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Printed from https://www.Writing.Com/view/453017
Rated: 18+ · Draft · Emotional · #453017
Did I end up OK because I was born stubborn?
The yard was small and neat. A redbud, ready to burst with aromatic pink blooms, dead center of the front yard and almost reaching the telephone wires, was the lone tree. Daffodils, nandinas and withering purple blooms of the dwarf hydrangeas were in beds against the front of the house. By the rusting fence, a small side garden with tiny vegetable plants rounded out the landscape. The grass had been recently cut and wild onion smell was lingering; the brand new gas-powered lawn mower was strategically parked outside of the weathered unpainted shed.

The white asbestos-sided house needed gutters. The paint was blistering where the rain spattered pockmarks in the ground and bounced back muddy drops. Hours of southern sunshine left large areas of peeling paint that did not withstand the combination of moisture and extreme heat. Outside window ledges bore traces of downpours that created waterfalls by traveling in long convenient crevices made by misplaced shingles. The front door was open; a wooden screened door kept the air flowing and bugs out.

Without waiting for a knock, Mother met us in a crisp, bright blue and white cotton print dress; I noticed the warm starchy scent from the recent pressing. She had real blond hair, blue eyes with dark blue eye shadow on the lids, too much mascara, light red lipstick, and pale skin with a clearly defined smear of dark rose-colored pink blush across her cheekbones. Her smile was practiced and a bit haunting because she only used her mouth muscles. The little girl smiled from behind mother’s legs and it was a shy, genuine smile; her eyes crinkled and her cheeks fattened. We were cordially invited in and seated.

The faint smells of Clorox and wild onions wafted through the sitting room; open windows allowed the warm spring air to enter and blend with the house odors before escaping through the screened front door. Mother and child each choose side-by-side straight-backed wooden chairs while we seated ourselves on the light blue embossed vinyl couch. An oil lamp with a glass base and obviously never-used wick was on the freshly polished end table to my right and it looked old; I mean antique old so I made a mental note to be careful when moving my right elbow. Near the coal stove, directly across from me, a small ‘half-table’ held a clay pot filled with a tall, stiff, dappled-green, scabbard-shaped, artificial-looking, pointed-leafed plant. The walls were nondescript, possibly white, maybe cream-colored. The brown linoleum was waxed; the traffic pattern obvious. Mother, alert to my scrutiny, announced that they were only renting this place and planned to purchase a bigger, much nicer one as soon as Father’s business was established. While she was elaborating on the trials of being married to an entrepreneur, I allowed my gaze to wander to the child; after all, she was the reason we were here.

A pretty child with dark complexion, hair and eyes, she was wearing a pink gingham jumper, white cotton shirt, white ruffled socks, and white patented-leather shoes with a strap that buttoned. Her eyes were on her dangling legs swinging back and forth. She gently clicked her heels together on the back-swing, toes together on the front-swing. The motion was fluid and silent, quite unobtrusive. While exchanging comments about the beautiful pre-season weather, I saw Mother use her thumb and middle finger to deliver a pinch to the child’s plump, still baby-fatted left thigh; mid-swing, motion stopped, brown eyes flew up to meet mine; then again, that smile. (She wants you to know that it didn’t hurt.) I stiffened and shifted my eyes downward at the sound of the voice speaking to me; it was my voice, but I didn’t remember thinking that. Mother realizes I saw her kinesthetic reprimand and proceeds to enlighten us regarding her very gifted, but unruly daughter.

“You know, she has a mind of her own and no matter how hard we impress upon her how important it is for her to be a little lady, she still has a very hard time maintaining her composure. She turned three back in February and can hardly make it through Sunday services without a reminder to sit still and listen. I tell you, children these days are headstrong and need constant watch and guidance to grow into proper adults. We are determined to make sure she’s no problem, which she would be if we didn’t make her disciplined; but never you mind about that, she is disciplined. She knows to behave; she sometimes forgets, but she is smart as a whip. She knows her A, B, C’s and her numbers to 100 and we read to her a lot, you know, so she knows how to read some words. Why just yester…”

“I can read lots of words by myself,” the child, eyes now dancing, interjects in a lively animated voice. “I can read all of the books in my room and I can add all the numbers in the math book, and... she leans forward slightly as if to close an imaginary gap between her and me. She lowers her voice as if I alone can hear her, “I can read all of Mama’s grown up books and all of Daddy’s magazines and sometimes I get real books like a school has when we go to the Goodwill sto...”. Her delighted expression deletes itself as she stiffly realigns herself in the chair, suddenly remembering a previous warning. My eyes fly to meet Mother’s and I see nothing, but my peripheral vision detects her jaw setting. Their heads turn, in unison so their eyes meet, two empty and two full. Unspoken words pass and social graces return as Mother smiles with her mouth and offers us some iced tea.

I scan the child’s room; empty beige walls, heavy off-white drapes, tan embossed linoleum, a bookcase with perfectly aligned Little Golden and Dr. Suess books, and a puzzle. A wooden dresser with a starched tatted doily and a heavy wooden antique bed covered in a beige crocheted coverlet. A Barbie doll wearing a tight, lime green, lacy prom dress with an 8-inch diameter hemline is perched in the middle of the bed. Closet door is ajar; I venture near but the child smiles and says quietly, “The dolls in there only whisper stories to me.” Yet, I too hear their voices promising to rescue her from all those who are trying to rob her soul and break her spirit. My eyes moisten as I remember my mom talking about how her tansy plants that had been trampled on all winter always came back stronger and snappier in the spring; I smile at the little girl and nod.

“Dammit Sadie, I know we don’t have enough to put this placement on probation but I can recommend keeping the case open and I am because I feel something isn’t right. Did you see her eyes, her smile, her perfect manners, hear her perfectly articulated speech? What about the deal with her being three, only just turned three and being expected to sit still and quiet during Sunday School which begins at 10:00 and lasts until the grown-ups get through evaluating one another’s attire? Worship service begins around 11:00 and lasts until the preacher has convinced someone to either actually sign up for baptism or pretend to so he can pat himself on the back and go to lunch… at least 2 hours! What about that pinch on her fat little leg? What about the reading, the adding, the Goodwill store stuff… then that look of terror on her little face?

“So the woman wants her child to be obedient--what a concept. She doesn’t want people knowing she goes to the Goodwill Store. So what!!! She’s right about kids these days. They want, they expect, they demand, they require and if they do not get, they rebel until they do get.” Sadie takes a breath and sighs loudly with much vehemence and no patience and little conviction, “And we come barging in and reprimand parents for simply making their child behave”…her tone calms, “I don’t think so. I have thought this over (yea, for at least 20 seconds, my head-voice says) and will continue to support the placement.”

My head is beginning to pound, as much from anger as from the voices within that will not stop. “Yea, Mother wants to become a socialite in this tiny, pathetic cesspool of a town and having a perfect child is required so she is willing to do whatever to that child, in order to fit in and you don’t care.” In Sadie’s eyes I saw arrogance but behind that was a sadness, so deep that it seemed to reach way back into times too far back for me to imagine. She allowed her shoulders to sag a bit and loosened her grip on the steering wheel while exhaling loudly. “I do care, Carl, but there is protocol. I know the ropes; just your ‘feelings’ that something isn’t right don’t mean a hill of beans. That woman has gotta’ do something really horrendous before a judge will even briefly entertain the idea of investigating. Mr. and Mrs. Mulanus have taken a burden off the state so the state sees them as angels straight from heaven; and the halos are too tight and bright for judges to see past.”

How I lived with and worked with Sadie day after day was a mystery to me. She lost our baby to death, by her own hands, but she has lost herself to life and that is harder. I understood why she was so unlovable but fiercely loved her for her unlovableness. To me, she is sunshine, floating in space somewhere above reality. Her face is a photograph left out in the sun, her soul a burial place filled with voices you can feel but cannot hear. When asked questions, she knows and feels but she smiles a fake smile and lies.

Back at the office, I slowly simmer…neck thrown back, head swaying side to side; arms crossed, and mind reeling in exasperation. The need to get up and go sniff the new flower arrangement on the round table to the left of my desk is so compelling. But I know they are not real because I watched, almost got a crick in my neck, as the florist’s son Huff carefully stuck the stiff, green, plastic points into the spongy thing in the vase. But they look so real. I can smell them.

**************************************************

Sadie didn’t want to look at her dead grandmother in that box. They all said she looked so pretty and peaceful… full of what kinda pieces? Somebody picked her up and made her look. She did look nice; not mean and nasty like Sadie remembered her being.

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I reckon the thought of never seeing her again did throw a shadow over my countenance for a short time but…I remember the day she traipsed right into town with her sickness and put our whole house in a quandry. She stayed in MY room while she was recuperating, so I had to sleep in the room with my mamma and daddy, on a cot just like a baby. “stop touchin' duh bed! hesh up sos I can rest! Stop all duh runin' in dis house!”; that’s what I remember about my grandmother. Twelve long weeks she stayed in my room. Later, when she got better, she boarded with the Franklin’s down on Canal Street who were the kinda people who sit on their couch outside on the front porch every afternoon and wave at trains until their wrists ache. They were narrow-shouldered, alcoholic, weakly religious, non-responsible, good people. They, all nine of them, came into town every Saturday and made their way through the crowd till they got to the Rexall Pharmacy. They bought asafetida, Black Draught, camphor, Epsom salt and castor oil for their ailments. Then they found the preacher sitting at the counter eating a chocolate walnut sundae and blasted him for preaching too long, not giving them enough time for communion, and naming the Sunday School class after Breema Branson whom they held in low regard. This happened every Saturday and they about drove Ms. Lois, the really sweet seventy-nine year old lady who has been in charge of the drug store for fifty-five years, crazy.

Grandmother worked in the dime store during the week, ate dinner every night on a tv tray that folded up, and was pleased as punch with everything. That is, until she started courting the mayor, moonlighting as a phone man, who came to put in the rotary phone at the five and ten. This caused her to affect a social superiority and lo and behold, she commenced to judging the Franklin’s with detachment and disdain. I knew they were liable to put her out which would put her back at my house and I did not inherit the tendency to blur out images of past unpleasantness. I started sizing up the imminent vexations and was fixing to end my resonant silence about the whole situation when Daddy told me what they had gone and done. Ida Pearline (Grandmother) and Jimmy Ray (the mayor) rode out Tuesday afternoon to see Mr. Ed, the barber/justice of the peace who had a sign in his yard and got him to marry them. By the time Mamma got wind of what had transpired, the whole town knew and had warped the whole story in ingenious ways that astounded even her.

*************************************************
Jimmy Ray had a locker plant and smoked the best smelling cigars. We liked going to visit him because he always talked nice to us and gave us Bazooka bubble gum and let us stand by the counter where cool air from the back room flowed out. We always saved the Bazooka comics because they made good bookmarks and we truly believed the fortunes at the bottom. One Saturday afternoon, he said for us to come in the back and see a pig all skinned and hanging by its back feet on a chain. I didn’t go but Janie and Janine and Primus and Lonnie Dean and Terry Lee did. They always and forever wished they hadn’t...said it looked just like Mrs. Pertz, the school librarian, with no clothes on.

*************************************************

Most Saturdays, Daddy took me fishing in the flat bottom boat down in the black water of the Savannah River. We sometimes went too near the shore and snakes were out on the limbs that hung over the boat and I whined ‘cause I thought that they would drop in. But Daddy said “Only brown water snakes liked sunning on limbs, they ain’t gonna hurt ya. Water moccasins, now, they lay up on rocks and in the leaves and shadows. They don’t like to climb and they don’t like people knowing they like sun.”
We always used red worms for fishing but Mr. Rantsy, down at the hardware store, ran out so Daddy got crickets. They came in a tube with a pointy top that was made out of the same kind of wire as Mama's flyswatter 'cept bigger. We caught crappie, bass, bream, and catfish. I was not fond of catfish because they had stinger whiskers and Daddy said they were scavenger fish, sorta water buzzards; but I still felt sorry for them, just like the other fish, because they wanted back in the water.

But, I still kinda' liked catching catfish because if we got a whole mess of them, then me and Daddy cleaned 'em all and made catfish stew. (talk about cleaning---- Daddy said that when you wrap a fish in clay and throw it in the fire, after it is baked hard the scales and skin come off with the clay.)
We cut up 5 pound bags of potatoes and onions. We used up all of the salt and pepper and messed up the whole kitchen getting ready to cook. Mamma hated it all so it was just me and Daddy doing it. Later, we hosed off all of our peelings and scaling stuff and cutting boards then we filled the sink with tons of sudsy bubbles and washed off everything. We cooked the stew, on low heat all night and the whole house smelled fishy. I hated waking up smelling it but I loved waking up smelling it. It was always Sunday morning before it was done and I figured my church clothes might smell fishy but I didn’t care. I didn’t like church anyway because I felt sorry for Becky because she always smelled like cigarette smoke and her daddy had died from drinking too much and all of the kids in Sunday School, especially Barbara, made fun of her. I told Barbara and the rest of them to "Just shut the hell up!" Right there in the Sunday School. So Becky talked to me and she had the prettiest green sad eyes.

*************************************************
Me and the twins knew about the remedy Manny B made in his tool shed. He made white corn likker every weekend for comfort, courage, and cash. Every week-night we left the the plastic water pitcher Manny B got from the hospital when he got his gall bladder taken out, under the leak where the copper snake met the hole in the pickle barrel Manny B found behind Shoogie’s store. The pitcher was about full by the time we got back from school the next day so we poured it in one of the 3 big ole Mason jars we found at the trash dump behind Gertrude’s house. A full pitcher half-way filled one jar. When we had all 3 jars full, we hauled them in Manny B’s flat-tired wheel barrow to the front yard and poured ‘em in the rusty cast iron pot under the porch and pushed the hubcap lid back on. We drank a Dixie cup full, the tiny ones like you put in a holder in the bathroom, every afternoon, strolled the alley to take a smoke, then played ‘Ain’t no boogers out tonight-Daddy killed them all last night’ until it got almost dark. Why we didn’t catch lead poisoning is still a mystery to me.
*************************************************

Barbara’s mama, Floreen, called Mae Ellen and told her I was walking through the alley with Janie and Janine. “I was just minding my own business and right out of the blue I saw her take the cigarette from one of those colored twins and put it in her very own mouth, right there in plain view.” All she had to do to see us, in plain view, was climb on the back of the toilet in the post office bathroom, hang from her waist then raise up so her back was almost straight and look way over to the right. Then there we were, right there in plain view in the alley between the bank and the jewelry store. I took a drag and glanced over that way just in time to see the blond curls hanging out the backside of the post office and knew I was in for a whipping in about 15 minutes.

*************************************************
Now all southern barber shops have three chairs. Two are manned by brothers and the third is an outsider. Wilber, Ed, and Virgil are our barbers. Wilbur and Ed are brothers. Wilbur is tall and skinny, his wife Ester fixes ladies’ hair out at their house in Flatville, that’s what the town people call the crossroads out in the country. They have one daughter, Hattie Fae who is spoiled rotten. Ed is short and kinda fat like his wife Clytie. They don’t have any kids but Ed likes little boys. Virgil never married. Of course you always want the non-brother to cut your hair because the other 2 are always talking and looking at each other and cut way too much off. So while you are sitting there listening to the conversations, trying to find something to read in the Progressive Farmer or local electric co-op magazine, you tense your butt cheeks and hope Virgil finishes first so you can get a good haircut. But if he doesn’t, you just climb in the chair, expect the worst, but keep your mouth shut because there ain’t no other barbers within 20 miles. Besides, these people are your neighbors and you don't never offend your neighbors.

*************************************************
Daddy showed me how to play ‘Doodle Bug, Doodle Bug, your house is on fire’ one afternoon while grandma was still at my house and I was tired of finding ways to play quietly. In the deep South, dirt tends to be sandy/silty in most places. Ant Lions take advantage of this shiftiness of the soil by building inverted volcanoes that trap their favorite food: ants. Once you locate its lair, you take a tiny twig, lightly twitch it around the lip of the depression, causing grains of sand to tumble down the sides. You whisper the title repeatedly while twitching. This notifies the Bug/Lion of an intruder, causes him to dig upward, exposing himself to us humans who are quite delighted by his presence. In Lista, getting a Doodle Bug to surface is considered a successful endeavor which must be done every time you spot one’s home.

*************************************************
Mr. Ed, the barber who likes little boys, took advantage of this game by playing ‘Pennywink, Pennywink, your house is on fire’ with his male preschool patrons. Beginning with the boy’s very first haircut, usually around fifteen months of age and until the summer before the boy started school, the game continued. Mr. Ed had almost graduated from Clemson when he up and took off to barber college. He had read enough psychology to know that once a boy approaches the age of five, his Freudian inner workings alerted him to possible wrongness regarding messing with body parts so he was careful about his timing. After the haircut, Mr. Ed said, “Let’s come back here and find this big boy a sucker.” He led the child through the heavy green draperies into the storeroom where he pulled down the little guy’s pants and taught him the new game. Mr. Ed twirled the child's pennywinker around while quietly singing:


Pennywink, Pennywink, your house if on fi-yuh
Pennywink, Pennywink , you getting’ stiff now-wuh
Pennywink, Pennywink, let’s put you away-yuh
So we can play this game on another day-yuh

They both laugh and have a grand time. Mr. Ed carefully instructs the child to not tell any grown-ups lest he miss out on the candy next time. He and the boy triumphantly emerge through the curtain grinning, the child holding a Tootsie Pop.

I found this out one weekend while babysitting the school superintendent's boys who were anxious to let me in on the fun since I was not considered a grown-up. I told my mother. She said, “Do you expect me to even briefly consider ruining the reputation of a very upstanding, highly regarded businessman of this community by repeating the rantings of mere children?” Heavens no, I think, just tell him to stop.

*************************************************

This morning was identical to every other morning for the past 16 years…the filthy flat beige shoe, pinholes across the top where toe hairs would poke through if they were long enough, was banged against the wooden stairs three times while her name was called. Her name had two syllables, Sa-die, and the extra bang caused such disequivalentabration to her mind’s symmetrical vigilance she could hardly bear it. She was a shooting star held in place by a thin invisible thread that would break and send her spinning out of control like a maple seed in a windstorm until she eventually burned up. She found a scab and picked at it until only a dry pit was left then suddenly smelled dust and mint which distracted her from her medical study. Her thoughts turned to the insole of the beige banging shoe. She knew it was dirty except for the instep, which was almost the original Dr. Scholl’s color. She thinks, “My brother has flat feet. This will keep him from being accepted into the Army.” The knowledge fortified her.

She answered and quickly dressed, while pushing the shoe thoughts from her mind, woke her brother, then went downstairs to the daily ritualistic inquisition, recitation, and repetition. She opened the kitchen door… Did you make your bed? Did you wake up your brother? Did you turn off the stairs light? Did you flush the commode?

She answered yes ma’am after each question; then moved toward the cabinet to get a glass.
“Fix your own breakfast but no cooking. I ain’t going to work smelling like some greasy white trash.”
She gets a glass then heads toward the refrigerator for some tea. As she is pouring…
“You know your aunt died from smoking and drinking tea don’tcha? But you don’t care do ya?”
“yes ma’am, I care .”
“don’t act like you care 'cause you still do it.”
“I do care.”
“Where’s your breakfast?”
“Mama, you know I can’t eat this early.”
“Why not?”
“I’m not hungry yet.”
“You know I raised you to eat breakfast because they say it is the most important meal of the day and you need to eat something.”
“Who’s they mama?”
“Eat!”

She sighs, puts a slice of bread in the toaster while dreaming of the day when she gets up the nerve to either stand her ground or fix and eat the toast without the prerequisite conversation. She thinks, “So what if Mama refuses to talk to me for the rest of the day. Tune up your heart so it don’t run rusty without lubricating love; get over it and get tough. War/huh/good God girl/what is it good for/absolutely nothing…absolutely everything.”

*************************************************

You said “I had to walk three miles in the snow everyday just to go to school.” And I get to get my pubic bone bruised every week-end so you can continue lumbering up the social ladder.

You made me eat breakfast and told me to submit to authority. You said, "Listen and learn. He is a man of power and authority and is educated and can help you go places."

*************************************************
Everyday at school, he ran his hands through my hair, said it was so soft and shiny and smelled so much like the wildflowers in the field behind the football bleachers. He was a parent age—had a parent tone—exhaled parent breath—emitted parent authority. And sometimes he led me to his office, push-pulling me, breathing fast and hot, feigning disciplinary exasperation to his secretary, kicked his door closed leaving his hands free to roam, told me I was too beautiful to come up ignorant and unable to please a man. So he offered to show me how…

Every Saturday night, while I was supposed to be babysitting his boys, he touched me and told me I was pretty and soft and warm and smelled of sunshine, of wildflowers, of desirability. I began to believe it, feel it, smell it, and hate it. I loved it and knew it was wrong and I was a child and I knew it was wrong and I felt wanted and I knew it was wrong and I was unable to make my mouth say stop it and I knew, that too, was wrong.

I am the babysitter, yes, extraordinaire.
I fit between your armpit and palm with room to spare .
I’m pretty, I’m young, I smell good, I’m petite.
All the better to hold and hide my movements, my sweet.

The wife, Saro, comes in all refreshed and excited from the ‘bridge club meeting’. Cheeks flushed from excessive amounts of alcohol, she rushes toward him, flings herself with legs outstretched to straddle his lap then plants a liquid kiss on his very big lips. He wraps his arms around her, pokes the tongue in her mouth and squeezes her roundness as one would an orange while seeking juice. She promptly hops up, jogs crookedly into the restroom and pukes; well… my feelings exactly, so obviously he IS guiding me down the path of truth regarding sexual stuff.

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To be continued?!?
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Printed from https://www.Writing.Com/view/453017