New Orleans story part 5: Brandi
Beatrice Mae Buttons had always been a big girl. She was born on the Button’s family farm in Eagle Rock, Missouri. In those days Eagle Rock was no more than a cluster of failing farms with a post office, a fire station and a filling station next to a convenience store that sold hot lunches to migrants in a bend in highway eighty-six; Eagle Rock was a haven for Hispanic illegals because there were no police to speak of in the vicinity.
Migrants hired themselves out to the dirt farmers around planting and harvesting time before moving south or north following the crops. They worked for a little money or the barter of goods and services. You see, there is an unmarked migrant workers highway that stretches from Canada to Louisiana where camps are set up and abandoned as the workers move south to north starting in spring working down up to the Canadian border and then back to the Gulf of Mexico to catch harvests; in this way hundreds of undocumented workers could remain below the radar, make a living, feed and clothe themselves and raise their families. That song “On The Road Again” was not a hit amongst those who had no other choice.
There were waystations and wooded encampments, abandoned farm buildings and even a midwife or two within reach and ken of the growing, moving, traveling, gypsy hands that were an important part of making the best of bad land and low incomes in places like the one that residents called ‘Eagle Rock Misery’ and other small poor communities and properties that no one could afford to live on and nobody else was fool enough to want to buy.
The Buttons’ farm was no better or worse than any of the neighboring properties; there was one thing that Mr. And Mrs. Buttons did raise in larger quantities than their neighbors, and that was children. They had nine living children and they all got as much schooling as necessary and then worked the poor land from that age on. In prosperous times they had a milk cow, yard chickens and occasionally a pig in a sty. Prosperous times were few and far between. The farm was just east of the highway and just west of Fire Road 2285. Forty acres; no mule. Help from migrants when they could afford it.
In hard times they ate corn and potatoes cooked in lard. Mrs. Buttons planted a truck garden every spring and usually a good portion of the crops were eaten by insects, stolen by migrants or rabbits which Mr. Buttons took great pleasure in shooting at with an old Winchester rifle. They often had rabbit for dinner but never a migrant worker. The Buttons worked the land a parcel at a time, when one parcel got played out they would work another parcel that they had cleared; an acre at a time. With all the clearing and planting and harvesting, the Buttons had no end to work. Just as the last parcel played out, the first one was ready for replanting. So it goes.
This was the world that she was born into; poor whites, poor browns and had she lived further south, poor blacks. These are folks that we hear referred to as ‘dirt poor’. Beatrice Mae Buttons was the fourth youngest and only one of the two girls, her sister Bonnie Jeanne being the baby of the clan. Beatrice, or Bea as she was called, was born after a late harvest on a dark and stormy night; there was a chill in the air and a north wind whistled through the chinks in the wall and under the door. Mr. Buttons had long since given up on helping with deliveries; Mrs. Button’s body had so much experience birthing babies that Beatrice literally fell out of her cervix. It was Mr. Buttons pleasure to never have to plow hard to plant another baby Buttons into the Missus.
Little Bea was cute from the start. She was born a little dumpling with freckles and dimples all over her, she had a shock of strawberry blond hair that would soon turn to pure sable. She was born with blue-grey eyes which would remain the same color all her life; they shone with a fire from within. Upon reaching her mother’s breast for her first taste of milk she looked up at Mrs. Buttons and smiled with her entire face and being; an angels smile. Mrs. Buttons wanted to hold her close forever, in fact, Mrs. Buttons did not know if she could ever not be holding her this close… or closer, forever. Another fact was, Mrs. Buttons had never been more in love with any thing or person in her entire life.
That’s just the way Bea affected people throughout her life; to see her was to love her; to love her was to want to touch her. To touch her was to want to hold her. The only challenge that Bea ever had was that anyone that held her would want to own her.
But Beatrice Mae could not be owned. You see, Bea is what you might call a free spirit. She gave of herself freely and all to whom she shone upon felt blessed. To her it was a simple act of bodies touching, souls entwining and spirits joining. At puberty she also found that there were body fluids to contend with and she went on and on into her early twenties until a trip down south to New Orleans entranced her. Without a shred of guilt or misgiving she said good bye to her family and caught a bus back with her worldly possessions packed in an old Pan Am bag that she bought at a garage sale. Six years later she received that phone call from her second cousin Anna Marie.
And that was six years ago. She had been living across the river from New Orleans proper in a place called Algiers Point; she had saved enough money to buy the house that she lived in and Anna Marie had moved in and out close by in an area called Gretna. Pretty much Anna Marie, now Anne, played her cards close to her chest and except for the askance occasional piece of advice or wisdom, the women stayed as close as they could, being a little ways apart in more ways than one.
Bea, now Brandi, opined that little Anna Marie, now Ann, had an unnatural affinity for trouble and rough times, like that Marine sergeant that she had lived with for a spell; what was his name? Oh, Billy something; he was sure a piece of work. Brandi had dropped him like a hot potato, but Anne had scooped him up like an inside fly ball. He didn’t last long with her, either; although Brandi heard through the grapevine that they still saw each other from time to time.
Brandi wondered, one time while putting on her make up for her weekend job, what had happened to old Billy; and as fast as that thought lit on her mind like a gad fly on the rump of a French Quarter mule… that’s how fast she slapped it like a fly swatter on a kitchen counter. “Good riddance to bad trash’, she said as she dismissed him from her aura. You see, Beatrice had learned the value of her warm spots and had no time for pikers, losers or bullshit artists.
Brandi had grown into herself, a wise woman now in her early thirties she was, as they say, round, firm and fully packed. Women trusted her instinctually as much as they did not trust their men around her. Men instinctually wanted to move closer to her. Men talked in lowered voices about her, referring to her as many adorable things and knowing deep in their hearts that she was, at the end of the day, just an invitation to the blues.
Brandi worked weekend nights as a hostess at a restaurant named Blanche’s in the Quarter on Chartres Street. The restaurant was named for Blanche DuBois of Tennessee Williams fame; you know, the woman that relied upon “the kindness of strangers”? She made all the money that she needed at her job and made still more in her spare time giving solace to lonely ‘new friends’. People seemed happy to give her money; money made no earthly sense to anyone that Brandi came in contact with, it was just something that they had and they wanted to give it to her. If you think that Brandi is special, if you think that she is wonderful, exciting or amazing… think again; Brandi is a frigging miracle, and make no mistake about it.
If she could see Billy now, she would not have changed her mind about him though, for he had not changed much in the last few years; although he didn’t live but across the river from her, that was still too close for her memories of him.
It was an early afternoon somewhere within a few weeks ago and Billy was getting ready for his nocturnal adventures. He picked up his phone and dialed a number. “Hello Dino?”
Continued in part six and