Ibid, p.2

IBID, page 2

 

IBID
 


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  Also, I need two yards of gingham and one yard of unbleached muslin, and two spools of white thread. I still need some nice lace for my collar, but I would prefer not to leave its purchase to my two men. I will get it next week when I am feeling better.

  That’s all. And don’t forget about the stick candy. And don’t get into a game of dominoes and have the boy waiting around or wandering off.

  Or checkers.

  Emmaline

  2

  DUSTING OFF THE FAMILY ALBUM

  1 Jonathan’s maternal grandfather Lutherfurd Plint was a quiet man. Unlike his wife (Jonathan’s grandmother) Daisy Day whose stentorian voice has been likened to the trumpet of a female elephant during full rut. Nancy Nesmith, Arkansas Fellow Travelers (El Dorado, Arkansas: Ouachita Publishing, 1993).

  2 The only tailor in a village of seamstresses, the dexterous Plint found it difficult at first to earn respect. Ibid., 172

  3 “I do not appreciate the ribbing. My oven mitts, hand puppets and omnibus conductor uniforms are finely crafted; no seamstress could do better.” Ibid., 173.

  4 “Please stop calling my husband ‘Itchy Stitchy Puppetman.’ It affronts him.” Ibid. Other sources, notably Arkansas historians Lina Gilford and Jake Elliot (interviews with author), contend that the source of the nickname was Letty Humbree, a jilted lover from Lutherfurd’s youth, who was perhaps otherwise motivated by the fact that avid fruiter Lutherfurd, while usually generous with his figs, never saw fit to share them with her.

  5 “Everybody gets figs but me.” Letty was often heard to grumble her displeasure within convenient earshot of her neighbors. “First Itchy Stitchy stands me up at the altar, then he goes and marries that human foghorn and if that isn’t enough, he continues the abuse by denying me tasty, juicy figs.” Gilford and Elliot interviews.

  6 Daisy Plint’s death came unexpectedly, like a fizzy-water nose belch. Nesmith, Arkansas Fellow Travelers, 189.

  7 Lutherfurd, however, lingered for days, his ultimate expiration well attended. No one among the cluster of friends and relatives who attended Lutherfurd at his deathbed seems to be in agreement as to just what constituted the old man’s last words. I have listed some of the more colorful contentions, gathered by Ms. Nesmith, apparently for her own amusement. She reports with unusual candor that she takes them out and reads them for an “emotional lift” when her daughter Octavia comes home at dawn looking disheveled and reeking of “man-stench and cheap hooch.” Ibid., 189-191.

  According to Strother Bump: I suppose, my dear children, that these comprise my last words on this beautiful planet.…No. Perhaps not.…These then.…No. Wrong again.…Maybe I should just lie here and be quiet. Breathing is difficult as it is.…And yet you’re all looking at me as if you want me to say something profound.…Oh hello, Oveta. I didn’t see you there. Is that a new hat? It’s very.

  According to Annabelle Goodman: “Yes, doctor, the discomfort beneath the navel does radiate ventrally, with a slight shift from left to right away from the gastric obstru—”

  According to Benjamina Tasslewhite: “The light. It shimmers so beautifully. Look! Look! The arms of my Redeemer are open and beck—!”

  According to Rev. George M. Plint: “Satan, I come to you now, the bargain fulfilled.”

  According to Cloris Plint: You are all so precious to me. Every last one of you. Not her, though. Or him. Sorry. I thought you were someone else. Nearly everyone. So precious. Such a treasure to a dying—”

  According to Travis Gourd: “I had no movement today or the day before. Or even the day before that. No, wait, I had a movement on Wednesday. Yes, I do recall it, although it wasn’t a totally successful evac—”

  According to Corley Madison: “Don’t talk to me. Talk to the puppet.”

  According to Richard Threadweaver: “And as to my burial clothes, I should like to be interred in an omnibus conductor’s uniform of my own stitching.”

  According to Letta Hinkle, née Humbree: “Don’t push. There are figs enough for everyone.”

  8. The deaths of her parents within only three months of one another left Emmaline in a protracted state of depression. Emmaline Blashette to Laurel Malloy, 7 August, 1879, Jonathan Blashette Papers, Pettiville Library and Interpretive Center, Pettiville, Arkansas (hereafter abbreviated JBP).

  9. “My life is draped in black crepe. Addicus has to understand; I am not the girl I once was.” Ibid. I submit that the lengthy period of mourning was cause for the postponement of the nuptials proposed by suitor Addicus Blashette around the time of the death of Emmaline’s mother Daisy. Indeed, rebuff from Emmaline may have been the reason that Addicus left for a lengthy sojourn through Utah which ultimately found the young man and his older brother, Chimp, working in silver mines until late in 1884.

  Addicus and Chimp’s months out west are sadly under-documented. Nonetheless, there is a wonderful picaresque quality to the few stories about the brothers that have come down to us orally. Jonathan’s first cousin Odger Blashette in one of my many interviews with him before his death at 102 (of a coital heart attack!) related one particularly colorful story in which Addicus and Chimp were given up for dead following a mine collapse which claimed a number of human lives in addition to the lives of seven mules, three caged canaries and one pet chicken named Pebbles. The two brothers dug themselves out from beneath a pile of rubble but were then forced to feel their way like moles through the blackness, eventually discovering the tiny beam of light that would represent their deliverance. The light, which turned out to be the deposit hole of one of the mining camp’s latrines, came and went depending on the timing of buttocks placement over the opening.

  The brothers stumbled toward the light, nonetheless, and finally found themselves standing in the reeking muck and calling up to the one man who could not have heard them, Deaf Jones, who, in the throes of amoebic distress, proceeded to make their lot slightly more miserable. Nor did a visit to the outhouse by slow-witted Simpy Mathune guarantee expeditious rescue. His report that Deaf Jones had just shat out two full-grown men was angrily dismissed by the grieving villagers as “that same ol’ Simpy Lunacy.”

  I don’t know whether to believe Odger or not (thus, the reason for the story’s relegation to these endnotes). Even though he seemed earnest, Odger had previously claimed—just as earnestly—that he had written the pop hit “Volaré” and was sole inventor of the adjustable spud wrench.

  10. The Plints and the Blashettes had been residents of Wilkinson County for fifty years. According to Mary Jane Pucci in her An Encapsulated History of Wilkinson County, Arkansas (pamphlet, n.p., n.d.), Wilkinson County, Arkansas (like its sister counties in Georgia and Mississippi) was named for the cowardly, venal and historically discredited General James Wilkinson (1757-1825) who first conspired with Aaron Burr in his acts of treason, then persecuted Burr to save his own neck. In 1979, the county, under pressure from local historians who likened their lot to that of one living in, say, Borgia, Hitler, or Judas County, Arkansas, held a referendum to choose a new name. The highest vote-getter was Tubman, for abolitionist and former slave Harriet Tubman. Some white residents bristled at the idea of having their county named for a black woman, no matter how historically significant. In reaction they created one Billy Tubman, a “local farmer, beloved by all who knew him.” Legend has it that Billy was popular with the local gentry, friendly to a fault, and had a pet pig, also named Billy, who could smoke a pipe. Billy (the man) was fluent in seven languages and once grew a squash that resembled either a boot or the nation of Italy depending on one’s familiarity with footwear and European geography.

  11. Nobody came. Jewel Romine in her richly detailed, self-published family history The Blashettes and the Plints: A War of the Roses, Arkansas Style (Pettiville Library Local History Collection) departs from the accepted notion that the lack of attendance at the wedding was due to the family feud that had divided the Blashettes and the Plints for decades (but which had dipped to its nadir the year of Emmaline and Addicus
s nuptials), insisting, instead, that attendees had been directed to the wrong church. She admits, however, that as the families awaited the arrival of the bride and bridegroom at the second chapel, a feud-fueled melee did, in fact, ensue. Ms. Romine describes it in her breathless style:

  “The Blashettes fell back against the north wall of the chapel, and the Plints regrouped against the south wall and the minister, a Reverend Aloysius Green, best described as a little man attached to a very large goiter, played the role of conciliator until he was silenced by a hobnail boot to the head, and both parties commenced to flinging hymnals and psalters at one another with the exception of three young female Blashette cousins who sat behind the chancel fence guiltily eating book paste.”

  12. The chivaree lasted until dawn.. The serenaders also sang, “A Ribbon in her Hair; A Smile Upon her Lips,” “Sing me a Berceuse, Berenice,” Come Down to the Bandstand, Malinda,” “Roll the Hoop to My Heart.” “Gazebo Gazibo, This Boy’s in Love, Oh,” “I Have Posies; Kiss m’ Nosey!” “How Do I Know? A Little Birdy Told Me So!” “Spoonin’ ’Neath the Willows,” and “Pretty as a Picture (without the Corset Frame)” and, as the night wore on and the singers exhausted their honeymoon repertoire, “Dixie,” “Nearer, My God, to Thee,” and “Cry-baby, Cry (Wipe Your Little Eye; Go Tell Mammy to Give You Some Pie.” Odger Blashette, interview.

  13. While Emmaline took in knitting, Addicus became a jack-of-all trades. Seeking to contribute to the nearly empty family coffer, Emmaline also took in wash, baked rhubarb biscuits, scoured out post-office spittoons, sold her own line of shirtwaists, provided lemonade at local temperance meetings, raised rabbits for ladies’ muffs, led calisthenics at the Pettiville School for Orphaned Indian Girls, sold home-boiled lye soap, hired herself out to 450-pound Opal Jamfry to “scratch the unreachable places,” picked apples and pecans, chopped cotton, raced a crippled nag on a bet with the horse’s owner, and read law to young law student Stanley Crew who, although illiterate, entertained dreams of being a Lincolnesque litigator. Jonathan Blashette, Early Memories (unpublished manuscript), JBP.

  3

  GROWING, GROWING…THEN GONE

  1. The fire started in the barn. All sources agree on this fact. They differ, however, on how the fire reached the house. Brett Benningfield in his excellent One Hundred Years of Fires in Wilkinson County, Arkansas; a Pyrogenealogical Guide (Little Rock: Cottontail Press, 1977) writes that cinders from the flaming barn must have been blown to the flammable wooden roof of the farmhouse. Odger insists, however, that the overalls of Blashette’s farmhand Slow Jimjoe McKessick caught fire at about the same time that the hay was ignited by an ill-placed cigarette, and instead of dropping and rolling upon the ground, flaming Jimjoe actually ventured into the kitchen looking for baking soda and immediately ignited a pile of wood-stove-desiccated newspapers stacked by the door, kicked over a bottle of turpentine, its lid left carelessly underscrewed, and knocked off a leaking camp lantern teetering precariously on the edge of the kitchen counter. Miraculously, according to Odger, the dimwitted farmhand not only recovered from his burns, but went on to implication in the Arkansas Queen steamboat wreck of 1895 that claimed the life of Hector Hamlen, the doily magnate.

  2. Aunt Renata was not a happy hostess. Renata Goldpaw pulls no punches in her own assessment of those months in which she boarded her temporarily homeless brother and sister-in-law and their three-legged son. In her diary, Renata calls the time spent in the company of her brother’s family “hell, pure unadorned, unadulterated hell.” One entry offers a particularly insightful look at her harsh feelings for young Jonathan in particular.

  “Everyone thinks Jonathan’s such an angel. Ye Gods and Little Fishes, ain’t that a rip-snorter! Ask my little Timmy. He reports that when no one is looking, Cousin Jonny kicks him—not once, not twice, but three times! Each with a different leg. Good God and Jesus Pudding, this unbearable situation had better end soon or Timmy will become a nerve-frayed little quiver-boy whom no one will want to look upon and may even throw stones at. I could not bear that! I volunteered to go with Addicus to that farm and help him rebuild the house to speed up their departure, but he declined. This morning Timmy came to me and said that Jonathan had hidden his toy soldiers and had stolen the little sweet I had tucked beneath his pillow for helping Mommy roll the dough for the lattice pie we had last night. This is while everyone else is singing the demon child’s praises. I cannot wait until the evil is removed from this house!”

  Apparently Renata never confronted her brother Addicus with these charges. I am certain they were baseless. Little Timmy’s tendency toward mendacity and self-bruising was widely known, even at the time of the Blashette’s stay.

  3. A fresh coat of paint was all that was needed now. Odger Blashette, interview.

  4. Memories of a merry Christmas, however, were marred by an unfortunate accident. According to family historian, Candida Isbell Loring, it is unlikely that the story is true. Given the personality profile she has pieced together of Jonathan’s Great Aunt Harriet, it is doubtful that the old woman would have simply lain without complaint beneath the fallen Christmas tree and waited patiently for her presence there to be detected. She would, in all likelihood, have bellowed without recess until rescue became assured. One can only subscribe to the truth of the prevailing account by accepting the theory that the ornament lodged in her mouth made the broadcasting of her whereabouts a futile endeavor.

  Incidentally, Jonathan was blessed with eleven aunts and twenty-one great-aunts from both sides of the family, almost all still alive at this point in his life. I have made no effort to catalog them or to gauge the degree to which he was close to each. Some, Harriet Blashette being a good representative, were nearly daily fixtures. Others he hardly had the chance to meet. For example, Jonathan did not see his mother’s sister Nydia for nearly thirty years, the result of her banishment to the wilds of Alaska for bearing a child out of wedlock and for attempting to assign paternity to successful local confectioner Henry Bellamy when it was clearly his deficient twin brother Benry whom the baby favored.

  5. “Your pomade has soiled my antimacassar.” Jonathan was fond of Aunt Lindy in spite of her eccentricities. However, this particular trait—the tendency to assail houseguests upon their leave-taking with charges of having done damage to her furniture and other household items—even Jonathan found a little irritating. Jonathan Blashette, Early Memories, JBP.

  6. “You put sticky wicky on my stereopticon.” Jonathan had been eating jam and bread but his hands had been tidily wiped, so the accusation was unfounded. Ibid.

  7. “That smelly stethoscope has been up someone’s ass.” Even Aunt Lindy’s last days were colored by baseless allegations against her doctor and the hospital nursing staff. Ibid.

  8. Spring brought a number of visitors. Others who visited the boy during his sixth spring was Opton Van der Schoop, an itinerant “purveyor of wares exotic,” who taught Jonathan to play the spoons; Lucy Smythe, a suffragist with whom Emmaline had been corresponding for many months and who angered Addicus in one particular heated dinner table exchange by insisting that women not only had the God-given right to vote but should do so wearing men’s work clothes and theatrical beards; and Anne Maye Powell, a beautiful teacher of the blind and deaf whom Emmaline had offered to put up for the night when the young woman missed her connecting train. Anne Maye, convinced that Jonathan was not only deformed but a blind and deaf mute when he knocked a glass of water from the dinner table and didn’t respond quickly enough to a request by his mother to help her clean it up, snatched the boy from the table, delivered him to the farmyard well pump and began spelling the word “water” in his hand. As Jonathan stared blankly at her, uncomprehending, his brain slightly fuzzed from having sneaked several potent swallows of Addicus’s stash of corn liquor thirty minutes earlier, Anne Maye tired of teaching the boy the word for water and instead delivered into his hand all five verses of Sidney Lanier’s “Song of the Chattahoochee.” Odger Blashette,
interview

  9. Jonathan spent part of his summer at the home of his Aunt Gracelyn in Clume. The towns of Clume and Pettiville were as different as two communities could be. I wanted to find out more about the former, which is located fifteen miles north of the town of Jonathan’s birth. Early attempts were unfruitful. The official town website is composed of a single unlinked page offering a picture of a little pigtailed girl with two missing front teeth who tells us to “come to Clume. There’s lots of room!” I wrote to the town historian and chief librarian of the Clume Library and Discovery Center, Ada Demion, and received the following letter—a disturbing whitewash of the town’s dark and controversial past.

  Dear Mr. Dunn,

  Thank you so much for your kind letter. Historical information on Clume is rather hard to come by, you are right. There has been no town history written (although I am in the process of gathering material for one). Generally, genealogists come here and proceed to pull their hair out.

  I will give you a thumbnail sketch of Clume. First I should say that Jonathan Blashette was one of our most illustrious residents even though we have been obligated to share him with Pettiville. It has been said that he got his idea for male deodorants while living with his Aunt Gracelyn Boosier whose third husband Cully was a real stinker! Ha ha!

  Clume was founded in 1837 by retired beggars. During the War of Northern Aggression, some of our slaves did not want to be free. They were happy right where they were and made up a little song that schoolchildren sing to this day: “Lincoln Sminken. Rinky Dinken. Fudgin’ Mudgin’. We Ain’t Budgin’!” Meaning they had no desire to join the ranks of their northern cousins who were “free” but hungry and destitute as you know most Negroes are.

  Some say that during the Years of Carpetbagging Pillage which followed the War of Northern Aggression, we held the world record for lynchings. Now, this simply is not true. There were only a handful of lynchings and the rest were trick lynchings in which the rope would break in just the nick of time and everybody would go home chuckling at the cleverness of it all. The real lynchings were not funny, of course, and I am not defending them, but remember also that the intendees weren’t always Negroes, to be sure. There were two Chinamen, an Italian who was mistaken for a Negro, a parrot who wouldn’t stop saying the dirty words no matter what anyone did, and a Romanist (which is different from an Italian in that Romanists display Catholic arrogance), and then after a while we started to lynch the ones who had done all the lynching because we began to feel that the whole thing was wrong and the wrongdoers needed to be appropriately punished. And in so doing, the town of Clume demonstrated that it had a conscience after all and this truly warms me as you can imagine. So that there would not be an endless spiral of lynching, the sheriff decided that the guilty parties should lynch each other and this pretty much cleared up the problem. By 1891 when a law was passed by the Arkansas Legislature outlawing lynching except in exceptional cases, we had already put an end to it in this town, even though people still said our record was a formidable one to beat.

 
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