Wednesday, July 20, 2016

More Oak Creek Tales


Three weeks ago I posted a story from the book of short stories that I am attempting (emphasis on attempting) to write called Oak Creek Tales. The stories are based on my mother's childhood and the many stories I heard growing up. My mother's was always a storyteller. Her stories weren't just popular with my family and cousins but with my sister's friends as well.

I can remember one night in the early 1970s when a large group of my sister's high school friends gathered in our kitchen. We had one of those tables with a semicircle booth around it. My sister's friends were all around the table and sitting on the floor. There were candles and incense burning-it was the '70s and mom was cool like that. Anyway, sitting in the middle of this group was my mom telling about the Crows, an odd family that lived across Oak Creek from her family in the 1930s. These high school kids who could have been out doing whatever had instead, chosen to sit and listen enraptured to my mother dramatically detailing the idiosyncrasies of this family.

It embarrassed my sister. Afterwards, whenever a big group of my sister's friends were over at our house, one of them would say, "Mrs. Monroe tell us about the Crows!" My mother, knowing it embarrassed Linda would decline. Being only six, I loved those stories and was a little angry to think Mom couldn't tell them and I wouldn't get to hear them. Years went by and my sister grew up and realized those stories were a family treasure. She would always say, "We need to write those down!" Well here I am recording those wonderful stories.  I hope you enjoy them as much as we do.  

One day, late in the summer of 1931, a part went out on our water well. Daddy went to Gotebo, a larger town ten miles south of us, to the  hardware store to get a part to fix it.  Being summer, the thought of being without water for a few hours made us especially thirsty. Momma, tired of hearing Otis and me complain about how thirsty we were, gave us a clean bucket and sent us to the Crows to ask for water from their well.

As we approached their yard, we heard the screech of their screen door's rusty spring as Mrs. Crow stepped out onto their porch. She greeted us happily in her scratchy little voice. “Otis and Mabel!” Otis stepped forward and in his polite manner said, “Miz Crow, our well broke and Daddy went to Gotebo to get us a part. Momma was wondering if we could get a bucket of water from you?”  
Mrs. Crow smiled, “Why shore you can! But come on into the house for a visit before you run off.” Obligingly, Otis and I followed her into their kitchen. 

Sitting in the middle of their scratched up wooden table was a newly frosted chocolate cake. Seeing us eyeing it, she asked, “You want a piece of cake? I just finished frostin’ it when I saw you walking up.”  Otis and I looked at each other with wide eyes. We knew our momma’s strict instructions about not eating any of the Crow's food. Momma said it was because we shouldn’t be taking from people who barely have enough to feed their own. We sensed there was more to it but we were never brave enough to ask momma the real reason.

I watched as Otis hesitated, looking at Mrs. Crow, then the cake and then back at Mrs. Crow. I about fell over when Otis said, “Well...I guess a piece of cake would be nice!” As Mrs. Crow turned to cut us each a slice, I mouthed, “Momma won’t like that!” Otis hushed me with a fierce look. When Mrs. Crow placed a large piece of cake in front of each of us, we could smell its chocolatey goodness and without hesitation, dug in. Though forbidden, it was delicious and Mrs. Crow cackled at how quickly we shoveled it in our mouths. “You like that, huh? Albert says I make the best chocolate cake he’s ever tasted. Guess I’ll tell him ya’ll agree!”

As we were eating our last bites we heard a scratching noise coming from the large flour bin in the Crow's cabinet. At our questioning looks, Mrs. Crow laughed. “Oh that silly rabbit of Buck’s. I swear that boy and his animals. It was driving me crazy runnin’ all over the place and under my feet. I fixed it. Stuck it in the flour bin!"  Oblivious to our horror, she laughed at her own cleverness. "It’s been real quiet too till now.” At that, she turned and pulled out the flour bin drawer and a flour covered rabbit jumped out and scurried off into the other part of the house. She yelled after it, “That’ll teach you to bother me when I’m cookin’!”

Otis dropped his fork and gave me a sick look. I felt the way he looked. The rabbit had been in the flour bin. There was flour in the cake! Otis stood up suddenly. “Miz Crow thank you for the cake but we’d best be gettin’ that water and headin’ home. Momma will be wondering what happened to us.” Mrs. Crow smiled and grabbed our bucket. We followed her out to their old well in the yard and watched as she attached our bucket to the crank and lowered it into the well. She was strong for her tiny size and in no time had the bucket filled and back up. "Here you go Otis. That ought to keep you cool until your daddy gets that well fixed." 

As she handed Otis the bucket, we saw our bucket was filled with cool water-with chicken feathers floating on the top! Our mouths dropped open. At our look, Mrs. Crow laughed. “Oh one of our silly chickens jumped in the well last week and Albert hasn’t gotten around to getting her out yet! Well it shore was nice seeing you two. You tell your momma I said hi!” Turning and heading back to the house, she missed the look we shot each other. What would momma say?

We walked quietly back toward home, each of us wondering what momma would do when she saw the contents of that bucket. As we crossed the bridge out of sight of the Crow house, Otis stopped me with a warning “You’re not to tell momma we ate any of that cake!” At my protest that it wasn’t my fault, he grabbed my arm. “You ate it too so you’re in just as much trouble as me. Keep your mouth shut! Ya hear?”  Keeping my mouth tightly closed, I nodded and we headed across the bridge and home.

I didn’t tell momma about the cake but we still got in trouble. Momma wasn’t happy about the chicken feathers in her bucket. “What would possess you to carry that bucket of water all the way home if it had chicken feathers in it? Momma asked. I shrugged my shoulders and said, “Well you wanted water." At her look, I knew I had really done it. “Not water with a dead chicken in it!” She was obviously exasperated that she had to point that out.  Momma made us take the bucket to the creek and pour it out. After all that and we still didn't have any water!