Esther Emerson-Taylor had a green thumb and hair colored the same shade as the skin on a tomato. The annual seeds planted in her garden came back every year like perennials. The heads of her zinnias were as round as a child’s face. Her marigolds grew taller than sunflowers. Rhubarb in her garden was so succulent, that it bled after a good rain.
Esther cultivated fake plastic flowers from the Five and Dime in her garden too. The artificial posies were her solution for confronting possible droughts and she never had to watch them die. She couldn’t get over how real they looked and how inexpensive they were.
Her best friend was Eva Bumgardener– a short, polyester pant-suit wearing former hippy with curly hair and thick glasses that darkened automatically when the sun came out. Despite at least three chins, Eva’s rather small, puckered lips, always covered in a tasty Raspberry lip gloss, could move a mile a minute. When she yapped, she blinked, and when she blinked, she nodded her head, and after making whatever point she was making when telling a story, she’d unconsciously pull her blouses down over her fat belly, stretching the polyester momentarily to reach across wide hips that were used for resting freckled hands. She wore a wig on her head. Esther didn’t know, or at least she pretended like she didn’t realize that Eva wore a wig.
Eva visited Esther almost every day at Esther’s farm on Stonecreek Ridge. There were very few animals remaining on the farm in 1972– a few chickens clucked around and a goat named Roger kept Esther company while I was in Kindergarten in the mornings, when Eva was still at her house in town sleeping, refusing to get up with the roosters.
“My goodness, look at these flowers! You should open your own produce market,” Eva shouted from near a trellis of grapevines which separated the dirt driveway from a large yard filled with cherry trees, a rusty toy tricycle and a sandbox littered with colorful plastic shovels and buckets. Eva slammed the door to her cadillac shut and walked towards Esther’s garden and trailer. Immediately she smelled the honeysuckles that grew near the well. Esther was out working in her garden as usual. I was making sand houses, for it had just rained and the sand in my box was like clay good for molding that morning.
“I brought you two loaves of bread from the Country Garden Market like you asked of me. How are you today, Esther? Where’s Charlie? I’m surprised he’s not helping you as usual. I still got that God awful pain in my big toe. I put on some of that Rose Bud Salve you gave me. It feels better already. That’s why I’m wearing flip-flops today,” Eva explained, blinking her eyes and sticking out her foot to show off a pretty shade of ruby nail polish painted on her sunburnt feet.
“I like the color of your nail polish. Where did you find it?”
“The Five and Dime. I thought you would like it. I bought it for you, but I wanted to try it out first.”
“Thank you, Eva! There are two pints of Rhubarb butter in the trailer for you.”
Eva took the time to smell every open bloom in the garden while Esther remained bent over in a pair of checkered cherry slacks. She was busy pulling out weeds from the rows of crops that grew in near- perfect parallel lines. Smelling the pretty flowers in Esther’s garden was a habit of Eva’s. Taking the time to smell every one of them gave the two friends a reason to spend so much time together outside, sharing gossip and beauty tips around the flowers. Esther stood up, propped a hoe under her arm pit and listened to Eva run her mouth for hours in the mid-day sun. Eva repetitiously placed her nose into all the flowers, including the blossoms on the cucumber vines.
“Does she ever shut up?” Esther whispered to me as Eva rattled on about her son, Jim, the game warden whose job it was to protect and preserve wildlife on Stonecreek Ridge. Eva liked to brag about a how intelligent Jim supposedly was.
“He should’ve gone to college, Esther. He is so bright– a hell of a lot smarter than his daddy was!” Eva talked on and on as bees fluttered around in the warm morning air, fulfilling their pollination duties. Eva looked just like a bumble bee in Esther’s view. The constant humming from her lips was very similar to that of an insect, and the way she had to poke her nose against every flower in the garden was almost obscene.
“You look like a wasp in those glasses. Why are you smelling that yellow flower? I told you that pumpkin blossoms don’t have a scent. Stop that. Watch out! There’s a bee in that one!”
Eva, after swatting a yellow jacket flying near her ear, bent down and placed her nose on a plastic pink rose from the Five and Dime store and flat out lied. “Oh, this one smells real good Esther! I just love the smell of Irish roses.”
“Eva, that’s a plastic flower. Look at it closely, ya damned fool. I got you good,” exclaimed Esther while rolling her eyes and holding her belly in laughter.
“Oh Esther, you are so clever. It only goes to show how beautiful your flower garden is,” sniffed Eva.
“Eva, you talk too much. Sometimes I think you see things with your mouth.”
“I talk so much to you because you are a good listener. I don’t care to see many people in my old age. I hate all those fuckers in town. I keep it all inside. I can’t help my big mouth. I’m sorry! I’m going home now. I know I can be too much sometimes, but I have no one else to talk to or call my friend” said Eva sadly while scratching her wig and swatting a swarm of gnats that didn’t seem to bother Esther the same way.
“Besides Charlie, you are the only friend who comes to see my flowers. Talk all you want. I don’t care. Just look at ‘em grow. They like hearin’ ya. Makes all this hard work seem worth it to me. The sound of your voice is like manure,” insisted Esther as she plucked a dandelion and threw it from her garden, next to where Eva was still smelling flowers.
Esther and Eva were a pair who could upset the tranquility of a library simply by reading in the same room together. Other women their age called them cackling hens and home wreckers. The women valued their single lives and the time they spent together away from the jealous ladies of Huntingdon County. They remembered a time when life was simple, back when almost everyone grew their own food, milked cows every morning and collected eggs from chickens that were raised as free-roamers– not from hens that were cooped up all day in chicken factories.
When not working in the garden, they spent spare time chasing wealthy men. They were both widows with just a little money left in the bank and life seemed to get more and more expensive as each growing season passed. Eva and Esther did not spend their golden years trying to raise the dead or praying in church. Life was too short and they were offered a new lease on it when their husbands died in the same year, both in car crashes caused by slippery mountain roads and too much booze. They met in a cemetery one May afternoon while there placing flowers from the Five and Dime on the tombstones of their husbands that were planted in close proximity.
“What’s in a husband?” Esther asked the stranger standing a few rows away with tears in her eyes.
“Yes I agree. I’m tired of reading this same damned tombstone over and over again. Should have had something different written on this stone, but that’s what he asked for– just his Mom and Dad’s name and the years he was born and died. I’ll be God damned if I let them plant me here when I’m gone. Hope they burn me. Going to hell anyway. Yep, that old selfish bastard husband of mine is planted right here where he belongs,” Eva said to Esther who, prior to striking up conversation with a stranger, was talking to herself for hours over a piece of engraved stone.
“This is my first husband growing here,” Esther said. “I think I have finally learned how to love him.”
Eva thought the statement was incredibly funny.
“What do you do with him gone?” Eva asked.
“I make and sell Rhubarb butter,” Esther explained. “It gives me something to do. I also work at a sewing factory, but only because I can’t stand being alone all the time.”
They became best friends that instant. They left the silence of the cemetery together. Eva drove her big car that used a lot of gas and followed Esther in her Chrysler back to the farm that Esther inherited from her husband George when he died. Eva never tasted Rhubarb butter and was curious about it.
George and Esther were planning a divorce, Esther explained that day over a cup of instant coffee with Eva. The paperwork was almost final when tragically, George was killed in a car accident along old Ridge Road. Esther immediately tore up the divorce papers and returned to the home where she lived as the wife of a farmer for more than forty years. She was planning a move to Florida to find a rich city man, but since George was gone for good, she realized that it was never really the hard life of living on a farm that got on her nerves. Esther was not running away from the beautiful house and farm in the first place. She had other reasons for turning in her overalls for fancy city-slicker dresses.
Eva had one taste of Rhubarb butter and immediately wanted to move in with Esther in her pink trailer.
“You should patent this stuff. I’ve never heard of it before. It’s delicious.”
“Would you like to try some apple jack?” Esther asked.
Eva should have moved in. The girls went everywhere and did everything together. They often placed bets on who would find the richest man and marry again first. I sat in the back seat of the Chrysler and licked a lollipop while listening to the old hens decide how they were going to escape the solitude of country life.
“I had a dream I won the lottery last night, Esther. In my dream a man who looked like Bob Barker walked up to me in the supermarket and handed me a cucumber with three numbers written on it– 6-4-3. I’m going to play those numbers in the lottery today and you should too. It was a sign. I’m either going to win the jackpot or finally find a man who knows how to do it right! Close your ears, Charlie,” Eva said while pointing her finger at me from the passenger seat. I knew what the women were talking about. I wasn’t stupid.
“I think Bob Barker is handsome. I’m going to be on that game show one day,” my grandmother said while glancing at her outrageous friend with frizzy hair and thick dark glasses while starting the car. Eva didn’t dream that often because she had bad nerves.
“Are you sleeping better at night with that Sassafras tea I made you?” Esther asked.
“Sure as hell am. I’m horny now too. I think you’re a witch. Those concoctions you come up with are something else, Esther. I hope I do see a man that looks like Bob Barker today. If I do, I’m going to give him your phone number and tell him pay you a visit up on your farm. I’ll tell him all about your Rhubarb butter,” said Eva to her best friend playfully.
“Old rich men like Bob Barker need more than one woman,” Eva chuckled. “Ever see how he kisses all the women on that game show. All men wish they had two or more women like that to tend to them. Don’t you grow up a be like Bob Barker, Charlie.”
“I won’t,” I promised, taking the cherry flavored lollipop from my mouth and licking my lips with a tangy tongue.
“I don’t want to marry again,” Esther explained. “I enjoy the peace and quiet of living up here on the ridge now that George is gone. Why would I ever want to go back to that?”
“You don’t have to love him. Marry him for the money! How much money do you have in the bank anyway? Don’t think I didn’t see your ad in the ‘Daily News’ selling off ten more acres. Don’t give away your farm Esther. How could you ever think of selling your field of Christmas trees? It’s like you are selling George’s soul when I see your advertisements in the real estate section. You’ll hate living in town like I do. There are people everywhere and you’ll never find a moment’s peace like you have up here on the ridge.”
Esther turned left and headed up a dirt road that was carved into the side of a hill. Layers of slate stone were stacked like piles of paper along the side of the cut cliff. Eva looked confused while glaring out the car window. I continued to suck on my lollipop, determined to find out if there was gum in the middle.
“Where are you taking me Esther? Oh no! Don’t take me down Ridge Road! You know those steep banks scare the living hell out of me and that’s where Frank was killed,” demanded Eva as she rolled up the car window and tossed out an unfinished cigarette.
“You’ll be fine, Eva. I just put new tires on this car. I want to see how they handle the road in good weather, not after it snows. Remember what happened to George and his car on this road?”
Eva remained silent until we reached the supermarket. She didn’t like to joke about Esther’s dead husband George or the ‘son-of-a-bitch’ she was once tied down to. Although she wasn’t religious, Eva didn’t like to taunt the dead. She believed they had control over ping pong balls in lottery ball baskets.
Eva forgot all about the bet with Esther and her Bob Barker dream after Esther drove her down Ridge Road. She gobbled down a cerise pill as soon as the car started winding down the narrow, steep, unpaved mountain trail. She was fast asleep by the time we reached the supermarket.
We didn’t wake Eva while we went inside to pick up a few necessities– things that grandma couldn’t grow in her garden. She was particularly fond of kiwi. She bit into one and let me taste it too. “Here, have another one before we get to the check out,” she insisted.
We did see a man who looked just like Bob Barker standing next to a pile of watermelon that had been sliced and wrapped in plastic wrap and put on display like meat in a butcher shop. Grandma made me promise not to tell Eva when we got back to the car, but it was too late. The man with the silver hair who looked like the host from the Price is Right was standing on the passenger side of the car talking to Eva about the outrageous price of Florida oranges by the time we made it through the checkout line.
“Did you see the way he eyed you up and down, Esther?”
“I don’t know what you are talking about.”
“My heavens, Esther, have some fun. There is nothing you can do to bring George back. He’s not like strawberry runners, you know.”
“Eva, shut your trap and don’t talk about my grandson’s granddaddy in front of him like that.”
Eva gave me the evil eye and kept her mouth shut until we made it back home to the farm.
Esther married her garden after George died. Every seed that fell into the ground from between her thumb and middle- finger grew madly. Her potatoes were as big as footballs, green beans tasted like taffy and red cabbage in her plot had heads bigger than mine. She told me I had a green thumb too, but didn’t trust me to help her pull weeds. I couldn’t distinguish the weeds from the real plants, especially in the spring before the vegetables appeared.
My father introduced my grandmother and her friend Eva to a new kind of produce in May 1973. He asked Esther to plant a handful of tiny, hard seeds in her garden. We filled a trench she hoed for the seeds with two wheelbarrow loads of chicken manure, not knowing how much influence the potent, digested nitrogen would have on the special seeds that we planted for Dad.
Eva was there that day while Esther and I did all the hard work of planting Dad’s seeds. Eva acted as if we were doing something wrong by placing tiny seeds into the ground, six inches apart. My foot was six inches at the time, the perfect measurement for spacing Dad’s seeds, according to grandma. She taught me to talk down the rows and plop in a seed at the tip of my toe, over and over again.
“What’s that Esther? What are you planting there? I hope that’s not what I think it is. Isn’t that where you are supposed to plant your blue potatoes?” Eva asked
“I don’t know what these seeds are. Barry gave them to me. He said they come from South America and they are supposed to be some type of medicine, like sassafras. I figured I’d throw them in the ground and see what happens.”
The plants grew taller than her trailer. They looked like trees to me.
One night in late August a deer was spotted eating Esther’s rhubarb. She shot it without leaving her bed, pointing a double-barrel out her trailer window. She called the Pennsylvania Game Commission the next morning and asked them to remove the carcass from her property.
It wasn’t legal for Esther to kill deer, outside of deer season on her own land because she wasn’t officially a ‘farmer’, nor was forty-percent of her income generated from her land. She shot them at all times of the year anyway because Eva’s son worked for the Pennsylvania Fish and Wildlife Commission.
Dad stopped by his mom’s trailer for coffee before heading off to work at the sneaker factor the morning after the deer was shot dead.
“I called the Game Commission and told them to come get that dead deer out of my garden. Did you see it on your way in here? Fuckin’ things been eatin’ my apples,” Esther informed my dad while boiling a large kettle of hot water and pointing out the window at the whitetail she shot between the eyes. Dad didn’t notice the deer despite the swarms of blow flies all around it. He walked right past in on his way into the pink trailer.
“Mom, you have pot growing out there. Jim Bumgardener is going to see it and you could go to jail.”
“Pot? Holy Hell, I thought that was a South American herb! That’s what you said. Why didn’t you tell me this before I planted it? Oh my gawd, Barry. Hurry up. Go pull it out and hide it up in the barn.”
Jim Bumgardener arrived in a game commission vehicle a few moments later.
“What are these holes in the ground out here, Esther,” Jim the game commissioner asked rather bravely after he tossed the dead deer onto the tailgate of his truck. Esther gave him a look as if he were still six years old and replied, “They were weeds, really big weeds, Jim.”
“Do you want to show me the pile of weeds?” Jim asked in an authoritative tone.
She pointed to a pile of black goat pellets he was standing in and explained that Roger, her goat, had eaten them. Jim shook his head and said he was going to tell his mom because it was his duty to look out for such things.
“What the hell do you think she is going to do to me? I’m your mother’s best friend. You listen to me, Jimmy, boy. I’m the only friend your mother has! You show me some respect or get off my land.”
No further questions were asked that day.
Jim’s mom Eva studied a Farmer’s Almanac in an attempt to educate herself on the simplicities of country life and to become more like her best friend Esther. The yellow booklet was a roadmap for navigating through her stormy life filled with panic attacks and long periods of dark depression. She always knew when a full moon was about to rise. She felt better when it was full and empurpled.
The Farmer’s Almanac sat on Eva’s coffee table next to a photo of Jim riding a horse, and endless supply of nerve pills. Esther turned Eva onto the most intriguing piece of literature published since the Holy Bible. Eva used the book for knowing when she would start feeling horny again and when the blues were on their way. Esther used it for growing things.
Weather predictions in the almanac were more reliable than forecasts on local radio station, WHUN or in the Daily News. The mysterious phrases in the book always granted the publisher a little room for error. The yellow paperback book was never exact when the contents of its pages spelled out periods of hot weather and the dog days of summer, but it was always close in its predictions, especially when it came to those times when the moon would turn to blood.
Esther always planted her garden following the advice of the Farmer’s Almanac. The chapter on harvests was almost exact to the date. The growing tables printed on the back cover notified Eva as to when Esther’s beets would be ready for harvest. Eva loved pickled eggs.
By studying the Almanac, Eva believed she was a farm girl too. It gave her more to talk about with her friend when she visited her on her farm and she felt less like one of the ladies who lived in town. She didn’t want to sound like a city slicker to her best friend.
Eva used the annual publication, given to her as a Christmas gift by Esther, to cast spells and enhance her knowledge of what many mountain folk in Pennsylvania consider ‘witchcraft’. The book offers so much more than planting and harvesting guidelines and timetables.
Eva was a country girl too, just like Esther, even though she didn’t have a green thumb. She kept her distance from her neighbors and for a good reason. They were not real down-home country folk. Eva knew they would burn her at the stake if given the opportunity.
“Get off my property you little bastards or I’ll make you grow warts,” Eva shouted from her kitchen window almost every day at the town children who called her names and played in her front lawn.
When the farmer’s almanac promised the last full moon of the summer, her powers were in full- force. Her psychic abilities were at their peek at this time and she usually won the lottery at least twice during those long bright nights. She really believed she could make town kids grow warts. She often threatened to put one on my nose if I didn’t stop clinging onto my grandmother like a lady bug to a pumpkin vine.
Eva’s sadness disappeared when the moon was high and dry. The kids who played on her lawn didn’t wreck her nerves as much when the moon was like an apricot. She was even nice to me when the moon shone full– when she was “at her peak” and full of energy.
Eva nearly fainted when she turned to page 84 in the almanac to learn that a full moon was still three days away. Her fingers were already tingling. She believed she could ‘zap’ unsuspecting residents of Huntingdon with her ungodly psychic witchcraft and put curses on them. Eva’s trembling hands, caused by taking too many pills, rattled like changing leaves on an oak tree in October by the psychological effects of a harvest moon brewing on the horizon. She could hardly pick up the telephone to call her best friend to invite her out to Saturday night bingo at the Methodist church in Huntingdon. She sensed strange vibes from the telephone and on days when her energy was high, it was painful to make a phone call. She dialed Esther without an area code or prefix by simply sticking her finger in holes in a plastic dial and turning the numbers 5-7-0-3.
“How the hell did ya know it was me? I told you people lose a part of their souls when they make phone calls. You’re a psychic too, Esther. I hate all this modern technology. Do you remember what life was like before telephones? I tell you Esther, it’s the end of the world,” babbled Eva on the end of her wire.
“I knew it was you because you always call me when the moon is full. Where are you taking me– to bingo again?” Esther asked.
Eva put her hand over the end of the phone with the mouthpiece and whispered “That witch is more psychic than I am.”
She returned the receiver to her big fat lips covered in bright lip gloss and continued– “No, I thought I would tell you about the recipe for dandelion wine I found in the farmers almanac,” replied Eva with her fingers crossed behind her back.
“You know I can’t stand those hypocrites at the church,” Esther said, not falling into Eva’s trap.
Eva held the black phone receiver a few feet from her ear and tapped the ear piece twice, blinked her eyes and asked again– “Are you sure?”
Esther felt a sudden tingling rush up her arm and across her forehead– a feeling she normally only felt when her friend Eva worked with her in the vegetable garden. The feeling was strange, yet alluring. How could Eva do that to her over the phone? Esther was shocked.
“I invited that man who looks like Bob Barker to bingo,” Eva tempted.
“I’ll come along but only because the price is right– ten cents a game and a $100 jackpot!”
“I’ll pick you up at six and I’m doing the driving!” Eva promised.
“I can’t stand your son, Eva. He’s gonna rat us out one day. You know he was up here yesterday raising hell.”
“I’m sorry Esther. He was only trying to do his job. He told me about the strange holes he found outside of your trailer. I hope he didn’t figure out what you are up to.”
“What I’m up to? Chicken shit! His only job is to pull deer from my property when I kill them. You got that?”
“Sure Esther! I’ll tell ‘em.”
“I own this property, not the state of Pennsylvania! George cultivated this land with his red English hands from dusk to dawn for forty years. Tell that little bastard where his place is Eva before I smack his ass like you should have when he was little.”
The two widows never told the truth over the phone and spoke in codes. They were paranoid that their phones were tapped. That’s the way life was in Central Pennsylvania in 1972 when half of Huntingdon County was smoking marijuana. Jim took his job far too serious. He knew the ‘illegal’ activities his mother was involved in along with her best friend. Eva couldn’t keep her mouth shut about anything. She never should have told Jim about those special South American plants that Esther was growing up on her farm, otherwise he would never have known where the holes in the ground came from.
Esther and Eva were quite nervous running an illegal business on the top of Stone Creek Ridge, and very well they should have been. All the married women in town with husbands still alive didn’t trust them. Their phone conversation about playing bingo at the Methodist Church was referring to wine making time. It was the last full moon of the summer which officially is the start of Fall. According to the farmer’s almanac, August 31, 1972 was the perfect day to make wine.
Eva waited all year for the harvest. She didn’t win the lottery like she thought she was going to and her dead husband didn’t leave her enough money to drink away the long, lonely years. She managed to keep the neighbor kids from her front yard all summer long and cultivated an unusual abundance of dandelions in the yard that they insisted on playing upon. Neighbors called her crazy because she stood outside for hours each day in the Spring blowing delicate feathery thistles from the caps of the matured lawn weeds all over the neighborhood.
Eva watched her front lawn turn gold. She waiting impatiently all summer for Esther to give the heads-up to pick them and bring them up to her farm where they made their highly coveted and expensive concoction that they called ‘dandelion wine’.
“Pluck the heads of the lion now and boil them until they roar,” the Almanac advised. “The yellow flowers are perfect for pickling when the moon shines with the flavor of Fall.”
Eva knew Esther read the words too and had a hunch this was the time for them to mix- up thousands of dollars in flower wine with a twist of what Eva referred to as “lip balm”.
Eva didn’t want to know what went into making the lip balm ingredient– the thick, scarlet, Vaseline like substance that Esther kept in the butter compartment of her refrigerator. Eva’s only responsibility for the botanical business was picking and growing the dandelions. She had no part of the illegal activity of boiling down ‘lip balm’. The process of making the sticky balm was simple. Buds from the marijuana plants were thrown inside large pots of rapidly boiling water with a touch of paprika and allowed to simmer for several hours. Esther strained the water through cheese cloth to remove the bits of the plant. After cooling for several minutes, my grandmother was able to skim off the oily substance at the top of the steaming water. It was as simple as removing fat from broth when boiling chicken down for soup.
“Hurry up and throw some in. I don’t want to see it. If we get arrested, I’m going to insist that I knew nothing about it,” Eva cried with a paranoid tone when the special secret ingredient was mixed into the batch of simmered dandelions.
I held the cheese cloth.
Eva walked right past the twelve feet tall shrubs with little green buds every time she knocked on Esther’s trailer door as the summer progressed. She pretended she didn’t notice them. Even I knew what it was and what it did– my dad liked it more than his beer.
Funny, Esther thought– Eva has something to say about every flower in my garden and she does not want to discuss those beautiful split-tails or stop to smell them on the way in. Esther got $100 a pint for the dandelion wine. Locals paid top dollar for just a little bit of it. One cap- full could cure almost anything, including soft peckers. Its juices could heal chapped lips, even mine.
As soon as my grandmother agreed to ‘go to bingo’, Eva ran outside with paper grocery bags and picked her dandelions– ‘Bingo’ was the special code word that they used over the phone to discuss the start of the harvesting process. Eva was careful not to miss the petals which surrounded the faces of the dandelions– that’s what gives the wine its shine according to Esther.
Esther had to start selling parts of the farm as soon as George died in that terrible car accident. It was driving her nuts that she didn’t learn George’s secret applejack recipe. George did something to his cider to make it more than hard, yet Esther never took the time to learn his secrets. The distilling business disappeared along with the supplemental income, after George died. Eva drank the last of it on the day the two met in the cemetery. It pissed Esther off that she had to get a job at the sewing factory when her husband was killed. The wine making business was her secret revenge on a society that sometimes overlooks older women.
She set out with her partner and friend, Eva and a new type of seed given to her by her youngest son and learned how to make wine from dandelions and marijuana. Esther wanted to die owning more land than her husband George, or his father Miles who also owned a farm but grew only tobacco for smoking.
It was a warm August afternoon in 1972 when Eva picked the most succulent dandelions ever to be made into wine. It was the day my grandmother was struck by lightening. Esther said it wasn’t God who bowled her down with a lightening bolt even though she had once explained to me that the sound of thunder is caused by God bowling in heaven. It was my granddaddy who was down in Hell who struck her, according to Esther. He was pissed off because she was a woman, still alive with color, who knew how to survive without a man.
Just as Johnstown was flooding due to the remnants of Hurricane Agnes, the red headed farm girl got zapped by a blood-like thunderbolt while working outside in a storm, trying to bring her harvest inside before the storm spun over. A deep dark cumulus cotton ball of pure tropical moisture was floating lower than the rest of the wispy clouds in the sky. They don’t get tornados on the peaks of the Appalachians, but the cloud looked threatening. It crept along the summit of Stone Creek Ridge like a bat flying in search of June bugs. The chickens had been acting strange all day. Rain never kept them in their coop. Even Sally, the chicken raised from an egg in an incubator on top of Esther’s television set next to a lava lamp stayed inside that day.
The green, arm-like leaves of the corn were turned upside down– a sure sign of a dangerous electrical storm according to the Farmer’s Almanac. The rain tapered off briefly and Esther thought it was safe to go outside and salvage the harvest of split-tails for the making of dandelion wine.
“They’re calling for 40 mile an hour winds and eight inches of rain today, Esther,” Eva screamed over the phone on her second phone call of the day. “You better get outside and pick those flowers before that God forsaken hurricane hauls ass up over that ridge you live on. I got six paper bags of dandelions today Esther. If we don’t play bingo today, we’re not going to have very much wine to sell this year. Bob Barker said the price is right on television today, Esther!”
“The rain and wind are not going hurt my girls, Eva.”
“Well, you know how they close up when the ground gets wet. Who knows how long we’ll have to wait for sunshine to open the buds back up. By then, my flowers will be too old for making good wine,” Eva said as the receiver of the phone shook terribly in her left hand. She didn’t know that Esther’s ‘split-tails’ were already harvested and hanging in the barn. My father pulled them out and hid them before Jim, Eva’s son, came up to our farm to do what Esther said was his ‘game commissioner job’– removing the dead deer carcass from her vegetable garden.
After getting Eva’s call, Esther grew paranoid and started to become quite concerned about the crop she was drying out in the top of her old barn. There were no windows in the barn and the plants were very light. They could easily blow away.Yellow dandelions grow everywhere, but if Esther lost her little girls, her life would be ruined, at least for another growing season.
Esther used an old rusty pitchfork to carry what was the equivalent of a bail of hay prior to bailing towards her pink trailer. She had almost made it to the door before all hell broke loose. While reaching out with her free hand to open the screen door, Esther was struck by lightening for the second time in her life. The first time she was struck, she was feeding baby chicks. She had boiled a few eggs and mashed up the yellow yokes and put the chick feed in a metal lid. She was headed for the tiny hen house in the chestnut grove where the baby chicks were kept. She made the mistake of running outside in a thunderstorm with a metal Mason Jar lid in her hand.
She should have known better.
It seemed as if the devil himself struck Esther that day and sent her flying ten yards into the naked spot in her garden where the large South American plants had once grown.
It is strange how lightening works. It’s nothing like a contact high. I was walking right next to her and I didn’t feel a thing!
I knew not to call an ambulance or the game commissioner. I pulled the plants inside and rescued my grandmother and her friend Eva from the eye of a hurricane. By the time grandma woke up, Eva had the pots of water boiling on the stove.
Eva still calls me Bob Barker.
“What happened,” Esther asked when she woke up.
“God was bowling again,” I explained, rubbing lip balm on her dry mouth.