Do you know what tossin’ hay is? Probably not, what with those round balers now. But older folks know. Back when hay was baled in smaller squares, we’d toss ‘em into the back of trucks. I had a job with my friend D.R. doin’ that for a summer. We’d work with our shirts off and by the end of each day your body’d be spent and you’d have hay stuck all over you. I guess the sweat’s what made it stick, but you couldn’t shake it off. Hatchet Creek ran through a good part of our employer’s land, so we’d go down there to clean off. We didn’t have swim trunks so we’d get out of our clothes, me and D.R., and go skinny dippin’. It worked, got the hay right off. Clean. It felt so nice and you’d come out of the water feelin’ cool and fresh as ever. Sometimes we’d lay out on the bank to rest. Just let the sun beat down on us after all that work. It’d knead its rays into your arms and back and you’d drift away. You’d stop existing. Reminds me of what a kitten might feel like when its mama bites the back of its neck. It curls up and pacifies.
D.R. liked to whittle and sometimes he’d sit on a rock down by the water, his feat danglin’ in the stream, carving somethin’ out of a stick. He’d make these sharp gestures with his right hand as he cut away the layers. Now, you know I don’t know a thing about art, but I’d watch him sometimes. I could hear the water running and the breeze blowing through the trees. D.R.’s back was pink-red from being in the sun so much. Made me think about how young we were and I used to wonder if I’d be sad when we got old. When our bodies couldn’t be worked the same and when they’d be too worn to lay out before God, like we did. I’m going on a rabbit trail, aren’t I? What I’m gettin’ at is that I don’t know a thing about art, but watching D.R. made me think of paintings. The old, classical kind. I’ve not seen any like it, but I imagine there’s one out there that fits the scene nicely. Makes me too sad to think there’s not.
On the day I met your grandmother, D.R. had left the creek early and gone up to the house for somethin’ or n’other. The house, it was a good walk away from where we used to swim, so we never thought much about the residents. But on that day, I was half asleep on the grass when I heard some branches rustlin’. I thought D.R. had come back and was hangin’ his clothes on the branches. You goin’ for another swim? I asked him. But Bobby-Nelle answered, ornery as ever, What’re you doing by our creek? I looked up and there she stood with my clothes in her hands. I got up quick and stumbled back into the water to hide myself. I told her to drop my clothes, but she just chuckled. I couldn’t quite see her face, ‘cause the sun was behind her. It was at that point in the sky before it sets, hangin’ there, blindin’. And I’ll tell you now, I was embarrassed that such a pretty girl was makin’ a fool of me like that. I talked to her like I shouldn’t have, if for no other reason than her daddy was my boss. I said, Girl—I tried speaking to her all manly-like, as if I had some authority over her, although I didn’t have too much on her age, maybe that’s why she found me so funny—but I said, Girl, drop my clothes now! And she said, You’re gonna have to come get ‘em. And I’ll be damned if I knew what to do with her. I don’t know how long I stood there in the water before I did anything. My cheeks were hot and I was getting’ light headed and I still don’t know if it was ‘cause of the sun or your grandma.
At some point my feet felt something buried down in the sediment and started to dig it up with my toes. It was an old pot. It took a while, it was so buried down. But I got it up, and when I did I covered myself with it and marched right on out of that water. Now know this, I put on a confidence that I didn’t have. I was actin’ like a man when I wasn’t one yet. Trying to stand tall, with my shoulders back, tough, in the face of someone tougher. Bobby-Nelle was tougher. I got real close to her face, and then I could see that she wasn’t as pretty as I had thought. She had a boyish haircut and her bangs were all choppy like maybe she cut them herself. Gave me a more genuine sense of bein’ superior. I stood tall and close. I thought the water might drip off of my nose and onto hers. I said, You wanna know what I think? She laughed at me and I was embarrassed again. I’m sure my face was as read as a bull’s. Still unsure if it was due to anger or the humiliation. I started to tell her, Girl, I think— But she interrupted me and said, I know what you think. You think there’s a bottom in that pot. I looked down and sure enough, there was a big ole hole in it. I didn’t know what to do. I just stood there ‘til she gave me my clothes back, and we were married later that summer.