I never would have lit out for Jackson, Mississippi if Momma hadn’t made me so mad I could hardly stand up. She can say all she wants to about me, the fight was her fault and she knows it. Trying to hit me over the head with a baseball bat is not what I consider good parenting. Well, it was a softball bat. Still.
See, what happened was me and Momma almost come to blows. I told her I was going to Mobile to see Sha Na Na with cousin Iceybelle, Uncle Frisco’s daughter who is a natural blonde and works at the Piggly Wiggly. You would have thought I had told her I was going to the Moon with a busload of giraffes, the way she carried on.
All I had done, over a perfectly lovely supper of salmon patties and iced tea, was to tell Momma and Uncle Frisco that I would be using the car the next Friday night to go to Mobile to the concert. Neither Momma nor Uncle Frisco said anything at the time. But later, when we left the supper table and set about our evening relaxing, all hell broke loose.
I was never actually going to steal the car. I had politely requested to borrow it. Momma says it is her car and hers alone. Baloney. The car is as much mine as it is hers. Well, it is in Momma’s name. But still, we bought the car together, a green Oldsmobile Delta 88, automatic transmission with bucket seats. Bought it from the red-haired Copeland boys at Silver Hat Motors in 1972.
That was six years ago. Before we bought the Olds, we had been riding the county school bus to work. Miss Eddie Sellers, who drove the Copeland County school bus, picked us up at our door at 7:15 in the mornings and dropped us off each afternoon at 3:25 – give or take a few minutes either way.
Peacock High School lunchroom has been a second home to Momma and me for more years than I care to count. I dropped out of school during the tenth grade and started working side by side with Momma serving breakfast and lunch to all the high school kids who lived in Copeland County. We have over one hundred and ten hairnets between us. Momma has worked in the lunchroom since I was in the fourth grade. This is how it went: Daddy died; Momma went to work; Uncle Frisco moved in with us, and life pushed us on out in the world on a miserable daily basis.
But that night after supper: “She’s crazy if she thinks she’s taking that car.” I heard Uncle Frisco say. And I could just see him spitting his tobacco juice into an empty beer can as he usually does every night after supper. Momma come and pounded on my bedroom door, screaming, “Did you hear that? Frisco said he would see you in the crazy house over in Mount Vernon if you so much as touch the Olds.” She come on into my room as I was brushing my hair – not that I had invited her in, but Momma never was one to wait for invitations. I said I didn’t need Uncle Frisco’s blessing to drive my own car into Mobile. I said I’d drive it to New York if I wanted to.
“Well Missy,” Momma said as she strutted around my room with her orange and silver Louisville Slugger baseball bat. Well, softball bat. Momma pitches for the Red Robin Ladies softball team and even at age 67 she makes quite the impression on the mound.
“If you are so all-fired raring to go to Mobile, then you can just hang around after work Friday and catch yourself a ride with the band bus or the football bus. The Peacocks are playing in Mobile that night. You gals can ride into Mobile on the bus and then walk on to the shin dig once you get there.”
I said I’d rather shoot myself in the foot with buckshot than ride the band bus. Iceybelle has a car but it won’t go in reverse so we couldn’t use it. Actually, I suppose we could use her Chevy to drive to Mobile. But what if we got stuck in the Bankhead Tunnel and couldn’t back up? We would be in big trouble. It was better all the way around to take the Olds. Besides, I could just imagine me and Iceybelle getting so scared that we would be wetting our pants in the Bankhead Tunnel. Momma would never let me live that down if she got wind of it, which I’m sure she would have one way or another.
“Then you can just shoot yourself in the damned foot for all I care.” Momma said and gave the bat a swing or two toward the middle of the room. “Icybelle will get you off down there in Mobile and y ‘all will start drinking and God knows what else, and you’ll probably wreck the car. Then what will me and Frisco do?”
I said I reckon she could fire up Uncle Frisco’s pulpwood truck and use it. He never uses it except to go to work and run to the store for tobacco. He rides with Momma mostly in the Olds if they go somewhere like the cemetery to visit Daddy’s grave or to the Travis Holiness church. Uncle Frisco sits beside her on the front seat as Momma drives haphazardly, much like Mr. Magoo, or a bat out of hell. Frisco, dressed in his best overalls, always rides with one hand placed neatly on either knee. His spit-can taking up all the room in the big cup holder on the console. His little pinched face staring into space, hard, as if he is willing his very soul into the Promised Land. I can’t tell you how many times I have wanted to shake the two of them until I just drop from exhaustion.
“You are just entirely ungrateful and lazy to boot,” this from Momma as she began to take another little practice swing with her bat. At the same time I stood up from my vanity bench and into the bat. Even though I knew it was an accident I began to bellow. “What are you doing? Are you Crazy? You could have killed me!” I grabbed the bat out of her hands and flung it up under my bed. “I am taking this bat from you. You’re too old to be swinging it randomly about the house. You can put somebody’s eye out or worse.”
For a few seconds there was a thunderous silence. All I could hear was the tick tick tick of the Sunburst clock Momma had hanging over the fireplace in the den. We both stared open-mouthed at each other, the silence broken by a loud “Pit-Choo” spit made by Uncle Frisco. Never one to even acknowledge a tiff, Momma swallowed hard and bent down to retrieve her Louisville Slugger from under the bed. She got the bat, and on her way out she slammed my bedroom door so hard hair stood up on me in places I didn’t even know I had hair. Well if that don’t beat all I thought as I continued brushing my hair. There was turmoil rolling through my body like a tiny hurricane captured in a Mason jar. I eased my bedroom door open so I could hear Momma and her brother talking about me.
“What’s this about Sissy driving to New York?” asked Frisco.
“Oh deny help my time Frisco, she was just saying that if she had a mind to she could drive to New York. That’s all. She ain’t going nowhere. You know she’s all talk.”
“Yep. You got that right. I know that for a fact. I surely do. I know. The gal’s all talk.”
I swear, when I heard Frisco say that I got so mad that had I gotten my hands on a good, plump, broom handle at that time I would have sent Uncle Frisco sailing out the back door.
Momma and Frisco finally got up to go to bed. I didn’t even listen as I usually do to see if Momma took a bath. Uncle Frisco always jumped into the tub when he got in from a hard day’s logging. He would take a bath, put on clean clothes, then take the clean clothes off again when he went to bed. Well, I didn’t listen real carefully, I was half listening and to tell you the truth I don’t think Momma took a bath that night. Jeepers Creepers, I thought to myself, IF I am still here in the morning I am going to crawl her about not taking a bath. I went into the bathroom and took what I hoped was a silent shower. I didn’t want the two of them to be thinking I needed anything. If I could I would have holed up in my room until I died or until eternity -- whichever came first.
Instead I took my shower, got me two nutty buddies from the cookie jar and a glass of milk. I got into bed with a book, The Optimist’s Daughter by Miss Eudora Welty. As I read I began thinking about Miss Welty and how I had once read that she lived alone in her home in Jackson Mississippi. I’ll bet, I said to myself, I’ll bet Miss Welty would appreciate the company of someone as sweet-natured as me. I could tend to her and be company and a comfort to her. We could sit on her front porch (if she had one, and I was pretty sure she did) and sip lemonade and eat oatmeal cookies to our heart’s content. I would be willing to cross my heart and hope to die that Miss Welty would never come at me with a softball bat. That alone would be worth something.
I just couldn’t get to sleep. I kept hearing in my mind Momma’s and Frisco’s voices talking trash about me. As if in a sugar coma or a dream, I finally got up and put on a pair of jeans, a white t-shirt and my white tennis shoes – well sneakers – and socks. I got my overnight bag from a shelf in my closet and packed some underwear, more jeans, socks and T-shirts. I got my toothbrush, make-up, and dental floss from out of the medicine chest in the bathroom. I was crying so hard I couldn’t see, but I had made up my mind. I was going to Jackson, Mississippi and introduce myself to Eudora Welty.
She would see what a blessing I would be to her life and we would live happily ever after. I slowly took the car keys off the little wooden hook with the carvings of fishies on it hanging by the refrigerator. I had my tiny flashlight to guide me through the house and out to the carport. Putting the Olds in reverse, I let it ease down the driveway. I tried to be so, so very quiet as I cranked Old Betsy up, but if it woke the two inside, well so be it. I was in the car now and could get a damn good running start on them if they did wake and come out to try and stop me.
Yes, I said to myself as neighbors’ houses, the church and the tiny country grocery store whizzed by me under cover of the dark of the night, this will be a good thing in my life. I feel as though I already know Miss Welty. I just know in my heart that she will have finer manners than Momma and Uncle Frisco ever thought about having. This endeavor is probably the most important undertaking in my forty-six years. My little midnight trip tonight is not going to be like the time I thought William Lee Golden’s mother, Miss Ruth Golden, who lived down the road from us, would take me into her home. Well, I’ll bet she would have if Momma and Uncle Frisco hadn’t been so quick to come and get me when she called them. Oh yeah, there was that other time when I got drunk and went to that country singer’s house – Mr. Hank Locklin and tried to set up housekeeping in his back yard. Boy, those East Copeland Police can be brutal when they want to be. I’m sure Mr Locklin wouldn’t have minded my setting up a tent in his yard – once he got to know me. The police didn’t even give me a chance to explain.
But this, this idea was setting mighty fine with me. I just knew the third time would be the charm. Living the high, fine life out in Mississippi with Miss Eudora Welty would set me free. No more Momma, No more lunchroom, no more Uncle Frisco. With Bay Minette, Alabama now safely behind me I can hear Old Betsy’s wheels humming on the highway.
Why I’ll bet you anything that by tomorrow afternoon, yours truly and Miss Eudora Welty will be sitting on that front porch of hers watching the Mississippi sun go down while enjoying a freshly baked shoo-fly pie. You can’t try to tell me that Miss Welty wouldn’t love to sink her teeth into a good old shoo-fly pie…