The Cherry Popsicle

By Edna Coulson Hall

 

I was ten years old when My Grandma Coulson died, my mother’s mother. I was told death meant Grandma was gone far, far away from this life, our life, all the way to Heaven where she would live with the angels, and we would never see her again until we went to Heaven ourselves one fine day. I said I understood.

At the funeral I stood by Mom while she talked to my aunts and uncles and other people who seemed to start every sentence with “She was.” It made a buzzing sound in my head. My Aunt Mildred said Grandma was in a place now where her heart was strong again and where she didn’t hurt anymore and never would again. She didn’t call the place Heaven, but I was sure that was what she meant because when someone said Grandma was with the angels now, Aunt Mildred smiled and
nodded.

Afterward, when we were home from the funeral, I looked at my picture book Bible and studied the images of angels there in their long flowing robes, their great white wings, their glowing halos. I had rarely seen Grandma except in a cotton house dress covered over with a long bib apron made from flour sacking. It was impossible to imagine Grandma among these dainty beings each strumming a small gold harp.
The only musical instrument I had ever known Grandma to play had been a pocket comb wrapped in waxed paper.

Before Grandma got sick, she would write Mom every week, ad her letters always came on Tuesday. The first Tuesday after Grandma’ funeral I was sitting on the front steps of our house sharing a homemade cherry popsicle with our dog. The mail man came and left mail at the end of the lane. Dust rolled up from the road.

I heard the kitchen screen door open and slap shut as Mom rushed out and started down to the road. As she neared the yard gat, she suddenly stopped and bent forward as if something had kicked her in the middle of her body. I watched and waited. Then she straightened and walked slowly on down to the mail box.

When I put the popsicle back in my mouth I could taste the dust from the road. I held it out to the dog.

“Here,” I said. “You can have it. My grandma’s dead.”

Hook

By Edna Coulson Hall

 

June.  July.

Mowing, raking, bailing –
hay-making with Dad, with Granddad.

Wet?  Rain?  When?
And for how long?
How much?

Dry days and hot.  Hot.
Sweating, reddened deep,
shoulders blistered —
we bless the sun.

Atop the squat Ford tractor
pulling slow, pulling straight
through sweet scented alfalfa.

Hay hook in hand
stabbing bail and bail and bail –
lifting, twisting, stacking.
Neat.  Make it neat.
Winter might come early,
might stay late.
Pack the mow, snug’em tight
and neat.

Hay hook for hay work,
for carrying buckets heavy with grain,
for bolting a gate lock.

I scratch my name into
its work-slicked handle
with a rusty nail –
“Edna.”

If Only

By Edna Coulson Hall

Even now, as a far removed elder of my rural Ohio home-based family, I enjoy a reputation that tinges on myth. I was the one who left, the one who sallied forth in the midst of a fierce blizzard to see what it was that lay south of the Ohio River and west of Cincinnati.

My journey began in January 1964: South to New Orleans where the original plan for a three-day stopover stretched to three weeks. Finally heavy rains and a flattened wallet convinced me to turn westward.

Texas was a half week crossing. Next came New Mexico. I hardly blinked. In Arizona I saw my first road runner, my first desert palm. I stopped at a roadside trading post just east of the California border.

Inside I was drawn to a table piled high with rugs I thought of as Navajo despite being told I was in Yuma Indian Territory, I checked my not-so-ready cash. I could sleep in a motel with abundant delayed maintenance and call a sleeve of soda crackers and jar of off brand peanut butter dinner or I could buy a rug. The store owner hovered.

“Pretty one you got there. All made local. No two alike. You won’t be sorry. Good price. Let me lay it out for you.”

“No,” I said. “I don’t have the money. Really. I’m pretty much broke.”

“Hell, Little Sister, you need a job? I can help you with that.”

Little Sister? Was that Arizonian for Miss? And a job? What was the man talking about? I looked around. I was the only customer in sight. Clearly the man, Big Brother(?) didn’t need help. I stepped backward toward the door. “Just a sec,” he said and disappeared behind a burlap hung doorway.

In my attempt to escape I knocked against a row of little papoose style dolls and was trying to set them straight again when the man reappeared waving a torn scrap of yellow tablet paper. “Lookee here,” he crowed. “I gotcha a job interview with Colonel Oakley himself at the First National downtown.”

I held a papoose in each hand and stared at him. Appointment? Oakley himself? Where? “Ah, where?” I said.

“Straight on down the road to Main. You can’t miss it.”

He took the dolls from me and set them on the counter and clapped his hands together. “Best get a quick move on,” he said. “I told Col. Bob you’d be there in ten minutes.”

I hardly remember the rest, but the following Monday I was officially made Secretary to Col. Robert Oakley, grandson to the famous Annie-Sure-Shot Oakley, Trust Officer of the First National Bank of Arizona, Yuma Branch. I worked there until September when I had saved enough to resume my travels. I eventually settled in San Francisco.

People still ask how I had the nerve to make that long, long trip all alone. My question went to my mother. “How could you let me go that awful blizzardy day? Didn’t you think about hiring a couple of people to kidnap me and haul me off to some obscure location where wayward teens were reprogrammed via Tough Love.”

Mom said, “Because I thought if I asked you to stay, you would say no to me and leave anyway, and that would break my heart.”