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Polly's Ribbon

I cut my teeth writing on Hubpages back in 2009. I've written 17 novels, numerous songs, and short stories since. I love to write love.

Storms come and go.


The celebration.

She walked by the tall pine trees, looking up, smiling at a tiny cloud leading the massive storm front that caused a creeping shadow over the hill behind her house. She wondered if the little cloud was leading the great storm or trying to escape. As the afternoon sun disappeared, sixteen-year-old Polly Gebbert hurried to pick some wildflowers at the edge of the dirt path leading into the woods. Thunder boomed and rain began to fall hard as Polly gathered her bouquet. She was determined to get just the right flowers.

Her grandfather, Elijah Roman Gebbert was sitting on the cabin porch, grinning as he watched Polly pick her flowers. It was Sunday, July 6, 1919, and Polly wanted to celebrate Prohibition and the 19th. Amendment which had just happened in June. She had made a chicken dinner and a blackberry pie. Grandpa Gebbert shouted to her, "You're gettin' soaked child!" Polly looked at him and then looked at her bare feet that had mud squishing up between her toes. With flowers in her right hand and using her left hand for a visor, she ran up to the porch.

Rain was dripping from her long reddish-brown hair and from her drenched pale blue dress as she said, "Grandpa, I had to get flowers for the table. You cain't have a right celebration unless you got flowers." Grandpa got up from his cane bottom chair, opened the door, and said, "Wait right there, I'll get a couple of dry flour sacks for you." Polly was shaking the rain from her flowers as she organized them and stuck her feet, one by one out in the drippings from the porch to wash off the mud. She smiled and said, "Thanks Grandpa," as he handed her the sacks.

Polly lost both of her parents and little brother to the flu in the prior year. She had no other kinfolk than her Grandfather. Her Grandmother, Elsa had died shortly after giving birth to Polly's father. Her Grandpa was in poor health from working hard in the coal mines. Due to his condition, the mining boss let him work at the company store for less than half of what he was making in the mines, but it was survivable. Polly dried off with the flour sacks, walked into the cabin, laid her flowers on the table, and climbed up to the loft to change into a dry dress.

She only had three to choose from, a work dress, a dark blue school dress, and her mother's white wedding dress. She chose her school dress. She changed, climbed down the loft ladder, and took down a blue-tinted Mason Jar from a kitchen shelf for her flowers. She placed the vase of flowers on the table, removed the chicken that was warming in the wood stove oven, and took her Grandfather's set of three porcelain plates and four cups with saucers out of a trunk in the large room. They along with silver utensils had been carefully wrapped with linens. One of the plates had been broken years before when the Gebberts moved from Virginia to Kentucky.

A wonderful meal.


Stories at supper.

She took two of the plates and two of the cups and saucers to put on the table. She had made a pot of sassafras tea and it was steaming on the stovetop. Polly thought of how the dishes looked so out of place in the two-room cabin with newspaper wall coverings, a flat creek stone floor, and one window that had a crack from corner to corner. Grandpa Elijah stepped in and as the door creaked shut, he smiled and said, "That chicken and pie sure smells good Miss Darlin' Polly.

He pulled back a chair and sat at the end of the table closest to the stove. Polly placed the plate of whole chicken on the table and cut her Grandfather a large piece of the breast. She also cut a leg and thigh for him. She placed a loaf of bread she'd baked and sliced on the table and handed him the heel she knew he loved. There were also onions, peppers, and tomatoes from the garden. When Polly sat down after getting her serving, grandpa Elijah said grace, "Thank you Lord for the food we have today, the hope we have tomorrow, and your love we have for eternity." Polly smiled and said, "Amen."

Polly talked in between chews about how she was going to vote someday and prohibition was a blessing for all respectable women. Her teacher, Mrs. Dunner said that alcohol was the devil's drink except for medicine and burning in lamps. Grandpa Gebbert just smiled and enjoyed his meal while listening to his sweet granddaughter preparing to be a woman. He sipped his tea as she complained, "Menfolk are finally realizing that womenfolk are just as equal and ought to be treated so. That smart mouth Edward Wilton at school said that women needed to be seen and not heard. Well let me tell you, he heard a whole lot more of me and wished he'd seen less of me that day."

Grandpa Elijah chuckled and asked, "What did you do?" Polly raised up her shoulders and said, "I kind of smacked his hat off and he reared back like he was goin' to hit me." Russell Hall grabbed his arm and told him, "You ain't hittin' a girl." Grandpa grumbled, "That Wilton boy ever lays a hand on you, I'll take him to the woods." Polly smiled and went back to talking about the 19th. Amendment. When supper was done, Polly started to clean up the dishes and her hair slipped over the greasy plate of chicken. She pulled it away and said, "Dang it, I need to cut my hair." Grandpa was just standing up as he said, "Oh don't cut your hair sweetie. That reminds me." Polly looked at him as she picked up cups.

He reached in his shirt pocket and pulled out a pretty gold-laced blue ribbon nearly 20 inches long. He handed it to her and said, "I got this for you yesterday at the store." Polly sat the cups on the table, took the ribbon in her hands, and softly said, "It's beautiful Grandpa. I've never seen a more beautiful ribbon." Grandpa Elijah smiled with a tear in his eye and said, "Now it belongs to the most beautiful girl I've ever seen. When you tie your hair with it, think about folks you love."

Polly hugged him, cleaned the end of her hair, and went to the small round mirror hanging on the main room wall. She tied her hair up with the ribbon and made a bow, letting the remainder dangle down her back. Grandpa went to the porch and smoked his pipe. Polly finished cleaning up and went out to sit by him. She sat on the railing and put her feet up on an old nail barrel. She asked, "Grandpa, have you ever drank whiskey?" He puffed his pipe a couple of times and answered, "Well...yes I have. Got drunk as a skunk once on moonshine and chased your grandma's other beau off with a pistol."

Polly snickered and asked, "How old was you?" Grandpa answered, "Oh...I think I was around your age. Long story short...I married her. I Never touched the stuff after that. I do however take a few sips of Morgan's Tonic when ailments flare up." Polly looked out of the corners of her eyes at him and snipped, "That tonic smells of alcohol Grandpa." He grinned and said, "Yes...a bit, it does have a bit." They talked about his son who was her father. They talked about her sweet mother and little brother. It was warm but the breeze bent the tall grass in the meadow and danced Polly's pretty ribbon over her shoulder.

Fireflies swooped in the dark woods as the evening began to welcome the night. Grandpa went in to go to bed and Polly sat on his chair, her elbows on the chair arms and hands under her chin. She wondered softly out loud, "Am I going to be OK God?" She sat up, reached back with her hands, and pulled the ribbon loose, letting her hair fall down her back. She felt the texture of the lace and could barely see the colors by moonlight. Polly smiled and draped the ribbon around her neck.

The Ribbon


The writer.

More than 40 years later, Polly Gebbert Hall thought of that day and night just before she gave a lecture on her book, "The Wilderness of Love," at Kentucky University. She stood behind the podium dressed in jeans and a pale blue shirt. Her hair was still long but turning slightly gray. She slipped her shoes off, smiled, and said, "I'm taking you all back with me to a time of wildflowers, fireflies, an old man, and a ribbon that ties love together.

I was 16 and my Grandfather was all I had in the world. We lived in a shack with a flat rock floor. We took buckets of water from the creek to drink, cook and bathe with. Our only window was cracked. We had a few nice dishes that we only used for celebrations." Polly hesitated for a moment, wiped a tear away, and said, " My Grandfather Elijah sold his 82 acres of land to the mining company. That money paid for my education along with room and board.

The day I left for college he hugged me and assured me he would be OK. He told me that the mining company had agreed to let him stay in the house rent-free. Grandfather Elijah Roman Gebbert lied to me. He had given me all he owned. He was left with nothing. He was homeless. I went to see him after my first semester in college. There was no home. A bulldozed road was where the cabin was. The meadow of grass and flowers was raw dirt and piles of timber, coal, and rocks."

She took a deep breath and continued, "I walked around and cried his name but all I could hear was machines. All I could smell was coal. All I could feel was sad. I walked to a distant neighbor's house. Charlene Baker was surprisingly sitting on her front porch. She was in her late 90s and bedfast when I left for school. She didn't recognize me at first. She said with a weak and cracked voice, "Oh my sweet lordy lord, Polly Gebbert, how have you been child?" I didn't hesitate, I asked quickly, "My Grandpa, where is my Grandpa?" Tears welled Charlene's far away eyes as she said, "Oh sweet child, you don't know?" She wept as she said, "I don't want to tell you these hurt words but Elijah took his own life with a pistol down in the hollow more than a month ago."

Polly took a sip from a glass of water, swallowed hard, stood straight, and said, "I screamed for him a hundred times that day. I heard distant thunder and saw a small cloud in front of a brewing storm. I realized at that moment, that I had seen the same thing when I was 16. That little cloud was me. I had to stay ahead of the storm or be absorbed by it. The rain poured as I took off my shoes and cried my heart out." Polly reached in her small leather purse, pulled out the ribbon, held it up, and said, "I put this ribbon in my hair. I looked up to the raging sky and shouted, "Grandfather.....I love you!"

Polly was silent for a moment and said, "When I returned to school, the lady I was renting a room from handed me a letter from my future husband, Russell Hall. She told me that Mr. Hall had recently called the college on the telephone to ask about me and his letter. A courier had brought her a note. She apologized because she had accidentally placed the letter in another girl's slot who had been sick at home with her parents for a few weeks. The letter was to inform me of Grandfather's death. I reached back, pulled a length of my little ribbon around, holding on to it, I walked to my room. I felt so like that little cloud once again as I sat on the bed and my tears fell on the letter."

Polly could hear sobbing and sniffles in the audience as she placed the gold-laced blue ribbon around her neck, then tied her hair up. She told them, "This ribbon is my symbol of love. It ties me to my Grandfather and Grandmother. It ties me to my parents and little brother. It ties me to Kentucky and now tonight, hearing my story...this little ribbon ties me to you all."


© 2022 Tom Cornett

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