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Down in the Well & Other Short Stories by Lorri Moulton
Down in the Well & Other Short Stories Copyright © 2016 by Lavender Lass Books – All Rights Reserved
This book is dedicated to my Dad, who shared wonderful stories.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, events, places, businesses and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
As for content, this is a fictional book, loosely based on my father’s memories of his paternal grandparents. As always, every effort has been made to cleanly edit the text. However, typos do happen. If you find any errors, please accept my apology and bring them to my attention, so I can provide a better book for all future readers. Thank you!
Down in the Well
When I was a young boy, I asked my grandfather how he proposed to his wife. He said that he showed my grandmother a magical moment.
When my grandmother was a young woman, she came over to watch my grandfather and his friends dig a new well. He asked her if she’d ever been down in the bottom of a well, and she said no, she never had. He told her that if she wanted to go down with him, he would show her something truly magical in the afternoon sky.
She agreed and his friends lowered him to the bottom, then helped her down as well. My grandfather told her not to look up until she reached the very bottom. It was dark that far down in the well as the sun was no longer directly overhead.
As my grandfather reached over to help her, he told her to look up. My grandmother looked up at the sky…and saw only the stars. It was like night with the stars shining brightly in the middle of the afternoon.
She looked at him and said it was the most magical thing she’d ever seen! He smiled and asked if it was magical enough for her to marry him…and she said yes.
What we do for love
One day, I asked my grandfather what you do when you love someone. He told me you listen to them. You listen with your ears and your heart.
When he and my grandmother had been married almost a year, she went to stay with her sister, who was expecting. My grandfather wanted to give her something special for their anniversary, but it was still months until harvest. And they didn’t have any money for fancy gifts.
So, he thought about it for a few days, then remembered how my grandmother had remarked on the lovely fragrance of the sweet locust blooms. She had said they looked almost like white lilac blossoms. And how their sweet smell brightened up her entire afternoon.
Suddenly, my grandfather knew just what he would do. Old Tom, as they called him, had been talking about how his barn needed some work. And his bottom land had a creek just full of sweet locusts. It ended up costing my grandfather two weekends of work, but Old Tom told him to take as many of those “darn thorny trees” as he wanted.
My grandparents couldn’t afford to lose any farmland, but there was a drainage ditch that ran along one side of the property. He knew the trees would do nicely there and provide a wind break as well.
When my grandmother came home, he told her he had something special for her to mark their first year as man and wife. He asked her to close her eyes and hold out her hand. They walked out to the edge of the field…and he slowly turned her around to see the trees.
They were still fairly small, but no matter. She knew exactly what they were! She walked over to them and gently touched the leaves with one hand. Then, she ran back and kissed him, thanking him for such a beautiful present. He told her this was their first anniversary and as those trees grew, their love would grow with them. And every spring, they walked along the edge of the locusts, holding hands and loving each other.
The little things we do each day
My grandfather said my grandmother did little things for him every day, which made his life easier. A smile, a touch, a kind word. He told me that when you find the person you hope to marry, it will be a precious gift. And if you’re lucky, she will also be your best friend.
When they were first married, my grandparents went down to the shady creek near their farm, trying to find a little coolness in the summer heat. It was a Sunday after church, so it seemed like a good idea to take a lunch basket down to the creek and spend the afternoon.
My grandfather decided my grandmother would like some of the wildflowers growing in a shady area near the water’s edge. She was laying out lunch and the romantic in him could not resist the idea.
As he bent down to pick the flowers, he slipped, and his hands and lower arms landed right in a poison ivy patch. He was normally more careful, but this time he hadn’t seen it. My grandmother came over and reached out to the plant a few feet over and gently tore some of the leaves from the Jewel Weed. Also known as wild impatiens, the leaves can be crushed, and the sap is a natural antidote to poison ivy.
She spread it over his hands and arms, below his rolled-up sleeves. Then, she kissed him softly on the lips, smiled and took the flowers back to their blanket and food. When he sat down next to her, my grandmother told him that there is no challenge we will face, which the natural world will not provide a help for us.
I have always believed they were that help for each other….
Lighting up the chicken house
My grandfather told me that sometimes, you have to think long and hard on a problem in order to find a solution. And when all else fails, get creative.
When he and my grandmother were planning their wedding, a series of storms came through that went on for days. Lightning struck and thunder boomed unlike anything my grandfather had seen before. Just when it seemed the worst was over, a lightning bolt hit the chicken house.
Luckily, my grandfather was home and able to put the fire out and get the chickens safely into the barnyard. However, there was enough damage that he needed new wood for one wall and shingles for part of the roof. Money was tight, but his larger concern was that waiting to get the materials might delay the wedding. He could just hear his future father-in-law saying it would be best to keep his daughter safe at home until the repairs could be finished.
My grandfather thought about this for a bit and decided he was not waiting any longer to marry the woman he loved. So, he got creative. He had a friend, who fancied himself quite a shot. He went down to the country store and found his friend….and talked about how he’d seen a man light a match with a rifle. From a hundred feet away!
His friend and the other men in the store were full of questions. And of course, his friend said if anyone could do it, he would be the one to show them. My grandfather didn’t say anything while the other men discussed it, then casually said that he was positive he could best his friend. Now, this particular friend had a very successful farm and they’d known each other since they were kids. Knowing his friend wouldn’t miss the money too much, he said he thought he could best his friend and was willing to put up his chickens and a cow to prove it. His friend agreed and pulled out some cash, handing it to one of the other men.
Now, this was risky since my grandfather couldn’t afford to lose any of his livestock, but his friend couldn’t resist the challenge. The other men said they’d come down and watch, not wanting to miss such the show. They all went back to my grandfather’s farm and set up the matches. Everyone took a turn, but most missed or blew the top off the match without lighting it. Finally, my grandfather took his turn. Now, he knew what the others did not. The trick was not to try to hit the match…it was to just ‘kiss’ the match, so the friction would light it.
He took a deep breath, looked down the barrel of his rifle, said a little prayer and fired. At first, he was afraid he’d missed…then the match lit up like magic. The others couldn’t believe it! His friend demanded one more chance and my grandfather crossed his fingers behind his back for luck. But once again, his friend aimed for the match and shot off the top. My grandfather smiled and held out his hand, thanking his friend and saying the money would go to a very good cause.
After everyone left, it occurred to my grandfather how ironic the evening had been. He was now able to afford the repairs to the chicken house that was damaged by lightning….by striking a match. There seemed to be a certain balance in that, which appealed to him.
One very clever fox
My grandmother loved being outdoors. She had a special affinity for the natural world, which never ceased to amaze my grandfather.
One day, when she was expecting their first child, she asked my grandfather to walk with her. She wanted to stretch her legs and show him something she’d seen the previous day. They left right after morning chores and walked along the creek until it flowed into a small lake.
They sat on a log, holding hands for a short while. As they watched, a fox came up to the edge of the lake. He looked around briefly, picked up a stick and held it in his mouth…then walked into the water.
As the fox swam out towards the middle of the lake, he slowly let his back-end sink below the water. Then his back, followed by his head, then finally his nose. When he was completely submerged, he let go of the stick and it floated away.
The fox got out of the water, shook himself and headed back towards the trees. My grandmother smiled and asked my grandfather if he knew what the fox had done. He had an idea, but just grinned and said, why don’t you tell me?
She laughed softly and said that the fox was very smart. She had watched him do this before. When fleas bothered him overnight, he would come down to the lake, pick up a stick and swim out…knowing the fleas did not like water. As he went under the water, the fleas kept moving away from it until they were all on the stick. Then, he would let the stick go, and the fleas floated away with it.
My grandfather laughed, squeezed her hand, and told her he would never look at a fox as a dumb animal again. She laughed, too…and they walked back to the house holding hands as she occasionally pointed out a small animal or bird hidden in the underbrush.
As the sun goes down
My grandfather hated to leave my grandmother alone. It wasn’t that she couldn’t handle herself in a difficult situation…she could. But he would rather be with her and didn’t like leaving her on the farm by herself, especially at night.
They were tenant farmers, and had to pay rent every year, when the crops were harvested. My grandfather had planned to get two mules that year, but the crops were not as robust as he had hoped. Horses were fine for riding or pulling a wagon, but mules were much better for farm work in the Carolinas.
Knowing that the crops were a bit disappointing, my grandfather’s brother told him he had a way to make some extra money. Maybe even enough for those mules. But it would mean traveling to a town some fifty miles away and bringing back supplies for the largest farmer in the area. His normal supply men were out on another job, and he wanted the supplies as soon as possible.
My grandfather told my grandmother about the opportunity, and she encouraged him to go. But he was hesitant because she would be alone on the farm. Her family was out of town for a new birth, and her two best friends had to stay home with children of their own.
My grandmother told him not to worry. She would be fine. And if anything happened, she would be able to take care of it. I’m tougher than I look, she said with that soft laugh.
He thought the trip would take four days, but he would try to make it back sooner. She told him not to rush and enjoy this time with his brother. They were close and this would be a good way to make the extra money. As he kissed her goodbye the next morning, he reminded her that his father was only a few miles away if she needed anything.
The first night was fine, but on the second night the farm animals started making noises. It usually meant a fox was near the chickens or perhaps a coyote had come too close to the barn. She put on her coat, picked up the lantern, and went out the door. At first, she couldn’t see much…then in the moonlight, she made out a shape much larger than a coyote.
It couldn’t be, she thought. They hadn’t seen one in their area for years. But it was…it was a panther. She went back in the house and considered what to do. She could shoot at it, maybe hit it, but a wounded panther was a very dangerous animal. And she was alone. If she missed, it would not be good.
Then, she remembered what her grandmother had told her a long time ago. A panther will not attack unless provoked and rarely hunts near farms unless starving. So, this panther might just be traveling through. She knew she had checked the barn doors and the chicken house that evening and all the animals were secure. She would give the panther a chance to move on before doing anything else.
She carefully latched the shutters inside the house, thankful that my grandfather had insisted that more than a pane of glass secure their home from the elements. She would stay inside until morning, unless she heard more noise outside, then she would take the rifle out and do her best. She was a good shot, but this was not the same as shooting targets or the occasional rabbit for stew.
She fell asleep in the chair and when she woke, it was dawn. She carefully moved the shutter and looked outside. Nothing. She went to every window and checked, but still nothing. She took the rifle and went out to feed the animals. There in the dirt were the tracks of the panther…with several smaller ones beside it. She was a mother. She was probably moving the kittens when one took off on their own. Yes, she could see the tracks where ‘mama’ as she now thought of the panther had gone after a kitten.
My grandmother went into the barn and fed the animals but kept a careful eye out for the rest of the day. That night was quiet and when my grandfather returned the next day, she told him about the panther. He couldn’t believe she was so calm and perhaps she should have been more scared. But she could not fault a mother for taking care of her child, especially, now that she was going to be a mother. She decided it was time to tell my grandfather that they were going to be parents. Parents with two new mules!
A garden and so much more
My grandmother loved her plants. She took the little vegetable patch my grandfather had behind the house and turned it into a real garden. It was filled with herbs and flowers, fruits and vegetables. There was a lilac hedge on the northwest side to block the winds from the mountains and two beautiful rose bushes that were grown mainly for the hips.
She knew about herbs and their uses from her own grandmother, who made medicinal teas and tonics. Fruit grew against the fence all around the edges of the garden. Her blackberries, blueberries, and strawberries went into my grandfather’s favorite dessert…pie. And her grapes ran over the fence and eventually up onto an arbor my grandfather built for her. It covered a long bench with hand-carved vines and leaves along the front. In the spring, the bench was surrounded by the little white blossoms of sweet woodruff. She liked to read there in the late afternoon, when it was too hot to be in the house.
She enjoyed spending her free moments in her garden, often having the children help with little chores, or teaching them about medicinal herbs and flowers. She would read to them, sitting together on the bench, or share stories of her own childhood. And the seasonal joys of picking fresh strawberries or sampling the first ripe tomatoes were looked forward to, almost as much, as birthdays or Christmas.
Many afternoons, my grandmother would take a break from gardening and sit on the bench under the grape arbor. The older children would be at school with the little ones napping in the house. My grandfather would bring out two glasses of his homemade root beer, sit down with her, and they would talk about their day or plans for the future. Those little things couples discuss everywhere. Then, they would get up and walk to the house, with him carrying her basket of food for dinner. He would kiss her and tell her how beautiful she was, especially with that bit of dirt on her cheek. Then, he would go back to the field, and she would wake the baby and start getting supper ready, often smiling to herself as she worked.
Sometimes you just let it rain…
After supper, it was finally cool enough to play in the summer. My dad used to tell me that when he was a little boy, his parents would chase him around in circles through the grass pasture.
It was the only open space not used for crops since they had to feed the cow, the mules and the other animals over the winter. The other two pastures were rotated during the year, but this one was for cutting hay. And the grass was tall and green in June.
One day, he asked his father to take him fishing down by the creek. He was about four, and his mother told them she had to agree…it was high time a man learned to fish at his age.
She smiled as they left, thinking it would be fun for both of them. She decided she’d have a pie ready when they came back. As soon as the baby went down for his nap, she’d check to see if the strawberries were ripe. It would be a nice surprise for ‘her men’ she thought, smiling again. She picked up the baby, already eight months old, and asked if he agreed. Then laughing, she told him he would not have pie, but she would cut up some strawberries just for him.
The fastest way to the pond was across the farm, so they went down to the creek, cutting through the pasture. The grass was so high the little boy wanted to ride on his father’s shoulders. But how would they carry the fishing poles? When he asked, his father laughed and said, you hold on to me, I’ll hold on to the fishing poles.
When they reached the pond, they had a great time putting worms on the hooks and finally got the lines in the water. Just then, it started to rain. A worried look on his face, my father asked if they had to stop now? His father smiled and shook his head, explaining the first thing to learn about fishing is that when it rains, the fish come closer to the top of the water. And they’d likely catch a lot more of them. So, unless it looks like thunder and lightning, they’d just let it rain.
When they got back home, my father said he could smell strawberry pie. His father told him he had to agree, it definitely smelled like strawberry pie. He laughed as the little boy ran in with his three, small fish, excited to show his mother his success. That night, they ate some very small, but very tasty, fish for dinner with some vegetables from the garden…and a big piece of pie for dessert.
Seeing your future from a wagon
My grandfather didn’t live in South Carolina as a boy. His people were from Pennsylvania, but they moved south for the chance to farm. After the war between the states, land became very expensive. In the north, landowners were buying up small farms and driving the prices up. And in the south, the same thing was happening, but the land was being divided into plots for sharecroppers and tenant farmers.
My grandfather’s family moved down to become tenant farmers. He was eight, when they took their wagon south and said he fell in love with the land at first sight. It was the mountains he saw first and being summer, it was sunny and warm. They had hills in Pennsylvania, but nothing like the Smoky Mountains. Later, he would see them in the mists and realize why that name fit them so well. But that day, they were a protection to him. A natural barrier between what had been and what was to be.
His family said that this was their chance to make something of good farmland that could be worked for a longer season. No more long, cold winters…and no more snow, he thought. But even the bit of snow they would experience was nothing like he’d known before. So that day, he sat in the wagon and looked out at the future. His future.
When they pulled up to the small town near their tenant farm, a young girl was being teased by some older boys. She didn’t have much money by the looks of her clothes, and the boys were making fun of her mismatched braids. Then, another girl came up and stepped in front of the first girl. She wasn’t big…if anything she was even shorter. But she stood there and dared them to say that to her. She balled both her hands into fists by her sides and told them they’d better run if they didn’t want to explain to their folks, how they got bested by a girl.
Surprisingly, the boys did leave. They didn’t run, but he barely caught the words ‘crazy’ and ‘why bother’ from them as they walked by. Then, the girl turned to help her friend over to the general store and sat her down on the steps, carefully smoothing her braids. My grandfather said there was something about that girl even then. He supposed he admired her spirit and her courage, but at the time he was just darn impressed. He had no idea she would be his future wife.
The day of the wedding
After my grandfather proposed to my grandmother, he wanted to get married right away. He said my grandmother was the prettiest and smartest woman he’d ever met, and he knew she was the one for him. He’d had to wait until he had the farmland, replaced the well, repaired the chicken house…and now he was finally able to offer her a home of their own.
But the same storm that damaged the chicken house, nearly destroyed the only church in the area. There would only be outdoor services that summer. And my grandfather couldn’t see getting married outside the church, when they could get married on their own farm.
My grandmother agreed, on the condition that the preacher would be willing to perform the service. When they asked him, he said as long as the food was good, he was happy to hold the service wherever they liked. His easy humor was the reason so many of the locals attended church.
Finally, it was their wedding day! My grandmother arrived with her family and started getting ready in the house. My grandfather was told to wait in the barn, so as not to see her in her dress before the ceremony. My grandmother laughed and said there was no reason to worry about such a silly tradition, but my grandfather said he was happy to do it. Nothing else was going to delay their wedding if he had anything to say about it.
My grandmother smiled and told him that she, too, was looking forward to their wedding and all the days they’d have together as man and wife. The preacher walked by just then and said those were good wedding vows. Maybe, he could incorporate them into their ceremony. Smiling broadly, he picked up a few cookies for the reception and went back outside.
My grandparents both laughed, and my grandfather headed to the barn. My grandmother had worked on her dress for weeks and although it was a simple white dress, she had embroidered small, delicate leaves on the veil. She loved all growing things and wanted to have something special for her wedding. After all, she was marrying the man she loved.
When the guests came, they surprised the bride by each bringing a small lilac start. Her father had told them that his little girl wanted a lilac hedge to block the winds from the mountains. He knew she had some ideas for the vegetable patch out back and most everyone had lilacs in that area. Being so close to the mountains, they bloomed every spring after the snow melted.
When my grandmother saw what they were bringing, she almost cried. Instead, she asked her father to tell them to be seated and she would be right out. They had the benches set up under the sycamore trees, and as she walked towards my grandfather, he said time seemed to stop. She was the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen! And she was smiling at him, with that twinkle she’d get in her eyes when they were sharing a joke. She looked so happy, and he felt like the luckiest man on earth.
After the wedding, my grandfather asked the guests to plant their gifts. He said he wouldn’t have his lovely wife losing any of her lilacs. Once the plants were in, they’d have a party none would soon forget. So, the women got the food on the table, and the men made quick work of the plants. Then, the music started, as there was always music at these events, and the party lasted all afternoon and into the evening.
When the last guests left, my grandfather took my grandmother’s hand as they walked out to her lilacs. He told her he had a present for her that he’d made himself. There, on the edge of the vegetable patch, was a long wooden bench with vines and leaves carved along the front. My grandmother hugged him tight, kissed him, and said it was beautiful. The bench would be a perfect place for them to sit and enjoy the garden. Then, she walked back to the house with him, saying she had a present of her own.
She went into the bedroom and came back with a small box. She told him that she’d wanted something special for him, and she’d saved up for just the right thing. Inside was a pocket watch, with a small compass built into the winding crown. She smiled and said now he’d know when it was time for supper…and always be able to find his way home to her.
Thank you for reading Down in the Well & other short stories. I hope you enjoyed them!
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