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

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Homeless With Hardware

Reproduced from my op-ed in The North Gwinnett Voice 

My summers would’ve been less a hell had my parents been Ward and June Cleaver, or had the Army Corps of Engineers built the dam and its Lake Lanier reservoir higher on the Hooch--say,  in Union County…

When the bell rang at the end of the school year, I fled the building like an inmate breaking out of death row.  

I dreamed of attending the 4-H summer camp at Rock Eagle, but was content with the odd week in Tennessee, picnics and swimming at the Buford Church of God Campgrounds in Doraville, and what fun I could dig up around Btown. 

Susan Dollar and I made good use of the library’s reading club, and the board games Mrs. Foreman kept handy. We haunted the cosmetic counter at Jay’s, flipped through comics at Garner’s, bought popcorn at Fambro’s--or ice cream cones at Simpson’s down the street--and dreamed on toys at Allen’s Five and Ten.  

Other days we wandered around my backyard, eating grass, talking about boys and the end of the world, or regaling the hood with football cheers. We wove potholders and peddled them door-to-door for twenty-five cents a pop. Mrs. Foreman always bought a couple, and I know Mrs. Cain bought at least one. We blew the money on Cokes, Baby Ruths, and Doublemint gum at Shoemake’s.  My dream was to open a candy stand on Hill Street. We’d buy nickel candy bars and sell them for twenty-five cents each.

Then came the used speedboat and the tent, and my family spent every weekend and two weeks during Fourth of July  on Lake Lanier. I spent those days floating around a cove, pretending I was on a sailboat, talking to an invisible guy, or crouched down somewhere in fear and loathing. 

We lived in a dump; daddy drove a junk, but they traded the V-hull boat for a brand new W-hull, bought a camper, portable oven for biscuits, griddle for pancakes, and every kind of doohickey, doofer, and doodad they could max their credit cards out on. It was like being homeless with hardware--or amid props for their violent fight scenes. 

One bout sticks out. We camped out with friends on an island off what eventually became West Bank Park. We girls ate and went to sleep to a hoedown of picking and drinking and woke to a screaming nightmare.

Mama had caught Daddy walking on the beach with another woman and flew into a rage. She slung mud on them to get even, as you do. And for kicks and giggles, she threw an innocent man’s guitar in the lake. Finally, Daddy got muddied up enough, cranked up the boat, and lit out with the guests, leaving Mama, my two sisters, and me alone on that little island.  

He came back later that morning, tied the boat down, and flopped on the beach, fast asleep in a pouring silver rain. 

“Cindy, go wake him up. I hate his guts, but I don’t want him to get pneumonia.”

“No!” I said point blank, glaring down through the bushes at him. At that moment--and for years to come--it did not matter to me what happened to him. I was a traumatized ten-year-old fresh out of cares for my own daddy.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Meat and Milquetoast

Reproduced from my op-ed in The North Gwinnett Voice

What can you say about a man who abandons his children on Father’s Day?

Cindy Wiggins Tapia & Jimmy Wiggins
That his ancestors rode with Jesse James. That he was a Korean Vet. That he tooled saddles at Bona Allen Harness Shop. That he sang and played the guitar. That he loved Lake Lanier and Budweiser.  

That he hated the Beatles, my longhaired boyfriends and miniskirts. That he had little respect for family. That he was jealous of Pete Wallis because in his capacity as youth minister Preacher Wallis was more a father to us girls than Daddy ever had been. That he used the Bible to back his opinions, but dismissed verses contrary to his thinking. 

“I don’t care what that says!”

That one evening on Hamilton Mill Rd., he was laying on the couch with his head propped on the arm while I combed his hair. A tooth broke off, and I accidentally on purpose stuck it in his ear. He shot off the couch.

“Jimmy!” Mama cried. “She’s just a baby!”  (A fact she forgot when she was mad.)

Fortunately, when she said jump he hopped.  She was meat, and he was milquetoast. Add that to his womanizing, and the drinking, and you get a look-see into their decaying marriage.

That one night on Hill St., while Mama was at work at the Lumite Plant, the baby’s foldy walker fell forward. I bent toward it, and Daddy smacked my butt.  

“You better not ever push her down again!”

“I was picking her up.”

“You deserved a spanking, anyway.”

That we were living on Shadburn Ave. when I graduated from Bona Allen High  in 1974. I had been accepted to Tennessee Temple University, but was in talks with a friend about applying elsewhere. We were eating dinner when I allowed as how I might go to Mercer University. And he allowed as how I wasn’t.

“Why?” Mama asked.

“Because you know what’ll happen down there.” In other words, I would likely shack up with some long haired wild thang in Macon, but remain celibate in Chattanooga. 
Go figure.

That right before graduation, Mama and we girls stepped in from church when the phone rang. Mama answered and started taking on. The caller was a Sunday School teacher (from another church) who thought it was just peachy orange dandy to mess around with Daddy.  

He left, came back, and left for good that Father’s Day.

That in 1977, while I was living in Eagle Creek Apartments, he called up to say he’d been born again, and then commenced telling me that the affair hadn’t started until after he and Mama divorced. I knew better and silently scoffed at his Christianity, ignoring my own iniquity.

That in 1978, they had the little boy he’d always wanted.

That in 1982, Daddy dropped dead.

I walked into Tapp’s and avoided his coffin. Mary Swanson led me over.

I looked down at Daddy. And found peace. Not in his death. It’s one of those things you can’t explain… but Hebrews 12:1 hints about those in heaven witnessing what is happening on earth… and… maybe… just maybe… Daddy had at last found such a peace that it radiated down on me like the sun beaming through a break in storm clouds.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Memories of Nanny and Pop Wiley

Guest Post by Wes Quesenberry

So excited to have Wes Quesenberry as a regular guest poster. He is the grandson of Etha and Jay Wiley. His mother, Sandra Wiley, grew up in Buford and graduated from BHS. Her brother was Jerry, and Marie Thornhill is Mr. Quesenberry's cousin. He grew up in Miami, FL, but spent vacation days at his grandparents little red house on Peevy St. Mr. Quesenberry currently lives in Peachtree Corners and spends his time keeping busy with work at Edward Jones. He is a member of Christ Church Episcopal, including choir and co-leader of the Men's Group. 

As a child, precious memories of traveling from Miami, FL to Buford, GA to visit my grandparents;  Mr. Jerome P "Jaybird" "Pop" Wiley and Mrs. Etha S "Nanny" Wiley to their home on Peevy Street.  I would get on a Delta flight as a child and I knew Pop was going to be at the gate waiting for me and our drive from Hartsfield to Buford would begin.  He would let me play with his CB radio he kept in the center of his car or his blazer.  He'd put my suitcase in the back and off we would go.  He'd catch me up on what was going on and his hunting or fishing trips. He'd tell me (when Buford had a Volunteer Fire Department) about what was going on at the Fire Station and the fires he would help fight or the steak cookouts he would host for the firemen.  

The drive seemed to fly by but I always remember Pop would say "We are back in Georgia again" when we would hit the Gwinnett County line. We'd arrive at the little red house on Peevy St and Nanny would come out to meet us.  Smells of fresh biscuits would come from the house and she always had something cooking on the stove. Knowing I would be hungry, we'd sit at the table and have a late breakfast of homemade sausage that Pop would get from a guy near Rest Haven. It was good, spicy, and Nanny made gravy to go with it. Yum. Pop would have his black coffee.  

We'd unpack but if I heard a train coming, Pop and I would stop what we were doing and race up to town to catch it. It was a joy of mine. Those trains were a joy. This was a ritual that we never broke and it continued even into my early teen years before Pop was called home to God. He would also teach me how to sharpen knives and just loved on me.  We'd go up to town later on and Pop would show me off to Jerry and David Lord at the Lord's Muffler Shop and to Dick Burton. Dick would always be so amazed at how much I would have grown and would let me just have a good time in that shop. This was the same with the Jerry Lord. These folks were family even if not related.  More on these trips at another blog.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

A Cattle

Reproduced from my op-ed in The North Gwinnett Voice

During our courtship, Nabo rented a pitiful little pink thing on Lawson St. behind West Buford Baptist church. The front yard was a napkin. The back sprawled to a chain-link fence hidden inside an overgrown hedge. He loved that house and told it so in my presence long before he ever proclaimed his love for me.

I got pregnant and moved in. I’d get up and drink my coffee while gazing at the misty morning through the back windows. One morning, I saw a black bear on the other side of that hedge.

When I told Nabo that afternoon, he goes,  “Tha’s one bull, you. Jajajaja!”

That spring we planted a garden along the hedge. Nabo dug ditches twelve hours every day on a Benton-Georgia construction site and tended the plants when he got home. The water hose was too short, and we were so in luuuuv our brains were AWOL, I reckon, because neither of us thought to buy one that would reach. So, he would fill a five-gallon paint bucket with water, lug it down, tote it back up, repeat, repeat in weather hot enough to liquefy asphalt, while I watched from the patio, drinking iced tea.

Come harvest time, I walked down with a basket and discovered a section of pole beans had turned yellow.

That afternoon, I looked out the bathroom window and there was that bull on my patio. I went digging it outside just as Nabo turned his bicycle into the driveway. Nabo’s bellowed. The Bull vamoosed. Hasta la vista, baby!

“Want me to call the law?”

"Noooo!" he spat in affronted machismo and took off after the bull. He caught it. 

Unfortunately, for his machismo, it nuzzled his shoulder and kissed him, while I cackled.

"Call la policía, you!" He shouted.

Using my Telecommunications Device for the Deaf, I called Animal Control.

"How may I help you?"

"There's a bull in my backyard."

Pause. "We don't do bulls." Click.

So, I called the law.

"Gwinnett County Police Department. How may I assist you?"

“There's a bull in my backyard.”

Pause. "A cattle? In the city limits?”

"Yes, ma'am."

"Have you called Animal Control?"

"Yes, ma'am, but they don't do bulls."

Around twilight, a patrol car pulled up. The officer climbed out. He looked around. No bull. He put his fingers on his gun anyway in case it popped out of nowhere.

It did.

It hopped onto the patio and licked that cop’s face. The cop forgot his gun and jumped two feet off the concrete. The bull took off for its life. The cop and Nabo sprinted after it. Somehow they got the bull herded back through the broken fence, which the bull’s keeper promised to repair soonest. Ha.

The cop left. We went inside to eat dinner. And that was that.

But it wasn’t.

The next day, we saw the bull eating kudzu behind the house next door. We looked at each other. We headed to the garden. Sure enough, it had eaten all of our summer squash, tomatoes, and bell peppers. The cucumbers and jalapeños were untouched, but in apparent distaste, it had hosed down the pole beans.

Sheesh. I didn’t like Nabo’s jalapeño peppers but I didn’t pee on them.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Frankenstein and a Finger in the Sky

Reproduced from my op-ed in The North Gwinnett Voice

Susan Dollar was my first best friend. Susan lived in the projects below my house on Hill St. Susan was a year older. I believed everything Susan said Susan told me in hushed tones that Frankenstein was buried in my backyard.

I went running to Daddy. Daddy assured me there was nothing under that grass but dead pets. I moved on

But some don’t.

Years before my time, another little girl dark as her Cherokee ancestors played in that backyard.

Her parents worked for Bona Allen Harness Shop. The extras their meager wages afforded failed to sate the little girl’s cravings for better things. The house was so ramshackle, she was ashamed to invite friends over. She resented never having more than one or two out-of-date outfits while some of her Buford classmates boasted a wardrobe of fashionable clothing.  She was agitated by what she called her mother’s lack of housekeeping habits. That good mother was fond of cutting out paper dolls for the baby, and the little girl grumbled into her sixties about having to pick up the trimmings every day after school.

“I couldn’t stand seeing them strewn across the floor!”

It didn’t help that she was jealous of that baby.

One afternoon while playing out back, she saw white words forming in the heavens.

She wondered aloud, “What’s that?”

A neighbor lady replied “It’s God’s finger in the sky, foretelling the end of the world.”

She went screaming to her mother. Her mother explained it was merely an airplane writing a vapor advertisement. But once woken, the little girl’s fear never slept again.

Thus began an already neurotic child’s slow slide into madness.

Her name was Christine Dorsey Wiggins.

My mama.

She pulled rags out of her bag and hand-stitched clothes for my Barbie dolls, and showed her teeth at me. She turned shoe boxes into houses, with real carpet scraps and furniture clipped out of the Sears catalog and called me stupid. She dressed me like a living doll and deliberately beat me so the welts and bruises were above my hemline. Many times Daddy had to jump in to stop her before she went too far.

In 1971, Mama started going to church, quit smoking and quit drinking, but  when Daddy abandoned us in 1974, she started back with a vengeance.

“I’m gonna drank! and I’m gonna smoke!” And she took pills.

She pitched vicious fits. Once because my in-hospital oral surgery got her in debt, and another  when she couldn’t find her “special” hairbrush.

She heard voices and enjoyed listening to them. But when they urged her to kill me, she committed herself to a mental hospital in Midtown and spent her remaining years in and out of SummitRidge in Lawrenceville.

Last time I saw Mama awake was Mother’s Day 2006 at Joan Glancy. Monday she slipped into a coma. Friday she slipped away. She was sixty-seven years old.

I cradled her in my arms and bawled my eyes out, wishing I could tell her that I knew she was the best mother her demons would allow her to be, that I wished I’d been better to her, that I loved her despite everything, but it was much too late...

Miss you, Mama!