Yesterday's Magazette

12 – Color Me Green

Color Me Green

By Carrillee Collins Burke

When I was a kid living in the hills of West Virginia, the  entertainment my friends and I enjoyed came from our Scottish ancestors.


Shivaree or belling as we called it was one of those entertainments.

Belling was a loud gathering of a lot of good-humored friends to celebrate a newly married couple. In Scotland, the groom was smeared with lampblack and then paraded through the streets of his village the night before the wedding. In our hills, the belling took place after the wedding.

We always waited for the couple to settle in before serenading them. The idea was to surprise them with noise, such as beating on pans, drums, ringing cow bells, blowing horns, or anything else that created a clamor. The occasion was more of a party for us than the couple. The racket continued until the newlyweds came outside, acknowledged us, and served refreshments.

There was the hope we’d catch them off guard without refreshments so we could punish them with a ride-on-the-rail. The rail being a long wide plank, or wooden ladder the couple straddled to be paraded up and down the country road or city street. It was all in fun.

There was always some youngster who felt too big for his or her breeches at one of these loud parties. I have to admit that I was such a youngster one spring night when a group of several men, women, and a bunch of us teenagers met at nine o’clock on the main road and trudged the dark country lane, lit only by a full moon, to the couple’s house.

If a belling could be color-coded, then on that particular night in 1948, it would be colored chartreuse green.

We silently surrounded the small porch and began our serenade. They were surprised, but knowing we’d come sometime they were ready with cookies, drinks, and cigars. I stuffed myself with rich chocolate cookies with green icing, glasses of sweet lime Kool-Aid, and then  helped myself to a cigar meant only for the men and boys.

I believed I was a tough tomboy who could do anything boys could do. They began to huddle and smoke their cigars right then and there. Well, I thought, me too!

Jim, my older brother, told me it would make me sick. I pooh-poohed his advice and accepted the dare to light up. I figured I certainly could handle a cigar advertised as “sweet, mild, and gentle to the tongue,” or something like that. How sick could I get? So I quickly followed the boys’ actions.

Aping them gesture for gesture, I held the cigar gingerly between my first finger and thumb, bit one end off and spit it to the ground. Then I licked the end before putting it in my mouth. The tobacco, still rough and dry, stuck to my lips. I tried again, hacking and sucking until I had enough saliva to wet my lips, and the cigar. My mouth burned from the so-called “mild” smoke.

The boys laughed and one tossed me a box of matches. I scratched a match on the side of the box, cupped my hands against the breeze and touched the flame to the dry end. The flame glowed in the dark as I drew deeply. I dropped the match and ground it into the dirt with the toe of my shoe.

Shoving my left hand into my jeans pocket I held the cigar with the fingers of my right hand. I giggled and took another long, deep draw while they all watched. I was very brave!

“Don’t inhale,” Jim advised me.

But I didn’t heed him.

“I told you not to inhale,” he repeated as I swallowed a mouthful of stink that eased down my throat, into my lungs, and filled my head. My eyes wobbled in their sockets as brown stuff floated out my nose and curled about my face giving me a strangling cough.

I tried to hide my discomfort as I leaned against the porch railing and swam in a nauseating, dizzy-like trance, listening to jokes I dared not laugh at for fear of becoming sick. Still, all the while, I held the cigar to my mouth and pretended to smoke it in case one of the boys glanced my way.

Later, my brother Jim helped me home. The entire mile, he kept his arm around my waist and held me upright on unsteady legs until we finally reached our home. He guided me to my bed and stood there until my whirling bed slowed enough for me to flop down on.

I laid facedown on the fuzzy chenille bedspread and tried not to vomit. In the hours that followed, I thought I would surely die. And, at times, I actually wished I could.

The last thing I remembered that night before passing out was my brother’s voice of wisdom somewhere out there in that swirling, chartreuse-colored sea. “I told you it would make you sick!”

Into The Night

My mind takes a journey each time I go to bed.

Visions of my childhood travel through my head.

I journey to a wee dirt farm on a West Virginia hill.

Fireflies in Mason jars and fishing for bluegill.

Squashing green tobacco worms at Grandpa’s request.

Storing them in lard cans for birds to digest.

Picking berries for Mom’s pies,

covered with chigger bites,

bathing in cold soda baths,

and itching through the nights.

Building a 3-pole wigwam wrapped with a split burlap sack,

my brother Jim and I are Indians on the attack.

I awake from my journey but these memories I keep,

about the farm on the hill I see each night in my sleep.

Vol. 37 No. 1 – Yesterday’s Magazette – Spring- 2010


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