Photo by Flickr user TxPilot“Tag! You’re it,” Velda yells. She runs around the yard weaving and dodging just ahead of me. She is my younger sister and we chase each other until we are out of breath. In Auntie’s back yard the chinaberry trees provide large patches of shade, and the dark green St. Augustine grass feels like soft carpet under my bare feet. It’s a typical Corpus Christi summer day; a humid 85 degrees at 9 o’clock in the morning. The salty ocean air clings to my body, making my yellow cotton dress stick to my skin. But I love it here. It’s home. That calm, peaceful, warm kind of feeling you get when you just know you belong somewhere.
Sometimes we stay here for a few weeks, other times a few months. We live with Daddy and Bigmama (that’s my grandma), but we move around a lot. Daddy’s in-between jobs again, so all four of us are back at Auntie’s. I hope it’s for a long time.
The back yard is wider than it is long and there is an old two-car garage on the right side of the yard. Its white paint has long since peeled off, with only an occasional strip or two left hanging, just waiting for a strong wind to release it from the sideboard. On the left stands Bigmama’s old Airstream trailer, silver with rounded ends like a bullet. She lived in it before coming to live with Daddy to help care for us. There is a little deck attached to the front door of the trailer, facing away from the house.
Velda and I decide to play our favorite game. We each build a fort out of whatever we find in the yard. Some days we use old tree branches that have fallen from the many chinaberry trees. On other days it might be lumber left over from a remodeling project. After building our forts, we gather up handfuls of the small, hard yellow-green chinaberries. Auntie always reminds us, “Girls, those berries are poison. You hear me? Don’t be puttin’ ’em in your mouth.” Doesn’t she know we are too old to do that anymore? These berries are our weapons — we barrage each other’s fort. Ouch! Velda lands a direct hit to my shoulder. It stings like a yellow jacket. I retaliate by lobbing a handful of berries. Thump! Thump! Thump! I must have hit my mark, because I hear a sharp, startled yelp.
After a while, we tire of our game and decide to be spies. The concrete driveway leading up to the garage has cracks running in all directions like so many spider webs. We lift up small, thick chunks of the concrete and hide notes or small items underneath and pretend we are leaving secret coded messages. Today, when I open the secret compartment, I find a glass marble in it — the same one I put in there six months before. I can’t wait to show my daddy.
I bound up the three concrete steps to the back door which leads into the kitchen and I push the little silver button in on the door handle. It’s an old, rusty metal door with a glass that you can raise up to let in the occasional breeze. The hot metal sears my hand and I swing the door open quickly. Standing there, my eyes adjust to the dark kitchen and I hear Daddy and Auntie talking.
Auntie stoops over the kitchen sink with her back to me, her salt-and-pepper hair wadded up and loosely pinned into a bun. A light blue shift dress hangs loosely on her small frame. I hear glasses clink and I know she’s washing dishes — again. She’s always in the kitchen. Most everything she does is in this room. It was remodeled several years ago to include a dining room and laundry room. Next to the back door stand the washer and dryer. They make a loud racket like they will spin out of control and go flying into a million pieces, but Auntie faithfully uses them every day. Today, the washer gurgles and groans as it works on its second load of clothes we brought with us from Waco.
A few feet from them, Daddy hunches over the dining room table. He’s small and alone as he sits at the large mahogany table, which is still extended as if expecting guests. He’s drinking a strong cup of coffee. That’s the way he likes it, strong and black. He’s clutching a Benson & Hedges cigarette in his fingers. Daddy says cigarettes and coffee go together. The smoke, heavy in the air, swirls and circles above his head, musty and stale. It reminds me of an old bar scene in the western movies daddy likes to watch. He finishes one cigarette and lights up another. He calls it “chain smoking.”
“I guess we need to enroll the girls in Central Park again. They may be here for a month or two,” Dad says.
“Alright. I’ll take the girls there in the mornin’ to get the papers filled out,” Auntie replies. “Where do you think you’ll go to find work now?”
“Lockheed-Martin has a new contract opening up in Baton Rouge. I’ve sent my resume and I hope to hear back from ‘em soon. Bell Helicopter in Dallas is hiring. I’ll send a resume there tomorrow. As usual, mom and the girls will stay here with you, and after I find a place for us to live, I’ll come back and get ‘em.”
“The girls need a place to settle down. I hope you get steady work soon.”
Auntie turns to see me standing in the door, sweaty and dirty. “Hey, baby, tired already?” she asks.
“No, ma’am. Just want to show Daddy my marble. I hid it last time we were here.”
“Let me see,” he calls. I walk toward him, extending my sweaty fist, and I open my palm to expose the dirty marble. “That’s a shooter,” he says, examining it. “I played marbles with my cousin L.A. when I was your age and I had a marble just like that. It brought me good luck,” he chuckles.
He turns the marble around and around in his hand, rubs the dirt off, and marvels in my little treasure. I stand next to him, watching — swelling with pride but wishing he’d see me there, too. My chest is heavy.
He turns and holds the glass orb in front of the window to get a better look. Orange, green, and yellow stripes glint when the light hits it just right. “It’s a beaut,” Daddy mutters under his breath.
He’ll be leaving us again; maybe even as early as next week.