The Smell of OrangesA Story by Samuel Dickens
A mostly true story about my grandfather
Saturday, August 4, 1917
Sam heard the rooster crow, sat up on the side of the bed and put his feet on the floor. His wife, Molly, felt him stir and whispered, “Are you gettin’ up now?”
“Yes. The sooner I get gone, the better.”
Being careful not to wake the children, Sam stepped lightly across the creaky cabin floor on his bare feet, opened the front door and headed for the outhouse. Tike, the favorite family dog, arose from his sentry position beneath the porch and followed Sam to the outhouse, lazily wagging his black and white tail.
A few embers still glowed inside the wood cook stove, so Molly quickly got a fire going. By the time Sam returned from doing his business, the smell of coffee brewing and bacon frying scented the morning air.
“Now, Molly, there’s no need to get carried away with the cookin’.”
Molly glanced at Sam and said, “You know I ain’t goin’ to let you take off from here without a good breakfast”.
Sam knew she would insist on feeding him a good meal before he left, but had to fret about it, anyway. After putting on his bib overalls and shoes, he sat down at the table and waited to be served.
Molly poured him a steaming hot cup of coffee, saying, “The coffee grounds are thrice boiled, but it’s all we’ve got.”
Sam shook his head and told her, “I’ll get us ten pounds of coffee when I’m in town today.”
“Are you sure you can carry all that? I don’t want you loadin’ yourself down too much.”
“Oh, I’m not so old and wore out that I can’t carry a little bit of coffee.”
Sam ate his breakfast of two eggs, grease gravy, home-raised and cured bacon, a tomato from the garden, and two of Molly’s fist-sized biscuits with home-churned butter and muscadine jelly.
“Is that all you’re goin’ to eat?” she asked.
“If I eat any more, it’ll slow me down. Besides, the children are goin’ to be gettin’ up hungry any minute now.”
A little voice from the bedroom said, “Paw, you didn’t eat up all the biscuits, did you?”
Molly replied, “No, Claude, your father didn’t eat ‘em all.” Turning to Sam, she whispered, “You better get gone before they all come in here. Richard will probably want to go with you, but you know he can’t.”
Sam nodded, abruptly stood up, and sneaked out the door. Molly followed him onto the porch and handed him a flour sack full of something, saying, “You’ve got a jar of water in there, some fried salt pork, cornpone, three boiled eggs, a cucumber, and a tomato.”
“I hope the tomato ain’t too ripe, or it’s liable to leak juice and get the papers wet.”
“Oh, the papers; I almost forgot ‘em!” said Molly, and she retrieved a bound roll of wrinkled paper from her apron pocket and placed it in his pouch. “Sure wouldn’t want to forget those,” she said, somewhat embarrassed.
Sam told her, “Well, I’d best get on out of here,” and started to step off the porch, but Molly stopped him and gave him a hug and a peck on the cheek. “You be careful, now, and if that foot gets to botherin’ you, you just stop and get off of it for a while.”
“Oh, it’s done been three weeks since the mule stepped on it. It’s a lot better now.”
Molly sighed and told him, “Well, just don’t you overdo it.”
Sam walked away, but before he was out of ear-shot, turned around and said, “Don’t worry about me, dear. I’ll be back before dark tomorrow.”
Molly watched Sam disappear down the wagon trail and said to herself, “Such a stubborn man. I wish he had borrowed Lester Woodard’s horse.”
It wasn’t long before Sam got to the main road, and with the late summer sun just beginning to rise, he set a brisk pace toward Waldron. It was his habit to walk fast, but today he needed to walk extra-fast.
I feel pretty good. That foot is throbbin’ some and my bad hip is poppin’ a little bit, but as soon as I get warmed up, I think it’ll all smooth out. I ain’t doin’ too bad for a man of about fifty-one.
The lack of a firm birth date caused Sam to think of his mother, who’d died when he was only four.
If she hadn’t slept so close to the fireplace that cold winter night, her clothes wouldn’t have caught fire and burned her to death. She’d know what my exact birthday was. Paw was gone off to the Civil War when I was born, so he never knew. That’s why I’m makin’ sure Molly writes all of our children’s birthdays down in the family Bible. There’s old Mr. Hale, goin’ out to do the milkin’. He’s too far off, or I’d holler at him. A fine man, that Mr. Hale. I’ll never forget how he helped me build our house.
Sam’s foot and hip quit hurting after a while, and he walked purposefully along, pain-free, except for a slight headache. He wiped sweat from his scarred forehead and remembered the reason that his head hurt.
Some of life’s lessons are very hard-learned. Paw told me to be careful when shoein’ a horse, but I didn’t listen to him. No, I was young and thought nothin’ could ever hurt me. Well, I found out that gettin’ kicked in the head by a horse sure don’t feel good. If that ol’ country doctor hadn’t patched the hole in my skull with a flattened-out silver dollar, I reckon I’d have died. Well, at least I can honestly say I’m worth a dollar.
Sam kept up a good pace, slowing down only briefly to say “Hello” to the folks he met along the road. Most everybody was busy and had a full day’s work in front of them, so no one held him up with a lot of idle chatter. The most anyone would say was, “Hi, Sam. How’s your crops doin’?” and he’d say, “Pretty good, but I wish we’d get some rain.” They’d answer back, “Lord, yes. My okra and squash are about to burn up.” Sam would tell them, “Maybe the good Lord will bring us some purdy soon,” and then he’d continue on his way.
About noontime, the hot sun shone directly down from overhead, so Sam took a short break beneath the shade of a large oak tree. With his shoes and socks removed, he cooled his feet while eating a light lunch of one boiled egg and a few bites of cornpone. After taking a big drink of water, he put his socks and boots back on and resumed the trek to Waldron. As he approached Bull Creek, he saw a wagon stalled about half-way out in the water. Something didn’t look right, so he began wading across the creek to investigate. As he drew near to the stalled wagon, he heard the driver sobbing.
Is that Vestal Hughes? I wonder what on earth could be the matter? The wagon doesn’t look like it's broken down. I’d better see if there’s something I can help him with.
Sam Waded up beside the wagon, and that’s when he saw Vestal’s young son, Amos, draped across Vestal’s lap. There was blood dripping from the child’s head, and he appeared to be dead.
Greatly concerned, Sam asked, “Vestal? Dear God, Vestal, what has happened to your boy?”
Vestal turned toward Sam, his face wracked with pain and tears streaming down his cheeks. “My son is dead, Sam.”
“May God have mercy; what happened to him, Vestal?”
“We got stuck on a rock, a-and Amos got out and tried to push, but I guess he slipped and fell underneath the wagon. I didn’t even know anything was wrong until I seen him floatin’ down the creek!” Cradling his son’s bloody head in his hands, Vestal moaned, “He was only eight years old.”
Sam climbed up onto the wagon, took the reins from Vestal, and said softly, “Let me get you out of this creek, Vestal. It ain’t far to your house, so I’ll take you home.” Sam turned the wagon around and headed back the opposite direction. Vestal continued to hold his son and weep while Sam drove the wagon and tried to hold back his own tears. Glancing down occasionally at Amos, Sam couldn’t help but think how his son, Claude, was about the same age.
Dear Lord; what terrible sorrows this life can bring. Please give Vestal and his family the strength to deal with this.
An hour later, Sam was back on the road, having performed one of the most difficult but necessary chores of his entire life.
I’d give almost anything to not have seen poor Mrs. Hughes’s face. I’ve never seen such pain in a person’s eyes. Dear God, please, I beg you to take me before you do any of my children.
Badly shaken, Sam continued on his way. At least an hour and a half behind schedule, he finally completed the eighteen-mile trip and arrived in Waldron around 4:00 pm. Even though it was late in the day, the town still bustled with shoppers who’d come from the hills and mountains all around to buy the things they couldn’t make or grow. Dodging horses, wagons, and the occasional Model T Ford, Sam made it across the street and stepped up to the long, smooth, concrete sidewalk. The urge to enter Collier’s beer joint and calm himself with a bottle of cold beer was strong, but he walked on past and continued towards the shoe cobbler’s shop. All along the sidewalk, store windows displayed patriotic posters in support of the war. Sam couldn’t read, but still knew what they were about.
I’d go fight those Germans in place of these young boys if they’d let me, but I’m too old. Dyin’ ought to be for us old folks, not the young. Oh, there it is; there’s that sign with the shoe on it.
Sam quietly entered Wilson’s shoe shop and stood beneath the ceiling fan, enjoying the cool breeze. They didn’t have fans in the mountains, let alone electricity.
Mr. Wilson greeted Sam, saying, “Hello, Mr. Dickens. Is it that time of the year again?”
Sam replied, “Yes sir, it is,” and handed Mr. Wilson the rolled-up papers. “I sold a little corn to that feller down in Danville and got just enough to buy a few pairs of shoes.”
“Let’s see what we’ve got here,” said Mr. Wilson, snipping the binding string and spreading everything out on a counter. “One, two, three, four, five, six. I see six foot-tracings here with names written on them.”
“Yes, but I’m goin’ to need two of them in Nettie’s size, because she and her mother have the same size foot.”
Mr. Wilson took the pencil from behind his ear, tapped it on the counter and said, “These are all small. Aren’t you going to need a new pair for yourself?”
“No, I reckon not. I was hopin’ you could patch up the ones I got on and make ‘em do me for a while longer.”
Mr. Wilson glanced down at Sam’s ragged, dilapidated shoes, shook his head and replied, “I’ll see what I can do with them.”
“What’s it goin’ to cost me for you to fix ‘em up again?”
“Oh, about six bits, I reckon.”
Sam took his shoes off, handed them to Mr. Wilson, and walked down the sidewalk to the grocery store, where he bought ten pounds of coffee and six oranges; one for each child. Still craving that cold bottle of beer, he got them to fill his water jug at Randall’s drug store.
A poor substitute for cold beer, but free, at least.
A short time later, Sam began the long walk back toward his home in the Ouachita hills with a large, heavy sack of shoes, coffee, and oranges over his shoulder.
Molly will get sore at me for not buyin’ myself a new pair of shoes, but I’d rather see the smiles on the children’s faces when they see these oranges. They’ll all be so happy!
Just before 3:00 AM Sunday morning, Molly heard Tike barking, grabbed the shotgun and peeked out the door.
“Don’t shoot me, dear,” said Sam, stepping wearily up onto the porch.
Molly opened the door wide and told him, “I thought you were goin’ to sleep the night in Tolland’s barn and come back this afternoon. You’re goin’ to be all stoved-up over this, Sam Dickens!”
Sam crumbled into the nearest chair and told Molly, “I know, dear, but I….I just felt like I needed to get on back here to y’all.”
“Well, you’re here now, so I reckon what’s done is done. You ought to take better care of yourself, though.” Knowing his feet had to be killing him, the little woman bent down and began taking his shoes off. Immediately, she noticed the new soles.
Sewin’ new cloth into old….again! Just how many times is that shoe cobbler goin’ to fix these ol’ things?
Molly glanced at the flour sack and saw all the tell-tale round protrusions. “Are them oranges I’m smellin’?”
Sam lit his pipe, took a long puff and replied, “Yes, dear, I reckon so.”
Molly got a pan of water, put Sam’s swollen feet in it, and began to gently wash them. She knew there was a pair of new shoes for her in the sack, too, even though she’d purposely left her foot-tracing out of the roll. Tears dripped down her cheeks and into the water, but she held back any audible sobs and sniffles, for such was their way.
© 2013 Samuel Dickens
Shelved in 9 LibrariesAdded on April 11, 2012
Last Updated on March 17, 2013
A wide spot in the road, AR
AboutGreetings, all. I'm a sixty-five year-old father of three sons, amateur writer, artist, musician and sometimes cook. Also a motorcycle buff, I've been riding/working on them since my teens. Retired fr.. more..
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