Writing: Flora and Paul


A few months ago, a friendly acquaintance of mine posted on social media that she was taking part in a “write every day for 30 days” challenge. She’s a writer and a counselor, among many other roles, and I admired her discipline. I wanted to do it, too, but I’m not part of any writer’s group, and I already write so much for work, and I don’t really see this blog as a “writer’s blog,” and, well, let’s just say I’m pretty good with excuses.

This morning, it was different. I’m almost always writing in my head, but today it felt urgent. I decided to write everyday, and here seemed the most accessible and logical place to write whatever it is I'm going to write. I may still post a recipe or a decorating idea, but I might not. Consider yourselves (all three remaining readers) warned.

Flora and Paul

My grandparents met in the 1920s at a “measuring party,” a fund-raiser for the Grassy Valley Church Sunday School. The gist of the event was to guess how tall the fellows were. When the boys were measured, the “guessers” had to pay the difference in pennies. So, if you guessed six feet, and the young man measured up to six-two, you put two pennies in the jar. The party was held near the spring in Fox Holler where neighbors chilled the watermelons they grew. Peppery watercress, or ‘cress as the old timers called it, flourished wild all around the sweet and icy water.

Nannie must have been about seventeen. Her eyes were dark, dark brown, gentle and keen at the same time, but it was her teeth that Granddaddy remembered. She had a smile like stars he said. Granddaddy was tall. He stood six-two in his eighties, so most likely he was even taller as a young buck. Nannie guessed taller and paid the few cents it cost to flatter him. His eyes were piercingly blue. He was already losing his hair, but he had a job, a paying job, not a farm job but a job in town, in Knoxville. Nannie lived with her parents and half a dozen younger siblings.

He started courting her, bringing a store-bought box of chocolate candy every Sunday afternoon to keep her little brothers and sisters occupied. Nannie turned eighteen in May. She walked two miles to the highway and caught the bus to Knoxville and then the trolley to Market Square. She found a barber who agreed to bob and Marcel wave her long, dark hair, and and then she found a photographer and had her portrait made. When she got back home, her daddy whipped her. For running off to town? I asked. For spending her money like that? “No, for the hair.” Sixty years later, and her lips formed a hard, thin line thinking about it. In December, just two days before Christmas, she married Granddaddy in the living room. I’ve never seen any pictures. They went to Pittsburgh for their honeymoon because he wanted her to sleep overnight on a train. She wore a brown suit and shoes that hurt her feet bad. When she slipped them off that night, Granddaddy took out his pocket knife and sliced them into shreds. I asked what she thought about that. “They were brand new,” she said and looked out the window across the road, all the way to 1926.

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