As the World Turns
“Lord, it’s almost time for the sto-ry,” Granny Gilmer said. “Hon, reach over there and hand me that bowl of cream peas. I can barely touch it.” She pronounced it ‘tech’ with a soft ‘e’ the way she always did.
Every weekday at noon sharp, Granny and Paw Paw sat enrapt in front of their television for As the World Turns, Granny’s favorite program. She loved it even more than The Porter Wagoner Show which they never missed on Saturday evenings. “Wonder what Lisa’s up to today,” she said while loading the lunch dishes carefully into the hot Ivory soap suds. They used Ivory for everything from washing the dogs to the grandkids’ hair. Granny Gilmer swore to it and kept a pantry shelf reserved for Ivory Snow products. Elaine liked the way the bar of soap floated in the bathwater.
“Probably up to no good,” Paw Paw said, his back to them. He was still seated in his captain’s chair at their old maple dinette. “She ain’t ever doing nothing nice for nobody.” He put a dip of Levi Garrett under his bottom half-lip. He’d had part of it removed from cancer two years back.
Granny kept at her scrubbing. “Laney, can you help me dry these? I don’t want to miss the sto-ry.” She left the ‘l’ from the word ‘help’ and handed Elaine a brilliant white cup towel folded and creased to perfection.
“Come on, now,” Granny Gilmer wrung out her dish rag and gently folded it over the ledge dividing the porcelain double sink.
She plopped down on the old mauve Frieze couch which had done previous service in the Gilmer living room. They’d bought a new set on time from Conn Appliance when they’d built the Kountze house. The salesman had thrown in the Sylvania console as a promo. When Granny found out they’d given out all their black and white sets, she had been madder than a wet hen. Paw Paw always said he didn’t like the colored sets, that the green tones on the black and white looked more real to him than the color.
“Wonder what’s wrong,” Granny said looking at her Lady Timex. “It’s nigh two past noon.” The corners of her mouth turned down in a wrinkle when she showed ire.
Ralph Ramos, the portly news anchor appeared on set. “Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. We interrupt the regular broadcast to bring you some breaking news.”
“What?” Granny said out loud. “He’s not on at lunch time. Something musta happened.”
“Shhh.” Paw Paw said. “I can’t hear nothing.”
Granny said, “Well if you’d turn on your aid like you’re supposed to. Don’t know why we wasted all that money if you’re not going to use it.”
Ralph continued speaking, “Our nation witnessed a tragic incident last evening. Robert Francis Kennedy was shot after giving a speech at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angles, California.”
“Oh, my,” Granny said. “I member when they shot the brother.”
“The shooter, Sirhan Sirhan, a Palestinian, was apprehended at the scene.” Ralph Ramos cleared his throat and took a sip from a glass of water.
Granny almost knocked over her cup of breakfast coffee. “He’s from over at Palestine?” She was referring to the East Texas town near Tyler, pronounced “Pal-es-teen.”
Paw Paw grabbed the Folger’s can he used to contain his spittle from the snuff use. “That old boy got himself a clean shot.”
A photograph of a bunch of deputies holding onto a young black-haired man focused on the screen. “That him?” Granny asked out loud to nobody. “He looks like a Mexican fella. I didn’t think they had any Mexicans in Palestine.”
“Bet they’re gonna be talking about this all day. Look alike your tv show’s been interrupted.” Paw Paw seemed pleased.
Elaine said, “In school, they told us when President Kennedy was killed, it changed the way tv broadcast.”
Granny pushed her glasses back on her nose. “Oh, I member that. It took up three of four days on tv as I recollect.”
Paw Paw gathered up his eyeglasses, snuff jar and Kleenex and moved out of his seat over to his recliner. “Might as well put my feet up if this is going to take up the day.”
Granny stuck out her chin like she’d always do when perplexed. “Well, they better wrap it up before Stoney Burke comes on tonight.” She always called the Hawaii Five-O program Stoney Burke in honor of her favorite tv star, Jack Lord. “They better not’ve takened him off.” She was mad like that time last week when Paw Paw told her how to drive their Impala. Paw Paw never had learned how to operate a car, but it didn’t stop him from instructing Granny on her driving. That time, though, she’d had enough. She grabbed her handbag and left him sitting out there in the middle of the dirt road. She’d laughed on the way back to their house and told Elaine, “He’s gonna shit his britches out there in this hot old sun.”
They’d been on the way to Moore’s Super Market which wasn’t a real supermarket by a long shot. Granny said she hated to shop there since the meat department lady pronounced all the syllables in bologna out loud. It bothered her, she’d say, and would add that it made her feel like she was in a foreign country. Everybody knew it was called baloney. “That Moore’s lady thinks she’s better than you,” Granny would say. “She never misses a chance to show off.” Granny did not like a show-off and always blamed it on Satan.
“I’m gonna shell these peas for supper so long as we’re sitting,” she said to Elaine. “Let’s you help your Granny.”
Elaine didn’t know how long they sat there shelling peas. Ever so often, Granny would interrupt Ralph Ramos to coach Elaine on the proper procedure. “Be sure to open the seam all the way to the end till you hear it pop. That way you don’t lose no peas.”
Elaine hated the chore almost as much as she hated peas. It seemed to her it took a hundred times longer to prepare them than it took to eat them.
“I seen in the Pine Needle they got Duncan Hines on special. I need to make a sheet cake for the Rebekah’s and Oddfellows bazaar. Don’t tell nobody I’m using a mix. I’m going to add some fresh hen eggs, though. It don’t call for eggs and it tastes like box cake, but I can dress it up.” She snickered to herself like she knew a secret.
“Anyways, I got to pick up a flat of pinks at the Farm and Home for the front yard. We can go this afternoon if that news is gonna be on all day long.”
Paw Paw came up out of a snore. “You don’t need no more flowers out yonder.”
Granny started to say something, but went back to snapping peas into the bowl. She’d learned to pick her battles over the years.
“Don’t you let that Liz ast you to sing the special music again next week. I don’t need the embarrassment,” Granny said.
Elaine winced. It had hurt her feelings when Granny complained about their song. They’d surprised the congregation by singing “Peace in the Valley” last Sunday. She would never forget Granny’s red face and the look of disapproval. And she hadn’t even hit a sour note.
“Do you think Mr. Kennedy will come back to life?” Elaine asked.
“Come back to life?” Granny asked, her eyes magnified large through her extra strong eyeglass lens.
“Yeah, Becky Birdwell’s grandpa came back to life after he’d died when they held prayer vigil over him.”
“Well, I don’t know about that. When God’s ready for you to come on home, he usually don’t change his mind.”
“Don’t believe nothing you hear outta them Birdwells,” Paw Paw said. “When you see their lips moving, you know you’re about to hear a lie.”
“Paw, you ortened say that. It’s not Christian.”
“Well, I saw him walking around, old man Birdwell. As alive as you and me,” Elaine said.
“I don’t know…..” Granny started and went back to her peas in silence.
“Do you think we’ll get a holiday?” Elaine asked.
Paw Paw set his spit can down hard on the end table. “Now that they got them Catholics running everything, they’ll probably shut down the schools. Them Kennedys done tore up the whole system.”
“Now, then, let’s not speak ill of the dead,” Granny said.
Paw Paw went on like he didn’t hear her. “First the schools and now the tv. Whole thing’s a damn mess.”
Elaine remembered last Saturday when she and Granny had gotten bored with the Gunsmoke episode and went to Granny’s room. It had been a rerun and Granny said she didn’t want to see Festus get shot again. Even though it was still daylight, Paw Paw had turned off the TV set and gone to his own room for the night. He’d stopped Granny and Elaine from turning it back on and told them to go on to bed. They had to whisper low so as not to bother Paw Paw. Elaine hated going to bed before dark more than anything on earth.
Granny had said, “There won’t be a none more of that talk like earlier, will there now?
Elaine was embarrassed. She remembered the incident and knew it was something that would stay with her a long, long time. Maybe forever.
She’d been sudsing in Granny’s pink bathtub. Granny’s sister sold Avon and had made her a deal on Whitey, the Happy Whale bubble bath for the grandkids. It smelled good and Elaine sunk herself down low in the tub. That was when she saw it. A single hair on her pubic area. It was strange and long, straight, like her own hair. Fine as the light brown wispy locks shared by all the Gilmer women. It looked so funny there all by itself like somebody with no friends.
“Granny. Granny! Come here,” Elaine yelled out.
Granny trotted down the hallway, cup towel in hand. “What’s the big bother?” she asked. “It sounds like you got a wild Comanche injun in here with ya.”
“Look. I’ve got a hair!” Elaine pointed to herself.
Granny turned six shades of red. “Now, listen to me, Missy. You must never speak out loud or pay no attention to such as that. That is pure devil talk.”
Elaine was surprised at her grandmother’s response. How could something be wrong when it came from her own body? Wasn’t that part of the miracle of creation?
Granny went on, “Don’t make me jerk you out of that bathtub and blister your rear end, young lady.”
Elaine knew to keep her mouth shut. Her grandparents had strong standards and sometimes they weren’t spelled out. Sometimes you had to mess up to find out what the rules were and that was the hard part. Maybe she’d know when she was grown. The others all seemed to. The aunts and the uncles who’d keep their own mouths closed during the family gatherings. They seemed to know better like some sort of secret unspoken agreement. Elaine told herself she was going to learn. She made herself a silent promise.