When Shorondra Reynolds was a baby we lived in a row of Baltimore brownstones on the edge of Pigtown. Just me and my mother, back when there were no single mothers, just Adele’s mother or Mary’s mama, Kiki’s madear, and their like. It was a time when a five year-old with a buzzing in her ear could be led by the hand down dark basement stairs with the custodian, Mr. Mackey, to the hot spot where kids older than my five years, did nasty things under the stairwell. A time when all that was needed to see a fly go about its business and me mine, was a piece of penny toffee and flashlight held close to the ear.
1902 Hollis was a building where everyone knew everyone else. Not because there was a welcome wagon, ladies who went out of their way to greet new neighbors, but because the two-story building with 4-one bedroom and 3-two bedroom apartments was that small. We knew Miss Reynolds because Miss Carol in A-2 watched Miss Reynolds’s brother’s kids on the weekends, and though big, hard headed boys, if you were short a nickel for ice cream, they would give you one, because their father was a mechanic and he was rich. Just like Miss Reynolds soon learned me and my mother’s names and which apartment we stayed in not only because of the mailbox's small bronze name slot, but because 1902 was a noisy building, what my mother sometimes, getting her words twisted, mistakenly called nosey. If mothers yelled out, called children by full given names and not nicknames, this told of impending punishments, just as the raucous noise coming from Miss Reynolds’ apartment Saturday evenings let everyone know her $1 to play, or .50 cents to gawk Bid Whist night was underway.
My mother did not participate in brownstone nonsense. My mother worked for the school system. When anyone asked my grandfather, a country man, what his only daughter did that kept her so busy in the city that she rarely came to visit, he told them, “My oldest is a “bureaucrat.” At this, they’d nod knowingly. I understood this to mean her fingers made magic. Most of the brownstone’s women simply referred to her as the siditty clerk typist in B-3.
My father who was not my father then, but was a good man, smiled as often as she frowned. He’d chuck under my chin and wink at me as my mother talked about “those” people and “their” ways. She did not like in the least Miss Reynolds. Miss Reynolds had ways. She was a witch. She killed small children. She wore dresses that sang. This is what I gathered on those days the good man who worked two jobs took us to Sunday breakfast at Bob’s Big Boy. He’d pat her slim hands, and when she turned in her seat, mouth twisted and eyes made big looking for the girl to bring another carton of milk to replace the warm one she brought me and to warm up her cup of coffee, he’d cross his eyes making me laugh, causing her to pivot sharply, accusing us both of foolishness, when it wasn’t me, but him doing the fooling.
If we lingered long, Shorondra Reynolds came in with her mother. Shorondra was a fat baby. At eighteen months she weighed seventy-three pounds. It was “little” Shorondra who made Mr. Gaylord instigate his one head, two arms, two legs policy. Before Shorondra, any kid under five years stayed free in their mother’s apartment. But once he saw for himself Shorondra’s two-fisted consumption of weenies at the brownstone’s annual back lot picnic, he said it was clear this generous tenant consideration needed further review. Requiring not only that Shorondra and others like her—those youngsters with one head, two arms, two legs-- have a bed of their own, but then too, a room, knowing full well that with this change that her mother, former president of the brownstone association, would fight him tooth and nail over paying an extra $10 in rent to go from a standard one-bedroom, to a one-bed, plus alcove--what Mr. Gaylord advertised as a “junior, two sleeper unit.”
Miss Reynolds wore her flowered print dress on Sundays. And, if it was a particularly windy fall or winter day, the dress would whip up under her thin overcoat, flying hither and yon, hem turned upward in song, a sight which made me giggle and crane to see her that much better. Of course, the dress did not sing, but this was not the thing you tell a child of five. Not even my mother would deny her child the possibility that a periwinkle and sunflower dress when swirling about brown calves, even Shorondra’s mother’s brown and shapely calves, did not indeed sing.
My mother didn’t like Shorondra’s mother. You could tell this because when Miss Reynolds came over to our table, asking “How ya doin’?” my mother’s upper lip pulled back, causing the lower to drop enough to show tiny box teeth, and allow taut lips to part, saying, “Fine, thank you.”
“Oh, us, too.” Miss Reynolds would say back, shifting Shorondra on her hip. “Such a nice day.” Then she’d stand there, smiling as if daring my mother to part with yet another precious word, something more than her hard pressed, “Fine, thank you.”
But my mother never would. My mother wore her disdain for the brownstone’s women, the neighborhood, even its name, Pigtown, like a suit of armor. She held tight to her ways until we moved into the small, detached, three bedroom rambler in Columbia, where for years on end, we knew no one and no one wanted to know us. Every so often, mainly Sundays after church, after raking all the tri-colored leaves my now daddy called damnable and blamed for everything from car crashes to a sluggish septic system, he’d look proudly at our .34 acre, slap my mother playfully on her butt and say, “Com’on, let’s go out into the world.” We’d put on dresses, my mother in something pretty, yet staid, that year’s Woolworth’s, and me, dungarees replaced with a jumper, something complimentary in color to her dress. And, then presentable, we’d head out, driving the old neighborhood, up and down each street, pointing out the same, the new, always to end up back at Bob’s, sliding across newly refurbished Naugahyde seats, where we’d sit, eat and watch the door, looking in every passing face for any sign of little Shorondra.
© Willett Thomas 2011