Chapter 5: Charlea's story
"Jessie, turn that up!" I yell over my computer. We are sitting in the activity room of the senior citizen's center in Mousie, Kentucky. The computer lesson is over and everyone has moved on to our favorite afternoon TV, but I still sit, doing what they call surfing the web. Even so, I still want to hear what's going on today on General Hospital. "Jessie! Did you hear me?" Jessie looks annoyed at me but leans over, grabs the remote and turns up our favorite story. Lord, I've watched that story for years and years, Jessie and I both watched through Steve and Jessie, Steve and Audrey, Luke and Laura, Robert and Holly and finally Duke and Anna...then let me think…there was Sonny and Brenda and since then no one else has been very interesting, but we still watch.
When the first commercial comes on Jessie yells back, "Charlea, you need to say please!"
My name is Charlea Carter. I am the firstborn in my family, named after my daddy. I am old, seventy seven this year. I'm a country girl with four brothers and two sisters. Nothing too special about me, old white woman from a small town full of old white women. All my brothers have passed on, too early if you ask me, but here I am, their older sister, stubbornly still alive. There's only me and my sister Martha left now and she's in a nursing home, God bless her. When I get out of bed my bones creak and every joint complains. I get up slowly, creaking about, like an old rocking chair, moving but not really getting anywhere. I'm about ready to leave this old crazy world, and good riddance! I sometimes think old age is God's way of getting a person to let go of life, so many aches and pains, so hard just to keep going, but I do.
It's crazy to name a girl after her daddy but that's what they did back then in this small town. Growing up in Mousie, I knew a woman named Darrylanna, and another poor soul named Ernesta. In my opinion it's like naming a dog Fluffy or a cat Rover! We all got teased growing up, but it made us stronger. Even my first husband Manny wanted to name my poor baby girl Manika, but I put my foot down! Her name is Lisa, and she can thank God and her mother for that! Lisa's a good woman, married once, and divorced, fifty six now. Ernesta and Darrylanna have long gone from this world. All my friends have passed on except Jessie Frazier.
Jessie and I've lived several lifetimes together, first as children, then as young girls with sweethearts, then as married wives with children of our own, then both of us divorced, then me, remarried, then divorced again, then our children off living their own lives. Seems I don't have much luck with men. Now we're living our seventh and best lifetime as old ladies, because old ladies don't care what other people think anymore.
We are the same age and have been friends since grade school, still living in this old town, and that's a lot of friendship. We've gone to the same little Baptist church for over fifty years now. Two weeks ago someone left a cigarette butt in the parking lot and you should have seen Jessie! She picked up that butt and walked right into the sanctuary, said, "Who threw this down on the parking lot?"
No one answered for a while, until finally Richard shrugged and said, "I did, ma'am. Sorry, won't let it happen again!"
Jessie looked at him and said, "Thank you for proving Christianity to me, but let's not prove it anymore in the church parking lot, okay? Church is not the place to prove Christianity! And quit spitting everywhere! I hate having to walk by your little piles of spittle!"
Richard looked confused, but I knew what she meant. He'd proven how self-centered and sinful the human race really was, throwing trash on the pavement in the church parking lot like that. The next week, Jessie had a sign posted right outside the front door to the church, said, "No spit or butts allowed!"
Every day starts with creaking, popping, breakfast and coffee. If I'm lucky I have a bowel movement. Then I walk to town, around four blocks, and meet Jessie at the senior citizen's center where we spend the morning talking and doing jigsaw puzzles. Lunch is at twelve fifteen...always reminds me of something I learned in High School and never forgot. Whenever they call us for lunch, I look over at Jessie and say, "Magna Carta time, let's go eat!"
I love to eat and so does Jessie. Usually lunch is deli sandwiches and iced tea or milk, but sometimes they order pizza for us from the local pizza place. I don't like milk. I'll drink iced tea when there’s deli sandwiches, but the only thing that goes with pizza is diet coke. It took two long years of begging but we finally got cokes and diet cokes on the pizza days. Harry Underwood wanted coke with his pizza but he died before they let us. People should understand, at our age every day is precious and two years is a long time to wait for a coke.
A few people, like Agnes Snyder, can't eat the sandwiches or the pizza. They get oatmeal or soup instead, the poor souls. How old is Agnes now, let me think. She has to be getting close to ninety years old. I look up at Agnes, who’s wearing a pink tee shirt today. She’s all shaky and doesn’t talk much but she’s still ornery. I wonder if she can even taste the food anymore, eating the same thing every day like that. Lord, how much canned soup and instant oatmeal can a body take? I shake my head. That will be me in a few years, I think, and take another precious bite of pepperoni goodness.
After lunch we have a senior’s computer class. They have internet at the senior citizens center and a bunch of old computers people have donated. We've learned how to use the mouse, how to type addresses in the box at the top, and how to set up an e-mail. I check my e-mail because I get letters from my daughter almost every day. I so enjoy those letters. Today I learn that Mark, my great grandchild, grade four, got an A on his science test!
Lucky, one of my favorite characters is on the screen. "What did he just say?" I holler at Jessie.
"He said he's worried the drug deal might be going down tonight," She hollers back.
I have to smile when my friend says drug deal. Jessie looks annoyed and so do several other people, but like I said, I'm seventy seven and I don't care anymore! Agnes gives me a frown, says, "Shut up!" I stick out my tongue at that old fool. She sticks hers out right back at me. I start to laugh, which annoys everyone all over again.
I keep one eye on the TV and the other on the computer. I run across a page on there called, "EARL." It lists some of the bad things pastors have done all over the country, shocking what some of those pastors have done. EARL calls them Pharisees, just like in the Bible. I show Jessie and it reminds both of us of our old pastor at the Baptist church. He's been dead over fifteen years now and our new pastor is great, but it brings to mind some of the things he did. It's got what's called a chat room attached to it. Says they'll be chatting on there from ten to eleven at night. I wish I could get on there and tell them some of my stories, but I don't have a computer at home.
The next day during our lesson I show the teacher, Julia, the EARL website and ask her how to get in the chat room. She shows me, but she tells me it's not open until ten at night. I know this already. Julia doesn't know it but I have a plan.
Every day in class, Julia and I go over the steps to get in the chat room until I know them by heart. Then I check my e-mail and learn what my family is up to, then I look at the new stories on the EARL page. I have already written my daughter and asked her if she can find me a computer to use at home. We need a password to get on the internet at the center and I figure it's the same everywhere.
One night at home I go outside and talk to my neighbor, who's sitting on his porch with his little computer on his lap. I've seen him there before. I ask my neighbor, Walter, if I can have his password, promising him one pie a month if he'll share it with me. Well he jumps at the offer, because my pies are good! Now all I need is a computer and I'll be all set. I feel very much a sympathy towards all those poor souls on that website. I know what it's like to try and be a good person with a bad pastor like that. Lots of people just quit trying!
I check EARL every chance I get. write down the names of the people on there, and every night I spend some time praying for each and every one of them. Now all I need is a computer.