My mama died about two days after Cassalinda was born. Yeah, I know, but that was Mama’s mama’s name. My papa hated the name, but ’cause he got to name me and May-May, he promised Mama she could name the next one. I think she done picked Cassalinda just to spite him. He might have convinced her later to change it to something else, but once she passed on, he ain’t have the heart to go ‘gainst it. We just call her Cassie. And May-May is short for Myrna May – my Papa’s mama’s name. I accidentally nicknamed her ‘cause I couldn’t get my tongue working around Myrna right when I was little and always wound up calling her May-May and it stuck. Me? I was named after some woman in a movie Papa saw. He thought the actress was beautiful – I was told Mama thought the actress was pitiful looking. I ain’t never saw the movie, and don’t know the name of the actress; so I never could form my own opinion on it. I just know Mama hated that not only was I being named after some homely strange woman but not even a real one at that. All that just to say, I’m Rebbie, short for Rebecca.
Anyway, I was all of three years old and May-May was six when Mama passed. Papa raised us girls by his lonesome. Well, not quite lonesome, our neighbor down the road some, Miss Jackie, came over Saturday nights to do our hair for church and whenever else it was needed. Since Papa had to leave for work before the bus showed up, she also made sure we got off to school on time. Mr. Hal, Miss Jackie’s husband, and Papa was good friends from work. Miss Jackie was our Godmama. We spent nearly as much time at her house, playing with her girls, as they spent at ours. Still, I think he tried to make up some for us not having our own mama by spoiling us a little. Okay, a lot.
We got all the pretty dresses we wanted for church and good dresses for school. We had all the toys we wanted. And no one would mess with us. One, because Papa taught us how to hit like the boys so we usually handled our own problems. And two, most folks didn’t like how it all end up the couple of times Papa did to get in it. Like when Ray Porter Jr. hit May-May with a glass soda bottle. He was something mad because she beat the devil out of him when he “accidentally” tried to trip her up three times the day before. I guess she ain’t beat him enough to keep the devil out, because he then “accidentally” spilled grape soda on her new yellow dress. He knew to run before she got her hands on him. I think he just threw the bottle to slow her down, but it hit right on the head and broke. When it broke, it cut her good. She’ll always have a little scar right on her left temple going just into her hairline because of it. Twixt the soda and the blood, May-May was fuming and when she got her hands on Ray Jr that time he come as bloody as she be. I probably should let you know that May-May was barely nine and Ray Jr. was a good ten or eleven at the time. When Papa saw her cut, I swear he liked to die from the mad of it. Ray Jr. mayhap just been a boy, but Papa whooped that boy, pants down, not just in front of Ray Jr.’s own mama and papa, but also on their own front porch where everybody else got to see and hear it. We girls heard about it second hand ’cause Papa ain’t want us to come with him, but the kids who saw talked all about it come that Monday.
Now, Papa goes to Yarrow Junction every third Saturday of the month for whatever shopping he needs to do. Sometimes we girls get to go; sometimes we don’t. Miss Norma is our local seamstress. She likes to get her goods from Yarrow Junction because she say they got better quality. One day she took a stubborn notion to walk to Yarrow, which is nearly an hour’s drive mind you. And on a hundred-something degree-day to boot! Woman could have died in all that heat, trying to carry her goods home by foot. Papa and Mr. Hal found her sitting by the side of the road that Saturday afternoon about nearly ready to pass out. All because her husband, refused to help her get her own car and refused to take her himself while always zipping around in his own new car. He was always saying the material in our little ol’ hole in world was just fine for “them po’ ass niggas”.
Well, after a bunch of fussing’, Papa and Miss Norma worked out a deal, where he’ll take her to Yarrow Junction when he goes and he get’s one free shirt, dress or whatever, whenever he asks. They’d been doing this for a couple of years by this point in the story and I believe she still waiting for Papa to ask for something. Anyway, this one Saturday, Papa tells her he gotta go to Yarrow Junction a week earlier than planned and if she want her ride she had to go then or wait until the next month. Of course, she went with him.
This just happened to be the same day that Papa got into it with Big Ray Porter, Ray Jr.’s papa. Big Ray told Papa, that Ray Jr. should have cut up May-May’s “little spoilt ass” more than what he had and Papa wound up knocking him out. I guess I should also mention that it be in right in front of the James Street Hotel in Yarrow Junction and Ray Porter Sr. was just coming out of the place with a “too friendly type woman that ain’t his wife” as I heard old Mrs. Tenney tell it later. Papa had asked him why he ain’t done nothing about Ray Jr. cutting up May-May’s face when Big Ray done said what he said and Papa hit him. I’m thinking now that’s probably why Big Ray ain’t had nothing to say when Papa whupped Ray Jr. on own his front porch the next day. Miss Norma is Mrs. Norma Porter, as in Big Ray’s wife. She had just came out of Brennan’s Drugstore next door, to meet Papa at the agreed upon time to leave, right after Papa done hit Big Ray. Big Ray’s unconscious head was being cradled by a half-hysterical woman who ain’t know the why Miss Norma woman was suddenly taking a purse upside her head. I later heard Miss Jackie tell old Mrs. Tenney that she thinks Papa went into Yarrow that exact Saturday on purpose, just so she could see. Looking back on it, I believe that be true too.
I ain’t quite sure if it was May-May’s or Papa’s whupping that eventually did it, but Ray Jr. sure ain’t wanted nothing to do with any of us girls too much after that. Yes, we was spoilt, I can see that now looking at from this end of the lifeline. But, what does a little girl-child know about being spoilt?
We just knew our Papa loved us.