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Friday, May 2, 2014

LIVING IN THE WOODS


Pa Was a Moonshiner
 
I still remember my ma though she left when I was five or thereabouts. To me she looked fine and I heard people say she was pretty. She always kept herself up real good and I reckon that was part of the reason she took off.

We lived on the edge of a town back in the woods and my pa was a bootlegger. He was away tending to his stills much of the time. If he didn’t guard them somebody would drain all the corn from them or just destroy them for meanness.

I was small but from what people tell me about my ma was that she was a desirable woman and one day a fancy man came by and after hanging around courting my ma for a couple of days she lit out with him.

Again all I know is what rumors I been told but I heard she ended up in a house where pretty girls worked. I always wanted to try to find her but my pa insisted I stay with him. I cook and wash his clothes so I figure that might be the reason he kept me around.

I tried to get him to go and get her back but he said we didn’t need her and besides he had a squaw living up at his stills. He always had plenty of money when he worked his skills but time was when he would drink too much and he would go broke.

When he had money I would help myself to part of it and hide it away. I always thought I would run away but something always came up so I’m still in the woods.

Pa’s drinking got worse and he became desperate for money. He was down at the saloon watching the card players and he heard one of them that was a trapper say he was heading back up into the woods and wanted a white woman to take with him.

He said, them Indian women are too nasty and he had a weak stomach.

My pa said he had a fourteen year old daughter he wouldn’t mind getting rid of for a price. The man said buy her? Pa said no, nothing like that but he had a lot of money invested in me and he figured he should get something out of the deal. They settled for seventy five dollars as to my value.

The man was a large man but not as rough looking as most. He said get your things and get ready to go. When he looked over what I had he said let’s go and buy you some warm clothes and boots. We left the next morning and I never got to say goodbye to my pa for he was passed out drunk.

We traveled by canoe and had to stick close to shore for the water was too swift out in the middle of the river.

That night was the first time I experienced doing what women are expected to do. It wasn’t pleasant though it became almost pleasurable over time.

We fought out way north and the currents grew less difficult to manage the farther we went. The man told me to call him Reuben although he didn’t tell me his full name so I didn’t know what my name was. Since I knew what my last name was I just kept it.

Reuben would go out and set his traps and would be gone for two or more days at a time. I would be alone and even with chores it was lonely. When I lived with my father near town there was always people coming by and buying some bootleg but now it may be two months without seeing anyone.

Sometimes I go with Reuben and run the traps and re-bait them. Next comes the skinning and stretching so the skins will start drying out.

On this one occasion a huge man came knocking at the door and though I was lonely I wasn’t glad to see him. He was menacing I was afraid of him.

He asked where my man was and if I was alone. I told him who I was and who my man was. He studied for a while and then said, “I know your man. Where is he?”

I said, “He is running his traps and should be home shortly.”

He asked which way he had set his traps; I hesitated for a minute but finally told him which creek he was on.

He said, “There ain’t no beaver on that creek.”

I didn’t argue with him and he said, ‘You got any coffee?”

I said, “No but did have some eucalyptus bark,” and went and got it. After I fixed him a cup he pulled at my shirt and I spilled the hot tea on his lap. I ran for the woods while he was trying to cool the spots where he was burned.

As I watched from some bushes and saw him take some deer jerky and head toward the creek where Reuben was running traps.

Reuben never came home that night and it worried me a bit. I woke up and saw in the dim light the huge man as he got into my bed.  I tried to escape but he pinned me down and took me, more than once.

He got up and found a gallon jug of bootleg Reuben had for celebrating and turned the jug up taking large gulps. It didn’t take long to finish the whole jug. He came over to the bed and flopped down and started to put his monstrous hands on me but he fell into a deep sleep.

I shook him gently to make sure he was out and then slipped out of bed. He was lying on his back snoring like a grizzle bear. While he was abusing me he said Reuben had an accident and that I was going to be his woman from now on.

Those words were echoing in my head as I got the big butcher knife. I wasn’t thinking very clear but the thought was going through my mind: It’s either him or me for I would never be treated again as he had just done to me.

My arms were strong from the hard work I have been doing and I raised them as high as I could and thrust the knife completely through the sleeping man. Just as quick I pulled it out and stabbed him over and over until I was exhausted.

I lay on the floor until the morning when I rolled the man off the bed onto a bear skin. I tried to drag him out of the cabin for I didn’t want him stinking up the place when it warmed up.

It took most of the day to get him out into the yard. I was going to try to drag him further away from the cabin tomorrow. I was too tired to eat so I went to bed and dreamed some bad dreams.

The next morning finally arrived and I had some jerky and hot tea. It was cold with a light frost on the ground which made it easier to move the dead man away from the house.

After it warmed a little I started to dig a hole to bury him in and as I looked up there stood a man with a carbine rifle in his hands. He said he had been tracking the man that lay on the ground.

He said the man had killed several trappers and robbed them and raped their women most of which were Indian squaws.

He asked what happened and I told him that the man fell on his knife and killed himself. The young man said looks like he fell on it several times. He smiled and said that was careless of him.

He took my shovel and finished burying the man. Little by little I told him what had happened except for the part about what he had done to me. He had already guessed what happen anyway without me telling him.

He cut some wood and heated the place up and we had some supper. He said that since the man had been dealt with he was going to spend the rest of the winter with me for it was too hard to get back to his home.

The next few days we ran traps and cut wood for soon the weather was going to be closed in.  He killed two deer and a bear along with a few geese which froze as soon as we dressed it and cut it up so we weren’t going to starve.

When we settled in for the winter months I told him not to be thinking about messing with me for I wasn’t for it.

Somewhere along the way that changed. I think the boredom had something to do with it. He said as soon as the trapping was over in the spring we would get married proper which made me feel a lot better.

As spring broke we were running our traps often and had a load of pelts to sell. I put a note in the cabin saying this cabin belonged to me and Lester and not to mess with it.

We waited until the water was manageable with our heavy canoe and Lester had a lot of river smarts. Not just how to navigational skills but how to avoid robbers alone the way. When we approached some rapids where we had to carry everything past the rapids he pulled into a quite cove and hid our goods.

There was another trapper coming along behind us and two robbers grabbed his canoe and shot him before we could stop them.  We waited until they had portaged everything beyond the rapids and then Lester dealt with them. After we got our goods moved we loaded two canoes full of pelts and made it down to the fur buyers.
 
I took one canoe down and sold the furs and then the next day Lester came we had already been together for awhile but true to his word Lester took me to the preacher and we were wed.

We went to my old home place which was a mess. My pa was all but dead and his Indian woman left for her tribe when she saw we had come home. A couple of days after we arrived we buried pa.  

I had mixed feelings about what he put me through. Had it not have been for Lester I would have been so mad I wouldn’t have buried pa. I would have left him on top of the ground for the varmints to have.

Lester wasn’t from the wilderness he just got the yearning to get away from the city life and all of the family obligations. They were society people and expected Lester to promenade around like all of the rest of the people of their ilk.

He had the desire to visit his parents, not to stay but make the rounds and then leave. I wasn’t sure that I wanted to be put on exhibit and evaluated by their standards. It would be the same if they came to the mountains among half wild inhabitants and be judged by their standards.

I told Lester that it probably was a mistake for I certainly wasn’t the kind of wife they had in mind for their son. Strangely enough he agreed with me that I might be too much for them to swallow. He knew I wouldn’t be bothered by any disdain that exuded from them intentional or not but it would be hard for all to find a comfort zone in this circumstance.

To my suggestion for him to go alone didn’t set well at all with him, in fact he was totally against it. He said he wanted me nearby whether I was presented to his peers or not. So I agreed to hide out as I put it while he went and visited his folks.

Unbeknownst to him they planned a party with all his old friends, especially his old girl friends when he came home. He had to admit it was a gala event and the old girl friends were gushing over him.
 
He actually enjoyed some of the attention until he announced he was married to a mountain girl. Every thing went quiet except for a low level whispering buzz throughout the crowd.
 
Then some of the smart-alecky ones started saying things like; bring her out and let us have a look at her. Let us see what a back woods woman looks like and what she had to capture you.

I was afraid things would turn out like that so I decided I would show up and let the chips fall where they will. I thought long and hard about what to wear.

Should I wear something like I wore when Lester found me with the aromas of the animal skin that was drying or wearing something nice? I decided it would be better to try to look nice for his sake. I figured a good bath. A bit of shopping where the betters go and a trip to beauty parlor should do the trick. I figured just speaking plain English should get me by. I knew it would come out that Lester had lost his mind marrying what their perception of me was and I waited until it happened.

I strolled in like I belonged there and first greeted Lester’s parents and then his siblings. When Lester realized it was me for he had never seen me dressed up like I was, he rushed over and grabbed me like he was going to protect me from the wolves in the mountains.

He said, “You met my folks?” and I said, “I did and they seem nice, a little starchy but nice.”

“My brothers and sisters also?”

“Yes them too.”

He looked a little flustered and said, “Would you like to meet my old girl friends?”

I said, “No I don’t think so for they might not be able to handle the fact I’m just a country gal and I landed you.”

He said, “You might be right because fixed up like you are you are by far prettier than any of them and that hurts. They were expecting a barefoot gal with no drawers.”

I told him, “I considered it and maybe they would have felt far superior if I had.”

We said goodbye to the principal people and got out of there. Lester said he wanted to take me sight-seeing and then a lunch with his parents before we headed home.

I asked him how we were going to make a living when we got home. We have a house and land, and a lot of bootleg equipment, but I don’t want to go back to the mountains and trap for it is no place to raise kids.

Lester said, “I have been thinking we should start a family.”

I told him he was a couple of months behind for we had already started one. He looked at me and said, “You mean you are that way?”

“That way as much as a woman can get; it was those last days of winter that did it.”

He said, “Well I have a surprise for you also. One of the reasons I wanted to go to the big city was I just came into the inheritance left to me by my grandfather. We are nigh unto rich.

The reason I or one of the reasons I came to the mountains was my grandfather was a scout for a while and he told me to get out of the city and make something out of myself besides a citified boy.

I survived there for two years among the mountain folks and then I met you. At first I thought you were in trouble and wanted to help you but then I saw in you what I needed in a woman.

I’m not going to spoil you but we are going to have a wonderful life.”

I had to say what I was thinking and I said it, “Yes you are, you are going to spoil me and our kids rotten.”

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