Thursday, September 17, 2009
SISSY AND PERK
Walter Perkins Covington is a planter. He's a good-sized man: Sissy struggles to keep him in fresh khakis, despite his propensity to jump right out into the drainage ditch or under an oil-leaking tractor. When he's on one of their "trips" or playing golf at the Club, or at church---then, it's always the same---pastel Polos and khaki pants and lace-up leather shoes---golf or dress---all chosen and purchased by Sissy. He wears a gold watch but no wedding ring, and despite his being the owner of so many thousands of acres, he has the white-forehead/tan-cheeks of a real farmer. He gets out of the truck and stands, one hand propped on his hip, a cigarette in the other, while he gives orders or passes the time of day, gesturing with the smoking hand, and on him, it does not look effeminate. He wears a HAT, not a cap; Planters wear hats, and in deference to his Daddy's memory, Perk wears a hat.
Perk grew up on the big family farm, and learned to do and drive and repair might near everything there was to the place; he has hard-calloused hands and a know-how which keeps him doing the work, even when he can well afford to hire other folks to do it. He's remodeled two houses, their first small one from their early marriage, and the big old family one, left to him by his parents, and re-done several years ago to Sissy's taste, with French doors onto the patio and tons of granite in the kitchen and bathrooms. Perk can hammer, saw, plumb and run electrical wire good as anybody, and enjoys the sweat of a good day's labor.
He hunts everything that moves, and has four huntin' dogs, all well-trained and famous around several counties. Perk saw in a movie one time where a rich man said an important man's pockets should be empty. He needs no ID, cause everybody knows him; no money, cause his credit is good everywhere, and no keys, because every door should be open to him, and at home, the servants open the door before his truck rolls to a stop. Every now and then, he'll tear out a check, stick it and his driver's license in his shirt pocket, and run to Memphis or Jackson for parts, but when they travel, Sissy carries the passports and credit cards, having to hiss at him in airports to TAKE THIS ID and I MEAN IT!
Sissy likes to try recipes she finds in Gourmet and Taste of Home and on the Internet, involving new things like cilantro and arugula and curry; Perk is not strictly a meat-and-potatoes man---he likes a good dish of snap beans or fried okra or collards as well as anything, but he refuses to eat any of the foofoo stuff, especially if it's something green he hasn't seen actually GROWING before.
Sissy is just Sissy, named Cordelia Martha Jennings II for her Daddy's sister, but one Cordy in the family was enough. And her Mama didn’t even LIKE the name “Martha”---too common---but was still in the throes of the ether and the pain drugs when Miss Callie Bates came around with her clipboard to fill out the Birth Certificate. Mama had agreed to Cordelia, but Aunt Cordy and Sissy’s Daddy were the only ones awake in the rustles of the darkened, quiet room when Miss Callie bustled in and the name was put down, and there it was.
And once Miss Callie wrote it down and snapped the gold top back on her Parker fountain pen and clipped it back in her big side pocket---well, that was ALL SHE WROTE, in every sense. Pardons at Parchman were easier to come by than a change in any medical record in THAT hospital, recorded with the State or not.
Even the two tiny tooth-dents in the gold lid from her great-nephew’s slobbery chewing---testament to a softness in both metal and Miss Callie’s usual iron will and demeanor---meant nothing after that final snap-and-clip. The thing was DONE.