This one church Daddy ministered to, down at the Gulf end of the state, was largely supported by this rich man. (Ironic, if you read your bible, but pretty standard in the real world) He had this great big blue house, for some reason. And he let my daddy and all of us live out back for free as a part of his tithe, he said, but actually, it was above and beyond. He was a great person, one of those who keeps me from just writing off Baptists in specific and Christians in general as idiot parasites.
But anyway, he had this run-down little three room shack out behind his stables. He rode a lot. I got to ride his horses, too, a major romance in my life. Kind of stereotype, I guess, but hey, girls and horses. It was clapboard and clean, but just kind of used-up. And the bathroom was an outhouse. Also clapboard. One holer. Snake and bug hotel.
We got to run around this sort of pasture farm he kept for the horses: grew some barley and apples for them, meadows they could run around in, a row of fences for jumping. He was very generous. We made a little spare money working for him in the house and garden. Pow washed his car and fixed things. Groomed the yard and even the meadow on this little Ford tractor with a drag mower on it. It was such a cute little tractor. WhenBethany first saw it she thought it was a Little Tractor That Could or some other character from her books. Me and Pow painted little round dots on the headlights and a little smile on the grill for her.
We got food from him, and hand-me-down clothes. Not that he had a family to hand down from. All his kids had grown up and gone away. I couldn’t understand that. Probably because it was a sleepy little nowhere place. But they never came back to visit. I think he got the clothes from donations that people gave to the church to send to Africa orKorea or wherever they said they were sending donations and the Lottie Moon Missions Offering. Even then, I had my doubts about that stuff.
This was junior high and I was really happy to be living in some sort of normal situation. Well, for us it was, but I never had any of my friends over. One of the other girls from the basketball team came by one time, and we visited awhile. She was looking at the place and this Daisy Mae dress I was wearing and the other kids out weeding the garden. And the man rode up on one of his best horses, this chestnut gelding I was in love with. He dismounted and Pow grabbed the reins to lead him off. He waved to us and we all called out his name, then he went into the big house. She watched that, then turned to me and said, “If you weren’t white, this could cause a war.”
After that we started calling ourselves The Darkies. We sang spirituals while we worked and did buck and wing dances and talked to each other like Uncle Remus and Aunt Jemima. Bethany loved it. She would have signed on as a slave quick as a clapper. Seelah was humiliated by it of course. By everything. But she’d sing with us. She was the only one in the family who could really sing. I wished the man from the house was black so he could sit there like James Earl Jones sipping a mint julep on the veranda while a bunch of little white pickaninnies picked snap beans singing “Go Tell Ol’ Pharaoh”.
But there was a fly in the ointment, and guess what it was. You’ll never. Underpants. The hand-me-downs didn’t include much in the way of undergarments, much less panties for pubescent girls. So we improvised. And since we also improvised on certain sanitary supplies, things got messy at times, and there were some scenes at school. Flora Lee had a couple of bloodbaths and ended up flashing her hobo chic knickers twice. I’d quit wearing pants under those stupid dresses, but once a guy on the football team snatched me up and did a cheerleader twirl with me and I did a flip to the floor without thinking about it and flashed the whole cafeteria. Nothing too humongous: I was already in the books as a brazen slut. But Bethany was so blushy and cringing anyway that people gave her a raft of chaff over her dirty undies. I think it could have led to some sort of Carrie scene, but Pow and I kind of showed up with my hockey stick and his Louisville slugger one day and put the lid on that whole line of goods.
I am here to tell you a secret you’re not going to hear fromVictoria: undies are not a girl’s best friend and the whole area is a constant source of trouble.