Root Cellar Dreaming

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
Children who grew up in the south red clay Tennessee hills in the 1940's found simple ways to entertain themselves. Carol Lee and her brothers were no exception. Carol Lee is a budding writer and entertains her brothers with wild tales.

Submitted: August 02, 2019

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Submitted: August 02, 2019



Looking up from the root cellar bin, wistful eyes watch foot soles pass and disappear to the cookstove and back to the table. The coolness of the cellar keeps the summer and fall gathering of fruits and vegetables fresh for the long winter ahead.

 Carol Lee looks around her at the bins of cabbage, sweet potatoes, carrots and turnips.  She knows that the other empty bins will soon hold more squash and pumpkins. The red clay bank that she is sitting on just even with the wooden plank side boards is her favorite spot in the room.  She can daydream her stories and write them down on her new school tablet that Grandmother had given her for her birthday. This is true for a little while.

Sunlight pours in making the lamp light unecessary.  Two boys jump down through the leaning doors under the house.  Carl says to Carol Lee, “Deputy, I’m puttin’ this desperado into jail and you need to keep an eye on him.  I’ve got to ride out after the rest of his gang.”  Ralph obediently climbs into the first empty bin and hunkers down on the bare hard red clay floor.

  "What did the gang do now?”

  "Robbed the bank.  But we’ve got ‘em pinned down by the creek and we’ll be bringing ‘em in here pretty quick.  Now you keep an eye on this one.”

  "If he don’t behave and tries to escape, I’ll just start yodeling loud.  That’d bring you back.”

  "Don’t do that, Carol Lee.  I’ll behave.”  Ralph whines.

Carl steps back out of the door and leaves it open.  Carol Lee turns the lamp out and throws a pepple at the wood bin.

  “Now, Ralph if you behave, I’ll read a story to you.”

“You mean one of them tales you make up?”

“That’s right.”

“Well, Mama says, that’s a bunch of lies and that the devil is gonna grab you by the neck and pull you down in his fiery hole if’n you don’t stop.”

 "I won’t tell you about Hickory Jones and his elephant.”

  Now that wouldn’t be such a bad story.  You can tell it to me and I just won’t repeat it.”

“Well, you know that Hickory Jones from all my other stories has a lot of hickory nut trees.”

  "Elephants only like peanuts.”

 "But this elephant was different from all other elephants.  Anyway, Hickory Jones had figured out that there had to be a way to make hickory nuts easy for elephants to crack.”

  "There ain’t no elephants in these hills.”

  "Just because you’ve never seen one doesn’t mean there ain’t one out there.  There are a lot of animals in the bottom lands that nobody has ever seen.”

“You’re just saying that to keep me from going out huntin’ for squirrel with my Pa.”

“Do you want to hear about Hickory Jones and his elephant or not, Ralph?”

 "It’d be something to tell Pa about.”

 "Only smart kids are privileged to hear about Hickory Jones.”

Ralph puffs up and sits still as he looks up with expectations at the great story teller of the red clay hills.  “O.K. So tell it.”

 Carol Lee hesitates.   "I don't think you're ready for this tale."  After all, she is not accustomed to wasting her talents on delivering her stories to just one lone desperado in a vegetable bin jail house.  Suddenly, she jumps up and jumps down from the red clay bank.

 "I don’t think you know anything….”

 Carl hops down into the cellar.

“Was you about to yodel?”

 "The lamp light through the cracks in the floor are dim, and I  just turned off the cellar lamp with no more matches for a relight, so I figured I’d need more light to read the story."

Carl scolded her.  “Carol Lee, you know what your Mama told you about telling us them lies.”

  The blonde cousin retaliated quickly.  "You know grownups just get upset when they’re not the ones telling the stories.  Now that’s a lot worse than my stories."  She takes a step up and looks out the door.  "By the way, where’s the prisoners?”

  "They took off for the bottoms when they heard Abe Rainey’s dogs barking down there.”

 "They’re gonna git theirselves shot for shore.”

 "They’ll come arunning.”  Carol Lee raises back her head and opens her mouth.

Mama shakes her head as she and Grandma both stand and watch the twelve-year old as the yodel echoes across the gullies.  “That girl has the strongest lungs of any kid I’ve ever seen.”

Grandma yells, "Carol Lee, you know the Bible says only Roosters can yodel and whistle.  You're a hen."

Carol Lee doubts the Bible says that but the yodel stops as her brothers come running up the hill from the bottom land. 

  “What are you two doing down there? Didn’t you hear them dogs.  And where there’s guns, there’s stray bullets.  Now unless you go directly with a grown hunter, you’re not to be going down there.”

As Carol Lee turns around, Ralph comes up out of the root cellar and stands by Carl.  Mama said, “All of you go wash up for supper.  Carol Lee, you come and help with setting the table and you boys can bring up the water from the well.  And Carol Lee, shut that cellar door.  You younguns' know you're not suppose to be leaving that open.”

  “Grandma, can we set on the porch tonight and listen to the haunt stories with the men folk?”

  "Right now, Carl, you and Junior go get the water and Ralph and Lyndon, go haul in some more kindling wood.”

As Carol Lee follows Mama and Grandma into the house, Ralph whispers to his girl cousin, “Tell us about Hickory Jones and his elephant in the morning.”

Carol hangs back and whispers. “Meet me out by the wood cutting trail after breakfast dishes are done and bring the other boys.”

Ralph turns to follow Lyndon to the wood pile as Carl says to Junior, “That sister of yours sure knows how to weave tales.”

“Yeah, if she keeps telling lies, she’s gonna be the subject of them devil tales that the old men tell on the porch every night.”

Carol Lee pokes her head out of the kitchen window and says through the screen, “Yeah and if you don’t get to that water toting, Grandma’s gonna help you out of your skin.”

Later after she finishes washing and putting away the supper dishes, Carol Lee chuckles as she remembers how fast the boys took off for the well.  Well, she knows the boys will be waiting tomorrow after breakfast dishes to hear her story and this delay gives her a whole night of extra time to think up that tale.




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