Mamma and Nanny was always working. Nanny always said a man’s either gonna fish or cut bait but you best be believin you gonna be stuck with the fish bones if you the one cuttin and not catchin. Mamma? Well she had a job down at the Berkshire Woolen Company. Mamma made real fine skirts for the ladies. They went for about two thirty five in Parkins. She’d get up real early in the morning and made the sun seem pretty darned lazy if you ask me. Mamma would walk four miles to get down to the mill which wasn’t so bad I reckon if the weather went with her. But if the weather wasn’t with Mamma, that four mile walk sure could be awful hard. But you wasn’t never gonna hear Mamma complaining.
Nanny was always washing and cleaning and cooking. She did some seamstressin for some of the ladies in town too. And when she wasn’t doing that she was takin care of the animals. We had chickens and pigs and an old milking cow named Maisy. Nanny sure did love that ol’ thing. When she got to milking Maisy she’d start carrying on a conversation like they was best friends. Every now and again Maisy would start in mooing like she was talking back. It was pretty darned funny.
Then there was ol’ Earl, the one eared llama. Nobody knew for sure how Earl done lost his ear never mind how a llama came to be in Kanawa County in the first place. Nanny said Earl probably done lost his ear on account of them foxes or maybe some barbed wire. But we didn’t judge Earl none. Besides, Daddy was the one who done brought Earl home. He went out to throw horse shoes with Jace, and Harlan, and Roscoe’s Daddy’s one night. They was real good friends only Mamma didn’t think much of them. She said an apple don’t fall far from the tree and those boys was rotten to the core. I never even told her what they did to Mr. Jitters down at the creek. Mamma just knew. Kind of like you don’t have to see a dung heap to know ones near. All you have to do is to wait for the breeze to be blowing just right.
But Nanny spoke up for Daddy. Nanny was always speaking up for daddy. She said every dog has a few fleas. Mamma come right back at Nanny though and said that might be well and good but if you going to lay down with the dogs, you’re bound to get up with more fleas then you started with. I guess mamma didn’t mind Daddy’s fleas but she sure won’t going to tolerate nobody else’s. Mamma said her peace and just left it at that. I reckon she knew Daddy needed to get away from all the women in the house even if it was with a bunch of halfwits. That’s what mamma called them. Halfwits. Anyhow, daddy went out that night alone and came back the next morning with a moonshine hangover and a one eared llama.
We all had special affection for Earl. I guess its cause Daddy died the very next week. It was a Sunday and Daddy had gone night fishing. Daddy loved night fishing. He even took me on occasions. I must have been about nine the last time Daddy took me. I remember it like it was yesterday even though it’s been a good four years come and gone. The moon was high in the sky. A big fat moon so white and round. It was so big you could see the crate marks on it.
“Mmm…Jude Bean. That moon sure looks tasty girl. I’m getting a hankering for some cheese. What ya say Jude Bean? You want to take a bite out of that there moon?”
I can still remember the way my Daddy looked that night. Like a giant. But not a scary giant like the one on the stalk Jack took an axe to. He was more like a Paul Bunyan kind of giant. He was a tall man and so darned strong. I remember the way his arms felt underneath his red checked flannel. They was hard like rocks when he picked me up and held me high over his head so I could take a bite. And his voice was just as strong but there wasn’t nothing hard in it. Even more so, there was a knowingness there. Like when you heard my Daddy talking, you just knew everything was going to be alright. And if you weren’t for sure everything was going to turn out fine, well Daddy was.
“I swear Jude, that looks like the best Swiss cheese I ever had the delight of layin my eyes on. We get us some tomato and a couple a slices of Rye and we gonna have ourselves a mighty fine sandwhich.”
I can still remember giggling and feeling my Daddy so close, his chest like a big ol’ wall. There wasn’t nothing soft at all about my Daddy’s chest but it was still the most comfortable place you could ever think to lay your head on. And that’s just what I did that night. While the bull frogs got to croaking and the cicadas and crickets kicked up a fuss, I sat in Daddy’s lap leaning back into him with my head on his chest. And we sat like that together on the bank of the Kanawa River underneath the light of that Swiss cheese moon and I listened to the sound of his voice and the stories he had to tell. Daddy always had a story to tell. I guess that’s why so many people liked my Daddy. The knowingness in his voice and all those stories. Mamma once said Daddy could talk the ear off a deaf person. But his stories sure were good.
“Tell me again how you and Mamma met.”
There was a gentle breeze blowing that night filling the air with just a bitty chill. Daddy hugged me even tighter as he started to tell me my most favorite story.