A Wasted Grudge
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by Frank Shortt
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Freddie Stone, returning from up Bill Keen Hollow, knew that all was not well in his usually
docile world of the late nineteen forties. Ahead of him he prodded a yellow Jersey cow named ’Bossie’ with his hickory walking stick.
He dreaded the approaching twilight when serpents began crawling about looking for warmer places to hide.
As he passed the old burned-out Chalmer’s house the sound of broken glass greeted his ears. The little Jersey cow went on ahead as
he turned aside to investigate. What he saw was very disappointing. The two Laud boys were busily breaking every fruit jar in sight
with stones. The jars had been retrieved as the house burned down.
These boys were
nephews of the present owner, Irv Chalmers who stood over six feet in his stockings. Freddie perceived him to be a very austere and
angry man, a coal truck driver with a fighting reputation. His stepson, Billy Chalmers, sometimes showed up at the Stone house with
bloody welts on his bare back.
Freddie was sunburned with little freckles on his nose.
He was a spindly but sturdy ten year old, always barefoot in the summer. Shoes were only used for church and when the ground became
Freddie’s father, Et Stone, had sent him up Bill Keen Hollow at Stone Gap,
Virginia to fetch the milk cow.
“Take yore hickory stick and that gravel shooter
of yourn and fetch thet ole wanderin’ Jersey cow.”
Freddie never talked back to his father.
The ‘gravel shooter’ was the fork of a maple limb. The flippers were cut from old rubber
automobile inner tubes. The flap, for holding small creek stones, was fashioned from a worn out shoe tongue. A few dead birds and
small animals attested to Freddie’s accuracy.
“Dadgum serpents, they musta all come up
here to lay their eggs this spring. They’re worse’un traffic on route 460.”
fear was rampant copperheads that struck without warning. The rattler at least made a noise before doing you in.
Mossy logs and large
stones, hiding places for the wily reptiles, lay alongside the winding, weed grown path. Not having shoes during summer added to the
danger. Every swish of grass or leaves became a huge copperhead in the boys’ fertile mind. They would automatically strike the spot
from whence any noise emanated.
Freddie remembered last summer when his mom, Sarah, had
sent him up there to pick berries.
“Freddie! Run up Bill Keen Hollow and pick us enough
berries for a nice cobbler. You be careful of them thickets up there.”
“But Mom, that old
place is deserted and I’m a’scairt to go up there by myself. You know they’s all kinds of vermin underneath them ole rotten floor
boards. They ain’t a window left in the place and the roofs already fell in. Looks like th’ place might be hainted.”
“Wonder who broke them windows? Probably them crazy Laud boys.” Their reputation went before them.
You run along now and don’t come
back with a story like you told me the last time.”
Freddie remembered the story well. While
reaching over some downed logs he had spotted a snake so huge it could have wrapped around him several times. “Lordy mercy what in
the world is‘at?”
He ran all the way home spilling his half-filled tin lard bucket of berries.
Sarah, a stern disciplinarian, gave him a sound thrashing for spilling the precious berries and accused him of merely playing all
day instead of doing what she sent him to do. The berries were needed to make dessert, as well as, jam and jelly for the winter.
Freddie had tried to explain what had happened but his story fell on deaf ears.
brother Weston had chided him,
“How big was ‘at ole snake? I’ll bet it wudn’t nuthin’ but
a ole downed poplar log” Freddie retired that night with a heavy heart!
suddenly returned to the sound of breaking glass.
“What’re you guys up to”? Freddie called
to the Laud boys.
“None ’a yore business” was the flippant reply.
Even though the Laud brothers, Elbert and Todd, were his play mates, he knew that they were wrong in what they were doing. He also
knew that they could beat him up if they ganged up on him even though they were both younger than he.
“Yore gonna get into a lotta trouble” Freddie admonished them.
Little did he know what
lay in store for him because of the broken fruit jars!
Elbert Laud was usually a friendly
sort. He was the older of the two and a head taller than his brother. His hair was black, reflective of the Chalmers, of which family
his mother belonged. His favorite saying was,
“I’m a ring-tailed rounder.”
Todd, the youngest, was a little unpredictable. He was a red headed freckle-faced boy who always repeated, in a whisper, what he had
just said aloud. He had a habit of sneaking above pathways and throwing rocks down upon unwary travelers.
“I’druther throw rocks than eat, an’ breakin’ glass shore sounds good to my ears,” he had been heard to say.
“Don’t ever break fruit jars, they’re all we’ve got to can our food for the winter. Freddie was admonished by his mom. You know that
yore daddy works from sunup to sundown to make a livin’. I don’t know how he does it loadin’ coal all day for a dollar a car”. I guess
we’ll just have to count our blessin’s.”
Anything other than food and clothing was a luxury.
Freddie had seven siblings and he knew what it meant to “root hog or die”. Many times he went to bed hungry as there was
not enough food to go around. Unthinking relatives sometimes came on weekends, eating everything in sight, making it even harder to
get enough to eat. Freddie truly knew the value of fruit jars.
After Freddie had warned
the Laud boys about their dastardly deed, he made his way on down the shadowy hollow.
guess it’s no skin off’n my nose if they break all them ole jars. They probably ain’t wuth nuthin’ anyhow after goin’ through a fire.”
The Jersey cow had wandered down to Route 460. She could possibly be hit by a coal truck
if Freddie did not guide her across. Freddie had seen the swollen results of a cow that had been hit by a coal truck not too long
before that. The unlucky cow was one entrusted to the care of Freddie’s father. The death did not sit too well with the cow’s owner.
Thet shore made a big balloon, I wonder what would have happened if I’d a stuck a pin in
‘er? Freddie reflected.
Just as he sent the cow across the highway, first making sure there
were no vehicles coming, he heard a voice that made him freeze in his tracks!
break my jars?”
Gigantic Irv Chalmers stood up top of the slate dump above the highway.
(Slate dumps are the result of dumping the slag from a working mine.) From where he stood he had a partial view of the burned out
house. He stood akimbo. In his hand was a large walking stick probably used to strike any snake that happened by.
“I didn’t break your jars, Freddie replied. I was just up Bill Keen Hollow gettin’ my cow.”
“Don’t you lie to me, I heard you breakin’ them jars, and besides, If you’d keep thet ole cow inside yore fence, she wouldn’t be traipsin’
all over. I oughta come down thar and wair this stick out on ye.” His accent was partially Irish with a smattering of Elizabethan
English thrown in.
“Et Stone will have something’ to say about thet,” Freddie replied as
he scrambled down over the bank after ole Bossie.
Much to Freddie’s chagrin Et surely had a lot to say about it.
That evening, after their meager supper, Et Stone had a visitor. Freddie was too scared to listen closely to their conversation. He
heard snippets of, ‘saw him breakin’ my jars,’ and something about ‘talkin back to an adult.’
After what seemed an eternity, Irv Chalmers finally said “good night, Et, y’all come out and see me sometime.”
As darkness had fallen,
Freddie climbed warily into his bed. He usually slept in underwear as pajamas were a luxury.
What happened next was a nightmare that stayed with Freddie the rest of his life!
into the room and all Freddie could hear was the “swoosh” of the thick mining belt as it came from the stays in Et’s pants. Blows
rained down on Freddie and no matter which way he turned there was no escaping the hated weapon.
He lay exhausted after this, his back, arms and legs full of angry red welts. Sarah had run into the room upon hearing Freddie moaning
and had protested to Et that he was going to kill the boy.
“I ain’t gonna kill him
but I’ll teach him not to break other folks’ jars and talk back to grownups.”
been beat enough,” Sarah stated firmly.
Et, having spent his energy, finally relented.
Freddie lay in a stupor, sobbing, as his mother bathed the welts with cold water.
I hate him, I hope I never see him again! Freddie thought.
Some of the welts were oozing blood and had to be treated with Samen’s salve, the country cure-all for cuts and bruises. The most
difficult part was that Freddie had not a chance to explain to his dad what had really happened.
“Elbert and Todd Laud broke those jars,” Freddie confided to his brother Weston next day.
“We’ll take care of them later, Weston replied. Don’t you worry about it.”
They did take
care of it. After Freddie mended fully the Laud boys were invited down by the creek for a reckoning. Bruised knuckles, blackened eyes
and bloody noses were the order of that day.
The only humorous result of the whole affair
was what Sarah said when she remembered what had occurred a few days hence. Freddie had related to her how that Billy Chalmers had
gotten a whipping in his underwear. Sarah teased Freddie,
“Billy Chalmers ain’t got nothin’
on you, you got a whuppin’ in your underwear too”!
At the time this was far from
funny. It was like pouring salt in an open wound.
Freddie joined the Air Force at
eighteen and was stationed in California. After his discharge he remained there. Somehow the grudge against Irv Chalmers would not
’fraid I have some bad news. Yore dad passed away this mornin’.” Sarah wailed into the phone.
“I’ll get home just as fast as I can, mom. Can I be of any help otherwise? I know ya’ll ain’t been makin’ it so good financially.”
“We’ll talk ’bout thet when you get here, ok?”
Freddie was able to fly out of San Francisco right away. He came home to a pot of pinto beans, and a pone of well-browned corn bread.
That night the family assembled at the funeral parlor.
When Freddie arrived, who should be among the mourners but Irv Chalmers? Irv had done some repenting in his later years.
Freddie hardly knew him as the same man. He looked old and bent, with a shock of white hair.
Et Stone had made a lot of changes in his life since the incident of the jars in Bill Keen Hollow. He had become softer, gentler,
a man who could sit and listen to his children’s side of things. Freddie was sorry he had not been able to discuss the whipping incident
with his father.
Freddie remembered that Et and Irv had been raised by men who had no mercy
on, nor any tolerance for, their children. A child in those days was just another hand to work on the farm.
With all this in mind Freddie approached Irv later and attempted to talk to him about the incident. He had followed Irv outside the
funeral parlor and as Irv assayed to enter his car, Freddie assailed him.
“Mr. Chalmers, I have
somewhat to say to you.”
“Say on, Freddie.”
“I’ve held a
grudge against you for many years and the occasion of dad’s death has prompted me to make things right.”
“What is the grudge, Freddie?”
“Well, to put it bluntly, I have held against you the fact that
you caused the worst beating that I ever received in my life.”
“What was the beating about, Freddie?”
“Remember the time that you accused me of breaking your jars at your mom’s old burned-out house?
Dad beat me within an inch of my life and warned me never to talk back to a grownup again. I held it against you all these years and
I want to apologize and ask your forgiveness.”
The old man hesitated for a moment, staring
dazedly about, as if trying to recall the incident.
To Freddie’s surprise the old man turned
to him, gave him a warm hug and smilingly said,
“Why, Freddie, I don’t remember that a’tall!”
Freddie was too stunned to say anything more. He had held the grudge all those years to