At age 8 and 10 I sold White Cloverine Salve door to
door. At age 8 I first encountered love of strangers
who not only bought more salve than they needed
they offered me clothing well above my standard.
Pats on the head, back, shoulder; looks from women
who taught me something I didn't understand but which
was tucked away for wintertime.
By 10 I had a better understanding what the women had
given, and took along my 8 year old sister to sell salve.
This is my sister I told them but they were unmoved,
didn't buy, didn't give. The men who answered the door
were and did. She's a darling girl, they said, how old is
she. Six I said, she's only six. Yes, the men said, I would
like the salve.
By 9, 11 and 13, as we have earlier read, we three kids
were selling religious icons to wetback cottonpickers.
Their kids beat our asses, threw rocks at me, my sister
and brother, cursed us in Mexican. One senora she'd
give $20 dollars for my sister, to scrub her senor's back
and other pantomines, laughing, lifting her skirt thigh
We parleyed on that in the shade of a mesquite, asked
Verna if she'd help us get the 20. She agreed and we
sold her for a bosom-sweaty bill to the senora who
looked at me and my brother as if wanting salve.
That night we went back to the Mextex campground
and searched the firelights for Verna. Didn't find her.
Went to the fields the next day with our father and
didn't find her. Daddy offered $50 for her return and
there were no takers.
Me and my brother were scared to death that Daddy
was going to whip us blue. But he didn't. What he did
was sing. He keened the most painful songs I have ever
heard, black Irish groans of loss.
Our mother wept and wept, and rubbed her breasts.
She would have one hand at her bosom all day, cooking
and cleaning, massaging her heart in all directions. She
was Cherokee, she was silent, she did not blame.
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