A Visit to the Gun Show

When I told my cousin Jackson that I was going to the gun show, he looked at me like I had lost my mind.
“Why?” he asked.
“Well, you know, I’ve never been to one, and I think it would be interesting to write about the experience” I said.
“You’ve never even been to a deer camp,” he countered.
“I have, too,” I said. “Ewell took me to his uncle’s camp in the Delta once.”
“Yeah, now I remember. He told me you spent the whole time bird-watching and going off about affiliated peckerwoods.”
“That’s `pileated woodpeckers,’” I said. “They’re very uncommon, and I saw three of them in one day.”
“He also said you almost got your ass shot off.”
“I was trying to blend in and not scare the birds. They’re really shy.”
“Speaking of blending in, what are you going to wear to the gun show?”
“Slacks, sweater, shoes. Why?”
Jackson rolled his eyes. “That’s it,” he said. “I’m going with you.”
“I’ll be fine, Jack. It’s not like they’re going to string me up for wearing Hushpuppies.”
“Look, do you want people to talk to you, or what?”
“Sure I do,” I said. “That’s going to be the heart of the story. It’s a human interest piece.”
“Then you don’t need to look like a roving reporter for Martha Stewart. Let me see what I’ve got.” One hour later, we were stepping out the door. I had on jeans, boots, a flannel shirt and his dad’s old flight jacket. Jack was Mossy Oak from head to toe. Just as he was about to close the door, Jack turned to me, wrinkled his nose and said, “What’s that smell?”
“Gel,” I said.
“Go wash it out. Thank God you need a haircut.”

Five dollars each gained us entry into the floor room, and despite Jackson’s careful preparations, within five minutes I had run afoul of a vendor.
All I did was ask for a catalogue from the proprietor, a black lady in a neon t-shirt that read “Real Hunters Shoot More Than Once.” She asked me, in a very strong voice, “What do you need a catalogue for? I’ve got all my stuff out right here. See where this green tablecloth is spread out? This is my stuff. You don’t need no catalogue.”
She had her hands on her hips and was looking at me like she was daring me to say something, so I just said, “Yes, ma’am,” and backed off, nodding and smiling. The folks at nearby booths glanced over to see what was going on. Paranoia seemed to be the neurosis de jour.
Jack came up from behind me where he had been checking out the VibraShine Vortex, a shell-polishing system that employed crushed corn cobs (“Organic. I grow `em myself.”), aluminum silicate (“Just like you find in toothpaste.”) and motor oil (“Keeps the dust down.”).
“What did you say to her?” he hissed, grabbing my arm and nodding towards More Than Once.
“I just asked for a catalogue,” I said.
“She does not work for L.L. Bean,” he said.
“I just thought she might have a price list or something,” I said.
“Young man!” More Than Once was pointing at me, shouting from ten feet away. Heads turned.
Jackson said, “Oh, shit. We are so busted.”
“Young man!” she said again. “I do not have a catalogue, but I do have a card. Come here and get one,” she said. And she smiled.
I went over and picked up the card and thanked her. By the time I got back to where Jackson was he had disappeared into a wilderness of denim, flannel and camouflage.

Jackson caught up with me about the time I found the camo women’s apparel. “Don’t touch that!”
“I wasn’t going to touch it,” I said.
“Yes, you were,” he said.
“Oh, hell,” I said. “I couldn’t help it.” I couldn’t believe it was real. “Can you imagine there’s a hooker out there wearing this stuff who calls herself Bambi’?”
“Would you please not talk so loud?”
“Jackson, I happen to know that you have an intimate acquaintance with ladies’ apparel.” I picked an item off the rack and held it up for his inspection. “Just what is this?”
“It’s a teddy,” he said, looking away.
“It’s got white lace with a camouflage bra.”
“So?”
“There are drag queens in Oktibbeha County who would sell a family member into slavery for this stuff,” I said.
About that time, a young lady came around the rack. She had what looked like an all-day sucker in her hand and was flipping through the clothing. Before Jackson could stop me, I said, “Excuse me.”
“Yeah?” she said.
“Would you wear this stuff?” I asked, holding up my prize. I heard Jack’s jaw hit the floor behind me.
She looked at me for a second. Then she giggled.
“No!” she said, “but Momma does.”
“Just on special occasions, I bet,” I said with a wink.
She giggled again. “Yeah, mostly during hunting season.”
We giggled together for a little bit, then Jack started dragging me back to the main aisle.

I spent some time wandering around the Winchesters, Colts and Mausers until I came upon the Christmas ornaments.
“These are so unique,” I said to the lady in charge. She was a little grandmotherly type in a maroon pants suit with a champagne bouffant. “Did you make them yourself?”
“Yes,” she said. “But it was my husband Pete’s idea. I’ve always been artsy-craftsy, and had a glue gun and everything, but he was the one who thought of doing the lights like this. And I thought, well, if you’re going to do lights, why don’t we make a couple of little wreathes and maybe even a star for the tree and we just went from there.”
“Are they safe?” I asked.
“Oh, yes,” she said. “I used too big ‘a bulbs the first set, and they all just melted, didn’t set anything on fire, but these are a lot smaller. You should see them when the house lights are off. They just glow.”

I thanked her and wandered off down the aisle, wondering what the Prince of Peace would say about shotgun shell Christmas lights.

 

Mr. Lilyfoot

Ruth Parker owned over two dozen dolls, and she knew every one of them by name. “This is Snagglepants,” she’d say, holding up a Raggedy Andy with a torn pocket. She called her big Raggedy Ann doll Phyllis and the little one she took everywhere Roo-roo. Ruth and Roo-roo were best friends. They had three tea sets between them, and if the other dolls were nice, Ruth and Roo-roo would have them for milk and cookies. “But you can’t have any peanuts because Roo’s allergic,” Ruth would remind them. Ruth lived with her parents in a big house on a wooded street. Aside from Roo-roo, her best friend was the housekeeper, Lena. Lena was tall and her cheeks were very full. As she cooked and cleaned, she sang songs and made cookies for Ruth and Roo-roo’s tea parties, but she always told them she wasn’t supposed to. It was Lena who told her about Mr. Lilyfoot.

Mr. Lilyfoot lived under a tree at the end of the path in the garden behind Ruth’s home. He had a green cap, red overalls and a long white beard. He always smiled.  On nice spring days, Lena would sit in the swing with something to occupy her hands while she watched Ruth play in the yard. When she had to go inside to answer the phone or change a load of laundry, she’d tell Ruth Mr. Lilyfoot would watch after her. At first Ruth didn’t like Mr. Lilyfoot; he was stiff, not soft like her dolls. She’d hold her little Raggedy Ann up to Mr. Lilyfoot’s smiling face and say, “Roo-roo doesn’t like you!” But Ruth was a sweet child, and when she saw that Mr. Lilyfoot’s face was dirty, she asked Lena for a napkin so she could wipe it off because Mr. Lilyfoot’s arms were always behind him. Lena laughed at her one windy afternoon when Ruth tied one of her father’s socks around Ms. Lilyfoot’s neck and took care to hide the other one.

***

“Mommie, it’s cold outside. Can Mr. Lilyfoot come sleep in my room?”
Janet Parker brushed her daughter’s dark hair. “Sweetie, who is Mr. Lilyfoot?’
“He’s in the garden,” Ruth said. “He’s wearing a hat, but I know he’s cold”
“Oh, honey, I don’t want that nasty thing in your room,” Janet said.
“He’s not nasty.”
“Ruth, he lives outside. He’s an outdoor doll.”
“He’s not a doll.”
“Well, not like your other dolls, but he’s still a doll.”
“Roo-roo says he isn’t. Roo-roo knows everything.”
Janet cocked an eyebrow at her petulant daughter. “And what does Mommie know?”
“I love you, Mommie!” Ruth launched herself into her mother’s arms and looked into the back yard through the window.

***

When Ruth awakened that afternoon, Mr. Lilyfoot, scrubbed by the ever-patient Lena and bright as a new penny, was smiling at her from the corner of her room. She and Roo-roo immediately arranged a high tea with hot chocolate and frosted cookies. When Janet looked in on her later she found that Ruth had arranged her favorite dolls around the little table, with Mr. Lilyfoot at its head.
“Mr. Lilyfoot’s warmer now, Mommie. But Roo-roo’s tired,” she said, holding up the little rag doll.
“Well, let’s put her to sleep,” Janet said. She gathered her daughter in her arms, made sure her doll was with her, and put her to bed. She glanced at Mr. Lilyfoot smiling from the corner, lowered the shutters and closed the door.
When Janet brought Ruth’s tray upstairs that night, she heard her daughter laughing from the hallway. She found Ruth sitting up in her bed, clutching Roo-roo, and smiling.
“What’s so funny?” Janet asked.
“Mommie, me and Mr. Lilyfoot took Roo-roo to Magicland, and she had tea with the King!”
Janet tucked a bib under her daughter’s so very thin neck and began feeding her with a spoon. “Did Roo have a good time?”
“She was scared at first because the king was so high up and her legs are really short. But then the king asked her to dance, so she didn’t have to go so far up.”
“Did you dance?” Janet asked.
“No, Mommie,” Ruth said. “I had to help Mr. Lilyfoot make the band play. I’m tired.”
Janet tucked her daughter under the covers, kissed her, climbed onto the sagging cot next to Ruth’s bed and closed her sad eyes.

***

Ruth and Mr. Lilyfoot, with Roo-roo in tow, went everywhere. The tea parties became a thing of the past. Instead, they took buckets to the beach where they collected shells. Another time they sailed the seas on a boat made of glass and rigged with silver, and once they found a mountain made of chocolate and topped with ice cream. The following morning they went to the moon and found big gold rocks that glittered under the smiling sun. That afternoon Mr. Lilyfoot rearranged the stars, and later they all skated on swirls of light through a sparkling tunnel into a warm, black night. “Don’t be scared, Roo-roo,” Ruth said. “Mr. Lilyfoot will get us home.”

***

It wasn’t long before Ruth’s dreams ended. Lena boxed up the lonely dolls for other little girls, and she returned Mr. Lilyfoot to the garden under the tree at the end of the path.