She waited for revival to begin. Sitting on the right-hand side of the Damascus Southern Baptist Church, near the middle of the fourth pew. A gold plaque stuck on each end sanctified TO THE LOVING MEMORY OF ARTHUR FRANCIS HAYES MAY 10, 1919–MARCH 5, 1986. Chin up. Shoulders square. Back straight. Knees together. Feet crossed at ankles. Hands cupped in lap. Momma always said a lady never reveals her true age and carries good posture to the grave.
Stared forward. Past the linen covered Lord’s Table. The store-bought yellow chrysanthemums wrapped in green foil. The new white flickering candles and the cross shining gold. Scrutinized the blood-colored dossal hanging behind the altar. Decided the fabric was soiled. Dagnabbit! Humph! Pish and pshaw! Should’ve been professional cleaning. Another detail I would’ve done. Looked away. Wagged her head. Shrugged. Silently snorted.
A linen handkerchief, edged with frail lace knotted by her great-great Granny Fannie in Ireland over a century ago, laid folded between her hands. Hands smoothed over a dozen times each day with Jergens Lotion. Three bottles never below half-empty. One is on my dressing table, another in my bathroom medicine cabinet, and the third on the kitchen sink windowsill. Sometimes in winter before retiring to bed, Mildred rubbed the lotion into her hands then slipped on white cotton gloves. Another one of Momma’s beauty secrets like coating your teeth with Vaseline. Of course, I only did that before marrying. Looks silly on a woman my age. Wish somebody would tell Clara dentures ain’t supposed to shine. Screwed her wedding band back and forth like wringing out clothes. The gold circle washer had been on her third left finger since Arthur slipped it there. And will go with me to the grave.
Mildred stood five-foot-four in her stocking feet. Weighed ninety-five pounds in her birthday suit. Her crown of glory a tarnished halo circling her head. All the Good Lord has to do is plop on the gold one and give me wings.
Every Friday afternoon at four, she sat in Shirley’s beauty chair with pink butterflies covering her for a silver rinse. Her gray, which started as strays at nineteen, outgrew Clairol’s Golden Brown Number Fifty-three after Arthur died. Humph! Pish and pshaw! Thank God, I hated that smell! Like mixing ammonia with rotten eggs. One more thing a wife must endure for her husband’s vanity. Like wearing enough powder and paint for a Jezebel. Snorted. Wagged her head back and forth.
Her tresses were confirmed into a sensible coiffure not long after saying, “I do.” Arthur only nodded when he first saw my transformation and went back to reading his newspaper. Like most things throughout our married life he knew this was meant to be.
Every six weeks, less than one-fourth an inch of curl was snipped from her ends. A person could count on five fingers the number of beauty parlor appointments missed before her fall. I was even there the day after Frankie was buried though it nearly killed me to leave the house. Momma always said, “No matter the heartache, life goes on. Just put on a smile and go forth. Stanford women are made that way.”
God know Momma carried her crosses, bless her soul, like I lug mine. Life ain’t nothing but a see-what-happens-next struggle. Because of Eve, life for us women is cursed. At least I’ve outgrown the monthly flow. Ain’t nothing more disgusting or humiliating than having your innards drop. (more)