Southern Scribe
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Porch Tale    

 

 

The Little Red Hen

By June Reneé Cottingham

 
 

 

Eula Mae was the scrawniest woman that ever pranced around McDonald's Mill. She was nothing more than knees and elbows, a pointed set of beaks for a top and bottom lip, a great big round pair of bulging blue eyes. She had the two dullest cloudy blue eyes that anyone has ever tried to avoid in their lives. They looked spooky like a dead persons and it seemed if you looked at her and them eyes caught a hold of you, Eula Mae could hypnotize you and control your very soul. Even more petrifying than that was the fact that she always had an armload of work to be done, and she wound up getting all of her chores done by somebody other than herself. Ms. Eula always would sent a boy home with loaded down with a cobbler, never fit to eat. Or she’d run to get a smelly bottle of this or that and it never was used by anyone. That sneaky skinny lady had things timed to a tee. Just about the time you would swing open the door to her little five and dime store with your list of things to buy on your mind, there would be Miss Eula Mae! Your head would go down and she would go to poor mouthing and before you could even tell her that you didn’t care if she didn't have anyone to help her and so what if her arthritis was burning her liver out, she would have them bony cold fingers wrapped all the way around your whole entire arm and, for a helpless old crow, she was strong as an ox when it came to pulling you towards a three hundred pound roll of sewing material, or onions or who knows what she'd hide just for a person.  

Nobody ever talked good of that old lady until the day she finally did get wore out and she up and died. Come to find out, even the grown ups thought she was slick as a fox and they dreaded her eyes too. Those eyes were just scary. Nightmares were had by every child around from “the dead eyes!” Stewart Baptist Church was gathering together enough people to have a carnival of games and toys and food, when the loggers came in from hauling back and forth to Waverly and up through Brunswick. It was sounding fine and dandy too. The money took in would go to open up a courthouse up the road, and to fix up the roof on the house of the church. That's one good way to drag the sinners in! The part about the best fruit or jelly layer cake was looking at winning fifty dollars! Pinky was up to her neck worrying about all of the pineapple upside down and coconut cakes she planned to bake. Martha Nell and that bunch of hers were figuring out the pretty doilies and baby dolls to stitch up. Now word has it that she was one to sprinkle mojo on your crops, so I don’t reckon she's looking at selling many of them hairless sock babies to the local folks. The men was readying themselves too because they knew that they could hear all of the gossip on who planted what over where, and who knows, with all of them women cooking and messing about, a feller might be able to slip off and get a swig or two of Eddie Mills prize stock of 'shine.

Before you could turn around twice Miss Eula Mae got the Holy Spirit or something wonderful on account of she was wild eyed and grinning from ear to ear. She really didn't need to smile...ever, but she was up and moving around sweeping and peeling 'taters and any poor soul that came shopping could go on home after they were finished and not have to put in a days work lending Miss Eula a hand. That right there was worth having a parade over! Thank Goodness there was a week of rest for the weary! All of this here attention was good for that town. You'll see why when we get down to it. First things first. For a small town, there was more bare feet from skinny farm kids than you could count and every one of them got terrified that Eula Mae would see that the black berries were full and juicy ripe ready for picking. With a herd of them all thinking the same things, the men folk must have been able to read their minds so the whole lot of them was shooed out side with the screen door banging behind them. The count down was on and it was the talk of three counties! Mitchell’s Hill stripped of berries that year! I was told that it was the same year that a tornado was heard coming through and it sounded like a roar loud and strong. If you want to know the truth, I think between the Delk family and the McCumbers’ bunch of kids, (and I do mean a bunch of them) hanging around and seeing the work ahead of them, they sucked the berries slap of them bushes when they tore out heading for home.

There was even colored pictures nailed up on stores from Eula's place clear down to the new tobacco company in 'Coochee saying about the day long event coming up. Great day in the morning! By the time the women was finishing supper and hanging out the wash on the clotheslines, they had heard the news of that festival and Lord Jesus if they didn't have them a case of the giggles that just wouldn't wait. No one dared to interrupt. It wouldn’t have done any good no ways. If a boy had of fell off a tobacco barn, he would of bled to death right there with the women telling him not to but in while they were talking. Neighbors usually got together to help each other out so everybody got a little bit of rest at night. It was like having a big old family. Looking out back at the bed sheets flapping in the breeze and a dozen women here, and a dozen in another yard, and them so tickled like they were, it sounded like a brooder house full of cackling hens. Somehow with all of the extra work going on, Ms. Eula Mae was brought up in near about every conversation. Oh, she'd get talked about because of the way she'd find a way to get a sickness come upon her as soon as a soul would come in her door. That woman was a lazy thing it looked like but she was kind enough and no one dared mention it to her face.

Time flew by for the next few days, and when the day came to load up and head off to enjoy food, and singing and fresh watermelons out of Tanners' field, Eula Mae wasn't no where to be seen, and nobody took a notion to bird dog her down. While the young boys was running wild with wet heads from jumping in and out of Blue Bell Lake, and the girls was smoothing out the wrinkles in their pretty dresses, the preacher man went to hollering over the crowd to settle them down. When long winded men of the cloth get started, you can get ten bucks to a doughnut that the best thing to do is to grab an old piece of paper folded and get to fanning yourself. He started out pretty decent, "Gentlemen, I'm going to need to get a few of you on up here". After he took a breath, blew his round nose and he looked every person in the face and added, "Miss Eula Mae Tarvin has got us together today, just like she planned. On the way in to eat some of those fine pies over on the picnic table you ladies have, I went to help her get her things loaded and she was ready to go. She had passed away before I got to her house. I had a long talk with her when I was knee high and that Brantley boy shot me in the cornfield back behind Eula Mae's. When I saw that I was going to die, she was the first thing I saw. She had the sun behind her, and she had the brightest eyes. She lifted me, carried me to her place and she patched me up.” The crowd was silent when he went on to say, "y'all, I swore I'd repay her and she told me of patience, and love for others and I knew that I had to become a preacher.”

"Today,” he continued, "Miss Eula Mae donated not only the fifty dollar prize money, but for thirty two years, she has been the one to keep the doors to the church open. As a matter of fact, she owns it. She owns the better part of this town. The road getting paved was from her, and I could tell you more. I do believe that a few of you in the crowd has poked fun a few times at our departed sister. She asked for help with things, and she shouldn't have had to. We should have all been more than glad to do a kid deed for a lady who could buy anything in this town, except the love that she gave. Today, was her birthday and she wanted to share it with her "friends.” “Ladies, she was even willing to pay for those fancy cakes you baked. You all didn‘t know that now did you?” That was one speech that never got written into books. That preacher ended his lesson to that crowd by adding, " Brothers and sisters, when we do a job next time for a person, whether by choice or not, lets remember to break a sweat. Your pay will be more than your work was worth.". I don’t believe there was ever a group of folks that felt so ashamed before then. They had never thought of how un neighborly they had treated that woman. Eula Mae Tarvin was buried in a plain simple red dress that was requested in her will. In the pocket was an old rusty bullet shell. The years had faded her eyes along with that preacher’s old scar. She had donated the bank, the church and all of her belongings to the people of that town. No one had lifted a finger, she did it all by herself.


“The Little Red Hen” is from Georgia author June Cottingham’s Homemade Once Upon a Times, a retelling of fairy tales with a southern sense of place. Visit June Cottingham’s web site at http://www.geocities.com/june_cottingham2002/junecottinghams_homemade.html.

 

© 2003, June Cottingham, All Rights Reserved