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THE LAUNDRY LIST

Juanita Steve: Part Hannibal Lecter, Part Scarlett O'Hara

LeAnn Stephenson


A couple of Februarys ago I informed da Hubbs and my babes, Olivia and Noah, that I enjoyed writing.  "I am going to write a book," I declared, one evening.  I was going to become an author.

Where this curious notion came from remains a mystery to me.  However, It might have something or another to do with my recent inability to maintain a stable body temperature or read anything written in a typeface smaller than billboard sized letters.  I guess, I figured, "I'm in my mid forties, it's time to be reflective and share some wisdom."  There's that, and the feeling that everyone in the world doesn't "get me," that my dear husband should just up and die out of sheer stupidity and that, though I hate to admit this, I may have lost my sense of humor for good.  I fear daily that I am transforming into a terrifying hybrid of Hannibal Lecter and Scarlett O'Hara.  I'll rip your heart out and eat it with some fava beans and a nice chianti, but I'll proceed with the back of my hand firmly pressed against my forehead like a full-blown diva. Presently, like Miss O'Hara, I'm trying to get through each day the best I can and remember that, "Tomorrow is another day."  Remembering where and what I came from and writing it down helps soothe my alternating brooding and surly temperament.

I thought I would share a little bit of what I've been working on.  I hope you enjoy this little excerpt.  I'm almost finished with the rough draft of the book and I welcome your thoughts and encouragement!

So, here goes . . . .

The Seminal Idea

This is a chronicle of one woman's life, the fat girl she never was, the hardships she never endured, the opportunities she wasted, the evil she never encountered.  Juanita Steve is the reluctant participant in a life that she wants to fall deeply in love with - unfortunately, it just wants to be "friends."

PROLOGUE

There is in the state of Texas, north of the Hill Country and east of Big Bend, a medium-sized town called Abilene. If you were to have looked in the white pages of a local phone book, one published around, say, the early to mid-seventies, you'd find a listing that shares a telephone number with two other listings.  A generation ago, the population of 1217 Beechwood St. consisted of one grandmother, three mothers, five daughters, two sons, two aunts, five sisters, one brother, five cousins, one flying Gold Fish, a squawky Budgie parakeet and one extremely anti-social alley cat.  And, if you've done the math, you are right in assuming that the true occupancy of said address, while still quite high, didn't quite equal twenty-four actual bodies. One person held many positions in the family - a mother whose adult daughters had children of their own, as well as sisters who were aunts to the others' children, for example.

I got to hold several positions in that family tree, I was a granddaughter slash daughter slash sister slash cousin slash niece. All of us came together shortly after the husband slash father slash son-in-law slash brother-in-law slash uncle slash sorry-son-of-a-bitch named Steve, took himself away.  The year was 1971, and the distance from 1217 Beechwood Street to our former, less populated house, was roughly the distance an Olympic athlete might have to fling himself to set the National Long Jump record.  But, it was far enough away to feel like a fresh start for my mom, Josie, my older sister, Avon, my brother, P.Q., my little sister, Jane and me.

At the end of Beechwood Street, which to my knowledge had no actual Beech trees growing on it, was Calvary Baptist Church.  This was our church and the place where my older sister and brother found Jesus.  To be honest, the only thing my little kid brain could do with that information was to ask, "Where had Jesus been? . . . . and wonder out loud, " Why hadn't he called someone to let them know he might be late or something?" . . . . because,  apparently people were worried and looking for him.  I was always misunderstanding the significance of phrases like that.  I also thought they were saying the Verg and Mary.  This spurred questions like, "Who's this Verg guy?  And what were his intentions concerning Mary?"  I remember thinking that maybe that was the name of the angel who came to tell Mary that she was going to carry the son of God.  My Sunday school teacher, Mrs. Edwards, was the first person to tell me the whole story from start to finish about the Virgin Mary and the day she got the news.  I remember telling Mrs. Ed, that I would have told that angel, 'No thank you, and walked off to find my mother as quickly as possible."   I had been taught that this was an appropriate response to strangers passing out candy, why wouldn't it have work on angels passing out babies?

My pastor, Jerry Poteet, continued the theme in my life of one person taking on many different roles. He and his wife Carolyn were not only the leaders of our congregation, they had their own histories with my mother and my aunt.   The result of these relationships, gave Jerry and Carolyn dual citizen ship in my world,  they were my own personal  "adult friends", while also being the parents to my own personal "kid friends." They had  three children Karen, Randy and Jennie.  Jennie, their youngest, was my age and we had been classmates at an Episcopal school in kindergarten.  She, my little sister, Jane and I were friends and played well together when her parents came together with our family at  each others homes, at church picnics, or at vacation Bible school in the summers.    My aunt, Audy, had been roommates with Carolyn at Texas Women's University in Denton, Texas, just North of Dallas.  My mom was an alumnus of TWU as well, and was very fond of Carolyn, her mother, and her younger sister. 

Two traffic lights up from our Beechwood house on a street called Mockingbird, was a little strip shopping center with an M System grocery store, and a TG&Y nickel and dime store.  On the West side of the street across from the shopping center sat a dress shop called Estes Fashions and to its left was my Episcopal school.  This little Bermuda triangle of retail and education was one of my most favorite places to be in the world.  Mostly because, anytime we were in that area we, my little sister, cousin and I,  would be given permission to buy anything we wanted provided we stayed within our given budget of 25 or 50 cents.  The dress shop held rack after rack of beautiful Easter-type dresses.  I got to own 2 of those dresses in my life - one of the frocks was a pastel-y number that had a floral sheath dress that came just above my knee that had a light weight, lilac linen coat of equal length that went with it.  The second dress had a navy and white geometric design on a full skirt that was attached to a crisp white cotton blouse that had ruffles down the middle and pouffy white sleeve that buttoned just above were my arm bent.  The best part of the dress was its extra wide crimson red sash that tied in the back in a huge "Snow-White-like bow"  - I felt like Jackie O in the first and like a fairly tale in the second - the first was my Easter dress and the second I wore to my aunt's wedding.  I held my Episcopal school in high regard, not because of the wonderful education that I received there, but because they supplied me with Graham crackers and cartons of chocolate milk 5 days a week.    

Taylor County was dry which meant that if a person wanted a drink he needed a club membership or had to travel to Coleman County to quench his thirst.  This was not much of a concern in my family, though, because from what I understood, drinking alcohol was evil and was to be avoided.

It seemed to me that everyone in Abilene believed in God.  They just disagreed on who he loved the most - Baptists, Church of Christs, Episcopals  or Methodists.  For its population, Abilene was overflowing with religious institutions, churches, and religiously affiliated colleges.  As I grew older and became more aware of how people interacted socially, I started noticing that evidently most of its citizens that I had met found comfort in the fact that anyone who held an opposing view of family, religion, or politics than they, were headed straight for hell.  I remember being fascinated and a little sick to my stomach by the way other adults interacted with my own personal adults.  It seemed to me that these people had perfected the art of saying nothing in a way that left practically nothing unsaid.  But, that didn't stop me from remembering Abilene and it's inhabitants as warm and friendly.

I will always love Abilene, some of my most favorite memories happened in those few years that we lived in that house at 1217 Beechwood Street.  So much so, that thirty-eight  years later, I still long for just a few more moments with my grandmother, aunt, cousin, mom, sisters and brother in that place.  This time, in retrospect, was probably looked upon as "the dark years" by my newly divorced mom and aunt, both of whom were responsible for caring and providing for their respective children and their mother on a couple of very small teacher's salaries, and both without the benefit of any child support from their ex spouses.  But, if that were their mind sets, I was blissfully unaware.

The stories that follow are about a little girl, who got to be born in 1965 into a family of exceptional women.  It's a memoir, a swell and an exhale of appreciativeness and a way of returning to those moments that formed who I am.  Some of my beloved family members are no longer living;   I cannot speak for how my siblings, cousin, aunt, grandmother or mom  felt about this town,  our house or our time together.   I'm not entirely sure if they would recall this particular time in our lives as a happy one.  I'm sure they have their own versions. 

This is mine.

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