Egg painting amid the home-grown bounty du jour
close up of the egg painting by Gigi Hackford
that came home with me from Fairhope, Alabama several years ago
There was a mystery about her, the sister who lived with her brother in the white country house up the hill and around the corner from us. Decades later when I learned of Emily Dickinson, I saw the neighbor woman’s face and wished for hidden poems that would stand the test of time. When I became acquainted with Boo Radley in To Kill a Mockingbird, I saw the neighbor woman’s face and hoped for a good story . . . and maybe a little something in a knothole (I checked every one between our house and hers). When Nancy Drew and I became friends, I imagined us sleuthing around and digging up the back story on the neighbor woman. I wanted her to be somebody Big and Important, this neighbor woman. But the facts were not promising:
She was a woman who lived in the house with her brother.
She was a woman who, by my calculations, had a vocabulary of about 17 words.
She was a woman who never left the house.
She was a woman who scared me as much as she intrigued me.
She was a woman whose very presence turned my shoes into concrete blocks every time my mother gave me a quarter and told me to run down the road to her house and buy a dozen eggs.
The old white country house smelled like it had long ago given up on personal hygiene, which is probably understandable given that the brother left only to farm his land across the road, and the sister never left for anything. And as far as I know, few people besides me ever went in. It was dark inside the house – even on the sunniest days – like the house had withdrawn from the world a long time ago. When we needed eggs, my plan to stay on the porch and have her deliver the eggs to me there seldom worked.
I knocked (doorbells were for city houses) on the screen door. Without saying anything like “Coming” or “I’m on my way” or “Hold on just a minute”, the neighbor woman would come to the door, flip up the latch, open the door about six inches, and nod her head towards the interior of the house which I translated – correctly, I think – as “Hey Jeanne! Don’t you look adorable? Did your grandmother get you that dress? How’s your mama and them? Come on in the house.”
But I could be wrong cause she never uttered so much as a syllable.
At this point, I stepped inside the dark, smelly house staying as close to the door as possible, holding out my hand up with the quarter in my palm for her to see, and making a mental note to write a note next time saying “My mother would like a dozen eggs, please” so I wouldn’t have to try to find my voice which always hid in my little toe at times like this.
Without so much as a grunt, she’d turn towards the kitchen, throwing her arm around in a half circle that meant “come with me”. Off to the kitchen we’d go, which felt more like going further and further into a cave, and before we reached the kitchen, I couldn’t see a single thing and was following her by the sound of her steps alone. Even in the dark house, she would go right to the white, rounded refrigerator, pull the silver handle out and down, open the door, and get out a bowl of eggs. She counted out 12 eggs, put them in a brown paper bag, folded the top of the bag down once, and handed it to me. Then back to the screen door and out I went. If memory serves, the entire transaction taking about 46 hours and 17 minutes from the time I stepped up on her porch till I left with the bag of eggs, and the word count hung onto zero like it was going out of style.
I made my way back down the red dirt road, walked through our back door into the well-lit kitchen, sat the bag of eggs down on the kitchen table, and went straight back out to my favorite tree to whom I could tell everything that nobody else would tolerate.
I hear she’s dead now, the neighbor woman, and I don’t mind telling you that I felt somewhat vindicated when, as an adult, I heard that she was bad to throw a tantrum over nothing. I’m just glad I always made it home with a sack full of unbroken eggs. Though I guess if they had broken somewhere along the way, a quick-thinking girl like myself might’ve been in for an afternoon’s worth of fun while pretending to be Officer Don and leading a game of ooey-gooey. Without the Hostess Twinkie Cakes for prizes, of course.
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