By Cindy Wiggins Tapia
When General Lee threw down his sword at Appomattox, Jesse James and his band of rogue Rebels went to robbing trains and banks. With the law on their hindermost part, two of the outlaws, the Wiggins Brothers, escaped into the Llano Estacado in West Texas. One got a prickly pear thorn in his butt and died from blood poisoning. The other brother thought it best to skedaddle to Georgia. Unfortunately. My grandfather, Armon Wiggins, was a kinsman.
His wife, Gladys’s background is mostly a mystery I’m not interested in solving. I met her mother once. Gladys was a Thrasher. She was a witch with a capital B. Her brother Roy and his family were the salt of the earth. Lloyd, who sang with Eddie Albert, was friendly. The others were a pack of impenitent snoots who hated Mama and didn’t claim we girls, and I didn’t give a flipping plug nickel.
Papa and Gladys owned land and a little house below Holland’s Sausage on Bogan Rd. Like Mama’s folks, they worked at Bona Allen Harness Shop. They expected Daddy to have supper on the table when they got home. He had to stand on a chair to reach the stove to do it. Papa disappeared into Texas a week at a time, and I don’t blame him. Gladys thought she was Queen Elizabeth III, and everybody better bow, baby.
Daddy quit school and was drafted into the US Army during the Korean Conflict. Upon discharge, he too went to work for Old Bony. Daddy was lonely. So one of the mothers fixed him up with Mama. It was a match made in hell from the get go, so they eloped and kept it a secret for three weeks.
One night Mama and Daddy were raising cain on the wall phone. Mama Dorsey grabbed the receiver.
“Jimmy! Quit fussing at my daughter!”
“She’s my wife! I’ll fuss with her if I want to!”
Mama Dorsey dropped the phone.
When she found out about the marriage, Gladys went for the throat.
“You better not have a baby!”
I was born about fourteen months later.
Mama shared a room in Hutchens Memorial with a friend. Gladys walked in with gifts for Pearl’s baby boy and nothing for me. Dirty diapers compounded Mama’s washing, which she had to do by hand. When she allowed as how she’d love to have a washing machine, Gladys allowed as how she didn’t need one.
I’ve no doubt she loved Daddy and perhaps felt obliged to recognize one of his children, and because I came along first, I was it. One afternoon, she showed up with her towering, frosted rat’s nest and ruby red lips on Shadburn Ave., bearing the only birthday cake she ever baked for me. She eventually gave me a bag of candy and one of those animal pajama bags. That was it, ever. She gave my two baby sisters the sum total of zero. Years later she denied the three of us were her granddaughters.
Even as a bitty little girl I knew Gladys didn’t love me. She was a poser who’d smack her wrinkly ruby-red maw on my lips, stand back and look me in the eye. I think she enjoyed the disgusted look on my little face.