Donna Tolley Corriher
Opening Segment of Your Introduction
to the Fifth World
I always listened to what Hattie said. Even under the pink-stuccoed arches of St. Petersburg, talking with her was like sitting in the muted light of that pine-hushed anomaly in the far corner of the once family owned property in West Virginia. Close enough to the stream to hear its rustling, she told me stories of brownies and fairies and the healing power of sap. I think back now and know that I learned the definition of primeval in that forest, with her, and came to believe in dragons and the fifth world we forget to miss.
When times got bad, we'd all moved south; the children didn't think of it as poverty, only adventure, and we'd go to visit her in Dade City, drive the car down a hard-packed sand road, and stop. Tumbling out of the car quickly, we'd rush down through the orange trees until we found her. That spark of pure joy in true family reunions, our bodies tingled and zinged with love; the smile and flush on her face haloed by the whitest hair I've ever seen, and a quick bend of a hug, and another, and another, grounded us back to that space of the deep green leaves of the trees proudly offering bright, warm, ripe oranges. She put her finger to her lips, looked around, picked an orange for each of us, shushed us away, and then, laughing, we ran back through the grove to the car.
The oranges were beautiful and marvelous. My daddy said to squeeze them before he'd take his knife and poke a hole in the sides, and we drank them like Holy water, the car slowly making its way out of the grove. I sipped while searching the trees, saw the other pickers, dark-skinned and white, mostly ignoring us, but the children waved with dust-covered hands. Their ankles were ringed black; they were dirty, and I looked at my own ankles, knowing I'd have to wash when we got out of the car.
I cried when we got to the house because my new dress was all sticky and stained, but Mama told me I needed to get into some shorts anyway, and we kids did, and they gave us money for the store my cousin was going to take us to. She was excited as she led us down the dirt road, laughing as she showed us how to walk on the mounds of sand rivered up by the company trucks; we sunk into them, high stepping our way to the store.
We bought crackers and cheese, and my sister bought gum, and we walked back and had water out of the hose. The alamander vine growing by the spigot was in full-bloom, and the yellow flowers, soft, bright velvet-leaved flowers, stark against leaves even greener than those of the orange trees, drew me in and I started to pick one. But, my cousin told me they were poisonous, and, anyway, to look. She scoured the plant, looking into flowers, and then stopped and pointed. Look. The frog that lived there was the tiniest animal I'd ever seen. Its green was comparable to none, a green-frog green. We sat and ate our crackers and cheese and sipped water until the grown-ups called us in.
Hattie worked with the seasonal migrant workers, even though she didn't have to move around. When the oranges weren't ready, she gathered eggs at another farm—we didn't get to visit her there—and she told me how warm the eggs were when she pulled them out from under a hen, almost as warm as the oranges just off the tree. I didn't think about the fifth world meaning of that back then.
Mama always said that Hattie had fortitude. It's because of her there's a property in Virginia, a cemetery, where any of us can be buried for free if we have no other place. It's because of her I know about Al Capone and the St. Valentine's Day massacre and the Purple Gang. She opened the Purple Rooster when she got back home from Chicago, and made her living by cutting a bottle, buying more, and cutting those. That space was an ugly, plain, romantically wood-slatted building, with only wood tables, and chairs, and music.
Everyone always listened to Hattie. She made light and life glisten and shimmer. She took you to a place away from anything bad or scary. I call it the fifth world, now that I'm older. And I think that's where God is, right here with us on earth, there where most of us don't take time to see Him, or forget to look. The world shifts, and He, and Hattie are here.
Donna Tolley Corriher is a Lecturer of Rhetoric and Composition at Appalachian State University. She earned her BA in English Literature at ASU, as well as MAs in English Literature and Appalachian Studies, and the Certificate in Rhetoric and Composition. Her work has been published in Southern Cultures and Appalachian Journal, among other places.