There were four of us girls, three redheads of various hues and me, the oldest. I had decided years ago the business of hair dying took up more time than I cared to devote to vanity and had let the gray take over. We were gathered in the foyer of the local Baptist church, a glass, brick, and wrought iron monstrosity built facing the highway. The church was a cookie cutter design as devoid and sterile in personality as a poached egg, its furnishings all chosen from an upscale religious supply catalog selling salvation and interior decor for the discriminating congregation. It was the middle of June and hotter than hell’s half acre and I was freezing because one of the menopausal church ladies had the thermostat set on meat locker.
The church reeked of overlong Sunday services that left you with a vague feeling of generalized guilt, as if no matter what you did, you would never be good enough. I looked around, shuddering. I may have been raised as a Southern Baptist, but thanks to many years of expensive therapy, I’d managed to recover rather nicely.
“We got to find it,” the Queen of Scotts said. She was sister number two and currently married to Scott the Second. For reasons known only to herself, she kept marrying men named Scott, thereby earning the title.
“Unless the maid took it,” I said. I had a definite love/hate relationship with my parent’s maid. True, I had hired her and paid most of her salary, but the woman had sticky fingers. She was a hard worker, and, bless her pointy little head, dumber than a box of dead rocks. Her only redeeming quality was she took very good care of my parents.
“We could ask Daddy,” Cassie, aka sister number four and the baby of the family, suggested.
“Don’t you go bothering Daddy, heifer,” Tessa said, sister number three and a Navy veteran. “He’s got enough to deal with right now.”
“Yeah,” I said, “and Simple Simon couldn’t find his ass with both hands and a map.”
Mary stifled a giggle. “You cussed in church. You are so going to hell!”
“Tell you what, while the rest of the family is otherwise occupied, I’ll go back to the house and look for Traveling Pig. That is if that damned dog hasn’t used it for a chew toy.”
One of the devout church ladies was glaring at me. Not that being glared at by Miss Ruthann was anything new. She’d been glaring at me since I was five and knew more Bible verses than her twin daughters and her sissified son combined. At five I was a self-righteous little shit, hell-bent on earning all the ice cream and a leather-covered Bible in the color of my choice with my name written on the cover in gold. It was the much-anticipated grand prize give at the end of Vacation Bible School to the child who had managed to learn the most Bible verses. The next two runners up would receive a plain black Bible with a lovely faux leatherette cover, while the rest would have to make do with a copy of the New Testament. The exercise was supposed to teach us the value of hard work and how learning the word of God made us grow spiritually. I considered it Counting Coup. I wonder whatever happened to it.
“Miss Ruthann is staring at you,” the Queen of Scotts informed me.
“She can stare all she wants. She didn’t as much as bring by a casserole and now she wants to show up all holy and I’m sorry, and it’s God’s will. She can kiss my wide white Pagan American ass.”
Yes, I have a few problems with my parent’s church. Most of churchgoers walked around in a holier-than-thou fog with their noses so high in the air it’s a wonder they don’t drown when it rains.
The last two months had been difficult. Instead of putting Mama in a nursing home, the rest of the family had decided it was best to bring her home on hospice care. I was not consulted. She required round the clock nursing, none of it done by the two sisters who were nurses and conveniently lived out-of-state. I probably shouldn’t have felt so relieved when she finally did pass, but I was exhausted and tired of being nice to people I didn’t like. I had enlisted in the Army at nineteen and the military had given me a very low tolerance for bullshit and hypocrisy.
My older brother and his wife made their appearance with their pastor in tow. Brother Jonas was one of those holier-than-thou Pentecostal ministers who preached the gospel of prosperity by insisting his church members tithe 15 percent instead of the usual 10. He had been invited to say a few words at the funeral. Time for me to leave. Don’t get me wrong, I like my older brother much better now that he’s married to Millie, although what she sees in him I’ll never know. Not a one of us could stand his last wife, who had the IQ of tree sap and the personality of a dead squirrel. However, I had a very hard time tolerating his crazy Pentecostal preacher. Millie came over to join the rest of us girls.
“How y’all holding up?” she asked. “I’ll try to keep Brother Jonas away from you, hon. Lord, I wish Ronnie would find a new church. That man gets on my last nerve sometime.”
“As long as he doesn’t try to set me on fire I can deal. I’m going back to the house. I’m not sure where my husband has wandered off to, but if you find him tell him I’ll be back as soon as I find Traveling Pig.” I grabbed my bag off the table holding brochures on God’s Plan of Salvation and The Importance of Tithing.
I drove back to my parents’ house, hoping their stupid dog was either chained up or stoned out of his overbred skull on doggie tranquilizers. My parents were the owners of the stupidest Springer Spaniel ever bred. He had papers and pedigrees and was psychotic from prolonged exposure to my parents and Simple Simon. My parents, paranoid about the dog escaping, kept him on a forty-foot chain. On those rare occasions when creature got the opportunity to run free, he would take off like a bat out of hell, ignoring calls, whistles, and everything else as he made a mad dash to freedom. My dad, who was in his mid-eighties at the time, wore hearing aids in both ears, couldn’t see worth a damn, and to top all this off was in a power chair because of a stroke, came up with the idea that he would use gunfire to attract the dog’s attention. Out would come a .12 gage shotgun and Daddy would fire into the air until the dog came running up, looking for a dead duck, only to find his collar and chain waiting.
Fortunately, the dog was shut up in my parents’ bedroom and making one hell of a racket. I started my search for Traveling Pig. The maid had been in the day before and the living room was reasonably clean except for the piles of newspapers and magazines heaped on the floor between the two lift chairs. Simple Simon must have thought he had died and gone to heaven when Daddy had those chairs delivered. The lift chairs were for my parents, except Mama had barely used hers before she became completely bedridden. Simple Simon no longer had to exert himself by standing up. All he had to do was push a button and the chair would gently tilt his lazy ass into a standing position. You better believe I had thought about turning the lift chair into a Wiley Coyote Acme Style Ejector seat. After a few minutes’ worth of quiet satisfaction contemplating his fat ass flying through the ceiling via ejector seat, I continued my search.
I vainly searched the living room for Traveling Pig, but he was nowhere to be found. I opened the cabinet under the TV. There was a total absence of decoupage pigs, but a great abundance of porn DVD’s. I quickly slammed the cabinet doors. I had gotten the DVD player for my parents two Christmas’s earlier, along with a collection of the old Westerns they loved to watch, but were seldom on TV. Trust Simple Simon to think that everything in the house was there for his use and enjoyment.
My next stop was the kitchen and dining room, and as usual it was a mess. Simple Simon had yet to figure out how to wash dishes. Or pick up after himself, or make his bed, or do his own laundry. He was fifty years old and had never left home. Mama had catered to him like he was Christ reincarnate or the next king of England. As a result, he was too stupid to live in the real world. Too bad he was about to have to fend for himself.
I knew there was only one place left to search, and sure enough, I found the silly pig on the top shelf of the hall closet, covered with dust. I carried the pig to the kitchen, stopping briefly by the bathroom to snag what I hoped was a clean towel. With Simple Simon running around, it was always a crapshoot. However, it looked like one of my sister’s had done a load of fresh towels the night before. I took Traveling Pig to the sink, rubbed him down with dish soap, and used the sprayer to rinse off the suds. I dried Traveling Pig, buffing his decoupaged hide until it glistened. I took Traveling Pig to my car and set him down in the passenger seat, resisting an urge to buckle him in, if for no other reason than to insure he didn’t try to escape. The pig had started out life in a flea market in Houston, where Cassie had been attending a work conference. Mama had started collecting pig figurines and Cassie thought she might like to add a decoupaged pig to the collection. Traveling Pig’s first journey was a Delta flight to New Orleans in Cassie’s carry on.
My husband and I had driven out from California on a much-needed vacation. We stopped at my Cassie’s house first. She had to go to work and asked us to bring the pig to Mama. The pig was stashed behind the truck seat and promptly forgotten. And thus, began the Epic Journey of Traveling Pig.
We drove to the Gulf Coast, to Dauphin Island in Alabama and to Pensacola, Florida and back to California. Traveling Pig has been to Las Vegas, Nevada for my husband’s family reunion. He’s been over the Cajon Pass, up the Grapevine, and the Virgin River Gorge. He’s visited truck stops, roadside attractions, and beaches all over the California Coast. That pig had a lot of miles on him, mostly because he was hiding under an old towel that had been in the truck since my husband had driven it off the lot at the Dodge dealers in San Diego. Two years later, when we moved back to the South, I was unpacking the truck when I discovered Traveling Pig, a little dirty, but none the worse for wear and mileage, smirking up at me from underneath the forgotten surf towel.
I looked over at the pig’s blue plaid and floral decoupaged hide. “Pig, this is it, buddy. Time for your last ride.” I started the car, cranked up the A/C and blasted “Born to Run” from the speakers.
When I got back to the church, I held up the pig for my sisters to see. “Mission accomplished,” I said. “I even gave him a bath.” I surrendered Traveling Pig to the Queen of Scotts. She securely tucked Traveling Pig into the casket next to Mama.
Cassie was shaking her head. “You reckon he can get out of that?”
“I don’t know,” Tessa said, “But if he shows back up at the house, it’s gonna scare the crap out of whoever finds it.”
Millie looked at her watch. “Just in time. The service starts in ten minutes.”
The pianist was tuning up and I had feeling Lettie Fordham would soon be bellowing out “Amazing Grace”. We were ushered to our seats as the funeral director was closing the casket.
Traveling Pig was embarking on his final journey.
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