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MY ONLY SUNSHINE
getting straight with the bomb
The town in this story no longer exists. It drowned some years ago, sad to say. But in 1962, Red Church was a bustling mill town known locally as “America’s Sweet Tooth,” as it refined sugar for the vast sugarcane plantations of the Louisiana low country. This was an idyllic time and place for a boy like Charlie Boone, especially as Charlie was unaware that Russians were building missile bases in Cuba to lob hydrogen bombs onto his head. He was also unaware that his notorious uncle had escaped from prison and was just a few miles up the road. No, on this lazy Saturday afternoon, Charlie’s only concern was a wingless variety of thumb-sized wasps he thought were ants.
DAYS OF SUGAR
With all the hurricanes breezing in from the gulf, farmhouses were set off the ground on stilts. Kids could run under them standing up, which we did, barefoot in dust as fine as talcum powder. We didn’t run up the steps to the house, though, because red velvet ants sunned themselves there, and if one bit your foot it could swell up and burst open. That happened to a boy over in New Iberia. My teacher said he was lucky just to lose his toes, and we were all mighty impressed.
I was thinking of velvets because my brother was stuck on the steps. With all his hollering, I was sure he’d been stung, but no, it was just a couple of tree ants on his leg. I brushed them off. He’d dropped his Mason jar and it had rolled down. Root beer was foaming over the gray-painted wood, and he was still carrying on.
“Well move, you dope. This wood is hot.”
“But it hurts!”
“If something hurts, you get away from it.”
He said okay like he understood, but I knew he didn’t. I handed him his jar, then raced him to the pecan grove and beat him by a mile. He began scooping up pecans and dropping them in his jar.
“Don’t take the black ones,” I said. “They’re rotten.”
“Uh-huh,” he said, but went on taking them.
“They’ll turn your skin black.”
“No they won’t.”
“Where you think black people come from?”
He squinted in the sun. “From New Orleans?”
As that could’ve been true for all I knew, I shrugged, cracked one pecan against another, and picked out the meat. “Here’s a good one. Want it?”
He shook his head. He actually didn’t eat pecans all that much; he was more of a collector. He also collected gravel from the parish road and he’d put them in his mouth. I was almost sure he swallowed them sometimes, but chickens did that too, so I figured it wouldn’t kill him—not before his time, anyway. According to Memaw, boys weren’t expected to live much longer than chickens, and weren’t half as useful.
Lou Dischler writing excerpts—