According to my earliest recollection, the first
time I fully realized the true nature of my peculiar approach to life
began at a time when life was the last thing on anyone's mind. My mama's
thirty-six-year-old half brother, Gaylord Thomas Beane, known to the entire
county as Sprout (apparently for his lack of stature as much as for his
green thumb) had succumbed to God's final calling on a Wednesday, just
after prayer meeting, and a pitiful five minutes short of laying on of
Seeing that laying on would do little to bring the natural blush back
to Sprout's tobacco-swollen cheeks, Pastor Edwin called the ladies of
Circle Seven together and asked that they escort Mama home, both to comfort
their bereaved sister in the Lord and to start cooking for the wake.
Thursday morning found our small, four room house alive with blue hairs
and heavily shellacked beehive upsweeps, all clad in the uniform of the
day, checkered aprons trimmed in various shades of ric-rac. As God commanded,
Circle Seven had returned in full force to supervise the preparation of
enough food to satisfy an army of mourners. As three dozen hands peeled,
poked, and prayed, Edna Mae Wolcott practiced her magical, Parisian-inspired
make-up effects on Uncle Gaylord's remains.
At six years old and counting, hardly anyone noticed me as I squirreled
my way through whatever presented itself, heading for the solitude of
our backyard and the dense line of pines that bordered our farm. I had
never seen a corpse before, let alone a wake, but the clatter of pans
and the rustle of support hose upon varicose veins all about my low-eyed
spareness prompted me to fields of broader and less crowded comforts.
The warm summer rains that had fallen upon Clay County all the week before
still drifted lazily in the furrows of the tobacco field that stretched
south of our home, and I removed my only pair of shoes. The prized leatherette
ankle straps showed only faint wear, due primarily to the careful preservation
of my older sister and former owner of the shiny black shoes. Free from
their imprisonment, my toes squished happily in the cool, red mud. Above
me, a rain crow, no doubt a warning of future deluges to come, circled
as it searched for seeds or perhaps a few grubs to feed the gaping mouths
that beckoned a few yards away.
Munching on one of the three oatmeal cookies I had deftly liberated from
their cooling spot on the back porch, I settled onto my earthen perch,
fully equipped with a half-dried crawdaddy hole, and I surveyed my world.
"Quite a place, ain't it?" I asked the pale man who had appeared
at my elbow.
"The house?" he asked, his mouth unmoving.
Shaking my head hard enough to dislodge several jet-black bobby pins,
I dug my feet in to keep from sliding in the mud.
"Gosh! A sight not!" I giggled back, noticing the crawdaddy
had joined our services. "The world, Uncle Gaylord. Jes' look at
the world! All out there lookin' fer sumthin' to see, an' what they's
missin' is right here, all the time! Onlies, they cain't see it, cuz they's
not lookin' at it."
"That's a right smart sayin'," the ghost agreed, trying to lift
one of my cookies, with little success.
"You cain't blame 'em," I laughed, brushing cookie crumbs off
my pinafore. "Folks do what life brings fer the day, don't they,
"Yep. Some days brings plowin', some days dyin'."
"Air you comin' back ever, Uncle Gaylord? Like Franny Wilkins did
last year? She'd turned mighty cranky after buryin'. You gonna do that?"
I asked, kicking at the crawdad.
Giving up on the cookie, Gaylord shrugged his whispy shoulders. "I
reckon not," he sighed. "Well, Junebug, I gots to go. You pray
fer me, now."
Watching him walk, I had a thought and jumped to ask one last question
of my dearly departing uncle. "Gaylord, how comes you always calls
me Junebug, when my name's Annie?"
Watching the crow flap languidly into the top boughs of a patriarch of
pines, Gaylord scratched his disappearing head thoughtfully.
"Ain't I niver told ya'?"
"Not as I recall," I replied, swatting a greenbottle. "Hows
Most of Gaylord had disappeared, but his unmoving mouth remained, and
I could just make out his answer.
"Ain't you niver tied a string 'round a junebug's legs, girl? Jes'
to listen to it howl as you flew it 'round the yard?"
I nodded, squinting to make out his fading eyes.
"Well, you're like a little junebug, Annie. This world's got you
on a string, and the onliest way you kin fly free is iffin' you do like
the junebug does."
"What, Uncle Gaylord?" I begged, but the iridescent trail his
exit had left gave no reply. Sullen, I turned back to the crawdaddy hole,
slumping mournfully against the muddy slope.
I had helped capture dozens of the large, buzzing bugs during the vacuumous
days of summer, tying their small legs with fine cotton thread and circling
them until they escaped, or died. Shaking my head, I gazed at the tiny
cabin my grandfather had built, at the blue-haired women who crawled all
around it like blind bees, and I knew the answer.
I could either fly on their string, jes' like my maw, or I could escape.
Course that would mean ripping my leg off.
No longer hungry, I tossed the last cookie into the ditch, scattering
hundreds of newborn tadpoles in the bargain.
Damn, I thought, immediately saying a quick prayer to counteract the forbidden
word. Just when I finally got a decent pair o' shoes.