Where I grew up, in rural Georgia, it was a 15-minute trip to get to town. Town-town, where you’d get your hair cut or buy a pair of shoes or real groceries or underpants, not Rentz, where you might run if you needed to get a smallish check cashed, or you needed a dozen eggs to make a cake, or you were pining for a Coca-Cola or some Pet ice cream.
We lived with my grandmother (Grandmother or Grandmama, not Granny, heaven forbid), and I was with her constantly if I wasn’t in school. My grandmother would have died before she’d have left the house without getting dressed, and she’d have sooner sprouted wings and flown before taking anybody to town with her who wasn’t shined up, too.
To get to town, we drove up 441, and it was impossible not to drive past the home of a particular family of indeterminate means. I should say their means were indeterminate to me, just as ours were. I thought we were filthy rich because in every direction you could look from our house, it all belonged to relatives.
This particular home was sided with shingles of some description and was the type with steep-pitched tin roof with a deep front porch supported by a post at either end, and one on either side of the steps. Between the posts was a shelf made of 2×8 pieces of lumber, a place to set your drink down, were you to be outside cooling off, as you likely were to be, as air conditioning was not widespread in the 70s.
Living in this home was a woman my mother told me was a washerwoman. She didn’t tell me anything else, though I constantly asked. This washerwoman had a penchant for sitting in her mean little rocker with the missing rockers, her feet thrown up on that shelf, her dress pulled up around her thighs.
When I went to town with Grandmother, as we passed by that house, she would hold her foot down hard on the gas, a death grip on the steering wheel, and stare straight ahead, saying, every time, “Just like a slattery.”
I finally worked up the nerve to ask her what a slattery was, and she merely replied, “Something you will never be.”