Mrs. Morton

For twelve years, I rode the school bus to Plainview in Rainsville, Alabama. I never regretted the ride, even in high school because I understood that financially I was not going to have my own car until I bought one for myself.

These trips to and from Plainview on the bus gave me time to do my homework before getting home, read books, or allow my imagination to flow while staring outside the bus window at the fields, pastures, and woods passing by.

During the winter, this leisure time, so to speak, gave me the perfect opportunity to scan the leafless trees and spot hanging cocoons. I found a lot of cocoons like this but since I didn’t have a car, I had to hike my way, often several miles, to reach those trees and claim my prizes. I never complained about walking because I enjoyed viewing the Pleasant Hill Community at a slower pace. And sometimes, I found tools and other items that had fallen off of trucks on the side of the road.

When spring rolled around, I paid attention to the edges of the roads, watching for aluminum cans. The only way I made money to get things I wanted during my high school years was by picking up aluminum cans, deposit coke bottles (age-revealing, eh?), collecting/selling old glass bottles, and mowing lawns. As deposit bottles faded from circulation, the use of aluminum cans increased, and I could fill plastic feed sacks of cans in a few hours on a Saturday. So on my Friday bus trips, I paid careful attention to which roads had more aluminum cans and headed out early on Saturday to pick them up.

On one particular day, I knew which roads I’d take, but for some reason, I noticed a dirt road  linked into the main road I had never paid any attention to before. I decided to see where this road ended.

The road itself was uneventful and wasn’t nothing more than a dirt road for farmers to drive their tractors to get to their fields. I didn’t find any cans as I walked and about a mile later, I came upon the dead end. The dusty road ended at the edge of a small grove of pine trees. To the right side of the road was a small house that resembled a cottage and a single-wide trailer was on the next lot. Neither of these are there today.

Although I wanted to walk partway into the woods, I decided to head back the way I came. Then the small dog at the house yapped. An ankle-biter usually bites quicker than a large dog. At least, that has been my experience. Believe me, I will never turn my back on a feist again.

Anyway, this dog yapped and the door opened. A short white-haired, elderly woman stepped outside. She asked if I was picking up cans. When I told her I was and had not found any on the road, she said that she might have some, if I wanted them.

Her old dog calmed down and soon wagged its tail, so my ankles were safe.

Soon we discovered that she didn’t have any aluminum cans, but she found old pie tins and scrap aluminum foil–neither of which could be sold where they buy aluminum cans. Then she hefted out an old stainless steel canner pot that weighed at least ten pounds. Even though I told her that they wouldn’t buy it, she insisted I take it, just in case. By the look in her eyes, she genuinely wanted to help and reluctantly, I placed the canner into my bag of cans so I didn’t hurt her feelings. Even if I couldn’t sell it, we could use it as a watering pan for our chickens.

She introduced herself as Gladys Morton, and then she asked if I did lawn work. When I told her that I mowed lawns, she hired me to mow hers after it warmed enough for the grass to grow. I agreed, and then I lugged that heavy stainless steel canner down the road.

What weighs about ten pounds seems like a hundred after several miles of walking. The thought of throwing it in a ditch crossed my mind several times, but I wasn’t one to litter. In fact, picking up cans was quite the opposite, so despite the heaviness of the cooker, I carried it home.

I cut Mrs. Morton’s yard that summer, and by the end of summer, she was attending the church where my family went. We became good friends over the next few years. Right before I left for the Rising Seniors program at Berea College in 1985, she handed me twenty-five dollars, as she knew we didn’t have much money. At the end of summer, when I returned, she told me that she was moving into an elderly apartment complex in Rainsville at her daughter’s insistence. Her daughter worked a lot and often out of state, so she wanted her mother closer to other people. And also because someone had tried to break into her daughter’s trailer on the next lot from her house.

She no longer needed me to mow since the apartments had a maintenance crew to take care of that, but I visited her at the apartment where she had made lots of friends. The good thing about those apartments was the little community center where the residents could go to play games and cards and pass the time.

She still gardened, and to my surprise, she showed me the large nectarine tree at the side of her window. She told me about how she had eaten a nectarine and how sweet it had tasted, so she kept the pit and planted it at the side of her apartment window. Her neighbors had said that it would never grow. That’s not something you tell a lady with a green thumb. They had never seen all the flowers, shrubs, and vegetable plants she had at her former home. In the nectarine tree’s third year, she harvested seven nectarines.

During the times I had mowed her lawn, she learned about my interest in butterflies and moths, so she was always giving me cuttings of heirloom plants, seeds, and sometimes she even divided her plants and bulbs, giving some to me.

She and a couple of her friends traveled to Mexico. When she returned, she brought my sister a little Mexican jewelry box. She gave me a silver tie clip and she handed me several seeds she had taken from a tree similar to the Mimosa tree in Mexico. I had placed those seeds in my pocket but somehow lost them before I got home.

After a couple of years, she had open heart surgery. She recovered quite well, but she became nervous and uneasy around visitors. I visited her a couple of times before moving to Kentucky. After moving to Kentucky, we seldom got to travel to Alabama, and I tried over the years to contact her, but never found where she moved.

But, the best treasure I found in my curious quest to see what lay at the end of the road was the wonderful friendship of Gladys Morton; who had, at the time, lived in partial isolation and loneliness. You never know what awaits ahead unless you take the time to explore.

Blessings to you, Gladys Morton.

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