They lived in that little clapboard shotgun-style house located out in the middle of our cow pasture. No electric lights. No running water, hot or cold. A wood stove cooked their garden grown vegetables and hog meat and it warmed them. With a washboard and soap they hand cleaned their clothes at a spring branch down in the hollow. Six children, a husband and a wife called it home in 1959.

Hunter was their surname. They were poor but proud folk, not unlike many of the Appalachian South. They all worked with us on our farm.

A killing frost had blanketed the cornfields. Stalk leaves turned rusty in color. Two weeks later it was fall, time to harvest. All summer, together the Hunter boys, my brother Jim, and I had planted, plowed and hoed about 30 acres of corn.

The crops were located in several fields, and one awaited us on remote rented land. It was located on the edge of North Carolina, deep in the mountains, near a little community called Liberty. As the crow flies, it was about 20 miles from our farm. One clear-sky Saturday morning, we traveled there to gather the fruits of our labor.

All the Hunter siblings, brothers and sisters this time, went along. They helped pull, tote and dump sacks of gathered corn into our old slat side-boarded farm truck. The ride there was fun. Flocked together like baby chicks in the back and shielded from the wind by cow feed sacks, we sang songs as the old truck rattled along through the mountains.

Traveling home was not so cheery. After sundown a chill filled the air. We were tired and hungry and fighting the shivers. At leaving time we’d each tried to pile into the truck’s warm cab, but we all would not fit. With nowhere to ride, I moved toward the back of the truck. I climbed its sideboards, jumped into the piled-high corn, and dug a hole to hide in. Little did I know that the oldest teenage girl of the Hunter family and much older than me had also buried herself there.

As the truck cruised down the road toward home, we each rode separately submerged in the husks. Faced backwards and like shelved statue busts, only our heads could be seen above the day’s gathering. The biting wind caused tears to stream backwards, wetting our sweat crusted foreheads and hair when we’d swivel our head and look forward.

When the truck reached the place where the pavement begun, it sped up. The cold wind cut like a knife. Luckily, our driver soon stopped for gasoline at a country store, giving us a chance to get warm.

I wrestled myself out from under the shucks, cobs, and grain. Climbing to the top and slow-stepping down the slats, I jumped to the ground and trotted inside the store. Ahead was a wood stove, and I walked to it seeking warmth. Cold as I was, a half-dollar coin burned a hole in my Wrangler’s pocket. Goosebumps covered every inch of my jittery body, so a cold drink was not what I craved. I wanted something to eat – maybe a Moon Pie.
Scanning the store’s sparse dry goods, I discovered something different. I’d seen them before, but Mom—always tight with her pennies—would never buy this extravagant treat called graham crackers. I grabbed a box, paid the store owner, and stuck them under my arm.

Quickly exiting, I ascended the truck’s sideboards and again partially buried myself under the corn. The truck growled, coughed and sputtered, but finally started as I opened the box and studied its contents. Neatly layered, the packaged crackers looked delightful!

Like a ravenous wolf, I severed and burst open the wax paper with my teeth, releasing the pungent smell of cookies and honey that diffused into the musty corn odor. With a loud crunch I bit into and savored a crisp cracker. Then, I sensed something almost as spooky as a crow strutting by, something ghost-like now hung in the air.

Her hungry eyes were frozen in place. Like a cat stalking a blue-jay she stared, but not at me; the crackers were her focus. A through-tears complaisant smile possessed her face. Not a word did she say.

No longer was I hungry. Girl-shy and smitten by the shame and regret of my selfishness, I dangled in her direction a pack of the grahams. Eyes still fixed on the crackers, she nodded. Her calloused limp hand reached, hesitantly taking hold of them.

Shifting truck gears ground and groaned as the grocery store faded into the night. Wind whistled by and we each munched on the dry, tasty treat. We struggled to swallow, yet somehow our simple snack was a novel experience—quiet, warm and furtive contentment while oblivious to the cold, blue mountain surroundings.

Soon the porch light of our farmhouse came into sight. The old truck geared down, crept by it, and pulled up alongside our corncrib for unloading. I glimpsed at her face again. This time I saw a demure smile. Only then did she utter her first words. She said, “Someday I’m going to have nice things.”

Author: Joe Cobb Crawford