The Tin Cup Clan (Mystery of the leech Cemetery Witch)

Below is the second chapter in the Tin Cup Clan’s first mystery. I’m gonna post a chapter about once a week in hopes of needed feedback from the reader. A very good friend Herb Thiel has very graciously spent valuable time editing this work and he has saved me a great deal of embarrassment. You should check his blog out, (The Haps With Herb.) This guy possesses an incredible amount of common sense, and his posts are spot on. Do yourself a kindness and visit.

The following chapter finds our boys in the school cafeteria, and for the first time, we meet Mikey’s sworn enemy, Mark, the school bully. The school cafeteria resembles the United Nations in many ways, albeit at a grade school level. Unspoken guidelines and carved-in-stone protocols were strictly enforced. As you read, see if you can recall what those rules were.

Photo by samer daboul on Pexels.com

Chapter 2

                                   The good, the bad, and the bully

The bus finally rattles into the school parking lot and comes to a stop with a groan and a jerk. The jocks in the rear are first to stand and slither to the front. There is a strict order when getting off the bus as well, so we stand eyes to the floor and wait our turn.

Jumping into the aisle at the wrong time might find you gettin’ knocked back to your seat flat on your back. The resultin’ laughter and finger-pointing were sure to follow you around the rest of the day.

As they make their processional, Patrick, the head of the football team, blurts out, “Does anybody smell smoke? I smell smoke.” Big David doesn’t lift his eyes, no point in it. A loud round of laughter goes through the group.

Once the bullies had passed, the big lug just looked up with that simple smile, just as he always does. Lookin’ over at us, he shrugs his shoulders and remarks, “Don’t bother me none.”

Chucky shook his head in disgust. When are you gonna do somethin’ about that jerk, David?”

“Ahh, he don’t mean nothin’ by it. besides, he’s just tryin’ to look good fer the girls. I’m already purdy enough as it is. Reckon I got no reason to impress nobody else.” He nudged Chucky a bit, proud of his comment.

Finally, time for us to get off; Chucky caught Stick starin’ at one of the cheerleaders as she walked by. He threw Stick a smack to the back of the head. Let’s go, dipstick.”

“Hey, that hurt dude.”

“It’ll hurt a lot more if Patrick catches you doin’ that, now let’s go.” We walked down the bus steps and made our way through the crowd to the lunchroom.

As soon as we open the door, the smell of cinnamon soaks into my nose. I yelled to the other guys. Cool! cinnamon toast! I loves me some cinnamon toast.’ Specially if it’s got lots a sugar.”

“I hate it,” snaps Stick, “Burns my throat. you can have mine.” Then, realizin’ what he had just said, “No, wait, if they got raisin-bran, I keep the toast. I hate raisin-bran even more than cinnamon, looks like I got a bowl full of dead bugs or mouse turds.”

While we were gettin’ our trays, Chucky nudged my shoulder, “Looks like you’re eatin’ two cereals man. Look, Raisin Bran.”

“Great,” I snorted in disgust, “Looks like it’s gonna be one heck of a day.”

On each tray, the lunch lady placed a small box of cereal (the kind that you split down the side, making the box a leaky and hard-to-use bowl). They make a mess, and you cain’t ever seem to get all the cereal outta the corners, followed by a slice of warm, buttery cinnamon toast.

When you get to the end of the line, you gotta get past Mrs. Tuttle. he controls the milk, the juice, the ice cream, the weather, well, everything. Of course, you only got juice or two milks if you were one of the rich kids; orange juice and extra milks cost an extra fifteen cents, so none of us ever got any.

Now let’s talk for a bit about the queen of the lunchroom.

Mrs. Tuttle.

Nobody knows for sure how old she is, but she’s old, ancient old. When the good Lord made the earth, she was there, lookin’ over his shoulder, her tall, blue, bee-hive hairdo blowin’ in the breeze. her gaze makin’ sure He didn’t get any extra milks or juice. On the sixth day, I’m certain the Lord turned to her and asked, “Whatcha think about this, Mrs. Tuttle?”

“Well…” she replied. It’s OK, I reckon…You can take tomorrow off.”

But that’s jest my opinion.

Her narrow eyes hide behind a pair of black “cat’s-eye” glasses. her hand-drawn, bright red, pencil-thin lips rarely spoke a word and never ever, I mean, ever, smiled. She sits on an old wooden chair like a queen on her throne.

She possesses absolute power over anything and anyone within the lunchroom walls. She don’t care who you are, ballplayer, cheerleader, nerd, rich or poor; it don’t matter to her.

Her scepter is a worn black pen held tight in her gnarled hand. Below that gnarled hand sits an old ledger. That ledger contains the complete life history of every student that’s ever gone to this school. I swear she’s gotta have my Papaw’s name in there somewhere. Nothing, and I mean nothing, gets past her. The free lunch program allows us one milk, a second cost ten cents. he makes sure we get only what we are entitled to before looking up our name and scratching it down in that worn ol’ book.

The milk and juice cooler sits to her left, and to her right sits the ice cream freezer. Access to either one is granted with the wave of her hand, and denial by a single finger sayin’, “No.”

Once we passed inspection and our names were scratched down for all eternity, Chucky went off to find us a lonely corner so’s we could eat in peace.

Big David made sure we all stopped and bowed our heads as he asked the blessing.

I reached over to Stick’s tray, grabbing my extra cereal and milk.

“Wait, Wait, Wait, dude! said ‘cereal,’ not cereal and milk.”

“Aww, come on, dude,” I pleaded, “Everybody knows cereal comes with milk.”

“No way man! That milk belongs to yours truly.” He snapped the carton from my hand and gave the edge a quick lick to mark it as his own.

“You’re just nasty,” I sneered. How am I supposed to eat cereal without milk?”

“You got milk,” he said, “Use it.”

“But there’s not enough.”

“Not my problem, Tonto.” He took a big gulp of milk and whipped the mustache off his lip. A big, “Aah,” followed, just to rub it in.

David gave a deep snicker as he bit into his toast. He looked up, bread hanging from his gaping mouth. You guys are crazy,” he said, “Just plain ol’ crazy.”

Chucky shushed everybody, “Don’t look now, but Mark just walked in.”

We all stopped what we were doing and turned around.

“Hey, I said don’t look, not turn around and stare.”

There he was, my mortal enemy, my worst nightmare, my one, and only nemesis. An absolute giant by fifth grade standards, or any standard as far as we were concerned. At least 150 pounds of muscle and mean. His blonde hair was cut in a flat top so level you could build a house on it. He wore a varsity jacket even though he was only in fifth grade. We don’t know where he got it, and it didn’t matter. Besides, nobody was brave enough to ask him anyways.

As usual, his cronies surrounded him like he was the President. A pitiful lot, all of ’em, clambering around, bending to his every whim. He took whatever place in line that he wanted, pushin’ the less fortunate aside, slowin’ down only when he came to the Tuttle. He had to stop there.

Other kids vacated wherever he and his posse decided to sit. Stayin’ put was tantamount to suicide. The best one could hope for was losin’ part of your meal. The worst, well, made even the biggest kid shudder.

David still had the toast hanging from his mouth. Whatcha gonna do about him, friend?”

“Stay away,” I replied. If I do what he wants, and Papaw finds out, the ol’ man’s gonna kill me, maybe even worse. Like the ol’ sayin’ goes, ‘there’s worst things in life than dyin’.’ If I don’t get it for him, then he’s the one that’ll kill me; either way, I’m a dead man walkin’.”

“I’d get it if I were you,” said Stick. Your ol’ man ain’t gonna miss that much anyways, and besides, you wouldn’t be scared if you was gettin’ it for one of us now, would ya?”

“That’s different, Stick, none of you guys would ask me. And even if you did, do you think I’m afraid of a beanpole like you?”

David snorted, and half choked on cinnamon. ” Looks like he told you what fer.”

Stick smirked and made a face.

After a few more minutes of small talk, the bell rang. I swallowed what was left of my now soggy cereal and stuffed the other box in my coat pocket. It was time to take my tray to the wash window.

The washroom is a clamor of activity and the gossip center of the lunchroom. The loud clinkin’ of cups and trays bounced about the small space. Steam spewed from shiny steel washers as baskets of clean trays slid along the rollers. Students with bright white aprons and paper hats were busy scrapin’ food from trays before loadin’ them in baskets and shovin’ them into the monster’s mouth. Others waited at the far end, grabbin’ the hot baskets as they emerged, then stackin’ them clean and steamin’ in neat stacks, ready for the lunch crowd.

“When’s your turn?”

“What?” The question startled me.

“The warsh room. When’s your turn?”

I looked back; there was big David, dumping his tray of bread crust.

“Oh, I dunno, pretty soon I reckon. Burton ain’t told me when yet. A solid week cleanin’ every dirty dish in the building. I cain’t wait, whoop, whoop.”

A big hand landed solidly on my back and hurt a bit.

“Look on the bright side friend; at least ye git to stay away from ol’ Mark fer a few days.” He shrugged his shoulders and turned to walk out. I swear I saw some teeth behind that lazy smile.

By the time David and I made it to class, Chucky and Stick were already in their seats. One thing about David, he don’t hurry much. The bell rang the very second we slid through the door.

“Well, well, well. Saved by the bell once again, huh gentlemen?” It was Burton, “I swear you two cut it closer every day. I m gonna get you boys, sooner or later, just wait and see, I’m gonna get ya. Now get in your seats, can’t wait around all day now, can we?”

Mr. Burton is our fifth-grade teacher. He ain’t too bad as far as teachers go. Ma told me the two of them went to school together. even so, he still looks a heap older than Ma does. His curly brown hair and thick mustache seem to have a great deal of grey in ’em. He even blames that on us, says we’re to blame for every hair. I had hoped, see’n how he knew my Ma and all, that this year would be just a little easier. But it don’t appear to be workin’ out that way. I swear. I think he’s tryin’ to make it harder on me just because he used to be a little sweet on her.

His classroom is odd, really odd. It’s set up all backward. He’s got the desk sittin’ at the rear of the room. Now, you wanna talk about messing with yer head. He says this way he can keep an eye on everything we’re doing. It’s kinda creepy is what it is, you can feel him staring at the back of your head. It’s worse than having your Ma lookin’ over your shoulder while you’re takin’ a bath.

The chalkboard is still at the front; he keeps a tall stool sittin’ to the left side, just between the chalkboard and the door. That’s where he stays most of the time. He laughs a lot, and most days, he’s in a good mood. But, if someone ain’t done their homework, or somebody gets caught talkin’, then he gets quiet, and that’s when you know he’s mad.

This cat has the deadliest aim with a piece of chalk that you’ve ever seen. To make matters worse, his aim comes accompanied by a hair-trigger. The slightest whisper or chuckle has found many an unfortunate soul dead in the cross-hairs of an expertly placed throw.

He always aims for the head. I’ve never been hit, but Chucky and Stick seem to make a habit of it. Believe it or not, the chalk’s just a warning shot. They’s something far worse waitin’ for any doomed soul that don’t heed the chalk toss.

In his desk, hidden in the top center drawer, is where he keeps it. It’s legendary amongst kids of all ages, a literal “Excalibur” of discipline. A piece of oak about a foot and a half long and six inches wide. Along the business end of the board are carefully drilled holes, and for some un-Godly reason, signatures cover the entire length. He even went so far as to give the evil thing a name, “Ol’ Painless.”

He loves Ol’ Painless. He talks about her constantly. Sometimes I believe he expects her to answer. He even opens the desk drawer from time to time to have a make-believe conversation. The sight sends chills up our spines. Her reputation floats over the classroom like a storm cloud. Gettin’ hit by the chalk is just the thunder before the strike. And, like thunder, the clap sends all within earshot runnin’ for cover.

He only goes back to his desk after he’s taken rollcall, laid out the lesson plans, and performed whatever manner of small-talk he felt necessary. That small talk invariably turns to football or basketball or some other useless nonsense.

Most of it’s back of the bus talk, so we pass the time makin’ faces, passin’ notes, or just tryin’ to get the other caught and in some manner of trouble.

But, after a few minutes, he makes his way back to his desk and sits there, scannin’ the room for the slightest infraction. That’s why it’s so hard to cheat, pass notes, throw anything, or just be normal; you get the picture.

Mark sits at the back of the room, right smack next to Mr. Burton’s desk. I’m sure it’s on purpose; they whisper back and forth like school kids, ’bout sports mostly, I reckon. Most times, I can’t make out the whispers and chuckles.

Aside from the gossip, and given mine and Mark’s history, I’m sure Burton put him in that particular spot for the sole purpose of staring a hole through the back of my head. Whatever the reason, there he was, and I can feel him givin’ me the stink-eye.

So…there it is what do you think? If you liked it, then hit a button or two. If there was something missing, please let me know. Comments with any and all advice are greatly appreciated.

As always, We understand time is precious, and we are honored you chose to spend a bit of it with us. Thank You and God Bless you.

The Tin Cup Clan

Chapter 1

“The unlikeliest of hero’s”

Well, friends here it is, Chapter one of “The Leech Cemetery Witch.” Plenty of folks have waited far too long to get a peek at it. I’ve decided to post a chapter or two each week, (yes, the entire book.) But there’s a catch, I need your help. We have a lot of seasoned writers in the group whom I respect in every way. as you read the coming chapters, let me know what you think. How can it be improved? What parts are too slow? Where do I need to further expound? Punctuation: I’m sure I’ve dropped the ball there quite a few times. Please let me know. Comments are not only welcomed but encouraged. Drop a note, an e-mail, a comment, a carrier Pigeon, Morse code, whatever it takes. Thank You so very much.

Finally: it’s time to formally introduce you too…THE TIN CUP CLAN.

Time to get up!

Her voice wakes me quicker than any alarm clock ever could.

But ma, I protested. My throat hurts; I can barely talk.

Come on, young’un, get up and go gargle with some warm salt water; you’ll be fine in a bit.

They’s’ no point in arguing with her; we’d been through this too many times before. That old excuse had begun to wear as thin as her patience, and I needed different ammo, a better disease.

Yea, that’s it, maybe somethin’ contagious and oozy. Who don’t like oozy?

I shuffled my bones from the warm bed. The cold floor stung my bare feet, grabbed me by the ankles, and shook the sleepy from the rest of me. After a good stretch, I turned and tugged at the blankets until the wrinkles were somewhat gone. Then punched the pillow a few times, fluffin’ it up good and proper. I stepped back, admirin’ my handy work that there is what’s known as a “properly” made bed. I grabbed my pocket radio (you know; the one you ain’t supposed to have, but everyone does) and hid it under the mattress just as ma poked her head through the door.

Come on, young man, MOVE, she yelled as she slapped the wall with her open hand.

You’re gonna be late… again.

Shaking her head from side to side, she turned in a huff, leaving me to get dressed.

It was cold in the house, not freezing cold mind you, just cold enough to make a body miserable. The kind of cold that seeps into your bones like wet mold, making every joint painful, stiff, and slow to move.

The oil furnace had once again died during the night. Seems like the only time the ol’ girl decides to give up the ghost is when she can cause the most discomfort. Ma had the oven door open in a desperate effort to get some heat into the kitchen. It didn’t do a lot of good; the trailer had so many air leaks we might as well be camping in the great outdoors.

But there we stood, holding our hands in front of the open oven door, pretendin’ the glowin’ coils were a campfire. The two of us rubbin’ our hands together and slappin’ our arms shakin’ off the misery. If it were really cold, she would pull a chair to the front of the oven; there she would sit, waving heat into the room with a piece of cardboard. Once her arms began to ache, we would take turns.

I’ll work on the “ol” girl when I get outta school.

Her face looked worn and battle weary.

We got any kerosene left?

Yea. I think there’s another five gallons or so outback.

I was used to workin’ on the ol’ girl. Heck, I’ve had her apart about a million times. I knew every nut, every bolt, and every mood swing. Yep, we kinda got a love-hate relationship that stove and me. I hate workin’ on her, but I swear she loves the attention.

But enough of that, we had a schedule to keep. Missing the bus wasn’t an option, not that I couldn’t walk to school, No sir. Missing that bus meant I’d end up missing out on school breakfast, and that was somethin’ I just couldn’t allow.

As I stepped onto the porch, Jack Frost was ready to greet me. I stopped for a second, dead in my tracks, just to soak a bit of it in. With a deep breath, I blew into the morning air and watched as the mist floats above my head before fadin’ away into the cold.

Around me, pillars of smoke seep from chimneys; it hovers there, just over the rooftops like rain clouds. When I inhale, each breath brings with it the scent of burnin’ Hickory, Oak, and coal, especially in the mornin’ when the heavy cold air holds it low to the ground.

Yep…this is Fall in the southern mountains, and I love it.

Time to catch that bus.

Funny thing about a school bus; unknown to most, a certain “social segregation” reigns supreme. One might go as far as to say a miniature cold war of class separation.

Now… you might think a body could sit just about anywhere there was an empty seat. But every kid that’s ever sat on a bus knows that just ain’t the case, here or anywhere else.

One simple mistake, such as sittin’ in the wrong territory or next to the wrong person, could haunt a kid for the rest of the school year, maybe even the rest of your life. No kid, no matter how hard they might try, can ever leave one group for another or switch class of friends; such a thing just ain’t done.

I believe the seatin’ arrangements are about the same no matter where you might go to school. Where you sit is a lot more than fate, I’m not sure how, but I think life sifts us a lot like coal through the washer, different sizes fall through different holes, and you don’t really have much choice in the matter. It’s some twisted sort of “natural” order—birds of a feather and all that nonsense.

Oddly enough, it starts at the back of the bus.

First, we have the jocks and their giddy band of cheerleaders; they sit in the very rear. With heads full of cotton, they brag about upcomin’ games, how much each can bench press, and what kind of car they hope to drive someday. Even which poor soul at the front of the bus gets drafted into doing their homework.

All this accompanied by the constant singin’, gigglin’, cheerin’, chitterin’, and whatever annoyin’ nonsense those daing cheerleaders might think up. For the most part, they’re a vain group, with poofy hair and heavy make-up, and not very bright either, but dangerous all the same.

Just a few seats up, you’ll find the “cool” kids.

I’m talkin’ rock music, leather jackets, pretty girls, and long hair. You have to be careful around this group. They can smell fear just by lookin’ at you. When I say aggressive, this is the group that comes to mind. They seem to leer at everyone, forever on the lookout, searchin’ for the slightest sign of weakness within the herd. Herd being everybody else.

They were unbelievably less intelligent than those jocks. If they caught you lookin’ at one of their girls or made any manner of eye contact, you’re probably gonna get a poundin’ or, at the very least, a severe cussin’.

Closer to the front sit the smart kids.

They’re a good bunch at heart, and all are harmless. They don’t say a whole lot, least not to anyone outside their group. Most have an anxious look about their face, and their laps are generally covered with piles of dog-eared papers. Some frantically scratch at the papers in a last-minute dash to finish homework, or more likely, extra credit projects.

When it comes to this group, eye contact must be avoided for an entirely different reason. Most are like deer in an open field, constantly wary of predators; an unwelcome stare or hostile movement may send many into catatonic fits. Desperately digging through pockets and trapper-keepers, frantically searching for the ever-present inhaler. Yea, I reckon they spook pretty easily.

Separating the smart from the cool was the “poor kid” section. I reckon you might call it a homemade demilitarized zone. A buffer protecting the smart ones from the various projectiles flips to the noggins or other insults launched from the rear seats.

This section is the biggest by a long shot, mainly kids whose parents work for the mines in one way or the other; everything’s hooked to the mines around here. The clothes they wear might be a bit tattered, repurposed hand-me-downs from older brothers and sisters. Many have never laid eyes on an iron, even if they had, late nights and busy mornings don’t leave much time for such trivial and vain labors.

Black soot has replaced the fingernail polish common in the bus’s rear, leftovers from gathering coal, feeding animals, or tending morning fires. Guys wear haircuts done at the kitchen table with a pair of scissors and a towel. But the girls proudly show off long, neatly brushed hair that shimmers in the morning sun. Pretty homemade bows keep the hair pulled to back, framing their faces.

It’s only October, so blue jeans still cling to their dark blue color; most have only just now begun to fade. Most ain’t even torn yet; patches of different shades will soon cover knees and the occasional butt-cheek. We usually get a couple of new pairs when school starts; it takes a good while to break ‘em in. Until that time, the denim is generally so stiff I swear they could stand on their own if given the opportunity.

Along with the new britches comes a new pair of shoes. Not the shoes worn by jocks or cool kids; ours are a whole lot more “down to earth.” But that don’t stop most of us from dreaming of high-top All-Stars for the guys or a bright white pair of “Keds” for the girls.

This is where I usually sit, if not in the same spot, then really close to it. A seat saved for me by one of my three closest friends in the world. I don’t remember what brought us together; heck, I don’t know when we all first met; it just seems like we’ve always just, well, been.

First, and in my opinion, the best, is David Owens. “Big” David, by nature, is a quiet sort; he seems to be in a continuous state of mild-mannered happy. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him without a slight smile on his face. I’ve come to believe his face is just sorta, made that way.

Whatever the reason, and without his knowledge, he just seems to bring a sense of calm to our group. Ma calls it a “sweet spirit,” from what I hear, friends like that are pretty hard to come by.

But the oddest thing about David is the ever-present smell of wood smoke. He wears it like perfume, and it always seems to arrive a bit before he does, no matter where he’s going.

He’s a big ol’ boy with giant fingers and big hands. His head sits on top of a thick neck and broad shoulders. Nobody wants to get on ol’ David’s bad side; if he even has a bad side, nobody’s really seen it. Usually, his slow deep voice and calm nature are just enough to defuse about any situation one of our little group might get ourselves into.

Next, there’s Chucky Mathews. He’s kind of an odd duck. A dark-headed short kid with an abnormally large mouth. Not big like he talks a lot, even though he does. I mean big bright red clown lips that cover the entire bottom of his face. They remind me of the wax ones you can buy at the dime store. Those big lips also hide a set of the tiniest teeth you ever saw. It makes you wonder if he ever lost his baby teeth.

They make him look kinda silly, and he’s all kinds of sensitive about it. He has a laugh that’s just as weird, like a chip-monk or squirrel, a kind of chittering sound. He uses that weird laugh all the time, laughing at everything even when he’s in trouble, especially when he’s in trouble, which now that I think of it is a lot.

Last but not least was “Stick.” David Byrge is his real name, but nobody calls him that; it’s just plain ol’ Stick. He’s as skinny as a hoe handle, and his bright red hair usually looks like it’s cut around a bowl. When I say red, I mean “RED,” not light, dark, almost, but bright red.

You cain’t put a finger on him no-where without covering a freckle, I mean he’s covered with ‘em. So much so that you’d think they were on the whites of his eyes. He’s been known to drop a fib or two as well, but other than big David, so have the rest of us. Talk about dirty jokes, swear he knows about every single dirty joke on the planet, and he ain’t afraid to tell any of ‘em to just about anybody at any time.

Well, there they are, my best friends in the world. My partners in crime if you want to get picky about it. For the most part, we got each other’s back, well, big David does anyhow. And, if one of us happens to shoot our mouth off to the wrong person or get caught looking at the wrong girl, well, we know where to turn.

All of our families work in or about the mines somehow or somewhere. Big David’s dad works in the hole.

Men who work down there are called moles, for good reason. It’s a dirty job and a lot more dangerous than folks realize. Long hours of stifling heat, coal dust, and fumes, not to mention the ever-present threat of cave-ins.’ But the pay is good for the area, and good-paying jobs are hard to come by. There’s always a line of men wanting to get into the hole to make a better living for their families.

Chuckle’s dad works the belt and washer, just as dirty, if not more, but maybe just a little safer.

The pay’s not near what the hole pays, but he’s lucky to get it. He used to work at the mill, but he was one of the first to get the ax when they cut back. Big David’s dad pulled some strings and got him on at the Blue Diamond mine. He ain’t been there too long, so he’s still playing catch up as far as money goes.

Stick’s ol man drives a coal truck.

Takes a special kind of stupid to climb on top of 60.000 pounds, then try to control it down steep mountain roads and switchbacks. It takes years to learn how to operate and control one of those things. They’s been quite a few who lost their lives on the mountainside. Once a truck takes off down that hill, she takes on a life of her own.

If she gets loose, you got two choices, step out on the tanks, look for a soft spot, then jump off and hope for the best. Or hold on and try to ride it out; either way, you’re probably gonna die, simple as that. The secret is picking a gear at the top and leaving her there. Once you try to shift down and break those gears lose, she’s gone for sure.

Once she goes over, the ground’s too steep to get her back up out of the holler. The mountainside is littered with dead trucks, overgrown with weeds, and rusting away just where they landed.

We go up there a lot, scrapping for parts, playing on ‘em, and picking up spilled coal. We’d all get a whippin’ if we got caught, we’ve been told a bunch of times how dangerous it was, but nobody’s been hurt yet.

Death is always hanging about in coal mining country—a constant companion for most. For the most part, we accept it learned to live with it. Most folk deal with it by pretending it ain’t there. “The Lord calls, and it’s my time, and that’s that,” they say.

Others allow it to follow them around throughout their entire life. “Ol scratch” hangs over ‘em like a spirit that lives in the hills and hollers. They’re easy to spot, those folk. They carry a heavy appearance, burdened, like they’re never really happy. Just kinda going through life, waiting for him, looking for him, almost dead already.

I reckon death is part of life for most of us, normal as breathing. We don’t think about it or talk about it much. As a matter of fact, the four of us know the mines are where we’re gonna work when we hit sixteen. It’s what’s expected if you want to make any manner of living. Come to think of it, I reckon that’s what the spots on the bus are there for—teaching us our place in life, at an early age, our pecking order.

Every year there’s an accident of some sort, in those mines, sometimes it’s a collapse, other times somebody gets hit or run over by equipment. Even if that black hole don’t get ya when you’re working, the black lung’s probably gonna get you after you’ve been down there a while.

It’s not unusual to see men in their forties, pasty-faced and hollow-eyed, panting and gasping for breath, sitting with the old men on the benches in front of stores, swapping lies and stories of coal. Not many of ‘em talk about the “good ol’ days,” probably because there just ain’t that many to tell.

But, for the time being, the four of us are pleased to spend our spare time walking the train tracks, digging for fossils in the slag pits, and well, just being us.

Sometimes we walk the tracks picking up coal that’s fell from the hopper cars. We each carry a five-gallon bucket made from an old lard can with a wire coat hanger as a handle. Ya gotta make sure and wrap the wire with something because the thin wire bites into your skin hard, causing your fingers to bleed at the joints. Putting a dab of kerosene on the cuts stops the bleeding; it kinda takes the hurt away as well.

Coal sells for about twenty dollars a ton, and each full bucket weighs about forty or fifty pounds. That’s some good money for four such enterprising streetwise entrepreneurs as ourselves. But most of the time, we just take ‘em home and use ‘em there.

When we don’t find much coal, there’s always the pennies. We place a few on top of the rails. Then, after the train rolls through, we run out to gather ‘em up. Smashed pennies are like trading cards and a popular form of currency among boys our age. We trade ‘em for just about everything. Gadgets and whatnots, pencils, and erasers. One time a kid brought some pieces of honest-to-goodness sugar cane. Cost each of us two rail pennies apiece. But we slobbered on those sticks for two days. That’s why everybody has one or two in his pocket at all times, just in case.

The Tin Cup Clan books are dedicated to my children: Jeremy, Lydia,Emily, and Savanna. To my grandsons: Kaden, Saylor, Landry, Taylen, Lennox, Maddox, Amaris. My Loves.

Thanks in advance for the feedback; THE TIN CUP CLAN

HOW TO POLE VAULT OVER A MOUSE TURD, and other useless things.

I’ve been practicing this writing thing for a few years now, Maybe someday I shall be at the very least mediocre. Alas… I keep pounding away at these blasted keys while rubbing a bald spot into what little hair I have left. From time to time I’ll stop, stare at the words in disgust and scream to myself (metaphorically). You’re a fraud I say, an amateur, a red-neck with no use behind a keyboard.

In disgust, I stand in a huff to storm out of my little “office” never to return. I glance at the mirror, not recognizing the man looking back. Then it hits me. Without my knowledge, I have come to resemble the old stereotypical writer in appearance. He stands there, glaring at me, shoulders bent from hours hovering over a keyboard, grey goatee surrounded by a four-day stubble. Round eyeglasses sit just beneath a bald spot polished to a shine by endless rubbing. To my horror, I notice I’m wearing a button-down cardigan sweater, and a “worlds best writer” coffee mug gripped tight in my gnarled paw. SCARY HUH?

Have I bitten off more than I can chew? The book series and the constant back and forth between agents, endless rewrites, and “please condense your seventy thousand word manuscript into one(1) sentence” guidelines. Did you know(…) has a proper name? “ellipsis,” that term means as much to me as the name of that little thing on the end of your shoelace, (yea… there’s a name for that too), and don’t get me started on the proper use of colons vs semi-colons. ( There’s a reason for this banter, I promise, just let me preach on a bit).

The Tin Cup Clan stories, Some are memories, some are mere musings containing a thinly veiled lesson. Believe it or not, most of ’em come to me around three am. This leaves me in a pickle, if I don’t get up and outline them right away they will be gone come morning. I figured out how to solve this problem and get a good night’s sleep as well. I simply poke at the wife until she wakes then tell her all the gory details, secure in the knowledge she will remember them come morning. She is not happy with this solution.

The Heritage project, this one is important. For hundreds of years, these mountains have been mined for the riches they contain. Resources taken for the love of money are far greater than simple coal. Our stories, our history, our heritage are now for sale to the highest bidder. They are being “mined” just like coal, for likes, clicks, and follows. For that very reason, we will never have banners or ads. Our elders possessed a wisdom far greater than any that can be learned from this modern world. If you go through our posts you’ll meet a fellow named Shag, discover what’s contained in a simple blue jar, learn what DWB’s are, refuse to wear pink socks, and maybe think twice before you grab that first piece of chicken, and many others. Maybe, just maybe, a little of that wisdom can be passed down through the tellin’. That is, as long as my wife can remember them come mornin’.

Back to that ol’ man in the mirror.

Two men came to mind as I gazed in the mirror; one of ’em I had met just the other day, quite by accident. He was a rather stately fellow, well dressed, and neatly trimmed beard. He was friendly but wasted little time in bragging about his life, years spent in academia had forged a quick wit that he was justifiably proud of. I told him I wrote a bit since retirement, a comment he pounced on immediately. Do you know what I can’t stand? he asked. People that misspell words on purpose. Just because you are from here doesn’t give you license to spell-like you speak.

I kept my opinions to myself as he carried on.

And people that don’t know how to punctuate drives me crazy, just the other day I was reading an article in the local paper and found three, that’s right three mistakes. Well, I immediately wrote to the editor, pointing out these mistakes. And would you believe it, he never thanked me, he still to this day hasn’t responded back.

The gentleman had a lot more to say, but after that statement, I really wasn’t paying attention.

I left him to his opinions, but as I drove away I began to feel a bit unworthy. Many times I write as I speak, I believe it gives the words warmth, a “muchness.” But I left him feeling some-what less, than when I met him. I recalled grade school many years ago when a few teachers tried to break us of our dialect, they felt it made us sound unintelligent. “You will be more successful if you learn to speak “proper” English” they would say. Thankfully, those days are gone and so is the “proper” English attempt. But suddenly another fellow popped into mind, another fellow and “mouse turds.”

In the past, I’ve bragged a great deal about my step-dad, and justifiably so. When I was a young man, things as they may often do, became too much for me to handle. He would stop me in the middle of a rant.

He was a loud crusty ol’ Yankee from upstate New York, and second, only to my mother, he made me who I am today. Michael, ( he always began that way). Michael, you gotta quit pole-vaultin’ over mouse turds. He would slap his knee and throw his head back in thunderous laughter. You chuckled just then, I know you did, but think on that comment for a second. DON’T POLE-VAULT OVER MOUSE TURDS. Lawd, Lawd, some of those academics are spinnin’ right now.

Crude, yes, offensive, well nowadays everything is. But he kept me grounded, he was also the source of the “DWBs” (you gotta check that post out). I can’t be sure, and I don’t wanna go braggin’, but I swear I could see him in that mirror, staring back at me, I could even hear his laughter. This lesson wasn’t taught from a book or learned from the interweb. I reckon you might say it was a “passive” lesson, one I didn’t realize I was learning at the time. Funny how those are generally the ones that stick ain’t it.

We may never know the effect our lives have on those around us, oft times the simplest of things have the greatest impact. Even now, especially now, I find myself jumpin’ over the small stuff. Agents and editors pickin’ through the words. A stranger, proud of his ability to find the smallest fault or “misspelled” thought. Don’t get me wrong, I strive to share quality content with each of you, I stress over letting you down and I respect you far too much to offer trash.

Humbled, and a little ashamed, I turned back to my desk, stepped over some mouse turds as I laid my pole down, and began typing. No, these words ain’t perfect, yes you will find a mistake or two, or three. After all, what do you expect of something spilled from this ol’ brain of mine? And I owe a great deal of it to an ol’ Yankee named George. THANK YOU GEORGE

George Chamberlain (late) my step-dad

We hope you enjoyed this visit with The Tin Cup Clan, time is so valuable these days we are humbled that you choose to spend just a bit of it with us. Share this little tale with someone, Lord knows there is plenty that needs to hear it. Comments, let us know what you think, kinda gives us a boost to keep going. If you know of someone for the Heritage project drop a note, we would love to hear from you.

Until next time…God Bless

Riding the Ribbon

Riding the Ribbon 

Have you ever sat in your car watching as the train rolled by, wondering what it must be like to run alongside, grabbing a hold of the iron and stealing a free ride to God knows where? To simply sit on your perch and feel the rhythm of the rails in your bones and listen to the roar of the wind as it glides past your ears. Freedom, that’s the word, freedom in its purest. 

     I’m gonna do something a little different with this story. Today we’re gonna join the boys as they are off in a new adventure. Today for the first time…you’re gonna read just a little bit of the Tin Cup Clan’s next mystery. “The legend of Blue Hole” 

Some time has passed since the cold, wet Witch adventure and there are still a number of unanswered questions. Our boys continue to probe, investigate rumors, and at last, get to the bottom of those fateful days. 

Now, it’s the dog days of Summer, and like any would do in heat such as this, we ride along as our boys find yet another method of finding cool comfort. In this little town that quest usually results in a visit to the Blue Hole.       Enjoy.   

Hot…six-thirty in the morning and it was already hotter than blue blazes. Apparently, a few Jar-Flies were up as early as me and had begun their customary brain numbing calls, Weee-ooo-weee-oo, the noise travels up and down the hollers, invading the senses of every living soul. But I reckon that’s the price you pay for summer, and days like these.  

I looked down the driveway and see the guys waiting under the tree, fighting for a spot in the early morning shade. They’re waiting on me, so I begin a trot down to meet ‘em. 

We were beginnin’ ta worry ‘bout che friend. Figured ye might be up there in front of the TV a watchin’ cartoons ‘er somethin’. laughed big David. 

He ain’t gonna miss this, replied Stick. He too scared he might miss catchin’ a peek of Teresa in her bathin’ suit. 

Chucky thought the whole thing was hilarious, being the smart aleck he was, he started making kissy faces at Stick and pretending to be me. Stick fluttered his eyes loving at Chucky, “My hero” he swooned in a girly voice. I was getting madder by the second. 

A long slow distant horn blast immediately shut everybody up, demanding their attention. 

Here she comes, said big David. Sounds like she’s a crossin’ McKamey bridge, right on time. 

That’s right folks…We were train huntin’ 

They’s two kinds of trains around here. The silver L&N, she’s fast, loud, and the caboose is usually full of yard dogs. The only contact we have with this train is when we hide behind bushes and throw walnuts at the passing engineer. Other than that, it’s best stay out of her way when she’s a coming through. 

The other is the slow and steady black Southern. She’s a gentle southern lady, and when this ol’ girl rumbles through town she’s usually taking her time. Slowly sliding along the rails at an easy pace, you seldom see any yard dogs barking at her heels, and that friend, is the one we’ve been waiting for. 

We’ve done this a few times before so each of us knows our place. We spread out along the track about fifty feet apart and hide in the bushes. Big David’s the first, followed by me, then Chucky, and finally Stick. 

It’s important to wait until the middle of the train, that way you’re outta sight from the engine and the caboose. As she gets closer the vibrations increase, they build until you can feel ‘em in your marrow bones and your heart speeds up to match the rhythm. Big David is the first to make his move. 

It’s his job to pick the car, suddenly he darts from his hiding place and begins to run alongside his target. When he finds a good hold, he grabs the rail and pulls his self onto the ladder, then with a quick jump, plants his feet. He leans out from the side, outstretching his big hand, it’s my turn. 

I jump from the bushes, run alongside till David gets to me then grabbing ahold of my arm pulls me up the ladder. He does the same for Chucky, and finally Stick, who he nearly throws off the other side since he weighs next to nothing. With a sigh of relief, we find a seat and make ourselves comfortable for the ride. 

The world looks different when you’re riding the Ribbon, scenes pass by like a movie script, making your forget you live here. As the train reaches the crossings, we wave at the waiting cars and laugh as the occupants stare in confusion. It’s not long until the train runs through the center of town, here the whole world plays out before our eyes, but from our seats we’re not part of the madness, only spectators, watching the goings on like we would ants or bees. 

The town falls beneath us as we begin to cross the trestle. The trains rumbles over the top of the Piggly-Wiggly and hardware store. We feel special somehow, just for the simple knowing of what the roofs of those buildings look like. A lot like an old friend that knows your worst secrets but keeps ‘em to his self. Soon we begin to leave the town behind and the change in the drone of the engines can be felt in our behinds. We are beginning the slow grade to the mines. 

The rhythm changes…slows a great deal, with it so does our heart beats. A comfortable calm takes control and the smells and scenery change. 

I take in a deep breath, letting the smell of honeysuckle and pine fill my head. As I look around, I see the others in the same pose, noses lifted to the air and eyes closed. Only after we’ve filled our heads do our eyes open. 

Green has replaced the grey of the town, green as green can be, everywhere. Green has a smell, (yes it does), not cut grass or saw dust, but a clean smell, it cleans out the head and clears the mind, putting life in its place and numbing worries. The branches flip and flutter as the cars pass, and they wave to us as we glide along the ribbon. The creek runs to the left of the tracks, tumbling in folds of white as it cascades from boulder to boulder. I stare as thin beams of sunlight sparkle in the nooks and craneys. Yep…life is good

Blue Holes comin’ up fellers, better wake up. Big David wakes us from our trance as our destination approaches. 

Reluctantly we stand and take our places, ready for the drop. 

At this point the train is slow but dangerous just the same, Generations of riders have worn a soft-landing spot, cushioned by honey suckle and wild Heather, all that is needed is a slow pace, a mild tuck and roll, and you’re here. Sounds simple right? There have been times when things didn’t go as planned and a few unfortunate souls bear the scars from it. But once you get the hang of it it’s as easy as falling off your bed. 

We line up like paratroopers, hearts in our throats, waiting for a sign, once big David gives the signal, we all move. One by one jumping from the ladder into the honeysuckle and straw followed with a quick roll. Once we stand and get our bearings, a wonderous world greets us, straight out of the movies. This little bit of Heaven known to all as…The Blue Hole.

We hope you enjoyed this little peek into our next adventure. Oh Yes…there’s more to come, a lot more. In the mean time we would appreciate a like, especially a follow. Heck share it…tell some friends. Until next time…Thank You from the bottom of our hearts.

THE TIN CUP CLAN  

CHANGES WITH “THE TIN CUP CLAN”

Hi friends…Many things are changing here at “The tin cup Clan” and I desperately need your help. I’ve had a lot going on lately and feel I have far to many irons in the fire. The books are coming out very soon and I’ve decided to narrow social media to just a couple of platforms. I love and respect all our followers, I don’t want to lose any of you. We are going to focus most of our energy on the Face Book page for the time being. If you like the T.C.C. and want to continue reading these simple yet oft times corny stories PLEASE LIKE THE FB PAGE. We’ve found we can reach far more people here and Instagram than anywhere else. Not to mention we can be far more interactive. For the time being The Tin Cup Clan .com will be under renovation, I think you’re gonna love it when it’s rolled out soon. Remember…The Tin Cup Clan FB page!!! Go there and hit the like button. You’ll be glad you did. Instagram is coming in the next couple of days…my daughter is working on getting it up and running. SEE YOU THERE…LOVE ALWAYS!!! The Tin Cup Clan

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.

“Stumbling Blocks” or “Stepping Stones”

As I write these stories my fervent hope would be; they become as real to you as they are to me. I want you to know the boys,see they’re home town when you close your eyes, even feel what they feel. That statement may seem a bit “campy” but please dear reader, do me the honor of hearing me out. So far we have visited the home of “big” David, a warm quintessential mountain home. Complete with a loving Christian ma’ and pa’, brothers and sisters. The kind of family that may come to mind when you dream of the perfect family. David’s reflects his home, slow and deliberate in his actions and thoughts, and mindful of his reputation.

Then we looked at Stick’s family, hard working ma’ and pa’. His pa’ works a dangerous job seven days a week, making sure the ends meet. His ma’ running the home as efficiently as a major corporation, all the while keeping those ends tied. Each has a place and each has a responsibility. Little time is left for worship, work has replaced the church as the center pin and character is measured by the strength of one’s back. Stick is the product of this “normal,” strong in his opinion, always quick with a joke and lives by the motto “if you ain’t living on the edge, you’re taking up too much room.”

But now we look at Chucky. Life (as it often does) has not been so kind to them. His father worked at the local Mill since he was a boy, just as his father and his father before him. But times in mid-century Appalachia are hard and it’s left it’s mark on them, perhaps harder than any other family in the area. Without warning the Mill cut back, Chucky’s pa’ prayed that seniority would spare him from the chopping block but that wasn’t the case. Before he knew it, he was out of work and the family home was lost. I think many of us can relate to this.

Soon they found themselves dependent on friends, and blessed beyond measure with a small town. You see…folks around here help each other, lift each other up so to speak. When help is offered, declining it was seen as “insult,” and when you recovered, not returning the favor and helping another family was beyond consideration.

During such a crisis families have two choices. Circle the wagons and fight, (or as often is the case), split and go separate ways, leaving yet another family shattered and lost in time.

Fortunately, (I prefer to think by God’s grace), they circled the wagons and trusted that help was on the way. I’m not saying it was easy mind you, far from it. Some times the best you can do is dig your heels in and weather the storm…and the storm came for them dear reader, it came in the worst way.

Excerpt : Chapter : (1) The Unlikeliest of Hero’s

Chucky’s dad works the belt and washer, just as dirty, if not more, but maybe just a little safer.

The pay’s not near what the hole pays, but he’s lucky to get it. He used to work at the mill, but when they cut back, he was one of the first to get the axe. Big David’s dad pulled some strings and got him on at the Blue Diamond mine. He ain’t been there to long so he’s still playing catch up as far as money goes.

Excerpt : Chapter (6) “It ain’t Much but It’s Home”

“Chucky’s place is about a mile down the road. He don’t like us coming by his place much. We all figure it’s because he’s kinda embarrassed by it. It’s been tough for him, his place ain’t much really. His Pa lost their house to the bank when he lost his job at the plant. No warning or nothing, just went in one day and found a piece of paper with his time-card. Right now they’re rebuilding, they all live in a Shasta camper with a room built onto the side.

The room’s not very fancy, just boards and tar-paper topped off with a rusted metal roof. Just stuff his dad could scavenge up I spose. He ain’t never let any of us inside yet, we don’t say nothing about it. Out of proper respect I reckon.”

So…this is Chucky’s “normal.” His family was (blessed) in a strange way. Often you got to lose everything, before you discover you’ve had everything all along. Family, friends, community, and all the gooey stuff that comes along with it. Now…dear reader you know Chucky. Is this “your” normal? If so, look around you, you may find things aren’t so bad after all.

Next time, we visit Mikey’s family. I’m afraid the wagons didn’t circle this time. How does a single parent raise a young boy in times such as these? Well…we’ll talk about that on our next post.

Once again The Tin Cup Clan would like to thank you for stopping by, and we are honored that your choose to spend just a bit of your time with us. As always God Bless and please hit a few buttons or share with someone that may need to stop for a while and read.

Sincerely : The Tin Cup Clan

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