I glimpsed the shape in the shadows—the monster out of my worst nightmares…

In 1958, Papa Wiggins died of a heart attack. He was 47.   The only memory I have of him is Daddy lifting me up to peer down at the upper half of his body in his coffin.

“Daddy, where’s Papa Wiggins’s legs?” I thought somebody had chopped them off.

Gladys moved into an apartment, and her daughter, Gloria, and Gloria’s family moved into Papa Wiggins’s house on Bogan Road.

My sister Vickie came along that same year. When Daddy brought her and Mama home from Hutchens Memorial Hospital, I went ripping through the house, fell and broke my front teeth off on my toy piano stool. A dentist pulled the stubs. I was so embarrassed about being snaggletoothed that I wouldn’t grin. It became a habit that followed me into my senior year at Buford High School where two creatures got their sheets and giggles bullying me in Miss Marshall’s art class.

It wasn’t long before Gladys married brush-cut Guy.

“I can’t live without a man,” she said from the front seat of Daddy’s car.

They bought a house above Avery Waycaster’s on S Alexander St. Guy worked at some factory down the road. He was an odd duck who—besides being married to that woman—scrubbed down the house after guests took their leave and kept a mysterious locked steamer trunk.

“If I were Gladys—God forbid!—I’d wait until he was gone and open that thing!” Mama Dorsey swore.   

He had to work all night one Saturday, and the favored granddaughter, Cathy, was busy. So, Gladys asked me to spend the night. Just as she turned down the bed, he sent word he was coming home early. She sent me home with a bag of gross taffy-type candy. That was the closest I ever came to spending the night with her. And I’m a better person for it.

After Gloria’s husband, Harold Doss, died in a car wreck on Woodward Mill Road, she too apparently couldn’t live without a man. Her small children had taken their father’s death so hard that Gloria didn’t have the heart to tell them she had a beau or a few. She would unload them on Mama and sneak off to her assignations. I’ve often wondered if she filed her scarlet talons or squeezed the pimples on his back during their all-night tête-à-têtes.

One twilight on Hamilton Mill Road,  while Daddy was working next door on the preacher’s car by the glow of a hood light, Kenny, Cathy, Vickie and I dashed inside. I opened my bedroom door, took a jaw-dropped gander, and went hollering for Daddy.

“There’s a bear on my bed!”

We had heard a panther screaming in the woods. Why not a bear lying in wait in the house? Made sense to me.

Daddy came running with a monkey wrench.   He flipped the light on. There was indeed an Ursus in there. A huge brown bruin. A stuffed bear. From that point on, until I was almost fifty years old, I made Mama tell the story about the night of the grizzly far and wide, while I sat wide-eyed in her lap.


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