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