Friday, November 9, 2007

Leaving Aunt Sammy

I don't remember much of my bewildered journey back up North from Aunt Sammy's little house on Rooster Hammock .... so long ago... but I remember the night and day of leaving Aunt Sammy's all the time.

Our special hen Miss Kitty and her six or eight current rooster mates, including the big Jerk Sylvester, always roosted for the night on the open ceiling-joists of the porch. Their rooster chorus always began soon after the deepest dark before dawn and they always continued crowing at full volume for several hours before they came down. Aunt Sammy would wake up with the roosters, and she would stay perched in her loft , talking back to the roosters, talking at me, who only listened, talking to the night, which didn't.
I needed to be out and gone before the roosters woke Aunt Sammy.
I was a child well acquainted with the night, but early- rising does not come naturally to a twelve or fifteen year old, even to an abnormally feral one like me. So I had planned on using the trick Doc Howe taught me:
To make sure we were out on the Lake at dawn, Doc always prescribed a double whiskey at midnight for himself; and for me, a pint of Lake Bonaparte water at my bed-time. Doc said this water-method was a traditional warrior and horse-thieving trick which he learned while fishing Wind River, Wyoming, with an Indian guide.
For months, Sammy and I had not been off her island hummock (which they call a "hammock" down there) except fishing or chasing chickens. I hadn't seen Doc and Lillian for two years, even though they wintered in Florida. I Liked the swamp and the little house the mists moved through; I liked the chickens, the animal solitude, and I liked Aunt Sammy well enough. But it was just impossible to be alone with her. Despite her thing for chickens and island living, she was too much of a people person for me. She had been a whole lot more than an Aunt to me, but I had to go . And I had to sneak away when I went. Because this was going to break her heart again; and because I have always been a sneak.

The last time I came in the house that night, I drank four or five dippers full from the rain barrel to set my body clock.
Before I climbed into bed, I pulled the drawer out from under my pallet and, into the many pockets of my duck canvas overalls there, I put my harmonica, , three of Sammy's Chesterfields wrapped in a burdock leaf, a fist-full of match books, a bag of peanuts, my comb, my chewing stick, and the eighteen quarters which Mr. LaRoy had "secretly" given me for college.
I climbed aboard the featherbed with my clothes on , which was part of the plan, but usual anyway.

Before long, the pits and crotch of my clothing felt clammy yellow. I tried to suck up and shrink from my clothes - breathing out more than I breathed in. Finally I managed to sleep, or to pass out. For a while.

Not for long I guess. because Sammy was still mumbling when I came around again..
I stiffened and strangled myself some more, until she finally fell silent.

The night inside and out had gone from dirt-black to soot-black. Then it got dark as my own insides. I knew by that, and by the rising algae smell of mist just beginning to ghost between the open window-slats, that the roosters would start to crow soon.

I swung off the bed , dragged the clothes drawer from under it , and put on two more shirts over the one I had slept in, then a second pair of pants . And then my pre-loaded, canvas duck over-shorts.
From the bottom of the drawer, I took a piece of clothes line I had tied a slip knot in, and I put it on my pillow with some spit and and a gob of hair from my comb . Then I took three quarters from the bandanna in my pocket and strewed them carefully on the floor, as spilled by the intruder who had strangled me for the money. I was pretty sure Sammy knew all about the secret quarters.
So far, so good. Then I bent over in all those pants to pull my shoes on.... and I wet my pants.
Not bad though. I was a little kid who knew that shit can happen, and that was not shit. Anyway, there could be no re-dressing now. No changing the plan. I was leaving now.

The suitcases were in the loft with Sammy , and besides, being severely short as I am, I would have to carry a suitcase on my head in order not to drag it along the ground. And murder victims don't pack a suitcase.

Instead, I planned to take her guitar case for my Leg Extenders and stuff, leaving her the red guitar, and the impression that someone had taken my body away in the guitar case.

In that tight little house, I could find anything without any light at all.
I felt my way to the Arm chair and brought Sammy's guitar case over to my bed, and opened it . Lifting out the guitar, my hands could just about feel the red. "Annie Oakley", Sammy called her guitar. I would miss Annie as might Miss Kitty, the dogs Hank and Snow, or anything about Aunt Sammy herself.
I took Annie back to the chair and set her carefully upright. As I drew back in the dark, my thumb nail grazed the steel brass-wound G string . A small, blue note rose up and faded out the window.

I opened the case on my bed and put in several wads of socks and underwear from my drawer. Then the set of leg extensions Doc Howe had made for me. I closed the case, eased the snaps down. Looking about the still dark room, I saw or imagined the first red glow the guitar in the chair.

You can probably see that my plan for leaving Aunt Sammy was based on Huck Finn's escape from the cabin in which his criminally stinking-drunk Pap had locked him; but with Aunt Sammy I didn't really need to saw a hole in the side of the house, and anyway, we already had a regular pet door for the dogs and Miss Kitty Hen. I used it regularly myself. The problem part of my escape plan was in just how I would lay down a false blood-trail, like Huck did with the pig blood.
We had no pigs I could kill.
But there was Sylvester: the the big, mean, main rooster. He was friendly enough much of the time, but he would sometimes attack my shoes with wings, beak, and spurs, and, worse than that, he kept trying to take me from behind, to get my neck in his beak and hump me like chicken butt. He more or less managed to do that more than once, but I would never again be screwed by a rooster.

I planned to pull Sylvester off his perch and finally wring his neck, then slit his throat and put him into the bottom of a feed bag with the guitar case. And I would drag a bloody trail to the secret raft I had had made from captured lumber and some inflated plastic bread wrappers I had pilfered from the huge and still accumulating supply of those Mr. LaRoy brought for Sammy to twist into hats.

I pushed the guitar case through the pet door, and then followed it.

Sylvester always roosted there next to Miss Kitty . I had left a flour barrel under his spot. I mounted the barrel and reached up, but his space was empty. Somehow, I don't know how, I had telegraphed my plan to him. One thing he was not, was stupid.
So I felt around for the next rooster, got a bird by the head so it couldn't squawk, brought it down to break its neck and knew immediately by the size and sweet bread smell, that it was no rooster at all, but the fragrant Miss Kitty.
I kept the squeeze on her squawk and whispered to her..... sweet kitty kitty kitty. She was very used to being handled by and she quieted quickly.
Then I opened up the guitar case, put her in the nest of socks, and eased it shut on her. That had not been part of any plan, as was very little of what has followed. .

A rooster flapped. The daily noise was beginning to begin.

I ran to the bullrushes where I had hiden raft.
The bread-wrapper floats had leaked , despite the rubber bands. The raft barely floated , even without me.
I pissed on it, long and hard.

Before I was done, all the roosters on the Island were crowing.
So I took Sammy's John Boat. But Mr. LaRoy would come by within a few days, with more groceries, egg money, and bread wrappers for hats.

I have never been too good at telling left from right, east from west, or at distinguishing landscapes or letters from their mirror versions. The long story of my journey to the North Country is lost, but the short story is that I only knew I needed to more or less follow the coast to get to the North Country, , but, beginning at the narrow neck of Florida, I mistakenly started up the left coast.

Many a time along the way we got a ride because Miss Kitty was sitting on my shoulder (who wouldn't stop for a musical Gnome with an orange chicken?) When people discovered after picking us up that I didn't have a guitar, they would always go soft when I pulled out and played the harmonica and Miss Kitty "sang" along - even though I only played a scramble of You Are My Sunshine and Irene Good Night , and Kitty was mostly just chuckling along. But we must have been charming beyond words. Anyway, our pitiful act put wheels under us, and often enough, Miss Kitty provided breakfast.

After months of hard traveling, and frequent lay-overs, Miss Kitty and I eventually made it all the way to Lake Bonaparte. Miss Kitty eventually died in 1958 while crossing a street in Ithaca.
I buried her in the East Hill Cemetery where we had been living at the time.

W.B.W. Dabone

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