There has been a lot of tragedy in my family lately, and, as with any Southern family, when that happens, there have been a lot of eternal gatherings where we eat mass quantities of fried things, and talk about the dead as though they were in the next room. If we didn't do this, most of our time would be spent crying and hiding from each other. And this is no time for us to lose our sense of belonging. Stories are what bring families together, and lack of stories is how you drift apart. So, we were telling stories...
My Aunt Judy (who was killed in a car wreck in October of 2001) and my mother were very close. My mother, being the older sister, in fact, the oldest with her faculties (I have one aunt who is actually certifiably insane, but that is another story), was often responsible for all of the younger children. This is something that seems to be a pattern in her (and mine, as well) life. At any rate, my mom was responsible for cooking and making sure that the younger children looked respectable when going to school and church.
"We were always too poor for new dresses every school year," said my mom, "and going to the farmer's market with PaPa (pronounced Paw-Paw) was a huge treat. Judy and I would spend hours trying to find the perfect sack of potatoes. And then, it would take maybe an hour longer to find another sack to match it. See, the sacks were made of patterned coarse cotton, each pattern different and totally reusable, as the company or farm logo was sewn on with removable stitches. They tried to provide patterns that were attractive to the eye, and that would make good clothing. I believe the farmers who had to sack their potatoes and chicken feed must have been just as poor as us."
"One year, I believe it was Judy's first year in Junior High school, she was particularly interested in finding a blue sack to go with her eyes, as she had found her first beau, and he told her often how beautiful her eyes were. We searched and searched, and couldn't find anything in blue except for an obviously man's shirt cloth. Judy was so disappointed, and when your PaPa saw the tears standing in her wide blue eyes, he determined that the potatoes at the market were not looking so good that day."
"Now I promise you, that we were so poor that Judy nor I would ever suggest that the cloth that was there was not good enough. She was just going to search until she found something that would just 'do'. But since the potatoes were looking poorly, PaPa loaded us up into the truck, and we drove fifteen miles to Opelousas (from Eunice, Louisiana) to go to the supermarket to look for potatoes that would do.
"When we arrived at the market, the first thing we saw were stacks upon stacks of potatoes, arranged by color of the sack, and then by size/type of potato! There was also chicken feed and seed corn arranged the same way, with the same patterns! Judy found her perfect colored sack; a deep, rich blue with darker blue paisley swirls; and PaPa bought THREE, which was unheard of, since we could barely afford two. He had already purchased seed corn at the farmer's market, so we spent a great deal that day."
"Our late arrival home was quickly explained to my Momma by PaPa telling her that the potatoes at the market were mealy. MaMa understood. I made up a skirt and jacket for Judy the next day, and we had enough cloth left over to make her matching barrettes, and to cover her dress shoes! She was so excited, I think she wore that jacket to bed! I'll never forget seeing her, all dressed up in blue, she was just beautiful. You know, we ate potatoes every meal for a month, but no one ever said anything about it", my mom finished softly.
By the time that Momma has finished telling this story, everyone is quiet and remembering Judy a little bit differently than they had before her monologue. You know, that skirt and jacket are hanging in my closet right now, a second-hand gift from her when I was starting high school. I never knew.