Amanda Pugh: Tornado Season (memoir)

Southern Legitimacy Statement: I am as Southern as grits, biscuits, and gravy, having the double blessing of being brought into this world in the great state of Georgia (Atlanta to be precise) and having my raising in the Volunteer State of Tennessee. I have been educated here and have worked here for all the years I have been able, and even though I have traveled to other places outside the South (aka Heaven) I know in my Georgia Peach heart that there’s no place like home!

Tornado Season

Yes, it’s the most wonderful time of the year in the South… no not Christmas, but …

Tornado Season!!! (Da duh DAAA)

It’s a part of life growing up here. Nothing can set your hair on end quite like a tornado siren. It can make a relaxing day turn into the most anxious-where you can go from thinking about nothing more strenuous than what tea to have later to watching every cloud that rolls by in the sky for signs of rotation. You turn into a weather analyst that would make the most advanced storm chasing team in the world proud. You make lists of things to grab and throw in your safe spot faster than the speed of light. You listen to every breath of wind for that tell-tale noise that tells you the big one’s a coming down the road ready to blow you and your loved ones away. You keep the cell phones charged and emergency services numbers saved in your directory. And if the worst should happen, you make sure you help your family and your neighbors as much as you can.

I’ve had some close tornado calls in my day, the biggest being 1999 in Clarksville TN. Ended up spending the weekend at a hotel with about 60 or so fellow students because the campus was so damaged. My own dorm had the AC unit ripped off the roof causing a lot of the rooms to flood… but we got off easy. Several buildings lost roofs completely and the grounds themselves were a wreck. One poor girl that took shelter in my room was from Alaska and had never even seen a tornado. Never saw her again after that night, bless her heart…

In 2003, one jumped my house.

An F2 tornado sounds a lot like an 18-wheeler that needs a tune up, did you know that?

Having nothing but a brick wall between myself and a tornado was not something I’d ever given a place on my bucket list, but there I was-on my bathroom floor with a quilt over my head, hysterical, sure I was minutes away from being dug out of the rubble of my house on the morning news.

Nope, never want to do that again.

Had a close encounter of the funnel cloud kind again in 2008, when a tornado almost decided to take out the store where I worked, but since God had a sense of humor that day, it decided to swerve and hit the Baptist college across the road. Thank GOD no one died, even though one of their buildings collapsed.

Can you blame me for being over sensitive when the least little cloud appears in the sky?

Today was one of those days. Tornado sirens going off, ominous clouds on the horizon, near constant weather updates from the local station, and clinging to the weather band radio like a life preserver.

I need an aspirin.

Y’all sleep tight.

Anne Botsford: The Pickles (memoir)

Southern Legitimacy Statement: While standing up in a rowboat, I slapped six-foot alligator gars on the head with my oar, walked over a rattlesnake so sound asleep in the sun that it didn’t wake up, turned over rocks to see if I could find that black spider my Gramp warned me about, the one with the red hourglass on it. When the mule Jack died, Gramp piled up old tires on top of him, doused kerosene all over the tires and threw matches on the whole pile until black smoke soared up from the flames. My cousin Butch and I rowed the boat for three miles down the Caches Creek to visit the Stallard girls. When we returned to the boat, there were two cotton-mouthed moccasins sliding around the bottom of the boat. Gramp drove the pickup around to pick us up, used tree branches to get the snakes out of the boat, and threw it in the back of the truck. I made taffy, watermelon rind pickles, grape juice and Possum Kingdom Dam Cake with Grandma. I dropped Great Grandmother Louise’s Strawberry Shortcake Deluxe on the floor when a scorpion in the kitchen stung my bare foot.

After all that, I sure hope I qualify.  (ed. note: and she certainly does qualify!)

The Pickles

When I was nine years old, I knew nothing about poverty. I was excited just to be playing with the Pickle children in the grapevines hanging from the oak trees in front of my grandparents’ house. We lived on a ranch, and I didn’t often have children to play with. The Pickle children were six and eight, a boy and a girl. I don’t remember their names.

My grandfather hired their father, Mr. Pickle, to hoe the gullies between the rows of rice plants to keep the water flowing and to pack the black soil around the mounds in which the rice plants grew. The only tool he needed was a hoe and the stamina to work under a hot sun all day while his children and I played in the shade beneath the tree branches.

When it was lunchtime, he walked from the rice fields to have lunch with his children. Before lunch he read a passage from the Bible, and then he and the children said the Lord’s Prayer together. Lunch consisted of saltine crackers and sardines with water from a thermos. He opened the can of sardines with a pocket knife, placed a sardine on a cracker, and handed one to each of the children. Young as I was then, I’d never experienced hunger, but I recognized it.  While eating each sardine and cracker, they stood rooted to the spot and waited for the next one. After they’d eaten all the sardines and crackers, they turned away and went quietly to sit on a grapevine. He asked each of the children to read a short piece from the Bible.

When he went back to work, I asked them where their mother was. They said she left for Houston a year ago and didn’t return. I was stunned. Here were two motherless children starving before my eyes.

I ran back to my grandparents’ house and found my grandmother putting away the lunch she made for my grandfather. He was taking a nap before returning to his boat shop in town. I told her the children were hungry, and their mother had left them.  I wanted to take them the rest of the ham, green beans, potatoes and biscuits.

You have to understand my grandmother was a Christian woman who read the Bible every day, played the organ in church, and was the first to cook and deliver a meal to anyone in the congregation who suffered a death or an illness in the family.  In the case of the Pickles, though, her reaction was so incompatible with all I knew and felt about her that I could not reconcile it with my love for her.

“No, darling, we can’t do that, “ she said with a stern face. “We can’t help them.”

“They’re hungry.”

“Their daddy has to take care of them.”

“But can I take them some cookies and grape juice?” I loved her cookies: oatmeal, moist but chewy and packed with pecans, raisins, and brown sugar.  She made great grape juice, too, from grapes we picked in the Fall.  I took all the cookies from the jar, stuffed them in a paper bag, and found a quart mason jar to pour the juice into.

“Now, we can’t do this every time Mr. Pickle comes, here,” she said.  I didn’t play any attention to her, I was so happy that they’d have something to eat. I ran out the door with the cookies and juice so fast that I forgot glasses for the juice. They drank out of the jar, and their cheeks turned to grape smiles. They chewed the cookies slowly, swallowed them quickly, and kept looking in the bag to see how many were left.

The little girl’s dress, formerly a party dress with shiny ribbons, was frayed, the boy’s overalls were too short, and their shoes were scuffed and cheap. What could they do, being children like me? What if my grandparents died, and my mother ran away? What would I do?

Mr. Pickle only worked one day because that’s all the time it took to complete the job. He couldn’t have made much money. What were the children going to do, how would they eat, where would they sleep? I worried so much that I couldn’t help them, and I felt both mad and sad.  I couldn’t understand why Grandmother wouldn’t help them either. Now I’m older, and I know: They were poor whites, “white trash,” and not even god cared what happened to them.

Marijean Oldham : Saying Goodbye to Clover (memoir)

Southern Legitimacy Statement: My Southern Legitimacy is in evidence when I tell you that yesterday I wore a dress and stockings to attend a ladies’ tea party where we drank champagne all afternoon. Most of the ladies are aging exotic dancers, and had the shoes to prove it. It was delightful.

Saying Goodbye to Clover

Clover is dying. I sit in my car in the parking lot of the emergency vet with my seventeen-year-old daughter. I almost didn’t come. When Mark called that morning, he cried and told me our dog could no longer walk, and asked what he should do. “I think it’s time,” I said. Probably past time, I thought, but understood how hard it must be to make the decision to let go.

When he texted me the address of the emergency vet, I texted back. “Will Kathleen be there?” I would need to prepare myself for an encounter with his fiancée, my former friend.

“Yes.”

“I’ve said my goodbyes,” I texted in reply. “Good luck with everything.” I decided the hardship of being in the same room with the woman who dismantled my family while my dog died, would be more than I could bear.

My phone rang moments later. “Mommy?” Allison sobbed into the phone. Too upset to drive from her restaurant job to the emergency vet, my daughter begged me to come get her. And now, here we sit in my car, bracing ourselves.

As soon as we walk through the doors, she’s there. Kathleen. She looks directly at me for the first time in more than two years. “I’m so sorry,” she says.

I know she’s talking about the dog, but I fantasize that she’s apologizing for destroying my family.

“Where are they?” I ask, and she leads us back to the room where my sweet old dog lies on a table. Mark is there, and Laura, Kathleen’s youngest daughter. Clover is conscious, but barely. He seems to have lost his vision and it’s clear he’s barely hanging on. Kathleen pets his curls and murmurs to him.

My dog, I think. My dog. My husband. My daughter. As she runs her hand over Clover again and again, I note the band of diamonds around the ring finger on her left hand. I want her to leave.

We stand awkwardly. Distraught, Mark barely speaks. He stands in the corner of the small, clinical room, as far from the rest of us as he can.

Two days before, Seth, her ex-husband, the man I have grown to love, and I held a memorial service for Seth’s father who died in the spring. His daughters – Kathleen’s daughters – Suzanne and Laura, spoke at the service, remembering their grandfather. Laura, age eight, stands now, next to her mother, with yet another reason to grieve.

I take a deep breath. “Your girls did such a good job at Archie’s memorial,” I say to Kathleen, an olive branch, mother to mother, letting her know that I love her daughters. I hope this will catch her off guard enough that she’ll step back, and allow me time to say goodbye to my dog.

“Thank you for saying that,” she says, “I can’t even talk about that right now.” She steps away to put her arm around her daughter.

I seize the opportunity and bend down so my face is level with Clover’s. My mind floods with memories. I think of the many pancakes I made, just for him, so many that he became trained to the sight of the griddle and would sit behind me on the kitchen floor whenever the griddle appeared. When the towers fell on 9/11 I sat watching the scene repeat over and over on TV, tears dripping down my face. Clover, never the snuggler, leaned into my side with his whole weight. I stroke his floppy ears. “Hey, bud. It’s okay if you need to go. I know you’re tired. I love you.” I kiss his head and straighten to stand, my eyes brimming, blurring. Laura, crying herself, hands me a tissue.

The vet comes in and explains that they’ll be administering the injection that will put Clover to sleep, and we’re welcome to be present for it. I immediately opt out, choosing to wait in the lobby. Allison wants to stay, as does Mark, Kathleen, and Laura. I hug Allison, then Mark, then Laura and leave the room, alone. I keep my eyes low, in case Kathleen is looking at me. I don’t want see her.

I sit in a molded plastic chair, considering the linoleum. The door to the treatment room opens, and closes. Dansko-clad feet appear in my peripheral vision, and Kathleen sinks into the chair next to me.

“Everyone deals with grief differently,” she says.

I’m wrecked. Tears flow from my eyes as if they’ll never stop.

“I’m sorry,” she says again. “I was just so angry when I found out you were dating Seth.”

“I’m not having this conversation with you,” I say, and the tears stop. I wipe my face with my hands. I’m doing all I can to forgive her, not for encouraging my ex-husband to leave me, but for the many cruel, unkind, and untrue things she’s said about me, my daughter, and to Seth. I’ve come to terms with the end of my marriage and see her role in that as incidental. She added an inevitable event to a timeline.

The door opens again and the kids, Laura and Allison emerge, followed by Mark. The girls cling to one another and cry. Mark struggles to collect himself. I give him a sad smile. “Think he’s dreaming of pancakes?”

“Or rolling in the snow?” He smiles back, sniffling. We share two kids and more than twenty years of memories, including this one. In the parking lot we part without words, only waves.

David Tromblay: Multipurpose Cleaner (memoir)

Southern Legitimacy Statement: David Tromblay lived in a single wide trailer on a piece of leased land somewhere on the Fond du Lac Reservation until his parents split up. Before earning a BA in English and Writing from UW-Superior, he served in the U.S. Armed Forces for ten years, deploying to Iraq, Africa, and Eastern-Europe. Currently an MFA candidate at the Institute of American Indian Arts, his stories have appeared in The Nemadji Review, Yellow Medicine Review, Open: Journal of Arts & Letters, and Watershed Review.

Multipurpose Cleaner

You’re not thinking straight. Your first memory is not when the wolf pups bite at your ankles and pull your shoes and socks off your feet. That’s just the first thing that pops into your head when you’re put on the spot. No, your first memory must be when you are toddling around Grandma Lynn’s kitchen. You get curious and want to know what she is doing, so you get right up next to her—inches from her butt—and right as you do she bangs a can of biscuits against the edge of the counter hard enough for them to burst open.

The noise they make coupled with the fact that the can explodes just a few inches from your nose is enough to scare the shit out of you. You are still in Pampers, which is lucky for you because you fall to the floor with a fresh turd squishing between your cheeks, and you start to cry. It’s your own fault for walking around like a damn cat all the damn time, but Dad’s head pounds once he finally does make it home so you learn to tiptoe around the trailer so you do not disturb his beauty sleep, but you’re just a little boy, and sometimes you forget, so Mom plops you down into the playpen and there you sit with your back against the screen mesh until lunch time and then dinner time and then bedtime until the doctor says you have a curvature of the spine. But your crying on the kitchen floor gets drowned out by Grandpa Bullshit’s laughing. He sits and watches the whole thing play out. He knows what is coming, but he thinks it’ll be funny as hell, so he doesn’t say a thing. His laughing turns to coughing which turns to phlegm coming up and he makes his way to the spittoon he keeps next to the bed for such occasions.

That would be the same spittoon Mom talks about in another story.

In that story, she tells you about how you act out at their house because you can’t at hers, so she finds you playing in their bedroom, and like all moms, she tells you not to jump up and down on a bed, but instead of breaking your neck, you bounce all over the bed until you slide off the edge and land feet first into the spittoon. She gags when she tells you this part of the story.

Back then when she is cleaning her father’s phlegm out of your hair and from between your toes and the creases of your chubby little legs you can’t stop giggling because it’s tickling you and it’s sickening her each time her hands slide across your slick skin and her fingers find another glob of Grandpa’s phlegm and finally it becomes too much for her to handle and she starts puking all over you and the shower is spraying down so you are sliding all over the tub and giggling while she’s grabbing for you, trying to get a hold of you, trying, and getting sicker and sicker each time she touches you. And that must have been when you were pretty young because Grandpa Bullshit died the day you turned two.

The next summer, the summer right before you turned three is the first summer you lived with Grandma Audrey. That is the summer you got into a bucket of roofing tar someone left out after they finished putting shingles on the new outhouse. Of course it is up at the cabin and in the summer, meaning: it’s warm outside, so you are in a pair of Underoos because they are just as good as swim trunks because they have designs on them, so the tar gets everywhere. Everywhere. And you try to run to the lake and wash it off but, like a good dog, Scrappy won’t let you go more than knee-deep out into the water because you’re so little, so Grandma Audrey is able to get a hold of you, but she doesn’t wait for it to dry so it can be peeled off you. Instead she sits you in a plastic tub with some scalding hot water and scrubs you down with a Brillo pad and your big sister comes into the kitchen when she hears you screaming. No one knows what she is doing until she is doing it and there is no way of stopping her, even when your sister’s screaming joins in a chorus with yours and that does nothing but make your sister so upset she gets sick and pukes a little too, so she runs off into the woods beside the cabin and hides in the little fort she and some of your big cousins built, and there she stays until your crying can no longer be heard coming from the kitchen in the cabin.

There are no witnesses who can tell you how long it went on, or if she took breaks, or if your tears caused her tears. No one stuck around to witness that scene, save the green ceramic frog that sat speechless on the side of the sink with mouth agape.

That must have been the summer of 1980.

 

TJ Barnum: Daddy Jim Teaches Me to Shoot (memoir)

Southern Legitimacy Statement: I was born and raised in Texas. Some people try to say Texas is more Southwest than South. Truth is, we have our own peculiar ways, like every state. My ggg-grandfather was hanged by the Confederates for being a Yankee sympathizer in Gainesville, TX during the Civil War. On the other side of the family, my gg-grandfather fought for the Confederates. He’s buried in Center Point Texas and his gravestone carries the Confederate emblem. My Father and Grandmother never quit fighting the Civil War, or each other, or everybody else. My submission, “Daddy Jim Teaches Me To Shoot” is a memoir snapshot of an incident that happened when I was eleven. I wrote it in the vernacular of my childhood, and from my 11-year old self’s POV. The dropped g’s and poor grammar are how I spoke back then. It is not intended to offend. My grammar is fine now, thank you. Mostly.

Daddy Jim Teaches Me to Shoot

Ever house we lived in was full of guns. Seems to me that’s part of being Southern. For sure you needed guns for varmints, and in case those marauding city folk come looking for food and liquor once the war starts.  I’m sure most of my relatives had guns. And all Daddy’s friends. I could be wrong, but I don’t think anybody had so many as my Daddy Jim.

There wasn’t any room in the house that didn’t have at least two or three firearms, exceptin’ mine and Lea’s bedroom. There was a handgun on the end table next to the couch, a gun in the desk drawer. One on top of the fridge, and another in the cabinet above the fridge. There was a gun in the laundry room, one on a shelf by the back door, one in the linen closet and in the bathroom. There was rifles in various corners throughout the house. If I was huntin’ in a drawer for somethin’, I’d most always run across a gun or two. They tended to move around a lot. There was guns and stores of munition in all our out-buildings.

Grandma kept a .22 revolver loaded with snake shot in the drawer by her bed, and a 20-gauge shotgun in her closet. And Daddy Jim’s room—it was like walking into a miniature version of a gun show at the sports arena. The smell of metal and oil, guns everwhere. And ever one of them loaded.

“People die every year from ‘unloaded’ guns,” Daddy Jim said, as he wiped one down with oil.

I was taught gun safety as far back as I can remember, as well as types of guns and different loads of ammunition. We learned about hunting rifles and shotguns. The advantages of small guns (easy to hide) and larger ones (stopping power).  We had lessons on how to load, unload and speed load revolvers and semi-automatic pistols. We learned never to point a gun at nobody unless we intended to shoot them.

“It’s no good shootin’ in the air,” Jim said. “They may run off.  Or they might start shootin’ back, especially since you just gave your position away.”

“And you don’t want to wound anybody,” he continued. “There’s too much chance they’ll sue you, even when you shot them fair and square on your property.”

“Guns are for killin’,” Jim said. “They are for self-defense. They are for killin’ a rattle snake. They are for killin’ someone trying to harm you or your sister. They are not for showin’ off or havin’ contests. At least not at your age.

“Listen close and understand this,” Jim repeated. “Guns are for killin’.”

We went to a lot of gun shows. Men dressed in camouflage behind display cases assembled and dissembled guns with blinding speed. I didn’t pay much attention, but I think they was always sayin’ the same things. I watched their hands, their eyes. They looked ready for somethin’. They looked dangerous. It made me queasy.

Jim had targets set against a hill side, and ever two weeks, he and Lea would go through a couple of boxes of shells.  Lea made me nervous—for a little girl, that demon-child could shoot!  Jim practiced like he was expectin’ the National Guard to come rolling over the hill any day.

I stayed away. Every loud boom made me jump. Jim used simple bulls-eye targets, but he had a look that said bulls-eyes was more than just bulls-eyes. That made me queasy too.

On my 11th birthday, Jim walked into my bedroom with two handguns and a .22 rifle. “It’s time you learn to shoot.”

“I don’t wanna.”

“I don’t care if you don’t want to. It’s important. Let’s go.”

“But Daddy, I don’t like guns, and never will. I’d just be wasting bullets, and that’ll cost you lots of money.”

“They could very well save your life one day,” Jim answered. “Get your butt out the door now!”

Claiming a toothache, a headache, a stomach flu did no good. When I went down on the floor and started crying, he pulled me out the back door and dragged me to the practice range. He shook my arm too hard, and gave a look that made me choke back sobs. I took my place at the line drawn in the sandy ground.

I wiped my cheeks and Jim put a .38 semi-automatic pistol into my damp hands. He calmly explained how to stand, how to brace the gun, how to sight down the barrel.

Still sobbing slightly, through blurry eyes I aimed as best I could at a round target a hundred miles away. The gun was movin’ in little circles, and Jim stepped up to steady me.

I started cryin’ again. The gun and I were both swaying. Jim placed his arms along mine. He said something about how to breathe, which I was havin’ a hard enough time doing already. Ever thing was slowin’ down and I kept gently squeezing the trigger like he’d taught me. I was squeezing . . . and squeezing. The gun was taking its sweet time getting to the point.

Suddenly a loud boom, the chamber of the pistol ejected the spent cartridge backwards, bouncing hard off my head. I just knew I had shot myself!

Ever thing got real far away. My ears roared. My knees buckled. Jim caught me before I hit the ground.

And just like that, my shootin’ days was over.