The Cheesy Religion
(A short story by Steven R. Harrel)
Though not surprising, neither Tom nor Nancy could find Shire on any Alabama State map. Nancy did remember her grandmother saying Shire was in the back hills of Southern Alabama, somewhere near or south of Montgomery where her great‑grandmother’s daddy was buried after the Civil War. So, Montgomery Alabama would be Tom’s starting destination.
For the next few days, Tom traveled the highways and back-roads with that Erie voice echoing in his mind. He couldn’t quite shake the overwhelming feeling of being guided by some other-than-natural force. While driving Tom dared not touch the watch in his pocket for fear it could spell disaster, Tom did however clutch the watch to his chest each night before falling asleep.
Tom was three long days on the road before he finally pulled up to the Courthouse in Montgomery Alabama. The pillars at the front of the Municipal-Building made the structure look almost palatial.
The city of Montgomery was where Tom began his search because it was really his only lead. Though he didn’t realize it at the time, Tom would eventually wind up in Montgomery’s Hall of Records where he searched the archives for any surrounding towns or communities near Shire. His original search for Shire Alabama merely proved Shire was abandoned before Alabama became a state in 1819. In their discussions, Nancy could only provide a couple of names of places her Grandmother had mentioned; names which might be near Shire or might lead to the little hamlet.
Finally Tom stumbles upon one scrap of information related to Troy, Alabama whose residence at the time were having a minor territorial skirmish with residence of a nearby town called Gott-Shire. The skirmish took place before Alabama was a state; somewhere around 1793 it seemed. The little scrap of information suggested Gott-Shire was approximately 10-13 miles south by south-west of Troy and the residence of Gott-Shire were complaining about Troy farmers encroaching upon their forests to the north-east of Gott-Shire. It was merely a shred of data, but so far the only information Tom had turned up in days.
For a week and a half Tom seemed to be searching in vain. He returned to the Hall of Records twice and then poured over dusty records at the Capital building as well. Tom sought out local libraries and archives south of Montgomery and south-west of Troy; any archival records in the surrounding Town Halls south of Montgomery. Tom’s hope for a clue to the whereabouts or demise of Shire began to fade. That little scrap didn’t seem to point to any existing community.
Then on the morning of the eleventh day, Tom’s wandering found him sitting in a little Mom’s and Pop’s diner on the southern outskirts of Troy, Alabama; a place named, Sadie’s.
Tom looked like a broken man that morning. He hadn’t shaved for several days nor changed the clothes he slept in that night. After receiving his order, a plate of old fashion biscuits, grits and gravy, Tom sat with his head down and eyes staring into his congealing foods.
“Momma, lookie there at dhat poor feller ov’r yonder”. Papa said, wiping the grease from his hands on his stained apron.
“I seed him hun. He’s looken down right wooped, ain’t he?” Momma said.
“Yea, he dood. Think I’ll go un see if dhere’s anytang we can do fer him”.
“Good Idea Pa”.
Both Ma and Pa were in their early nineties and yet still in relatively good health. Ma always claimed their longevity was due to her, good ole hillbilly cookin’; mine’s and Pa’s she’d say.
Pa, on the other hand, always disagree saying, “No, mamma, it my spicy Mountain-Dew keeps me kicken’”. Mountain Dew, that’s Pa’s illegal Corn-liquor of course. Pa never would admit to the still he kept out in their barn.
Most mornings Pa would cooked with Ma until it was time for him to open their barber shop next door. However, today Pa thought he’d make an early start by giving the poor fella in their diner a shave and a haircut, that is, “if’n he’d a mind to it”.
“Hey there young feller, howd-ya do-en?” Pa smiled his most accommodating snaggle toothed grin as he approached the young stranger’s table.
“I’ve seen better days, sir”, Tom said, glancing up as he answered. Tom couldn’t help but see Pa’s toothless grin and the sight forced a full smile despite himself.
“Ya looks like you could use a little break from your troubles, Sonny?
“I sure could sir, Tom replied, looking away and trying not to chuckle.
“Well young fella, ifen yous a mind to I’ll offers you a shave.” Pa said this expecting a brush‑off.
Tom leans back in his chair and forces his smile into a tight grin, “yea, I bet I look pretty bad”.
Pa reaches over and pats Tom’s shoulder, “Well young fella, I’ve definitely seen worse, but ifen you a mind to, I’s offerin’ ya a free shave and a haircut; leastwise, when ya finished jour meal”.
Tom stood up, smiled and shook the old man’s hand, “Thanks you sir, I’d like that. My name’s Tom Redic and I’d be happy to take you up on your offer, that’s kind of you. So what may I call you sir?”
“Ma names Gunther White, but mossen everybody round dhese parts just calls me Pops. Dhat is cept fer Ma over dhere. She calls me Pa or any odher worser name she’s can thinks up when she’s spitten and kicken up mash, which is most ta da time – I might add”. Pops just giggled like a little kid and gave a sideward glance towards Ma.
A skillet rattled abruptly on the gas range as Ma gave Pa a dirty but affectionate look, “hush‑up ya ole coot!”
A broad smile broke across Pop’s face, “see what I means”. Pop’s just chuckled as he was saying it.
“You know, my wife’s maiden name is White and her family comes from somewhere in this area”.
“Well, dhet not hard to believe, Tommy. Dhere’s lots of Whites in these dhere woods. We’s could even be related, you’s and uses, who knowds”, Pops said this as he shrugged his shoulders and returned to the kitchen with Ma.
In about ten minutes or so Tom finished his meal and discovered a bit of a renewed spirit. Despite his improved state, the doleful idea he might not share a future with his beloved Nancy; leastwise, the kind of life and love he saw in these two kooky ancient lovebirds, stirred a painful need and determination to find that little town of Shire.
Within the half-hour Tom was sitting in Pa’s barber’s chair where he began sharing his plight. Pa stood listening and working on Tom’s hair. After what seemed like a long while Pa suddenly raised both hands and shouted, “by golly, I knowed who could hep ya, young fella, ole Joe, the scissors sharpenen man!”
Perplexed, Tom repeats, “The scissors sharpening man?”
“Yea! Ole Joe is olderen me and Ma both. Why he older dhen most da dirt around here, if ya haves to know. Dhats how old ole Joe is”.
Though Tom was a bit unwilling to let any false hope enter his heart; he couldn’t help but get excited. Tom’s voice was barely under control and he nearly shouted when he said, “How could this Joe person help me, Mister White?”
“Old Joe and me sits here on the porch almost every night and he’s always tellen me old stories, mostly lies ifen the truth be known, but some of his stories is true, I promise. I member Joe tellen me about just such a place long time ago. Yep, young fella, I do’s remembers just such a story long times ago”.
Tom can hardly contain himself, “Well Pops, how can we get in touch with him?”
Pa just smiled, “here dhat dhere bell in the distance?”
“Yea!” Tom turned his head, listening for the sound.
“Dhets ole Joe and Molly now, pushen his mule and cart right up dhis hered street as we’s a speaken”. Pa stood looking so proud.
Pa pushed Tom back into the barber’s chair. “Now sits still so I can finish shavin ya, boy. Ya can’t goes no-wheres till I’s done and finished”.
(End Part 4)
More to come!