Thursday, February 11, 2010


Have you ever learned something about a senior citizen relative that totally knocked you on your ass? I didn’t find this out until I was in my thirties and I was totally taken by surprise. Agnes was Ruby’s younger sister who was born Cora Agnes Ragsdale on November 26th, 1907.
Agnes was a “character” she didn’t get married until she was thirty nine and once said, “And honey, don’t think people didn’t talk about me.” She loved to drive over to Midland Air Field during the war and dance and drink with the soldiers. One of her boyfriends once said, “If the back seat of my car could talk……” Once my grandmother said my grandfather handed her a flask of bourbon while they were walking down Grant Street in Odessa, she took a sip and then began clawing the air like she was climbing a wall. She got her beauty license back in the days when you didn’t have to have any formal training and she did hair for over forty years retiring in 1973, but she didn’t like for people to know she hadn’t gone to school. She’d owned her own beauty shop since the 1940’s and made a good living. Pretty much everything she and Sonny had was because of her.

I remember once while I was living with Ruby, I was on my way to an optometrist appointment in Odessa and I had some paperwork with me as well as a hidden half pint of Bacardi rum. It was hot as hell and Agnes caught me on my way to my car to ask where I was going. I really didn’t have time to talk, but I reached in and started my Cadillac so the air conditioner could at least start cooling the car down. As I tossed my arm load of stuff on the front seat the bottle of rum shot out on the brocade and lay there all by itself. I thought, “Oh shit!” “What’s that?” She asked. “Rum.” I said. “What do you drink it with?” She asked. “Coke.” I said. “That used to be my favorite drink during the war, you be careful.” She scolded. She’d been there and done that, so she wasn’t as judgmental about drinking as Ruby was.
Once in the late eighties they came to Dallas to visit after my uncle Sonny died and we went to the “Spaghetti Warehouse”. We talked them both into getting frozen Daiquiris and Ruby sipped hers through pursed lips, while Agnes thoroughly enjoyed hers. She kept saying, “I think I’m getting tight, I haven’t been this tight in years.” That apparently what they called getting drunk in their youth. Every time Agnes ate anything it was the best she’d ever had in her entire life. She could buy a hot dog from a street vendor and say, “Oh my, this is the best hot dog I’ve ever had.” She loved off color jokes and always had one to tell you from one of her beauty shop clients.
She could have her moments though, she didn’t suffer fools easily. Once she ordered hamburgers and fries for five of us and as she got to the drive in window to pick them up and pay for them, the girl handed her one bag. She handed it to me expecting there to be another. The girl gave her the total, she paid her and said, “Is that all of our order?” The girl said, “Yes mam that was three cheeseburgers, two hamburgers and five orders of fries.” Agnes said, “Well why’d you cram it all into one damned sack for?” Then threw her Oldsmobile in gear and screeched the tires, Danny and I thought it was hysterical. Another time Danny didn’t find it as funny, she was taking us to meet our grandmother, and had given us some money to buy a toy. She went out to the car to wait while we decided what we wanted. I was easy I always bought a toy car, but Danny would walk up and down the isles forever trying to make up his mind. I went out and got in the front seat. “Where’s Danny?” She asked. “He’s still looking.” I said. After quite some time she said, “What’s taking him so long? I’ve never seen anybody take this long to pick out a toy. Go in and tell him to hurry up, we have to meet your grandmother.” I went in and told him for what little good it did and then went back to the car. After a while she sent me back in again and I said, “Agnes said if you can’t make up your mind then you’ll just have to wait.” He finally decided on something and as he was walking out to get in the back seat Agnes stopped him at her window and chewed him out for being so inconsiderate. When we drove to our grandmother’s pink 1962 Buick and transferred our luggage from the Oldsmobile and drove off, my grandmother cracked up when Danny said, “That’s the gripeinst woman I ever saw.”
I guess it was sometime in the mid eighties when mother told me something I’d never even heard a whisper about. Apparently in the forties Agnes had an affair with my uncle Earl, Ruby’s husband. I knew there’d been mention of him either buying her a car, or helping her buy a car and even once heard Ruby and Agnes argue about it with Agnes saying, “Ruby I paid him back for that car.” I didn’t know he’d also bought her a diamond engagement ring. Of course hers was only a one half carat, while Ruby had a carat and a half. Mother mentioned once when my grandfather noticed Ruby was down and depressed he asked her what was wrong. “Earl’s trifling on me.” she told him. He asked, “Is it someone we both know?” “Yes.” she said. I don’t think they said very much more about it and somehow the affair ended. I think my grandfather may have had a little talk with his baby sister about her behavior. I myself couldn’t believe she would do something like that to Ruby. In fact they were so close that “Ruby and Agnes” seemed like it was all one word to me when I was growing up.
Mother also told me that when she and her younger sister were teenagers Earl would try and feel them up and come into their rooms late at night after Ruby was asleep trying to get them to have sex with them. She told her father who supposedly confronted Earl about it who of course denied it. When her father took Earl’s side in the matter she told her mother about it and they spoke with either a lawyer, or a judge and when he told mother that Earl could possibly go to prison and loose his business, mother decided not to press the issue because of what it would do to Ruby. No wonder she married at seventeen and got out of that house as soon as she could. I never knew any of this growing up and except for the car issue I never heard it discussed. I do however have that half carat diamond set in a mans ring that I wear all the time.
Agnes never seemed daunted by anything in life no matter what. Whenever I’d get down or depressed about something she’d say, “Well you’d better back your self into a corner and have a little talk with your self young man.” She had such a cheery outlook on life, but all that changed when she started showing signs of Alzheimer’s in the early nineties. Ruby went to stay with her while she was suffering from shingles and Agnes wouldn’t let her go home. Ruby lived with her for over a year and a half before Agnes died in May 1995, even then she maintained her sense of humor. I called them from Dallas and they each got on an extension in the apartment, when I spoke with her for the last time about a month before she passed away. Ruby said, “Agnes hasn’t put any clothes on in three days.” Agnes chimed in, “I’ve got on my pajamas. Ruby wants everyone to think I’m naked. I don’t like naked, it draws flies.” and giggled. Even then she still had that wonderful sense of humor.
I been having a hard time recently, feeling down and depressed. One morning I was having a difficult time shutting the top drawer of my dresser where I keep old cards and letters. I pulled the drawer way out to see why it wasn't shutting properly and found a card sticking up that was jamming the drawer. It was a card from my aunt Agnes mailed to me in March of 1992 when I moved back to Dallas and was looking for work. Inside the card was a note that offered words of encouragement, love, and hope, along with her usual sense of humor "Don't worry, they can't eat you!" I believe she reached out to me that morning to help me just as she did so many years ago.

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