Sunday, April 24, 2016

The Dim Smoky Past


After I left the state of Virginia to move to Michigan in 1983, I missed my father’s stories.  Knowing that they had never been documented, I asked him to include one of them in each of his weekly letters to me.  Every week thereafter, each of his letters ended with what he called a Scene from the Dim, Smoky Past.   When I asked him to explain this title, he replied that the passage of time had cast a hazy film across his memory.  He could not be sure that things happened exactly as he remembered them.  His interpretation of events, he explained, was much more clear to him than the events themselves.  I find this to be true of my own life experiences, as well.  
 
To illustrate my point, I am publishing on this blog two versions of the same incident. The first is my memory. The second is my daughter's. Notice how different the versions are; yet each of us swears that that her own version is the truth, even though that is not possible.
 
Here is my version:

Orphan Girl
©Linda Goodman, January 2015
                In 1972, after a ridiculously easy three hours of labor, I gave birth to a baby girl. After the anesthesia had worn off, a nurse brought her to me and I got my first good look at her. I gasped and cried, “THIS IS NOT MY BABY!”
                “Of course it’s your baby,” insisted the nurse.
                “But she has red hair!” I protested. “No one in either my or my husband’s family has red hair!”
                “Well,” said the nurse, “that can’t be true. Red hair is a recessive gene. Red hair has to be in both the mother’s and the father’s families for a redheaded baby to be born.”
                After asking family members a lot of questions, I learned that my mother’s twin brother had red hair before he went gray. I also learned that several of my husband’s aunts had red hair.
                So in addition to a new baby, I also got a new story that I could use to entertain friends and family. Every time that someone asked me where my daughter Melanie’s red hair came from, I told that person the story of the day she was born, and how I had insisted that she could not possibly be my baby.
                When Melanie was eight years old and in the second grade, I went to an open house at her school. Each student in the school had been instructed to make from construction paper an art piece that would tell people something the student. I walked around the room and looked at the different projects. Roller derbies were quite popular at the time, so many of the students had made construction paper skating rinks and named the rinks after themselves.  Two students built churches. Another built a Tastee Freeze ice cream stand. Melanie had constructed a large paper house  and had written across the front  The Melanie Adams Orphanage.
                I was curious. “Why did you decide to build an orphanage?” I asked Melanie.
                “Because I’m an orphan,” she replied.
                Curiosity turned into confusion. “Why do you think you are an orphan, Melanie?”
                “Because you said so,” she sweetly told me. Then, with an innocence that only a child can muster, she added, “I am glad they gave me to you. I hope they don’t take me back some day.”
                I could not believe what I was hearing. “When did I tell you that you were an orphan?”
                “Oh, you didn’t tell me,” she said. “But I heard you tell Mrs. Michaels.  And Mr. Hamby.  And that old woman who asked you where I got my red hair.”
                I had never even realized that she was listening. Melanie had thought she was an orphan for eight years, and I never even suspected that.
                Of course, I set her straight. She seemed rather disappointed when I told her I was only telling a funny story to all those people; that she really was my child by birth.  “I guess I won’t be as interesting now,” she sighed,” and some poor parents out there are going to be so sad when they find out that I am not their child.”
                That’s my girl!

 
And this is Melanie's version of the same story:

Little Orphan Melanie
(c)Melanie Goodman Deal, January 2016
There I was, five years old, sitting on the floor in my living room. I was playing quietly by myself, coloring a picture and listening to the conversation my mom was having with a new neighbor that had moved in. As I sat there coloring, I heard the neighbor exclaim to my mom, “Your daughter, Melanie, has such BEAUTIFUL red hair! Where did she get it from?”
To which I promptly replied, “It must be from my REAL mom. I’m an orphan, you see, and this kind woman adopted me so I could have a family.”
My mom immediately stammered out, “D-don’t be silly, Melanie! That’s not true at all!” Then, to the neighbor, she said a little more quietly, “I don’t know where she gets these crazy ideas from…let’s go in the kitchen and get some coffee and snacks.”
I turned back to my coloring, wondering why my mom said that. Why was she embarrassed to admit I was an orphan? It was true, after all. I heard her say so myself.
You see, all my life, I’d heard people ask my mom this same question, “Where did Melanie get her red hair from?”
And every time, my mom always replied with the same answer – “Well, I wondered the same thing myself, since I don’t have red hair and neither does her father. I swear, they must have switched babies on me in the hospital! There’s no other explanation, is there?” And then she’d laugh and move on to the next topic.
What my mom didn’t realize was that I was listening all those times she said that. And the more I heard her say it, the more I started wondering.
Who was my real mom? Did she have red hair like me? Did she suspect the baby she got at the hospital wasn’t hers? If she did, did she wonder where her REAL baby was? Was she even LOOKING for me?
I was an only child, but what if my REAL mom had other kids? Oh my Goodness, I might actually have brothers and sisters! Did they have red hair, too?
All of this wondering got me excited. So excited that I had this whole story made up in my head about what my REAL family must be like.
You see, my parents divorced when I was two. So at the age of five, it was just me and my mom. I didn’t really relate well to other kids my age, so I hung out with the adults most of the time. In fact, my doctor always joked that I was a 42-year old inside a 5-year old body. I guess you could say my thinking was more advanced than that of the average five year old.
More than anything, I wanted a family. A mom, a dad, and maybe a brother or sister – or even better, a brother AND a sister! All living in the same house. So in my imagination, my REAL mom didn’t have a job she had to go to all the time. She got to stay home and play with me and my siblings, and was able to cook homemade meals every day. And my REAL dad was home every night, because there hadn’t been a divorce. And my siblings were the coolest! We played together all the time, and I never had to play alone and make up imaginary friends, because I had THEM to play with!
After the neighbor left, my mom came into the living room where I was playing, and she got down on the floor with me. She looked at the picture I had just finished coloring and her eyes got kind of big. My picture was of a big brick building, and there were lots of kids’ faces peering out of the windows. There was a big sign on top of the building that said, “The Melanie Orphanage”.
She put her hand in mine and asked me, “Melanie, why did you draw this picture? And what on EARTH makes you think you’re an orphan? I am your real mom. Don’t you know that?”
So I told her what I’d overheard her say all these years, and as I finished, her face fell and grew very sad, and her eyes got all wet. “Oh, honey!”, she said. “That’s just a joke. I just say that to get a laugh out of people, but it’s not true. You’re mine. All mine. And I love you to the moon and back.”
My advanced five year old brain pondered her words for a few moments. I thought about all the things she did for me all the time. Telling me stories, tucking me in every night, taking me to see my cousins and my grandparents whenever I asked, buying me ice cream when she had the extra money. Telling me she loved me every day, and giving me hugs and kisses more times than I could count.
On their own, words have no power. It’s the emotional connection we attribute to them that allow them to affect us the way they do. My desire to have a “real family” was so strong that I allowed myself to believe what my mother joked about.
That day, my mom realized the impact words can have, but I realized something as well. My family may not look like other people that I knew, but I already had my real family -- the one meant for me. And that was better than anything I could make up.
 
Postcript from Linda: And there you have it. No wonder I don't enjoy telling family stories to my own family. We all remember events differently because we are each telling from our own perspectives, and each of us believe that our own version is the correct one. Try this with your own family. You will see what I mean.  Happy tales to you!
 


 
 
 
 

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Emmaus

by Linda Goodman, copyright April 20, 2016
Scripture makes it clear that one of the two people on the road to Emmaus was Cleopas. The other person  is not referred to by name or gender; only by inclusion in the pronouns “them” and “they.” For purposes of this story, Cleopas is travelling with his sister, Deborah.
                (Cleopas and Deborah arrive, both very excited, talking over one another as they try to address the group of eleven disciples and their friends.)
         Cleopas
(shaking his head)
Deborah, Deborah, we are talking over one another. Let us stop trying to best one another in the telling of this tale, lest we make no sense at all.
Deborah
(Acquiescing)
            Of course, brother. You tell the tale, and I will offer what commentary I can.
Cleopas
(to the crowd)
            My friends, come listen to what we have to tell you. It is an incredible tale! My sister Deborah and I were walking to the village of Emmaus, which is about 7 miles outside of Jerusalem. We were deep in conversation about the death of our Lord, discussing and questioning every last detail. We could not understand why God would allow Jesus to be shamed, disgraced, and murdered – with his own people complicit in the crime. Suddenly we noticed a strange man walking beside us, listening intently to everything we were saying.
Deborah
            I was upset, at first. After all, eavesdropping is disrespectful. But then I noticed how kind this  man's face was. And his eyes……his eyes held comfort, peace….even love. Our instincts told us we were in no danger.
            He asked us what we were discussing so intently and—
Cleopas
(interrupting)
            And I asked him, “Good Sir, are you the only one who does not know what has happened to Jerusalem in the past few days?”
Deborah
And he asked, “What has happened?”
So we started telling him about how Jesus the Nazarene, God’s man, a great prophet, blessed by both man and God, had been unjustly accused and arrested after being betrayed by Judas. And Judas was Jesus' own disciple, a man so trusted that he was made the group’s treasurer!
Cleopas
Who would have guessed that Judas had such evil hidden inside him.
Then we told the man walking beside us about how our high priests and leaders turned on Jesus, getting him sentenced to death by crucifixion. 
Deborah
We told the man that we had had our hopes up so high, that we thought Jesus was the Messiah come to free us from the tyranny of Rome. We told him that today is the third day after Jesus crucifixion, and some woman are making outlandish claims that they went to Jesus tomb early this morning, and it was empty! Angels, they claimed, told them that Jesus was alive. Some of our own friends went to his tomb and verified that it was empty. They did not see Jesus though. What are we to think?”
Cleopas
Then the man chuckled! Yes, you heard me right, the man chuckled! “Why are you so hard-headed?”  he laughed. “If you believed what your prophets said, you would have known these things were going to happen; that the Messiah had to suffer before entering into his glory.”
Deborah
And then this incredible stranger walking at our side began at the Books of Moses and continued on through the prophets, explaining all the scriptures that referred to the Messiah. We could feel a fire burning within us as he explained their meaning.
Cleopas
When we at last arrived at Emmaus, the stranger announced that he would be on his way, but both of us begged him to stay. He had taught us so much! We wanted to know even more. We implored him to have dinner with us. After all, the day was done.
Deborah
So he did stay, and here is what happened: He sat down at the table, broke and blessed the bread, and gave it to us. At that very moment we recognized him!
Cleopas and Deborah together
It was JESUS!
Cleopas
Jesus himself was sitting at our table, just as alive and you and me! It really happened, just as the women said. Jesus has indeed risen from the dead!
Deborah
(gasping in awe, pointing ahead)
Look! There Jesus is now, standing among you. See! Now you cannot doubt that we tell the truth! Look and see for yourselves.
(They fall to their knees and extend their arms)
Cleopas
(exuberant)
 Praise be to God and to Jesus Christ, his only son and our Messiah!
Clopas and Deborah
 (together, exultant)

Praise be to our Lord and Saviour, now and forever more. 

Thursday, February 25, 2016

The Orphan

©Linda Goodman, 1982

He gazed into my face and saw a tear well in my eye.
“Life is to be lived,” he said, “so tell my why you cry.
The earth still turns, the grass still grows, the years go sailing by.
Live life while you’re still young, my friend, for soon enough, we die.”

“Can you not see, O Learned Sage?” I cried indignantly.
“There is hunger on the mountain and pollution in the sea.
How can I laugh and dance and sing? How can I live with glee,
When all about me everywhere life reeks with misery?"

“O, foolish child, do you not see these tears you cry in vain         
Cannot feed the hungry, soothe the poor, or ease the rich one’s pain?
These things are with us always; ever since the dawn of man.
Accept those ills you cannot change, and change what ills you can.”

I watched him walk away from me. His hobbled gate was slow.
He touched an orphan on the cheek. I saw the child’s face glow.
The child then laughed and danced and sang; I bade him tell me why.
“I am alive he said to me. Oh, what a joy have I!”

I could not understand the depth of this philosophy,
So I took the youngster by the hand and brought him home with me.
And now he shares my lonely life and joyfully I find
My demons chained in dungeons and myself with peace of mind.

The woe begotten of mankind have been, will always be.
I’ve made my mark. I’ve done my part.

My heart, at last, is free.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Coal Mining in Wise County, VA in the Early 1900s

What a wonderful gift it was to receive from Scott Jessee this letter from my father, Theodore Alexander Wright!

This is a letter written by Theodore Wright in August,1985. It tells in very graphic detail what the coal mines in Virginia City were like in the early days of mining. I have copied it just as he wrote it. Theodore was the son of Charles Q.and Melva L. Buchanan Wright. Thanks to his nephew Carroll for sharing it with us. 


Dear Bill, Let me tell you about the old Virginia City coal mine. I was born there March 30 , 1905. My sister sent me a clipping from the paper where you requested some information on mining in the old days. At the time the life of the coal miner was hard and you were always in danger. This mine was one if not the first to work in Wise County. The N&W railroad was here a while before it got to Norton.

When I first remember the coal miners were working for 15 cents an hour. They worked 10 hours per day. The system of mine work used then was crude compared to work today. They used a little steam coal burning locomotive (dinky) to pull the mine cars on the main line. It went about half a mile inside the mine to the parting side track. Mules gathered the coal and pulled it to this point.

The miners often went to work several hours early in order to have coal shot down for the shift that day. That gave time for the powder smoke to clear up early. No coal cutting machines were used. The miner would take his coal auger which was about 6 feet long and bore several holes shooting one at a time . Next he would take his tamping bar with a brass head to guard against sparks and what was called a needle. This was a long slender rod smaller where it entered the powder charge and a looped handhold on the other end. Next using a long piece of round wood such as a broom handle he would shape a rolled paper holder for the black powder cartridge. The needle was then pushed in to this cartridge and using the tamping bar it was pushed to the back of the hole. Now using dirt and slack coal he would tamp the hole up solid. Now carefully twist and remove the needle and use for a fuse this little device known as a squib. This consisted of a small tightly rolled section of powder about 1/4 the size of a cigarette. This contained a loose section of slow burning paper. The squib was placed in the needle hole and lit with a match. After it burned to the powder and ignited it the squib took off back through the hole like a miniature rocket and exploded the powder charge. This would shake up the and loosen a certain amount of coal. This was to be loaded in the mine car which held about 2 and 1/2 tons.

In taking the history of the old days of coal mining lets not forget the company stores, I see where one historian checked the entire coal fields of W. Va. and only one could be found. We have heard the saying I owe my soul to the company store. Maybe some of them did put a little to much pressure on their customers but these stores were a great help to the miners at that time. Some mining villages were located far up the hollers and they carried everything any one needed for plain living. You could buy furniture stoves and most household hardware. If people went to a private store they were often miles away and there was only two ways of moving loads horse and wagon or rail freight.

Things remained pretty much like this until the invasion of the Ford T models then things slowly started to change.

We didn’t have to many things for recreation. We played sand lot baseball pitched horse shoes and the greatest game for the children was marbles. The men did quite a lot of hunting small game. most of Wise County at that time was covered with hardwood forests and squirrels were plentiful. Also rabbits, ruffed grouse and quail. Most of the miners lived on a patch of land and raised a good part of their food. This was a great help for most of them had large families.

A short time before World War 1 VIC & C Co. (Toms Creek) bought the place and the eight hour day went into effect and wages started to rise until they were much better than in the early years.

People who traveled very far from home caught the train for that was all there was. The N&W Ry ran four passenger trains each day between Norton and Bluefield, two each way. Four miles away in St. Paul the CC&O ran four more trains 2 north and 2 south. This line also ran a 1 car train to Dante in the late afternoon which was known as “the Short Dog”.

After WWI things changed rapidly and it wasn’t long until they started a bus line in the beautiful hills of Wise County. Things were never the same again. The City Mine got a couple of battery locomotives ( motors) and one 10 ton trolley motor that replaced the dinky pulling coal out of the mine. The dinky still pulled the coal from the side track near the drift mouth to the tipple half a mile away.

Most old time people refused to work under ground in the mine . They said they didn’t want to go under ground before their time. At the start of this coal mine they bought some miners down from Pennsylvania who were experienced miners. The younger mountain men took to the mines like ducks to water. Their fathers would cut timbers or do the tipple work. They working what was called the Jaw Bone seam which had the name of being rather low grade coal. The work got pretty slack at times often down to two or three days per week. They had installed their own steam power house there at the mine. They would blow the whistle starting at 5 and on the hour until 8 A M . The name of this seam was later changed to Shannon seam in hoping to give it a better name.

The Depression came early to the “City” and the mine shut down in 1921. Except for a short period in the 1926 when a coal strike was on at the union mine the NO. 2 mine worked for a short time and shut down again. The mine didn’t work again until well after WW II.

Now Virginia City is no more. The strip miners came in and the steel of the bull dozers swept it away.

Signed: Theodore Wright Portsmouth, Va.

Bill if you can use this in the history of old time mining in Virginia you have my permission to change it in any way you like. This is due to the fact that my education like most old time miners is very limited.

(P S ) I Didn’t mention that the whistle at the power house didn’t blow on the days there was no work. When you heard the whistle you got up and went to work.
Theodore Alexander Wright and his daughter Evelyn

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Sparkle

©Linda Goodman December 30, 2015

                In Christmas 1996 my husband, Phil, got a good bonus and used part of it to buy me a pair of diamond stud earrings as a gift. A year later, he bought me a necklace with a water fall of diamonds as a pendant.
            Except for my engagement ring (bought at a pawn shop) I had never had such fine jewelry.  Not only that, I had nowhere to wear it. Weddings, funerals, and Phil’s annual Christmas party were the only events we attended that required us to dress up. Phil lost his job shortly after giving me the necklace, so the party was no longer an option.
            In 1998 we moved to Richmond, Virginia. We attended two weddings during our first year there, and I wore the earrings and necklace to both of them. Ten years passed before I wore those diamonds again.
            In 2009 I went to work as a senior accountant for an agency in downtown Richmond. Employees of the agency were required to wear business suits to work. That December, a Christmas party was held for the agency employees.  “Not the gala my husband’s company used to have,“  I said to myself, “but a good enough excuse to take the diamonds out of my closet.”
            When I first started working in Richmond, a few friends warned me to be careful. One had witnessed a robbery at a downtown bus stop. Another had been the victim of a purse snatcher there. I actually rode to work in a van pool that deposited me right at my office door in the morning and picked me up there in the afternoon.  I was not concerned with being robbed.
            Besides, it was winter. It was cold. I would be wearing a winter coat and scarf over my suit, so no one outside my office would even know that I was wearing diamonds.
            The party was held in our conference room. Caterers set up a delicious spread for us, and we exchanged gifts with one another. Several of my co-workers complimented me on my sparkling diamonds.
            And then – a surprise! We were to get half a day off. We could leave to go home right after the party.  I called the driver for my van pool and told him that I was leaving work early and would take the bus home.
            I walked across the street from my office and over to the next block to wait for the bus. There were two men already waiting at the bus stop when I got there. One of them was wearing jeans and a Richmond Braves tee shirt. The other was wearing a dark, hooded windbreaker, and one of the legs of his jeans had been rolled up above the knee.  What a strange fashion statement, I thought, as I took off my coat and scarf folded them across my left arm.  The day was unusually hot for December.
             A few minutes later a woman approached the bus stop. She walked right past the men and stopped to stand beside me. After staring at me for a moment, she exclaimed “I just love you hair!”
            “I like your hair, too,” I replied. She did indeed have lovely, gray hair.
            We stood together in silence for a few more minutes. “What bus are you waiting for?” she asked.
            “Chesterfield,” I answered.  “I’m a bit early.”
             “Why don’t you come with me to the bus stop around the corner?” she suggested. “ It’s safer.”
             “My bus doesn’t stop there,” I told her. “After it leaves this stop, it goes straight to I 95.”
            She looked over her shoulder and then turned back to me. “Do you see that man with the one jeans leg rolled up?” she asked. “He means to do you harm. He’s a bad seed.”
            I looked at the man. He was glaring at the woman. In fact, if ever there was such a thing as an evil eye, he possessed it.
            “Come on,” the woman urged. “I’m trying to help you.”
            Suddenly, I was no longer in my comfort zone; but I knew that my bus did not stop at the location she was suggesting.  “ I have to catch my bus here,” I insisted.
            Just then a bus rolled up to the stop. The man in the Braves tee shirt walked up to it, then looked at the man with the rolled up jeans leg and asked, “Aren’t you coming?”
            “I’ll wait for the next bus,” he growled. As the bus pulled away, my heart pounded. The man scowled at the woman standing beside me. She hissed at him. He hissed back. She looked at me and said, “I tried to warn you.” Then she walked away, disappearing around the corner.
            I looked at the man. He was staring at me. There were no other people on the street. In my mind I ran through my options: run back to my office; scream; walk out into traffic. I waited for his next move.
            “Lady,” he said, “You shouldn’t be wearing them diamonds on display so anybody can see them. There are some bad people in this town.”
            I had forgotten I was wearing diamonds.  With my coat and scarf removed, they were visible to anyone who walked by.
            “I’ll stay with you until your bus comes,” the man told me. “But next time you might not be so lucky. That woman is a bad seed.”
            Five minutes later, my bus arrived. “Thank you,” I said to the man. “You are a gentleman, and today you have been my guardian angel.”
            “I ain’t no angel,” he insisted. “Next time you come to town, leave them diamonds at home.” 

            I took his advice.

Monday, November 23, 2015

A Story for Thanksgiving - The Least of These

My daughter Melanie and me, 1974
                                               
With Thanksgiving just around the corner, this seems like a pertinent story to share. May you have a blessed Thanksgiving.

© Linda Goodman 2013

Matthew 25:40: “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me."

I remember when the economy crashed in 2008. Many people lost their jobs and things looked bleak. People were scared, and rightfully so.

I was one of the lucky ones. When the company I was working for went bankrupt, I was remembered by several former colleagues who had segued into management elsewhere. I had made good impressions upon them, and I received multiple job offers from them.

I ended up working in downtown Richmond. Every day on the way from the bus stop to my job, I passed people who were holding signs that said that they were hungry. I made it a habit to always carry dollar bills with me, and, while trying not to draw attention, I gave one to each needy person I passed. Well-meaning friends warned me that the money I gave would most likely go to drugs or alcohol.

Their warning made me think back to 1969, when I was hungry myself. I was unemployed and pregnant with my daughter.  My husband (now ex-husband) was a self-employed musician. We never knew if we would make it from one paying gig to the next. At his gigs, my husband was usually treated to meals by his fans, or the club where he was working. I was living on Campbell's Soup for lunch and supper. I skipped breakfast.

A couple lived down the road from us, and I felt compassion for them because neither of them was working. One of their parents was helping out with the rent, "But we have no food," the wife told me. "We're starving."

I had no money to help with their situation, but I had stockpiled Campbell's Soup the last time I had found it on sale. I set aside half of my soup cans and watched and waited for a few days, until I saw the two of them leave their house together. Then I took the soup I had set aside to their house and pushed each can through their mail slot. This way, they would not know who their benefactor was, and they would not feel embarrassed around me. Knowing that I was helping them made me feel good. I had visions of their happiness when they came home and found the soup.  They would be ecstatic.

The next time I saw the two of them, they were agitated. “Somebody put canned soup through our mail slot,” the man complained. “I don’t mind somebody helping us out, but getting canned soup is an insult!”

I was in shock. “I like canned soup,” I told them. “I eat it every day.”

“We’ll give the soup to you, then,” the woman offered. “Frankly, I’d rather have nothing at all to eat than to have to eat canned soup,” she added.

“If someone really wanted to help,” the man continued, “he would have given us the cash and let us buy what we like.”

I went back home with the soup. I don’t think they ever realized that I was the culprit. Throughout my pregnancy, I continued to eat that soup. I was glad to have it, too.

My intentions towards the couple were honest and sincere, just as my intentions towards the hungry people that I met in Richmond were honest and sincere. Some of those hungry people may have felt that a dollar was not enough. I have no way of knowing that.


What I do know is that my actions were motivated by scripture, by my personal memories of being poor, and by my desire to help those in dire straits. In Matthew 25:40, Jesus blesses those who come to the aid of “the least of these brothers and sisters of mine.” I see no reason to cease doing so just because I don’t know to what use the aid will be put.  That is between the "least of these" and God.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

A Ghost Story for a Cold Winter Evening

Black Diamond

©Linda Goodman, January 2015
Painting by Mary Steenwyk

            In 1960, when I was just a youngun, we lost our house in St. Paul, Virginia and moved into a shack in Esserville. That shack belonged to my mamaw and papaw, and Mommy was mad because they made us pay them rent. Daddy told her not to fret about it. He said that Mamaw and Papaw had just as much right to make money off of their place as anyone else. And the price they charged was fair. Daddy’s Army disability check was just enough to pay it.
            That shack was small, and so was the piece of land it sat on. Daddy barely had room to plant a garden. We needed a garden that would grow enough vegetables for Mommy to can them. We depended on her canning to help get us through the cold, hard winter.
            Geo Cassidy was our closest neighbor. His piece of land was so big he needed a plow to work his garden. He got a ton of vegetables out of it, but he never shared any of them. He was a mean old cuss.
            Our place didn’t have electricity, but Geo’s place had it. He even had a television set. Brother Lee and me sneaked onto his front porch and peeked in his front window one night  to see this marvel of modern science. Geo caught us, though, and chased us off with a shot gun. Daddy didn’t like that and told old Geo as much. Geo said that the next time he caught us out there, he would make that gun talk. Daddy just shook his head and told us not to go on Geo’s property no more.
            My Daddy was an electrician by trade. He learned electricity when he was in the army during World War II. You would think that my daddy would have made a lot of money, being an electrician and all, but most folks around us didn’t have electricity. And them that did couldn’t afford to pay somebody to fix it when it wasn’t working right. That’s why we lost our house in St. Paul.
            Geo Cassidy made a deal with my daddy. He’d give Daddy vegetables from his garden in exchange for maintaining the electricity in Geo’s house. They became friendly because of that, though they were never really friends.

            One Friday evening, Geo came running like a banshee to our house, hollering for Daddy, “Ted! Ted!”
            Daddy come running out to meet him, me and Brother Lee right behind. We thought maybe there was a house fire or something.
            Geo was breathing so hard he couldn’t speak at first. Once he got his breath back, he told us to follow him to his house. Said he had something he wanted to show us. We went with him back to his barn, and when he opened it up, we saw a tall, muscular black horse standing there, so beautiful and regal it took my breath away.
            “Geo, where did you get such a horse?” Daddy asked him.
            Geo laughed, “I won him in a card game, Ted. You know how Rufus Gilliam has them poker games in the back room of his store of a Friday night? Well, I sat in on one of them games tonight. Some rich feller from out of town was there, too, on his way to Kentucky with a race horse he’d bought in Pennsylvania. He won’t real good at cards. Didn’t have a poker face. And you know me. I’m the best poker player in town.”
            “And he bet this horse?” Daddy was dumbstruck.
            “Had to,” Geo told him. “We’d already played three games and he run out of all his money. He wanted a chance at winning his money back, but I wouldn’t take a check nor an IOU, so he bet me his horse. He said it’s an Arabian stallion. He said it was gonna be the fastest horse the world ever saw….  He cried when I won it from him, but he honored his bet.”
            “So you aim to race this horse?” Daddy asked.
            “I don’t know nothing about racing horses,” Geo admitted. “I aim to use him to plow my field.”
            “But, Geo!” Daddy protested, “You can’t use a show horse like this one to plow a field. That’s not what it was bred for.”
            “Well,” Geo responded, “I won’t bred for it neither. My back is ruined from it. This horse will take a load off me.”
            Daddy just shook his head, but Brother Lee was hopping from one foot to the other, he was so excited. “Can I pet him, Mr. Cassidy? What’s his name?”
            “The man told me the horse’s name is Ebony Prince. Go ahead and pet him, boy”
            Lee ran his fingers through the horse’s silky mane. “Ebony prince ain’t the right name for him,” he said.
            “He sure is shiny,” Daddy observed. “Like a shiny piece of black coal.”
            Geo didn’t like that. “Coal is no name for a horse.”
            “But my teacher says that if enough pressure is applied to a piece of coal, it can turn into a diamond,” Brother Lee told them. “Why don’t we call him…. Black Diamond!”
            Geo liked that, and Daddy did, too. The next day, Black Diamond took to the plow.

            I wish I could say that old Geo was good to that horse, but he wasn’t. That proud animal didn’t like being hitched up to a plow. It bucked and thrashed so bad that Geo took a whip to it. Brother Lee cried every time that whip hit that horse’s back. One time he even begged old Geo to stop, but that just made Geo whip that horse harder. He told Brother Lee to mind his own business, or else he would take a whip to him, too. It took a few weeks, but Geo finally broke Black Diamond. And I have to say it was a sorry sight to see such a proud animal tugging and pulling that plow day in and day out.
            One day Brother Lee come home from school with some fine news. Rufus Gilliam had offered him a part-time job at his store. Lee had to get Daddy’s permission first, though.  Daddy said it was okay, as long as Lee didn’t let his school work get behind.
            Rufus paid Brother Lee fifty cents a day. Lee spent part of his first day’s pay on sugar cubes for Black Diamond. Geo said he didn’t mind Brother Lee giving the horse treats, but he thought it was a waste of good money.
            “Mr. Cassidy,” Brother Lee replied, “I ain’t wasting no money. I’m saving my money because I aim to buy Black Diamond from you.”
            Old Geo just laughed and laughed when Lee said that. “You’re gonna buy my prize show horse, are ye? You can’t even afford to buy a television set.”
            Brother Lee paid no attention to all that mocking from Geo. He went to work every day, and he saved every cent that he could. That winter he used some of his money to help out Daddy, and he continued to get a sugar cube for Black Diamond every single day. All the rest of his money, though, went into a tin can that he kept under his bed. That was the money he was saving for Black Diamond.
            Every night when Brother Lee got home from work, before he even had his supper, he’d go to Geo’s barn to see that horse. One night he was out there with Black Diamond longer than usual, and Mommy sent me to get him before his supper got cold. I tiptoed around the corner of old Geo’s barn – I was fixing to make the sound of a ghost wind and scare Brother Lee. But then I saw something that stopped me dead in my tracks. That horse had his long neck wrapped tight around Lee, and Lee had his arms around Black Diamond’s neck. When I got closer, I seen tears running down Lee’s cheeks. I thought he was hurt, and I screamed, “Daddy!” But Brother Lee said, “SHUSH! Black Diamond ain’t hurting me. He’s hugging me.”
And that’s when I seen that Brother Lee was smiling through those  tears. It made me jealous. “Reckon you and Black Diamond are bonded for life,” I told him.
            “For life and beyond,” he responded. “Ain’t nothing can separate me and Black Diamond.”

            Time passes slow, and three years went by before Brother Lee realized that he was never going to be able to save enough money to buy Black Diamond. Shortly after that, in 1967, Brother Lee graduated from high school. Old Geo told Lee that if he didn’t act fast, the Army was going to draft him for Viet Nam. He advised Lee to join up with the marines, because they would make a man out of him. I don’t know why Brother Lee listened to old Geo, but he did. He went straight to the Marine Corps recruiter right after his graduation.
            The day Brother Lee packed and left for the bus station, he went to say good bye to Black Diamond. The horse took the sugar cube that Brother Lee offered him. Lee hugged his neck hard and sobbed like a little baby, and once again Black Diamond wrapped his neck around Lee and hugged him back. I swear, that horse had tears running down his face, too.
            By this time, Black Diamond looked far older than his years. His swayed back was scarred from all those whippings, and he was missing big patches of his hair. He was so thin you could see his ribcage poking out of his sides. He couldn’t pull a plow no more. But when he saw Brother Lee walking away, something got into that horse. He ran into the middle of the field and reared up on his hind legs, and then he ran like the wind and jumped high over the fence that had held him prisoner, so graceful…… just like the horse he was meant to be. I could see years dropping off his life in that jump. I could the shiny black, muscular stallion he had been on the day old Geo brought him home.
            Daddy started to go after Black Diamond, but old Geo called, “No! He aims to see your boy off. Let Black Diamond go with him to the bus station. He’ll come on back when he’s of a mind to. Suits me if he don’t come back at all. That horse is more trouble than he’s worth these days.”
            Sure enough, Black Diamond caught up to Brother Lee at the big oak tree on the edge of our property. Lee stopped and Black Diamond slowly knelt in front of him. Lee put one leg over Black Diamond’s back and rode him bareback down the road that led to town.
            Black Diamond was gone for two whole days. Folks in town said they had to throw rocks at him to get him to go home. Geo told Daddy that if he would fix his fence for him, he could have Black Diamond. Daddy had no use for a starved out, beat down horse, but he did it for Brother Lee. He knew it would mean the world to Brother Lee to see that horse when he came home again.
            Lee had left a sack of sugar cubes with me, told me to give one to Black Diamond every day. When the sack was empty, Daddy took it to Gilliam’s General Store and Rufus filled it up again. Wouldn’t let my Daddy pay for it. Rufus said it was the least he could do to help a brave, young boy who was serving his country.
            In September, after he finished boot camp, Brother Lee got his orders for Viet Nam. He could have come home to visit before shipping out, but instead he sent Daddy the money he would have paid for a bus ticket. Brother Lee knew that a hard winter was coming, and Daddy would need that money to feed the family.

            One night, August 18, 1969 it was, Black Diamond took to crying and fretting, and there was nothing anybody could do to calm him down. He made so much noise that old Geo threatened to shoot him. Daddy got his own gun out then and told Geo that if he was gonna shoot Black Diamond, he better shoot to kill, cause that was what Daddy aimed to do to old Geo. Geo backed off then and went back to his house. “You Melungeons is crazy!” he snarled. Never spoke to Daddy again.
            Three days later, a black car pulled up to that little shack we lived in. Two men in Marine Corps dress blues stepped out of it. One of them patted my daddy on the back and handed him a telegram.  As I watched Daddy fall to his knees, Mommy come running out of the house crying, “No! No!” And Black Diamond…. He was howling like a banshee. His pain pierced my ears and cut me right to the bone.
            Later, Daddy told me what had happened. On August 18, Lee was riding in the back of a supply truck that stopped to pick up a fellow marine. That fellow threw his jacket into the back of the truck without realizing that that there was a grenade with a loose pen in the jacket’s pocket. Everybody in the back of that truck was killed. Poor Brother Lee never knew what happened.
            After that, Black Diamond wouldn’t take any food, not even a sugar cube, from nobody.  No matter what I said or did, that horse wouldn’t eat a bite. He just got weaker and weaker until, early one morning, my daddy found him dead in the field, under that big oak tree on the edge of our property, where he had said good bye to Brother Lee.

            On the night of August 18, 1970, I had a hard time sleeping, it being the first anniversary of Brother Lee’s death and all. There was a full moon so bright that it looked like daylight in our little shack. And there was a hoot owl by my window that wouldn’t keep quiet. I never went outside after dark, but that night I felt the pull of the moon, and I walked out the door and into the field. Up I stared at that full moon, so beautiful it made me dizzy. But then I heard the rustle of the wind through the leaves of that old oak tree, and I turned to see its silhouette against the moon… There was something under that tree, but I could not make out what it was. I walked closer and saw the silhouettes of a young man and a horse. The man had his arms wrapped around the horse’s neck, and the horse had his long graceful neck wrapped about the man’s body. I walked still closer, until I could see that the horse was Black Diamond with his youth, strength and beauty restored to him. And the young man was Brother Lee, standing proud and strong in his Marine Corp dress blues. He looked happier than I had ever seen him.  At first I thought they were real, that they had somehow come back from the dead. But then, just as I was about to reach out and touch my brother, they just disappeared into thin air, like a mirage.

            I don’t live in that shack anymore. I moved in with my cousin Dulcie in  Portsmouth, Virginia after Mommy and Daddy died. Got me a job as a bookkeeper for Flower’s Bakery. Jobs are easier to get in the city.

I still keep in touch with friends in Wise County. They tell me that there are some folks that claim to see a young marine riding bareback on a beautiful black horse under the full moon, on the road that runs past that old shack in Esserville. I tell them that when my time comes, I aim to go there on a night of the full moon and see if they will let me hitch a ride. Then we’ll all ride together to that place where tears are no longer, and dreams are always sweet.