The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Life Is The Pits?

By James V. Burchill © 1990

Issue: June, 1990

In the modern world we have all heard, or said the phrase, "Life is the Pits." I wonder how many live it, or think they do.

The old man died in a nursing home alone. His dear wife died years ago. His children scattered in various parts of the country.

The man wasn't famous, he had never been more than twenty miles from home. He married young and he and his wife settled down. He worked the fields, or picked cotton. He sawed wood, or worked in the mills, or factories. He was no Rhett from Charleston, or a Peachtree dandy. He wasn't a cool dude from Mobile, or a con-man preacher from New Orleans either. He never asked his God for anything for himself. The only thing he prayed for was to be able to take care of his family.

On his and his daughter's birthday, both being born on the same date, his wife Momma said, "You take daughter to town and buy her a present." She handed him four dollars, and seventy-three cents. "You get yourself a pair of work boots, and some overalls. Get some magazines too."

The man was tall, and weather beaten. His hands gnarled from hard work gently put the girl in the wagon. The girl was eight years old, he was twenty-six. It was 1937. He hoped to have ninety cents left for a jug of shine. Heck he wasn't much older than a boy himself.

The town was crowded with weekend shoppers. The girl leading her father headed for the "Bon Ton" department store. She was her father's favorite. He might not know it, but she did, as only little girls could know their Daddy's.

In front of the shoe department was the toy counter. The little girl oohed, and aahed at the dolls with pretty clothes. Dolls she would never have. At the end of the counter was a new toy. And it stopped the girl in her tracks. It was a toy typewriter, and for $2.98 it actually typed. A demonstration model stood on top of the packaged typewriters. Tentatively she spun the wheel, and spelled out her name.

The man took her hand, and they walked across the street to Woolworth's. She smiled gleefully, she knew what was coming. A banana split, with a lemon phosphate, both for a quarter. Oh well he thought, "I don't need no overalls this year, and I can do without any moonshine. I'll get that old typewriter for the girl, and I'll get me the work boots."

There was one thing he would not give up, the magazines: Liberty, Collier's, Saturday Evening Post, Redbook, Bluebook, and scores of pulps. Mysteries, science fiction, romances, and adventure stories with tawdry covers. He insisted his family read. He wasn't stupid, or ignorant, just poor. After buying the work boots, and the toy typewriter he had seventy cents left. He and the girl went to a second hand book store. In those days you could buy a lot of second hand, or out of date magazines for a penny apiece.

The next day, their birthday, the little girl was beside herself with her typewriter. She typed and typed and typed some more. She didn't have regular paper, but Momma cut up paper sacks. The man opened his presents. Two new pairs of overalls, and a bottle of homemade peach wine. Momma's know everything. Later the little girl gave her Daddy the first poem she ever wrote. He read it showing no emotion. But he knew a writer was born.

After the girl went to bed the man went to his room. He opened the top drawer of the dresser. There wasn't much in it. A necktie, and a white shirt for funeral use only. In the corner was a tin cigar box. In it were his prized possessions. The Deed, a tintype of his parents, his grandfather's railroad watch, and a wedding picture of him and his wife. He added the poem to the hoard.

The man didn't fear death. He heard all his life that you relive your early years before you go. How many people would have said, "Life is the pits."

The man was robbed of his memories by something called Alzheimer disease. No remembering running through the fields with his old dog. No fishing in the creek with boyhood friends. No fun with his Grandparents. In rare moments of clarity he would open the old cigar box. On top was the first book of poems his daughter had published. Under the book was the faded sack paper with her first poem, that was written on the little toy typewriter. He died as he lived, silently and stoic. He never knew, "Life could be the pits."