Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Monday, February 21, 2011


If you haven't the strength to impose your own terms upon life,
you must accept the terms it offers you.

~T. S. Eliot~

Sunday, February 20, 2011

That's All There Is

Joe Billy jumps off the back hoe.  "Y'all get back, now," he says, "Ain't no telling what we might find down there."

The sheriff waves his hands in the air. “Y’all heard what he said, now get back!”

A rope encircles a grave site where a huge crowd has gathered, some pushing against it, others attempting to sneak around it.  All eyes are focused on three men inside the cordoned-off area.

Inside the circle, Ronald Lloyd sidles over to Joe Billy. "This ain't right; it just ain't right," he whispers, "That boy’s been dead close to fifty years, and he should be left in peace."

“Well, what can you do?” Joe Billy says, “His wife wants him dug up.”

“What for?”

“She wants him checked out to see if he died from one of them cancers caused by chemicals he was around when he worked at Union Carbide.”


“She thinks she might be eligible for some of that money the government’s givin' to families of Carbide workers who got sick and died from it.”

“How they gonna tell? Won’t be nothin’ but bones.”

“DNA, I guess. They can tell all kinds of things from DNA. Don’t you ever watch Forensic Files?”

“Hell, no! I got a good mind to get out of this place. It’s freakin' me out.”

The coroner pulls a handkerchief from his back pocket. “Now calm down, boys.” he says, wiping the handkerchief back and forth across his mouth and stuffing it in his back pocket, "This is our job.”

A hush descends over the crowd as he ambles toward the grave, Ronald Lloyd and Joe Billy close behind.  He hesitates, takes a deep breath, and looks into the six-foot hole.

"Alright, June Bug," he says, "Open her up.”

Perspiration drips from June Bug’s nose. “Don’t look like it’ll be hard to open,” he says, “There ain’t no vault, and the casket’s not in good shape.”

The three men stand at the edge of the grave, looking down at June Bug as he jerks and pulls at the casket with a crow bar, cursing every now and then.  Finally, there is a loud thump and the top pops off.

Ronald Lloyd shutters and jumps back. “I'm feelin' kinda sick.”

The coroner and Joe Billy kneel and cock their heads.

“There ain’t nothin’ in there,”  Joe Billy says.

“Wait a minute," the coroner says, "What’s that down there at the far end, June Bug?”

June Bug pulls his gloves on and gingerly picks up two pieces of cloth. “Hell’s bells!” he says, “What tha…?”

The coroner stands and places his hands on his hips. “Well, I’ll be damned! After all this time!”

The crowd murmurs louder, pushing against the rope.  “Hey!” one man yells, “What did y’all find down there?”

“Socks,” says the coroner, “Nylon socks.”

“That’s it?”

“Yep, that’s all there is.”

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

My Highest Aspirations

Far away, there in the sunshine, are my highest aspirations.
I may not reach them, but I can look up and see their beauty,
believe in them, and try to follow where they lead.

~Louisa May Alcott~

Monday, February 7, 2011

Aunt Ruby's Drawers

Aunt Ruby was a tall, painfully thin woman with dishwater blonde hair.   She wore odd little hats, white gloves and big button earrings to church.  She taught Vacation Bible School each year, a Sunday School class.  She sang in the choir, visited the sick.  She bought Christmas gifts for us each year; nice things, like Revlon lotion.

Uncle Bob had always lived with Maw Maw and did the farming.  But after he married Aunt Ruby, Maw Maw renovated her house into two apartments.  She lived in the front section, they in the rear.  (I thought they got a much better deal.  They had more rooms, and they were larger than Maw Maw's.  "That's alright," Maw Maw said, "I don't need much room.")

Aunt Ruby was always nice to my siblings and me, but she could be haughty at times, even snippy.  And although she and Maw Maw usually got along fine, they had little spats every now and then.  During one such spat, Aunt Ruby called Maw Maw an "old woman"  "You're no spring chicken yourself!" was Maw Maw's retort.

They always made up.  And for days thereafter, they were almost too nice to each other:  "Mrs. Wilson," Aunt Ruby says in a sugary voice, "Would you like to go with Ruth and me to the revival at Antioch next week?"  "Why, yes, Ruby," Maw Maw says, a big smile on her face, ""That would be nice."

After their marriage (when they were both in their thirties), Aunt Ruby moved in her meager belongings and set to work refinishing Maw Maw's antique furniture (which she left behind for them to use); painting, waxing, keeping everything spic and span, cooking delicious meals (I loved her lemon icebox pie).  She sped up and down the road in Uncle Bob's brand new Buick, buying a new sofa and chairs (with fringe on the bottom) for their living room, fashionable dresses and hats, brooches, earrings, high heels.  She also bought new bedroom furniture. 

Pitty and I were very curious about their bedroom; we longed to investigate. 

Our chance came one day when I was ten years old, Pitty Pat, eight.  We were spending the day with Maw Maw.  She said Uncle Bob and Aunt Ruby had gone to Clinton and wouldn't be back until late in the day.  "Go ahead on and play in the yard," she said, "I'm gonna be canning green beans, and y'all don't need to be around this pressure cooker."

As we sauntered down the hall, discussing our plans for the afternoon, I glanced into our uncle and aunt's dining room.  "I've got an idea," I said, "Let's go in there and look around."

"I don't know if we should," Pitty said.

"We'll be real careful."

The dining room was heavy with the scent of a bouquet of lilacs in the middle of the table.  On an end table next to Uncle Bob's chair lay The Louisville Courier Journal and Paducah Sun Democrat newspapers alongside a stack of Time magazines.  Though no one was there, the room seemed occupied.

Chills raced up and down my back.  I was considering leaving when I spotted their bedroom  door.  It was standing open. 

The room was dark and shadowy and smelled of Aunt Ruby's perfume.  Draped over a chair was one of her slips.  I ran my fingers over the soft, satin material, wishing I had one just like it.  A pair of her high heels stood on the floor next to the bed and one of Uncle Bob's shirts hung from a door knob.  The room seemed to whisper.

I slipped over to Aunt Ruby's dressing table and picked up a tube of Avon lipstick:  Fire Engine Red.  I removed the top and sniffed it.  "This is real expensive," I said, "No telling how much it cost!"

Next to it were numerous bottles of Avon perfume:  Here's My Heart, Topaz, Timeless.  We sprayed a little of each on our wrists.  Timeless was the best.  I had never smelled anything as heavenly in my life.

A tall chest of drawers stood at attention nearby, one drawer slightly open, a piece of lace peeping out.  Pitty pulled on it and out popped a pair of silk panties. 

"Aunt Ruby's drawers sure are fancy," I said.  We began giggling.

Pitty stopped and put her finger to her lips.  "Shhhh!" she said, "Maw Maw might hear us!"

"Don't worry," I said, "She can't hear good."

After that, there was no stopping us.  We went through all of her drawers.  We found several more full slips, half slips, garter belts, pairs of silky hose.  And a couple of bras.   

"These are way too big for Aunt Ruby," I said, "She's flat as a flitter!"    

"I know!" said Pitty.  She touched one and flinched, as though it might bite her.

Upon further investigation, we discovered a nude-colored packet, labeled "two pair."

We looked inside.  "What are those?" Pitty Pat said.

I pulled one out and squeezed it.  "Oh, my goodness," I said, "Bobbie Jean told me about these things.  They are falsies!"

Suddenly, we heard Maw Maw calling.  "Brenda?  Patsy?"

When we ran into the hall, Maw Maw was heading toward us.  We slowed down and began strolling casually along.  "Come on, y'all," she said, giving us a funny look, "I've fixed us a little dab of dinner."

As we ate dinner, I kept sneaking glances at Maw Maw, wondering if she knew we had been snooping.  But she never let on.  She just talked about how many quarts of green beans she had canned, the upcoming revival, and our plans to go to the fair at LaCenter the following Saturday.

After dinner, Pitty and I played in the yard all afternoon, hoping Uncle Bob and Aunt Ruby wouldn't make it back before Maw Maw took us home.  They didn't.

The next day, Maw Maw came over.  When I heard our names mentioned, my ears perked up.  "I am so mad at Ruby," she said, "She accused Brenda and Patsy of going through her drawers, and I told her they would never do that!"

They began talking about other things, so I breathed a sigh of relief and went off to play. 

My relief didn't last long.  After Maw Maw left, Mother called us into the living room.  "If y'all ever get into Ruby's drawers again," she said, "I'll wear you out!"     

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Writing Above Your Head

Writing above your head makes something happen inside; it's a process of self-realization, a self-knowing that Steven Pressfield artfully described as "giving birth to ourselves, to that person we were born to be, to the one whose destiny was encoded in our soul, our diamon, our genius."

Yeah, I know it sounds all flouncy and mystical and cottony, but a person knows what he knows, and this is what I know:  If I write above my head, the work I create is a piece of my heart.

Clayton Luz, Glimmer Train Bulletin
All words and pictures © 2008 Brenda G. Wooley