When someone comes into your life who intrigues you, comforts you, cares for you, mentors you, that person is worthy of your time and respect. Such persons have greatly influenced Chloe—Granny Lucas and Miss Louella. Chloe, however, wasn’t aware of such teachings during her youth. It would take many years to learn about the purpose of life—people—things of human interest and importance before she would recognize and come to value its intricacies. Most young people do not recall their time spent with “old folks”; they aren’t aware of the mentoring or guidance from those who’ve lived and learned and were willing to pass on their life experiences. No, sadly there are few who ever catch the spirit of wisdom. But Chloe, being a lover of wisdom, in her youth, became enamored with two people who enticed her in every way to listen and learn. Thus, she cherished their particular gift of intellect.
Summer dragged on and the adventures in Sugargrove were at an all-time high.
During the many visits the Gang had made to Miss Louella’s, they’d also met Leroy Bradshaw, who, just like Prissy’d said, ‘was kind like’. He was tall and skinny with thick black hair, and teeth so straight they looked like dentures. But his eyes were cornflower blue and seemed to actually sparkle when he talked. At first he seemed shy, but once he got to know you, he could talk the ears off a brass monkey. He was a kindred spirit for sure, and the Gang pulled him into their small circle like a big brother.
A day at the river:
“Hey, hold up. Where y’all goin s’ early?”
“We got eggs for Miss Louella.” Sara held out a basket, full of brown speckled eggs.
“Is Leroy gonna be there too?”
“Why Prissy Corwin! Are you sweet on Leroy?” Chloe teased.
“I ain’t saying. But you can tell him I said hi.” She giggled and ran back towards her house. The Gang, who’d stood mute, burst forth with laughter.
A few yards before Miss Louella’s house where the trail mounded and curved downward closer to the river, Chloe came to a dead stop. “Shh. Don’t move.” Chloe held her finger to her mouth and whispered, pointing with her other hand. “Look.”
Miss Louella was sitting on a rock, petting Squirt, her orange tabby cat. Squirt, who probably now weighed fifteen pounds, was anything but small, however, she was the runt of the litter when born, and the only one of the bunch who lived, thus, she was named Squirt. They found Miss Louella talking, but not to a person. She was communicating with the animals. There, near her feet, were a couple of squirrels eating out of a tin pan, a raccoon gnawing away on scraps from breakfast, a deer eating something directly from her hand, and a baby red fox calmly lying beside the wise and gentle white-haired river-woman.
“I ain’t never seen anything like it in my life.” Sadie whispered.
“Is she a witchwoman?” Susanna exclaimed. “I’ve heard my granny talk about such people. Or maybe she’s a diviner like Miss Fiona!”
“It’s just us, Miss Louella. Us girls from Sugargrove.” In a snap of the finger, all the animals vanished.
“Well, don’t jus’ hide out there in the woods like yer a trying to sneak up on a body. Come sit a spell.” She pushed the cat out of her lap, grunted and slowly began to stir around. “Can I offer ya some chicory?”
“Some what?” Chloe asked.
“Chicory. Coffee. Ain’t ya ever heard o’ coffee and chicory?”
“Well, git a cup over yonder and join me.” She pointed to a row of tin cups sitting on a shelf that’d been nailed to the side of the house. She poured a liquid, black as coal dust, into their cup.
Sadie leaned in closer to Chloe and whispered, “What if it’s a witch’s potion of some kind?”
“Well, don’t just stare at it, drink it!” Startled, they gulped it down. Instantly, they began coughing and spitting as though they’d been poisoned.
The wise old river- woman slapped her leg in riotous laughter at the young girls, who seemed to her, greener than a patch of gourds.