I don’t mind getting older because the alternative is death, but that’s where my tolerance ends. I don’t like taking pills to maintain bodily functions. I don’t like waking up at four in the morning and not being able to go back to sleep. I don’t like peeing a bit when I cough or sneeze. (sometimes, not ALL the time)
And I don’t like getting wrinkles. Wrinkles on my face, my neck, my hands…they’re annoying and distract me from believing I’m still a relatively attractive, smart, capable woman. They distract other people from seeing it as well. I get 20-year-old dental hygienists calling me “sweetie” and patting my shoulder, grocery clerks asking if I need help to my car, and sales girls directing me with, “you might like some things in THIS part of the store” (sweetie, pat, pat).
I’m sixty-freaking seven, not a hundred and two!
Etna Quinlin Welch
In her later years, my paternal grandmother had the most beautiful network of wrinkles on her face. A Kentucky farmer, she worked in the sun most of the day, working the tobacco and tending to the large vegetable garden out behind the stable. Long before sunscreen, she wore a bonnet to keep the sun out of her eyes, more than protecting her face, and never used anything other than Corn Husker’s Lotion to soothe rough or reddened areas of skin. My sisters and I used to help her by pulling the seedlings from the fabric-covered beds so my dad and Aunt Hazel could set them in the field. We tormented the caterpillars dining on our tomato plants, dug potatoes, picked and shelled peas, and counted our sweat bee stings. The one with the most was the winner as long as she didn’t cry.
The American painter Georgia O’Keeffe, 1967 (Photo by Philippe Halsman)
Wrinkles, although probably not welcomed, were accepted, like the hard wind and rain that came in spring, washing deep gullies in the plowed fields. Honestly, I think a face with wrinkles can reveal so much about a person. A testament to their life’s adventures, to their hard wind and rain.
It’s deemed unacceptable today. Wrinkles are bad. We must minimize, abbreviate, eliminate, and eradicate. We spend thousands to do this, without much success. It makes me mad (frown line) to see the commercials depicting young, smooth-skinned women, touting a product that reveals their “younger, smoother, looking skin. Big Woo!
I don’t hate wrinkles. I just don’t like getting them one…by one…by one.
I propose, “Wrinkle Day”
In my perfect world, no one would get a single wrinkle anywhere, until they wake up on their 75th birthday. Then VOILA! All of the wrinkles they will ever get in their lifetime will appear on their face. No one could postpone or avoid it. No miracle creams, syringes, or surgical procedures could change it.
One thing I know for sure. If there is something that is inevitable for everyone, everywhere. Society will put a positive spin on it. It will be a day of celebration, Wrinkle Day parties with a cake and presents, photographers, caterers, friends, booze, and medicinal marijuana, in certain states. Wrinkle Day greeting cards, T-shirts, and restaurant specials will all boost the economy and make old people feel good about the arduous process of aging. It can become a fundraising event for septuagenarian charities. “Guess how many wrinkles the mayor will get on his Wrinkle Day! Dollar A Guess! (Ten for $7)
Septuagenarian, the word for people in their 70’s. We don’t use it often now, but individuals will embrace it on Wrinkle Day. This would open up a whole new path for the fashion, food, and the personal intimacy market, i.e. silver-streaked vibrators, two-seater, walk-in tubs, and edible Depends.
Maybe not that last one.
I’ve purchased www.wrinkleday.com and am ready to begin a mass marketing campaign once I figure out how to make it all happen. I believe with the exploration of genomics and the determination of this aging sexagenarian there is hope for the future of Wrinkle Day.
It makes me happy just to think about it. (crows feet)
I was twelve years old living an ordinary, boring life, trying to get above average grades in school, hang with my friends and stay off my mom and dad’s radar. It was working–not great, but working.
Then I became the target of a sober, fist pounding, secret group within a large, other-worldly organization whose members walked among us, free to exercise their will.
The group was an ad hoc committee of my church. A few select members of the congregation dedicated to saving the souls of the un-baptized youth. They thought twelve was much too old not to be a bona fide Christian. They snuck up on me after Sunday school, wrapped their flabby, perfumed arms around me and whispered in my ear.
“Jesus wants you for a Sunbeam.”
Or, “The way of the cross leads home.”
And my least favorite, “You must be washed in the blood of the lamb.”
I must have been absent that Sunday, because I wasn’t even sure what that meant.
I WASN”T READY.
I didn’t care how old I was, I had questions. Questions that had not been answered. NO, wait, not unanswered–ignored, brushed off and belittled.
“We are not supposed to question God’s ways,” they said.
“Shame on you for asking such a thing,” they said.
“You must have faith,” they said.
I had faith. I believed that God was good. Period. One big, fat, shining ball of goodness. God was every good thought, every good deed, idea, act, intention and all things that were kind and caring in this world. I believed that if I was good and encouraged goodness in others (I didn’t always of course, I was a kid.) that when my time came to die I would end up in a peaceful state. That was enough for me.
But I needed answers if I was going to buy all the rhetoric and fanfare of the Baptist Church, or any “church,” I genuinely wanted to understand a few important things like: How exactly did Jesus walk on water and later turn it into wine? How did he bring a guy back from the dead? How did he touch somebody and cure leprosy? How was Mary a virgin? And the big one…how did he rise up from the dead? Were these literal things or religious symbology?
My dad was a biology teacher, my mom a nurse. I had facts that were totally incongruent with those so called miracles and NOBODY at church would help me out. I’m sorry, but “just have faith” didn’t cut it. Frankly, it made me very suspicious. I thought if God was whatthey said, why did he need cheap parlor tricks to make people believe?
The onslaught of hand holding and praying never let up. The “Pity her poor soul” look in their eyes made me miserable. But I couldn’t do it, if I didn’t believe in it. I figured if anything made God mad it was faking something so important.
My best friend, Bonnie went to the same church and she had already done it. She said it was no big deal. Just go up to the preacher at the end of service and tell him you want to be saved, and then your parents will buy you a new dress so you can be baptized in church the next Sunday—in cold water—in front of everybody—and then you get to eat cake. I’ve always been more of a pie person myself so the confectionary aspect didn’t appeal to me.
The committee didn’t let up. I dreaded going to church because I knew I would be singled out. If I fell on the playground and skinned my knees or was passed over for a part in the Easter play, they told me it probably wouldn’t have happened if I’d been saved. Once after we sang the Jesus Loves Me song, my Sunday school teacher whispered in my ear, “He loves you too, but not as much as all the other girls and boys.”
I still feel the punch in my gut when I think about it.
On Monday nights I went to Bonnie’s house to watch The Monkees (she had a color TV.) Her mom, a sweet, well-meaning woman, tried to help put me on the path of righteousness.
“Please don’t talk to me about Jesus in front of Davy Jones. I’m in the middle of a very different, emotional experience right now.“
I tried asking God to get these people off my back until I figured some things out. I prayed that I would get to go to summer camp and get some relief. That backfired, big time.
Bonnie, my older sister Debbie and I got to spend a week at church camp in the beautiful hills of Kentucky. We stayed in cabins, slept in bunk beds and got to take all kinds of fun classes. I enrolled in art, archery, canoeing and horseback riding. I didn’t mind a couple of hours of Bible study in the morning. I enjoyed learning the Beatitudes, verses from Psalms and The New Testament. We had recitation competitions everyday. I won some, Debbie and Bonnie won more, but it was a great time. Camp was fun. The food was good, we had campfires and singalongs at night. Our counselors were college students from a nearby Baptist Seminary. The guys were cute (we all had crushes), the girls like big sisters. I finally felt the pressure of Christendom ascend from my shoulders.
Until mid week when, once again, I was singled out for not being baptized. My home church committee had given a heads up to the camp counselors. They swooped in with more hand holding, prayers for guidance and veiled threats of eternal damnation. I think they secretly took bets on who would win me over for Jesus.
The last night was the worst. There was a rallying ceremony at dusk when every girl was given a little cardboard boat with a candle. We all gathered at the lake, lit the candles in our boat and set them sail. It was a beautiful and symbolic event. We were sending the Light of the Jesus out into the world. If yours sunk too soon, you did not carry the light in your heart.
I swear they put a hole in my boat. It was one of the first to sink. The counselors gathered EVERYONE around me to sing and pray. I was sick.
After the lake, we all went to the amphitheater for a final benediction. The camp minister made his final call for sinners to come forward. Everybody was looking at me.
Debbie was getting mad at the way I was being treated and kept whispering,
“Don’t do it, Jo, don’t do it if you don’t want to.”
But I caved. I just couldn’t take it anymore. I went down front and did what was expected of me. It was the most hypocritical thing I have ever done. The fact that everyone was so proud and happy for me, especially after I got back home, was heart wrenching.
I got a new dress, was dunked in the cold water, ate the cake and the church committee moved on to saving the next wayward soul. They completely left me alone after that.They no longer needed to concern themselves with me since there was no un-baptized twelve year old muddying up their congregation.
My relationship with God hadn’t changed but I no longer had faith in my church. The more I examined various religions, the less I felt connected to any of them.
I no longer asked questions. I figured out the miracle issues on my own and over the years have resolved most of my doubts and fears by believing in the one simple concept that I knew all along.
God is good. Period.
Writing about my early experience in the Baptist church may make me seem resentful. I am not. Nor were there hurtful intentions by the committee. I’m sure they had a graceful heart and meant only the best in doing what their faith led them to do. I have many fond memories of my church, and friends with whom I still maintain contact. I am a better person because of the fellowship, albeit struggle, that led me to the place I am in today-solid in my belief that God is good.
You remember the end of sophomore year in college? You didn’t want to go home for the summer again, live under your dad’s roof and work for your mom. It was 1975, and you needed your freedom. You hungered for a chance to be your own person; to do adventurous, dangerous, reckless, shit and have more crazy sex than a good Baptist girl should even think about. Right?
Me too! So I jumped at the dubious opportunity to spend the summer hitchhiking around the south selling bibles for the Thomas Nelson Company.
All I had to do was knock on every single door, in small town neighborhoods, and convince the “woman of the house” to buy a bible. It was a matter of odds. If I worked hard and followed the script, my product would sell itself. I had family bibles, children’s bibles, large print bibles and medical dictionaries.
A group of my friends were going, my boyfriend was going, so I was going too. My parents didn’t have the energy to stop me, and frankly, my dad was a “you made your bed now lie in it” kind of a guy, and I think he hoped I would learn a valuable lesson from my life on the road.
Let me give you a visual: I was a gullible, 108 lb, 5’7″ tall, mini-skirted, blonde chick, who wanted to see the good in everybody. I’d never known real hardship, hunger or sadness. I’d never been physically, sexually or emotionally hurt in anyway, and the possibility of such, never crossed my mind. I thought I was untouchable; a cute, middle class, peace and love, wandering waif, without a clue in this world.
You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And you are the one who’ll decide where to go. – Oh, The Places You Will Go! By Dr. Seuss
Ah yes, I was on my own in the wilds of Arkansas foraging for Bible lovers. My roommate would drop me off at 9 am each morning in a predetermined location. We had a map of the City of Paragould taped up on the beige, paneled wall of Number Aught indicating the places we’d been and where we would go next.
Once I got to my location, I walked. If I finished a section of town, I hitchhiked to the next hood duty bound to canvas the area, knock on every door, assess the needs of my customers and close the deal. Some folks invited me in, some slammed the door in my face. Some were nice and some sic’d their dogs on me. The door answerers were mostly women whose husbands were at work or had run off with “that whore down the street.” I was young and it surprised me how unhappy married women were. The lonely or angry women were glad to see me. They would offer me Pepsi Colas and Moon Pies and rant about how “they didn’t have nothin no more and never did noways anyhow.”
They listened to my spiel and flipped through my sample books and I impressed upon their God-fearing souls about the benefit of having more than four or five bibles, even though they said, “we is Bible poor.”
I had a beautiful, glossy, white family bible with gold leaf on the page edge, and a place in the middle to list your family as far back as the Mayflower. For an extra five dollars, I would emboss their last name on the cover. I’d throw that in for free if they bundled it with our illustrated children’s bible or my large print edition. That was a popular choice. I sold one to a pregnant mother of six who wanted me to take a small antique sewing machine in trade so her husband wouldn’t know she’d spent money. And another one to a woman who wanted her maiden name on the cover because her husband had never been saved and she didn’t want to offend Jesus.
I was happy with my sewing machine transaction until I realized I had to hitchhike back to my drop off point with it, a good five miles away. The top of the machine had a handle and created a decent balance to my sample case. For the first mile and a half, it wasn’t bad. After that, I took to bouncing them both off my legs as I walked to alleviate the strain on my arms. I walked the entire way. I guess nobody wanted to pick up a girl with that much baggage. My poor legs were so bruised and sore I got a few sympathy sales the next week.
If I knocked on the door of an ungodly house, I was prepared with a Medical Dictionary that told stay at home mommas what to do if their baby was choking or running a fever or stuck a bean up their nose. If they didn’t have a baby then I showed them the ten effective ways to ease the pain of a blistering burn or the bloat of nagging constipation. Older people loved the Medical Dictionary. They would regale me with all of their aches and pains, illnesses, symptoms, and family medical history. It slowed me down, but every time I tried to graciously cut them off, they would offer me sweet tea and a piece of buttermilk pie. That’s not something you can turn down in that part of the country.
It wasn’t all pie and sweet tea though. I ran into trouble more than a few times. Sometimes the ones who invited me in had ulterior motives.
I was certain walking door to door selling bibles in a small town in Arkansas would be easy. I would have no problem hitchhiking around neighborhoods carrying a 35-pound sample case for six hours a day. I wasn’t concerned about fending off voracious dogs, nasty old men, wretched single mothers with starving children, Southern Baptist Preachers, and The Law. What could go wrong?
The Thomas Nelson Book Company spent a long weekend prepping its recruits for selling. We had snappy presentations, pat answers to every objection, how to handle unfriendly natives and what not to say if we were stopped by the cops and didn’t want to pick pieces of flashlight out of our heads.
My roommate, Mary and I lived in one of seven crappy trailers lined up in a sloppy row, next to the railroad tracks in the town of Paragould. We were in Number Aught.It took forty-five minutes and knocking on the other six trailers before we knew what that meant. Most of the residents weren’t home and Number 1’s occupant assumed Mary and me were the stupidest girls in Arkansas for not knowing aught meant zero. I told him we were from Kentucky and he gave us a pass, as if Arkansas was a brain trust for the rest of the civilized world.
I was happy with, Number Aught. It had taken us two nights of sleeping in my roommate’s car before we found our new place and it was worlds better than the string of other rentals we checked out.
The first place was an 8×10 room over top of a shed with rusty metal bunk beds and a shared bath. We didn’t wait to see with whom we would be sharing it. Black curly man hair carpeting the plywood floor and used condoms in the trashcan painted a clear enough picture.
We also checked out an ancient Airstream parked in back of an auto body shop. It was a dark, moldy cave with kicked in doors and two inches of fetid water in the bottom of the shower. Tempting though, as it was next to a Piggly Wiggly.
The last place before we settled on good ole Number aught was scary in a fresh, new way. It was at the edge of town next to a large drainage ditch. The cute whitewashed cottage was set up on skinny posts about three feet above the ground. A Baba Yaga tale flashback gave me pause, but it was cute and I was tired of sleeping all scrunched up in the front seat of a Camaro. A sad looking black cat under the porch completely ignored us as we approached the bright red door. Perhaps a good sign?
We knocked twice before we were assailed by a drunk, middle-aged, portly woman wearing only a girdle and bra—an extremely big bra. To her credit, she grabbed a shawl off a hook on the wall once she saw it was us, and not whoever the hell would be ok with being greeted by Mae West on a binge.
In retrospect, I can’t believe we went in, but we were in our late teens and still dumb when it came to sexual weirdos. Mary and I followed her staggering self down the hall until a man’s voice from the back yelled, “Bring em in here sugar,” enlightened us.
Fight or flight took over. We turned and ran like hell. I remember hearing the garters on her girdle clicking as she stood at the door shaking her fist (and the contents of Big Bra) at us.
Ah… to live and learn. The pervasive theme of the rest of my summer.
to be continued…
Baba Yaga by Sharon McLeod, is used with her permission. See additional work by Sharon at www.sharonmcleod.com
I was a long-legged, skinny, Sun-In blonde chick. Who, at nineteen, was more naive than a young girl should be so far from home. I play back the memories in my head and wonder how the hell I made it out of Mississippi unscathed.
Unfortunately, my Number Aught roommate’s dad died of a heart attack and she went back to Kentucky. I was ready to head back too, but The Company persuaded me to relocate to Corinth, Mississippi. Apparently Paragould, Arkansas was a hotbed for our competitor, The Southwestern Bible Company, and I was always one step behind their salesman.
My boyfriend moved to Corinth too and to save money we planned to stay together. It was just a little three room place in half of an old farmhouse owned by Mrs. Beatty, a sweet elderly woman who may or may not have believed us when we told her we were married. Living together was not really acceptable at that time. I hated lying to her until I found out she was a voracious potty mouth when she watched Big Time Wrestling. I felt like it kind of evened us out.
My boyfriend had to go back to Paragould for another couple of days to finish up some deliveries so I stocked the freezer with Boiling Bags and chicken pot pie, then mapped out my territory for the next several days. He took his car, so Mrs. Beatty agreed to drop me off at 9 am at the highlighted spot on my map. Tuesday was the day she got her hair washed and set at The Beauty Nook, so it was on her way.
I stepped out of the car onto a dirt road with a patch of weeds so tall the chiggers didn’t have to crawl up my legs they could jump straight to the elastic in my underwear. The dilapidated street was rich with sleeper sofas and Frigidaires in front and colorful junkers up on blocks in the back. A mix of lysol and lard hung in the air like wet clothes blowing on the line.
Mid morning I was chatting up our Medical Dictionary to a pasty, pre-diabetic seventeen-year-old mother of three in a fall down duplex who said, “If’n I knowed about them diseases it might make my baby git sick.”
Sadly, I heard that kind of thing a lot from uneducated, worn out, young mothers who quit high school to “like it or not,” populate the South. There by the grace of God…not I.
Soldiering on, I dodged a couple of mean dogs, danced with a couple of chickens then finished up the rest of the houses on the street. The noon whistle sounded so I stopped at a gas station for a Yahoo and a Bit-O-Honey then stuck out my thumb to hitch to my next location.
Segregation was alive and well in Mississippi in 1974. My next stop was where the locals called, Nigger Town. I can’t tell you how it makes me want to vomit to put those words on paper, but I need to tell it like it was.
We were told at the Thomas Nelson Company Orientation that the “blackies” (their word not mine) “were suckers for the word of God.” Later, when I tried to deposit a check from a sale I made there. The pinched-face teller at the bank told me, “That check ain’t no good even if it is good. This bank don’t deal with people from Nigger Town and neither should you.”
I wanted to punch pinch-face in the throat.
I was in the third grade when they integrated Kentucky public schools. My small town was old and steeped in racism and resentment. It didn’t change without conflict. I heard that word often back then but not from my family. My mom and dad grew up poor and humble. They were instilled with a genuine sense of kindness and equality that they passed on to me and my siblings. Racists pissed me off then and they piss me off now.
The dusty road was lively. Shirtless, barefoot girls and boys were running around yelling, chasing chickens and playing kickball. They had nailed cardboard squares into the dirt for bases and rolled a football cattywampus to the kicker at home plate. I admired their skill, they made a zig-zag run at the ball, booted it hard and sailed it past the mimosa tree. A solid home run. I felt such joy watching little boys and girls jump up and down chanting a victory cheer.
Sprawling live oaks, Kudzu and a trail of purple-stained popsicle sticks led me to my first customer. I opened the rickety gate walked up to a white clapboard house that was desperately in need of a few more Bois d’arc stumps to support it’s rolling foundation. A pink, Huffy bike with candy cane streamers in the yard got my bible brain a twitching. I could sell a Children’s Bible, a Medical Dictionary and a Family Bible. Red geraniums on the steps and a fat yellow tomcat gave me a feeling that this is where happy people live. A dog yipped behind a peeling, yellow door and woman’s calm voice said, “That’s enough Smitty, you done done your duty.”
The heavy-set, elderly, Brillo haired woman in an orange patterned housedress looked me up and down through the screen, dried her hands on a kitchen towel safety-pinned to her dress and said,“What can I do for you, child?”
I jumped right into my rehearsed spiel. She cut me off after a few seconds, cracked the door and said, “I can’t have no white girl standing on my porch in the middle of the afternoon, My neighbors will think I’ve been up to something. Get in here tell me your business and be quick about it. I got cornbread in the oven.”
The odor of Ben-Gay and cornbread made me hurt and hungry at the same time. She patted a doily graced sofa and said, “Sit child. I’ll be back directly, you gonna need something to cut this dusty day.”
When she came back from the kitchen with a large glass of sweet tea, I was ready for her. My best sellers were laid out on the sofa, I recited my introductory lines then showed her a gleaming white Family Bible with gold embossed letters. “This,” I said, “could be your pride and joy. It is the holy word of God and everything Jesus says is noted in red. There is also a section here in the center for you to list all of your kin, going way back to great, great, great grandparents.”
She completely ignored my sales pitch and said, “I’m Mrs. Lottie Green, but you can call me Miss Lottie. What’s your name child and how old are you? And don’t lie to me, I can tell when people are lying.”
The Company told us not to give our real names. I had been using Linda. I lied about my age too and told her I was sixteen. Another idea from the Company-If you’re younger, you can work a pity sale.
Miss Lottie said she didn’t believe me but she wouldn’t hold it against me just yet and let me go on with my pitch. She was politely smiling and nodding the whole time. I was feeling it! I would close this deal, make my way through the neighborhood and hitch back to the farmhouse in time to watch General Hospital with Mrs. Beatty. But no, Miss Lottie wanted to “talk Bible.” I went to Sunday School as a kid so I held my own, for a while.
She was quizzing me on the Beatitudes when her face lit up and through the screen door, I could see a large white caddy pull up out front. When the dust settled, two tall, wide and menacing looking men got out and headed for the house. Apparently they had got word someone was visiting their mamma.
Miss Lottie jumped up and said, “Oh my babies are here!”
She must have noticed the “freaking out look” on my face and said, “Oh don’t worry honey, them’s my sweet boys. They won’t hurt you none as long as you ain’t up to no good.”
No telling what they considered “up to no good” was when it came to their mamma. I figured I should leave this little homecoming, fast.
But it turns out, I didn’t leave until the sky turned over a few times and the Kudzu had all but covered that little pink Huffy.
Miss Lottie’s boys didn’t want nobody messing with their mamma, and I get that. I’m sure salesmen came around all the time to prey on the elderly, especially around the time they got their Social Security check. So when she went out the front door to greet them, I packed up fast and headed for the kitchen looking for a way out the back. There was none.
Who doesn’t have a back door?
I hear the screen door slam and a deep male voice say, “Well where the hell is she? If she’s good as you say, why’d she up and run off?”
I went back into the front room in time to see Miss Lottie slap a large baby man on the arm and say, “Hush up now, that child sells bibles, she don’t want hear your cuss mouth. There’s Linda!” she exclaims. “Honey this is my baby boy Samson and this one here is Solomon. And no, they ain’t twins. Solomon is older and wiser by thirteen months. They are going to be nice while you tell them what you got to show me.”
“Hi. Good to meet you. I really should be going.” They could crush me with one hand.
Samson steps up close, points his finger at my chest and says, “I agree. You need to get yourself on out of here. Mamma don’t need no bibles. She’s bible poor as it is.”
Solomon pulls a pic out of his back pocket, sticks it in his hair, sits down, lights a cigarette and says, “No, I want to see what this white girl thinks she has that we need.”
“I’m going to get us all some sweet tea.” Says Miss Lottie. “Linda honey you go ahead and get started. I’ve heard the first part anyhow.”
Please don’t leave me.
“Well, come on let’s hear it then, bitch,” says Samson sitting on the arm of a pink slip-covered recliner and peeling off his shirt, a Number 32 Browns jersey.
His dark, muscular chest reveals two long jagged scars across the front. “Know how I got these blondie?”
This bullshit intimidation pissed me off and in a false self important sense of stupidity, I say, “Oh, did your kitty cat scratch you, baby boy?”
He rises up a to grab me but Solomon pushes him back and says,
“Sit your ass down and put your damn shirt back on bro. We ain’t got no problem with this girl, yet.”
Miss Lottie comes back with sweet tea and cornbread. “Did I miss anything?”
Her demeanor has changed now that her sons are here. It’s like I’m company and she’s proud to show off her family.
“Solomon here,” she says, handing him a piece of cornbread buttered and on a pretty pink napkin, “he done got himself a good job, a girlfriend and that nice shiny automobile out there. And Samson, well he’s got some growing to do, but he’ll be all right, in time. So you just pull out them bibles, Linda and show us how it’s done.”
It was a scary kind of fun seeing these big men balance cornbread on their knees and sip sweet tea. Mamma was going to have it her way. I loved it! I bagged the idea of a multi-book sale and decided to focus on our large print bible. It always saved me. I would go to church on Sundays in Arkansas and sit in pews next to the older gentry, open my large print bible and hear the whispers all around me.
“Lord have mercy, look how big that writing is.”
“I can see it from here.”
“I don’t even need to put on my glasses.”
I made often made sales in the parking lot that Sunday.
“Miss Lottie,” I said, “I think you may like this even if you are bible poor.” I handed it to her with the 23rd Psalm book marked with the gold ribbon. “Open it and tell me if you like it.” She opened it and beamed.
“ Oh my, look it, boys,” she said passing it around. “I can read this without squinting nor nothing.”
They are nodding, munching and giving me the dead-eye.
“How much is it honey?”
“Well, it is the low price of only twenty-four-ninety nine.”
“That all for the word of God?” She said. “My boys can afford that for they mamma, can’t you Solomon.”
Solomon, hung his head, nodded and said, “Yes Mamma.”
He pulled a fold of cash out of his shoe, peeled off a couple of twenties and handed them to me. “Linda,” he whispered, gritting his teeth, “I’m buying this bible for mamma, you can keep the change, then you are going to get your white ass out of here and never come back. Got it?”
Inhale, exhale. “Got it.”
Mamma was smiling as she closed her eyes and recited the 23rd Psalm. Apparently she knew that one by heart and didn’t need a large print bible. She was perfect. I got teary-eyed.
I packed up, smiled and backed out the front door, not letting it slam and not breathing until I was off the porch, through the gate and down the street. I felt like I done good and evil at the same time.
The kickball teams had lined up and were drinking out of a hose attached to a spigot in the ground. Three teens had taken over the football, making bullet-like passes between them. I felt good, like I could go home happy now. I went through the desert and came out in the promised land. Hell, I’m skipping and humming the theme song to Chariots of Fire as I go past the mimosa tree when, BAM! The back of my head explodes as dirt and dandelions rush to my face.
It’s dark and hot and it smells funny. I don’t believe in hell, so it must Mississippi in the summertime.
“Yeah, don’t crowd her though, give her some breathing room.”
I open my eyes and all I can see is three big white toothed grins inches from my face.
“There she is!” Miss Lottie says. “I knowed she’d come back to us.”
“She’d better,” said Samson. “It’s too hot to be digging a grave.”
“Oh shush now,” says Miss Lottie. “Don’t scare her with that nonsense.”
“What happened?” I ask. I’m confused, I remembered leaving.
“Well now child, it was just bad luck,” says Mis Lottie. “Nobody meant to do you harm. Your head just got in the way of them boys and their football. But you’ll be alright.”
My head felt like it could fly right off my body. I reached up to hold it in place and I felt the wet and stickiness in my hair and saw that my shirt was a bloody mess.
“Oh hell! What the hell happened? Why the hell am I still here? Let me the hell out of here.” Swearing has always helped to calm me but I wasn’t just cussing, I needed answers.
“Honey just rest a bit . You got a bad bump on your head and I need to tend to it,” says Miss Lottie.
“A football did this?” I say. “ Why am I bleeding?”
“You fell face first on a big ole tree root Blondie,” says Samson. “Just shut your mouth and let my momma take care of you. You’ll be fine.”
“No, no, no, I need to go to the hospital. I may have concussion. Was I knocked out for long?” I was dizzy just sitting up and felt like I was going to vomit. I’m was seeing halos around everything.
“Oh, bout an hour or so.” Says Solomon.
“Jesus! Take me to the hospital.”
“We can’t,” says Miss Lottie. “My boys can’t be seen carting a bleeding white woman to the hospital. That wouldn’t set well with anybody. It’d get them into a lot of trouble and they didn’t do nothing wrong this time.”
“But I need help-a doctor, PLEASE! I’ll tell them what happened. Nobody will blame them Samson or Solomon”
“You must not know where you are child,” says Miss Lottie. “It don’t work like that around here. Now, sit up, put this ice pack and your head and read to me from the good book. I can’t let you pass out.”
“Screw the good book!” “I can’t read right now. I need to leave. Please, just take me home, I’m staying at a house over on…Uh…it’s a farmhouse, it’s white and it has a yard and a nice woman named …uh…I don’t remember the details, but if we drive around I’m sure I can find it.”
“No child, not today. I can’t send my boys off on some wild goose chase, b’sides you are better off here where I can watch over you.
So I stayed put and, but for the pain in my head, it was the best time I had in Mississippi. Samson and Solomon warmed up to me. They hung around their momma’s house all that day and the next week. As soon as I could sit up without getting sick, we played cards, checkers and sweet tea pong. Miss Lottie would have no beer under her roof. I read to her from the Bible and ate more fried chicken and okra and collard greens than I have since.
After a couple of days I could stand up and walk around. Which was sad because I truly enjoyed it when Solomon picked me up in those muscular brown arms of his and carried me to the bathroom. He would sit me down on the edge of the big old claw foot tub so Miss Lottie could come in and watch over me in case I got dizzy again.
When the boys weren’t there, she would tell me stories about her childhood. Stories layered with poverty and prejudice but told without hatred or resentment. She always focused on the good times with her family and the small things that made life bearable and gave her hope.
It is still hard for me to understand her acceptance, “that’s just the way things were back then.” But I am what I am, and have no point of reference in my own life for such cruelty. I can get angry and empathize but I’ll never really know.
I felt good enough to leave after five days. Solomon drove me around until I saw Mrs. Beatty’s house. It took longer since I had to sit in the back and keep my head down most of the time, just peeking up when we drove by white farmhouses. Apparently, a black man driving around with a white woman would get stopped and there would be some made up reason to slam him down on the ground, cuff him and haul him into jail. No matter what the white woman said. Solomon said the police had stopped him several times to make sure he hadn’t stolen his own car.
My boyfriend was back from Arkansas by then and wondering where the hell I’d been. He was sitting on the front porch swing looking lost when we pulled up, and little freaked when Solomon walked me up to the house. But he was a good guy, never one to jump to false conclusions. I thanked Solomon, kissed him on the cheek before he left, causing Mrs. Beatty to almost faint behind the screen door.
The rest of the summer I had bouts of dizziness and nauseousness, but never did go to a doctor and it eventually went away. My enthusiasm for selling bibles quickly wained. It got so that I hated the job as much as the pervasive racism of Cornith, Mississippi. I made very little money that summer and not long after we were back in Kentucky I broke up with my boyfriend. His Bible selling experience turned him into a hand raising, praise Jesus, born again Christian. I just couldn’t handle that. But all and all, I benefitted from the experience and Miss Lottie and her boys will always have a special place in my heart.
Don’t worry. I’m not sick and dying, or wanted by the police, pregnant, having an affair, or in need of a sex change. For God’s sake I’m too old to be having a baby. But, I do have a terrible, life long problem.
I must have a project. I need to design, demo, upgrade, fix, dig, plant, paint, repair, or caulk (Oh God, how I love caulk)! I get the shakes just thinking about it.
My husband and I bought a sixty year old cottage in a small town in Texas, a few years ago. We were living in California at the time, but knew we were coming back to Texas and wanted to downsize and have a good place to retire and raise chickens.
Well, I wanted to raise chickens, but that’s a conversation for another time.
We took a 1500 square foot, two bed, one bath home, and made simple, but glorious, modifications. We gutted and redid the hall bath, installed a tankless water heater, (whoo hoo! ) created a master suite with a claw foot tub, marble tile and pedestal sinks, upgraded the kitchen with new appliances and counter tops, knocked down walls, added all new lighting, refinished our red oak floors, and painted and painted and painted.
During most of the renovation, I had an upper respiratory infection. Parlay that with, no bathroom, except for a lone toilet in the middle of open stud walls, termites, and large holes in the floor that let in hungry creatures who scurried around in the middle of the night. Add extreme noise and strange men (men who were strangers) in and out of our home, ten hours a day, I was in absolute misery. When I hit bottom, we checked into a hotel, just so I could take a bath and breathe dust free air.
Then we set our sights on the exterior. After eight pallets of sod, four new planting beds,
twenty four Earth Kind roses (that now struggle with Rosette’s Disease) and a white picket fence, we were finished. We looked at what we had done, and saw that it was good.
We were happy. I was happy…for a while. Then..I hear my self say, “you know honey, it would look nice if we could…”
My husband cringes, but he sighs, nods and goes to Home Depot with me. He’s a fricking saint.
I wanted a fire pit, a deck and outside lighting. I knew the porches would look much better if we added a little slate tile and a wicker swing. And why stop with the porch? Just look at the front walkway. Slate and brick pavers (that I found for a steal, on Craig’s List) would truly enhance our curb appeal.
Then of course, I needed a garden to grow tomatoes, a hammock when I wanted to nap, and studio space for my art work and classes. I couldn’t stop myself. I dreamt about it at night, waking up each morning with a drill in my hand and a metallic gleam in my eye.
It’s been over a year and I’m still coughing from the dust, my knees hurt, my husband’s back is shot and he pretends he can’t hear me most of the time. But we soldier on. Because, if we just did this one more thing…
Some think I need professional intervention, but I can stop any time I want, and as soon as we finish this last project, I promise, I’m going to stop.
I’m mopping the kitchen floor with leftover dishwater when I see Leon peeling paint off the back porch, trying for a fast get away. I holler out the open window. “Get back here you ornery shit. You don’t need to be seeing that woman. She’ll poison you.”
“Catch me if ya can Meggy,” he yells running across the yard.
I grab something off the counter and fling it as hard as I can in his direction. He stops and drops. “Really?” I yell. “I’m not buying that, get up.”He’s not budging. “I mean it, get your possum ass back up.”
Then I see the red. God Almighty. I run out in the yard and there’s a butcher knife sticking in his back. Where did that come from? I pull it out and wipe it on my shorts. “Oh no, Leon, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to, you know I wouldn’t hurt you for anything in this world.” I pull my blouse off over my head and put it over the bloody gash. Tears fall down my face. I’m pissed as hell. He used to be quicker.
He looks up at me grinning. “Meggy,” he says, “About time you hit something, but that rock’s gonna leave a hell of a bruise. Did ya need to use such a big one’?”
“Honey, it’s bad. Worse than you think.”
He reaches back and feels the wet, then brings his hand round to his face. “Jesus Christ, Meggy, what did you fling at me?”
“That ole butcher knife. I didn’t mean to though. I just grabbed something and sailed it. I wasn’t looking.”
Blood’s coming fast. I press myself up against him to trying to sop it up with the shirt. He gasps and blood bubbles up out of his mouth.
“You’re in trouble,” he says, trying to get a breath…“Pop’s gonna be… be mad…he’ll strap you half to death.
“I don’t care about Pop right now. I need to get you some help.” I look around and see a big, flat rock lying next to the fence. I scramble over, grab it, stuff my blouse in the cut as much as I can without hurting him, and lay the rock on top. “Don’t you move, I’m gonna get someone.”
“Stay.” He grabs my hand. ”Get our story straight.” He’s struggling now. “Tell Pop…I fell.”
“No, that won’t work and shut up talking, so’s I can run and get help. I’ll run up to Lizzie Hughes. She’s a nurse’s aid, she’ll know how to fix you. Stay put.” He closes his eyes and smiles.
“I’ll be here,” he whispers, “less she walks by…then I’m a going with her.”
“Shit,” I say, pulling my hand from his grip. “Don’t start with that mess again. It’s that woman what caused this in the first place.”He starts to hum a song. “Stop it,” I say.“She don’t love you, she don’t love anything but the devil in a man’s pants.”
His face pains. “Don’t talk about that…not your business.”
I stand up, start away, then stop. “Leon?” His eyes are closed.
He nods his head and whispers, “I know.”
I run, shirtless, my titties flicking up and down as I trip over tree roots and broken sidewalks. I don’t wear a brassier. Nobody here to help me with those things and there’s not much to deal with anyways. When I was little, Mama would brush my hair every morning and say, “You’ll grow up to be a beautiful woman someday.”
But she died and nobody tells me that now. I guess I never made it to beautiful and Mama was either pretending or she was just plain wrong.
I get to Lizzie’s and she’s hanging clothes on the line out back. I’m naked from the waist up, covered in blood and I’ve got a butcher knife in my hand. The run got me all worked up and I’m crying and wheezing and can barely get a sane word out of my mouth. “Le..Leon…Oh, Jesus, help…us. Leon’s gone an…well…he, he fell on a knife and died.” What? What am I saying?
“Lord have mercy! Give me that,”she says, jerkin’ the knife out of my hand. She drops a sheet off the line, wraps it around me, binding me up like a nut job in a straight jacket. I start to wail. She slaps me hard cross the face.“Stop it. What happened? What’s wrong with Leon? Where’s your Pop?”
“Pop’s working. Leon’s hurt. Please, we got to go save him.” The sun streams through the wet clothes. A pink, half slip, a girdle and two enormous bras, flip around in the wind, making the light flash and slow down time.
Why did I do that, what’s wrong with me? I’m the worst there is; a bloody, not beautiful, hateful, horrible thing, who just murdered her big brother.
Lizzie pulls me in the house, lets me free my arms up and makes me drink an Alka-Seltzer while she dials the operator. The fizz reminds me of the red bubbles coming out of Leon’s mouth. I jump up, untangle myself and run out the door. Lizzie drops the phone and follows, dragging the sheet along with her. When she sees him lying dead-like on the ground, she starts slapping me, once for every word: “What (slap) in (slap) God’s (slap) name (slap) happened?” (slap)
My head reels, but I deserve it, so I don’t turn away. “We was just fooling round and he fell.”
Leon hears us and opens one eye. His coloring is all wrong. “Just fell.” He mutters.
Lizzie takes the rock off his back, lifts my blood soaked shirt, and says,”help me get him inside.
She puts the sheet across his back and starts to roll him over. He’s a big man and Lizzie struggles to flop him on his back. I stand there sobbing, chewing on my fingers to make them hurt. Drops of sweat fall off her nose and onto my brother’s face. She pulls the ends of the sheet under his arms and back over his head and says,“we got to drag him.” She hands one end of the sheet to me. I put it over my shoulder and we start moving him towards the house. “Keep him high up,” she says. “You done enough damage already.”
“Don’t lie to me Meg Porter,” she says. “Nobody stabs themselves in the back.”
“Yes ma’m, but I didn’t mean…” she gives me a look.
“Meaning and doing are two contrary things that usually gets a person in the same damn mess. If Leon dies, your pop will beat you to death. No man wants a daughter when he could have a son, specially a man without a wife.”
It’s hard to drag him up the porch steps without scraping his back. Leon cries out and a whoosh of blood spurts from his mouth. His eyes open, then he’s gone.
Lizzie and I sit down on the steps beside him and cry. She closes his eyes, smooths his hair and prays. “Lord, please take this boy’s soul to heaven instead of hell where it probably belongs. And forgive this foolish girl. She’s better than most people think. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”
She puts her arm around me and says,”You done it now Meggy. Your pop won’t let you last the night.” She takes off her apron and ties it around my neck to cover me.
I shoo flies from Leon’s mouth and watch as cloud shadows change the blood from bright red to crimson. The factory whistle blows in the distance. I know what waits me. I’d just get up and run off, but I can’t leave him like this.
“Well,” I say to Lizzie. “At least that nasty woman won’t ruin him. That’s some comfort.”
Lizzie sighs.”You can’t take comfort, not after what you’ve done.
“Stay.” I say. “Stay till Pop comes. Maybe he won’t hurt me as bad if you’re here too.”
She looks out towards the road and says, “I’ll do more than stay. I couldn’t save Leon, but I’m gonna save you. She fumbles through his pants and pulls out his pocket knife, reaches under him to see where my cut is, lines up and stabs him in the chest hard enough to push through and stick out the other side.”
“Thank you,” I whisper.
We sit there till we see Pop come over the edge of the road. He gets a wild-eyed look and starts running towards us, jerking off his belt, and waving it buckle end out, before he even knows what happened.
Lizzie spreads her arms out, stands up in front of me and says, “No need for that, Mr. Porter. Leon did it himself. Meg and me tried hard to save him. It’s a sorry thing, but your boy fell on his own knife and died.”
I get along with most people. Most people get along with me. But every once in a while I’ll run across someone evil. Cruella d’Vil kind of evil, soap opera villain evil. You know the type. Smart, driven, and friendly on the outside, but on the inside, a mean spirited, back stabbing, manipulative, soul sucking witch, with a capital B.
Usually, I see them coming and head the other way. But recently, I walked smack dab into a couple of bad ones. One female, the other male. Their gender helped to determine their motive and aggressive styles, but the effects of their nastiness were very similar.
I have to believe that Cruella, was manipulating the male, because he was not smart enough to do much more than yell and scream (literally) and act like a schoolyard bully. It was a unpleasant situation and frankly a waste of my time, money and effort. I’m glad to be free of it.
But that isn’t the point of this article, just the impetus for it.
Back in the early 90’s, I had the pleasure of being asked to teach art at a local elementary school. It was a new school in our growing community and they needed a part time art teacher. I had been teaching for a while at my gallery. But, never in public school and never six hundred students-twenty five at a time.
I learned a lot my first year from the principal and other teachers. I learned more from my students. The most important thing they taught me was: they will listen if you whisper.
Being an art class, the students claimed a certain sense of freedom from the regular classroom rules. That and the fact they could smell a new teacher a mile down the hall, evoked a collective, “let’s see how much we can get away with…”
It was only a few days into the school year when I admitted to myself, I had no control over them. I didn’t know what to do when my class refused to settle down. Boys were shouting and sword fighting with paint brushes, girls were squealing and painting their faces to look like makeup. It was chaos.
I tried ringing a bell, holding up my hand, putting my fingers to my lips, writing names on the board and even yelling a little myself. None of those techniques met with success.
But as soon as I walked over to a student in the middle of the class and started to speak in a low voice about a painting I was working on with a warrior queen and evil shape shifters, the class got quiet. Row by row, student by student, they started to listen. As I gained their attention, I started asking questions: “What color do you think the eyes should be? How would you transform the shapes? Should the queen have magical powers? What else would you add?”
As long as I whispered, they spoke in a low voice too, in turn, and in awe. They were excited to have input on such a cool idea. Each week they would ask about the painting and offer suggestions. They wanted to create their own “story art” and did so in a focused, calm manner. They seemed to connect the whisper with the painting. Did they still get a little crazy sometimes? Sure, but all I had to do was make them want to listen by whispering about an interesting idea. I love working with children. They are so open, so eager to learn and offer up their ideas in an open and ungarnished way.
Adults, not always the case. I forgot the power of a whisper in my recent experience. Although, I’m not sure any amount of whispering would have worked. Some of us, at a certain point in our lives, close ourselves off to listening, exploring and learning, and resort to nasty behavior. Next time I get in a toxic situation, I will speak in a low voice, share ideas, listen, and observe. Perhaps I can get others to build up, not tear down and offer solutions, instead of creating problems. If not, I will pick up my marbles and go home; another lesson I learned from children.