The Tower Journal

Jerry Mullins

 Dry Ridge


          The men took him to the cleared ground at the church. Six of them. He was a big strong young man and they had to tie his arms to his sides to walk him down there. He did not say much as they walked. The men looked straight ahead and only once in a while looked sideways at him as they pulled him up straight when he stumbled in the ruts.  

          When they got to the clearing at the back of the church they put him up onto the table. It creaked under his weight.

          “Well, he’ll never bother another young girl after today,” Harley said to the men nearest him.

          “Let’s just get it done and leave him here for his people to come get him. I don’t want nothing to do with him. No doctoring,. no fixing, no nothing,” said Jess.

          “But all he’s got is that old granny out on the ridge, and she’s half blind,” Harley said.

          “I can’t help that,” Jess said, “she should have had him under some control since he was a boy. They will have to get somebody to take him.”

          They tied him to the table. He did not say a word. He laid back.

          As Harley told it later, it started as an accident. Jess was put up to using the cutter and the other men would hold him down and steady. The cutter was used on the bulls on the cattle farm that was further out the Dry Ridge road before it shut down as hard times came in. The people on that farm just disappeared one day and took what was left of the cattle with them.

          As Jess moved in to make the cut he was thrashing around on the table so much the cutter took a large piece of his thigh out in a slab. There was not much blood. Maybe that was how it got started like it did.

           After the main cut he screamed so loud the men worried people on the next hill over would come running.  But they did not. Everybody seemed to know something was going to happen that day.

          He slumped down like he passed out and got totally quiet. The men thought he just fainted. There was almost no bleeding because they tied off the private parts just like they did the cattle.  Even the big gash in the leg did not bleed much after he seemed to faint. But after a few minutes his usually red face went pale and he groaned and let out a big rush of breath and his head fell back quiet.

          Nobody will own up to who said it first, but it got said we don’t know by who or the exact words, but it went like, “There must be thirty or forty  pounds in each leg and more in the arms, and with all the hungry children up on the ridge we need everything we can get.”

          It was true. The children were hurt worst by the hard times of the Depression. The people said “No matter how much Franklin D. does it don’t get up here in the country. It all stays in towns where the politics is right.”

          Children got so weak from hunger the slightest cold or flu would take them away. Even one winter weakened whole families and it carried forward year to year.  The older people had the strength of years of doing without, and could come back with summer fruit and greens, but growing children could not hold up through even a few winter months.

          Jess went ahead with the final cutting because he dressed a lot of the deer and hung it for curing during the winter months. Henry started the fire with an iron rod for turning. Mike and Nelson went off to get whatever else they could find and brought back some turnips and about a peck of poor looking potatoes. All the good potatoes were already gone by that late October day. They put them in the smaller of the two apple butter pots kept in the church.

          “What do we do with what’s left?” Henry said. “I ain’t touching it for burial and the preacher here won’t have a thing to do with this.”

          “I’ll get that box that’s left under the church. The one they wouldn’t let it in the cemetery ‘cause it’s not a real casket and we can put it in there,” Harley said.

          “But don’t think you are going to put him in my family cemetery down the road. He don’t go there,” Lathe said. “He is not family, and what’s left of him is not fit to be around decent people.”

          “We need to put him somewhere, why not?”

          “Because I said so, that’s why. And if you try it somebody will have to carry you off somewhere too,” said Lathe, and turned to two of his sons who were standing close by and said “Go down there right now and guard the gate and if anybody tries to put him in there, shoot them right between the eyes. Here, take my pistol.” He said it so fiercely the sons were wide-eyed in fear as they hurried off.

          Word got out along Dry Ridge about food at the church grounds later that day. The people loved the church grounds, bordered by large oaks, some green still showing, sycamores with peeling pale white bark like a man’s leg, and thick green rhododendron and mountain laurel.  

          Children came down the road off Dry Ridge and gathered around the tables behind the church. They did not know what had gone on before. At first shy, later they laughed and joked in the excitement of the unexpected gathering, but their poor clothes, wide eyes with dark circles, and tight skin around their faces told a story.

          Other people also gathered at the tables, mainly the old people. The men wondered how they had the strength to get to the church grounds, and were uneasy about if they would be able to get back home up the steep road.          

          The children ate, and smiled and laughed. Most of them never came to church suppers. This was a new experience. With hard times, not many church suppers were held.

          The children finished and started to drift away back up Dry Ridge. They wondered what they would eat tomorrow.

Copyright © 2015 Jerry Mullins

Jerry Mullins grew up in central West Virginia, and has lived in the Washington, DC suburbs in recent years. His work has recently been published in or is forthcoming from Columbia University Journal-Catch and Release, Wilderness House Literary Review, The Broadkill Review, Tower Journal, Indiana Voice Journal, Newfound Journal, Foliate Oak, Literary Yard, and internationally in Nazar-Look (Romania) and Southern Cross Review (Argentina).

The Tower Journal
Spring/Summer 2015