Wednesday, September 19, 2018

The Hill St. Hillbillies

Reproduced from my op-ed in The North Gwinnett Voice 
Tuesday, September 18, 2018

After the divorce in 1960, Daddy went to live with his mommy on S Alexander, and Mama moved us in with her hillbilly folks on Hill St.

Papa Dorsey’s ancestors were French people who angelized their name once they reached the New World. That family may have been the D’Orseys who fled Orsay in Seine-et-Orme, France, in the 17th  Century, for religious freedom.

Papa grew up with a gaggle of siblings in a little farm in the mountains. The girls slept in the loft year-round. In summer, the boys slept in the barn. Come winter, they slept inside on pallets thrown around the hearth.

Mama Dorsey’s parents were railroad people. Her ancestors were Irish folk who bucked propriety and married up with the loin-clout set. William Sullivan immigrated to Virginia in the 16th Century. A grandson, Daniel, fought with Gen. George Washington during the American Revolution. Mary Tapscott Dailey married Brigadier Gen. George Crook, who fought Crazy Horse at Rosebud Creek, in 1776, days before he laid some karma on Yellow Hair and the 7th Cavalry at the Little Bighorn. Mama Dorsey’s father was a hunter- fisherman, who loved buttered coffee. He sprang from the warrior, Stand Ridge, of the Cherokee Nation.

My grandparents were childhood sweethearts who walked over Walker’s Mountain to and from school every day. They eloped at sixteen, on Christmas Eve 1932, and stayed together through hell and high cotton until his death in 1987.

They moved from White County to Buford about 1951. He was a saddlemaker for Bona Allen. She was a housewife for some time before she too went to work for Old Bony. They were so poor that she had to borrow a pair of shoes until her first paycheck.

He slept under seven or nine blankets year-round and made a supper of cornbread and milk all the days I knew him. She was famous for her “frash” coconut cake and baked the bestest biscuits in fifty states. She thought Gladys Wiggins Doster was odd, or as she put it “quare.” If it hadn’t been for my grandparents, we girls would never have been aboard that iron horse that day when the Indians attacked the train at Stone Mountain or enjoyed the rapture of riding a half-dead Shetland Pony Merry-Go-Round on the Blue Ridge.

Kat Allgood taught Mama Dorsey how to drive. Her good friend Sheriff JW Dodd issued her a license with nary a pesky written exam or driving test, just “Here ya go!” Having a car came in handy for running up the guide wire on Bona Allen Curve and stopping on a dime at the edge of the drop off on S Harris St. behind the old Buford High School gym, when we weren’t  visiting her folks in Lula and going to the Buford Drive-in on Hwy 20 in Sugar Hill for an evening of bingo, popcorn, CocaColers, and Elvis.

She was little, but she was mighty. She slapped a Neanderthal across the face for threatening Aunt Pam and   faced off  Mama for the way Mama treated us. She saved my sanity.

They were Eastman Reggie “ER” and Aline Standridge Dorsey. They were my Mama and my Papa.  In a perfect world they would have been my parents.

Monday, September 10, 2018

The Poser

Reproduced from my op-ed in The North Gwinnett Voice
When General Lee threw down his sword at Appomattox, Jesse James and his band of rogue Rebels went to robbing trains and banks. With the law on their hindermost part, two of the outlaws, the Wiggins Brothers, escaped into the Llano Estacado in West Texas. One got a prickly pear thorn in his butt and died from blood poisoning. The other brother thought it best to skedaddle to Georgia. Unfortunately. My grandfather, Armon Wiggins, was a kinsman.
His wife, Gladys’s background is mostly a mystery I’m not interested in solving. I met her mother once. Gladys was a Thrasher. She was a witch with a capital B.  Her brother Roy and his family were the salt of the earth. Lloyd, who sang with Eddie Albert, was friendly. The others were a pack of impenitent snoots who hated Mama and didn’t claim we girls, and I didn’t give a flipping plug nickel.
Papa and Gladys owned land and a little house below Holland’s Sausage on Bogan Rd. Like Mama’s folks, they worked at Bona Allen Harness Shop. They expected Daddy to have supper on the table when they got home. He had to stand on a chair to reach the stove to do it. Papa disappeared into Texas a week at a time, and I don’t blame him. Gladys thought she was Queen Elizabeth III, and everybody better bow, baby.
Daddy quit school and was drafted into the US Army during the Korean Conflict. Upon discharge, he too went to work for Old Bony.  Daddy was lonely. So one of the mothers fixed him up with Mama. It was a match made in hell from the get go, so they eloped and kept it a secret for three weeks.
One night Mama and Daddy were raising cain on the wall phone. Mama Dorsey grabbed the receiver.
“Jimmy! Quit fussing at my daughter!”
“She’s my wife! I’ll fuss with her if I want to!”
Mama Dorsey dropped the phone.
When she found out about the marriage, Gladys went for the throat.
“You better not have a baby!”
I was born about fourteen months later.
Mama shared a room in Hutchens Memorial with a friend.  Gladys walked in with gifts for Pearl’s baby boy and nothing for me. Dirty diapers compounded Mama’s washing, which she had to do by hand. When she allowed as how she’d love to have a washing machine, Gladys allowed as how she didn’t need one.
I’ve no doubt she loved Daddy and perhaps felt obliged to recognize one of his children, and because I came along first, I was it. One afternoon, she showed up with her towering, frosted rat’s nest and ruby red lips on Shadburn Ave., bearing the only birthday cake she ever baked for me. She eventually gave me a bag of candy and one of those animal pajama bags. That was it, ever. She gave my two baby sisters the sum total of zero. Years later she denied the three of us were her granddaughters.
Even as a bitty little girl I knew Gladys didn’t love me. She was a poser who’d smack her wrinkly ruby-red maw on my lips, stand back and look me in the eye. I think she enjoyed the disgusted look on my little face.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Miserable in Style

Reproduced from my op-ed in The North Gwinnett Voice

On one of those days when there was shiny yellow in the black on the lake,  we came close to becoming nom noms for giant catfish…

One of the things that didn't get it with me at the lake was the drink situation. They never skimped on food. Coffee, biscuits and sausage or bacon and pancakes at breakfast. Sandwiches for lunch and dinner and on rare Saturday nights pork chops. But, we girls were allowed only a certain number of cans of Coke per day while Mama and Daddy sat around quaffing tallboy Budweisers. No matter how much they drank it was never enough, and there was never enough money to buy more. So, a light bulb went off in Mama’s head, as it did every decade or so. She ditched the Real Thing and bought a case of several flavors of the bitter-tasting canned counterfeit swill.

When we camped alone or with the wrong kind of friends, they would get sick-drunk, and the safety of my baby sisters hinged on me. I didn’t mind. I was old in the womb.
It was a different situ when the good folks were around. You couldn’t find better people than their close friends and our family. One Sunday we were pooting around the Dam with Tony and Jalaine Smith when we surfed up on a rogue wave and almost capsized.  Daddy somehow kept us afloat, denying the giant catfish below a tasty sweet tater Cindy nom nom.

Mama and Daddy thereafter were reluctant to take the boat out among the jam of cabin cruisers and houseboats and scoundrel combers. That  September, Daddy traded the V-hull for a W at Kelly’s Marina boat dealership between Flowery Branch and Buford Hwy. The boat had a white hull, baby-blue interior, Evinrude kicker, and a wee locker which Daddy was delirious about. How  they pulled that it off on a the a Sunday in that pre-electronic era is disgusting, but the paperwork was a done-deal by 6 pm they loaded up their new toy and off we went.

Night fell. It turned cold. We got lost. Naturally. Daddy went zipping in and out of coves, trying to find the dock where our car was parked. He would slip alongside houseboats.

“Ahoy there!” he’d shout and ask for directions.

One captain looked at him as if he were crazy.  I was so embarrassed I wanted to jump into Daddy’s prized locker and slam the hatch. The temp went from cold to frosty, and Mama made we girls drink Schlitz Malt licker to keep warm  Daddy finally found the right cove, but lake weeds got tangled in the propeller. Doo wat ditty ditty. He had to jump overboard and free it up.

They were so thrilled with the new boat that they dumped the tent and bought a spanking brand new tow camper trailer so I could be miserable in style.
What really fries my grits even today is the fact they couldn’t figure out why I hated the lake so much.

“Most kids would give their eyeteeth for just a single campout.” Daddy would admonish me.

La dee da.

I am persuaded they were too wrapped up in their pleasure to see what they were doing to us.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

That Big Mud Puddle

Reproduced from my op-ed in The North Gwinnett Voice

Our itty bitty angel and her fifty-pound pockerbook flew off Gaines Ferry Rd. and gathered us beneath the shadow of her wings…

Our life on the lake started out miserably enough back when McEver Rd. was barely wide enough for two cars to pass in opposite directions, and Lake Lanier had muddy shores and stagnant coves. At first, we’d just stand on a bank, watching the water in case it decided to run off somewhere. Then we progressed to walking around the shores. One afternoon, Daddy threw me in, and here I am. He tried to teach Mama how to drive on campsite access roads. That lasted about as long as it took for her to realize she actually had to turn that Bug’s wheel or roll off a curve.
One night, we attended a dance at some marina hall. Vickie and I were as shy as two wallflowers at a moonshine hoedown.

“If ya’ll don’t get out there and dance. I won’t let ya’ll go back to church.”

So we danced.

Friday evenings, while Mama worked at the Lumite Plant, Daddy would pack a picnic supper, grab his fishing gear, and off  we’d go to the west bank. While he dangled his hook, I sat at the table, watching my little sisters, wishing I was sitting cross-legged in my backyard, eating grass.

By the by daddy would dump charcoal into the conveniently provided grill on a stick. While the flames settled, he sat across from me, chopping onions and patting out hamburger patties. When the coals were but glowing orange embers and white ash, he laid  the meat on so I could soon eat and ditch that big mud puddle.

When they bought the V-hull boat, we’d anchor in a some little cove and fish and eat potted meat and potato chip sandwiches or poot across the dam  with their friends and family. Those were glad days because my parents behaved in public. But all bets were off behind doors, under the boat hood. and inside the car where snarling thunderheads blackened the sun shining outside the windows.

I did everything I could to get out of going. I attended Sunday morning services at the Buford Church of God or spent weekends at Teresa Hill’s family homestead in the mountains or nights at Papa and Mama Dorsey’s house. A few times they took me on outings to Mossy Creek, Cleveland, or Blairsville to see my hillbilly kinfolk.

One Sunday afternoon, after they bought the W-hull, we were docked at Van Pugh. Mama and Daddy were as drunk as a sailor and his fishwife. He had gone to tow the camper home while Mama and we three girls cooled our heels in the boat. She might have seen him coming and spewed some select words at him that I didn’t catch--all I know is he popped aboard out of nowhere and started strangling her.

And Voilá! our itty bitty angel with her 50-pound pockerbook flew off Gaines Ferry Road, crawled Mama and Daddy’s butt and snatched us home with her.

I once asked my Aunt Mildred how Mama Dorsey knew we were in trouble. Heranswer? She just knew. 

Sunday, July 29, 2018

South Down and Bound

Reproduced from my op-ed in The North Gwinnett Voice

Mama came tearing toward me, arms waving, “THROW IT! THROW IT!” I threw it, and we scrambled…

Mama had to just about put Daddy’s .22 revolver to his forehead before he’d take us anywhere. She strong-armed a trip to Tennessee where we bought a skunk. The Cherokee Indian Reservation where Vickie was terrified of losing her hair.  And Six Flags where Mama tried to trick Daddy into riding a winky-dink roller coaster. When the jig was up, he looked as if he’d dodged a bullet thrown down by one of his Texas outlaw ancestors.

Never heard a boo about shopping for food at Burel’s or for camping gear down toward Atlanter, of course, because there was something in it for him, whereas he didn’t benefit from mini tent dresses, kitten heels, pocketbooks, or school supplies. But it was either take us or fly the coop, and his wings were merely disgruntled flappers in the sixties.

I hated school with a passion felt only by those who are invisible or bullied. Yet, shopping for the supplies tickled the screaming daylights out of me. Eating out ran a close second. If we were headed to Lakeshore Mall in Gainesville, we ate Whoppers and Big Macs down toward Atlanter.

Late one August afternoon, we piled into the car and headed south down and bound. About halfway to our destination, I looked out the window and saw a car wheeling tandem with us. It did not have a driver. My jaw dropped into my lap.

“Straighten out back there!” Daddy ordered.

“Jimmy, something’s wrong with her.”

About that time Daddy pulled a little ahead of the car. When I saw it was being towed by a chain, I broke out into hysterical gales of giggles. I’m sure straightjackets and Milledgeville were dancing in Daddy’s head.

By the by, Daddy turned off the highway onto a bridge and rolled over a humongous dead German Shepherd. It was like thumping over a speed bump. We managed to park in the lot without me seeing a driverless shoe or Daddy rolling over a dead elephant.
Anybody could walk in off the lot and purchase stuff for cash money at the GEX Department Store, but you had to be working under a government contract to qualify for a membership credit card. That season, the Lumite Plant was making fabric barriers for Uncle Sam. VoilĂ ! another card pending max-out. My parents acted like they were A-list members of the University Yacht Club.

We walked inside and scattered. I turned left and went racing up and down the two aisles, snapping up pencils, Bic ballpoint pens, dividers, filler paper, ringed and spiral notebooks, when Mama shot out of nowhere, arms waving like a turboprop propeller minus four blades. Her face was a replica of Munch's Scream.


I threw my school supplies every which way, and we scrambled into the hokey pokey toward the double doors. Bomb threat, that’s what it was all about.  To keep out of harm’s way, we did what school children did in the same situation. We stood out of harm’s way against the outside walls.

Friday, July 13, 2018

The Shadburn Shadow

By Cindy Wiggins Tapia

Reproduced from my op-ed in The North Gwinnett Voice

I’ve seen and heard things that would scare the fur off Chewbacca, but nothing--and I do mean not one dang thang, ghost or the Incredible Hulk come to call — ever scared me as bad as the Shadburn Shadow…

We were living in the company house across Moreno St. from the car wash and Couch’s Holiday Supermarket when Daddy lost his job at Tandy and went to work reading meters for the Gwinnett Co. Water Dept. We were eventually evicted and fetched up in the little bungalow on the corner of E Shadburn Ave. and N. Alexander St.

It was the nicest house we’d ever rented — hardwood floors, salmon-colored paneling, and two working fireplaces, which Mama refused to use, because she could not tolerate ashes in the fire bed and soot on the floor. The previous tenant failed Mama’s white-glove test, so Vickie and I spent a week of evenings on our hands and knees scrubbing the area around the hearth.

“I like to keep a clean house, because it makes me feel better about the way I treat ya’ll.” Don’t that make you wanna roll your eyes, though?

The chimneys lacked covers, and some afternoons, Vickie and I would come in from school to swifts flying around inside. We’d throw up our arms and run screaming bloody murder back out the front door. One night a little pink hatchling fell onto Mama’s immaculate fire bed. No worries. She drowned it in her immaculate toilet bowl. (She also drowned rats. A friend advised me to stay on her good side.)

I was supposed to start university September 1974, but something about my scholarship went blooey, and it was rescheduled for June 1975. In the meantime, I decided to baby-sit varmints. One stinker liked to rub his booger nose back and forth across my shirt. One ate dry dog food. Another peed the rug in front of the counter in Tom’s Shoe Store. I didn’t enjoy keeping rug rats, but it kept me in Dairy Queen cheeseburger baskets and Coca-Colers.

One morning, while Mama was at work at Loveable, Renay was asleep, Vickie was keeping Harry, Larry, and Sherry Lynn at their big house down on Bell St., me and my crew of diapers and training drawers were sacked out in front of the TV, watching cartoons, when somebody thundered a fist against the front door.

I hopped off that recliner and dropped to the floor as if ducking cannonballs, crawled over to the little windows beside the door, looked up and saw a huge shadow falling against the white sheer. It was gathering a rope in its hands. I crawled to the bureau in the next room to call the cavalry.

The Buford City Police dispatcher asked the usual questions.

“There’s a man on my front porch fixing to strangle me!”

Tillman and Mary Bell
Courtesy  G Trumayne Bell
Renay woke up and took off running through the woods at the edge of the yard to Mrs. Sudderth’s house. Renay was back in a few minutes with the lowdown.

“Never mind,” I said to the dispatcher and hung up.

I opened the front door and there, with an orange drop cord wrapped around one hand, stood Tillman Bell needing to plug the cord in so he could fix our front porch.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

My Growing Up Buford op-ed in The North Gwinnett Voice made the top list of articles for the 2017 - 2018 year!

 The Voice began printing a column titled Growing Up Buford authored by Buford resident, Cindy Wiggins Tapia.  Her raw stories about what life was like for her growing up in Buford. Her tales are intimate and vulnerable with a bit of wit and humor mixed in.  
Awesome! Thanks Jessica Wilson, Publisher & Alicia Couch Payne, Managing Editor