Movin’ On – Published in 25 Miles from Home Anthology by Pure Slush – August 2021
I stepped onto the porch to grab the morning mail like always, while Mama fixed breakfast. Standing out between the layers of junk mail spewing from the mouth of our rusted mailbox was a thick manila envelope with the cobalt blue and gold seal of the University of Tulsa. Dropping the unwanted flyers to the porch floor, I sat on the stoop letting my finger trace over the embossed motto. Wisdom, Faith, Service.
“What is it Emma Sue?” Mama said, pushing open the storm door. “Whatcha got there, baby?”
I held it up ignoring her outstretched hand. “Don’t know yet, Mama,” I lied, hoping she couldn’t see my heart thumping through my thin yellow cotton dress. “But it’s addressed to me.” I looked up at her as she stepped onto the porch dressed in her pink floral housedress and fuzzy slippers.
“Give it here,” Mama said. But I wasn’t givin’ nothin’ over. At nineteen, well almost, in two weeks, I was old enough to take care of my own things. And it was time Mama stepped back. It was only the two of us in the house since Daddy died last spring, and we got along just fine most of the time. It was only when she got too bossy or started naggin’ ‘bout me and Earl gettin’ married that we fought.
I always got the last word though, yellin’, “If you like him so much, why don’t you marry him.” And slammin’ my bedroom door behind me, I’d whisper, “Then you can take care of each other, and I can get the hell outta here.”
I slid my finger under the envelope flap, pulled out a stack of papers, and began reading the top letter.
Dear Emma Sue Hurly,
Congratulations! Your poem “Above the Clouds” has won first place in this year’s State Poetry Competition. As the winner of the contest you are invited to this year’s Annual Poetry Weekend Symposium at The University of Tulsa.
“Well, I’ll be,” I said. “Lookie here, Mama. Remember that poem Mrs. Greely, my old English teacher asked if she could to enter into a competition?” I read the words over again, this time aloud for Mama to hear.
I flipped through the pages for more weekend details and could feel my eyes poppin’ from their sockets reading the list of events to myself before looking back at Mama now hangin’ over my shoulder. I pulled the papers tight to my chest.
“Wow, Mama, there’s a welcome picnic, a day of writing workshops at the university, a cocktail party and formal dinner honoring me and the other winners.”
“Well, congratulations. Ain’t that just wonderful,” Mama said with eyebrows arched like two umbrellas. “And how they ’spect you to get there? And where you gonna stay?”
“Oh, I’ll get there, Mama. I’m not missin’ this. And there’s a list of hotels included,” I said, waving the paper in the air. Refusing to let her spoil the moment, I slipped past her and ran back to my room to call Earl. I was gonna need him to stay with Mama while I was gone.
Earl’s reaction was about as enthusiastic as hers.
For the next six weeks, I worked double shifts at the Winn Dixie. When I wasn’t working, I was keeping peace with Mama, jingling Earl’s jewels, and secretly stashing away my earnings. I had even earned enough money, to rise above the smothering clouds of dust like I dreamed with the words of my poem.
By May 17th, when Earl pulled his truck into the driveway at 6:00 AM to drive me to the bus stop, I was already out front, dressed in my jeans and favorite Alva High cheerleading t-shirt with Mama fussing over me. Earl set in the back of the pickup my suitcase holding the two new dresses I’d found on sale at K-Mart, while I kissed Mama before climbing into the truck.
Through the open window Mama pulled my hand from its white-knuckle grip on my purse strap and squeezed it between hers. Earl started the engine and began pulling away. “You come back to us now, Emma Sue’, you hear,” she said.
Smiling, I waved and blew a good-bye kiss through the dust kicked up behind us.