The Legend of a Country Girl by Jennifer Brookins
She was a legend of sorts in backwoods mountain country where poverty and struggles bound mountain folks together. They made their own bootleg liquor, settled quarrels with shotguns, married off young girls who had a mess of kids by the time they were twenty or so years older. They ate what they grew, chopped wood for cold winter months, made blankets from pieces left over from worn out work clothes, and slept three to a bed. Their lives were contained within themselves; their dependency only upon the changes of season. This is how she grew up … as grown up as she could ever be. Mountain children most always were born at home with only a neighbor to help with birthing, while men folk sat on the porch waiting, fiddling, some getting higher n’ a kite on shine. She was the last born in a family of six brothers … and the most loved. Her birth, unlike the other children, was different. When she was born, a veil the town Doc called a membrane, covered her head – meaning she was born a spiritual child. Such would be her life … and secret.
The moment Pa heard the first cry, he got up from the front porch, rushed indoors to find Ma, still in much pain, but wanting to hand the baby to him. Pa, who usually had an opinion about everything, was, at that moment, without words. He could not bring himself to believe what he was holding in his arms; for she radiated light – not the kind from lamps or candles, but light from within the baby herself. He looked over at Ma and said, “We got ourselves a baby girl who ain’t nothin but honey n’pure sunshine.”
Unlike some newborns who look more like squirrels, some even resembling old folks with wrinkles and teary-eyed; such was not the case with this baby. Her face was beautiful from the get-go, blue eyes with flecks of green, fair skin, blonde curly hair, and lips always on the verge of a smile. From that day forward he called her “Honeyshine” … best believe everyone else did too.
As she grew older, unlike most children, she preferred nature over friends her age. It was not unusual for Ma to call her indoors for lunch, and find Honeyshine sitting on a tree stump in the wooded area behind their cabin feeding scraps of bread to squirrels, rabbits, birds … once she even saw a fox eating from her hand. Whatever sound she heard from birds, Honeyshine responded in like manner … precisely, with the same cadence; she heard, and then repeated. She could hear, but she could not speak words belonging to her, only those that belonged to another. It was her way, and accepted as such by her family. Clearly, her brothers learned to watch what came out of their mouths.
Ma and Pa knew she was different from other children, but no matter – her life was good and fulfilling. She loved the earth, and that which grew from the soil, the mountain, and the trees for she understood their value. In summer months when her garden was ripe for picking; she tied Big Ben tomatoes’ on her hat to honor earth, same with vegetables and herbs such as fiddle-head fern, agrimony for sore throats, angelica, basil, flowers too – sunflowers, in particular. In autumn, at harvest time when leaves turned crimson, fell with abandon like raindrops, she dressed her straw hat with fallen leaves, and hugged the tree trunk. No one thought anything of it. It was just her way.
Image credit: Jon Sullivan via Wikimedia Commons
Autumn was also a time when neighbors got together, brought their fiddles and sang the old songs same as their forefathers had done for generations – songs like “Lord Thomas n’ Fair Elinor.” Oh Lordy how they sang and fiddled, and fiddled, and drank moonshine til they either passed out or found their way home singing, “Little Bessie,” and “Jesus help me cause I lost my way.” Honeyshine sang too, always repeating what she heard. No one ever jested her cause singing meant she had a voice. More importantly, she was their own. She learned from Ma the old ways of calling men-folk home for dinner, which was to take out her fiddle and start singing in a voice that echoed through the mountains, “O Billy boy where you been, cows in the barn n’ grubs on the table.” Two spits later, they’d come running.
David Holt says the roots of mountain music https://www.davidholt.com/music/roots-of-mountain-music/ dates back to English and Scotch-Irish settlers of the Southern Mountains. During this era, fiddles, three stringed dulcimers, and simple rhythm instruments were played by mountain folk.
Mountain folk don’t take to foreigners, especially when Revenuers periodically walked up the mountain to catch folks making bootleg liquor. That’s when Ma and Honeyshine would stand on the porch and sing warnings to their neighbors that Revenuers were nearby. Their fiddling and voices echoed for miles, “Oh neighbor, theys a fox on the way n’chickens runnin loose.” After five minutes or so buckshot, and the sound of feet high-tailing it down the mountain, could be heard.
As Honeyshine grew to her teen years, so did her breasts – beautiful, round, soft as cotton balls, and the size of cantaloupes.
Pa made note of this and told Ma, “For the sake a’ Jesus woman, do something bout them things. People startin to stare!” Soons he said it, he wished he hadn’t and for good reason.
Honeyshine just smiled, started playing her fiddle and sang, “For the sake a’ Jesus woman, do something bout them things. People startin to stare!”
Once a month Ma took the buckboard wagon, two of the boys, and Honeyshine to town for shopping and bartering. When they pulled up in front of the general store, a couple of boys were standing around, doing nothing but chewing tobacco and checking out Honeyshine’s endowments. Soon as she got off the buckboard to help Ma, she heard one of the boys say in a loud voice, “Well, kiss m’ ass n’ call me Sally!”
Of course, immediately Honeyshine begin to sing, “Well, kiss m’ ass n’ call me Sally.” All hell broke loose when her brothers heard Honeyshine singing those words – not just once but a couple a’ times she sang, “Well, kiss m’ ass n’ call me Sally.” A fight started and Ebert, her oldest brother, knocked out a couple of teeth from one boy’s mouth, and when the other started to run down the street crying like a sissy-boy, Ebert filled his britches with enough buckshot to keep him from sitting for a while.
After this, Honeyshine never went to town again … which was fine with her. She continued to do what she always did, played in the woods, fed the animals, honored earth, fiddled, sang and helped Ma. In time, the boys married and moved to another place on the mountain, but they always kept in touch for family get-togethers, and special times … like when Pa came down with the croup and died. The boys and their families came home to bury him under the scrub oak. On the tree they carved. “Here lies Pa. Let him be.” Afterwards they held hands and sang, “Yes Lord, I want to go to heaven,” while Ebert fiddled, and their voices rose in song.
A year later, Ma died and no one knew what of. She just up and died. The boys and their families came home again and buried her next to Pa under the same tree. They carved on a space directly under Pa’s carving, “Here lies Ma. Let her be.” Afterwards they held hands and sang, “Amazing Grace,” while Honeyshine fiddled … sang too. Those were sorrowful times, but somehow they got through it eating field peas, fried chicken, deviled eggs n’ cornbread, fiddling and singing bout mountain life n’ growing up with Ma and Pa; Ebert telling about the time Honeyshine sang “Well, kiss m’ ass n’ call me Sally,” which gave everyone a good laugh. It helped take the sorrow away.
Each of the boys wanted Honeyshine to come live with them but she wouldn’t do it. Life continued same as always until she was quite old with long white hair down to her waist; always laced with something from earth – sunflowers, pine cones, sweet basil – whatever was in season. Mountain folks say her fiddling n’ sing-repeating bird calls could be faintly heard every now and then. To this day, no one knows where she went or what happened to her. Whenever there’s a full moon, Ebert says he can hear her sweet angel voice singing, “Well, kiss m’ ass n’ call me Sally.”
© 2015 Jennifer Brookins