My grandpa changed forever that day. Before, he was overriding and hardly ever did anything nice for grandma, at least not to speak of. After, he was the sweetest, most kindest person you’d ever want to be around.
It was a lazy Saturday morning with dead leaves flying around everywhere and a cool Halloween breeze that made me want to go out and run around in circles. Cartoons were over for the day and so after I ran around outside for a little bit, I got myself interested in what my grandma was doing in the kitchen.
“You bakin’ pies for Halloween grandma?”
“Yes, darlin’. I’m makin’ pecan pies with the nuts you and your brother picked up yesterday.”
“Really? Yum! Can I help?”
“You sure can, sweetheart. You can take your cute curly-haired self right over to that sink and help me keep up with the dishes while we work.”
I was suddenly disinterested. Grandma chuckled. “That’s alright,” she said with a big smile, letting me know she really didn’t want me in the kitchen — probably because of the cookie dough incident that happened the week before. “Go on and play then,” she said. “Dinner’ll be ready here directly.”
Dinner in our family was always around noon. Most of my friends called it ‘lunch,’ and they called their supper ‘dinner.’ They thought I was crazy, but I was Southern in a place that had a lot of Northerners living there.
I passed my grandpa on the way out. He tussled my hair but didn’t say anything. He hardly ever said anything. When he was young, I think he was the strong, silent type. He was a retired plumber, so that made sense to me. You’d have to be strong and silent to go around with your butt crack showing and not care what anybody thought.
* * * *
After a dinner of fried chicken, collard greens, field peas, cornbread and butter, sweet tea, and pecan pie, grandma pulled a chair in the middle of the kitchen floor and told grandpa to sit down, that it was time for him to get a haircut. He didn’t say anything, but cut himself another piece of pecan pie and did like he was told. Then grandma shooed us all out of the kitchen, which was me, my mama, my daddy, and my little brother, Elisha. But I was curious about grandpa’s haircut. I had never seen this before, so I wanted to watch.
“If you’re goin’ to stay around, you can wash all the dirty dishes, Elsa Marie,” grandma said as she pointed to the pecan pies on the table.
“I’m gonna be a Rabbit-Eared Devil tonight for Halloween!” I said as I took her hint and got me another piece of pie and pretended to leave. But I wanted more than anything to watch grandpa get his hair cut, so I hid just outside the kitchen door and ate my pie. I figured I might be able to catch a few quick glances every now and again, but what interested me more was that maybe grandpa would talk now that nobody was around, and I didn’t need my eyes for that.
My grandparents stayed silent at first. Grandma got out her haircutting shears. She used to be a hairdresser when she was young. She threw a kitchen apron around grandpa. “Don’t forget to take a bath after,” she said.
“I can’t forget with them little stingin’ hairs all over me,” he said as he shut his eyes.
“Who is the woman wearing the red high heels?”
“Who is who?” Grandpa answered. His eyes popped wide open.
Grandma’s shears flashed in the bright kitchen light. “Who is she, Silas? Tell me.”
“Tell you what? Tell you what, woman?”
“Just tell me who the girl is that’s wearin’ the red shoes. I’ve seen her, Silas. I know all about it.”
Grandpa fidgeted in his chair and stomped his heels on the floor a few times. He loosened the apron from around his throat. “What are you after, woman?” he finally said.
“I want to hear you tell me is all. I want to hear you say you’ve been with her. I want…to forgive you. We all do things…we shouldn’t sometimes. Sometimes we’re weak and we don’t ask the Lord for His strength…”
“Now you know I ain’t religious and never have been, woman. Why are you preachin’ at me like that? I let you have your church. Why can’t you leave me be, Anna?”
“You’re tryin’ to change the subject, Silas, but I’m not goin’ to let you. This ain’t about my beliefs, it’s about our marriage. And I know you’ve always been faithful, even when you was a young, good-lookin’ man workin’ in them houses alone with all them housewives there by themselves. You might have thought a few things sometimes, but you never did anything…with any of them. And now… now that you done got old and grey-headed and fat, you go out and get yourself a college girl! One of them young ones that like old men! I see you, Silas! I see you and her, plain as day! For shame, Silas! For shame!”
I was horrified. I would remember this Halloween forever. I bit my lip until it bled. Then I had to cough. I ran down the hallway to the stairway leading upstairs. I tripped and banged my funny bone on the banister. By the time I got to the second floor, I was crying. What had I just heard? What had I just heard! Now I couldn’t be a Devil Rabbit for Halloween because all I could imagine was Playboy models wearing rabbit ears and dancing around in the licking flames of Hell! I didn’t know how to move my body or what to do, so I just swayed there outside the guest room that used to be my mama’s room when she was little, twisting this way and that and wringing my hands and crying until my little brother Elisha came running up with his new yellow clackers to show me. “Don’t break your wrist with them things,” I said through my tears. When he saw I was crying, he hugged me really tight and then took my hand and pulled me to the upstairs parlor and sat me down on the old-timey couch and started talking to me about my favorite cartoon, Scooby-Doo. I finally stopped shaking and sobbing.
“Whatcha gonna be for Halloween, sister?” Elisha asked me.
“An angel,” I said as I wiped my eyes on a Kleenex he handed me.
“Where you gettin’ the wings from? How you gonna make your wings?”
“A ghost angel then,” I said. I closed my eyes and replayed in my mind the whole conversation between my grandma and grandpa, which made me start to cry again.
“You gonna wear just a sheet with eyeholes?” Elisha asked me.
“Yeah, just a stupid old sheet…” I said.
“Like Charlie Brown with eyeholes all over it?” he asked me. Then he started to laugh. “You gonna wear your red Wizard of Oz shoes, sister?”
“No!” I screamed. “I hate red shoes! I hate them!”
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