Sad Echoes from a Distant Past

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A VG Serial: Jory Sherman’s Hills of Eden

Episode 33

There was once a fine farm on a road, with a hill behind it, and a field in front of it that sloped gentle toward a lazy creek full of fish and crawdads. Near the creek were beaver and mink, water spiders and the chipped flint arrowheads left behind by summering Indians who lived off the land and left almost nothing behind to memorialize their existence.

The farm was built long after the Indians had been driven off the land, crushed out of existence, absorbed into the blood of a people crazed on the concept of “Manifest Destiny.”

The farm was modest, small in acreage, but tucked back away from the main roads so that the man who built it, worked it, could live peaceable and Christian, according to his heart.

The farmer’s name was Jethro Gibson and he had come to the Ozarks from the hills of Tennessee. He lived there on his farm for many years, grew a family, saw his children move away, far away to California, saw his wife’s health deteriorate, his garden shrink, his fields go fallow and weed over. Everyone thought Mrs. Gibson would die first. But, that was not to be.

I think old Jethro collapsed in the shed next to his garage. Died of a heart attack. A neighbor, Elwyn Newshire, found Mr. Gibson there, tried to help him. Elwyn, a polio victim, didn’t have full use of his arms and legs, and although he tried to help, Mr. Gibson didn’t survive.

There were two little houses on the place, besides the garage and shed. One of the Newshire women lived in one house for a while, taking care of Mrs. Gibson. Then, a few months after her husband died, Mrs. Gibson passed on.

The Gibson place is out of the way. It’s about twenty-five or thirty miles to the nearest large town. There is a little country store out this way, about three or four miles distant. You can get a lot of things at that little store and the prices are about the same as you would pay in the Berryville, Green Forest or Harrison markets. I don’t know how he does it.

Anyway, there’s no one there at the Gibson place anymore. In fact, Elwyn and his mother, Edna, don’t live next door either. She has passed on and Elwyn has moved to a small town.

The Gibson place has never been for sale. I asked why and somebody told me the family just kept it for sentimental reasons. There are two old cars there, rusting away. One is a Ford, the other a Mercury. They were intact when we moved in here, about a mile from there. Since then, the cars have been stripped, gutted, the windshields blasted away by shotguns. The clear glass is now opaque, a complex of shattered crystals more intricate than a spider’s web.

The gravelly country road, tire-lethal with flint chips, runs right through the abandoned farm. The branch runs below the garage and shed, into Osage Creek. On the other side of the road are two small houses. Side by side. Their windows stare broken and vacant onto the road. The mailbox is a nesting place for rats. So is the shed and garage. The houses are nesting places for everything: wasps, snakes, rabbits, owls, mice and immortal cockroaches.

There are things in the houses. I’ve seen some of them. But, going into the old houses is sad. There are pieces of clothing that belonged to the children, or to the parents who died after the children left home. There are the cupboards with a few items of food still left on the shelves, the labels faded, the cans swollen from poisonous gases, the ragged cardboard remnants of boxes almost fossilized after being chewed up and used for nests or privies by small animals. Heaped up rodent droppings make a miniature landscape atop the rotted linoleum.

The things in the house are: a cook stove, some beds, calendars and newspapers, broken cups, a religious scene hung in a frame on the wall, some pieces of toys, parts of a wood heating stove, rags, a few dirty drinking glasses on the warped drain board next to the stained sink. There are some susurrous shadows in the rooms that don’t belong to anyone anymore. They were just left there like worn out long johns to keep company with the dust and move around with the sunlight that manages to get through the dirt-caked windows. There are, too, some old sad echoes that are so faint you have to strain to hear them: “Pa, supper’s on the table. Give me the doll. Here comes the mailman. Would you fetch the milk? Goodbye, Mama. They’s a copperhead under the porch. Looks like rain.”

Hills of Eden will be published every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

Please click the title, Hills of Eden, to read more about Jory Sherman and his books.

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