Monday, March 18, 2013

DIY Karma

"Meanness is generally rewarded. With itself." --Sans

Yes I just quoted myself. I posted that on Facebook yesterday, the result of a long chat session on FB with a friend. I can't say anything about that here, but I can tell one of my favorite stories.

Several years ago, my mom got a call from a man she had gone to school with and who had lived down the street from her. I still remember the block of small-town row houses he came from: squat, run-down, four-roomed houses that might have been called shacks...if one weren't feeling very generous. That was the 70's, not the 50's when my mom was growing up. Maybe they had been cute, cozy little cottages back in the day, but they cast the shadow of a slum by the time I was old enough to remember. Her house was palatial by comparison: two stories with a full basement, a two-car garage, a barn, a chicken house and a huge yard all built on a hill overlooking everyone else. And, because she was also shy, her schoolmates thought she was stuck up.

I'll get back to the guy later, but now, time for a flashback.

My mom walked the railroad behind her house (which, by the way, was a private track built off the Monon so a very rich townsman could drive his own locomotive to the local train station, such was the eccentricity of small-town Indiana life) to get to the Friend's Meeting every Sunday (my grandparents weren't much on religion; she always went alone). To get there from the railroad, which passed by the Meeting House as it wended its way deep into the park-like grove of trees that surrounded the rich man's estate, she had to walk behind the row houses.

One Sunday, she walked past the neighborhood boys as they were playing baseball in their collective back yards (there were no fences to separate them). She went to the Meeting and then returned the same way. This time, however, the boys were waiting on the track. She kept walking, I imagine with her head down, and started to go around them. The oldest one held out a stick, threatening her with it, and calling her names. And then, just as she brushed by one of them, the rest grabbed her from behind, and the boy with the stick lifted her skirt. They all cackled as they made fun of my mother's underwear. She wrested away and ran home crying. I imagine her face was hot with tears when she burst through the screen door at the back of the house.

After Mom told her what happened, Grandma sent her to bed for a nap.

So flash forward to the guy on the telephone. He had run into the woman who used to babysit all of them and found out whom my mother had married (her high school sweetheart) and where she was living. And he called to tell her the rest of the story.

See, my grandmother was so typically a grandmother, even at that age (she gave birth to my mother, her first child, in her early thirties and, being, herself, the first born daughter of 12 siblings, had already raised quite a few children) that you might have mistaken her for sweetness and light. She loved to bake cookies and pies. She sewed her own fashions. And she was typically Ozark soft-spoken with the whispy Southern drawl of hill people from Arkansas. My grandmother.

MY GRANDMOTHER. She married at 15, suffered her husband's mistress, and rejoiced when he was murdered by the mistress's bootlegger husband. She picked whatever crop she could during the Dust Bowl and loaded explosives into bombs in WWII. I never knew her to be afraid of anything, and I'll tell you, I respected and obeyed that woman for as long as she lived. But then she told me things she had never then or ever after told anyone else, and I understood I was not to tell either. We were kindred spirits; I felt, and still do, the power no one else really saw in her coursing through me so pervasively that it continues to shock me.

This grandma, who was the Annie Oakley of grandmothers in my book, went to the neighbor boy's house and spoke with his mom. He was still in the backyard, the baseball game having resumed. His mother, apparently infuriated with her son, told my grandmother to take whatever steps necessary. So she went out to the backyard, jerked him up by the collar, and brought his face within inches of hers: "If you ever touch my daughter again, I will beat you so hard you'll wish you were dead. And that goes for all the rest of you, too." And then she let go, made a sweeping gesture, and then a fist. Having made her point, she walked stolidly out of the back yard. The boy's father came out with the belt...and, well, you know the rest of that.

So the boy, now well into middle age, called my mother to apologize for teasing her and lifting her skirt.

And to let her know that the boys involved had told the story all over town, and everyone knew to be nice to my mom because there was one bad ass bitch standing behind her.

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