SWEETPEAS AND BUTTERCUPS ON ELM STREET
BY GLORIA FAYE BROWN BATES aka GRANNY GEE
Sometimes I wish I could go back to being a little girl and begin my life anew. Sitting out in the front yard on Elm Street where the sweetpeas and buttercups grew. I wish sometimes I could be drinking 'tea' out of my tea set, playing in the white sand. I wouldn't even mind my mouth being washed out with that Ivory soap.
Running through the hall around the corner and scraping my knee everytime to chase my little brother, Wm Ernest... or him to chase me. Oh yes, I would love to begin anew. Begin anew, with somehow the knowledge I have now of life, stored for the day I would need it.
I loved the soft pink of the sweetpeas, I would sit beside them looking at how pretty they were. I don't remember if I ever picked one, I may have to smell its fragrance. The yellow of the buttercups was like sunshine... the sunshine was shining down on them. I was a small child then, but... the sweetpeas and buttercups made an impression on me. Softness, pink... sunshine.
I remember sitting there looking across the street to the mill that was in operation then, sometimes hearing something like a horn that meant lots of people would come out of the building. The street I looked across was highway 56, also, called East Green Street.
I could look up at the sky and see, hear an airplane flying. I love the sound of an airplane flying to this day. It's a lazy, comforting, soothing sound just as hearing a lawn mower in the distance mowing grass, a dog bark in the distance, and children squeal, laugh as they play.
I looked across the street I lived on ... Elm Street, and there was a huge hill leading up to the railroad track. I loved this hill... sometimes, I would sneak across the street to climb that hill. I remember Cottontop coming by to stop and tell my mama that we were climbing that hill to the railroad track again, he told her that those children were going to get killed by a train.
I lived on that corner, played underneath that big, old oak tree... that was back in the days when life was good to a little girl. Occasionally the peacefulness was broken by my stepfather (whom I thought was my father)... he'd beat my mother. I would hear, see her crying... sometimes, she screamed. My beautiful mother.
I learned to ride a bicycle while living there. It had training wheels on it... I went over the handlebars one time... the force of the impact making me lose my breath lying there on the ground. The pain was something I learned I didn't want to feel again... I wouldn't as long as I was careful.
I grew big enough to walk to school ... walk up Elm Street by my friends' house... Rhonda and Connie. I'd walk to the end of Elm Street, turn left on Mason Street, walk on the sidewalk toward school which I could see nearby. I had to cross the railroad tracks... sometimes a train would be moving slowly... I would run under it to get across! Because just across the railroad tracks was 'town'... there was a special place I always went into as a little girl... a special place in my mind now... as I look 'back to see it'. Even being so little, how did I know?
How did I know to stop in front of that wooden door with the big glass in it? How did I know that was a very special, magical store behind that door? Beside it was Dr. Nowell's office (related to my little brother Wm Ernest). Dr. Nowell's mother ran the candy store. That big, old door would make a squeaking sound as it opened... just like Dr. Nowell's wooden door when we had to go there.
I opened that door and went inside..... there was a long counter with glass windows in it... where a child my height could stand there and see everything. It was magical, wonderful!
I could see wax lips, big and red...... little wax bottles with liquid inside them, candy cigarettes that looked real, chewing gum, candy bars, Mary Janes, squirrel nut candy, Cracker Jacks... all kinds of wonderful treats. I could see up on the shelves... toys in their wonderful, colorful boxes.... dolls, trucks... all the things little children would love to play with. The wooden floor glowed underneath my feet... oh, what a wonderful place this was.
This wasn't the happiest childhood, but, it's the only one I knew and it was the happiest 9 years of my young life... my life went to hell when I turned 9. I sit and try to think of the memories there on Elm Street. This is the one 'real... in my mind.... most normal' home I ever had as a child.
I remember how very clean, sparkling everything always was. The floors were so nice, the furniture pretty. My little brother, Wm Ernest... and I had our housekeeper who came each day to care for us. She made sure we were clean, dressed well, had 3 meals a day. She would iron, starch our clothes. What a wonderful well-runned house we lived in. She would take up time with us, talk to us and tell us stories. Josephine was her name. I loved her.
We learned about such a thing as the world was going to end... I remember being afraid... I didn't know 'what of'... how does the world end to a small child? I had no pictures in my mind. I would feel the fear, no matter. Truthfully....... my world did end and I was placed in pure... hell. Yes, this little girl went straight to hell.
I remember once sneaking into my mother's and 'father's bedroom. I was fascinated going in there. I can't remember 'why' I would go in there. Once I opened a bottom drawer in their dresser... there were little comic books, or so, I thought they were until..... I saw the comic characters Popeye and Olive, and Brutus doing.......... things. I would giggle. Yes, I did that!
I remember climbing up on the sewing machine cabinet I think it was... to somehow climb high onto the top of the ceiling of the bathroom... the wall didn't go up to the ceiling in their bedroom..... the 'ceiling' over the bathroom was used for storage.
How did I know to go up there? Did I see them go up there to put things? I climbed up sometimes to look at a shoebox.... it held happy colors.... capsules that had colors on them. Maybe I had seen them hold that box, and the colors caught my attention. You know to this day how I am about 'happy colors'.... I follow them, I'm distracted by them, I love them.
I remember I was sitting in the wooden swing on the front porch, I had on a diaper. I can't see who was outside with me. I remember the sunshine, the golden light, looking down to the wooden porch... looking behind me at that big building, which I came to know as Sterling Cotton Mill.
I remember our babysitter on the weekends, her name was Kay. She would come to care for us. Once she called both Wm Ernest and I to come to her, someone was breaking into our house, they were in the basement now, and were trying to get into the house where we were! I look back now, and I wonder 'why'?
Kay told us that she'd been watching 2 big men across the street behind a bush, near what used to be a billiards place (I think it was called Slick's or something like that).... that was opened then. Kay said come on! She grabbed us each by our little hands and fled with us out into the dark, we ran up Elm Street to the street nearby where she lived at. I loved Kay. I loved Dalton, her brother. They always had big, happy smiles for us. I don't ever remember a cross word from them... nor from Josephine.
I was just sitting here thinking about wanting to plant sweetpeas... sweetpeas in memory of when I was a little girl. To this day, I look at that little hill to see if I see sweetpeas, and buttercups... whenever I pass by that house. It's still a very pretty house, it has been changed alittle. The front porch isn't there now, they've made a room there. It looks nice. Everything else seems to be the same. This was the only 'real' home I had as a little girl..... then, I moved to hell.
Moved to hell.... there were beautiful flowers there... I helped to plant them for my Grandma Alma. I didn't ever see sweetpeas there. She had Cosmos, something called Rooster Tails, Zinnias, one of my favorites was Marigolds, many roses of different colors. She had mums. I sit here and think of what my Grandma Alma and George thought... surely they must have known they lived in hell... with their disabilities.. they were trapped. They couldn't 'grow up' to... get out of it.
At that time, I didn't know I could grow up to get out of it until.... my special Aunt Frankie told me. 'Faye, when you get grown up you don't have to live like this, you can choose how you want to live'.... my Aunt Frankie would tell me this in a soft whisper. If she said anything where someone would hear it.... they would have 'jumped on' her. Why?
Because my Aunt Frankie 'held herself up' to be somebody, she lived in a nice home that was sparkling clean, she tried not to live in 'hell'.... everyone was jealous of her. Sometimes, I could see one of her siblings 'pick a fight' with her. She would look at them, and turn and walk out the door and I wouldn't see her for a while... I saw those tears in her eyes whenever she walked past me. Frankie, I want to go with you! I want to be your little girl!
Grandma Alma loved her flowers, I helped to plant them for her. They gave her such pleasure when she looked out the window of the 'arena' .... where her sitting area was. She couldn't walk out there, George would help her to the front door to look out at flowers around the porch, along the sidewalk. I would cut flowers sometimes, to put in a vase for her. I would place the vase on her old dresser beside her recliner. Grandma's eyes would light up as if I'd done something special!
I see them in my mind... George patiently walking her as she held onto her walker, one leg dragging, one arm hanging down... leading her to the front screen door so, she could look out to her flowers. There was wisteria growing on the front porch, it was beautiful. She loved her wisteria. My Grandma Alma and George... I loved them with my very heart. They couldn't help that we lived in ...hell. I felt my heart 'squeeze' just now... I felt 'that pain'... missing them, feeling such love for them. I think I could cry, but... I will just hold it in. I have 'many cries' ...held inside my body from every year of my life.
I'm amazed looking back to Grandma Alma and George's home... I have always called it the 'portal of hell' ... the house, the door to the portal of hell. I'm amazed that such beautiful flowers, colors could thrive there. Those flowers were stunning in their beauty. I can't remember having a garden hose to water them... though I remember watering them with a bucket, and a cup to dip into the bucket of water. I don't think I ever see anyone having as many flowers as she did.... excepting for Hjordis in Sweden. Lena's mother loves beautiful flowers, Lena loved flowers. Hakan, her husband grew orchids in Sweden.
These are the memories conjured up by thinking about the sweetpeas and buttercups... I can hear an airplane in the sky somewhere ... the sound is comforting, soothing, calming. It's a slow droning sound... the sky is blue, the sunshine is smiling, I see big, billowing puffs of white clouds moving in the sky. All I need to hear now..... is a lawn mower in the distance, dog barking in the distance, and a child squealing with joy. These sounds evoke the memories I just wrote about. Sweetpeas and buttercups, these sounds.... a special combination. Sweetpeas.... and buttercups there on... Elm Street.... there... on that little hill looking across at Sterling Cotton Mill.
Colors As I Go
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