ed weaver cover

ASK ANYBODY AT ALBERT’S, the closest gas station off of the Interstate’s 31st ramp, how to get to the old Weaver place outside of Cedar Hollow and in less than an hour you’re driving down the tree-tunneled dirt lane to the front door. Henry Biggs knows, he’s lived in these parts all of his life. Spends most of his day on a bench out front of the store like old men throughout history everywhere have done. Henry will even get the key, an old-fashioned iron one, out of the cash register and show you around.

“Keep on Fifty-nine South when it crosses Thirty-one West at the second red light in Wilson City for about ten miles. This use to be the only way to Mobile before the highway department put the bridge over the Alabama River on Two Twenty-five. First crossed it bringing Sallie, that’s our baby, she’s a schoolteacher now, and her momma home from the hospital over forty years ago. Now the Interstate, which runs down from Tennessee and cuts below Hartsville, bypasses it all. Ain’t nothing like before. Hartsville’s a nice little community, somewhere between a large family reunion and a small Mayberry town. The experts, who see life on paper in Montgomery or Washington D.C., predicated the place would grow then, but it didn’t, and that was over thirty years ago. Not even a you-pump-it gas station or look-alike fast food chain off the exit like at most ramps. Albert sure is glad. I say, “Thank God,” we don’t need the drugs or the crime. When a fellow gets shot here he knows who’s pulling the trigger. So folks stopped talking about corporation, went back to earning their daily bread seeding the ground or working somewhere else. Mostly working somewhere else. God knows ain’t no money farming, the Government’s messed that up. You only plant enough to keep in debt.’

“Life goes on with the same sorrows. Hartsville Junior High is gone. Closed in Sixty-seven or Eight, then burnt to the ground. Folks said somebody who was angry because it closed got drunk and set the fire, but somebody who should know told me some boys snuck into the auditorium to play basketball, got to smoking, threw a cigarette butt on stage, and the curtain went up like a rag soaked in kerosene. Boy, folks sure got riled up then when the Eagles and the Tigers played ball. An all-time rival. In all those years the only big game missed was when the Brown boy got killed in a wreck on the Landing Road. A terrible tragedy. Not sure what ever happened to his little brother, moved away after growing up. Lots of the young folks do. But that’s another story. Mildred says I ramble too much. You want to see the old Weaver home.’

“Pass the sign pointing to the airport—really Oscar Miller’s worn-out cornfield with a strip down the middle for crop dusters to take off and land. I’ve only been up in a plane once, as a teenager when they were giving away free rides at the county fair, and swore then never to let these feet leave the ground. Was sick for a week, stomach churning, not able to hear a thing except roaring. Of course I know planes have done a lot of changing since then, they even have tops, but you’ll never see me inside one. Won’t ever get to Hawaii unless they build a bridge across. A couple of summers ago, Johnny Boy Taylor, who does most of the spraying around here, found an abandoned twin-engine plane cracked in two on the runway full of marijuana and called the sheriff. Biggest drug bust in Wilson County ever. Dope dealers love these dirt airstrips out in the middle of nowhere. The owner was traced to Miami, but the case ain’t come to court yet. The courthouse will probably be as full then as when that black guy, you can’t call them niggers anymore, was charged with stabbing a prison guard. Shame the mess the world has turned into.’

“This is Cedar Hollow, just another spot to pass through. Slow down or you’ll miss it. Blink your eyes and it’s gone. Most maps don’t show it or Canaan at the other end of Fifty-nine. There’s an old blank grave behind the church there over the fence of a boy who some folks think committed suicide. Guess every road everywhere has these little bumps in them that were once important. Once famous for its turpentine, but that was a long time ago. Nothing much to see now except for some pretty houses, a couple that need painting, a group of tin trailers, a shack about to fall down, fields and forests of pines. Use to be a one-room school over near Red Hill Creek, but that’s long rotted down. The Methodist Church hardly has any members left and could close. Conference might take over and move it somewhere else. Those big trucks can take a building anywhere nowadays. My brother, who lives in Bay Minette, once saw them move the old train depot through town. Ain’t sure if they’ll dig up the cemetery or let the grass cover everything like it does. In a hundred years from now somebody might be tromping through the woods around here and stumble across a grave. Sometimes it happens now, slabs scattered around a forgotten home site.’

“Cedar Hollow’s ‘Welcome to’ and ‘Good-bye’ signs are nearly back-to-back. Claims the population to be one hundred and thirty-five, but that number is from years ago before most of the settling families moved on or died out. It once was a stagecoach stop and folks claimed the place would be bigger than Wilson City, but the railroad didn’t come through. Progress—it chokes out then like it does now. See that tiny box building over there peeling white with an empty flag holder on the right-hand side of the door? The Government said that post office wasn’t cost-effective and slammed the door. Hell, I say none of the are when it cost over a quarter to mail a penny postcard. Probably be a dollar before I go to my Reward.’

“Ed Weaver’s old place is cross the creek, round the bend, left at that rusty mailbox with the flap hanging. You can see the tin roof from the road.’

“The house’s been empty now for years, ever since the kids put Ed in that nursing home up in Birmingham, I believe in ninety or late eighty-nine. His oldest boy, Ricky, is a doctor there, if he ain’t retired, and Ed got along better with him than any of the others, which ain’t saying much. Bragged about Ricky to anybody who would or wouldn’t listen. Think he was the first doctor ever to look up a woman’s skirt. Guess its human nature to be partial to the first one—my boy Duck, he sells hardware in Wilson City, is closer than my right arm. And his son, Ernie, my grandson, is the spitting image of his father. ‘Course Duck ain’t my boy’s real name, he’s named after me, but got stuck with that name following his first quail shooting expedition. Damn lucky only his cap was blown off.’

“Ed never was mean to those kids. I never heard him raise his voice once, but then I was seldom around. Ed wasn’t the type that enjoyed company, but they knew who had control. This was Ed’s home and they didn’t put their feet under his table unless they did what he wanted. Nobody did. His brother-in-law, Joseph, Ida’s husband, was lucky to get through the door. Guess that’s what all the kids are scattered all over the state, couldn’t wait to get away. Sometimes I wish mine weren’t right under.’

“Of course old Ed kicked up a fuss before going into the nursing home, none of us want to be put to pasture. No matter how clean they are, there is always the smell. Said he wanted to die in his own bed like his daddy, but Richard didn’t, he suffered a heart attack watering tomatoes, his momma, Sadie, died in bed, but by that time old Ed was so senile he couldn’t remember what day yesterday was. Couldn’t be left alone. One morning Miriam came back from hanging out clothes and Ed was butt-naked standing on the kitchen table playing with his—well you know. A shame. It’s a pity how life can deteriorate into nothing. Some folks around here say Ed never was in his right mind, but that’s crazy. Sane as can be; we all see life differently. Could build anything. Made Myrtle Gardner a lovely curio cabinet. Hell, just because a man is ornerier than the Devil and believes he’s the only one ever right, don’t mean he’s crazy. If it did Mildred would’ve slapped me in a straight jacket and stuck me in a rubber room long ago.’

“See? The weeds are almost taller than the ‘For Sale’ sign. Come on inside, but be careful of the front gate, the top hinge has rusted in two. The boards missing off the fence make it look like a snaggletooth jack-o’-lantern on Halloween. A place not lived in runs down fast.’

“Ed wanted this house to be the best in the county which it was, solid as the sun rising, with everything a bit different from ordinary. Instead of the bricks running one way like in other folks’ walks, though you can hardly tell now because they’re either covered with moss or sunk underground, he did one row side-by-side, the next end-to-end, and so forth. They were always bright as new; eat off them clean. The beds on each side need a lot of attention to get back to how they were. This yard used to be prettier than anything in Better Homes and Gardens. Every type of flower and blooming shrub possible, now a tangled jungle. All the camellias, azaleas, hydrangeas, bridal wreath, crape myrtle are full of honeysuckle and other vines. The wisteria runs wild. Have trouble with that in my yard too, as bad as kudzu. Will twist around a tree strangling it alive. And the damn mimosa seems to spring up from nowhere overnight.’

“Watch that middle step coming up, it’s rotted through. Grab the handrail and stretch over. Ed put them up one Sunday while his wife was in church because she almost twisted an ankle on the way down. After the kids left Ed became the Christmas and Easter churchgoer, guess he figured after setting an example it was okay to say home. Religion don’t work that way, I’m there every Sunday. Ed was too vain to admit he used the handrails, too. Told everybody they were just there because, “The old woman needs held coming and going.” They aren’t ordinary either; see the W inside? Good thing y’alls last name starts the same.’

“Just a minute while I’ll reach my hand through this tear and unlock the screen door. The whole porch will need rescreening or the mosquitoes will eat you alive. Ed had a couple of martin boxes up, but I sure they’ve rotted down. Each bird is supposed to eat about two thousand insects a day—basil will also keep skeeters away. Down here the front porch is as important as any other room in the house, maybe more so, except the kitchen. I sit out on mine at night, we live close to the road, watch cars and trucks go by. Don’t sound exciting to y’all young folks, but at my age it will do. See the fancy gingerbread around the edges? Only house in these parts with that, Ed went first-class all the way. If he saw now how the dirt daubers’ nests have clogged up all the carving he would roll over in his grave. The swing, broken now, hanging by a chain, is around the corner in the short part of the L. Once ferns, not spider webs, hung from the ceiling. Mildred got some of the plants when the kids broke up housekeeping—violets, bromeliads, a parlor palm. She’s got one, almost taller than me, called an angel begonia because the branches stretch out like wings.’

“I’ll open the lock then step back so you can use your shoulder against the door. My arthritis is acting up, always does in this weather, wettest spring in twenty-seven years, or I wouldn’t need the help. Still strong as an ox and Mildred says stubborn as a jackass. The knob is kind of wobbly because a screw is loose on the inside and the door might by swollen. Ed probably kept it shaved. The door going into the spare room at the house gets the same way, so pound a fist in each corner. That usually works. Mildred says that by hitting the center then directly above and below, a door will unstick like saying, “Open sesame,” but it doesn’t work. Still I try it every time she’s there or she’ll get angry. Mildred is the kind of woman that pouts inside, won’t speak to you for a week. That is worst than pitching a fit. Been fifty-nine years in May, everybody married young back then, and I’m still looking for a way to keep her quiet without hurting her feelings. But you and the missus probably don’t know nothing about spats.’

“Pshaw! An army of skunks can’t smell this musty. The air’s so thick I can hardly breathe. Looks like fog in here. Leave the door open and raise those windows by the fireplace if they ain’t nailed shut. Last summer there was a big problem with kids breaking in, drinking beer and partying. Girls’ underwear hanging from the mantel like Christmas stockings. We were afraid somebody would start a fire and burn the place down, that’s what happened to Earl Teal’s place up the road. Folks don’t respect other folk’s property anymore. During hunting season, which around here is anytime, the ‘Keep Out’ and ‘No Trespassing’ posters on the fence post might as well be ‘Welcome’ signs. Albert has told me plenty of time he’s come out here at night and seen folks spotlighting. Good, that’s better. Get some fresh air circulating in here. As stuffy as a tomb.’

“This is the den or living room, nothing left but cobwebs and dust. The kids, there are five, divided up everything after they sent Ed off to the nursing home. Most of the furniture went to the Salvation Army or Goodwill. They called it old-fashioned, said it wouldn’t fit in with their modern décor. Now folks are crazy about antiques, will pay a fortune for what was once common everyday, so I bet the kids will give their right arms to have it back. Especially their momma and daddy’s oak bed with a high foot and headboard, fancy leaf and flower carvings. Ed made it himself. Mildred’s momma gave her one, but the high headboard is missing—for some reason she sawed it off and turned the bed around to the foot which ain’t as high was the head. So that’s how we use it now with the fancy carvings facing the wall. Mildred wanted Ed to make her a headboard but he never got around to it.’

“See the light spots on the wall where the pictures and wall hanging were? Over there, on the wall by the fireplace, was the collection of little souvenir saucers. Kind of looks like the solar system if all the planets were in a single orbit.’

“The kitchen is behind the swinging door in the dining room. Not one of those itty-bitty ones like in homes today where everything is scrunched up together, but big enough for ten folks to fix, eat, cleanup after a meal without bumping elbows. Plenty of cabinets. All of the rooms are a good size with high ceilings, about ten feet. Ed hated feeling closed in. On the other side are three bedrooms and a bath. Another porch stretches across the back, but the far end is boarded up for a bedroom, you know how kids hate sharing once they get a certain age. Everything’s off the ground so it’s not so terribly hot in summer, Ed never put in air conditioning, not even a window unit, and after all these years none of the floors sag. Solid pine heartwood.’

“Did I tell you Ed built the house himself right out of the Army? Of course it was done in steps, the kitchen part is older than the rest. Was in the Second War like me, but I was in the Navy. Saw every port in the South Sea.’

“There’s also a barn workshop outback, a couple of sheds, fifty acres of land. Ed didn’t do full-time farming, just a garden spot fenced off. But that will work you to death; mine mostly gets watered by sweat. Last summer raised an eighty-pound watermelon. There’s also plenty of blueberry bushes and pecan trees, plum, peach, fig, pear.’

“Go on and look around. Take your time. Mull it over and let Ben Sharp, that’s Albert’s son-in-law in Wilson City, know. He’s the lawyer handling the estate though David, Ed’s youngest boy, is also one, but he’s up in Huntsville. Sure would like to see life in this old house again. A place like a person falls apart alone. One couple that came out really liked the layout, was making plans for fixing it up, and then decided it was too far away from everything. Hell, that’s what I like most. In your big cities you can’t hear crickets at night. Use to be if you saw your neighbor’s smoke rising you were too close. They way things keep growing today the world will be outside your door before you know it. Can’t spit without hitting someone.’

“Ed was eighty-three when he died in his sleep over a year ago. Heart failure the certificate says. The kids had the ‘For Sale’ sign up a week after his eyes closed. Ed is buried by his wife under a joining heart headstone in the cemetery behind the Cedar Hollow Methodist Church in the southeast corner. Mildred and I have picked out a headstone like that too.’

“It’s a shame watching life shrivel up into nothing. Makes you remember to appreciate what you’ve got. Anybody can tell you Ed started breaking the day Emma died.”


About John Northcutt Young

I write. Remember making-up stories from spelling words in the fifth grade. A journalism degree followed. Thanks for looking.
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