Caution: this is a work in progress; below is an excerpt from the unfinished blob that is my current writing project
Summer Break with Memaw
The higher branches provided a beautiful reprieve from the mid morning heat and as the pecan tree leaves rippled in the humid but welcomed breeze she thought she spotted another unicorn in the sky. Yes, that cloud was definitely a unicorn and the one behind it the castle the brave princess who rides that unicorn must live in. Andy shifted slightly, the dry, tiny canyons of the bark scratching her skin just enough to remind her how high up in the tree she was but she wanted just a few more seconds with Princess Penny and her beautiful unicorn. As the clouds eventually but lazily floated past her, her mind drifted along with them to far away places and all the adventures she wished she could have there. At least school was finally over and she felt overwhelmingly excited to stay with Memaw for a third of the break. Momma had agreed to an entire month, but only after Andy had endlessly begged and nagged Momma about it. She was certain Momma only said yes to finally shut her up. Andy needed that month more than anything and needed it for the same reason she spent so much time as far up in this old pecan tree as she dared to climb. She needed time away from her Momma, needed to escape her as often as possible. She felt anxiety clinch up her stomach with the thought. If Momma ever found out how much she loved being away from her, she’d never let Andy out of her sight again. Andy closed her eyes and as she pushed the thought deep down and hide it beneath the darkness inside her where all her other secrets lived. She popped her eyes open, blinked through the sunlight piercing through the pecan branches, gazed absentmindedly back at the sky, and started searching for another unicorn.
“Andalee Bordeaux,” she heard Momma holler out from the partially open door of their dingy, yellow and white trailer house front door. Andy’s insides leapt up like a Mexican Jumping Bean at the sound of Momma’s voice and she slowly turned her head away from the clouds towards the trailer house and saw her Momma’s intimidating, chunky frame commanding half the space between the doorway and the front concert steps. Andy also noted that look in her Momma’s eyes that made Andy freeze and wanna puke at the same time. Andy felt her stomach twist up like a pretzel, as the certainty of what was to follow hit her in the gut.
“You come down from that tree right now, young lady! I told you I didn’t want you outside until you finish your packing,” Momma angrily hollered up at Andy some more.
“I did finish packing, Momma,” Andy cautiously answered back as she lifted up on one elbow breaking her skin against the bark this time. She winced but didn’t dare check it now because she feared Momma might think she wasn’t paying close enough attention and that would just make matters even worse.
“If I have to tell you to climb out of that tree and come inside one more time, then you’ll be bringing ‘long a switch with you on the way down for me to whop you with,” Momma threateningly bellowed as she whipped her arm up to point a stern finger in Andy’s direction adding visual emphasizes to each of her angry words.
“And you can forget about staying with your Memaw this summer too,” Momma added to ensure Andy had no doubts about how angry she was.
“Yes, ma’am! I’m climbing down right now, Momma. I’m sorry, Momma! I’m climbing down right now,” Andy rushed to exclaim as tears begin to sting her fearful eyes.
Andy heard Momma slam the trailer door so she shifted off the branch she’d been so peacefully dreaming on and began her descent out of the safety and freedom of her pecan tree, which Andy lamented over the short time she’d been up there before the calamity with Momma ensued as she started making her way back down to reality. Climbing out of the tree took significant effort as Andy’s hands had begun to tremble and sweat. She nearly slipped several times, but luckily her bare feet landed on the silky, cool, green grass beneath the shade of the old tree this time without falling and she managed to miss landing on any pecans too! She was no stranger to falling out of trees however and often did. Falling on her back always knocked the wind out of her and took all her power to keep from crying like a little girl. She hated crying but rarely was able to keep from it. Andy paused for a moment twisting her arm around to get a look at her freshly scraped elbow. It wasn’t too bad but there was a bit of dried blood already forming a scab over the cut. Andy sucked her current tears back successfully, forgot about her stinging elbow, and bounded off in a sprint towards their trailer house. She opened the door, panting with sweat dripping down her dusty face. The cold breeze from the a/c unit in the living room window sent an ominous shiver down her spine, as she blocked out the last of the sunlight with the soft thud of the front door closing. It took several moments for her eyes to adjust to the low lighting of the trailer house. Momma covered every window in the trailer with tinfoil as soon as the Texas heat set in to help keep the electric bill from getting too pricey. So Andy stood planted in place allowing her pupils to enlarge exposing less of her sweet but sad hazel eyes just long enough to piss Momma off again.
“Andalee, what the hell are you doing? Get in this bedroom right now,” Momma shouted down the hallway at her.
“Don’t make me have to tell your daddy how you wouldn’t mind me today when he gets home from work either,” she yelled at Andy just for good measure.
Andy bolted into as fast a pace as she dared inside, being sure not to break any additional rules, toward her bedroom feeling her stomach clinch up again and didn’t even notice she was ringing her hands together, something that also pissed Momma off. She quickly walked into her bedroom, pausing cautiously in the doorway where she saw Momma yanking her clothes and books and the few favorite toys she had packed for her trip to Memaw’s out of the worn suitcase she’d left lying on top of her neatly made bed. Momma had instructed Andy to leave it there for inspection over the fried egg sandwich Momma gave her at breakfast this morning. Andy did just as she had been instructed to, or so she had thought anyway but there Momma was tossing Andy’s things angrily about her room. The clothes she had packed early this morning were now messily scattered about her bed, her books slipping off Andy’s white and purple striped comforter thudding on the dingy beige carpet floor of her bedroom, as Momma continue to empty the suitcase Andy had packed. Andy felt sick to her stomach and quite distraught as she watched this raging woman she called Momma pillaging through her suitcase. She wished Momma wouldn’t throw her stuff around like that, especially her books but Andy felt certain she was on thin ice and it was going to take a miracle to keep Momma from switching her already.
“I told you to pack your clothes in this bag neatly! And I told you to only pack what you needed! Didn’t I, Andalee,” Momma asked through clenched teeth as she finished empting the small, scuffed red suitcase and stomped closer to where Andy stood frozen in the bedroom doorway.
Andy began to tremble again, and as she prepared to answer Momma, she lowered her eyes and stared down at the ugly but impeccably clean carpet as hard as she could. She new if she looked Momma in the eyes for too long, Momma would accuse her of talking back and a switching would be inevitable.
“Yes, Ma’am, I thought that’s what I did. I thought I packed just like you told me to,” Andy said in a quiet but rushed and quivering voice.
“Well, you didn’t,” Momma yelled down at her. Andy didn’t dare left her head and slump her shoulders as well displaying as many signs of complete surrender as she could.
“Get over there and pack again and this time do as you’re told or you won’t be going,” Momma spat at her.
“Yes, Ma’am,” Andy whispered and walked over to her bed, with her eyes still clued to the floor and started picking up her clothes.
“You only need to pack five pairs of play clothes, two pairs of church clothes and five pairs of socks and underwear. Your Memaw can wash them and you can wear them again, understood”, Momma coldly instructed. Andy just could not understand why Momma was intrusting her to pack a week’s worth of clothes when Andy was going to be away for a month, but again Andy knew better than to inquire further.
“Yes, Ma’am,” Andy whispered again, her head still hung in defeat.
“Put the rest of those clothes back in your drawers and you better fold them and put them away neatly! And you are not bringing any toys or books,” Momma lorded over her.
Hearing the book ban, Andy felt a rush of anger flood over her and her entire face flushed hot and red for a few seconds before she could control herself. She forced the anger back down and slowly turned to around to face Momma, with a wad of crumpled clothes in her hands to keep from wringing them. Andy cautiously looked up, making bold and possibly dangerous eye contact with her Momma. She mustered up all the strength she had to find her voice and began, what Andy was certain was going to be a vain plea for her books.
“Momma, please let me bring my books. Please,” Andy gently pleaded with her mother. “I swear I won’t lose them or mess up any of the pages,” she continued begging, and Andy felt those pesky tears begin to sting her eyes again, but her books were worth the trouble.
“Don’t swear, Andalee,” Momma warned viciously, “It’s not Christian”. Andy hung her head again and stared back down into the carpet. In the moments of silence that hung between the two of them, Andy began wishing she could turn into a fire ant and crawl away as fast as she could through the fabric wonderland of the trailer toward the front door. A fire ant would be tiny and fast enough to scuttle away from Momma in a flash, and if Momma did happen to catch her ant Andy knew she could bite Momma and sting her real bad. An ant could scurry up all the way back to her favorite limb in the pecan tree too and then Andy could change back into a little girl again once safely hidden amongst its bountiful branches. Andy leapt against her own skin again as soon as she heard the sound of her Momma’s voice and the fire ant day dream instantly dissolved.
“You can bring three books, but I swear if you lose or ruin them I’ll take it out of your hide when you get back home and you’ll never stay the summer with your Memaw again!” In her usual fashion, Momma followed every permission Andy received with a threat of punishment.
“I promise I won’t lose or break them, Momma,” Andy truthfully assured her. Andy’s books were her most prized possessions and she’d never lost or ruined a single one in her entire life! She felt angry again that Momma would even think she’d do a thing like that to any of her books but since Momma was still starring her down Andy didn’t dare let her feelings show.
“Finish packing up just like I told you to this time or the trip is canceled, and you can forget about going back outside today, young lady since I had to waste my time telling you how to pack twice!” and with that Momma stomp out of her bedroom and back down the hallway towards the kitchen. Andy’s heart broke as she realized she was now stuck inside the house for the rest of the day.
As soon as Andy could hear what sounded like Momma pulling pots and pans out from the kitchen cabinets, she felt it safe enough to move her body again. Looking around at the mess Momma had made of her bedroom, Andy let out a long but quiet sigh of despair. Andy picked up her clothes and sorted out what she could bring and what she had to put away. Andy re-packed her suitcase with the exact number of outfits Momma had instructed her to and tried to be as neat about it as Momma would. She put away her toys next dropping them inside the handmade wooden toy box Daddy had built for her last Christmas. As she scanned her bedroom nervously assessing if it was tidy enough, Andy tried hard but she just couldn’t remember Momma telling her how many pairs of clothes to pack last night when she gave Andy her instructions during dinner. Andy was certain Momma had only said she needed to pack her bag before she went outside to play today. Since she was powerless to prove that to Momma, and knew it would just get her into more unwanted trouble, Andy pushed it out of her mind.
She slumped down onto her carpeted floor still quite disappointed that she wasn’t a fire ant, resting her small back against the side of her bed, and allowed several silent tears to rush down her thin, rosy pink checks. She let the tears flow as she listened to the sounds of Momma cooking her lunch through the thin trailer walls. Through watery eyes, she starred at her books trying to decide which of the three out of the four she had previously packed she still wanted to bring with her. It was so unfair and now she had to stay inside all day on top of everything!
“Lunch will be ready in 15 minutes and you better be finished packing by then,” Andy heard her Momma yell from the kitchen. From the smells drifting through the cool air into her bedroom, Andy guessed she was having Kraft macaroni and cheese with sliced barbeque hot dogs and a side of canned peas for lunch again. Momma’s menu didn’t rotate very often and since everything was bought on sale and in bulk, Andy usually had the same meals for breakfast and lunch all week long and sometimes two weeks in a row if the bargain was good enough. Dinner was better because Daddy was home then.
Andy quickly pulled her self back together and wiped away her tears. If Momma found out she’d been crying over re-packing she’d definitely cancel her trip to Memaw’s and she definitely did not want that to happen. Andy had left the devastating decision of which book she couldn’t bring for last. She was halfway through, Dear Donna’s Dreary Observations, and definitely wanted to bring that one along so she stood up and placed it neatly in her suitcase. Andy then stared back down, with her eyes torn between each of the other three books she had wanted to bring along. Anne of Green Gables, a classic Momma gave to her on her eighth birthday was by far one of her favorite books of all time. Andy had just received Heralds from the Land of Havilah as a gift from her school librarian and her Memaw had mailed her the brand new copy of, Felicity and the Fabulous Chingoteague Mustangs, the first book in a series she’d been dying to read as a gift for the good grades Andy made at school. She stood there deliberating as long as she dared hearing Momma now setting her plate at the table and finally decided. Andy reluctantly placed, Anne of Green Gables, back on her book shelf. She’d already read it twice but it was her favorite and she little a pang in her chest as she placed it alphabetically back on her bookshelf. She then neatly backed the other two books in her suitcase, closed it, and snapped the worn silver latches closed and hoped she really was finished backing this time.
“Your lunch is ready, Andalee.”, Momma said as she quickly popped her head around Andy’s doorway and then just as quickly disappeared back down the hallway. Andy nearly leapt out of her skin but immediately stood up and made a beeline for the kitchen.
Andy pulled the cheap but shiny metal chair out from under the retro red kitchen table and sat down as quietly as possible. Momma picked up Andy’s empty plate, walked back to the kitchen stove and portioned Andy’s lunch out for her. Momma then set it back next to her and poured Andy a glass of sweet iced tea. Momma then sat down across from Andy with her own plate and tea.
“You can go ahead and start eating now and you better not waste any.”, Momma instructed her.
“Yes, ma’am.”, Andy meekly replied and picked up her spoon. Andy finished her bland yet overly salted lunch without muttering a single word. She ate every bite on her plate, although her stomach was so full it hurt.
Once Momma had finished eating and then decided Andy’s plate was clean enough, she gave Andy permission to put her dishes away in the kitchen sink and return to her bedroom to play. Andy stood up, pushed her chair back under the table and cleared away her dishes. Once back in her room she grabbed, Anne of Green Gables, off her bookshelf and sank as deeply into the throw pillows on her bed as she could. She desperately wanted to hide between her pillows in hopes that she could avoid Momma’s attention again. If only she could go back outside and watch the clouds roll by some more! She let out a deep sigh and felt thankful that she in the least had her books to keep her company. Andy opened, Anne of Green Gables, to the first chapter, “Mrs. Rachel Lynde is Surprised” and began to read.
Andy paused and looking up from the familiar page she let the book gently close around her fingers as she laid it down on her lap. As it often did, Andy’s mind began to drift off into the great expansion of her imagination. She couldn’t wait to leave for Lafayette tomorrow morning and Andy was quite certain it would be difficult to fall asleep tonight. She decided to stay as still and quiet as she could for the rest of the afternoon and to be seen as little as possible once Daddy got home. She’d had a close enough call with Momma already, and couldn’t dare risk inflaming her wrath again. Andy wondered what delicious and naughty treats Memaw must be buying her right now! She wiggled her bare toes in excitement as she wondered over the surprises that lay in store for her tomorrow! How different her Daddy’s Momma was from her own. Memaw let Andy run about the streets and woods surrounding the small Louisiana neighborhood all day long and never expected Andy to check in.
When Andy had asked her grandmother why she was allowed to do this, Memaw had explained quite simply that she knew Andy would come home when she got hungry. Memaw always cooked all of Andy’s favorite foods too. Whatever Andy wanted and Memaw never denied any menu request she made. Andy ran the list of her requests she had prepared so far. She definitely wanted a crawfish boil, oh and a fish fry too with catfish and hushpuppies! Smoked brisket po-boys and all the gooey, cheesy nachos she could eat piled high with spicy, pickled jalapenos were also must haves! Andy also loved sitting at the breakfast table enjoying a cup of coffee Momma didn’t want her to have and a paper plate piled high with crispy bacon! Andy loved her Memaw more than anyone on the planet and always enjoyed spending time with her.
If Andy ever happened to do anything Memaw didn’t like, she would just sit Andy down on the sofa and gently and quietly explain to Andy how it was her responsibility to keep her safe and that respect and trust are two very fragile but necessary tools that anyone who wanted a happy life had to learn how to use properly. Yeah, Memaw was nothing like her Momma. Memaw’s favorite saying was, “Laissez le bon ton roulet!”, which is how you say “let the good times roll” in Louisiana. Momma’s favorite saying was, “Spare the rod, spoil the child.”, which was a quote from the only book Andy ever saw her Momma read, the Holy Bible. Sometimes Andy would fantasize about running away to live with Memaw forever and like with all Andy’s fantasies, it did help her feel better for a while. Andy quickly interrupted her own thoughts however ‘less Momma somehow read her mind through the trailer walls and quickly went back to her reading.
Andy’s hazel eyes fluttered lazily open, as the gentle rays of the early June sunrise stole through the off white blinds of the bedroom her Memaw had made up for her. She was tucked beneath bright red, blue, and white checkered sheets, her head sunken in the middle of an oversized Goose Feather pillow. She must have kicked the dark blue comforter off late last night when she’d gotten too hot because she saw it was now messily lumped over the 4th of July throw pillows her Memaw loved. She let out an involuntary sigh of relief realizing she didn’t have to worry about being perfect at Memaw’s house. Andy closed her eyes again and listened to the buzzing hum of Cicadas outside and new it was going to be a hot and humid day. Andy hadn’t minded the stick and sweat of the summer humidity one bit, as she’d been blissfully bounding about her Memaw’s small, mostly elder neighborhood for two weeks now. Andy spent from dawn to dusk romping about the woods and back roads with dirt circling rings around her neck and clumping between her bare toes. Today, she had plans to build a fort back in a small ravine she and Thomas Jackson Jr. had found while playing hide and seek in the back woods behind the neighborhood yesterday. The Cicadas buzzed louder as if encouraging Andy to play under the cool reprieve of the back woods. Andy sat up, grabbed Heralds from the Land of Havilah, and opened to chapter 15, “The Milkweed Map”, and started to devour each word as it leapt off the page and into her imagination.
“So, you’re awake. How’d ya sleep sugar,” her Memaw playfully asked from the doorway.
“Great! I had the coolest dream,” Andy exclaimed as she marked her place and set her book back on the nightstand.
“Is that right? Well, you come and tell your old Memaw all about it over breakfast. Coffee and bacon alright,” Memaw asked as she winked at her.
“You bet it is,” Andy excitedly replied as she leapt out of bed and followed after her grandmother to the small kitchen table.
Andy helped her self to an oversized cup of chicory coffee and loaded it up with sugar and hazelnut Coffee-Mate. She quickly stole a sip of the sugary Milky Way cup of caffeine before setting it down on the plastic fireworks placemat on the table. Andy went back to the kitchen counter and devilishly piled her paper plate with crisp, fried bacon. She sat down across from her Memaw at the worn and weathered wooden kitchen table her Papaw had built many years ago, and they both slowly sipped on their coffees for a few moments without speaking.
“So that dream you had, tell me about it,” Memaw prompted as she placed her mug of chicory coffee aside and began crunching on a thick slice of bacon.
“Well, I was walking down this old dirt road,” Andy began, “and I came upon this rock.” Andy went on to describe a fantastic tell of being swept to another dimension through the rock she’d stumbled upon where she had to battle a troll king to save a Princess and her enchanted kingdom from darkness and destruction. Memaw listened intently, and when Andy paused to munch on some bacon her grandmother kept the story going with questions she had about what might happen next. Andy loved telling stories with her Memaw. Momma never had the patience to listen to any of them. Once Andy had recounted her dream, embellishing the parts she couldn’t remember, Memaw helped her clean up the kitchen and then encouraged Andy to go out and play. Andy went back to her bedroom, changed into a pair of cut of shorts, an ancient and faded She-Ra Princess of Power T-shirt, and slipped on a pair of blown out flip flops she’d most likely lose before the day was over before heading out to play. On her way to the front door she heard her Memaw burst into another coughing fit. She quickly made her way to the kitchen and brought a glass of ice water to the living room sofa where her grandmother sat hacking her lungs up.
“You okay Memaw,” Andy asked with the concern evident in her voice as she handed her grandmother the glass of cold water.
“Oh sugar you don’t worry about me one bit,” Memaw shakily yet firmly exclaimed through ragged gasps of breath and took a long drink of the water Andy handed to her. Andy watched intently as her grandmother tried to shrug off the cough in an attempt to spare Andy any worry but it wasn’t working. So Memaw sat up straighter and smiled purposefully her eyes a tango of sadness and evasiveness.
“I’ve been coughing like this for a couple of days is all. Probably just my asthma acting up again and that’s another reason not to smoke any cigarettes young lady! Just look what they do,” Memaw gently cautioned her.
“You don’t look so good, though,” Andy continued anyway. She reached out and put a loving hand on her Memaw’s forehead. Memaw’s skin was hot to the touch but clammy at the same time.
“Maybe you should go to the doctor,” Andy urged, “and get a check up just to make sure.”
“Nonsense, Andy. I told you it’s just the old asthma acting up again. Nothing for you to worry your pretty little head about sugar, I promise,” Memaw reassured Andy. Seeing the creases on Andy’s brown stubbornly remain Memaw continued.
“Look if it will make you feel better, I promise if I start to feel any worse I will go to the doctor, ok,” Memaw compromised.
“Ok, that does make me feel better,” Andy replied genuinely.
“Now you go out and build that fort with Thomas and you two have fun,” Memaw instructed and then turned Andy around to face the front door, gave her bottom a playful swat, and gently nudged Andy toward the door.
Andy paused with the cold, metal door handle in her hand, let go of it, and then turned and gave her Memaw one final bear hug before heading out to play.