“CHRISTMAS” in a CARDBOARD BOX

“Christmas gifts in short supply,” “Shop early to avoid empty shelves,” The black Christmas of 2021.” The headlines go on and on. If a body allowed themselves, all this bad news can really drag a person down, make ’em believe Christmas and all it stands for can be contained, held captive on some random cargo ship floating just off the coast somewhere.

But don’t you think on it, no sir, don’t you think on it one bit. I got some good news for us all. They may be tellin’ us the holidays are being held captive, but they’re wrong! Let me tell you why.

The Owens family are the stars of our little story, I’m sure you’re familiar with the Owen’s and big David from the book snippets. We join them on a very special day, up early, cleaned and pressed, David’s hair combed and oiled, his four sister’s hair carefully brushed and garnished with pretty bows of left over fabric. His Ma had the entire clan ready to go before sun up. The girls, bubbling over with excitement, picked, poked, and giggled at each other, all the while David looked to the Heavens and rolled his eyes. He couldn’t let ’em see his excitement, after all, while his Pa was at work he was the man of the house. This meant someone had to be the voice of reason.

You see friend: before cellular phones and tablets, before designer purses and Nike shoes, before those robot vacuum cleaners and that creepy Alexa lady who talks to you at home even in the most private of situations, before Atari, PlayStation and X-box. There was something more… a simple dog-eared cardboard box, but contained within that humble box, well… contained there was everything Christmas was about, everything Christmas promised and everything Christmas was, and as kids they looked forward to it’s yearly return with as much excitement as Santa Claus, maybe more.

Since it was Christmas basket season, that meant anything was possible, maybe even probable. Most folk have been fortunate enough to have never seen one, and that particular memory, like so many things from our past, seems to be slowly fading into obscurity. But to David and his sisters, all the magic and wonder of the holiday season was waiting for them inside that box.

Oh it’s all there…you just gotta know what to look for, the Christmas story in it’s entirety. From the simple to the sublime, the mundane to the magical, the humble to the most high. And like all good things (I mean really good things), very little, if any, money is required.

David and his sisters didn’t know “poor”, to them it was simply”life” and life needed no special words to quantify it, it simply was, and that was that. But… it was a different time and folks defined “poor” differently than we do now.

There they were, like a momma duck and her babies, all waddlin’ up the narrow road into town. If they were lucky, a neighbor would stop and offer a ride, if not there was plenty to talk about on the five mile hike. All the children could talk about were those boxes and what wonders waited inside. Each shared tales about what they hoped to find within, minds raced and imaginations soared as tales of last years treats and which ones were favorites flew though the cold air.

Before they knew it, the lodge came into to view and they could see the line of folks wrapping around the building like a black snake, all patiently waiting their turn. Now before we go any further we need to get one thing straight friend…this weren’t charity. Around here folk look out for each other, we share the gift as well as the burden. We didn’t need the government, we didn’t need a handout, and we didn’t need some politician deciding what our folk deserved. We had neighbors and friends who cared, and felt the pain of hardship like we all did.

The sights,sounds, and smells in that building were in a kids eyes, beyond words. Boxes packed full of holiday greatness were stacked floor to ceiling. The aroma of chocolate, citrus, cinnamon, and other treats unknown floated about the room before simmering into an aroma that brought goose-bumps to the skin. The roomful of voices and excited clamber mixed just as easily, composing a soothing hymn. This must truly be what Christmas was all about, those children were in Heaven and never wanted to leave.

A booming HO, HO, HO, snapped them to reality. The three girls pulled and tugged at David’s shirt, begging to go see Santa. David shot his ma a pleading glance.

Oh fine, she replied. Take your sister and go see Santa, I got some things to drop of at the tables anyway.

Without waiting on their brother, the girls ran to the short line of children, all waiting to tell the Jolly ol’ elf their most private of wishes. David knew it as soon as he laid eyes on the ol’ boy. The yards of red velvet and white fur trim couldn’t hide the tin toys and whistles dangling just below Santa’s coat. The ivory pipe he held clutched in his teeth could belong to no other, it was ol’ Shag Branch in the flesh. The wonderful ol’ man sat there, his lap full of children. From time to time his head fell back as a thunderous laugh filled the room. Shag was in his element, he loved those children and they loved him in return. Christmas seemed to fit Shag, his well worn stories of travel to far off and exotic lands were replaced with reindeer tales, and elf updates, the intricacies of toy manufacturing, and flight zones. The children (young and old) gathered round him as usual, mouths wide open and eyes star struck as they absorbed the tales like raindrops on dry clay.

Mrs. Owens used the opportunity to finish some business. She placed a large basket on the table under the watchful eyes of the chief and mayor. A loud gasp was heard from both as she laid six fresh baked “cornmeal” pies in a neat line. Quit that she scolded as she swatted away the mayor’s hand. Those are for the raffle, you want a taste then go buy ye’selves a ticket.

Grumbles were heard as the two men turned to go in search of the ticket table.

We’ll be back Mrs. Owens replied Mayor Weaver, yea said the chief, with winning tickets too.

I hope so boys, she answered, I hope so.

To be perfectly honest; each family was to get just one box, but the men behind the tables, well… they knew things, the kinda things only a small town knows. With a wink, a finger to their lips and a quick shush, a box appeared before each of the children. The girls could scarce wrap their arms around the treasure. Once the boxes were held tight against they’re chests, they were quietly scatted outside.

Ma led her little band of ducks to a large sweet-gum tree, there beneath the gnarled branches they examined they’re spoils.

One large frozen roasting hen

Cans of pumpkin, green beans, corn and untold other vegetables

A bag of flour, cornmeal, and sugar

A large bag of tree nuts

A bag of pretty ribbon candy, creme drops, horehound candy, gum drops, and a box of Cracker Jacks

A large poke of oranges and a few grapefruit

But the best lay hidden at the bottom. All four filled their mouths with gum drops and began to dig. I found it yelled the youngest, soon followed by the other three. Four pairs of hands lifted the prize into the air. A brand new pocket New Testament. Still cold from the frozen chicken, leather bound with gold letters on the outside and red letters on the inside. (The red letters are the important ones).

Mrs. Owens let her little ones enjoy their newfound prizes for a few minutes before giving word that it was time to make the way back home. David secured each girl with a their own box before picking up his own. The little band began the journey back home.

The journey home was dominated by tales of Santa and the things he might bring. A thankful grin lay across the face of both David, and his ma. The hope and dreams of the three girls lifted they’re hearts and made the steps lighter.

As the four marched, the wind brought the scent of cinnamon and Liquorice to the nose. The aroma mixed and mingled with the scent of citrus and apples, until finally joining with the smell of cardboard and the cold of the chicken. The end result was nothing short of magical.

We all have special “triggers” in our lives, simple little things such as a TV. show, a special taste, a smell, or familiar tune. Something so small and innocuous that it means nothing to others, but to us, those “little” things have the power to instantly transport us back to simpler times and our childhood, or treasured memory. The smell of a Christmas basket is one of mine, and I’m sure, for David and his three sisters as well.

Remember when I said those boxes contained Christmas? Well…let’s talk about that a-bit shall we?

You may be, (and I pray that you are), unfamiliar with the concept of a “Christmas Basket” and what it meant to so many mountain families, not to mention children. Every year when the leaves began to change, local churches, businesses, friends, neighbors, heck, most of the whole town came together in the spirit of Love and Sacrifice. A humble yet grand effort to gift another with the simple respite from worry.

Food drives would be held, bake sales and raffles. Collection plates circulate in churches ,meeting halls, and even local beer joints. Most everyone gratefully shared what little they had, no avenue was left unchecked in the effort to fill as many boxes as possible.

Do such labors work? Do these humble actions of neighbors have lasting effect. Well…here sits an old man, typing away at his keyboard. As I write this story I smell that box,I feel the cold from the frozen bird against my face as I walk home. I feel the weight as I carry it close to my chest. The smell of citrus, chocolate and cinnamon fill my head and I’m transported back, way back.

Strip away the tinsel, the twinkling lights and greenery. Remove the silver, gold and blown glass. Forget about spending money you don’t have, to buy people you don’t like, things they don’t need.

Whats left?

Just an old cardboard box, much like an old wooden manger, both filled with hope, joy, and promise. The return of which was looked forward to every year at this special time. Remember that pocket New Testament those little ones were so desperate to find too? Oh it was there in that manger as well. Oh not a little book mind you, but nothing less than the word manifest in flesh, the Christ child. A promise made, a promise fulfilled.

Oh I nearly forgot; Remember those pies Mrs. Owens baked? There’s a lesson there as well. In my simple mind I believe God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost is best described as a cornmeal pie cut into three slices. Each separate at the surface,but the middle, the ooey gooey sweet part, is still as one.

Mary had a little Lamb, so very long ago.

Though our sins be as crimson..

The Lamb can wash them white as snow.

My sin debt was paid by that Little Lamb, in that manger long ago.

And now where that Lamb has gone, I shall surely go.

MERRY CHRISTMAS from the Tin Cup Clan. It’s been a wonderful year, God has allowed me to continue sharing these tales with you even though the doctors tell me other wise. We thank each of you for your prayers and support and continue to pray that the Lord bless you and your Loved ones without measure.

So…next time you hear or read of all the evil afoot in this ol’ world. Stop a second and think of Big David and his sisters, a corn meal pie, and a humble little “cardboard box.” Then with a deep breath, smile a bit and smell the citrus. God’s got this, I promise.

Please like an share this story. I’m certain we all know others who need to read it. I don’t get out much anymore so leave a comment or two as well, we certainly enjoy reading them. THE TIN CUP CLAN

Ahab’s real name was Wendall

Ahab…the name carry’s with it a ponderous weight. Scenes of massive wooden ships under full canvas fill our noggins, if we allow ourselves the privilege, we can almost hear the overbearing Captain as he berates the lowly shipmates. With little effort we may go so far as to catch a glimpse of the massive white back as it breaches the ocean’s surface. ” If his chest had been a cannon he would have shot his heart upon it,” the quote rings in our head as a church bell…but.

Yes we’ve all read the book, (you have haven’t you ?)

Pundits and scholars have debated the various morals, lessons or inner guidance one might glean from Captain Ahab for the better part of a hundred and seventy years. But I got one on ’em, that’s right, this Ol’ hillbilly has been blessed with the opportunity to have known Ol’ Ahab in the Christian flesh, (that’s right, in the flesh) but…his real name was a bit on the humbler side…Wendall, (with two L’s), and the whale…well in this story at least, that denizen of the deep, that Leviathan of maritime nightmares will be played by “of all things,” a lowly little possum with the inner stones of a mountain lion.

“What’s that you say? Such a thing cain’t be true, he’s lost his mind. Well… bear with me for a brief while as I introduce you to a fella (and his whale) I don’t think you’re gonna forget either one of ’em anytime soon. Who knows, maybe we can even laugh a bit together.

As I recall, Wendall was an odd duck, as far as ducks go. His pasty white skin clung to his bones like an old wet overcoat. The sight was worsened by a large hooked nose and pitiful excuse for a hairpiece that weren’t foolin’ a soul. He rode an ol’ motorbike where-ever he went, he would cruise main-street, face in the wind, grinnin’ from ear to ear, and that hair piece flopping up and down in the breeze, slappin’ against the front of his helmet. Sittin’ there square betwixed his legs was the scruffiest lookin’ little mutt you ever saw. That animal went everywhere with him and possessed the same ill nature as it’s owner. The whole sight was to much to witness with a straight face.

His physical appearance hid a rather odd defect of character, an explosive temper. Lookin’ back, I’m sure his short fuse was the result of a lifetime filled with constant ribbing and practical jokes, or maybe his hairpiece made his head itch somethin’ terrible. Whatever the reason, he was heels dug in and ready to fight at the drop of a hat,(dog and all). Unfortunately, he usually managed to came out on the short end of most brawls, but I reckon the few he did win kept his spirits up, there’s a lesson there, but this ain’t the story for it. No matter his flaws I counted him as a friend and was glad for it, and a truer friend I never had.

He came by my house one day, excited beyond measure. He jabbered on, hands flailin’ wild in the air, mouth goin’ a mile a minute, dog barkin’ and yappin’, he had bought his first house.

*You just gotta come see it” he bragged. On and on he went until I finally saw things his way and agreed to go see his newly acquired mansion. We jumped into my truck (there was no way I was gonna ride that scooter with him and the dog), and off we went. We rattled down an ol’ gravel road until at last he began slappin’ the dash and pointin’ to an ol’ rusty mailbox. At the end of the mud and gravel sat an ancient dilapidated shotgun house. Poison vines and ivy snaked they’re way up the wood siding, very nearly covering the entire structure, as a matter of fact the sight led me to believe the vines were the sole means of support for the ol’ house. Rusty tin covered the roof, well most of it anyways, the wind had blown a few pieces off leaving weathered grey boards open to the rain.

But it was his and he was proud of it. He hooked his thumbs around the galluses of his liberty’s and drew in a deep breath, “ain’t no kinda man if you don’t own some land” he bragged. I was proud for him too.

We set to work right away, the foundation had fallen away at one corner, the sole source of lighting was a single bulb hanging from the ceiling in each room. There were only five or six functioning electrical outlets in the entire house, and to be honest, I was rather concerned about ’em. The well pump worked depending on it’s mood, which considering it’s foul disposition wasn’t often. None of that phased him, no sir, not one bit. The two of ’em moved in that very first night, it was then and there he discovered someone else called that house a home, and he wasn’t welcome. He wasn’t welcome at all.

Enter stage right…the whale.

I arrived the next mornin’ bright and early, coffee in hand and ready to start the day. But no sign of Wendall. I walked around the porch only to find an ol’ Confederate battle flag nailed over the living room window and bath towels over the rest. I began poundin’ on each of ’em until finally rousin’ him and his dog from the bed. They looked horrible, the both of ’em. He didn’t have his wig on and the dog just looked…well…aggravated.

What in the world happened to you? I asked. The both of you look pitiful.

Both hands covered his face as he rubbed the sleep from his eyes and scratched his stubble. He opened his mouth in a wide yawn, I think we got a haint he replied.

I chuckled a bit. You’ve lost your mind. I replied. Let’s git to work.

We got a lot done that day, black and white tiles on the kitchen floor, new counter tops from the local salvage yard. Heck…even that ugly dog caught a couple of rats. (the rats looked better than the dog). Pretty good day, even if I had to listen to him go on and on about the foot-steps on the porch last night, or the strange scratchin’ on the walls. Yep…we got our selves a haint alright he said, a sneaky one at that, and I’m gonna git ‘im. Gonna be him or me said, gonna be him or me.

Well…days went by, we worked on the ol’ house most week ends, Wendall came of the mind that his haint was gettin’ bolder by the night. He was obsessed with this private battle of his. He had convinced himself there could only be one winner, and it was ordained by God almighty that winner was gonna be him (and his dog). Night after night he waited for his ghost, hearing the scratching and foot steps, but never seeing hide nor hair.

I figured some neighborhood kids were messin’ with him or somethin’ of that nature. He didn’t have a workin’ firearm to speak off and I was grateful for that. He did however own a piece of an ol’ shotgun, from a distance it looked deadly enough, but in fact it was absent most of the pieces-parts needed to allow it to fire. I eventually considered the entire situation a joke, but the strain on Wendall and his ugly little dog was becomin’ more evident by the day.

Until finally, it all came to the most comical and extreme of climaxes a body could think of.

I arrived one cold and frosty Fall mornin’, usual coffee in hand, only to be greeted by a horrific and bloody (yes I said bloody) sight. The porch lay covered with broken bits and pieces of sheet-rock. Lumber and plumbing scattered throughout the yard. I panicked, dropped the coffee and burst through the kitchen door expecting to find ol’ Wendall, a victim of some horrendous crime, mangled and bloody on the floor with that ugly ol’ dog.

As I burst through the door I was met by a terrible sight. The new tile floor was charred and black, a strange circle in the center. The cabinet doors were torn from their hinges and partialy burned. It was obvious, someone had attempted to burn the place to the ground. But that wasn’t the worst of it (OH NO), areas of the floor and wall were splattered with blood. I was shook to my marrow bones when I noticed a blood soaked sledge hammer layin’ next to the sink. I just knew my friend was well and truly dead.

Wendall, I yelled. You dead? In a panic, I ran to his bedroom searchin’ for him. WENDALL.

I stuck my head in the dark bedroom to find him, blood stained and sprawled out across the bed. Next to him, watchin’ over his master was the dog, his right eye swollen shut and fur matted with God knows what. My heart fell, and I felt sick to my stomach.

What in hell are you goin’ on about? Wendall growned as he sat his self right.

Man I thought you was dead.

Naw…but he is. Wendall crawled outta bed, picked up his dog and walked past me to the kitchen.

What in the Hell happened in here I asked.

Well…let me tell ye.

He was here again last night, but this time I was ready for ‘im. I heard im’ scurrying across the porch, I figured that ol’ shotgun might be enough to scare im’ off if he weren’t already dead. Me and the dog waited for im’ at the kitchen door, then just at the right moment we jumped out, shotgun ready. It was dark and I couldn’t see nothin’, but the dog did. he came a chargin’ out, growlin’ and snarlin’ and bittin’. I felt somethin’ run ‘tween my legs but I couldn’t see im’. The dog did though, had im’ cornered behind the stack of sheet rock, you should have heard the commotion. I couldn’t let im’ hurt my dog, so I used the gun as a club and started frailin’.

It was blacker than the inside of a cow, but I kept slingin’ in the dark like a wild man. A bit of light came from the open door so I could see a bit. When i looked down I saw him a layin’ there, shakin’ somethin’ pitiful. When I looked closer I saw I was beatin’ the snot outta my own dog. Lord I figured I killed im’, but that ol’ dog is tougher than I am. Bout that time something hissed and ran past me and through the door.

I ran in behind im’, just in time to see im’ run under the sink. I looked and there he was, the biggest possum I ever seen. Sulled up in the corner, he was mad as hell. I broke the stock off the gun when I was out on the porch, so I looked around for somethin’ else, the sledge hammer. I poked and poked at ‘im, but all he did was hiss and bite at the handle, after a few minutes I figured I might try and smoke im’ out. Seemed like a good idea at the time.

So…I fetched the trashcan threw some papers in it and lit a handful of ’em. But the more I poked at that possum the tighter he got. he weren’t even afraid of fire. I looked at the trash can and saw the fire was gettin’ to big, I forgot about them varnish rags we put in it.

While my back was turned a puttin’ out the fire, my dog figured he’d give the possum one more go, it sounded like he was losin’, so I ran over to help him, this time I was swingin’ as hard as I could. It ran through the cabinets to the other corner and that’s where I got my first good lick in. It was hard to see on account of the smoke so I just kept swinging and swingin’ till they was nothin’ to swing at.

I got ‘im bygod, I got ‘im.

I fanned the door back and forth for quite awhile till I got most of the smoke out. That’s when I saw all the blood and possum pieces. Me and the dog was plum tuckered out, so we laid across the bed to rest for awhile. Next thing I knew…you was yellin’ at me.

I stopped him. Man you nearly burned the house down. Tore the cabinets all to pieces, ruined the kitchen floor, almost beat your dog to death, and what for? Nothin’ but a stupid ol’ possum. How’s that make you feel?

He sat there a moment wipin’ on his bloody shirt sleeves. Then he stopped, hunched his shoulders above his head, gave his crippled ol’ dog a scratch and sighed.

Come to think of it…makes me feel a bit like that Ahab feller we read about when we was in school.

I couldn’t argue with that.

So…that’s the end of our story. I told ya when we started, Ahab’s real name was Wendall didn’t I? I don’t reckon you need a big ol’ whale to obsess about. Nope…somethin’ as small as a possum can completely take control, if you let it. Leading’ you to destroy most everything you’ve worked so hard for. Seems to be a lot of that going around these days.

Granny always said,”life’s about moderation,” that goes for everything. To much work, to much play, to much stuff, to much worry. Just give it a think for awhile. How many things have you ever worried about, have actually been as bad as you imagined when they came to pass? Not many I’d wager. All that from a possum, who’da thought it.

Once again, The Tin Cup Clan thanks you for your time, and wish Gods blessings to you and your family. Life is so busy now a days and time so precious we are humbled that you chose to spend some of with us. Do us a kindness, share this with at least one friend, like, comment, we’d love to hear from ya. Till next time…….The Tin Cup Clan

The Most Important Meal of the Day

How many remember fifth grade? More importantly; how many remember the lunch room? Most don’t understand the politics, social exchange and class warfare that transpired there. So…for just a bit, experience the “lunch-room” through the eyes of the Tin Cup Clan. This is just a small excerpt from Chapter Eight, I hope you can get a little “feel” for the boys and maybe even catch a faint hint of frying sausage and burnt toast.

Excerpt from Chapter 8 “Was She Flirtin’ and Best Laid Plans”

Whatever conversations or business transactions that were taking place were put on hold for the time being. A far more important matter was at hand. Breakfast. 

The opening of the lunch-room door was held with nearly as much high spirited anticipation as, well… Christmas morning. This morning the planets were obviously in perfect alignment and Madam Karma was apparently in an extraordinary mood. 

Because when we opened that door… the air hung heavy with the wonderful soothing aroma of sausage, eggs, and toast. It had to be a sign straight from the all-mighty himself. Maybe, just maybe, things were finally going my way. 

We stood just inside the doorway, frozen in our tracks. Each of us staring at the other three. I didn’t want to take any chances, blurting out “that’s it no trades” as quickly as possible. 

Big David’s eyes narrowed into thin slits. He turned his head looking down at Stick with a look that could kill. 

That’s fine by me friend. How about you Stick? 

Stick looked up, swallowing the lump growing in his throat. What are you lookin’ at me for? I ain’t done nothin.’ 

Big Dave never broke his stare, “Just am friend that’s all, just am.” 

Before us lay a veritable smorgasbord, the sight of steaming pans full of scrambled eggs, stacks of sausage, and hot biscuits made our mouths water. The four of us gazed at the food like kids in a candy store window as hair-netted lunch ladies filled our trays. 

Sure does look good, don’t it friend? 

Chucky looked up at David, you do realize, those are just powdered eggs don’t ya? They ain’t real, they just add water to ‘em and fry ‘em up, that’s all. 

Well, they’s’ allot of stuff that’s good when you add water to it, argued big Dave. You ain’t forgot ‘bout Tang, have ye? And don’t fergit ‘bout Ovaltine.  

Mark and his cronies were ahead of us in line. We watched in disgust as he and his buddies flirted with the lunch ladies. Grinning under their hairnets as they piled the boy’s trays high with double portions. Our blood boiled as we watched them buy extra milks and juice when they reached Mrs. Tuttle. I thought about it for a second. 

Ya-know… I’m gonna do that one of these days. 

Do what? Asked Stick. 

I’m gonna git it all, milks, orange juice, extra food, all of it. For the four of us, just like the jocks. 

Oh… that… sure said Stick, I cain’t wait. He looked over at Chucky while rolling his eyes. 

Hey! I snapped; I saw that. 

Chucky snickered. What-cha gonna do, start boot-leggin’ at school or somethin’? Some rich uncle about to get out of the poorhouse. 

I just might do that… yep, never can tell, I just might. 

Now it’s your turn, if you like the story, tell a friend, tell your Ma, Pa, tell an enemy, just tell somebody. Don’t forget to Like, Follow, and Comment. Until next week…Thank You for your time. The Tin Cup Clan. God Bless.

The Tin Cup Clan, (the journey begins)

Well friends as promised, The clan is back and current. There is still plenty of work yet to be done but I find myself with the time to sit and write (finally). Since we are starting off in new surroundings I thought it might be nice to bring the boys’ to you in a new light as well. But there’s a catch, I need your help.

Let’s start this new era off with the prolog from the book. I would be ever so grateful if you might take a bit of your time and critic it a bit. Yea…I know, that’s a dangerous word “critic,” and I’ve never put the work out there for such a purpose, but I really need the feed back.

I’m blessed to have some VERY accomplished writers that follow our blog and I would be honored to have the feedback.

With that in mind I present to you the Prolog to “The Tin Cup Clan” Mystery of the Leech cemetery witch.

Autumn is always a welcome time in the mountains of East Tennessee. Months of oppressive heat and humidity are at long last replaced by frosty cold mornings and cool comfortable days. This time of year calls upon this old man to relive the fondest of memories.

The chilly mornings finds the local wildlife at their busiest. After all there is no time to waste, larders must be filled, nests built and insulated. Preparations are in order for the long winter to come.

During the night miniature miracles dot the ground. Small patches of wet earth rise on delicate pillars of early morning frost, forming delicate magical cathedrals.

Lightly frozen ground gives way to the foot with a pleasing “crunch,” while the crisp air bestows a good natured nip to the lips. A natural perfume floats in the mist, resting easy on the nose. The scent of burning Oak rises into the air from countless chimneys, the aroma reminiscent of sandal wood, ground pepper, and ginger.

Such a magical environment is inevitably bound to give birth to endless fairy tales. Stories as ancient as the mountains themselves. Passed down through generations by elders sitting by glowing hearths before wide-eyed children. Who in amazement, absorb long epic tales of hardship and sacrifice, yarns of ghosts and wraiths, life and death, bravery, and honor. Stories of a fairy tale past which with the passage of time inevitably take on a life of their own.

How I enjoyed those stories as a young boy, sitting in front of the fire, absorbing them like raindrops on dry clay. As I close my eyes a faint hint of smoke from a those fires tease me, calling me back to a time long ago.

Now accepted as fact not simple folklore, time renders these tales carved in stone and just as certain as God’s creation. Ignoring, or heaven forbid denying such tales, was tantamount to blasphemy. After all, granny, with her lips lined with dried snuff was never wrong and never to be doubted.

It was during one such particular fall as this, that one such particular fable as this, would capture and inspire the imaginations of one such particular, (and possibly brazen) group of boys as this. And just like all good stories, present itself completely and undeniably irresistible.

The resulting adventure would prove to be the first of many to come. And in many ways shape the lives of four young friends and one other, whom as I look back through the eyes of an old man, realize had just as much to learn, perhaps even more so than ourselves. Our adventure starts as many do, in a rather boring, not to mention pitifully small hometown.

A coal-mining town nestled deep in the Tennessee mountains. Small by any standard, and like most towns in coal country; time was slowly but surely passing us by. The town stores and buildings seemed well aware that death was slowly but surely reclaiming them. Returning them back to the earth from where they came. We all felt it in one way or the other, the entire settlement was well and truly fading into history.

Our players include my quite young self, a rather handsome young’un if I may be so bold as to say so. Three somewhat meddlesome friends, but tried and true all of em, and of all people the class bully.

Add an ill-conceived exchange of homemade liquor, an old cemetery complete with a rumored witch. Stir in a hollow grave-marker guarded by a ghost dog, and the promise of answers to the most personal of questions, and you got yourself one heck of a story.

Oh! And I can’t forget; one thin, somewhat scruffy old man whom asit would turn out, had a far greater role to play in our story, and our lives than any of us could ever have imagined possible.

So dear reader, if I may have a bit of your time, find yourself a warm hearth, a comfortable chair, maybe a warm cup of cocoa, and let’s get started.

The Rolling Store

I posted this some time ago, but thought I might share it again for those who missed it.

During my childhood in the hills of East Tennessee, the most popular, though somewhat less dependable method of social interaction, came in the form of an old truck known by all as the “rolling store.” As kids, we looked forward to the weekly visit nearly as much as Santa Claus. Many a childhood memory centers around this wonder of modern technology, and I remember the truck like it was just yesterday.

 It was an old Chevy truck covered in a rich patina of faded blue paint and rust, complete with areas’ worn to rusted metal by years of winter salt and summer mud. I believe every window was cracked, yellowed, or frosted white around the edges by age and the glaring sun.

The front of the truck was dominated by a large white(ish) grill, which from a distance blessed the ol’ truck with a goofy sort of smile. That grill bore the scars of countless chips, dents, and dings from countless miles of gravel and dusty country roads. The grill hung tenaciously to the rusting metal by various odd nuts and bolts, along with bits of twisted wire and bailing twine.

Countless insects: frozen in the midst of their death throws hung suspended in time behind the metal teeth. All manner of moth and butterfly hung there, frozen in time and appearance. A Lepidopterist could hardly have done a finer job.

Every now and then we would find a small unlucky bird, dried by the summer air rushing through the radiator. Of course, in the minds of two young boys this was irresistible, providing countless specimens to play with at a later date. But this could be tricky, the hot air dried the little bodies out in the extreme, and great care had to be taken as not to crumble the body of a lunar moth, cicada, or small finch.

Behind the worn cab was an extremely large white box, corners smashed in from low hanging branches. A heavy roll up door was at the rear of the box and below the door a large deck. This served as a porch for the driver and counter-space or leaning post for the countless patrons. The proprietor walked on a wooden floor worn smooth by time and traffic.

The ancient wood was periodically “cleaned” with motor-oil, then kerosene was used as a preservative. Well-worn pathways were a lighter color and stained from countless spills.

Coat upon coat of white paint covered the wooden shelves that lined the walls. These shelves were well stocked with any number of goods that a rural family might require. Next to the roll-up door sat an antique brass cash register, whenever the drawer would open a bell would ring a crisp clean “ding” that echoed in the old box.

Every Friday we would hear it rattling down the road. Calling women of the household to gather at the end of their drives or, should they live on a dirt road, down to where the chip and tar began. There they would wait patiently, kids in tow, an adult version of waiting on the school bus.

Many women carried all manner of handmade wares or different sorts of homemade foods. All neatly wrapped in brown paper or scraps of cloth, then carefully tied with sisal twine. These items were considered more valuable than paper currency, and were bartered for needed staples such as flour, sugar, lard, and coffee.

Bartering was an all-important and expected method of exchanging goods’; the value of these staples was dependent on quality and the reputation of their creator. Therefore, the makers of truly exceptional commodities soon became well known and respected along the route. One such lady was known to everyone as “Granny Smith.”

“Granny” lived next to us in a large run-down farmhouse. The backyard was full of chickens and outbuildings, all of them in various states of disrepair. The collection included the usual lot a person might expect to find on such a homestead.

Chicken coop, root cellar, spring house, the list goes on. Climbing Rose, Clematis, Wisteria and other climbing flowers covered the sides of these structures so thick that some appear to be the only thing saving the buildings from certain collapse. Thousands of colorful insects filled the air around her house, buzzing and fluttering from flower to flower, blessing the entire yard with an almost surreal and fairytale appearance.

I would escape and pay her a visit any time I had a chance. The rather portly old woman could usually be found in the same apron and bonnet. The fabric with it’s pretty Lilac print no doubt sewn by her own hand. There she sat, on the large front porch in her favorite rocking chair, humming to herself as she broke beans or shelled peas.

If I were extremely lucky, she would be sitting there singing to herself quietly as she churned butter. She pumped the handle in perfect cadence while singing the same old song. “Poor little possum in a pawpaw patch pickin’ up pawpaws puttin’ ’em in his pocket”, over and over. She didn’t have a single tooth in her head, nary a one, this gave the words a warm and comforting dialect.

She usually held a dip of snuff tight in her lip. I swear that woman could pick a gnat off a dog’s butt at ten yards when she spit. Come to think of it, most “granny” women of the day were pretty accurate, years of practice had made them expert marksmen.

I looked forward to taking my turn at the handle and never missed any opportunity to do so. There in the summer heat we would sit, churning butter and singing about possums and paw-paws.  The resulting sweet butter was cool and savory on my tongue, I can almost taste it now as I think back and write these words.

The butter was pressed into antique hand carved wooden molds then chilled in the spring house. Each pound of butter was then wrapped in waxed paper and sat on a shelf in the same spring house to mature and cool, waiting for the rolling store to make its weekly rounds.

Her goods were of particular value and fetched a relatively high price. Folks were certain to ask for them by name, as a result these didn’t last long on the truck.

At each stop, the ladies would step up to the counter, proudly spread out their goods for inspection and the bartering would begin. If cash exchanged hands; the bell on the old register would ring loud and clear.

Credit was routinely extended with a simple handshake and a promise; followed by a note stuck on the wall by a nail. Few even considered breaking they’re word for risk of a bad name. Times were different then.

If a holiday or special event was approaching, items such as buttons, thread, zippers, and fabric were in high demand.

If it had been a particularly good week, meaning my brother and I had found a few soda bottles, we were allowed to trade them in for a couple of “Peanut Butter Cups.” We rarely received any candy, so such an event was not to be taken lightly. To this very day I swear the peanut butter cups were twice the size and far tastier than these “so called” modern versions. (But that’s a story for another time).

With the bartering now finished and the bills paid or charged, usually the latter. It was time for the important stuff to begin, time to gossip, spread the news or catch up. This waited until the very last of course; because everybody knows you don’t mix business with pleasure.

Gossip flew in the summer like fireflies; the news was passed down the line becoming more exaggerated with each telling. Open mouths, “aww shucks,” “you don’t say,” and “oh my Gods” were exclaimed in hushed tones. Finally, after all was said and done, the doors closed, hands were shook and the truck slowly began rattling its way down the old road once again.

Time for the ladies with kids in tow to make their way back to their homes and restock their cupboards. A new list of needs was started, and the wait began anew for the next visit by this long-gone icon of my childhood.

While I wrote this story; I thought I would do a quick search. On the interweb I clicked in rolling store. (Go ahead, try it!) There I found several old rusting hulks, covered over with weeds and vines, their travelling days over. Letters that once proudly proclaimed the proprietor’s name were now faded and barely readable. It’s a sad reminder of our time and I wonder how long it will be until no one is left who remembers the “Rolling store.” But now dear reader; I believe you will, at least for a while.

I would appreciate it if you would take the time to share these stories, maybe even go so far as to follow this page. Oh…and don’t forget to Google “Rolling Stores,” and get a look at these long gone staples of rural life.

It’s said; “There comes’ a point”

As a rule I do my best to keep my “self” outta the posts and excerpts. Instead, I focus on the boys, the book, life growing up in the mountains, and every now and then throw a bit of a “lesson” in the pot. But…a few things have happened since we last met forcing me to accept the unpleasant fact that…I may very well have been wrong about a couple of things. Namely my old trusted and true motto; ” We all reach a point in our lives when life stops giving stuff, and begins taking stuff away.” This will eventually make sense if you bare with me, I promise.

About three years ago I really took that little phrase to heart and for lack of a better term it kinda became my “montra.” I reckon you might say I found comfort in it, it provided me with a reason “albeit a feeble one” behind this blasted cancer. I hadn’t given up…far from it, but I accepted it. I hadn’t stopped fighting the battles, but I knew who was gonna win the war, yep…life had begun taking a lot more than it provided.

BUT I WAS WRONG

Just last week I met my new grandson for the first time, he’s my daughter’s third son. Only a couple days ago, my son welcomed a set of triplets, giving him a total of four sons, I haven’t been introduced to them yet, but I plan on our first meeting this weekend. That gives me a total of seven grandsons, Kaden, Taylon, Saylor, Landry, Lennox, Maddox, and Amaris. (I’m sure I misspelled at least one of ’em)

Once Landry had fallen asleep, my daughter laid him on my chest, his head tucked under my chin and I held him tight, (but not too tight). I have a rather long grey beard ( yea yea I know, Hillbilly, long beard, I get the joke),and he snuggled his head into it as one would a pillow. I closed my eyes and relaxed, he smelled good. Warm and pure, soothing and innocent, if life and Love has a scent this has to be it.

By the time you read this I hope to have met the triplets, I want to hold them to my chest, close my eyes, feel them, smell them as well, and relax. I’m sure there’s plenty of room for three on this ol’ grey beard and plenty of room under my chin.

My disease has forced me to build a world and I began to put that world on paper. The Tin Cup Clan. Those boys are very real to me, they’re adventures have afforded me an escape from the never ending Chemotherapy and radiation. When I feel life takes away a little to much, I escape there, I find myself riding along beside them down a country road. In that world they will forever chase witches and legends, search for the unknown, gain and lose friendships, fail and learn from they’re mistakes. and they will love. They’re problems are my problems, but cancer will never be one of them.

In some ways I had all but given up on life in the “real” world. But just a few days ago I realized; Life was still giving. Yes Yes, it was taking a great deal, but it was still giving as well, in the form of family, and the smell of newborn grandsons.

The good Lord has richly blessed me with a wonderful son, three fabulous daughters, and seven incredible grandsons. Chances are; I won’t be around to see them all grow up, I’m not saying I’m OK with that, but I do plan on enjoying the time I have with them and count it an honor and time well spent.

The next few posts are gonna revolve around family, it’s time you met big David’s, Stick’s, Chucky’s, and Mark’s. I might even be so bold as to say you’re gonna feel right at home, maybe even sit down a spell, maybe…shake loose some old memories. The boys will prove that family comes in all shapes and sizes, there is no true “normal,” and each has it’s own unique hurdles. I hope you find your self in one of ’em.

With these new births, The Tin Cup Clan is growing. Family is growing, and if you’re reading this, you’re family and we’re happy you’re here. Thank You for choosing to spend just a bit of you’re time with us. Until next time; God bless and I hope life keeps givin’ for ya.

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