Dooty’s Last Stand
By Jerry Bledsoe
Vol. 1, No. 2, 1978, pp. 13-15
She had thought this would be the day, and all morning Luemer Plumley, whom her sisters call Dooty, sat on the porch watching and waiting.
She watched expectantly as the power company truck lurched up the rough mountain road and one of the men got out and climbed the pole and tinkered with the wires at the top. She watched as they went on up to the church and passed back down again. And still she waited, but they didn’t return.
It was almost two o’clock in the afternoon when she finally broke her silence and spoke to her sister, Della.
“Deller, I just as well cook us some dinner,” she said. “We’re not a-goina git no power today.”
“Well, Dooty,” said Della, “is that what you wuz a-waitin’ fer?”
With that, Luemer went into the rickety house and fired up the big wood cookstove in the tiny kitchen. She had dreaded it. It was a hot August day, and the heat in the kitchen was soon almost unbearable. On a similar day a couple of weeks earlier, the preacher had come to visit and found Luemer cooking dinner. She had looked at him and said, “If hell’s any hotter than this little kitchen, I sure don’t want to go there, do you?”
Besides, she had been looking forward to using her new stove. It wasn’t a new stove, actually, just a small, used electric range. It sat in the corner across from the wood stove, plugged up and ready, but powerless, and now Luemer would have to wait for another day to use it.
She guessed she could wait all right. After all, she had been waiting a good part of her life for electricity to come up Glassy Mountain.
“Been a-lookin’ to git it up here fer 25 years and it didn’t come,” she said, “just till we got so old we can’t enjoy it.”
Glassy Mountain is in an area of Greenville County, South Carolina, known as the Dark Corner, once a notorious moonshining district on the North Carolina border. It had always been sparsely settled, mainly by Plumleys. It was one of the last mountain enclaves where electricity had not reached.
The poles came now, marching up the new road, a long, winding, unpaved gash in the mountain, so steep and dangerous some mountain people refused to use it and still drove the old road, rutted and narrow, on the other side of the mountain. But others came up the new road, people from towns and cities far distant. They came in cars and trucks and jeeps, and some of them came carrying strange contraptions, great wings that they strapped to themselves so that they could leap off the cliffs at the top of the mountain and glide to landings on Highway 11, far below.
Back in the winter a jeep had come, filled with whooping people, sliding and spinning in the snow, pulling a sled wildly behind, and just in front of the house, a man had come flying headover-heels out of the jeep and landed on the bank in front of the house with a sickening thud. The jeep had gone on and left him, and Luemer and her sister watched, terrified, from behind the door as he struggled, cursing, in the ditch.
“Every time he’d git up, he’d take the longest pause you’ve ever seen,” Luemer would say, recalling the scene, “then he’d go back down again.”
Finally, the jeep had returned, and the occupants got out and snatched up the man and strapped him across the hood, tied like a trophy deer, and then the jeep careened off down the mountain. The next morning, when Luemer listened to the news on the battery radio and heard a man had been found murdered in a ditch, she was sure it was that man she had watched struggling in the ditch.
Such goings-on the sisters had never seen before, but they had become a regular thing since the new road had come. “All the time,” Luemer said. “It’s a sight. It’s awful.” It had caused her to start keeping a gun close at hand. “No sir, they better not git off that road out there,” she said. “I’m not a’goina fool with them ol’ drunkards.”
For most of their lives, the sisters’ isolation on Glassy Mountain had been rarely infringed. There were only three of them now. There had been four until April, when Ellen, the youngest, the talkative one, died in a hospital. Mattie, too, had been in the hospital recently. The oldest at 78, she was staying with her son, off the mountain.
Only Della, 75, and Luemer, 67, remained at the old homeplace. Of the two, only Luemer had never left. Della had married and gone off down the mountain for 21 years until her husband died in 1957, when she returned. Luemer never saw any reason for marrying or leaving the mountain.
There had been 10 of them – five boys and five girls when they moved to this house in 1919 from another house on the mountain. It was an old house even then, built around a log cabin. Their father died the year after they moved in, and through the years, the sisters watched the others go one by one. Their mother died in the house in 1946. “She laid and prayed all the time for her grandchildren to come home from the Army,” Luemer said, “and just as soon as the last one come home, she died.”
In all those years, neither the house nor the sisters’ way of living had changed very much. They still cooked on the woodstove, fetched water from the spring, read by the light of oil lamps, plowed their garden with the help of a mule. Chickens and guinea hens scratched in the bare front yard as they always had, and hounds still lounged under the front porch. Luemer would allow no cats in the house, no dogs on the porch.
But then the new road had come, bringing people and trouble from distant places, and finally the electric hues had followed (although not until the sisters, and their nephew down the road, and the small church up
the hill had paid $1,500 each to the electric co-operative), and now Luemer knew things would never again be the s neon Glassy Mountain. She had already heard that people from Greenville were coming to build vacation homes nearby.
Even after Luemer and Della had paid the money to bring the electric lines to their house, it had looked for a while as if they might not get electricity after all. The house had to be wired. An electrician showed up one day and told her it would cost $2,000 to do the job, but the sisters didn’t have any money left.
Then Jim Tankersley heard about it. He lives in River Falls, not far from Glassy Mountain. He knows the mountain and the people who live on it well. For more than 25 years, Jim Tankersley was a federal agent, a revenuer, one of the government’s top still-busters. He has always been close to the people in the area. He came up the mountain with a friend from Greenville, Shorty Vaughn, and they wired the house at no charge. Not long afterward, Shorty came back bringing the electric range.
“He said he’d fetch a Kelvinator refrigerator next Sunday or the next,” Luemer said. “I wouldn’t have had lights atall if it hadn’t been for keepin’ us milk. I told ’em all along I didn’t care about power. But we love our milk and butter, and you can’t keep it in this heat.”
Luemer didn’t know what the holdup was about for getting the power on. She’d thought the men might come back after dinner, but a storm came instead. It brought sharp lightning and heavy black clouds that sent water rushing down the gullies on the road, “a real field soaker,” Luemer called it.
When it was over, she and Della sat on the porch with visitors, enjoying the freshness and coolness the rain had brought.
Luemer told about laying in wait in the chickenho use for a black snake that was stealing her eggs and finding nine unbroken eggs inside it when she killed it. Della, a thin, frail woman, told how she swells so bad and never feels good anymore and has to go to bed before dark every day.
The subject of television came up. Luemer laughed when she was asked if she’d ever watched TV. “I’ve not watched one enough for my head to stop swimmin’. Only time I ever watched one was Billy Graham, that big preacher, and ever’ time I was about to git interested, they cut ‘im off.”
“Would you watch it if you had one?” she was asked.
“I guess everybody does, I would too.”
Two chickens got into a dispute over something one of them had scratched up in the yard. The dogs came out from under the porch where Della had shooed them and loped off toward the road.
“They goin’ now to hunt a squirrel,” Della said.
Somebody mentioned how nice and cool and quiet it was on the mountain now, and Luemer looked at the electric lines that still dangled, unconnected on the side of the house and said she expected that surely the men would come tomorrow and cut on the power so she wouldn’t have to put up with that hot kitchen again.
Jerry Bledsoe, a free-lance writer and a staff columnist for the Charlotte Observer, has served as a contributing editor for Esquire Magazine. He resides in Asheboro. North Carolina.