Thursday, March 19, 2015


And the Thorntons---five children in that small shotgun house not too much farther down the road, the gray-weathered board-and-batten house with the rickety porches fore and aft and a bathroom finally added in a section of the back porch. The ceiling of the bathroom was left as is---simple painted rafters with the roofing nails punched through like symmetrical stalactites, and it was always a surprise to wake in the night, go into the bathroom, and hear the rain drumming on the roof. 

The front porch was long-ago-screened, but romping, wrestling children had punched great gaps into the mesh, and the flappy screendoor sagged a wedge-gap top and bottom. Meadie Thornton tried, she did---she planted hollyhocks up against the side walls of the house, with smaller flowers in front, and big smooth clunks of river rocks bordering the beds. She’d had her oldest boy cut a tire into neat pointy edges, and turn it inside out. Whitewashed, it made a quite creditable planter for the red petunias; one planter led to two, and soon the place was garnished in about half-a-dozen places with round pinking-sheared white planters of bright flowers. Two of them were giant-sized, due to her bartering a shoat for two old used tractor tires.

Hoot’s only misgivings, save for his grimace at all the fancifying of the place, was that all that whitewash would be better used on the chicken-house and the toolshed. Since neither edifice had ever known paint of any kind, nor had it occurred to Hoot to neaten them up any, Meadie had tartly replied that the last ten-gallon bucket of lime had been gathering dust out back for a coon’s age. It had been sitting there in the shed, still sealed up from back when Hoot's Daddy had bought three of them at the auction at Khinnl’s Feed Store when O-Man Khinnl died and his grown kids squabbled about their inheritance to beat the band, selling off house, land and store as fast as they could grab the money.

The other drums of lime had been used for sanitizing the outhouse. Since that shining spot had long been dozed over and filled in, in favor of the new bathroom at the end of the back porch, Meadie felt vindicated in using up all that old lime in any way she wanted, and whitewash it was. She broom-swabbed all the tree-trunks in the yard, as well, looping a string neatly at the height of her yardstick and painting a razor-margin deftly with an old paintbrush.


And if whitewash would have clung to the enameled outside of coffeecans and big #10 cans from Showboat Pork & Beans, she’d have tarted them right up, as well, for all the coleus and purple verbena which graced the weathered porches and rickety steps of the house. She wanted---with every breath of her 108-pound-body---she wanted things pretty. And neat, and clean and any other adjective which would describe a serene, pleasantly tidy household. That it was a losing battle, except in bright bits and pieces, never occurred to her; every day was a prospect, and she took it on by sheer will and a longing which eclipsed the labor.

Her sensibilities even led her to hang her clothes on the line in neat rows of succeeding sizes, and when she’d done all the whites, she’d hang all the underwear neatly, then scurry to flip and pin a just-washed wet sheet over the entire line. Nobody was looking at HER family’s underdrawers, no sir, not on OR off. And they’d all dry nicely in the sun by evening, anyway.

The tires and trees had been spruced up four times over the succeeding years, the last two with sacks of paid-for lime of a new kind, and the porch screens were new plastic mesh, stretched tight and mosquito-proof, with a new strong-springed screendoor front and back on the house.    And Meadie had begun Painting-by-Number in her spare time.

Both families struggled---with Life and Circumstance and plain old hard labor, but Meadie Thornton, too, longed for MORE, and brightened her corner where she could, with what she had---tractor tires, coffeecans and leftover-lime whitewash.

And a young boy, meant for better things, had stepped out into his own ravaged yard and flung out like a challenge, a dare---one visible-for-miles bright blue flare of gleaming bottles.

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