The usher man with his belly pooched out in a light-blue suit takes our tickets, spits off the side from his chewin tobaccer, and then continuin on, he brings us to seats that are bleachers offa softball field. Up front is a wooden platform stage with a canvas top on the dusty field. It don't seem holy to be spittin tobaccer like that, so he must be confused with church bein held on a softball field, but somehow I don't think so. Grown-ups seem to know what they're doin and why. They make everythin they want into fittin with some kinda truth, then callin it the same as truth; and, then they get mad at us youngins for knowin the diff'rence.
I don't say nothin about how it seems a sinnin thing to do, spittin chew, and in fact I don't need to cause now my two older brothers are laughin about it. Gramma tells them boys "hesh up" but they don't hush none, they never do, so Grampa takes them off behind the bleachers for what he calls a man's talk. He gives my brothers too much faith in knowin how to have a man's talk. They're a couple a hosses you never see get tamed, and if you know hosses, then you already know what don't change. I see Grampa knockin a tin a chew offa my oldest brother, and I think to myself, it won't make no diff'rence, he'll prolly get more offa the usher man.
Meantime, Gramma wiggles herself and me down the bleachers to where we sit together "just us girls" like she's oft to say. She comes up snug to me like a hen, so close to where I can smell her homemade farm soap smell. My mawmaw, she's so big and happy. She looks all sorts of ladylike in her yellow dress, white church gloves, and tan straw hat coverin her soft white curls. Gramma hands me a piece of hard watermelon candy, and then she hands me my own Bible. I don't know how she found it. I give Gramma a smile to show I'm a sport, but truth told, I cain't stand to be here. The candy don't taste as good as usual, with my throat dry n' dusty as the softball field isself.
When the boys and Grampa come down the aisle of our bleacher seats, I open up my Bible and refuse to realize them boys are near to me. Thankfully, Grampa sits between me and my brothers, but I keep pretendin to read Scripture and meanwhile get lost in my thoughts.
It's awful, what with people wantin to do the right thing and all, which for Gramma and Grampa means comin down to the revival, some two towns and nearly a whole county over, that took an hour in the car with my wild hoss brothers pinchin me the whole way. Now we're here and I thought it couldn't get worse, but I been to these before and it's comin back to me, the memory of how it goes. I do love my Mama and always will, but right now, I know it's her fault that we're here and I wish it twas her instead.
Mama left us last month, meanwhile sayin her good-bye like it twas a good thing, goin and givin herself a bon voyage at what happened to be my own birthday party. Truth told, that made me mad, except the cake was one of the best Gramma ever made. Grampa cooked up a pig roast and Gramma made all the fixins, and they had everyone over in the back of the small farmhouse, the kinda place with enough farm to feed and care for your own kin as you go. Not so much able as they once was, even a youngin like me knows it wudn't no small thing, this party, though proud as it gets, Gramma and Grampa would never say nuthin but "eat well and good y'all" and mean it.
They invited family, some farm folk who help out from time to time, and neighbors we've known since the olden times, one of which brought a whole deer in such a way that didn't seem charity so it was taken in good grace. But once word spread that a widow of barely one year, Mrs. Sallie Kate Jackson, was fixin to leave for Hollywood, then most certainly half the town showed up, and I reckon that extra deer meat from the neighbor saved the day.
There was talk about Mama always tryin to get above her raisin', which I know to be partly true, and yet this bon voyage seemed now to make it all true. Mama dressed up too much, wearin bright-red lipstick and too much perfume, dancin around too much with her new boyfriend, a city feller, an outsider of the worst kind, Mr. Johnny (the Yankee—who was called so in full behind his back, with even the more tolerable folk callin him so). I learnt what Mama and Mr. Johnny said by eve-droppin what people repeated o'er and o'er, as though too much was said about makin piles of money from movies like Miss Liz Taylor cause Mama is pretty just like her.
What I know that others don't is that ever since Miss Taylor married a senator from Virginia a few years back in 1976, even before Daddy was gone, that's all that got into Mama's head: it was how a celebrity could be livin near our parts, though they wasn't truly our parts, but facts didn't seem to matter in that regard, a Hollywood star was in our parts. All she wanted was news about Miss Taylor, and in the end, I reckon Mr. Johnny only helped with the thinkin that a life of rich people could be hers too.
It's a hard shame, truth told, with Mama gallivantin to California with a man that makes my head hurt. He spits whilst talkin, and he talks an awful lot with a chalky-squawky accent and nothin off the hard edges on his words, like you got to cover your ears to make em not sore inside. Worst of all, he put fool's idears into my Mama about her bein too good for this backwoods town she only ever knew. I get sore with outsider words like hick and backwoods, but I know my place as a youngin, so I keep my feelins to myself, but I most certainly do not like Mr. Johnny, no sir I do not.
It's now cause of Mama these church folk think we need savin, since word about my Mama got out faster than green grass through a goose. They said Mrs. Sallie Kate Jackson was all but leavin her kin for dead, even the youngins they said, which you cain't altogether blame with them ornery hellcat boys but what of the girl they said; and, worse off, Mama goin with some outsider feller nobody knew from Adam but for his car broke down at Joe Lilly's station then next he's goin round town like he's one of a hundred generations, goin and takin one of their own; and, sure, they all knew she was like Miss Liz Taylor, but not in the looks they said.
And poor Daddy, you cain't forget him. Town folk brought him up all o'er again, and how he must be turnin in his grave. I miss my Daddy awful, truth told, all the time, not just when people care to mention him. He passed on not so long ago in a mine accident, but nobody forgets him since he died a hero for savin his crew. I like when folks bring him up on the by and by, and when they get to recollectin. They say I look the spittin image of my Daddy, but from what I seen, he looks like his own Pa, my Grampa, who helps me remember Daddy even more than pictures on account of their face, hands with dirty nails, and the same raspy voice from minin work.
For sure us youngins are goin onstage at the revival for hands layin. We'll get the tongues and the water splashed all over so the clothes are see-through, and for sure there's half my school class somewhere in this softball field, in the bleachers, in the chairs on the field, or even sittin under the tent right up close. I didn't think to wear an undershirt with my white dress that don't fit to start. Even if we are two towns over, this Preacher is somebody, and sure near all of eastern Kentucky is here I reckon. Round these parts, my Daddy, Mr. Charlie Ray Jackson is legend and most certainly his soul is with the Lord; and, therefore, in keepin his youngins on his same rightful path, which is not where his widow is goin with her Yankee feller, then an intervenin of the highest sort is bein called upon for the welfare of their souls. I can feel it most certainly, more and more, since I been noticin looks, and I believe it ain't cause my brothers are hellcats.
Gramma and Grampa want a fresh start they say. For the past month, Mama has been a mailbox ghost with her postcards comin in from around the country since Gramma and Grampa are old-timers with the phone by sayin long-distance costs too much. Mama don't write that great, so it's postcards for us whilst they take their sweet time drivin to Hollywood. Sittin here and lookin for redemption from sins is like one of these postcards that come without nothin on them sometimes, just a quick hello and "Love Mama". One day I'll have my own pen to decide what gets writ for me, but as it stands now, it just ain't my place to say what's so.
I'm taken from my thoughts and pretend Bible-readin by my brothers gettin noisy. I cain't stand them boys. Sure enough, they get back to their ways despite the man's talk, laughin and cussin all quiet and muffled enough so Grampa cain't notice with his bad hearin. I suspect them boys drank Grampa's whiskey back at the house. But no way am I sayin so. They ain't got rules about hittin girls, even the ones they seem to like.
The revival starts, and after a few songs and the beginnin of a sermon with a much longer one yet to come, the men in the light-blue suits come to our aisle and we're brought towards the stage. The boys didn't see this comin like I did. For once they hush up. I walk behind them with their heads lowered and I wonder in my always hopin kinda way, maybe the church can help them? They're both so tall and dirty lookin all the time, but gettin up on stage, they look scared and humble. I look down, not wantin to meet eyes with anyone I might know, and truly givin this savin a chance, with all my hope in this Preacher who might help. I hold my Bible close, feelin like a sinner for pretendin to read it before, and hopin God ain't mad for that.
The Preacher starts with my brothers, and it's almost like I'm not there, quiet and off to the side, hands folded, lookin down, tryin to pray though it don't seem I'm doin it right but I hope so. The boys soon come out of their quiet state and start actin like themselves again, whisperin to each other, comin up with somethin no doubt; and, meanwhile the Preacher gets goin on the battle of God and Satan. He gets to hoovin and wavin his hands UP AND DOWN my brothers to chase off evil spirits, sayin "in order to be RIGHT, you must look to God for His LIGHT, and hold the Lord close to you in faith and in SIGHT, and we ALL MUST attack the Devil with GREAT MIGHT!!" I hear AMEN from the stage, from the audience, from all over, AMEN.
He's wavin round my brothers, still like I ain't up there, quiet and standin off the side. The Preacher shouts, "THE DEVIL MAKES HIS WAY INTO YA, but you gotta PUSH HIM OUT, you can't let evil take a HOLD a' yer SOUL." He's pushin his hands OUT. The people out there, so many people, they put their hands up and they PUSH OUT along with the Preacher AMEN. My brothers both lift their hands and start cryin, beggin for forgiveness, and I cain't believe it. The whole revival cain't believe it. These two boys of Charlie Ray Jackson and his disgracin widow are touched by the SPIRIT! They're bein SAVED! AMEN!
My oldest brother gets on the microphone when the Preacher gives him a turn to publicly renounce Satan. He starts out AMEN then starts cryin and carryin on about sin, how he knows he's a sinner, how the Devil won't leave him alone and what it makes my brother do. Then he changes into some tongue speakin like he's gotten carried away by the Spirit, but then he finds a way to slip in cuss words without people catchin on, so then I know he's fakin it. But as soon as I know it, he gets to talkin about me.
He's talkin right into the microphone–right to the whole softball field, our family, our neighbors, my school from two towns over, the church of ten generations that's always known us and our kin–he gets to talkin about lust in his heart, watchin me undress, how he wants to be with me, touch me, and then he cain't help but start to laughin and so does my other brother, and it's the two of them cacklin for all to see. The Preacher grabs the microphone and hits both my brothers HARD with it. People stand in their seats, others rush the stage, everyone shouts crazier than a fox gettin to the hen house. Gramma comes and puts her shawl around me so I cain't see, then she shuffles me away, my best white shoes gettin dusty from the field, and I start cryin, I cain't help it, but my heart is sunk cause now there's nothin for us if the church don't work.
We make our way to the parkin lot and get in the car. Gramma puts us both in the front seat, rolls up the windows, locks the doors, and realizes she don't have the keys. She don't know what to do. She makes a deep breath, and cracks the window. Turnin to me, she pulls me close and snuggles me in the shawl, and I rest my head on her, calmin down. She has a hanky and wipes my tears, tellin me, "…hesh girl, you're okay now, hesh up sweetheart, my good girl, you're okay now.…"
No one is in the parkin lot, so we sit there quiet, lookin out the car at nothin, which is when I notice the hills out in the far away. There's always hills, that ain't nothin new, but somethin about them is pretty with a certain light meanin the start of summer before it gets hot and hazy. We sit there in the car, waitin for Grampa and his car keys, and I want this time to last and not for my brothers to come back. Somehow the Bible is on my lap with the edges of its leather cover as soft as Gramma's hugs; and, in my own deep sigh, it happens to where I feel that with all this softness put together, I might have to give the new start a chance, on account of how goodness seems to find its way inside of badness.
Rachel Cunningham—also goes by Rachellie242, likes to read at open mikes & has since the early 90s at about 20 or so venues in Chicago, Boston, New York, and England [where she studied at Leeds for a year], and is scantily published/just at ShampooPoetry.com thus far. She's been writing fiction and poetry for a long time, and is starting to submit work more seriously now.
Great story. I think Rachel nailed the southern voice. Tough to follow at first but the cadence quickly takes hold and you feel like your sitting at a bible thumping gospel revival.