I was so happy to read Bill Bartleman’s piece in The Paducah Sun about possible plans in the works to properly recognize the late Vice-President Alben W. Barkley. Senator Mitch McConnell and I have had our disagreements in the past, but I applaud his decision to help do something to honor this honorable man.
As most people know, Alben W. Barkley (affectionately called "The Veep" by the press) was President Harry Truman’s vice president.
When Truman decided not to seek re-election in 1953, Barkley's supporters encouraged him to seek the democratic nomination. But that was not to be; his age and failing eyesight were against him. Delegates at the Democratic National Convention invited him to deliver a farewell address, though, and he did so with his usual grace and style.
It was late, so we were already in bed when he delivered his speech that night. But Mother and Daddy were listening to it on the radio in the living room, so we heard it all, amazed by the long ovation he was given.
"My goodness," Patsy said, "They just keep on clapping!"
“I saw him one time,” I said.
I was around five years old, and I was at a picnic with Maw Maw Wilson. I don’t remember where it was, probably somewhere in Carlisle County.
I loved picnics, and I was very excited. We strolled the grounds in the sweltering heat, Maw Maw stopping every now and then to talk with friends and neighbors. And then we headed for my favorite spot, the food stand, where Maw Maw bought me a big barbecue sandwich and an Orange Crush.
Tears gathered in my eyes as I took my first bite of the zesty, tender pork, and I was washing it down with a gulp of ice-cold Orange Crush, when everyone began hurrying toward a big flatbed farm truck.
“Let’s go,” Maw Maw said, taking my Orange Crush and grabbing my hand.
As we rushed forward, I saw a man climbing onto the bed of the truck. He was smiling and waving, and he was wearing a hat and a dark suit. He must be hot, I thought, glad I was cool in my new yellow pinafore.
It didn’t last long. As the crowd pressed closer, perspiration broke out on my face and trickled down my neck. I was squashed between Maw Maw and a fat man wearing bib overalls, who was spitting tobacco juice on the ground in front of me. But I just kept eating my hotter-than-a-firecracker barbecue and drinking my Orange Crush.
I had a difficult time enjoying it, though. Each time I tried to eat or drink, I was jostled on all sides by warm, sweaty bodies. My bottle tipped, spewing orange soda over my hands, and I wiped them on my pinafore as I stood on my tiptoes, stretching my neck. Everyone was so tall!
They clapped, cheered, yelled and even stomped the ground. I had never seen a crowd this excited, even at Mississippi Baptist Church during revival time.
I breathed a sigh of relief when his speech was finally over, and as the crowd broke up, I could already taste that bag of popcorn Maw Maw had promised me.
But she had other plans. “Let’s wait a minute,” she said.
“We’re going over and say something to him.”
I looked at the man, talking with a clutch of people, and Maw Ma, again talking with friends and neighbors. “How you doing, Miss Muriel?” Thomas Bishop said. “Fair and a-middling,” said Maw Maw, “How’s Hannah Lee?” “I see you’ve got a little helper today,” trilled Miss Belle Terry, squatting and patting my cheek.
I knew I was in for a long wait.
After what seemed like an eternity, the crowd thinned out and the man headed toward a big black car with a bunch of other men, all wearing suits and hats. Just before he got into the car, Maw Maw walked over and touched his arm.
The man turned. “Well, I’ll be,” he said, a big smile lighting up his face, “Miss Muriel!”
They talked for a while, but I didn’t pay much attention to what they were saying. My hands were sticky, and I had just noticed my new sandals were getting dirty, my toes dusty. I heard the familiar shrill of a mosquito, and I kept swatting at it as it hovered around my ear. Why didn’t Maw Maw hurry up?
And then I heard Paw Paw Wilson’s name mentioned. He had died a couple of years before, and I missed him. Each time I saw Paw Paw, he knelt and patted my head. He often walked the mile to our house and we walked back to their house together, my hand holding tightly to his little finger. He bought me ice cream cones. And he called me “Gailie.”
“I thought a lot of Pat,” he was saying, “He was always a good friend to me.”
“And you were always a good friend to him,” Maw Maw said, tears forming in her eyes.
I gazed up at him, watching the perspiration running down his face and dripping from his chin. Why didn't he take off his coat?
Suddenly, he looked down at me. “Well, hello there, little gal,” he said, kneeling and patting my head. He started to say something else, but more people had gathered, so he got to his feet and headed toward the car, shaking hands along the way.
As we watched the big black car bump across the grounds and pull onto the highway, I turned to Maw Maw. "He's just like Paw Paw," I said.
Maw Maw stood quietly for a moment, looking down at me, and then she wiped her eyes and took my hand. "Yes, he is,” she said, “Now, let’s go get us that big bag of popcorn!”
Thursday, November 22, 2007
Thursday, November 15, 2007
My contributor's copies of Existere Journal of Arts and Literature, containing my nonfiction piece, "A Black Panther's Hearse," arrived in the mail today. Although I've had several short stories published, I am always thrilled beyond words to see one in print.
Through the years I've seen countless interviews with writers, actors, and others, and they always say, "It's great to get paid for something I would do for free."
"Yeah, sure," I thought, "Tell me another one."
But now I know I would do the same.
All words and pictures © 2008 Brenda G. Wooley