Front St. Arts


Hunt for Steel

Center City


Socratic Men

Wild Heart



At the Pond

Celia's Parade


Marsha Taylor

Put Up





The 1960s

Just Briefs


Black Sunday

The Big One

Clark Field

The One

Memphis Woes

A Miracle Maker

Last Standing

John Ealey

Just a Girl

Mary's Katrina

Al Cicada

Exalting Towers


The Rake

Hog Killin'

Sunday Call

Tough Birds

Run of Hollow


Horned Owl


Robbing Bees

Hay Hauling

We Got Married

The Shed

Dad Dive

Final Mission

Like About Bob

Exuberant Birds

Kickin' Cousins

Star Shadows



Man of Earth

With Neighbors




River Plunge

Not Winning


Keep It Moving



Trigger Sapping

Get Her Done!

Optimist Wager

Not for Sale

Elder Anarchy



Photograph by Jerry Murley


by Jerry Murley

It was a warm, crisp March Sunday. Bob and I took the old Volkswagen bug down the long gravel drive out of the hollow.

We were on our way to the Franklins' to fetch home Bob's hoisting rig so that we could change the oil in the VW. At least that was the stated intention, but I think Bob just wanted an excuse to go visit the Franklins. On such mornings as that, it was a shame to sit indoors, and Bob's fifty-six years were showing beneath what often seemed an unwavering focus on work: he wanted something to do – mess with cars, consult with the Franklins about the old and new methods of farming – other than his routine chores, of which there just weren't many that day anyway.

Those Middle Tennessee farms have that relaxed, leaning, no-frills look about them. Bob's place was not always tidy and in showplace condition, but it was clean: no matter how dead a tree, how rotten the wood of a building, how overgrown with ivy the fence, there were still those large grazing fields furnished with occasional exposed limestone or yellow rocks, the tree-covered ridge, and the neat white, tin-roofed house to give the property a fresh, natural order.

On down the winding road about half a mile, we turned into the Franklin drive. There was smoke lightly drifting from the chimney. Like all those farms, but more so, there were rusted implements and gadgets strewn about the fences and barnyards. But in the Franklin instance, even their house had that same propped, tentative appearance of their barns and smokehouse. It was a place of men only at that time.

As we passed the gate, we saw Cousin Joe sitting half in the sun, half in the shade at the barn door. Beside him was a peach tree in full, early bloom and the smudgepot used the night before to salvage those premature blossoms. Cousin Joe's eyelids were heavy, his expression between inexpression and grimace. In his final years, Joe's skull and eyes protruded from his loose skin, likening his features – as for many very old, worn folks today and then – to those of an endearing baby orangutan at the Memphis zoo. He dragged out a "Hi ya, Bob; hi ya, young fella" in a song that pulled you right into his nesting place, whether it be outside in the shade or at the kitchen table.

It seems Joe had a stomach ailment that day. Having been the cook for his son and for his father before that for over fifty years, the doctors had sentenced him to wither away on a bland diet – no more salt on his pork and hundreds of other fixin's – and no sugar either.

Inside we found Paul washing dishes. Joe and Paul lived alone together in the house – mostly in the kitchen by the looks of it. Joe cooked; Paul did the dishes. Joe did the seeds and seasoning; Paul did the tilling, hauling, slaughtering and dealing. They even slept together when need be in the only room other than the kitchen with heat.

Paul was in pain a bit himself. He'd pulled a muscle in his lower abdomen or something – but, of course, he did his chores. (He did them day in an day out as he still does thirty years later.)

Bob asked about their seedlings. They argued over weed-killing and brush-killing formulas. Then Joe gave his perennial summation of all the new farming and gardening techniques: "It's not fit to eat, none of it. You got to have dirt to make food so you can eat it. Those cage chickens – they has eggs ain't fit to eat anymore. I wouldn't give a dime for a hundred dozen cage eggs."

With our day's wisdom and wit we left with Paul and walked up to see his piglets. Each sow had eleven, but one had only ten tits. One of the piglets was unfortunately a runt. Paul guessed that the mother had either stepped on him or the warm lamp used at birth had injured his joints. The runt, it goes without saying, was titless, and the other piglets nudged the cripple every time they passed, as if starvation wasn't enough. So Paul picked up the runt and another fairly scrawny piglet and took them back to the barn for weening and some human protection.

With various chains and Bob's hoist in hand, we wished Paul well and drove on back up the hollow. We messed with the car, ate and napped. Doing nothing of importance then as now, not harming a soul, we just passed that day away like we should have done.

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