Saturday, November 4, 2017

Cassiopeia Strawberry John

                                                   Cassiopeia Strawberry John

I must a been about two.  I figure I was two because I could remember things and Mama said little folks don't remember too right until they can talk and put words to people and things around them.  Mama knows a lot which would make you think she wasn't right for Daddy—dim as he is—but Mama said Daddy got good sense about patterns.  He can't figure the pattern or sound of letters on a page, but he can sure look at this and that and see how they's connected.  He can fix a lawnmower, a transmission, a clock, a door, a television, anything.  He can and I know he can because I seen him do it.  Anything ever go kaput, Daddy just smile at it and shake his head and go wrestle up his tool belt.  He don't say nothing neither, just take that broken thing into that shed with him, bang metal against wood all day and night with that bright light peeking under the door, and come out with whatever it was broke buzzing and singing like brand new.  He can't read no instructions, but everybody in Midland come to him for fixing things.  He keep money in his pocket--which is just fine by me and Mama.  She say a man gotta have something to make him not try too hard to be a man; thinking about being a man make a man no good. I don't know what that means, but my daddy is good and got plenty of something besides dim wits.
Mama say Daddy is a tree and I'm his cutting.  Me and Daddy stay in each other's shadow now, but it ain't always been that way.  I didn't see him til I was five.  That War had him in a fit, Mama said.  He couldn't come back around until he could shake it off right.  She said he woulda killed somebody here stateside if'n he hadn't stayed away to get his head back right.  While Daddy was gone, me and Mama stayed at Grandma and Granddaddy's with all the rest of the Castleberry clan, all five of my uncles and aunties spread out in that big ole house—Granddaddy built it. Shaped like an L, light blue and white and made of wood and a touch of Granddaddy’s hands.

Standing in the Castleberry yard, before I became a John through and through, I got a taste of confusion that big Time would straighten out for me way down the road. That taste didn't subside til I got sense enough to know that everybody don't tell the truth.  And a lie seem sometime like the most right thing.

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Grandma always whistle when she walks through the house.  I don't know what song, but it starts with one long, clear note that trails off and vibrates like the end of her favorite Louis Armstrong song. … “What a wonderful worlllllddd…” And she keep it cool.  She don't never get too riled up about things.  My grandma is cool as they come.  Between her and Granddaddy, I don't know which more icy.  Nothing rattle them too much.  Like to keep things slow and bubbling low, like that pot of brown beans Grandma cook all day and serve up with a skillet of crisco-right white buttermilk cornbread. You know she coming because that slow whining whistle come down the hall ahead of her and that yapping noise behind her, Skip.
Skip is a tiny little black and white half dog.  Little wiggly black tail and little doggy toenails.  He prances around the house like he's everybody's best friend and you might owe him twenty dollars.  He get that way from Grandma.  He know won't nobody fringe on his day because he got Grandma for his best tight friend.
From the time I start walking and moving on my own, I play with Skip and start to call him Skippy because I want him to be my friend, even though I know me and him won't be like him and Grandma.  But me and Skip get to be friendly.  I tap my fat baby thigh like I can't control my hand quite right and say, “Tum 'ere, Tippy. Tum 'ere.”  Then I walk around and grab some of his little doggy biscuits from under the cabinet and say it again, “Tum 'ere, Tippy.”  I let him eat from my hand, then wipe my fingers in the rug in front of the sink. I ain't never like slobber of any sort.
Me and Tippy start to be friends.  I wake up in the morning looking for my bottle and Tippy.  I sit on the stoop in the den, drink my bottle and pour the milk inside onto my bowl of Frosty Flakes-- Tippy sits beside me chewing on a hard doggy biscuit, Grandma on the couch, cussing at the man on the TV.  So many of them named Bastard, I get confused.  When Mama wakes up to give me my bath, Skippy follows us and comes to sit in the floor and watches Mama soap me up and rinse me clean.  I'm in my towel, she drying me off and she tells Skippy, “gone dog, shew.”  Skippy trot back to Grandma in the den.
My whole day I go on about my business looking at stuff and touching stuff and shaking my head and listening to my uncles and aunties and Grandma talking about draft and War and lemon cookies and mosquitoes.  I fall asleep under Mama when the sun in the sky go down and that city light in the street starts to blinking.  I fall asleep ready to wake up with Skippy and my milk bottle and my morning Frosty Flakes.
That old man across the yard got roosters who wake you up.  “Err-er-errr-er-h errrrrrrr!”  They do like that and I wake up every day before Mama roll over reaching for me. I see Grandma on her couch, talking to the TV already and am 'bout to say, “Ma, I 'wonta eat,” but can't because this long eeerrrrrrrrrhhhhhh rips in front of the house right before a BANg!
Everybody jump and I don't know what. My aunties and uncles pull on they pajama strings, Grandma ties up her robe and everybody peek scared outside.  Auntie Dutch says, “Oh Lord,” and opens the door so the whole house can spill out behind her.  I'm forgetting about asking for my cereal and my milk bottle and following them.  I walk up behind my Auntie Dutch and peek through her locked yellow legs. Standing in front of a big black tire, a oatmeal-faced man holding his hat to his titties.  I almost missed Skippy that morning, but he in the grass, wobbling his head up and back like he was wanting for something.
“Here I am Skip,” blood on his ear and his eyes didn't look like his.  I start slapping my fat baby thigh, “Here, Tippy.  Here, Tippy.”  Aunt Dutch glance at my other auntie and Grandma, then tell me, “That ain't Skip, baby.  That dog's from down the road.” I look down the road and see nothing but more road.
Mama come up behind me and lift me into the house.  I don't remember no bath no breakfast no talking and no sleeping from that day.  But I know my next morning start with me on the stoop with my milk bottle and Frosty Flakes, Grandma on her couch not fussing at the TV, and a empty space between the two of  us.

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One day I stopped looking for Skip, I guess, but wondered for a long time how the people down  the road had the exact same dog as my grandma.  About my baby's business I went.  And every once in a while a thought about Skippy would come to me, especially when I caught a glimpse of Grandma's tipped up sparkly genie slippers.  Soft slippers, like my grandma's hand.  Opposite of my shoes.  Mama believed big white bucks best for training a baby's feet straight and strong; so I kept a pair on my feet 'til I turned three. I ain't never had no problem walking.  Especially away from things.
It started then, after I searched down North Spruce street and didn't see Skip no more.  I stood at the edge of the Castleberry yard with all that sharp grass scratching my ankle bones and started to wonder what else I might need to figure out for myself.  A lie might make you know not to listen to nobody.  And I didn't.  Might not have been the best way to come up, but I did figure a lot out one thing at a time:  like that sometime you can't tell a dream from what was real. I still, even today, got dreams that's mixed up with real life.

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