I have stated on several occasions that I grew up in a ’68 model 15 x 50 single wide trailer with no heat and no central air conditioning. This is not completely accurate. I spent my most memorable and formative years, until I finished college, in the aforementioned dwelling that Mama and I lovingly referred to as “The Little Barn.” Strictly speaking, however, my earliest home was a 1970 model 15 x 50 single wide trailer WITH heat, but still no central air. We lived there from the time I was brought home from the hospital until I was 8. Then we moved into a double wide and then we began what I’ve always referred to as mine and Mama’s “Nomadic Period.”
For today, though, I’m concerned with that first trailer and my early childhood. When I was small (well, small being relative. I’ve always been on the plus size side) I enjoyed three things above all else: eating Purina Puppy Chow Puppy Food, “painting” on the inside of the cabinet doors with Mama’s cosmetics, and climbing. This particular incident involves the latter two pastimes.
I spent hours with Mama’s late ’60s version of a Caboodle laid out in front of me using her eye shadow make up as pastel paints and her rouge brushes as my paint brush. This being the early ’70s, my palette ran to the vibrant blues and pastel browns common on the eyelids of women in those days. Mama wasn’t extremely happy with the way I tended to use up her stuff, but it wasn’t terribly destructive and in my pre-literate days, it was the best way to keep me quiet short of Sesame Street and Mama didn’t like me watching much TV.
One particular color, unfortunately, was always off limits to me and, consequently, NEVER left within my chubby little hand’s reach. I’m speaking of Mama’s orange lipstick. This was one of those colors that ONLY came out in the ’70s (thank God) and has never been seen since (ibid). Now when I say it was orange, I don’t mean burnt orange or Tennessee orange or even my beloved Clemson orange. This was closer to International Hunter’s DayGlo Orange.
It was bright.
I was totally fascinated with the dazzling hue and the smooth oily consistency and Mama, knowing this, kept the verboten lipstick tube in her pocketbook (“purse” for the yankees in the crowd) into which I was forbidden to reach on pain of my life . . . at least that’s what she told me and, though she’d never raised a hand to me in anger, I wasn’t interested in pressing my youthful luck.
But it sure was bright orange.
So, on the fateful day in question, Mama and I had lain down for a nap in the “cool room” — our name for the master bedroom where the sole window unit A/C was located to help Daddy sleep when he came home from 3rd shift at the glass plant. This day, however, Daddy was working 2nd shift and wouldn’t be home for quite a while.
Under these conditions, something Mama never expected happened. She slept longer than I did. Mama ALWAYS woke up before me.
Now I tottered down the hall, closing the bedroom door behind me to conserve the coolness for Mama, and made my way to the kitchen. As God is my witness, my only intention when I got up was to get my glass of Bosco laced milk from the fridge and finish drinking it as I sat at the table thumbing through my Little Golden Book copy of “The Pokey Little Puppy.” That’s how it all started, until I saw Mama’s pocketbook sitting OPEN on the table.
Now I’d like to say I wrestled with my conscience and did the whole angel / devil on the shoulder spiel, but I’d be grossly misrepresenting myself. I was too young for such moral quandaries. I simply looked down the hall to make sure Mama was still in the bedroom before reaching in and snatching out THE ORANGE LIPSTICK TUBE!!
Man, it was ORANGE.
Well, this was way too special an occasion for just painting on a cabinet door. Nope, this required a canvas as close to the Sistine Chapel ceiling as could be found in rural Upstate South Carolina in the early ’70s. I chose to make a mural.
Did I mention the lipstick was orange AND I loved to climb?
Nebulous plan in head and lipstick in hand, I went to the kitchen sink at the farthest end of the house and clambered up onto the counter. Then, I uncapped my ill-gotten booty and, reaching as far as my chubby little legs could push up my chubby little arms, I drew an orange line from the ceiling down the middle of the wall between the two small windows. Then, I ran the line across the sink’s middle divider, across the countertop, and, jumping down, straight down the center of the sink cabinet.
I was so pleased with the beautiful orange line that I decided to extend it, so, dropping to my knees, I crawled backwards across the kitchen linoleum leaving a flourescent trail in my wake. I was careful not to bear down too hard because I wanted the color to last and so far, I was doing quite well.
From the kitchen, my orange lipstick and I extended our line across the dining room linoleum and stopped at the edge of the living room. Had I stopped at that point, things might have been different, but I looked behind me and there lay a vast, virgin floor of genuine 1970s vintage Powder Blue Extra Long Shag Carpet.
I felt the blue could use an accent color, and so the line ran on. I made a nice curlicues in the middle of the floor and, never picking up my color, zigzagged my way to the hall. I was halfway down the hall making lovely swirly orange shapes when I heard the bedroom door open.
Mama isn’t her best when she first wakes up. Never has been.
Now I should point out that neither Mama nor Daddy has ever spanked me despite my needing it more than once. I have my Granny Wham to thank for a lot of that. Today, though, it was Granny Wham’s sister, my Aunt Mary, who was my savior. Aunt Mary lived a football field away from us and kept her doors and windows closed against the heat.
She still heard every word Mama said clearly as a bell in cool mountain air.
She hurried out to the house and found me in the floor at Mama’s feet, orange lipstick in hand, and Mama’s face rapidly turning to match that shade. It didn’t take Aunt Mary long to size up the situation, especially after she noted the bright orange highway running from the kitchen ceiling to where I sat.
She rushed in and scooped me up saying, “Um, Lawana, hon, why don’t I take Shannon out to the house and feed him supper while you work on this? I’ll bring him back when Frankie gets home.” Because of Aunt Mary’s quick action (may God rest her soul) I am still here with you today.
That carpet was Mama’s favorite thing about the entire trailer. She worked for a week trying to leech the orange from the powder blue fibers with no success. A month later, she made Daddy rip the whole thing up and put linoleum throughout the entire house.
Even then, though, Mama knew a day would come when she’d miss that orange stripe so somewhere in one of her keepsake boxes is a hand sized square of Powder Blue Extra Long Shag carpet with a blaze orange stripe right down the middle and from that day to the day I left home, Mama never slept longer than me again.
Love y’all and keep those feet clean!