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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Hard and Soft (04/23/09)

TITLE: No, It's Not the Butter
By Loren T. Lowery


A lullaby, sweetly veiled behind fluttering sheets, waked the afternoon air, its rhythm as gentle and soft as the water lapping the nearby bank of the Mississippi River.

Words merged without effort into lyrical hums as Irene pinched wooden clothes pins between her lips to hang her family’s laundry on the line.”

A voice calls out just beyond the drying clothes. “That’s pretty, Mama.”

Turning, Irene sees her daughter, Sophie dressed in a faded, blue-checked pinafore with her hair twisted into pigtails and tied with red yarn. She removes one remaining pin from mouth. “Thank-you, baby. What you up to?”

“Grandma wants that I go down to the creek and pick blackberries for a pie she’s makin’.” She holds up a dented and rusted pail. “You want to come along?”

“I don’t know. Its fierce hot today; and I can just hear a piece of shade on the porch callin’ my name.”

“There’ll be shade ‘neath the trees. Please, Mama.”

“Course heat’s gonna make those berries extra juicy. Maybe we best take two buckets. One for Grandma and one for us to sweeten the afternoon.” She looks at her daughter’s beaming face. “You gonna go down to the creek barefoot?”

“I ain’t afraid of no chiggers and spiders; ‘sides Toby taught me to throw rocks into the bushes to chase out copperheads. I’ll go fetch another pail right now.”

Moments later, Sophie joined her mother waiting on a dirt road that defined the front of their property and runs along a bayou of the Mississippi river and to the coveted blackberry bushes siding its bank.

Taking her mother’s hand, Sophie swings the two nested pails in the other. “Mama, you think Aunt Hattie uses butter on her hands?”

“Butter? What ever brought a notion like that to your head?”

“I don’t know. But when we went to visit her in the city and I touched her hands, they was soft as a rabbit’s foot. Toby says it’s on account she uses butter to make them that way.”

“Seems a powerful waste of butter to me.”

“Me, too. But Toby says soft hands are a sure sign of a rich lady on account they don’t do no work and keep lots of butter in the icebox.”

Irene squeezes her daughter’s hand. “Your brother do talk, don’t he. But no your Aunt Hattie don’t keep lot’s of butter in her icebox, she just lives different than us, that’s all.”

“I think I’d like to live like her someday. Like if she was wantin’ berries, all she’d have to do is drive down to the market and get some. Not havin’ to work hard like we do.”

“I thought you liked pickin’ berries.”

“I do, Mama, but not all the time. She’s even got machines that do the washin’ and dryin’ of her clothes.” She sneaks a peek up her mother while gripping her hand a bit tighter. “Maybe that’s why her hands are soft and not so scarred up and hard.”

Irene breathes in the sweet summer air, moist with the scent of wild grasses flourishing beside the bayou. “You know I wouldn’t give up washin’ my family’s clothes by hand, hangin’ them in God’s dryin’ air or pickin’ berries by the creek for nothin’.”

“You wouldn’t?"

“Not even if Preacher Jake came over and asked me himself. Scars and calluses on a bein’s hands are like words written down on paper tellin’ ‘bout their life, baby.” She looks down at her own, still holding her daughter’s. “And I wouldn’t change a letter of it for nobody.”

“Even when they’re hard and not soft like Aunt Hattie’s?”

“I used to think the same ‘bout your Grandma’s hands, ‘till one day I caught a fever and she put her hands to my face.” She closed her eyes as if remembering. “It was like the touch of an angel, so soft I couldn’t even imagine anything softer. Mama’s been the richest lady in the world to me from that day to this.”

A moment of quietness passes between them. “Well look here,” Irene finally says. “We’ve been jabbering away like two Jays and nearly passed the berry patch.”

They left the road, hand in hand stopping only a moment to pick up stones to toss in the bushes to scare copperheads and to sit in the shade of a tree before reaching into the berry brambles to add yet another telling page to the chapter of their lives this one hot Mississippi day.

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Member Comments
Member Date
Mona Purvis04/30/09
Just Brilliant! This is one that transports the reader to another time and place and makes them so glad for the journey. Superb writing.

Lynda Lee Schab 04/30/09
I agree...this piece transports to another time and place. Wonderful job with that. One nit-pick: I got tripped up a few times with the change in tense. The story went from past to present several times. I think it would have been stronger if it was written completely in the present tense. Those parts worked better for me. Otherwise, superb. :-)
Gregory Kane05/02/09
Deliciously atmospheric. I could almost feel the hot sun beating down.
Charla Diehl 05/02/09
I felt like I was walking alongside Sophie and her mama. Your word-pictures made this a wonderfully enjoyable story. Your message is clear--there's more to life than money--thanks.
Chely Roach05/02/09
Vivid and lovely. Well done!
Emily Gibson05/04/09
Your wonderful descriptions and dialogue create a time and place that makes one long to be there. And I agree about the work-worn hands being a true symbol of love and devotion.
Eliza Evans 05/04/09
Just LOVE it!
Gorgeous, gorgeous writing.
Verna Cole Mitchell 05/05/09
Your imagery is absolutely lovely, the dialogue very realistic, and the message excellent. A keeper.
Rachel Burkum05/05/09
I saw it all as I read. Great writing that drew me right in and I loved the dialogue.
Betty Castleberry05/07/09
I missed this one the first time around, but I'm glad I read it. It's wonderful, with an authentic and powerful voice. Love the mood it sets. Very well done, and congratulations!
Eliza Evans 05/07/09
Well, Loren. I guess I am just going to have to read everything you've ever written. :D

Awesome! Awesome!

Huge Congrats to you!
Myrna Noyes05/07/09
Loren, my friend, this piece reads as smooth and rich as butter!! :) WOW! I LOVED it!! CONGRATULATIONS ON YOUR EC!!
Kimberly Michalski 05/07/09
Love the regionalism flavor and the tone is so endearing. Nice work! :)
Lollie Hofer05/07/09
I like the strong message you send about, not just acceptance of where God has you, but the enjoyment of being in that place as well. Congratulations on a well-deserved win. The dialogue alone was incredible.
Verna Cole Mitchell 05/07/09
Congratulations on placing with this really lovely piece. It is publishing worthy, to be sure.
Carol Slider 05/07/09
I love the vivid description and all the deep emotion conveyed through this simple conversation. Beautiful writing! Congratulations!!
Patricia Turner05/07/09
As another commenter said, you transport the reader to another time and place, and I think we fall in love with it. I for one, wanted to stay and eat some of those blackberries myself. :-) Wonderful story, and such a deserving EC pick! Congratulations!
Charla Diehl 05/07/09
I loved this story and am so glad it placed high in the EC ratings. Congrats.