Nonetheless, both the Graystone and Back Corner were approximately of the same species, but the Back Corner Hotel had bragging rights–every Friday night the Back Corner Owls, our high school football team ordered steaks, fries, and milk shakes before the big game. This blessed dispensation assured the proprietors of the Back Corner Hotel that they would have a steady stream of customers. If the apex of Back Corner power and prestige chose the Back Corner, who in the general population would argue? To show solidarity with the football team, hundreds of residents would wait in line to eat black-eyed peas, gumbo, collard greens, and fried chicken before the game. They wanted to stand beside their heroes in body as well as spirit.
In addition to our two motels, there was one drugstore that gave credit and dispensed viscous chocolate sundaes to waiting patrons. The great attraction of the drugstore was the proprietorâ€™s daughter whose bosom was the lodestone for dozens of excessive testerone endowed Back Gate male youth. There were two department stores: Wolchanskies and Martins.
Wolchanskies was run by Jewish survivors of the Holocaust. Dark, dreary, and always smelling different, like a scene from Casablanca, Wolchanskies had the latest fashions. Only stores in Greenville, Mississippi, could compete with Wolchanskies.
My mother grew up 10-12 blocks from Wolchanskies. Big Daddyâ€™s house was only a little bit better than a shack. Born in a rambling clapboard house next to the city sewage, mom always understood limitation and constraint. Her home sat on buckshot clay that cracked and buckled every summer. The smell of feces and mildew intensified every hot summer afternoon. Behind her house was a wood-lot too often the victim of unscrupulous foresters. Enchanted trails and moss covered paths that would pique the imagination of most children were compromised in my mothers forest by young locust trees unimpeded by shade and larger competition. Sunlight was everywhere abundant. Since there was no reason to grow up and clasp sunlight, the young trees grew out, and selfishly deprived all the pretty things in the forest of light and life.
The forest was hardly a forest at all–it was a tangle of bush size trees– and since it was warm and dry enough on the western edge, cane rattlers loved to slither in the shadows of the deadly Arkansas summer sun. On the eastern edge, joining the sewage reservoir, moccasins hissed warnings at mockingbirds, snapping turtles, and inquisitive little girls. My mother learned very early the advantages of limitation and constraint. She learned to measure each step carefully, a lways looking at what was in front of her. Controlling, as much as possible, where her next step would land.
Not all snakes were my motherâ€™s enemies. One huge, black and red king snake named Uncle Roy, lived under the old piano. Actually the piano didnâ€™t carry a tune at all. Big Momma kept it around to house Uncle Roy. An aggressive king snake brought all sorts of advantages to my motherâ€™s family–mice were noticeably absent. And no mocassin would dare bare his fangs!
Enjoying the only cool place in Big Mommaâ€™s house, occasionally Uncle Roy slept behind the family toilet during the inferno Arkansas summers. This very nearly was his undoing, however. Once, when Big Daddy was enjoying a respite and the latest Back Corner Times, Uncle Roy affectionately licked Big Daddyâ€™s right achillesâ€™ tendon.
Such unfeigned, if unsolicited affection was even too much even for Big Daddy, Uncle Royâ€™s most fervent supporter. While his admiration for Uncle Royâ€™s rodent venery skills were second to known, he could not tolerate this violation of his most private savoir faire. Saltating with no thought of modesty, Big Daddy, in all his sartorial splendor, quickly hopped out of the bathroom into the dining room where the whole family was gathered for supper. Then, with his pin-stripped railroad overalls around his legs, he ignobly fell to the ground with his uncovered derriere signaling his unconditional surrender to man and to reptile alike. Uncle Roy coyly retreated behind an old ceramic garbage can.
This was the first only time my mother saw her father in such a vulnerable state.