Tuesdays with Mimsey
by Wayne Scheer
"Tuesdays with Mimsey"
was originally published in Blue Magnolia, March 2003.
Mimsey Sue Mather was peculiar.
It's not that she was crazy or sick in the head like her sister Dinah who stuck the Bible salesman with a kitchen knife when he asked her if she could read the Word of God. Mimsey was just peculiar.
And in Flippen, Georgia it ain't good to be peculiar.
In Flippen, people work hard, go to church on Sunday and protect their prejudices like they are some kind of treasure. The white folk of Flippen live on the north side of town and the black folk live on the south side. It was like that in my daddy's day and in my daddy's daddy's day and it's like that now. Folks here cotton to change about as much as they'd cotton to a rattlesnake in the schoolyard or a woman preacher.
Now Mimsey, she just never could tolerate the way things are in Flippen. Some blame her daddy for this. Parnell Mather was a old fool the day he was born. Instead of working his daddy's land like he was supposed to, he was always sticking his head in books or writing down the stories he'd hear being told. He even left town for a while and went to work for a newspaper in Atlanta. But his daddy died and his momma made him come back. Soon after he returned he married the mulatto, Portia Mae Johnson, and they had Dinah about six months later by my count. His momma was never the same after that. A year later, Mimsey was born and soon after that Portia and her third baby, Parnell, Jr., died in the fire at the colored hospital. Parnell mourned her like she was white. He never married again.
After his momma passed, Parnell sold what was left of the farm and moved his two half-breed girls to the center of town and started a newspaper. He called it the Flippen Flyer. It had mostly advertisements, wedding announcements and what not, but it also had stories the old folks used to tell and what he called "Opinion." That's what got Parnell into more trouble than a atheist at a church social.
Parnell had unusual ideas. When the Methodist church burned down he said the Methodists and the Baptists should share the same church since they worshipped the same God. And when the government closed down the old colored school, Parnell said it was a good idea and about time all the children went to the same school.
So no wonder Mimsey was peculiar, growing up in a home like that. First she had to look after her older sister Dinah, who was never right in the head. As a little girl, Dinah would always get in trouble for fighting. One day she'd be fighting with the black kids, the next day it was the white kids she'd be messing with. It's like she could never make up her mind which side she was on.
As a teenager, she once cut a colored boy for calling her names. But when she took a knife to the white Bible salesman who wasn't doing nothing to her but trying to save her soul, the town officials got together and made Parnell put her in the state mental hospital in Atlanta.
He was never the same after that.
He gave up the newspaper after writing a headline that read, "What Happens to a Dream Deferred?" or some foolishness like that, and printing a poem by some colored writer name of Langston Hughes. I remember the poem ended this way:
Maybe it just sags Like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
We never really knew what he was saying, but if Parnell became a burden to Mimsey she never showed it. She took care of her daddy till he passed, but she kept acting stranger and stranger all the while.
She was always what you'd call a happy child, too happy to be natural if you ask me. While her sister fought with everyone, Mimsey made friends by entertaining the children, black and white. She'd make up stories and acted out all the parts, even singing and dancing; she'd have all the children and even the teachers listening to her and laughing.
Well, like I said, Mimsey got stranger as she got older. She started wearing big floppy hats in the middle of the week and pants with glittering stuff on
them. She worked in the town's library and even men would come with their children in the middle of the day when they knew Mimsey would be telling stories. Eventually, they opened the library Tuesday nights so she could have story time for the old folks, as she called it. The black folks would sit on one side, the white folks on the other, and she would stand in the middle, telling her stories and singing and dancing while both sides whooped it up like they was all one family.
Mimsey would always end the festivities by singing, "Amazing Grace," without music, but with the most tearful voice you ever heard. More than once I saw grown men cry. Then they'd all eat the sweet potato pie and black velvet cake brought by the women and afterwards the two sides would rearrange the chairs and wish each other to drive home safe.
Mimsey would wait until the last person wrapped up the last piece of cake. Then she'd put away the picture of her daddy she always took out during the storytelling, and she'd have herself a good cry.
I told you she was peculiar.
About the author:
After teaching writing and
literature in college for 25 years, Wayne Scheer recently retired to follow his
own advice and write. Some of his stories have appeared in Flashquake,
Inkburns, E2K, Literary Potpourri, Scrivener's Pen and The Phone Book. In
2002, he was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Wayne lives in Atlanta with
his wife and can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org.