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The Positive My mother was fifteen when she had my brother; I came ten months afterwards. Irish twins, with red hair and freckles to boot. She loved us, but two sons and three marriages by the age of eighteen is more than most women can bear. It was the seventies and she wanted to be out smoking and dancing with all her friends. My brother and I would get left with my mother’s grandparents, Momo and Pau Paul, during the long summer days while she went out and enjoyed being young. Momo wasn’t that old herself, even being a great-grandmother: especially since my mother, her mother and her mother’s mother were married and pregnant at 15 as well. My grandmother wasn’t that old, but I was never fond of her much. She was a drinker and treated my mother badly; Momo was more of a mother to my mother and more of a mother to me. ***** I remember the smell of cigarettes and bacon grease, a time before air conditioning and when beating your children was the only way to teach them wrong from right. Momo owned a hardware store in town; I loved looking at all the tools. Everyone knew which store was ours, it was just two round rooms with dome roofs. I wanted to work there someday but when Pau Paul died Momo sold it to an investor who turned it into “The Boom Boom Room” and painted the domes to look like a set of purple and turquoise breasts. My brother Timmy liked it better as “The Boom-Boom Room”.
***** When I was five, I remember the blonde widowed woman from down the street. She wore her long hair up tight in a pinned bun with vibrant red dresses: Red floral, red striped, solid red. The red dressed lady always had a smile on her face when she waved. I liked the way she smiled. Momo knew that the red dressed lady had a reputation for being too friendly with other women’s husbands. She would preach to my mother. “It’s not right. Her inviting married men over for lemonade when they ought to be home with their wives.” I saw the way the blonde woman would wave at Pau Paul. She didn’t wave that way when Momo was around.
***** Timmy and I would spend the long warm summers down by the dock swimming and bring in all the fish we could catch. There was nothing like that proud look when I would show Momo that I reeled in dinner. I once caught a baby bass and threw it back. It was only a little bigger than my small hand and I wanted him to grow so I could catch him once he was bigger, but Pau Paul gave me over twelve whips with a switch he made me pull from the tree. He said, “If he’s big enough to eat my bait, he’s big enough to eat.” Momo was a strong woman. It takes a strong woman to take a punch from a six foot two, 275 pound, man. With her hair pinned in curlers, she
would often drive her new pink Pontiac down to the local bar to pick up Pau Paul. She won it at a raffle when the new dealership opened. Momo would march right inside, moo-moo, flipper slippers and all. With me in tow, Momo yelled at Pau Paul, seeming to not give a care who heard her. She never brought Timmy to the bars, even though he was older than me; he was timid and always afraid. “You pulled me and this young’n out of bed to bring you home. You should be ashamed of yourself. Get on! Let’s go, don’t make me make a scene now.” Even when Momo was cross, she never cursed and she hardly raised her voice. She had to be the positive to Pau Paul’s negative. Pau Paul was a mean- stern man with a look in his eye that could steal the innocence right out of you. I liked it better when he drank too much; when he passed out, because I was safe then. It was when he was still sober enough to stand that I got my beatings. A switch from a tree, his old leather belt, sometimes he’d just use his fist for the fun of it. Momo used to provoke Pau Paul when he got mad. She would throw just about anything at him to keep him from hurting me. Back then, violence was overlooked. My mother saw my bruises when she picked me up at the end of the weekend, she assumed I deserved them and gave me more for giving my great grandparents trouble.
One night when I was about ten, Momo put Pau Paul to bed and then she and I snuck down to the local donut store for cake donuts and coffee. It was nights like these that I liked Timmy being left at home, I got Momo to myself. “Here,” she said handing me the keys “you drive”. “Momo! I can’t drive. I’ll get in trouble!” I remember the fear in my own voice, how shockingly young I sounded to my own ears. “If we get pulled over, I’ll just fake a heart attack and you tell the officer you were driving me to the hospital. No worries you hear?” She was so calm about the matter, as if there was nothing in the world wrong with me driving her anywhere. I felt like a man, I felt like I could take care of her. I drove the whole way to the 24-hour donut shop and the whole way back. I often wonder what would have happened if I would have wrecked Momo’s car. I know what happened when I mud wrestled with my brother and then played hide–n-seek in the back seat. It was the only time I got a beating from BOTH Pau Paul and Momo. That night with the donut shop, Pau Paul was incoherent. That night we were safe. The next morning Momo got a belt for “trying to be the man” and Pau Paul put his old pistol to my face. “Don’t you believe for a second that I ain't the man of this house boy. I’d sooner paint that there wall with your brain. You hear me.”
Timmy never crossed Pau Paul, he was always too frail, too afraid, but this day he used his scrawny body to protect me, “Pau Paul please! Don’t hurt him! Don’t hurt him…” Pau Paul used the butt of his gun and broke Timmy’s glasses in two, the glass and wire tore at his face. Maybe that’s why he never helped me, helping really helped no one.
***** When Timmy was thirteen and I was almost twelve, Momo came home to find Pau Paul and the divorced red dress lady from next door. They were only having coffee, but Momo made her feelings well known. “Baby doll, we were just talkin’” Pau Paul explained. In a calm and soft voice Momo replied, “You don’t got no business talkin' to her and she ain’t got no business talkin’ to you. I think it’d be best if she got on home.” As the blonde women sat in Momo’s spot, she looked on with a slight sense of accomplishment. Trying to interject, she stated, “Calm down, we were just having a little chat.” Then she looked at Pau Paul and gave that smile that she usually wouldn’t do if Momo was around. At the sight of that smile, Momo was enraged. “Oh no! This hussy needs to get up and out of my house. Don’t be telling me to calm down in my own damn home.” Momo stopped and gasped and then turned her head to the lord.
“Lord, forgive me for cursing in your presence and give me strength for the things I shouldn’t do if this hussy isn’t out of my house…” At this Pau Paul reached across the table to touch the blonde woman’s wrist and said “I’m sorry, maybe you should go.” When Pau Paul touched her hand, it was as if he was sinning in front of God himself and Momo would not have any part in the breaking of the Lord’s wishes. With a broom in one hand and fist in the other, Momo chased the pretty blonde lady all the way out the screen door. I went out to the doc, Timmy hid under a bed. I wanted to watch Momo swat Pau Paul with that old broom but neither of us wanted to watch Pau Paul beat up on Momo for embarrassing him in front of company. I didn’t see much of the red dress lady for a while after that, not until the day of the bar-b-que. It was my mother’s twenty-seventh birthday, I was still eleven. The whole family was in the back yard grilling and swimming in the lake. Momo asked me to help my aunt unpack her car; she brought beer and babies. Momo and I grabbed my baby cousins out of their belts and carried them inside as my step father pulled the cooler of beer from the trunk. When Momo and I walked back outside to see if my step father needed any help, there she was, the blonde-red dress lady, leaning up against my aunt’s car and smiling at my step father.
For a moment, I froze, waiting for Momo to chase the woman down the street, waiting for the woman to see Momo and then turn and run herself. But nothing happened. Momo gave my step father a quick “eh hem” and he politely nodded goodbye to the woman and took the cooler out back. Momo stood in the door way for what seemed like forever as the red dress lady slowly turned, locking eyes and smiling until her back was on us. Once she reached her front porch, she sat on her rocker and just smiled across the driveway to Momo. I wasn’t old enough to understand, but even I knew that smile. It was a dare. Momo put her hands on my shoulders and looked at me. Softly she said, “Wait here young’n.” I watched as Momo walked over to the red dress lady’s porch and straight into her home. The red dress lady jumped out of her rocker and ran behind her. Then I heard the lady scream… over and over, then silence. And we never saw the red dress lady again… Momo had killed her, stuffed her under the bed - I was sure of it. Actually, I did see her again, but never with the same smile. It wasn’t until I was a grown man, coincidently while introducing my future wife to Momo for the first time, that I finally heard what happened to the red dress lady. As Momo warned my future wife of the trials and tribulations of marriage, she began to tell the story of the red dress woman. Momo was older then, her bones were not quite as strong and her temperment was not quite as soft…
“You gotta watch for women who will try to take your husband. I had to run this hussy down the street, out of my house, a few times! I watched her try to steal my Pau Paul then my grandbaby’s husband… so you know what I did?” “What Momo?” “One day I went right up to her door, walked to her kitchen, got a hand full of ice out of her ice box, then I dragged that hussy by her hair to the ground and I held that there ice on her pussy and told her she needed to COOL DOWN!” In shock, half for reason I can’t even comprehend and half for the fact that my seventy something great grandmother just said “pussy” in front of my future wife, I replied, “You did WHAT Momo?” To my horror, she said it again, “You heard me!” She repeated, “I held that ice to her pussy and told her she needed to cool herself down!”
***** Pau Paul had stepped out on Momo for years. I wonder how many other women had a chilly encounter with her. My guess, just this one. It wasn’t the beatings brought about from her presence or the obvious threat she brought, it was the notion that this woman could hurt my mother-by way of my step father-and in turn hurt Timmy and me.
Pau Paul never meant to hurt anyone,” she would say “he just didn’t know no better”. I took my wife back to the lake where I spent so many weekends but pulling bass out of it wasn’t quite the same anymore. Momo is what made this place feel like home. Even though she’s gone now, her memory and strength stay with me. That was the thing about Momo, she was always strong. Whether it was taking multiple beatings by her husband, and still standing by his side till their final end or literally knocking a woman off her rocker to protect her own. She had a fire in her that no beating, no man and definitely no ice, could put out.