The Ordinary Truth
Grandma Nell had always worn her hair in a long braid down her back—same as me—even as it grayed. But last year, she said what movement was left in her old aching hands could be best put to use doing ranch work instead of braiding hair. The truth was Grandma Nell hadn’t braided her own hair in a lot of years—I had been doing it since the day I came to live with her—and she’d lost the muscle memory that used to allow her to weave a braid in less time than it took to tie a shoe.
The day I loaded my things into the bed of Uncle Nate’s truck to move to my mother’s, Grandma Nell whacked off her braid with a pair of kitchen scissors. We were standing around the truck—me, Uncle Nate, and Aunt Ona—giving Skinny, who was in the truck bed stacking the small load, three different opinions on how he ought to be doing things. Skinny nodded and went about his business, ignoring all of us unless his way of doing things agreed with one of ours, or unless one of us suggested something so foolish Skinny’d follow those instructions just to get a good laugh out of the day.
Grandma Nell had gone into the house to get the last box, and I didn’t note it at the time—that’d be like checking to see that your right foot was still attached—but I assume that braid was tucked into the back of her shirt like always, where it stayed out of the way of piggin strings and moving machinery. But when she came back out carrying the box, the braid was laid out across it.
Just like Grandma Nell to find the most dramatic way possible of presenting things. I was leaving upon her insistence, but still, she couldn’t resist making the point that I was abandoning her.
“What the hell?” Uncle Nate had said when she handed him the box.
“I thought Cassie might want to hang this in her dorm room to remember her old grandma.”
“She ain’t going to a dorm room, Nell,” Uncle Nate said. “You know that. She’s going to live with Katie.”
“All the better,” said Grandma Nell.
Aunt Ona gasped so loud when she first saw the braid I thought she was going to faint straightaway. She was now stammering, trying to formulate some words
“Nell, that braid—”
“Hush, Ona,” Grandma said.
“Not another word, Ona.”
We all stood silently. I was hoping Aunt Ona would continue in spite of Grandma Nell’s admonishment that she not, but she clamped down. Skinny, who had sat down on the wheel well in the truck bed, struck a match and lit a cigarette. Grandma Nell watched as he shook out the match and exhaled smoke, so the rest of us watched also. Skinny looked at Aunt Ona thoughtfully, then at Grandma Nell, then at the braid lying lifeless on the box. It was thick and mostly gray with enough strands of dark brown to give it a striped look. Grandma Nell had put a rubber band—the kind that comes around the newspaper—on the newly severed end like a tourniquet. Skinny nodded, acknowledging the braid.
“It’s a good, strong piece,” he said
“It’s yours,” Grandma Nell said. “Put it to good use.”
Skinny looked again at Aunt Ona, who had set her jaw tight but was still acting as if Grandma Nell had laid her left arm across the box. He looked back to Grandma Nell, who was equally set but also had a clownish appearance—the remains of her hair sticking out unevenly from under her ball cap. Skinny nodded, picked up the braid, and gently wound it around his fingers before slipping it into his jacket pocket.