I found an old letter that Daddy had written to Mama when they were still young and caught up in the idea of each other, and in it, he had promised her the whole world. She had seen little more than our backyard and a cook stove since. I was thinking about that letter as I sat there with Becky and Jess in Daddy’s truck, listening to forbidden songs on the radio.
“Now you girls get out of that dirty ol’ truck and sit on the porch like young ladies ought to!” Mama hollered at us.
She didn’t like Daddy’s old truck, but the three of us would sit there in the evenings and listen to the radio and talk about things that we didn’t want anybody else to know, especially Mama.
Young ladies. We weren’t but fourteen or so. The only ladies we knew were in movies we weren’t allowed to watch, but had anyway, when Mama was too tired to notice. Ladies always ended up in the arms of some dastardly man, and I knew that. I’d even stole some of my own Mama’s romance novels, the ones she kept hidden under her bed, with pictures on the covers of muscled heroes and some poor girl with her dress about to fall off.
I didn’t want to be a lady. Lord, no. I like sitting in dirty old trucks and making plans about how one day I’d make the world mine, all by myself, without the promises in some old love letter. I would write lyrics and dream up stories far better than those old songs on Daddy’s radio.
Becky and Jess and I grew up together, just a stone’s throw away from each other our whole lives, and I could tell early on that they weren’t the same as me. They wanted to be ladies. They wanted the things they were always told to want. I almost felt sorry for them. They wanted a romance novel hero and to have babies and fix Sunday supper for the rest of their lives. They wanted a backyard.
Just last week I rode up into the holler with Daddy to get some polk from the backwoods for Mama to fry up. And there he sat on that ol’ fence post by the road, that Tucker boy, and I took a second look at him.
He was just sitting there as pretty as you please, not a care in the whole world, long fingers picking guitar strings for nobody in particular, but as I passed him by, I imagined his lonesome song was for me, and I looked at him for only a second or two, and I could see him cutting his green eyes at me. I couldn’t look at him directly for long for fear that my dress would come falling off like one of those poor ladies in Mama’s books. That Tucker boy had a strange effect on me, and I never told Becky and Jess or Mama about it. I never spoke of it until this minute.
But I reckon that Tucker boy wanted a lady, too. Most of them do, you know. I decided to be mad at that boy for the rest of my days, right then and there. I wanted a hundred Tucker boys. A hundred lonesome songs. A hundred backyards.
Obligated love… That’s what they have, Mama and Daddy. I don’t desire it myself. I want to be a woman, not a lady. If that Tucker boy ever takes the notion to come and take me away, it’ll be because I’m the one thing in the world he can’t ever capture on a cover of some silly book. I figure it’ll take some hard work to earn me. I ain’t a lady.
We came walking up to the porch around twilight, the three of us, our heads full of forbidden music and womanly notions.
“Ya’ll are a bunch of big headed little girls,” Mama said.
She shook her head and wrung her tired hands on her apron.
“The problem with big headed little girls,” she warned me, “is that big headed little girls become big headed women.”
I hope so, Mama. I hope so.