WHITE PAGES, A BOX OF CRAYONS, PAIR OF SCISSORS
by Gloria Faye Brown Bates
I sat cross-legged on the bare, wooden floor in front of the bookcase. This was one of my favorite places to sit at. No one would bother me there. In fact, whenever someone walked by me, they never saw me.
The bookcase was full of hard-backed books, each book was special to me. The reason 'why' each book was so special to me was .. they all had blank, white pages in the front of each book... and blank, white pages in the back of each book!
As I sat there, I could put my back to the end of the couch that sat there. I had good support to lean back against. I remember the couch having a bed inside of it. I liked when someone came to spend the night, they would open the couch up into a bed.
I would sit cross-legged in between the end of the couch and the bookcase... no one would see me when they walked by. I was a little girl living at Grandma Alma and George's.
I pulled a Reader's Digest book out of the bookcase... I read the binding of it and saw that it had several short stories in it. I opened the hard cover and there was a white page! It was blank, and it was beautiful to me! Special!
I had my pencil in my pocket! I knew exactly what I was going to do... that was to draw on those blank, white pages. I became 'lost' in my world as I drew women and designed clothes sitting there in that corner. How I knew to be so interested in designing clothes and drawing women at that young age of nine, I can't remember.
I had my box of crayons to color the clothes I drew. I made paper dolls, too! I would draw my paper doll... then, place a piece of notebook paper on top of it and 'design' a dress for it. I would cut each dress out carefully after coloring it. I would bend each little tab over the paperdoll's body to hold the dress on. Sometimes, I made paperdolls for someone at school.
I am thinking at this moment of how wonderful it would have been to have had a Sharpie pen ..back then! It would have been exciting and wonderful to me. It would have been even more special to have had paints and colored markers!
I'm sure other people had those things ..somewhere. At Grandma and George's... there wasn't any. I didn't miss what I didn't know.
I look back and see that little girl sitting there ..in my mind's eye I can see that was where this child was the happiest... lost in her little creative world.
She didn't see the shabbiness of the furniture, nor the dirt that was all around her. She saw beautiful clothes, beautiful colors and lived them.... for a little while.
Only when she came out of that special place in her mind.. and looked around her... did she see the drabness and the hell she lived in. It was hard to come back to when she'd just been where the bright lights and wonderful colors were in her mind. She couldn't just ... stay in her mind.
Sometimes, when sitting there lost in that special place, I would feel my stomach begin with the butterfly sensation... someone would holler out in anger. I knew something was getting ready to happen, it was no telling what.
Sometimes, it would be Grandma Alma and George. They would 'raise Cain', yelling at each other. I would peep into the 'Arena', which in actuality was the middle room Grandma's recliner sat, and George's straightback chair sat beside hers. They always sat beside each other and talked, and watched tv... and whatever would happen in that 'arena'........ (the center of the floor where everyone would come to entertain... you know, fight and raise hell).
Now.. Grandma Alma and George could be entertaining, too. They would begin cussing each other... and it really sounded bad. I would be so scared because of the anger I'd hear in their voices. Grandma Alma would tell George she was going to 'cool his ass off!'... the next thing I'd hear would be George roaring out 'what in the damn hell did you do that for?!!!'
Grandma Alma was known for her secret weapon... she'd simply reach for her glass of ice water and... throw it on George!
I would roll in the floor, laughing! That would draw their attention to me, then! George would never see it coming... he was blind!
Poor George and Grandma Alma... I look back into the past and see two people who had it so unusually hard in life. They loved each other very much and they each had their own disabling medical problems. How amazing they were to have so much wrong in their life. There was no comfort for them.. whatsoever.
No wonder they cussed and raised 'hell' at each other. They both were trapped in their bodies... Grandma was paralyzed, George was blind. I've thought about this often.... really I 'see' that was the only way they could release their frustration and grief at what was lost to them in their life.
Truly they were at the mercy of the world. They had to take all that was handed to them. They never had an outlet to channel all that bothered and hurt them. They were trapped... in hell. I know they are in heaven now. They lived their hell in that house... that guarded the portal to hell. Anyone who lived in that house...lived in total hell.
My Grandma Alma was spunky for sure, she may have been paralyzed, I knew I didn't want to make her angry. She would protect me whenever someone wanted to whip or slap me... she'd say 'Faye, get behind my chair!'
Her recliner sat 'catercorner'.. behind was space enough to dive into to be under 'grandma's protection'. No one dared to cross that line! If they did... she'd pull her secret weapon trick on them! She'd throw a glass of ice water on someone in a heartbeat! Not only that... she'd finish it off with alot of choice words! My grandma loved me... she truly loved all her grandchildren.
George loved all of us.. every evening he'd go out on the front porch where my cousins would come from next door to sit and listen to him tell us stories about Briar Rabbit, and such. I would sit there listening to him talking in different voices of the characters.. it was just special. That was a happy 'little while'.
I would sit cross-legged on the floor just in front of George's chair, and Grandma Alma's recliner.. to watch tv. I remember watching The Wizard Of Oz, Rawhide, Gunsmoke, Mr. Ed, Ed Sullivan Show, Leave It To Beaver... I watched these shows at Grandma's. I would describe to George what I was seeing with my eyes. I don't know 'how' I knew to do that.. but, I wanted him to see it, too.
George had a small store that was located between their house and my cousins' house... it was in the middle. This was in the days when one could reach into a drink box with ice water and get a drink out. I think they were either a nickel or dime at that time. I remember one of my cousins getting hurt by opening a drink... the bottle exploded and the top hit him in the eye, cutting his pupil. I didn't see it, though.
George could run his store and he knew how to give change back to his customers. Everyone was always amazed at how George could do things as a blind man.
George could walk to town with his red and white cane with the black tip. Spot, my cousins' dog would walk with him. Spot was a white dog with black spots.
George raised rabbits, and had chickens. I do have a vague memory that I don't like to remember... someone was killing several chickens by wringing their necks and once the neck came off! the chicken would run around and around. It made me sick... it bothers me now to think about it. I think they put those chickens in a pot of hot water and it seems I remember them plucking feathers off them. I was a child and this bothered me alot.
Alot of things at their house bothered me... scary things. I know now, that Grandma and George had to always have been on pins and needles 'not knowing what was going to happen next'. There was always chaos there... always. So many people.......... so much happening.... so many personalities and high tempers.
Someone was always wanting to be 'king of the hill' and be the one to bring the strongest 'down'. The one who won ... would walk around like a proud rooster or 'roosterette'......preening and spreading those wings. I'm the king/queen of 'this damn hill. Yes, it was a sight to watch being a little girl.
I remember George for alot of special things in this ugly world he lived in.... he used to faithfully pull his straightback chair up to Grandma's chair... he would do range-of-motion exercises on her hands, arms, legs and feet..... every day, 3 times a day. He would rub her arms, hands, legs and feet with alcohol, then, he would rub all with Beauty Ray lotion... all the meantime, using his fingers to massage her.
I would sit and watch him doing that, never understanding 'why' he was doing that. I did know it was important to him to do that.
George was one of the kindest men I knew, but, to hear him 'holler' one would think he wasn't.. but, he truly was. Truthfully, he had alot to 'holler' about, Grandma Alma did, too. I'd screamed if it were me.. and sadly, I don't think I could have beared the things they did in their life.
Think about it... being paralyzed and sometimes, trying to walk with a walker with one leg dragging and one arm hanging... I feel so sick on my stomach from just thinking of my grandma being like that. I can 'not' imagine what she went through in her mind. My grandma was my mama, too.
George, he couldn't see and would sometimes bump into things that hurt him. I would feel his pain, and I would try to watch for him. I remember seeing him using a nail and hammer to fix something.. I'd help sometimes. I saw him hit his finger with the hammer, it hurt my heart. His finger had blood on it.
No one ever told the truth about how George became blind... there are conflicting stories concerning 'how'. I always heard that he ran into a wire rack that one used to screw up on a door or somewhere to hang dish towels/cloths on.
I also, heard one of the daughters caused it... I wasn't around when it happened, nor remember. It happened before my memories began of him. I had witnessed fighting between him and some of the daughters of Grandma's... I feel pain now, thinking of seeing one of them knock him to the floor... I remember watching in horror.
That house Grandma Alma and George lived in...... guarded hell just as sure as there is a devil... the portal lay just beneath it.
The walls of that house hid so much... it attracted grief, anger, violence, and abuse to strangle any kind of love there.
Everyone of us who lived there were permanently scarred on the inside... some of us carry external scars. I carry both inside and outside scars from living in that 'battlefield'. I wasn't the only one. We all were affected from all that happened there every day, every night, every holiday.
I wasn't taught to love, I just did. I was taught to hate... I would love and hate just as fast. The 'family' I knew were just as quick to love one minute and ..hate the next minute. No one ever knew if they were loved or not... of course they grew up thinking no one loved them.
I grew up very angry toward.. women. I know them so well.. I know the games they play... I know how to play them... afterall, I was taught by the best. I don't choose to hurt others. If I ever set out to, I would be ruthless and wouldn't stop until I won. Did you read that last sentence? That's what I was taught as a small child living in the house of 'hell'. I don't live like that... I love peace and harmony. One had to be like that though... 'back in those days' if they wanted to survive.
Women.... you don't want to rile them up. I saw many fights as a child, between..... women. Blood, nasty cuts and scratches from fingernails, cursing with the vilest words possible. Unfair fighting, hair-pulling, even some teeth knocked out. This person witnessed such as a small child... she learned from these ... women.
Have you ever listened to flesh slapping flesh, pounding flesh? It's one of the worst sounds a child can hear.. especially when someone is doing that to their mother.
A child's hands are so small and ineffective when trying to pull someone off their mother, their screams and crying aren't enough to melt someone's heart to make them stop.
Do you see why it was so wonderful to get lost in that creative world of drawing and coloring, cutting, bending to shape the clothes to fit the paperdoll's body? A little girl could be in bright lights and colors and let it fill her soul, to be strong .. to survive another day.. in the house of hell.
I know it guarded the portal of hell, I know it did. I think of the ball lightening, the blue ball lightening I would witness coming out of..... that one room everytime a storm would come up. It would always roll out of .... that... door slowly .. and roll slowly toward me.. everytime! It was like ... it looked for me. I would be hiding in that quilt on the couch peeping out so, it couldn't see me. When it rolled toward me, I closed the quilt to cover my eyes, and held my breath! I never did have the nerve to watch 'where it went to go away'.
My happiest memory at Grandma Alma and George's is of me drawing and coloring in those books in their bookcase... on those wonderful, white, blank pages in front and in back of all those books!