Brenda Wilson Wooley
It was the summer of 1952, before Elvis and rock and roll, Hoola Hoops and Barbie dolls, before Marlon Brando got famous and James Dean died. General Eisenhower had retired as Supreme Allied Commander and was running for President, and Papa was working for F. H. McGraw, the construction company that was building the big Carbide Nuclear Plant near Paducah. We had a new family car, and we older kids were all getting a dollar a week allowance. Things were booming in Western Kentucky.
My younger sister and I would celebrate our birthdays later that summer (my twelfth; Pitty Pat's tenth), and every Saturday afternoon we went to town with Maw Maw Winslow in her brand new green Chevrolet. While she was buying her groceries, running errands and talking to friends, we spent our allowances on soft drinks and movie magazines, saving a quarter apiece for tickets and Milk Duds or popcorn to munch on during the picture show. Afterward, we sat in the Chevrolet on Front Street, watching the people stroll by as we waited for the picture show to start.
“It's almost time,” I said one Saturday afternoon in late June.
We were finishing up Seven-Up's and bags of Planters peanuts as Hank Williams's Jambalaya, drifted from the radio.
Pitty Pat dropped more peanuts into her Seven-Up and watched it fizz. “Wonder where she's going so fast every Saturday,” she said.
Tootsie, the owner of the Bardwell Food Market, was rushing down the street, dressed in her usual slacks and a tam. She was always in a hurry, waving, joking and calling out greetings to everyone on Front Street.
“I wonder a lot of things,” I said, “Like why doesn't anything ever change in this town.”
Shorty High, the bagger at Kroger's, was carrying groceries to people's cars. He was the shortest man I had ever seen; his long white apron cleared the sidewalk by inches. I had never known a Saturday afternoon when he wasn't rushing back and forth from the store to various cars, loaded down with groceries, a smile on his round, pink face.
People were coming and going from Petrie's Drugs and the Ben Franklin, licking ice cream cones, digging into grease-soaked bags of popcorn. And old men stood in clutches in front of the stores talking and laughing, some stopping every now and then to spit smack on the sidewalk.
“Wow,” Pitty Pat said, “Look!”
A young man and woman were strolling down the street, looking at each other, oblivious to everyone else. She had long shining red hair, full, dark red lips, and wore a silky rust-colored dress, a small matching clutch purse tucked under her arm. On her feet were high platform heels. The young man had reddish brown slicked-back hair, and he was dressed in a light brown suit and a yellow tie. His wing tips were polished to a high gloss.
“Well, I guess it's about time for y'all to go,” Maw Maw said, slipping into the driver's seat, “I think I'll visit with Hat while y'all are at the picture show.”
Miss Hat, a widow like Maw Maw, was her best friend. She lived just across the alley from The Strand, and Maw Maw often visited her while we were at the picture show. All they talked about were old times and people who had been dead for years.
The shining couple was directly in front of the car now. Her dress swirled around her slim legs as she stepped off the curb, the man's hand at her elbow.
“Who are they?” I said.
“That's Goebel Hawk's boy. His name is Goebel, Jr., but they all call him Red,” she said, “Goebel died when Red was still in grade school. They've had a terrible time, but the boy works hard as a farm hand and lives with his Momma. He takes real good care of Lily. She's a fine woman, and a godly woman, too. It's been awful hard for her since Goebel died.”
Maw Maw knew the history of everyone in the county, and she usually went on way too long, but this time I was hanging on to every word. I wanted to know all about this intriguing couple.
As they crossed the street, the girl's hips swinging from side to side, several old men on the corner stopped talking and spitting and stared at her.
“Who's that girl with him?”
Maw Maw raised her eyebrows and pursed her lips, “That's Virginia Mae Stowers. She works as a waitress. The family moved in from away from here. Missouri, I think.”
She put the Chevrolet in reverse, “She wasn't raised like Red was.”
“How was she raised?”
“Well, I don't really know.”
“Then how do you know she wasn't raised like Red Hawk was?”
“From what Lily said.”
“What did she say?”
“She's not too happy about it.”
“Them getting engaged.”
As we headed out of Bardwell, I pictured Virginia Mae Stowers gliding down the aisle in a long white dress, Red Hawk standing at the front of the church, a look of pure love on his face. Outside of the picture show, they were the most romantic couple I had ever seen.
After we got home, I sashayed back and forth in front of my bedroom mirror, swinging my hips from side to side, but I just couldn't get it right. I stopped and gazed at my reflection. My hair was kind of reddish, too, although not as red as Virginia Mae Stowers's. Hers was shoulder length, though, so I vowed to let mine grow long.
At supper that night, I watched Momma and Papa, wondering if they had ever looked at each other the way Virginia Mae Stowers and Red Hawk did. They acted like they cared about each other, but somehow it was different. Here were all of us kids and Papa always going to work and Momma cooking and washing clothes all the time. Where was the romance? The loving looks? Did it stop when people had kids and stuff like that? I vowed that when I met a boy like Red Hawk I would have romance in my life. For the rest of my life.
The following Friday night, Maw Maw called to tell us Effie was getting a shipment on Saturday. We needed to get there early, she said.
When Effie received a new shipment of used shoes, every woman and girl in the county showed up at her shop early on Saturday morning. Pitty Pat and I couldn't wait to get there. We were both determined to get a pair of saddle oxfords for school. You were nobody in school if you didn't wear a big plaid shirt hanging over a pair of Levis rolled up to just below your knees. The only acceptable footwear was brown-and-white saddle oxfords.
The radio was playing at Effie's, as it always was, so we pushed and shoved with the rest of the women to Kitty Wells' It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Talk Angels. And by the time Hank Williams was finishing up I'll Never Get Out of this World Alive, we had found saddle oxfords in our sizes. Maw Maw paid for them, and then we had to wait until she finished talking with Effie. We dreaded standing around; we were bored stiff. Until Virginia Mae Stowers and Red Hawk walked in.
To be continued May 7, 2009
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