memorial for a brilliant woman

Monday, June 17, 2013

and another random bit of prose from way back when

Chapter 2- 672 words
I dream about houses. Sometimes they are almost like a real place I might’ve lived once, but usually they are a strange aggregate of a house and hotels and public buildings. When I am very tired there are stairways and doors, when I feel good about myself, there are big windows with long lacey curtains blown into the room by a slight breeze. Occasionally I am looking for my children or friends, other times I’m being pursued by a person or animal that intends to do me harm. Every few months, I dream I am a child and waiting for my parents to come and get me.. Those dreams leave me disturbed and disoriented the rest of the day.

When I was four or five, Nanny moved to a old red brick house that had red flocked wall paper in the main room. The windows wouldn’t open and the rooms were dark and scary. The worst thing of all were the black floor vents around the edges of the rugs. They scared me just by being there and when the heat came on, it was terrifying. I hated being in that room alone, hated playing on the rug, hated that dark and gloomy house.

Fortunately, by that time my brother Chucky had come along and I didn’t stay with her as much anyway, and nanny wouldn’t really keep anyone but me. For the rest of her life she practically ignored all the other grandkids, starting with Wesley, who was born when I was 2 and didn’t make much trouble. Eventually there were five of us, so Nanny rented every empty bedroom in her house, for money, sure, but certainly so she would have no where to keep us. It was okay, though, cause Momma needed me at home so she could nap or read out back on the chaise lounge and get a tan.

Momma and Daddy used to laugh about how whenever she went into labor, Nanny was nowhere to be found. She had some sort of sixth sense about being needed. She could disappear faster than extra money. I couldn’t tell you where she went, maybe to her sister Ruby’s or her brother Falvey’s but Nanny hated his wife so I doubt that. My Dad would have to haul us to Mamaw’s house (he always called her Pete, I don’t know why) and then go the hospital to find out whether or not he had another mouth to feed.

Chucky had the nerve to be born on my birthday, which is not a present no matter how much they all pretended it was. He was underweight and cried more than any baby I’d ever known. He didn’t thrive, they said, so my mother had the worst time getting him to be happy. Of course, I could calm him. I was four.

He was like the baby in Alice in Wonderland, the one that turned into a pig when Alice got him outside.

When I was in college in Tucson years later, visiting my folks at their crappy apartment near Davis Monthan Air Force base, he hid in the closet and watched me take a shower and then play with myself naked on the bed (they had this huge mirror over the dresser and you could see everything). I would never have know he was there if he hadn’t decided to jack off in the closet. He was 15.

That was the last time I went home, though it wasn’t my home anyway. I was living in the dorm, if it hadn’t have been a holiday I’d never have been there anyway. They didn’t wash their sheets, or towels. The whole place smelled. I gave them all the cash I had left over from my student loan check and made my dad drive me back to the campus. The next time I saw them, they were living in Mesa in a motel room. Four kids, Mom and dad, and at least one cat. But there’s more to that story coming up later.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Chapter 1- 866 words

My earliest memory is looking through the bars of a crib when I was not quite two years old. I know that because Nanny, my father’s mother told me all the time how that old house burnt down, and I couldn’t possibly remember anything about it because it was long gone in early 1952. I remember there was always a radio on in the kitchen and right next to the crib there was a pole lamp with a big cream colored shade with sketches of shrimp boats in brick red all over it.

Nanny would keep a radio on day and night playing songs like “Cry” by Johnnie Ray and “Shrimp Boats” sung by Jo Stafford. She’d sing those songs over and over whenever I’d miss my momma, and when we’d drive down to the docks to buy shrimp and salt-water trout.

That lampshade is as clear in my mind as if it was a photograph, as clear as if I visited that house this morning. I can hear that funny warble that was her voice, singing away with every song that played. Hank Williams was a special treat, and Lefty Frizzell, sometimes Hank Snow.

She must’ve been about forty years old, having had my Daddy when she was sixteen or seventeen. He was twenty-two when I was born. I can remember her face but not my mother’s, or my Dad’s. There’s no one left alive to ask but I must have spent a lot of time with her, my Momma worked as a secretary up until the time my first brother, Wesley, was born in 1952.

The next house she occupied was a lot bigger, there was a patio out back and a room over the garage where itinerant musicians would stay, at least until she rented it to Melba, but that was a long time later. I met Hank Snow there one night. The mosquitos were particularly bad and he held me in his lap and rubbed each bite and said, “it’s all right, little lady, it’s all right.” On nights like that people would come over after a show and drink beer and eat, guitars would come out and there’d be dancing and flirting all over the place. If Papaw was working at the railroad yard, Nanny would dance the two-step with every man there.

There was a braided rug in that house and she’d take out a big tin filled with empty wooden spools. She’d give me that and a big jar of buttons, a million buttons and I’d play all by myself on the rug while she embroidered pillow cases or watched her stories. Rembert would come home from work and start drinking, giving me the business about those spools all over the floor lined up along the curves of the rug. He was a tall Cajun, full of moxie and ready to fight with anyone, even a baby. The drunker he’d get, the less you could understand anything he said, until he took out his teeth, than every word out of his mouth was complete gibberish. Nanny loved him, so my daddy and mom tried to.

He’d pick me up on his shoulders and carry me all over the yard singing songs in crazy french. I’d laugh and if Momma was there she’d get into a screaming match with nanny about how dangerous it was for me to be that high up.

If they couldn’t settle it, my momma would snatch me up and I wouldn’t see Nanny or Papaw for a week, maybe less, depending on whether or not my other grandmother could take me.

That was always problematic. Mamaw was a wonderful old country woman, smart about a lot of things, like cutting up chickens or reupholstering a sofa, but she didn’t know how to read or write much. She also never drank beer (at least not until her doctor told her she had thin blood and should drink at least one Mexican beer a day) .She also had to take care of my grandfather, Albert Lewis, who’d had a stroke and was in a wheelchair. The best thing about her house was the screened in porch. It had a big wooden swing and you could see up and down the whole street, and the big buildings of Houston off in the distance.

There were always storms coming up off the gulf and we’d all sit out there and watch the clouds rumble across the sky. I saw ball lightning once hit right out front and roll out of sight, I was a little older then, old enough to run screaming into the house and hide under her bed until the sun came back out. That was really something!

It was fun to stay with nanny but the food was better at mamaw and papa’s. Of course, Papa would always spill his iced tea at lunch and supper making a big noisy deal out of it and hit me on the back with his cane if I got too close, but rembert, at least once a week, would get so drunk he’d stand up in the living room and unzip his pants and pee all over the floor.

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