The days spent on the river with Miss Louella were the most enjoyable days the Sugargrove Gang had had all summer long. They learned how to drink coffee with chicory, without throwing up. After all, it was nothing more than Louisiana-style coffee. They also learned how to scrape honey from the honeycomb, but most often they sat in rapt attention and watched as Miss Louella doctored the injured animals. She had an amazing enchanting way with them, and they seemed to trust her.
When Miss Louella was tending to the animals, she wanted to be left alone; otherwise they’d be frightened and run away, therefore, she taught Chloe a specific birdcall, to signal that company was near. If the same call came back it was safe to approach, but if not, then Chloe had to wait for a different call before she could visit.
One particular morning, Chloe, along with her mother, was headed to the river to pay Miss Louella a visit. Chloe had been talking, non-stop, about her new friend, and Katy wanted to meet her.
Chloe sounded her call and instantly the same was returned. “It’s okay to go in. Come on.” Katy chuckled at her daughter’s eagerness, and to obey the river woman’s request.
“Well, well. Who’ve ya brought to this old woman’s doorstep?”
“Miss Louella, this is my mom, Katy Baxter.” Katy smiled and nodded.
“Miss Louella, I hope we’re not intruding, but I’ve heard so much about you and Chloe has been insisting that I pay you a visit. So here we are completely unannounced.
“I’m thrilled t’ have visitors, new or old. And it ain’t like you could’a called me on one of ‘em fangle-dangle tellyphones.” Louella’s mellow laughter instantly warmed Katy’s heart and pulled her in with child-like enthusiasm.
Katy held out a basket for her to take. “We’ve brought you some more of those brown eggs you’re so fond of, and also a freshly baked loaf of bread for you to enjoy with your wonderful honey.”
“Here’s some of Daddy’s deer jerky. It’s really good.” Chloe held out a cloth napkin filled with thin-sliced, dried and seasoned deer meat.
“Well, how nice a’ ya. Thank ya kindly. Chloe get yore mama ‘at chair over yonder next t’ th’ washtub.
For the next couple of hours, they sat and listened to the hardships and joys of river life as told by the unique woman, an artisan in anyone’s eyes, and who loved every moment of it; although one not too fond of the icy-cold winters. Yet, most likely, Katy thought, the offer of a snug, warm, and solidly built cabin in the hills couldn’t persuade her to leave the small lean-to shack she’d become accustomed too; where she’d lived and worked since she was a small child. Louella was a tall slender, but seemingly stout woman with long salt and pepper colored hair, which she neatly tied up in a bun at the nape of her neck. Her brown eyes were large and perfectly shaped like almonds, which glistened as she spoke. An only child, she never married, but instead, she took care of her parents until their death, which sadly took place only one week apart. By the time they both passed, she said that she was too set in her ways to let a man start telling her how to live. And besides, she was never alone, she had her animals, and many friends along the river who she loved and cared for.
The walk home had been quiet, and then Chloe broke the silence. “Mama why are the river folks so poor?”
“Well now, it depends on what you think of as poor.”
“You know, the way Miss Louella lives. I mean, when you’re inside her house, you can see the sun shining through the cracked boards in the walls. She has to carry water from the river, cooks over an open fire, and I don’t think she ever goes to town! If that ain’t poor, I don’t know what is.”
“Chloe, just because a person doesn’t have things of comfort or plenty, doesn’t mean they’re poor. Louella is a Christian woman with a kindred spirit, who loves and is loved in return. And that, not possessions, is what makes a person very rich.