I never wore shoes in July until 1987 when I was seven years old. No kid in our town did. I suppose if my family hadn’t moved to California, I would have stayed barefoot all summer every summer until the boys came calling. But instead I found myself in Sacramento with nothing but brimstone-hot asphalt to walk on. What I missed the most was not the air between my toes or the lack of constraint, but the calluses. Calluses so thick and hard that once I checked my foot to see what had been pressing into my heel the last block and found a bent-over thumbtack. Now that is true freedom. The freedom to walk anywhere you wish, just as God made you.
Funny how clear the memory of those calluses is to me even today. Most memories of my rural Oklahoma childhood have fled. I remember my granmammy—she kept glass chickens filled with either hard candy or Brach Milk Maid Royals in every room. And even though I never cared for horehound, their location in the bathroom meant I didn’t have to ask permission. That memory that came flooding back when my husband brought home a bag of horehound candy last year from the farmer’s market. I still don’t like it, but it tasted like Oklahoma and that was worth something.
One thing I don’t remember is religion. Which is funny because my parents were about the most religious people I’ve ever met. I used to joke with them we must’ve moved to Sacramento for the name. First thing they did when we moved in was sign me up for a Baptist home school. This in addition to public school. On Sundays we were Methodist. Holidays we did Catholic. And anybody who knocked on the door teaching some version of Jesus was set right on the couch. Though the Mormons stopped coming after my mom tried to get one of them to take me to prom.
[pullquote align=”left” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]My parents passed away shortly after Ben and I were married. My father had a heart attack while driving on the 80. The car drifted into a truck carrying tomatoes. The spectacle became one of those stupid internet meme things. It still pops up. [/pullquote]
My parents passed away shortly after Ben and I were married. My father had a heart attack while driving on the 80. The car drifted into a truck carrying tomatoes. The spectacle became one of those stupid internet meme things. It still pops up. Ultimately, I had to quit the internet. My husband keeps an eye on my email (released to galleries only) and I stick with my old flip phone. But I never get online anymore. I barely touch the computer at all.
Ben and I have been blessed with two bright kids, ten and eight, a boy and a girl. Or, rather, our youngest manifests female. She’s hermaphroditic. The doctors urged us to give her a surgery as a baby, decide for her, but we couldn’t. She’ll just have to decide for herself someday. When she’s an adult. For now she’s happy being our little girl and we’re happy to have her.
When I received a certified letter from Boktussa, Oklahoma, I didn’t know what to expect, but certainly not that my granmammy had passed, leaving me her only heir. Her passing wasn’t the surprising part—I hadn’t seen her in 30 years and she had to be about a hundred—but that I was the only heir. My mother had a slew of brothers, six or seven, and I remember them having fertile wives. Nostalgia for my cousins has always been the prime temptation for getting back online in the age of facebooking and twittering and such. To learn that they were all… But how was it possible? My cousins would have kids by now—some of them I assumed would be grandparents! Clearly that detail was wrong, but for some reason Granmammy left me her property. Maybe the rest of the family had also moved away and I was the easiest for the small-town lawyer to find? Maybe Granmammy had had a falling out with her progeny? Or maybe she was trying to heal whatever mysterious rift had sent my parents west in the first place.
I didn’t reply right away. I had to decide my own mind before sharing the news with Ben. One thing to know about Ben is that he loves two things: staying home and monotonous travel. He doesn’t care where home is—just that it’s his and his family is there. His only complaint about Sac is that its airport’s only a half-hour’s drive from our place. Even with traffic it never takes an hour, and that’s hard to say about anywhere in Sacramento. I would say we’re lucky, but he loves being alone in a car or a bland hotel. He usually works at home, parked in front of his PC ten hours a day, then they’ll send him on long tedious trips to field offices to sit in front of someone else’s computer for ten hours a day. I went with him once about a decade ago and it was the worst week of my life. But I love my boring husband. I wouldn’t change him. I need someone plain and unimaginative. I suppose, a hundred years ago, a well-meaning doctor would have called me “nervous.” I used to call it “rich” in college. Being twenty and an art student with more ideas than time to paint is rich, isn’t it? These days I’ve settled into a defined subject matter, a “morbid hybrid of the insane unearthly and every sort of Christian iconography” as the East Bay Express described my recent Oakland show. I don’t sell much of my work, but that’s because I keep the prices high. I make enough to afford a small studio space to work and show in. What more could I need?…
This is just one of the stories in the anthology Redneck Eldritch, coming in April from Cold Fusion Media!