Saturday, December 29, 2012

Good Fortune

Mayhayley Lancaster was not a romantic and by most accounts not much of a nice person.  She wore a glass eye that oozed and on the rare occasion she was seen out, a parade of dirt clod dogs following her as if she were a drum major in a parade.  She was a sort of drum major for southerners seeking answers for those things just out of reach. She was a fortuneteller, psychic, witch, and police informant, depending on who was telling the tale.  Her accuracy in readings drew visitors to her backwoods home in west Georgia all through the 1920's and 30's and beyond.  She had no connection to the news she conveyed, good or bad she reported truth in what she saw in her visions, whether it be the location of a dead body or news of a soldier's wellbeing on the front lines of war, or something as mundane as the location of a lost heirloom.  Mayhayley’s story is built into the folklore of the Deep South as solid as the mortar between the sand rock chimneys that still stand from long fallen houses that mark the rolling landscape.  But this story is not about Mayhayley Lancaster.

Dorothy went to visit Mayhayley one afternoon during the early part of the 1930’s, urged on by a co-worker who had heard Mayhayley was visiting her sister in Randolph County, Alabama.  Dorothy had no use for psychics and cursed what she saw as a wasted dollar and dime Mayhayley charged for her sessions.  Mayhayley examined her palm and quickly asked, “Who is Isaac?” Dorothy did not know an Isaac and told Mayhayley as much.  “You will marry a man named Isaac and you will be very close.  You will be together for a long time.”  She then told Dorothy that she too would live a long life and proceeded to scribble Bible verses on scraps of paper and instructed her to read them at various phases of her life for comfort and guidance.  Dorothy had recently graduated from Alabama Polytechnic Institute.  She had arrived at the school by way of her step grandmother’s boarding house in Birmingham where she had been previously working taking care of out of town guests between her school days.  It was the depression and her father was dead.  Her mother had remarried a drunk. She caught the attention of a professor and his wife staying at the boarding house and was hired to come to Auburn and care of the wife’s ailing mother.  The pay was room and board and tuition to the college each quarter.  Getting an education was worth everything to Dorothy.  It was the final instruction given to her by her father through his hospital window as he lay on his deathbed.  He was too sick for visitors but an adolescent Dorothy managed to shimmy her small body through the necessary brush, bars and concrete to find her father and say goodbye.   Her job with the Farmers Home Administration was a consequence of four years of pure hustle.  Dorothy had no room for mysticism or false promises and dismissed the entire experience with a toss of the scribbled papers once she was out of sight of her cohort to the adventure. 

Bill also worked at the Farmer’s Home Administration.  He and Dorothy knew one another from a distance at college.  They would often travel together to rural farms around East Alabama.  Dorothy would meet with the wives to discuss food preservation while my grandfather consulted the farmers over crops.  It was a new deal program brought in by Roosevelt to stave off the depression both of them had weathered as young people.  Their work relationship grew to a courtship but due to the rules of the day they had to be “on the sly” as Bill put it.  He loved to laugh about all the men who sought out Dorothy before and during their dating years and the rebuffs she gave them in favor of him.  He told stories of the two of them riding the back roads of Alabama, stopping at every bridge for a kiss.  When Bill was called to WWII, they decided to wait to marry until he returned.  In the meantime Dorothy moved to a better job testing ammunition.  She got to be Rosy the riveter and there were more suitors to rebuff.  They married in Arlington, VA where Bill was stationed after the war and according to Dorothy she would have stayed forever.  But Bill missed Alabama and so they returned to Chambers County. 

She thought little of it when he took her home to meet his family and she found out that his family referred to him by his middle name “Isaac”.  By that time her short encounter with Mayahyley was separated by years of long days working men’s jobs and a great war.  

Despite their sixty years together, my grandparents offered very little concrete advice on the subject of romantic relationships.  I know this because I spent the better part of my 20’s begging them to bestow some insight on how to know what was real; certain, as they seemed to be as they were well beyond a quarter century together by that time.  What I got were stories like these, of their love when it was new.   I heard about my Grandmother’s visit to Mayhayley on one Sunday afternoon while she lay resting on the sofa.  Granddaddy was sleeping in the bedroom. They were both in their eighties by now.  His legs were failing from neuropathy related to his diabetes and he could barely walk.  Grandmother had kept him on a strict diet eating the vegetables they grew; but other factors were starting to move in on his health and she was weary from bearing witness to his pain.  She told me she couldn’t pin point the moment when she realized Mayhayley had been right on the money.  Somebody somewhere certainly mentioned something about that crazy fortuneteller in West Georgia and the recollection came to her.  By then she was married with kids and no doubt her realization was interrupted by something one of them was in to.  It was what she thought to tell me that day as I begged her once again for a sign of certainty in love. After she spoke the clock on the mantle ticked between our silences, as we pondered our time left together and whether we would want to know anything beyond that moment.