Calling the Dogs
Lee Catherine pulled the towels, rags, socks, jeans, shirts, and underwear out of the washer and put them in the laundry basket. She headed for the back door closest to the clothesline. Carefully, she pushed the screen door open. Carefully, because she didn’t want to disturb the mass of green lizards that covered the whole outer side of the door like a blanket.
Sometimes, Lee Catherine felt like she lived in a swamp, always on the lookout for lizards and wolf spiders, snakes, alligators, and alligator gar that live in the murky, muddy end of the lake. She hated swimming in Lake Concordia where the cypress trees got thick, the water turned black, and the Spanish moss covered every limb in sight. For that’s where those gar would be lurking in the dark, just waiting to get hold of one of her little legs.
Lee Catherine willed her mind back to the chore at hand and hauled the basket to one end of the long double clothesline. Then she walked to the pump house for the stepladder. She needed it in order to pin the clothes up, for she wasn’t yet tall enough to reach the lines. Her mama barely was. Daddy had to set the lines low because Mama was barely five feet tall. And the way it was looking, Lee Catherine thought she’d be lucky to get as big.
Lee Catherine pinned up the towels and rags, then did underwear and socks. She daydreamed about being a nurse on a battleship in World War II. Lee Catherine had lately become enamored with novels about war and movies about war. After picking vegetables in Granny and Papaw’s garden on the farm nearby, the whole family would sit around watching old movies and shelling purple-hull peas or snapping green beans. When the news came on, they’d watch the latest reports from Vietnam. It frightened her and she closed her eyes. On the other hand, she’d read “In Cold Blood” by Truman Capote, and discovered her tolerance for reality on the page. She was mesmerized. She scoured the Concordia Sentinel weekly for true accounts of grizzly crimes, but few national stories made it into the small weekly paper’s pages. The Natchez Democrat, published six days a week only twelve miles away in a building overlooking the Mississippi River and surrounded by grand plantation homes and tarpaper shanties, wasn’t much better.
Lee Catherine felt a powerful need to be useful, to do something important in her life. Her mama encouraged her to study hard. She let her oldest girl know that she didn’t have to grow up and be a housewife and have kids to impress her mama. So Lee Catherine dreamed all the time about what she’d be when she grew up. The last thing on earth she wanted was to stay in this little country town and be treated second-class by some redneck, backward stud who thought he hung the moon.
Lee Catherine had made her mind up that she’d go to college. She read books constantly. Sometimes her daddy fussed at her ‘cause she’d hide a book under the seat when they went out for a drive in the car on a Sunday afternoon. He didn’t think reading and education were bad or anything, but he told her not to bring the book and then she did, so he yelled at her for disobeying him. Lee Catherine didn’t care. She hated being under a man’s thumb, even if it was just her daddy’s and she was only twelve years old. Nope, Lee Catherine had plans, and nobody, including her daddy, would stand in her way.
She gazed at the soybean fields behind the house, but instead she saw the sea and a ship and wounded men from battle being carried aboard. She replayed a scene from some war movie she saw the night before.
“Lee Catherine, telephone,” her mother yelled from a window in the house.
Lee Catherine ran into the house scattering green lizards everywhere, with a couple making it into the den.
“Hey. It’s Mary. What’re you doing?”
“I was just hanging out clothes. What are you doing?”
“I was just thinking of riding my bike over. Me and you could go ride by the new kids’ house three roads over. Susie Jane says there’s an older boy she saw and he was f-i-n-e fine,” Mary said dreamily.
“Sure! Let’s go. I just gotta finish hangin’ the wash. I’m down to the boys’ underwear. Yuk! Anyway, let me ask Mama.” When she came back to the telephone, plans had changed and her voice sounded mysterious. “I can’t go right now,” Lee Catherine said. “Mama and I are going shopping. She’s getting ready to go right now. And it’s not your usual groceries or clothes, either. I don’t know what it is, but she sounds funny. I’ll call you later.”
“Well, what do you think is going on?”
“I don’t know. Mama didn’t say. She just told me she wanted me to go and that it was something important. Daddy’s gone this weekend. He’s working a construction job somewhere in Tennessee and it’s too far for him to come home just for the weekend. Mama doesn’t usually buy anything big without Daddy around.”
“Well, call me later and tell me what you got,” Mary said, and they hung up.
Lee Catherine, her six-year-old baby sister, Mags, and their determined mother got into the Pontiac station wagon and headed for downtown Ferriday. They lived about three miles from the center of town, so it didn’t take long to get there.
Louise parked in front of the Western Auto store and the girls followed her inside. She headed straight for the appliances.
“Well, girls. What do you think? Is this a good looking dryer?”
“A dryer! Wow, Mama, we’re going to buy a dryer, really?”
“That’s right. We’re buying a dryer. I’ve hung my last load and you have too. It’s high time we had a dryer, and I’ve saved out money from working part-time at the bank to pay for it.”
“Afternoon, Miss Louise.”
“Hello, Mr. Holloway. I’m looking to buy a dryer today. But I have to be sure it’s a good price. I mean, the best deal I can get between here and Natchez. This is the first place I’ve looked though. Is this a good buy? I need something heavy-duty and reliable. We wash a whole lot at our house, what with John’s work clothes and the two boys to keep up with.”
“That one there is a good one. That’s the very same one me and Alice have at home. And you can’t beat the price. I could sell it to you and deliver it this afternoon.”
“This afternoon, that soon. Well, let me see. Hmm, I guess that’d be just fine. But, well what if John comes home next weekend and he decides he could beat the price I paid. Not that he will, mind you, but it’s a possibility.”
“I know what you’re getting at Miss Louise. I guarantee you John won’t find a better dryer at a better price than this one. If he does, I’ll take this one back and give you a full refund. You’ve got my word.”
Lee Catherine looked at her mother, who thanked Mr. Holloway and told him to deliver it anytime after three o’clock. First, they had some grocery shopping to do. Lee Catherine started screaming “no more hanging out wash” and did a cartwheel on the sidewalk as they left. Mags screamed and tried to do a cartwheel too, but all she managed was to roll over on her butt.
When John got home that Friday after being gone for three weeks straight, he had a fit. By this time, Louise and the girls had gotten real used to having the dryer. When he yelled at Louise, she just stared at him and didn’t say anything.
John spent Saturday morning shopping for a dryer. First he drove east 10 miles to Vidalia and across the Mississippi River to Natchez. After comparing prices on dryers at a few stores, he drove back through Ferriday and gunned it a good half hour north toward Monroe, but all he saw was a lost dog out of the corner of his eye by the woods. So he lit another Winston and turned the truck around.
He pulled his white Chevy into the driveway, scattering gravel into the yard. Barney, a large shepherd-collie mix nearing three years old, ran up to the door wagging his tail. Lee Catherine ran out the back screen door and met her daddy, patties in hand. Her oldest brother, John Jr., had the one side of the double barbecue pit ready to go. It was built from red bricks and tile his daddy had laid himself, the covers on each side of the pit made from cutting a barrel in half. John lit another cigarette, grilled burgers, and demonstrated his ability to blow smoke rings and mingle them with the smoke from the fragrant deer meat as it sizzled on the large grill.
Louise finished patting out the rest of the venison burgers. Mags had a kitchen chair pulled up to the sink so she could reach the faucet and wash the ripe tomatoes from Granny’s garden. Lee Catherine’s tongue moved across her lips while she concentrated on slicing the tomatoes just right, not too thin and not too thick.
While John finished grilling the burgers and warmed the buns on the hot grill, the girls pulled the last of their father’s hot, vaguely pungent cement-spattered khakis and work shirts out of the dryer. From the woods nearby came the sounds of make-believe battle. Ben and a bunch of boys from the neighborhood had a few more minutes to play until they’d hear mamas hollering for them to get on home for supper. Barney brought up the rear when all the boys carrying wooden swords and other homemade weapons scattered from the woods. The hunting beagles followed, King and Queenie leading the pack. Daddy started his dog holler to gather them in and corral them into their pen that fronted the soybean field behind their house. As his voice climbed higher and louder, Lee Catherine and Mags sang along. “H-e-r-e p—u—p—-p--y, h-e-r-e p—u—p—p—y, h-e-r-e p—u—p—p—y. H-e-r-e p—u—p—-p--y, h-e-r-e p—u—p—p—y, h-e-r-e p—u—p—p—y.”
Later that night, after Lee Catherine and Mags were lulled to sleep by the sound of the crickets and the occasional hooting of an owl, Louise got a head start on ironing John’s clothes for the long drive up to Cleveland, Tennessee, northeast of Chattanooga on Sunday afternoon. He was foreman of a construction and maintenance crew working on the paper mill there. The smell of the hot iron on sweat that wouldn’t wash out no matter how much soap she used took over the house. John was home and they were safe. After highballs and no talk, Louise and John went to bed. John never mentioned the dryer again.
(photo by Sarah Nannemann)