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(from Jazz Notes in the Misty Blue: A Mountain Empire Anthology)
“Jalopy Junction, Maine”
.... by Jeannette Harris
"Please welcome with a round of warm applause our renowned guest speaker, recently retired Professor Thomas Glatenburg of Missisissippi’s Chazzletown Tech Community College Mountain Craft and Fine Arts Department, for this evening’s oustanding buffet and biennial meeting of our handwork heritage committee council."
Arthur stepped back against the stage wall with a sweeping motion of a sunburned right arm toward the lecturn.
“Tom, the floor’s all yours.”
Ginny dimmed the overhead lights, leaving the spot on Glatenburg.
Tom removed his glasses from the jacket’s inner pocket, cleared his throat, brought the frequently-rehearsed speech to mind and opened the book he’d brought.
It’s a pleasure to be here with all of you again. While most know, as former neighbors, students and colleagues…. Over the past forty-three years, I have visited and lived in Appalachia, a region that represents all that's best and worst of the American, and perhaps human, experience. Its settlers throughout the ages define still our history on the planet. Descendants of original native tribes, themselves immigrants from other countries and territories, find a place and voice amidst more modern ones, from the boundaries man has made of land and brain, the rough frontier of space. Its sometimes daunting crests and isolated glens protect and preserve nuances of distinct identities, from plant to mammal species.
The clash of resolutely independent accents, mores and morals wax to conflict and wane to a fragile peace. Popular mass icons, the MacDonalds and Holiday Inns, wash uneasily against canning jars grandma used, still filled each summer and fall with traditional home garden produce -- peas and beans, beets and corn, and a drumbeat more primitive and innate to the universe, the beginnings and endings of perception and time.
Servants of earth and sky dissonate against the cold bite of technology in everyday life. Our senses are overwhelmed by the juxtaposed images of ancient and futuristic, power corralled by a few on one level and dispersed among the many on another, our choices, individually and collectively, one by one for discerning and shaping realities, and the mechanistic forces uncontrolled in their direction and effect within which grandchildren will flourish and perish.
It all becomes too much and we retreat to the place where poets speak and arts record our turmoil. We object, we accept, we muddle through. Do we know very much, or nothing at all? A journey in Appalachia -- with its human color, diversity of nature, and stark display of contrasts from primordial to post-modern -- may help us find the truth of what we have been, where we stand now, and how we might travel through time still unformed by mind, body and soul.
Although some writing reflects other lifetimes, most of this latest collection marks the end of a personal sojourn in Appalachian backcountry and the end of a dream, a way of life there, not just for me personally but for the culture which has been absorbed more and more by urban areas to the East and the inevitable incursions, evolutions of industry.
If rural life, unplugged, was less than perfect, prosaic, pristine in its daily accoutrements, it held the awe and stillness, peace and truth of natural organic flow and the immanent presence of a Creator-God who whispered through each unmowed blade of grass, each ripple over aboriginal stone. Thank you for this opportunity to share my mountain memories.
Looking up toward the glassed equipment booth, Tom closed the book that held his notes.
After raising the auditorium lights, Ginny stood and walked forward to announce: “The line forms in our garden-side lobby for purchase of individually inscribed copies in hardback and soft cover of Tom’s newest bestseller, Highland Haints:An Appalachian Anthology. Thank you, Tom, for revisiting here and sharing again your time and thoughts with old friends.”
She turned for a relaxed handshake that became a hug.
Peggy took the .22 from the corner quietly and walked down the stairs in the dark. She could hear the scratching noise at the door even louder from the livingroom. Stepping carefully down the hallway, she called, "Who is it?"
There was no answer, but the scratching continued. She reached for the door knob, holding the gun loosely in her right hand, and opened the door. There was no one there. A muted meow greeted her instead.
Peg looked down to see a scrawny yellow cat sitting patiently on the welcome mat. Peggy laughed out loud. "And I suppose you want to come in?" she said to it cheerily.
"Well, come on in and have some milk," she said. The cat followed her into the kitchen where she poured a cup for it and placed it on the floor by the table. The cat went to it immediately and licked it up with hungry appreciation.
"And what is your name?" she asked it. The cat, of course, simply meowed and rubbed against her leg as she sat on one of the kitchen chairs. "Shall we call you 'Sammy'?" Peggy asked.
The cat rubbed against her determinedly. "Okay," Peggy replied. "You can have some more milk. And some tuna fish." Peggy opened a can and Sammy ate quickly. He obviously had not eaten for awhile. His coat was scruffy and his body thin. Otherwise, he seemed healthy. His eyes were bright and his nose a soft clean pink.
"We'll take you down to Tamela's tomorrow," Peggy informed her new friend.
Tamela took in stray cats until homes could be found for them. Peggy was allergic to the fur and could never keep one for more than a few days without suffering from a runny nose and running eyes. She wished that situation were different, because she would have loved to keep a cat. She did not really care much for dogs.
"Tamela?" she said over the telephone the next morning.
"I have another stray for you.... No, it's healthy just underfed.... Shall I bring it over this afternoon?... No, I really can't.... Okay, I'll try to keep it for a few more days.... Thanks."
Peggy hung up in some consternation. Tamela's boarding home for felines was full. Peggy felt her nose begin to itch and run, simply at the thought of keeping Sammy for days in the house.
Instead, she shooed the cat outside where she placed another bowl of milk. Sammy yeowled at the door, but Peggy returned to her upstairs studio room and ignored him....
"Can you picture it?" Abigail regaled the bar's routine lineup this Thursday night of toney exurban patrons on their ways home in designer suits and well-worn tag lines. "Me, in hot pink scrubs," he continued, reaching under the glass counter for a tall bottle of anisette, "and two-inch silver glitter nails, with stone-studded gold slingbacks to teeter around on, with the pot-bellied schmerfs from Hoboken in grandpa’s overalls in charge of the drill."
Gail shook her long curly strawberry red wig, felt with her left hand where the oversized staying pins had come loose, and pushed them back commandingly toward her scalp.
“There ya go, Razzy.” Abby warned his friend to catch the chip-filled glass sliding down.
Abby turned to pour a chunky lime mix into the blender, set it on ‘whir-high’ with a dramatic pale-armed flourish and two-step before the floor-to-ceiling mirrored wall.
“Assa-insane,” Lane agreed. “How’d you get home?”
“Real quietly,”Abby drawled in her growliest baritone, after another grinding go-round with the Polynesian cocktail frothing and forming in its thickly squat plastic jar.
Lane tittered in her highest-pitched voice. “I bet,” she grinned.
“Ditched the heels and ran like hell to the other side of the road,” Abby summarized, confirming her soul-bud’s intuition.
"Dust to dust," Janice intoned with quiet glee, loosening her grip on a sticky clump of clay dirt and crabgrass she'd just scraped from the hillside before the tiny casket was lowered into the crevice hand-dug by her jacketed and jeaned brothers. Jason and Jake stood in salute while Medussa The Mole disappeared one final time into the bowels of the table garden she'd haunted and hunted for just-ripe beets and turnips when alive.
"Haha," her spirit ghost whined upwards into the night breeze toward the ears of her unwilling hosts. "There's a smashingly orange carrot here I can reach from these new digs! Thank you schmucks very much."
They had long known from her accent, tail and coat coloring that Medussa was of British Isle heritage and surmised she'd been stowaway on an early sailing ship hidden in its kitchen, perhaps burrowed at the bottom of a wooden flour barrel.
As the moon set under the crowded canopy of galaxies unidentified into a tawny horizon of sunflowers and corn, Jason and Jake and Janice skipped around the little cairn of their guest's remains, singing and stamping triumphantly from their throaty tween tenors and alto, "Dussy, Dussy! Loosey no more! Our trap's done evened the score! From this tunnel sealed do not snore, or bore, or squeal, again!"
"Amen," Janice added in relieved refrain, sinking cross-legged to their plush carpet of marigold groundcovers.
("Or that's how it seemed to me," Unka Lowell coughed in conclusion to his lounging audience of assorted blue tick coon dogs and dawdling bullfrogs.)
Edie gazed far overhead toward the uneven tops of spindly northern pines into darkening skies while Lady Sheba rolled and dug into drily crisp mounds of beige and brown cone needles at their feet. Whispily tangled branches of abundant berry bushes lined the lakeside trail they‘d chosen for their mid-day walk on this grand finale of the long weekend.
“To vacate or not to vacate?” Ken clattered through chest drawers of their rustic suite rooms before rechecking dormant coals with the long black iron poker resting on a smooth marble hearth before the recessed rough stone fireplace. He grabbed his green camouflage linen cap from the maple board mantle and crushed it onto a scraggly-haired head.
““Sheba!” Edie called. “Get in here so I can dry you off. We’re going in the car-car!” Lady loved to ride with her nose to passing winds and fragrances.
Still on the porch by the open door, Sheba shook vigorously her mangled long coat of gray furs and headed toward the double-sized terrycloth a crouched Edie held out.
Let’s go,” Ken demanded, grabbing maroon nylon duffle bags on his way out to their cherished antique ivory Mercedes with its authentic wood dashboard. “Before it starts pouring,” he added, catching an accidental glimpse of glowering sky.
“Where’s Lady? Come here, girl. Time to ride!” Ken opened a back door to the blanket-covered seat and pillows piled with well-worn toys.