Monday, March 19, 2012
I Am My Daddy's Little Girl
I am my daddy's little girl. Fourteen years span the oldest brother's birth and mine; three brothers between us, the youngest male five years older than myself. Mama somehow partially herniated a disc in her neck during labor with Favorite Child. If it had been entirely up to her, I'm not sure I would be here today, but Daddy wanted a daughter to go along with those four sons. So here I am.
Daddy named me Mary Sharlene. Mary, he said, because surely a girl couldn't go all wrong being named after the mother of Jesus. It's a family name, too, the Mary McLeods in his genealogy too numerous to count. Sharlene is a combination of Mama and Daddy's middle names: Claudene + Sharp = Sharlene.
Just like Mama was sure all her sons could cook, launder and iron clothes, clean, and sew on a button, Daddy made sure I was adept at most of the traditionally male tasks. During the years of actively being his daughter I came to know how to look for earthworm castings to know where to dig for bait; measure, cut, clean and glue PVC pipe; put on traditional shingle roofing; staple ceiling tile; strip, stain, and paint furniture; hang, tape and float sheet rock; and plant and tend a garden. Mama will tell you Daddy didn't know much about gardening when they were first married but he took to it quick. Daddy's garden was always fine.
It had been unusually warm weather this time of March, thirty years ago, and the garden was put in extra early although the last cool spell of February had us hustling to make newspaper caps for the seedlings - none were lost to frost. Mama's careful saving of the almost-infinitely-useful newspaper assured the tender plants life. Thirty years ago I had worked side by side with Daddy the entire Saturday in the garden, tying up the tomatoes, laying the corn by, and putting a little more fertilizer to the potatoes and hilling them up one last time. Daddy and I had been on the outs with each other for a solid year or so, me having developed the almost-independent voice and opinion of the almost adult and almost independent. We knew we loved each other, though,and that our alone-together time was memorable, whether running trot lines on the river or painting or working in the garden.
Daddy had asked for my help. I was glad to that Saturday. The hot March sun exaggerated the contrast between the green hues of the living garden, the dark of the soil, the blue of the sky. We laughed and worked and enjoyed the labor of our hands. When the tiller was finally put away we smelled of sweat and two-stroke motor exhaust, granny beads in ever crook and crease of skin.
Mama had cooked a big supper. I remember the first of the scratched new potatoes in milk gravy and cornbread. There was always cornbread for Daddy (cornbread and buttermilk with a generous shake of black pepper was his favorite Sunday-night-after-church meal). The meal was consumed, dishes washed,and bodies bathed. I wanted to go to town loafing for a while. Daddy was in his recliner. "That was good work today, we'll be eating corn in another few weeks," he said, having given me permission to go juking. I leaned over and gave him a kiss on his forehead. "Have a good time tonight, Sugar. I love you." "I will, Daddy. I love you too."
I was home and in bed when Daddy died of a massive heart attack in his sleep a little after two that Sunday morning following our day together in the garden.
It's been thirty years, come March 22nd. I am still my daddy's little girl.