Thursday, February 1, 2024

Bridle Path - Chapter 5 - Les Misérables

 Hello Everyone,

I'm finally posting Chapter 5 for my Packhorse Librarian story.  I've had a very busy start to the New Year, and there just aren't enough hours in the day to get everything done!

Chapter #5 Month #5

January 1936

Dear Grace,

When your daddy was alive, I always looked forward to the first snowfall of the season. You and I only ventured outside to bring in firewood and then we would briefly play in the white powder.  You would mimic me and look up at the sky and squeal with delight when a snowflake landed on your tongue, and you would wrinkle up your little nose and make a face.  That precious little face always made me laugh. I don’t laugh as much as I used to, and I need to work on that.

Now when it snows, all I can think about is breaking trail through the snow to get to the back country to deliver books to those who have come to depend on me, not only for the books but for my company.  When I signed up to become a Packhorse Librarian, I did it to help feed my family.  Little did I know at the time I was feeding my own soul and helping myself heal while helping others.

My mama gave me an old oil cloth tablecloth to wrap around my shoulders to keep the snow from soaking through my jacket.  The oil cloth was held in place by a large safely pin. I found out quickly that the clothes pin I was using to keep it closed was inadequate when it came to keeping the oil cloth snug around my shoulders.  The clothes pin kept popping off and landing in the snow.  This meant I had to get off of Starkey’s saddle and dig around in the snow like a rutting pig to find the clothes pin.  How could something so light get buried so quickly?

This week I have a new couple on my list to visit, Mr. and Mrs. Portage.  Their cabin is located 5 miles outside of Cobble Hill.  I have seen them only a couple of times when they’ve come into town to either see Old Doc Wood or pick up a few supplies.  They are always pleasant when I saw them around town, and they seemed to enjoy the company of others.

Mrs. Portage is a tall, wispy woman with thick white hair pulled back into a bun at the nape of her neck.  There is a regal and elegant quality about her even in poverty.  Mr. Portage was a thin, wiry man who always wore a felt hat with a wide brim.  He appeared to look more like a scarecrow in his worn-out bib overalls and plaid shirt.  When he took off his hat you could see a few strands of iron-gray hair neatly combed across the top of his head. 

They were lucky their cabin received more sunshine than most, making Mr. Portage’s garden the envy of the holler. Maybe it was his scarecrow-like appearance that kept the birds and small critters away from his flourishing garden.  He set up snares around the perimeter of the garden to catch an occasional rabbit on a midnight marauding spree.  After skinning, the rabbit went directly into a big black pot and kept them fed for a few days with the addition of a turnip, carrots, onions, and potatoes.

Mr. Portage shared with me that he loved it when he snared a raccoon.  His face would light up and tell me it was a delicacy which they enjoyed.  They truly lived off the land and nothing went to waste. The snared raccoon meant there was one less predator in the woods to steal the eggs right out from under the chickens in the coop.  Mr. Portage pointed out the shotgun by the front door of the cabin that took care of a raccoon or two over the past few months who were ‘poaching’ eggs from his chickens.  He laughed when he used the phrase poached eggs!

I looked forward to my ride to see Mr. and Mrs. Portage in the early morning hours through the woods.  The snow has a way of silencing and muffling all sound.  Except for the occasional snort from Starkey, and the crack of a broken branch, the woods were quiet.  The avian chorus was also quiet while we made our way through the woods. Blue would bound off in search of a scent while following a trail of tracks through the underbrush.  The world, the morning, and my thoughts were peaceful as we made our way along the path.

Quite often my thoughts were not peaceful as I tried to get through each day.  Not only were we trying to survive after the depression, but there were also rumblings about a new leader in Germany named Adolf Hitler. Your grandma spoke often about WW1 and the thought of another war were just too much for me to comprehend. Just like Starkey, I needed to put one foot in front of the other and make progress through the day and only entertain thoughts about the good I was doing, and how I was able to put food on our own table and make our lives a bit better through the Packhorse Librarian program.  

Starkey, Blue, and I arrived at the Portage’s cabin at different times.  Blue was way ahead of me and was enjoying a belly rub on the front porch from Mr. Portage by the time I rode into the front yard at their cabin. On the outside, I could tell the cabin was small yet well cared for. The inside was as neat as a pin. There was an exceedingly small woodburning stove in the living area flanked by one overstuffed chair and one rocking chair. The wood stove didn’t have to work too hard to keep the cabin toasty warm as it was so small. 

There was a double bed in one corner with an iron head and footboard and a well-used quilt to keep them warm.  I commented on the beautiful quilt and Mrs. Portage shared that she made the quilt for their wedding in 1922.  I looked at them and was doing some mental calculations and soon realized they had only been married for 16 years.  They must have both been older when they married as now, they both appeared to be in their late 60’s, maybe early 70’s.  Time has a way of adding years to a hard life here in the hollers.

There was a small kitchen cupboard in the other corner with a basin for washing dishes.  The open shelves housed two cups, two plates, a couple of bowls and cooking utensils, all serviceable but sparse. Mrs. Portage said she would love to have a piece of calico fabric to cover the shelves to keep out the dust and add a bit of color to the inside of the cabin.

They were incredibly grateful when I asked them if they would enjoy a Reader’s Digest. They quickly said yes as the only reading material they had in the cabin was their family Bible which they read every single day.  They would sit by the fire and take turns reading to each other while watching the storm clouds gather all around them. They were snug as two bugs in a rug inside their modest, little slice of heaven. 

They said they would read an article a day as that was the way the Digest was originally set up at its inception in the early 1920’s.  Mr. Portage said he would very much enjoy reading Humor in Uniform since he was in the Navy during WW1. That brought a smile to my face when I thought about the Popeye the Sailorman cartoon, I’d watched with your daddy at the Senator Cinema in Lexington.  The cartoon played before the main attraction of Les Misérables, which at the time was all the rage.  Mr. Portage looked like Popeye! 

After watching the movie, I asked myself why I wanted to see a movie with the word miserable in the title?  I felt drained and sad at the conclusion as the movie lasted almost five hours!  On a positive note, I felt as though got my money’s worth, and my life wasn’t nearly as tragic as Victor Hugo’s characters….at least not yet since your daddy was still alive.

I wanted to learn more about Mr. and Mrs. Portage, and I knew I would develop a strong friendship with them over time. I didn’t want to ask too many questions, but I expressed my concern over a large sore on Mr. Portage’s lower lip.  He said he was a pipe smoker for years, and his lip was just irritated.  That added more to my image of Popeye! I’m sure Mr. Portage was also growing cans of spinach in his garden which the rabbits could not eat!




  1. Wonderful chapter Lynn, and well worth the wait!!

  2. So enjoyable. Well done.

  3. Lynn, just saw your post about your dog. At the same time my 13 year Yorki -poo, went throught the samething. The Vet filled him full of fluids and shots and exray. Took him 7 days to eat and drink also. My vet tod me if was because we fead him people food. It its so hard when he begs to not give him a bite but if people food is what was making him sick I will quit. FYI Better Days Anita.