The Barefoot Heart

adventures & derring-do in the third half of life

100: Aunt Addie, a Pink Galoshes Portrait


She was a formidable woman, my great Aunt Addie was, driving herself around town in the car she bought for herself at a time when most men in the county still hitched a mule up to the buggy to get them where they wanted to go. She was mayor of Woolsey, a small community in Fayette County, Georgia, and when she got her hands on some Works Projects Administration funds, Woolsey got new sidewalks.

She married later in life, and then only when her sister, Lizzie, saw fit to die and leave an eligible widower. Yes, Miss Addie Ballard married her brother-in-law, J. M. (John) McLean on April 27, 1923 and thus became step-mother to the only children she would have: her nieces and nephews.


Aunt Addie wasn’t talked about much in the family, probably because she was considered an uppity woman, for one thing, and on account of that time she shot Uncle John “under the sheets” in February 1953, an event that culminated with her being declared a “lunatic” and landing her a stint in the Milledgeville State Hospital (originally named the Georgia Lunatic Asylum when it was built in 1883), for another.

It took me decades to pry this much of her story out of The Family Elders. My uncle, perhaps impressed with my tenacity (or more likely, thinking it would make me hush up once and for all), presented me with a copy of Aunt Addie’s commitment papers, and I’ve a copy of her marriage license, her will, her United Daughters of the Confederacy membership papers, and a single photo of her in my possession. To this day, I remain intrigued with this black sheep of the family. Long ago, I began asking everybody who might have known her or known of her, “What can you tell me about Aunt Addie Ballard McLean?”

One day while lunching with Ferrol Sams (Sambo), I asked him about our shared ancestor. “I always wondered what made her sad enough to do such a thing,” he said by way of answering.

He went on to tell me about being called down to Aunt Addie’s house early one cold winter morning. It seems she’d gotten up during the night to go to the bathroom, according to Uncle John, then she came back and got into bed. At one point, Uncle John, greatly annoyed that she was disturbing his sleep with all her moaning and groaning, said, “Addie, be quiet. I’m trying to sleep.”

His slumber resumed, and when the rooster cock-a-doodle-do’ed Uncle John awake long about sunrise, he found Aunt Addie lying in a pool of her own blood. Apparently when she’d gotten up to go to the bathroom during the night, she shot herself in the side before returning to crawl back into bed.



While a patient in Milledgeville, Aunt Addie mailed poems, letters, and a recipe for Orange Pie to Mother. (I transferred every piece of her correspondence to fabric, and that’s what you see in the background.) She even sent Mother her gold thimble in its silver case for safe keeping (something I’ve been assured will become mine One Day).


I’ve talked to somebody in Milledgeville, who looked it up while I stayed on the phone, and they tell me that they have a card with more information on Aunt Addie – like when and into whose custody she was released. Just as soon as I can figure out what kind of court order is required, I’m going down there to get a copy of that information for myself. I hope not, but it may be the last bit of information I ever get on Aunt Addie, a woman I’ve chosen for one of my Pink Galoshes Portraits of Irrepressible Women.


Painted, stitched, written, or performed, stories – even family legends – are fluid, changing and evolving any time a new kernel of perspective, information, or context drops in. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t tell them, hold them dear, or tuck them in with the good silver to pass on to future generations.

Stories unite us and give us roots . . . and wings. Stories bolster us in time of turmoil; buoy us in times of despair; and anchor us in times of doubt. They remind us of who we were, who we are now, and who we can be. They remind us of what stock we come from.

When we gather around the table, ’tis stories that nourish us. When we hold hands around a campfire, ’tis stories tucked into our palms. And when we make a toast, ’tis stories that fill the glass we raise.

Stories are the best gift ever.
Stories are oxygen.


For those of you who’ve read shotgun through the 100 days of story, thank you for all the encouragement and support. Despite the typos and mistakes that can’t be blamed on electronics, I’ve made new friends around this digital campfire, good friends have become better friends, and I’ve even been reunited with a friend (Vonnie) from graduate school who I’ll tell you more about later. Many of y’all have gifted me with your own stories, which goes into my daily list of things I’m grateful for every time. However you tagged along in this exercise, I thank you from both my heart and my fingertips . . . fingertips that are now going to go have conversations with cloth and thread for a while.

99: On the Eve


(Either something went horribly awry when this picture was developed
or Daddy was having a bad hair day)

When I think of Eve, I think of Eve from the Bible, who, in this neck of the woods, is still very much maligned and blamed for everything gone wrong. There are still far too many hot spots where women in general – just because they share gender with Eve – are maligned by proxy.

I think of the eve of my wedding, some 42 years ago, when groomsman Tom Porter arrived late for the rehearsal, making a rather dramatic entrance for someone who hasn’t darkened the doorway of a church in I don’t know how many years, by entering through the choir loft. I think of how he later whispered to me it was my last chance to run away with him. And who could ever forget when he publicly stole the show by answering the what-do-you-do-for-a-living question asked by the Baptist preacher’s wife with “I sell whiskey in Underground with Andy.”

I think of the Hewell Family Torture Chamber Christmas Party always held on Christmas Eve. Though I don’t know when, I’m pretty sure I know why our childless great aunts decided it a good idea to open presents one at a time with adults going first then pass each gift around the entire room before opening the next gaily wrapped box. And as if that wasn’t horrible enough, they meticulously cut every little piece of tape with scissors, ensuring clean edges for wrapping next year’s gifts. If they could’ve peeled off the tape without the paper sticking to it, they would have saved money on tape, too.

I think of New Year’s Eve and the thrill of a fresh start and how I’m now of an age to know that the year is filed with 365 New Year’s Eve, each day a fresh start and new beginning.

My body remembers The Night Before A Test Angst, and that’s a little what I feel now, on the eve of my 100th story, when all the stories I meant to tell you but didn’t parade themselves in front of me . . . some making a face with their tongues stuck out.

98: Will It Ever Stop?

Mother called me tonight to make sure I knew about the atrocities that happened in Paris. She says it reminds her of when Pearl Harbor was attacked. The shock. The horror. The disbelief. The inability to comprehend such acts of man’s inhumanity to man. The incredible, unending sadness.

Being one who believes in the power of collective goodness, maybe we can make an effort to be kinder than usual to those around us right now. And offer up prayers to the victims of this inconceivably inhumane act as well as their friends and families.

That’s story enough for today.

97: His First Car


Daddy used to have breakfast at Hardee’s every morning, kicking his day off by leisurely sharing coffee and swapping stories with friends. Yesterday Alison and I had breakfast at Hardens, and sitting at the table right next to us was Bobby Kerlin and his wife, Jean. As we stood there swapping stories, Bobby told me a story about my granddaddy . . .

When Bobby was a younger man, Sam Jones was selling a car, and Bobby wanted to buy it, but he didn’t have the money, so he walked across the road to the bank and said to my granddaddy, “Mr. Crawford, I want to buy a car.”

“What car?” Granddaddy asked him.

“That red and white car right over yonder,” Bobby told him, pointing out the window. “Sam Jones is selling it, and I’d like to buy it.”

“How much does he want for it?” Granddaddy asked.


“How much do you need?”


“Well, okay. How do you want the money?” Granddaddy asked, and Bobby, who was taking out his first loan ever, said, “Cash.” After Granddaddy counted out $900 into his hands, Bobby went across the street, paid for the car, and drove it home.

About two weeks later at the supper table, Bobby’s daddy said, “I got a call from Mr. Crawford at the bank today.”

“What did he want?” Bobby’s mother asked.

“He wants me to come by and sign some papers for the money he loaned Bobby to buy Sam’s car.”

Two weeks later – did you get that part? Granddaddy loaned Bobby the money then called to get his daddy to come sign the papers two weeks later. That’s the way banking was done back then: people did what they were supposed to do. Folks helped each other out. A person’s word and their name and their reputation meant something. People felt a responsibility to maintain the family’s good reputation, too. And trust ran rampant.


That’s Granddaddy there on the far right in the photo above. For all you Fayette County natives, bonus points if you can name the other folks and tell me where the picture was taken.

96: Help Needed



I remember the draft.
I remember the long list of names in the weekly newspapers.
I remember the casualty and death counts at the end of the daily 6:00 news.

Many were 18-20 years old.

When their tour was up, they were told to shed their uniforms as quickly as possible and once they donned civvies, to never go outside in their uniform again. They were told to let their hair grow out as quickly as possible. They were told to expect people to yell vile things at them, to hurl harmful objects at them, to spit on them.

I know people who experienced all of those things.

My father-in-law graduated from Georgia Tech two weeks early, the ceremony moved up to accommodate World War II. “We went up on one side of the platform,” he told me, “to receive our diploma, then off on the other side to receive our orders.” Most of young men went straight from graduation to the altar to get married, then shipped out that afternoon.

Today is the day dedicated to thanking veterans for their service.


It’s something many of us do on this one day a year or maybe when we see a man or woman in uniform at the airport, but it’s something my daughter, Alison, does every chance she gets. She started years ago, performing as Betty Grable at World War II events. She puts her hair up in curls, dons stockings with seams up the back, coats her lips in truly red lipstick, and sings. When she walks in, decades fall off the faces of the WW2 vets. They smile bigger and stand straighter as they are mentally whisked back to the 1940s when they were 18 to 20 years old. Many of them are in their nineties now, but they still know how to appreciate a pretty woman. And when Alison (a.k.a. Betty) plants a red hot kiss on them, they don’t shave for at least two weeks. Some of them devilishly turn their head at the last minute so she winds up kissing them on the lips instead of on the cheek.

Alison formed a trio called The Freedom Belles not too long ago, and they have a repertoire that spans decades. Recognizing the importance of music in our culture and history, The Freedom Belles are dedicated to celebrating the past and keeping history alive in 3-part harmony.

They perform at corporate and special events, heritage re-enactment events, patriotic events, memorial services, and air shows, and while most are able to pay them, many smaller community events and VA hospitals are not. These women love what they do and are enthusiastically and wholeheartedly dedicated to their mission. They want to say Yes and honor veterans every chance they get, regardless of compensation. But the reality is that even when they donate their time and talent, there are still fixed, out-of-pocket expenses like travel, room and board, and music.

That’s where you come in.

Today Alison launched a Go Fund Me page to help raise money to continue their mission and help them say Yes more often, and they could sure use your help. Besides the usual and customary business expenses like business cards, postage, banking fees, and office supplies, they have travel and wardrobe expenses, (those seamed stockings aren’t cheap!), music expenses (royalties, arrangers, and background tracks, for example), and they’d like to hire an attorney to help them set up a 501(c)3 non-profit corporation that will allow them to accept tax-deductible donations on an ongoing basis – contributions that will be ear-marked for non-paying events to honor veterans.

They want to become self-sufficient, and to create products to sell would help fill their coffers, but there are costs there, too. They want to record albums, and that requires paying for studio time, music rights, mixing, designing labels, and who knows what else. They have plans to sell their own line of lipstick, to create yearly calendars, to have t-shirts made. They have other ideas that are wildly fun and creative . . . and require start-up capital.

The Freedom Belles performing at Candler Field Museum’s Vintage Day
November 2015
(Yes, that’s really Alison, performing a little over 2 months after her surgery.)

Won’t you help them continue to honor and entertain America’s veterans by making a donation? If you’d like to make a donation as a gift, all you have to do is make your donation then send an email to BookFreedomBelles (at) gmail (dot) com), and they’ll see that the recipient is notified or, if you want to wrap and deliver it yourself, they’ll send the gift card to you.

And maybe you’d be willing to help spread the word about their fundraising page by telling friends and family and posting on your social media sites? You can find their fundraising page at

Do you know somebody who has an event coming up that might be looking for entertainers? If so, please pass Alison’s contact information along or get in touch with Alison so she can contact them.

Visit their fundraising page to see more photos and watch short videos of The Freedom Belles in action.

It’s not about whether you’re against wars or not – nay, this far transcends that. This is about paying tribute and expressing appreciation to the individual men and women who served – whether it was their idea or not – to protect us and preserve our freedom. There are so many ways to help these energetic, talented, dedicated young women, and all are greatly, hugely, enormously appreciated.

95: 2 peas, 2 pods


We both love people.
She loves hordes of them
especially they’re when gathered together.
I love them one or two at a time,
and I need space between them
because no matter how much I love them,
people make me tired.

She picks up the phone and calls.
I prefer texting.

She loves to cook.
I hate it.
(Though I do manage to kinda’ almost sorta’ like it
once or twice a year.)

She refuses to give up a single one
of her umpteen thousand plates.
I gave away all mine
when we moved to the mountain top 3 years ago
and haven’t looked back once.

She can grow anything.
I can kill a plastic rubber plant.

She has good taste.
I have taste buds.

She knows how to accessorize with lamps.
I know how to turn them off and on.

She keeps a teeny tiny little calendar,
the same kind every year.
Has for decades.
I spend the better part of four months delightedly
planning and conjuring and creating
what my next year’s planner will be like.
What size it’ll be.
What I’ll note and track.
What colors I’ll use.

I am a big noticer and lover of details.
She overlooks many things like
the difference in her panties and mine
when unloading the dryer.

I am on a first name basis with silence
adore it
crave it
don’t get to spend nearly enough time with it.
She never met 30 seconds of silence
she didn’t fill.

I take after my daddy.

94: That’s What It’s All About


Once upon a year, New Year’s Eve found us on a sailboat going snorkeling in Aruba. As we board, I can tell there won’t be seats for everyone, so I inform the fella in charge that my mother needs a place to sit. But he pays me no heed which requires a minor hissy fit on my part before we shove away, a hissy fit that results in the day’s bartender clearing my mother a space right beside him and the all-day free punch. With Mother taken care of and the rest of the famdamily comfortably reclining in the sun, I take my seat in the shade with my cup of ice water and commence to reading my book on curriculum theory.

Yes, curriculum theory.

We sail, we lunch, we snorkel . . . well, not “we” because I’m sure you remember that I have that engrossing book on curriculum theory. Around mid-afternoon, I hear much laughter and wooping and a few wolf calls for good measure with The Hokey Pokey playing rather loudly in the background. More annoyed than interested, I look up to find my mother standing in the middle of the crowded sailboat. Doing the hokey pokey. With the bartender.

I’m not kidding.

That’s also the day when my brother – who adores Hawaiian shirts – stops at a vendor and purchases a rather bright one on his way to the sailboat, and upon our return to the cruise ship (and while rather under the influence of hokey pokey joy juice), he stops by the exact same vendor and purchases the exact same shirt a second time.

I’m not kidding about that, either.

So if we’re ever together and my cell phone starts singing the Hokey Pokey, you’ll know it’s my mother calling. And when I bust out laughing, you’ll know I’m picturing my inebriated brother coming home with two – count them 2 – matching hot pink Hawaiian style shirts. I’m not sure there’s a ring tone out there that adequately sums that part of the day up.


With six stories to go, I’m cooking up a few surprises that you just might want to be a part of, so to be sure you don’t miss out, you might want to subscribe to receive the blog posts in your email by mashing the “right this way” button in the orange bar at the top of the screen or follow me on facebook.

93: He Liked People, He Just Liked Them Better One at a Time


That was me you heard groan when the preacher stood up and said, “I didn’t have the pleasure of knowing Tom Smith in life,” cause I’ve been to enough funerals to know the unspoken rest of the sentence is “so I’m just gonna’ stand up here and use my time to save your soul, to witness to you, and to get more votes for the Lord.”

But not so today.

We gathered together this afternoon to celebrate the life of Tom Smith, and oh what a fine and fitting celebration it was. I’ve been to more than my fair share of funerals – and I’ve thrown more than a few – so I know what constitutes a good memorial service, and Tom’s ranks right up there with send-offs for my friend Valerie and my Daddy.

After confessing to not knowing Tom, the preacher went on to read us snippets from Tom’s Facebook timeline, and through his selections, it was obvious that he grasped the Essential Tom. And not once – not a single time, I tell you – did he try to save our souls.

Eccentric . . . Stubborn . . . Caring . . . Creative. These are the recurring themes in Tom’s life, and we heard those words and their synonyms throughout today’s remembrances.

Tom’s younger brother, Marion, read a few entries from Tom’s journal, ending with a self-awareness piece which included the itemization of things Tom considered to be – not apologetically, though, mind you – his 12 most prominent faults.

John, another brother, read a touchingly tender letter from his daughter who likened a childhood visit to Tom’s house to entering a magic wardrobe and exiting in a Narnia of sorts, a magical place filled with things just waiting to be rediscovered. Tom was known to hold onto things, you see, in part because as the eldest, he considered himself keeper of the family history and in part because he was an artist who literally turned other people’s cast offs into captivating works of art.

Jim, twin brother to John, regaled us with a tale of teenage Tom’s good idea to steal a watermelon a day from Mr. Bowers’ neighboring farm. On those sweltering August days in Georgia, they’d steal the watermelon first thing in the morning, put it in a sack with a large rock for ballast, then throw it in the deep end of the lake to cool all day. While the three boys worked in the field chopping cotton and doing I don’t know what all, thoughts of that chilled watermelon waiting on them kept them going till quitting time.

Years later, for reasons that might or might not have something to do with redemption, the Smith boys paid Mr. Bowers a visit, taking a store-bought (not stolen) (at least I don’t think it was stolen) watermelon with them. The four guys sat a while on the front porch talking about this and that, and when the boys took their leave, Mr. Bowers stopped them.

“Boys, don’t forget your watermelon,” he called after them, nodding in the direction of the melon.

“That’s for you, Mr. Bowers,” Tom said.

“I don’t eat watermelon.”

“Well, why did you plant them every summer for as long as I can remember?” Tom asked.

“So you boys would have something to steal,” Mr. Bowers explained.

As Jim said, “NSA has nothing on Mr. Bowers.”

Now I’ve taken many rides on the roller coaster called grief, and I’ve spent this week creaking slowly up, up, up then crashing down so fast my eyes and ears became conjoined. This past week has snatched me around this corner then that corner, hurling me into the throes of memory and feeling.

I am mad . . . mad that Tom didn’t choose to throw everything the medical community has to offer at the cancer. And when I wonder if Tom knew and fully understood how much he meant to his community of friends and family, I feel sad.

I’m selfishly sad when I’m unable to stave off the cold splash of reality that I’ll never again wake up to find a note like this waiting on me: “Oh, and that piece on togetherness/space/40 years together was that good… smoke. Erma Bombeck couldn’t have done any better. Tom” Or an outline for a book he wanted me to write. Or stories about bullying and about his dad. Or an introduction, of sorts, to his niece Johanna (Johns’ daughter) with his plan to have me meet and mentor Johanna and help her tell her big and powerful story. Or a bag full of books he insisted I read.

But eventually . . . One Day . . . the roller coaster will slow, and the handle bars will release their grip on me. The madness will fade, and the sadness will melt, and both will be folded into the Glad I feel to have known Tom, to be changed for the better by the imprint he left on my life, and to count him always as cherished friend.


P.S. And though I don’t usually sing outside the shower because, well, let’s just say my daughter did not inherit her beautiful voice from me, today I imagined – by way of one of those imprints I told you about – Tom saying “Pfffft” to that and sang my lungs out, not giving one twit if I cleared out my side of the church or not.

(I didn’t.)

(Which is just as much a miracle as the five loaves and fishes and the time I won the Sword Drill at Vacation Bible School.)

92: For the Fifth Half of Her Life


Maybe it was the rain that had been falling by the tubs full for going on seven weeks. Or maybe it was the season. She’d always felt revved up by the fall and its two big holidays, considering it a time of festive new beginnings. But her family was bad to die right around Christmas, and that’s why she got melancholy and pensive right around Thanksgiving.

Based on her calculations (that were based on her knowledge of her elders), she had approximately 26.25 more good years left, and she’d spent the better part of today wondering how to fill those years when she’d still be able to do things for and by herself. Not that she was one of those stubborn independents who would spend great sums of money to keep from being a burden to their children. She’d already had a couple of conversations with her son, telling him that he could live wherever in the world he wanted to, but when the time came that she needed help, he did not get to just phone his sister to tell her what she was doing wrong and feel like he’d done his part. No siree. He had to step up and show up, period. And she’d written it down in a letter, too, lest he convince himself he’d dreamt that conversation.

Never one to sit around waiting for life to knock on her door, she got out her pen and paper and tried to think of what she wanted to do next. Traveling was fine once she got there, but the getting ready to go was tiring and stressful, and she hated unpacking more than anything. Which is why she usually took all her oldest clothes and just left them in trashcans along the way.

Having been what they call a scanner, interested in a whole bunch of different things, she’d pursued those interests until they weren’t interesting any more. It had been fun while it lasted, but now she couldn’t think of a single thing she wanted to know more about.

She’d never been that nice kind of person who takes in orphans to raise, and she wasn’t about to start now that she finally had some time to call her own.

She already knew how to crochet and knit and quilt, and besides, her fingers were getting arthritic, so that was out.

She’d always loved to read, but her eyesight was failing, so mostly she listened to books now, but some days she couldn’t get the volume loud enough to catch more than every third sentence.

She’s long since been through her gardening phase. She didn’t play in the earth nearly as long as her friends did ’cause she never had – since she was a baby, I tell you – liked getting dirty.

Maybe she could right a regret or three, but she really didn’t have all that many, though she did wish she had spoken her mind more often so her part in the conversation would’ve been something more substantial instead of “I was just about to say that” or “That’s just what I was thinking.”

Yes, her own mortality was weighing heavy on her heart this day. This was a whole lot harder than she’d thought it would be, this planning the rest of your life, and for a minute she considered just going on and moving in with her children right now and calling it quits.

Or at least going on to bed.

But as she doodled, waiting for inspiration to light, she heard the radio man say that a bunch of European scientists had gotten together and decided that in 2033 there was gonna’ come another Ice Age, complete with glaciers and icecaps and everything. That got her thinking about how much she enjoyed those trips to Alaska and Iceland, so she turned to a clean page and used that pen to do some math. When she figured out that 2033 was only 15 years away, she smiled for the first time in I don’t know how long because by her calculations, not only would she be alive in 15 years and get to see the earth freeze over, but she’d have 11.25 years to enjoy the icebergs and blue ice . . . provided she had enough food and batteries and blankets and matches and wood stored up.

Turning to another blank page, she began making her lists, and as she wrote, she began to hum. Having something to look forward to made all the difference in the world.

91: In Which We Do a Little Make-Over on Our Seventh Grade Selves and Families


Mark Twain, writing to a friend in 1874 about his new 19-room red brick Gothic mansion:

“To us, our house was not insentient matter – it had a heart and a soul, and eyes to see us with, and approvals and solicitudes and deep sympathies; it was of us, and we were in its confidence and lived in its grace and in the peace of its benedictions. We never came home from an absence that its face did not light up and speak out its eloquent welcome – and we could not enter it unmoved.”

Long about fourth grade, we built a house in town, moving away from the family home place outside of town to live in Fayetteville proper so Daddy could be mayor. And while I have no such elegant story to tell you about how our house lit up upon our return, I can tell you that when Mr. Mac Bray’s bulldozer began to dig out the basement, the rather large family of snakes weren’t the only ones disturbed. The boy of the house across the street came galloping over with bucket in hand enthusiastically asking if he could take the snakes home. He collected them, he explained to the stunned speechless folks, and kept them as pets.

Now I’d spent my entire life – all 9 years of it – out on the family home place, and I didn’t care if Daddy wanted to be mayor or not, this had me more convinced than ever that it was not a good idea to move to town and live across the street from a bunch of snakes. (Dear Reader, that sentence is literal as written here, but it turned metaphorical after we’d been in the house a few months when Mother and her friends gathered at our front window every night to watch the drunken man of that house parade around the front yard wearing nothing but his BVD’s. Whether he was locked out by his wife or took a wrong turn on the way to the bathroom, we’ll never know, but he gave my mother and her friends something to look forward, that’s for sure, and the entertainment didn’t cost a dime.)

Our new house was on Kelley Drive. Newcomers – read: anybody not born in Fayette County – spell it “Kelly”, but Mother and Daddy knew Mr. Kelley for whom it was named, and it most definitely is supposed to have that extra “e” in the name. Mr. Mac Bray built our house according to the blueprints, and the excitement was palpable when Mother, Daddy, and Mr. Mac unfurled those drawings on makeshift table of plywood and sawhorses and huddled up to plan the particulars of our new home. Those thin white lines on that most marvelous shade of blue paper were an orderly, easy-to-follow roadmap to our future. All we had to do was follow those directions, and we’d have the shelter of our dreams that would take us right on into happily ever after.

It all seemed so easy then, with those blueprints in hand. Once we were happily nested, with our pink and white poodle bedspreads and real tile in the bathrooms laid down in the shape of flowers, I quietly fished the blueprints out of the trashcan and tucked them in my pajama drawer for safekeeping so I could easily put my hands on them when it was time for me to create a life of my own.

A lot of living happened in that house.
A lot of living happened on that street.

Pam, Steven, Doug, Dianna, Gordon, and I – we all walked home from school together, stopping by Dell’s for some fries and a Coke and to play “Build Me Up Buttercup” on the jukebox till our dimes ran out. The older kids in the neighborhood didn’t speak to us, and we didn’t bother ourselves with the younger kids unless we just had to.

Life on that street was the inspiration for my self-introduction when Mr. Baker, the new Georgia History teacher, came to town in the middle of seventh grade. When he asked us to stand up one at a time and tell him our name and a little something about ourselves, I kinda’ strayed from the blueprint, took a few liberties, and introduced myself as Jeanne Burdette (in my defense, Pam and I practically lived at each other’s house), then proceeded to tell him how I was a little down on my luck in the report card department this year on account of how hard it was to study or sleep what with all the yelling and parading around nekkid in the front yard and other miscellaneous carrying on happening across the road. All the adults on our street were bad to drink, I explained, but only that one particular neighbor chose to clean up after himself in the middle of the night. On a roll (and seeing no need to let details or truth slow me down), I told him that I didn’t know how in the world my mother could hold down a job (I saw no need to mention it was at the Central Office which is what everybody calls the Board of Education), but I sure was glad she did cause my daddy didn’t hit a lick. And for the big finale, I borrowed from history and mentioned how some days I went hungry when I couldn’t catch a fish with my hands on the way to school and that he’d have to pretty please excuse my occasional absences cause sometimes – especially after a pay day when the liquor flowed like a river in our neighborhood – I overslept and simply didn’t have time to walk the fifteen miles to get to school. Then I politely thanked him for his attention and sat down, demurely crossing my feet at the ankles.

Pam and Dianna picked up on my theme and added their own (made up) versions of life on Kelley Drive, Pam casting her parents in the role of The Drunks Across The Street, and Dianna telling a sad, sad, sad story about how hard it was to study with her daddy parading all kinds of honky-tonk women through the house day and night.

We can never be sure if our made-over selves had anything to do with it or not, but Mr. Baker turned out to be the toughest teacher we’d ever had, so I was button-busting proud to get a B+ on that first test. I ‘spect I’d’ve done a little better if it had been the English teacher had asked us to introduce ourselves.

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