"Well, I'll Be John Brown"

Real stories about folks who have blessed my life with the joy and fulfillment of laughter. Long may they live.

Location: Atlanta, Georgia, United States

A Southern Boy - Born In Alabama, Reared In Georgia, and Matriculated, Married & Initiated Into Manhood In Tennessee.

Monday, May 02, 2005

"If You Say I Say, I Say You Say"

Nora Early (we called her "Aint Nore") was a tiny, little Alabama woman who spent her life married to the coal mines.

Her husband Walter died in his fifties from black lung. He had spent his life working in the mines throughout northwest Alabama, with an oocasional foray into saw milling when mining was slow. Plus, Aint Nore's only child, J.W., also worked the mines throughout much of his life.

Aint Nore had rough, leathery skin. She cooked and heated with coal all of her life, and spent countless hours out in the sun picking cotton and working in the fields. No amount of Oil of Olay (or "Oil of Old Lady" as the little boy called it in the old joke) could have restored her appearance. The only precaution against the blazing hot sun she really ever took was to wear a bonnet when she went outdoors. When you saw her coming from a distance, or passed from the road while she was bent over in a field picking peas, that bonnet told you that it was Aint Nore.

This wiry little woman could have outworked a whole truckload of Mexicans in today's screwy blue collar world.

Well into her seventies she walked daily from one end of her local mining and farming community in northwest Alabama to the other. She maintained sizeable gardens in at least two different fields situated over a mile apart from each other.

After uncle Walter died, Aint Nore's small TCI spousal mining pension and monthly social security check were all that kept her from becoming destitute. She kept the two gardens in order to have fresh vegetables to eat, but also to have something to "peddle" in a little roadside stand she built with her own hands out in front of her small home. The extra money, "...helped keep the wolf away from the door," she said.

Through this sort of hard work, and with more than a few blessings from above, Aint Nore survived. The cast members on these modern so-called reality/"survivor" shows could have learned more than a thing or two from Aint Nore.

The gardens and the walking were not only for bodily exercise and nutrition's sake, however. There was an additonal factor that was really the driving force behind such a work ethic.


The family often said that gossip was Aint Nore's claim to fame. But, in reality it was much more than that.

Gossip was Aint Nore's life!!

"Did yuns h'year?," was her patented way of introducing the latest headlining story. "I h'yeard yesterdee," was also a popular lead in for one of these priceless gems of hearsay. When Aint Nore began a conversation this way, you knew something good was coming.

In her community everyone knew that if you wanted something spread, Aint Nore was your girl. She knew more about any and everybody in the surrounding countryside than Equifax knows about you and me today.

On her daily treks to those two gardens she would stop to "rest a spell" at every house along the way. While there she would always accept a cool drink of well water, pick up a tidbit of "news," and drop off the ones she had collected at her previous stops. On her way back she would make sure to catch any of the places where folks hadn't been home during her morning round.

Aint Nore could have easily been a successful operative for the CIA. She could have found Bin Laden - within days. Not only could she have found him, she could have told you what he had been eating for breakfast in his cave every morning.

Some years after uncle Walter's death, Aint Nore's house burned to the ground one chilly fall night. A spark from the coal stove landed on some old newspaper she kept nearby as kindling. Like many coal mining families, and widows in particular, Aint Nore didn't have a dime of insurance. Her loss was total. Literally all that she salvaged were the clothes she escaped the burning house with.

Luckily, her sister, Aint Shug, lived nearby and was also a widow. Aint Nore moved in almost immediately.

They were a pair made in heaven.

Aint Shug stayed in the house cooking and listening to the party line telephone. Aint Nore stayed in the garden or out on the road transporting the daily news that Aint Shug had heard while listening to other people's conversations on the party line telephone.

Neither UPI nor CNN could have done it any better.

These two became as inseparable as Forrest and Jenny - just like peas and carrots.

When friends or relatives would visit Aint Shug and Aint Nore, one would cook while the other would share all the latest community tattlings. Due to Aint Shug's advanced age and poor eyesight the cooking was usually mediocre. But, the gossip always sizzled.

Billy Jorman, the Jinrites, old man Monty Quinn, and a host of other coal miners and their families became like stars on the Hollywood walk of fame. Thanks to Aint Nore, these as well as a host of other common folk achieved celebrity status in the hearing of all who visited these two dear sisters. No newspaper nor tabloid gossip columnist could have done a better job of dishing the dirt. In fact, the local community newspaper would often call Aint Nore to find out what was going on, and with whom.

Aint Nore probably never heard of the term, "copyright," in all of her lifetime. But she knew how to protect her sources, and herself. She would always begin a juicy line of gossip with the disclaimer: "Now, if you say I say, I say you say." Which, when translated, meant: "If you tell anybody I said this, I'll tell them that YOU said it first."

This warning evidently sufficed. Not until this writing did anyone ever fully expose Aint Nore as the borderline "double naught spy" (as Jethro Bodine would have put it) that she truly was.

There is an old saying that observes, "There's not much to see in the country or in a small town, but what you hear sure makes up for it."

Given this truth...

And thanks to Nora Early...

At least one five mile stretch of an old mining and farming community in rural northwest Alabama was never lacking for something interesting either to hear or to tell.

This writing - meant as a tribute to her - and in keeping with Aint Nore's fine tradition of copyright integrity...

Must also be guarded with the timeless disclaimer...

"If you say I say, I say you say..."

LIB John Brown


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