Back when Bryan, Texas was a thriving metropolis of about 30,000 or so, back when I was in my early teens, my family drove from that sprawling metropolis all the way to Collins, Georgia, population fifty or so, including pets and cattle.
These were the years when I became aware of the things around me, conscious of life beyond the desire to sleep, eat, and play. So I was aware, for instance, that Bryan had several grocery stores to choose from, and Collins citizens–well, they had to go to a nearby town, smaller than Bryan and not near as pretty, but it was where folks bought their groceries. It was the same town they ran to when they wanted something to do, like sit at the malt shop and watch the only traffic light for miles blink on and off. Hot town Saturday night.
These, among other long-lost reasons, gave me the impression that my cousin–who didn’t even live in town–must’ve been “backward.”
I can look back now and wonder just where on Earth I got the gall to spew some of the silliness that came forth from my freshly-painted lips!–I say “freshly painted” because this was right at the time I began my road to sophistication, and the liberal application of too-dark lipstick was a mandatory preparation for the journey.
And, by the way, Cousin dear, you’re a year older than me. Aren’t you wearing make-up yet?
She responded that Georgia summers–even as early as when we had visited–were just too hot to bother with makeup unless it was for special occasions.
“Well, in Texas, we have air conditioners. You know what those are, don’t you?”
Later, she helped my aunt make tea. Steep tea bags in boiling hot water. Stir in the sugar till it dissolves. Pour over ice in the best beveled quilt-pattern glasses. Very similar to the jelly glasses we had back home.
I rattled the ice in mine and with an air of magnanimity, chose not to mention that our glasses like these came with strawberry preserves. I tried the tea. It tasted different, which could be for only one reason: “We don’t use sugar. We use saccharin. You know what that is, don’t you?”
This time, my aunt glared with her.
After supper, my cousin grabbed the broom and swept out the kitchen and dining room. I took pity on her then. Bless her heart. All that hard labor. “We have a vacuum cleaner to do that. You know what that is, don’t you?”
Surprisingly, there must’ve been enough times tossed in with all this foolishness when I wasn’t being a complete ass. My cousin invited me to join her on a walk.
We strolled the red clay roads in the steamy late afternoon, tobacco fields to our right, cattle and the hog pens to our left, and chatted about what teenage girls chat about. We probably even thrust out our budding chests and bragged on bra sizes, and who got whose first. (It burned me how much longer she’d been wearing hers!)
Before long, I saw a tree with a limb full of fruit hanging over a fence and just within reach. I jogged up to the tree to get a closer look at the fruit. “Well, would you look at that! Can you eat these?”
“Sure,” she said. “They’re best green.”
I took a bite–and puckered my painted lips so tight I could see them without a downward glance.
“It’s a persimmon tree, ” she said. “You know what that is, don’t you?”