Hattie McKay

I have decided to volunteer at a rehabilitation center and everyday, when I enter The Oak Hills, I see my future self strapped to the bed, being pumped and sucked, poked, jabbed, turned, swabbed and looking for someone to tell my story to, someone who would listen it. I approached several agents with the idea of telling the stories of the patients in The Oak Hills, and they felt that it was too depressing. Yes, in fact, more depressing than they and I ever realized, but equally uplifting, a side they did not see. My thought was and still is, that if you become depressed at knowing the possible, probable future, perhaps your present will brighten and you will seize the moment to live it fully.

One day, I spotted a woman whose wheel chair was placed in front of the double doors leading off to a sun filled patio.   I peeked in on her, she sat up in the chair and I could tell she was deciding what to do with the attention.  I smiled and told her that I would like to tell her story and she said, “You can tell my story, you can tell it in twenty breaths.”

“ What if it takes more?” I said.

“If it is more, then, we will have to deal with it,” she said.

“What is your name?” I asked.

“ Hattie McKay,” she said.

“ You’re looking good, Hattie McKay.” I said.

“ You’re looking good, too,” she said.

Hattie McKay was a little woman with strong hands and arms. Her face showed deep lines of age and hard work. She strained to remember and was always polite and answered a question with a completely formed sentence with a nice little pleasantry added on the end. One day when we were talking she winked at me and motioned for me to come close as if she had a secret to tell that would shake the earth.

She whispered, “Tell my story young lady.  You don’t have to tell it like it is, just tell it like you want to tell it.  If you tell it like it happened, like it really happened, they won’t believe it and if you tell it with fibs in it they won’t believe it either. You don’t even have to start with the beginning. They won’t even know it.”

“ Tell me what you want them to know, and I will take it all down with this tape recorder.”

“ All right, I was born in Hattiesburg, Mississippi a long time ago. It was quite ways to town, so they never got around to getting my birth recorded.  I didn’t exist for years, and then when I got married, I had some paperwork done.  They called me Hattie, I guess for Hattiesburg. I really don’t know. I was given to my Aunt Helen when I was around eight years old.  She didn’t have kids and told my mama she needed my help. Mama said that she didn’t have enough food to go around so she shared me with auntie. I lived somewhere near Hattiesburg, but I didn’t get to town much.  I worked hard at aunties house, real hard. My hands were swollen up and real red all of the time.  When I was twelve, my things were packed and I was returned to my mama. It was hard to be home again because it wasn’t home again to me. It was mama’s house and my house was aunties house. Maybe that is why when I was sixteen I married Mr. McKay. I had no idea what that was all about, but I sure found out right quick. After we spent two nights at the hotel we took off for Texas. When we got there, Mr. McKay set up a big tent and gave shaves and haircuts.  I swept up and cleaned up.  Have you ever tried to keep a dirt floor clean and swept up in the middle of those awful wind and dust storms?  It was quite a sight. You can’t imagine.  I was very nice to Mr. McKay, but he wasn’t very nice to me.  I don’t really think he liked me much. I didn’t like him much either.  I was pregnant with our first child and he hit me lots of times.  He threw me down in front of the tent and I thought I broke my leg. I stayed in bed for about a week and when I got up and started walking again, I walked right out of that tent and kept on going until I got back to Hattiesburg. Mama put me on a train and headed me right back to Mr. McKay. We had our first son and very soon we were going to have another baby. Mr. McKay wasn’t as mean as before, but he wasn’t very nice, most often. I worked hard keeping the barbershop cleaned up and my baby well fed.”

“What did you name your first baby?”

“ Thomas, we called him Tommy.”

“ Did you live in the tent with the barbershop?”

“Yes, we did, but by the time I was pregnant with our second child the barbershop was in the corner of a building in town and Mr. McKay was kept very busy. We moved to the rooms above the shop.   Our second son was born and Mr. McKay was proud to be a daddy and proud to have two sons. He still didn’t give a hoot about me. I must have annoyed him because when he was home his neck twitched and his eyes would roll back into his head when I talked.  It was sort of like he couldn’t stand what I was saying. I stayed in Texas with Mr. McKay four more years. It was hard on the kids and it was hard on me. I knew I was leaving, I just didn’t know when. One day, I put some clothes in a bag, got a ride from some folks going towards Hattiesburg and we all were gone. I’ll bet Mr. McKay was relieved and good and glad we were gone.”

“Did you ever see Mr. McKay again?”

“ Oh yes, he came beck to Hattiesburg for something. I sure hoped it wasn’t to get the kids and me. When I saw him, he was just as mean and ugly looking as he was the first day I saw him.  His brows then were jet black, way back then and were so bushy they hung over his eyes. When I saw him again they weren’t as bushy, but still hung over his eyes.  His nose was big and bumpy like he’d takin’ to the drink. His eyes were a muddy blue long ago and now they are bleached out and empty looking. His head was once too big for his body, but it looked like his body caught up. I never hated Mr. McKay then, and I don’t want to now because he is the kid’s daddy. He will always be their daddy and the granddaddy of their children. I don’t want to be the one to spoil anything for any of them.”

“Was it good to be home?”

“ Well, when I got back home and nobody wanted extra mouths to feed, so I stayed in the back of a factory where t
hey made clothes. Pretty soon, I was making the clothes and every so often, I would go and check on the kids. I stayed right there for a long time. I didn’t make much money, but I had a place to stay and was sort of a caretaker for the place. The owners really liked me and said I was the best resident worker in Hattiesburg. They were sure right.

One day, I figured a way to get some lumber and some nails.  I started with them and began to build me a house. A little while later I got more stuff to build with and before you know it, I had me a little house. The kids were good, the house was good and I was real good. We stayed that way, kids good, me running back and forth checking’ and the house getting better all the time. No one could believe that I got me a house all on my own.  I didn’t even think about the house being on someone else’s property. Some guy came along and told me my house was on his property. He looked like a nice guy so I married him. I don’t think the house was ever mine, but we moved to his big house and I took care of his kids and mine, too. I spent lots of time with that guy and our kids are all grown now. He called me Hattie and I called him Bear.  I am telling you about me because I want you to tell my family we are friends and I want you to tell them things we talked about here. You will do this for me, please.”

“Of course I will, Hattie, but why don’t you call them now and talk to them. I can call for you.”

“Oh not right now, I haven’t talked to them since last Christmas. They didn’t want me to come because they thought I was too sick to be over with them or something like that.  They all live right here in town and none have come by to see me. I’m not a bad person; I know that, I know they are busy doing their own thing. Still, they could come by here and visit with me a little.”

“They should come.”

“They don’t.”

“Hattie, what is it you want me to tell you kids and grandkids?”

“ You can tell them this: I used to look like a giant sad giraffe. That’s what my second husband told me. He said my neck hung down and that I needed to stand up and let folks who pass by see my face. He made me do experiments. He used to say, make them notice you Hattie. He made me walk in front of him and see if I could attract attention. I learned some tricks about standing straight as an arrow, and I could get attention.  I don’t think I can get any attention now.”

“You’ve got my attention.” I said.

“ Yes I do and young lady, I am going to tell you something I know. You should not spend time catching up on what you should have done or should have been doing.  You should start from where you are and just do it.”

3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Dina
    Jul 12, 2010 @ 11:25:48

    Lovely story. I enjoyed every word.


  2. Pat
    Jul 14, 2010 @ 09:40:41

    Great story! Very thought provoking.


  3. Suellen
    Jul 18, 2010 @ 20:26:00

    Oh, Sheila, this was a great story. I hung on every word and was anxious to read the next sentence. I bet you can make a speed reader out of me.

    Thanks for sharing.


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