Friday, June 21, 2013

Hattie


Old Pierre Mulberry had bought the adjacent 10 acres even before the sprawling plantation was established. Soon after he paid cash for the acreage, Pierre brought Hattie up from Lafayette, Louisiana and together they cleared two of the acres, built a sturdy log shelter and established a subsistence farm. They killed a hog every fall and Pierre was a skilled hunter and trapper. There was always plenty of smoked meat and jerky on the Mulberry place. Also, Hattie’s fertile sunny garden yielded an abundance of potatoes, tomatoes, corn, squash and various root plants and greens. And, of course, the place was dotted with young mulberry trees.

No one around those parts knew exactly when old Pierre died, whether it was when so many were away during the war or after. In fact, some of the hands who stayed on for wages after the war believed Pierre was still alive and that he had just become more and more reclusive as he grew older. Many claimed to have seen Pierre out trapping well after the war was over. Several of the superstitious old folks said his ghost roamed the property line nightly.

The strange couple never put up a fence around the 10 acres, but Hattie erected talismans—bones, clay figures, tied-down saplings—every 30 paces around the place. The plantation hands referred to these odd structures as goophers and they wouldn’t risk crossing over onto the Mulberry property. The most prominent talisman, clearly visible from the plantation cotton field, was a scarecrow-like figure, the spitting image of Pierre, with what appeared to be actual human eyes, one blue and one brown, just like old Pierre’s. They were the kind of eyes that seemed to follow passersby no matter where they were, like some paintings with haunting, seemingly inescapable stares.

Long after people assumed Hattie was past child-bearing age, she showed up at the general store in town with a baby, proclaiming that it was hers and Pierre’s child. She had named her Easter Morning Mulberry. Easter was a happy baby and no one could look at her without smiling. She had one blue eye and one brown eye that sparkled with joy. Easter grew up on the Mulberry acreage as Hattie’s reason for living, happy, well-nourished and content.

. Easter was 13 when Hattie died of congestive heart failure and when the wife of the plantation owner got the news, she crossed the goopher line and, at length, convinced the youngster to move to the big house where she lived and worked until she got married.

(The preceding is some exposition from something I am working on. It is not exactly a true story—I have filled in a lot of gaps from imagination—but it is based on historical events that culminate in Easter’s untimely death in 1879. Also, for regular readers of this column, I want to report that my old shaggy friend got the job at the carwash in Oil City and, aside from olfactory issues, everything is copacetic down there.)

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