Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal

Table Manners

Suzanne Brunson


I’ve always been old. Have never felt young, not the least bit. I probably miss out on a lot of laughs. I listen to the other kids get tickled and I might smile occasionally, but no belly laughs. I am so old that I spend hours lying on my bed, staring at the ceiling. When you’re young, you can do that. These are moments when my mind can stop. It is my hiding place. It doesn’t take much to make you old. One small event and then you can’t go back. It happens so fast that it is only when you think back that it all makes sense. Now going to a secret place in one’s head is not a negative thing. It can be very comforting, like my mom’s quilts, the more, the better.

Uncle Geezer, who has a very poor respiratory system and thus announces his entrance into any room with a long series of mucus filled coughs and gasps that would rival anything heard in a tuberculosis ward, if there were still any around these parts anyway; well, as I was saying, Uncle Geezer was the cause of my early entrance into solitary brooding. He’d always try to tickle me, even when I screamed and yelled for him to stop, while definitely not laughing, which should have told him to stop, anyway, if he’d ever pay attention to the world around him. But, he never,ever did, pay attention, and that was what started all the ruckus. Geezer was known to be a real Casanova in our little town, even after the hacking started, caused by too many Camel cigarettes carried in the rolled up sleeve of his T-shirt when working outside. He’d tuck the pack, crumpled or full, minus the one hanging from his lip, into his breast pocket if he wore a jacket, the left breast pocket because he was right handed. Mama and Daddy never scolded him because they liked their Camels, too. Mama had quite a little cough of her own and Daddy had asthma, so we won’t go there.

So, Geezer liked the ladies, all of them. He only married when we moved far away, and so he was a permanent fixture at our house for many years, especially at mealtime. He never brought any lady friends over for us to see, but we’d hear Mama and Daddy talking about who was he seeing now and what happened to the last one because she was nice and had potential. Nobody ever said anything about Uncle Geezer’s potential. Daddy used to tease him about how he ate too fast and how fat he was getting from all my Mama’s good cooking. I’d get mad and tell any and everyone seated at the dining room table, “…no, he’s not fat. He just wears big suits.”

I could sit and watch Geezer eat fried eggs and toast, neither of which I could stand, and he would make that yellow, runny mess look tantalizing, slurping and mopping the eggs with his wilted toast. I’d sit on my knees on the big chair across from him with my elbows on the dining room table. I would end up with red marks on my elbows from the embroidered tablecloth. I’d never seen anyone enjoy their breakfast as much as he did and Daddy was right, he didn’t chew his food, just swallowed it whole.

When Mama made a rump roast on Sunday with rice and gravy and green beans, there old Geezer would be, all smiling and joking and grabbing each serving bowl with a gusto not experienced since the time of Roman orgies. Well, I think they were Roman, that is what my older sister called it when she said it under her breath while trying to get a chance at the butter plate. I don’t know why she’s always in such a big, hot hurry for the butter. We are only allowed one biscuit each anyway. I’d rather have mine with jelly but Mama says that’s why I’ll always have to watch my weight. Mama is no skinny woman by any stretch. I saw her coming out of the bathroom once with just a towel wrapped around her and I thought then, that is how I am gonna look one day and I was not pleased with that prospect; kind of worried me, actually. (Unfortunately my family had christened me Candace, Candy for short.) Now Daddy, he doesn’t have an ounce of fat on him. Guess that is why he always bugs the rest of us. Geez.

Anyway, meat was sacred and remained on the platter in front of Daddy. He would carve what he considered an appropriate amount for each of us and pass our plates around to the left. Daddy, of course, got the first slice, the outside slice with the browned side that made it look like nothing could taste any better and it had to be the best piece yet. I couldn’t say for sure cause I never got to taste it. Well, I did cut a piece off the edge of my meat once, where it was browned, and it was a bit tastier than the rest of the slice so I could see how Daddy would want that piece. Sometimes Mama would cook the beef so tender that it would fall apart on the platter and we would each get a pile of meat instead of a slice. Every once in awhile, when church ran late, it would burn all on the outside which ruined the gravy and we’d all act like it was just as good as ever, but what a disappointment that would be. Mama would also made a pear salad, a recipe I suspect she’d seen in one of her magazines. She would place two canned pear halves on a bed of iceberg lettuce; usually one of the outer leaves, which were the greenest. This would all be arranged on a salad plate and the pears would each have a dollop of mayonnaise and some grated cheese on top. I always scraped the mayonnaise off my pear.

Anyway, it was toward the end of one of these Sunday meals that Geezer began coughing and gasping. We all just continued shoveling in the pear salad, all the while hoping Geezer’s ‘episode’ would soon end. But, his coughing and gasping did not let up at all. Next thing I know, he’s face down in the gravy boat, his face all red and his hair sticking out every which way.

“Well, what is he trying to prove now?” said my mother.

Geezer was known to think he was very funny, as I said, even when he wasn’t. So this was one of those times when he should have just slurped up his dinner so he could chase us all around the house and irritate my father who would be yelling at him to stop getting us all wild before somebody got hurt or we broke something.

Anyway.

“Geezer, cut it out!” yelled my father, who always yelled everything he said, even if it was ‘please, pass the butter,’ to my sister who had been hogging it all through dinner.

Then my Daddy started to stand up, but sat down. Then my Mama stood up, and then she sat down. My sister and me, we just kept eating.

Then my Daddy did something he never ever does. He jumped out of his chair and knocked it to the floor. He leaped across the table, well, it was more like a belly buster dive, and landed square in front of old Geezer. He knocked the gravy boat onto the floor, where it broke into a thousand pieces, slopping gravy all over everything. Daddy had rice in his hair and mayonnaise, too. The butter dish was flat underneath him.

Now my mother is laughing her head off and so am I. My sister is rolling her eyes, which is all she ever does anyway. Daddy is wiping gravy off Geezer’s face and is slapping him while he tries to get up out of the butter and is trying to make his legs work right but they are just jerking back and forth like a frog. He finally does a roll off the table, headed right for me because I am sitting between them and he is pushing Geezer off his chair. We all land in the gravy-soaked floor and now Daddy is pounding on his brother, yelling words which I’d never, ever heard which began with ‘son of…’ and other stuff like that. He is screaming at me to get out of the way, so I start crying because he was the one who pushed me out of my chair anyway. Mama is still laughing because it happened so fast, I guess. Who knows why anyone laughs in this family?

Next thing I know, my mother has jumped up out of her chair, which makes four of them turned over at this point and she runs around the table past Daddy and Geezer and is grabbing me and dragging me through the gravy, trying to get me away from Daddy and all the mess, I guess.

Daddy finally sort of half way stands up and then does another dive plopping both his knees onto Uncle Geezer’s chest.

I just know he’s dead and my Daddy killed him, but Geezer fooled us all. He starts gasping and gagging and then blows a half-chewed double chunk of rump roast straight up in the air. We all watch it go higher and higher and then it starts falling back to earth and now I realize it is travelling straight down toward my face and so I duck and it lands on top of my head. I’m screaming, ‘get it off, get it off!’ and Mama is laughing again.

My Daddy is yelling at her that it’s not funny and to stop laughing. Geezer finally pushes my Daddy off of his chest, and he starts cursing a blue streak. Mama lets go of me and runs to the kitchen shrieking that she is getting a towel and to hold on and she’ll clean everyone up, but we are not waiting. My sister is out of her chair, headed for her bedroom and I am trying to wipe food off my arms and the bottoms of my shoes so I can follow her. I know for a fact that two dinner plates are broken and nothing makes my Mama madder than broken dishes, especially her good china.

“Now just a minute, young ladies. You both march yourselves right back in here and help your Mama clean up the dining room,” yells my Daddy, who never misses anything.

“Ha ha,” sneers my sister, looking sideways.

“What?” I say.

“It’s my turn to wash the dishes, so YOU get to clear off the table.”

So that was the first time I ever spent a really long time just laying prone in my bed, a loose quilt pulled up over me even though I still had on all of my clothes. Well, not my dirty Sunday clothes, fresh ones that I had planned to wear on Monday but now I probably couldn’t since I’m was all crumpled up in bed and someone would surely say I looked like I slept in my clothes, which would, in this case, be the truth. Mama made me strip in the basement, by the washer, then gave me a towel to wrap up in so I could run up the two flights of stairs to the bathroom and take a bath in the middle of the day which I sincerely hope is a sign that I won’t have to take another one at bedtime. Just this once, I also don’t have to clear the dining room table. Daddy and Geezer are doing that and my sister is in the kitchen, pouting and washing what’s left of Mama’s china.

Me, I’d had enough for one day.

***

With a journalism degree from the University of Georgia in hand, Suzanne Brunson has toiled through the years as a newspaper editor, a reporter, an occasional columnist, a Vanderbilt fundraiser, a freelance writer, and is the author of one novel. She is a member of the Council for the Written Word and the Tennessee Writer’s Alliance.

© Suzanne Brunson

Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal ISSN 1554-8449, Copyright © 2004-2012