We reached Sadie’s house in a downpour of rain. Great missiles of water striking at everything in a blinding torrent. Set back a ways on a green stretch of lawn empty of trees but clouded by sheets of rain, we could barely make out the house. Noise on the car roof was all but deafening, and for several minutes we sat frozen in the car, awed at the fury of something that looked like a monsoon plowing through the tropics. Windshield wipers were useless, adding more noise than visibility. Stranded behind rain frosted glass, there was a feeling of relief at being in a driveway and no longer on a blind street among moving cars. We sat in the car, waiting like temporary captives under the heavy drumming of Louisiana rain.
Sadie was our Aunt Sadie, living by herself in a big house, her husband passed on some years before and her ten children grown and scattered around the state. I was looking forward to spending some time with her, my memories of her full of laughter. According to Sadie, the youngest boy, Robert used to give her a hotfoot with Blue Diamond kitchen matches whenever she fell asleep on the sofa. Somewhere in the old stories was one about Sadie’s mother having a nervous breakdown and chewing the ends off her fingers, a gruesome tale from childhood never verified.
From outside the car, somewhere over by the house was a faraway shout broken up by the downpour of water.
“What the hell?”
Through the curtain of rain I could just see the figure of Sadie sloshing toward the car. She was partly obscured by a wind-whipped green and white golf umbrella, but as she got closer I could see a robust old woman, hair a fright, and wearing one of those old skirted bathing suits from the late 40s.
“Do you think she saw us drive up and then went and changed into her swimsuit?” Lillian wondered.
“That or she’s had it on all day. Either way I like it.”
Sadie got to the car with spare umbrellas, and we jumped out into ankle deep water, fought the umbrellas open and made a dash for the open garage. Sadie laughed all the way, shouting against the rain, “I shoulda come out in the boat!”
Inside the garage she took the sopping umbrellas, throwing them in a heap on the concrete floor. “Lordy, Lordy! Ya’ll ever seen such a rain? Come on inside, we can unload anything you got in the car later. Wilmore, what d’ya drink? I got just about anything. You want a highball?”
We sat around the kitchen table talking about the old neighborhood, family folk, who was where and what happened to this uncle or that cousin. Sadie going on about Aunt Flossie and her eyesight, and me off to the side taking the moment to sit and watch her talk.
Sadie had to be seventy-five and couldn’t fool anyone about that, but she was a hearty woman and still looked strong enough to hoe a row in her big backyard garden. She had all that white hair blown out in a firecracker style that made her look a little wild. Had a way of fluttering her fingers as she talked, gestures not particularly connected to the words you were hearing, but punctuation of a different kind. I decided the swimsuit must have been familiar clothing to her, because she was browned and tan all over from hours under the sun. I guessed it was a gardening outfit rather than rainy day wear. It had a vintage pattern of old steamships sailing around islands of bright tropical fruit and was beautiful.
“I s’ppose ya’ll hadn’t heard about Auntee’s boy. They got him wearing one of those police things around his ankle…drugs.”
Listening to Sadie talk, my thoughts went back to summers long ago at the house on Wabash. With supper done and the cool stretch of night ahead, out came the card table, and not ten minutes later two bridge partners walking up the porch steps swatting at June bugs. I never learned to play the game, but from what I gathered Sadie Gremillion and Bessie Odom were the two most sought after bridge partners. Bessie lived next door and was my friend Bootsie’s grandmother.
Even now bridge remains a mystery, but I learned to love the talk. How many nights, how many times the litany of bridge talk filled those after-supper hours. The four of them sitting around that rickety old stale green bridge table repeating what seemed to me like coded phrases.
“Bessie, you’ll never take a trick with that three of clubs.”
“Just hold on a minute and let me play my hand, Sadie. I had to slough that three of clubs.”
“And I thought I was the dummy. You gonna go down for sure, woman.”
“Ya’ll hush up. Let’s finish this rubber and have some coffee. I made lemon squares today ’cause I know Sadie loves ’em.” That was Mama, studying her cards, one hand held up in a familiar pose of balancing another inch long ash on her Philip Morris.
I could hear Sadie on the telephone in the other room talking to her son, Rodney. He was in the real estate business and Sadie was getting his take on the situation with our old house across town. A few minutes later she hung up the phone and came into the kitchen.
“Listen, I been talking to Rodney about this business. He said ya’ll oughta hold on awhile. Hold on and give him some time to see if anyone in the office is got any ideas about people looking to buy cheap over there. He said they’s people who buy cheap and then rebuild the house so they can sell it and make a little money. You might wanna give Rodney a little time to look around…can’t hurt, can it? You got three months ’fore the city’s gon’ get after you. Wilmore, you want something to eat?”
“You got any rhubarb or buttermilk pie?” I asked, looking over at Lillian.
“Sadie, don’t listen to him!”
“No, I ain’t got any that, but I got some apple pie. You want a slice?” She was already out of her chair and over at an old pie safe on the counter.
“No, Sadie. I’m starting to see double. I’m going to bed,” I said.
The sky was an early morning luminous gray when we pulled out of Sadie’s driveway not long after five o’clock, early start on a long drive back, sipping on Sadie’s send off of chicory-spiked Louisiane Coffee and heading east into a shimmer of sun creeping over the horizon.
“Lillian, how long you gonna stay behind this truck? Go over it. Go under it, but get around it somehow.”
It was an old line of our Daddy Clyde’s dredged up from a long-ago family vacation, when we drove those southern roads in a black 1948 Chevrolet.