Little brother Pink and me grew up with our grandmother, Mary Two-Hearts who lived in a converted school bus. We didn’t call her Mary Two-Hearts but everyone else in Rutt, Alabama did. She was our Indian grandma, our daddy’s mama, and we called her Granny or ma’am and she was the crudest, roughest, most independent woman ever there was. And me and Pink loved her more than anybody or anything. She was kinda short and real stout and her face had creases deep enough to hide your pennies in. She wore her hair in a big ole braid which I never seen her undo much less wash her hair. She weren’t dirty, it’s jist I never her seen her wash her hair. Shucks, she made me and Pink wash our face and hands I’ll bet five times a day and bathed us regular in a number three wash tub which hung on the cedar tree by the pump. How me and Pink come to live with her is on accounta the spring that I turned seven years old our mama killed our daddy with his own framing hammer whiles he was asleep on the couch in the front room. The police carried mama off then some people from Hurlford come and burned down that trailer where we was livin’. Granny said them people burnt down daddy’s trailer ‘cause of mama bein’ Black and daddy bein’ Injun. I remember the police and the fire too. The night of this strange happenin’ Pink clutched my hand tight and wouldn’t let go for nothin’. Pink, he’s watcha call a albino and he wasn’t but four years old then but ever’body knowed already that he was simple. He can’t say words like normal people; alls he can do is kinda grunt or howl. Sometimes he sounds like a pig and sometimes like a monkey and when he gets flustered he flaps his arms and hands up and down like a rooster. After mama was took away I worried wasn’t nobody in world to give him a care but me. I remember this worry comin’ to me when they put us in a police car whiles the firemen tried to put out the fire.
Then our grandma come soon enough and they give me and Pink to her. The only things we had with us was the shorts, tee-shirts, and flip flops we was wearin. The school bus where we stayed with our grandmother was over in Turpin County under some oak trees behind Mister Joe Lubicek’s wrecking yard called, Lubicek’s Bale-a-Car. She lived alone in that school bus with her tom cat Skeeter. There was this here picnic table in front where Mr. Joe and Granny would sit and drank their beers of a night. I guess she kinda worked for him. Him and his deaf’ n dumb brother Louie run this scrap yard where transport trucks come in with wrecked cars. It was his brother Louie did all the work. Wasn’t hardly nobody else she’d talk to b’sides me an’ Pink, lessen’ she had to, like was she in a store or somethin’. The Lubicek’s had them a big ole crane with a giant magnet could pick up a car, lift it up high, swing it over to the cruncher and drop it. Then the cruncher would mash the car into a solid box of metal and glass and plastic. You wouldn’t believe they could mash up a car like it was made of cardboard, but that cruncher makes it easy. When they was enough of these stacked up,
the L&N railroad would send up a gondola and Louie would load ‘em for the train to haul them away. Me and Pink liked to sit up on top the bus and watch Louie drop them cars
into that cruncher. Mr. Joe did not like kids, and at first Granny made us stay up in the school bus ever when he was around, which was most evenins’. Outside Mister Joe would yell at us. He was awful big and fat and sometimes had to breathe in a little mask hooked to oxygen tanks. I learned not to walk close to him ‘cause if I got within reach he’d yank my pig tails real hard. And he’d pull the elastic out then peek down inside my shorts.
Inside the orange bus was a cassette tape player and a TV which Pink loved. Don’t matter what’s on, Pink’ll watch your TV and like it. Pink is twenty four years old now and it’s still the same. Last night I seen him watch some fat assed preacher on TV sellin’ fancy hundred dollar bibles. It don’t matter what’s on. I told you our Granny worked for Mr. Lubicek. She stripped out the radios and tape players for him so what he did was let her go through the wrecks when they come in before Louie dumped ‘em in the cruncher. Right away when we come to stay with her she put us to work with her crawlin’ through them cars goin’ through the glove boxes, trunks, then reachin’ under and down in between the seats. She had this little wagon we’d pull from car to car. There was a box we called the jewel box on it where we put the little stuff we’d find. Coins, bits of jewelry – mostly earrings or bracelets, sometimes a wallet, cassette tapes, combs and brushes – all sorts of shit. Pink and me liked doin’ this and it was easy for us ‘cause our hands was tiny and we didn’t have arthritis like Granny. Lots of candy gits dropped down under them seats. What Granny liked findin’ most of all was money. Some days we’d pull as much as $10 in coins. She also liked findin’ cosmetics. Up close she couldn’t see very well and her old hands shook a lot so nuthin’ was funnier than seein’ that old woman find her a tube of lipstick or some rouge then stick her old face right up in a rear view mirror and smear some on her face. One day I found this Jerry Lee Lewis cassette tape. Instead of puttin’ in the little box on the wagon I stuck it in the pocket of my shorts. That night when she was out drinkin’ her beers and eatin’ a pizza with Mr. Lubicek, me and Pink played that tape over and over. We both of us loved that tape. Pink, he was really diggin’ it and he commenced to flappin’ his arms – which is what he does when he’s excited, and I turned up the volume on the little cassette recorder which musta disturbed Granny and Mr. Lubicek cause Granny come stompin’ into the school bus.
“What is this shit? Stop your goddam flappin,’ Pink. You Bobbie, where’d you come by this here tape? “
“I found it in that blue pickup, Granny. Can we keep it, please?
”She reached over and grabbed aholt my ear and near twisted it plum off.
“Listen here, you Bobbie, you too, Pink. Every damned bit of stuff we find out there goes on the wagon. Do you hear me? Candies y’all can keep. All the rest goes in the jewel box. That’s what puts the food on our table. You think I’m made of money?
No, I ain’t. That there Jerry Lee Lewis tape can fetch two dollars at the flea market. Now march it out to the wagon and drop it in the box or I’ll slap the two of you clear into next week.”
We was plenty scairt; we did not want to get slapped into next week. Oh Granny was tough, but the onliest kind a punishment with her was a ear twist when I done somehin’ bad or stupid, and she never twisted Pink’s ear, not onct. Mr. Lubicek laughed when I dropped the tape into the box, then hurled an empty beer can which grazed my head. He told Granny was it him he’d beat our asses black and blue and he called us ‘thievin’ little bastards.” I was afraid of him, but Louie, he wasn’t mean like his brother Joe. He was nice to us, always wavin’ and smiling to us from the cab of the giant magnet. He ‘specially liked Pink, I reckon on accounta him bein’ deaf ‘n dumb – was sorta like somethin’ them two shared. Come the next Monday he waived us over and give us two brand new cassette tapes of Jerry Lee and Willy Nelson and he did this in front of Granny with all kinda gestures to make sure she seen he was given’ them tapes to us and they wasn’t for her to sell. She jist shook her head and didn’t say nuthin’ but I seen her smilin’ too.
Generally what we ate was peanut butter sandwiches, baloney sandwiches, and bread and jelly sandwiches which I was the one to make for me and Pink. Soon after we come to live with her she took to buyin’ milk for us and cold cereal for our breakfast. When it got cold she’d sometimes make us macaroni and cheese or ramen noodles for supper. Cause that’s what Granny ate too until the garden came in, then it was all squash and beans, and tomatoes and okra. Squash and beans, tomatoes and okra. Squash and beans tomatoes and okra till they was comin’ out your ears. Later when the corn come in it was squash and beans, tomatoes and okra, and corn. Granny showed me how pull the beans off from the vines, and git the strings off the beans and git ‘em ready for the skillet and even though I wasn’t but seven years old by the end of summer, it was me did most of the cookin’ on a little two burner gas stove in the school bus. Once in a while Louie would bring us hamburgers with french fries and cokes. Oh but they was so good. Wouldn’t we have us a good old time at the picnic table eatin’ McDonalds hamburgers listenin’ to Willy Nelson on the boom box we ‘d found in a trunk of this big old Buick.
On Saturdays Granny took us to the flea market where she sold the stuff harvested from the wrecks and wild herbs she’d collected tied up with string. She traded some car radios and speakers to a fat man who sold used clothes and got for me a green dress and some blue jeans for Pink and me. Each of us got to pick out a coat and from a wooden box then we got to pick us out some socks and shoes too. I loved that pretty green dress and put it on soon as we got back to our school bus.
In October a lady from social services come up to Bale-A-Car askin’ for Mary Two Hearts but Mister Lubicek would not let her in, which you had to pass through the
wrecking yard to git to the school bus where we stayed. He spoke mean to her and said he’d turn the dogs on her did she try to pass through. They used to be dogs, but he didn’t have no dogs then. See, he told everybody that they was two vicious dogs he let out at night to guard the yard. This kept kids and church people away. Pretty soon though, the lady come back with a deputy sheriff and Granny had to speak with them. She had me to put on my pretty green dress and shoes and put Pink in fresh blue jeans and a clean shirt; she wetted and combed his hair and we all went out to the lady’s car where they talked. Much later I learned how that lady come to tell Granny that the state said me and Pink could not live in no school bus and without she didn’t move into a proper house the state would place me and Pink in a foster home. What’s more, turns out we was entitled to Social Security money. Ended up they give her back pay for the two of us from April, income for our support that would pass through Mary Two Hearts who was now our legal guardian. Onliest thing Granny had to do was set up a bank account. Once that was done I reckon the money come rollin’ in, more money than she’d probably ever seen in her whole life and give her enough to buy a used mobile home which the Lubiceks set up next to the school bus and from then on me ‘n Pink lived in the mobile home with a
toilet and a stove and refrigerator. That stove in the trailer wasn’t hooked it up and mice lived in it. Only the refrigerator was hooked up. After Granny bought the trailer that lady had to come out and look at it and see was it proper enough for me and Pink I guess. Granny and Mr. Joe carried buckets of water in and put in toilet so it look like it was hooked up and proper and Granny told us to hush up about the privy. It was always the same when they knew the lady was comin’ Mister Joe run a hose from his shop up under and hooked it to the kitchen sink so’s we had temporary runnin’ water and we would shine up the unused toilet in the bathroom and dump a bucket of water in it. And Granny took great care that we was clean and shiny too.
That summer was twenty years ago but it still comes up fresh in my mind as a sweet time. When we wasn’t divin’ through the cars me and Granny would work her garden or tend to the chickens she kept. We’d set Pink on a blanket in the shade with his cassette tapes while we weeded and watered. My Granny was watcha call a herbalist. She’d collect various plants and roots and vines to sell in town. She knew everything about every plant or weed around – and even though I was only seven she commenced to pointin’ out different plants and teachin’ me. One time she told me, “Bobbie, you know which plant it is that is good for absolutely nothing?”
“No Granny, which one is that?”
“Ha, girl. There ain’t no such plant. It don’t exist. Nowhere. Every single thing that grows is good for somethin’, got its purpose. Even nettles, chiggers and rattlesnakes.
Everything, girl. Everything – even the vile things –– everything has its place and its purpose., Bobbie. Everything.”
“Lookee here, girl – this here is jewel weed. It’s good for bunches of stuff. It’ll fix poison ivy or bug bites…I’ll show you how….And this here, this is foxglove…. And over here is your belladonna…”
One day I had to use the privy and soon as I sat down the door opened and it was Mr. Joe standin’ there grinnin’ at me , he told me he wanted me to stand up so’s he could touch me then he would give me a dollar. I was so scairt, I ducked down and scampered past his big fat legs and skeedattled through the corn patch back to Granny who was hoein’ the beans. After I told Granny what happened she jist kept on a hoin’ and didn’t say nothin’ for the longest time. But then she stopped and we went over to the shade near where Pink was and sat down. She told me to not never say nothin’ to nobody about what Mr. Joe done and that I was to stay clear away from him and to keep Pink safe away from him too. “Bobbie, this here nastiness of Mr. Joe is a problem, but you gotta be silent about it. And I mean you gotta be silent about it forever. You understand me?” I said I did and I have kept silent for these twenty years. Even with Mr. Joe long gone, and Granny gone and Mr. Louie gone too.
Just a few days after the incident, Mr. Joe he took sick and was laid up for the rest of the summer. He pretty much just stayed on a cot in his shop in the daytime groanin’ and complainin’. Granny took to answerin’ the phones and doin’ the paperwork – stuff he
normally done. She nursed him with her herbs and teas – but he didn’t git no better. Him and her still drunk their beers of an evening, him from a foldin’ aluminum chaise lounge next to the picnic table. Then just after Halloween my Granny did the craziest thing. She come back from town with a preacher and them sisters she sold herbs to at the flea market and damned if she didn’t have that preacher marry her to Mister Joe. I was so mad for her to have gone and done such a dumb thing– I stayed in the trailer and cried for the longest time. But then soon after that a man come out with a back hoe and hooked up the toilet in the trailer so it worked proper. Then he put in a water heater and we had hot water in the sinks and the bathtub. It was wonderful. We chased the mice out of the stove and had it hooked up too. That Thanksgiving we fixed a turkey and oh we had us such a time. It was Granny and me and Pink with Mr. Louie at the table in the trailer. Mr. Joe was too puny to climb up the steps to the trailer – so Granny fixed him a paper plate of turkey and dressing and such for him to eat at his chaise lounge under the tree. He was all tucked in a big quilt and weak as a kitten layin there but I was still scairt of him and it was Granny who tended him when he spilt his beer or dropped his plate.
Even though they was now man and wife, between Mary Two Hearts and Mr. Joe, wasn’t nothin’ different. Granny slept with Skeeter in her school bus like always and Mr. Joe back at him and Mr. Louie’s house in town. Granny tended him in the day with her herbs and teas and did all the paper work for Bail-a-Car. Then one morning just before Christmas Mr. Joe he fell asleep on the cot by the stove in the office and he never woke up. The sheriff come, then the coroner, then a ambulance come and took him away. They wasn’t no funeral. His wife, Mary Two Hearts, had him cremated then put the little can they give her which she put in the front seat of this old Ford Falcon and had Mr. Louis send him to bale a car heaven via the cruncher. Then we all had us a little party in the trailer with Kentucky Fried Chicken and ice cream.
Looking back I know now how come Granny married Mister Joe. Everything he owned passed on to her, his house in town, his bank accounts, and Bale-A-Car. Turned out even though he lived pretty stingy – like a lot of misers he was pretty well loaded. And when Mr. Louie passed on his half of Bale-A-Car was left to me and Pink and now the whole shebang is ours. Pink is real good at operatin’ the crane. We got us a big sign “Mary Two Hearts Salvage.”
© Gary Ives
Red Truck Review: A Journal of American Southern Literature and Culture, January 2015, Issue 2