Friday, March 31, 2017

Shut up and Blog Challenge, Day 6: The Mysterious Cemetery.

Day six and I'm still blogging strong! I think I'm getting addicted to this blogging thing. Where else do I have free reign to talk all I want? Well for tonight, I'm going to share with you one of my stories I wrote for my creative writing class. The assignment was to write about an event that happened to me as a child. My adventures on Homochitto street immediately came to mind. I hope you enjoy it. I even made a little picture to go with it. Yup, I got some skills. Please comment and let me know what you think of the story. 

Growing up in Oklahoma, the highlight of each year, was our visit to my Aunt Nadine and Uncle J.B.’s house during the summer in Vidalia, Louisiana. Mama, a single mother who worked as a waitress in a local cafĂ© saved her meager tips all year for our weeklong trip to Louisiana.

Most mornings during our visit, we would make the short journey across the large bridge that spanned the Mississippi River from Vidalia to Natchez Mississipi. Natchez was rich in history and antebellum architecture and steeped in the spirits of the past, both real and imagined. Aunt Nadine and Uncle J.B. were the consummate tour guides and from my place in the back seat of their car, I loved hearing their tales of the latest scandals occurring in that old town.

This was a trip mom and I usually made by ourselves, but in 1971, when I was eight, my Aunt Edith came along. My Uncle Otis Jr. had passed away unexpectedly with a massive heart attack six months earlier and Aunt Edith was still adjusting to being without the one man she had ever loved in her life. Though she was her sister-in-law, Mama loved her like a sister and whenever they were together, their laughter filled every available space.

Aunt Edith was mama’s perfect road tripping companion because she let mom take the lead and she was a willing participant in whatever adventure Mama got us up to. Usually, Aunt Nadine and Uncle J.B. accompanied us on our jaunts across the river but this trip, but Aunt Nadine was caring for some elderly friends and seeing mom had a companion, was inclined to let us go out on our own.

One evening, filled with one of the large dinner’s that Aunt Nadine treated us to each night, we crossed the bridge and took a drive through Natchez.  As we got off the bridge, Mama took a left turn and began winding her way through the historic part of Natchez near the cliffs that overlooked the river. The air was moist and heavily spiced with the stench of the town’s paper mill chugging its smoke into the sky. Though Mama and Aunt Edith commented on the stink, I loved it because it reminded me of summers we had spent there before.  In the front seat, Mama and Aunt Edith were chuckling and snorting as usual and I leaned my head against the window and watched the beautiful old homes slide past my view.  We ventured deeper into Natchez and down a road Aunt Nadine and Uncle J.B. had never taken us to on their tours of the city. Lost in my thoughts, I heard Aunt Edith exclaim, “What’s that!”
I looked up in time to see her pointing at some trees. Mama immediately slowed down. Wedged into a grassy incline were six cement steps leading upward from the cracked sidewalk that ran along the roadside. On a grassy knoll beyond the steps appeared to be an iron gate.
“Let’s go check it out!” said Mama. I was alert now and anticipating an adventure. Mama drove a half a block down the road to an old convenience store and parked the car. At the corner was a road sign. 
“Homochitto Street.” Aunt Edith said. “What a funny name.”
“Sounds like Homashitty Street!” Mama giggled.
We crossed the street and walked on the sidewalk. Dense foliage draped in Spanish Moss shaded us from the evening sun. Earlier, we had passed a few mansions that called Homochitto Street home. The tall iron fences surrounding the estates shielded the occupants from the poverty that could be seen in the surrounding area. On our walk, we passed a dark alley lined with tiny, dilapidated wooden shacks that faced the knoll that was our destination. A few of the inhabitants sat on their tiny front porches and watched our excited gait with curiosity.
 “There they are! Those are the steps we saw!” I said. Excited, we increased our pace and bounded up the steps. When we reached the sixth step, we continue our ascent up the grassy incline beyond.  At the top, our eyes feasted upon the tall iron gates and fence that we had briefly glimpsed between the thick greenery during our evening drive. The rusty iron padlock that barred our entrance did little to dampen our excitement. 
“Wow!” Aunt Edith said.
“Look at this. It’s a cemetery!” Mama said
We pressed our faces between the gaps in the bars and our eyes squinted to see inside the iron enclave. In that moment, I felt special, like an explorer who had discovered a secret place hidden and long forgotten. In the middle of this walled plot was an enormous gnarled tree whose branches resembled a brown hand sitting palm up atop a tall, crooked and deeply rooted stump. The “knuckles” of the branches brushed the ground around the trunk and surrounding this spectacle of nature were ornately carved headstones. Their once elegant, intricately engraved exteriors were weathered. Some were slightly askew in the moist earth while others rested upon their sides, victims of time and gravity.
“Mabel, who you think this belongs to?” Aunt Edith asked.
“Hmmm…looks like some rich people’s family cemetery.” Mama guessed.  
We squinted into the shadows made by the large tree to discover what was inscribed on the stones as if they had the answers we were seeking.
“1848! That’s before the Civil War!” Mama said reading a headstone. “Look! All those last names are the same but I can’t quite make them out. It’s definitely a family plot.”
“But where’s the house?” Aunt Edith asked.
We looked around and then back through the iron bars to see what lay beyond the brick wall at the back of the cemetery. We expected to see a rooftop beyond the wall but there were only thick trees. 
“Maybe it burned down like that big house Aunt Nadine showed us last summer,” I said, remembering the tall fluted columns shrouded in thick morning fog that had been the only evidence that a house had once stood there. “Windsor!” I said suddenly remembering the name.
“Could be.” Mama agreed. She looked back the way we had come. “Let’s go ask that old man sitting on his porch in the alley over there.”
Aunt Edith though adventurous, was more cautious than Mama. “This isn’t the best neighborhood Mabel. You think it is safe to go talking to strangers?” she said.
“It will be fine,” Mama said and started down the hill.
The shacks in the alley faced the cemetery and as we approached, an old man sitting on his porch smoked a cigarette and watched us. We stepped into the darkened alley and Mama called, waving her hand. “Excuse me, sir!” My grandma used to say Mama had never met a stranger and she was right.  “Could you tell us something about that old cemetery over there?” Mama said.
The man stood up as we neared and gave us a nod and a friendly smile.His hair was grizzled and his brown face was weathered with deep lines and a shadow of gray stubble.  “Once belonged to a rich family that owned all the land ‘round here.”  He gestured animatedly.  “My daddy worked for ‘em when he was a boy. They all gone now.” He scratched his chin and said, “Can’t remember their names. Used to know but I’m old now. Things got fuzzy.”  He chuckled revealing several gaps in his teeth. Mama thanked him for talking to us and we took one last look through the gates before walking back to our car in the fading sunset.
When we drove back across the river to Vidalia and Aunt Nadine and Uncle J.B.’s comfortable brick home, Aunt Nadine fed us thick slices of her Texas sheet cake with cold glasses of milk. Between delicious bits of rich chocolate cake, Mama regaled Aunt Nadine with our unexpected adventure on Homochitto Street.
Hands on her hips, Aunt Nadine exclaimed, “You did what!” She was six years older than Mama and much more cautious. She was also clearly appalled. “You went walking along Homochitto Street by yourselves? There was a robbery and a shooting at a store not far from there last week! You could have been killed! J.B. did you hear this nonsense?” Aunt Nadine yelled toward the living room. I heard Uncle J.B. chuckle briefly and continue watching television from his comfortable recliner. Nothing much ever ruffled Uncle J.B.  
Oh, Nadine. We were never in any danger!” Though Mama mocked Aunt Nadine, I noticed she didn’t mention our talk with the gentleman in the alley. Every summer after that, Aunt Nadine would mention our misadventure on “dangerous Homochitto Street”, but we didn’t care. No trip to Natchez was complete without at least one drive by that mysterious cemetery.