“Well go on, girl,” Maime said to Jadie, her oldest. “Take th’ others an’ go on up and pay your respects to your lovin’ Granpappy. I cain’t go up there again. I jus’ cain’t.” Her voice had gone up from a shaky whine to a squeak.
Jadie looked up at her mama, saw her quivering lips, like the speed wobbles, getting fast out of control, and she knew her mama was fixing to take that inevitable spill. “I just cain’t do it no more, girl,” she heard her mama whisper low and raspy, spooky-like.
Jadie wondered if that meant just going back up to the casket or carrying on, period. She didn’t know what it was like to lose a papa like her mama had just done, didn’t even know who her papa was, so she could only imagine a little bit of what that might be like.
Maime bent down to Jadie, put her hands on her girl’s bony shoulders, and looked into her eyes. She said to Jadie in that same, spooky rasp, “The very heart of me is torn up ta shreds, girl, and like ta leave my body and go with Granpappy.”
Jadie guessed that meant her mama had meant carrying on, period, and all of Jadie’s insides just dropped out under the heaviness of her mama’s agony, felt like they were getting crushed like junk cars. She had thought prior to give her mama a look that would lift her up a little, but now she felt too small to do even that, and her eyes dropped like the rest of her innards, and she whispered an empty, “Yes, Ma’am.”
Then Maime let it all go. She bust out crying like a sorrowful howl changing to an angry screech and everyone froze and looked and finally the preacher ran over to her just as her eyes rolled back in her head. He broke her fall to the floor and lay her down easy and hollered for someone to call 911 and get a glass of water. And Jadie wondered if maybe now was the time her mama was going to follow Granpappy. But her little brothers were running around all willy-nilly and her baby sisters were crawling toward the flowers and someone had to do something about that.
Jadie dove out from the rumpus after her siblings with a vengeance, she hurt so bad. She grabbed Jackie by the scruff of his neck with one hand and caught little Jimmie’s trousers with the other. She pulled them together like wishing to glue them together permanently. She bent down to them and through gritted teeth hissed, “Move or talk and you’re dead. Dead, like Granpappy, dead like Mama!” The impact of those last words turned the two little boys to pillars of salt, the desired effect.
Jadie glared anger and pain at them and rushed over to where her two baby sisters were fixing to pull down the monstrous flower arrangement on the table by the casket. The one-year-old was pulling on the two-year-old who was grabbing the tablecloth trying to pull herself up by it and the whole thing was sliding. Just in time, Jadie grabbed them both. She looked over at the two boys and began zinging eye-darts at them when she heard the preacher holler, “She’ll be alright, folks! Praise God! It’ll all be OK now!”
Jadie’s knees about gave out right then, she’d been through so much so quick, and now it’ll be all OK. But it wasn’t. There Granpappy lay dead, and her mama might as well have died for all the fear and the icy, hollow insecurity and dread she felt gripping her head and all of her guts. And even though her mama was still alive, in a wave Jadie felt a knowing wash over her that her whole life was hinging on those words, “I just cain’t do it no more.”
She felt faint, like she was going to drop both babies and die herself, when she felt something shift hard inside her, like when you take one thing off the rack at the store, the next thing in line behind it chunks into place, and those racks are never out, Mr. Pickard made sure of it. And she had a feeling that her racks would never be depleted, either. Trust in her mama got taken out and trust in herself had chunked into place. Now she was running the store.
She looked over at Maime being checked out by the paramedics and mumbling all manner of nonsense interspersed with the occasional screech, and Jadie quickly walked over to the two boys still glued together in the same spot, bawling. Pretty soon the grown-ups would be deciding about what to do with them all while their mama was indisposed, and she must pay her respects to Granpappy.
Jadie worked fast with the boys, hugged and kissed them until she saw hope in their eyes and she wiped at their wet faces with her hands and dried her hands off on her skirt. She gathered up the babies, headed for the casket, and motioned with her head for the boys to follow. They hopped and skipped to the casket calling, “Granpy! Granpappeeee!” Jadie shushed them and said, “Boys! You know Granpappy’s not in his body, right?”
“Where’d he go?” Jackie asked.
“Yeah, whea?” Jimmie followed up.
“Same place Pinkycat went,” Jadie said.
“Ta Heaven?” Jackie asked.
“Some say,” Jadie answered. “All I knows is you don’ have ta holler ta talk ta Granpappy no more. You can jus’ think things ta him and he can hear ya.” The boys squealed with delight. Jadie tousled their hair and continued, “An’ you can feel him hanging around, like now, I can feel his smile on me like sunshine! Can’t you?”
Both boys jumped up and down and shouted, “Yeah! ” and high-fived each other.
Jadie just leaned over the casket, kissed her granpappy goodbye and whispered in his ear, “But don’ trust me nor nobody, boys. Jus’ trust yourselves.” She stood back upright and said aloud, “Ain’t that right Granpappy?”
“Oh, you knows it, girl,” she answered for him.
Old Mississippi River Bridge from http://image64.webshots.com/164/9/54/4/2445954040050986932UuYywA_fs.jpg
Joan Baez “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down”
Missalister’s “Ol’ Dixie down,” copyright © 2009, was spun off the Sunday Scribblings prompt “#151 – Trust.” Click here for more on prompt #151 from other Sunday Scribblings participants.