Holy Mackerels

Know your own dish detergent baron, disinherited viceroy, or otherwise seldom seen swan you'd like to memorialize? Submit a character sketch by contacting Amy Wright here

 

Eleanor Dilts Dutro Rutherford (1916–2006) by Amy Pickworth   When I was in my early twenties I asked my grandmother to teach me how to make a pie. She was known for her pies—apple, blueberry, pumpkin, mincemeat. I assumed I’d come away with a recipe, but as she worked in her little kitchen that Saturday afternoon, me seated beside her on her stepladder stool, she didn’t measure anything. She seemed exasperated when I pressed her to stop so I could try to estimate and record how much flour, how much water. “Honey, you can look up a recipe in any cookbook,” she said. “The measurements are all about the same.” A cigarette burned in the ashtray beside her. I put down my notebook and pen.   She liked the precision Crisco allowed, how a Crisco piecrust holds its shape as it bakes, but I think her preference may have had as much to do with the price of butter. She cautioned me to not touch the dough any more than was necessary or I’d end up with a tough crust. She assured me that the canned fillings now were as good as homemade and much easier. She told me not to be in a rush to get married. “You kids are allowed live together first nowadays, and I don’t see why you wouldn’t. That could save you lot of trouble. A LOT of trouble.” I’m sure she took at drag of her cigarette at that point, or laughed, or both, a bark that transitioned into an emphysemic wheeze. “You know there’s two things I can’t stand: people tellin a woman what she can and can’t do with her own body, and people tellin me not to smoke.”   After she slid the apple pie into the oven, she instructed me to never to wash a rolling pin with soap. “Just wipe it down with your damp dishrag, honey. That’s all that needs.”

Eleanor Dilts Dutro Rutherford (1916–2006) by Amy Pickworth

 

When I was in my early twenties I asked my grandmother to teach me how to make a pie. She was known for her pies—apple, blueberry, pumpkin, mincemeat. I assumed I’d come away with a recipe, but as she worked in her little kitchen that Saturday afternoon, me seated beside her on her stepladder stool, she didn’t measure anything. She seemed exasperated when I pressed her to stop so I could try to estimate and record how much flour, how much water. “Honey, you can look up a recipe in any cookbook,” she said. “The measurements are all about the same.” A cigarette burned in the ashtray beside her. I put down my notebook and pen.

 

She liked the precision Crisco allowed, how a Crisco piecrust holds its shape as it bakes, but I think her preference may have had as much to do with the price of butter. She cautioned me to not touch the dough any more than was necessary or I’d end up with a tough crust. She assured me that the canned fillings now were as good as homemade and much easier. She told me not to be in a rush to get married. “You kids are allowed live together first nowadays, and I don’t see why you wouldn’t. That could save you lot of trouble. A LOT of trouble.” I’m sure she took at drag of her cigarette at that point, or laughed, or both, a bark that transitioned into an emphysemic wheeze. “You know there’s two things I can’t stand: people tellin a woman what she can and can’t do with her own body, and people tellin me not to smoke.”

 

After she slid the apple pie into the oven, she instructed me to never to wash a rolling pin with soap. “Just wipe it down with your damp dishrag, honey. That’s all that needs.”

  Lester Flatt by Mary Kennedy Brown   My great-grandparents, Pappy and Mammy, moved from the mountains of East Tennessee, where houses were mostly black tar paper, down South to Pulaski, a foreign land with televisions and such. They lived in a bedroom in my grandparent’s house that had been the den, so they had a t.v. at the ready. Mammy’s maiden name was Flatt, and she was kin to Lester Flatt somehow. She resented that he was in that box on Saturdays and would not speak to her. She would holler, “I see you, Lester. I know you see me, and you better speak to me!” This would go on for the entire half-hour program. I guess she died thinking Lester was the biggest snob in the Flatt family. She may have been right.

 

Lester Flatt by Mary Kennedy Brown

 

My great-grandparents, Pappy and Mammy, moved from the mountains of East Tennessee, where houses were mostly black tar paper, down South to Pulaski, a foreign land with televisions and such. They lived in a bedroom in my grandparent’s house that had been the den, so they had a t.v. at the ready. Mammy’s maiden name was Flatt, and she was kin to Lester Flatt somehow. She resented that he was in that box on Saturdays and would not speak to her. She would holler, “I see you, Lester. I know you see me, and you better speak to me!” This would go on for the entire half-hour program. I guess she died thinking Lester was the biggest snob in the Flatt family. She may have been right.

  Zada Duncan by Jamie Duncan   Zada Duncan grew up in southern Tennessee, where rolling hills were filled with poverty and faith. She made friends with squirrels and kept her rifle sights set on old tin cans, not the birds and turtles her cousins liked to shoot. She even loved Mr. Holly’s ram, until the day she was walking home from the PartyPack, with a nickel’s worth of candy in her pocket, and he broke free of the fence and charged faster than her seven year old legs could run. He would’ve gotten her, but her daddy popped out from the shed and flung the file he’d been using with such force, the tip planted right between that old ram’s eyes, and dropped him cold. Zada still has a soft spot for animals, and her daddy will always be her hero.

 

Zada Duncan by Jamie Duncan

 

Zada Duncan grew up in southern Tennessee, where rolling hills were filled with poverty and faith. She made friends with squirrels and kept her rifle sights set on old tin cans, not the birds and turtles her cousins liked to shoot. She even loved Mr. Holly’s ram, until the day she was walking home from the PartyPack, with a nickel’s worth of candy in her pocket, and he broke free of the fence and charged faster than her seven year old legs could run. He would’ve gotten her, but her daddy popped out from the shed and flung the file he’d been using with such force, the tip planted right between that old ram’s eyes, and dropped him cold. Zada still has a soft spot for animals, and her daddy will always be her hero.

  Bitt Rouse (1923–2007) by Jesse Graves   Bitt Rouse was the only one-handed fiddler I ever met. He played old-time ballads and mountain tunes, learned when he was a boy, and when he had both of his hands. The way Bitt lost his right hand must have been unimaginably painful. For six hours, he knelt beside a corn picker that had caught his shirt sleeve and pulled him into the machine, until a neighbor finally heard him calling for help. My father remembers working for his cousin Bitt when he was a boy in that same field, plowing with a horse for 50 cents a day. My dad thought that was good money in the late 1940s, especially for a boy who should have been in school.   His real name wasn’t Bitt at all, but Palmer Steiner Rouse, a collection of three of the oldest family names in Union County, Tennessee. Doc Palmer delivered most of the babies in Sharps Chapel for a generation at least, and became the namesake for many of those children (like my father’s oldest brother, Eugene Palmer Graves). The Steiners may have been the only family in the community to have acquired more land than the Rouses. How he came to be called “Bitt” is anybody’s guess, though almost all the country men I knew from his generation had a nickname—some of my own great-uncles were known as “Cotton” and “Mutt.”   Bitt Rouse died at 84 years of age, on his way to unlock the doors of the restored one-room Rush Strong schoolhouse, where a group of local musicians played for a monthly barn dance. In cold weather, Bitt went to the school early, to get the wood-stove burning before the crowd arrived. He kept a kind of fire going in the old-time music he played, as well, like the hearth-fires brought across the ocean to the New World. Bitt tended the flame until his very end, and that seems like a good way to go out after 84 years.

 

Bitt Rouse (1923–2007) by Jesse Graves

 

Bitt Rouse was the only one-handed fiddler I ever met. He played old-time ballads and mountain tunes, learned when he was a boy, and when he had both of his hands. The way Bitt lost his right hand must have been unimaginably painful. For six hours, he knelt beside a corn picker that had caught his shirt sleeve and pulled him into the machine, until a neighbor finally heard him calling for help. My father remembers working for his cousin Bitt when he was a boy in that same field, plowing with a horse for 50 cents a day. My dad thought that was good money in the late 1940s, especially for a boy who should have been in school.

 

His real name wasn’t Bitt at all, but Palmer Steiner Rouse, a collection of three of the oldest family names in Union County, Tennessee. Doc Palmer delivered most of the babies in Sharps Chapel for a generation at least, and became the namesake for many of those children (like my father’s oldest brother, Eugene Palmer Graves). The Steiners may have been the only family in the community to have acquired more land than the Rouses. How he came to be called “Bitt” is anybody’s guess, though almost all the country men I knew from his generation had a nickname—some of my own great-uncles were known as “Cotton” and “Mutt.”

 

Bitt Rouse died at 84 years of age, on his way to unlock the doors of the restored one-room Rush Strong schoolhouse, where a group of local musicians played for a monthly barn dance. In cold weather, Bitt went to the school early, to get the wood-stove burning before the crowd arrived. He kept a kind of fire going in the old-time music he played, as well, like the hearth-fires brought across the ocean to the New World. Bitt tended the flame until his very end, and that seems like a good way to go out after 84 years.

Luther Durham by Don Sudbrink   Luther Durham was my grandfather’s WWI buddy. He lived next door to my grandmother’s house, and by the time I was eleven, he was in his late seventies and needed help with his lawn. Under his watchful eye, I’d cut the grass and then water the garden from his rain barrel. He even taught me how to edge his lawn with a shop-sharpened corn knife. After we’d get done, he’d invite me up on the porch and his wife Katy, who he met in Germany, would serve us iced tea with lemons. We’d sit on the porch and listen to the ballgame and he’d tell me stories about where he grew up in Kentucky. He once caught a catfish that was so long it took four people to pull it out of the Ohio River. He said, “Boy howdy, that was the biggest catfish I ever saw!” It was the first time I ever heard anybody say, “Boy howdy.” My grandmother told me when he and my grandfather and their American Legion buddies would get together, they’d raise a glass to the fallen and sing “My Buddy” and “Long Trail A-Winding” and tear up. 

Luther Durham by Don Sudbrink

 

Luther Durham was my grandfather’s WWI buddy. He lived next door to my grandmother’s house, and by the time I was eleven, he was in his late seventies and needed help with his lawn. Under his watchful eye, I’d cut the grass and then water the garden from his rain barrel. He even taught me how to edge his lawn with a shop-sharpened corn knife. After we’d get done, he’d invite me up on the porch and his wife Katy, who he met in Germany, would serve us iced tea with lemons. We’d sit on the porch and listen to the ballgame and he’d tell me stories about where he grew up in Kentucky. He once caught a catfish that was so long it took four people to pull it out of the Ohio River. He said, “Boy howdy, that was the biggest catfish I ever saw!” It was the first time I ever heard anybody say, “Boy howdy.” My grandmother told me when he and my grandfather and their American Legion buddies would get together, they’d raise a glass to the fallen and sing My Buddy” and “Long Trail A-Winding” and tear up.