Monday, July 30, 2018

Pride by Barbara Taylor



Pride

My sister Pride is slow. Mama and Daddy acted as if she was no different than anybody else. Folks in Pine Level went along, but they know the truth, of course. No one in their right mind stands by a stop sign and waves at all the cars, yet the mayor named her the town's "Official Greeter." Mama, sick as she was, got dressed up, Daddy wore a suit, and a photographer from the Raleigh newspaper came and took a picture of Pride in the mayor's office holding a big cardboard key over her head.

Soon after that, Mama was in a hospital bed in the living room, and the new Methodist preacher came over to visit. While I served lemonade, Pride perched on the Naugahyde ottoman wearing that faraway smile, winding her hair around a finger and proclaiming “I love Tiger Woods,” in her chirpy bird voice. Daddy chuckled like she was the cleverest thing. He died in his sleep six months after Mama.

It’s not that I resented moving back home to take care of Pride, but I won’t deny she’s been a hindrance to my living a normal life. Finding a husband, for one thing. Nobody ever says it directly, but I know they think her condition is hereditary. The only man willing to take a chance on me was Harold Hatchett.  

Hatchetts have lived on the same tobacco farm in Johnston County for generations. I married Harold, my one chance at happiness, at thirty-four. The heredity factor wasn't a concern for long, because he got himself run over by a tractor--pure carelessness--and all he wanted to do was eat after that. We’d been married twelve long years when high cholesterol got him. What was I supposed to do then? Go on living in the Hatchett’s falling-down farmhouse with Harold’s Aunt Coral and Uncle Milo’s doublewide out back? Besides, somebody had to look after Pride. If it wasn’t for me, she’d have ended up in one of those group homes in Raleigh.

I got rid of the hospital bed and started organizing the place. Pride was prone to shuffling things around where I couldn’t find them and dragging the golf clubs out of the hall closet. They remind her of Daddy. She carried a putter to his funeral and people actually cried at the sight. At 7:00 in the evening, she turned on Jeopardy! at top volume the way she and Daddy liked it. Their favorite was the golf channel, though. She got lonely watching golf alone, so she placed the clubs beside Daddy’s empty recliner and sat on the floor with her arms around the bag. Sometimes she yelled, “Let’s make it a true daily double, Alex!” in spite of the fact she was watching Tiger lining up a shot. When Pride got emotional and discombobulated like that, I was tempted to call the mental health hot-line and talk their ears off.

Every week I scheduled a beauty parlor appointment. This was my time. Pride had to stay home because she couldn’t be bothering the other customers while I got a perm or a wash-and-set. I paid for this brief respite in the long run. She’d get into mischief while I was gone and spill Cranapple drink all over the linoleum or deliver leftovers to the shut-in next door. Mrs. Bundy got Meals on Wheels; the last thing she needed was the half-eaten chicken legs Pride deposited on her coffee table, yet she claimed she loved my sister to death.  

Lula, my beautician, begged me to cover up my prematurely gray hair, join the Adult Singles Class at the Methodist Church, and volunteer at the Ava Gardner Museum. “You might meet someone new,” she said, lifting a penciled eyebrow. I explained about my crushing responsibilities and why it had been a challenge to get married the first time. “You have a life, too, you know,” she said. Lula can be so wise. “Weight Watchers meets at the church every Wednesday at noon.”  

It's true; I let myself go when Harold was still in the picture. He drank his tea sweet, and there were the pork rinds, biscuits, and sausage gravy. Aunt Coral was forever baking banana bread and three-layer red velvet cakes. All that unhealthy food killed Harold and ruined my figure. Then Pride’s eating habits became the problem. Everything had to be fried or covered with chocolate sauce, and she wouldn’t touch a green vegetable.

As hard as it was to put myself first, I did everything Lula suggested. People started commenting how nice I looked when I brought Pride to church with me each week. Pickings were slim in terms of available employed men in Pine Level, but on the basis of a couple of things Lula said, I decided to get my new life in gear and strike up an acquaintance with parishioner Grover Cowgill.  

“Grover may not look like much,” Lula whispered after services at coffee hour. To be honest, he put me in mind of one of those gnome yard statues. “But he’s a bachelor, so there aren’t any ex-wives or stepchildren to wrestle with. And I think he’s taken a shine to you. I see him staring over at your pew.” Lula also confided he’d sold some family land for a big shopping center on Highway 70. She convinced me to invite him over for Sunday lunch, ignoring how difficult Pride could be. “Take a risk,” she said with a wink. Sure enough, he agreed to a spur of the moment get-together and followed us home in his green Plymouth Duster.

Grover sat silently at the head of the kitchen table and Pride scurried off somewhere. He breathed through his mouth and cracked his knuckles while I got out the Fiesta Ware. I’d settled on a man’s meal of country fried steak from the freezer and heated this in the microwave. Pride reappeared with the golf clubs in their orange plaid bag.   

“I love Tiger Woods,” Pride said, plopping down at her place and sticking her napkin in her collar the way Daddy used to do. I thought I would die of embarrassment, but Grover didn't miss a beat.

“Tiger’s playing this afternoon. But I warn ya, I’ve been known to take a nap in front of the TV.” When he smiled, his tiny eyes were nearly covered by his fat, ruddy cheeks.

Despite my efforts to converse at lunch, Grover turned all his attention to food. I was used to this, given my experience with Harold. It was encouraging to note that the new man in my life enjoyed my cooking. After finishing our fruit cups topped with Cool Whip, Grover, Pride and the golf clubs moved into the den while I put the dirty dishes in the sink to soak. The television blared. Then I heard a sound like a hog being slaughtered and went to investigate.  

It was Grover, snoring loudly in Daddy’s recliner. That was a first. Pride hadn’t allowed anyone to sit there since Daddy died. She was on the floor, hugging the golf bag and cheering Tiger Woods. Grover came to with an alarming snort and suggested escorting Pride and me to the cafeteria after church the following Sunday. Before I could accept, Pride yelled, “This is Jeopardy!”  
    
I walked Grover out to the Duster. I felt I owed him an explanation about Pride’s situation, since we were now officially dating. 
    
“I’m thinking of investigating some homes in Raleigh,” I said. Pride was banging on the kitchen window and waving. 
    
“But you have a home right here,” he said, pointing to the house. I was touched he was concerned I might be relocating.
    
“Homes. For people like Pride.” I raised my voice because I noticed the hearing aid when one side of his hair blew up like a trap door. I was accustomed to men with handicaps and adjusted accordingly.  

“Where are the durn keys?” he mumbled, groping around in his pockets. I sensed it was too early in our courtship to talk about future living arrangements. As he drove away with a blast from the defective-sounding muffler, I tried not to dwell on Grover Cowgill’s shortness of stature. I chose to concentrate on his forbearance and open mind. He didn’t seem to hold Pride against me, and that was a refreshing change.
  
Just as Grover had promised, the following Sunday he arrived to take us to the K&W in the Duster. I couldn’t help but notice some rude individual had written “WASH ME” on the trunk lid with a finger. Come hell or high water, Pride was determined to wear Daddy’s old light blue golf cap and sit in the passenger seat. Grover tactfully didn’t protest and waited for me to open my own creaky door and climb into the back. I smelled motor oil and saw a can dripping onto the floor mat. Because of the odor, Grover rolled down his window, Pride did the same, and my hairdo was ruined by the time we reached the cafeteria. As soon as we got out of the car, Pride tore off across the parking lot. Grover waddled ten steps ahead of me with a side-to-side, bow-legged gait.  

“Here we are at a restaurant together for the first time,” I called, but I don’t think he heard me.

Once inside and in line, Pride and Grover chose fried chicken and I, not wanting to appear greedy when out with a date, selected a tossed salad with low-fat Ranch. When we reached the desserts, they grabbed individual chocolate pies coated with unnatural-looking tan meringue.  
    
“Hershey’s syrup,” my sister demanded in her shrill tone. A white-coated server handed her a plastic bottle, and she turned it upside down and squeezed a river of chocolate sauce over her pie. I neglected to warn against spectacles like this before we left and planned to apologize to Grover later when we were alone.  
    
“You must really love chocolate,” the server said.
    
“I love Tiger Woods,” Pride said. Grover’s eyes disappeared into his cheeks and he paid the cashier with a $100 bill. I got my water and lemon wedges. By then, Grover and Pride had found a table in the dining room. When I spotted them, Grover was talking in an animated way with his mouth full. He was making the effort to chat with Pride, never an easy task.
    
“You’re eating your pie before the main course.” I felt an obligation to point this out to Pride, but Grover was doing it, too. Maybe he thought it made sense under the circumstances. They were sitting side-by-side in a booth, so I had no choice but to slide into a seat opposite. “I, for one, am sticking to a sensible diet,” I said. They became silent as they inhaled the rest of their pie and then their chicken. I contemplated my future with Grover. There were adjustments to be made on both our parts, but, things could be worse. Not once had Harold Hatchett suggested the K&W, before or after our wedding day. 
    
“Time for golf,” Grover said, glancing at the watch on his chubby wrist. I was barely half-way through my salad, but my sister jumped up and ran for the door and Grover chuckled the way Daddy used to do, pretending Pride was normal. I decided he was an optimist, unlike Harold.

Ten minutes after arriving home, Grover was fast asleep in the den. Again, it sounded like hog-killing time on the Hatchett farm. When I described this scenario to Lula at the beauty parlor, she led me by the arm into the empty shampoo room where we wouldn’t be overheard and gave me all the details about sleep apnea and how it could be fatal. 

“You’d better work fast,” she said, as that eyebrow went up. I told her about Grover surprising me with a greasy bag of fried flounder, tartar sauce, and hush puppies from the Dixie Drive-In and making himself at home with a TV tray in front of Jeopardy! “Ohhh, it’s a regular thing. He’s smitten,” she squealed, and I treated myself to a manicure with daring iridescent nail enamel.   

Pride adjusted surprisingly well to Grover’s constant presence in Daddy’s recliner. I didn’t have to remind her to bathe or change clothes and she stopped delivering scraps to poor Mrs. Bundy. One night, during a commercial break, Grover pulled out a box from the jewelry outlet at Value Village and popped the question. To Pride. The first time he spotted her in church, he liked the way she looked in Daddy’s golf cap and tube socks. He outlined how much they had in common, like favorite foods, television shows, and golf, plus both of them could sleep through an earthquake.  

At first I was confused; then shocked. But Lula later pointed out I’d have the house to myself after the newlyweds moved to their brand new one, complete with media room, in Raleigh. My options were wide open without a troublesome sibling to take care of, and I should be grateful that all she wanted were the golf clubs.  

My sister squeezed into Mama’s satin wedding gown and insisted on carrying the putter instead of flowers. The sanctuary at the Methodist church was packed--even Mrs. Bundy came--and I could barely hear the organ for all the sobbing. "The town won't be the same without that sweet little gal," I heard Mr. Crocker say, before blowing his nose with a giant honk. The ceremony went smoothly until Pride announced she loved Tiger Woods. But everyone in Pine Level understood. Pride has always been the slow one. 

-End-

Bio Barbara Taylor is a survivor of both a Southern boarding school and a Southern women’s college. Her work has appeared in numerous publications including Scarlet Leaf, Corvus Review, and Mused. She lives and writes in North Carolina.

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2 comments:

  1. Feed the authors, show ‘em some love.

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  2. This is great! Love the narrator's voice and the story. Thank you.

    ReplyDelete