H. M. Patterson
THE EASTERN GLASS LIZARD DEMONSTRATION
Now everybody in McElmurray has a hobby. It's been eight weeks since God's been in town, and already men and women are crocheting and forging, staining and carving, marbling and stitching. My father's been trying his hand at leathercraft ever since God Jenkins beat out alligators in the square and everyone rode on down to the creek to watch Him toss snappers, biting and flailing, into the marshgrass. Daddy made an elephant hide out of leather strips stitched together with leather ties, and all the members of Lodge 33 gathered outside the meeting house to witness its unveiling. Men chuckled and whispered as Daddy's frankenstein-pachyderm sputtered, wobbled like a newborn filly spaghetti-legged across the dirt parking lot. Since he missed Jenkins's demo on structure (much to Ma's mortification), he botched the construction of the elephant's innards, used the wrong glue, used MDF instead of hardwood, braced legs and ribs to spine at screwy angles. The elephant crumbled near a pick-up with a broken, bassoon-like honk, the weight of its skin too heavy for its balsalike bones, and my daddy felt ashamed. He hung his head as he scooped up ears, trunk, glass eyes from the dust.
"I reckon I got some things I gotta git right with ol' God," he mumbled.
"Don't fake a fever to get out of His workshop this time," Ma sniffed.
The sign in front of Harold's read:
Craftsmanship with Glass
God Jenkins rolled into town. His sky blue pick-up, with silver glittered lightning bolt flashing down the length of the bedside, played with the Kentucky sun. It glimmered down Main Street like a shooting star.
"Won tha lot'try," He said, tipping the bill of his Wildcats ballcap to an elderly passer-by bedazzled by the spectacle of new Chevy.
His cap was besmudged with grease and paint, dirt and sweat. Long curls of white hair, wet with perspiration, stuck to his forehead and neck. Jenkins wore dirty-fronted bluejean overalls, white t-shirt with jaundiced armpits, duck boots with unhitched laces.
"Where's muh pork'n'beans?" He said through a toothy, toothpick-enhanced grin.
"Supper's at tha Goodson home," a towny replied.
I didn't know Ma had volunteered our house for God's lunch. How could she sign us up, knowing Daddy missed God Jenkins's "Structure?" How could she sign us up after everyone saw the goofy elephant fall to its oddly-angled knees? Was she was trying to make up for our absences and poor showings, our shortcomings as craftsmen? That woman was trying to pork'n'bean our way back into heaven since her fingers weren't nimble enough for needlepoint and Daddy's leathercraft was worthless since he missed "Structure" and God never gave repeats and her son wasn't interested in having a hobby. I liked shooting marbles with my friend Willie most days, and when we weren't shooting, we were at the schoolhouse or working the fields with our daddies.
I wondered if God knew I was hobbyless (was I on a list), and if He would even show up for lunch. Would He, instead, have Angel Watkins bring him some beans from On High? After taking all my marbles, Willie asked if I wanted to hide in his uncle's hayloft through lunch, through the glass-blowing demo, into the night.
"I stol'a coupla Pall Malls from my diddy. He quit 'cause ol' Jenkins is in town," he said, rolling my marbles into a Crown Royal drawstring bag. "Got this bag from'im, too."
As we retreated to the loft, Willie and I ran our fingers down the length of God's tailgate. It was cool, even in the greek-fire sun.
We got nervous, puffing on Pall Malls, thinking how our hides would be tanned good if we didn't show up at three. It was already ten after when Willie and I arrived, huffing and puffing, at the clearing.
Ma pinched my arm, whispered, "How could you?" I shrugged, fingering the tiger's eye shooter in my pocket.
I observed the townspeople who had gathered: women with smocked dress fronts embroidered with daisies and violets, kids with intricately-knitted kneesocks, men with silver belt buckles and goatskin boots, teenagers with feathered and beaded earrings and armbands. The brim of my daddy's straw hat was pulled low over his eyes.
"Did ya make that impressive headcover, Goodson?" God asked. "I haven't given a demo on strawworks. Did you take those skills away from my basket-weaving course?"
With the men from the lodge looking, with the women from the quilting bee watching, with the whole town of McElmmuray waiting, my dumb daddy mumbled a lie. He said "yes" to God Jenkins when he should have said "no." My dumb daddy lied to God. And at that moment I was pretty darn sure Emmett Goodson was on God's list right next to Little Em Goodson, the father-son pair, the hooky-player and his hobbyless son. Everyone knew my daddy bought the hat at Harold's Thrift. Perhaps the man who donated the hat was among us in the crowd. Ma put her quilted-cased Bible in her purse. She didn't sew it, either, and set her pocketbook behind my feet (didn't stitch it together either).
God looked me in the eye and did it. He did what I feared He'd do because He knew. He asked, "Little Em, right?"
"You got a hobby, son? Whatcha been workin' on?"
I suppose my response came from my pocket. Out of my twisted mouth came the words Ma and Daddy feared, "I, uh, well, I like to shoot marbles. But, uh, I don't make 'em."
The crowd gasped, my folks looked at the ground, Willie's Mama pulled him close.
"Well, well," said God Jenkins, "that'sa mighty nice segway inta this here demonstration. I'm about to show y'all how to make glass. Even glass marbles if ya like."
Ma smiled. The Goodson family might have made it into Heaven after all. And it felt like heaven in that meadow at that moment. It sure did feel like heaven. Beautiful:
He sat in his glass-maker's chair, waited for the silica to fuse at temperatures that made deserts jealous, forced sand dunes to sweat. He pulled a golden mass from the heat. It squirmed and writhed, dripped and slid from his tongs, pure obsidian, molten lava. Drawn from pots of fireclay, semifluid glass rods slithered into the cool. He played his blowpipe, formed slender cylinders, snakes with ears, and eyes that could blink.
He said, "A scientist will name this Ophisaurus ventralis, but I will call it Eastern Glass Lizard."
He winked and spread lacquer colors at his sneakers in the grass. He chose black, painted the surface, added emerald green dots and a yellow underside, made no legs on the piece.
The crowd passed the cooled decorated and etched work from hand to hand until I allowed it to slip, to break, and ran, holding only a tail.
Should any of DIAGRAM's readers find themselves with the daunting responsibility of entertaining God, here is a bootleg copy of Angel Watkins's recipe for God's favorite dish:
PORK 'N' BEANS
Ingredients: 2 lbs (1 kg) diced pork, 2 large onions, 1 lb (500 gm) carrots, 1 lb (500 gm) beans (the type of bean is a matter of taste and availability; haricot and butter beans both work well—all that matters is that they will survive 2 hrs. of slow cooking), 3 tbs olive oil, 2 400 gm tins of chopped tomatoes (or 2 lbs fresh ones), 2 pints (800 mL) of water, 2 tbs dried sage
Equipment: large casserole or iron pot with tight-fitting lid
Method: Put the oil into your pot, and gently fry the roughly chopped onions until transparent. Add the diced pork, and continue the frying for a few minutes until the fat from the meat has combined with the oil. Now, stir in the beans until they are coated in fat. Scrape the carrots, slice and chuck them into the pot. Finally, add the tomatoes and water (for simplicity, use the tomato tins to measure the water--two tins of tomatoes and two tins of water). Throw in the sage. Simmer, gently, on the stove (or a moderately-heated oven) for a couple of hours. Stir every half hour, and check that it's cooking properly and not drying out.
Serves: Angel says, "It ain't fish 'n' loaves, but it'll serve God and about 12 others easy."
(From the kitchen of Angel Watkins)