She had grown old, turned forty, only to find that she didn’t much care for the world she lived in. Oh, she loved her children, all one thousand of them that it sometimes seemed she had. And she loved her husband who gave them to her, but the world which they inhabited no longer seemed like a good enough place for them all.
She sat on the front porch in her good chair rocking back and forth, her rough hands moving mechanically to pull the husks from the corn that lay at her feet. Her mind was drifting, and she thought about the preacher at church last Sunday who spit his words rather than saying them. He called for a new revival, a rejuvenation of the Lord’s church because they were surely being punished for their ways. According to him the world would come to an end soon and only the faithful would be brought up to heaven while the world suffered His wrath. She put a clean ear of corn in the bucket next to her.
She wondered how much she had contributed to the world going to shit. Not much, she had to admit, but she thought maybe there a little something everyone did. Willie had never thought that. “We do what we hafta do, Katie. Ain’t no laws against living.” Except there were, as it turned out, and they broke them. Of course, now they lived well in the lines of good church folk. Willie worked the fields with their boys and Katie shucked corn and fed the girls who would eventually sew back together tattered pants and skirts and milk cows. She made sure they went to school though, because life was more than what you could fix.
She had gotten used to Alabama and its hills, the things they could make from the soil they lived on. Mostly it was like Tennessee though, the woods they wandered through and the animals they’d hunt. She was sitting on the porch still when she saw Willy walking from the fields, hunched and soaked in sweat. The air here, she had to admit, was different. Oppressive and heavy, like walking through soup sometimes. In the mountains is was clear and light, and you’d have to do more than walk outside to get a sheen of sweat on you. And yet Willy walked, as he always did, through what he had to to live. The sun was still up so he was still working, going now to the smoke house where they hung a butchered hog and a steer.
Katie thought back to the first time she met Willy. He had a hog thrown over his back, walking into town with a look of grim determination. He was a young man and blazed like a fire with his red hair and smoldering eyes. When he came out of the butcher’s shop, she was sitting across the road eating rock candy while her mother looked at dresses for Easter. He walked over and asked, “What’s your name?”
“Kathryn,” she’d told him because she was a lady and her mother had told her that ladies always use their whole name when meeting someone.
“You look mighty fine today, Kathryn.”
“As opposed to other days when I’m not worth looking at a’tall?” She remembered letting the candy in her mouth clack as she finished the sentence.
“I suppose I’ll have to find you more often to see for myself.”
“Good luck,” she had said, “I don’t run around with hogs.” Willy had smiled in a way that seemed to say he wasn’t sure if he should be smiling.
“Where will you be then?”
“Lots of places. Maybe the trees.” She smiled and knew the candy had made her mouth blood red. “I reckon I’ll marry you, Kathryn.”
They didn’t get married, not for a while anyway. He did come find her though, time after time while she was in town doing this or that. She wondered at the likelihood of him being at the general store the same time she was or him finding himself in the same church pew. Later he’d told her for every minute he spent with her he’d spent an hour looking for her. “That’s so silly,” she’d told him. “I didn’t like you at all.” Which was a lie.
After a few months of this, and after Kathryn’s mother had given Willie such wild and scrupulous looks as would pickle a cucumber, he asked her if she’d have Sunday dinner with him. She was inclined to say “no” when she saw the look of utter reprehension in her mother’s eyes. It had been a long time since she’d been so at odds with her mother, but every day now it seemed that she could only do wrong. She wasn’t getting up early enough, she wasn’t doing any good in school, she wasn’t helping around the house at all. So, she said “yes” to Willie, not out of any expectation of going, but just to say something that would rile her mother.
“Now, Mr. Ferrell, I hardly think that will do,” Katie’s mother said, “Young ladies do not go off with young men alone for a Sunday dinner.”
“Well he ain’t alone, there, ma’am.” A large, hairy–knuckled man had appeared in the form of Willie’s older brother beside Katie’s mother in an old dress shirt; his hair just a shade darker than Willie’s red. “We asked him to invite Miss Kathryn. He’s been doing nothing but talking about her and trying to find her all over town for a minute of her time. We thought that she must be hungry after running away from him so much.” The man laughed and Willie’s face grew red to match the stubble that had sprouted on his chin.
Soon Willie’s whole family, his aunts and uncles, older cousins, brothers and sisters were around them telling her mother how cottoned–brained he’d gotten since running into Katie. “And, ma’am, please do come with us. We’ve got plenty of food.”
“I hardly think you want me around and I’ve got so many things to get done this afternoon.” She looked at Willie, “You make sure she’s home by dark or I’ll have the whole town after your scalp.”
True to his word, Katie was home by dark that night, but not before she saw Willie with his family and learned why people in town treated them a little carefully. They laughed and sang songs, said grace and ate healthily, but maybe a little too healthily for a family that “farmed” in the woods on a mountain where they weren’t growing anything. But the food came with drink and not a little moonshine that she heard they made themselves all over their property.
“Isn’t that dangerous?” She asked Willie, pointing at his father’s cup.
“Naw, we cut it good so it don’t blind you.”
“No, I mean,” Katie lowered her voice, “what if you get caught?”
“Who’s gonna catch us?” He asked. “Everyone in town buys it, even your aunt who always keeps her nose up at everyone in church. Nobody wants it gone.”
“She does not!” Katie said.
“For her sore throat, she tells us. Oh, she’s got bad allergies Katie.”
Willie showed her some of their stills, never too close though because “Sometimes they blow up if you don’t watch em right. Jim’s smart and ain’t gonna do that, but still you’re too pretty to risk it.” She’d get lost with him in the woods and they’d play games in places they had all to themselves. Sometimes she’d go hunting with Willie’s family, early in the morning to catch the deer or hogs that were looking for food, or late at night to rouse out the raccoons from the trees. She loved the feel of it, the escape that seemed to peek around every corner in their country, but she liked most when Willie would take her riding in his family’s car. He would look at her and smile while she let the wind take her hair and laugh at it.
She thought about how wild they were back then and wondered what Alabama would give her children for memories. She felt her swollen belly and wondered what Betty might say to the first cocky boy who said she was beautiful. The corn lay in its bucket, ready to be washed then boiled or fried. She wasn’t sure which yet, but she called to Willie when she saw him leaving the tiny shack.
“What is it, woman?” He asked
“Come sit with your wife and tell me a story.”
“Stories?” He had come within a few feet and Katie could smell the smoke and sweat of him.
“I aint’ got time for that, Katie, we got more cotton to pick and I gotta get them hogs fed and that fence-” She stepped up to him, quick as a bird and kissed the words from his mouth.
“Well, I got one story about a girl maybe.”
The following sources were used, but are not cited internally so that they do not interrupt the creative narrative.
Brasher, Jennifer. Personal interview. 8, March 2019
Ferrell, Betty Sue. Personal interview, 16, March 2019.
“Historical Weather during 1943 at Birmingham–Shuttlesworth International Airport, Alabama, United States.” The Typical Weather Anywhere on Earth – Weather Spark, Cedar Lake Ventures Inc., weatherspark.com/h/y/146551/1943/Historical-Weather-during-1943-at-Birmingham–Shuttlesworth-International-Airport-Alabama-United-States.
1910; Census Place: Civil District 11, Crockett, Tennessee; Roll: T624_1494; Page: 3A; Enumeration District: 0011; FHL microfilm: 1375507 .