In high school it was different. She tried to go by Carol, but Pickle had stuck. It was who she had become, but, she was also becoming quite an athlete, her smarts were showing, and she was becoming very pretty, and respect, well, sort of, followed. Her friends called her “Pick.” That stuck too. Pickle was younger than me, at least in years, but she was older and wiser. I think it had something to do with being called Pickle.
There were five of us. Pickle was the best looking, cute turned to pretty, and then pretty became simple beauty, her dad was mixed race. He was light skinned and straight haired, but somewhere in his past were African genes. Pickle came out the color of medium coffee. Her skin was the color of a permanent tan, and her almond shaped eyes were entrancing. You noticed I said her father, right. Pickle was actually my half sister. My brothers and sisters mostly all had different fathers. Some were somewhat present, others skipped out as fast as they could. Father of the year had a different meaning for us. Five kids, four dads, and very little of anything but each other.
We grew up in the system. A small government check every month, subsidized rent, donated, what they called commodity foods, you know the score, cheese, peanut butter, powdered milk and eggs. Don’t get me going on the canned soup with no labels. There were soup names spelled out with permanent marker on the side. Those names were often wrong, so we took to calling it mystery soup, or simply soup d’jour.
Cheese omelets were Pickles favorite, and then her specialty once she started cooking at nine years old. Momma had so many kids, because that meant more money, a higher rent allowance and even more powdered milk an eggs. Pickle’s omelets were legendary in our funny little family. We all looked forward to them for the first week after our monthly allowances of food came in. even Momma, who mostly ran around trying to clean up after us, and trying to teach us a way to a better life. Problem was, she didn’t really have a clue how to get to a better life. She thought it would be found bed hopping, and hoping something would stick. There is a pun there, but I will leave it alone, cause that’s Momma were are talking about.
Momma was basically a good woman, just a lost woman, but the good part she passed along to Pickle. She said, “My Pickle has such a big heart, so full of love. She sees the good of people, and the bad. My girl can read people faster than she reads a haiku.” Pickle would say back, “but I understand them less.”
I think, sometimes her big heart got in the way. She needed to see the good, and turned from the bad. Pickle was empathetic to a fault. She forgave blindly, never holding a grudge. When my brother stole her savings can to buy drugs, she forgave him. When my other sister wrecked her almost new car, she forgave her. She forgave me a time or two as well, and for that I am grateful, and in her debt. And when her husband smacked her across her face on Christmas day, three weeks after they were married, she forgave him too.
She stayed with her man for a few more years, their daughter, Moffit was born before the next Christmas they shared. Forgiveness goes along way, but sometimes it is not enough.
Momma died along the way, so did two of my brothers and my sister. That’s why I am here. The anniversary of her death.
March is an odd month. Winter and spring exist at the same time, life and death. Rain soaked days can be depressing, not like the hope filled April rains, the ones that feed the daffodils and tulips. It’s raining today, but I am here, ten years after her husband beat her to death. I have tried to follow her example, but, I am not Pickle and I hope he rots in his cell.
Moffit goes to college in September. She plans on studying social work. She wants to help. She has her mom’s eyes, and her mom’s heart. She has not, however forgiven her father either. She stands with me on that point. I just hope it doesn’t eat at her in the ways it eats at me. I hope she finds a productive helpful career and some good close friends.
The system took its time, even skipped a generation, but it worked. Moffit and her cousins, my own brood of five, will never have to eat from unlabeled soup cans. More than one of which became pork and beans. Very few were clam chowder. Moffit is Pickle with hope. My hope, her hope, Pickle’s hope and the hope that Momma shared with us all.
Pickles stone stands alone near the back of the Old Grove cemetery. There are trees around, none with leaves, it’s only March. There are soft shadows across the dormant lawns. They will be beautiful in the summer. I feel stronger after our visits. The ten years drift away and I see the wonder that Pickle held for the world. I feel her strength and her love.
Her stone, stoic, strong and bold. Ten years ago it was set with her remains resting below. There is and image of an angel carved just under the gentle arc of granite, below the angel a single word, the one word that matters.
Below that are the dates of her living. The time she marked along with our hearts.
From the beginning, Momma called her Pickle. So did everyone else. Some of us always will.