Story from Dad by Margaret Downs
|This is a story Dad gave me to type up:
The Jolie Blonde
Meg was crandky and Tom was late. Pregnant Ellend had quite a juggling act on weekdays at 4. She had to pick up young Tom at pre-school and it was time for 16 month old Meg's afternoon walk with dad. Just then Tom pulled in his rattling old BMW 2002, came inside to change & Meg was handed off.
"Take this child, she's been a pill today," exasperated Ellen said, putting squirming, cranky Meg in the stroller. This was Tom's "welcome home honey," but he was used to it. He was notorious at the office for leaving exactly at 4 to get home 5 minutes later for the handoff. Five minutes to change, then out the door & down the bumpy streets of Lafayette with Meg, Meg of the hazel eyes, a few strands of blonde hair that harely fit in a hair bow, chubby and vivacious, just walking & jabbering a few words. She had a scratch on her cheek.
"What's this?" Tom asked as he took the stroller, Ellen with her keys, & purse half-way out the door.
"She pulled Rocky's ears & got a scratch," Ellen said, going out, free at last. Meg tended to throw up in the car & was not much fun to run errands with. Rocky was their gentle, old, long-haired tabby. He had been a gentle companion to the eldest child, but meg tried Rocky's legendary patience. Meg was climbing out of the stroller so Tom took charge, manuevered it out the door & down the street. Ellen zoomed off in the old beemer with a wave.
They strolled down the shady street of small, old houses, live oak & pecan trees draped with Spanish moss, the lawns patchy & struggling under them in the deep shade. Lafayette Parish was proud of its low taxes - less that $100 a year for Tom & Ellen's $90000 house. In return for low taxes you got very little. Sidewalks, for instance. If a home-owner had the "envie" for a sidewalk he could pay & the city would build one on his lot. Sidewawlks were hit & miss as a result, many people said they encouraged "blacks" to walk on their lot. Strolling Meg was done in the street as a result. Schools were terrible, of course, most affluent families ponied up for Catholic or private school. Girls Meg's age already had places reserved at Academy of Sacred Heart up at Grand Coteau, founded in 1830, when Abe Lincoln was an unknown Illinois lawyer. Ellen's friends urged her to take Meg for an interview & reserve a seat. It had taken years for Ellen to fit in with these Lafayette girls, the "debu-tramps" she called them, driving mom's hand-me-down Cadillac to the segregated health club, taking vacations every summer to the florida panhandle, waiting for parents in their 60's (near death in short-life-span Louisiana) to leave them money. They were all Sacred Heart girls, daughters of Sacred Heart girls, parents of Sacred Heart girls.
Tom paused a moment & picked up a few pecans near the curb. It was old Mrs. Aucoin's tree & the crabby old lady always hobbled out & yelled at "darkies" who picked up her pecans. A curtain moved inside, she was watching. She reminded Tom of a toothless old hound that would chew on a dead animal, hide it & then nap with one eye open, ready to come roaring like a lion if anyone came near it. Tom had never seen her pick up a pecan - she scaved off the darkies for the benefit of squirrels. Mrs AuCoin was one of the old hold-outs on the street - in a few years she would sell out to a local "deb", or if necessary a Yankee family like the Owens. The real-estate ladies were all debs & made sure the right sort of people bought in the neighborhood.
They turned left onto a narrow, shaded alley & saw Lou's big corner lot on Myrtle street, the old money street of big lots & many fine old houses from the 1920's. Lou was a locan musician, an accordian player in a Cajun band. He was tall & thin, almost cadaverous, with deeply sunken dark eyes, think black hair combed back & a black beard. Meg thought he was a scary man at first & would cling to Tom in fear on their early visits. Gradually though his kind manner & soothing Cajun voice won her over.
Almost every afternoon when it wasn't raining Lou would sit in an antique wrough-iron chair & play the accordian, a small iron table nearby holding a beer. When he saw Meg coming he'd interrupt whatever he was composing or experiencing with & play "Jolie Blond," the Cajun classic, an ancient bayou favorite. Meg would sit up straight & wave, demanding to be let out of the stroller. Pausing, Tom would say hi, lift her out & let her toddle around. "Oh, Jolie Blonde; oh, Jolie Blonde," Lou would sing as Meg toddled around, picking up acorns, sticks, whatever. The song was in Cajun French & Tom could only guess at the meaning, no matter.
Meg had been born "Jolie Bald," not a speck of hair, a huge disappointment to Ellen who wanted a little girl's hair to play with. When the first strands of fine blonde hair appeared she stuffed them into tiny hair bows & impatiently waited for more. She checked every day, like a bald man using a hair tonic.
Lou was an inventor, composer, a band leader. He showed Tom the small accordians he made, each key carefully tuned either bass or treble. He bought old ones at junior stores & fixed them up beautifully, giving each that special "Lou" sound, like a fender guitar.
He finished Jolie Blonde & took a swig of beer.
"Any requests?" he asked.
"Sure, Lou. Allons a Lafayette?" Tom asked.
Lou launched into the jaunty "Allons a Lafayette," a Cajun dance favorite. He finished minutes later & offered Tom a beer. Tom said no thanks.
"How's Spazz doing?" Tom asked. Spazz was Lou's doberman.
"He's fine. About time for his run. Ok if I let him out?" Lou asked, glancing at Meg.
"Sure, go ahead. Meg loves Spazz," Tom said. Lou took a break & set the squeeze box aside. He walked behind the house & Tom heard Spazz whining & jumping, excited. Then the large black dog appeared, bounding around the house at full gallop, ears pinned back. Then he turned & vanished behind the house again, then re-appeared, orbiting them like a small furry planet. Spazz was a special dog. He constantly turned left & could run only in long left-turning arcs. He was impossible to walk. He had worn a distinct track in Lou's large close-cropped yard & round it he went in perpetual counter-clockwise orbits, galloping by, full of enthusiasm. In Spazz's distorted universe, this was freedom.
"Mama stepped on his head when he was a pup," Lou explained one day. "Couldn't give him awawy. But hey, he'll never run off. No need for a fence. He don't even run a straight line to get laid. Bitch down the street went into heat last month & every male dog in town was there, ended up calling the Sheriff. All but faithful Spazz. Unless that bitch somehow parked herself on his running path, he don't pay no never mind," Lou mused, using a favorite triple-negative. He took up his squeeze box again & played a waltz, Spazz zooming by ever few seconds, tongue hanging out.
"Doggy!" Meg said, one of her first words.
Lou paused in his playing to show Meg a little pupper, carved from cypress wood. She played with it at his feet while he played the waltz. Tom sat & listened, enjoying the fine, rich tone.
Lou paused. "You should see him chase a cat. He aims himself at the cat & takes off, all hell-for-leather. Then he starts to go left. Unless Mr. Cat is really stupid & decides to also go left, he's in no danger. Most times the cat just sits there & watches him go round & round," Lou said thoughtfully, opening up the accordion & cleaning something inside with a small camel hair brush.
By this point Spazz was tired & thirsty. Lou called him & the dog orbited closer & closer to Lon's chair, like a satellite coming down to earth. Spazz clumsily stumbled, panting, to his water bowl & gulped noisily, still leaning slightly, like a sailor on a heeling sailboat. Lou took a short leash out of his pocked & clipped on to his collor. As they walked back to the kennel, Spazz orbited Lou a few times just for fun, tangling the lanky Cajun's legs.
"Dammit Spazz, you quit that," Lou scolded, asking the animal to stop doing the only thing it did. Tom put Meg in the stroller & continued their walk.
(This is the short version.)