Gertilia Mayberry Ruins Pap’s Cigar
It seems unfair that Gertilia Mayberry burned her house down and my family and most of the town has to suffer because of it, but that’s the way things work, especially when Aunt Ada and her virtues are nearby. It doesn’t affect me since I live at the Imaginactory and don’t listen to her anyway but when I was at home it was different. As Pap used to say, nothing can stand against her goodness – she just sucks the fun out of everything worth doing. It’s not that she controls everyone, in a direct manner anyway, but once she finishes with you a thing just doesn’t hold the pleasure it once did, so you forgo the joy and try to find something she’ll approve of, which isn’t likely, or sneak. And since my parents’ house was just across the street from the Sanderling mansion, where she still lives, it was often difficult to enjoy life when I was younger. That’s the problem with her: she sucks the marrow from your bones, both practically and religiously speaking. There’s been more than a few humble, God-fearing Christians that are now in cults or practicing the Satanic arts, all because Aunt Ada took an interest in their spiritual health. So, though it made sense to her, I never understood why Gertile’s transgression meant Dad hated to use the fireplace, Mom didn’t want to burn smelly candles, and Pap couldn’t enjoy an occasional cigar after dinner, but I was young when it happened and didn’t understand her, only recognized that she was a creature to avoid. She’s so dead against fire there’s hardly a person to this day willing to build a camp fire, and who wants to sneak a marshmallow? Wilson Hahn, who owns the tobacco shop, says he’ll shoot her the first time she so much as slows down on the sidewalk in front of his place, and he’s so gentle he feeds the ducks at the park.
I talked to a psychiatrist about her once. He said it was a phobia plain and simple. Maybe so. She certainly has an irrational fear of anything burning, forever running in and out of rooms sniffing for smoke, checking stove burners, replacing smoke alarm batteries once a month. Lately, as if that isn’t enough, she’s become obsessed with Shadrach, Meshac, and Abednego, and has learned the story by heart so she can quote from memory, freeing the Bible itself for shaking and flailing about, which she does all hours of the day, and recites any other scripture about fire she can find, be it fiery furnaces or the flames of Hell. Not that my Pap was against the Bible, for he was a true Christian, but she flooded him with so much Shadrach and his cronies, final judgements, and then tossed in some crispy Baal worshipers for flavor, that he was half scared to light a match and said he was moving to West Virginia, where a Christian could have a cigar. She wouldn’t even let him enjoy a smoke while he fished, though I’m pretty sure fish won’t burn.
I remember Pap coming home from the creek one morning – he’d only fished for an hour. “I can’t abide her following me around the house,” he said. (Pap and Aunt Ada lived at the mansion together.) “This morning she tracked me clear to the crick and what a time that was, trying to fish with her lurking in the bushes, spouting proverbs and beatitudes like I was a lost lamb and she was a prophet in the wilderness. I’ll tell you this,” he said, “I nearly drowned her. I could see it – her body floating down the creek, face down. Lord forgive me but I smiled at the thought. I was fishing with Paddy and he left.” I was laughing pretty hard but Pap didn’t think it was funny, until later. “You know,” he said, “I’ve been fishing with Paddy for thirty years and she drove him away in twenty minutes. Well, I won’t smoke, if it will shut her up. You’d never know I was a grown man though. I can’t stand it.”
Of course, Pap smoked whenever he felt like it, but the pleasure was gone and I’ve never forgiven her for it.
1. Around here what is commonly known as a creek is a “crick.” I’ve used the proper word on occasion and had folks ask me what I was talking about.
The photo is of our house when Pap was young, taken with one of those wooden cameras from his yard. He bought it after he married Grandma, then gave it to my parents when they married and moved back in with Aunt Ada. She was against it but Pap held the deed to the mansion, willing it to her when he died, per my great-grandparents’ wishes. Not per Pap’s.