Not surprisingly, it attracted attention from miles around. People kept showing up at the electric company offices, pleading to see the trick. He soon gave the device to an associate, who, charging the curious ten cents apiece to see it in action, enjoyed a nice little sideline before the primitive microwave sputtered one day and ran out of magic.
His friend might have persuaded Daddy to rebuild it, but it was summer, hens had quit laying, and the price of eggs was cutting into profits. George T. Robbins dropped out of school in the eighth grade. At eighteen, he went to work as a lineman, climbing poles for the regional electrical utility. By the time he was fifty, the homemade microwave long since forgotten, he was a division manager for Virginia Electric Power Company.
At VEPCO, there were electrical engineers working under him, and colleagues said that he knew all of them. In elocution and grammar, he never transcended his lack of formal education or his hillbilly roots. For whatever reason, the electrician gene, the carpenter gene, the mechanic gene, all so dominant in my father, are totally recessive in me. I have, however, found ways to override my lack of talent for — and total disinterest in — the role of handyman. For example, I once owned a secondhand Mercury Montego convertible, which, by the time I gave it to a relative, was showing an excess of two hundred thousand miles on its odometer.
This car ran like Joan Rivers, on and on, defying detractors, requiring no repairs beyond the cosmetic, leaving newer models in its dust. Its extreme durability I attributed to the fact that in all the years I owned the vehicle, I never looked under its hood.
Not even once. Rather, I imagined and visualized that in place of an engine, there was a ball of mystic white light under there that kept the car going. And going. Only recently it occurred to me that I might successfully apply this strategy to my own body. Northwest Carolina Utilities, the company that lit the lamps in Blowing Rock, was swallowed by the slightly bigger firm that took us to Burnsville; then that one was ingested by East Coast Electric, which moved us to a succession of towns in eastern Virginia; only to be gobbled up in turn by VEPCO, the great white shark that eventually beached my father at its corporate headquarters in Richmond.
Our first stop in Virginia was Urbanna, a fishing village situated where the Rappahannock River, a mile wide near its mouth, empties into Chesapeake Bay. Crabs could be netted inside the town limits, seagulls paraded down Main Street, and the place proved salty in more ways than one. It may be no accident that Urbanna is in the country of Middlesex, accent on the last syllable. In Urbanna we lived in a grand old house, a colonial brick manor with white columns, solid marble steps, ornate fireplaces, and enough rooms to accommodate Jesus and all twelve apostles, although Judas would have had to sleep on the sun porch.
We rented the ground floor and two-thirds of the second. Mother was outraged at having come upon the saucy brunette washing the hair of one of her beaux. She beckoned me into her bedroom one day, saying, a bit cryptically, that she had something interesting to show me. Any ill-formed hopes I might have harbored were abruptly dashed when she lifted not her skirts but the lid of a cardboard box that had arrived, she said, in the morning mail.
She lit a cigarette doubtlessly another reason why Mother thought her a hussy and studied my face as I stared, bewildered, at the contents of the package: a big blob of gooey goop. Predominately brown and creamy white, the mess was dotted with nodules of primary color, looking overall as if it could have been the droppings of a mythological bird, some gigantic fruit-eating cross between a pterodactyl and a peacock.
Then she explained.
For Easter, which was now a month or more in our rearview mirror, a sailor boyfriend stationed in Brooklyn had sent her an especially large candy egg: chocolate on the outside, vanilla cream and candied fruit in its interior. The suitor had neglected to include the state name legibly in the address this was well before the advent of zip codes and some myopic postal clerk had directed the package not to Urbanna but to Havana.
As in Cuba. In its weeks of travel — New York to Havana to Urbanna — the egg it was nearly the size of a football must have encountered sufficient hot weather to rather thoroughly melt it. If Tommy Rotten longed to stick in his finger and lick it careful: sublimation is in the mind of the beholder , he refrained; and having now shared her story of a good egg gone bad, this small-town femme fatale indicated that show-and-tell was over. It, oddly enough, flavored even the elementary school, in whose grade five I was enrolled upon our arrival from North Carolina in April.
I entered the class just as its teacher was leaving.
Evidently, the shampooer was no patriot. But why would a popular, conscientious teacher choose to bail out on her class with only two months remaining in the school year? She was, by her pupils, adored, and much of their adoration was due to the freewheeling freedom of expression she not only allowed but encouraged. No subject was taboo in her class, and while pupils lacked the knowledge or experience to discuss anything too explicitly sexual, both their conversation and their papers the teacher was big on written assignments were peppered with kiddie innuendo.
Alas, the changing of the guard was then under way, and my paper, assigned by the libertine teacher, was graded by her conservative successor. It came back to me so marked with red ink it appeared to be hemorrhaging. It was difficult to look at it and not think of the carnage in Europe.
The red F it sported was so large and bright it could have been seen by enemy aircraft, even at night. Behind the school building there was an expansive grassy field, extending a great many yards beyond the portion designated as an actual playground. The field ended in swampy woods, and just inside the tree line, invisible from the school proper, was a narrow ravine. Each afternoon at recess, weather allowing, a group of a dozen or more fifth- and sixth-grade boys would disappear into those woods, and not, as one might assume, to smoke cigarettes.
The rules were not complicated: the boys would line up along the brink, open their flies and compete to see who could direct their pee the greatest distance across the gully. Whether lunch money was wagered or it was all for glory I cannot recall, but competition was spirited. What is a bit surprising is that it was a spectator sport — and the spectators were of that opposite, generally finer-grained sex. Thus are champions — and legends — made.
Certainly, this was my one and only encounter with the sport. We moved upriver to Kilmarnock, Virginia, late that summer, so I have no clear idea how the youth of salty Urbanna might have interacted upon attaining puberty; how, if at all, the peeing competitions affected later relationships. Despite the brevity of our stay in Urbanna, the place left a mark on me that persists to this day.
Naturally, the pupils at my new school made fun of the way I talked: kids are blunt in their reaction to deviations from their particular social norms. Once when Mother sent me to the store to buy a pound of sliced ham for supper, the butcher stared at me incomprehensibly, then demanded I repeat my order again and again. Spurred by ridicule, I soon commenced to devote much time and effort to altering my manner of speech, practicing off and on throughout the day, laboring to talk as if I were somehow indigenous to tidewater Virginia. The results were not pretty. Not even that, a generic brand with a plain brown label.
Or else that little pile of smashed potato chips left on the rubberized seat cushion of a motorized wheelchair belonging to a pound retired female professional wrestler named Grandma Moses. Or else… well, you get the picture. In one of my early novels, Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, the protagonist, Sissy Hankshaw, is born with abnormally large thumbs. Rather than submit meekly to the deformity, she elects to turn the tables on it, exploit it, have fun with it, make an art of it, ride it all the way to glory.
There are four counties in the Neck, each just far enough downwind from Washington, D.
Our family alighted on Kilmarnock like flies landing on a horse biscuit, shooed away by the swishing tail of circumstance before we could savor a proper taste. Our home there, for the few months it lasted, was a plain single-story clapboard cottage, bereft of marble, of ornament, of any upper chamber where a sexy Samaritan might assist in the tonsorial hygiene of needy gentlemen.
Dey rolled in more ash sefen kecks Of foost-rate Lager Beer, Und venefer dey knocks de shpicket in De Deutschers gifes a cheer. Artist Name s : Zag Entertainment. Uncle is a Yankee man, I' faith, he pays us all off, And he has got a fiddle As big as Daddy's hog trough. The winning wife, Paula, has agreed Winnie can stay and insightful drama that provides food for audience leaves it rolling over and over with and do her homework until Laverne finishes. Captain Marvel and the Avengers face the enemy within!
The house was situated at the far end of town, piney woods behind and on one side of it; on the other side, a vacant field. Late one night it was past my bedtime at any rate , Mother thought she heard a noise outside. When she slipped into the darkened living room to investigate, she saw that a car was parked in our long dirt driveway. She watched the car for five or ten minutes. When she returned to our bedroom, she was carrying a butcher knife. It was a mild Indian summer night since, technically, Indian summers can only occur after there has been a frost, it was probably toward the end of October and the bedroom window was raised.
The window was, however, permanently screened.
Pointing to the window, Mother handed me the knife. In a low voice she instructed me to await her signal. When and if it came, I was to slice open the screen, lower Mary and Marian outside, follow them out, lead them quickly away from the house, and hide. Adrenaline shot through me like a crystal meth espresso through a break-dancer. I was scared, to be sure, but equally elated, fairly throbbing with anticipation.
Before she tiptoed back to the living room, she put a finger to her lips, then gestured for me to rouse my sisters. They gazed at me without an atom of comprehension. Herded to a place by the window, the twins, who heretofore had been too sleepy to do more than whimper a little, now commenced to actively whine. Do you want them to come kill us and eat our brains? They became saucer-eyed and silent, though now they were shaking like cherubs on an ice floe. Since I was seven years older than my sisters and a boy to boot, my attitude toward them had naturally been one of indifference.
Benign neglect. Now, however, having suddenly been put in charge of their physical survival, I was totally prepared to shepherd them into the forest and shelter them there; to guard those girls all night if necessary. All night? Maybe several nights.
Hey, maybe a week! Who knew how long the fiends in that car — be they slobbering maniacs, a band of robbers, or, more likely, Japanese spies the war in the Pacific was raging then — would occupy our home? It was right about then that Mother returned to announce that the car had started up and driven away.
It would be a few years before I learned that illicit drinking and making out were also adventures of a sort, ones for which I had alarmingly more aptitude than for the thwarting of Japanese spies. Cars were not so complicated in those days, but it was still quite a feat.