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Cheryl Hughes: Storied Past

“If you tell that story one more time, I’m going to divorce you!”  I say this to Garey as he starts once more to tell his sister about the time, when in first grade, he was to represent his class as a fall festival candidate, but his mother got the time wrong—all the while Garey was trying to tell her the right time, but she wouldn’t listen—and they arrived at the school too late, and another little boy was appointed to take his place.  There are two reasons why I threatened to divorce Garey if he told that particular story again.  The first is because the story upsets me.  Garey and his sister, Charlotte, had very hard childhoods, with very little recognition, and even that small spot in the limelight was taken from Garey.  Would it have killed his mother to have been 30 minutes early?  The second reason is because, for me, any kind of repetition is maddening.


               Don’t get me wrong, Garey tells some good stories, and they are quite interesting the first few times, because he continues to embellish them with details that he has forgotten in the first telling.  After the thirteenth telling, however, I have to leave the room, the house, the farm, a moving car, even.  “If you’re going to tell that story again, you can pull this car over now, and I will walk home,” I threaten.

               I tend to be more sympathetic to Garey’s storytelling when we’re in Alabama—with the exception of the aforementioned fall festival candidate debacle story—because we can’t talk about current events with his sister, given the current political climate, and the fact that our beliefs are at opposite ends of the spectrum.   Charlotte is as bad as Garey when it comes to repeating her stories.  They include but are not limited to: herding the cows out of the road when she got off the school bus; being made to wear a second-hand dress to school that came nearly to her ankles; and being singled out by an unreasonably harsh teacher.  My favorite by far is the story of when she was a preschooler, and she stuck her rear end out of the bathroom door to ask her mother if she had wiped herself clean, only to realize too late that her mother had company—her Aunt Eloise and the milk man. 

I can quote chapter and verse to all of hers and Garey’s stories.  The stories I have enjoyed most over the years are those they’ve told just a few times.  Most involve Garey aggravating Charlotte.  When Garey and Charlotte would get off the bus in the afternoon, the fun would begin—for Garey, anyway.  He would make sure he got into the house before she did, then he would lock all the doors, so she was left outside stomping mad.  He would yell loud enough for her to hear, and make threats like, “I’m not going to let you in till it’s too late for you to fix supper, and Mother is going to whip you!”  Of course, this sent Charlotte into a fear-induced fit of crying and yelling and fist-pounding the door.  God knows why none of the neighbors called 911.  A different era, I guess.  Garey would inevitably let Charlotte into the house, after he became bored with the game.  Charlotte would go to the faucet, run a full glass of water, then chase Garey outside. with the intention of dousing his clothes.  Garey would beat it around the corner of the house to turn on the water hose, and things did not end well for Charlotte.  I also love the “Royal Flush” story Charlotte tells to explain why her arms are so long.  Garey would drag her into the bathroom to give her a royal flush, which she avoided by grabbing onto the door frame with both hands, while Garey continued to pull her ever closer to the commode.  Her grip managed to save her from a fate worse than death.

               My favorite Garey/Charlotte story involved a broken slat on their parents’ bed.  The two had been bouncing up and down on their parents’ bed—a serious infraction in their house—when one of the slats broke.  There was an obvious sag in the bed, so they knew they had to fix it before their parents got home.  Charlotte held the pieces while Garey used hammer and nail to put it back together.  Everything went off without a hitch, the slat held, and Garey and Charlotte breathed a sigh of relief.  A few nights later, however, their parents decided to do a little bouncing of their own, and the strain on the previously broken slat was too much.  Everybody heard the slat hit the floor, but nobody said a word about it until years later, when the two kids told their mother the truth about the broken slat.  Aggie thought it was hilarious.

               Earlier in the week, we received a card from his cousin, Marilyn.  The address was Jasper, Alabama.  “I didn’t know Marilyn lived in Jasper,” I said.  “She doesn’t live in Jasper, that’s just her address,” Garey said.  “She lives in Sipsey, not far from Jasper,” Garey explained.  “Sipsey is where the Gorgas River and the Black Warrior River meet.  It’s like where the Barren and Green rivers meet down at Woodbury,” he said.

               I could feel a never-ending story coming on.  “Honey, I really have a lot to do. I love you, but I   don’t have time for a story right now,” I said.

               “You love me, but you don’t love my stories,” he said, with mock hurt in his voice.

               “That’s not true.  I do love your stories,” I said.  (At least for the first thirteen times you tell them, I thought.)




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