We arrive at the motel. Our father rents a room.
Once in the motel room our father walks around our quarters for the evening chitchatting and laughing with my brother Pete. (Laughing about what? Two little girls are out there in the night!)
Contrary to his words to Sally & Sharon our father does not keep watch for them, yet I cannot move from the window, where I scan the horizon for even a glimpse of two little girls in long cotton nightgowns to appear once more like ghost figures in the night.
Endlessly, anxiously, I scan the darkness.
I am in anguish. They have been kidnapped. They have wandered into the weeds that are every bit as tall as they are, looking for a “shortcut.” They have stopped to rest? They have been hit by a car. My father interrupts my thoughts with, “For Chris’sakes get away from that window, if the motel manager sees you he’ll figure out in an instant what you’re doing!”
I move away and then move back. A good 30 minutes has passed. My father is a crazy man.
Lights flashing, a police car suddenly pulls into view. I hold my breath — the girls are dead. I knew it.
The police car stops in front of our motel room and an officer gets out of the car, walks up to our door, knocks on it. I am glad to see him. He will surely arrest our father. I will not mind being adopted by someone else.
“Picked up a couple of little girls on the road back there,” the police officer begins sternly, and my father interrupts him with a sheepish grin, says something to the effect of, “Was trying to save a little money, you know how it is,” and he laughs, and to my astonishment the policeman checkles at this. He nods back to his vehicle, motioning the occupants to come forth, and my sisters appear.
“Yeah, the motel manager and I figured that out,” he replies, giving my father a conspiratorial, Tsk tsk, look. “But now don’t go doing that again, it could have been someone other than me who picked your girls up.”
I cannot believe this. Would it even help to tell this cop that our father molests us every night, that to sleep through the night at our house is a rare experience, that I sometimes cry at night begging God for the luxury of just plain sleeping? I don’t think so. I can imagine this particular police person just telling our father, “Well now don’t go doing that again,” wink wink. After which — once the cop left — my father would rage. It would be iffy, at best, to confide in this guy. I stand there safely expressionless, shaking my head inside my mind.
It would seem, we are on our way to hell.
Driving the next day we keep passing the most wretched-looking structures I have ever seen. “Why are there all these broken-down-looking shacks all over the place?” I ask my father. “Why don’t they just tear them down?”
University of Memphis photo; “Sharecropping,”
“A Rural Economic Strategy Extends the pre-Civil War Way of Life into the Twentieth Century,” at http://www.memphis.edu/tentcity/sharecropping.php, accessed Apr., 2014.
“Those are tenant farmer’s homes,” he answers.
“What is a tenant farmer?” I ask, followed quickly by, “Wait, you aren’t telling me people live in those shacks?!” but my latter question is pretty much answered in the affirmative by my own eyes.
University of Memphis photo; “Sharecropping”
[Same source as preceding photo]
“Tenant farmers work a farmer’s land in exchange for part of the profits,” my father says. “And yes, they live in those ‘shacks.’ Whole families. Those are their homes.” He seems amused by my dumbfounded reaction. My horror?
Suddenly I understand why he wanted to move back to the south. He was from the south, originally. He knows of all these terrible things that go on here. (He knew he could get away with dumping eight- & 10-year-old daughters on a country road at night in order to lower his motel charge. He knew it.)
“Those shacks — those houses, they have holes in them,” I say.
“Ya,” says my father.
Inside my mind I am shaking my head again.
It is nightfall once more. We are in Memphis at last. Tired, hungry. A delicious smell teases my nose as we pass a “Little Pig Barbecue” place. Our father pulls into the lot. He gets out of the car and returns with a bag. He pulls out a sandwich and hands it to Pete, then pulls out a second for himself. I am starving and intoxicated by the smoky scent of the pork.
“Don’t we get one too?” I ask, truly surprised.
“You ate a big meal already today,” our father grumbles. “I have to watch my money, make it last.”
Reluctantly, he lets two of us take small bites from his sandwich while Pete lets the other two do the same with his. That is all we younger kids get.
I have never tasted anything as wonderful as Little Pig Barbecue.
A Rawlings Little Pig Barbecue on US 1, Petersburg, VA, 1998, from “Jim Dow’s Photographs of BBQ Joints Across the American South,” at http://www.featureshoot.com/2013/06/jim-dows-photographs-of-bbq-joints-across-the-american-south/#!DhXIn , accessed Apr., 2014.