Elegy for Miss Janie

 Mere Jackson

Miss Janie, it was you who really raised me. I spent long hours of summer in your trailer nestled in the forest, long summers of childhood when your hydrangeas bloomed, enormous gradients of pink to purple to blue and back again. Miss Janie, you never hit us like Mama did. You never said a cruel word, except when the neighbor girl Paula and I used the landline to make star-67 prank phone calls. Miss Janie, in your 80s, you still got in the tanning bed every morning and afternoon. I don’t know which you prized more, that tanning bed or your room full of porcelain dolls, wall-to-wall, still in their boxes gathering dust. Miss Janie, you served us “sgeti-o’s” unheated straight from the can, and Vienna sausages as a treat. Your sister Miss Geneva and your daughter Miss Pat and your son Little Bud and your grandsons Robbie and David would come over, and it felt like we were all blood. I liked that crammed little trailer more than my big empty house.

Miss Janie, you seemed weak, perpetual dip lip in your old armchair, McDonald’s cup in hand to spit. You looked weak but you were still so strong, strong enough to beat a baby opossum to death with a stick after it got caught in your mousetrap in the kitchen. Mama said you used to work at the chicken factory. You’d wring their necks and pluck their feathers with your bare hands, that’s how you got so strong.

Miss Janie, you always said kind things about my father. You said he was a good man and a good doctor and that he helped a lot of people and loved us very much. You didn’t judge us when he went away. You didn’t turn your back on us when he died. You just pulled me up with those big strong hands onto your skinny bruised legs in your old armchair and scratched my back while I cried. You told me he was up in heaven taking care of me, even when the kids at school wouldn’t sit with me at lunch and when Mama would yell and scream and sob.

Miss Janie of Talking Rock, mountain woman, soul of Appalachia. You had two biological but many spiritual children. Miss Janie, you loved Elvis and always shared your cans of Co-cola from the Frigidaire. You let me pick any porcelain doll I wanted from your small museum every year on my birthday. Miss Janie, Mama moved us away and you died and I never got to say goodbye, or I love you, or thank you for being my other Mama and for all the dolls. I still keep them on their stands. Sometimes I even play with them and wonder if Miss Pat and Little Bud have your collection. Other times I find your cul-de-sac on maps. Someone took away your trailer and built a white house there. They covered up the pit where you burned trash and got rid of the old clawfoot tub out back.

Miss Janie, I searched and searched for your obituary but all I found is that Miss Pat and Little Bud are dead now too. Even Robbie and David are dead. I hope you’re buried all together, crammed close like in your little trailer, like when we were blood. I’d like to find your headstone and lay flowers on it. Hydrangeas with a can of Vienna sausages in case you get hungry in heaven.

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