Stories from my little corner of the world, the South. Some are from the present, some from the past...but all are from my heart.

They reflect my thoughts and views, my musing about the world, and each carries with it a bit of my heart
and soul.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Burden




We all carry this burden

at one time or another,

this heavy burlap sack

of sorrow and pain

grappling on our backs,

wondering if it will ever lighten.


It's a byproduct

of loving

of caring

of losing...

how could we have known

it would be such a brutal load?


Others don't realize

if it's been a while

since they've lost someone,

they've forgotten its weight

on their back,

the excruciating knot in their heart,

and they've let go of

some of their sorrow.


They've set it free,

sent off with prayers

to their gods

or in meditations

they've let it go

with the wind.


But to those of us

whose burdens are still fresh,

still stinging and raw,

we recognize it's grip

when we see it in the eyes of others.


We see it behind their smiles

the pain that sits there

like a raptor

waiting for a moment

of weakness to grasp

the tender, fragile heart

and make them remember

their loss with tears.


We see them struggling,

and though they may look unbowed

to the eyes of most,

we see the curve of their shoulders,

sagging ever so slightly,

under the cumbersome burden.


We offer words of comfort, 

a balm for their wounded hearts,

and in the sharing, it is hoped

we help each other heal.


For we are members of a tribe

whose dues are paid for

by the painful, intimate knowledge

of the burden of grief.


Rose Steedley Williams

©Southernstoryteller~4/2011
edited 06/06/2016


Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Sleeping Tiger Wakes; Her Name is Maggie


The Sleeping Tiger Wakes; Her Name is Maggie

This is either a short story on it's own, or a prelude to a chapter for something longer I'm writing...haven't decided yet. If you have time to read, please let me know what you think. Thanks in advance, Rose

Scoobie slapped the erasers against the large pine sending a white cloud of dust into the air. It was Friday and she had made it through the first week of school. She was happy that nothing bad happened, happy to take a deep breath for the first time all week. From hearing the muffled conversations of the adults around her, she had expected the worst. She wasn't exactly sure what "the worst" was, but she was relieved it hadn't happened.

Maybe this year wouldn’t be so bad after all.


She finished her chore and took the erasers back into her homeroom. Mrs. Grant smiled thanks as she looked up from her stack of papers and grading book.  Scoobie was sure that was probably the spelling test from this morning as she grabbed her books and lunch box and headed to the far side of school and the playground. She might be able to play a game of marbles or swing a little before the buses came to pick them up.

As soon as she rounded the corner of the building, the sight that greeted her eyes drew a tight knot in the pit of her stomach. For just a second she felt sick, like she was going to puke. There, by the slide, was a circle of children around Joseph.

Maggie Bell stood directly in front of him, smirking her plump lips, smeared with her mama's lipstick, into a smile that genuinely revealed her spiteful nature. She stood with her hands on her hips, head cocked to one side, rocking slightly to and fro as she spoke.

"Well, looky here, as if it ain't bad enough that they are a-sendin' coloreds here to our school," she paused and glanced around the crowd of children as if to solicit support, "they had to make matters worse by sending a damned retard! Ain't that a goofy-looking face, looks like he just woke up and cain't even open his eyes wide from being so sleepy!"

"Yeah, Maggie B., you're right, he shore does look crazy!" yelled Tate, Maggie's younger brother. "What you grinnin' at, you stupid little retard?"

Joseph flinched at the raised voices directed at him. The smile slipped from his mouth and he lowered his head like a dog being scolded. He raised his eyes just enough to glance around the group of children for a friendly face when he caught sight of Scoobie striding toward the group.

"You'd best leave him alone, Maggie Bell Hoover! He ain't nothin' but a little boy and he ain't doin' nothin' to you. Just back off, you hateful old cow!" Scoobie was mad as she had ever been in her life, but even so she couldn't believe the words coming from her mouth.

"I'd best do what? Why, I can beat the hell out of you, little Miss Goody Two Shoes, so YOU better turn around right now while you can still walk away, 'fore you have to crawl!"
Maggie's eyes flashed fire and she had balled her right hand into a fist, shaking it in Scoobie's direction.

"You ain't never been nothin' but a little smart-ass teacher's pet your whole life and I'm jest 'bout sick of you. Course, I ain't surprised, you takin' up for this little retard, since all you ever had to play with out there in the sticks where you live is them niggers!"

By now Joseph had tears streaming down his face and snot running out of his nose. He was frightened and looked timidly up at the big blond girl who was arguing with Scoobie. He attempted to walk out of the circle and to safety, but he was halted by Maggie's hand on his shoulder.

"Just a minute, Retard, I didn't say you could go nowhere, now did I? Come on, Sco-o-o-obie, walk over here close enough so I can jack your jaws for you, you little chicken-shit!" Maggie drawled Scoobie's name mockingly and jerked Joseph closer to her by grabbing his overall strap.

Scoobie walked towards Maggie and her hostage, trembling with each step, but trying to look brave. As she walked past Martha she heard her friend whisper, "Scoobie don't, she'll hurt you and him."

Then, Martha abrubtly turned and bolted toward the school office.

"Martha Hendley! Don't you run your skinny little ass in there and tattle on me girl; I'll get you, too. You just wait and see!" Maggie hurled her threats at Martha's fleeing back.

Scoobie stopped just short of Maggie's reach. She looked around the circle of children. There were ten there, and three of them were Hoovers. She looked each one of the other children straight in the eyes.

"What are y'all gonna do, just stand there and watch her pick on a little boy," Scoobie asked incredulously.

Joseph was crying harder now. He had come to the playground, slipping away from his three brothers, to where the younger children played because it was the one he was used to when school was in session. He liked this side because there was a slide and the swings were lower to the ground. His brothers and the other Negro children were at the back of the school on the swings or playing kick ball.

Integration was new here at the elementary school; it was only the end of the first week of the school year. But already, invisible lines were drawn on the playgrounds. Everyone knew what was unspoken; it was like a rotting carcass on the highway that no one would move. They just put up with the smell and waited for it to pass.

Everybody was on edge; Scoobie could sense it and told her parents so. When asked last night at supper about how things were going, she said everyone was walking on tiptoes like there was a big old mean tiger in the room and they didn't want to wake it. Her daddy laughed, and then stopped when Momma shot him "The Look."

"So nobody's gotten in any fights yet?"

"No Ma'am. But Maggie's been saying things under her breath about Miss Hodges. She says it just loud enough so those around her can hear, and some of them start giggling. Miss Hodges had to send her to Mr. Edward's office this afternoon."

"Scoobie, at the first sign of any trouble from that girl, you let a teacher know, you hear me? If she starts talking back to Miss Hodges or heaven forbid, tries to strike at her, you go straight to Mr. Edward's office."

Scoobie assured her mother she would. The promise was now ringing in her ears. She knew she couldn't go get anybody right now; she had to do this herself. She was hoping Martha found someone soon.

She looked Maggie square in the eyes. Maybe she could reason with her.

"Maggie, let Joseph go, he's only six years old and he ain't hurting anybody."


"NO!" Maggie shouted. "He should have stayed around there on his side of the building! They may force us to sit in the same classroom and eat in the same lunchroom, but school's out for the day and he had no business coming over here. This is OUR side after school."

She shook Joseph's suspenders roughly, making the child cry out in fear.

Scoobie lunged towards Maggie and the frightened boy, not knowing what she would do, except probably end up getting the pure heck beat out of her. She was stopped short by Miss Hodges' angry voice.

"What is going on here? Maggie, let go of that child's clothes right now! I mean it girl, I won't have you picking on anybody, especially a first-grader!"

Maggie held Joseph defiantly, the sides of her jaws working as she clenched and unclenched her teeth. She darted her eyes back and forth from Miss Hodges to Scoobie, while everyone waited for her next move.

The early September heat, combined with the tension, stifled their breath. Had her look of wrath and contempt been a weapon, both Miss Hodges and Scoobie would be withering in agony on the ground as they drew their last gasping breaths. She shook Joseph free from her grasp with such force that he fell to the dirt at her feet. He quickly scooted away towards Scoobie, whimpering like a scolded dog as he went.

Miss Hodges started towards Maggie and was startled into a dead stop by the scream that spewed from the girl's mouth.

"AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!" It was a howl of utter rage and she drew back her hand in the posture of a slap.

"I'd think long and hard about that, young lady," Miss Hodges uttered in a low voice that was carefully controlled between her gritted teeth.

"For Gawd's sake, Maggie B., you cain't hit a teacher, even if she is colored!? Tate shouted, "'Sides, ain't none of 'em worth the trouble! Come on, let's go home!"

He turned and walked away towards the road, glancing back after a few steps to see if his sister was following. Maggie had dropped her hand and was looking at the crowd coldly.
"Well, ain't none of you chicken-shits got nothin' to say? Why don't you back me up on this, or are y'all all nigger-lovers too?? She looked defiantly at the group, none of which would return her gaze.

"Bunch of lilly-livered, nigger-lovin' asses," she muttered in disgust, cutting her eyes toward Miss Hodges, as she turned to follow her brother. The other two Hoover brothers slunk away after their siblings. The crowd watched them disappear around the corner and stood quietly, only Joseph’s whimpering breaking the awkward silence.

Then, the sound of the high school bus horn, blowing to warn the elementary school children that it was coming, startled them into action. They scattered like squirrels towards the front of the school to gather books and lunch boxes and assemble in a line to board the buses.

Scoobie squatted down to help Joseph. She patted him reassuringly on the back as Tyrone came running around the corner of the building. He stopped in his tracks for a moment when he saw Scoobie and his baby brother.

He rushed over to them. "Joseph, I'm so sorry I weren't here to help you. Why did you leave? You knows you 'sposed to stay on that side with us." He extended a hand to help Joseph off the ground.

Looking at Scoobie he smiled. "Thank you for standin' up for him Scoobie, he cain't hardly take up for hisself."

"Well, she did a fine job of taking up for him, so don't you worry about that!" said Miss Hodges as she walked toward the children. "And, I intend to let Mr. Edwards know everything that went on here so don't y'all worry about any trouble from Maggie."

Scoobie sighed heavily. Miss Hodges didn't know Maggie very well at all, having just started teaching this school year. She didn’t know any of the Hoovers, they could be real mean.

She tried to explain, "Well, those Hoovers ain't exactly the kinda people you want to make mad, Miss Hodges. I appreciate your tellin' Mr. Edwards but I'm gonna have to watch my step around here for a while with her as it is, so I hope she don't get in too much trouble . It'll just make her that much madder at me."

 Scoobie turned and started towards the buses.

 Miss Hodges caught up with her, laying a hand on her shoulder, "You did the right thing Scoobie. I know it was hard, but you listened to your heart."

Scoobie nodded her head in understanding; her eyes were filled with tears. "I know, I know and I'm glad I did, but it won't make this year any easier for me."

The bus ride home seemed to take forever. Scoobie sat on a seat at the back staring out the window, her mind racing. This was not the way she had planned for the school day to end. Maggie could make life miserable for her and she knew it.

She didn't relish having to be on her toes all year as a means of surviving the wrath of a Hoover. They had been known to hold grudges for years, sometimes even to the point where the other person had forgotten the argument, and then strike back.

Just going to the bathroom would take a lot of thought and planning, because the last thing Scoobie would want is to be caught in that bathroom at the same time as Maggie Bell. She was sure that girl would beat the living daylights out of her first chance she got! Maggie would be willing to face the consequences just to get even, Scoobie had no doubt of that.

Scoobie felt weary, she was glad it was Friday. At least she had the weekend to shield her from Maggie's wrath. She heard someone walking down the aisle towards her. They stopped short of her seat. She looked from the bus window to see who it was.

It was Joseph. His eyes were swollen from crying, and he wore a tenuous smile. Scoobie patted the seat beside her and he slipped in.

"Are you alright Joseph?"

"I okay. Tank you Coobie."

Scoobie was used to Joseph's limited speech due to his impediment. His momma worked for Scoobie's family and she had known him and his brothers ever since she was a little girl. 

Living in a small turpentine village, as the only white family, Scoobie grew up having all the colored children as playmates. She didn't understand the big to-do about integration. She didn’t understand why so many people were so mad that they were all going to go to school together.

"I'm glad you're okay, Joseph. I'm sorry for the awful things she said to you. She's a mean girl; her whole family is that way. She had no right to treat you like that." Scoobie reached out and patted Joseph's small hand.

The child looked up at Scoobie and smiled, his face soft with gratitude. He leaned his head against her shoulder.

Scoobie felt her breath catch and her eyes tear up. She wondered why the world had to be so hard and hateful sometimes.

Outside the pine trees whirled by as the bus rolled along the highway towards their little village. She took a deep breath and sighed. Today she felt much older than her twelve years. Momma and Granny often told her she was an old soul.

Today, for the first time, she thought she finally understood what they meant.

It was going to be a long school year. She would have a tiger stalking her every move.

Rose S. Williams
©Southernstoryteller~2008

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Easter Lilies

Easter Lilies
http://media-files.gather.com/images/d874/d630/d745/d224/d96/f3/full.jpg




My belly pressing damp earth

I fidget and angle my camera,

snapping several shots

as around me, Easter lilies tower.




Their slight, sweet fragrance carries me

to another decade...the sixties

where I, as a young tomboy,

with only male cousins, played here.

http://media-files.gather.com/images/d872/d630/d745/d224/d96/f3/full.jpg


I smile at a memory of me

Tackled, prone on my back

playing football, pigskin clutched fiercely.

I fought to prove I was just as tough
.



We played here in this field

beside my childhood home,

clumsy feet trampling the fragile lilies

as I fretted silently about hurting them.


http://media-files.gather.com/images/d868/d630/d745/d224/d96/f3/full.jpg

I stopped, plucking a few to save

and plopped them in a makeshift vase,

someone’s abandoned tea glass.

Then, raced back to the game.


My center position called me,

yet each time I glanced their way

the Easter lilies cheered for me

from the back porch railing.


http://media-files.gather.com/images/d870/d630/d745/d224/d96/f3/full.jpg

I was their savior, their hero

rescuing them from certain death.

They were my salvation~

a girlish link to things dainty and beautiful.


I return here to capture them now,

descendants of those delicate lilies

arising each year in Spring’s wakening

to remind me of the little girl I was.

http://media-files.gather.com/images/d879/d630/d745/d224/d96/f3/full.jpg
Me and a couple of my cousins, Joey & Rusty, Easter 1965. We were just back from church and anxious to change clothes to go egg hunting and then play football ;-)

Rose S. Williams
©Southernstoryteller-2007


The resurrection (or as we call them) Easter lilies bloom at Council every year, so I wrote this memory poem from when I was a little girl :)

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Christmas Tree....OOOOHHHHH Christmas Tree

A repost of an old story from my childhood :)

           
There's nothing that gets us in the mood for Christmas like getting a tree to decorate. Most of us have fond recollections of such an excursion. I have a memory of a time when I was young, and my mother and aunt decided to take my cousin Tony and me into the forest to find a tree. The excursion had an unexpected turn of events that none of us would soon forget.

If my momma had her way, we wouldn't have gone into the woods for our Christmas tree that year. She would have preferred having one of those flashy aluminum trees which were all the rage in the early 60's. Their silvery shine, alluringly illuminated by strategically placed spotlights in the window of Kressie's Department store, had caught her eye on our last visit to Waycross. She hinted how beautiful one would look in our house, to which my father snorted, "Why would I want to pay for a fake Christmas tree when we can go out in the woods and cut a real one!"

Momma had been after Daddy to cut us a tree, but he was busy with work and often didn't get in until after dark. Ever resourceful and more than a little miffed about not getting what she wanted, she took matters into her own hands. She called Aunt Lenora and suggested that the two of them, with Tony and me in tow, should go cut their own tree. Who said they had to wait on a man to cut down a tree and bring it in? Yes sir, even way back then, in 1963, my mother was a feminist!

We left our house early that Saturday morning in our little Ford Falcon. We drove only about fifteen minutes to reach our intended destination, an old farm place where a hundred years earlier hardy pioneer settlers had roughed it in this swampy, formidable part of southern Georgia. As a testament to their fortitude, part of the old fat lighter house was still standing. All around it, where there was once a vegetable garden and a barn, were many cedar trees of various shapes and sizes.

We trekked to the front of the house, Momma carrying the ax. Aunt Lenora had a ball of twine to wind around the limbs and tie the trees to the car. Momma and I wandered to the left of the house while Aunt Lenora and Tony took off to the right. The grownups called back and forth to one another when a likely prospect was sighted for inspection by the whole group. Although we were only six and four, Tony and I were given an equal vote in selecting the trees. After about thirty minutes, both households were satisfied that the perfect selections had been made.

The process of cutting the two trees was done in an efficient and practical manner; my mother and aunt both were used to gathering firewood since they were children. The first tree was felled, dragged to the car, and tied securely on top. We all headed back to finish and hurry home to hot chocolate and brownies.

We returned to the second tree, Tony and I playing tag, while Momma and Aunt Lenora discussed how far to trim branches and where to begin cutting.

It was Tony who first saw the wild boar that bolted into the clearing beyond where we were standing. Our boisterous game suddenly stopped because Tony was no longer running away from me. Instead, when he looked back over his shoulders to check on my progress, he froze in his tracks. His mouth became a perfect oval, his eyes widened, and a look of terror enveloped him. He mutely mouthed a warning. At first, I thought he was just trying to play a trick on me. Then I turned to look in the direction of his shaking, outstretched finger.

Immediately, I understood his look of fear. An enormous wild hog stood less than ten yards from us. The beast's sides, covered with muddy black and rust-colored fur, heaved with exertion. Protruding from his slobbering mouth were two razor-edged tusks. He seemed frozen too, and then he smacked his teeth together in a warning chomp. He snorted and charged in two short steps toward us. To us, it seemed as if his black, beady eyes were sizing us, trying to decide which one to eat first. We both began to scream shrilly, frightening the animal and ourselves.


Momma, who had been holding the ax, dropped it and began to run. Aunt Lenora followed closely on her heels. They continued screaming as they ran. The problem was, they weren't running to Tony and me, but instead were racing away in the opposite direction toward the road where the car was parked!

Tony and I stopped screaming. We were stunned. We couldn't believe we were being abandoned. As we watched helplessly our mothers disappeared around the bend in the road.

I remember looking over at Tony. His bottom lip was quivering like mine. We rushed together and hugged tightly. We tried bravely to reassure each other that everything would be all right. I began to pray that our daddies would come and save us.

By this time the boar had disappeared, probably frightened half to death by all the commotion and screaming. We were relieved when we glanced and found him gone. Our mothers, upon reaching the car and realizing they had left their only children to the mercy of a wild animal, rushed back to the tender scene of two young cousins trying to comfort each another.

We were gathered into their trembling arms and hugged to near unconsciousness before being released. Both mommas emphasized how it would be better if we didn't tell anyone about seeing that mean, nasty old hog, and what would we say to a trip to town for a dollar's worth of penny candy for both of us from Leviton's store.

Under our Christmas tree that year I reaped the bounty of my mother's guilt and perhaps, unintended bribery. That was the first Christmas I remember getting everything I asked Santa for, even that Barbie doll house that Momma had told me not to count on getting because Santa might run out of them before he got to our house.

You can bet one thing though--we had a beautiful six foot silver aluminum tree the very next year, and Momma and I both thought it was the prettiest Christmas tree in the whole wide world!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

At Six




At six, watching a grainy black and white

I puzzled at the horse drawn casket.

Why didn't they use a hearse?



At six, the throngs lining the street


made me anxious and sad

with their pinched, somber faces.


At six, I mourned for her and her brother.

She was just a little girl like me,

but now she had no daddy.


At six, I asked my mother

How did her daddy die?

A bad man killed him, she said.


At six, I lay in bed at night

and fretted who would rock her now,

and who would lead her pony?



At six, my heart ached for her.


For how could life be so cruel to someone

with a beautiful name like Caroline?






Rose S. Williams


Dec. 7, 2007




Saturday, October 26, 2013

A Tale of Two Grandpas


October is one of my favorite months. It brings with it a change in the weather from the humid days of summer to the coolness of the autumn mornings and nights.  It also brings with it a bittersweet sadness each year because it marks the birthday of two very special people in my life who have passed away.  In one of those strange coincidences of life, both of my grandpas were born on the same day (October 26th) ten years apart. They were as different in personality as two people can be, but both made me feel very special when I was a little girl.

My paternal grandfather was Jim Steedley. A lot of people called him Uncle Jim. I called him Grandaddy.  As one of the sons of “Bear” John Steedley, he was one of the last true pioneer settlers of the Okefenokee Swamp. He was born in 1902 and used to tell me about living on Billy’s Island in the Swamp when he was a little boy with his paternal grandmother who was part Native American. He learned to hunt, fish, and live off the land at a very young age.

 


Granddaddy always wore denim overalls with a tan or green khaki shirt and an old broad-brimmed felt hat. I can never remember seeing him wear anything else and, fittingly, it is what he was buried in.


 Granny and Grandaddy in the 50s.

Granddaddy was a quiet man. He didn’t talk unless he had something to say. He also had a reputation for being slow in every thing he did. In fact he was so slow that once, while driving home from a fishing trip, he didn’t quite make the curve on a dirt road. He was only going about 15 miles an hour at the time.
I learned a lot of things from Granddaddy. One of my favorites, at the age of three, was how to “sup” coffee much to my mother’s dismay. I remember sitting on his lap at the dining table while he prepared the coffee so that it was “fit to drink”, as he put it. First, he stirred in a generous portion of Carnation evaporated milk. Next came several heaping spoonfuls of sugar.  Once the coffee had turned a creamy tan, it was ready.  He’d then pour some from the cup to the saucer and gently blow on it until it cooled.  Finally, I was allowed to “sup” my coffee.  It always seemed to taste best when accompanied by a lot of slurping and lip-smacking.

A photo of Granddaddy and his brother-in-law taken in the mid 50s with a couple of their dogs after a hunting trip. They got a deer, a wild hog, and a black bear.

Granddaddy loved to hunt and fish.  My little dog Sam and I became two of his best fishing buddies. He’d drive out to Council to pick us up and we’d head for the nearest fishing hole. Sometimes we’d have to stop and catch crawfish along the way.  I’ve spent many summer afternoons with him fishing from the banks of the creeks and streams in the woods.  We didn’t do a lot of talking, but the companionship we shared was priceless and are some of my fondest memories.

My other grandpa was Milton Oscar Sweat. To all his grandchildren, he was PaPa.  PaPa was a preacher, the kind of preacher Dolly Parton sings about in her song, “Daddy was an Old-Time Preacher Man.”  If I didn’t know better I‘d think she wrote that song about him. As a matter of fact, that’s how a lot of people addressed him: Preacher Sweat.
 
A photo of PaPa and MaMa from the 40s.


  A photo of PaPa and MaMa taken at his birthday dinner in 1988.

PaPa’s devotion to his religion was foremost in his life. He preached the gospel with great zeal.  He praised God, shouted, and sang with all the enthusiasm that is expected of a Holiness preacher.   Believe me; if you went to one of his sermons, you came out with a blessing. When he was behind the pulpit, he held his audience’s complete attention. His sermons were both energetic and entertaining. There was no falling asleep during a sermon by Preacher Sweat!

The state leaders of his church respected his charismatic personality and his unique ability to motivate members.  Several times they asked him to take over a church that was in need of both a spiritual renewal and physical restoration.  In nearly forty years of ministry, he was a pastor at several churches throughout the state of Georgia. Under his leadership these churches blossomed.  They grew in membership and built new sanctuaries.  But, he wasn’t just a leader, he was a doer. He was as comfortable in work clothes with a hammer in his hand as he was wearing a three-piece suit and carrying a Bible.

PaPa was definitely a “people” person. He literally never met a stranger. He had a knack of making anyone feel welcome whether it was at his church or in his home.

There are so many wonderful things to remember when I think of him: his infamous practical jokes, the wonderful cooking skills he learned while a cook in the CCC camps, his inability to go past a yard sale without stopping, his fascination with tools and gadgets that always made playing in his garage an unending source of discovery, and his constant menagerie of animals: hogs, cows, dogs, cats, rabbits and chickens, just to name a few.

He had such a great sense of humor . He was always playing a joke on some of us grandkids and loved to laugh and enjoy life. The photo below captures his mischievous spirit perfectly:


All in all, I consider myself extremely lucky to have been loved by two such wonderful men. I treasure the relationship I had with both of my grandpas for I know it’s a large part of what made me who I am today.

Rose S. Williams
2005-Southernstoryteller

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Sleeping Tiger Wakes; Her Name is Maggie

This is either a short story on it's own, or a prelude to a chapter for something longer I'm writing...haven't decided yet. If you have time to read, please let me know what you think. Thanks in advance, Rose

Scoobie slapped the erasers against the large pine sending a white cloud of dust into the air. It was Friday and she had made it through the first week of school. She was happy that nothing bad happened, happy to take a deep breath for the first time all week. From hearing the muffled conversations of the adults around her, she had expected the worst. She wasn't exactly sure what "the worst" was, but she was relieved it hadn't happened.

Maybe this year wouldn’t be so bad after all.


She finished her chore and took the erasers back into her homeroom. Mrs. Grant smiled thanks as she looked up from her stack of papers and grading book.  Scoobie was sure that was probably the spelling test from this morning as she grabbed her books and lunch box and headed to the far side of school and the playground. She might be able to play a game of marbles or swing a little before the buses came to pick them up.

As soon as she rounded the corner of the building, the sight that greeted her eyes drew a tight knot in the pit of her stomach. For just a second she felt sick, like she was going to puke. There, by the slide, was a circle of children around Joseph.

Maggie Bell stood directly in front of him, smirking her plump lips, smeared with her mama's lipstick, into a smile that genuinely revealed her spiteful nature. She stood with her hands on her hips, head cocked to one side, rocking slightly to and fro as she spoke.

"Well, looky here, as if it ain't bad enough that they are a-sendin' coloreds here to our school," she paused and glanced around the crowd of children as if to solicit support, "they had to make matters worse by sending a damned retard! Ain't that a goofy-looking face, looks like he just woke up and cain't even open his eyes wide from being so sleepy!"

"Yeah, Maggie B., you're right, he shore does look crazy!" yelled Tate, Maggie's younger brother. "What you grinnin' at, you stupid little retard?"

Joseph flinched at the raised voices directed at him. The smile slipped from his mouth and he lowered his head like a dog being scolded. He raised his eyes just enough to glance around the group of children for a friendly face when he caught sight of Scoobie striding toward the group.

"You'd best leave him alone, Maggie Bell Hoover! He ain't nothin' but a little boy and he ain't doin' nothin' to you. Just back off, you hateful old cow!" Scoobie was mad as she had ever been in her life, but even so she couldn't believe the words coming from her mouth.

"I'd best do what? Why, I can beat the hell out of you, little Miss Goody Two Shoes, so YOU better turn around right now while you can still walk away, 'fore you have to crawl!"
Maggie's eyes flashed fire and she had balled her right hand into a fist, shaking it in Scoobie's direction.

"You ain't never been nothin' but a little smart-ass teacher's pet your whole life and I'm jest 'bout sick of you. Course, I ain't surprised, you takin' up for this little retard, since all you ever had to play with out there in the sticks where you live is them niggers!"

By now Joseph had tears streaming down his face and snot running out of his nose. He was frightened and looked timidly up at the big blond girl who was arguing with Scoobie. He attempted to walk out of the circle and to safety, but he was halted by Maggie's hand on his shoulder.

"Just a minute, Retard, I didn't say you could go nowhere, now did I? Come on, Sco-o-o-obie, walk over here close enough so I can jack your jaws for you, you little chicken-shit!" Maggie drawled Scoobie's name mockingly and jerked Joseph closer to her by grabbing his overall strap.

Scoobie walked towards Maggie and her hostage, trembling with each step, but trying to look brave. As she walked past Martha she heard her friend whisper, "Scoobie don't, she'll hurt you and him."

Then, Martha abrubtly turned and bolted toward the school office.

"Martha Hendley! Don't you run your skinny little ass in there and tattle on me girl; I'll get you, too. You just wait and see!" Maggie hurled her threats at Martha's fleeing back.

Scoobie stopped just short of Maggie's reach. She looked around the circle of children. There were ten there, and three of them were Hoovers. She looked each one of the other children straight in the eyes.

"What are y'all gonna do, just stand there and watch her pick on a little boy," Scoobie asked incredulously.

Joseph was crying harder now. He had come to the playground, slipping away from his three brothers, to where the younger children played because it was the one he was used to when school was in session. He liked this side because there was a slide and the swings were lower to the ground. His brothers and the other Negro children were at the back of the school on the swings or playing kick ball.

Integration was new here at the elementary school; it was only the end of the first week of the school year. But already, invisible lines were drawn on the playgrounds. Everyone knew what was unspoken; it was like a rotting carcass on the highway that no one would move. They just put up with the smell and waited for it to pass.

Everybody was on edge; Scoobie could sense it and told her parents so. When asked last night at supper about how things were going, she said everyone was walking on tiptoes like there was a big old mean tiger in the room and they didn't want to wake it. Her daddy laughed, and then stopped when Momma shot him "The Look."

"So nobody's gotten in any fights yet?"

"No Ma'am. But Maggie's been saying things under her breath about Miss Hodges. She says it just loud enough so those around her can hear, and some of them start giggling. Miss Hodges had to send her to Mr. Edward's office this afternoon."

"Scoobie, at the first sign of any trouble from that girl, you let a teacher know, you hear me? If she starts talking back to Miss Hodges or heaven forbid, tries to strike at her, you go straight to Mr. Edward's office."

Scoobie assured her mother she would. The promise was now ringing in her ears. She knew she couldn't go get anybody right now; she had to do this herself. She was hoping Martha found someone soon.

She looked Maggie square in the eyes. Maybe she could reason with her.

"Maggie, let Joseph go, he's only six years old and he ain't hurting anybody."


"NO!" Maggie shouted. "He should have stayed around there on his side of the building! They may force us to sit in the same classroom and eat in the same lunchroom, but school's out for the day and he had no business coming over here. This is OUR side after school."

She shook Joseph's suspenders roughly, making the child cry out in fear.

Scoobie lunged towards Maggie and the frightened boy, not knowing what she would do, except probably end up getting the pure heck beat out of her. She was stopped short by Miss Hodges' angry voice.

"What is going on here? Maggie, let go of that child's clothes right now! I mean it girl, I won't have you picking on anybody, especially a first-grader!"

Maggie held Joseph defiantly, the sides of her jaws working as she clenched and unclenched her teeth. She darted her eyes back and forth from Miss Hodges to Scoobie, while everyone waited for her next move.

The early September heat, combined with the tension, stifled their breath. Had her look of wrath and contempt been a weapon, both Miss Hodges and Scoobie would be withering in agony on the ground as they drew their last gasping breaths. She shook Joseph free from her grasp with such force that he fell to the dirt at her feet. He quickly scooted away towards Scoobie, whimpering like a scolded dog as he went.

Miss Hodges started towards Maggie and was startled into a dead stop by the scream that spewed from the girl's mouth.

"AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!" It was a howl of utter rage and she drew back her hand in the posture of a slap.

"I'd think long and hard about that, young lady," Miss Hodges uttered in a low voice that was carefully controlled between her gritted teeth.

"For Gawd's sake, Maggie B., you cain't hit a teacher, even if she is colored!? Tate shouted, "'Sides, ain't none of 'em worth the trouble! Come on, let's go home!"

He turned and walked away towards the road, glancing back after a few steps to see if his sister was following. Maggie had dropped her hand and was looking at the crowd coldly.
"Well, ain't none of you chicken-shits got nothin' to say? Why don't you back me up on this, or are y'all all nigger-lovers too?? She looked defiantly at the group, none of which would return her gaze.

"Bunch of lilly-livered, nigger-lovin' asses," she muttered in disgust, cutting her eyes toward Miss Hodges, as she turned to follow her brother. The other two Hoover brothers slunk away after their siblings. The crowd watched them disappear around the corner and stood quietly, only Joseph’s whimpering breaking the awkward silence.

Then, the sound of the high school bus horn, blowing to warn the elementary school children that it was coming, startled them into action. They scattered like squirrels towards the front of the school to gather books and lunch boxes and assemble in a line to board the buses.

Scoobie squatted down to help Joseph. She patted him reassuringly on the back as Tyrone came running around the corner of the building. He stopped in his tracks for a moment when he saw Scoobie and his baby brother.

He rushed over to them. "Joseph, I'm so sorry I weren't here to help you. Why did you leave? You knows you 'sposed to stay on that side with us." He extended a hand to help Joseph off the ground.

Looking at Scoobie he smiled. "Thank you for standin' up for him Scoobie, he cain't hardly take up for hisself."

"Well, she did a fine job of taking up for him, so don't you worry about that!" said Miss Hodges as she walked toward the children. "And, I intend to let Mr. Edwards know everything that went on here so don't y'all worry about any trouble from Maggie."

Scoobie sighed heavily. Miss Hodges didn't know Maggie very well at all, having just started teaching this school year. She didn’t know any of the Hoovers, they could be real mean.

She tried to explain, "Well, those Hoovers ain't exactly the kinda people you want to make mad, Miss Hodges. I appreciate your tellin' Mr. Edwards but I'm gonna have to watch my step around here for a while with her as it is, so I hope she don't get in too much trouble . It'll just make her that much madder at me."

 Scoobie turned and started towards the buses.

 Miss Hodges caught up with her, laying a hand on her shoulder, "You did the right thing Scoobie. I know it was hard, but you listened to your heart."

Scoobie nodded her head in understanding; her eyes were filled with tears. "I know, I know and I'm glad I did, but it won't make this year any easier for me."

The bus ride home seemed to take forever and Scoobie sat a seat at the back staring out the window, her mind racing. This was not the way she had planned for the school day to end. Maggie could make life miserable for her and she knew it.

She didn't relish having to be on her toes all year as a means of surviving the wrath of a Hoover. They had been known to hold grudges for years, sometimes even to the point where the other person had forgotten the argument, and then strike back.

Just going to the bathroom would take a lot of thought and planning, because the last thing Scoobie would want is to be caught in that bathroom at the same time as Maggie Bell. She was sure that girl would beat the living daylights out of her first chance she got! Maggie would be willing to face the consequences just to get even, Scoobie had no doubt of that.

Scoobie felt weary, she was glad it was Friday. At least she had the weekend to shield her from Maggie's wrath. She heard someone walking down the aisle towards her. They stopped short of her seat. She looked from the bus window to see who it was.

It was Joseph. His eyes were swollen from crying, and he wore a tenuous smile. Scoobie patted the seat beside her and he slipped in.

"Are you alright Joseph?"

"I okay. Tank you Coobie."

Scoobie was used to Joseph's limited speech due to his impediment. His momma worked for Scoobie's family and she had known him and his brothers ever since she was a little girl. 

Living in a small turpentine village, as the only white family, Scoobie grew up having all the colored children as playmates. She didn't understand the big to-do about integration. She didn’t understand why so many people were so mad that they were all going to go to school together.

"I'm glad you're okay, Joseph. I'm sorry for the awful things she said to you. She's a mean girl; her whole family is that way. She had no right to treat you like that." Scoobie reached out and patted Joseph's small hand.

The child looked up at Scoobie and smiled, his face soft with gratitude. He leaned his head against her shoulder.

Scoobie felt her breath catch and her eyes tear up. She wondered why the world had to be so hard and hateful sometimes.

Outside the pine trees whirled by as the bus rolled along the highway towards their little village. She took a deep breath and sighed. Today she felt much older than her twelve years. Momma and Granny often told her she was an old soul.

Today, for the first time, she thought she finally understood what they meant.

It was going to be a long school year. She would have a tiger stalking her every move.

Rose S. Williams
©Southernstoryteller~2008