Monday, June 30, 2008

Laura Jean Waits for Miss Betsy

Now little one
Let me tell you a story about my mama’s mama.
She was a little girl named Laura Jean.

Her Nanny used to say to her,
“Laura Jean,
don’t let them call you Laura.
Don’t let them call you Jean.
Your name is Laura Jean
because you’re a lady.”

One summer morning,
bright and sunny,
Laura Jean was playin’ in the back yard
behind the oleander bush
just below the magnolia tree.
She had gathered more than a handful of
magnolia leaves as big as dollar bills and was pretendin’
she was rich.

She had gathered up acorns
pinecones, several mud pies,
and two biscuits smuggled from breakfast.
Just like when Nanny went to Mr. Pemberton’s grocery
they sat there in neat little piles.
Laura Jean was talkin’ to an imaginary Mr. Pemberton.
with one hand on her hip
and one finger restin’ upon her chin-dimple,
she said as if she were a connoisseur of apples,
“Could the price of apples be any higher?”
“So, what do you have to say today,
Mr. Pemberton?
Any new gossip worth tellin’?”

Just then
right in the middle of Mr. Pemberton’s reply
the spring on the screen door scraped open
Nanny called out into the back yard.
“Lauraaaaaaaa Jeeeeean,
Uncle Billy and Miss Betsy are comin’ for dinner.”

Little one,
you may not have known this
but Laura Jean had a favorite uncle
and that was
Uncle Billy.
Now little one do you have a favorite uncle?
If you don’t, Uncle Billy might be your favorite uncle too.

You see,
Uncle Billy was Laura Jean’s favorite uncle ‘cause
he had the first car she ever did see.
This was before cars were so plentiful.
You’ve probably seen lots of cars,
but Laura Jean had only seen one car in her whole live long life of eight years and that was Uncle Billy’s Model T.
That car had a name,
the best name in all the world,
that is, for a car:
Miss Betsy.

Now little one,
the fact that Uncle Billy and Miss Betsy
were comin’ for dinner
was the best news there ever was.

Laura Jean hopped up,
scattered the magnolia leaves,
and ran through the house.
Back door to front,
faster than a sneeze.

Little one it wasn’t even lunchtime
and Laura Jean was already sittin’
on that front porch
rockin’ and a swingin’ away
with the back of that ole swing knock knockin’ against the house.

Nanny came out the front door ‘cause of the racket
and looked at Laura Jean
like she had two heads,
or lost her mind, and said,
“Laura Jean, what you doin’?
Uncle Billy and Miss Betsy won’t be here till suppertime.”

Little one, did Laura Jean hear Nanny?
She did not.
She wasn’t further than your hand to your nose, but
Laura Jean was so intent on the front gate
down the end of the road,
and Uncle Billy and Miss Betsy’s arrival
you’da thought you were talkin’ to a rock.

Nanny waved her hand at her,
and went back inside,
screen door slammin’,
and left Laura Jean
rockin’ and a swingin’ and
knock knockin’ against that house.

Later Nanny came out with lunch and
offered an American cheese and jelly sandwich
(Laura Jean’s favorite) on white bread
with a bowl of syrupy peaches
to the World Swing Champion.

Did Laura Jean touch her lunch?
She did not.
Laura Jean sat there rockin’ and swingin’
starin’ at the gate as if she could make
Uncle Billy and Miss Betsy appear by her sheer will.

Now little one, you and I both know
that when Laura Jean gets somethin’ in her head
it was stuck there good.
And it takes an awful lot to change it.
As if you ever could.

Later that afternoon,
Nanny came out with a snack
fearin’ Laura Jean was gonna waste away
from lack of food
and an overabundance of swingin’
and offered a snack of peanut butter on saltine crackers
with a glass of fresh squeezed lemonade.

Did Laura Jean even touch those crackers?
Or sip that lemonade?
She did not.
Laura Jean sat there rockin’ and swingin’,
with her black hair full of wind and ideas,
pigtails swingin’
back and forth,
waitin’ for Uncle Billy and Miss Betsy,
and the spectacle to come.

Now, little one, just about the time Laura Jean was gonna fall asleep
having rocked halfway around the world on that swing.
Uncle Billy pulled through the gate in Miss Betsy.

You know what he did?
Do you little one?
Uncle Billy got out of that car.
He closed the door
leaving Miss Betsy coughin’ and sputterin’
and he stood there like the President himself
and waved his hat in the air
at Laura Jean up on the front porch.

“Hidee doo, Lauraaaaa Jean,” he hollered.
Laura Jean stopped swingin’ and stared
Mouth open catchn’ flies
Eyes poppin’ out with excitement.

Then, takin’ his time
Uncle Billy turned to Miss Betsy and he said,
“Miss Betsy lets go see my favorite little girl
Laura Jean.”
Miss Betsy spewed a cloud of gray smoke and coughed a little
As if replyin’ to Uncle Billy in the affirmative.

And, you know what, little one?
Uncle Billy turned,
tapped Miss Betsy’s front tire,
and began walkin’ up that road
just as if it was every day you saw Uncle Billy and Miss Betsy
comin’ up your driveway to your house.

Do you know, little one what happened next?
Do you?
Miss Betsy began to follow Uncle Billy up that road.
That car followed Uncle Billy.
Right up that road!

And, was that road straight, little one?
It was not.
It was crooked,
as crooked as you ever saw.

When Miss Betsy come to the crook in that crooked road
she coughed and spluttered somethin’ terrible
wheezin’ and cryin’ out, bellowin’ smoke.

You know what happened next?
I didn’t believe it when I first heard it,
but I come to find out it is true
not by the sheer nonsense of the tellin’
but I knew it was true inside my heart.

At that crook in the crooked road
with Miss Betsy scared to go further
Uncle Billy would turn and reach down
give that tire a pat with is hand and say,
“It’s okay Miss Betsy
you just follow me.
You just follow ole’ Uncle Billy
and we’ll go see Miss Laura Jean.

You know, little one,
Miss Betsy would just turn and follow Uncle Billy
right up that crooked crooked, road.

And the whole time
Laura Jean sat right on the very edge of that swing
not movin’, not breathin’, not blinkin’
watchin’ Uncle Billy and Miss Betsy a coming right up to the front door.

And when Uncle Billy did arrive
he turned to Miss Betsy and said,
“That’s a good girl, Miss Betsy.”
And Miss Betsy gave out one last cough,
practically collapsing,
and would blow a geyser of steam out just for show and pity.

Laura Jean launched herself off that swing
practically landin’ in Uncle Billy’s arms.
She gave Miss Betsy a pat.
And stuck to Uncle Billy like gum in your hair
asking nonstop questions about Miss Betsy
till long after supper,
long after Nanny tired of gettin’ a word in
and until Uncle Billy and Miss Betsy
found their way back down that crooked road.
Their lights vanishin’ in the night,
Laura Jean watched the exodus from her window upstairs.

After all, wouldn’t you, little one?
Wouldn’t you watch Uncle Billy and Miss Betsy?
I bet you would.

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