Friday, August 22, 2008

Fleeing Miss Horace

Story © Copyright 2008 by the author, Lad Moore. All rights reserved.

Solomon was the hardest working man I ever knew
or even heard about.
Sometimes he tilled the fields with a hoe in one hand
and a pick in the other.
His arms were like Popeye’s – big as watermelons.
His tales were about the same size.

* * *

Old Solomon was the handyman on Grandpa’s farm in western Arkansas. He was the first black man I ever got close enough to touch. I wondered why the palms of his hands were white like mine, and his gums and tongue were pink like mine too. When he took off those heavy boots that were covered with duck tape patches, I saw that the soles of his feet were white as well. I wanted to ask him about it but felt uneasy; so in five-year-old innocence I figured it out all by myself. It was simple. Every place on his skin that got rubbed a lot turned white. My theory also explained why the hoe and shovel handles were so dark – the black wore off on them. I never wondered about it again.
Solomon worked in Grandpa’s orchards almost non-stop when we got close to harvest. I followed him around, keeping a safe distance so I wouldn’t ‘get underfoot’, as he put it. He told me endless stories, mostly from the Bible. Most of them seemed like they needed footnotes to understand. He told me that Methuselah lived 900 years with the same set of teeth, but Granny Stell said that your teeth would fall out if you ate candy. Did that mean Methuselah went 900 years without a Hershey bar? The prospect of that was inconceivable.
Solomon also told me about Jonah living in a fish belly for a time. I wondered if he came out all pruny, like when I stayed in the bubblebath too long. There was also his story about somebody being turned into a pillar of salt. That one made sense. I remember how Granny Stell used to fuss at Grandpa about using too much table salt. “Hardens your arteries,” she said.
I had the freedom to roam the acres of peach orchards until Grandpa and Solomon fenced it with barbed wire five feet high. The fence was to keep animals out, but at first it kept me out too. Then I learned how to climb the stiles – wooden ladders shaped like an A-frame that straddled the fence.
I asked Solomon about the stiles. “Why can’t cows and pigs climb like I do to get to the peaches? It’d be real easy, they could just lift one hoof above another and go over the fence.”
“As a rule, cows and pigs stay off ladders,” he said. “They just sit around biding their time until they grow their wings.” Wow! The prospect of cows and pigs with wings was more exciting than the tale about the 900-year-old teeth. Until my last year of grade school I checked the herd religiously for signs of feathers.

When I was seventeen, I fell in love with Miss Horace, who was our neighbor Clyde Oberman’s semi-beautiful daughter. It was a feisty courtship, and Mr Oberman threw bricks at me the last time I came to call on her. Miss Horace and I decided to elope – our only hope of being together.
Midnight came on the night of the plan. I slipped Grandpa’s tallest orchard ladder under her bedroom window at the exact prescribed time. Miss Horace tossed out an overstuffed duffel bag, then stepped out onto the ladder. It creaked and groaned from her substantial size. My flashlight illuminated the scene above me, bathing her in a bright light as she made her descent.
One time I read in Granny Stell’s manners book that the groom is not supposed to see the bride before the wedding. But as I steadied the ladder, I saw everything. With the gusty wind underneath, her skirt puffed out like a topsail in a tempest. She had big bulges of skin that were disguised by starched white ruffles, thick rubber bands on both legs above her knees, and something pink that hooked together in the front with what looked like shoelaces. The sight of all that peculiar paraphernalia under her skirt terrified me.
Suddenly my face flushed red as Old Solomon’s words poured over me like hot molasses: “As a rule, cows and pigs stay off ladders.”
I’m the one that grew wings. I was still running at sunup.

Lad Moore enjoys hundreds of writing credits in print and on the web, and has earned several awards including a nomination to the Texas Institute of Letters. His work has appeared in Virginia Adversaria, Pittsburgh Quarterly, Paumanok Review, Carolina Country, and Amarillo Bay, among others. Mr. Moore is a five-volume contributor to the Adams Media anthologies, and is featured in an edition of "Chicken Soup for the Soul." Two collections of his short stories, "Odie Dodie," and "Tailwind," have been published by BeWrite-Jacobsen Books. The author resides in Jefferson, Texas.


Kim Smith said...

This is fabulous!! thanks for the entertaining read!

Aaron Paul Lazar said...

Lad, this piece is a great example of why I love your books. Straight shooting, beautifully described, and so very moving. It's extremely hard to be able to combine each of these aspects, but you do it, so effortlessly. Kudos! Please come back to guest blog for us soon!