In his younger days, some had called him handsome. Now, old age had set in. He was desperate. Clem knew he wouldn’t last the winter without a woman.
Oh, he was interested in loving, all right, if his health permitted, but, more importantly, he was interested in good food, lively conversation, and someone to help with the chores. If the gal played checkers and smoked a pipe, it was all the better. It’d been a while since clean overalls hung on his tall, lean frame. His shirts and socks also needed mending.
His bones were brittle from lack of nutrition and hard work; his feet misshapen from wearing boots too small; and most of his teeth were missing. The last tooth he’d pulled himself with some worn, rusted pliers borrowed from a friend. He had washed the pliers in moonshine, and, after the painful extraction, had rinsed his mouth repeatedly with the brew. He knew the art of gnawing food but was praying for a new pair in case his new wife was good at making vitals.
He had just the gal in mind. Ruby Mae lived across the creek. Her husband had passed in the spring. It was rumored that Ruby’s mama had done him in with hemlock. He thought it might be so. Any woman, old or young, who wore a pan on her head must be crazy.
It had been a while since he went calling on a girl but had worked out his mind just what was needed. He had shot and killed three squirrels. The varmints were cleaned and hanging on a stick. He kept the pelts just in case the lady was of a mind to make him slippers. He also picked fall witch hazel flowers and tied them with twine. He knew that the flower helped with skin ailments of all types. When used topically it was fine but if ingested it could cause a person’s body to back up for several of days. He wanted the pan hatted lady to be aware of his knowledge about poison plants – just in case, she had any mischief in mind.
The creek water was running low. The fall rain showers had been brief and far between. Thunder and lightning aside, he enjoyed a good rain. His tin bathtub had a small hole, so he had taken to dancing in the rain with a small piece of soap made from lard.
The worn-looking cabin was straight ahead. He could see the ladies sitting on the front porch hulling beans of some sort. He hoped it was black eye peas. They tasted mighty fine when seasoned with hog jowls.
“Gals, it’s Clem from across the creek,” he called out a greeting. It wouldn’t do any good to frighten a lady, especially since he was calling with wife finding in mind.
The younger woman, Ruby Mae, stood to greet him. Martha, the older woman stayed seated in her rocker and scowled at him.
“Clem, it’s nice to be seein’ you.”
“Ruby Mae,” he nodded and awkwardly handed her the squirrel meat.
“Well, I’m thankful. Why don’t you join me and Mama for dinner? I’ll make us a fine supper.”
True to her word, the meal was delicious. The witch hazel flowers placed in a mason jar were centered on the table. Two candles made from bee comb sat on either side of the centerpiece.
“Ruby Mae, the meal was mighty fine.” Clem hemmed and hawed. “I’m needin’ me a woman, and I’m thinkin’ you’re the gal.”
Sweet Ruby Mae blushed, and Martha made a sound similar to a growl.
“Clem, I’m honored. My Homer done passed, and I’m gettin’ scared about the snow. I’m worried that Mama and me can’t manage the farm,” she looked down at the worn floorboards. “Is you thinkin’ of movin’ here or is me and Mama coming to your place.”
It hadn’t occurred to Clem to relocate across the creek, but the idea sat well with him. Ruby Mae’s home was pleasant, clean, and well kept. He spied jars of canned fruit, vegetables, and meat in the small room off the kitchen.
“It’ll be fine to be moving here,” Clem answered. “But we’re needed to talk about Mama. I done heard that she killed Homer. If it’s true, I best be knowing before the preacher man is called.”
Ruby Mae looked toward her mother. “Mama…”
The older woman smiled a toothless grin. “I ain’t kilt nobody. There was a time or two that I was wantin’ to send Homer to his Maker, but I done feared for my eternal wellbein’. I won’t kill ya. I’m promisin’. I’ll be helping Martha to tend you. I’m knowing how to make food that you can gnaw and feed you gullet. I’ll even warsh your clothes.”
“That’s mighty fine.” Clem replied.
The wedding took place the following week. Ruby Mae looked lovely in pale blue dress with a small pocket placed over her heart. The pocket was trimmed in lace. Her message was subtle, but Clem knew that his bride’s heart now belonged to him, and his heart belonged to her. Martha stood next to her daughter wearing the old pot for a hat.
When the preacher told the newlyweds to kiss, Clem leaned in for a smooch. Before his lips touched Ruby Mae’s, he noticed a sprig of dried hemlock peeking from the lacy pocket. Ruby Mae winked and whispered in his ear, “And you thought it was Mama…”
Note: I found the picture above when I Googled Appalachian love stories. Because there was no story included, I decided to write my own.