Characters from the Apron Strings Trilogy, Ethel’s husband Early and his grandson Lil Early tending vegetables and life issues:
“I tell ya, he ain’t the same,” Lil Early said to his grandfather. “It’s like when they hit him up side the head wit’ them guns, they knocked him plum out of hisself. Then some whole other somebody stepped in. He mean and hateful. Not like he used to be. Daddy never hit me ‘til he come home from that Miss’sippi hospital.”
“Take dat stake an’ walk on over t’ de oth’ side of de garden. When I tells ya, drive it in hard. Might have t’ use a shovel, cuz I want it t’ be out in de grass, not in de tended soil, so gwan‘n’ take a shovel wit ya,” Early directed.
“Granddaddy, did ya hear what I said ‘bout Daddy?” Li’l Early asked, staring down at his grandfather from a height of a good six inches above the older man before picking up the shovel.
“I sho’ did. Did you hear what I jest ask ya? Git on over dere, like I tol’ ya.” Early, leaning on his shovel, waved four digits at his grandson to hasten him along.
Li’l Early stomped over to the other side of the garden, dragging the shovel, string, and stake behind. As he went, he grumbled, “Ain’t nobody listenin’ to what I gotta say. Nobody nohow.”
Early shouted over to him, “Hol’ dat string tight now an’ come level wit me. Righ’ dere. Now take d’ shovel an’ hit d’ stick right hard. Dere in d’ grass,” he pointed from across the worked up earth, “righ’ behin’ where you is standin’.”
The boy did as he was told before slumping back along the garden’s edge for more orders while he wrestled with his inner turmoil. “Don’t ya care that he’s beatin’ on me?”
Pushing his tattered straw hat up to the back of his head, Early scratched under the brim, then took it off and fanned himself. “Shoo-wee, it is hot today. Migh’ be too hot t’ plant any mo’ lettuce.” He replaced his hat and sat down in the shade, resting his back against the tree trunk, unscrewed his water jug, and took a big swig before holding it out to his grandson.
Li’l Early waved the offered water away. “Ain’t goin’ t’ do no good.” He fought back the tears that threatened to overwhelm him. “I was countin’ on you t’ help me work this out. You don’t seem t’ care.”
Early took another swig. “I ‘member yo’ daddy could be righ’ ornery when it suited ‘em. Seem t’ me he could work up a head of steam if’n ya didn’ do ‘xactly righ’, righ’ bein’ whatever ‘twas dat he thought at de time.” He pulled his knees up and rested both wrists over them. “Com’on over here an’ sit a spell. Doan’ sound like he change all dat much t’ me.”
“Well, I guess he wasn’t no saint, but I doan’ ‘member him bein’ so hateful like he is now, neither. I tell ya he done changed.”
“An’ you ain’t, is ya?” The older man scrutinized his grandson for a long time with red-rimmed eyes before pulling out a kerchief and wiping his brow. “You is jest like ya was when he lef’ for Miss’sippi?”
“Yeah, well I mighta growed a little, but mostly I’m the same,” the boy admitted.
“Lemme tell ya sompin’, you was sent t’ live wit’ me an’ Miz Ethel cuz yo’ Daddy couldn’ stop hittin ya. So nothin’ ain’t change on dat score. De only thang dat change ‘bout him is he scared o’ ya now. Big as you is, if ya took a mind t’ it, you could hit back.”
Li’l Early brightened, up aware of the truth in his grandfather’s words. “Ya know, I could. Sometimes, I think ‘bout it when he makes me mad. I think I could knock him int’ the middle o’ next week and I’m goin’ t’ one o’ these days.”
“Das where de change is.” Early lifted his wrist and pointed with his index finger into the middle distance. “An’ dat’s de only place you can fix dis here mess wit’ yo’ daddy.” He looked up at his grandson and patted the ground next to him. The boy sat down and leaned into him.
His grandfather reached over and laid a gnarled hand on the boy’s knee. “Dere was a time dat you would take what he give an’ do yo’ level best t’ give him love in return, no matter what.” His gold tooth flashed as he smiled. “You didn’ know no better. De only thing ya knew was how t’ love. Ya done growed up some an’ ya done learned some ways like we all do, dat don’t suit ya so much.”
“Yeah, I learned ‘em from him,” the boy growled.
“Honey, you learned dem from de world. He ain’t no differen’ dan de rest o’ us. We all ornery, pigheaded, an’ stupid.”
“You ain’t,” the boy looked at his grandfather shaking his head. “You never hi…”
Early cut him off, “I is and you kin bet yo’ bottom dollar on it. Where ya think Junior learned how to be like dat?” They sat quietly listening to the cardinal song and watching the black and blue swallowtail butterflies glide on the late spring breeze. Finally, Early looked over and said, “You ain’t got no sway wit’ how yo’ daddy act, none over me, neither. De onliest place you got any control is wit yo’ ownself.”
“I wanna bust him upside his head,“ the boy declared. “Control that!”
“I wanna plant lettuce seeds. Ain’t gonna do me no good. Too late fo’ it dis season. I kin set ‘round complainin’ ‘bout how come I cain’t have lettuce o’ I could plant sompin’ dat’ll give me a good crop, like beans.”
Li’l Early’s face screwed up into a tight knot as he did his best to tease meaning out of the old man’s words. “What beans and lettuce gotta do with anything?”
Old Early chuckled. “I could work m’self to de bone tryin’ to get a crop of lettuce an’ complain ‘bout how de weather ain’t cooperatin’ o’ I could take a read o’ de weather an’ plant me some beans. Beans save me de work and de complainin’.”
“Still doan’ git what you trying to say?” The boy sat up and stared at the old man. “I need to find a way to make it easy on myself?