Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Stories from an Appalachian Market

Red and the Missus'

I saw her across the crowded dirt track that was the thoroughfare of Morristown, Tennessee's First Monday Market.

I had just had to convince my friend to NOT buy me a trio of ducklings. I was disarmed by the little bundles of fuzz as always, but remembering how taxing it is to brood waterfowl, I didn't want to bring them home with me. Plus, they needed special un-medicated feed and I didn't have a brooder set up. So I left the three baby Muscovy's there with some reluctance.

I turned and saw her. Her carriage was part of what drew my eye to her. She was thin like a reed with narrow shoulders and seemed to sway with a wind that only she could feel. Her smile was soft and sweet. She stood behind a booth fashioned from two card tables stuck together and planks that rested on the bed of the farm-weathered pick-up truck. She had a pile of T-shirts and some dolls laying out on the table. Some of the dolls were complete and some were just bodies and heads laying about like infants at a crime scene.

You know the sort of doll. It's a plastic doll with an over-sized head that has been lovingly dressed up in doilies and crocheted bits of garb. You don't play with these dolls. I'm never quite sure what you really are supposed to do with them other than show them off at the craft section of the county fair. I've seen their lower bodies removed so the bell-shaped skirt can be a tea cozy or hide a tissue box.

I smiled shyly at her and asked, "Did you make these?"

She looked very closely at my mouth as I spoke and I realized she was nearly deaf.

She brushed her wispy hair from the side of her face. "No, I jess picked them up at auction."

I knew what she was talking about. I liked to attend the auctions too. They will sell stuff in lots and one lot might have one thing that you are highly desirous of and everything else is just junk. I once picked up a bronze Chinese gui vase that someone had mistaken for a tractor part at auction but had to buy quite possibly the ugliest hand crocheted afghan in the world along with it. I sold it on EBay, labeling it, "Ugliest Afghan I've Ever Seen." I couldn't believe someone bought it.

She had a darkening bruise on the side of her chin that she reached up and stroked self-consciously. She felt compelled to explain it to me. I think she knew what it must look like.

"Well, I was chasing the great grandchild an' trying to keep up with him and I slipped on the wet grass. It could have been worse, I might have broken something."

I agreed with her and I did believe she has slipped and fallen. I couldn't imagine anyone striking such a delicate and lovely old woman.

As if he had heard, a jovial male voice boomed from the side of the old pick-up.

"She showing you where I clocked her one?"

He was like a trim, jolly, Appalachian Santa with his snow white beard and rosy complexion. He was 78 by his own admission. He still had some of his own teeth left though they weren't in the greatest of shape. But there was nothing sinister in the grin he seemed to perpetually wear. He wears the new, pressed Liberty overalls that seem to be the trademark of so many older Appalachian country gentlemen. A watch fob dangles out of the bib pocket.

As a couple, the two made perfect sense. She was the shy and sweet one and he was the gregarious one. They came here to the market every First Monday from their farm below Sevierville. They didn't seem to have much to sell, but I suspect this is more of a social outing than anything else for them.

She sits with the stand while he wanders about socializing. Neither of them can hear so good anymore. She is very quiet while he can chatter on a mile a minute.

He tells me that he and his wife like "old-timey" things. They like to live that way as well. This is a matter of familiarity and comfort for them. She still cans. He still makes a garden. They keep goats and birds. He shows off the set of ring-tailed doves he bought today to add to their dove cote.

He used to work with mules. He actually worked at Dollywood for a time and some TV commercials hired him and his mules. I could see how he would appear to be straight out of Central Casting to the outside world. Here, at Morristown's First Monday Market, he blends into the crowd.

They didn't ask him to talk much, he said. "Some of those fellers could talk more plainly, but I couldn't. I don't just look like the real thing, I told them, I am the real thing."

He had a stroke some years back and can no longer work the mules. He apologizes several times and says that since the stroke he "don't string together his words so good anymores".

I tell him that I hadn't noticed.

"So, how did you two meet?" I ask. It's my favorite question.

He looks at her with unbridled affection. She looks back and smiles.

"Well, we been married fifty-eight years." He says.

She smiles slyly and says, "My, has it been that long?"

He chuckles.

The first time he saw her he was at a church social. The point of the social was for each girl to bake a pie and then the boys would bid on the pies. The boy with the winning bid would then have the pleasure of sitting with the baker and sharing her pie with her for the evening.

"I didn't have no money so I didn't get a pie." He said. "But that was the first time I saw her and she was just a skinny little slip of a thing! Her arms weren't no bigger'n this!"

He demonstrates the thinness of her arms using his thumb and forefinger.

"She were only 13 at the time though. We didn't get married though until she were 17."

It took a while to disentangle myself from the threads of their conversation. I was happy that they were living their traditional Appalachian life on their own terms. But I can't help but wonder what is going to happen when all of them are gone. All of the ones like Red and the Missus'. I know they are disappearing, even though I live so firmly in their midst that the outside is what now seems strange to me.

In my mind's eye, I don't see them dying out. I just see them disappearing into the blue mist.

I guess I'll join them there some day.


4 comments:

gary said...

Nice telling Rosie...

Rosie said...

Thanks, Gary!

CS said...

That's a lovely little snapshot of your encounter with that couple. I'll have to check out First Monday - I think I've not been to Morristown's market in a couple of years.

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