Thursday, March 26, 2009
It's been nearly a year and a half since I've posted an installment in the story of my Mamaw's and Papaw's lives. If you're new to the blog, or just need a refresher, this post links back to the series from the beginning.
She met him in church, which was cause enough for her to remain bitter well into her 60s.
"I knew that boys came to church just to spark with the girls," Mamaw admitted, "but I always said I'd not fall for that. I wanted me a man who would fly straight as an arrow from the get-go. A good man who was in the church and who didn't lay out drunk."
This was a tall order, of course. Even if her direct link to the town's most fallen woman hadn't scared off the likely suitors, there was still the issue of wide-spread bootlegging to contend with. Very few young men made it to courting age without also acquiring a taste for homemade likker. By the time Naomi was twelve--old enough that it was considered proper to think of marriage and babies--love of drink had all but decimated the population of young men that had once attended church, worked hard and avoided scrapes with the law. Most boys, even the ones who still sat in the schoolhouse when they weren't needed at home, drank, danced, raced torn up old Packards and played the devil's cards with loose women. Naomi's prospects for a clean-living young man in 1946 rural Kentucky were dim at best.
But on a Sunday afternoon when the Easter flowers were soaring yellow above still-sleepy soil, Naomi spotted three new boys crowding around her Co-Cola cake in the church's crowded fellowship hall. Each one of them had the same coal-black hair, wiry build and squared jaw. They were set apart only by their height; like stair steps, she noticed, first one, then another, then yet another. She had never laid eyes on them before, but this wasn't cause for alarm. She'd only been back from Indiana for two weeks and so much had changed while she'd been away with her mother; for one thing, she hadn't been looking at boys when she'd left. Too, weather and work often kept menfolk from attending Sunday services, but the promise of a big meal often lured them in for an afternoon supper. There were any number of reasons for why she didn't recognize the three boys admiring her cake, Naomi told herself.
"I went up and asked them would they like a piece," she remembers. The oldest--and tallest--said they would. While she was slicing thick slabs of the cloyingly sweet cake, they introduced themselves: Duke, the oldest at 19, Roy, who was 16, and Mick, a gangly 15 year-old. All three were wearing dirty overalls and boots with knotted laces holding them together in the soft spots. Their accents were funny and slightly off, she remembers. Being raised in one of the most secluded hollers by parents whose Irish brogues were still thick had left an imprint on their speech patterns that marked the boys as outsiders even in their home community.
"I guess that's why they didn't say anything else other than their names. I gave them some cake and they stood around eating on it for a while. I went to my Mamaw and asked her did she know those boys and she said she might. They looked like some boys my Papaw had hired from way back up in a holler to cut hay a few seasons back."
Not exactly a ringing endorsement, but not a condemnation, either. Naomi figured she could talk to them a little bit more, get to know them. Her shyness around men had evaporated in the time she'd spent with her mother in Indiana. But by the time she had worked her way back around through the church crowd, the boys--and her cake--were gone.
"I had a picture in my mind that they'd run off with it and boy, that made me madder than fire. That was the very first Co-Cola cake I'd ever made and I was so proud of it," she sniffs. "'Course, there was the entire congregation right there in that hall eating. I guess it could have just been eat up before I got back around to it. But you know, I didn't think on that. I just knew it was those boys, and that they were no good."
Naomi chastised herself as she gathered up her Mamaw's bare cake plate. If anyone should be able to spot bad seeds, she reckoned, it was her. How was it that she had lived amongst the trash and rabble with her own fallen mother and not been able to recognize a bunch of rough boys when she saw one?
My Mamaw always smiles as she recounts the next part, the part I never tire of hearing.
"There was maybe a hundred people in that hall but the minute he walked back in, I couldn't hear nothing else," she says. Mick, the youngest of the dark-haired bad boys, had come in through the open double doors and sauntered over to the dessert table. He stopped right in front of Naomi and gave her a grin. "He said he sure did like that cake, and wondered would I like to come riding with him a little later that evening, after church let out."
If she'd been thinking about anything--the possible stolen cake, her mother's very public shame, her Mamaw's strict rules--she would have said no, and the story would end there.
"But all I could see was his eyes and, Lordy, they were the bluest blue I had ever seen. See, I hadn't looked at his eyes before. I reckon I assumed they were that greeny color that his brother's were. But no sir, his were the brightest blue I'd ever seen. I couldn't think about nothing but those eyes."
In that very instant, she says, her mind wandered too far to ever come back. She laughs about it now.
"I was thinking on what those blue eyes would look like on a baby. When you start thinking on that, why, you know you're gone."
Naomi said she might could come for a ride, but Mick would have to talk to her Papaw after the service and see what he said. Mick agreed, adding in a little white lie for good measure.
"Oh, I told her that I wouldn't miss that Sunday night preaching for anything," he admits slyly. "But I don't think I ever said I was baptized or any such."
"You did, too!" Mamaw snaps, even to this day. "You told me you were washed in the blood. You were smart enough to know what that meant."
Mamaw harrumphs with the flustered disgust of an old lady who can't stand the mention of such a long-standing injustice. My Papaw, Mick, just grins.
"I may have been a little drunk," he says. "I was wild as a buck back then. What I can't figure, even now, is what I was doing in that church in the first place."