Purple Cowboy stopped by the cabin and told me this story
Purple Cowboy and a 49 Chevy
I was about 15 and helping my Uncle in Mississippi with his store on the corner of two gravel roads. The old, gray cypress sided store was the only place for 30 miles where locals could stock up on flour, sugar and other staples. There were two gas pumps out front, one with regular and the other “ethyl”. Just past the left front corner was a 55 gallon barrel of kerosene with a hand pump and hose. The ground around that barrel was stained from wasted kerosene as the pump handle was not stopped soon enough. One of my assigned chores was helping those that came for Kerosene get the fuel in their quart or gallon canning jars or whatever container, so as to limit that waste. I remember that smell of kerosene, motor oil and gasoline and some great summers working in Mississippi.
I especially enjoyed Mondays as it was always busy with farmer neighbors coming for their week’s supplies. I got up around 5:00 AM, did morning chores at the farm, ate breakfast and made it to the store 15 to 20 minutes after Uncle opened the doors at 6 AM. One of Uncle’s regular customers was the Dranber family from Colton Ridge. Ed Dranber and Uncle had gone to the same school and both had courted Shirley Clamell. Uncle dropped out of school after 9th grade to run the family store when his dad passed away suddenly. Ed took advantage of Uncle’s absence and had little trouble convincing Shirley to be his wife at 16. The Dranber’s had a daughter when Shriley was 17 followed six years later by 3 boys, each 18 months from the previous. Shirley had a rough pregnancy with that fourth child and never was the same, mentally or physically after a rough delivery. Eighteen months later, about 2 months before her 28th birthday, Shirley died and left Ed with a 10 and a half year old daughter and three boys under 5 years of age. Mary had helped her mother with each of the boys from the time she was 6 and moved into the role of “mother” without having time to grieve or be comforted. Ed was angry with God and most everyone in the Colton Ridge community except for Uncle. Ed took to drinking and was drunk most nights as he mourned his loss. He would fuss at Mary about cleaning up the house, bathing the boys or washing dishes and never noticed that his daughter, developing into a young woman, was lonely and missed her mother terribly.
I met Mary the first summer I spent with Uncle when I was 15. Just about every afternoon I would ride my 3-year old liver-chestnut Quarter Horse colt, Ace, along Hanging Fork Creek and over the rolling hills at the base of Colton Ridge. One day I was loping along a new trail and as I rounded a little stand of woods I almost ran smack into a woman on a Palomino mare. Ace slammed to a stop launching me forward, my thighs grasping the pommel of my saddle and my right hand grabbing his neck to keep me on his back. The Palomino had been walking and stopped with a look of disdain that was matched by her honey haired rider. “Watch were the hell you are going!” growled the pretty young lady.
I reached up with my right hand, pulled my soiled straw cowboy hat off and, holding it over my heart, said “I’m sorry maam! I ride these foothills every day and have never seen anyone else out here”.
WELL! I’m HERE aren’t I?” she scowled.
I noticed Ace was arching his neck and preening just a bit toward the blonde horse and I suggested to him quietly, “not sure that is a good idea, boy”.
“You’re DAMN right it’s not a good idea!” She gave a quick tug on her left rein and the Palomino responding with a quick roll back. Dust kicked up from the mare’s feet as the girl encouraged her mount to go even faster.
I thought, “Damn, I didn’t even get her name”. When I finally got into the farm house for the evening I asked Auntie if she knew a blonde woman that rode a Palomino up near Colton Ridge. “Oh, that must be Mary Dranber. But, she’s only 15.” Auntie went on to tell me about the death of Mrs. Dranber and Mary being forced into being the woman of the house before she was 11. “She’s about your age”, Auntie said. “They come by the store every Monday morning early. Maybe you ought to get your barn chores done early and be down there early enough to meet her”.
I wasn’t too sure I wanted another run in with that mouth, but, I had felt something similar to what Ace may have felt about the Palomino mare when I first saw the dark brown eyes and tanned face that accented lips that needed no enhancement.
The next Monday I was walking up to the store about 6:30. Ed was carrying a100 pound sack of Oats and Uncle had a 50 pound sack of flour. Each of the boys was carrying a box or sack of groceries and had one of the lollipops from the big jar Uncle kept right by the cash register. Those lollipops were a penny a piece, but I suspected the register was 3 cents short. As I walked toward the kerosene barrel to pick up some trash Uncle called me over so he could introduce me to the Dranbers. Mac, this is Ed Dranber, a good friend of mine. The three boys had climbed into the bed of their red 49 Chevy pick up.”This is Tommy, he’s 10, Teddy 8 and Tobias 6”. Mary came down the steps carrying a sack with some salt pork, lard and some kind of meat wrapped in white butcher paper. “And, this here is Mary. She has her hands full with this crew”
I opened the passenger side door and as it twanged its resistance Mary climbed in, tucked her head and muttered something that I think was “thank you”. I said to Mary, “My name’s Mac” — and to Uncle, “We met on the trail the other day”. Mary just kept looking down as Ed got in, pressed the starter pedal on the floor, pulled the gear lever noisily into low gear and drove slowly back toward the Ridge.
Each Monday for the next 3 weeks I was at the store by 6:00. I could hear the Dranber pick up coming several minutes before they pulled up at the pump. Each Dranber knew what they were supposed to get and they filled their order by the time Ed had filled his pick up with regular gas. They got a 50-pound sack of flour every other week. The fourth week Uncle received his replacement stock and in the 10 sacks of flour was an unusual green print sack with horse and rider imprints. I put that sack under a back bench and put some rarely sold empty burlap sacks over it. That next Monday I was at the store before Unvle, had the Kerosene area picked up, had swept the two steps leading up to the stores wooden floor and used a soft cotton cleaning rag (torn from a Red Rose flour sack) to wipe gravel dust off the gasoline pumps. Uncle pulled up in his two-tone green 53 Ford sedan and wondered out loud, “Are we expecting special company today?” I couldn’t tell if he was serious or if that was a slight grin I saw reflected in the window of the door as he turned the key and pushed open the door.
Right on time the Dranber’s pick up pulled up to the regular gas pump. Each Dranber boy proceeded to fill his respective supply list and Mary told Uncle what meat she needed. She then turned and walked to the stack of flour. As she had done every other Monday she averted her eyes downward when ours met, and she barely lifted her shoulder nearest me and tilted her head toward me with a slight nod. I said, “Good morning, help you with something?” — She would shake her head, “no”, and mutter what I think was “no thanks” and proceed to gather what she needed to finish her list. This morning however, I had other plans. “Come over here”, I said. “I saved this sack of flour for you. You can make a great flour sack dress from this one.” — And, I saw it again — the look of utter contempt and disdain that I had seen on the Hanging Fork trail. “I DON’T WEAR NO GOTDAMN FLOUR SACK DRESS!!” And, she wheeled about as fast as that Palomino mare, hustled out the door and got in their truck. I was dumbfounded. Uncle rang up the Dranber order and took the stuff out to the truck. He told me to grab a sack of flour and bring it to the truck. I started to pick up a plain sack with little red dots on it, then decided, “What the hell” hoisted the horse print sack on my right shoulder and tossed it on top of the oats and corn already in the bed of the truck.
Every Saturday, Uncle packed up supplies and took them to neighbors that didn’t have transportation or that were too ill or injured to drive to the corner. With a flu bug going around this Saturday was going to be particularly busy. I offered to help and Uncle said, “But I only have the one car.” — I told him that Ace and I could deliver the Wilsons and widow Rayloc’s supplies. I had my dad’s big hunting saddle bags with smaller pouches that fit over the saddle horn and the larger pouches that occupied the traditional position behind the saddle. After delivering the Wilsons supplies, I rode on up the ridge to Mrs. Rayloc’s homey cabin. Mrs. Rayloc loved growing flowers and her yard always had something in bloom no matter what time of year. “Miss Ray” as her friends called her, was also the pie baking queen of Colton Ridge (and Hanging Fork and just about everywhere in Mississippi). As I rode up the path to the front of the house I noticed a familiar Palomino grazing in an area of the yard fenced from the flowers. I dismounted and lifted the two bags of supplies out of my saddle bags. Miss Ray met me on the front porch. “Well, look who’s come for a visit. I’ve been telling that Uncle of yours to have you come by. You’ve really grown tall since last year.”
“Yes mam. Here are your supplies, Uncle was not going to be able to get everyone before dark so I’m delivering a couple of places for him”.
“Well, good. That uncle of yours is a mighty fine man. Come in here. I want you to take a pie back to your uncle and aunt. It’s part of how I pay for my groceries. What’s your favorite?”
“Yes Mam. Well, my favorite is pecan. “
She laughed a bit, “Puh con, you say? I sure love the way you talk!”
“Well, how do you say Puh-con then?” I laughed
“PEE CAN my boy. Pee -can!”
We were both laughing as we walked into the kitchen. I stopped mid laugh when I saw Mary washing berries at the sink. “Hi”, I said
“Miss Ray, the berries are all clean and ready for the pot. I have my berry pie and I’ll be going if you don’t mind”, Mary said as she quickly took off an apron, picked up her sweet berry pie and hurried past me and out the door. I didn’t even get a head bob or shoulder raise.
‘Well, she was in a hurry. I was going to give both of you a piece of pie. I think y’all have a lot in common. She surely likes that horse of hers, and I think she likes you and your horse too!”
“Miss Ray, that girl would just as soon Hanging Fork would live up to its name where I’m concerned. I think she hates me!”
“Well, I don’t know about that. For the past three weeks, every time she has been over here to help me, all she talks about is this tall, skinny kid from Hanging Fork. First of all that he has this really good looking dark colored stallion with a blonde mane and tail and big blaze. And that she likes the way he rides — and that he has this soft voice with an interesting accent and….”
“Did she tell you that I insulted her by suggesting she buy a certain sack of flour and make a dress? And then just now — she didn’t even acknowledge that I was here.”
“Sit down, Mac. Mary has had a tough life. She has been mother to three boys and had to even be a wife to her father when he is drunk. — Now I don’t think that includes a wife’s bedroom duties — God forbid. But, she lacks confidence that anyone outside of that family would like her much less want her. You just be patient and give her a chance.”
The next Monday I was at the store at 6:00 as usual. About 6:15 I looked out the door wondering where that Chevy pick up was. Then I heard it and waited a minute or two and saw the small dust tail as it made its way slowly toward our store. I hurried to the back, determined to be in position to get a smile or at least a verbal “hello”. Uncle walked over to the door wiping his hands on a cotton cloth. I saw him move down the steps and heard raised voices. The boys did not come in to begin their shopping. I couldn’t figure out what was happening so I went to the door. Ed Drenber was trembling and rubbing his right fist with his left palm. At first I thought he was angry with Uncle, then realized he was almost crying. I walked down the steps. Uncle turned when he hear me and said, “Mac, Mary is gone!”
Where did Mary go? Will Mac find her? Does she want to be found? And, what will become of Ed and the three T’s? Purple Cowboy will be back to tell me more of this story. IF you’d like to know what happens, hit the “like” button below) and share it. The more we get the faster PC will return.