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'Wide Meadows' - Ka'line's country

Tuesday, October 2, 2001

Editor's note: This is a chapter installment from Jean Bell Mosley's book "Wide Meadows" that was first published in 1960.

Last time: A visit with the flying geese.

The places we went that summer. To the Kimberly diamond mines in South Africa; to Holland, where we saw the tulips and windmills, and I played with the Dutch Twins for sure; to Niagara Falls and California to visit kinfolks, and to see our aunts in Texas. It was lots of fun.

"I wish we could take Lynchie Sal something when we go back," Lou said. We went through our possessions and found the old banjo.

"Let's take it to her," I suggested. "She can already play."

We wrote Uncle Hayden and told him we'd better go if we were to get back to the cotton before school would start. Mama packed our clothes. We polished the banjo and tied a big red hair ribbon around it. In a few days Uncle Hayden came and once again we were in the flat cotton country. When we turned into the familiar lane we looked for Lynchie Sal. Somehow we expected her to be where we'd left her, waving to us, white teeth gleaming.

We stayed at Cousin Becky's as short a time as we could without seeming rude, then slipped away up the road to the big white house with our precious banjo.

A white lady came to the door, which we thought was funny if Lynchie Sal lived there.

"Is Ka'line here?" Lou asked.


"Ka'line," Lou repeated. "The little girl that carries water."

"Carries water? My dear, the Ventrisses have lived in this house for six generations, and so far as I know no one ever carried water."

"Well ..." Lou looked at me for suggestions.

"Her name may have been Lynchie Sal," I said.

"Oh, you mean that one? Why, I haven't seen her around lately. She and her mother used to live over there, other side of the drainage ditch. That one broke more of my Haviland china for me."

A terrible surprise

We went in the direction the lady pointed. Neither Lou nor I discussed Lynchie Sal's lie about her home.

"Is Ka'line home?" Lou asked. The woman was taking in clothes from the clothesline.

"What you all want with her?" she demanded suspiciously.

"We got her a present." Lou held up the banjo.

"It's a banjo," I said, when the woman didn't say anything.

She looked at it for a minute more. "My Sally is daid."

"Dead?" we whispered. Lou clutched the banjo, making an awful twanging sound. I shivered involuntarily.

The woman nodded, her lips trembling. She clung to a sheet on the line and buried her head in it. "Sally always said the banjo'd come."

"What did she die from?" Lou asked in a cracked voice.

But the woman could not answer. Her thin shoulders heaved with great sobs. We laid the banjo down on the porch and tiptoed away. We passed through the cotton fields and picked some out of the bolls to dry our eyes on, hardly noticing that now it was cotton.

Near the end of our visit, Lou asked Cousin Becky if she knew the little girl they called Lynchie Sal.

"Sure, everyone knew her. She died."

"What from?" I asked.

"Doctor said it wasn't anything special. Just malnutrition."

"What's that?"

"Well, it's just not getting enough to eat, that's what it is," Cousin Colar explained. "Her ma should have known better than to try to stay here after the trouble," he told Uncle Hayden.

"What trouble?" Lou persisted.

"Her father was killed, honey," Cousin Becky explained. "Now, come on, you all. Supper is ready. I've got friend chicken and all the trimmings."

We made it all right until we got to the chocolate cake.

"What's the matter with you children?" Cousin Becky wanted to know. "You ain't eatin' none of that cake."

"We got the B.B.D.'s," Lou explained.

"What's that?" Cousin Becky asked. "Homesickness?"

"Something like it, I reckon," Lou said.

We took a few branches of cotton back home. "Maybe your teacher will like for you to give a report on cotton," Uncle Hayden suggested, "and you can sure tell them all about it now, can't you?"

"Sure can," Lou agreed.

'We give up too easy'

There were a few days left after we got back home before school would start. We wandered around listlessly from house to orchard to attic, not knowing for sure what we were seeking, but hoping somehow, some way, we could put a finale on this summer that would give it a definite closing, but yet give us something to go on. Something that would not make tears come to our eyes every time we looked sideways at a barbed-wire fence.

"The trouble with us," Lou said one day, fitting a final piece into the jigsaw puzzle, "we give up too easy." She spoke slowly, feeling her way. "If we can't put things right in a week's time, we give up." She lapsed into Lynchie Sal's dialect, "I 'specks if enuf people would get on the backs of them old B.B.D.'s and fly away to a land where no one was hungry and everybody was treated right and stays there long enuf to see how good it was and how it was done, some day we might all land there."

"But it's only a game," I said, noticing Lou's serious expression.

"I know. But suppose everyone got on them old B.B.D.'s in the morning and flew away and lived all day like they were in such a land, don't you think it might come true?"

"I don't know," I said.

"Not in a week's time, now, mind you." Lou looked up at me, warningly. "Not in a week's time. It'll be a long, long trip."

"But how are people going to know about it?" I asked.

"Well, let's start with us."

We finished the puzzle and walked down to the cow lane. I thought by the way Lou's head was turned sideways she was flying with the geese again. I dared to do the same. They looked like a double line until my eyes sort of dried up.

"Where did you go?" Lou asked me when we got to the end of the lane.

"I've been to see Ka'line, and boy, can she play that banjo."

Uncle Hayden came back out to bring something of ours we'd left in the car. It was cool in the evenings on the porch so he and Mama and Dad were drinking a cup of coffee. The porch chairs creaked comfortably. Cotton prices had turned out all right after all.

Lou and I were at the other end of the porch playing an uninteresting game of dominoes. "Aw, let's quit," Lou said. Seemed as if we had a hard time finishing anything we started lately. I guess we were both wondering how we were going to get people to act like they were living in Ka'line's country, without seeming silly to them.

"Grown people have it easy, don't they?" Lou observed, looking at Mama and Dad and Uncle Hayden. "I wonder how old you have to be before things don't bother you any more?" she asked wistfully.

Grandma's finale

This seemed to make the whole thing come full circle since it had started with Uncle Hayden thinking we had it easy. But it was Grandma who finally put a proper finale on the summer. Not only had Ka'line died but old Mr. Scroggins passed on, too. We missed hearing his ax ring out and seeing him pass along the old woods roads.

"I'm glad I used the silver spoon for his tea," I told Grandma one day as we sat under the Maiden Blush apple tree. This was one of Grandma's favorite places. On long, lazy, late-summer afternoons she would tie on a big, white, starched apron, get out her basket of quilt scraps, and head for the orchard. If she wanted solitude, she seldom got it for I usually trailed along. There might be such a thing as a peppermint hiding in the bottom of her basket!

Grandma would find a comfortable spot to sit and soon the click of needle against thimble would blend in with other busy sounds: insects droning, the chickens clucking up in the barnyard, birds singing in the maple grove. Sometimes an apple would fall with a soft plop in the thick grass and wasps and bees would swarm to tunnel in for sweetness.

The orchard fell away gently toward the pasture where we could see the cows lying placidly in the shade of the river trees. Then came the fields, rising toward the hills that folded into each other - higher and higher-blue deepening to indigo and then purple.

"Grandma, do you think that when I enter into eternity that I will meet Ka'line and Mr. Scroggins?"

"Possibly. But nobody can enter eternity."

"Can't enter eternity? What do you mean, Grandma?"

She took off her glasses and wiped them thoughtfully. "Eternity began a long time ago. No one can say for sure how long; but for a starting point let's say it began on the first page of Genesis. You know about that, don't you?"

I nodded, reciting. "'In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.'"

"That's right," Grandma said. "Heaven and earth, and all of time. That's eternity."

She sewed a couple more patches together. Then -- "Look," she said, pointing. "There's the barn lot up there. Here, next to it, is the orchard; and there, over the fence, are the pastures and fields and hills. Let's say the barn lot is that part of eternity which was here before you were even born. This orchard is the part where you are now. The pasture and fields, and those high, mysterious-looking mountains -- let's say they're the part of eternity you'll learn about when you leave the orchard. It's all connected, see?"

I thought this over. "But, Grandma, that means we're in eternity now!"

"Exactly!" She was pleased at my logic. I got a peppermint for it.

That night for supper I put the silver spoon at Grandma's place. No one asked why, but Grandma looked at me and smiled.

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