No place brings back old memories, some good and others not so good, like a cemetery. It seems to me that I can help keep alive the thoughts of those I spent so much of my life with by walking these final resting places they now call home. Not long ago I walked the rolling grounds of the small cemetery on the edge of Noel, Missouri looking for the granite marker that would identify the final resting places of my grandmother, Phoebe and my grandfather. I always called my grandfather granddad but my grandmother was always called Phoebe; she preferred it that way.
Noel is, and in my recollections was always, a small rural southwest Missouri town lying in the heart of the Ozarks. The slow moving waters of Elk River flowed alongside the Main Street bridge and over the small concrete dam just a mile or so away. I spent the swelteringly hot summer months of 1961 with my grandparents and my great aunt, Rosalyn in Noel when I was just twelve years old. I can’t fully explain it but, of all the summers that came and went while growing up, I remember that one more than any other.
As I walked the rows of markers inscribed with the names of Davis, Harmon, Wyatt and Viles I finally came upon the marker I was searching for, that of Floyd and Phoebe Fine. I stood motionless for several minutes and thoughts of them and that summer of 1961 filled my mind. I recalled my grandfather’s shirt with the Noel City Marshall’s badge pinned to the left pocket and the wide-brimmed hat he always wore. I could almost once again see Phoebe’s soiled hands as she and Rosalyn worked in their greenhouse with rows and rows of plants and flowers.
The time came for me to leave but as I walked away the words, “pulley-bones,” came into my head. I was alone in the afternoon sun but it was if Phoebe’s voice came from somewhere asking, “Do you remember the pulley-bones?” I hadn’t heard those words in more than sixty years but they immediately took me back to a July evening in 1961.
I was across the narrow steep sloped street from my grandparents’ home one Saturday evening and as I thought about the rumblings in my stomach I noticed Phoebe and Rosalyn walking up the hill from the greenhouse. Both were wearing thin cotton dresses that seemed to be their customary work attire. Phoebe, without breaking stride, called out to me, “Come on, we’re going out to eat.” I crossed the street and sat down in an old uncomfortable curved back chair that rested against a living room wall. I rested with quiet anticipation thinking about the short drive to Carl’s Café on Main Street, but I recall wondering why Phoebe and Rosalyn were preparing to use the old concrete walled shower. There was never a need to be so formal when going to the small café. Phoebe looked curiously at me, “clean up and change clothes, we’re going to the Cove for dinner.”
I was aware of the Cove’s existence but, like everything else in Noel, I assumed it was a very casual, come as you are, restaurant. While I washed my face in the bathroom sink, a full shower didn’t seem to be necessary, I wondered what this Cove restaurant would be like, and where could it be, as I knew of most of the businesses in Noel and had never before noticed it.
Phoebe and Rosalyn dressed in nice, and probably seldom worn, dresses and, wearing shoes I had never before seen, got into the front of the green Chevy station wagon as I slid onto the rear seat. My curiosity got the better of me and I asked where the restaurant was located, “Just this side of Lanagan,” Phoebe replied; that didn’t help much. Even at the speed of forty-five miles per hour the trip only took about ten minutes. The ordinary looking building sat alone and deep woods were not far from the rear of the restaurant. A sign on the parking lot had a drawing of an Indian chief and read “The Indian Creek Cove.”
The interior of the restaurant seemed very ordinary and almost every table was occupied by diners who were talking and laughing. I recall a waitress carrying food who said “Hi Mrs. Fine, there’s an empty table in the back.” Phoebe and Rosalyn walked to the empty table while I quietly followed along. The waitress who previously greeted us brought three glasses of water and asked if we wanted menus. Phoebe answered, “No,” and Rosalyn shook her head in agreement. I still hadn’t spoken as Phoebe looked at me, “They have the best fried chicken here, do you like fried chicken?” I answered, “Yes,” as I nodded my head while looking at her, then the smiling waitress. “Three chicken dinners,” Phoebe stated. Even now, I believe that was the best dinner of fried chicken, mashed potatoes, corn and a dinner roll I ever had.
After the plates had been cleaned Phoebe looked at me and said, “Hold up your pulley-bone.” She could see by the confused look on my face that I had no idea what she was talking about, “The chicken breast’s wishbone, hold it up.” Holding one piece of the bone Phoebe grasped the other and said, “Make a wish.” She then pulled the bone apart leaving me holding the larger remnant of the broken skeleton. “There, your wish will come true,” she said with a smile on her face.
The restaurant had become much less crowded, as many had finished their meals, and with full stomachs, headed for home. The waitress came to the table and as she gathered up the plates scattered with bits of chicken bones she asked if anyone wanted desert. Both Phoebe and Rosalyn declined and said they were too full. I, on the other hand, asked if there was any peach pie. The waitress said she would check, and if there was any, would I like a scoop of vanilla ice cream on the pie. I nodded my head up and down.
After a few moments the waitress returned carrying a small plate with a piece of pie topped with one scoop of vanilla ice cream. As she placed the plate on the table in front of me she said, “This is the last piece.” I almost smiled in appreciation but before I could Phoebe commented, “I guess your wish came true.” That was the best piece of pie I ever had.
I left the cemetery with the remembrance of a time when broken “pulley-bones” made wishes come true.