When I recently visited my grandmother in central Virginia, Nana’s sister, Lillian, dropped by to deliver some sad news. The ensuing exchange—which I was able to record in the margins of a nearby 2008 Reader’s Digest—was anything but sad. And so, dear readers, we now present . . .
A conversation of two southern sisters
As transcribed by Angela Dove
The curtain rises on a sturdy round table, a mason jar of cut dahlias in the middle. Two silver-haired southern ladies in polyester pants, short sleeved shirts and orthopedic shoes sit across from one another. The sisters appear practically identical.
Lillian: Well, I reckon you heard about Hattie Bell Crawford passing away.
Lillian: (Louder) Hattie Bell Crawford! You remember Hattie Bell.
Nana: You mean Hattie Mae Crawford?
Nana: Hattie Mae Bell Crawford.
Lillian: No! Just Hattie Bell Crawford! You know, John and Leroy’s sister? Used to be Hattie Bell.
Nana: I know her maiden name was Bell. Wasn’t she a ‘Hattie Mae’?
Lillian: No. She was just Hattie Bell. Then she married Asa Crawford.
Nana: (Shaking her head) I don’t think I knew her. And I don’t remember any John and Leroy Bell.
Lillian: Yes you do! Their daddy owned that corner store, had a jukebox in it.
Nana: (Perking up) Well now, I remember that jukebox! We used to go dancing there after we got out of work from the mill.
Lillian: (Puckering her lips like someone slipped her unsweetened iced tea) I didn’t do no dancing. That was you.
Nana: Lord yes, I did! Had my first dance right there in that store. You remember that jukebox used to sit right next to the shelf of canning goods? It’s a wonder we didn’t knock those jars off the shelf when we got to twirling around and cutting up.
Lillian: That was you doing all that.
Nana: (Ignoring her sister and looking off into the past, a big smile on her face.) Those were some times. Wish I could remember the name of that store.
Lillian: (Growing impatient) The name of it was Bell’s. John and Leroy and Hattie’s father owned that store.
Nana: (Returning to the conversation) Who?
Lillian: (Huffing out air) John and Leroy and Hattie! Their daddy was Mr. Bell, owned Bell’s Market that had the jukebox!
Nana: (Smiling into the distance again, then nodding) Oh, yes. I reckon I danced with Leroy.
Lillian: I reckon you danced with both of them boys. Plus lots of others.
Nana: Well, don’t say it like that! It was innocent. Just teenagers being teenagers. I wasn’t going with any of them.
Lillian: I didn’t say if you were or if you weren’t. I’m just saying you danced with practically every one of them boys.
Nana: Well of course I did. I had to, didn’t I? (Cutting a mischievous smile toward her sister) Bunch of them boys wanted to dance with you, but you wouldn’t hardly ever do it, except maybe once or twice. I couldn’t just let them stand there, looking all sad.
Lillian smiles to herself but remains silent.
Nana: So you keep up with their sister, Hattie?
Lillian: Not particularly. I haven’t seen her in a long while.
Nana: Who’d she marry?
Lillian: I declare, you need to find those hearing aids! I already told you. She married Asa Crawford, used to work up at the college.
Nana: What did he teach?
Lillian: I don’t know if he was a teacher, or he just worked there, or what. That’s beside the point.
Nana: Alright. So what’s the point?
Lillian: Hattie Bell Crawford!
Nana: What about her?
Lillian: (losing all patience) She died!!
There is a long pause.
Nana: I don’t think I knew her.
The curtain falls.
Angela Dove is an award-winning columnist and author of the true crime memoir, No Room for Doubt: A True Story of the Reverberations of Murder (Penguin 2009). She welcomes feedback at www.AngelaDove.com