Monthly posts to Tales from the Tapestry are written by Author/Storyteller/Playwright Linda Goodman. Linda is the author of Daughters of the Appalachians, which has been performed around the country both as a one-woman show and a play. She has been a professional storyteller since 1989. She is a Virgina Appalachian Mountain native of Melungeon descent.
(Lynette is one of the Characters from Boojie's People, the sequel to Daughters of the Appalachians.)
Warning:This story has images that may be disturbing to some.
the first friend I made after my family moved from the mountains of Wise
County, Virginia to the city of Portsmouth, Virginia. She lived in the same
apartment building, on Smith Place in Williams Court, as me. Her family’s
apartment was directly beside mine. We could talk to one-another through our
thin bedroom walls.
after my first night in my family’s new apartment, I went outside to play. Most
of the kids ignored me (when you are new you have to prove yourself), but Carol
asked me to play hopscotch with her. She was pretty good at it, considering that
one of her legs had been left crippled by polio. After a few games, she asked
me if I had “roach rain” in my apartment at night. I knew exactly what she was
talking about. All night long I had listened to the roaches fall from my
bedroom ceiling to the floor or, much worse, my bed. The sound was akin to a slow,
steady rain. I thought the roof was leaking, until one of the “drops” fell on
my forehead and scurried away over top of the covers. I wrapped myself up in my
quilt like a mummy after that. I do not think I slept at all that night.
explained that I did not need to be afraid of roaches. “They’re nasty boogers,”
she said, “but they can’t hurt you, Lynette. It’s the rats you have to be afraid of.”
they?” I asked.
hear any scratching inside your bedroom walls last night?” she responded. I
told her that I had heard scratching, not only in my bedroom walls, but in the
bathroom walls, as well.
the rats!” she confided. “Now, they can hurt you bad! If they scratch long
enough, they can scratch their way right through the walls. I heard tell that last
year one of them scratched its way through a wall and ate a baby’s face off, down
on Garrett Street”
at the idea. I decided that Carol was not a nice person; that she was just trying
to scare me. I told my mama about it, and she agreed. “I never heard tell of a
rat scratching through a wall in my whole life,” my mama assured me.
later, though, I found out that Carol was not exaggerating. I was in the
bathroom brushing my teeth when a rat scratched its way right through the
bathroom wall. I took off running, and that rat ran after me. To this day I
remain convinced that it would have eaten me alive, had my father not been
there to beat it off with a broom.
rat incident, my daddy contacted Orkin Exterminators to come and spray our
apartment with poison to rid us of our bugs and rodents. “Bub, I can spray your
place every day of the week” the Orkin man explained, “but it won’t do a bit of
good unless all the other families in this building get their apartments
sprayed, too.If they don’t, the bugs’ll
just run to the other apartments and come back to yours a few days later, just
as strong as ever.”
So Daddy set
himself upon a mission to get all the families in our building to sign on to
get their apartments sprayed for vermin. The total price, if shared by each
apartment, was quite reasonable. The only person who would not agree to do it
was Carol’s mother, who did not have any money. My daddy wanted to get rid of
those varmints so badly that he paid for her apartment to be sprayed. Two weeks
later the Orkin man treated our entire building, and when we got home from
school that day, my mother had brooms waiting for us to help her sweep up all
the dead roaches. We filled up two thirty gallon trash cans. That night, there
was no roach rain. There was no scratching inside the walls either.
family lived on Welfare. She had an older sister, Janet, an older brother,
John, and a younger sister, Annie.Annie
was the same age as my sister Ebby. Each of the four children had a different
father. Annie was the only family member whose father actually visited her.
mother was a drunk. The only time I ever saw her without a bottle in her hand
was when she was asleep and the bottle lay on the floor where she dropped it.
Carol told me that her mother sometimes fell asleep while smoking in bed. Janet
and John would take turns staying awake at night to make sure that their mother
didn’t accidentally set her bed on fire. Janet always looked after Carol and Annie.
Janet was more of a mother to them than their actual mother ever was.
lived in Williams Court for three years before I moved there. She knew where
all the cool hiding places were. We spent a lot of time exploring in the
cavernous crawl space underneath our apartment building. She showed me the
shortcuts to Sawyer’s Little Store and the Highway Pharmacy. She even showed me
a secret swimming hole behind some new apartments that were being built on Deep
Creek Boulevard. No one ever swam there but Carol. I didn’t know how to swim,
so I just watched.
secrets that she shared with only me. She knew that Mr. Norton was seeing a
woman across town on Saturdays, when his wife thought that he was at work. She
knew that Jimmie Lee hid dirty magazines under his bed. She also knew how
babies were made. When she shared that with me, I called her a liar. I knew
that my mama and daddy would never have done anything like that, even to get a
asked Carol why her father never came to visit, she told me that he was in
prison for robbing a liquor store. She knew his name was Earl, but she had
never met him, or even seen his picture.
No one in
my neighborhood got much for Christmas. The Christmas that I was ten years old,
I got a Buttons and Bows board game, two Nancy Drew books, and four walnuts.
Carol got an orange.
I have never,
before or since, seen anyone get so excited over an orange. She took a knife
and split the orange into two halves. “See how juicy it is!” she squealed as
she handed one half to me. “Just suck all that juice out and then eat what’s
left behind. And don’t forget the white layer on the rind. That’s where all the
vitamins that keep you from getting sick are.”
She gave me half of her only Christmas
present! I didn’t want to eat it! My mama bought oranges from the fruit and
vegetable truck that came through our neighborhood every week. I knew, though,
that Carol would be hurt if I did not share this rare pleasure with her; so I
did eat it. In fact, we made a ceremony of biting into our halves at the exact same
time, and as the bright orange pulp, made even sweeter by our devoted
friendship, burst inside our mouths we laughed and hugged. Our shared delight
cemented our bond, and our lives began to curl around each other, like the
twisting vines that grew togetheron the
lamp post that stood at the corner of our building. In that brief moment in
time, I felt that we would be bound together always.
When I was
eleven, Carol’s sister Janet graduated from high school and joined the army.
The following year, her brother John did the same. Before leaving for boot
camp, John told Carol, who was twelve years old, that she would have to be the
responsible one after he was gone. She would have to look after Annie and make
sure their mother did not burn the house down.
sister Annie was my sister Ebby’s best friend. Carol and I would take them to
the playground a few times a week. Once we got into an argument over who was
prettier, Ebby or Annie. Both had blonde hair and blue eyes. Carol said that Annie
was prettier because her hair was whiter. I said Ebby was prettier because her
hair was golden.
“Ebby’s hair color is so beautiful that every
time my daddy cuts it (Daddy had once been a barber), we take it to the beauty
parlor and they pay us one hundred dollars and make wigs out of it!” I claimed.
“You’re nothing but a storyteller!”
Carol hissed at me.
Back then, I did not know that
being a storyteller could be a good thing. My mama usually switched me for
“telling stories.” Carol’s remark left me highly insulted and I came back at
“At least Ebby doesn’t run around
outside in her underwear, like Annie does!” I yelled.
Carol looked over my shoulder and
grinned. I turned around to see what she was grinning at and saw Ebby running
through the Dinky Pool stripped down to her birthday suit. I grabbed Ebby by
her arm, swatted her behind, and insisted that she put her clothes back on. I
took Ebby home and did not speak to Carol for two whole days.
One day Carole and I came home from
school and there was a fire truck in front of our building. Carol’s mother had
fallen asleep smoking again. The bed had caught fire and she had some serious
burns. My mama said an ambulance had taken Carol’s mother to the hospital.
Annie’s father had been called. He
picked up Annie and took her to stay with a family that he had paid to look
after her. I wondered why he didn’t just take Annie to his house. I wondered
why he didn’t take Carol with him to look after Annie.
I asked my daddy if Carol could
stay with us, but he said that the state had taken custody of her. When I asked
him why, he said, “It’s complicated.”
Carol was taken to a foster home
that was not too far from where we lived. Mama let me walk over to see her
after school and on Saturdays. The house was faded and run down, but big. The
yard was huge, but ragged. I asked Carol what it was like living in a foster
home. She said the food was better than she what she was used to eating, but
living with strangers was hard. “You have to be polite all the time,” she told
me. “You can’t act smart like you can with your family. If you do, they can send
you to a group home, and that’s like being in prison.”
Carol’s mother came home from the
hospital a few days after the fire. Carol did not come home for three months. Annie
never came back to that apartment. Ebby missed her.
Not too long after Carol came home,
the people in the blue building next to ours decided they wanted their
apartments to be roach and rodent free, too; but they did not call Orkin. They
called the rental office, who had just announced that they had sub-contracted a
team of exterminators to spray buildings by appointment.
The men that the rental office sent
did not spray the individual apartments, like the Orkin man had done. All of us
neighborhood children gathered to watch as they put a giant tent over the whole
building. The tent was clear, and when the spray was squirted up under it, it
looked like smoke was filling the tent. As the smoke began to disappear, the
building started began to turn from blue to brown. The brown started at the top
of the building and quickly flowed down to the bottom and onto the ground. It
was an avalanche of roaches, and it was headed for us!
Terrified, I turned and ran as fast
as I could. Everybody else was running, too. Carol couldn’t keep up because of
her polio leg. The last time I saw her, she was hobbling and trying, but not
able, to keep up the rest of us. She was in roaches up to her knees.
I did not come back home for hours.
That night when I went to bed, the roach rain had come back. Mama said most of
those roaches had run right into our building. The next morning, Daddy called
For three days I knocked on Carol’s
door. The first two days her mother yelled at me to go away. The third day, she
answered the door and told me that Carol was back at the foster home. “She
won’t be living here no more,” she said.
I went to the foster home, but the
woman told me Carol was not there. She had gotten another kid after Carol had
left, and did not have room for Carol anymore. “They probably took her to a
different home,” the woman sighed. “Maybe the group home. Check there.”
My daddy said he would check on
Carol, but he couldn’t find out anything either. I keep wondering if her mother
told me the truth. I keep wondering if Carol just got carried away in that brown
avalanche and nobody even tried to help her.
I am a grownup now, and sometimes I
see Carol in my dreams, standing there helpless, up to her knees in cockroaches.
In the dreams I want to help her, but I am so scared that I just can’t make
myself do it. Always the roaches start to come for me, and I panic and run. Always,
I leave my best friend behind.