May 16, 2006


In my basement on an old bookcase back behind the furnace, sits a typewritten manuscript. On one hundred and thirty six single space pages is a story I have not read in more than a decade. I don’t know exactly what made me search it out when I came home from a school concert at my daughter’s middle school but here is a little bit. It is told by my grandfather Elvis’s younger sister, great aunt Nettie. This episode is set in 1919.

One big event was my brother Elvis’ wedding. After he returned from the Army, he helped dad on the farm for a season. But he was a man now and wanted to get out on his own. There was a neighbor girl with bright and shining eyes who was willing to help and so they were married at her parents' home.

Dad and mom did not go to the wedding but Elvis and Elsie came to our house to stay for a few days and there was a shivaree for them by the folks around the neighborhood.

For those of you who don’t understand what a shivaree is, I will explain. A shivaree is a special party.

First, you have to notify everyone where the new bride and groom are spending their first night as a married couple.

Everyone takes some kind of noisemaker, including shotguns (with real shells) and all gather at a pre-arranged place. Then they sneak up to the house where the newlyweds are. Someone leads off with a shot from a real shotgun and then everyone else joins in whoopin’, yellin’, bangin’, and shootin’.

They keep this up until the bridegroom opens the door and invites them in. Then they have a real party with games, loud talk and good wishes. The bride and groom pass around candy or something good to eat.

It was in the wintertime and long after dark. I don’t know if the grownups were expecting it, but I surely wasn’t. Such a noise I never heard. There must have been four or five guns and a lot of people out there in the dark. I was so scared that I began to cry. Then brother Bill and sister Beth started to cry. Elvis finally went to the door and opened it. Then I think we had more noise inside the house than out.

Aunt Nettie wrote these childhood recollections and many others in the early eighties when she was in her seventies.

She was a god fearin’ woman who was fond of quoting the good book when she felt the need. One she wrote in this manuscript went something like this: “How firm the foundation, my faith in the Lord”.

Put in a good word to Saint Peter for me, Aunt Nettie. I am going to need it.

NOTE: In this 1913 photo, Aunt Nettie is with brother Jack on her right and brother Bill on her left.

Posted by roadapples at 10:04 PM | Comments (6)

January 02, 2006

grandpa elvis 1897 -1971

Hand me my reading specs, Johnnie. They're over there on the dinner table by the red sugar bowl, the one your Grandma Elsie bought in Alanthis Grove when we were first married. Yeah, yeah, I know, stop whining. I know you don’t like me calling you Johnnie. It aint fittin' and all for a grown man in his 20’s to be called by a boy’s name. Now what was it you wanted to know? Oh yeah, you wanted to know about the particulars of my birth. OK, for the hundredth time, I’ll tell you the story one more time.

It was in the dead of winter in 1897, and your Great-Grandma was helpin' to bring the cows in when she got the pains. The both of them, my mom and dad, were over in the lower 40, this side of Indian Creek, when she yelled for my dad to go fetch Doc Williamson. Men don’t stand around asking stupid questions when their womenfolk tell them to fetch the doctor. It don’t take a lot of high falootin book learnin' like you got to figure that out. All I needed to do farmin' in my day was what I got by the third grade. Besides, there was no time for such luxuries 'cause dad had nobody else to help him with chores and there were six younger kids to feed.

Get me one of them fancy sodie pops from the ice box, will ya. My throat is gettin’ kind of dry from all this jawin’. They’re back there behind the powdered milk next to the left over cornbread.

Now where was I? Uuuhh... Oh yeah now I remember. Well sir, Dad got mom in the house, hitched up Brownie to the buggy and went for the Doctor. It was a good thing it was late afternoon after the Doc had made his rounds to the neighboring farms, tending to the sick, or Dad would have had a heck of time finding him. Not that Gentry County was all that big, mind ya, but it had just snowed five inches the night before and some of the roads weren’t near cleared yet. They had to stop at the Rawley farm to get Sadie Rawley. She was the best midwife in the county and she didn’t mind fixin’ a little somethin’ for the men to eat, as long as they stayed out of the way and didn’t cause a fuss.

Dad told me the whole job wasn’t much trouble, but Mom had a different take on the situation. It seems, I was what Doc Williamson called a breach baby. The Doc and Mrs. Rawley had to work way up into the night trying to get me to slide out. I guess there was a whole lot of hollerin’ and carryin’ on but finally it was all over about breakfast time.

Mrs. Rawley cleaned up, fixed some cakes with molasses and sausages for the men, and helped Doc Williamson with his team and buggy. The date was February 22, and I was the second child born to Henry Jackson and Olive Larue Dalbey. My sister Elsie was the first and there were six more to come after me: Zelpha, Raymond, Jackson, Vernetta, William, and my baby sister, Ermel Elizabeth.

Posted by roadapples at 01:02 PM | Comments (2)

December 23, 2005

christmas '52

For many people, this is a melancholy time of year. The wife is shopping and the girls are at the neighbors; the house is unusually quiet and still. The dog and I are napping in the over stuffed leather chair by the tree. Like a fine mist, a ghost from Christmas past slips in under the door jamb and fills me with wonderful dreams. They warm me like a nice Christmas wine. Slowly I awake and shake the sleep from my head. Then I remember a photograph these tired old eyes have not gazed upon for many years. I must find it before I forget about him again.

The old man in the photo above is my grandfather John Elvis Dalbey and that's me in the middle between brothers Tom (L) and David (R). Elvis, as every one called him, was not a tall man in stature; he stood only five feet five. He was not a man of any importance. He never held high office, although he always went to the polls in Gentryville and voted Republican because Lincoln freed the slaves. He was not smart in the ways of book learning; he had a third grade education. But he could tell you how many cords of wood was in a stand of timber with one good look.

Nobody ever sought his advice or asked his opinion. No matter because he wasn't one to give it even if they had. He was a man of few words and even fewer emotions. His farm was not the fanciest or had the latest implements. He did not get a John Deere until long after all his neighbors had at least two. Old Whisky and Buddy was all the horse power he needed to work eighty acres. And when he died in 1971, he was as poor as a church mouse.

No my grandfather was none of the things most people use to measure a life fully lived. But he was always kind and gentle to me and he was my father figure when I needed one. I miss him and wish him well wherever he is. Godspeed grandpa.

Posted by roadapples at 03:41 PM | Comments (11)

December 21, 2005

ghost story

I did not see the corn crib the first time I came by. They told me at the barber shop in town to go exactly 4 and 3 tenths of a mile out of town on old high way D and I couldn’t miss it. When the odometer ticked past 6 miles, I doubled back. I could see why it was hard to spot. The vines and weeds had completely covered it. They told me not to look for the farm house. Kids playing with matches had burned it down years ago.

I parked my black Expedition and grabbed my digital. The early evening sky was slightly overcast with a tinge of orange marmalade color on the western horizon. I studied the structure trying to find the best angle that would give me a good composition. I took two or three shots and walked a little closer to the open doorway. Slowly, I could feel the hair on the back of my neck begin to stand out. I saw nothing that was out of the ordinary. It was just an old corn crib like hundreds I had seen before. Maybe it was the darkness falling around me or the sound of absolute silence that was creeping me out. I was not sure. Suddenly, I spotted the dark crimson stain on the ground. It couldn’t possibly be blood after all these years. In 1957 when the bodies were discovered, there had been plenty of blood soaking the ground inside this old crib. But the rains of forty eight summers surely must have washed it away by now.

Ed Geine still lived with his mother long after other children would have moved out on their own. However, at fifty seven, he still had trouble making friends and settling down with a wife. The years of lonliness and isolation must have taken their toll. People say they found his mother’s body still sitting in a chair in her bedroom where she died of old age. Ed had simply closed the door and left her there. I remembered the framed and faded newspaper articles hanging on the wall in the barber shop describing the gory details of the two town's people he murdered. He cut off their heads, gutted them, and hung their bodies upside down in the corn crib like a hunter would hang a buck ready for butchering.

I hesitated before entering the dark interior of the crib. The last remaining bit of dusk light shone through the openings in the boards nailed to the outside. I took four steps and stopped dead in my stride. I could sense something near me. No, it was more like the feeling you get when you feel someone’s eyes watching you. I looked around but saw nothing in the shadows that filled the corners. Suddenly, with a loud screech, a barn owl fluttered out of the rafters. Flying with in a foot of my head, it soared out through the open door and in to the evening sky.

That was enough for me. I ran to my car, frantically started the engine, backed out of the drive way, and headed for home.

Posted by roadapples at 08:43 AM

November 23, 2005

farm boy


Like I always tells ya, Johnny boy, life ain't fair. If it were, teachers would get a decent wage and ball players would get peanuts. If life were fair, the good guys would always come in first and right would always win out, but we know that ain't so. I'll tell ya somthing else; there are two kinds of people in this world. There are the haves and the have nots. In most countries, if you were born in one then chances are slim to none that you could move to the other. But t'ain't so in the good ole US of A.

Now you take me for instance. I was one of the haves when I was brought into this world. When I got married to your grandma, Elsie, my dad gave me 80 acres and a house. It was a good farm too with good rich bottom land and a fair stand of timber. We always had plenty of fire wood for the winter and there was peach and pear trees. With the vegetables we raised in the truck patch and the fruit from the orchard, we canned food enough to keep us through the winter.

But it takes more than hard work to work a farm. It takes a little brains and luck too. I was short on one and, in the thirties when the depression hit, I did not have much of the other. I watched my kids almost starve to death. Slowly, season after season, my spirit died a littke bit more every time we had to go on relief. I was never the same after that.

But you, on the other hand, was definitely one of the have nots from the moment you were born. This picture was taken shortly after your mom dropped you off at our doorstep. It was 1952 and you must have been about three months shy of your fourth birthday. The only clothes you owned were the ones you had on your back. We had to cut down your uncle's overalls for you to wear. Your mom went to St Joe to find work and tried to send money home for you and your brothers but life was hard for a single mom in those days. There was no welfare like we have now.

Now you mind what I say and remember your roots, Johnny boy, when life gets you down and you don't think it can get any worse. I am glad to see you turned it around and I will always be here pulling for ya.

Posted by roadapples at 02:36 PM | Comments (1)