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WWELL DONE! A Georgia Love Story by Claire Hamner Matturro
A Georgia Love Story by Claire Hamner Matturro
The summer of my senior year in college I drove up from Tallahassee to South Georgia to try and help my aunt when her foster son, Albert, a cousin by birth, ran off again. Soon as I pulled up in Aunt Edna’s long gravel driveway out in the country, I could hear Flash, her hound dog, howling like all get out.
As I stepped out of the car, Flash bayed, long, low, and deep, a keening of such anguish I would have thought Aunt Edna had died except she was sitting on the front porch, shaded by the ancient oaks, wrapped in the scent of the jasmine blooming on the garden fence, and wearing a pair of thread-bare bell-bottom jeans she’d probably had since the sixties. She was sipping a tall glass of iced brown liquid, and notwithstanding the twig of mint, I suspected this was not tea.
“What’s wrong with Flash?” I asked, walking up the stone pathway to the porch, grateful for a puff of breeze.
“Well, son, I been asking him that all morning, and he hasn’t bothered to explain just yet.” Aunt Edna put her drink down and pushed up to standing. “I get you some tea? Or a real drink?”
Flash let out a yip or two in greeting before he returned to uninterrupted howling.
I thought about how good a tall glass of Jack Daniels with mint on ice would taste, but then thought of that narrow, hilly road back to Tallahassee with at least three crosses roadside at the sharp curves. “Maybe tea, later.” I climbed up onto the porch. “Tell me what I can do to help.”
“I been out looking for Albert all morning and have plain wore myself out. So, first off, set a spell with me while I rest.” Aunt Edna pointed to a wrought iron bench beside her own wicker chair as she sat down again. “That is, if you can stand listening to Flash.”
“You reckon he’s trying to tell us something? Like Albert’s stuck in a hole somewhere?” I kept standing but moved close enough to smell the lavender oil Aunt Edna liked to dab on her wrists.
“Nope. Were that the case, Flash’d’ve led me there already. I’ll lay bets Albert made it to town without falling in a hole. He’s scrappy for an eight-year-old, that boy.”
“Well Flash’s sure trying to tell us something.” I felt that breeze again, more wind now, blowing enough to cool the salty sweat on my bare forearms. “Think a storm’s fixing to hit?”
“Yeah, like Armageddon, if you read the papers.” Aunt Edna picked up her glass and commenced sipping her whiskey.
“Sure, like the hounds of hell in the Book of Revelations.”She shook her head, and in her best schoolteacher voice said, “Book of Revelation. No s.”
Flash kept howling. His claws clicked on the wooden slates of the porch as he raced from one side to the other.
I repeated, “How can I help? Where do you want me to start looking?”
Before she answered, one of those standard tan sedans the state likes to buy pulled up the gravel driveway, coming to a stop beside my own twenty-year old Civic. Edna and I studied the situation as a woman got out of the driver’s side. She wore a blue seersucker suit, the jacket loose over a white blouse, and a tiny little gold cross on a chain shined at her neck.
The sun, coming through the green treetops in bright, sharp rays, hit that woman’s red hair and I swear those beams ricocheted. It was like a blast of heat lightning hit my face and something like a floodgate broke open in me. I could hear the rush and flow of my own blood as my heart kicked up a good bit more than an extra beat or two. My fingers started to tingle.
“That’s our new social worker.” Aunt Edna put down her glass of whiskey as she spoke.
The red haired social worker walked over to the passenger side, opened the door, and pulled Albert out. She never took her hand off the back collar of his shirt. He glared up at the porch, his hazel eyes defiant. He only wore one shoe, his brown hair stood out in odd uncombed tufts, and he had a red scrape across his pug nose. His jeans were muddy and ripped at one knee.
“Good afternoon, Miss Edna.” The social worker paused, cast a sharp eye at Flash before pointing a long, slender finger at him. Flash tucked his tail and got quiet. Looking back at Aunt Edna, she said, “If you want to be raising up this boy, you’re going to have to do better at keeping him home.” Her face glowed pink with either heat or frustration.
“What you suggest?” Aunt Edna didn’t bother to stand up. “I tie him to the bed at night?”
Flash started up whimpering as he scampered at the edge of the porch.
“You could give me some ice cream ever’ night,” Albert said, looking up at Aunt Edna with a strange hopeful expression. Aunt Edna’d told me before how he stole and hid food and we figured he must’ve gone hungry a lot before she took him in. “I’d sure stay put if you feed me ice cream ever’ night.”
“And watch you get round and fat, turn into a sugar diabetic, no sir, we’re not doing that. But I’ll see you get plenty of good, decent food to eat. Don’t I always promise you that? You get ice cream Saturday night with rest of us, and on holidays, but not ever’ night, you hear?”
The social worker was staring at me now. I stared back. She was the most beautiful woman I’d even seen, with that red hair down to her shoulders, pale, clear skin, pointed chin, and those blue eyes gleaming back at me with the sunlight all glittering on her. She was looking at me so hard she had to push her glasses off her face into her hair, where they rested like a headband.
Now I am a good-looking young man, tall, dark haired and square jawed. I know it’s not right to brag on yourself, but I’ve got a mirror. And the way that woman’s lips finally parted into a smile told me she thought so too.
Flash started wiggling and wagging his tail at the edge of the porch, and his whining hit a new, high pitch.
“Lord and Heaven’s sake, Flash, get on. You’re not tied up.” Aunt Edna waved her hand toward Albert and Flash leapt off the porch and ran for the boy.
Albert hugged the dog, who started giving his face a lavish deep licking.
“Maybe then you could let Flash sleep with me.” Albert cocked his head, a winsome kind of look I suspected he’d practiced.
Aunt Edna appeared to be studying that idea. I knew she didn’t hold with letting dogs sleep in beds, but I also knew she planned to hang on to Albert.
“Could be,” she said at last.
“I want me a hard deal, then.” Albert took a step forward, Flash dancing right along with him. “Put it in writin’ for me.”
Aunt Edna smiled. I smiled. Flash wagged his tail so hard he fell over. The social worker kept watching me as her smile got bigger. Aunt Edna and I think Albert will make a fine lawyer one day if she gets him out of grade school alive.
“Done,” Aunt Edna said, and rose as if to head inside for paper and pen. It was then she noticed me and the red haired social worker standing there gazing at each other, our breathing already in sync.
“Y’all going to have some mighty pretty children one day,” she said, and picked up her whiskey and went inside, trailing the scent of lavender and with Flash and Albert on her tail.
And that’s how I met my wife in South Georgia on a hot summer day my senior year in college.