Leslie Harper Worthington
Momma Done Done It
Nadine was always threatening to shoot Jimmy when he'd come home drinking but we never believed her. Till that day. None of us knew she'd gone out to Uncle Carl's place up Hickory Holler in Kentucky while Jimmy was off working and borrowed one of Uncle Carl's pistols. Uncle Carl wasn't as surprised as the rest of us when she finally did do it.
Nadine and Jimmy had married two years before on a trip to Gatlinburg. They didn't plan it. They'd been seeing each other about two months when they took the trip. My momma kept Nadine's boys for them to go. Nadine knew Jimmy had been steppin' out on his first wife but she didn't believe he'd do that to her. She'd say, "our love is of a different sort." Jimmy had told her how he got "coworsed" into marrying Jane. He never did love her, he said. I'm sure Jane would have told a different story. But he loved Nadie. That's what he called Nadine. Momma hated to hear it. She'd say, "I named my own child and if I had a wanted her called something else I would've named her that." Momma would always remind Nadine, "if he'll cheat with you, he'll cheat on you." Nadine would correct her over and over again: "Jimmy wasn't married when I met him." Momma'd say, "ain't much difference, he cheated on someone and with someone in the past. Once a cheater, always a cheater." Momma was fond of sayings.
Nadine said when they went to Gatlinburg they was walking along the strip and looking in all the shops, getting ready to ride that sky lift that takes you all the way to the top of the mountain when they passed a little white chapel. Prettiest place, stain glass windows, mostly blue and pink, Jesus with his hands reaching out to you. Jimmy looked at her and she looked at him and they read each other's thoughts. "Well, will ya?" And she said, "yes." They took to running up them brick steps, hand in hand. The chapel turned out to be a one stop shop. You could buy the license and hold the service all right there. It was a bit noisier than Nadine would of liked, what with cars starting and stopping and honking at folks walking back and forth across the street, people talking as they wandered in and out of shops along the strip, and circus music coming from the wax museum next door.
They weren't really dressed for it. Momma laughed till she cried when she saw the wedding picture. Nadine in shorts and a striped tank top, Jimmy in jeans and one of his clean, white t-shirts. I swear he ironed those things. Momma said the white veil Nadine had rented was the funniest part. She never believed that was a preacher between them. He looked more like a car salesman. She'd always tell Nadine she bet they weren't really married, didn't see how you could do it in such a way as that.
Momma and Daddy was married in the First Baptist Church on Burton Street downtown. Momma wore a blue chiffon dress that Granny had made for the occasion and Daddy wore a dark blue suit he borrowed from his brother Russ. Russ wore it on his route when he collected insurance money. The church was filled. All nine of Momma's siblings and their families and all thirteen of Daddy's with theirs, plus many of their neighbors and most of the church's congregation were there. Reverend Whitestone officiated and after the service there was a picnic on the churchyard grounds. They ain't no pictures so we got to take Momma's word on it all.
Momma didn't understand domestic violence, as they call it now. Daddy never laid a hand on her in the fifty-two years they was married. Nadine and Jimmy's fighting didn't start right away, but it wasn't but about six months in that Artie and Andy first come running down to our place. It eventually got where it happened on a more and more regular basis. Artie, the oldest, would tell Momma, "they at it again. Can me and Andy stay here with you, Momaw?" Artie and Andy's Momaw was mine and Nadine's Momma. Me and Artie was about the same age. There was seven months between us. They'd show up, even late at night, Andy dragging that old ratty stuffed dog he called doggie. You'd think the child could name it something more interesting. Anybody could see it was a dog. We never thought Andy was too bright but he wound up a foreman at the plant, making more money that any of us, bought himself a house up on the hilltop before he was thirty. But every time Momma'd say, "course you can darlin'. Can't expect a child to live in such as that." Momma was a kind woman in her own way.
I don't guess I minded. But they'd both have to sleep with me. Andy wasn't no trouble. He'd curl up with that dog and be asleep in a minute but Artie was a different story. He was one of those boys that thought scared people was funny. He'd tell stories of one-armed murderers and hairy monsters that like to live under little girls' houses. I'd be okay till he pulled out that flashlight. He'd shine it on the ceiling and put his hand about a foot above it then slowly move it closer and closer to the light, all the while talking about how doom was descending on us all. I knowed the monsters weren't real and that it wasn't likely the one-armed murderer was close by but something about that unseen, unnamed, descending doom would scare me to the point of just about peeing my pants. Artie loved getting a reaction out of folks. Poor little Andy got the worst of it. I only had to survive Artie's occasional visits when he was running from home.
We all figured Jimmy was knocking Nadine around. But nobody wanted to talk about it, least not in front of Daddy. Daddy had bad stomach troubles and just hadn't been himself the last few years. He stayed in his bed a good bit of the time after he retired from the railroad. And Daddy had busted Nadine's first husband in the head with a two-by-four. We couldn't take the chance of him finding out and heading over there after Jimmy. Momma always said that's what a father ought to do to protect his own and it's a shame the law feels it's their place to get in to family business. But they do and we couldn't take the chance. I know that's why Nadine would never have told it if Jimmy was knocking her about like Art used to. Artie and Andy was Art's boys but you'd never known it by the way he acted. He took off with that girl from Center City and we didn't see him but once or twice a year. We used to call Artie little Art and there was talk of AJ, but once Art was gone there wasn't no point. Artie could be Artie and one day just Art. Big Art never give Nadine so much as a dime for them boys. Momma and Daddy had to help her a lot but nobody minded much.
They lived one street over and about five blocks down so it wasn't far for the boys to come when they needed to. We'd hear a knock on the door and know it was them. Momma'd let them in and give them a little snack. Then she'd put us all to bed. They never seemed much upset by it, not so as Momma's spice cake or banana pudding wouldn't fix it. Nadine knew where they were. She'd come pick them up in the morning. Nobody'd ask any questions. They were just sleeping over.
But that day it was different. Artie was banging on the door and Andy was crying. Artie just kept saying fast and breathless, over and over, "Momma done done it. Momma done done it this time."
"Done what, Artie? What's your momma done?" my momma asked.
"Shot him. She done shot him."
"Lord no. She's shot Jimmy?"
"Yes maim, shot Jimmy"
"Missy, get my purse and let's go."
I run to her chest-a-draws where she always laid her purse and brought it to her. Momma's purse was a fascination to me and when we'd visit her sisters as we often did and the eventual boredom would set in I'd spend the time going through everything she kept in there: handkerchiefs, collapsible silver cup, butterscotch candy, pill case, wallet, pictures, and the like.
Momma was prepared for every circumstance. But today I wasn't sure why I was even getting it. What in that purse was going to help poor Jimmy if Nadine had actually shot him?
Daddy came out of his room this time. Sick as he was, he'd heard the commotion and wanted to know what was going on. We all took off down the sidewalk toward Nadine's. We weren't running exactly. I'd never seen my mother run but we were moving pretty quick. Unfortunately, quick enough for the neighbors to notice. Most had already heard Artie yelling anyway so by the time we got to Nadine's a crowd had formed behind us. We went up the ally as we always did and in to Nadine's backyard. But before we made it to the porch we saw Jimmy laying there on the steps. He was holding his thigh with both hands and below them I could see the hole in his jeans and the wet darkness all around it. Nothing was red except his sock above his shoe. It didn't match the other one. One sock was white and the other was red. I'm not sure it sunk in to my eight-year old brain right away. I remember thinking Jimmy's socks don't match. About that time here come Sheriff Bailey around the corner of the house. My momma stepped over Jimmy and started into the house, calling, "Nadine? Nadine?" I followed Momma.
I heard Daddy say, "well, somebody call the rescue squad for this boy or he's going to bleed to death."
"Please, Mr. Mason, don't let me die. I'm sorry. Please help me."
"Now boy, what've you got to be sorry for?" the sheriff asked. "It looks like you may be the injured party here."
"It's my fault, all my fault. She told me."
"Told you what?" my Daddy asked.
"Told me to stay out. She said if I put one more foot on her porch she was shooting. I did and she did. Somebody get me to the hospital."
I've never seen a man more full of sorry. It didn't seem to quite fit the situation. The rescue squad did eventually come get Jimmy and the sheriff talked with Nadine. I kept waiting for him to put the cuffs on her and put her in the police car like I'd seen on Dragnet but he never did. I sat outside on the porch watching them work on Jimmy so I could only hear a little of what was said as Nadine and Sheriff Bailey talked at the kitchen table. Through the door, I could see my mother standing behind Nadine's chair. Momma never spoke as Nadine told her story, but the sheriff kept looking up at her as if she did. Suddenly he stood up and said, "I'm satisfied. Self-defense."
I kept thinking, where's the pistol? I just wanted to get a look at it close up. Later Artie told me Daddy handed it over to the sheriff who gave it to the county judge. Judge Holden wasn't just the county judge. He also owned the local Pontiac dealership. Uncle Carl wasn't a bit happy about losing a pistol he'd only thought he was loaning. The family story goes he had to buy a new Pontiac to get that pistol back.
Two days after the shooting, Jimmy was back at Nadine's and she was nursing him. You wouldn't believe mine and Momma's shock when we went over there and there sat Jimmy in Nadine's living room, his leg propped up on the coffee table with a pillow under it, Nadine waiting on him hand and foot. I don't guess she was as convinced of her innocence as the sheriff. Jimmy was just along for the ride. He always did strike me as the kind of man that lived by opportunity.
All was well for a couple more months and then the boys started showing up at our door again. Momma had had enough. Jimmy was a construction worker and he'd go away for two, three days at a time, working at a site out of town. Momma never liked the idea of that. She'd tell Nadine, "a family man comes home to supper ever night and sleeps in his own bed." One Monday morning, Jimmy left for a three day trip, and Momma called the U-Haul. We all went down to Nadine's and helped her load up her stuff in the truck. Artie stayed behind with us, but Nadine and Andy headed south. When Jimmy got home on Wednesday night, that rental house was practically empty. He didn't have much to complain about. Nadine had left his clothes, guitar, and some boxes he brought when he moved in. He didn't have much more than that.
Artie and I didn't know where Nadine had gone. Momma didn't want to take the chance that we'd let the cat out of the bag. She wanted Nadine gone long enough for Jimmy's interest to wander. And it did before too long. But Nadine didn't come back. I found out later she was in Birmingham. Momma, Daddy, and I took Artie to her after the school year ended. Daddy didn't feel much like traveling, but Momma never learned to drive. She was like that, a woman of her time.
Leslie Harper Worthington holds a Ph.D. from Auburn University with a concentration in Southern Literature and is the recipient of a Quarry Farm Fellowship from the Center for Mark Twain Studies at Elmira College and author of Cormac McCarthy and the Ghost of Huck Finn. She has also published scholarly articles as well as creative pieces. Dr. Worthington is currently Division Chair of Language and Fine Arts at Gadsden State Community College.