Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Growing Up Warren

This was the story I submitted to the Faulkner Writing Conference. Thy kind of liked it actually....

My sister Anne told me to stick my finger up my nose and touch my brain, and I almost bled to death. She said Cousin Sarah could do it, and I felt certain that I was just as talented as Sarah whose teeth were so big, she couldn’t close her lips. I had to be better than Sarah, who pointed out the dimples on my chubby thighs to everyone on the school bus. They all laughed as I sat there, my skin stuck to the vinyl seat from sweat. I didn’t cry though. I wasn’t a crybaby. I hated Sarah, and I secretly prayed she would trip on her shoestring and her big teeth would poke a hole through her fat bottom lip.

Growing up, I couldn’t get away from relatives. They made up our whole town, and I lived in the very center of it in the white house with columns. Next door to us was Miss Thelma and Granddaddy’s house; Aunt Molly and Uncle Ted lived on the other. Aunt Ida and Uncle Sam lived behind us next to Uncle Andy and Aunt Louise. Aunt Joe and Uncle Marvin lived next to Mother and Granddaddy, and Uncle Samuel and Aunt Sophia lived next to Aunt Joe and Uncle Marvin and so on and so on. Warrens lived in every holler and on every hill for as far as the eye could see.

My father’s family planted roots in Eudora, Mississippi, 150 years before I was born. The little town sat on top of the Mississippi delta – kind of undecided-like. It was too high to flood, but the drinking water was brown because they pumped it right out of the river. My father once said after drinking a glass you had to kiss a cat’s butt to get the taste out of your mouth.

Eudora boasted two churches – one Baptist and one Presbyterian – and a bait shop. Later, they put in a volunteer fire department, and my Aunt Louise opened up a family grocery just two doors down from my house. It wasn’t more than a shanty shack, but for basics like milk and bread, the five minute walk was far better than the 30 minute drive to the supermarket.
The bait and beauty shop (owned by the Bates family, mind you) became a community hangout for sheriff’s deputies and volunteer firemen. It was just the place if you wanted to pick up a bag of fresh, fried chicken livers, a NuGrape soda, and a cup of minnows. There is nothing like the smell of fish and permanent solution. My Granddaddy used to take all us grandkids up to Bates’ Bait Shop to get ice cream sandwiches in the summer. He would pile all of us, still in our bathing suits and wet from the sprinkler, in the back of the pickup truck and head down Highway 301. We would swarm the ice cream cooler, fishing for the sandwich we wanted, and pile back into that truck with our dirty feet and sticky faces. When we got home, my mother, the Donna Reed of DeSoto County, insisted we be hosed off before we could go in the house.

Aunt Louise’s store never did take off as a community meeting place. The problem was she was so evil that everyone was scared to go in. My sister, Anne, and I walked down there once for a Coke and a bag of Funions. Aunt Louise greeted us with a grunt and proceeded to sell us molded chips. After refusing to give us our money back, Daddy had to go down there, and let her have it. We weren’t allowed to go back.

Like I said, I had relatives everywhere. And trust me, a Warren wasn’t hard to spot.
Granddaddy was one of 10 children: Uncle Albert, Uncle John Jack, Aunt Dodie, Uncle Samuel, Aunt Mahalie, Aunt Bythie, Aunt Bird, Uncle Andy and Aunt Grace. Like cartoon characters, each of them had some sort of quirk that made you look twice.

Uncle Albert dyed his hair with shoe polish that ended up smeared all over his forehead by suppertime. Uncle John Jack loved plaid – many different plaids at once. Most of the time it looked like a mad Scotsman had just thrown up on him. Aunt Dodie had no visible lips; Uncle Samuel had no neck. Aunt Mahalie screeched like a feral cat. Aunt Bythie dyed her hair and her scalp hunting-vest orange. Aunt Bird’s right eye would circle around by itself as if it were keeping watch. Uncle Andy compulsively scratched at his chest and arms, and Aunt Grace would repeat everything three times – “I am going to the store, store, store.” Granddaddy was the most normal although his voice sounded like a dump truck driving down a gravel road.

My father was the only son of four kids – all normal despite the gene pool. Of course, my grandmother could have something to do with that. Of all the Warrens, my grandmother was probably the most feared. Everyone simply called her Miss Thelma – relative or not. At nearly six feet tall and crowned with a mass of curly blue-black hair, my grandmother was superior to everyone I knew. She never put on airs, and didn’t have to -- she was a Southern lady. She had a sharp tongue and never had a problem speaking her mind. She was the only married-into Warren who was treated like a real Warren. All the other married-intos had to sit at a different table during family dinners. Momma was an exception though because Daddy was so highly regarded.

My Great-Grandfather founded the Eudora Presbyterian Church in 1888 which sat very aristocratically in a grove of cottonwood and oak trees. Bright whitewashed wood shone in the sun and a tall spire peaked over the top of the trees -- majestically reaching toward the heavens. Before every service, the bell would toll and echo out for miles.

My Granddaddy was baptized there, and so were his siblings, and Daddy, Aunt Molly, Aunt Ida, and Aunt Lilly. My sisters and I were given to God as well at the Eudora Presbyterian Church. I can’t remember my own christening, but I apparently made such a spectacle of myself that everyone else does. Momma said I screamed like a banshee when Pastor sprinkled the water on my head. She said I argued even then.

I was born butt up and bleeding one unusually warm December. Momma had to have a c-section because she had so many problems having Anne. When the doctor cut her open to get me out, they went a little deep and hit my butt. Now I have a scar that runs across my left butt cheek. Just one of the many scars I would collect through my childhood – most inflicted by my sisters.

Della and Anne did not think of me as a welcomed addition. The two of them hated me on sight. After all, it was because of me that they had to eat soggy tuna fish sandwiches while Momma was in the hospital. Daddy did not realize you had to drain the tuna, but then again, he can’t even make iced tea.

I am certain that if someone would have thrown water on Della she would have melted like the witch in The Wizard of Oz. She was bossy, loud, and pure demon. Momma has always said Daddy made Della mean. I guess he did it the same way you would a dog – by holding her nose and shaking it. She would run around pinching Anne and me, and if we told on her, she’d lie. And Momma would believe her.

Anne didn’t speak until I was born. She didn’t have to -- Della spoke for her. Della was outright mean, but Anne was coniving. I would come running home from the barn when Momma called us for supper, and Anne would hold the iron door shut so I couldn’t open it. She would stick her tongue out and say, “What do you say?” I would repeat exactly what she had told me to say, “Anne is the smartest person I know. She can ride horses way better than me, and dogs even like her better.” Still holding the door, she would laugh and laugh as I pulled on the doorknob. Just when I was tugging the hardest, she would let go, and I would fall back, slide across the carport, and smash my head into the brick post. She never got into any trouble -- if I wasn’t bleeding, it didn’t happen.

I was the baby. I was the baby daughter. I was the baby granddaughter. I was the baby cousin and the baby sister. You might think this was a perk for me, but not so much. I was abused by my sisters and my cousins, and I am honestly surprised I lived past age 12.

At age four, my cousin Amy thought it would be more of a challenge to skateboard with me on her shoulders. My face broke her fall. She landed on top of me and pushed my face down the asphalt. All the skin from my hairline to my chest had been removed from my right side. Momma had to coat me with vitamin E oil every night to prevent scaring, and to this day, when I am in the sun, a red splotch will appear on my cheek.

When I was five, Anne and Henry Jenkins were riding his Honda 50 motorcycle around the pasture. Of course, I wanted to ride as well, but they were unwilling to give up their turn. They figured I was so small I could easily sit on the gas tank and still have enough room for the two of them to ride as well. Bad idea. I ended up with third degree burns on my leg from touching the engine when we hit a bump. A giant water blister formed on the bottom of my foot from toes to heel, and a scab of burned flesh reached all the way to my knee. Momma made me sit in an ice bath every night before she rubbed silver nitrate on the burn.

I was a fat kid with whose best friends were Scooter and Gary Gene. I turned farm animals into my trusted companions. I built a clubhouse out of the pigpen. I believed that God only heard my prayers and nobody else’s. I grew up imagining I was somebody else’s daughter, praying there was a mix-up at the nursery. But sadly, all I had to do was look in a mirror at my white and pink skin and wild, blond hair – proof that Warren blood coursed through my veins.

Small-Town Scandal

Ancient fans turned, churning the aroma of oil soap and Aqua Net Hairspray. Puritan bare – simple pine pews, worn and smooth from use, and one single cross hung as elegantly and understated as a weathered fresco. Jeweled lights sparked over the white plaster walls – doves gripping olive leaves and transposed names of ghosts from the past. A silver sea of bouffants and candy-colored pill box hats danced on the shoot of red carpeting that cut the room in half. Like cats they shrilled – laughing and kissing each other's cheeks. Until she walked in. Eyes narrowed, and voices turned hushed rustling breaths.

Deafening fuchsia plunged low to reveal enormous mounds of flesh – yellow and spotted like the skin of an old banana. Perched atop her head curled a wad of throbbing orange resembling a frightened tropical bird. No hat, no gloves.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006


At this point in my life, I look forward to only one thing: going back to bed.

Okay, I am exaggerating a bit. I also look forward to watching Who Wants to be a Superhero on Sci-Fi. (There ain’t nothing like watching a big woman in spandex and a freakin’ goob who cries all the time).

I am not exactly living the life I had envisioned for myself as I left Ole Miss in the Ryder Truck pilled full of sorority mementos and stolen beer mugs from the many Thursday nights out on the Oxford square. I was headed for greatness with two useless degrees and bank balance of $7.30. Now 10 years later and so jaded I pee green, I have accepted the life that I have chosen – with the help of several mood stabilizers and a daily tranquillizer.

With chemical assistance, I manage to make it through most days without a slipping on some Nikes and pouring myself a tumbler of tainted Kool-Aid, but at least once a week, someone has to coax me off the ledge with a Snickers and Diet Coke.

My best friend Audrey surfs through life on a wave of Prozac and Zanex. She says she sees the world like Barbra Streisand in the movies – a little fuzzy to cover up the wrinkles and age spots. Audrey refers to it as bi-polarpaloosa. It really works for her. We’ve been friends all our lives, and I can’t remember what she is like without chemical enhancement. The meds give her character. You never know what you are going to get most days – fun and outgoing, quiet and reflective, or psychotic and delusional. I prefer the latter. Raises the stakes a bit… scares the hell out of most people.

Let me explain.

Every year until Hurricane Katrina, Audrey and I would drive down to New Orleans for a fun filled weekend of Bloody Marys, pralines and shopping (there ain’t nothing that says Merry Christmas like a black candle in the shape of a vagina, ho, ho, ho). We would go get our fortunes told by some freakishly accurate voodoo priestess and go on the midnight cemetery tours (you’re gonna need some sort of stabilizer for that shit, trust me).

The last year we went, Audrey and I had just wolfed down our fourth beignet at the Café du Monde and headed down Market Street to go browse the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company store when the most insane, turn-your-umbrella-inside-out, wet-all-the-way-to-your-drawers storm hit. We were at least 12 blocks from the hotel and wearing liquid eyeliner. We looked like the members of the Alice Cooper Soccer Mom fan club with our runny eyeliner and twin sets, and we were not about to actually go into a store looking like that to wait out the storm. We refused to make a spectacle of ourselves.

So we ran the twelve blocks – squealing and shouting obscenities – through the French Quarter of New Orleans.

When we finally fell into the hotel lobby (literally), I imagine we weren’t looking our best. In fact, I made a baby cry in the elevator.

After the best of three rounds of rock, paper, scissors, I won the first shower. Finally warm and wearing the complementary hotel bathrobe, I left my sanctuary. Audrey was sprawled on her stomach across one of the beds in her bra and panties and a tiara (she carries one with her at all times), holding a little bottle of vodka from the mini-bar in one hand and a Marlboro Light (clutched between her first two fingers) and a wad of praline (between her ring finger and pinky) in the other. She was singing “I’m a Little Teacup.”

“Shower’s open.”

“Cool beans.”

Bi-polarpaloosa, people. It might be raining shit and shingles, but with with a teacup full of
vodka and a Zanex chaser, you can coast right through life never realizing you have become Courtney Love.