Lake Effect, Spring 2002, Volume 6: from Blue Suede Pumps and Red Hot Candy

Cheri Randall


from Blue Suede Pumps and Red Hot Candy

     …My daughter wants to know where my guitar is. I say it’s in the shop. She wants to know if it needed new strings. I have never lied to her. I have edited and rephrased and considered her age and steered conversations, but I have never perjured myself to her. I wonder if she can sense my dilemma, if this is a new way for her to love me by allowing me to keep my pride. She looks at me for a long moment, as if it is on the tip of her tongue to inquire further, but deciding she does not like the flavor of this conversation she turns away. She has that same look of distaste on her face from when she ate some cinnamon candy red hots at the age of five. They were mixed in with her Halloween loot, and watching her little machine-gun tongue spitting them over her lips like tiny red bullets made me laugh till I couldn’t breathe. I felt like a heel for laughing, but her expression was so funny, her outrage over this betrayal, this hot stuff mixed up with her candy.
     The sign in the shop said: “If you ain’t had to pawn it, you can’t play the blues.” My mother hates the blues. Hates the colors gray and brown. Hates standing in lines and eating unseasoned food and opening empty closets. She grew up so poor there was nothing to pawn. Her father was an apple farmer. He ran the orchard for the owner, and they split the profits each year. My mother remembers crop failures. Even worse were years when there were too many apples and the prices plummeted. She remembers winters spent rationing flour and eating apple pandowdy—a kind of cobbler with the crust sliced while it bakes. All her clothes were made from flour-sack material. She was the youngest of six children, three of whom were boys. She hated wearing their overalls. Hand-me-down is an epithet in her vocabulary. She got her first store-bought clothes when she was sixteen years old and working as a soda clerk in the town drugstore…