1960s · Movies

Stel and the Long Hall

I was reading Clovis Crawfish and his Friends on Grandma’s front porch when Stella Parrott walked toward the house carrying a tower of books. I closed my book and skipped down the thirteen concrete porch steps to help Stel with that week’s stack of reading material. 

“Ya gonna read ALL these?” I asked the retired school teacher widow who lived with Grandma Keller. 

Stel handed five books to me and smiled. “ Well, Ginger Ann, what else would a person do with books but read them?”  

“But you got so many.”  

Have so many,” corrected Stel . 

“Right. Have. How you gonna have time?”

Going to have time,” enunciated Stel. 

“OK, but the library makes ya give back the books in ten days,” I explained. 

“The library allows you to borrow books for two full weeks. That is sufficient time to read a dozen books.”  

“A dozen! That’s twelve books, Stel!”  

“Correct.” Then Stel added, “How would you like to have a cold drink in the kitchen with me after I put away these books?”  

“Mai oui,oui, cher,” I said, echoing my MaMa Joe’s words from yesterday.

Stel smiled as we walked down the long, dark hall, stopped off to place the books on her mahogany dresser, and then resumed walking towards the kitchen’s swinging door. 

Once safely in my grandma’s  home’s most well-lit room, I went straight on the back porch to grab two six-and-a-half-ounce bottles of Coca Cola from the wooden crate that held twenty-four bottles while Stel got ice from an aluminum ice tray and filled two jelly glasses with ice. I opened the bottles on the mounted bottle opener near the pie safe and sat at the kitchen table. 

“I normally have my afternoon coffee about now,” said Stel, “yet I do believe a nice cold drink is in order for an August afternoon.” 

C’est ci bon,” I said.  

“I was not aware that you were bilingual,” said Stel as she poured the Cokes making sure the fast-rising soda foam did not overflow.  

I held my glass next to my lips and slurped the warm foam. “Huh?”  

Bilingual means you speak two languages.” 

“Oh,” I said and took a long sip before I mimicked the commercial, “Ahhhhhh.”

“Would you care to learn a new card game?” said Stel as she picked up a well-worn Bicycle deck. 

Stel in the Kitchen in 1980

Oui, oui, mon ami!” 

So Stel shuffled the cards and announced, “This game is called Casino, and the rules are quite precise.” She dealt us each four cards and intermittently placed four cards face-up between us on the table.  “The ten of diamonds is called Big Casino and is worth two points; the two of spades is called Little Casino and is worth one point.” Stel always pronounced each syllable of each word as if each one was special, yet she never made other people, including kids, feel like she was talking down to them.  “Each ace earns you a point, and the player with the most spades gets a point. Also, the person who has the larger number of cards at the game’s end receives three points.”  

“Can I look at my cards now?” I asked even though I was already checking out my hand.

May I, hon,” said Stel as she nodded and placed her own four cards up for teaching purposes. “This shall be a practice game.” 

I then laid down my own four cards. 

“The object of the game is to pick up as many cards as possible to gain more points than your opponent. You may go first. Pick up the Queen of spades with your Queen of diamonds and place the cards in a neat pile in front of you.”  

As I followed Stel’s directions, a loud “BUZZZIT!” sounded from a small speaker next to the stove.  

“I suppose your grandmother is up from her nap,” said Stel. 

“I’ll see what she wants,” I said and got up to heed Grandma’s call.

“Thank you, Ginger. I will make her coffee, and we shall continue Casino lessons shortly.”

I waited on the other side of the swinging kitchen door to let my eyes adjust to the darkness of the long hallway towards Grandma’s room. Even at three p.m. on a sunny summer day that hall stayed dim and shadowy enough to give me pause. I heard Stel fixing the aluminum coffee pot and turning on the gas stove’s front burner. I ran and reached Grandma’s door in eleven seconds. I rapped softly and entered.

“What ya need, Grandma?”

“Get your grandma a glass of water, baby.”

Oui, oui.”

Outside the door, I heard Grandma use the remote to turn on her t.v.  A zydeco…zydeco…zydeco beat accompanied a local used-car ad.

I peered into a darkened room. I knew the school children were safe in the house for now, but I heard the birds flying into the windows and squawking outside.  My head was still bleeding from the pecks of at least five birds when I went outside to rescue a girl who had fallen. The birds had attacked without warning, and I believed their numbers had increased in the minutes it took to get the kids inside. I had to devise an escape route to a more secure location. If I could make it to the telephone in the kitchen, I could call for backup. Thuds and cries intensified as I ran down a hall and through a room that had dozens of windows. The bird shrieks grew louder as more crashed into windows in a room that went on forever. I ran faster. A loud crack made me turn left to see two birds dive-bomb a broken window and soon 20, 30, 50 birds came flying toward me. I covered my head with both arms and ran toward a sliver of light under a door a block away. Birds were everywhere, flapping, squawking, crying and flying into me. Angry beaks found my legs and arms as more birds flew into the room that seemed to have a ceiling made of black feathers. I moved my shoulders back and forth, ran even faster, and used my head to butt my way through the swinging kitchen door. 

The Birds, 1963

“What does she want?” asked Stel when I plopped into a chair and took in gulps of air. I held up my right hand as if to bless Stel and took four long breaths.

“Water…water,” I gasped and Stel filled a glass with tap water and handed it to me with a smile.

Merci beaucoup, mon ami.” 

I held the glass, stood up, and kicked the swinging door with my left foot and made ready to fight my way back to Grandma.

Stel and I on Grandma’s porch, 1984