The Equalizer – Chapter One

She was the most feared, most hated, most exasperating defense litigator anyone had ever run across.  She was a one woman wrecking crew and believe me when I say that you did not want to get in her way.

She defended murderers, rapists, child molesters, drug dealers and was renowned for once successfully getting an acquittal for a known serial killer.

On two occasions I was fortunate or unfortunate enough depending on your view, to go head to head with her in a courtroom.

I was an up and coming prosecutor for the District Attorneys’ Office and I was determined to make my mark.  I was confident but I was not a know-it-all.  I was definitely not a pushover and my lack of experience did not reflect my work ethic.  I suffered no fools, but I have to say that only one litigator ever scared the living hell out of me.

That person was Parker Carolina Patterson, also known as “PCP” and she was five thousand times more deadly.

One common street name for PCP is “Angel dust” but it certainly didn’t apply to her.  She was more often than not described as a less commonly used term, “Embalming Fluid.”  She would gut you, laugh while you were bleeding and have you at the morgue before you even knew you were dead.

It was a given that any attorney was going to be crucified as soon as a trial began and if possible, the seasoned attorneys who had been emasculated and virtually gelded by her, passed their cases onto unknowing, wet behind the ears associates, like me.

They called that process “the Baptism of fire.”  It was sort of like throwing Daniel into the lions’ den, only they knew the lion was going to eat Daniel alive.  She chewed up novice attorneys like a wood chipper and spit them out into piles of mulch, wearing off-the-rack neckties.  She did it to me…twice.

I used to say “she won…rather than I lost.”  I thought it sounded better. “She won vs. we lost.”  To me, phrasing it that way somehow lessened the sting of defeat.  It may be a pride thing or a man thing or a Freudian thing. I don’t know but speaking of Freud, in her case “sometimes a cigar is just a cigar” was accurate.  Sometimes a raging bitch is just a raging bitch.

I would describe her as a cross between Angie Harmon and Charles Manson. She had the stunning beauty of Angie but something about her eyes made you think you were staring straight into the face of Satan.  Her porcelain skin appeared to have never seen a ray of sunshine and was absolutely flawless.  Her fire-engine red pouty lips, when parted revealed either a perfect Hollywood smile or a string of insults that would make God shake his head in disbelief.

I remember the first time I was snared into the web of Parker Carolina Patterson like it was yesterday.  I had what we call a “slam-dunk case.”  I was armed with indisputable evidence.  There was motive, opportunity and the ultimate coup de gras…a confession.

Although Parker had successfully convinced the judge that the confession had been coerced and was therefore inadmissible, I wasn’t worried.  I was also not worried that there had been any collusion or underhandedness about the judges’ decision.

Parker Patterson was not only hated by other litigators, she was hated by judges.  She talked to them like they had shit for brains and being slapped with contempt was to her like being handed a parking ticket.

My first case was prosecuting a man named Bernard Copley.  In a fit of rage, he stabbed his wife, Maureen, two hundred and sixty-five times.  I hadn’t seen too many crime scene photos but I will never forget those.  They were, even today, some of the worst I had ever seen and the first time I looked at them, I thought I might wretch.

Parker submitted the “crime of passion” defense and successfully convinced the jury that “each and every one of us is capable of anything under the right circumstances.  It has nothing to do with love or hate.  It has to do with passion.”

Bernard Copley was sentenced to time served, which amounted to 38 days in jail.  That wasn’t the only coup she pulled off.  She requested and was granted protection for her client due to the violent outbursts and threats from family members when the verdict was read.

This was common practice for her.  She had no qualms about looking the judge straight in the eyes and saying “I demand protection for my client.” She always requested it and it was always granted, for reasons no one could ever really understand, unless it was like several judges said…”I’ll agree to anything to get you out of my face and out of my courtroom.”

Apparently, she had connections and told the presiding judges that she could make someone “anonymous” faster than any federal agency.  She also reminded the judges that her first concern was the safety of her clients and any delays put said clients at risk.

After our case was over, Judge Dunbar who had repeatedly been compared to the infamous Judge Roy Bean looked at her and said “if true justice was served today, you would be hanging from the nearest tree.”  Her response? “All things being equal your Honor, if true justice was served today, you would be undergoing an autopsy.”

Balls?  Yep.  She had them.

Judge Dunbar sarcastically thanked the jury and dismissed them.  That is typically when attorneys shake hands and obligatory congratulations or “we’ll see you at the appeal,” are exchanged.

I admit that I was not feeling very cordial and like a spoiled brat, I offered no congratulations.  After she put her paperwork into her Coco Chanel briefcase, she handed me the latest edition of “Understanding The Law For Dummies.”

As we were walking out, Maureen Copley’s mother grabbed Parker’s arm and said “do you think God will forgive you for what you do?”  I was surprised when Parker hesitated for a moment and without making eye contact, turned slightly toward her, looked down and said “no.”

 

To be continued________________

Tommy’s Dog – Chapter Four

Mama felt bad after telling Tommy that this had to be the last time he could see the dog but she knew it was for the best.  While she waited for him to come back home, she got out some old photo albums and started flipping through the pages, now yellowed and crumbling with age.

Page after page was filled with pictures of “grandpa,” from when he was a little boy until just before he died.  He had the happiest eyes and he was always smiling.  He had been a wonderful father and how she wished he had lived long enough for Tommy to have really known him.  He was one of those people who leave an indelible mark on your life.

She walked down memory lane as she remembered all the corny jokes he used to tell.  She smiled when she remembered how many times he would push her in the swing he had made from a tire, while telling her stories of old Blue.

She was so lost in nostalgia that when Tommy leaned over her shoulder and spoke, it startled her.  She didn’t even know that he had come back home.

He pointed to a picture of old Blue and excitedly said “that’s the dog!  That’s the dog who hides behind those rocks!”

All mama could get out was “what?”  Tommy repeated “that’s the dog who hides behind those rocks!  I think he wants to play hide and seek.”

Mama said “honey, that can’t be.  That’s a picture of old Blue and old Blue died many years ago.  You know that.  It’s just some dog who looks like him.”

Tommy was adamant when he kept repeating the same words.  Then he said “no, mama.  I promise.  Come with me and you’ll see for yourself.”

Mama said “Tommy, honey.  I just think you want it to be him but you know it can’t be.”  Her heart sank when Tommy looked at her and said “why don’t you believe me mama?”

“Okay,” she said.  “Let’s go have a look.”  Tommy started tugging on her hand as she reluctantly walked out of the house.  When they got to the place Tommy said he saw him, they waited for a few minutes and then mama asked “where is he?”  Tommy looked disappointed and said “I don’t know.  He was here before.”

Mama said “well, he’s not here now and we have to get back home so I can start dinner.”  Tommy said “please, please, can we wait just a few more minutes, mama?  Please?”

Mama was ready to start walking back home when Tommy squealed “there he is!  There he is mama!  See?  I told you.”

Mama looked around but she couldn’t see anything.  “Where do you see him Tommy?” she asked.  Tommy looked puzzled and said “he’s standing right there, mama.  Don’t you see him?”

Mama smiled.  She now knew that the dog was just an “imaginary friend” Tommy had conjured up.  Trying to appease him, she said “yes I see him Tommy but we need to get on home now.”

Tommy started running.  He said “c’mon mama.  C’mon!”  He wants to play hide and seek.”

Mama called for Tommy to come back but he kept running.  She started walking toward him, calling his name over and over until she finally caught up with him.

Tommy said “see?  These are the rocks he likes to hide behind.”

Mama froze.  The “rocks” Tommy was talking about were tombstones.  They were standing in the middle of The Green Terrace Cemetery.

Mama wasn’t sure that Tommy even knew a cemetery was there and he obviously didn’t know what it was, given that he thought the tombstones were just rocks.

Tommy took her hand and said “he hides behind this one.”

Mama sat down and cried.  Tommy asked “what’s wrong mama?”

She said “this is where your grandpa is buried.”

 

It Einde.

 

 

 

 

 

Tommy’s Dog – Chapter Three

Mama said “I told you that he probably belonged to someone else and don’t you think that if he wanted to play, he wouldn’t have run away?”

“I guess so,” said Tommy.  But he just looks so lonely and he’s always there.  I don’t ever see anybody playing with him or throwing him a stick.”

He surprised mama when he looked at her and said “would you tell me more about grandpa’s dog?”

Before mama could catch herself she laughed and said “that little dog was something else.  Grandpa said he never left his side.”  Tommy, a bright little boy said “but I thought you said old Blue left and started his own family.”

Mama knew she had been caught and it was time to as they said back then, “fess up.”

She had never wanted to lie to Tommy.  She had long ago decided that should he ever ask where babies came from, she wasn’t going to tell him the tired old story about children being found in a cabbage patch.  But that was going to be a talk about life.  What she was going to have to talk to him about now was death.

“Sit down Tommy,” she said.  “I don’t want you to get upset when I tell you this, okay?  Tommy said “okay.”

Mama said “one day old Blue was hit by a car and he died.  I didn’t tell you because I didn’t want you to be sad.”  Tommy’s eyes welled up with tears and said “what happened to his family?”

Mama was thinking “oh, boy.  Which is going to be worse, telling him there never was a family or that his family moved on?”

She decided to tell him that the “family” had moved on after he died.  Tommy of course, asked where they went.  Mama said “I think they moved to another state.”

Now it was time to tell him that grandpa had died.  “Do you remember grandpa?” she asked.  “Kind of,” Tommy said.  “He was funny and he had grey hair.”  Then Tommy laughed and said “and he couldn’t play fetch very well.”

Mama smiled and said “honey, he’s not with us anymore.”  Tommy looked up and said “where did he go?  Did he get another family?”

“No,” mama said.

“Did he get hit by a car and died too?” Tommy asked.  Again mama said “no, he just got old and sick and he died.”  Tommy looked at her and said “will he come back after he gets better?”

Tommy’s little boy mind wasn’t capable of understand the finality of death and mama wasn’t exactly sure what to say to him.  While she was thinking, Tommy looked at her as if he hadn’t heard a thing she said and asked “can I go play with the dog now?”

Mama said “yes, but I want you to try to find something else to do.  I think you are becoming too attached to that dog and when he goes back home, you’re going to be very sad.”

Tommy stood there for a few minutes and mama said “do you promise?  Do you promise that this will be the last time you’ll go see the dog?”

Tommy reluctantly said “okay.”  Mama said “you have to say ‘I promise’ and let me see your fingers.”  Tommy held out his little hands and said “I promise.”

Mama said “okay, then.  Go see him and tell him goodbye.”

 

To be continued____________

 

Tommy’s Dog – Chapter Two

Mama was still giggling about what Tommy said but managed to say “you know, grandpa had a dog when he was a little boy.”  She turned around and winked when she said “that was before his hair turned grey.”

“What was his name?” asked Tommy.  Mama said “his name was old Blue.  Grandpa was just a little whippersnapper like you when he had it.”

“What happened to it?” Tommy asked.  Mama said “I think he found a wife and started his own family.”  She knew Tommy didn’t know that dogs didn’t get married, start families and move away and she hated to lie to him but she thought he was a wee bit too young to hear that grandpa’s dog had been hit by a car and died a few days later.

She also didn’t have the heart to tell Tommy that grandpa had died the year before.  He wouldn’t understand about death so she had kept him alive with memories and stories, like the dog he called “old Blue.”

Mama said “that dog was so special to grandpa that he never had another one.  He said ‘couldn’t another dog in the county ever take the place of old Blue’.”

While mama was strolling down memory lane, Tommy suddenly interrupted her thoughts and said “maybe I can name that dog.”  Mama looked at him and said “remember?  I told you he probably belongs to somebody and I’m sure he already has a name.”

Tommy said “well, then can I feed him?”  Mama asked if the dog looked hungry.  Tommy said “no, but I thought maybe if I fed him, he would like me.”  Mama said “honey, I’m sure he likes you but I’m not sure we should feed someone else’s dog.”

Tommy said “well, then can I just take him a bone?”  Mama said “I’ll tell you what.  The next time I make chicken, you can take him a bone.  How’s that?”

Tommy smiled and said “Okay.  I’m going to go play with him now.”

Mama shook her head.  She was afraid that in just those few days, Tommy was becoming too attached to the dog.”

Tommy came home that afternoon, carrying a big stick.  “What have you got there?” mama asked.  Tommy said “I was trying to get the dog to play fetch with me.  I called him old Blue.”

Mama didn’t know why but she suddenly got chills.  “What did you say?” she asked.  Tommy said “I wanted him to play fetch with me but I didn’t know his name, so I called him old Blue.”

Mama gently, but sternly reminded Tommy that they had discussed him giving the dog a name.  Tommy said “I know but I called him old Blue and he came walking over to me.  He wouldn’t get real close but he acted like he wanted to play so I picked up this stick and threw it.”

Mama asked what he did next.  Tommy said “he just looked at me, wagged his tail and then ran over and hid behind one of those rocks.”

“Rocks?” his mama asked.  “What rocks?”  Tommy said “those big rocks out next to the woods.”

 

To be continued____________

Tommy’s Dog – Chapter One

Little Tommy lived with his mama in a small but well-kept house at the end of Still Shadow Lane.  It was a little blue cottage style house with yellow and green trim.  His daddy had run off with another woman right after he was born and it was just the two of them but laughter and smiles were abundant.

His mama had carefully hand painted the number 38 on a board and it hung over the front porch from a piece of chain she found on the side of the road.

Mama was always finding interesting things and she was blessed with vision.  She kept a book made of cloth pages and she carefully sewed and labeled her treasures to the pages.  Her findings ranged from smashed real gold earrings to antique pop-beads to a tiny rusted locket.  Her motto was “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”

Little trinkets weren’t the only thing mama found.

One day Tommy came running home and said “mama, look what I finded!” In his little hand was a badly scuffed, hardly recognizable coin.  “It’s just a penny,” he said.

His mama said “that’s okay.  Pennies make dollars and it doesn’t matter if they’re brand new or a little worn.  Let’s go put it in the found money jar.” For as long as Tommy could remember, mama had what she called a found money jar.

It was an old “Tom’s Cookie Jar” from the early fifties and it had come from one of the stores that her grandma and grandpa had once owned.  Although the lid had long ago been broken, it was a treasured possession.

Any time money was found, it would go into the jar and it was never to be taken out until the end of the year.  When the end of the year arrived, they would take it out, count it and then buy something special with their free money.

Tommy dropped the penny into the jar and then said “I saw a dog today!” Mama smiled and said “you did!?  What kind of dog?”  Tommy said “um…the kind that goes arf-arf.”  Mama giggled the way she did so often when Tommy said something cute.

Mama also kept another kind of book.  In that book she wrote down all of Tommy’s sayings.  She wanted to write them down and when he grew up, he could read it to his own little boy.  Once when he asked her what she was writing, she said “sometimes, men grow up and they forget that they were once little boys.  I don’t want you to be one of those men.”

For the next several days, Tommy came home and told his mama about seeing the dog again.  His mama said “I’m sure he belongs to somebody in the neighborhood.  You know dogs.  They like to roam around and protect their territory.”

Mama asked Tommy if the dog was wearing a collar.  Tommy said “I don’t think so.”  Mama said “well, we’ll ask around the neighborhood and see if anybody has lost their dog but I’ll bet he lives somewhere close.”

Tommy looked at her optimistically and said “if he doesn’t belong to anybody, can we keep him?”  Not wanting to get his hopes up and not wanting to disappoint him by telling him that they really couldn’t afford a dog, mama said “we’ll see but like I said.  I’m sure he belongs to somebody.”

The next day, Tommy came home and said “that dog isn’t wearing a collar, mama.”  She asked him if he was sure and he said “yes’um.  I looked.”

He looked at his mama and said “mama?  Is it okay if I pretend he’s mine and call him my dog?  Just for now?”

Mama smiled and said “just for now but you know it’s just pretend, right?”  Tommy looked down and shuffled his feet.  Then he said “okay.  It’s pretend, just for now.”

Mama tried to change the subject and asked “what does he look like?”  Tommy thought for a minute and seemed to perk up a bit.  He said “he has grey hair, sort of like grandpa.”  Mama laughed and said “grey hair?  He must be an old dog.”

Tommy said “um, I don’t think so.”  When mama asked him why he didn’t think so, he said “he can run faster than grandpa.”

 

To be continued_______________

 

 

The Ballad Of Miss Emmogene Cook – Chapter Seven

I was worried about Miss Emmogene being even more lonely since I was going away so I asked mama to take up the torch, as it were.

Mama was old school and didn’t believe in the “impersonal lazy way” of communicating through computer emails and outwardly cursed what she called that evil texting.

Instead, she wrote letters to me.  The ancient art of penmanship was fast disappearing and some of my most treasured possessions are those hand-written letters from my mama.

She would tell me about what was now their “cookies and brew fests,” and even confessed that every year on the anniversary of the day I left, real “brew” was consumed while both she and Miss Emmogene talked of days gone by and dreams yet to be realized.

I could tell that mama was growing fond of her.  I could also tell that she felt such empathy for this woman who had spent her entire life, living in a fantasy world when time was young and so was she.

The love Miss Emmogene had for her beau had never wavered, never aged and had only been doubted by those of us who didn’t have the capacity to believe in fairy tales.

One day, mama called me.  As soon as she said my name, I knew something wasn’t right.  I asked “what’s wrong mama?”  She said “honey, Miss Emmogene died today.”

I tried to hold back my emotions and asked her how.  “I think she just died of a broken heart,” mama said.  “The doctors said “it just gave out.”

I told mama I would be on the next flight home and suddenly, as if Miss Emmogene was with me, I said “mama, make sure they put her in that red silk dress.”

I had told mama about it, so she said she would tell the undertaker.  I remember thinking “undertaker?  Undertaker?  He was going to be the one making the arrangements?”  She had no family on record.  The only friend she ever had, that I knew of, was me and then my mama.  The saddest part was that there would be nobody to mourn her but me and my mama.

I told mama to tell the undertaker to hold off and wait for me.  I would be her next of kin and I would take care of her.  I thought she would have liked that.

I was in a daze while I was trying to pack my suitcase.  I was going through the motions like a zombie.  During the flight, several times, I had to hide in the bathroom to keep from crying in front of the entire plane.

Memories came flooding back.  This woman who in my foolish youth, I had made fun of because I believed her to be a witch, turned out to be one of my favorite people and most cherished friends.

Her reverence for the love of her life, albeit a fabricated lover, laid the groundwork for how I too, would revere the love of my life.

I smiled as I wondered if she knew that around campus, I was famous for my “brew.”  More than a few times as a joke, an upper class man would post a flyer on the bulletin board, saying “for the best brew on campus, go to Hilliard Hall.”  I always delighted in the faces of those lower class men who showed up, prepared to get plastered on what turned out to be sun tea.

When I got home, as soon as I saw mama, as we hugged we sobbed for what seemed like an hour.  Miss Emmogene’s words echoed in my memory.  “Leadership is about submission to duty,” and my duty was to take care of her.  I contacted our pastor and told him that I would do the eulogy if he would say a prayer for her.

Unbeknownst to me or my mama or anybody else, years ago Miss Emmogene had purchased two burial plots in the Sacred Heart Cemetery.  I could only imagine they were intended to be the place where she and her beau were to rest side by side for all eternity.

I made sure that she was dressed in her red silk dress, even though it was almost thread bare.  Her locket was carefully placed around her neck and a bouquet of wildflowers were placed in her hands along with the smallest painting of her “beau.”

Mama, the pastor and I were the only people at her service.  The usual “ashes to ashes, dust to dust” phrase was offered by the pastor while I played “Oh How We Danced” on my phone.  When it was my turn to speak, I was so overcome with grief, I couldn’t say a word.

Mama walked over and said “this was a gracious and graceful lady, who befriended my son and knew the value of love and leadership.  Mostly, she taught us about the ever enduring gift of hope.  May she rest in peace and find the love in Heaven that she so longed for on Earth.”

The pastor and mama walked away so the workers could cover up the coffin but I stayed behind for a few more minutes.  I knelt down and whispered “I hope you don’t mind Miss Emmogene but I took that record with me.”

I finally started walking away and I noticed what looked like a figure behind a tree.  I walked over and saw this man who looked like he hadn’t eaten or slept in days.  His coat was dirty and had holes in it.  His shoes were mismatched and covered in mud.

He was trying to walk away when I asked if I could help him.  He looked at me through hollow, worn eyes and in an almost inaudible voice asked if I knew Miss Emmogene.  I smiled and said “yes I did.  I’m Johnny Lee Wainwright, III and she was my friend.”  I held out my hand and as he held out his, I saw the exposed scared fingers of his gloved, dirty, shaky hand.

He didn’t offer his name but he didn’t have to.  I knew who he was.  I had been wrong.  We had all been wrong.  Hadley Langston Thackeray, III wasn’t a fantasy.

“What happened to you?’ I asked.  He looked toward her grave-site and said “my life didn’t turn out the way I hoped and I couldn’t bear to let her know.”

“Could you tell me,” he asked.  “Did she die alone?”

I put my hand on his shoulder and said “no.  She didn’t die alone.  You were with her.  You had always been with her.”

Samāpti.

The Ballad Of Miss Emmogene Cook – Chapter Six

When I got back home, I told mama that I had invited Miss Emmogene to supper.  She said “that was nice of you.  When is she going to come?”

I told her that Miss Emmogene said she wouldn’t leave her house because she was afraid her beau might come while she was gone.  I was running my finger around and around in a circle on the kitchen table and mama said “what’s on your mind J-Lee?”

I said “mama, when you get old and live alone, do you just eventually give up on life?”  Mama looked at me and said “sometimes.  And sometimes, the loneliness is so unbearable you escape into a fantasy world.  I believe that is what Miss Emmogene has chosen to do.  Remember when I told you how horrible it was to be alone and have nobody who cares about you?”

“Yes’um,” I answered.  “Well,” she said.  “Sometimes people find comfort in an imaginary ‘friend’ if you will.  That way, they don’t look and feel so tragic.  I mean, we all know about Miss Emmogene’s beau.  We’ve known about him for years.  We all know that he’s not real but if it helps her feel a little more normal, why not just go along with her dream?”

She went on to say “there are people who actually have family but for some reason or reasons, they never see them.  That’s another kind of pretension. They pretend they’re going to get a visit but they never do, so they attribute an unfortunate event for the reason.  It’s a shame, really…how many lonely people there are out there.”

I got up and hugged her.  I said “mama, I don’t want you to ever be alone and lonely.”  She smiled and said “I’ll never be alone as long as I have you, and you my dear, are wise far beyond your years, I’m afraid.”

The next day on my way to Miss Emmogene’s house, I stopped and picked a few wild flowers that were growing along the path.  When I handed them to her, she almost started to cry.

“How did you know that wildflowers are my favorite?” she asked.  “The day I met my beau, after it stopped raining, he stopped and bought some wildflowers from a vendor.  I can still smell their sweet fragrance.”

“He said ‘one day these will be a dozen of the most beautiful roses you have ever seen’ but I told him that nothing could ever compare to the beauty of natures’ little wild treasures he had just given to me.”

Her eyes were somewhat yellowed with age but when she talked of her beau, they would light up like a child’s eyes on Christmas morning.  She became that young woman who so many years ago had fabricated a lover who would someday metaphorically ride up on his white stallion and whisk her away to an imaginary castle.

I was so fond of Miss Emmogene and through the years, I had come to realize two indisputable facts.  She was not a witch and she was the epitome of eternal hope.

Eventually, my visits became less frequent and with each visit, Miss Emmogene seemed to be aging more rapidly.  I made one last visit before I left for college and we celebrated with our usual cookies and brew, only this time it was real brew, which I brought.

She laughed and said “your mama is going to skin you alive when she finds out that we were drinking beer together.”

I smiled when I said, “who do you think bought them for us?”

To be continued____________

The Ballad Of Miss Emmogene Cook – Chapter Five

I asked mama if I should just play along.  “Wouldn’t that be like lying?” I said.

Now mind you, I could lie without compunction, given they were just little white lies but somehow it seemed almost sacrilegious to lie to Miss Emmogene.

Mama said “there’s a difference between lying and pretending.  Miss Emmogene isn’t lying.  She’s pretending and you’ll just be pretending with her.”  She smiled and said “as you get older and wiser, you’ll learn the difference between deception and pretension.”

Mama always used big words like that.  When I asked her what they meant, she would point to the dictionary and say “look it up.  If I tell you, you’ll remember it for a day but if you look it up, you’ll remember it for a lifetime.”

Mama had a lot of wisdom.  She was by far no pushover and nobody would ever accuse me of having her wrapped around my little finger but I knew she was one of those mama’s who would stand up and roar if anybody messed with me.

On the way to Miss Emmogene’s house the next day, I ran into the terror twins.  True to form, they were trying to rattle me by singing “J-Lee’s got a girlfriend…J-Lee’s got a girlfriend.”  Using my quick wit, I responded “and the terror twins don’t….the terror twins don’t.”

As they were walking away, giggling, I heard them mumble something about “dried up.”  With a sense of superiority I had never before felt, I walked up to them, looked them square in the eye and said “careful. There’s a spell for that.”  With an exploding gesture of my hand and a forceful blow from my lips, I sent them running home screaming for their mama.

When I got to Miss Emmogene’s house, our cookie and brew fest turned from jokes to serious questions.  She asked me what I wanted to be when I got older.  I thought it was interesting that she didn’t ask the same, tired old question, “what do you want to be when you grow up?”

I told her that I wanted to make a difference in the world.  “I want to be a leader,” I said.  She asked if I wanted to go into politics and perhaps be the president.  I told her that I really didn’t care what I did as long as I was a leader.

She looked at me and said “leadership is about submission to duty, not elevation to power.  Remember that.”  I laughed and told her that sounded like something my mama would say.

“My mama says that it really doesn’t matter if you’re rich or famous.  It doesn’t mater if there are monuments or statues or airports named after you.  What matters is that you leave your own unique mark on the world.  A mark that will make somebody someday say “they were a truly extraordinary person and they will never be forgotten.”

Miss Emmogene said “your mama is a wise woman.”  I looked at her and thought, real or not, her beau was that kind of person.  He had left his mark on her and even amidst the sometimes hint of sadness, I could see the sheer joy in her face when she spoke of him.  To her, he was that truly extraordinary person.

I changed the subject and asked Miss Emmogene if he would like to come to our house for supper sometime.  “I’m sure it would be okay with mama,” I said.  “She’s a pretty good cook and can make fried green tomatoes that will, as she puts it ‘grow hair on your chest’.”

Miss Emmogene laughed out loud and said “well, I’m not sure I would be wanting hair to start growing on my chest and I’m not sure my beau would like it either.”  She walked over and patted me on the cheek and said “thank you J-Lee but I mustn’t leave my house.”

When I asked her why, she said “what if my beau should arrive and I wasn’t here?  He might think I had abandoned him.”  She sat down in her rocking chair and said “no.  I will wait right here until the day he walks through my front door and when that day comes, I want to be standing here in my red satin dress, waiting for him.”

To  be continued_________________

The Ballad Of Miss Emmogene Cook – Chapter Four

Visiting Miss Emmogene became a regular thing for me.  Rick and Mick teased me unmercifully at times but always resisted an invitation to join me.  They were sure I was under some evil spell and at any given time would turn into a blood-sucking zombie.

One day after we had eaten our cookies and sipped our brew, Miss Emmogene brought out a red silk dress, swinging carefully from a velvet covered hanger.  “This is what I’ll be wearing when my beau comes for me,” she said.  As I looked at it, I wondered if she could tell that it was being eaten by moths.

I ignored it and quickly asked her how she met her beau.

He face lit up and she closed her eyes as she said “one day I walked up town to do some shopping and it started pouring rain.  I didn’t have an umbrella and I was just standing there, hoping it would soon stop.  All of a sudden this Adonis was standing beside me, shielding me with his umbrella.”

She opened her eyes and said “do you know who Adonis is?” I said “I think he was a Greek God.”

“Yes he was,” she said.  She sighed and said “at that very moment, he reached up and stole my heart.  It was truly love at first sight.  With the rain pouring down on us, we talked for what seemed like hours.  Then the rain stopped and we had to part.  In just those few hours, I knew I had found the love of my life.  He told me that he was an adventurer and was out to make the world his own.  That’s when we agreed that as soon as he made his fortune, he would send for me.”

She ran her hands across the dress and said “It sounds just like a fairy tale doesn’t it?”

She put the dress away and asked me if I liked music.  I told her it was alright.  I watched as she pulled the cover off of an old gramophone and put on some kind of record I had never seen before.  She turned the crank and through the scratchy noise, we listened to a song called “Oh How We Danced.”

She smiled and said “this is the song my beau and I will dance to on our wedding night.”

I listened to the song, having no idea what it was really about and then told her that I needed to get on back home.  As usual, I thanked her for the cookies and brew and again, lied when I told her that I liked her dress and the song.

When I got home, I talked to mama about her.  Mama had asked me before what we talked about, besides cookies and brew and I had always told her “not much.”  But today I told her that Miss Emmogene had a beau.

Mama looked surprised and asked me if I had seen him.  She looked even more surprised when I said “yes.”  She looked at me and said “you’ve actually seen him?”

“Well,” I said.  “I’ve seen the pictures she’s painted of him and she told me how they met and that she’s waiting for him to send for her.”

Mama came over and sat down next to me and said “Johnny,” (mama only called me Johnny when she was being serious) “you know how sometimes you go outside and point your finger and go pow at the robbers behind the tree?”

“Yes’um,” I said.  “Well,” she said, “you know they aren’t real, right?  They’re only make-believe.”   I repeated “yes’um.”

I thought about it for a few minutes and said “mama?  Are you saying that Miss Emmogene’s beau is make-believe?”

She smiled at me and said “I’m saying that sometimes, people get so lonely they pretend to have people in their lives.  Some pretend to have children and grandchildren although we never see them.  I think somehow it makes them feel a little less lonely to pretend.”

“Should I tell her he’s not real?” I asked.  Mama put her hand on my face and said “no, child.  There is nothing worse than being on this Earth and having nobody who cares about you.”

To be continued_______________

The Ballad Of Miss Emmogene Cook – Chapter Three

When I got back home, mama asked me what I had been up to.  I wasn’t sure I wanted to tell her that I had been up to the haunted house on the hill so I lied and told her that the twins and I had just been out exploring.

She surprised me when she gave me “that look” and asked me what we had been exploring, like she knew exactly where we had been.  Mama had a way of somehow knowing everything and I didn’t doubt for one second that she did indeed have eyes in the back of her head, as she kept telling me.

I was caught and I knew it so I told her I had been to see Miss Emmogene Cook.  Mama laughed and said “I thought you boys were afraid of her.”  Her response put me at ease and I started telling her about the cookies and “the brew.”

“Mama, she puts teabags out in the sun and it makes brew,” I said.

Mama chuckled.  At the time, I didn’t know that people often referred to beer as “brew” and mama didn’t choose to tell me any different.  She did though, ask me what it tasted like.  “It tasted like real sweet tea,” I said.  Mama smiled.

She asked me what we talked about.  I told her that Miss Cook told me some black cat jokes.  Mama smiled that same smile and said “such as?”

“What do people in England call small black cats?” I asked.  Mama put her finger on her mouth and said “hmm.  Kittens?”  I laughed and said “you’ve heard that joke!”  Mama said “maybe.  Or maybe I’m just smarter than the average bear.”

She told me to go get cleaned up for supper and said “you better not have ruined your appetite with those cookies!”  I turned as I was leaving the room and said “I didn’t but can I go visit Miss Cook again?”

“I guess it’s okay,” she said.  “But mind you.  I don’t want you bothering her or worrying her to death.  And for heavens’ sake, keep those terror twins away from her.  There’s no telling what those two will do.”

The next day, I walked up the hill and I didn’t wait for Rick and Mick.  I remembered what mama had said and I also remembered what they had done to our cat.  I didn’t see any cats at Miss Emmogene’s house but she might have some pet bats or something.

I knocked on her door and when she opened it, she again smiled broadly and said “come on in, J-Lee and I’ll get the cookies and brew.”

The first time I was there, I was focused on not getting killed or having a spell put on me.  This time, I looked around.  Her house reminded me of my granny’s house.  Above the mantle piece, hung a picture of Jesus and John F. Kennedy.  I had seen those two pictures in so many old people’s houses.  I used to think they were saints or something.  I mean, I knew who Jesus was and I guess I thought that maybe John was his brother.

Her house was tidy and not at all what I expected.  There was not a huge cauldron with bones beside it and there were no cages with imprisoned children peeping out.

Just as she came back with the tray of cookies and brew, I noticed a picture sitting on an easel.  I asked her who it was.  “That’s my beau,” she said. “His name is Hadley Langston Thackeray, III.  Remember?  I told you that my beau was also a third.”

“Where is he?” I asked.  “He’s traveling the world, seeking his fortune,” she said.  I asked her why she wasn’t with him.  She said “he’s returning for me as soon as he makes his first million!”

“How long has he been gone?” I asked.  She stood up, ran her fingers across the portrait that she herself had painted and said “it’s been a long time but I know as soon as he returns for me, it will seem like yesterday.”

She pulled a chain up and showed me a locket.  “He gave this to me before he left,” she said.  “See?  That’s me and that’s him.”  I looked at the pictures inside the locket.  It was a real picture of her in her younger days but the picture of him was another painting.

“You’ve waited on him all this time?” I said.  “Oh, yes,” she said.

“Well, do you ever think about giving up?” I asked.  She quickly said “oh no. You must never give up.  Hope is the last thing to die so you must never give up hope.”

She left the room and came back with two more paintings.  “See?  Isn’t he handsome?  Oh!  If you could have seen him in his heyday.”  Her voice trailed off but then she said “I don’t know what he looks like now.  It’s been a while, like I said but I imagine he’s just as handsome as he was the day we first met.”

There was a sadness in her eyes but it quickly left when she asked me how I liked the cookies.  “Those cookies were made from my granny’s favorite recipe,” she said.

“I have a granny and she makes cookies too,” I said.

She looked at me and smiled.  I smiled back.

To be continued____________