My best friend lived next door to my MawMaw, we read and she taught me 'Heart and Soul' and we played it until her brother chased us out of the house with a baseball bat.
Really, he did.
I bought comic books on credit at the local grocery store, and once a week, MawMaw and I would dress up, catch the bus to downtown Monroe where she would shop, and we'd go to Luby's for lunch. Afterwards, she'd have her hair cut and we'd go to a film, ending the day with a hot fudge sundae. We always made it home in time for Lawrence Welk. She and I would dance together in the front room, and she'd say how she loved those Lemon Sisters.
She taught me to make meatballs and red gravy and all the other family recipes. She would sit and make mud pies with me when I was very small, and never failed to spank me if I needed it.
I swam in the bayou, fished, read every afternoon when she said her prayers, then we'd both nap...we are Sicilian...and she'd brush my hair in the evening. Whatever I wanted, she made for supper. She'd tell me stories of her father and the family in Sicily. How she played the piano for the various theaters in New Orleans during the times of the talkies to add 'atmosphere'. How her father died in the flu epidemic of 1918. How she and her sister, Rosery, ran and found a priest in time to give him last rites, when so many others died without. How my dad looked just like him. How I should marry a nice Sicilian man....and thank the Blessed Virgin I didn't look Irish.
Now, you're thinking, Quin...how is this about one day, the day that shaped all the other days, how is this about your father?
We'd do the reunion thing with Dad's sister, E, and her family...her husband, C, called Uncle Sonny, and her three children. We were the only cousins they had, since Sonny was an only child.
He was an architect, and they had an amazing house. The backyard was a kids paradise, complete with an enormous treehouse, playgrounds, sandboxes, trees and bushes everywhere around a lush lawn. They even had a slip and slide on it's own section of yard...everything you needed in the South to have a great time. It was a one story house, with a wraparound porch, the house shaped like an 'L', the master bedroom area forming the short part of the letter, circling around the backyard.
This year, the parents came up early to get me, and so it was, on my birthday at the end of July, we all gathered to have a final family meal. They were always interesting, as E hated my mother, and that feeling was returned with equal gusto. As the two had their drinks... E her scotch and Mother her gin and tonics, the barbs grew in sharpness, Mother's in her innocent voice, Ellen's in a acid wit that could etch steel, both voices coated in Southern tones Cigarette smoke curled up to the ceiling fans as we sat and watched the battle done in by two true Steel Magnolias.
"Ah, yes, P...what a clever little frock. I didn't realise people actually wore that colour."
Mother would respond, "E, still pretending you don't put vodka in your orange juice in the morning?"
The air crackled with ice. Who needed the air conditioning turned on, when we had these two? My grandmother excused herself and went to lie down with a cloth over her eyes.
Leaving the women to amuse themselves by seeing who could inflict the larger wounds, Dad and Sonny started a fire in the pit under the oak tree... then forced my cousin, G and I to forgo our preferred evening activity of avoiding people and reading in solitude. Adding insult to injury, we were made to watch our youngest siblings. To make up for this affront, we were offered the gift of s'mores and ghost stories.
It was almost a fair trade.
Gathering the neighborhood kids along with the six of us, the men started in with the tales of gore and ghosts. There we were...myself, G, M, M2, GC, D, the Barr twins..Hershey and Candy (yes, those were their names...causing me to believe they should have qualified for free psychiatric help for life) and two others who go nameless into history.
My dad was great at stories. Years of Boy Scouts had honed his skills so that he knew when to hit you with the punch line, causing you to jump, even when you knew every word by heart. Our food was forgotten, as we listened to the story of the hook man and the lovers lane couple...his versions of Edgar Allen Poe and H.P. Lovecraft were retold for our pleasure... our eyes gleamed in the firelight. Sonny excused himself during this scarefest, and none of us paid any attention to his leaving. A full moon rose over the master bedroom portion of the house, illuminating everything with that deep silver glow you find in the South in the summer. By this time, Mother and E had put aside their differences, but not their drinks, to sit on the patio and listen in. All you could hear was my father's voice as it rose and fell, open mouth breathing by the younger children, and the occasional slap to kill a mosquito.
Suddenly, in the midst of a hellish story about zombies, we heard it....a moan. Deep, reverberating, gurgling, it came from behind us. Dad stopped talking...and there it was again. Deeper, louder.... we turned as one, and saw...it. On the roof....silhouetted against the moon, dark cloak held out, white face... and that moan.
There was a collective gasp so solid, so severe, the leaves on the tree we sat beneath moved downwards. It was the only thing that moved for a frozen moment. A scream came out of ten throats in a variety of tones as we jumped up and scattered, adrenaline pumping, kicking over the fire and my father. G and I headed into the house in a dead run, leaving our wards, D and M2, to fend for themselves... M and the Barr kids went down the alley to the Barr home... the nameless kids ran though a rose hedge, causing huge gashes in their arms and legs and ruining the roses and GC went up the tree... the nearest branch was seven feet off the ground.
We never figured out how he managed that one.
The parents all laughed so hard, I believe the women peed. Of course, I think everyone should laugh at least once in your life so hard that you pee, however, not when your children are fleeing in terror. It took an hour to find everyone and calm them down.
It was always Dad's favourite story... and even now, with all of the pain that separates my mother, GC, D and I....if one of us starts a sentence with the words, "Remember when Sonny got on the roof..." each of us starts to smile, and for a brief moment, all is forgotten that has occurred since that time when my father and an uncle with a mad laugh plotted to scare a group of children, making their hearts flutter with frightened delight as they scattered into a firefly filled warm July night.