|For the Beginning Of the Story Click Here|
Back in the Dirty 30s people with money had family pictures taken, but we didn't have two nickels to rub together most of the time. Let me tell you what you'd see if we had been captured by one of those magic boxes. You'd see Pop standing in the middle looking stern, with a bushy beard and the greatcoat his own father had worn in the war. I was never clear about which side Grandpa fought for, and I'm not sure that Grandpa was clear about it either. I guess he was for whoever gave him food and shoes at the moment. At any rate, he made a pile of money selling cane rum to both sides, then lost it in cotton speculation, whatever that is. He went out west to try his hand at the abandoned gold mines, thinking he could find veins of gold with a dousing stick. That's where he met my Grandma, who was in the entertainment business.
Pop was born and raised somewhere out there, learned to ride horses, speak Injun and drink liquor. One day Grandpa fell down an old mine shaft and died. Pop swore off liquor forever. Grandma took Pop (whose name is really Elvin) and joined a wagon train headed back east, with a little gold dust sewn in her hem and a music box to play. She would sing along with the box and men would come and give her coins to hear her voice. Pop had to sit outside when the men came to visit on account of his sour face. One night she took sick and had a fit, and the next day she died. Pop shot a man who was trying to take the music box. They had a trial right then and there, and when they looked to the Bible it said that he should not be killed but be put away from others. They left him with food and water and some other things. He made do with what he had and built him a little sod shack. So that's how he ended up on the homestead where me and Bird were born. He kept the Bible too.
But back to that picture which isn't real except to me. There's Ma in her one good dress which is blue like the morning sky before the dust makes it a sick yellow. It's left from the bunch she used to own before she married Pop. They met at a church dance and he asked for her hand about a week later. It was probably pretty and white then, but now her hands are freckled and red with all the sun and washing and mending and catching chickens. She's smiling because she's got a chance to do nothing and look nice for a few minutes. I never saw Ma be still except when she was sleeping, and even then she twitched a little like she was dreaming about stirring pots or chasing after Bird.
Bird is sitting cross-legged at her feet twirling a piece of string or some such nonsense. He's never still either less he's got something to mess with. Some people take him for a girl because he's got long blond hair and big green eyes. Pop cuts his hair once in a while but Ma and I have to sit on him and he scratches and bites like a cat in a wash tub.
The scarecrow with scabby knees wearing a too-short dress is me. I've got Pop's dark eyes and black hair but it doesn't curl and doesn't lay right. It sticks out all around my head like I've just been scairt. Ma did her best to make me look a proper girl sometimes but it seemed like I'd go right back to being dirty and messy the minute her back was turned. Being a lady didn't seem much fun anyway; you weren't supposed to spit or run or wrestle, and sometimes I had to wear knickers with lace that drove me wild with itching. It made me wonder if all clothes made Bird feel that way, because he was forever stripping them off and running around nekkid as a jaybird.
I carried that imaginary picture in my head until a real picture took its place. A real picture in a real newspaper. But that's at the end of my story and this is just the beginning.