Greenwood Red has tales to tell.
My dear Greenwood Red can spin better yarns than Grandma Glittens (or Madame Defarge, or the weavers of Fate, or those crones in the customs house of Heart of Darkness–pick your favorite literary weaver/knitter/spinner of skeins) ever dreamt of. Most of them involve his family: there's moonshine in Red's past. He says his family tree's a single branch. He swears that one more bad Kentucky marriage and his skin would be positively transparent.
Which may or may not be true. Nevertheless, Greenwood Red has family tales that sound like movies or folk tales or American legends– sometimes all of the above. There's moonshine and kinfolk and Cherokee. There are gangsters and hillfolk and hootenannies.
In short, Red's stories are enthralling. There are times I find myself saying things to him, like a child: Tell me the one about…
And here, only slightly beating out the Ballad of Al Capone's Pipe, is my favorite:
Minnie and the Terrapins
Greenwood Red's great-grandma was full-blood Cherokee and lived in Kentucky. She was probably drug there by her hair by some obscenely tall redhead (knowing Greenwood Red and all). There are tales of the barn they had; large, with a hundred beds, referred to as the “Ho-tel.” There, in the “ho-tel” in the hills and the hollows, came the kinfolk every blue moon or so, for a hootenanny, sleeping in the bunk beds in the barn by day and dancing to bluegrass and moonshine by night.
If that don't beat all…
Listen to Red tell the tale, and you smell hickory smoke; you can hear the hiss of bacon in a cast-iron pan; better still, there's the fragrance of summer nights and cricket-song, the whirr-chirrup of cicadas in endless trees under countless stars and not a power-line in sight.
And for all that, the part that lingers, the piece of the tale that gets me every single time; the bit that keeps me asking him to tell me about Minnie is this…
She kept a journal (I envision old, battered leather with very thick paper. The binding is a little frayed). And in this old journal she tracked every single terrapin that crossed her neck of the woods for her entire lifetime. She knew them by their marks. And she marked in that journal when they came, and where.
Seasons, days, and hours. A lifetime of little terrapin turtles, each individual and important enough that their tracks across her land merited not only attention but accounting for. The tracks of this terrapin and that terrapin were a matter of record. Literally.
It speaks to me, this detail about a woman I never knew, this woman I hear tales of, this woman who recorded the steps of every turtle across her yard as she was hanging the wash, and making the dinner, and probably being the only one with any wits about her whatsoever in the “ho-tel” (it's the South–emphasis on the first syllable) once the fiddle and the moonshine got going.
So here's to Minnie. If God's eyes are on the sparrow, well, that's probably only because Minnie had the terrapins covered.
Well, like I said, Red's got tales.