Life's Hard – Mama Looks Like Ava Gardner

No, I couldn’t have inherited mama’s goods looks.  It wasn’t until I was in junior high that I realized mama looked like Ava Gardner.  She was hailed by all: “Durant’s Great Beauty.”  Of course, people often told me when I was young,  “Your mama looks like Ava Gardner.”


Ava Gardner

Like I said, it wasn’t until I was in junior high that I understood what they meant.  They never added, “You sure favor your mother” or “You’re the spittin’ image of your mama.”  No, that part was never added.

Rather, I favored the Carmack side of daddy’s family.  Skinny, stick figured, red headed, bad teeth, and short.  My parents threatened me with “Finish your plate.”

“Think of children starving in China.”

“Stop pushing your food around your plate, and EAT.”

Oh yes, and the grand finale, “You’re not leaving this table until you finish everything on your plate.”

That’s when I knew I had them.

I was a stubborn little stick of fire who knew from frequent practice that if I pouted long enough while pushing food around on the plate, they’d give in and I would not have to eat another bite.

I could out-sulk anyone alive.  I had pouting down to a fine art.  I just had to make sure I knew when and where to apply it.  Whereas I was not allowed to sass, I could sure pout.

Often I tried to sneak unwanted food to my dog Gus, but he was a noisy gulper.

“You don’t eat enough to keep a bird alive.”  Another remark often thrown in my direction.  I got sick of it.

My reputation was bound up in “You’re sure a Carmack.  Looks just like one and acts just like one.”  

Sometimes followed with “You sure got a pretty mama.”   Again, I was in junior high before it sank in that this was no compliment to me.

Daddy was notorious for making money and never ever turning loose of a cent unnecessarily.  He was known as “Durant’s Tight Wad.”

After I made a good deal on a goat, my reputation and nomenclature expanded to “Hey, there, Take It  Or Leave It”  followed by a snicker.  For a couple months I responded to this.  Finally I asked  daddy, “Why do your men say, ‘Hey, there, Take It Or Leave It’?”

“Remember that time you bought Dora Mackey?  Roy Davis owned that goat.  We went all the way through school together.  I’ve known him most of my life.  He stopped me a few days after you bought that goat and told me how you told him ‘It was a take it or leave it deal.’  I might of mentioned it to some of the men.

“Darn” under my breath.  Filthy language wasn’t permitted around my parents.  Period.  Why was that funny?  I had bought Dora Mackey fair and square.  Besides that, it was a “good deal.”

Finally the men wore themselves out.  I was glad.  I had been storing an arsenal of vituperative dirty words that if  I ever got my nerve up, I intended to spit at them.  Even though I knew I’d pay dearly and no amount of pouting would save me,  I was hot-tempered enough to take the punishment. 

“You stupid poor goons,” was at the top of the list.  After all nothing was worse in daddy’s eyes than poverty.  He’d grown up in it and he never intended to go there again.  Thank heavens I didn’t have to use it because the worst sin you could commit after dirty language was to act “uppity.” 

We were to act like we were poor like most  folks in Durant.  Never ever let anyone know you had anything was the Carmack mantra.  We didn’t live like we had any money and besides, it was “no one’s business.”

But I had visions of my own wealth.  Daddy told me when I was in the first grade he’d give me a dollar for every A I made in school.

Holy cat, I’d be rich.  I intended to hoard that money until I had enough to buy something big.  I wasted weeks scouring the Sears and Roebuck catalogue.  I never could find anything worth all that money I was going to have.  It didn’t matter because he only paid off that one time.  Mama reminded me the rest of my life how daddy had cheated me on all my report cards, the “old goat!”

Finally my IQ suffered a blow from which it never recovered.  Second year college, first semester physical science.

I had breezed through the first year mainly because I had freshman comp.  Every essay was followed with a conference concerning my writing.  Tests requiring essay answers were my forte.  I could hammer on a few facts that I did know until it read as if I knew something.  Then physical science came along.  I might have let my freshman year go to my head, but the first day of physical science knocked any self-confidence right out of me.

Immediately I knew I didn’t comprehend one word coming from the professor’s mouth.  He might as well have been speaking Urdu.

I grew desperate.  I had horribly failed the mid-term.  I tried to prepare daddy.  His answer was “You need to sit down and study more.  You’re not studying enough.  I’m not wasting good money (Was there bad money?  I’d never heard of it.) on you failing a class.  You do not fail a class!  You hear?”

It’s true.  I probably spent more time worrying about failing the class than I did studying, but it didn’t matter because I didn’t understand one concept in the book.

Mama tried to instill false confidence in me.  Sitting there, sultry as Ava Gardner, she brushed away my concerns.  “You’ll get it.  You’re smart.  Your first grade teacher said you are.  Just read more.  You’ll be fine.”

Finally after I had uselessly exhausted every ounce of sympathy I could wring from my parents, I was driven to meet with my professor.  “I’m sorry, I don’t get it.  I made 33 on the mid-term and I’m afraid I won’t even do that well on the final.  You don’t know my daddy.  I can not make F in any course, ever.”  I sobbed a bit.

“Tell you what, you go to Thompson’s Book Store and order the teacher’s manual.  Memorize all the tests in it.  I think you’ll make it.”

I couldn’t get to Thompson’s fast enough.  “How long will it take to get it here?”

“Probably be here by the end of the week.”

I exhaled a huge breath of relief.  It’d be here before the final.

If there was one thing I could do, I could memorize.  Before I had started to school I had memorized the alphabet, and the names of the Books of the Bible, both Old and New Testaments.  I could recite them frontwards and backwards.  What my teachers took for “smart” was my ability to memorize.

Sure enough, on my way to see the posted test grades, I met my professor on the stairs.

“How did I do?  Did I pass?”

“You aced it.  Made 100.  I don’t know why you couldn’t have done that all along.”

“I don’t know why you didn’t tell me to buy the teacher’s manual sooner.  You knew I was dumber than a stick.”

“You’ll be okay.”

I made – to my daddy’s everlasting reference – four hours of D.

“Member that time you made that D?”  He never forgot.

That D was the bane of my college career.  Neither of my parents went to college.  In fact, I think the only time they were ever on a college campus was when I was graduated.  There my mother sat as close to the stage as she could get, sparkling like a jewel in the middle of a dirt road.  They never knew that D was averaged into my whole GPA.  They thought you made what you made per semester.

I never admitted the cumulative effect of that D.  But I heard about it to my father’s dying day.


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