Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Tiny's Curve

Just up the hill from my house on Cherry Street, there is a sharp turn that the folks in Rhodes Cove used to call “Tiny’s Curve.” In my memory, the name was in use long before the streets in Rhodes Cove had been paved. The name owed its origin to a little woman named Tiny Cagle that lived there. Tiny, her husband Robinson and the little house that they lived in have all receded into the past now, but each year, when spring comes around again, I remember her – a bright spot of color capering in that curve like a gleeful child.

To me, Tiny was always a creature straight out of a fairy tale, a world inhabited by elves and gnomes. She was barely four feet in height and a severe spinal curvature gave her body the shape of a question mark. I once asked Robinson if she had been a victim of polio. He shook his head and gave me one of his usual cryptic responses. “When she was down in Georgia, somebody hit her with a rake,” he said.

I guess the season prompts my memory of Tiny who had a dangerous habit of standing in the road – the best vantage point to see the world around her. Each spring, she would appear, her hand shielding her eyes from the sun as she did her daily survey. I think she was primarily motivated by curiosity, but she reported everything she saw to Robinson who sat on the porch in an ancient rocking chair with a half-dozen sleeping cats for company. He would nod in response to each revelation. Nothing escaped Tiny’s attention. Every car, woman, child and stray dog was noted and appraised.

“I see a red car parked at the Painters. Might be the daughter home from Atlanta.”
“She’s a nurse at Grady Memorial,” says Robinson.
After a lengthy silence, she says, “Willie is workin’ on that tractor again.”
Robinson nods and whittles.
Then, Tiny whispers, “I see a black dog.”
“Belongs to the Parkers,” says Robinson.
“Nooooo, this dog ain’t from around here. Stray. I can see its ribs.” Then, she make an ominous announcement: “I bet it kills cats.” Her bright little eyes turn to look at her sleeping brood and says, “Don’t you’ens worry, kitties.”

Each spring, the local police would visit Tiny, patiently explaining to Robinson that she shouldn’t stand in the middle of the road.
“You could get hit, Mrs. Cagle. Drivers can’t see you in that blind curve.” Tiny would smile shyly and nod, while Robinson shook his head and said, “I can’t do a thing with her.” When the policeman drove away, Tiny would climb the bank into the road and wave at the departing car.

On one occasion, when I was sitting on the porch talking to Robinson while Tiny stood staring down Cherry Street, a speeding van came around the curve. Spotting Tiny, the driver swerved and slid to a stop with a wheel in Tiny’s flowerbed. Then, as the driver and his family gawked in disbelief, Tiny began scooping up handfuls of gravel and sand and throwing it at the van.
“You drivin’ too fast,” she said. The driver rolled his window down and stared at Robinson on the porch.
“Sorry,” said Robinson. “She ain’t got a lick of sense.” The police returned an hour later.

It might appear that Tiny and Robinson lived a precarious existence. Their little house (which, quite fittingly, looked like a house in a Grimm fairy tale) had no insulation and the only source of water ran through a rubber tube from a spring in a neighbor’s yard. (The tube went under the road and into Tiny’s kitchen.) There were visits from social workers, of course, but the old couple had numerous friends in Rhodes Cove. There was always a stack of firewood in the winter, and sacks of corn, beans and tomatoes (the excess of their neighbor’s gardens) in the summer.

One morning as I was leaving for work, Tiny waylaid me. She was standing in my driveway waving a little lace handkerchief and although she was smiling, she looked anxious. When I rolled down the window, she said,
“Honey, I need to talk to you.” She peered at her house and whispered, “Robinson, he ain’t doin’ no good.”

I had heard that Robinson was ailing and that Tiny was having severe health problems – the consequences of her spinal curvature. “It looks like we are gonna go to the county home. I don’t mind a bit, cause the social worker took us out there, ‘n it’s nice.” She went on to tell me about “the big garden ‘n the porch with them rockin’ chairs.” She gave me a big smile, saying “Robinson will like it.” Then, she gave me a dollar. It had been folded many times. “I need you to feed my cats,” she said. “They are gonna wonder where I am.” She began to cry. I gave up refusing the money since it soon became evident that she was determined. “Get ‘em some sardines,” she said.

Then, suddenly, they were gone. Although I made several trips to feed the cats, they had vanished, too. I’m a little vague on the details after that day, but I think Robinson died shortly afterwards. I’d like to think that Tiny spent years, sitting on the big porch in Webster where she could wave at the passing cars. The old county home was surrounded by pastures, gardens and cattle. If Tiny stood in the front yard, she could see everything for miles around.

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