Thursday, April 15, 2010


Carlisle Emerson wrote for the paper. It defined her. She walked with a different walk than she would have if she’d just been Jimmy Frank’s wife, or Breedlove’s mother.

She was presumed to know more than she did, to have inside info on things that had happened or things that were gonna happen. She was thought of in a special way, somehow, for her inside track on social doin’s, on who just got out of the hospital or who had walked quietly out of jail on the hushhush on account of their friendship with Sheriff Cope Samuels.

And she was given a lot of credit for talents and knowledge she didn’t possess---her being able to put verb to subject and name twelve kinds of wedding-dress lace and nine ways to describe the same old church altar with the same old brass “accoutrements”---well, those just gave her a bit too much credit in other areas, such as life. But still, somehow, people looked up to her, just for her tiny bit of local fame---she got calls all the time, requesting a recipe, help with wording a letter, asking etiquette and even travel questions, because, you know, "She writes for the PAPER."

She was a quite attractive woman, with a short, shiny Hamillbob, WAY after Hamill had retired hers. Carlisle’s wonderful laugh, the not-obnoxious way she chewed her Doublemint, the way her two eyeteeth sat just a LITTLE way sidewise to her cuspids, giving her smile just enough of that charming little oddity which renders certain people almost magnetic---these all added to the charm of her presence.

She had a way of pausing in mid-snap, grinning in the levity of the moment, gleaming at you with an open-faced acceptance and eager look, giving you her full attention.

She wore pastels---pretty pantsuits from Goldsmith’s with pale, matching shells and her gold chain of 10 mm. gold balls, which Jimmy Frank always remembered to add to on special holidays and anniversaries, and her scent was always of mint, good shampoo, and just the teensiest hint of Royal Secret. She could be seen often in her garden, crisp-ironed shirt tucked into even crisper-creased shorts, hoeing and tending her roses just as she looked after the butterbeans and cucumber vines. She had calluses on her palms from gardenwork, and the beginnings of tiny fingerpad ones from typing on the same old Olivetti which she had lugged off to Ole Miss the day she left home for Freshman Rush.

Her Mama was in Golden Years, on the second floor---the one with keys for the elevator and windows with little grates on them; old Mrs. Breedlove thought she was nine again, and regularly tried to scoot out her window at night, to head for the long-demolished treehouse where she and her friends used to sneak off to polish their nails, tell long, complicated love stories featuring themselves and whichever movie star caught their fancy of the moment, and pretend to smoke, finger-waving Leo sticks and blowing airily skyward as their Mamas did. Once in a while one of the girls would sneak a cig from her Mama’s flip-up case, and they’d pass it around unlit, sucking in the acrid dry brown taste of a Kent or the cool throat-tingle of a Salem.

Mrs. B. had loved nicotine, any kind, any form, from the first drag on the first ratty old Camel she’d had the nerve to filch from her Grandpa’s couch-stash. She smoked, she put a little dip of Garrett between cheek and gum, and in her Grandpa's last days, long after she'd married and had Carlisle and her two sisters, she'd join Grandpa in a chaw of Red-Man now and then, after his emphysema got so bad he had to quit the Camels. She DID draw the line at spitting into the coffeecan, though---she wouldn't even touch it. She’d get up from talking to him, go into the bathroom, spit, flush, wash her hands, and return.

And her attempts on the window of her room had nothing to do with real escape or even her Alzheimer’s. When she was nine, she’d SMOKED, and she STILL wanted one, Dammit. And the wanting did not wane; her greedy-need sent her to that window in her gown every night, knowing that her friends were out there in the tree already, but there was no escape from either the craving or the Home.
She'd forgotten a lot of things: her preacher, her neighbors, quite a few relatives, her address. But she NEVER forgot Nicotine---she had gobbled it in every form for a great percentage of her life---great hungry drags on Camels, Kents, Marlboros; the trusty-dust of that capillary hit from the snuff in her cheek, the urge to swallow the addictive, copious juice of the hunk of RedMan in her mouth. She'd had the dubious reputation in high school of being the only girl who could inhale the smoke from a cigar, and if she could have made a pot of tea out of tobacco, she'd have drunk it right down.


  1. God Bless Mrs Breedlove! Rachel, I only wish I had the talent with my camera that you have with words! You must promise me a signed first edition should you ever decide to organize your glorious stories into a book (I'll be first in line to purchase numerous copies).

  2. Kathy,

    HON!! I'd deliver it to your DOOR!! And to everybody else's who wants one. I cannot imagine having the pages in my hands. Thank you for the Kind, Kind words.

    And KA,

    I always enjoy your comments! :)

  3. I wish I could visit Miz Breedlove. I'd bring a pack of Marlboros and we could sit and smoke and read Photoplay magazines and gossip and giggle! It would be like a sick day with my Bomo. Bless her heart.