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The Spirit of Sweetgrassa Novel
By NICOLE SEITZ
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2007 Nicole Seitz
All right reserved.
I reckon this-here roadside stand's a whole lot like my life-sometimes good folk stop and visit a while; other times, folks come by, seems like just to haggle and make my day long. All the time, there's these cars zipping by, one after the other after the other-can't stop 'em. Just like time. It keeps rolling on, don't care who I am or what I'm selling-just lets me bake here in the sun, getting older every minute.
Sweetest thing to ever happen to me out here was 'bout nine, ten years ago just after my husband, Jim, died. I was sitting here making a sweetgrass basket, and I looked up kinda sudden-like. Walking down the side of the road like he just got dropped off the carta bus was my sweet Jim, just a-smiling and grinning. I almost fell out my chair, sweet Jesus! Now, I'd heard 'bout dead folk coming back around and visiting, but I never expected to see Jim again. He come to me, though, sure 'nough, and he shows up every morning when I'm setting out my baskets. He sits with me every day in this here pink plastic chair I pull out for him. He's a-sitting here right this very minute-"Ain't you, Jim?"-just like he was bright and early this morning when trouble come to see me.
There we are, Jim and me, sitting here talking 'bout nothing much with traffic kicking up dust. The air's so humid, we know it's fixing to rain. Got no idea how bad a storm it's really gonna be.
'Round nine o'clock we see a car fixing to pull in. I get to praising Jesus for the business He's bringing when all a sudden, my heart 'bout stops. There's my daughter, Henrietta, pulling over to the side of the road, and I know she ain't bringing me nothing but heartache.
"Henrietta, what you doin' here?" I ask her, pushing up from my seat.
"Hey, Mama," she says, real sweet-like when she rolls the window down. "I'm here to pick you up!"
"Pick me up? What you talkin' about?"
"I got the day off, so I thought we could spend some time together," she says. "It'll be a girls' day out."
Well then, that's when I know it, and it ain't good. There ain't no way Henrietta's coming to spend time with me. No sir. Last time she did anything friendly with me a'tall was when she hauled me over to the Belk store few years back to find me some bigger brassieres to wear. And she only done that 'cause she was embarrassed my bosoms was popping out my blouse at her Christmas Eve supper.
My daughter Henrietta's what I call uppity. Now, I know it's a sin to talk like that-'specially when it's your own flesh and blood-but sweet Jesus, that girl ain't got a tender spot on her body. Like she was born with a thorn in her side, makes her mad as all get-out at the world. Matter fact, I can remember her screaming bloody murder from the time she was born. It must be hard having an angry spirit like Retta's. Ever now and again, she tries to be sweet, but it wears her out fast, and she goes back to mean. All I can do is love her how she is, I reckon. She don't make it easy, though, I tell you what. Henrietta's got a strange way of showing love for people. Most times, it comes out like she don't like you much a'tall. But sometimes, like this morning, she can be downright scary.
"I can't go nowhere, Retta. I'm sittin' at my stand now," I tell her. "I can't leave my baskets."
"Well sure you can," she says. "Nancy's right there." Miss Nancy's stand is over yonder 'bout thirty feet or so. She hollers over to her, "Miss Nancy, will you watch Mama's stand while we go out for a bit?"
Nancy look like she don't know what to say. I'm over there shaking my head no, but she must not see me 'cause she says, "I reckon I can. How long you gonna be?"
"Not too long, Nancy. And we might just bring you back something. An ice cream cone maybe?"
An ice cream cone? Well now that seems fishier than a shrimp net in summertime. Oh sweet Jesus, I pray, please let us just be goin' out for ice cream, hear?
"Mama, you sure look nice today," says Henrietta, grabbing my arm and trying to pull me on up into her SUV. She's wearing pressed pants and a nice red blouse, and her hair's straightened and smooth and perfect-just like she always has it. I look down at my walking shoes and my long gray skirt and orange blouse with the top two buttons missing. My heart sinks plumb down to my shoes 'cause I know she lying 'bout my looks. That girl sure is up to something.
"Henrietta, listen here-where we goin'?" I say, eyeing her hard.
"It's a surprise," she says.
"I don't like surprises."
She don't say nothing back.
"I said, I want to know where you takin' me, Retta. I got my baskets to tend to."
"Henrietta! Take me back now. I ain't playin' your games."
"All right!" she says, not so cool no more. "All right. We're going over to James Island."
"James Island? What in heaven for?"
"It's a beautiful day, Mama."
"Retta, we ain't never gone to James Island together in all my memory. Tell me right now, what we gonna do over there?"
Retta seems to be heating up, and she pulls the car to a stoplight and holds her breath. When she lets it out again she tells me, "There's a lovely place on James Island called Sunnydale Farms."
"Sunnydale Farms? What they got-collards? Strawberries? 'Cause I can get me all I need over to Boone Hall," I say, relieved. "Come on. Let's turn on back and get us some greens."
"It's not that kind of farm, Mama."
"Not that kind? Then what they got? Onions? Snap beans?"
"It's not for food, Mama." She squeezes the wheel tight. Sounds like her fingers gonna rub the leather plumb off. Then she says real slow and careful-like, "Sunnydale Farms is a very nice retirement community."
"Retirement? You takin' me to a nursin' home? Oh Lord have mercy! I ain't retirin'! Sweet Jesus, help me outta here!" I'm grabbing for the handle and scratching at the door.
"Don't get so upset, Mama." She punches the pedal again. "We're just going for a little visit. A visit, okay? It's just to see if you like it, that's all."
"Oh God in heaven, my life is over! Retta, no you can't, I'm your mama, child! Stop the car this minute!"
"I promise!" she yells, 'bout breaking my eardrums. "I'll take you back to your stand in a couple hours, Mama." Then quieting down to a real low voice she says, "Now come on. I thought we could have a nice time, but I suppose we cannot."
"You ain't gonna leave me there, Retta. Child, you just try it, and I'll go kickin' and screamin'. You'll be mighty embarrassed, yes ma'am-mighty embarrassed! You'll wish you ain't never hauled me over there. I-"
"Mama, stop talking crazy." A scowl I seen a hundred or more times spreads over her face. I can tell it even though she staring 'head at the road. "Let's just take a look. Nothing more than that. All right?"
Well, I drop it, sure 'nough. But I got to keep my guard up-less Henrietta try something funny.
Excerpted from The Spirit of Sweetgrass by NICOLE SEITZ Copyright © 2007 by Nicole Seitz. Excerpted by permission.
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