This is an excerpt from an early chapter of my upcoming memoir: The Saltbox House on Bayou Black.
Along with my brothers, Dwight and Jesse, and my sister Jean, I watched Roy Rogers on a black-and-white console TV our grandfather, Peter Samuel Ransom, Ditty, we called him, had won at a raffle for World War I veterans. He had it shipped to us because he and my grandmother, Martha England Ransom, T. Martha her family called her, didn’t have electricity in their saltbox house on Bayou Black. As I watched the cowboy show, I imagined the colors of a desert sky, rock, cactus, and low sparse trees. We sang along, and my throat and chest swelled with delicious trilling when they sang, while riding into the sunset: Happy trails to you, until we meet again. Happy Trails to you, until we meet again. Happy Trails to you, until we meet again.”
My brothers and sister rooted for the good guys, white men in white hats, and against the bad guys, white men in black hats. I rooted for the Indians. When we played, I was always an Indian. None of us were the prissy white women whose dresses dragged in the dirt or the floozies who hung out in saloons, leaned all over strange and drunk men, danced the can-can, and let men follow them upstairs to their rooms.
I wrapped the belts from Jesse and Dwight’s trousers around my chest and shoulders. They turned into quivers to hold my arrows. To overcome the driver of the stagecoach, I climbed to the top bunk. I pushed Dwight off onto blankets and pillows below. I took over his reins and spread my feet across the narrow space between the two sets of metal bunk beds in our bedroom.
The bed’s metal frames became the backs of wild horses stolen from their lands, and I was coming to the rescue. I pounced on the bottom bunk, dragging greenhorns and gringos from the coach. I hooted and howled and smashed and slashed with tomahawks fashioned from wooden spoons.
Breakfast, an extra special treat, was delivered express to our Wells Fargo stopover in our Magnolia Project room by our mama. We demolished the eggs, grits, biscuits, and grape jelly. Milk chalked on the sides and hardened to rich soft–yellow cream circles on the bottoms of our jelly glasses. We dashed down the hall and into the kitchen to hurriedly scrape and stack our dishes. We scurried, pushing, shoving, and laughing between cliff–hanging scenes and during commercials advertising Tide, Ivory soap, Hoola Hoops, and Brylcream. We honored the special breakfast treat our mother had made for us with this rare retreat from the TV.
One day without warning, while we scraped dishes, I felt heartsick. My brothers and sister suddenly turned mean, too rough. They pointed and laughed. A cappella and in harmony they sang: “Crybaby, crybaby, suck ya mama’s titty. Always rooting for the Indians. You betta get tough girl. You betta know the right side to be on.”