Our old home place sets vacant and neglected now. No one has lived there in many years, not since sister and brother, Delie (pronounced Dee-lee and short for Delia) and Roby, finally moved from the old home. By then, both their mother, Lurie (short for Lurana), and their sister, Maybelle, had passed on. I am so glad they did live there, though; otherwise, in my mind, the home that I knew to be alive with a family’s daily life would have been just an old building, an empty, snake-filled, bee-infested shell of a once glorious house. My guess is it would have meant nothing to me.
I don’t know the circumstances that brought them there or how Paw knew them, but they were a fixture in the house for as far back as I can remember. They rolled their own cigarettes and dipped snuff. They chewed tobacco made into twists from the leaves of the tobacco we had harvested and dried in the barn the prior fall. Paw did this, too and it was interesting to watch him twist on the best of the best leaves until they looked almost like a braid of golden brown hair. The twist was so tight that a “chaw” could be cut off without loosening the rest of it.
I don’t think the Greens went to the dentist. Lots of folks didn’t back then. My bet would be that they pulled their own teeth right at home. I feel sure they never owned a store bought toothbrush, so one of the most interesting things they introduced me to was a birch twig toothbrush, and I thought it was the best thing since sliced bread! You took a long birch tree twig a little smaller than the diameter of a pencil,and cut it to about two thirds the length of a pencil. Then you chewed one end until it was very frayed, and there you had it. You rubbed that frayed end over your teeth and gums to clean them, and because the birch had such a wonderfully fresh wintergreen taste, you freshened your breath at the same time. And even better, you could make a new toothbrush every day!
Winter time at the Greens was always an exciting time, at least for me. I imagine they did not share that sentiment because the house was drafty and cold, and they only had wood to use in the wood stove in the kitchen and coal to use for the stove in the living room. We were not there as often in the winter, but we did go occasionally just to check on them and visit. There was no porch sitting then, only inside sitting, and everyone was crowded into the one room they used as a living room. A bed stood in the corner, and an old couch and chair provided seating. There were newspaper and magazine pages all over the walls to help hold in the heat, and I would stare wide-eyed at some that were not in the best of taste for young eyes. The air was filled with a smoky, sooty odor. But there was something much more exciting in that living room in the winter. You never knew when you walked in just how many animals you would have to step over or around to get to a place to sit down. Chickens always littered the floor (and not just in the literary sense!), and a couple of cats had to be moved to make room to sit. A dog often lay in the corner. It was quite the menagerie, and I wondered where they all slept, especially the chickens! We never stayed too long in the winter.
The Greens were a very close family, and each had a distinctive role and personality. Lurie was one of those people who was old from the time I can remember. She didn’t age; she was just old. And her health was never that good, so she stayed in the house most of the time. We would speak, but we never really talked. She was clearly the matriarch, though, and all three children centered their lives around her. When she died, they were quite lost. They made sure that she had a nice casket and even sent her away with her cane and snuff box tucked lovingly next to her.
Delie was a large woman who always wore a dress, and she was definitely the homemaker in the family. Still, she was one strong woman and could match any man’s work. She did the cooking and the laundry and any cleaning that was done. One of her household duties was making lye soap. We used store bought soap, so I was amazed by the process of making homemade soap. I don’t remember exactly how it was done, but I do remember it involved wood ashes, lard, water, and a large cast iron kettle hanging over an open fire. That whole process was pure magic to me!
Roby was a soft-spoken and shy man. Even though he was the only man living with these three women, he always seemed quite uncomfortable talking to the women in my family. He was on the smaller side for a man, but he made up for it with strength and work ethic. He was responsible for most of the routine outside work and chores. He would feed the animals, bring in firewood, and milk the cows. Roby was a good man who took good care of his sisters and mother.
That brings me to Maybelle, who was the character of the family. While Delie always wore a dress, Maybelle never wore a dress. Maybelle always wore overalls and a billed cap. She helped in the fields, but work didn’t always come naturally for Maybelle. I think this was so because as a high functioning mentally challenged individual, Maybelle loved to talk. It didn’t matter who showed up at the house, Maybelle was always the first one out to greet the visitor. And greeting wasn’t just a verbal welcome. Greeting for Maybelle always included an arm slung across your shoulders and a “Howdy” blurted out right in your face. Maybelle didn’t recognize the concept of personal space, and she would stand with you like this for as long as you could comfortably maintain the connection with her. She would talk about anything and everything and would always end her topic of conversation with a hardy, “Ain’t ‘at right? Ain’t ‘at right?” again right into your face. Maybelle was indeed the most colorful of them all.
I am thankful to have known the Greens for a variety of reasons, but perhaps the most important one is this. At an early age, these folks taught me tolerance for those whose lives were different from mine. From them, I discovered that love of family and friends is pretty much universal, and I learned that it doesn’t take much money to survive in this world. I watched their ingenuity and dignity in meeting the challenges of life, and I knew that I would be all right should I ever need to call on the same creativity. This family is forever etched in my mind, and I miss them.
**These are my recollections as a child of Appalachia, and as such, are subject the the normal shortcomings of memory.
**Names may have been changed to protect the privacy of the subjects of my writing and/or their families.