Into town to chew the fat


Ellicott City resident Charlotte T. Holland, 59, wrote these stories about life on her family's Lisbon farm for her nieces and nephews. She lived there from 1947 to 1953, when most of the property was sold. This is one of several excerpts from her unpublished manuscript.

The farm was my world that first year. But 175 acres is a big world for a five-year-old, and I begged only to be let loose in it. I received opposition at first, but with winter approaching, repairs on the house became a necessity and no one had time to watch me on my walks. ...

When lunch was finished on those sunny autumn days and the carpenters began again to bang and buzz, and Uncle Nick had taken his afternoon "constitutional" to Lisbon, my hours of freedom began. The open fields and meadows were wonderful for running, and Spotty would wag his tail and leap at my heels as we ran down a hill and jumped across the stream at a narrow place. We would often rest after our play and wait until we saw Uncle Nick coming down the Pike from Lisbon. ...

The three of us would walk slowly up the hill, Uncle Nick chewing on his tobacco and me on the Baby Ruth he'd brought me, talking about what was new in Lisbon. I didn't know any of the people Uncle Nick talked about because I had never been to Lisbon to meet them, but I thought of them as old friends.

Miss Molly was the lady who owned the store with penny candy; Miss Pearl was the lady who owned the little "bantie" chickens. In her younger years Miss Pearl had been a teacher and had taught Papa in the first grade. And there were the "boys," a group of 70- and 80-year-old men with whom Uncle Nick sat and chewed the fat when he went to Lisbon. I asked him once what kind of fat they chewed, because I hated fat, and the old man laughed and told me he'd take me with him one day and show me. ...

My day to go to Lisbon finally came. At last I was going to see the boys chew the fat. It was a sunny, cool day, and Mom made me wear a dress.

Uncle Nick and I walked out the lane together. He walked very slowly it seemed. I ran ahead several times, hoping to hurry him, but it didn't work.

"Slow down, Sally Jane. There's no hurry."

"But it's getting late, Uncle Nick."

"I 'spect Lisbon'll still be there when we get there," the old man laughed.

It was wonderful to be walking along the Pike. I tried to get Uncle Nick to tell me why they called it the Pike and he said because that was what it was. ... They never called roads pikes in the city; they didn't even call them roads. In the city they were streets; in the country they were pikes. ...

Well, I liked the Pike. It was quiet and there was plenty of room for an old man and a five-year-old to walk together. I saw the school first and there were children playing on its side lawn.

"I reckon your brothers are out there somewhere, hoopin' it up."

"I don't see 'em. Boy! Next year I'll be there!"

"Yup. You will. Well, we're here, Sally Jane."

"Is this where the boys chew the fat?"

The old man laughed and said yup. He always said yup.

I didn't like the place where the boys chewed the fat. It was only a filling station. I could see the old men gathered inside, sitting and smoking and chewing.

Uncle Nick made me go in first. They all looked at me and then at Uncle Nick. "Afternoon, Mister Nick." Uncle Nick nodded at them, picked up a package of cupcakes and gave them to me.

"Don't you have to pay for them, Uncle Nick?"

Several of the men laughed. The one behind the counter laughed the loudest.

We sat down and I ate my cupcakes. I loved cupcakes; that was why my dad sometimes called me Cupcake. I watched and waited, and the old men began to talk about somebody who had died, and about my dad. One of the men wanted to know when we were going to quit fooling around with fixing up the house and start farming. I couldn't let that go by, and I told them what I'd heard my mom say many times: that the house came before the barn. The men looked surprised and quizzical, and Uncle Nick said it was time to go. ...

We walked through the old town, past many porches with old people sitting in rocking chairs. Everyone said hello to "Mister Nick" and Uncle Nick always nodded back. At one corner was an old brown wooden building that I already knew was Miss Molly's. Inside was a glass counter divided into many compartments. In each of these compartments was a different kind of candy. I had my face pressed against a portion that had a bright red candy in it when I felt Uncle Nick nudge me.

"Sally Jane, this is Miss Molly [Poole]."

"Oh. Hello, Miss Molly."

"How do you do, Charlotte. I've heard so much about you from your great-uncle. Would you like a piece of candy?"

"Yes'm. The red kind looks awful good."

The thin gray-haired lady scooped out some of the red candy and put it in a small brown paper bag. I thanked her and put a piece in my mouth. It didn't melt like most candy. I bit down on it and it slid away from my teeth.

"That's hard candy, child. Don't try to bite it." ...

Uncle Nick decided it was time to go again. ... So we went up the street, up a few steps and into another old building. ...

A man with gray hair stood behind a counter that came above my head, said "Afternoon" to Uncle Nick and disappeared.

"Where'd he go, Uncle Nick?"

Uncle Nick picked me up so I could see over the counter. The gray-haired man went to some little boxes, pulled the letters out of one of them, and handed them to Uncle Nick. We said "Afternoon" and were gone.

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