Of all my characters Maybelle Higginbottom has been a part of my life the longest. Why or when I created her I cannot now remember. Sometime in my 20’s. For some reason I featured her in a commercial selling Pepperidge Farm cakes. More stories followed, which I performed regularly in private gatherings or larger settings such as entertainment at a banquet. Only recently have I started writing down her story, when I introduced her to larger audiences at storytelling events. If earlier this summer, you read “Meeting of Friends” here, you will recall Maybelle’s taking the author to task for not continuing her story. Here is the beginning of the author’s promise to remedy that oversight.
When you’re the eldest sister of five brothers, therefore, a stand-in mama, while your own ma works in the field with your pa, because everybody in Hog Holler knew ‘Oneta Dowd could plow straight as any man, straighter than most,’ and then you get married right out of high school, giving birth one year later, and four times after, finally ending up with six children—the fourth time it being twins—when your youngest child gets on up past being a baby and starts walking around on her own two feet, it’s safe to think maybe you’ve got it made.
Wouldn’t you think so?
That’s what I thought anyway. After years of minding brothers and raising kids, tending to my parents’ farm and then my husband’s farm, maybe, I thought, there would some time now for Maybelle—not that I wanted to do anything extravagant. No.
Just enjoy sitting on the porch without looking at my watch every fifteen seconds, sleeping till 4:30 in the morning, or getting back to the basket weaving I had put aside once all our money started going toward six kids’ growing feet.
As far as I was concerned, it was high time the storm clouds cleared, the sun broke through, the fair winds of good fortune billowed my tattered sails and propelled me forward over calm and unruffled waters. Life still had its tempests. My oldest son Luke was courting a girl who didn’t know a soup ladle from a paring knife; my second son Amos wanted to become a lawyer; Juney Belle was in love for the 18th time, the twins, Ned, and Zed, thanks to a school project, had discovered their Scottish heritage and were saving up for bagpipes; and little Augusta couldn’t spell worth beans.
You can see why the last thing in the world I needed was for my husband Zeke—stable, unwavering, predictable—to experience a full-blown mid-life crisis.
Now, if there’s one thing motherhood has taught me, it’s this—you have to be ready at a moment’s notice for your children to come through the door and announce some hare-brained scheme that has no chance in the world of working.
You a have to stay calm, look them straight in the eye, and say, ‘We’ll see.’
And make them believe you mean that, and will indeed give their nonsense some serious thought, which you actually have no intention of doing.
But I never dreamed I’d have to exhibit that same kind of tolerance when my husband Zeke came home and announced there was going to be a radio station built in Hog Holler and he was going to apply be a radio host.
“A what?” I asked.
“Radio host. I’m going to have a morning talk show. I’ve always wanted to.”
“Since when?” I asked.
He was always in the field when the sun came up and had never once listened to a morning talk show.
Ignoring my question, he drained the last cup of coffee into his John Deere mug, and leaning against the kitchen counter, crossed one work boot over the other, looking for all the world like Gene Kelly posed, dapper, against a light post.
“Do you want to know what the call letters will be?” he asked, grinning.
“I guess so.”
“W. H. O. O.”
His whole face broke into a smile from his crinkled forehead to his firm chin.
“W, H, O, O,” I said. “You do realize that spells, ‘Who’?”
He skittered to the table and sat next to me. “I know. Isn’t it genius? The billboards advertising the station are going to have a picture of an owl with ‘Whoo'”—he said it like an owl would—“coming from his beak in one of those little cloud things…you know, like in the funny papers.”
For one terrible moment, I had a vision of my husband’s handsome face—pinched between huge black headphones, lips puckered, winking Popeye-like—blazoned in the lower righthand corner of a huge yellow billboard—the owl ‘whoo-ing’ diagonally opposite—at the city limits.
Without meaning to, I shivered. “Bubbles.”
“What?” he asked.
“Bubbles,” I said. “I believe cartoon figures speak in ‘bubbles.’”
He went on talking, cogitating about possible guests to invite, explaining Buddy Bivins, the stock boy at Walker’s Market, had a second cousin who worked for the landscaping company at the governor’s mansion and maybe he could invite him for an interview.
“I don’t think people around here would be much interested in learning more about Buddy Bivins’ second cousin,” I said.
“No-o-o,” Zeke said, sounding like the owl again. “Not the cousin. The governor.”
Clearly, Zeke was not going to settle for any second-rate dream.