Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Dismal Creek

This blog is set aside for all things Hubbard.  Very recently we had a nice picnic with friends on the Tennessee and Ohio rivers, Hubbard style.  Only a few days after, I became very sick with bronchitis.  Sickness and pain with fever often bring lucidity, and my brain insisted on writing this short story.  It is a bit removed from the Hubbard subject, however I have to point out that not long before Anna and Harlan were married, they brought a copy of Cross Creek with them on their canoe trip up the Licking River.  It was always their custom to read together.

The Yearling, Cross Creek, and most of the writings of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings have always been a great favorite of mine.  The simple people who become her characters have always fascinated me.  You can see her influence has almost written this story.

Know that there really is a Dismal Creek in Florida.  As you see, it is a place that stimulates the imagination.

Dismal Creek

Bare footprints compacted a pattern on the sandy bank of Dismal Creek.  A canopy of Spanish moss hung down close over the activity.  The place was heartbreakingly beautiful, but Claire understood the name for the creek.  In some secluded places, the moss was a dense gray on gnarly trees, and wind in them could make a moaning sound.

They were getting ready for another day of traveling the dirt road that ran along the side of the water.  The creek was their route on the way for work at an orange plantation in Florida.  They had a long way to go.

Claire liked sleeping under the moss.  It made her feel more protected, like her own canopy bed.  She stuffed a pillowcase with moss for them to lay their heads on.  This was luxury, and she lay in bed this morning a bit longer enjoying it.

Tim caught a nice fish for their breakfast.  She fried it in cornmeal, and saved some for latter.  They would not have to stop long to eat.  They had a renewed vigor for traveling in them since Tuesday, when they came across a small family living along the creek.  There were two children.  They were very interested in children now as they expected one of their own come spring.

The Landry’s had a small farm.  There was a cow and a few chickens and a good crop this year, yet they remained very poor.  They shared a fine meal with Claire and Tim.  Then they sang hymns together and told stories.  Tim spread their bearskin on the family’s floor, and they slept in the cozy cabin that night.  They found new friends on the creek, and there was more happiness in Claire’s steps now.

Claire had asked little Nell the name of her play-dolly.  Nell looked so surprised, like she had never thought of such a thing.  

“What’s your name?”  


“That’s my dolly, her name is Claire.”  

Claire smiled noticing that the crude doll, muslin stuffed with moss, had a very pretty embroidered face.  “Did your mommy make her?”  Nell nodded, holding her doll lovingly.  

“Nell, when I have a little girl, I am going to make her a play-dolly just like this and name her doll Nell after you.”  Then the child’s plain face shown with intense pleasure.

Getting ready for the day did not take long.  All that they owned was what they carried, and Tim needed a free hand for his rifle, ready for bear or snakes, or the opportunity to hunt.  They bathed in the creek in the evening and rubbed each other with a light coating of camphor oil to keep mosquitos away. They boiled the clearest water they could find; strained though muslin into a pan and put over the fire each night. They toted it in glass jars wrapped in muslin. This went into Claire’s flat-sided basket, along with dried tea and medicine herbs, tooth brushing sticks, soap, her prized mirror, scissors, and comb.  She added the fire making implements, a few tools, a small book of Psalms, and the knitting needles Tim had just made for her.  She would start knitting for the baby when she could find some yarn to buy from the coin money Tim had hidden. 

Into a large sack Tim tightly packed a large frying pan, Dutch oven, one pot for boiling, a large wooden spoon he had carved, funnel, two metal spoons and forks, and a sharp knife along with some tin-ware carefully wrapped in pieces of muslin.  He added the salt, cornmeal, beans, grinding stone and what other foodstuffs they had gathered along the way. The Landry’s gave them a piece of salt pork.

Claire lay the night shifts made from feed sacks, a clean change of clothes for each, along with a few linens, netting and blankets across the bearskin.  Tim rolled them tightly into an oiled tarp that kept everything dry.  He tied the roll at both ends and slung the large bundle effortlessly across the back of his shoulders.

The morning was a bit chilly and she pulled her mama’s shawl around her shoulders, watching Tim with wonder.  He had delighted everyone showing little Clay Landry how to make a water-wheel from palmetto leaves and small sticks. It turned easily in the water of the flowing creek.  She would never forget the excitement, and she knew what a wonderful father Tim would prove to be.

She set their lunch in a tin plate, covered with another at the top of the basket,  her sunbonnet smoothed over all.  She knew there was one more thing that needed doing.  She handed Tim the comb and bowed her head.  He parted her hair expertly and kissed her forehead with the pronouncement, “Clean and tidy.”  

In return, he lifted his straw hat, handed her the comb, and bowed his head.  “Clean and tidy,” she said happily, as she turned to pick up the heavy basket.

*Harlan and Sambo on the deck of the shantyboat in bayou country of Louisiana.  

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