A Taste for Death

by Dorothy Day

Etta McRaney Rodgers 1910-1933

A man has his will, but a {feisty} woman has her say.


   Everyone in the family and the community probably thought I ought to be married. Yes, I have a child, and yes, I am unmarried. But don't tell me Adam and Eve had a piece of paper in the Garden. I am just as married as some of these poor, overworked farm women having child after child until they are so worn out taking care of a passel of kids and a never-going-to-amount-to-much husband. Charlie and I had been planning for a big afternoon wedding in the front garden in the early summer when the mimosas and sweet olives were blooming and scenting the air. Yes, we failed to wait for the wedding. We just got carried away with the joy of each other and being together.

   He left on a Monday to do his sales route in north Mississippi. My Charlie was a man going places and not just a man talking big. He knew what he wanted and went after it. He had gotten an automobile and a sales route for selling coffee, tea, flavorings, spices, and canned tobacco to farmers throughout central Mississippi. He had established a regular route. He told me he had the women buy enough to last three to six months until he came through again. He carried the tobacco in case the men were at home when he made his calls.

   Even though he was a big-time salesman, he found his way to our little hamlet. Daddy had a mercantile store, and Charlie didn't sell my folks much other than vanilla flavoring and coffee with chicory, but he called regularly. He loved my long auburn hair, my tiny waist, and my snort of laughter. "Etta, you are the prettiest, most feminine girl I've ever seen. Then you open your mouth to laugh, and I fall down laughing!"

   My laughter was nothing I planned. I just had a big laugh and found plenty of things amusing. We started taking walks together and talking and planning. He dreamed big, but didn't wait for a genie to pop out of a bottle to fix him up with his dreams. Charlie was not a big man, but strong and athletic. He was slim, dark-haired, had beautiful teeth, dressed well, and could talk on any subject. He read the newspapers and had an opinion about world and national affairs. He joined Pa in discussing the government's attempts to get us out of a depression.

   Me, I didn't know or care about what a Depression was! We didn't seem any poorer now than we had ever since I had been born. Mississippi had not recovered from the loss of the War and the change in the way of life. Daddy was still holding on because farmers had to have implements, seeds, and fertilizer. Even the flour and cornmeal did not sell as well. I had a section of the store to sell fabrics and ribbons, but there was not much call for these items. The farmwomen were using hand-me-downs and flour sacks to make clothing.

   I had just finished ten years of schooling and started working at the store when Charlie walked in for the first time. He pulled his car right up close to the front porch of the store, got out, stretched all five feet and six inches of his body, and twisted from side to side. He reached into his rumble seat to get a large leather case with his samples, and strode into the store.

   "Why, hello, Ma'am, no, Miss, you are not the storekeeper I was expecting. Once again my expectations are not grand enough to cover the reality I see before me."

   "And what is it you think you see?"

   "I see the prettiest lady in five states and probably the whole earth, but I have been to only five states, and I can only vouch for the sights I have seen. You are the eighth wonder of the world and right here in Mississippi. I didn't even have to go someplace else."

   I snorted! Charlie stepped back and joined in laughing so hard that Daddy come out from the backroom. "What's the big joke?"

   Charlie turned and stuck out his right hand. "I can't rightly say, sir, but this little beauty laughed and just blew me away."

   Daddy looked him over, and then looked at me. I was still snorting and braying with tears in my eyes. My brother, John Wesley, had told me enough times to keep my mouth shut when I laughed because I sounded like a lost nanny goat. But the less than delicate sound had erupted. I had to defend myself, "Daddy, I don't even remember what made me laugh. Then he laughed--I think, at my laugh."

   "Well, young man, how can we help you?" Daddy was using his sternest voice and not giving in to our amusement. He towered over poor Charlie by at least seven inches and a hundred pounds. He moved in closer to intimidate this city slicker.

   Charlie stood his ground. "I am Charlie Ames from over Monticello way. I represent the Standard Coffee Company, and I wanted to see what you carry in your fine establishment here and see how I can help you serve the needs of the people of Sumac Springs."

   Daddy stepped back a step or two. "I don't know how fine this store is, but my daughter Etta can help you look around and see what the folks might need. But I am warning you. These folks don't have enough money to waste on gewgaws and fancy stuff. You might find you need to move on up to Jackson to sell to the folks up there."

   "On, no, I think I have just what they want. I just have to let them know what they need. Jackson can come later."


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