Poor Side of Tucker

on March 6, 2011 in Poor Side of Tucker


“Just like hound-dogs, Helen,” laughed Aunt Annie, “we’re eating just like a bunch of ol’ hound-dogs. Grab the food and run to the road and chomp it down.”

“Well, Annie, we could go to the Piccadilly or Po Folks if you want to. I know you like to eat at those places, but I didn’t think you felt like getting out that much. I thought you wanted to go to Wendy’s…”
“Yes, I do like Wendy’s. I’m just saying – it’s the way ol’ hound-dogs eat. You’re right; I don’t feel like getting dressed or combing my hair. I don’t look descent enough to go out, and Wendy’s has good food. But, think about it Helen, don’t ol’ dogs grab their food and run to the road and hog it down?” laughed Annie. “We’ve turned into hound-dogs sittin’ out here on Lawrenceville Highway!”

Helen laughed, “Hound dogs huh? Well, maybe.”

Annie ate a few more French fries and then spoke with a serious tone, “Y’ Mama would turn over in her grave if she could see us now. I don’t ever remember seeing her table without a tablecloth – and flowers. In the spring-time – it was y’ Daddy’s apple blossoms in a quart jar, and zinnias and snow-balls in summer, Nanina limbs in fall, and pussy willows in winter. Remember how she fried squash blossoms? I’ve never seen anybody else do that. Yes, Lois Voyles could cook a good meal. Yes sir, when I wanted a good meal I went down to Lois’ house. Always used china, don’t believe my sister ever used a paper plate.”

“That’s true Annie. Nothing fancy, but Mama always set the table.”

“Remember her pies? Lord have mercy! Lois and Wade would dry apples in the summer and store ‘em in big white pillow cases and hang ‘em from the ceiling. Then she take out what she needed and boil ‘em down, then she added sugar and the like, cooked ‘em with a top and bottom crust, and stack ‘em up six high!” Annie laughed, “And that Wade Voyles would cut a slice all the way through. Lois would say, ‘Wade, surely you’re not gonna eat six pieces of pie!’ and Wade would smile and say, ‘No, Lois, I’m just gonna eat one piece!’ Yes it was one piece, but it was six deep!”

“Yes, Mama did make some good pies, and Daddy loved them,” laughed Helen, “I guess that’s why he grew so many apple trees. But this is a sign of the times. None of us are able to go to that much trouble anymore. We need to get going soon, Annie, it’s about time for your medicine.”

“Y’ know, Helen, Lois was hard on you girls,” said Annie totally ignoring her niece’s suggestion to go home.

“Mama was strict all right.”
“Lois was hard on me too. I know I was her little sister, and she always thought she could tell me what to do. But she couldn’t. We had it out many a time. I didn’t cook nor sew the way she did. And I couldn’t make a flower live if my life depended on it, and I didn’t want to do those things. Lois did. But, you know, we never lived more than two miles apart. I lived just beyond one end of Main Street Tucker, and Lois lived just beyond the other end of Main Street Tucker. And no matter how upset she got at me, she always set me a place at her table.”

“Whether you came or not…”

“Before I could say – I’m sorry – Lois would say, ‘you gotta eat. Come on in,’ the best time to make up with Lois was at supper time.”

“Well how about it Annie? Have you finished your supper? Are you ready to go home now?”

“Yes, I am, just as soon as I finish off this last bite of burger. Yes, Lois would throw a fit if she saw me here with my face in a piece of paper eatin’ like a dog.”

Annie threw her head back in her usual whole-hearted way, clapped her hands, and laughed. My mother, Helen Voyles-Story, now looked after her aging aunt, Annie Jenkins-Sorrells, and on some days, Annie “did not do well.”

As Mama put away their trash and helped Annie wipe her face, she said, “All right now, Annie, let’s go home. Did you enjoy that?”

“Yes, I did, just like an ol’ hound dog!”

The closer Helen got to Old Norcross, Annie became increasingly more uncomfortable. “Why are we going this way, Helen? You know I don’t like this part of town. Why are you going down this road?”

“Annie, you live here.”
“Why do you want to say such a thing to me, Helen?”

“Because, I’m saying it, because you live here, Annie. You have lived here for years. Annie, are you all right?”

“I’ll be alright, just as soon as you turn this car around and get out of here!”

Helen pulled into Annie’s driveway and put the car in park. “Helen! Get out of here now!” Annie was very upset. She cried. “Please, Helen, don’t do this to me! Get out of here! Why, oh why, have you brought me to the poor side of Tucker?”

“Poor side of Tucker? Annie! What’s wrong with you? This is your home! You built this house during the war, remember? “

“I never did such a thing! Helen! This is not my home! Let’s get out of here! Get me out of the poor side of Tucker now! You know I’m afraid of this part of town.” Annie covered her face with her hands and cried.

Helen got out of the car and walked around and opened the door for her aging aunt. “Come on, Annie, it’s getting late. I think you’re confused…”

“No, please Helen, don’t make me get out…”

“Come on now. I’ll help you inside and then you’ll be alright. You’ll recognize your…”

“Please, Helen, no. These people will come home and call the law to us…”
“No, Annie, it’s okay. You’ll see.”
Helen coaxed Annie out of the car and up the steps. Helen then put the key in the front door.

“Helen, what are you doing with a key to this house?”

“It’s your house, Annie. You gave me the key. Remember this door? It’s not just any door; look how thick it is. You got it from the old Biltmore Hotel.” With that the door opened, and Annie cried out and trembled all over.

“Let’s get out of here, Helen!”

“Annie, what in the world has come over you?”

Yes, something had “come over” Aunt Annie. Just last week, Mr. Jimmy, a nice man who took care of Aunt Annie’s house repairs, called Mama.

“Mrs. Story, this is Jimmy. I just wanted to let you know that Miss Annie is not acting just right. She seems scared, and she wants me to tear down her front porch – and wants it done immediately. I really don’t think I could remove that concrete porch without equipment, and that would damage the structure of the house.”

Mama told Mr. Jimmy to not tear down the porch. She would talk to Annie and get back to him.

“Annie, Mr. Jimmy called me. He says you want him to tear down your front porch.”
“Well, why did he call you? That’s my business.”
“Well, Annie, I don’t think you have thought it through…”
“That porch has to go!”
“You love to sit out there in the summer-time…”
“Not going to sit there anymore.”

“Why, Annie? What’s wrong with that porch?”

“Mr. Andy told me about the drive by shootings that’s going on now. People get shot sitting on their front porch now a days.”

“Not one drive by shooting has occurred in Tucker…”
“Yes, they have! Mr. Andy would not tell me a lie.”

Mr. Andy visited with Aunt Annie every Sunday; they had formed a serious relationship. No matter what was going on, when it was time for Mr. Andy, Aunt Annie tuned him in and tuned everybody else out. She sat and watched him with a goofy look on her face – as though she was being courted by this man.

“Annie, Andy Rooney reports news from all over the world – not Tucker, Georgia. That’s 60 Minutes…”

“I know what I know, and I want Mr. Jimmy to tear down that front porch! You tell him to tear it down! Or I will get somebody who will!”

Annie Jenkins was the baby sister of my mother’s mother. Annie’s only sister, my Memi, had long left this world, as well as all their other siblings. Annie was the last of her generation. Her first husband, Will Akins, was a much older man, and died leaving her a young widow. For years, she lived alone and focused on work and saving money. She never had children. Later in life she married Orin Sorrells. She out lived him as well.

Orin and Annie Jenkins-Sorrells

Until recently, Annie was a self-sufficient woman. Annie owned and paid for, two automobiles at a time, though she never drove a car. Her husband, Orin, did the driving, and on her instruction, alternated driving one car and then the other. That way the battery would stay charged up in each car, and each car would maintain low mileage. Now, my mother drove her car over to Aunt Annie’s house, and then drove Aunt Annie’s cars for her.

Once Aunt Annie told me that though she could not read, she had learned the numbers that mattered. She set her alarm clock to four o’clock AM. Upon rising, she dressed like a man to do a man’s work. She caught the five o’clock morning bus that carried her to her job on the south-side of Atlanta, where she made cardboard boxes on an assembly line. Annie worked two shifts five times a week, “Diane, I may not know much about book learning,” she would laugh as she spoke to me, “but I figured out one thing. I work one shift to pay my bills, and then I work a second shift to buy CDs at the Bank of Tucker.”

Annie saved and waited until she could afford the best. According to her, she had a sturdy house that no wind or rain could move. And she built it and paid for it – all on her own. She had the best furniture. Her dining-room suit was a mahogany Duncan Phyfe. Her beds were sound with the top of the line mattresses. Her grandfather clock was the best in town. Her hardwood floors didn’t have a scuff on them. Annie was proud of her humble beginnings and accomplishments. But today, Annie was easily moved to fear and tears. And she was determined to get rid of that front porch.

But tonight Annie did not recognize her front porch, nor did she know her own living room.  According to Annie, she had just broken into a stranger’s house on the poor side of Tucker. She made a run for the front door and tried to escape. Helen was able to get between her and the door.

“Annie, please, calm down. Don’t cry. If you calm down, and sit a minute, you’ll come back to yourself. Here, sit in your swan chair. You remember the swan chair. You fell in love with the swans carved on the arms. You put it on lay-away at Rich’s and Tom picked it up for you. Here, Annie sit in your swan…”

“I’ve never seen that chair before in my life! No, Helen, please, let’s get outta here, before somebody catches us here! We’ll go to jail for this!”

They struggled, the front door jarred open. And Annie broke free from Helen’s hold. Suddenly, Annie stopped and was quiet and perfectly still. She stared out across the porch, across the yard, and across the street. In the glow of the street lights, she saw something that stopped her cold. Annie was frozen with bewilderment. Helen put her arms around her and asked, “Annie, what is it?”

“Harold and Estelle’s house,” answered Annie with tears streaming down her face.

“Yes, that’s Harold and Estelle’s house. They’re your neighbors – they have been for years.”
“Oh, Polly, help me, please help me.”
Mama smiled and hugged her Aunt Annie, “Oh, Annie, you’ve not called me Polly in years. Am I still your Polly?”
Though crying, Annie tried her best to speak, “You’ve always been my Polly. Why would I call you anything else?”

Turning Annie around and going back into the house, Helen said, “I’ll help you Aunt Annie. Come on now; let’s get out of this night air. I’ll put you to bed and give you your meds. You’ll feel better in the morning.”

“Will you stay with me until I go to sleep, I mean, will you rub my back until I fall asleep?”
“Yes, Annie, I will, I always do. Now, come on, let’s go inside.”

Upon crossing the threshold, Annie cried out, “God, help me. I don’t know this place!”

“This is your home; the home you love so much. Come on Annie. Just take a step when I take a step. Watch my feet. Don’t look around.”

Becoming very childlike, Annie obeyed, “Okay, Polly. I will. Will you pray for me, Polly?”

“Yes, Annie, I’ll pray for you.” Helen seemed calm, but inside her heart pounded. Helen prayed a silent prayer all the way to Annie’s bedroom. She prayed silently while putting Annie’s gown on her, while brushing Annie’s hair, while rolling down her support hose, and while putting warm socks on her feet. She prayed silently, “Please, Lord, give me the right words for Annie tonight.”

My mother’s silent prayer was answered when she looked at Annie sitting on the bed. There Annie sat with her head bowed, eyes closed tightly, and hands together under her chin like a very small child. Helen knew what to pray. Helen prayed these words for Annie.

“Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord, my soul to take. Amen.”

Aunt Annie had the Alzheimer’s disease.

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