SoHumBorn Wednesday: Learning the Hard Way

SoHumBorn writes about the secret world of marijuana growers and the people who love them. (This story, Learning the Hard Way, though, doesn’t touch on cannabis.) She prefers, like the people she writes about, to remain anonymous saying, “Who am I… I like to think it doesn’t matter. Who cares who wrote something? You either like it or you don’t. The name of the author is of no relevance.  Plus, I do enjoy the privacy of writing anonymously.” The stories she writes are funny, scary, sweet, sad, and sometimes violent.  Read more of them here.

(Usually, these stories will appear on Sunday but I lost internet on Saturday and we weren’t able to finish editing until today.)

Learning the Hard Way

She had two parents–a working father and a mother who cooked every meal, folded their laundry and sewed matching dresses for the girl and her favorite doll.

Thelma Jones was a neighbor, an old ranch wife whose years and health had forced the move to town. There she’d live out the last of her days not far from where the girl lived with her family. Sometimes, Thelma needed help with small tasks around her house and yard, or just a hand with the grocery shopping. Because it was a small town and people take care of each other, the girl and her siblings were often assigned these tasks. They laughed that Thelma could smell a waffle breakfast before the kids had even woken up – because, just as they’d sit down at the table – the phone would ring and their mother would put together a plate – bacon, waffles, a single egg cooked to order – and one of the kids would have to wolf down their own plate and deliver Thelma’s while it was still hot.

One warm day she was assigned the task of picking up all the downed fruit from a little tree in Thelma’s yard to discourage the yellow jackets from taking up residence. Thelma sat giving directions and began to weave in a tale from her life.

The story was enthralling even to a kid of eight.

Thelma had been married. She and her husband worked hard and ran the ranch. One year, now long past, he and a couple of the men had gone on down the hill to a rodeo.  She told her little helper, “Men were likely to do a fair bit of carousing when they were off the ranch.” But she “didn’t care about that one bit.” The way she said it, the girl believed her though it would be years before she understood what the old woman was implying.

“Well, I figured they’d be gone about a week,” she was saying when a lawn mower coughed to life across the street. They both stopped what they were doing to throw a wave and a smile at Mr. Phillips, a little man with a big wife who spent so many hours tidying his own yard that no one was surprised when he took over the upkeep of the only empty lot on the street. Then she went on.

“Those men were gone so damn long I started thinkin’ they might have had some trouble.” She took a moment to kill an ant that had wandered foolishly close. “When Hank finally did get home I found out exactly what kind of trouble had kept him so long.”

“He says to me, ‘Now, Thelma, you know, you and I have never been real lovebirds. Well, I met a real nice girl down in the valley. I have a chance to be happy. I really love her.’”

“So much, in fact,” she said grinding the ant’s body till it was unrecognizable,  “he was planning to pack his bag and go off to be with his new love.”

Her little audience didn’t even know married people could break up, so this part stopped the girl dead in her tracks.

“Your ears and hands have a problem workin’ at the same time?”

“No, Ma’am.”

“Well?” She gave her little helper a hard eye.

The girl went back to gathering the downed fruit and the old woman went back to talking. ”I told that son of a bitch he wasn’t goin’ anywhere and I went in the house and got my good rifle.”

“He said, ‘You aren’t going to shoot me, Thelma.’”

“I told him, ‘You just take one step off this porch and you’ll find out different!’  He did…. and he did. I put a bullet in him.”  

Seeing the look of shock on her young listener’s face, she added, “Not in a vital spot.”

Then, with some small regret at his pain, she had to load him up in a wagon to take him through the hills to t
he Doctor.

Her wrinkled face turns up and her eyes shine with humor. “He didn’t think another thought of leavin’ me. No, sir, he didn’t.”

About a million apples later, Thelma offered to give her young helper “two bits” for a soda if she would accompany her in her old white car to Mendes Market and give a hand with the groceries. The girl knew her parents would make her do it for free anyway, so she quickly agreed.

They loaded up and headed down through town to Redwood Drive.  On the side of the road was a young man standing next to a huge green army-style backpack. He had long curly hair and he smiled at the child as he stuck out his thumb. The girl smiled shyly back, tipping her head down to inspect him through the safety of her bangs.

They drove past and she watched for him to get smaller, but Thelma began to slow the old car and pull off the roadway. The girl looked on in wonder as the old woman stuck her arm out the window and circled it in a “come along” gesture. The young girl was so excited, she began to bounce on her seat until she’d spun all the way around. Her parents never picked up hitchhikers, and she knew better than to get caught talking to a “Dirty Hippie.”  Her chance to examine one up close was finally here.

He picked up his huge sack, and sliding it onto his back, took off at a dead run. The girl was transfixed. On her knees, facing out the back window, she watched his hair bounce and the giant pack jar him with each landed step until he got right up to the trunk of the car. Once again he smiled at her and she at him.

Then the roar of the engine nearly toppled the child into the back seat as Thelma peeled out spraying gravel on the young man.

“HA! Did ya see his face?” she cackled and yelled out the window, “Get a haircut!”

They left him on the side of the road and the girl watched him growing smaller and smaller. The woman, who could kill a buck and turn the hide to clothing, cracked up all the way to Redway.

She was a hard woman and a child could learn a lot about history, and life, from a woman like that.


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