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Girl From Goat Pasture Road

Musings of Susan Swicegood Boswell

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children

Fortune Teller

angels1  When our old friends Kimberly and Chris decided to throw a big Halloween Party for their two boys a few years ago, I was their go- to person to portray the role of the fortune teller. Always up for a new adventure, I eagerly donned a long flowing skirt, ruffled blouse and layered all the bling I could find around my neck. I tied a colorful silk scarf, peasant style, around my forehead. Dramatic kohl black eyeliner and a long dark wig masked my blue- eyed blond. As I gazed into the mirror, I hardly recognized myself.

Miraculously, I found my old Ouija Board and its plastic controller. A relic from my teenaged years, the Ouija Board had been a big hit at slumber parties where giddy fourteen year olds boldly called forth the spirit of Elvis and other long lost celebrities during impromptu séances. I packed a deck of cards and the iridescent gazing ball from my garden. Voila! My outfit and props were complete.

After the hotdog dinner, I placed my wares inside the tent which had been set up in a dark and remote corner of their big backyard. The wind whispered through the tall pines and broad oaks as shadows danced like ghosts across the precision- cut lawn. We placed a candle in the middle of the table to illuminate my face and that of my young patrons. Miss Susannah was ready for her first customer.

One by one, Kimberly escorted the kids inside. They approached me tentatively, their eyes filled with excitement and apprehension. I played the role to the hilt. When I read the children’s’ palms, everyone had long life lines that showed happy marriages and beautiful children. With dramatic flair, I fanned the cards across the top of the table; a three of spades could foretell the same future as the Queen of Hearts. I sprinkled tea leaves into a cup of water where their black amorphous shapes revealed only to me, the shape of their future. I gazed into the crystal ball, pretending to see what they could not. I worked in tidbits of information that I had been told about the kids, details about sports or summer camps or their latest crush. It all went off without a hitch until Kimberly brought in my last customer.

At first, I did not recognize the boy. Even when Kimberly said his name, I could not recall anything significant about the boy. “This is Kyle’s friend Ryan,” she said. “He and his mom got here late. He’d like to talk to you.”

“Ah, come in Ryan” I said with a heavy accent and motioned for him to have a seat.

I read his palm. I sought his fortune in the tea leaves. Unlike the other boys, I could tell my words had failed to impress him. Ryan chewed on his lip; something else was obviously on his mind. “I wanted to ask you about my dad…” the boy whispered softly.

Suddenly, I remembered what Kimberly had told me about this boy.
Ryan’s father passed away a few weeks prior, suddenly and unexpectedly. Kimberly and Chris had not expected him or his mother to come to the party. My heart skipped a beat; for a moment, I did not know what to do. Across from me was a vulnerable real-life boy and I was a fake fortune teller. The boy’s eyes looked at me for some kind of reassurance; I have never felt so small or so embarrassed at perpetuating such a sham. I started to confess, to explain the truth. I wanted to tell him I was not really a fortune teller and that I didn’t know anything about his dad.

Then, I remembered my own experience. It wasn’t long ago that I, too had lost a father. In a chance and singular encounter with a fortune teller in Key West, I too had asked a stranger about my own father. I hadn’t cared so much about the number of children I would have or the length of my lifeline. All I wanted and needed to know in that instant was that my dad was ok. For a minute, I connected to this boy’s pain and told him what I thought he needed to hear. I told him what a kind person had told me almost ten years before.

“Oh Ryan,” I began, disregarding my props and my accent and speaking straight from my heart. I told him what I hoped someone would tell my own son, should the tables ever be turned. “You know, your father loves you so very much. He is so happy that you have asked about him! I know your heart is heavy and that you miss him so much. Always remember, that even though you don’t see him, his spirit is always with you, looking over you and your mom.”

I’m not sure if my answer was the right one or if it gave this boy any comfort. I’m not sure if I should have continued to act the part or if I should have come clean to the poor innocent and injured boy sitting across from me. I hadn’t meant to play a cruel joke. I guess I felt that it was important that Ryan believe in something at that moment of feeling so very lost and alone.

Ryan is a grown man now. I’ve lost track, forgotten to ask about him over the years. Still, I hope he has remembered my words and that he has known the loving and continued presence of his father in his life along the road to adulthood. I hope for his sake, that my prediction came true.

The Piano Bench: 12 Days of Christmas Blogs

As a child, I grew up in the country just down the road from my Grandma Young on a small plot of land she carved off her 100 acre farm for my mama and daddy. After losing her husband to lung cancer near the end of the Great Depression, grandma’s only son moved his new wife from the city into his mama’s farmhouse where they worked and lived out the rest of their lives together. Although I didn’t know it at the time, we had a lively and eccentric family (even by Davidson County standards) and there was always an abundance of family members nearby, cousins, aunts and uncles.

Ironically Grandma Young never seemed “young”. For the nearly twenty years I knew her, she was ancient. She never learned to drive a car and walked nearly everywhere she went. When she left her house, she carried a black pocketbook over her arm. She wore a drab shapeless dresses with thick “stockings” rolled down to her ankles and ugly lace-up black leather shoes. If it was summer or if she was working in the fields, she donned an old-fashioned calico sun bonnet (as she had done since she was a girl) covering her head and her long narrow face. In my memories, I do not see grandma in color, rather she exists like a still-shot black and white photograph, sitting in an old straight-back wooden chair with her clouded bad eye staring out at the fields absent-mindedly.

Long before I came along as the baby in the family, our families had a tradition of getting together on Christmas Eve. Sometimes we’d gather in the basement of mom and dad’s brick ranch and sometimes in the small cramped living room of grandma’s farmhouse. It seems like we rotated houses depending on which family finished eating dinner first. Because my mama burned everything from cakes to iced tea, I preferred eating supper early and going to grandma’s house where my Aunt Johnnie was the hands down winner in the family dessert competition. She made all sorts of amazing cakes and pies, including her famous homemade Persimmon Pudding and fresh Coconut Cake.

aunt J   One of my favorite memories as a child is of sitting on the piano bench beside Aunt Johnnie singing Christmas Carols. Now if you made a list and told Santa all the characteristics that were needed to make the perfect aunt, they would have manifested themselves right there in that single stout and faithful woman. Aunt Johnnie was kind, patient, humble and generous of spirit. She was sweet and soft enough that I could nestle close beside her on the end of the piano bench without falling off. She never seemed in a hurry to go talk with the other adults or fix herself a piece of pie. I remember her swaying to the tempo of the music. Her fingers moved stealthily over the keyboard, her eyes focused on the pages of some old hymnal as her feet pumped the foot pedals.

My favorite pedal, even after I learned to play the piano myself, was the one on the right called the damper pedal. It makes the piano sound both loud and soft at the same time, allowing each note to remain suspended in the air a few seconds longer to meld with the others before falling silent.

I have often wondered if it was the fact that Aunt Johnnie lived out most of her adult life in her mother-in-law’s home that gave her an extra special dose of patience. It might have given her a special sensitivity for those of us that felt alone and needed some extra love at times. I always remember Aunt Johnnie fondly during the holiday season, but it is with a special tenderness this year. She passed away in February after a stroke and long illness and a mere five weeks after losing her grown son Bobby to cancer in the middle of January. I hold her and the family she loved so dearly in my thoughts and prayers on this first difficult Christmas with her gone.

Today I continue to feel Aunt Johnnie’s gentle loving spirit. In the bustle of the holidays, she reminds me not to hurry so. She says not to worry about the shopping and the decorating. I hear her voice in the old hymns like Silent Night and Joy to the World. Her single greatest gift to me was the gift of her just being there.

At the time, I doubt Aunt Johnnie felt she was doing anything special for me; she was just being herself and sharing her love with me. In the act of making enough room for me to sit beside her on that bench, it allowed me to feel truly special.

Susan dedicates this piece to the memory of her beloved aunt, Johnnie Mae Wallace Young (1933-2015). May you all feel the love and peace of the holiday season.

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