By Mellie Duke Justad
Part Two - Continued from April 19th
Part Two - Continued from April 19th
Only one parking lot in town could rival Marthalene’s on any given day---Goolsby’s Groceries, our one and only supermarket. Its shiny black and white checked linoleum floor had recently replaced the old wooden planked one that was always covered in piles of fuzzy sawdust.
I still preferred the feel of the old place, which contained one Mr.Goolsby, a kindly gentleman with snow-white hair and an infectious laugh. The only advantage this ultra modern store had over the old one was that it had something the old one didn’t --- Eustis Harper.
Eustis Harper was a senior at Cedartown High. A tall, drop-dead gorgeous football player, with wavy black hair, dark curly lashes, big brown eyes, and a muscular tanned physique, he was worshipped by every girl in school--- myself included.
One of my girlfriends, Joye, informed me that he was working in the produce section of Goolsby’s Groceries. She had seen him herself hosing dirt off the cantaloupes just last week.
“I’m going on a diet tomorrow,” I declared to Mama enthusiastically. “How about we stop in Goolsby’s pick up some stuff.
“Okay, dear,” she mused paying me little attention. “Which diet is it this time, dear? Bananas and buttermilk?
“Nope, uh, cantaloupes,” I replied way too quickly.
“Just cantaloupes, dear? Never heard of that one.”
I glanced around the kitchen and spotted her antique cookie jar, a large golden yellow pig with brown hoofs and big snout.
“Uh, no, cantaloupes and pigs feet,” I blurted out too quickly.
I was always, on a diet, but this was insane, even for me. Pigs feet? I didn’t believe that one. She raised an eyebrow. I’d never been what you would call an adventurous eater. The dreaded grilled cheese sandwich had eluded me until only last week. I didn’t want to tell her about Eustis Harper. I knew I’d be sorry if I did. I tried to hold out, but it was no use. She’d practiced worming confessions out of snot-nosed first graders for years. I was no match.
So I told her everything about my non-existent love life with Eustis Harper. I had no plan. But she did and we arrived at Goolsby’s the very next morning.
It’s true I was hoping to have a romantic “Eustis Encounter,” but didn’t know what I would do if I did. Just how attractive can a girl make herself while standing conspicuously next to a Dole pineapple display with her Mama hovering?
Eustis was thoroughly engrossed in his work and never noticed me gawking at him from behind the safety of Mama and the okra bin. Overcome with unbridled pride and emotion. I nearly threw up. Was this the result of too many “Pop Tarts” at breakfast or just a hormone rush? I was still too young to be sure. He resembled a Greek God in his porcelain-white produce apron, his brown and black checked tie peeking out from underneath.
“Look Mama. It’s him, Eustis Harper,” I gasped.
She took a good long look at him and to my horror, deliberately walked towards him. The heat rose in my neck and up into my face like a wayward marble in a pinball machine unprepared for what she would do next.
And suddenly there they were. My mother and Eustis Harper! In the same aisle! Engaged in the same conversation! It was too horrible to conceive. With nowhere to hide, I had little choice but to join her as she continued to call my name. I prayed I could think of something to say. Something that made me seem more mature than fourteen. It was impossible. The very idea was a complete contradiction in terms.
Predictably, all words did escape me. My mouth open wide I let my gum do all my talking as it popped out onto my sweater and lay they silently.
“Hey,” was all he managed to utter in his thick, husky Southern drawl.
Mama wasn’t so easily distracted by Eustis’ charm and good looks.
“Eustis, was it?” she asked. I’m Mama, everybody calls me Mama, and I sure would love it if you came over to supper sometimes for a fried chicken dinner, you like fried chicken and biscuits don’t you, oh, of course you do, everybody loves fried chicken and biscuits, and why, my little girl here’s been practicing frying chicken since last summer, and if you don’t mind it a teensy bit rare, you’ll be in for a real treat, what day is good for you we have next Friday night open, but any time is fine with us any time at all.”
I looked at Eustis, his eyes were spinning clockwise, then counter clockwise. Tuna swirls, beautiful, chocolate tuna swirls. That’s what they looked like. Friday’s specialty in the school lunchroom. His wavy hair was disheveled, and his mouth ajar. He was still reeling from the rate of speed with which Mama could converse. It usually took a minute or two for the average person to recover. Five minutes passed before the fog appeared to lift in the banana section. Eustis could only stammer a weak, “Uh, I forgot the question, Ma’am.”
But he did surprise me by offering to take our groceries to the car. I had made some kind of impression, in spite of my Mama. Little did I know, there was a big storm brewing outside and all Hell was about to break loose.
We were half way across the parking lot when I felt the first cool drop of rain. The first bucketful would soon follow. I only took my eyes off Eustis for a second when I glimpsed Mama looking up, a deep frown etched across her face. She stopped cold, and in full frenzy, like a diabetic in search of insulin, began frantically rummaging through her purse. By now, I too, had noticed the big black thundercloud directly overhead. Cumulous Nimbus. Big rain producers for the average person, beehive Kryptonite to Mama. She really wasn’t any different from all the other women in the south whose biggest fear in life is not being attacked by Bigfoot or even eaten by Jaws. It’s getting her hair wet. Water. The dreaded H2O. The killer of all beehives, real or manufactured.
Don’t panic, Mama!
“Oh, damn!” she yelled.
Oh, damn? Tilt. What was that? She rarely ever cussed, and never in public. But, they were the last words I remember hearing that entire day. It was the day the earth stood still in Goolsby’s parking lot. The day my life as I had known it abruptly ended. For in a heartbeat, she jerked that highly coveted wig off her head---I think it was Babs- and frantically stuffed it in her purse! Her hair of many colors now out in plain out, sight for the whole world--- and Eustis Harper--- to behold.
Giggling like a silly schoolgirl Mama dashed towards the car, her pocketbook slung over her shoulder like Santa’s pack, while Babs hung on on the ride of her life. As for Eustis, he too had run back into the store, and as for me, well, I did the only thing I could do. I died.
Drenched in the cool pouring rain, only the sound of Mama impatiently honking the horn drowned my happy thoughts of picking out which dress to have her laid out in.
I glared at her as she checked her hair in the rearview completely unaware of what she’d just done. Just you wait. I’ll get you my pretty. And your little wig too!
I never went out with Eustis Harper.
I hadn’t thought of him for years until I was back home for my own bridal shower. I stopped in at Goolsby’s to pick up a few things for Mama, and there he was. A little heavier and a little gray, but it was him. Eustis Harper.
My heart skipped a beat. My palms were clammy, my knees began to buckle, my stomach was doing loop de loops, and my throat completely closed up. I wasn’t sick. It was far worse. I was fourteen again. I grabbed my stomach.
“H-e-y,” he said, in that familiar husky Southern drawl as he spotted me.
I’d heard Eustis had divorced. I desperately tried to stifle the nervous laugh that was tickling my vocal chords. I couldn’t believe the effect this man still had on me after all these years--- that is, until he popped the “big question.” The question I’d longed for day and night for years.
“Uh. Wanna go and eat a fish?” he asked.
Crash! Ka-boom! Thud. Hiss. Zip. Plop. Splat. Fizzle. That’s what a humongous dream-bubble sounds like exploding in your head after twenty years of floating around inside.
“What?” I asked, dumbfounded. “Uh, what did you say?”
He repeated himself. No mistaking that. It was horrible. It was terrible. It was grammatically incorrect.
“ Got my old job back at Goolsby’s, ‘cept I gotta work my way up again. Soon I’ll have enough money put aside to get my own place and my own car.”
“So, how about that date?” he asked again.
“Ah, just my luck,” I said, as I showed him my engagement ring.
We chatted a bit longer and said our good-byes. I watched him slip the familiar white apron over his head his next few hours would most likely be spent hosing dirt off cantaloupes and putting stickers on bananas. Who knows, if Mama had kept Babs on her head like she was supposed to, today I might be living the sweet life, waist high in free produce. I guess sometimes Mama really does know best.