I’ve long suspected that the lot of us go looking for folks as bad or worse off than we are. We seek out the imperfect and the flawed, the wild and the mad. They make us feel more free somehow, maybe even more significant, and just maybe, more alive. We’d rather ride the dark horse than the fancy carriage. Perfect folks are boring. Bland. They blend into the wallpaper and are forgotten by history and dog-eared novels. But don’t let them fool you none. They have secrets behind their plain white doors. They have empty pretty smiles and empty pretty heads. And sometimes, the longer and better you know them, the uglier they get. You know it’s the truth.
There used to be an old woman up toward Jewell Ridge, back when Granny was still a girl, and she wandered around with a burlap sack thrown over her shoulder, putting spells on any stray cat she could find. She’d hunker down all slow and make odd hand gestures to those feral creatures and breathe cryptic sounds in their direction. The enchanted cats would ball up in the crook of the woman’s arm and she’d roll it into her sack with the others and go on her way. To this day I still wonder whatever in the world she needed with all those ol’ cats. Granny didn’t know, and I suspect she didn’t want to.
Now this is the truth: I ain’t got any need for lies or tall tales when there are cat women roaming the hills and hollers. Ain’t got any use for perfect fancy folks neither. But that didn’t stop Granny and Mama from trying to raise me to suit for one.
Despite the family tales of specters and cat women and rogue panthers roaming the hills, I was not allowed to watch scary movies for fear that the very devil and his company would come straight out of the screen and possess my mind or cause havoc on the happy contentment of our home (and Lord knows we had enough havoc already). Now you must keep in mind that I had been worn out a few times by the Bible Belt early on, never minding that my daddy was a wild man and Granny had seen the cat woman and had specters running around her house that she didn’t mind a bit telling folks about. Granny wasn’t one of those fancy girls. And we all have sense enough to know that pretty strawberries don’t fall off a crab apple tree.
So I reckon we too come from those wild and mad folks, those riders of dark horses and believers of witches and things with no answers or explanations. I suppose I’m one of them, too.
And the music we grew up with, that rock and metal and all that hair, it was full of devils too, or so we were told, and to let it in our ears would corrupt our goodness and lead to nothing but a bad end. I recollect the time I beat the daylights out of Bon Jovi cassette tape with a hammer, and I’m telling you, not a single devil came out of its innards. And yet it was no secret that Granny was in the family way by the time she was not even sixteen, and that was back when nothing but sorrowful dirges and back porch guitar picking fueled the budding imaginations of our namesakes, much less the sinful sounds of Bon Jovi and Aerosmith and rotten boys like them.
I figure the devil gets too much credit.
The truth of it is, we’re all mad already. Born that way, I suspect. That’s what they all implied, Granny and Mama and the rest of them. They tried their best to turn us into those pretty folks, and you know it’s the truth. But what they said and what they did was much to the contrary.
They told us to knock on wood and not to open the umbrella in the house and that rosemary planted around the porch will keep the witches away. And never burden your children with names that have thirteen letters or they’ll turn out like Charles Manson or Theodore Bundy or Jack The Ripper. And never take an expecting mama to a funeral or her baby will be born with turpitude looming over its head.
And if you bite your tongue at supper, you must’ve told a lie and had it coming.
Well I do declare, whatever wits we had left after our upbringing surely wouldn’t be spooked the rest of the way out by Angus Young or ol’ Fred Krueger. Granny and the tales of the cat woman and those old warnings had done enough spooking all by themselves. I figure we were ruined from the get go, doomed to never ride a fancy carriage for the rest of our days. And I figure it was all by design, whether they meant to do it or not. We ain’t strawberries, after all.
And we might not have cats in a sack, but Lord no, we ain’t one of those boring perfect people. And we like it that way just fine, thank you. We saddled up that dark horse long ago, and we’re still riding on and telling our tales. Folks go looking for those as bad or worse off than they are, you know.
Well, I figure they found us.