T-Bucket's Memories of a Happy Poor Boy... pt. 4
“Hey, Trouble, get ya behind in the car, we’s goin’ ‘cross town”, Momma collared me and steered me to the back seat of the Duece. Chaunce, dropped the football we were playing with in the yard, and followed without any prompting. Doodoo was stayin’ at the neighbors.
Unc’ Bennie pulled the Duece out and headed downtown. He popped in his newest eight track, the Chi-Lites. It was a gift from Willy B for his daily morning rides. Willy knew his soul music.
Momma had her ’Sunday’ wig on and began what we called her ’downtown speech‘, “Looky here, we gonna swing by Miss Andrew’s house, den we gonna go to Monkey Ward, and I‘ll be damned if I‘s gonna chase you two boys all over that store. I will chap ya behinds if’n you gimmee any trouble. You gonna stay wit’ me, mind ya manners, and BB gonna buy ya an Icee if you do right. Here?”
“Yes, Ma’am”, we responded in enthusiastic unison.
“Pack down that nap, Terrence, you lookin’ like Buckwheat, and wipe off ya glasses. Tie dem shoes, Chauncey. Look respec’able.” Momma spit on a Kleenex, reached back, and wiped smudges off Chaunce‘s grimacing face. I, hurriedly, wiped my face off to avoid the spit wash. Bennie was oblivious; he sang along to the high parts of 'Tell Me Have You Seen Her', as we cruised up the road so slow that trucks hauling houses could pass us. Hoo-hah, we were going to Montgomery Ward to get an Icee, but why were we going to my school’s music teacher’s house?
Unc’ Bennie parked on the street of Miss Andrews well-kept neighborhood, and Momma smoothed her purple pant suit and adjusted her wig as she went to the door. Miss Andrews answered and invited her inside. I liked Miss Andrews, her class was so fun. We sang 'Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head', saw musical instruments up close, and she was in charge of the school plays. These were all things that my old school on the Black side of town didn’t have. I was the March Wind that year in the play. I had one line, “Do not weep Little Bow Peep, we will find your sheep.” I wore a sheet and spun offstage making ‘whooshy’ sounds.
Miss Andrew’s husband got killed in Vietnam, just like Willy B’s dad. All my uncles were either too fat or too scrawny to pass the physical to go to Vietnam, and my Pop got killed in Little Rock.Chaunce and I were having an intense discussion about what flavors would be at the Icee machine, if we’d mix them, and how to avoid a brain freeze, when Momma slid back into the front seat. She turned around, and plopped volume ‘A’ of the World Book Encyclopedia on the seat between Chaunce and me. It was one of the thickest books we’d ever seen.
“That’s y’all’s. Now treat it wit’ respec’. I don’t want y’all gettin’ Icee all on it. You gets any questions that starts wit ‘A‘, you gonna look ‘em up. I’s gonna be watchin’ Miss Andrews' baby girl, while she sells dem books at night.”
The first half of sixth grade, Miss Andrews dropped off her 4 year old, Christina, at our house, and picked her up at ten or so each night. We’d peek out our bedroom window, and watch as Miss Andrews carried her swaddled, sleeping baby girl to her car every night. Every Saturday morning there was another volume of the World Book Encyclopedia on our kitchen table. We eventually had the whole set.
Chaunce and I devoured the information in these books. We never really asked Momma a question after awhile, because we knew her answer was going to be ,”Look it up”. Chaunce and I read these encyclopedias from cover to cover many times over the years. Laying in our bunkbeds that Unc' Billy had made for us, we traded info and challenged each others facts. To this day we can both have intelligent, in depth conversations on most any topic without faking it. You do not want to play Scrabble or Trivial Pursuit with us. I make a comfortable living from my home, and Chaunce speaks six languages, and works for NATO in Brussels. Demetrius (Doodoo) owns his own company in Texas. I give immense credit to those books for our station in life.
I reminded Momma recently about this story, and asked her what she recalled, “That lady had the cancer, and she were jus’ tryin’ tuh make some money for her baby girl for after she was gone.” That explained why Miss Andrews had abruptly stopped coming to our house back then, she had died of cancer.
“How much did you make back in 1972 for baby-sitting?“, I wondered out loud.
“A World Book ’Cyclopedia a week”, she smiled.
Momma still has those books proudly displayed in her living room, even though she can barely read. Inside the cover of each one of these 22 books, stamped in ink it says,
This book is not for resale, but is the sole property of Field Enterprises, to be used for demonstration and sales purposes by representatives of Field Enterprises, dba World Book Encyclopedia.
(might want to check out parts 1-3 , while you're here)