filthy creek right this minute”! Zinna found her voice first, but I had lost mine somewhere, maybe if I was lucky, it would be gone forever. My heart was beating so fast, it was like hammers knocking in my head.
Zinnia said, “mam, we are so sorry, we did not mean to disturb you, we were just headed down the way a bit to get us a grape dope and a candy bar. Lizzie said, “I did not ask you where you were going. I said, come out of that creek this minute.” I held onto Zinnia's hand really tight as we both climbed the bank and stood in front of the legendary Lizzie, watching the drips from our dresses collect and fall at the lady’s feet. I noticed her feet first of course, because I was afraid at the moment to look any further. Those feet were wrapped in leather straps that ran around her ankle and were tied in knots at the back of her foot. Finally I got the nerve to look all the way up into her face. Her smile caught me as the twinkle in her eye stopped my gaze. Oh no, the other eye was missing and closed shut like that part of Millers cave where all the so-called badgers screamed at night.
At that moment I noticed her hat tied in a bow just below her chin. It was some kind of red looking material with yellow spots. I think Mom called it gingham. Her ear-rings were protruding from under that hat, they hung in blue loops down below her chin and dangled in around her teeth, smacking the sides of her lips as she talked. That v-necked blouse she wore was shaded with blue Indian necklaces all the way to her belly button. When she took my hand in hers, I started trembling all over like a batch of soft-set Jello. I just knew she was going to fix us for supper like that wicked witch had planned on fixing Hanzel and Gretel and there was no one to rescue us, absolutely no one because momma did not know where we were at anyway. How could anyone rescue us?
We cleared the bank in no time at all, she had Zinnia by one hand and me by the other. Up the hill and across the road, and straight up the path that led to her front door. We were going through that door and we would probably never return. They would read about us in the Hazard Heald. I imagined it reading like this:
Two ten year old girls missing from the creek in Coneva Holler: Last seen carrying two Mason Jars full of lively crawl daddys. If you find any trace of them please return to their mothers, and rest assured we do not want the crawl daddys.
Oh well, at the point of death a ten year old thinks all kinds of crazy thoughts.
THE LIZZIE HOUSE
That big old iron door opened into a kaleidoscope of colors. As the yellow, brown, green and orange twinkled at me from every corner of the house. An Indian arrow caught my eye and rested in the glare of the moment. It hung in the corner surrounded by a hundred others. Indian blankets hung all over the walls, overshadowed by deer heads with large antlers. A tee pee was sat up right in the middle of that tall room and I noticed after being in there for a few seconds that I wasn't hot anymore. There was a fan in every window of that house with air filtering in and then out and touching my body with coolness.
Lizzie still had a hold of both our hands and her smile became bigger as she noticed our glaring eyes and faces of fear. I heard her speak then with a soft tone and her voice overwhelmed me with a peace of some other kind that I could not put my brain in tune with. She said, "Girls follow me!" I need to ask her for sure, "What else could we do?"
We followed her through a blue and yellow door that read, "Mess Hall". I could not believe my eyes as we were ushered through the door. Inside that room sat a big white box, she called it a Frigidaire. When she opened the door, cool refreshing air hit us in the face and inside that box was Nehi grape dope and also about any other flavor a child could ever want for. She pulled a whole box of candy bars from one of her cabinets and told us to take two of everything. Then, she said, "Mary Alice, here is your grape dope you were going after, let me pull it here on my cabinet."
I felt a smile tickling from every corner of my freckled face as she put that cold refreshing dope in my hand and laid all those candy bars in my lap.
Zennia and I just looked at one another when she told us that she had to leave the room for a minute, but she would be right back. Zennia was still scared to death and she said, "Mary Alice, she is still going to have us for supper, she is only trying to fatten us up!"
With that thought in mind we both headed for the front door running like scalded dogs, but were overtaken in the chase by a pair of rough green knuckles and a shaky laugh that said, "Where are you going my little ones?" Then she said, "This party is not over yet, and it is my party, not yours!" She said that sentenced again, “come with me.”
We were twirled around and she headed straight for the big t-pee in the middle of the room and held the curtain wide for us to go in. There were pillars over every inch of that room and she sat down in the middle like an Indian and told us to come and join her. We were still holding on to that candy and that cold bottle of dope. She had a cold drink also and she pulled something from her apron pocket and told us it was called a peace pipe and she was going to smoke while we ate and drank.
Suddenly she said, "Oh I forgot I wanted to show you something." She walked over to this thing setting in the corner of the room and turned a knob and all of a sudden there were people dancing and singing right inside that box.
I was so scared, I thought Gabriel was standing at the door waiting to take me on home. Zinnia's brown face had turned snow white and she could not open her mouth.
Lizzie said, "Now girls, have you not ever seen a television before in your life?" "This is what is called a television and those people are just actors and it is time for the Roy Rogers show and I want you two to watch it with me!"
My eyes became sockets as that box captured my brain and took me inside and I was riding those happy trails with Roy Rogers and Dale Evans; Riding bare back on a beautiful pony named Trigger.
I could not believe my mind and my little body was stilled and peaceful. Zennia and I just sat there and drank our dope and watched TV while those ringlets of peace circled though the air from Lizzies peace pipe.
After the show ended, Lizzie got up from the floor and turned the box off and said, "Girls, I think we had better see what time it is, it is probably getting late and you two had better head up the holler to home. Your mommy’s will be worried. She looked at us, grabbed our hands and let us back down the walk toward home.
As we said our good-byes, she said, "Girls you are welcome here anytime. When you see me in the yard, just come on down. The only thing you have to do is just be quiet and don't tell anyone about me. It is kind of peaceful when everyone thinks I am mean, then they leave me alone and it so wonderful just to be at peace with ones self. Just remember I am here if you ever need me for anything. With that she turned and skipped back through the door of her vine covered cottage.
As Zennia and I walked up the holler that evening, the sun was just setting in the west and it hovered over that little holler called Coneva. The trees were dancing a golden tune and the leaves were singing, “Happy trails to you until we meet again", and Zennia and I joined in the chorus. We held hands and promised we would never tell where we had been as long as we lived, never in a million years, not even if someone tied us to a tree and tortured us until we died. We would never tell.
We made it all the way up the holler and said our good-byes in front of my house. She lived just minutes away at the head of the holler. She only had to pass two more homesteads and then she would be home. She said, “I will see you tomorrow Mary Alice and then she reached me her Mason Jar and said, “Will you keep these for me until tomorrow?” I said, “Follow me” and we both took off for the creek which ran directly in front of my house.” We stopped just in front of the first ripples in the creek and started taking the lids off of those jars. We both bent over at the same time and poured our catch for the day back inside the little creek. They scurried off in all directions as Zinnia and I started giggling at the same time. Bout the time we stood up, we heard this familiar voice softly calling from the porch, “Mary Alice, baby is that you?” I said, Yes, Mammie, it is me, I will be there in just a minute”. “Zinnia stuck her finger to her lips and said, shhhhhhhh, and then in a whisper she said, “Later Tater” and up the holler she ran!
In my little holler back home, a cold refreshing drink was called a bottle of dope
Written by Mary Alice Bowles
for her best friend, Zinnia