The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

A Winning Pair - Faith And Grit

By Eva Hamilton © 1987

Issue: March, 1987

Ben Foley, half asleep, sucked in a swallow of raw smoke and choked. Coughing violently, he grabbed his robe and slippers and dashed into the hallway. His ears picked up the crackling sound of burning wood and a red glow at the front of the house shone through the dense smoke. "My God!" he gasped, groping his way to a rear door. He bolted into the dark, chilly night just as the front wall collapsed.

He stood dazed and stared blankly at the hot, red ashes. The inferno marked the spot where earlier that spring night the ancestral Foley homestead had stood, so near the majestic Smoky's that on a clear day one could almost reach out and touch the swaying pines. Sally, his crippled, motherless daughter, was the fifth generation to call it home. Now the cycle had abruptly ended. "Thank you, Father," he murmured, "that she wasn't here." His mouth tasted salty and he realized that he was crying.

Sympathetic neighbors huddled helplessly around the remains but the old house was beyond saving. It had happened so fast.

When the heat finally subsided, Jake Lamonte stepped forward and reached out his hand. "Sorry, Ben. What happened?"

"Don't know, Jake." Exhaustion overcame him and he leaned against a tree trunk for support.

"What about little Sally?"

The older man's wrinkled face reminded Ben of leather that had been exposed to the hot sun and cold wind. Standing next to his own raw boned frame, his father's old friend seemed smaller than ever. He feels as bad as I do, Ben thought. "I'm supposed to pick Sally up at the hospital tomorrow."

"Where'll you put her?"

"The old cabin out back should do for the summer. I'll rebuild before winter...somehow."

"Got insurance, Ben?"

"Some. Not enough."

"You look tuckered out. Come home and bunk with me. My brother's clothes should fit you. Kept 'em after he died."

"Thanks, Jake. Sure can use some rest...and clothes."

"I'll scrub the cabin while you're gone tomorrow."

Ben awoke the next morning in Jake's three room cottage to the pleasant odors of strong, hot coffee and sizzling bacon. Across the foot of his cot a complete wardrobe was laid out. He stroked the shiny blue serge suit and the fume of mothballs mingled with the breakfast aroma.

Jake stuck his bald head in the doorway and adjusted his gold rimmed spectacles. "Mornin', Ben. Figured this breakfast smell would rouse you." A faded denim apron, much too large, was wrapped around his thin waist and tied in front. Ben smiled.

"You're a true friend, Jake," Ben said as they ate, "Like you was to Pa. Sure wish the Honorable Thomas C. Bradley was like you."

"Well, our esteemed bank president has hated you ever since his boy upset your tractor and broke his neck. He knows it wasn't your fault."

"He claims I enticed Lew by leavin' the motor run while I went in the gas station."

"He knows better, just won't admit it. He could be headed for trouble himself...the crazy way he drives."

"Regardless of his feelings towards me, I got to ask for a loan to rebuild."

"You'd ask him for a favor?"

"Not for me, for Sally. Anyway, that's what a bank's for."

As Ben was leaving for the hospital, Jake said, "Sally'll need clothes too. My niece's girl has outgrowed hers."

"No wonder your body's small, Jake. It all goes to heart." He put an arm around Jake's shoulders and squeezed him. "Bless you."

It was dark when Ben returned with his daughter. She was lying on the back seat bed that he'd made for her. He lifted her gently and started for the cabin.

She raised her head and said, "Take me to my own room, Daddy." A small gold cross that had belonged to her mother hung from her neck on a chain. Her finger tips caressed it lovingly.

"Thought we'd camp out for a spell. You've always wanted to camp on Ole Smokies, under God's beautiful stars."

When they entered the cabin she wrinkled her little nose in distaste. "This old furniture smells funny, Daddy."

"It won't when the cabin's aired out. See how nice Jake scrubbed it? And look at the pretty clothes he gave you."

She pushed the clothes aside and gave a mighty yawn. "How come there's no lights in our big house tonight?"

Ben searched for the right words to answer her. "Sally he finally said, "You're almost ten years old, old enough to understand what happened. Our home burned to the ground last night."

Instantly she was wide awake. "Oh, no, Daddy! Not our nice home!" Tears gathered in her big blue eyes and spilled over onto her soft cheeks.

Ben watched her misery and tried to find the right words to comfort her. "I'll need your help this summer, Sally."

"You know I can't walk, Daddy.

"There's all sorts of help, honey. Just keep smiling. That's the kinda help I need most."

"I'll try, Daddy. Honest. I'll ask God's help."

"That's my girl!" He leaned over and kissed the top of her head, then laid his face against her soft flaxen hair. "Jake put clean sheets on the sofa. I'll tuck you in. Then we'll start tomorrow with the exercises the hospital gave you." He carried her to the sofa and laid her down. "You gotta have faith that they'll help."

"I do have faith, Daddy. I know I'll get well." He laid a reassuring hand on her shoulder. "I was just getting used to my new bike when that truck..." Her eyes shifted to her legs.

"Jake'll help you exercise every day and Mrs. Sweetwater, down the road, will fix your meals. We'll get along just fine." She gave him an understanding nod and forced a smile.

Calling on the bank for a loan was about the most distasteful thing Ben ever had to do. He took a deep breath and squared his broad shoulders before entering Mr. Bradley's office.

"Morning, Foley," Mr. Bradley grunted. "Need something?"

Ben noticed that Thomas C. Bradley didn't rise from his chair or offer his hand. "Well, sir, I got a problem and figure maybe the bank can help me. My home burned to the ground and I got to rebuild before cold weather."

"Too bad, Foley. Heard about it. Got insurance?"

"Some, but I need about twenty thousand more. I'll do lots of the work myself."

"Got any collateral?"

"My land and car...and tractor."

"Your car's not worth much, Foley, and the land sets back off the main road. We'll skip the tractor."

"Even so, I got a job over in Centerville. Couldn't I get a loan on the strength of that?"

"Supposing you lost your job, or quit? The bank's money has to be protected."

"But you've known me all my life."

"And I haven't found you to be the most responsible person in the community..."

"If you're referring to Lew's..."

"I'll thank you to keep my dead son's name out of this!"

Ben leaped to his feet. "You don't want to believe the truth!" he bellowed. "Some day you may need help." He slammed the door behind him. His hands were damp and shaking when he reached the sidewalk.

Jake, waiting a few doors up the street, said, "No need askin' what happened. It's writ all over your face."

As they drove home, Ben said, "I heard that the county's lookin' for men with tractors to do road work. May tune up my old one, sharpen the sickle bar and set in some new teeth, then see if there's any part time work."

"Could be, Ben. Talk to Sam, the foreman. Tell him you know me."

A couple of days later, Ben told Sally, "Sam wants me to start tomorrow mowin' along the approaches to Ole Smoky, after I finish my main job."

"You'll be gone all day, Daddy," she lamented.

"Sorry, honey, but this'll just be 'til we get settled in a house again. You want that too."

"I understand," she said. "I'll try to be patient, like you said." She forced a little smile.

"Good, girl." He kissed her upturned face. "We'll both keep askin' God's help."

Two months later, he said, "Sam has orders to get rid of a nice bungalow that stands in the path of an approach to the new highway. Says he'll swap it to me for couple weeks of road work. Then we got to move it."

"Oh, Daddy," she squealed, "I'll pray about it every day." She reached out her arms to embrace him and her rocker tilted slightly. Her left foot slid sideways on the floor and righted the chair. Ben's heart leaped for joy at the sight of the wasted muscles responding. Praise the Lord! The unspoken words resounded through his whole body and his lips trembled.

He quickly decided against calling it to Sally's attention. In her excitement over the house, she hadn't noticed it. The thrill would be greater if she herself discovered the renewed life.

A week later, Ben watched the evening shadows deepen as he drove homeward on his tractor. He was exhausted from mowing grass all day and looked forward to the next day, Sunday, and relaxing with Sally.

A short distance ahead a small group of people stood alongside the road and a man waved him down. "We need a tractor," he said. "Garages are all closed for the weekend. Think you could pull that car on the ledge down there onto the road?" He pointed to a late model car, only the outline of which was visible. "It's against the embankment, about a seven foot drop."

"Well, I don't know..." Ben replied, stepping to the ground. It felt good to stretch his legs after a day on the tractor seat. "Anybody in the car?"

"Yeah, but the way the car's settin', he can't open the doors."

"I'll take a look," Ben said, sliding sideways down the embankment. He turned a flashlight on the car and the driver rolled down the front window.

"Think you can get me out of here?" a voice asked.

Ben directed the light inside the car. "Well, if it ain't Mr. Bradley!"

"Oh, it's you Foley. I need help."

"That so? Mind my tellin' you that some day you'd be on the askin' end?"

"All right, Foley...Ben...maybe I did speak in haste but I do need help. Someone cut in front of me and I lost control. Can't get out...."

"Well, sir, I never turn my back on anyone needin' help, so I'll do what I can."

"Thank you, Ben. I'm not one to forget a favor. The Lord must have sent you."

"Didn't know you was on close terms with Him." Ben climbed back to the road and took a couple of shovels and a tow chain off the rear end of the tractor.

"Need help?" asked a stranger dressed in overalls.

"Sure do. Got to scrape off a stretch of that bank so I can back down close enough to move that car."

Someone else turned his headlights on the spot and the volunteer began to fashion a short roadbed. Ben then spread some small branches on the fresh dirt for more traction.

He slowly backed down the grade to a position where he could join the two vehicles with the tow chain. His motor coughed, then gave a mighty heave. Mr. Bradley's car began to move, then started up the grade.

Mr. Bradley, plainly shaken by his experience, stepped from his automobile as the spectators dispersed. "Sitting down there alone in the dark, I got to thinking," he said. "You were tired and anxious to get home, yet you stopped to help me, not even caring who I was. If you hadn't, I'd probably have spent the night down there." He reached in his pocket and pulled out a roll of paper money. "Here...take this."

"Keep your money, Mr. Bradley. Pa always said it's a poor excuse of a man who can't help another without taking pay."

"Sounds like your pa. But your home, every dollar counts."

"I'm holdin' down two jobs and have a house to be moved."

"You got grit! I mean that! Got anyone to move it?"

"Not yet, but it'll be there when I'm ready."

"My son in law's in the moving business..."

"I got an investment in his business. If you can pay the movers' wages, that's all it'll cost you."

"I'll think about it," Ben said, squaring his shoulders.

"Now, Ben, don't be as stubborn as I've been. It's my way of saying that I'm sorry for the past..."

"'Course if you put it that way, I got no choice. Have I?"

"None whatever, especially when you consider your daughter. How is she?"

"Comin' along right well, thank you. That house will be mighty good medicine for her. Fact is, she may be walkin' a little by the time it's moved."

"Good! You folks deserve a break."

"Yo' see, Mr. Bradley, we never lost faith that we'd have a home before winter and that she'd walk again. Seems the Lord heard us knock and opened the door."