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(from Jazz Notes in the Misty Blue: A Mountain Empire Anthology)
“Juggernaut, West Virginia”
by Jeannette Harris
The town hall clock tower chimed tinnily eight times. That meant, Sammy reckoned by the timid stars and foreshadowing sky at the top of State Street’s hill, “It must be near nine o’clock. Wonder what happened to Natalie?” he pondered aloud to the small pink sunsuit-covered figure by his right side.
“Maybe Gabby showed up after all.” Her sister’s “main sleaze” had been a no-show earlier while they waited to leave together for the festival before agreeing to meet near the sidewalk benches by a favorite hangout, Rooster‘s Hardware Café & Grill.
Sammy and Martha drifted toward music sifting out through antique furnishings inside the refurbished Fortune Family Five and Dime Store, found vacant seats at the converted soda counter, ordered root beer floats for savoring to melodic sounds of The Sutton String Folk Family playing on the little corner stage that owners had wedged between round wooden tables and caned-back chairs. Old church pews served as padded benches lining the photogaph-laden walls.
“Oh, look,” Marty pointed toward the side wall at someone with straight shoulder-length pure black hair, long beaded necklaces, a deeply embossed thick red leather armband, and a brown felt bowler-type hat. Gabby leaned back on the sidearm of the bench pew and swung long black-leathered legs up onto the seat. During intermission he took over from Kara on dulcimer.
Natalie sat beside Sam to order two reubens on rye with rainbow chips and two jumbo dark Danish draughts.
As soon as they were served, Natalie walked toward the stage to throw some change and small bills in the glass donation jug for “starters.” A few patrons ambled up also. The Suttons thanked each one, spoke with those they recognized, solicited request songs from the usually quiescent crowd.
“St. James Infirmary!”
Owen Sutton shook his head, no, to the rest who let their instruments down loosely.
Marty yelled out, “Honkytonk Haven.”
“Heaven,” Nat corrected her.
Ted Sutton nodded and picked out the opening bars on mandolin as the others blended in on guitar, bass, fiddle and voice filling the room with a dancing beat that soon roused a few to their feet in the cleared space by the front door, inviting others in to join them from the festival’s colorfully full sidewalk and street.
Gabby grabbed Natalie by the waist to direct her outside also in the direction of a band playing gospel rock at the intersection with Fourth Avenue.
The dry, scuffled path narrowed to shreds of a leaf and twig pile where it held open a thin, tree-lined doorway to the thunderous noonday sky. Janie pulled up over her rose-brown curly hair the expansive hood of Landry’s green army parka.
Oh, this’ll be fun,” she yelled running for the open-fronted, metal-roofed shelter and settling into its handcrafted log couch.
Landry strode up, unbuckling his backpack and sliding it across the wide pine boards.
“Wanna snooze it out?” he asked, pushing back a heavy-slatted door onto a bare room with one screened sliding window into the thick forest of hardwoods and laurel that guarded the trail on both sides.
Janie slid down, tiredly, in the log sofa.”Sounds good,” she answered as Landry unrolled a dual sleeping bag.
They curled up comfortably facing each other. Landry rubbed the spot on her back he knew was strained from the steeply snaking trek up from their riverfront campsite cabin. Jane’s eyes fluttered closed in the peace and affection that flowed freely between them. They had clicked naturally together like hydrogen and oxygen ever since a serendipitous college class years earlier juxtaposed them in seminar discussion on a shared devotion to healthy regional ecology. Intervening career, native land and family events had jiggled the chemical composition they reestablished through spontaneously regular joint wilderness explorations and adventures.
“Hey, a neighbor just told me about Jenny Lynd Park! Kentucky. We gotta check that out. It’s got everything we love in one place. I’ll be to it next weekend. Love your company there, and then…..”
Jane woke up with a start.
“Shit, there’s a leak in the roof!” she grumbled pulling the parka back over her head.
The compartments in Julie’s mind collided and crumpled on hearing the farm had burnt months ago from tornado-spawned lightning.
“What’s left?” she asked in trepidation.
“Some stands of trees. And scorched fields.” Kitten enumerated their losses. “Caked red mud. Mouldy-looking black rubble from the barn.”
“Anything from the house?”
Kitten nodded. “Chimney.”
“Oh my sweet lord. All mama’s things…..”
Julie stared into the picture of their family room: Aunt Haddie’s piano, the handmade oriental rugs, the Victorian lamps, softly plush chairs, upholstered sofas…..”
“Oh! The old family photos!”
“I have a few.”
“Me too. A few.”
Julie slid down further into the chair and pulled a quilt around her like an infant with a blanket.
Christine walked over to pull the cover off her cousin’s teary-wet face, smoothed her hair back gently.
“I’m sorry, Jules. The whole place has been so abandoned. There was nothing anyone could do, anyway.”
Chris sidled into the chair beside her cousin, held her shoulders and crooned, rocking her back and forth, “My poor baby.” Julia had always been like a little sister to her, although in chronological age they were nearly parallel.
“The farm was my backup plan -- where I’d be if the city totally ground me down and spit me out. Where I’d retire, for longer and longer vacations, in graceful ease….”
"I know, baby. Remember, we talked about grayhairs rocking on the porch together surrounded by country cats. And maybe a few chickens. Butterflies. Baltimore Orioles. A little vegetable garden. Climbing roses. Hollyhocks.”
“We’ll have to rebuild. Little by little. The land’s still here and paid for and ours.”
Julie stood, crossed the room to Kitten’s bookshelf, and crumpled suddenly to the rug from traumatic exhaustion.
Chris knelt beside her. “You didn’t break anything?”
Julia shook her head while Kitten slid an arm under her back to support her into a sitting position.
“Everything went black,” Julie explained.
“Yes, it did,” her cousin agreed.
They called it simply The Lagoon. Wealthy neighbors installed professionally-cleaned artificial ponds ringed with prefabricated rock and fed town water through underground pipes. Pete and Deidre relaxed and awaited God and weather for presentation of their personal wetland in a low-lying natural drainage area of the forested western field. Seasonal creek flooding draped ghostly debris on its tree branches in an eerie mockery of yuletide decoratings. Children whispered of creepy creatures that burrowed into the mud or hung at night like bats from its sun-dried treetops.
“Dede, let’s have a camp-over at The Lagoon this weekend! Can I? Please?” Olivia begged her mother during breakfast as they examined it from the porch for overnight changes to note that a family of wood ducks had set up there with its dragonflies, frogs, tadpoles, lizards and slithery slim water snakes amidst the tall weeds and straggling mounds of drowned brush.
“Daddy, can we? Will you tell stories? I’ll ask Deb, Kerry and Miranda this time. Okay?” Vee’s whispy voice grew louder and more distinct with excitement at the prospect of another scare-night party.
Pete was already spinning a yarn in his head about the rag-draped Loch Mess Monster of The Groaning Swamp that could be heard to scream her high-pitched wail and seen by those who dared on any clear night with a full moon.
“You bet, Princess. Saturday night if it doesn’t rain. You and Dede have to help put up the tent tho. And get snacks ready and over there. And gather kindling together to start the fire for cooking. And make skewer sticks.”
“I need to make a grocery list. We probably have a lot of it here from last month.” Deidre offered. “I’ll check now to see what we’ve got. And not. And need. Sodas I’m sure. Vee, will you write that down please? Pop. Chips. We have canned dips here. Shoot, I thought we had hot dogs in the freezer. Dogs and buns. We’re out of chow-chow too. Got all that?” She leaned around the kitchen door opening.
“Koolade. Chips. Weiners. Bread. Kraut.” Olivia read from the envelope she’d found for a notepad.
“Good,”Deidre nodded. “Oh, and paper plates and cups. We can use kitchen towels for napkins,” she added, meaning to cut back on purchases.
“Whee! I like it. It‘s gonna be great again,” Vee exclaimed, impatient to tell her friends soon on their way to school.
Saturday night Miranda appeared on the porch with a large covered dish of made-from- scratch macaroni casserole. Little Kerry lugged in a three-litre bottle of purple-colored pop. Debby pulled paperware and plastic spoons out of a store shopping bag. Deidre and Vee gathered supplies into the metal wagon for dragging to their camp.