Friday, December 11, 2009

The Neighbor-Lady

I stumbled across "the {W}rite-of-Passage" blog with today's challenge, thanks to a fellow KellyMom and Facebook friend. The assignment is to observe someone you don't know, then write a short essay about them. Meet "The Neighbor-Lady."

I see her taking her morning walk when I am driving in the car, bringing my daughter to daycare or heading out to the grocery store. She is elderly, perhaps in her late 60's or early 70's, and walks with a cane. She lives in the brown house at the end of the street. She gives out treats at Halloween, and she has a lovely Christmas tree in her window from Thanksgiving until New Year's Day. The elderly gentleman, her husband, mows the lawn in the summer, using a riding mower, and puts out the flag on patriotic holidays, and on 9/11. It's not a huge lawn, but I can imagine how strenuous it would be for an older man to walk behind a mower in the sweltering Mississippi summer.

When she was younger, she used to chase her children around that lawn. The oldest, Mary-Elizabeth, wasn't much of a runner, preferring instead to stick to the swings and the slide in the backyard but the two boys, John Dennis and Bubba Lee, would wear her out in half-an-hour just trying to keep up with them! She hadn't wanted David to have a nickname, but he was so roly-poly when he was born that everyone took to calling him "Bubba Lee," and it stuck. A nickname like Bubba is hard to shrug off in the South. He had lived up to it, too. At 14, he refused to go to church for the first time.

"Momma," he declared one Sunday morning in May,
"I jes' don't believe the way that you and Daddy do."

The rest of the family went to church without him, but she cried during the service.

That was only the beginning of the trouble with Bubba Lee. A month after his stand against the Gospel, Bubba Lee managed to sneak himself into his sister's graduation party. It was only supposed to be for seniors, but if there was a party going on, Bubba was sure to be there. He stole the Vodka from his father's liquor cabinet, and smuggled it into the party in green glass Sprite bottles. When Mary-Elizabeth heard someone yell "Bubba, NO!" and saw the crowd gather, her heart sank. She had warned her brother to stay away, that this was her night and she didn't want him ruining it for her, but he hadn't listened. Resigned, she walked over to where the crowd was gathered and told the chaperones,

"I'm sorry, I'll take him home now."

She was relieved to see that the other boy appeared uninjured. She grilled Bubba on the way home about what had happened, but he didn't speak a word, preferring instead to give her his famous silent treatment.

She managed to get him into the house without waking her father, but her mother heard the commotion. She didn't say a word, but Bubba saw the sad, disappointed look in her eyes as he passed her in the hallway. He knew that she would spend the rest of the night crying, and praying for his soul. He didn't protest when she woke him at eight the next morning and asked him to mow the lawn and re-paint the trim on the shed. The incident of the previous night was not mentioned, but they both knew that she was the one person who kept him from real trouble. The thought of disappointing his mother, more than anything else, deterred him from more heinous crimes.

He was constantly in trouble. He would drink whenever he could get his hands on alcohol. HIs mother finally persuaded his father not to keep any liquor in the house any more - no lock or hiding place could deter Bubba from getting at it. When he drank, he became belligerent, and wasn't satisfied until he had gotten into a fight. Since he was naturally clumsy, he almost always looked worse than the objects of his attacks. No one ever pressed charges, but he neglected his schoolwork to the point that he was barely scraping by. He finally did graduate high school, though he had to repeat his Junior year.

The day after graduation, his parents sat him down to find out what his plans for the future might be.

"The way I see it Son," his father began, "you have two options. You can either get yerself a job, or you can join the Army."

His mother, tears in her eyes, nodded in agreement. "David," she pleaded, "I jes' can't watch you destroyin' yerself any more. It's breakin' my heart!"

Bubba's eyes were shining too, but he would not let himself cry. "All right Momma, I'll go down to the recruitin' office in the mornin'. No one in this town will hire me, after all the trouble I been in."

Two weeks later, Bubba got on the bus to Boot Camp. She didn't see him for two years, but he returned a changed man. Gone was the hard-drinking, hard-fighting boy that she had hugged good-bye. In his place was a stranger. He was clean-shaven and very handsome in his Army uniform. The Army had disciplined the rebellion out of him.

"Momma," he said as he hugged her, "I'm goin' to church again. Th'only book they allowed us in Boot Camp was the Bible, and readin' beat the heck outta not readin'. After readin' it for a while, it jes' started to make sense."

That was one of the happiest days of her life, one of the many that she thinks about on her daily walks.



Stacy (Mama-Om) said...

I found you via the writing challenge. I left you some comments over on the Ning site, but just wanted to pop in and say that I enjoyed the read!

Kate said...

Thanks Stacy! I appreciated your comments.

~ Kate :)