I am six years old, sitting on the back porch of our house in Delaware with my Mom, while she shells the peas that we’ve picked from our garden. This is the best porch in the neighborhood. Big, with a gray painted cement floor and a green-and-white striped metal awning that shields us from sun and rain. We have a Frigidaire right there on the porch, where there is always “pop” and beer. From the porch we see our neighbors’ backyards to the left and the right. My father owns the houses that we can see in either direction. I don’t know why I don’t say “my parents” own; it is my father who moved the houses there, maintains them, rents them out to people. Straight back from the porch is our sprawling, perfectly-tended garden; behind that, a large soybean field; behind that, the woods. Where I spend hours, where there is a “clubhouse,” where my friends and I can disappear all day without anyone even once fearing that we have been abducted by a predator. That doesn’t happen in the 1960s; or at least no one I know has ever heard of it happening.
We’re on the porch, and here comes Delma, the lady who, with her husband, “Alabama,” and their little baby, Bonnie, rents the house three to the left from our back porch. Delma is carrying a basket of ironing that she has done for my mother. My mother feels sorry for Delma, whose husband, “Alabama,” apparently “shoots pool for a living,” so she hires Delma to do jobs that Mom does better herself. Indeed, “Delma can’t iron worth a damn,” and often my Mom re-irons Delma’s work. But it is a way for my Mom to help Delma earn a little spending money.
I am fascinated by Delma. She sits down to chat, in one of the green and white folding lawn chairs, and I get very close and stare at her face. I tell her, “Your one eye is real pretty, Miss Delma.” She smiles, and she looks a little like Carly Simon (although I don’t know that at the time). Big, luxurious mouth. One tooth is very yellow.
She says, “Which one, honey?” And I lean across the arm of the lawn chair to point to the pretty one, but I lose my balance and I poke her in it. She’s real nice about it, though. Until that moment, my mother has not looked closely at Delma. Now she does, to make sure Delma’s eye is alright.
Then my mother says, “Delma, honey, you just fixed one eye.” So that’s why the one is so pretty. It’s been fixed. Delma has taken time from her ironing job, and her toddler chasing, and her fighting with Alabama, to put on some eye makeup. But she has only taken enough time to do the one eye. With black eyeliner, top and bottom. And shimmery blue eyeshadow, even on that narrow inside ledge of her lower eyelid. And lots of black mascara, to look like spider legs. It is a pretty eye. Two of them might be too much of a good thing. I think it is just fine that she has only fixed the one.
And I had to go and poke her in it. I wish I didn’t do that.
Sorry, Miss Delma.