Over a year ago I began what I called a “book draft,” which simply means a rough first draft of what may eventually become a book. It is based on the truth as I remember it from growing up in Northcentral Florida in the 1940’s and ’50’s. It’s a way to set down certain things that may change in the final markup — that is, IF and WHEN I ever decide to actually make it into a book. No. 1 begins with how Sister Margie might have come to establish her church in Ellisville. Here’s #2, about one of the many colorful characters of my childhood. Anyone who may havemissed the first installment and is interested can find it here: Ellisville #1
There are those people from long ago when cameras weren’t so accessible that made such an imprint on my memory that, even though I don’t have a single photograph, they’re still perfectly vivid in memory in spite of the intervening years. Coming to mind immediately is Bloomer H***. Now if only I can paint a word picture so that you can see him too, without forming rash and possibly erroneous opinions.
You’ve heard that every village has an “idiot.” Well, Bloomer was Ellisville’s, and I have a perfect comparison to help you draw your own picture. Fix in your mind a picture, almost any picture, of George W. Bush. There! You have it. Bloomer was a little older and less groomed than our 43rd president, but he had all the mannerisms. Please don’t think I make this comparison to malign Bloomer, nor even Mr. Bush, but it’s simply the best way to describe him.
He wore an incessant grin everywhere he went. Put a beat up felt wool stetson on his head, one that has been worn many years, taken off his head many times to show his respect for women and elders. It has a hole worn in the tip of the crease, and the edges of the rim where his hands touch it are darker than the rest of the hat. See the stained spittle in one corner of his mouth? Snuff. When he opens his mouth to smile or speak you’re treated to more tobacco stains. Notice how his eyes aid his mouth in a smirking grin. He always seems to be hiding something, but you’re not sure what. A joke he’s remembering? Or could it be his knowledge of all those bodies hidden in the backyard? Not to suggest it came from any of these, but it might have. That’s Bloomer.
There were other odd things about him. He walked everywhere, would show up at the most unlikely of places, even the church once, although he was always alone and disappeared just as quickly as he appeared. You’d see him walking along the grassy shoulder of U.S. Highway #1 that runs north and south the length of all the eastern United States. Rumor had it that he was afraid of automobiles though no one knew why and refused to step inside one.
My father stopped and offered him rides many times as he drove the 13 miles from the farm into Lake City. Bloomer would always tip his hat and lean into the driver window to pass a few pleasantries, but always turned down the ride. No, he’d rather walk he’d say. It was a fine day for it. After a little more idle chit chat Daddy would drive on, even when it was drizzling rain outside. I remember being very curious about him as I gazed back through the back window of our car watching him fade from view. Daddy would drive on, his conscience appeased, because he’d offered, hadn’t he? You couldn’t make somebody get in out of the rain, now could you?
In the back seat, I would feel relieved as well. I knew without being told that Bloomer didn’t take regular baths. I was also aware of the whispers and innuendos. How he abused the blind and deaf sister he lived with, Drucilla. Used her life the wife he never had the voices whispered. I wasn’t quite sure what that meant, but I knew it couldn’t be good because of the way the fingers tried to hide their tongues as they said it. Few other than Mrs. Guthrie had ever seen this mystery sister.
Mrs. Guthrie was my 7th and 8th grade teacher. She must have known the real truth about Bloomer and Drucilla. But she was an outsider from Tennessee, an educated and opinionated woman, married to the Principal of our school. It was in reference to her that I first became aware of the expression about women wearing the pants in the family. As long as he could have his pipe in his mouth and tell his stories to us in general assembly, Mr. G stayed pretty much in the background. On the positive side she liked me, was one of the few who encouraged me to write. No one else had National Geographics on her shelf or taught us to paint with tempera and buttermilk. Because of her I discovered art through posters of Old Ironsides.
Naturally I thought, and still do, that she was a wonderful teacher. Even if she did put on airs a bit. Even if she did decorate her house with carpets and tailor made drapes. Even if she painted one wall of the dining room a different color from the rest. And especially in spite of her insisting you should have no more than five decorative items on the mantle above the fireplace. We had way more than that, and one of them was a institution sized fruit can holding dried corncobs soaking in a kerosene bath to use for quick starting fires every winter morning in the unheated farmhouse we lived in.
Some accused Mrs. Guthrie of pushing everyone else’s needs aside in order for her own two daughters to always come out number one. They won many so many local competitions. The truth is, her daughters were two of the few who didn’t have to work. They were allowed to concentrate on piano and violin lessons. They were pretty with complexions seldom kissed by sun except at the beach. Their fingers were polished and bore no trace of corns or calluses.
I look back on this with a lot more clarity now. In time I would face my own challenge of raising my own two daughters in a world clearly slanted toward the males in society. I tried hard to instill in them the idea that they were just as good, just as capable, as any boy or man, and should never put themselves in second place in their personal pursuits. I assured them they could do anything any boy could do except pee standing up!
While Mrs. G did not fit Ellisville’s mold for country women, no one I knew other than she ever actually saw the home conditions of Bloomer and Drucilla. It is true that I only saw the situation with the eyes of a child who at the time didn’t question authority. I admit I never asked enough questions at the time even though one of my grandmothers thought I asked too many. Many of the things I “remember” may be only impressions whose truth could be challenged. I accept that.
The story I have pieced together, however, years after asking my mother one of those “whatever happened to so and so questions” was that Bloomer and Drucille were members of a very well to do family from Jacksonville, and had been brought to our community to live in a little cabin tucked away in the woods for reasons I’ve never discerned. Perhaps so they wouldn’t be an embarrassment for their family, he being “not quite right” and she being both blind and mute. Remember, those were still the days people locked away their not quite bright and physically disfigured children in institutions.
This much I know to be true. Mrs. Guthrie went by regularly to give Drucilla baths and she often shared food with them. And regardless of how the people of Ellisville regarded Mrs. G, I believe that even as a child I was a good enough judge of character to trust that if the rumors were true, she would have reported it to the authorities. And a whole community of people who professed to be God loving, God fearing Christians would never have sat quietly and let this happen, right? And something would have been done, right? Please, if there’s a God in heaven, let this be the truth.