Thursday, March 17, 2011

Fallen on the Hearth (From: "The Cotton Belt")

Fallen on the Hearth
(Rose Hills, Pick Ritt, Emma Hightower, Cara Smiley, A. Hood
The O’Day’s)

Between Heaven and Hell
((Pick Ritt, and Rose Hills; 1917, NYC) (Part Nine))

A good part of the lives of southern people, I mean, those old southern folks, particularly, down in Ozark, Alabama, in and around the turn of the century—bear in mind, some women too, and especially the male negroes loved their whiskey, moonshine, that old so called, corn whiskey, with an alligator bite. That is to say they loved their whiskey and of course southern women, southern style women.
Between heaven and hell, on that little strip in between, called the surface of earth, the south was trying to put its self back together, in those far-off days, while a war in Europe was going on. The best and once, the finest Southern Plantations were becoming wrinkled with age; uncared for.
Yes sir, Pick Ritt an old man now, at the age of seventy-seven years old, filled that whole south with his womanizing legends and reputation. He had, as a young man, run after Emma Hightower; she was now sixty-eight years old. Then he ran after Clara Smiley, she was now sixty-eight. Had you sat downtown on any wooden bench, in front of any store, bank or even in the park in Ozark, you could hear folks running their mouth, gossip flowing out of it like a bush fire—back and forth, all day and all night long, it was all about his drinking and girl happy dementia. Many a night he’d join the whooping and hollering in the local bars, piano bars, singing along. He owned one, once.
“That Pick Ritt, I be dog if he aint a case,” said Clara to Emma, sitting out on Clara’s porch.
“Here I was halfway to town this morning, or pretty near halfway to town, I had the buckboard and old Dan the horse, on my way to Hobby’s Store, when he jumped out of some bushes with a newspaper in his hands and jumped into the middle of the road, scared the daylights out of me and old Dan. It took me ten-minutes to calm Dan down and me also, to untangle the harness.”
“What did Youall say to him, thereafter…?” asked Emma.
“He was talking about that young winch in New York City, you know the one they call Rose Hills—the young one, I’ve read about her myself, he’s communicating with her I think, it’s as if he’s making a regular nest for her and him.” And they both chuckled.

Perfumes of Damascus
((1920, Pick Ritt and Rose Hills) (Part Ten))

She wrote Pick Ritt this sentence or two, having left Damascus, to meet him in London, a month from the date of the letter (Pick Ritt, being of the same age as Emma Hightower of Ozark, Alabama),

“Dearest Pick, it makes my mouth water lying in bed moving in adoration, in infinite kisses which is more divine than the perfumes of Damascus.” R. Hills, August, 1920

It was as if old man Pick Ritt, closer to eighty than seventy, fatter cheeked than ever, had had a long ongoing affair with Rose Hills, which he hadn’t.

Women of the Flesh; Rose Hills common enough among the laity, during the ‘Roaring 20s,’ but she was of the elite, one of the guardians of social and public morality, whose duty it was to denounce carnality of the new age. She was born in 1897, thus, in 1920; she was cast into a whole new world with new vistas opening up to her twenty-three year old eyes, mind, and shapely body.
She tempted everybody, and tired everything, and found herself in every tabloid from Ozark, Alabama, to New York City, and all throughout Europe.
She seemed to have grabbed the new generation for all it was worth, in living color. Nothing was sacred, taboo, men of the cloth, scuttling out of seedy hotels with her, struggling with their zippers, the wronged wives looking for her. Her urges, lusts and infatuations never ceased to grow, she denied herself very little.
Pick Ritt, a Harvard man, banker from Ozark, Alabama, richer than the Church of England, and older than Rose Hills’ grandfather, took a liking for her. As we will see, his urge to possess her, or at least have her to equal his urge, was taking up much of his time.

When the Great War opened, in 1914, he became infatuated with Miss Rose Hills’ reputation, writing her letter after letter, seeing her in the newspapers as the rich little girl of Europe, whose family owned several pubs in London. She welcomed his letters, remarkable she thought they were, coming from such an old goat, with a poetic voice, and a lustful heart.

“You have made me perfectly happy by your acceptance of my devoted admiration for your qualities I have feasted my appetite on nightly, your charms and physical perfections.” P. Ritt, September, 1918

“I am satisfied that your old and pouting lips, hunger for me…awaiting you.” R. Hills, January, 1919

“I live in a state that longs to meet and have you, the delight of you; here also I am intense for expression…” Ritt, March 1919

About ten months later, January 1920

Pick Ritt’s sleeping was less and less, he spent a good portion of his night in lustful compositions, his prose speckled with dirty bits of verse…
Following his last letter, things seemed to go down hill; his hand writing had become more frantic and scratch-like.
In June of 1920, he asked to see her in September in Europe; he’d meet her in London, at Victoria Station.
On September 10, 1920, William R. Hills, met Mr. Pick Ritt, at the railroad station, a chaplain was with him, he told Mr. Ritt, face to face, “Your behavior, as well as my daughter’s has been most scandalous to our family name. A part of the proof of which I tell you here, my wife had to be put into an asylum for rest; as the investigation to my daughter’s death goes on. My wife was found to have several of your nasty letters, in her possession. Wisdom had been deprived her, and at the time of my daughter’s return to meet you, from Damascus, she killed Rose, beat her to death with a broomstick, just a week ago today. Yes, she is in an asylum, for the insane, where I will be tomorrow,” as he finished, he pulled a derringer out of his coat pocket, and shot Pick Ritt dead, right then and there.

Austin Hood’s Demise
((1922) (Part Eleven))

Old Sergeant Austin Hood, was so mean, as to still be living in 1922, at the ripe old age of ninety-six, in debt, modesty competent, he appeared to find enough income begging to support his eating and drinking, and told fortunes, to supplement whatever else he needed. He had no children, no wife, and no real place to call home—and a good case of spastic paralysis, in the shadow of dysentery.
He had eight cloth colored cards, the size of postcards, he charged a dollar to tell a person’s fortune with them. He had devised a schema; four of those colored cards were dark colors, from gray to black to browns. The other four colors were brighter, red, yellow, blue and green, lighter colors. One’s fortune was told by the colors they picked, and then he’d translate what the colors meant. Unfortunately, if you picked out all four darker colors (only being allowed to select four cards in total), you would get a bleak and gloomy fortune. One such person by the name of Mississippi Blue, a gambler in town, got a most unpleasant fortune from Hood, and he didn’t take kindly to the scholarship of Hood’s psychological evaluation, his future downfall —to be quite frank, he took it rather seriously, and that evening when he went to gamble, had lost nearly every penny he had, all but a few dollars of the once $400-dollars he had. He could hardly pay a week’s rent in advance and the room and board was three-dollars a day—

As the saying goes, there is always someone out there, worse than you, or as bad as you. Only in the most rudimentary sense did Hood bathe…on that Saturday night, a hot summer’s night, Blue paid a dollar for Hood to take a bath, saying “I won $100-dollars with your corny like fortune,” consequently, Miss Nelly O’Day of the “O’Day Hotel,” heated water on the stove and filled the Zinc tub in the middle of the floor, in which three to four men usually bathed one after the other, in the same water—in turn, but being Saturday evening, only Hood was to bath, Blue came in through the back entrance, while Hood was taking his bath, ‘A good one,’ he mumbled to himself.
The quite man, mouse-like, just suddenly appeared from behind a door, consulted Hood, then pushed his head under the water, as if he was drowning a stray cat, then lifted the old man’s head back up above the water, deader than a doornail. And that was that. He assumed as he walked out the same door he had walked in through, his luck would change.

Trousers in Blue
((1923) (Part Twelve))

Stillwater Minnesota, 1920s (out near the O’Day Farm)

He stood in worn-out, faded but clean blue overalls; he was renting out a room from Molly O’Day’s Hotel; Molly O’Day related to the O’Day’s in Minnesota (Stillwater, Mabel O’Day, born 1899 had married Gus O’Day, Mabel being originally from North Carolina, and related through her sister’s marriage, to the Hightowers of New Orleans. Gus, being born 1890, and who had died in 1957; his brother being Shannon O’Day, born 1910, died 1967; Molly O’Day, being born 1885, and who had moved out of Minnesota, to live in Ozark, Alabama in the early 1920s, opened a boarding house, but the sign read, ‘Molly’s Hotel’ and Molly’s mother was Gus’ father’s sister).
Mississippi Blue, had got away with murder (born around 1880), just as Hood had got away with it a half century before—killing Corporal Dennis Smiley, along with a young Private and Sarah Franklin; now Blue was fifty-dollars richer, from taking what money the old man had left in his pants pockets, and had gambled that $50-dollars and made $1500-dollars, then invested it in a sawmill outside of Ozark, down by a lake, near Daleville, between Ozark, and Shantytown. Daleville being more like a town-let, with about four or five dwellings, no church, just an old sawmill by the lake nearby. He had invested with Molly O’Day, and was doing well now, a year had passed, and he was doing well, matter of fact, he and Miss Molly had a thing going (she being about near forty).
He had turned his bad luck around, with that effortless fury he let out against Old Man Hood—his rawness equal to Hood’s; how true it is, one devil gone, one more to take his place. He didn’t even pause, never looking back at what he had done, his eyes red from drink and lack of sleep, he never even made it to Hood’s funeral.
So here was Old Hood, vanished, gone from the surface of the earth, from that in-between Heaven and Hell, narrow space, called the surface. His eyes closed in a wooden coffin.
It was a celebration for Clara Smiley, a day she waited for, for a long time. She attended his funeral, along with Emma Hightower. Her eyes lost, smaller now than they were back in 1864, when Hood had killed her brother Dennis.
She was going to re-roof, her kitchen, that day, but she didn’t, she stayed at the cemetery until sundown.
“He was for all purposes, a nameless person,” Clara murmured to Emma, “who would rise and dress and eat his breakfast, just to die in a sink tub one day, homeless, childless, wifeless, I wonder if Hell has its gates half open awaiting his arrival?”

Old Stone Bridge
((Mayor H.P. Mondale) (Part Thirteen))

Beyond the bend of the Old Ozark Road, where there once stood Old Stone Bridge, now, there was no longer any trace of it, a vanished bridge that stood from the early days of the Civil War, it was the boarder between Ozark and Shantytown. It was where Old Amos Jackson was hung, and where Sarah Franklin was shot to death by Old Sergeant Hood, and where Old Doc Edwards one night rode like wildfire across it to find a home for Scip Josh Mason, Emma’s boy. Not much architect to it, unrecorded date for its construction. No one could remember who even built it. All that was left behind, when Mississippi Blue was hired by the city to tare it down, and build a new one, a sturdy one from wood at his sawmill, the summer of 1925.
All that was left was old stones, a skeleton that once encased a bridge, that went under a creek, that was used by Confederates as well as Union soldiers chasing one another during the Civil War days, and slaves were carried across that old bridge to get to the cemetery, to be buried in—often in, unmarked graves, dating back to the 1770s.
A bridge that Lee, passed, so legend says, and that nearly seventy-years, two generations of sons and grandsons with bare feet crossed over.
The bridge was owned now by the city of Ozark. And soon Shantytown would all but disappear, leaving them four houses out of the fifteen dwellings that now existed and pert near, thirty when they build the stone bridge, in about 1859 or ‘60. But like old folks, things were changing, being replaced. Fresh tracks to new dwellings that kind of thing, “That’s how it is,” said Blue to the Mayor, “we have to change with the times.”
The new sheriff Ed Parker Jr., son to old Sheriff Parker (born 1829, died 1918), Ed was in WWI, fought between 1917 and 1918, and then had romped around Europe, a spell, now had been sheriff since 1921, now watching for a week, lumber coming by wagons and horse and mule back, for ten miles. Men working with lips full of snuff, until the last wagon arrived on the last day of the week, in Shantytown (he was born, 1899).
The old Negros that lived in and around Shantytown, and white spectators that rode by, all stopped—rabbit-like mules, to see the new bridge, it was like a big sunbonnet over a tin pail, the creek was no wider than ten-feet, and the bridge was twenty-feet wide if not wider, and thirty feet high if not higher, and Mayor Mondale (born around 1870), of Ozark, just stood there, appeared to look at nothing, to look at anything beside the ugly humongous bridge, he never stayed long. And he never looked back or up again at the bridge.

For long afternoons throughout the summer of 1925, old men squatting with their slow burning tobacco in their corncob pipes, sat by the creek looking at this huge laborious, shapeless structure, called a bridge, until someone had cleaned out his pipe one evening and—by an act of God, some old folks had said, the bridge burnt down. The old stone bridge that was once there was rebuilt to its old glory, no one knew by whom, and no one cared.