Hard Candy & Nickels

When I was growing up as a kid in the Appalachian Mountains, day to day life was measured in the cycle of farm life. Work and other activities were planned according to the time of year; not spring, winter, summer, or autumn, but plowing time, planting time, hog killing time, potato digging time, hay baling time, and vegetable canning time. We kids all had our share of the work, and it was not easy work for a little kid. My father was a city man, and was never very good at the farm life. My mother on the other hand was a good farmer. My brother, my sister and I would help Mother with all the farm work after school and during the summers. When it came time to do the hog killing, a man named Yancy always came to help. He never took any money for helping but preferred to take his wages in goods like a basket of tomatoes, a dozen cans of green beans, or a few pork chops from the hog. Yancy was not married and had no children. He was alone.

Where I come from there are two types of people There are good people and then there are bad people. Now the line is not as clearly defined as you might think. Sometimes good people do things that might be considered bad but if they have a good reason for their bad act, they remain a good person. The bad person is always bad and even if he or she does a good thing they are still bad. Once a person is identified as a bad person, they never get away from that stigma unless of course they get saved, baptized in the creek, and testify about their conversion for the next month of Sundays. Even then, they may still be considered a bad person who is trying to be good. I suppose the people of my community always questioned the integrity of the reformed bad person.

Yancy was one of those reformed bad people. You see, he drank a lot. He would get saved every so often, but it never took completely. Soon enough he would go back to drinking again. Then after a while, he would go get saved again. Every time someone saw Yancy staggering down the road toward the bootlegger (our county was dry so it was illegal to buy and sell alcohol) the adults would snipe about what a drunk he was. They would say he was “a worthless drunk” and “he won’t never amount to nothing.” But when it was time to kill a hog, or bale the hay, or plow a rocky field, Yancy was there to help, and he never took a dime of cash in payment. No one ever offered him a ride because he as a bad person you see. He was a drunk and good people don’t fool with bad people. Everyone talked about how Yancy was a bad person. But to me, a kid, I didn’t see anything bad about him.

Yancy always had a pocket full of hard candy and a nickle for the kids. He was kind and always respectful of my mother and father. He would call them “ma’am” and “sir” and say “thank you” when he was paid for his hard work with a bag of potatoes or a side of bacon.

The years wore on, I grew older, and I grew away from the farm life. I graduated from high school and started taking classes at the little community college in our town. I found a job as a secretary and rented a little house. I even managed to buy myself a car by the time I was age 18. I was living fancy for a hillbilly girl in a town of 3000 people with only one intersection and a police force consisting of only the chief and three cops. I had forgotten all about Yancy, who worked for potatoes and gave candy and nickels to me when I was a kid.

One day after work, I stopped by the local sundry store to pick up a few things and I saw Yancy sitting on the steps of the store.

“Yancy?” I asked, and he looked up at me with rheumy blue eyes.

“Is that you Helen?” he said. “Look at how you’ve grown up girl!”

We spent the next few minutes talking about times on the farm, and Yancy embarrassed me by carrying on about how I had become a beautiful woman and was doing so well for myself. I wished him well and started into the store, but Yancy stopped me.

“Will you do me a favor, Helen?” he asked.

“If I can Yancy,” I replied.

“Can you give me a ride home in your fine car?” he asked. “You see, I can’t hardly walk no more and no one else is willing to take me home.”

“I sure can Yancy,” I said. “C’mon.”

So I took Yancy home. It dawned on me as he gave me directions up a long, winding road around the mountain, that in all the years I had known him, I never knew where he lived. We drove on for what seemed like an hour, round the mountain, up and then down again. We reminisced about my mother’s fine garden and how her tomatoes were the best in the county. We talked about the fine horses that we raised and trained for fancy horse shows. I took a ribbon once in a show, and was so proud of myself. Yancy remembered that ribbon and the day I came running up to him and showed it to him.

He teased me about having the cutest pigtails and freckles around when I was a kid. He talked about how people gossiped about him, but he didn’t really mind. He told me that no one can ever know what’s in another person’s heart. He warned me, some of the prettiest packages may have snakes inside.

He said to me, “I am an old drunk and I’m dying. But I never hurt no one Helen. If I ever did hurt anyone, I am sorry for it.”

Finally we arrived at his humble little home.

His little house was just a couple of rooms, but it was neatly white washed with a fresh coat of lime. The path to the house was neatly paved with well worn flat stones from the creek. There were wild roses and dogwood trees all around. It was a wonderful little home.

Yancy opened the door and with great effort (he was clearly in pain) got out. He leaned back in and pulled out his wallet to offer me money for my trouble.

“Oh no, Yancy,” I said. “I don’t want your money. I enjoyed our ride up the holler.”

“Then take this,” he said.

He handed me a small brown paper bag and closed the car door before I could object. I watched him amble up the path to his little house. I turned my car around and started back out of the holler, round the mountain, down and then up again. When I arrived home I remembered the little brown bag on the car seat. I opened the bag and peered in.

There was a handful of hard candies and a nickel in the bag.

Yancy died not long after. I wanted to go to his funeral, except there was no funeral because he had no family. So on the last day of the three day viewing of the body, I went to the funeral home and sat for a while. I ate the candy and put the nickel in my pocket. I carried that nickel for many years. Every time I was tempted to condemn someone as a bad person, I pulled that nickel out of my pocket and I thought about Yancy, who was a good person.

Hard Candy & Nickels

H Maria Perry

Joined July 2007

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Childhood memories.

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