My fondest memories of my earliest years in Pipe Shop are all laced with the sounds and smells of summer. After a year of walking to school and standing in lunch lines behind moldy-headed boys with runny noses and girls whose socks always scooted down, like mine, to expose an ashy heel, the summer's images are light and breezy, filled with roisterous sunsplashed days and scented with honeysuckle so strong it burned your nostrils. We romped and somersaulted up and down Eighteenth Street, which stretched from Miss Evangeline's, our next-door neighbor's house, to Valley Creek, where we fished for crawdads. We lay spread-eagled on the grass or did headstands in someone's yard, our legs gaped open wide to receive the warm rays of the sun--that is, until some woman passed and said, "Get up from there. That ain't nothing for a nice girl to be doing."

We made treks to Blankenship's, one of two white-owned Mom and Pop businesses. I see the rusted thermometer, advertising Coca-Cola, just outside the door. See the giant plastic red-lidded jars that crowded the vinyl-topped counter of the one-roomed store. See my comfort on those hot and humid Alabama afternoons--Tom's potato chips, Big Moon cookies, and stage planks, the large gingerbread squares with pink frosting scalloped on the edges. If I had gotten a nickel or dime or quarter for running errands in the course of a day, I tore into Blankenship's, the bell overhead clanging as I burst through the door. And without even drawing breath, I asked for a nickel's worth of jawbreakers and two-for-a-penny cookies.

On a good day, I had a quarter that some adult had given me for an end-of-year report card sprinkled with A's or for a "recitation" at church, or for running an especially long and challenging errand. Then I would ask for two oatmeal cookies and a cup of strawberry ice cream sold in waxed cups printed with blimpy snowmen wearing stove pipe hats. The days of quarters were quite rare, for more often than not, I had to run an errand for Miss Lillian Butler, known by every child on the block as the "stingiest woman in all of Pipe Shop." Even if you walked all the way to Walgreen's in downtown Bessemer to pick up her high blood pressure medicine, she still only wanted to pay you a dime. After a time, I was about the only child in all of Pipe Shop who would run errands for her, she was so cheap. The trips to Walgreen's were generally only once a month, so I could bear the hop across the street to Blakenship's for her daily order: a Goody headache powder and an eight-ounce bottle of Coke. Always impatient to see the sum of my reward, I shifted from one foot to the other, waiting for her to retrieve from her bosom the sweat-stained handkerchief in which she wrapped her "small change," as she put it. In those seconds from bosom to lap to opened handkerchief, I planned my goodies in my head. Sometimes Mr. Blakenship would say, "Too many cookies will rot your teeth," but I never paid him any mind. Clutching the tiny grease-stained brown paper bag in my hand, I looked left and right for rushing cars, then prepared my bare feet for the sprint back home on the blistering pavement.


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