ALABAMA BLUE – Podcast #17
ALABAMA BLUE – PODCAST #17
In Podcast #17, we bring you a reading by Toni K. Pacini from her book, ALABAMA BLUE. In her wonderful Southern accent, she recreates summers at Pepperrell Lake and leaves us with a haunting message about humanity, or rather, the lack of humanity in adults who can so easily dismiss the death of a child: “…not all snakes are belly crawlers. The two-legged ones can sometimes be meaner than the ones who slither and hiss.”
Chapter Six – Broken Boughs
Alabama summers brought sun and more sun, accompanied by suffocating degrees of humidity. We lived in Pepperell Mill Village, and Pepperell Lake was about a mile up the road. That mile seemed like ten on an especially vicious summer day. You’d think those of us born and raised there would become accustomed to the heat. No one ever seemed to. When my grandparents, and later my momma, had to go into the cotton mill during those scorcher days it was not uncommon for people to faint away, right there on the work floor.
Sometimes on one of those hot, airless days, Momma would walk with my sister and me to the lake so we could take a swim. My sister and I would start the walk jabbering about this and that. The farther we walked with that endless sun beating on our heads, the quieter we became. The asphalt along the highway would be steaming, buckling under the relentless summer heat. We felt like we were wilting and in danger of melting into the shimmering asphalt, oozing liquid into the earth.
Once we turned off the highway onto the dirt road that led to the lake, each step created a red dust cloud, encouraging us to hurry along to the cool water. The lake provided a great escape from the heat, and we’d laugh and play with wild abandon, energized by the cool relief. Although we were free and raucous, we respected the lake and her rules. We never swam out past the rope.
Every child from the village and surrounding areas had been taught since his or her first dip in Pepperell Lake to stay on the beach side of the rope that divided the lake into two parts. One half of the lake, the swimming section, was divided into three smaller parts. The larger section of the three made up the main swimming area, with an easy sloping embankment and a dirt bottom. I loved the way the wet earth squished between my toes. The remainder of the swimming area held two square concrete pools. The larger for less experienced swimmers and a wading pool for the toddlers.
Momma never learned to swim. She’d sit on the edge of the wading pool with the other mothers, smoking cigarettes and drinking sweet tea while she dangled her slender legs in the water. The other half of the lake, the section beyond the rope and considered off limits, was left untended and was home to fish, birds, and snakes. The caretaker of the property frequently dragged the section used for swimming. He made sure no debris drifted into the recreational area where a snake might linger, camouflaged by a limb or log. Snakes are a part of life in the South. Near the water you are always on the lookout for water moccasins and rattlesnakes might show up pretty much anywhere.
One day while my sister and I were frolicking in the water, a horrible thing occurred. I will never forget that boy’s screams. He played in the water with his friends, and they had been out precariously near the rope. Looking back, I wonder if they were out so far to escape the disapproving stares of the others at the lake that day.
The boy swam fast under the water, attempting to stay ahead of a friend who playfully gave chase, and when the child resurfaced, he did so directly under a moccasin. Water moccasins are not social critters. Their babies are born alive and immediately take off to fend for themselves. Moccasins are natural loners and will not go out of their way to attack. They will avoid humans whenever possible. But when that little boy accidentally crashed right into that moccasin, she did what came natural. She bit the intruder over and over again until he became quiet and still.
The real sadness that day, and the source of my sorrowful memory wasn’t solely because a child had died. The real horror came from what I heard the grownups say only minutes after the dead boy’s tiny, golden brown body, glistening with beads of water catching the day’s sunlight, was removed from the lake. The grown-ups laughed, some genuine, some nervous and uncertain, but they laughed.
One man said, “No big loss; one less nigger to put up with.”
In response a big, red-faced man laughed with a crude snort, and said, “Hell, I didn’t even know snakes liked dark meat.”
I learned that day that not all snakes are belly crawlers. The two-legged ones can sometimes be meaner than the ones who slither and hiss.
You can listen to Toni K. Pacini reading Chapter 1 of ALABAMA BLUE in the VIGALAND PODCAST. Don’t miss it. Chilling!
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