“Honey, I wish I could pay you back, somehow,” the real-life Myrtle Ledford told my husband and me as we drove her home. We'd taken her to the hospital (a long, windy drive there and back) so she could visit her husband, Roy, who was recovering from a heart attack. (The same hospital where her vocal cords were nicked, giving her that distinctive warbly voice.)
She was every bit as nice as the character she inspired in my first mystery novel A Life for a Life. Maybe nicer. I liked her so much, I brought her back in the fourth book, Murder Ballad Blues, launching September 2020.
Myrtle was the perfect example of how mountain folks could be amazingly generous to others, but often felt uncomfortable when favors came their way. “Hey, we’re just happy to help out,” I said. “You’ve had us over and given us all kinds of food you put up. And Roy’s moonshine.”
She laughed. “Well, you didn’t do too well with that, now did you? I don’t suspect we’ll be giving you any more of that!”
We bumped along on the rutted road for a while in companionable silence, the three of us squeezed into our 1950 Chevy pickup. After a while, Myrtle asked, “How’s that house working out for you?”
“Pretty good, so far.” I skipped the fact that I hated the outhouse and the lack of insulation. (We could see daylight through some of the paneling.) She'd lived that way for decades, and I didn’t want to disparage her life. “Though we’re going to have to buy a refrigerator,” I added.
“Hmm, have you checked the dump?" she asked. "You never know. And you're in luck--it's just up ahead.”
I couldn’t imagine we’d find a refrigerator at the dump, at least not one that worked. Or that I’d put anything in it, even if the food were hermetically sealed. But I was glad to find out where the dump was. We’d cleared out a bunch of junk from the old house (the same one Abit lived in) and needed to get rid of it.
Myrtle pointed toward a left turn, and we jostled along for a while until the turkey buzzards overhead signaled we’d reached our destination. As we pulled in, Myrtle rolled down her window, stuck her head out, and shouted, “Stop! Don’t you dare let that thing go!”
Hard to believe, but there sat a pickup truck with two men in the bed ready to drop a refrigerator onto a giant pile of trash. “Back your truck up to that one,” Myrtle told my husband. “Just load ‘er on this truck,” she ordered the men, their jaws dropping at this bossy old woman.
I couldn’t blame them. I was flabbergasted. Not just with Myrtle, but the incredible coincidence. As we drove home, I kept looking through the back window at our free International Harvester fridge in almost perfect condition. Old but well cared for. “Are you sure you didn’t know about that refrigerator?” I kidded Myrtle.
She just smiled. Her debt was paid.