Mrs. Jackson, by Susan Bosscawen
Our flight is called to board. Cosmopolitans with the fatigue of young parenthood on their faces schlep out the door pushing a jogging stroller piled high with car seats, diaper bags, and toys. Both tilt under backpacks and toddlers.
A woman wanders out behind them. Serious and severe. Black blouse with tiny ruffles and pin tucks, long black hair streaked with gray, her dark skirt brushes the tops of sensible black oxfords.
On board I find my seat adjacent to hers. “Hi, I’m sorry, but that’s my seat by the window. May I slip in?”
“Sure,” her voice, an unhurried drawl of deep southern hills floating north and south in questions across her words, never pauses as I take my seat. “I’m goin’ to see my daughter? My husband died two years ago. Mr. Jackson and I’d been married fauwty-three years. Andrew Stonewall Jackson. He was a fine man. Why would the good Lawd let you live with summon’ tha’ long and then just take’m away? What do you do with yo-self?
We neva’ had chil’ren. We couldn’t….” The engines rev louder as we ease away from the gate so she raises her voice to make sure I can hear. “His spu-am didn’t swim the way they’s s’posed to? So we neva’ had any chil’ren. He was a truck driver? He worked long hours and be so tired. But he loved me.”
Nearby passengers cast furtive glances our way.
“That chile izza beatin’ yo seat with his feet. You goin’ just like this…,” she bounces back and forth in her own seat to demonstrate stroller family’s child kicking mine—should I have missed it.
“My husband bought us this big old house. Then he los’ his job. And we had to pay for that house! So I found a job. Then he got his job back? So I quit my job. Then he los’ his job ag’in. So I went out and I found a job with the airlines? We’d take tri-ups on the weekends? We’d fly places. We had so much fun. He got his job back and he said, ‘Don’ you quit yo’ job this time.’ So I di’n’t.
I took my daughter to Paris one time. We flew to Paris, Fra-unce. You eva’ flown to Paris? It’s a beautiful city. We flew eva’where.
You don’ talk much. I’m doing all the talkin’. Do you have chil’ren?” She eyes my crows feet. “You mus’ have chil’ren. Are yo’ chil’ren grown? They muz’ be grown by now. Where’re you from?”
“Charlotte,” I whisper.
“You don’ talk like you from Charlotte. People ask me where I’m from? They think I’m from Texas. But no-o-o… I’m from Kentucky! I tell them that? They cain’ believe it. But you don’ talk much like you from the south.
My daughter’s name is Opal Ann? When she was born they gave her to my husband and he said, ‘Opal Ann.’ I said, ‘No, she’s Frances Louise.’ But he said she was as beautiful as an opal. My name’s Martha Louise? My motha’s Frances? And my gran’motha’s Louise. But she became Opal Ann. Mr. Andrew Stonewall Jackson did that.
I raised three chil’ren. Well, one’s my gran’son, Jesse James? I had him since he was two. His motha’ di’n’ want him. She di’n’ want him when he was ten. My daughter! She di’n’ want him when he was twelve. She di’n’ want him when he was fifteen. But when he graduated high school? She wanted him. He’s smart, too. I di’n know he’s ‘zat smart. I could’a got him all kind of scholarships to college ‘cause his daddy died in the war? But no-o-o…my daughter came up with tickets to Flaw-da. So he’s in Flaw-da. He told me not to be mad—this was his decision not hers. But wha’z he know? He calls me from the beach and says, “Maw-Maw, guess where I am? I’s sittin’ on the beach callin’ you!”
Our flight to Charlotte is ninety minutes and we have twenty-five to go. She pauses to look around at the other passengers in the cabin and takes a new breath.
“My daughter lost all this weight? She told me, ‘I can wear your clothes now, Ma.’ I said, ‘No, you cain’!’ She’s already stolen some of my clothes. I had these beautiful leather coats and she took all three of’m! So I bought me a teal one. No one wears teal. But I have this teal skirt?…and this teal blouse…but I hid my teal leather coat. She cain’ find it!
My other daughter is married to a preacher. She dresses like a preacher, too. All conservative. Plain jackets and skirts.
She has four years of college and her husband only has one. I tell’em, ‘Now, who’s the preacher in this family with the egi-cation?’ They don’ like that too much.
I’s raised a Baptist? I wanted babies so bad and Mr. Jackson couldn’t he’p’a’tall. Sometimes thangs jus’ work out. Mr. Jackson’s brother was so kind. Now I’m goin’ to this church where we don’ believe in women wearin’ pants. We don’ cut our hair. It says in Deuteronomy that women should look like women and men should look like men. See? I have on a dress and you have on pants…so I look like the woman.
It took me a long time to come ‘round to that. They have a lot of rules in this church? I had to read my Bible a whole lot to see what they wuz a’ saying. I never did figure out some of it. But a lot of people don’ agree with’em. My daughter don’ agree with me. But I’m a Penti’caah’stal now.
My daughter looks juz like her daddy.”
Which one, I wonder.
“She has his hands? Her daddy’s feet? She even has her daddy’s butt! He di’n’ have no butt—and she ain’t got no butt either.
Mr. Jackson was tall. He was six foot three inches and skinny. And she’s juz like him. Tall and skinny…with no butt.
He was in Vietnam? It did somp’em to him. Took’im a long time to git ova’. Some of it he neva’ did git ova’. He’d lay there in the bed by me and just jump. In his sleep. Scairt me to death! He’d flang his leg ova’ me or throw his arm across me. He was heavy. Sometimes he hit my head in his sleep. I’d just turn my back on him when he did that.
Lawsie! ‘Ju feel that? We juz’ landed!”
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