The Curve

“You know where that curve is? Well, if you go straight right there at that curve, up that little gully there, that used to be a road. About a mile up in the woods, there was a house. There are still some foundation stones if you know where to look. That's where Grover Thacker lived” his blue eyes twinkled a smile as he told the story.

“He didn’t have much of a house, really. But, he always had a good garden. Something about the soil up in that part of the woods, I guess. The clearing was just big enough to let the right amount of sunlight in, too. You can barely even tell there was a clearing there now,” he said, remembering things the way he liked them a little better.
“Grover had the best rocking chair I’ve ever seen. He made it himself out of a hickory that blew over into his garden one year. That had to be 50 years ago” his forehead furrowed a bit as he tried to do the math without having the numbers. “Maybe more.”
“He used to let me hunt squirrels if I didn’t get too close to the house. I always let him have a couple of young gray squirrels. He liked that gamy taste of a gray. Lots of old folks do. I usually killed ten or twelve. That was before there were limits on how many you could kill.”
A cool summer breeze blew across the porch and the wind chimes answered with a quiet song. The air carried the smell of someone’s fresh-cut hay. He leaned forward and took a deep breath to enjoy its aroma. He looked at me and nodded, “That’s about as good as it gets.”
I couldn’t argue with him on this point. There are few things better than the smell of cut hay drying in a field. Blooming honeysuckle, perfuming heavy evening air as it cools for the night, is pretty close. Neither lasts long enough.
“On up beyond Grover’s another half mile or so, there was a barn with a pond. It was more like a big shed with the doors missing. Grover didn’t know whose barn it was. It had just always sorta ‘been there’, ya know?”
“What do you mean he didn’t know whose barn it was?” I asked.
“Well, it wasn’t on his property, really. Grover’s grandfather settled that ridge not long after the government took the land from the Indians. Well, bought it, I guess.  And, back then, nobody was really sure where property lines were because there were no property lines.  And, there weren’t any roads that far in the woods. And, nobody really cared, anyway.  So, Grover’s family, the Ooleys, just sorta stayed to themselves and didn’t bother anyone. And, nobody bothered them,” he said, rocking chair creaking on the porch floor.
“So, I’d get off work on Saturday night…I was working for the C’s then. And, we didn’t have to work Sundays. They didn’t like for us to leave camp, but I always snuck home anyway to get my rifle…”
“You worked for ‘the C’s’? What’s that?” I interrupted.
“The CCC: Civilian Conservation Corps. I lied about my age to get in because I was too young. I had to. I needed a job.” He went on to explain how he had worked in various camps around southern Indiana.  “We’d build roads for a few months. Then, plant trees where the timber had been clear-cut. We built levees along the Ohio River. We just did whatever needed to be done.” 
I could tell he had fond memories of his time in ‘The C’s’. He knew that being in a camp was the difference between surviving and not.  A hard day’s work and hot evening’s meal wasn’t guaranteed to anyone during the dismal ‘Great Depression’.  Those that had a chance for both didn’t pass it up.
Dishes clattered in the kitchen and we could hear parts of one side of a conversation through the screened window over the sink.  “Then bring me two,” June yelled down the basement stairs.  The smell of ‘sweet rolls’ being baked mingled with the fragrance of drying hay, and the air was happy to have the mix.    
“So, after work on Saturday,” he continued with his story, “I’d get a hitch home and get my rifle and head to the barn on the hill behind Grover’s house. That’s where I’d sleep so I could be in the woods at daybreak. If you’re in the woods when it gets light, squirrels don’t know you’re there. Then, it’s easier to get a shot when they start moving around.”   
He told of leaving his shoes, the only pair he owned, in the barn while he hunted barefoot. Sneaking up on a feisty gray squirrel was hard enough in the August forest, and dry leaves and brittle sticks were more forgiving to a shoeless foot.
He’d hunt from the first light of the day until 9:30 or 10:00. Then, with ten or twelve squirrels, hanging by their tails from his belt, he’d head to Grover’s for leftover biscuits and gravy and whatever game had been Grover’s meal the night before. 
“I’d clean a couple squirrels for him and he’d bring a big plate of food out for me. We’d sit on the porch and talk. Other than June, he made the best biscuits I’ve ever had. He had it made back there.  Some people would be lonely, go crazy, living like that. Not Grover. He’d go months and months without going into town.”
“He had everything he needed and wanted. I’m pretty sure if it hadn’t been for me, he’d not see a person for weeks at a time. And, I think the only reason he went to town was to see Bea, his daughter.  She didn’t come out much after her mom died. Not that she didn’t want to. I think it just turned out that way.  You know how it is?” 
The sound of struggling machinery was getting louder to our left. Warren Dyer, driving his old Allis-Chalmers tractor with a wagon of hay in tow, rounded the curve and stuck his hand in the air as he passed. Dust from the gravel road followed him as he slowed to make a left turn at the crossroad.
“If we don’t get some rain soon, there’s not gonna be any corn,” Peb said, watching the dust cloud drift across the lawn.  “I’m glad I’ve got all my hay up already. I should have enough to get through winter.”
“I’m not doing a wash ‘til tomorrow. You’ll have to wear those,” came through the window. Not long after, a horsefly bounced off the screen and landed on its back on the porch, spinning like a top. 
“So, one day I was hunting quail in a thicket along Raccoon Creek, just below Grover’s house. It was getting late and I was skunked. I hadn’t even got a shot off.  I knew I was running out of time, so I headed up stream to Sammy Ooley’s field. He had just picked his corn, and I knew if I was going to get Grover a bird, it had to be right there.”
“Sure enough, I hadn’t even stepped in the field yet and a covey got up. I cracked down on ‘em and saw two birds go down with one shot. I thought about trying to get ‘em up again, but it was getting dark and two birds was good enough. So, I stuck ‘em in my pouch and headed to Grover’s. He was wanting a bird for Sunday dinner and I had him one.”
“If he hadn’t had a kerosene lantern burning on the porch, I wouldn’t have been able to see his house. He didn’t have electricity and it was always dark in the woods.  He was sitting in his rocking chair as I walked up the steps. I said ‘I gotcha one, Grover’. But, he was dead.”
“When he didn’t say anything back, I knew it was bad. So, I touched his hand and it was cold. It was still clamped on to the arm of the chair right here,” he said, showing where Grover’s hand had been when he died. “I sat on the step and cried like a baby.” 
“Dinner’s on the table, daddy!”

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Felix J. McGillicuddy