Excerpt from the book “They Call Me Orange Juice” by Audrey McDonald Atkins
Leroy was Granny’s yardman.
He was jolly, always quick with a joke or funny rhyme. He believed that if you hung a dead snake over a tree limb, it would rain. He believed that garlic kept the haints away. He had biceps as big as tree trunks, or so it seemed to me, and he was the strongest person I knew.
So strong, in fact, that he could drink gasoline. It’s true! Every day Leroy brought his lunch and a big Ball jar of clear orange liquid that he kept in the garage refrigerator. Every so often he would take a break, get the jar out of the fridge, and tell Brother and me with a wink and a big toothless grin, “I’m so tough I can drink gasoline.” With that, he would turn the jar up and guzzle it right on down.
We were slack-jawed in amazement. We had no doubt.
We knew that Leroy, or “Relolly” as brother called him, had led an incredibly hard life. We had heard the stories. He’d been jailed for killing his father-in-law. He had injured one of his legs and now it was shorter than the other one, causing him to have to wear a heavy, platform shoe so that he could walk. We could see the callouses and scars, the clinched fist that would never open again. Another terrible injury.
But Leroy was always on top of the world. He would often tell me, “I’ve got it made in the shade, down deep with the silver spade.” He had no doubt.
Many years later, I found myself in the middle of a messy divorce, a single mother with a five-year-old who was depending on me. Betrayed, sad, scared, all I wanted to do was crawl into a hole and die. That is not, however, necessarily practical when one has a child to support and care for, so I muddled on.
One day around that same time I was sitting in my kitchen when an enormous “palmetto bug” decided to saunter across my kitchen floor. “Palmetto bug” sounds cute and beachy. It is not. In fact, this creepy brown intruder was the roach that broke the camel’s back.
Normally, I would have screamed like a little girl for Daddy to come kill it. But there was no daddy. Or brother. Or husband. It was only me. And these were not normal times. I had had all I could stand.
I snatched off my flip-flop and smashed that palmetto bug into a greasy spot right where it stood with probably way yonder more force than was required. So there! I thought. That’ll teach you!
High on adrenaline and fueled with vengeful thoughts, I scraped that blasted cockroach off the linoleum, threw it in the garbage, and lugged the whole nasty mess up to the street. Good-bye and good riddance!
Walking back to the house, I thought to myself with a grin, I’m so tough I can drink gasoline. Things got better after that. The dark year finally ended. A smart, sweet, funny college classmate found me, and I now call him Husband. Sonny has turned out to be a fine and talented young man of whom I am so very proud. I have everything in life a girl could ever dream of. And now, when I walk up to my home, I think back on Leroy’s other words. “I’ve got it made in the shade, down deep with a silver spade.” I have no doubt.
Born and raised in Citronelle, Atkins shares stories about growing up and living in the South in her book, “They Call Me Orange Juice,” and at her blog audreyatkinswriter.com.