She looked off into the August sunset to the west, where cotton-candy pink clouds floated eastwards against a Wedgewood-blue sky.
“That looks like the bedspreads mother used to switch to in the summer,” she said of the dappled foreground. “Except for the colors. Ours were always white of course. Did I ever tell you about the time we almost left Poodie behind at a chenille mill in Tennessee on our way back from Grandma’s in Atlanta? No? Well, we’d stopped to look and stretch our legs and to let the dog do his business, and I don’t know, Lee let him off the leash. It wasn’t a busy highway so none of us thought anything about it. It was just a little wide spot in the road, one of those stores where all you do is you pull off, no parking lot.
“Mother wouldn’t let us call her ‘Ma’ or ‘Momma.’ She said it was tacky and like so many things, she was right. That and warshing your car out in the street. Lee came into the store at some point, hoping Mother or Daddy would buy him a grab bag or an Indian belt or a comic book. Daddy said no, you don’t need anything else, you’ve got lots of souvenirs from the trip. We were a day’s drive away from home at that point, and Daddy probably figured he’d already spent enough on this vacation. Lee, he just wanted something to read in the car on the last leg of the trip. He was a fast reader.
“Anyway, you know how kids are. They don’t pay attention to what’s important, they just think about themselves. When we came out he was disappointed he didn’t get something and didn’t think to look for Poodie, who was off in the grass, sniffing around. Everybody else got in the car because the dog wasn’t their responsibility.
“We were probably a hundred yards down the road before anybody realized the dog wasn’t up on the rear window deck, where he sat the whole way. Me and Lee and Sweetie would turn around and pet him when we were starting off, then he’d settle down or come lie at our feet on either side of the transmission hump. And somebody, I don’t know if it was Lee or Sweetie, looked out the window and there was Poodie, running to beat the band, looking so upset ‘cause he thought we were leaving him behind.
“Well, we stopped and it was like a family reunion we were all so sorry and happy at the same time. And Poodie—just jumpin’ up and down, you should have seen him! It was like it says in the Bible—there is more rejoicing over one lost lamb than all the other sheep in the fold.
“Anyway, we were all kinda quiet from then until we reached the motel for the night. Nobody wanted to say anything, we realized how serious things were, how close we were to losing the French poodle that had been given to me by a boyfriend Daddy didn’t approve of but he let us keep anyway because he was so cute—Poodie, not the boyfriend–even if he did piddle on the rugs before he learned to go on the paper.
“When we got to the hotel Lee wanted to take one last swim. Once we got home it would be back to school, the town pool would be closed and there wouldn’t be anybody at the country club. I guess he must have been kind of tired after two weeks on the road because when he tried to swim the length of the pool he slowed down and Daddy saw him. He yelled at him that he either wasn’t trying or else he shouldn’t be in the deep end. Daddy could be insulting about swimming because he was so good at it when he was a boy. Lee climbed out but it was like he was so exhausted, he could barely pull himself up.
“So dinner was tense after that, with nobody saying much, then they wheeled out Baked Alaska for my birthday as a surprise! I’d never had it in my life! They blew out the flaming brandy and cut everybody a piece, and Lee said ‘Why do they call it Baked Alaska?’ and I woulda been sharp with him for being so stupid, but things were already sorta still and quiet, like we were sitting on eggs or something, so I just calmly told him the name came from all the white frosting, it looked like Alaska. Alaska was still a new state then, but I think he understood there was a lot of snow there so the white cake reminded people of Alaska.
“Lee had seen a poster for a pancake-eating contest the next day at ten and he asked Daddy if he could go watch. It was between two pro football players, one for Pittsburgh I think and the other was that Big Daddy Lipscomb. Supposedly they could eat like three hundred pancakes apiece.
“Daddy said no, we had to go.
“Because summer was over, and we had to get home.”