A Woman Named Merlin

I was born in Georgia and raised in Tennessee since I was five. I grew up in the back woods of Cherry Creek. The road I lived on went back into a hollow (but affectionately called “holler” by us hillbillies) surrounded by mountains. My home was located in the middle of a small tobacco field that was owned by my grandfather. My grandparents had a huge influence in my life and made me what I am today. The lessons they taught weren’t always easy. I had to learn as I went.

For example: I set tobacco every May when school just let out. Papa never told me how to sit and put the small plants into the wheel. I had to watch and go at the same time. I hated setting tobacco. The hot midday sun burned my neck, arms and legs; which is horrible for a poor little ginger girl. My back hurt from the huge water tank smashing into it as we wobbled around on the setter. The only relief I seemed to get was when Papa drove over a big lump of dirt and water splashed onto my neck. Dirt would embed itself under my fingernails. The tray of baby tobacco plants would skin the tops of my knees. At the end of the day I was too tired to play with my cousins or siblings. Being the oldest of all the children, I started working before they could. My brother and sister couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t play with them.

~This lesson taught me that things have to be done no matter how much you hate it. Also, at the end of the day, I got a good supper and a hot shower. The sleep was amazing.

Another lesson from setting: I had to ride the setter with the strangest woman. Papa and Meme always called her Merlin; which I later found out it was hillbilly slang for Marilyn. Merlin resided in the holler with her husband and fifteen ankle biting dogs out of an old run down trailer. She always smelled of beer and cigarette smoke. Those things made this fifty something woman sane until she opened her mouth. The craziest damn things rolled out. I remember her telling me a story about a horse that ran out of one of the fields and ended up in her house. Then I realized this woman couldn’t tell her ass from a hole in the ground.

~This lesson Papa gave me was to learn who the crazies were. Just imagine a small eight year old riding a tobacco setter with a crazy woman named Merlin.

Meme taught me a lot I still carry with me. She was the typical old country woman who lived through two world wars, three more wars, and the Depression. She saw the stock market crash, Kennedy assassinated, MLK killed, the moon landing; and yet, she never stopped providing for her family. God was her main support beam. I believe she was the only Christian I’ve ever known to actually follow the moral points of the Bible. I learned to cook, clean, sew, and to stop crying so I could talk clearly. I was at her side most of my childhood.

I remember one morning my mom came to wake me up for school. I slept in the bed with Meme a lot before they had to switch her bed to a hospital one. I kicked and cried that I didn’t want to go. Meme was my everything. I wanted to learn everything from her; even going so far as to watch her read and fill out the crossword puzzles (which she did with an ink pen).  I asked her once to fill out a list of all the presidents of the United States. It took her two minutes. Her head was so full of book knowledge, but one thing she taught me was something that I will never let go of.

“Ne’er put someone down fer who they are or how they live their life. If a Mormon comes to yer door, let ’em in and listen to ’em. Ya might learn somethin’. If someone looks differ’nt, don’t stare. They bleed the same blood an’ breathe th’ same air as you.”

I have carried those words with me since I heard them. It’s key not to judge someone right on the spot, but never ever let your guard down or become too trusting of someone. It’s always possible for them to rip your heart out.


So these are some of the lessons I was taught growing up in the back woods. I suggest taking some to heart and learning where it can take you in life.