Sunday, November 30, 2008

Chapter 2 - Lemonade and News

I was rubbing my moisturizer onto my face when I heard a familiar voice, “Well I was going to make myself some coffee, but I can figure out that machinery in the kitchen. Maybe my college sophomore granddaughter could help me.”

I peeked around the corner of my bathroom and saw Bitsy standing, glancing around my messy room. Suddently I felt very awkward in my short men’s boxers and rock band t-shirt depicting guys dressed as women. My hair hung around my face like Medusa’s snakes. I chuckled the insecurity away and used one of Bitsy’s favorite words, “It’s confounded isn’t it?”

She stepped closer into my room and said “Well look at you and your big words. Looks like higher education is working its magic on you.”

I was able to get a clearer look at her. She had aged since just Easter. This woman, who had perpetually been 62 years old, now looked the better part of 75. She gripped my bookshelf, as if it were a cane she refused to acknowledge. Her wispy hair had thinned, and she had stopped bothering to dye it. I don’t know if her makeup had melted off in her walk to our house or if she had just opted not to wear any, but her flushed cheeks looked feverish against the delicate white skin on the rest of her face. Her outfit however was all too familiar. A blouse depicting bluebonnets at sunset was tucked into a linen skirt, and her feet decked out in orthopedic sneakers. This was her “lounging outfit.” I half expected her to pull a sugar-free candy out of her pocket and hand it to me, so I’d quit talking, a bribe that had worked since I was first able to talk.

“Well let me finish up here, and I’ll be right down to set the coffee on for you. We can’t all look like we stepped out of a magazine like you.” I said. She scoffed and sat down on my bed, after pushing aside a considerable amount of clean laundry.

“I see your living habits haven’t changed much.” Bitsy raised her eyebrows as her eyes wandered from my pile of school books, to my overflowing box of pictures to the giant mound of clothes I had brought home, upon which Baker had made a seemingly comfortable resting place.

If this was the scrutiny I was going to be subjected to, I decided to forego drying my hair, and quickly shut the door and changed clothes. I came out and sat next to Bitsy and gave her a big hug, breathing in her scent. It was an amalgamation of laundry detergent, light perfume, hair spray and….well Bitsy. Its effect on me had been unwavering all my life. Much in the way one’s life flashes before their eyes prior to dying, my history of Bitsy flashed in my memory, only this was in the form of emotions and sensations. As I withdrew my arms and smiled at her weakly, she smiled grandly and said, “Edith. I’m proud of you.”

Going to college was a big deal in my family. Neither of my parents had gone, my older brother dismissed the idea of it, and I think Bitsy tried to go, but it hadn’t worked out. My grandfather went. He had been the pastor at our Methodist church. But following the Word was more important to him than pursuing a degree. Despite this my grandmother said, “And Donald would be too, bless his heart.”

The idea of Grandpa Donald even considering my existence in college was unsettling. Was he perched somewhere in heaven watching my every move? Did he wag his head in dismay each time I missed class or went out to a party? I shrugged off the feeling, and said “Bitsy it’s almost noon. Let’s drink some lemonade instead of coffee. I’ve got an afternoon nap to think about.”
She laughed, slapped my knee, and bolstered herself up off my bed. “Lemonade sounds fine, maybe we can enjoy it on the porch before it gets too hot. That hair of yours will dry faster too. I’ll get the newspaper if you pour us some lemonade.”

I headed to the kitchen, and I could hear her shuffling around in the living room talking idly to Baker, “Deedy! Do y’all ever throw away newspapers? There is about three days worth of news in here.”

I wandered into the living room, holding two glasses of lemonade, and said “No actually, we recycle them. And I don’t know why there are so many. We’re just lucky Dad didn’t take today’s with him to Harry Turner’s shop. That’s where he is today.”

Bitsy just shook her head and started for the front door, grasping the Saturday paper in her hand. Once we were on the porch, she sat stiffly on the bench swing, while I lounged in its neighboring wicker chair, sipping my lemonade and listening to her hum.

“Oh goodness. Pearl Hardware is closing down. You know that hardware store on the square?” She said, peering over her reading spectacles at me, “That is so sad. That store has been here for nearly sixty years. Rudy Pearl opened it when he came home from the war.”

I sat thinking for a minute and realized I went to school with his granddaughter, Jessie Pearl. It’s amazing how one year away from people can practically remove their existence from your memory. “Well Bitsy, with that bigger hardware store just at the edge of town, it’s a lot more convenient and less expensive for people to go there. Besides Mr. Pearl was just a fixture in the store. Jessie Pearl’s big brother was the one who mostly ran things. It’s no surprise to me he managed to run it to the ground.”

Bitsy just clucked her tongue, sipped her lemonade and continued reading. Moments later her glass of lemonade came crashing down on the porch floor and shattered into many pieces, sending lemonade flying everywhere, soaking her skirt.

“Bitsy!” My first thought was that she had a stroke or heart attack. But when I looked at her, she had fallen completely pale and was clutching the newspaper in both hands with a look of terrified disbelief.

“Bitsy, what’s wrong!?” I cried.

She just shook her head in response. I threw my lemonade over the edge of the porch and began putting the shards of broken glass into my own drinking glass. “Bitsy, what did you read? Is everything ok?”

“No. Everything is not ok. Marshall Peters died last week. His obituary is in the newspaper.” She looked at my gravely, as though she were sizing me up. She sighed. “Deedy. This man was the love of my life.”

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Chapter 1 - Back in Town

My grandmother, my Bitsy, was the kind of woman who held her past in her eyes. Whether she crinkled them in delight, cast them down in disappointment, or widened them with the naiveté of an older adult entering a realm of new traditions, deep inside of her soft brown eyes her past weighed heavily on their color and radiance. This evidence sufficed as the testament to her trials in life. Even in her older years, her hands were calm and her voice steady, but her eyes glazed over.

I saw her cry once. It was the unabashedly grief-stricken sobbing that creates a wall between two companions. As a young woman, I was very uncomfortable by this pure display of emotion by someone whom I admired so deeply. I felt helpless as I reached out and gingerly touched her frail hand. Even in the heat of a southern May afternoon, her hand had fallen cool to the touch.
Our Saturday had started normally enough. I was home from college after my freshman year, and I relished my new advances at independence. Sleeping in was certainly one of them, and I casually strolled into the kitchen and poured some orange juice around 10 am, which was absurdly late to my parents. The breakfast dishes were already dry on the dish rack, and the aroma of sausage and eggs was faint. The day’s heat had already encouraged my mother to turn the kitchen fan onto the highest level, and its breeze had sent a stack of napkins sprawling across the table top.

I had missed this. This comfort of my childhood. The sound of the fan, the smell of a tasty, albeit unhealthy breakfast. I peered out the kitchen window to see my dad getting out of his truck with a sack of groceries. My mother had already put the man to work, and it wasn’t even noon. I sincerely doubt he had objected, he loved getting out of the house and taking Baker, our German Shorthaired Pointer, with him to town. From the back of the house I could hear my mother gabbing away on the phone, probably about some political matter at church.

“Some things never change…” I muttered aloud.

“Darn right they don’t. How about you get that other bag of groceries from the truck instead of standing like a zombie,” my dad announced.

There was a time when I might have rolled my eyes and heaved a giant sigh. But I was an adult now, and I found it appropriate to behave as such. I simply smiled and walked out to get the groceries and corral Baker into the house. When I came in, I found my mother exasperatedly talking to Dad.

“Well Donnie, it looks like your mother is gonna head down here in a bit. She claims to be going stir crazy, but I think she just doesn’t want to waste her money on her air conditioning bill,” Mom looked at me and said, “Well you’ve arisen. Go shower and be decent for Bitsy. I have planned for two weeks to work in my garden on this very day, and no woman, not even Bitsy Sutter, is going to stop me.”

I sort of froze with that irreverent displeasure one feels about spending their Saturday with their grandmother. One on hand, I wanted to maybe go shopping, read a book or scrounge up some high school friends to catch up with. However on the other, much heavier hand, I loved Bitsy and knew I was supposed to cherish my moments with her. At this mandate from my mother, I did heave a sigh.

“Well I was fixin’ to head over to Harry’s and help him out in the shop.” My dad was even trying to escape his own mother. At the mention of him helping in Harry’s shop, my mother and I exchanged knowing glances. We both knew this meant sipping on coffee while lounging in Harry’s garage participating in mantalk, and maybe every so often Harry would request Dad’s help in holding the saw-horse in place.

“Fine,” said Mom, “Deedy, looks like you better hurry it up. Bitsy will be here soon, and I know she’s gonna want company while she reads our newspaper.” That was another thing about Bitsy. In addition to not wanting to pay for air conditioning, she saw no point in having the paper delivered.

“If anything is newsworthy, I’ll hear about it at the hair salon,” she always said, and for what it was worth, she was usually right.

When I was younger, I adored Bitsy. I was her baking assistant, copilot around town (when she drove), yarn holder, and doting granddaughter. I still adored her, but I had a significantly less amount of patience to her well-versed and well-rehearsed stories and “life lessons.” At the same time, I had some uproarious tales to share from my first year at Tech, and I was sure she’d enjoy hearing them. I had just gotten in town a week before, and I had been so exhausted from not sleeping and studying for exams, I slept for two days straight. Then I hit the town in search of my friends. I hadn’t even seen Bitsy yet, I realized. The heavier hand won, and I began looking forward to the day. I set my half-full glass of juice down and started off for the shower.

“Deedy.” My mother’s low tone meant I had done something wrong. “I am not your maid. I don’t know WHO cleaned your dishes in the dorm, bless their heart, but I spent an hour cleaning this kitchen earlier, and I will not have you making a wreck of it.”

The weight of oppression began bearing down on me as I clenched my teeth, washed my glass, and then left to get ready for a day with Bitsy.