1:7: “Horsethieves and Preachermen”, by Christopher Rowe

1:7: “Horsethieves and Preachermen”, by Christopher Rowe

Reach down that old picture from the top of the organ, girl, and I’ll tell you. Now, did you say your teacher was a Cowan? You know your Mama had a Cowan for a teacher when she was about your age and she had to write a family tree, too. Is it the same one? I don’t guess it makes any difference, I never knew a Cowan that had any sense whether they was married in or born in.

I’ll tell you first off that your Mama is going to pitch a fit on account of me showing you this picture. It’s supposed to go to her but she’s told me she don’t want any truck with it. Right now it stands to go to my sister, it’s always the next woman down that gets it. I’m trying to hang on to give it to you instead of your Aunt Rachel. Lord bury that woman quick that I might join Thee and take my rest.

This is a family portrait like picture men went around taking after the war. My Granny told it that they’d haul around their big old cameras on pack mules and everybody in the country would get their picture took. She remembered it from when she was a baby. See here where they’re all lined up in front of old Jesse Hadley’s house. That’s the one that burned down with all my little cousins in it when I was just a tiny thing.

You look in your library books at school and you’ll see that most times these pictures had all the people in them, and all the stock and most everything the family owned. But there’s not any cattle or spinning wheels or such in our Hadley picture on account there’s so many Hadleys in it taking up all the space. Or maybe old Jesse took the Lord at His word about storing up treasures in Heaven. It’s told that Jesse was as strong a man for God as any that ever lived in this county.

That’s him right in the middle. See that jaw? You look in the mirror when you get home and you’ll see the same one. It caused your Mama no end of tears once upon a time. She wears a Hadley face even if she’s never wore the name, and it’s a face that’s got more of the farm in it than a girl wants sometimes. I guess your Daddy took to it all right, though, or you wouldn’t be sitting here.

But I was telling you about Jesse. Did your Mama tell you enough that you could count up the great-greats in front of Grandpa on him? It’s not that many, I guess, but these generations mix up on a body when she gets up where I am.

And Jesse was older than me when this picture got took, I reckon. Look at those eyes, though. They were as sharp and clear as anything, even then. Looks like he’s staring right through you, don’t it? That’s what folks have always said. Jesse preached on Willow Ridge and somebody’s put a plaque about him in the church there. His Granddaddy was up there in the world, too, it was him that founded that church.

And near as we’ve been able to figure, that must be Jesse’s Granddaddy standing next to him. See how his clothes look like they’re a different kind of old timey than Jesse’s. I guess he must be the furthest back Hadley in the picture, unless you count his little sister.

She was a notable herself as you well know. Didn’t you write one of your reports on Miss Lottie? Only woman they ever hung in this county. I suppose that must be the very rope they done it with she’s holding, there. Ought to be holding a horsewhip or a bottle of liquor what with the tales told on her.

And look there, that’s my Daddy. Child, I wish you could have known him. He was about the best man I ever knew, along with your Grandpa, Lord keep them both. He died when I was about your age, I guess, working on the dam. See how he looks like he’s all wet? River got him.

I missed him terrible my whole life. When I finally recognized me in the picture standing right there next to him it was a blessing. See the quilt I’m holding? That’s the very one the people at the university put in their museum. I’m still working on the one for your hope chest.

I don’t know this man here. I don’t imagine he’s come up yet. Whoever heard of a man wearing a cape? He’s a Hadley, though, you can’t mistake that. Your Mama used to be standing where he is, but she’s one of those that faded out. I told her she ought not drop out of high school and I showed her how the picture was changing after she done it. That’s when she told me she never wanted to hear about it anymore.

But this woman, here, girl. Look at her. She’s not ashamed of her strong jaw is she? And she’s got those staring eyes like Jesse. I never figured out what she was carrying there until your cousin brought his little computer in here last Christmas. She’s one coming up, too, is my thinking.

I hope she’s you, child, I hope she’s you.

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