Wednesday, May 11, 2011

A Silver Dollar and a Pome

A Silver Dollar and a Pome

My Deddy , I won't give his real name but his cronies called him Shorty,
was a world class beer and wine drinking champion. He could out-drink
any other deddy in town and up until T'ville went dry in the early
fifties, he kept Cy's Place, a popular beer joint, in the black.

The booze finally got the whistle on Shorty and he came up with a real bad
case of the dt's. So bad he got shipped off a few times to dry out. A cure
which lasted about long enough for him to get off the bus and run the
short block to Cy's Place. And...he got meaner after each trip which
meant my nose got flatter which meant I had to keep coming up with new
excuses for my teachers at Colonial Drive who asked why the black eyes and
crooked nose. Mostly, I told them I was boxing because I wanted, like my
namesake Rocky Graziano, be Middleweight Champion of the World. Well, I
loved my Deddy and I had to do something to get him sober and so my face
would look human again.

Whenever I got into trouble, back then it was a lot, I'd turn to the
person I trusted most in my world, my Aunt Mabel. When I ran away or
needed a place to hide she'd put me up at her little mill house at the
foot of the Jewel Cotton Mill hill over on Julian Avenue. After the last
whupping Shorty put on me I went to her.

"Boy, what happened to your face? You look like you been run over by a
Mac truck." Felt like I'd been run over by the proverbial freight train
on it's way through Georgia. But she knew. My Aunt Mabel was crude,
uneducated, worn out, and mean when she had to be. She spent most of her
life in the cotton mill which was about the same as doing life in the
State Prison up at Raleigh. She could down a pint of Four Roses quicker
than any man alive and had drank my Uncle Boise plumb to death. She never
said it but I know she loved me.

"Have you ever heard of Charley Tramp and the Pappy Devils?" she said,
studying my Elephant Man warped noggin. Oh, God, I thought, not more of
this. But at least she didn't preach at me.

"Aunt Mabel, please don't tell me no more ghost stories." Coming out of
my bee stung lips the words sounded like

"Hush, youngun and listen." I did. "Charley Tramp lives anywhere and
everywhere. He looks like a mill hand and he always carries a lard bucket
in which he keeps his dinner of biskets and fat back meat. But that ain't
all he keeps in there." She shut up and stared at me, her eyes bigger
than the Carolina moon, her toothless mouth hanging. "Well, youngun, what
else you think he keeps in there?" I had no idea but I reckoned I was
supposed to say "pappy devils" and I said pappy devils which came out
paffy feffils.

She went on "Now Charley Tramp sometimes stays under the trestle that runs
over Hamby Creek right there at the foot of Julian Avenue." She pointed
through the window at a clump of bushes a ways down the street. "He goes
up under there and eats his biskets and fat back meat and lets them pappy
devils out to play around that smelly old dye water crick that runs off
from the mill. Now, I don't know but they say he'll loan them pappy
devils out to folks who need help getting rid of some kind of evil in
their lives. All it takes is a silver dollar and a pome." Again she shut
up and just stared at me. When I didn't answer she said "I reckon you got
a evil in your life you'd like to fiix, ain't you, Rocky boy?"

"What do them pappy devils look like, Aunt Mabel?

"They's about that high," she held one palm about six inches above the
other. "They's
mostly head with little stick arms and legs. They head is warped and red
and wavers all the time like flames in a farplace. They always smiling
and they teeth is sharp as razors and way too big for they mouths. And
they cost a silver dollar and a pome. I know 'cause Eula Mae Clodfetter
had it done to cure her man Clyde of womanizing."

"From what?"

"That don't mind. What minds is a silver dollar and a pome will git the
job done." She folded her arms and looked down her nose as if to say "so

"Well, Aunt Mabel, what they going to do to Shorty? They ain't going to
hurt him are they?"

"Lord have mercy, boy, look at what Shorty's been doing to you!" When
Aunt Mable got emphatic she squealed like a pig.

"It ain't him hitting on me, Aunt Mable, it's the booze. He can't help
it." She waited for that to sink in, her old faded blues softening.
"Boy," she said, "I reckon you sumpin else."
She gave me a big hug.

"Yes, mam, thank you. But if I can help Shorty get off the booze it's
worth a try. It'll be good for him and I'll get my face back. But I
tell you right now I ain't got no silver dollar and I don't know no pappy
devil poems. But I'll do what I have to do."

"Now you cookin', cowboy," she howled. She shuffled over to a rickety
rolltop and got out a writing table and a short, stubby fat pencil. She
waved me over to the desk and motioned me to sit. Aunt Mabel couldn't
read or write but she had an imagination bigger than Shakespeare or
Milton. "Write down what I tell you," she said, rolling her bloodshot
eyes toward the grimy ceiling. "Hit's a pappy devil pome and hit's got to
be just rite." She paused, then quoted. I worte it down After I
cleaned it up some I read it back to her.
She snatched it away and said "Naw, boy, that ain't the way to recite a
pappy devil pome. Listen."

Pappy Devils

Pappy Devils, Pappy Devils, Pappy Devils
red heads wavering in the blistering night
Pappy Devils, Pappy Devils, Pappy Devils
dancing and boogying in frozen moonlight

Pappy Devils, Pappy Devils, Pappy Devils,
around the lard bucket dance and squeal
Pappy Devils, Pappy Devils, Pappy Devils
at the foot of the Jewell Cotton Mill Hill.

Pappy Devils, Pappy Devils, Pappy Devils
talk in riddles and make you read lines
Pappy Devils, Pappy Devils, Pappy Devils,
feed you peacock pie and books of rhymes.

Pappy Devils, Pappy Devils, Pappy Devils
smiling, petting, laughing, flashing teeth
Pappy Devils, Pappy Devils, Pappy Devils
never letting you know what's underneath

So keep straight and narrow your gait
'Cause Pappy Devils under a trestle wait
to steal your soul and suck your breath
in a Julian Avenue Pappy Devil death.

Pappy Devils, Pappy Devils, Pappy Devils!

It sure scared the devil out of me, the way she recited it but what we
were doing didn't make sense to me at all. I started to say so but she
stopped me.

"Now," Aunt Mabel said "You just draw up a cheer to that winder and watch
out for old Charley Tramp when he goes under the trestle. Then you take
this..." she took a shiny 1923 silver dollar out of her apron pocket and
wrapped it in the pome...poem, "give 'em to Charley Tramp and tell him you
want your deddy cured of drankin. He'll do the rest." She kissed me on
the top of my head taking care not to hit any bumps. " Now I got to go to
work at the mill," she said, giggling and rolling her eyes.

I stuffed the coin wrapped poem way down in a pocket and waited. I
thought about Aunt Mabel telling me about always keeping a silver dollar
for luck and with it in your pocket you'd never go broke. It felt solid
in my pocket. I also thought about her giving it up for me and I vowed I
would someday pay her back many times over. Sure enough about sundown
when the long shadows from the mill stretched down Julian Avenue, a
bucket carrying shadow slipped under the trestle. I had made up my mind
to do what I had to do as quickly as I could so before the door hit me in
the butt I was at the trestle entrance.

I called from outside the bushes "Mister Charley Tramp, this is Shorty's
boy, can I talk to you for a minute?" I waited, ears straining. Ain't no
way I'm going in there I told myself, I may be dumb but I ain't no fool.
Of course, I didn't half believe what Aunt Mabel told me but I didn't see
no use in pushing my luck. I called again and something popped like a can
cover being removed. A faint reddish mist meandered around the foot of
the bush entrance.

A hand, palm up, suddenly poked through. I almost shit my britches. I
yanked out the silver dollar wrapped poem and slapped them down on the
palm. It disappeared and I heard mumbling and chuckling.

"What?" a voice said, a soft voice, which surprised me as I expected a
sound from hell, spitting hellfire and damnation. It got quieter than moon
glow shadows on a West Texas winter night. Maybe he couldn't understand
me because of my busted and swollen lips so I repeated myself and added "I
want to help my Deddy, Shorty, stop drinking, if that's all right with
But I don't want him hurt none by your pappy devils or nobody else."

It seemed a long time and it grew darker and I thought maybe I'd done the
wrong thing what with the red mist filtering through the bushes and
creeping toward my feet; and I swear to this day I heard tiny laughter.

"Yes, go," the voice said. And I went.

Shorty kept drinking, my head got knottier.

"It ain't workin', Aunt Mabel, it ain't workin'."

"Hush, boy, just give it time, give it time." Time cures all, I thought
and hoped, as she patched my busted nose.

Just as I was about to give up it happened. One Friday night in late fall
Shorty didn't come home. I spent all day Saturday and Sunday looking for
him, from the Amazon to Happy Hill, from the Jewell Mill Hill to Mills
Home. All along the railroad tracks, under trestles, behind up-town
Not a trace. I thought about going to the cops but after what I'd done
they might think I paid Charley Tramp to have Shorty bumped off. So I
stayed away from that.

"Let well enough alone," Aunt Mabel advised. I did.

I had a few bad dreams about the situation until late one night right
after the new year, 1959, I heard a commotion down in the back yard and
there under the silver light of a cold moon a figure slumped against the
old persimmon tree. Between his legs he squeezed a lard bucket lunch pail
and it popped open. Out poured a bunch smidgens jumping and squealing and
gnashing their teeth, their flaming heads slashing the darkness. A red
mist swirled around their tiny upturned feet as they circled the tree and
danced in and around Charley Tramp's legs. As quickly as it started, the
party stopped.
They giggled, pointed up at my window, then scrambled back into their
bucket hideout. Charley Tramp clamped the lid on, stood up, smiled,
tipped his hat and disappeared.

Well, I never saw my Deddy again. I prayed nothing bad happened to him.
But to tell the truth I got used to sleeping good on Friday nights and
after a while I didn't miss him at all. My knotty face smoothed out and I
even got me a girl friend who said I was so ugly I was cute.

Now and then from a distance I'd see Charley Tramp slouching along, toting
his lard bucket, on his way to the Julian Avenue trestle down below Aunt
Mabel's. And as I grew up I didn't see her much but when I did she'd wink
and say "pappy devils, pappy devils, pappy devils."

When people asked about my Deddy I'd say "Well, Shorty went after a loaf
of bread and he never came back."

End of Story


Rocky Rutherford, Silver Valley, North Carolina. I am not redneck, I am
not good old boy...I am Southern. Writer? I'm not sure I have earned
that title yet. I graduated from the Univeristy of Alaska and soldiered
most of my life.