A Glimpse of Yesterday

     Out beyond the edge of somewhere in a valley of rolling hills lies a town of yesterday.  Oh, a road runs through it and yards are freckled with satellite disks, and today strolls through on blacktops and on cyberwaves, but nothing much has changed in the last hundred and fifty years.  And day begins well before dawn with a work-a-day breakfast:

     " 'Tis time to plant da taters," drawled Paul Johnny as he sopped up milk gravy with beaten biscuits.

     "How do you know?" I voiced aloud, as I wondered, Doesn't he know of cholesterol?

     "Almanac says 'to plant 'em in the dark of the moon,' so their sap will run down.  That starts today, and cain't plant tomorrow; 'tis Good Friday.  If I cut the ground tomorrow, it'll bleed with Jesus' own blood, sure 'nuff," his words slowly unwound from deep inside his knowing.

     Finishing his breakfast, he tipped the chrome-legged chair back on its two hind legs and opened a packet of precut tissue papers, took one sheet, and made a hollow with his index finger.  Then he pulled open the red string of his tobacco pouch with his richly stained teeth and, with the infinite patience of the approaching summer, tapped the pouch with one finger, and gently filled the paper trough with "jest 'nuff 'bacca."

     No matter how many times I'd watched this ritual, I was always mesmerized by the gentleness of his workworn hands, calloused in all of the places tools would fit.

     His tongue raced a thin layer of spit across one edge of the paper, which he folded over the dry edge before he twisted one loose end tight.

     Not one shred of tobacco had missed the paper from the time he began until he arced a kitchen match across the limestone fireplace behind him and ignited the twisted wick.  The open end of his roll-your-own rested gingerly in the right side of his lips.  The paper sputtered and caught, and he inhaled deeply, like a person before making a deep dive, trying to fill every space of his lungs with the elixir.

     His eyes closed in deep pleasure.  I knew to keep my peace during the next couple of minutes.  The smoke swirled blue gray from his cigarette and paler gray when he exhaled.  I sipped my coffee that he had made while I was still dead to the world beneath the chicken down comforter my grandma had made before I was born.  The coffee was "strong enuf to take the hair off ya tongue."

     The day was just thinking of being born with the night sky beginning to bleach some fainter shade of black, as I examined the bottom of the pink flowered cup.  His coffee always left a soot covering of grounds in the bottom of the cup in spite of the egg shells he threw in "to settle the brew."  As my frosted pink finger nails tried to pick the grounds which hadn't settled in the cup off  the tip of my tongue, he picked the slivers of tobacco off his tongue with nails blackened and split from outdoor work.

     "Missy, set that slop bucket out this mornin'.  Titus will be gatherin' the garbage later today."

     His tone of voice moved my bare feet from under the table, across the linoleum worn to a non-descript pattern, to the braided rag rug in front of the sink.  Only after a steadying breath did I gingerly lift the stained rag off the top of the supper scraps in the yellowed, plastic ice cream bucket kept next to the sink "jest for hog scrapes." And was more grateful that I had a right to be that no flies had managed to lay their eggs beneath.  But that was the easy part of cleaning up. The sink bucket had to be dumped in the short garbage can just outside the back door, and that was another matter: it was always invaded by the flies, and their maggots squirmed on the inside of the lid and through the food, as I added the new scraps to the top of the week's garbage. "City girl" he would have said had he seen me choke back my gagging.  I tried not to think that this whole town's garbage was throw to Titus' hogs for their dinner and his hogs would eventually become my breakfast bacon.

     "Papaw, I'm going to wash sheets today, but I need a new pole to hold the lines up high enough."

     "What happened to the old uns?"

     "One broke last week when I hung out the quilts.  Snapped in two from the weight, I guess."

     "Welp, it'll have to wait 'til after lunch.  I got to get them tater slips in the ground this mornin'.  Besides, it's suppose to rain later."

     "There was no mention on the ten o'clock news . . ."

     "Ring around the moon last night," and he let the front legs of the chair thump into the linoleum as the chair became a quadruped again.  He ambled toward the bathroom for his morning sit-down.

     As I  watched his stooped frame move a little more slowly than last spring, I had to admit, Not bad for ninety-seven.  Not bad at all.                    

February 1998

First Published: ELM, Tenth Anniversary Edition, Spring 2002.