Mountains of Memories
Copyright © 2015 by Parker Sheaffer
It took four days of walking to get to Knoxville and he encountered few others on the road. He was usually wary of those he did meet because a lot of stories were passed around the mountains about the evil ways of the flatlanders, even though the land here wasn't at all flat. The road wound through mile after mile of tall hills.
Some said that the folks here were thieves, or worse, so Lucas kept his money tied in a bandana and strapped to his calf, hidden by his baggy britches. The path from his home became a dirt road and eventually widened more as it was joined by other roads. It was much the same way that many streams made a river. Walking was tiresome, even though he had spent his whole life on foot. A couple of times when he was offered a ride in someone's buggy or wagon his weariness convinced him to accept so that his trip was made a good bit shorter.
There were farms along the way and the closer he got to the city the farms grew closer together. Finally he came to the top of a hill and saw the place of his fantasies sprawling before him on the banks of a wide river. Roof after roof ran in parallel lines up a rise until, on the very top, there sat a big building with a tall domed tower in its center. Lucas had never imagined anything so beautiful could be built by men. He wished that Les could be with him to share that first wonderful sight of it.
His arrival in Knoxville was memorable for two reasons. One was that his new life was about to begin and another reason was that, as he wandered wide-eyed through the dirt streets, dodging horses and their droppings, he heard people around him spreading the news from South Carolina. On April 12, 1860 they had attacked Fort Sumter and war had begun. It didn't mean much to Lucas at that time because he didn't know anything about war and he had only heard of South Carolina. War was something that happened to people who were a long way off and had nothing to do with him and the other mountain folks. Soon, of course, like all Americans, he would be well acquainted with the evil fortunes of the conflict that brought ruin to them all.
But for now he needed food and shelter. He was exhausted and his feet ached from the hard road. He had worn holes in both his boots and put a piece of birch bark inside them for protection.
Mr. Johnson, who had paid five dollars for him to leave, had given him some helpful information. There was a boarding house over by the Asylum for the Deaf and Dumb that was run by one of his second cousin's widow, a Mrs. Ogle. If she didn't have a room available she could help him to find one, and maybe a job.
He politely asked directions from a friendly looking stranger who smiled to see the young mountain lad with his old boots and travel stained trousers. The boy stood out among all of the clean, well dressed city folks. The man pointed him in the right direction and Lucas quickly found the house he sought. It was a white clapboard house of two stories with four rooms upstairs, where the boarders stayed, and downstairs was another bedroom, a dining room and a parlor. A kitchen had been built onto the back side and a small patch of green grass separated the front of the house from the road. He knew the lady must be rich because her house had real glass windows upstairs and down.
A woman was working beside the walkway that led to the door. She seemed to be about his mother's age, with a pleasant face and a big calico bonnet on her head. She was planting flowers and heard him approach. Looking up at him with a warm smile, she asked, "And what can I do for you, young man?"
"Ma'am, I'm a-lookin' for Missus Ogle."
"I'm Lucille Ogle, and who might you be?"
Lucas politely said, "Lucas Reagan, ma'am. Well, ma'am, I come from the mountains and I were a neighbor of Mr. Johnson and he said that you and him was cousins and I should see you when I got to town about maybe getting' a room to stay."
It all came out in one breathless sentence. She laughed at the boy's nervousness and thought that he was an attractive young boy.
Rising, she wiped her hands on her apron and said, "You didn't have to tell me that you come from the mountains. Your clothes told me that. So you know old Jake Johnson, do ya'? How's that old dog doin'? I reckon I ain't seen him in four years or more. He still alive and kickin'?"
"Uh, yes, ma'am. They're all doin' right fine, I guess." Lucas relaxed some when he saw that she was nice.
"You say you're lookin' for a room. I ain't got one empty right now. There's two fellows sleeping in every one of my beds and they don't like to share. I can give you something to eat though, if you're hungry." Mrs. Ogle looked him over and said, "It looks like your clothes could use washing too, but food first. Come on 'round back here."
She led him to the back porch and showed him where to wash up then had him sit down on a bench that had been hewn from a split log with short sticks of wood for legs. She went inside and quickly returned with a tin plate loaded up with a thick slice of boiled ham, some sweet potatoes, green beans and a big square of cornbread. Lucas thought it was the best food he had ever eaten, but then he had seldom been this hungry.
While he ate, Mrs. Ogle said, "Earl McCarthy has a general store a couple of streets over. He might be lookin' for somebody to help around the place. I think he's got a spare room, too. He goes to our church so he knows me pretty good. We'll go over there when you're done and see what he says. It would be a sight better than going to one of those factories to work."
Lucas was grateful for her help and was happy that there was a chance that things might work out for him. After he finished eating, Mrs. Ogle and her daughter Myrtle took his clothes to wash, both the ones from his pack and the ones he was wearing. While they dried Mrs. Ogle gave him some of her late husband's britches and a shirt to wear.
She said, "Those britches are some too big for you, but I reckon you can tie them tight. You can keep 'em. I don't have no need for them anymore and they're a sight better than what you was wearing. Besides, you want to look nice when you talk to Earl."
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