I’ll be dead afore the ground thaws in spring. So be it and amen.
The house is full of people come to tell me goodbye. And I’m laying in bed, alone in this dark room. Oh, they been here, said their hellos and moved on to the kitchen, I reckon. I smell a roast or something. Doubt that Mom cooked anything. She can still do eggs in the morning and maybe some beans and cornbread of the evenings, but she can’t cook for a whole mess of people like has come here today. She ain’t that much better off than me. She ain’t my mom, you know. She’s my wife, my help meet, as the good book says. All these years.
I can hear them in the back room, too, watching that danged television. Football, football, football. Ever now and again they let out a whoop.
They didn’t have football in my day. Well, maybe they did, but it wasn’t like it is now. Sure fire didn’t have no television. They don’t live like we used to. Now days they watch other people live. We did things. Went out on the river. If I could get out this bed I’d take them down to my museum one last time. Show them that alligator I got down in the bayou. Got that on the second trip down the Mississippi. That was back when you made your own boats. Flat boats. No motors like they got now. Just float down the river with the current. We’d hunt all the way down and when we got to the bayou, we’d sell the boat and send our haul back by rail. Except on that second trip, the Eugene – that was the name of the boat – got caught up in the trees and rocks and such and sank in the shallows. We tried to pull it out but we lost ever thing. Saved just enough to get a train ride home.
Those were good days.
One of them rug rats came in. Red-haired kid. Cute little thing, wearing a girly white dress. She stayed out in the hall at first, peeking in through the doorway. I told her come on in. She stood next to the bed, didn’t say nothing.
What’s your name?
How old are you?
I’m ninety two.
She had nothing to say to that. Kind of tickled me.
Did you get you something to eat?
She looked around the room. The wallpaper had started peeling off the walls. Been that way for a while. Plaster on the ceiling is brown from water stains and ever few weeks a chunk will fall to the maple floor and Blanche or Hubert will come in and pick it up. If they’re feeling special industrious one of them might bring a broom and a dustpan. I think Hubert drinks. I know Blanche does. But they do enough round the house to keep me and Mom from doing harm to ourselves.
The house was built by my daddy. He was fairly well off and kept the place pretty good, but if I’m being honest, my hunting and trapping didn’t bring in enough money to keep up the house proper. I refinished the floors once. Probably fifty year ago. You can’t tell it now. Worn down to bare wood between the bed and the door. Hubert put tape on the cracked window glass. No sense in doing any more than that. My time is short and Mom will be close behind. When she’s gone, the power company will finish the job that time and mother nature started and take the house to the ground. I hate it that it has to end that way, but no one else cares much.
So be it and amen.
Is this your home?
The red-haired girl. Guess I drifted off. Happens like that when your last breath could come any time. Forgot she was in the room. I opened my eyes and took in a deep breath and let it go in a long, slow whistle.
She didn’t mean nothing bout the question, she just wanted to know if I was the one who lived in that shamble of a house. Just a rug rat asking a question. But I pondered on it a spell.
Home? Maybe once. When I could get around. I’d hunt, and Mom would cook up whatever I brought home. Pheasant. Squirrel. Turkey. Deer. We’d have a feast. And family would come in on Sundays. My regular family. Brothers and their kin. And we’d tell stories and plan our next trip. We’d share a bottle or two in those days and my brother Aaron would have too much and start to bragging about his shooting skills and before the day was out we’d be back behind the kitchen shooting bottles off the fence post.
We hadn’t used that cabin in the back as a kitchen for as long as I can remember. I used it to cure pelts. And tobacco, them few years I tried my hand at farming. Hard tell what’s back there now.
Yeah, honey. This is my home. For a spell longer, anyways.
I laughed a little at that, which started me coughing and wheezing and I couldn’t stop. Blanche heard me and came in and pulled me up in the bed. Nearly pulled my shoulder out of its socket. She pulled my pillows up then pushed my head back down and flattened my hair to my head. She yanked the covers up over my shoulders, not even asking me if I was cold. She sure treats an old man rough.
Red stood there watching and Blanche gave her the stink eye, and when Blanche headed for the door, I managed to give Red a wink.
She kindly smiled.
Don’t get old, honey.
I laughed again but seems my coughing spell was over.
I used to keep gumdrops in a glass bowl on my nightstand but the jar was empty. Sugar stuck to the sides of the bowl. On the dresser is a picture of Mom, all young and pretty in her red dress, cepting the picture is black and white. Maybe more brown. But I remember that dress. Beside her picture is one of my daddy. Not as mean as he looks. He was a good man. Died when he was forty-two. Consumption.
She looked at me, not getting my meaning. I reached for my cane. Always keep my cane with me, even in bed. I picked it up, the worn oak so familiar in my hands. Oak maybe as old as me. I told Mom to make sure they put it in the ground with me.
I picked it up, held it up to my eye like I was sighting a rifle, and aimed at the dresser.
She knew what I meant but she wasn’t sure.
She walked to the dresser.
Open it up.
It stuck at first but she gave it a strong pull and it squeaked as it opened.
She looked inside, then back at me.
Look under the handkerchiefs.
She pulled them back.
The wood box. Bring it to me.
I thought she would hesitate but she didn’t. She picked up the box and walked straightway to me. She stood next to the bed and held the box out.
I took it and she stared at my hands, gnarled and bent out of shape by age and ever thing I had done in my life. Can’t remember how many times I broke one of my fingers. Life on the flat boat ain’t for the faint. And when you skin an animal, you’re just as likely to skin yourself. Then there’s my fingernails. Blanche aint’ cut them in a while.
I gave Red a smile and a wink and she smiled back.
I lifted the lid, half expecting the box to be empty. Figured Hubert would have found the box by now. Maybe he had. Wasn’t really worth that much. Ten dollars. Ten silver dollars.
I picked up a few and hefted them in my hand. I love the way silver dollars clink against each other. Kind of heavy and muted. Makes you feel like you have something worthwhile.
I looked through them, trying to find the newest, shiniest dollar. Not that they were new. Like ever thing else in this old house, they were at least fifty years old. But I found one in pretty good shape. I picked it out from the others and held it up, letting the dim light through the cracked window do what it could to show its shine. Not much.
I held it out to Red.
She took it, stared at it.
It’s a silver dollar. It’s only worth a dollar.
I want you to keep it. Something to remember old Sid by. Will you keep it?
She nodded again.
Don’t lose it.
She closed her hand around the coin and put her hand in one of the pockets of her dress. I closed the lid on the box and closed my eyes.
When I woke again it was dark. The house was quiet. I could hear Blanche and Hubert in the kitchen talking to Mom. Couldn’t tell what they were saying. Making plans, I reckon. I’ll be gone soon. It’s only right.
So be it and amen.
There’s no way he knew what he gave me back then. It was just a dollar. They don’t make money like that anymore. It’s different. It’s real. Like Sid.
I didn’t know him. Barely even remember that time in his room, in that old house. But when I see the pictures, like the one with his birthday cake, it all comes back. The fading wallpaper. The crumbling plaster. The smells. The old gas furnace with fumes not quite burned. The mildew coming from the wood just beginning to rot inside the house and far enough along on the front porch that bumble bees and yellow jackets had taken over.
Sometimes I have dreams that I’m back in that house that seems to ramble on forever and I’m lost upstairs or in a room I didn’t know existed or trapped in the kitchen out back. It’s terrifying.
My kids are grown with families of their own but when they were growing up I told them about Sid. Showed them the pictures. I’ve even taken them to what’s left of the museum in Point Pleasnt. The kitchen was restored and moved to wide spot beside the highway. Every fall – football, football, football – they open it to the public and make apple butter. I’m sure Mom made apple butter for Sid.
It was an 1884 Morgan Silver Dollar. S series. Last time I had it appraised it was worth about $200,000. He had no way of knowing how valuable it would become. Just a shiny coin for little girl.
I keep it in a box in the top drawer of my dresser, under my scarves. I know I should put it in the safe deposit box. That would be the prudent thing to do. But I like to take it out and hold it, feel its heft. There’s more to life than money.
Sid knew that. Sid lived it.
The house – his home – is long gone. Hard to even see where it used to be. Doesn’t matter. Because I remember the kindness a gentle man showed to a small child so long ago.
So be it and amen.
copyright 2021, joseph e bird
A couple of weeks ago, Katie, my friend in Virginia, issued a short story challenge for 2021. The theme is Home. So here we go.
This story is a work of fiction, though certain aspects are true. Albert Sidney Morgan lived a life of adventure and did indeed built flatboats, including the Eugene, and floated down the Mississippi on hunting expeditions. He lived across from the John Amos power plant near Winfield and some of you may remember his Morgan’s Museum. In his last years, there was in fact a gathering at his house and Sid was bed-ridden, but I don’t know if he was in his last days, as he is in this story. The guests were watching football, and Sid did utter the immortal words, “football, football, football.” Some of you can relate. I don’t know that there was ever any drinking at the house. Maybe, maybe not. I’m claiming artistic license on that. The red-haired girl in the story is my sister, but the encounter described never happened. She doesn’t have a silver dollar worth hundreds of thousands. Really, she doesn’t. So while some of the characters are real, the story is fiction.
Here are some of my memories of the old home place.