Child of the Pack Saddle Part III

by  

Two hours after I got into the Model T Ford a few miles north of Marksville, five Cajuns and myself pulled into a yellow two-car garage in the rear of a yellow duplex house on Holly Street in Alexandria, Louisiana.

The interior of the garage was much larger than it appeared from the outside: the floor was covered over with wall-to-wall concrete, there was a two-pane window on one side of the garage, and at the far end, there was an iron bed. All in all, the place was neat and well kept for a garage.

After everyone had gotten out of the car and removed the fishing gear, Caroline said to me, “Popcorn, you wait here while I go in the house and get some bed clothing for the bed in the corner there where you’re going to sleep. That will be your bed. You wait here and I’ll be right back.”

I guess I waited out in the garage something like 25 to 30 minutes and was getting a little uneasy when Roland walked in and said to me, “Popcorn. Uncle Johnny told me to tell you to come in the house. Grandmother wants to see you. Come with me.”

The distance between the garage and the back porch was about ten yards or so. It was one of those screened-in porches with a couple of chairs, a couple of buckets, a mop and a couple of brooms at the far end of the porch.

The kitchen door was half ajar when Roland pushed it all the way open and as we walked into the kitchen. My eyes were met by a bright white light bulb hanging from the ceiling. Facing the door was a full-length window with a red and blue curtain covering the four-pane window. The blue wall-to-wall linoleum glowed as brilliantly as a new moon in the month of June.

Directly across from the kitchen door was a huge black iron stove with four large burners and a small burner for the coffee pot. At the bottom of the stove was a large oven with a glass door in the middle of the door and lording above the stove was an oven for keeping prepared food warm. Overhead and directly opposite the stove, a row of varnished cabinets lined the wall. Below those cabinets was a small breakfast table. A little farther down from table sat a kitchen sink and hovering over the sink was a window bearing white-laced curtains.

I was completely fascinated by the order and the arrangement of the kitchen from the moment that I laid eyes on this eye-catching scene. I thought to myself, “What a way to live. It must surely be heavenly.”

When Roland and I walked into the kitchen, Johnny and Caroline were cleaning the fish and Jesse and his wife were busy unpacking the fishing gear. Upon entering the kitchen, Roland walked over to the breakfast table where a white-haired woman sat sipping from a coffee cup. He placed his arm over the shoulder of the pretty white-headed woman seated at the table with her back to the kitchen door and said to her – in French – “This is Popcorn, Granny. The little colored boy that aunt Caroline was telling you about.”

The lady turned toward me, looked up and down for a moment, and then said to Roland, “Why, this boy is too young to be out hitching&how do you say?”

“The word is hitchhiking, Granny,” said Roland. “He was walking out of Marksville when Uncle Johnny picked him up on Highway 1. He say he come from New Orleans from Alex searching for his mama who lives somewhere in the colored neighborhood here in Alexandria.”

“What is his mama doing in this town when her child is in New Orleans?” the woman questioned.

“I don’t know, Granny,” Roland said. “Don’t start me to lying!”

“Come closer to me, boy,” the old woman said to me. “Now tell me the truth: Can you speak French? And if you can, who teach you to speak French? Your mama, is she a Cajun woman? I kin see you ain’t all Black ‘cause you no have big mouth like most colored folks have. You got Cajun blood in you, ain’t you? You talk good French.

“Take that chair over there and bring it close here. I want you to tell me how come you out in the world all by yourself. And I don’t want no lies! You hear me? I know you little colored boys will sugar coat the truth.”

After I had complied with the lady’s order to pull the chair closer to where she sat, she touched me on my knee and said to me, “I want you to tell me how come you out here on the road at night coming from New Orleans all the way to Alex to find a mama and you don’t know for sure where she stay.

“Look at me when you talk. I don’t like when people look at the floor when they are supposed to be talking to me. Do you understand what I’m saying to you&er,er&What is your name?”

“They call me Popcorn miss, miss”

“My name is La Nora but you can call me Granny. Everyone calls me Granny and I don’t see no reason how come you shouldn’t. Just call me Granny and I’ll call you Popcorn. And I don’t want you to forget that when you talking to Granny, you look she in the face. That is how I kin know when you tell a lie or you tell the truth. Now, tell Granny: Who is Cajun in your family? Where is your home and how come you come to Alexandria?”

I have gone through a lot of experiences but never, ever have I had an experience that equaled the kind of ordeal that I had with that white-haired old lady called Granny. The influence that she wove over me in no time at all was something that I had never felt before nor I have I felt since.

The old woman seemed to cast a spell over me. It was as though looking into her clear blue eyes robbed me of every shred of deception that my mind might have conjured up or even dared to concoct. It did, indeed, seem to me that her unblinking eyes bore the mystic threat of dire consequences should I dare wander off the true blue path of truth for the slightest reason to deceive.

I had no desire to deceive this woman who seemed to be plucking my very heart from my bosom bit by bit. And yet, that was of no consequences to me, none at all, ya’ll. By way of surrendering to her will, I told her the why and the real why for that I ran away from home right down to the last detail. I told her my very first recollection of life and living to the moment I gazed into her bewitching blue eyes. And by the time it all ended, I was only an inch or two from sitting in her lap while she sat holding my hand.

Upon completing my story, Granny said to me, “I know that what you told me is the truth. And you need not to worry. This can be your home for as long as you want it to be. Go now. Caroline will fix your bed in the garage for you tonight and tomorrow we will fix you a room in the basement. Good night, Popcorn.”

Our eyes were still bound in fond admiration and our clasp in mutual friendship when I said, “Can I ask you something, Granny?”

“Sure you kin,” said Granny. “Ask me. I know you told me that everybody call you Granny but, if you don’t mind me doing so, I would like to call you Miss La Nora. Can I?”

“Well, bless your heart!” said Granny, squeezing my hand with her two hands. “It’s wonderful to hear you say that, Popcorn. I ain’t been called La Nora in many, many, years. My husband used to call me La Nora. You is a good boy, Popcorn. A good, good, boy!”

Along about that time, Johnny and Caroline walked over and Johnny said, What is going on over here with all this shouting and squeaking, Granny?”

Pulling me into her lap, Granny said to Johnny, “You will never believe what this child called me, John.” “Oh, no!” said Johnny. “Well, I hope and pray he didn’t get indecent with you, Granny. Then I’ll be forced to cut his throat and Id hate to have Black blood all over your new waxed floor.”

Caroline said between chuckles, “Don’t do it, Johnny. Please. Because if you do it as close as Granny is to him when you swing at him, youll cut her throat too.”

The next two weeks were the happiest days that I had known in all the length and width of the 12 years that I had been on this God-given Earth. I was happy for the very first time. I had peace in my soul, joy in my life and love in my heart. My past was completely and totally obliterated from my memory. It was as if I had never lived a single day beyond the present day and time.

There is song that says, “Joy comes with the morning.” But not so with this little Black Creole. My joy came with the morning, with the noon and the night! Yes, I was in love for the very first time and what truer love can there be in this world than that of love that is as innocent as the heart of a baby boy.

True love is infinite. It is immeasurable. It is ageless and unpretentious. True love is unselfish, non-biased and honorable. True love is the pride and the joy of the heart. And he who finds true love has, indeed, found a treasure that makes the treasures housed in Fort Knox seem like a piggy bank in comparison.

My lodging in the garage was a night of joy and unrivalled comfort, to say the very least. I slept like a baby the live-long night from the moment that I had laid my head on the big white pillow that Caroline blessed me with on into the sunbathed morning when I was awakened by Johnny’s baby sister, Bettie, whom I had met the night before due to the fact that she had gone over to her sisters house Anne on a weekend visit.

A couple of weeks following my arrival at the Torque household, Miss La Nora, my true love, and myself were out in the front yard. I was watering the lawn and Miss La Nora was planting flowers when a squad car pulled up at the front yard. The policeman got out and walked over to where Miss La Nora knelt planting flowers. At first, I assumed that what the two were talking about was no concern of mine. And so, ignoring the whole affair, I continued with the task of watering the lawn and humming my little tune. But I could not have been more wrong, awry or amiss had I been attempting to extinguish a burning house with an eye dropper.

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