This story is based upon a recent “visitation” I’ve had. This woman came to me in a dream five nights in a row! I don’t know who she represents or what the significance of it might be but it has been a deeply emotional experience for me. I have fleshed out the story with some childhood memories and thrown in some fictional bits for color. I hope you will enjoy it.
On the “dog” – the 7am Greyhound run from New Orleans to Pensacola on US highway 90. Got on in Biloxi just below D’Iberville. Just stopped in Bayou La Batre west of Mobile for a break. Bus squeals to a short stop with a big whoosh of the air brakes being released. Driver operates door mechanism and hollers “Bayou La Batre. Ten minutes!” What a sleepy little town this is. Nothing but shrimp boats and such. Peaceful though. Had enough for a 5 cent Cheri-cola and a pack of Tom’s Peanut Butter crackers. I’m on my way to pick potatoes in Foley, Alabama, in Baldwin county for the summer. They put out more taters than all of Idaho, or so they say. Good wages for a rough life. But, what the heck, what else have I had? I’m at home in the woods and the fields. Digging taters with the Mexicans and the school kids – all equals in the rich dirt of the land. Movin’ along now at a top speed of about 45 miles an hour. The air-conditioning on the bus consists of these little slits in the wall by the seat. You pull the slot back to let the air in from outside. I kinda liked the whistlin’ noise it makes and sometimes I fall asleep.
U.S. 90 goes through Mobile and picks up U.S. 98 coming down outta Hattiesburg. We’re driving down Government street now under all those Water and Live Oaks that form a canopy over the street. Brought back some sweet memories. I marched many a Mardi Gras parade with the Lucedale High School band. We always bragged to our friends about it being 7 miles long, way out and back down Dauphin Street to Bienville Square, but I think it was probably more like 4 miles. Nothin’ like teen hormones and egos to stretch a tale! Mobile is bustling. The war is over and things are happening all over. Brookley Air Force Base is booming. I may try to hire on there some day. Coming out from under the oak bowery now and into downtown by the water front. I love Mobile with its wrought iron balconies and pretty parks. Reminds me a lot of New Orleans – that forbidden city I love so much. We stop for half an hour at the yellow brick Greyhound station on the southwest corner of South Conception and Government Boulevard. It’s a thriving scene and lots going on. When I was a kid, I always thought that being the announcer would have to be the coolest and most important job of all – “Now boarding, Gate Two, for Dallas and San Francisco!”
Heading out again. Down deep into the Bankhead tunnel. Pretty new. Just built it in 1941. Before that, you had to go over a steel cantilever bridge way to the north side of the city in a place called Africa Town. Way up high with a middle section that lifted up for ships to come through. Been over it a few times. Kinda scary but I liked the low hum the tires made on the metal grid. Ain’t never been in a tunnel before and it’s kinda scary too. Made me nervous, but we popped out all safe and sound on the other side of the river. The road that stretches across to Spanish Fort is called the bay causeway and it runs the seven miles over the mouth of the Mobile Delta. There are a bunch of islands and six rivers – the Mobile River which is the Alabama river come down from Montgomery, the Tensaw, Apalachee, Middle, Blakely and Spanish rivers. They built it in 1926 over the islands, rivers and low salt marshes. Somebody told me once’t that in some places they sunk cotton bales for the foundation. The salt water hardened them enough to make for a solid road bed. Before then, to get over to the eastern shore of Mobile Bay, you had to take the side-wheel bay steamers. Wish I coulda seen that.
I like looking at all the old fish camps and restaurant shacks along the way. I love to fish and I’m thinking, if I make enough this summer, I might spend a few days back here fishing for striped bass. Folks say you can’t get ‘em off your hook fast enough.
Bus stops at the Malbis restaurant at the top of the hill. They made it to look like the Alamo and it has some Texaco pumps out front. There is a whole settlement of Greek folks up the road, and they started the place. I hear tell that the food is really good. Wish I wasn’t so dang broke. Would love to get my mitts on some real food ‘bout now. Guess I’ll have to stick with soda pop and peanuts until my ship comes in. Some day. We turn right and go down the steep hill and drive through Daphne and Montrose. More oak canopies giving me a very peaceful feelin’. The little one-room post office in Montrose is supposed to be the smallest in the country. We pick up a passenger here. Woman ain’t seen a bath in forty-eleven ages. Smelt worse than an “un-slung chitlin!” Hope she ain’t fixin’ to sit by me. Bus stops in Fairhope at the bus station and driver hollers out same routine. “Fairhope – 10 minute stop!”
I get off to stretch my legs and as I walk around the corner, I run into a big commotion. A bunch of rowdy redneck bullies (Guess I am a red neck, but I ain’t a bad one) had crowded around a woman and was just a tauntin’ her. She couldn’t speak, being mute I found out later and I guess that’s why they felt she needed pickin’ on. She was a strange lookin’ woman but also had a way about her that had its own beauty. Mixed blood. Can’t remember what she’d be called – mulatto? quadroon, octaroon? Probably a quadroon – one fourth Negro and the rest somethin’ else. I wouldn’t say she was beautiful but stunning. Tall with strange green eyes and dusky skin. Something noble about her. Well, they kept on after her with insults and wouldn’t let her just walk away. “You ain’t nothin’ but a bleached out nigger,” and “what good are you dummy? Can’t talk none!”
I could tell she had to pee real bad but she couldn’t get away from ‘em. Finally she couldn’t hold it no more and let go, soakin’ her flour sack dress, trickling down her leg and making brown mud in the dust at her bare feet. The shame and humiliation on her face was more than I could bear. I ain’t no hero, but I couldn’t take it no more and went and stood up to the ring leader. This probably weren’t a good idea. He was the biggest bully and shoves me back hard and shouts out some nasty things to me that was real mean like. Couldn’t figure why he was madder than a puffed up toad ‘bout one poor woman who weren’t no threat to him. I guess some folks need to put other people down if they’re different. Afore I knowed it, the woman goes over, and with a beautiful right upper cut to the jaw, knocks the guy flat on his ass! Couldn’t believe it! I am shocked, but also scared cause there was about five of ‘em. She grabs my hand and we walk away. She couldn’t say anything but I could tell she was grateful. I kinda liked it when she squeezed my hand so hard. Didn’t want to get involved and had to get back on the bus, but I just couldn’t leave her by herself. We walk over to a diner around the corner and I spend my last quarter on coffee and donuts for us. I had just remembered ‘bout the bus when it lumbered on by, shaking the glass window of the diner as it went. Well, I think “That was dumb, what do I do now?” Had no more cash and didn’t know if they’d let me use the rest of the ticket another day or what, but this woman had got my brain tore up for some reason. She takes my hand and we walk off down the street. An ugly old Hudson Hornet almost hit us. Mighta been deliberate. I don’t know.
She leads me to a boarding house and musta knowed the lady cause the woman listens to my story and lets me have a room on the promise that I’ll pay when I can. The house lady said I didn’t have to go all the way on to Foley to pick taters as they was workin’ away out at Willie Nelson’s packing shed and they was hiring right now. She tells me to go down to Bishop’s Fish Market where they post the jobs on a cardboard sign in the window every morning.
My new friend gets a scrap of paper from the boarding house woman, and a pencil and so she could “talk” to me. I was surprised with her bein’ “deaf and dumb” that she could write. She couldn’t speak and all, but she sure weren’t dumb. Tolt me her name was “Searcy” but wouldn’t say how she managed or nuthin.’ I walk her down to her house. Guess you could call it that. It was more of a shack sitting on the edge of a gully and made outta old Alabama highway traffic signs and held together with tarpaper and stuff. She squeezes my hand and said goodbye. I guessed by now she weren’t deaf cause she seemed to understand me pretty good.
My room at the boarding house reminded me about stories I had heard when I was little. Just bare walls and a lone light bulb handing down from a single cord in the middle. Pretty sad but it sure was cozy to me. Didn’t get no sleep and tossed and turned all night thinkin’ about that damned woman. Shouldn’t say, “damned” in the same breath. There was something royal in the way she held herself. She was very nice to look at and was tall and had a thin nose. Had a scar on her left cheek that made her even more interesting. She just seemed to grow on me.
The next morning I hit the Fish Market and get on an old flat bed truck with a bunch of Mexicans and rode out Greeno Road to the packin’ shed. Got took on right away and was glad to get it. Pay was 30 cents an hour and more than people was making in town. Hard work for sure and usually lasted from early morning to past dark. Funny thing, when I get back to the rooming house, Searcy was standing there waiting on me. Didn’t know what to think, but we sit down and she writes more to me. Said she liked me. Didn’t know if that meant like a boy friend or just a friend, but I would have took it either way. I wasn’t attracted to her like man to woman but wanted to be with her. In some strange way, she makes me feel whole and sorta peaceful. Never met any woman like that cause they was usually gettin’ on my ass, or stirrin’s stuff up, or leaving me cryin’ in my beer.
One day we didn’t have work cause it was rainin’ real bad like. But there was Searcy. I took her over to Walker’s Five and Dime and bought her a Big Chief note pad and a pencil so she could “talk” to me. We had to go to the bank next door to get the pencil sharpened. She seemed to love that note pad. By now, I like her so much; I woulda bought her a whole box of ‘em.
It was real strange and all, but no matter what time I got off or where I was, there was Searcy, just standin’ and lookin’ at me. She’d hold out her hand and take me places. That woman knew some stuff. She took me down to the beach and we looked for shells. She taught me how to catch crabs in a wire trap she had hid out under the wooden pier. Used rotten chicken guts from Mrs. Pope’s grocery… and fish heads from the fish house. Crabs love fish heads. Guess most people don’t think of crabs of having any brains, but they must be smart. How else could they turn rotten meat into a flesh that is so delicate and sweet? Searcy showed me some meat-eating plants on a little sandy path next to the beach. She called ‘em “sundews.” They had little stems with a pad of spikes on the end with some liquid on ‘em. The bugs would land on them to get the juice and would get stuck. The plant then just turned ‘em to mush and ate ‘em up, slow like. Kind of creepy, but kind of cool too. We went to one of her secret hideaways back in a swampy place by the beach. Lots of bald cypress trees, thick underbrush and an artesian well. We caught crawdads and cooked them in a little pot she brought. Ain’t never seen nobody that knew so much about nature. I even learnt about the giant amphiuma! We was eating some hot dogs and I threw a little bite over that landed in the dark red leaf-stained water. I was watchin’ it bob around and this dark brown thing slithered up from the muddy, leafy bottom and grabbed that sucker in a flash! I thought it was a snake or maybe even an eel but she grabbed her pad and wrote down what it was. It’s like a giant salamander but it was over a foot long. Scared the “bee-Jesus” out of me. We’d go to the gullies in Fairhope. The gullies are like little grand canyons and the cliffs are so beautiful with layers of different colors of sand and clay. She knowed what made each color. Searcy showed me which mushrooms you could eat and which’uns would kill you dead on the spot. I think she knew near bout every animal and bird there was and think she could talk to ‘em in some kinda special secret language. She was nature, and nature was her!
As hard as the work was, I actually had fun and met a lot of nice folks. Even the high school kids was cool and we joked around a lot. Them Mexicans practiced their English and laughed and sang songs and the whole thing was like family. Felt like we was a tribe of special people, set apart from the World. We all got along. Every once in awhile some of the Mexican guys would get into a fight over some woman. I think they mighta had a stash of tequila hid out somewhere cause it usually happened at the end of the day.
The trucks would come rumblin’ in from the fields with loose taters or giant bags of ‘em and dump ‘em at the top of a conveyor belt. The women would sort ‘em out and toss out the bad ones. Different sizes would go off down different chutes. My job was to stand at the end of one of the belts with a burlap sack. They also called ‘em gunny sacks or croaker sacks. The sack was on a scale and when they was a hunnert pounds of taters in the sack, you’d flip a wood paddle and the taters would start going into the other sack. You didn’t have much time to sew up the first sack and sling it outta the way ‘fore the other sack was full. You sewed ‘em up with a wicked stainless steel curved needle that they called a “sail cloth” needle. Seen one guy run one all the way through the flesh between his thumb and first finger. He was tryin’ to impress some dolly. Don’t know if it worked or not. They had to cut the back end of the needle off with wire cutters so they could take it out. He paid more mind to his business after that.
One night when I got off, they wasn’t no Searcy. It upset me and I guess more so I was upset that she had done wormed her way into my heart somehow. Still was confused about what it meant to be together but it didn’t matter. Just being with her is what mattered. I thought, “Oh well” I can’t have all her time. But, the next day, she won’t there again. It got me all down in the dumps and everything. I been put down by wimmen before but got over it real fast like. Always more fish in the sea ready for a roll in the hay. But this thing just had me bumfuzzled. Why did I care so much when I ain’t never even kissed her. Or for that matter, ain’t even thought much about kissin’ her. But being with her is like being a whole person and I’m kinda ashamed to admit I guess, but I never felt really loved much or like a whole person in my short life. Made me real confused. Was this God pokin’ a finger at me for past sins? I done some bad things in my life but mostly to myself. Can’t recall doin’ anything that deserved feelin’ this low. Each and every day, I tried to keep my mind on my work, especially with them sewing needles that could sure stitch your hand to your gizzard. The season is ‘bout over and I ain’t seen Searcy in six days. Don’t know whether to be mad, sad or worried. No one seems to know much about her at all.
Time to leave on out. I am really way low down about not knowing what happened to her but have to move on. Last day and I am getting on the old Greyhound dog to head back to Perkinston. Will probably have to hitch-hike up from Biloxi. For some reason the bus is packed this morning and there ain’t but one seat left – the aisle seat next to me. The driver gets on and announces. “This is the Greyhound run from Pensacola to New Orleans through Mobile and Biloxi. If that ain’t where you’re goin’ you need to pack on up. First stop, Montrose.” He reached over and pulled the long handle to close the door, puts her in gear and takes off.
Why am I so sad? Can’t get her off my mind. Who is she? What does this all mean? Suddenly the bus jolts to a stop, the air brakes made a sound like “pooooeeeessssh” and the driver reaches over and pulls the door lever. Folks is looking all around wantin’ to know what’s goin’ on because usually, if you miss the bus, you just miss the bus. A tall woman get on and shuffles down the aisle with her brown and yellow cardboard suitcase. It’s Searcy! She looks at me sweetly and sits down. I said “where the hell you been? I bin worried sick about you.” She says only “Making a place.” Her lips didn’t move but I heard her clear as a bell. Strange. She took my hand, put it on her knee and covered it with her hand. She said, “Everything is going to be alright.” The driver closed the door and the bus rumbled off. I thought “Yep, everything’s gonna be alright.
Copyright June 2017 – All rights reserved. Stephen K. Scott
Amy Spear says
Beautiful illustration of the magic of the human experience!
Thank you Amy. I am not sure what it all means.
Shari Evans says
I enjoyed the story, Steve. Your simple descriptions of places and characters are spot on. I could “see” it all!
Thank you for your kind words Shari. It’s funny, I hated writing in high school, now I can’t do it enough. Thanks for subscribing. Please tell your friends.
Mary Timberlake says
Read every word ! You really held my attention until the end ! Now I am craving to read
Part II. What did the two of you “DO” when you reached the end of your journey ?
Hi. I just wrote a reply and it disappeared, so if you get two answers, that’s why. I don’t KNOW what happened because I don’t know who this woman is or what she represents. Maybe it is Kyle talking to me. I don’t know if we’re going off to live together or if she’s taking me on the bus to Heaven. It’s a mystery.
Brinkley Pound says
I grew up in the area you describe. Described it well. Great story. Searcy was the name of the mental hospital they threatened to send us to if we got “crazy.”
Hi Brinkley. Where did you go to high school? I graduated from Fairhope High in 1961. When I was little, Bryce Hospital in Tuscaloosa was the state asylum and Searcy in north Mobile County was the institution for the colored folks. Later they were open to anyone. Don’t know why the woman in my dream told me that was her name. The whole experience is still a mystery and I don’t know what it means. Thanks for writing. Steve
Jackie Kennedy says
You had me from Bayou La Batre! Very, very nice. Descriptive and colorful. Soul searching…and searing.
CAPT Don Muehlbach, PhD says
I worked as a DoD contractor (on travel from San Diego) in Biloxi and Pascagoula so that area of the Gulf is somewhat familiar to me. That, coupled with your elegant writing gave me a rich experience reading your piece. Thanks Steve. You have many gifts and writing is clearly one of them.
Thanks Don. I am enjoying our long-distance friendship and value your comments. Steve
Scooter MacMillan says
Amazing and delightful story. I really enjoyed this!
Thank you so much Scooter. Wish I knew what it all means. Send me a note if you want to get together for lunch sometime.