- Jennifer Horne
- Jennifer Horne grew up in Little Rock, Arkansas, and has lived in Alabama since 1986. The author of a book of poems, Bottle Tree (WordTech Publications, 2010), and a poetry chapbook, Miss Betty’s School of Dance (bluestocking press, 1997), she is also the editor of Working the Dirt: An Anthology of Southern Poets (NewSouth Books, 2003) and co-editor, with Wendy Reed, of All Out of Faith: Southern Women on Spirituality (University of Alabama Press, 2006). She has worked as a teacher in elementary, high school, college, international, and prison classrooms, and as a journal, magazine, and book editor, and has received fellowships from the Alabama State Council on the Arts and the Seaside Institute. She holds a BA in the Humanities from Hendrix College, and an MA in English, an MFA in Creative Writing, and an MA in Community Counseling, all from the University of Alabama. She is married to Don Noble, a writer, editor, and literary interviewer.
Wednesday, March 28, 2012
A Saturday morning encounter
On a recent bright, warm Saturday morning, I went out to run errands—hardware store, drugstore, library—stopping also at the Dollar General to pick up dog food. Outside in the parking lot was a bus from the Pine Valley Retirement Community, which people here just call Pine Valley, as in “After his wife died, he sold the house and moved out to Pine Valley.” It’s upscale, across the river, nicely landscaped, more country club than country, and I had to wonder why they’d come to my end of town where rural people and miners from the Jim Walter Coal Mines shop at the Food World next to this Dollar General. Maybe they go to a different Dollar General each week, just for variety, but I doubt it. Old people tend to like change even less than the rest of us.
Inside it was as though a brigade of powdered, permanented, pantsuited grandmothers had parachuted into the aisles. I had a sudden attack of grandmother hunger. Some people want to hug every baby they see; I want to hug old ladies, feel their soft, enduring embrace, smell their old-fashioned perfume. I have to remind myself occasionally that, thanks to having stepdaughters, I am now a kind of grandmother myself.
My own grandmothers weren’t much alike except in making me feel loved and special. My father’s mother, Margaret “Maggie” Crowley Horne, was a hard-working Irish American whose kitchen smelled wonderfully of cabbage and every other vegetable under the sun and whose ample bosom and lap could enfold you in a safety of flesh and protection that lasts a lifetime. A fine seamstress and clerk in a ladies’ clothing store in Hot Springs, Arkansas, she was a gentle spirit and also a survivor. After her mother died, her father took her as a fourteen-year-old to live with relatives in a Hot Springs boardinghouse, where she worked for them until she was married.
My mother’s mother, Josephine Katherine Thach Walton Bunn (she was widowed and remarried her childhood sweetheart, Al Bunn, but that’s a story for another day) was more of a belle, purveyor of composed salads, player of classical music on her grand piano, writer of letters and solver of crossword puzzles. Seeing the ladies at the Dollar General, shopping with enthusiasm but rather out of their element, I remembered with embarrassment the time when I cursed in front of her. She’d had some small strokes but was able to stay at home in Arkadelphia, with help. For her birthday, my mother had arranged for a violinist friend to come to her house and play for her. There were two birthday cakes, and as I carried one of them in, using both hands to hold the large plate, the cake began to slide off its base. Seeing what was happening but unable to stop it, I cried out under my breath, “Oh shit!” She didn’t look up, not hearing or else pretending not to. I honestly can't remember whether the cake fell to the floor or not; memory blanks, stalled at my lack of manners in front of my ever-proper grandmother. I thought of how my mother, when very sorely tried, might utter at most a “Damn!” stretching it to two syllables in her irritation.
Last Christmas my 5 ½ year old granddaughter was watching me put on a bit of makeup as we got ready to leave her house in Atlanta and drive home.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
“Just putting on makeup.”
I saw that she meant, what special is happening that you are dressing up for?
“Oh,” I said, “I just like to look as nice as I can every day”—and realized that I was, one way or another, becoming a grandmother.
Leaving the Dollar General I had to push the door open gingerly because two ladies, one quite tiny and birdlike, the other resembling Bea Arthur as Maude, were standing just outside engaged in intense conversation, probably gossip, unaware or unconcerned that anyone might be coming through. I had to admire their blithe obliviousness.
I went on my way but was whimsically tempted to tell the driver to hold the bus for me, some years perhaps, that I’d be along in a little while.