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Ode to Myrtle by Cliff Rhys James

She pitched and rolled, coming at you like a big ornery kid full of swagger, even though she was past her teens ~ well past. I wasn’t very good at judging ages at the time, but she had to be in her mid- to late fifties then. Yet her lively green eyes still hosted a playful gleam whenever Dad and I swung by to visit her on Saturday mornings. Finger-wagging feistiness was her specialty, and when that wasn’t enough to capture your attention, she’d up the ante by waving her cane around like some heroic mountaintop figure ~ sometimes for fun, always for effect. I would later learn that for years she held down a full-time tin factory job, baked pies at Bailey’s Truck Stop, kept house and raised three kids. She tried to be a good daughter, sister, wife and mother. And then one tumultuous evening a decade earlier, when her husband was unable to bear this world’s tribulations one minute more, he turned a rifle on himself with fatal results. Looking back, I expect lots of folks with whom she was well acquainted called her irrepressible. But in those days, I just called her Grandma James. Her legs bothered her from too many years of walking back and forth to work while standing ten-hour

shifts on a cold, hard cement floor between those factory walls. Sometimes, when things went smooth and easy, she’d ride the city bus. Other times, her oldest son, Billy, would drive down to the tin mill to pick her up, boosted by two fat pillows under his skinny butt so he could see over the steering wheel. He was eleven, maybe twelve years old, somewhere in that range, and saw no need to attend school five days a week when four suited him much better. Once, as he took a corner too fast, the pillows slipped out from under him and he disappeared with a thud on the transmission hump. “That was the time I became the front-seat passenger of a driverless car flying down Croton Avenue,” she cackled as her eyes filled up fast with laugh tears. Complaining about her legs, or about much of anything else, just wasn’t in her. She’d presently cackle with that inimitable laugh of hers, make a few adjustments here and there, set herself with sassy purpose and then power straight on through to the other side of whatever she was up against. That’s how she rolled ~ like a stubborn bulldozer locked in gear. Worries and problems got short shrift; they got a dismissive


January 2016 ttimes web magazine  

Tidewater Times January 2016

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