The sun beat unmercifully down upon the hard-baked clay of the section line lanes.
A CUP OF COOL WATER
The searing breeze curled the leaves of even the tough post oaks and sapped the juice
from the wild blackberries at the side of the road. Now and then a tiny brown and green
lizard rustled through the crisply browned leaves and grass in the ditch. Rarely, a bird gave
a complaining cheep from the trees. But the countryside was lifeless save for that and for a
solitary girl who stirred up a listless cloud of hot dust as she kicked her way still more
listlessly down the lane.
Jean hesitated irresolutely at the gate to a farm house, but the heat soon over-came
her natural shyness. She crossed the yard and stepped up to the door.
"Please, could I get a drink here?" she asked, as she saw a barefoot boy drying
"Sure you can; come right through," came the voice of an old lady. Answering
with a friendly smile, the shy grin of the youngster, Jean stepped across the long kitchen
and into the enclosed porch at the other side.
"There's a cup you can drink from -- hangin' there on the pump," the woman
grunted without budging from her chair. Jean pumped a cup of water and leaning against
the doorway, drank long and deep. Sweat covered her tanned face and arms, making of
her a bronzed statue.
"Set down and rest a spell," invited the farmwoman, waving to another chair in the
"Thank you, I believe I will. The sun was hot out there on the road; but it feels
cool in here." Then, feeling this old lady deserved an explanation of why a girl should be
tramping alone over the Missouri back woods, "I've been out all morning studying the
wild flowers and other plants. I don't live around here, so lots of these plants are strange
"My, its afternoon now, and if you've been walkin' all mornin' you must be hungry. I made
some bread today and there's some left. Won't you have a piece? I think it's real good."
Jean started to protest, "Really, I'm not hungry. You see, I carried some lunch
along with me in this bag." But the woman insisted. She hobbled into the kitchen and soon
returned with a knife, a huge bun, and a dish of semi-liquid butter. Jean spread the butter
very thinly upon the bun. For all she knew, that was all they had. But the old lady would
stand for nothing of that sort. "Sure you got enough butter," she demanded? She looked
critically at the bun as Jean nodded. "Not enough there on the edges." Thus criticized,
Jean obediently took more butter, but she couldn't help exclaiming, "Aren't you being too
good to a perfectly total stranger?"
Jean fell in love with that externally uncouth old woman when she was answered
with a look, behind which lay the wisdom of the ages, and the words "How can you meet
new and interesting folks if you ain't good to strangers?"
To Jean there was something profoundly wonderful and wholesome about that old
lady who, though barefoot and clad in an old dress of old fashioned grey gingham print,
could yet utter such profoundly simple truth. And -- though Jean was dressed in boys'
pants, roamed unchaperoned over the country side and knocked at stranger's doors for a
drink -- though she did all those things which were taboo to nice girls of fifty years ago,
there was something sincere and wholesome in her intensely eager face that appealed to
the woman of past events and drew her to the cheerful youngster.
As they talked, the woman reached to a shelf above her chair. "You don't care if I
smoke my old pipe, will you, honey?" she asked as she deftly filled an old corn cob pipe
and professionally rammed the tobacco home with her forefinger. Between puffs she
talked as Jean rummaged in the bag at her feet. "Do you smoke? I hope you don't. I think
a pipe is good; but I see that now they're smokin' those nasty little things they call
cigarettes. You don't smoke them? That's lovely. And if you do ever smoke, I hope its a
pipe. Oh, you've got some books there!" she exclaimed as Jean emptied her bag, "Have
they got pictures of plants in them?"
"Not these two, but I have another in my ---." Jean's voice trailed off as she began
fishing through her numerous pockets.
"I've got an almanac that's got colored pictures of plants," declared the woman
triumphantly and she limped into the kitchen. "I got it from a Indian Herb Company. It's
real nice," she called back.
"See." She returned with the small, gaudily painted pamphlet. "It even tells what all
sicknesses the plants will cure, too. I was down, sick abed all winter. The doctor couldn't
help me none a'tall, so I sent for some plant medicine from this Indian Herb Company and
it helped me right off." she testified. "Now this here is good for pleurisy" she stated
pointing to a picture, "and this is right good for cramps. That ginseng there is real good,
too. I ca'culated to grow some of it in my garden, but it's been most too dry for anything."
"Yes, it has been awfully dry," broke in Jean, glad to switch the conversation from
such a shaky subject as plant medicines and cure alls, "We certainly do need a good rain."
"You know," confided this wise old woman, "I think this hot dry spell is just a
punishment for the way a lot of folks have been acting. Some of us have been bad so God
punishes all of us."
Jean was about to hide a cynical smile and mentally to brand that time worn
explanation for drought as just another superstition of the pious but unlearned people. She
suddenly thought however, "Maybe there is a grain of truth in it in this case. Let me see,
didn't I learn that forests tend to preserve a normal rainfall, so that both floods and
droughts are rare? Hasn't the white man been very selfishly felling the forests? Well then,
isn't this old woman pretty close to right? By jiggers! it is our selfishness that is the cause
of these floods and droughts!!
As Jean rose to leave a little later, she insisted the Sage of the Backwoods, -- as
she had come to think of the old lady -- accept, in return for the bun, an orange. Til this
day, that woman is very likely telling the neighbors about the girl in boys' pants who talked
to her and gave her an orange. And certainly Jean must be remembering that scorching hot
day when she asked for a drink of water and got that, yes, and more.
"A cup of cool water," she murmurs, "yes that and more. 'Else how can you meet
new and interesting folks if you ain't good to strangers?"
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