The old man built a concrete block house with four rooms, and, as I have indicated, no bathroom facilities. We were located, through a line of trees and across an empty field, about 100 yards from Grandma Tingle’s house. I spent 10 years right next door to her out in the middle of nowhere and I never really got to know her. Certainly I was not fond of her. She was not exactly a font of warmth and affection.
She was tiny, about five feet tall and less than a hundred pounds, and mean. She smoked cigarettes but pretended not to. Proper ladies don’t smoke; if somebody came to the door, she would stick her cigarette in the oven of her wood burning stove. She was also a mean chicken killer. She would grab the bird by the neck; hold the struggling bird at arm’s length, stick its head in this little noose she had hanging from a tree and give the bird a twirl. Then she’d dip the thing in some hot water and go at plucking the bird with a will, digging out handfuls of feathers with each pull.
I think she’d pretty much had it with children. She’d been pregnant, I have heard tell, at least 10 times in her adult life. Seven lived. How that little woman ever carried a child, I don’t know. But she was wiry. Her family had lived once in a place down in Georgia where she had to carry water a mile in a bucket each day from the spring to the house. But kids, by the time I showed up, she’d had her fill of kids.
One day I was half way across the open field to my house and she took into yelling at me from her porch. She was going at me up and down about running through the corn rows. I don’t remember what she said and to this day I don’t know what’s so bad about running through the corn rows. Put a boy in front of a corn row and what do you expect he is going to do.
She was giving me a good tongue lashing and I was upset. As I stood there in that field knee high in the grass, a bee landed on my hand. And for some reason, unknown to me I did not shake it off, and—what do you know—but it stung me. I let out a howl and turned and ran home.
Was I already a masochist in training—finding novel ways to punish myself?
Or could be I was becoming a sadist. Granny didn’t know a bee had stung me; and given the howl I let—instead of my usual polite, yes’em Grandma–out she might have had second thoughts about tongue lashing a child as sensitive as I was.