They named me for the pretty lady
who ran the silent picture show,
but people always said as I grew up,
Your five older sisters
got all the looks in your family.
Later people whispered that the first Lula
wore her red professionally.
I worked as bank teller
and memorized a thousand dirty jokes
to win peoples attention.
So far as Erman knew when he came courting,
Daddy was the respectable Mister Johnny,
even when the depression ruined his sawmill.
Now 45 years later even in this quiet place
I fear someone might have told Erman
he married the bootleggers runt.
Great-grandma Griffin had 1,000 slaves,
but my son turned queer
and married a black man
who was real sweet and did not force
his way in on us in our old age.
I refused to cut the boys pretty curls,
but when he was 4,
his daddy sneaked him to the barber.
The next year, Dorothy nextdoor
gave him his first candy bar,
and he fattened just like me.
For a long time he and his daddy blamed me.
I remember later when they sang,
Praise it, praise it, all the little children,
Food is Love, Food is Love.
That was when the boy went to prep school,
read Freud, and mocked Sunday School.
I gave up telling dirty jokes
back when he was in high school and scared,
telling me what hed done with the boys
who came to spend the night
when Erman and I went off to watch
Alabama beat Auburn at Legion Field.
Although he made me promise Id not tell
his father, I had to.
Erman said the phase would pass.
I started reading the Bible straight through,
and did so for 35 times
in as many years before I died.
I gave up playing cards when I was 65
and gave up smoking at 70.
God must not have been impressed,
because nothing changed.
Erman got meaner when he retired,
and I was always embarrassed
when the neighbors could hear him yelling at me
after he had lost something
and needed someone to blame it on.
He could always work me though.
If we were at a picnic and the wives
said each could make his own sandwich,
hed smile sweetly and say to me,
But, honey, you can make a sandwich
more betterer than I can.
Funny how we always imitated the maid
whenever we got really intimate.
I named Eula Belle
just so strangers wouldnt confuse us,
but then even friends
started calling me Lula Belle.
Then I liked it when folks would ask,
Is this Eula your sister?
Yes, the only difference is
that one is black and the other white.
I resented it when Eula died
just as I began the hard work of wearing out.
I called Erman my Rock of Gibraltar
and he could fix almost anything,
if you were willing to wait for three months.
I loved him but still resented him
for treating me like a little girl.
His people always felt they were better than me.
I was the only child in my family never to divorce,
but he reminded me that no one in his ever did.
Even so, his grandfather deserted his grandmother,
and his other grandmother kept snuff in that can
Erman still wouldnt let me remove from her clock,
even after shed been dead for 60 years.
When Ermans mother would come to visit,
she always wrinkled her nose
before she tasted, as if my spaghetti-and-cheese
was not sharp enough or didnt have enough butter
in the bread clusters on top.
Still, she knew I baked the better cakes,
and would always ask for what was left
to carry it back home with her.
My son never liked her.
Theyre so rural, he complained.
Even when they moved from Coosa County
and bought the big house in Birmingham,
Big frogs cant quit croaking at the ocean.
I remember when Erman wouldnt buy us ice cream,
and I drove the child and myself,
the two of us on the front seat of the Chevy
fussing away till the child screamed,
Someones in the back, Mother!
Ermans bald head rose up cackling
like a ghost, him having run out the back
just to scare us.
When the boy was 4 or 5,
he used to lie in the bed with Erman and me
and we would all play.
Erman would say, Now which of you two
deserves a whipping today?
and each of us would point to the other, laughing.
Erman would lovepat both of us.
I didnt like life much after that
till I grew old.
Erman was always saying
that he was going to buy this
or going to buy that,
but he went bankrupt instead.
I left the country club
to take up bookkeeping again.
I got lots of respect in my 70s,
because I demanded it.
Id call up the power company
and the bank manager
to complain if a bill was too high
or a clerk had been rude.
My son once complained,
Anyone who reads as much as you do
should have better things
to do with her time
than to keep up with who is taking
whose parking place in the lots
behind the apartments.
But I got him told,
reminding him that when he gets to be old,
he might find that friends neglect him
so much that hed be glad
to have a parking lot to keep up with.
I drowned in my own fluids
the way Daddy did.
It was very painful.
I kept wanting Erman and my son
to get in the bed with me
like old times.
They said my mind wandered.
I doubt it.
I was just hitting bedrock.
At least my boy got the wooden box
that I had requested
and wouldnt let anyone see me.
No more can they talk
about the bootlegger's runt.
I even managed to get Erman and me both
right next to Daddy,
cause my family had the bigger lot,
and our cemetery has perpetual care.
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