Kittie Howard

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Piggy Lou (Louisiana Stories)

(Note: I'm late posting. And reading your beautiful blogs. Hang in there! My husband got sick with a bug that infects the sinuses and hung out in this multi-purpose room so as not to infect me...he's a good guy!...but is now back to normal, yea! Then, I decided to prepare this room for spring, reverse clothes in closets and so on. That accomplished (ahhhh!), the sun's shining, birds are chirping, and life's good.)

Today's story . . .

The end of World War II brought economic, military, and political change to much of the world. Within the United States, hundreds of thousands of soldiers returned to a grateful nation, but also to change. The need to move troops within the country had increased internal rail lines and expanded roadways. This constant movement of troops had also exposed 'good ole country boys' to the bright lights of the cities and a different way of life.

War's end meant thousands of soldiers with rural roots descended upon America's cities, all looking for a job and a more affluent life. Jobs became scarce. The G.I. Bill, a massive government spending program, provided immediate opportunity for war veterans to attend university and re-enter the work force with updated, more realistic skills change demanded.

The United States also faced the problem of how to dispose of excess war materials within the country: Jeeps, tents, Quonset huts, and the like. Public auctions and shifting materials to peacetime usage decreased stockpiles and allowed factories and the auto giants to return to normal production. (To maintain security interests, the United States requires three auto companies: Two for conversion to mechanized production during war and a third to produce vehicles for the private sector.)

To accommodate increased university attendance the G.I. Bill afforded, Quonset huts functioned as student housing, especially for married students. Universities partitioned the metal, dark green, tubular modulars into half, with a family occupying either end.

When my father returned home from the war, he returned home to a family. I had been born while he fought on Iwo Jima. My mother quickly became pregnant with my sister, Sarah.

Although my father possessed an undergraduate degree from Louisiana State University prior to enlisting in the Army, at War's end he didn't think his degree provided an edge in a congested job market. He decided to attend Law School at LSU.

And, so, we lived in a Quonset hut, one among many in the on-campus, married students' housing (across from the field where the university golf teams now practice).

Of course, I didn't know any of this. I was a child. A very happy child with red hair and freckles who loved to laugh and giggle and explore everything around me. And, on this day, I was even happier. It was my third birthday. I was a big girl now, all grown up and ready for the world, even if this world comprised a sidewalk that fronted the rows of Quonset huts:

The sleek wagon's watermelon-red paint glistened brand-new in the July sun.

And I squealed with delight.

Nervous hands soon tugged at the Radio Flyer's handle. When the wagon's black wheels glided forward, I felt the power of freedom and turned to run. I ran down a sidewalk that went forever, at least to New Orleans, maybe to Mississippi. I ran for a million miles, my laughter and giggles a flautist accompaniment to the sidewalk's thump! thump! thump! cracked percussion.

My frilly pink party dress clung to my pale skin. The white ruffles wilted. My straw summer hat, with its pink bow and fluttery tails, floated on a breeze. Only the straps on my white Mary Jane's kept me on the sidewalk, prevented me from pulling my red wagon into the blue sky and hooking a ride on the hat that swirled toward a golden sun.

Ten years later -- no, twenty years later -- I returned to my birthday party, red wagon in tow, a wide smile on my freckled face, a victorious Helen of Troy before I knew either of the warrior queen or life's battles, only that my heart exploded from joy, the sheer joy of living beyond what a three-year-old knew.

At my wide smile, my parents hugged me, and everyone clapped, my parents' friends and their kids, all neighbors who had come to my third birthday party. And they sang Happy Birthday. And we ate cake with pink frosting and a scoop of home-made ice cream on the side. And after playing with my friends, I fell asleep on a blanket under a nearby oak tree.

However, the next day I didn't see Peggy Lou. My best friend in the whole wide world, who lived with her parents on the other side of our Quonset hut, hadn't attended my birthday party.

Two days later, when Peggy Sue still hadn't come out to play, I grew sad and worried Peggy Lou had disappeared. And because friends my age lived deeper in the housing complex I didn't have anyone except Sarah to play with. So, I pulled Sarah up and down the sidewalk. This was fun. Maybe. Not really.

I thought Peggy Lou would want to take Bootsy for a ride in the wagon. Bootsy was a big doll with long brown hair Peggy Lou had received for her third birthday. She'd had a huge birthday party before summer began, with balloons and games and prizes and a pile of other gifts. But Mama said I'd received lots of presents when I was an only child and this was fair. And Mama was right. Sarah was fun. Except when she tried to eat my picture books.

So, while Mama sat on the stoop, I played with Sarah and the wagon. And a long time passed, maybe five years, before Peggy Lou came outside. One afternoon, after playing with Sarah, and while Mama, Sarah, and I sat on the stoop, Peggy Lou appeared.

Without saying a word, and focused as only a three-year-old can be, Peggy Lou walked up to my red wagon, now parked near the sidewalk, and began kicking it. Before Mama could re-situate Sarah, Peggy Lou had kicked the wagon over, yanked on its handle and run off.

My little red wagon never rolled again. No one could realign the handle and the wheels.

A month later, after we'd moved to my grandparents' farm, my red wagon remained parked on our front porch, drooped on its side. But that's where I wanted my wagon. And Sarah and I would put dolls our grandmother had given us into the wagon and imagine the wheels rolled.

But, still, I didn't know about cows and pastures. I didn't understand my new world where everything appeared so open and far away. I didn't understand that this move to the farm had been planned, that my grandparents had had our house built for us. I didn't understand that my parents transitioned into the next phase of their lives and that my father commuted between LSU and the farm until he graduated the following spring. So, not understanding meant I didn't know what to do.

Until, that is, someone gave me a baby pig. A chocolate-brown baby pig that squealed like a thousand kittens. All at once.

Except in a picture book, I'd never seen a pig before and couldn't believe my good fortune. Of course, I didn't know my mother was furious about this unsolicited gift or that my grandmother had thrown a fit. "A PIG!", Ma had screeched and with a case of the vapors had lain in bed for two days (Mama told me years later).

But no one could take my pig from me, except at night. My little friend slept in the barn.

Every morning my mother and I walked to the barn to get my pig. The three of us then walked to my grandmother's where Ma waited with breakfast scraps. With my pig behind me, I learned to navigate that wide expanse between our houses that soon appeared smaller and smaller, still a pasture, but not as bad as I had thought.

When my father returned to the farm the next weekend from LSU and saw my new friend, he got a twinkle in his blue eyes and asked, "What are you going to name your pig?"

Without a moment's hesitation, I answered, "Piggy Lou."

And Piggy Lou and I had fun. For a little while. Until the day came when I realized I could leave the front porch and my little red wagon without Piggy Lou.

I also got lucky. For Piggy Lou was growing fast, too fast for my little legs to keep up with. Just in time I learned other sidewalks existed in life where I could run forever, at my own speed.

Miss Kitty, the former slave who lived up the road, said she'd raise Piggy Lou. When Miss Kitty saw the pretty pink ribbon I'd tied around Piggy Lou's neck, she chuckled and patted me on the head. After a slice of cake and a glass of lemonade, Pa drove home.

And my grandmother gave me a kite.

And I ran and laughed and giggled, happy to be with my new best friend in the world, myself.

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