Friday, December 10, 2010

Tales of the Widow Lady

My parents have owned a bit of vacation property for well over a quarter century down in the Ozark mountains of northwest Arkansas. It has always been a little piece of heaven to me and a place that I've spent lots of time hiking, biking and boating. I've even done just a bit of spelunking. The area is extremely scenic because of its ruggedness but what makes is scenic also makes it unsuitable for making much of a living. Thus the people in the area of my parent's cabin are mostly those retired from working elsewhere, on some sort of pension or what you would call dirt poor.

A post by TC whose invite only blog is linked in my sidebar got me to thinking about one of those neighbors in particular. We try to be good neighbors and go and visit our neighbors once a year taking some homemade food stuff and chatting with them for awhile. In return, they are good in looking over our property down there and alerting us if anything might happen. Though it is just a tiny cabin with beat up salvaged furniture and nothing worth stealing, a lot has happened over the years. There has been everything from giant ice storms that have fallen large trees onto the cabin to a run away stock trailer that missed the cabin by inches and unleashed a stirred up and raging bull onto the property. Always we hear about these things long before we show up to the property to inspect the damage ourselves. However on one memorable occasion after we had just arrived and were eating dinner and not having had a chance to meet the newest neighbor who moved into the house across the road, a knock sounded on the door.

An old woman who introduced herself as the 'old widder lady who dates the crippled man from yonder holler' handed us a welcoming gift of warm grits and said she would like to meet us sometime when we got a chance. I'm not sure any of us still know her real name for she is long gone and in our stories we simply refer to her as the 'old widder lady'. So the next day we went for a hike and in the evening when we suspected supper would be done, we walked across the road to meet the old widder lady.

She cordially invited us into her house and shut the door before yelling, "shut up nigger!" My first thought was Tourettes Syndrome but she soon explained that was the name of her dog who eventually just tired of his barking after awhile and went into another room. As I have seen in many poor areas of the world, racism seems to flourish and though she never made a racist remark in my presence other than her choice of name for her dog, I would be willing to bet that she was one. Still, I never felt comfortable when sitting on the porch of our cabin and hearing her shouting, "Nigger get in here," in the evenings.

After we were more formally introduced to her dog and seated, it was then that I noticed the old double barreled shotgun leaned up against the trim of the big window next to her door and within easy reach of her rocking chair. I have no doubt that she could have that think leveled and with the safety off (assuming there was even such a thing as a safety on it) before an intruder could get up the three or four steps of her porch. I'm also willing to bet that she was a good enough shot to shoot me off of our cabin's porch if she took a notion too. It was definitely an ancient piece and had probably been around for the better part of a century. The two bores looked like they could swallow canaries whole with room to spare.  Below the window that the shotgun was propped against and between it and the rocking chair was a little rickety end table with a pair of binoculars and a framed picture of a man in a coffin who she introduced as her first husband. Between her dog's name, the shotgun and the picture, I never did get comfortable which perhaps is why I don't remember much of what we talked about that evening.

Despite my memory loss, I do know we made her the usual deal of calling us back at our farm in Iowa if anything was amiss because the next year, my brother would take on a full time job about 40 miles down the road from the cabin and would live there year round for a piece of time. I know this because she would call us quite often to let my parents know that their son (who was then in his mid 20's) didn't get home to such and such time on one particular day. She probably knew when he was going to leave before my brother did. Fortunately there is only one small window above the kitchen sink on the side of the cabin facing her window and it has a good light blocking set of horizontal blinds on it so my brother and our private life inside the cabin remained off limits to her.

Eventually my brother moved farther south and the old lady either died or married the crippled man and moved to the 'yonder holler' along with her dog 'nigger.' But her legacy still remains in our family in the form of stories. I also wonder if the next owners of her house inherited the antique doubled barrel shotgun and if it is still propped up against the trim of the big bay window.


R. Sherman said...

I've met a few of those people while hiking in Newton County, Arkansas. One must be careful, but once they warm to you, you've got a friend for life.


sage said...

What a character and how nice of her to keep taps on your brother. Good post.

Ed said...

R. Sherman - I've had my share of unpleasant run ins with locals but overall, they are in the minority.

Sage - I hope TC forgives my comment on this subject on her blog. I figured I needed to atone by posting the 'rest of the story'.

TC said...

Happy to have triggered your creative muse ;)

She sounds like a piece of work.

And I don't necessarily mean that in the nicest way. I'm just slightly more subtle than she is about those she doesn't like.

Woody said...

Glad I did some catching up on your posts. This one is priceless!