Thursday, April 9, 2009

Telling Tales

This is a departure from my usual poetry posts, but with Easter's arrival, I've been thinking about Tales from the Holler, autobiography, I swear.

I call this one Animalosity...

Most of my friends are animal people. They wax poetic about their dogs, their cats, their birds. They mourn the fish they flush, the geckos that escape. I, on the other hand, have no affection for furry, fuzzy friends. Let me tell you why...

In 1958, in Appalachia, at Easter, every little girl wanted an Easter dress, a pair of patent leather shoes, a little straw purse with silk flowers around the top, an Easter basket, and a multi-colored, dyed in the fluff Easter chick.

I can still remember following the peeping sounds down the wide tile stairs of G.C. Murphy’s to find the cardboard box teeming with chicks. They were green, they were pink, they were yellow. They peeped and pooped and climbed on one another’s backs, trying to escape the confines of those boxes. And for twenty-five cents, a girl could put her hands into that box, encase a body light as fluff, and give that chick a home.

And so we did, my sister and I. We cupped our hands round the fast-beating hearts of Pinky and Greenie. We took them home and put them in our own cardboard box to keep them safe. They were our Easter chicks!

Now, in 1958, in Hughes Creek Holler, folks lived in what my dad called “wall to wall poverty.” Our family had three rooms and a path. Literally. Our bathroom was the kitchen sink, where Mother filled a washtub for bathing, and our outhouse was, well…out.

It didn’t have a moon on the door, but it really was a little brown shack out back, and believe me, there was nothing cute or romantic about it. Anyone who is nostalgic for that sort of thing never had to go outside and sit in a dark little building on a wooden bench with the hole cut in. They never had to smell the stench of the muck below. They never had to watch the spiders crawling up the walls or fight the wasps that came inside.

They never had to track the peeps and peeps of a missing chick, and they certainly never had to say goodbye to a little green ship afloat… well, I think you get it.


Another Easter, a few years later, the whole school is having an Easter egg hunt, and the prize for finding the most eggs will be a real-live EASTER BUNNY!

With Timmy Proctor’s love offering (he of the f-e-a-r on every knuckle) and with the eggs I found on my own, I won the prize!

I can only imagine how thrilled my mother must have been when I came home – somehow – with a rabbit, a real live Easter rabbit: Thumper.

Did you know that rabbits scratch people? Neither did I, but WonderBoy, my little brother, found out after three short days! And so, after just enough time to for me to bond with Thumper, I had to GET RID OF THAT RABBIT!

At school, I asked my first love, Miss Haygood, if she would take my rabbit, and she agreed enthusiastically. Problem solved! Thumper would have a good home. My bunny and my teacher -- what a perfect match!

Okay. I’m sure you can see this coming. But it’s true.

A few days after giving him away, I innocently asked Miss Haygood, “How’s Thumper? How’s the rabbit?”

She must have misheard. She must not have heard the present tense. She must not have heard the plea in my voice, because she uttered a word I’ll never forget as long as I live, a word that hardened my heart against animal love forever.

“How’s Thumper?” I asked with childish innocence.

Her eyes rolled heavenward, her hand clutched at her middle, and a smile crept into her voice.

“Delicious!” was all she said.

Never again.


  1. That's awful and funny all at the same time.) Great post. I was transported. Hope you'll be taking us for a few more trips down memory lane. Happy day lovely.)


  2. Now you can't eat kitties, and probably not 'flush' them, but I understand your trauma. These were a delight to read on a day I'm not reading blogs because I am BURIED UP TO MY SKULL trying to finish you know what. :-)

  3. I love your writing, Karen. What you say about romanticizing "country rustic" is so true. I have seen those slick glossies now that try to make outhouses seem romantic. Either the people were looking at their memories through rose colored glasses or they have never lived in poverty. "Wall to wall" poverty is a perfect way to describe it. That entire description is so powerful.

    The part about your bunny made me so sad! I still think it's beautiful, though. Your writing is beautiful. It inspires me...YOU inspire me...and I'm so glad to know you here in this lil' bloggy world of ours. You rock, woman!

  4. Karen,
    This made me laugh outloud. My grandfather always bought us about a dozen of those colorful chicks every Easter. In July, my grandmother would fry them up and pray we would ask "who" we were eating.

    Now talk about that outhouse. I have a story about beagle pups shut in one for the weekend while my Grandparents went to the Worlds Fair. They nuzzled the seat off the hole and well..........did you know that the combination of the stuff in the hole and a lye soap bath makes puppies lose their hair?

    But my mom can make some rabbit! I would never eat it of course. Just smelled it and mumbled something about "Only carrots please."

    You need to do more of this. The era and the history of Appalachia is so rich, even if it is "wall to wall" poverty.

  5. Selchie - I like the way you put this - awful and funny at the same time. Thanks for coming back by.

    Cat - I'm glad you found the time to stop by in the midst of all your work! I'm sure you needed a little break. And no, no whiskers. :-)

    Julie - You know, for a long time, I really didn't want an animal, and these were my semi-humorous reasons. Of course, with three children and an animal-loving husband, I got over that pretty quickly. We have had at least one of each - could have started our own ark, I think - but we never ate any of them! ;-)

    Thanks for your supportive comments.

    Roberta - I love the beagle story! Honestly, as we say here, "takes one to know one," and I know you really do. Until the incident with Thumper, I didn't know people actually ate rabbits. I think that was the end of my innocence. :-)

  6. Rachel - Ya gotta laugh. Or you'll cry.

  7. Julie - Actually, what my dad used to say was, "We have wall-to-wall poverty, instant nothin'."

  8. Reminds me of the stories my dad tells - only they lived in wall-to-wall poverty in the back woods of Washington State and on the high plains of Wyoming. With a family of nine children, they had a double seater outhouse that never stayed in one spot for too long. My dad and his brothers had the glorious job of digging the new hole and relocating the outhouse from year to year.

    Hilarious horribleness are these stories you've told - "delicious" - that kills me! My cheeks hurt from laughing, but I feel so sorry for the dumbfounded little girl that had to harden her heart against bunny owning...

  9. Karen... that was so so sad. I love bunnies (even Bugs Bunny)... and well the "Delicious" part didn't make laugh but break my heart for the girl. How could she do that to a little girl?

    And my dad has worked all his life to bring our family from "wall-to-wall poverty" to where we are now. Thankfully, I've never seen such days... but only heard stories of where my ancestors lived. And every time I think of it, I respect my Dad a little more.

  10. PS: This was a very welcome change Karen.

    We do love your poetry but its fun to have such posts once in a while. Makes us know you better. :P

  11. bsp, Jana - Thanks for sharing that about your dad. Somehow, I thought we had dibs on poverty! Now, I could tell some stories about my parents' lives that make my own look luxurious. I'm glad you got a laugh out of this. You should have seen her face -- pure joyous remembrance.

    Aniket - In defense of my teacher: she probably saw that rabbit as a meal from the beginning. In my innocence, I didn't know that this was a possibility, but for her it was an opportunity. She had no idea I would be horrified.

    As for the poverty, we didn't know we were poor at that time. Everyone else was the same. My parents worked very hard to drag us out of that -- and did. They insisted on education as the means to rise above our lot, and they now are head of a family of doctors, lawyers, educators, librarians, and technology gurus. All of their children and grandchildren have advanced degrees, and none lives in poverty. Through hard work, my parents rose above their lot in life and were, themselves, highly successful people. I'm very proud of them.

  12. I understand Karen.

    Your teacher must have had no clue. :(

    And I have the utmost respect for your parents. They seem so similar to mine in so many ways. Though me and my brother are yet to get our advanced degrees. :-D

    But he is now the head of family of techos. And always makes faces when we try to get him to use something fancy. Like he hates the mouse pad on laptop and insists to use a USB mouse instead. And we have upgraded our home system with RAM, graphic card etc, to support the latest of games... and he still plays Solitaire. :-D

    Its an honor to know a self made man. After reading your post, Now I at least know two.

  13. Karen - my sisters and I would pick out those poor little chicks every Easter season at Murphy's - right after buying our Easter outfits at Embee's. I can still smell those little colorful chicks, the heat lamps making the odor that much more offensive. I would take mine home and play with it for a couple of days until it died. Didn't they all die from being Dyed??? I still have bad dreams.....

    Your reminiscences are so poignantly told. Thank you for sharing them. Happy Easter with love.

  14. K - When I was writing this, I wanted to mention the smell, but I couldn't think how to describe it. Salty, barnyard...pungent. I had forgotten about the lamps! Embee's -- the only place to shop! LOL

    Happy Easter@

  15. Karen, I loved every word of this. Please, PLEASE recount more wonderful stories! Just effortlessly told and brought home. And I enjoyed learning more about your childhood. What a twist to the heart to hear one's beloved pet has become a meal. I'm feeling guilty about taking pleasure from such horrific moments of your life! But I couldn't help myself. I just love a story well told. ;)

  16. Sarah - Thankfully, my Thumper love was only days old, but truly, add that to Greenie, and I was done!!! LOL I laugh about it now, too.

    I look back on my early life and think it really was a different world I lived in then, bearing no resemblance to the one I inhabit now but certainly shaping the way I view it.

    I'm glad you enjoyed this.

  17. Oh Karen, these are such fantastic stories!! This is the stuff of real life. Heartbreaking, but real!

    I hesitate to mention that Jason has a story that somewhat resembles the rabbit story, although his is told from the other perspective. Let's just say we were in our poor, starving college student phase... And, I haven't eaten rabbit since...

  18. Aine - Your comment cracks me up! I can just picture the two of you, and especially you, forcing yourself to eat a Thumper! Real life is so much stranger than fiction!! :-)

    Enjoy the EASTER BUNNY -- preferably in chocolate! LOL

  19. A wonderful story, hon, though sad no doubt...awe poor creatures, and you as that little girl, I can understand your being crushed!


  20. Loved the peep story!! My father used to get peeps too. He told me about the ones which grew into roosters in the attic!!

    (Oh, I see Aine brought up the lab bunny story....)

  21. Calli - Thank you! I hope you had a happy day, too.

    Jason - So you're a bunny eater, too, huh? Funny! A couple of the comments here have been about the cruelty of my teacher, but of course, I understand now that she was thrilled to have the rabbit for her food. That wasn't cruelty; it was survival.

    I'd love to hear roosters in the attic! Can you imagine that sound? LOL

  22. Karen, I've been waiting for this story since you’ve mentioned it on my blog.


    Can't say I didn't imagine it coming... but I just can't take it. :-) My heart is sinking in the pit of my stomach.

    I know people, though, who very nonchalantly consider themselves rightfully at the top of the food pyramid.

    I had the opportunity to experience the little brown shack out back, and your description of it brought back memories...

  23. Vesper - You know, trying to make this semi-humorous is my way of dealing with it. The whole thing is true - both stories. I'm sure it didn't occur to my teacher that she should NOT eat the rabbit. She had a hard, hard life (I learned in adulthood).

    Here's an aside about the outhouse: my school even had one until I was in 5th grade! Can you imagine? LOL