Friday, May 4, 2018

Frankenstein and a Finger in the Sky

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 She resented never having more than one or two out-of-date outfits while some of her Buford classmates boasted a wardrobe of fashionable clothing.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!

Reproduced by the author from the May 4th issue of The North Gwinnett Voice

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Come Saturday Mornings

Guest post by Judy Born Brackett

It is an honor to share our blog with Our Town folks. Judy Born Brackett was born and raised in Buford. She is a contributing writer for The North Gwinnett Voice, the voice of Buford and Sugar Hill. She loves her crew of human varmints and fur varmints. And the Lord Jesus. And her job as vice president of Brackett Insurance Consultants Inc. I was thrilled when she agreed to share this slice of growing up Buford, and I’m sure you will enjoy it as much as I do.

1967… Downtown Buford. Warm summer days brought more work than play for some folks.  [Come] Saturday mornings, it was common for my grandmother Ezzle Pugh Evans to load six baskets of laundry into the front and back seats of her blue and white 1955 Ford Fairlane. By 8:00 am, she would drag me out of bed, stand me in the front seat clutching a sausage biscuit and a bottled Coca-Cola. After checking her oil and gas, we would hit Buford Highway in a mad dash to find enough empty washers in one of the two laundromats.  

Between bites, I knew it would be of greatest importance for me to voice my opinion of which laundromat we should hit first. “Busy Bee would have the best washers and the cleanest restroom. So, Ma-Maw, let’s go there first and I will run in and grab the washers!”

Smiling while shifting that column, she would cackle “You just wanna to spend all my nickels on that horse!” She was right. Busy Bee’s horse did gallop longer. “How about we try the one on Moreno Street first?” I would settle since their dryers were larger and I could fit my entire body inside with one arm extended outside to use the door as leverage for spinning. 

In thirty minutes, we had those washers loaded with clothes, powdered detergent and quarters. “Put our basket on each washer so hopefully they’ll be here when we get back.” Sometimes that didn’t happen. “Grab my pocketbook and let’s scat. We’ve got only forty-five minutes.” Folks would get mad if you monopolize the washers and we might find our wet loads on the folding table… or worse.

Sprinting up to Main Street, it was a priority to get my grandfather’s prescriptions filled. Emphysema is a wicked disease and while Pa-Paw did teach me the art of rolling Prince Albert’s, he also lived by example the horrors of smoking. Their savings was being gradually depleted as Ma-Maw would dig into her coin purse and counted out dollars that smelled of Georgia Boot’s leather… the place she spent her days trying to keep them fed and out of debt.

Allen’s Five and Dime was my favorite store. Not just because they had the best toys, popcorn and candy, but because my Granny Born worked there. Isabell Bales Born was the opposite of my Ma-Maw Evans. She was tall, polished and smelled of perfume. Her clothing was refined and accented with tasteful jewelry. And she probably couldn’t tear out a transmission if her life depended on it, but I guess each one had their own talents.

By the end of the morning, the laundry would be washed, dried and folded. Placing two baskets onto the front seat and four on the back, Ma-Maw declares “Judy Gay, you gotta sit on one of the front seat baskets or I may just have to leave you here.” 

Perched high with my foot propped out the open passenger window, we headed to Burel’s Grocery. Rounding onto Garnett Street, her Fairlane took that curve with such ferocity that my car door swung open. Seeing myself losing balance and teetering towards that moving street, I suddenly felt myself being yanked back into the car by my shorts. Ma-Maw was leaning across the car pulling me back to safety while will still driving with her left hand. Then barking her tires to a halt causing customers to gasp, she places her 100# frame across that seat and yanks that door shut. Her driving skills saved both me and the laundry.

Reproduced by permission from the January 2018 issue of The North Gwinnett Voice

Friday, April 20, 2018

That Hedge of Imagination

My first memory goes back to the house on Hamilton Mill Road and the wharf rats that held a rodent con on the kitchen floor every night.   
Cindy at 3

Daddy worked. Mama was forever cleaning house. They warred. Vickie was a baby. My Benji dog disappeared. I felt so alone and so scared.

Then came Mokey. Mokey didn’t criticize. Mokey didn’t growl when I accidentally on purpose stuck a comb’s tooth in his ear. Mokey didn’t show his teeth at me. Mokey didn’t  smack me with a coat hanger. Mokey was invisible, but he was always there.

When we moved to Rest Haven, Mokey stayed behind. Without him to shield me from reality, I slipped deeper into that hedge of imagination.

In 1963, we moved into the bottom apartment of the Allen-company house on Hill St. It was a haunted, peeling, clapboard with no kitchen cabinets and a hot water heater the size of Delaware. It was cold as Antarctica come winter, but Daddy’s mother managed to scrape up enough sympathy to loan us two cabbage-rose quilts.

It’s saving grace was a huge backyard.

I’d hop on a broom and gallop down happy trails with Roy and Trigger. Run through the jungle with Tarzan. Smooch an ugly-butt character on Cowboy in Africa.

Other days, I’d stroll down Jones Alley, talking to Barnabas Collins. Or yap past the mansions on Main and Sawnee, belle of the antebellum set. Or make up Barbie- and -Ken Fannie-Hurst tragedies on my parents‘ bed, jabbering away When I thought I knew what sex was I got myself up to Allen’s Five and Ten Cent store and bought a baby for them.

Every Friday after school I’d dash across town to get my hair fixed at Louise House’s beauty parlor on South Street. I’d make it back home in time for Mama and Papa Dorsey to pick me up to spend the night on their rented chicken farm on Carter Road. She called it the Fraser House. Mrs. Fraser lived somewhere nearby. Mama Dorsey sniffed at Mrs. Fraser's habit of giving her son Carnation Instant Breakfast instead of hot biscuits and sausage. First thing, I’d put on one of her bras and stuff the cups with washcloths, pull a pink- and white-gingham dress over my head, slip into white sandals. and don a picture hat. 

And Voilà! Scarlett O’Hara sashaying around the farmyard, dodging roosters and resisting Rhett’s advances.

"Don't kiss me like that, Rhett!"

"Scarlett! Look at me! I've waited longer for you than I've ever waited for another woman."

“Fiddle dee dee!”

I had two friends during my seven-year tour at Buford Grammar. First Susan Dollar, then Sandra Benton. When they weren’t around, I’d skip up the yellow brick road along the edges of the playground, talking to the Scarecrow. And answering for him. One such day, Denise Mathis came out of the real world and dragged me off to the monkey bars. I dodged her after that.

And then one afternoon—BOOM!—Diane Adams (Fox) and a bunch of kids picked up a baseball game in my big backyard. It’s a wonder I didn’t bolt into the house, but there I stood in right field, gathering wool, when a ball smacked off the bat and slapped down into the palm of my glove.

The cheers and friendliness of those days started the metamorphosis that turned this introvert into the yappy, go-get-em sweet tater I am today.

 Reproduced by the author from the April 20th issue of The North Gwinnett Voice

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Tide of the Invisible Child

Mother was an undiagnosed paranoid schizophrenic whose résumé included the North Pole, the Lumite Plant and the Lovable Co. Daddy was a handsome playboy who tooled leather at Bona Allen Harness Shop. She hadn’t wanted me. He was distant. They camped out on Lake Lanier like they owned it, drank like fish, and fought like two weasels in a poke. They controlled every aspect of my life and criticized my every move I made.

Make no mistake, we always had food, clothing, and pennies for snacks at Shoemake’s down Hill St. But there was no love, praise, or encouragement. Their failure to feed me psychologically left me emotionally malnourished. As a result, I spent most of my growing up years feeling like an invisible child.

So began the hunt for something that would make me feel tangible.

Every Easter week, I’d blow the dust off Daddy’s Bible, read about the death and resurrection of our Saviour, and cry. I attended Buford Church of God for the cookouts, Ponderosa outings, campground picnics. One Sunday, I was sitting as far as I could get from the altar and still be in the auditorium when Preacher Summers looked right at me.

"Cindy, have you been saved?"

"No," I cringed and ran for the door, sprinting down Hell’s wide highway.

I sought love and attention wherever I could find it. I drank. I cussed like a sailor. I sneaked around with a guy my parents hated. I dressed inappropriately. I hitchhiked to Atlanta to join the hippy movement. Cops brought me back. I got a job at Teen’s Diner and began making my first million dollars.  
Funny how what you’ve been searching for has been right there under your nose all along.  

The Lord set a heavy burden for me on Pete Wallis and his wife, Lorene‘s heart. She called every Sunday for weeks, begging we three girls to catch the bus to church, but I would not. And my sisters would not go without me.

In the meantime I developed a pain in my chest. One Saturday night I came home from my waitress job in so much pain it scared Mama. Daddy was moonlighting at Lex Cates filling station, so she called a cab to take us to Buford General ER. Dr. Miller diagnosed nerves, gave me a prescription for Valium, and the pain stopped. Yet, when Lorene called that Sunday morning Mama ordered me up, because she had a premonition that I would never have another chance.

I stomped aboard that bus in my micro mini dress and bobbed, synthetic wig, and flopped down, mad as a March wind. The Wallis family were all there. Lorene, Pete—the driver—and their daughters, Deborah and Jennifer. And away we went to Gwinnett Hall Missionary Baptist Church in Lawrenceville. Upon entering the building, I felt something more palpable in the air in the air than any human witness. I went back every week. And  on Eastertide Sunday night, I asked Jesus to come into my heart.
No, I wasn’t worthy of the sacrificial blood of Jesus Christ, but He loved me anyway. And He loves you, no matter who you are or what you’ve done, His grace is sufficient. 

 Reproduced by the author from the April 7th issue of  The North Gwinnett Voice

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Dawg Downtown

While on the campaign trail for Forsyth's  Sen. Michael Williams (Rep.) in July 2017, Duane Chapman dropped into Buford to make a phone call, as you do.

He received mixed reactions for his trouble. People either love Dog, or they hate his ever-loving guts. He spent five years in the slam for murder—he was the getaway driver in a robbery gone bad. He's been accused of being a leash, critics shame his long white hair, his wife, his penchant for praying and swearing like a thirsty sailor fresh off the ship. And there was that dust-up when he sneaked into Mexico and "kidnapped" serial rapist Andrew Luster, heir to the Max Factor cosmetics empire.

But I like him. Why do I like him? I like him because he is an underdog who pulled himself up by the boot strings and became a legend.Few of his critics can say the same about themselves.