Little kids misconstrue grown up words in the most curious ways.
When I was five or six, my Mom and her neighbors would toss all of us kids in the back of the station wagon and head to the drive-in theatre for $1 per car movie night. We were instructed to go to sleep under a blanket and be quiet while the mommies enjoyed their film. Of course, Nosey Parker had to peek over the seat from time to time. One night the scene on the huge screen depicted (or rather implied, it was the 1950’s after all) a woman being raped. Several Mexican gardeners stood around helplessly, one of whom was holding a yard rake. In my child’s brain, the words rape and rake were inexplicably interwoven. It wasn’t until I was eighteen that I realized rape rarely involved landscaping tools of any sort. For years I refused to help my parents do yard work, for fear of getting pregnant. And don’t even ask me to rake leaves, hell no. I honestly believed that’s how poor teenage girls got knocked up. Not me buddy. No way, Jose. To this day I still pause briefly before entering the gardening shed on the property, just in case I had it right all those many years ago.
On the other hand, it always made me feel warm and fuzzy when my Grandpa called me Tom Molly. It was a bit strange that he called me by a boy’s name, but he followed the beat of a different drummer. He was the Ernest Hemingway look-a-like who woke one dark south Texas night to find a tarantula crawling on his blanket. One gun blast later and heaven had a new inhabitant and Grandpa was short four toes. He was also on scene when a rattlesnake lounging in my lingerie drawer was dispatched to heaven when I was only sixteen years old.
As I got a bit older I realized that Grandpa called ALL Texas women and girls Tom Mollies. “Why?” I asked Mama.
“Silly goose, it’s tamales, not Tom Mollies! He thinks we are like those yummy Mexican corn and meat treats he serves at his restaurant. Your Grandpa always says that Texas women are like unwrapping a tamale. When you carefully open the sizzling tough corn husk you find inside a hot, spicy treat with a soft seasoned center. Once you’ve had your first tamale, they will become a life-long addiction.”
Perhaps that is why, when two vehicles bearing Texas license plates pulled into the driveway of a long-vacant house across the street last month, I felt a small shudder of anticipation. Could another Texas Tom Molly really be joining the neighborhood? What radar do we possess that allows us to recognize a kindred statemate down the aisles of the supermarket, and from three storefronts away at a mall? The usual two glasses of Cabernet caused my mind to ponder and here are my conclusions.
Texas Tom Mollies always seem to share six characteristics. First, we are all Steel Magnolias, in the bring-it-on, pull back your shoulders, grit your teeth and carry on tradition of Scarlett O’Hara, M’lynn, Truvy, Ouiser, and Shelby.
Secondly, just like that tamale, we all have soft, mushy centers that melt and cry at the sight of a baby anything, or a homeless anybody.
Thirdly, we all seemed to have been tomboys. No tree too tall or imposing, no roof too steep. Cutting our dirt-encrusted forearms with rusty pocketknives and swearing undying friendship. Braving every rumored haunted house, taunting any hapless spirit to come out and mess with us. Keeping crickets, frogs, grasshoppers, and lizards for pets, and rejoicing in how it made our moms squirm.
There is also a confidence imbued from being handed grown up responsibilities early. By age four, we were present for the annual hog killing and pork processing in the smokehouse. Everyone had a job, and it wasn’t just for show. We helped with hay bailing, feeding and killing chickens for Sunday supper, gathering eggs, bringing in the cows from pasture, washing dishes and laundry. Having your skills taken seriously by adults infuses kids with a deep-seated self-confidence that is hard to shake, even when life serves up the inevitable shit sandwich, with a side order of sorrow and heartache.
The fifth trait we have in common is detectable behind the eyes. There is an irrepressible mischief, anticipation of the next prank to be pulled. Good fun and silliness are sure to be lurking just around every corner. There is a little gremlin in each of us, and I ain’t talking Gizmo either.
Lastly, there is an overlay of ultra femininity. We put on full make up and coordinated outfits just to back the car out of the garage. We are taught that it is good manners and courtesy to always present your best self to others. As Mama never tired of saying, ‘Would you rather look at an unmade bed with dirty sheets, or a perfectly made up one like you see in decorating magazines?” If you doubt this last point, I suggest a trip to Dallas, where you will find the most perfect examples of female tamales that exist outside a Barbie museum or the Playboy mansion.
That’s it for now. I have to grab a six-pack of Corona, a bottle of tequila, limes, that shaker of salt, and a bag of pork skins and head across the street. I predict that within thirty minutes my new neighbor and I will know more about each other than couples who have been married for ten years or more. I also predict HANGOVER is spelled the same in all 50 states.
Feature image courtesy of txtraders.com