I don’t know if “Fancy” didn’t get any direction at home, and I don’t know what kind of a girl she was before she got her reputation, but I can’t understand for the life of me why there wasn’t somebody who felt a sense of responsibility to step in and have a quiet heart-to-heart talk with her. Surely somebody could have seen this type of thing comin… Like watching a head-on collision take place without callin out a warning. That kind of “it’s not my place… it’s not my business” way of thinkin is not, I don’t think, very Christian for a bunch of church folks.
Poor Miss Fancy Pants. Thinkin back on it, I really feel sorry for that girl. She had so much potential. She really was a pretty little girl. She had too much put on her too soon…more than she bargained for I’m sure. She stopped comin to church. I don’t know if it was because she was ashamed or if she was just followin in the ways of her own parents. When she didn’t come to church anymore I reckon she didn’t have any old folks to brag on her or any youngins to hero-worship her anymore. I reckon she must have stopped seein any friends she might have had left too. My sisters said they didn’t talk to her because they didn’t have anything in common anymore. Maybe that’s true, but I bet if they had tried they could have found some things.
The man she ended up married to didn’t seem mean, but it was pretty obvious by the way he didn’t look at her or touch her that he didn’t much care about her one way or the other. He was always off huntin or fishin, or runnin around town with his friends. I think he only paid her attention when needed her. He didn’t seem to need her much after a few years…especially after she had a few more babies and her youthful glow started to wane. Her hips got wide and her breast got saggy and her hair and skin and eyes lost their luster and shine. The best word that I can think to describe her, before she was even twenty-five, is resigned. She looked used up and like it didn’t even matter. Her eyes already said she had given up. I hate to admit it, but when I saw her and all her youngins out, I usually acted like I didn’t see her. I think that is how a lot of people were to her and it makes me sad. I wish I could do it over. I wish I hadn’t helped make her invisible.
One would think that a person could and would and should learn a lot from watchin someone else make a mistake. One would think.
There is a lot to love about my people…my family, friends, church…my community. But lookin back, they messed up big sometimes. We messed up. Bottom line is, sometimes people need to hear the truth. Even if it isn’t their business to tell it. We’re all brothers and sisters when it comes right down to it. We might not take the time and interest to tell a stranger that we care about them… but surely we should take the time and interest to tell a family member. There are some things that we learn from our parents and grandparents that we want to continue because it’s good and right and because it works… and then there are other things that are just plain old wrong. If somebody sees it as plain old wrong, they’ve got a duty to call it what it is…and at least try to change it.
Yes, even though we had all seen what had happened to Miss Fancy (No) Pants at church and then after, my parents or grandparents didn’t discuss it with us at all. Everybody’s parents in the church and community treated it like it was such a taboo. Us children only dared speak of it in whispers too. I couldn’t understood though, why after that, Momma always demanded that I wear clean underwear when I went out in public. “You just never know what might happen! You might get in an accident or get run-over!” I didn’t know why I would care if I had on clean underwear if I was run-over… I figured my underwear was the last thing I would be concerned about… or the last thing that the person who ran over me would care about for that matter. But it was one of those idiotic rules that I chose to act like I heard and obeyed. When Momma would ask after the condition of my underwear, I would reassure her. “Yes, Ma’am. It’s clean. You don’t need to worry if I get run-over.” I knew she was more concerned that I had on underwear, than whether or not it was clean… but she harped on it being clean.
It’s funny to think about, but I actually spent time figurin out how I would handle it if somebody ran me over in dirty or holey underwear. Of course, I would have to ask Momma’s forgiveness for my ragged drawers after the accident…if I survived. And if Momma scolded me, I would tell her that she was right and I was terribly, terribly wrong. Momma would probably like that. After the incident with Miss Fancy Pants I knew the real reason why Momma wanted me to wear underwear anyway, even if she was too uncomfortable to discuss it with me. At an early age I was determined not to bring that type of attention to myself or my family. Funny how what we plan and how things turn out aren’t always they same. I can still hear my Grandma saying… “The way to hell is paved with good intentions.”
Many times as an adult Grandma’s warning words came into my head, and I wanted to ask my Grandma, “But where is hell, Grandma?… a place you go when you die or can it be here on earth?” And who are the intentions supposed to be good for? Do we do things to make someone else happy even if it isn’t going to make us happy…do we go ahead and do the things others expect us to do even though we know it is the wrong thing to do? A person can get so turned around and confused about what is right and what is wrong if they’re listenin to too many voices.
Some people say, “Damned if you do and damned if you don’t”. But, I’ve decided, after a lot of experience on this subject, that a person’s only truly damned when they stop listening to their own voice. When they stop hearing the voice inside. When they lose faith and stop believin.
I was taught to listen to and respect my elders, and I understood that some rules were important to follow to prevent chaos… and to prevent dishonor from fallin on me or mine. And if I was supposed to honor my father and my mother, that certainly meant my Heavenly Father too. I would wear horrible itchy clothes, and tight braids every Sunday if that was what was expected. And I would wear underwear every time I went out in public, although not necessarily nice ones… and I would try as best I could not to dishonor anybody. And that meant me too.
As a child, part of givin God my best included a smooth head of hair, nicely braided and adorned with a big, fat ribbon. And a itchy and uncomfortable dress… and silly frilly socks, and ugly and painful slick- soled, buckle shoes. My feet had been washed on Saturday night right along with the rest of me, but they were so dirty from runnin around bare-footed all week that after a long while of intense scrubbin…so long that my bath water was a cold as an ice cube, Momma would just give up tryin to make my feet clean. She would throw up her hands, throw me a towel and tell me to put on some socks. She wouldn’t hand me the lacy, frilly footwear…she would throw them at me in complete exasperation. “I guess that will just have to do. Looks like it is the best it’s going to get. You know if you kept your feet clean by wearing socks and shoes outside and brushed your hair everyday, we wouldn’t have such a battle every Saturday night.”
But I didn’t mind the battle. It wasn’t that big of a sacrifice. It was the price of freedom. I knew how to pick a battle, and I usually wouldn’t start one unless I cared a whole lot about it and I was pretty sure I could win. I didn’t care if my feet were dirty, or if my hair was tangled… and I knew that I would have to give up half of the stuff that I loved to do, and spend a lot of extra time doin things I didn’t care to do, if I decided to stay clean…so it was an easy choice for me to make. One intense, short-lived time of groomin misery was fine if it only happened once a week. In my case the saying, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” was just not one bit true. No way was I willin to do the type of prevention necessary to stay clean and untangled. That would mean turnin into Betsy or Sharon, and I would rather take a whole bottle of castor oil along with my scouring bath and wrenching combings as cure to prevent anythin like that from ever happenin.
Another favorite saying, “A stitch in time saves nine” is true enough, but I would rather fix myself into somethin presentable on Saturday night then be constantly worryin over every little knotted hair or dirty fingernail or stained garment. But as far as sayings go, the one that I think best sums up Momma’s ministrations on me was spoken by my dear Daddy. After Betsy had said scolded Momma for “lettin me go around lookin like that…” and left in a loud huff, Daddy came to the door to see what had caused Betsy latest dramatic explosion. For some reason, Daddy had figured out over time that whatever had made Betsy squawk, was in general gonna to make him have a good, hardy laugh. But Daddy had too much class to show up at the same time Betsy was pitchin a fit. He didn’t want to escalate the drama, so he would wait until the coast was clear to see what the latest thing was. That’s where he was, right where Betsy had just left moments before at the door way. He peaked inside my room and saw me with my rat’s nest hair and Momma’s wide-toothed comb thoroughly and completely stuck. “Ruthie,” he laughed, “It looks like you’ve got a hard row to hoe!” And he walked away shakin his head and laughin.
“If only I had a plow. Better yet, a sickle.”
The thought of Momma, being frustrated like she was, with a sharp blade in her hand near my head, made me shudder. It would be much easier, no doubt, just to whack all my hair off in a nice short hair cut like Tommy and Billy and Jack… but that really would cause gossip. And besides, I loved my hair…I just wasn’t willing to spend time on it every day. The time it would take to keep my feet and nails and hair in order every day seemed like a complete nightmare and a complete waste of precious livin time… it was utterly unthinkable.
So there I was every Saturday night before I went to bed, clean as I was going to get and hair braided to keep it from tangling again in the night. On Sunday mornin, my hair would be re- braided and tied with a bow; my hands, face, elbows and knees which had been scrubbed to a red raw shine would have lost it’s irritated look and look half-way presentable. My family would all drive to church together and take our respective places. I had close or distant relatives sittin beside me or behind me or in front of me in the same rows of pews every single Sunday year in and year out. Surrounded by my own. At my home away from home.