As a Child I Prayed it was the Way…#119

 

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As a Child I Prayed, it was the Way…

Knarred pines below the mountain where we lived were living gravestones on the
land we called home high above them was the kudzu-shrouded caves where I played with constant skinned knees, Hoarfrost eyes and long black braids. Below this mountain was hallowed ground and beneath decaying pine needles the bleached bones of my ancestors lay hidden in the mounds.

My Great-grandmother whom we all call “Ma” said the mountain was like a cathedral, a place where she took me every morning to pray, she told me that it was our way. As the night shadows disappeared in the mornings golden rays, we raised our palms toward the sky to bless another day.

Ma’s voice strong and clear begin to chant in her native tongue the words robust and bold; it came from deep within her as if orchestrated by her Soul. Floating across the mountains scarred face her mantra rose to the Great Mystery – her God, she said that I must always honor this sacred place.

She told me that the sounds of a waking earth should reminded us of how the world came to be, her prayers spoke of rebirth and how our Souls would someday be free. We walked through emerald grass damp with morning dew, the unseen breeze kissed our face, and she believed that with the beginning of each morning our life was once again renewed.

We hurried to the creek behind our tarpaper shanty to wash away all of Yesterday’s sorrows. I held her hand wishing that this were how our lives would always be, that I would never grow up and she would never grow old, and it would always be Ma and me. Yes when I was a child my Great-grandmother taught me many lessons about life, it was the way.
©2019.elizabethannjohnsonmurphree

 

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Art and Writing…#109

I have shared below a few of my own art collection, during a time when I was in grief over the loss of my child I placed my thoughts, scenes from my childhood into painting in acrylics and watercolors.  My hope is that someday they will become family treasures.  I continue to paint today for my enjoyment.

 

 

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Freedom…#108

 

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A short-short story

Freedom…

 
The young man standing over the battered woman was bitter with his life; filled with arguments and questions he was unyielding. He needed no prompting; his waking hours devoted to causing heartache, pain and suffering. He had a skill for creating pain, even in his passionate moments. His joy was to reign over his rightful possession, his wife. On their first day of marriage, she would cease to have a will of her own, she was afraid and she obeyed. To serve, to have no mind of her own, without any support from others she too thought that he owned her. She would never be his equal, when he was with her his words brought new bleeding to her heart and mind. He was only satisfied when he drew blood, his appetite for hurting never ceased.

 
He had broken their vows thousands of times, his mouth foul and dishonest with an adulterous heart beating within his broad barrel chest. She thought maybe his past, his youth; his own suffering at the hands of another had brought him to this day? He was not true or kind; he felt no shame in the bruises he left behind. Among those who knew him, he could do no harm; people did not know him. She had not asked for pearls or rubies, and she did not ask that her blood be spread across every moment of her life. His moods released terror in his path, and eventually she lay like twisted metal after it had met with deadly winds. She felt no worth, or equalities, she believed in only his wrath and his sickly attempts to have her go mad.

 
His affections never tender, many times, she was like a lamb to be killed at the altar by his manic desires. At times when people would try to get acquainted with her, he and only he owned her. The scars of battle went unseen; she was a caged animal in their home. Her discipline she held by grace but she vowed never give in to the bond he commanded, she fought back.  One day she rose from the floor screaming at him, “Your fist no longer stings, my stomach will no longer will live in knots, and my body will no longer be confined. Your torture inflames my spirit, it does not kill it; I will no longer cringe in shame and silence, and I will no longer suffer the pain; I will no longer live in shock or fear.”

 
Later that night she asks herself did her torturer have a soul; did he take an oath with the Devil? She did not weep, she did not cry, or show fear, “It is the last time,” she thought. She was not aware of the time that he put the poison in her food, but she somehow sensed that she was going to die that night. He would never let her leave him, with her face covered with tears she closed her eyes, there was no one to hear her moans, and she could not escape the tragedy of her life. Finally, she fell into a sleep from she would not wake from, a final thought danced across her dying mind, she was free.

 

 

©2019.elizabethannjohnsonmurphree

 
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Why I Write…#101

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I have been writing from childhood, the clumsy print on the “Big Chief” pads to the journal keeping throughout my life. I begin to try to learn the craft of writing via courses at the local college; I begin to write seriously upon retirement. I started with the creation of poetry, wrote a non-fiction and have many short stories shelved in the closet.

Grace Paley and Anne Lamott are my favorite writers neither are afraid of controversy. I have been to lectures from both and Grace Paley appeals to me with her “voice”. I have learned the skill of finding my own voice and writing from Anne Lamott. She taught me that becoming a writer is about becoming mindful, picture what you want to write and write it.

In my writing real people appear in fictionalized form in my short stories and poetry. My poetry is mostly freestyle or free verse; I do not like to focus totally on meter or rhyme. Although, many of my poems have elements of both, I live by the rule anything is possible with I am writing a freestyle poem.

My reason for writing is to communicate with readers, to stimulate interest or a reaction. However, my primary reason for writing is to try to reach the subconscious flow of thoughts. To bring forth useful opinion from my readers through all forms of writing. My poetry is a creative transfiguration of reality. My short stories most times center on events that actually took place, however, they are for entertainment.

Have a great Thursday; it is cold here in southern Wisconsin.

E.

 

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The Baby’s not Crying…#98

A short-short story – The Baby’s not Crying
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In the cold damp room, soft moans came from the young woman lying on the bed; she was a live skeleton covered pale flesh; beneath her, a cornhusk mattress covered with a collection of old newspapers and worn out sheets made from bleached flour sacks waiting for the reality of the coming birth. Her strength gone, she looked out the window at the moon, it appeared to be hanging on an invisible thread in the darkness, she prayed to who she thought may be holding the moon in place; another invisible person…GOD. In the waning May  moonlight, she did not hear the baby crying, tears fell from the corner of her eyes the pain unbearable, the birth was over; she looked at the motionless baby at the foot of the iron bed; maybe it would die soon. She heard no crying.
“Miss Sarah you have a baby girl,” Allimay Schumaker their neighbor and a mid-wife whispered softly as she tried to place the baby in her mother’s arms.
“Get it away from me”, the sound came between clenched teeth, like a caged angry wild animal but it was only a whisper.
Mrs. Schumaker tried again to place the baby in her mothers’ arms, “She so tiny Miss Sarah, I doubt she will live don’t you want to hold her”.
“I told you to get it away from me”.
After cleaning up the bed and throwing everything including the remains of the baby’s lifeline to its mother into a burning barrel, Allimay walked across the open breezeway of the two-pin split log house that separated the sleeping room from the cooking room, and at one time slave quarters. She paused for a moment pulling back the cover from the baby’s face, two dark blue eyes stared back at her; long dark hair curled around the baby’s shoulders. She gave a sigh and walked through the door.
Ray James sat on a homemade chair in front of their fieldstone fireplace in the cooking room. He worried about his wife, and his baby; his biggest fear, losing one or both of them. He had sat there for hours, he heard no moaning or cries of pain, the silence between the two rooms was still like a frozen fog. He did not hear anything; perhaps both his baby and his wife were dead. Quietly, Allimay came into the room, so softly that not one board creaked from the weight of her colossal body, she smiled, holding out the tiny bundle.
“Mr. Ray, you have a little Indian baby, black hair just like you” she gently laid the baby in his rough work worn hands. He laughed pulling back the covers from the tiny bundle so small it fit in his hand.
“Mr. Ray you need to get ready to lose this little one, she is so small, Miss Sarah doesn’t want her and she doesn’t have any milk”. She dabbed at her eyes.
“Well Mr. Ray she is all cleaned up and you need to call out Miss Sarah’s Uncle; that doctor from Hartselle. She repeated herself dabbing at her eyes; she shore don’t want this baby. I have to go now, if you need me ring the big bell on the porch somebody will hear it. I have to go take care of my own family now, but I will keep Miss Bobbie for a few days.”
Allimay Schumaker had nine children of her own, one more would not matter; she glanced in one more time on the lifeless woman, closed the door gently and walked slowly up the narrow rutted road.
“Thank you very much Missus Schumaker, I’ll be lying in a cord of wood for you helping Sarah”, he then sat for a moment staring at the tiny life he held in his hands no more than twelve inches long and maybe two pounds.
Ray shook his head bringing himself back to reality; Sarah had gotten rid of the baby bed years ago, announcing that she did not want any more children. He lay the baby down on the fireplace hearth, going into the other room to search for a box. He found a box, returning to the baby never looking at his wife. He knew that Sarah chose starvation trying to lose the baby. She knew that if she starved so would the baby. There was a possibility that her method would not work, he was not one to pray; but he did when he saw what she was doing. Now, he stood looking down at the result of her starvation.
Sarah lay still on the bed, pretending to be asleep so she would not have to look at Ray all the while wishing the crying that sounded more like a kitten mewing instead of a human baby coming from the other room would stop. She turned on her side watching the watery blue liquid dropping on the sheet from her breast; she knew that she had no milk.
Ray weighed the baby with a two-pound cotton pee and the baby could not pull it down to measure, it was less than two pounds. Cotton pees, a bell like object with a hook on it; was made of solid steel. A measuring bar would have a sack of cotton on one end and a pee of various weights put on the other to measure the cottons weight; this time the scale did not budge.
William Schumaker, Allimay owned his land, and they all tried to survive in the miserable days following the depression. Ray worked for Mr. Burleson, the wealthiest man in Morgan County; the land that the old log house stood on was Burleson land and at one time housed slaves that worked the land. They used the same well, the same chicken house and stanchion for the cow; the only difference in the house, floors had been laid in several years ago. He believed that Mr. Burleson respected him, he was a hard worker, and the land he worked yielded more than most who sharecropped. Time had not taken away the horror brought upon those long ago tenants; from the top to the lowest of people in the south continued to believe Indians and Negro’s were lower than the animals on the land.
Ray stoked at the fire his thoughts wandered toward the time when he first met Sarah. She was at a local Roadhouse in Flint, Alabama with her sister Mary Sue.   She was out on the dance floor having a good time; Sarah sat at a table in the back of the room hoping no one would see her. She and Mary Sue had slipped out after their parents were asleep; Mary Sue had a boyfriend; they met them at the road below Burleson Mountain. If they were caught, it would be Sarah that got beat. She would be told that she should know better, not Mary Sue. She did not look like she wanted any company. Ray had known of the place for years, it was one of his stops when he was running whisky from South Alabama to Chicago, Illinois. No one could have told him then that he would have a wife and two daughters a few years later on that early May morning.
He had come to Morgan County because of Ma, his grandmother. His last run was a bad one, his car had been shot up by Tennessee law enforcement, and he had barely got away from them. He was known by the local law enforcement but the people who hired him to run whiskey, except them ole boys in Tennessee, paid them off, they did not take bribes! He drove from South Alabama to Chicago, through Tennessee; his speed would surpass the power of any car and put the needle on his dash out of sight. He would laugh every time he told that story. Ma was right he needed to lay low for a while; it had been his dream to return to Birmingham to play baseball for the Birmingham Black Bears, a minor team. No one knew that it was him driving the car no one knew his name. That was all gone, playing baseball lying dead in his past he had responsibilities now!
Bobbie, their first child, was the only child that Sarah wanted. She had nine brothers and sisters, she help deliver most of them and raised them until the day her daddy kicked her out. She lay crying thinking that maybe her strength would return so she could take care of herself and Bobbie, for days she still held onto the idea that this baby would die. Sarah had hope to stop at giving birth to one child, she was tired of being poor; she wanted to make a better life by going to work.
Sarah appeared disappointed that the baby had survived such a difficult birth. She was very ill herself, both physically and mentally; unhappy that she had another child, one she did not want. She rolled over falling into a fretful sleep; maybe when she woke she would have a funeral to attend.
Old Doc White, Sarah’s Uncle came after the baby was born; her mother’s brother lived and had his practice in Hartselle, Alabama, he said the baby was too small but seem healthy and Sarah was despondent as many mothers are after delivering a baby. He said only time could help his niece or the baby. He left saying he would register the baby’s birth when he returned to Hartselle.
Sarah chose not to have anything to do with the baby; she left it up to Ray to care for her. Their oldest daughter, Bobbie came back home and she did help all she could, but the ability to care for a sick baby and mother was not possible for the six-year-old. Ray could see that it was impossible to leave Sarah alone with Bobbie and a baby to work the fields. He walked a few days later to the Schumaker’ s and called his sister Bianna.
She came that night to stay with him for a few days. Bianna had given birth to a baby, girl born only weeks before and the baby was stillborn. She and her husband Jesse had two boys, Bart and James. She was in mourning, but she loved her brother and he needed help. Vina knew that Sarah did not care for her but she always tried to overlook her actions.
When she arrived, she found Ruth despondent and Roy worried, both were at odds with each other. Ruth had refused to try nursing or care for her baby. Now she was upset that Vina was there, within days, Roy agreed that the baby could return to Birmingham with Vina.
Vina, left with the baby in a shoebox stuffed with cotton from the nearby field and covered with flour sacks for a blanket. Before she left, her daddy named her Betsy. Therefore, Betsy was born on May 3, 1949, a beautiful month in Northern Alabama. The buttercups, lilac and forsythia bushes were blooming around the Two-Pen cabin Ray called home. Kudzu vines were covering a make shift chicken house and the “Outhouse”. Beyond, a small barn surrounded by razor sharp Johnson grass bordered acres of freshly plowed ground waiting to nurture the seeds of what the south called white gold … cotton.
Bianna raised the baby girl until she graduated from college; she gave her everything a child would need. Ray tried to get to Birmingham once a month to see his baby until she started school, then on holidays. Sarah always stayed behind with the only child she would ever want.

©2019.elizabethannjohnsonmurphree

 

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The Aunt’s and the World’s Oldest Profession…#94

 

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The Aunt’s and the “World’s Oldest Profession”

 
A Short-Short Story…

 
In the early 1800s, the hectic harbor in Mobile, Alabama was bustling with upriver planters who came to town for the annual cotton-marketing season. Along the waterfront a variety of establishments from boarding houses, hotels, saloons and places know as the Gentlemen’s Entertainment Club, as a group these clubs were known as “Shakespeare’s Row”. During the South’s Antebellum Era prostitution ranked right up there with vagrancy and public intoxication. It later became a prohibition of any disorderly behavior public or privately. The fines for “keeping a disorderly house” ranged from $5 to $10; there were no consistent laws on the subject.

 
It was during mid-1850, that my Aunt Molly and Modena Veste found themselves visiting a distant cousin in Mobile near the waterfront. They had inherited from their Aunt Ira a hotel outside Birmingham, Alabama and after working night and day for months decided to give themselves a vacation. Leaving the Veste Hotel in the capable hands of their hired staff off the two went on their Mobile Bay retreat. When they inherited their Aunt Ira’s Hotel the entire family encouraged them to turn their lives around and make a living running the upper-class establishment.

 
It was toward the end of their stay they ventured onto Shakespeare’s Row. Neither Molly nor Modena wavered from having a good time; they walked right into the first Club they came too. Inside they sat at a table, ordered brandy and observed the atmosphere around them. It was then that the idea of turning the Veste Hotel into a “Gentleman’s Club” became an adventure of the mind.

 
They did not identify themselves with the Shakespeare Row Madame’s, but they did discover since their younger days their need to pander with men. Upon their return to Birmingham they closed the hotel, purchased new furnishings, created a gentleman’s’ room and put their business plan into effect. The Veste Gentleman’s Club was born.
These two women catered to the wealthy, cards, cigars and liquor became the enticement. Upon paying a substantial monthly fee to join and a daily fee before entering deposited at the door would give the gentleman their choice of available “Ladies of Pleasure” or “Ladies of Easy Virtue” for one hour. The city law enforcement agreed to turn their heads to these nightly “Whore Parties” for a reasonable annual tax! A wink and a nod condoned and protected prostitution at the Veste Gentleman’s Club for almost 50 years.

 
Therefore, my aunts Miss Molly and Miss Modena brought the red-light district to Northern Alabama. It was one of the few buildings left standing when Yankee troops pilfered their way through the south. The women in the hotel were not cheap, but to test the virtuous caverns of the Veste sisters’ could be costly.

 

 
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Anger and Sadness…#88

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Anger and Sadness
Doubt and despair, there is no end, life comes and goes, and no one knows

how it will end. My child’s pure light flickering then silenced; no longer with

us our angel delight.

Words like a blade thirsting for blood, I could not save her with a mother’s

love. The day over, my heart ripped from my bosom tossed into the night,

with the sunrise your soul took flight.

God let me see you blossom, he let me see you grow; when he wanted you

back know one would know. Anger and sadness cloak me, I will never be

free, my child is gone and with it, I watched my happiness flee.

 

©2019.elizabethannjohnsonmurphree

 

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11th                                                        Cover Artwork by Author

Beyond the Voices

 

Benevolent Memories

I have enough memories from the past to last me for the rest of my life. My bountiful memory will not bury them from which they were born.

A small country church, a chorus of crows; the splashing sounds of the brook running through the Birch trees. The wind caressing the colossal row of Oaks in the field.

Death, a road away from the weathered house of worship, followed by black feathered angels. No longer will the water beneath the Birch cool, nor will the winds surrounding the Oaks embrace flesh.

The rocker on the porch is stilled, no hand waves goodbye. In a cobwebbed corner of the room, the sun shines through a cloudy window, as the image of tattered curtains dance in a nearby mirror. Childhood is dead.