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Authors: Olive Ann Burns

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In between the crowing contest, the backwards bicycle race, and all that, you'd see folks gathered together, talking and laughing. One group I went up to, for instance, somebody was telling that Grandpa was the best knuckle-knocker in school when he was a boy. Somebody else told about him gettin' up in church and prayin', "Lord, forgive me for fittin' thet man, even though if'n I had it to do over agin I'd hit him harder." Somebody else said, "Ever hear bout the time he beat Wildcat Lindsay in a fist fight? Funniest fight you ever seen."

Mr. Pearl was telling another group about the time Rucker turned over the privy at the depot with a Yankee railroad president in there, "and the Yankee offered a fifty-dollar re-ward to anybody who'd tell him who did it. But nobody would," said Mr. Pearl. "Rucker said he needed the money and was go'n go claim the re-ward hisself. But Miss Mattie Lou wouldn't let him." Everybody died laughing about that, and then they joked about Grandpa naming Mr. Clem's hotel after hisself.

But nobody joked about him saying, when he married Miss Love three weeks after Granny died, that Miss Mattie Lou was as dead as she'd ever be. At least not in my hearing.

Mama had been scared folks would criticize and say the family didn't show proper respect, not having Grandpa embalmed and not having a church funeral, and then getting up a party. To make sure that everybody understood the circumstances, she had showed certain people his letter ordering the cheap burial, and then she let the
Cold Sassy Weekly
print Grandpa's plans for the funeral party, including, of course, that the whole town was invited.

So not only was it written up ahead of time, but it got a big write-up afterwards.

"Just as the deceased had requested," said the paper, "a good time was had by all. It's just too bad that the one who would have enjoyed it most couldn't be there."

The family gathered at Grandpa's house that night after supper for the reading of the will. The lawyer was Mr. Predmore, Pink's daddy.

My daddy was named executor.

First the document reminded us that the old Toy house and furnishings had been deeded over "to my beloved wife, Love Simpson Blakeslee" at the time of their marriage. "I also leave her one thousand dollars, as promised at the time of said marriage." He left Mama the house we were living in and a thousand dollars. Loma would get a thousand, too, "and the house on Julius Street, now rented, which I believe to be of equal value to the others." After payment of all debts and certain bequests, and after the rest of the estate was sold, including houses, farmland, and stock—but not the store—the money was to be divided, share and share alike, between Miss Love, Mama, and Aunt Loma.

Well, that would be less for Miss Love than Mama and them had feared, but a lot more than Miss Love had bargained for back when she said I do. Still and all, to me it seemed fitting, her having moved up from housekeeper to
bona fide
widow.

But wait. "In the event that I should have another child or children born or unborn at the time of my death, the estate will be divided, share and share alike, between my wife, my two grown daughters, and this other child or children, if living. Should any of these heirs precede me in death, the deceased's share will go to her (or his) offspring. If there be no offspring, born or unborn, said share will revert to the estate."

Mama and Papa and Aunt Loma didn't bat an eyelash at that. But then they didn't know what I knew. Gosh, what if Miss Love had twins!

I waited for her to speak up about the baby, but she didn't.

Now Mr. Predmore was reading about the store. Grandpa wanted it to be owned jointly by his widow and children, share and share alike. Papa was to serve as manager for as long as he wanted the job.

The first of the individual bequests was for four hundred dollars "to my grandson Hoyt Willis Tweedy for his education, provided he agrees to come into the store as an associate for a period of at least ten years after leaving college." Grandpa didn't leave Campbell Junior or Mary Toy a dime. I guess he just forgot about them.

To the First Baptist Church of Cold Sassy he left "the sum of one dollar in appreciation of its kindness in the matter of my son-in-law Campbell Williams's funeral." Mr. Predmore read that with a straight face. Boy howdy, what I'd give to be at the deacons' meeting after they heard about the dollar!

But there was a sop for the deacons: two hundred dollars "in memory of my late beloved wife, Mattie Lou Toy Blakeslee." Grandpa left the same amount to the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, of Cold Sassy "in honor of my beloved wife, Love Simpson Blakeslee."

The last bequest was for Loomis Toy, "the sum of fifty dollars in appreciation of his loyal service to the store and my family."

Not much was said after the reading. It's to my family's credit that when we got home, nobody spoke out loud what I'm sure we were thinking about, namely, Miss Love's share of the estate. Naturally I didn't say that most likely she was going to get half of it instead of a third. I wondered when she would tell them about the baby. It would have to be soon.

Gosh, what if sure enough the baby
was
a boy? I couldn't help thinking how in that case, if Granny Blakeslee was alive she would call it worth mentioning that Grandpa finally got what he wanted most in life after he died.

I wondered when Miss Love would leave Cold Sassy. Probably not till the baby was born and the estate settled. I wondered if she'd try to sell hers and the baby's interest in the store to my daddy. I wondered if he could afford to buy it.

I wanted to talk to Papa and them about my four hundred dollars, but it hardly seemed like the time. It really made me mad, Grandpa thinking he could buy me like I was Uncle Camp's funeral. It was all right with me if he wanted to pave the way with money for Miss Love to get welcomed back to the Methodist fold, but if I wouldn't spend my life in the store despite caring so much about him, I sure wasn't go'n do it for a bribe. Dead or alive, he meant to have his way. Well, in the matter of my future, I meant to have mine.

Miss Love came down to our house to tell the family about Grandpa's baby, and I drove her home. We sat there in the car talking, and that's when she told me she had decided not to leave Cold Sassy.

"For one thing," she said, matter of fact, "where would I go? And why should I leave the only family my son will ever have? No matter how your folks feel about me, Will, they'll do right by their baby brother. That's the kind of people they are. They'll make room for him in the family and bring him into the life of the town. He'll know people who enjoyed and respected his father. And he'll know you, Will. You can show him how to fish, play ball, work hard, drive a car—all the things a boy needs to know that I can't teach him. Oh, Will"—her voice trembled—"you're so like Rucker! Knowing you, my son will know his father."

The child and I were keeping Grandpa alive for Miss Love.

Who would keep him alive for me?

***

Grandpa had said Cold Sassy's name would be changed "over my dead body," and that is exactly what happened. A month after we buried him in the coffin box, the U.S. Post Office approved a new name, and Cold Sassy became Progressive City.

The next spring the town council voted to widen the road on each side of the railroad tracks, which meant the Cold Sassy tree had to go. It was taken down and the roots chopped up, and I think everybody in town took some home to boil for sassafras tea.

I still have a piece of that root, put away in a box with my journal, my can of tobacco tags, the newspaper write-up when I got run over by the train, a photograph of me and Miss Love and Grandpa in the Pierce, my Ag College diploma from the University—and the buckeye that Lightfoot gave me.

BOOK: Cold Sassy Tree
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