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Renegade Writers Guild

“The Boys”

By Gaye Hoots

Growing up on a farm was an experience I really appreciated. Each day a new animal was born, a new crop planted, or a new type of machinery introduced. I looked forward to a new adventure every day. Sometimes the fun started before dawn. Squawking chickens would awaken my grandfather, and he would jump out of bed, grabbing the loaded shotgun he kept propped in the corner by his bed. Grandpa slept in a long cotton nightshirt. The sight of him running outside with his gun amused me. He did a good job of protecting his hens.

When Grandpa came back in, he would tell us what the threat had been and return the loaded gun to its corner. We were told never to touch that gun, and this was one rule I respected because I had seen the damage a gun could inflict. Grandpa taught me to shoot a Crackshot rifle when I was 6 years old. The farm animals posed another danger, mostly the bull. Machinery could also be dangerous.

My cousin, Gene lived with my grandparents before I was born. Daddy was plowing in the river bottoms with a disc harrow. Gene followed him there. As my father made a round of plowing, Gene jumped onto the back of the moving tractor and touched Dad’s shoulder. Dad turned off the tractor. He was shaken by what could have happened. He explained to Gene that if his timing had been off he would have fallen between the tractor and the disc harrow. “I would have found your body when I made the next round.” Daddy told him.

Gene’s father, Allen, worked in manufacturing and considered it to be a notch above farming. He had a management position, which he was very proud of. Allen took care of his appearance, wearing mostly suits. He purchased a new Ford car and drove it to the farm to show it off. Gene ran up to look at the car, with his pet goat at his heels. The goat jumped onto the hood of the new car. “Get him off there! He will scratch it.” Allen yelled.

“I’ll get him off, Daddy!” Gene yelled back. He picked up a rock and threw it at the goat. It did not hit the goat but instead, smashed the windshield of Allen’s new Ford. Gene and the goat both survived.

My brother, Phil, often encountered dangers. The farm where we moved had copperhead snake dens. There was a pond to which we were not allowed to go unless there was an adult with us. Phil disappeared one day. A farm hand found his footprints leading to the pond but no footprints leading away. My mom was crying. We kept calling his name and looking for him. I caught sight of Phil as he came in from the woods. Phil knew he was in trouble. Dad arrived, but he was too upset to mention punishment. He believed Phil had drowned.

When Phil was 3 years old, he had two close calls. Dad had bought a wild horse and attempted to break him to ride. This was the only horse I remember that he could not tame. Each time Dad put his foot in the stirrup, the horse would buck so violently he could not mount.

One day Phil yelled for us, “Come here. Look at me!” He had put a stool beside the horse and climbed into the saddle. Phil sat there atop the wild horse swinging a length of reaper twine like a lasso. The horse stood stock still. Daddy knew if he approached the horse it would buck. He instructed Phil to climb back down the same way he had mounted. Once Phil was safe, Daddy tried to mount. The horse immediately began to buck furiously. The horse must have sensed that Phil was a child and non-threatening.

On another day, Phil managed to get to the barn alone. A friend of Dads had left his car parked near a block wall that was being added to the milk barn. The door was open and the keys in the ignition. To a 3 year old, the key was an invitation. Phil cranked the car, causing it to lurch into the wall. My dad was so scared his voice was trembling as he tried to explain to Phil that he could have been killed. He finished with a plea to Phil, “Promise me you won’t get into another car and hit something.”

“I won’t Daddy, next time, go up the road.” was Phil’s reply.

When Phil was 6 years old, he and my sister Faye walked up the hay elevator into the barn loft. Faye jumped off just as the elevator was turned on. It flipped Phil onto the barn loft, broke his leg, and he was in a cast all summer long. Despite many events,  we all managed to survive farm life.

     

“The Old Mountain Place”

By Linda Barnette

When Ashley was a young girl, she loved exploring nature. She walked in the woods, played in the streams, and built imaginary playhouses out of old logs and pieces of glass that she found in the woods behind her grandmother’s house. In those days there were no local swimming pools, so her family went swimming in Dutchman’s Creek or some other nice creeks in their area. One of their favorite spots was out in the country in a place known as the Old Mountain place, which was part of her great-grandfather’s property. It consisted of several hundred acres of land mostly unsettled except for a house here and there. The creek at the bridge was just right for good swimming right after a rain shower.

One weekend Ashley and her parents, grandparents, and a good friend of hers took a picnic lunch and spent the day beside the creek. Ashley and Brook played in the water on old tire tubes and then decided to go exploring in the nearby woods. As they were climbing up a hill, they suddenly fell inside of a hole in the ground. They were petrified! “How are we going to get out of here,?” Brook cried. “I don’t know,” Ashley whispered, “but we’ll find a way.” They soon realized that the hole led to an underground tunnel, which they had no choice but to follow. Inside the tunnel were roots, leaves, rocks and all kinds of bugs. Both girls screamed when a frog jumped out in front of them. Of course, their biggest fear was that they might see a snake! Luckily, both were Girl Scouts and had some training and experience in outdoor survival. For what seemed like hours they moved slowly through the tunnel in almost total darkness. The girls were hungry, thirsty, and tired. Suddenly, they came into a fairly large area that had obviously been cleared out by people at some point. In the wall and on the ground they saw what appeared to be shiny rocks, so they picked up some of them and put them in their pockets to show to their parents.

After a while, the girls heard voices hollering for them. It was Ashley’s dad and grandfather! Her grandfather had remembered hearing about the Old Calahaln Mountain gold mine where he had played years earlier and had searched for the old mine not too far from the creek. He and her dad dropped some large vines down into the mine, and the girls were able to climb out. When her grandfather saw the gold the girls had, he cried, “Pomp (his own grandfather) was right all along!”

“Paradigm Shift”

By N. R. Tucker

It was summer in the late 1960s. I had spent the weekend with my favorite aunt and uncle. They were the fun aunt and uncle, always on the go, and had a boat and a cabin on the Tennessee River. Waterskiing on the Tennessee remains one of my fondest memories. The weekend had been a great one, full of water, bonfires, and reading.

A massive thunderstorm hit Sunday morning, and we packed up to return home. My uncle owned a garage, and he was forever fixing up vehicles. That day we were in a slide-in, pickup truck camper that he drove for a while. I loved that thing. It represented fun and family.

I was a little bummed because we would get home in time for the evening church service. I had already missed morning services, which was a rarity. If we returned home later in the afternoon, I wouldn’t go to church that evening either, meaning I would get to watch The Wonderful World of Disney. I loved that show or at least the idea of that show. I could count on one hand the number of times I saw it as the show aired on Sunday nights while we were at church.

I didn’t object to going to church; I enjoyed it. I had friends, sang, enjoyed the lessons, and was looking forward to the day I would be old enough to play the piano sometimes. During the summer, church was how I stayed in touch with friends. But still, sometimes the previews for that show looked interesting.

Just as we finished loading the car, a neighbor from town pulled into the drive. Our cabin didn’t have a phone, so there was no way to call. The news was grim. Lightning had struck my aunt and uncle’s house, and it was burning. The fire department had arrived, but it didn’t look good.

I looked at my aunt and uncle, wondering what they would do. I would be crying. My books. My room. My stuff. What would I do without my stuff?

My uncle hugged my aunt and said, “No one was in the house.”

Just like that, I had what is now called a paradigm shift, a change of attitude. Stuff didn’t matter. People did. Everyone who lived in their house was with them at the cabin, even the dog, and a few extras like me.

We were a subdued group as we drove to their house. I rode in the back of the slide-in camper up on the sleeping area, watching the road. It was a great way to travel, allowing me to write stories of grand adventures. On this day, traveling the road I knew well, I worried for my aunt and uncle. When we arrived, even I knew their home was a total loss.

My Mom and Dad were there, along with most of the family and friends, because that what you do in a small town. Everyone shows up to help if possible. The fire department saved his garage, which was just up the hill, so his business was secure, and he thanked them for that. They came home with us that night, so that’s where all the food showed up. It was the south after all. Good news or bad, it’s always appropriate to bring food, and our town rushed to make sure no one starved. The news of the fire and where they were staying made the rounds pretty quick.

When it came time to go to church, Mom said I could stay home if I wanted, but she and dad both had their classes to teach, so they were going. I think I surprised her when I said I wanted to go to church. She knew how much I liked to watch Disney. In church, when it was time to pray, I gave a prayer of thanks that the people in my life were safe. Turns out, Disney, while good, wasn’t as important as I thought.

“Change of Attitude”

By Marie Benge Craig

I started ninth grade in a small high school about 125 miles away from Davie County.  In the middle of the tenth grade, our new consolidated high school was ready for occupancy, so we were thrust into a much bigger building with more students and with former rivals in sports.  These two towns had previously been at odds with each other, but the new school seemed to make this situation much calmer.

We had more opportunities, with science labs, an auditorium, a bigger marching band, and a chorus.  I really enjoyed the chorus and the director, a man with a kind heart and a great appreciation for music.

This was back in the days when you could sing religious music at a public school, and one of the songs he chose was “There is a Balm in Gilead.” He told us the background of the song and why this is a special spiritual.  He explained that it was a “Negro spiritual.” This was before integration, so it was an important lesson for us to learn about sharing music and learning about other cultures.

He said that he wanted a girl to sing the verses and that the rest of us would sing the chorus. The girl he chose was Wilma. We couldn’t believe our ears. She could barely talk above a whisper, she was very shy because she had a crippled hand and an awkward way of walking, and she would embarrass us all by not giving a splendid performance.

But sing, she did, in her little high-pitched voice. We decided that it was OK. But we wondered why he had not chosen someone who could sing better.

Luckily, I have mellowed since then, and I realize what a terrific decision this teacher made. This was probably the only moment of glory this girl had in her entire life, and perhaps helped her to feel better about herself. This time period was especially callous in cruelty jokes. Thank goodness, that is a thing of the past.

If anybody ever needed a balm, Wilma did. Hopefully, this balm of Gilead strengthened her, and I eventually realized that everybody needs a chance to bloom.

A Heart of Steel, an excerpt

“Collateral Damage”

By Stephanie Dean

Reflecting as far back into her childhood as she could remember, Steele had always known a career in nursing would play a part in her future. When she was only six years old, Steele proclaimed to her parents, “One day when I grow up, I’m going to be a nurse, fall in love and marry a doctor.” Even as a young child, Steele had always felt a great compassion for others. Her desire to be a nurse was a natural response, fulfilling a need to help people. She had never had the slightest interest in any other profession; there was no need to choose from multiple career possibilities.  However, the road leading to her future wasn’t going to be a straight path and wouldn’t be without a few life lessons taught early along the way.

After graduation from high school, Steele’s closest girlfriends went away to college where they lived on campus and engaged in age-appropriate social interactions. But Steele had made a different choice and was now on a precarious path, one which led to disruption and chaos.  Steele had married David, the brother of her best friend, Katherine. He worked as a mechanic for the family’s elevator business, earned good pay and was a hard-working young man. Just a few months after they married, and before Steele turned 19 years old, she and David bought their first home in a little town outside of Nashville with the five thousand dollar down-payment Steele’s parents had given her. Steel’s husband enjoyed working long hours out in their yard, and the manicured lot was the prettiest one in the neighborhood. But, things weren’t pretty at all behind the closed doors of their home.

Steele knew nothing about alcoholism and unknowingly, had married an alcoholic. For most of their marriage, David came home drunk almost every day after work. He was always verbally abusive and mean when he had been drinking. Many nights, he didn’t come home and stayed out all night drinking. Early in the marriage when they owned only one car, Steele was left at home alone each night and cried herself to sleep. Strangers would call on the phone to report her husband’s liaisons with other women.  When she had a car, Steele often drove around in the middle of the night searching for her husband. Despite their deteriorating union, Steele was determined to keep her marriage intact as they now had a young child together. Over time, after suffering the strain of his substance abuse, the signs of her unraveled love were starting to show and not surprise to anyone but him.  In the early years of marriage, Steele was accepted to nursing school and devoted herself to the three-year program while trying to navigate around the abuse in her marriage.  School became the great escape from her dismal reality even though she could barely manage her workload and family responsibilities.  Her husband’s addiction-fueled rage took on a new face as his jealousy and insecurity began an ongoing battle of accusations, threats, and physical abuse. Steele learned how to fight back.  Over the course of their five-year marriage, her life gradually descended into a wretched world of darkness and domestic violence. Now considered the collateral damage of her husband’s ravaging addiction, Steele carefully weighed new options for her future.