Please welcome guest author Mary Frances Hylton. Ms. Hylton descends from a long line of folks who came to this country in the 1600’s. She was born in Roanoke, VA and spent her summers in Copper Valley, Floyd County, VA. She attended Los Andes University in South America, and taught English as a Second Language for 17 years before returning to the US, where she earned her Bachelors Degree in Business and Spanish Education from Barry University. She is a retired Spanish Teacher and a member of Tampa Writers Alliance. Mary has been published in Florida Creative Living. She is a Florida broker/owner of Mary Johnson Real Estate in Lutz, FL. We’re pleased to offer you an excerpt from her newly published children’s book ‘A Trip to the Country Store with Grandpa.’
Every summer, I would visit Copper Valley, VA with my mom, and she would drop me off at my grandparents’ house. At the time, I had no idea where she would go; I was only six years old. It was just me and my grandparents. I really got to know them well and loved helping out around the farm.
It was quiet in the country, with lots of things to do: feed the horses, cows, and chickens, help with the gardening, gather the eggs, and bring buckets of water from the spring (as there wasn’t any running water to the house.)
There was no electricity either, just a glass oil lamp whose contents would wobble if the lamp were tilted and not carried straight. On many occasions, I was asked to bring it and was reminded to carry it properly.
Then Grandma would light it. The glass shade kept the fire inside, which gave off a bit of brightness in the dark kitchen. Bright enough that Grandma with her spectacles could read the Bible to us.
Then on Sundays the big thing to do was to dress up in our best clothes, (Grandpa and me) and head down the mountain side, across the creek on the foot log to “Uncle Leonard’s barn.” There we would sit on a chopped stump – well, Grandpa would – and I would just look for three leaf clovers and whatever else caught my eye. Grandpa wore a dark suit with a white long sleeve shirt. His hair was white as a ghost and his eyes the color of steel. When a car came around the curve, which wasn’t very often, Grandpa would raise his hand and wave at them. I too, would stop what I was doing, catching the excitement of Grandpa. I would wave, but – with a lot of eagerness!
What a game that was, and it was so much fun to see other folks, since we were so far out in the country. I would jump high in the air with my ponytail (which was down to my waist) flying in the wind, and waving both hands with lots of energy, as I kept jumping. Then, those passing by would smile and laugh and honk their horn. Grandpa always got tickled seeing how I could draw laughter, a honk and a wave.
Grandpa Sledd was of German descent, slim built and not too tall, with a hump in the middle of his back. I suppose it appeared on his back after bending and stooping over for so many years. He worked his large 100 acre farm every day. It sat on half a mountain side; there were always apple trees in need of pruning, there was planting and hoeing and tending to the livestock. It was hard work even for a young whippersnapper — and Grandpa was in his 80’s.
Grandpa had stern blue eyes that seemed to cry out to those watching him work, that there would be no foolishness tolerated around him. He was all business.
He was quick tempered and slow to smile. Hard work was his only master, and that he did well. When he would take me to the country store to barter with Grandma’s butter, only then would he seem to be pleased to sit by the hot, black, potbelly stove and chat with the men about politics, and muse with them about what the country was coming to.
“Mary,” Grandpa said, “Come on here.” He was standing at the counter getting change.
I walked over to him.
“Would you like some soda pop?” He said.
“What’s that, Grandpa?” I replied.
“Here, I will buy you one and you will see what it’s like.”
Grandpa walked with me over to the long red box that stood in the corner. He put five cents into the slot and said, walking away, “There you go!”
I had no idea what I was supposed to do. I edged myself over to the huge square red box that read “Coca-Cola” on it, lifted the heavy top and looked in. A long rail held many bottles of brown stuff. What was I supposed to do now?
Evie Duncan, the owner of the store, seeing I was having trouble, called out to me “Mary, honey—just slide the Coke bottle around to the end of the rail and it will come out then. Wait, I’ll come over there and show you.” She walked over to me and said “Grab one of the bottles.”
Grandpa was off talking to the men again, paying me no attention.
I grabbed one of the bottles.
“Now hold on to it until it reaches the end,” she said kindly.
It was cold and hard to hold onto, and it took a little while before I could manage to get it to the end of all the rails. With a lot of strength and anticipation of what it would taste like I managed to pull it straight up.
I stood looking at the bottle, not knowing how I was going to open it or what to do next. The men were talking.
Evie stood beside me. “Mary, see here?” as she pointed to the side of the red box.
“The bottle opener is on the side” said Evie. I looked at the opener and still didn’t know what to do with it. She was patient and showed me how to open the bottle with the strange looking ‘bottle opener.’
Pop, went the top! It spewed out, landing slap-dab on Evie.
“Ahhh, this is so good!” I exclaimed, when the sweet cold fizz entered my mouth and made its way down my throat. Evie laughed. That was my first taste of soda pop and it was exuberating.
I was hooked. I loved the sweet fizzing taste in my mouth. I then strutted over and joined the men. I had learned something new and I was just happy sitting there listening to the men laugh while I enjoyed my soda pop. Grandpa looked toward me, and seemed to be amused by my delight in such a simple treat.
“Ahhh”, I sighed again as the cool sweet Dr. Pepper washed down my throat. The men laughed.
I would sit and listen to Grandpa what seemed like hours, talking with the men about politics. I would break away only to go out the screened door to visit with our Shepherd dog, Fido, who was laying right beside the wagon hitched to our mighty horse, Star.
I talked to Star, petted Fido and threw some rocks into the creek behind the store while wondering what all the talk was about. Then I brought Fido into the store where we both sat down beside Grandpa.
Grandpa stopped talking to the men and looked down at me and Fido and said, “Fido, would you rather be dead or a darn Democratic?”
With that, Fido would turn over on his back and play dead. All the men laughed hysterically and I did too. I wondered how Grandpa got Fido to do that trick. I really wanted to know about the “Darn Democratic” thing but Grandpa didn’t explain.
After fixing the world and making Fido roll over, Grandpa would walk out and untie the horse from the hitching post. This time, I said “Grandpa, can I unhitch Star?” I was determined to be like Grandpa.
“No, Mary you just climb into the wagon, you hear!” His voice was stern. I had seen Grandpa untie the horse and I knew I could do it too. I was disappointed I couldn’t be more like Grandpa.
I had named the horse ‘Star’ because of the figure on its forehead. The wagon and wheels were made of wood and in the back we would carry the supplies that Grandma needed. Grandpa and I would sit on the long wooden seat up front. Grandpa sat to the right with reins in his hand, and I sat on the left. Fido wasn’t allowed in the wagon with the supplies, so he would follow us, as we took off down the road.
Grandpa wouldn’t say hardly a word on the way back, as he seemed to be in a trance, probably still mulling over in his head how the government should be run! Only when a car came along did he break his trance and wave slightly, and so did I – with a smile. Only the sound of Star’s metal horseshoes could be heard on the paved road—clink clank, clink clank—until we got to the grassy area at Uncle Leonard’s red barn.
We passed Uncle Leonard’s red barn, then down the river bank and slowly into the river. Star would balk a little at first, but with Grandpa’s strong firm hands on the reins and with the whip in his hand, Star would swim. Following the wagon, Fido would keep his head out of the water and swim too.
“Grandpa, aren’t we going to sink?” I shouted, scared out of my mind.
“No, Mary the wagon is made out of wood so it floats. We will be just fine.”
I didn’t think so, as the water crept inside the wooden slats in the bottom of the wagon touching my toes. We finally made it to the other side of the river, and only then did my heart stop beating so rapidly. I trusted Grandpa.
We moved out of the river and up the riverbank, and with the last yank of the reins and effort from Star, we were prancing along lickety split up the dirt pathway and around the mountain side.
It seemed like it would never end. Around and around we would go. I was sitting high up on the seat and on the outside – with a splendid view of the mountains! If only my nerves would have allowed me to focus on that view. But, no! I could see far down the mountainside, which sent goose bumps running up and down my spine. The dirt pathway was very narrow, and at times Star would come awful close to the edge.
Star’s snorting didn’t help relieve my nerves either, as she would sling her head back and forth, sending hot mucus everywhere. I leaned in toward Grandpa, toward the safe part of the mountain.
I yelled at Grandpa “Please, Grandpa, can I get out?” knowing that I was about to die.