Meme said that each person gets allotted so many foolish words at birth and after they’re all used up the person dies.

I’m pretty sure what follows is my first published piece.  The first sentence made it into my novel, The Girls Club.


Meme said that each person gets allotted so many foolish words at birth and after  they’re all used up the person dies.  Meme lived next door, alone, in the house where she raised five sons and one daughter.  Mama let me spend most of my time in Meme’s old house.  Mama had a new baby and my brother and sister to take care of at home. 

            Meme married at sixteen and lived with Pepe until he passed away, sixty years later.  When Pepe died I was very young, four or five.  I remember him yelling my Grandmother’s name.  “Cora, I’m cold” and Meme would cover him with the muslin quilt she was forever mending.  He was bedridden at the end.

            Meme tried to warn him, “You’ll kill yourself with all that racket.”

            He persisted, focusing every want and need in her name.

            “Cora!”  We could hear him yell as we jumped rope in the next yard.

            I sang and danced at his funeral.  Meme clapped her hands, to break up sorrow.  We sang,

                                                                        Jimmy Crackcorn and I don’t care

                                                                        Jimmy Crackcorn and I don’t care

                                                                        Jimmy Crackcorn and I don’t care

                                                                        My master’s gone away.

            Then, long hours of silence.  Meme all to myself.

            If I spoke too much, “Ferme la bouche,” she would say gently.  Shut your mouth, from Meme it was a soothing remark.

            After saying it she would always kiss my mouth.  She would rock, humming prayers on her rosary beads.  I rarely spoke.  I sang.  In Meme’s house you could sing anything, anything sad, or funny, or foolish, as long as you didn’t sing too loud.  My favorites were her French songs.  Memorized phrases, syllables strung together with no need for specific meaning.  I sang.  Meme rocked.

             Some nights I slept with Meme in her big feather bed.  The bed Pepe lived in.  The bed he died in.  Every morning Meme would sweep up a dustpan full of feathers.  I took care not to bounce too hard on Meme’s bed.

            On weekends we played Nurse.  She gave me a box of Bandaids, all my own.  I cried when they were all used up.  Then Meme cut the Daily News into little rectangles and stuffed them into the empty tin Bandaid box.  She tore up an old slip for more serious injuries.  Meme was a good patient.  She would lie still, to be nursed with tap water potion from an old coke bottle.  Once Mama walked in while Meme was dying.  Mama called me an unnatural child.  Meme laughed.  She knew I would always revive her. 

            Meme’s eyesight was starting to go.  She burned things, food, and her hands.  Mama let me eat supper with her, almost every night, just Meme and me.  After supper Mama would ask, “What did you eat?”  Meme would smile and I would make something up.  Something with a vegetable in it.  Really, we ate English muffins. 

            Meme would say, I want blueberry pie tonight.”  And I would spread the thick blue jam on the muffins.  She would say, “Shall we have tortiere.  I feel like a holiday.”  And I would I would fry two hamburgers to stack between the muffins. 

            One night Meme didn’t want any supper.  She hadn’t hummed “Alouette” for days. 

            “Come.  Rock,” she said.  I was as tall as Meme by then.  She was much wider.  I didn’t see how I could sit on her without sliding off, so I sat on the floor and put my head in her lap.

            “I’m ready to die,” she whispered, like a little prayer.

            “I know, Meme.”  I did know.  I had been trying not to get too big.  I knew Meme would be gone before I got old. 

            “It’s not so bad,” she said.  “My good little Indian, soon you’ll sing and dance for me.  You don’t have to cry when the other’s do.”

            She left me then and began talking to all her dead relatives, foolish talk, to her husband, her sisters, her Mama and Papa, her own Meme.  On and on, sing song, rocking, she used up all her words.

“Meme”, Word of Mouth , edited by Irene Zahava, The Crossing Press, 1990.



About sallybellerose

Author of The Girls Club, Bywater Press, spring 2011 writer gardener booklover
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2 Responses to Meme said that each person gets allotted so many foolish words at birth and after they’re all used up the person dies.

  1. Good Little Indian. I love that.

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