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Tales Of The Old South : A Duel In Honeysuckle
We moved from North Carolina down to South Georgia in 1879. My uncle Charlie had bought some land in the region a couple of years before, had returned home to visit and in the process, convinced my father to come down and buy a piece of land for himself. “Hell Blake,” he said to my father “they ain’t a rock in the ground to trip yer plow up an’ ain’t no steep hills tuh terrace neither. I tell yuh, you kin grow a garden most year round if ye want to.”
At first I thought this was what finally convinced my father to make such a drastic move. A piece of bottom land is what most small farmers in the foothills of the Appalachians wanted. But the best land was already claimed long ago in this area of North Carolina, unlike down in the Coastal Plains section of the country where flat land was the normal state of things.
And then there was Mamma--Lori O’Brady her married name was--Hildy my older sister, and Ted my younger brother to consider. Mamma wasn’t too keen on the idea at first until Aunt Myrtice--Uncle Charlie’s wife--told her about the fine new church in the nearby town of Honeysuckle. “Why honey,” she crooned “you’ll jest love thuh preacher to death. Such a solid man of god he is. And his wife is sweet as can be.”
But later on I remembered Uncle Charlie and Dad huddled together out by the smokehouse, talking low and private like. I didn’t think much about it then, but later on it made sense in a way I should’ve suspected at the time. You see, my father’s side of the family was completely different from my mother’s. Whereas my mother’s family was very reverent, always attending church, prayer meetings, revivals, and any other time the churches door were open, the O’Brady’s were just the opposite.
Yes, the O’Brady’s liked to have fun in life, loved music and dancing, good food, and a bit of Irish whisky too if the truth be known. My father was the best fiddle player in these parts. He could play all night if he had a sip of whiskey every once in a while Therein lay the only problem between my parents. My mother would not let Dad play the fiddle inside the house. “Thuh devil’s toothpick,” she called it “only fit tuh throw in the far an’ burn fer kindlin‘.” Of course my father disagreed, but still, he tried to honor mama’s wishes.
So off we went down into the flatlands of Georgia. No more to view the blue mountains or slog through the snow again. But just as my father wished, no more stones to bother with either. It was quite a while before he got over the fact there were no rocks to plow around or lug to the edge of the fields. And despite the heat in the summer, my mother loved having a garden almost year round. But this was later on, and not when we first arrived in Georgia.
We made the trip in the early fall, so as to avoid the snow and ice for the first winter we all remembered without it. We brought most of our household goods with us on the train, along with our mule Jack, and the farming implements we intended to use on the new farm. Father had sold our little plot of acreage for a good price, better than he ever expected to get for it. The new owners--a young man and his newlywed wife--looked upon it with proud eyes. “Thuh same as we did one time,” my mother sighed softly, a tear of memory forming in her eye.
Uncle Charlie met us at the depot in Waycross Georgia, bringing his wagon to ferry everything out to the new farm. We’d make do with the old log cabin built by the former owners until we could build a new house for the family. We were right down the road from Uncle Charlie’s place, but our other neighbors lived quite a distance away. So we were there over three weeks until we met anyone but the kinfolk we already knew from North Carolina.
But finally the time came when we were invited to a cane grinding over in McConnell’s Bay. Yes, we were a bit nervous about mingling with a bunch of Scotts, we being Irish and all However, Uncle Charlie said they were fine folks to know, so we took his word for it and loaded up to go.
Through The Swamp
We put on our best duds, clean overalls and white shirts for the men, new cotton print dresses for the ladies of our family. As Pa always liked to say, “We took a bath every Saturday night whether we needed it or not.”
We traveled through the swamps to get to the frolic--as Pa referred to any festive event. We hadn’t been this close to the moss shrouded trees which seemed to surround many of these mysterious wetlands before this outing. Along with the wild deer and hogs we caught glimpses of as they darted across the trail, we were fascinated by the profusion of alligators which inhabited the murky waters of the bay itself.
It was so different from what we were accustomed to, but also somehow familiar to us as if it were home already, and it was in a way. We were committed to this life, with no thought of going back to North Carolina, with no sense of failure in our future. There was no turning back now.
“I seen you a-puttin’ thet ole fiddle in thuh wagon, Blake,” my mother said. “You planning’ tuh play it in front of them strangers?” My father winced a little but straightened his shoulders and replied, “Mebbe so Lori, music kin make friends better ‘n talkin’. Besides, I hear tell there’s gonna be a good fiddle player there, a good one Charlie said.”
Nothing else was said till we got to the cane grinding and heard the music. My father sat in the wagon for a bit, listening to the reels and ballads floating through the air around us. He smiled like he knew something, knew a secret no one else knew. He then reached back and pulled the old fiddle out of the wagon and made a bee line for the fire.
There was only a single fiddler sawing away while others danced a reel. Like the other men, he wore a clean pair of overalls and a long sleeve shirt which was light blue in color, reflecting the flames from the fire. Father took his place directly across from the man and joined him in the reel. The man smiled at father and quickly changed the tune to a quicker tempo. The others sensed something different was afoot and quickly stepped aside to watch.
Home At Last
Uncle Charlie began to nod at everyone as if to say, “Yep, thet’s muh brother a-playin’ thet fiddle, I told yuh so.” I’d never heard my father play like he did that night, never suspected he had it in him, but he made a bit of magic then, showed those Scotts how an Irishman could wring the old songs out of a Devil’s Toothpick. Finally the other musician stopped and simply listened as my father played a sad song from the old country, causing the ladies to weep softly at the end. Even the men folks removed their hats in respect for the sound the old fiddle made.
The man who had bent to father’s will--admitting defeat in the process-- walked around the fire and held out his hand in friendship with a broad grin on his face. “Mr O’Brady I presume,” he said. “And who might you be,” my father asked returning the smile and shaking the offered hand. “They call me Brother McDowell,” he said. “You mean you’re the preacher?” my father gasped. “I’m afraid so,” he said “and this must be Mrs. O’Brady, welcome to Honeysuckle.”
And so our move was complete, was finally satisfactory to everyone, even mother. Pa and the preacher became good friends and fiddling companions as well. I wish I could tell you Pa started going to church regularly along with my mother, I really wish I could. But he had his own beliefs not to do with gods and such, and rather to do with mankind itself and the good things in life to be enjoyed just for the sake of it. I don’t believe he was faulted for it, at least not by those having the privilege of hearing him play a sad ballad on his old fiddle. Make a joyful noise….
More Fiction by Randy Godwin
- A Certain Place In The World
Boys grow into men. Not all of them learn the lessons of life correctly. But some cannot help but see life differently than others. The Deep South in the 60's.
- Came A Carpetbagger
The Deep South was taken advantage of after the Civil War ended. Reconstruction it was called, a noble if somewhat inapt name for the true experience. It affected both rich and poor alike.