Booger at Mammaw’s

Booger at Mammaw's charcoal drawing
Booger at Mammaw’s short story illustration. Charcoal drawing by author.

Booger at Mammaw’s

It was Mississippi and August and miserably hot, and the boy was stuck at Mammaw’s house again.

The boy had gone to Kmart with his mother and aunts as a last resort, which had been dull enough, but then they had all met back at Mammaw’s to sit around the air conditioner and talk some more.

The boy hated being at Mammaw’s.  It was boring and long, but mostly he hated being there because all his aunts called him “Booger.”

The boy hated being called Booger, but he had given up trying to get them to stop.  He was the first baby of all six sisters, and they had called him Booger ever since he had almost died of pertussis in his crib. It had been their way of making light of a heart-wrenching situation, and when he survived, the name had stuck as a life-affirming term of endearment, as in “I tole you that little Booger was too mean to die.”

Sometimes his aunts actually had to hug him when they called him Booger, but in general they used it casually like it was his given name.

“How you doing Booger?  You want some Sprite?”

Sometimes hearing the name seemed blackly humorous to the boy, as in what kind of ignorant and thoughtless person in a low-brow comedy movie would say such a thing.

But mostly the boy winced inside when they called him Booger.  There was always the terror of what would happen if the kids at school ever found out they called him that. At school, the boy was Joeron the Moeron, or Moeron for short. That was bad enough, but he didn’t know how he would bear it if they started calling him Booger.

The boy was always careful to stay away from his aunts in public in case someone from school might hear them.  At Kmart, there wasn’t much chance of anyone from school being there, but the boy didn’t take any chances.  He had gone to the book section and stayed there the whole time while his aunts shopped and talked.  He kept one eye on the registers so they wouldn’t have to page him  –“Paging Booger.  Booger, please come meet the loud group of gum-smacking idiots at the front of Kmart.”– but he didn’t come out until they were ready to go.

That had taken over two and a half hours.

Now he was trapped with the same bunch of women and their bratty kids sitting around and talking about shopping.

It was noisy and obnoxious, and there were at least three different conversations going on all at once, four if you counted Aunt Tammy yelling back and forth with her four-year-old in the bathroom.

“Don’t forget to wipe good like we talked about Lou-Bug!”

“I want Mammaw do it.  Mammaw do it.”

“Don’t be silly.  “You let Mammaw finish her cigarette in peace.”

To which Mammaw blurts out, “Lord, ain’t that the truth.  I done walked all over that store with you this morning, girl.
You wipe your bottom and come see your Mammaw.”

Everyone was talking at once, all the sisters.  They smacked gum and brushed little girls’ hair and reset pony tails and talked about the cute outfits they would put on lay-a-way if they could afford it, but they still hadn’t paid the light bill this month, and Lord honey, don’t I know it, etc.

The boy was so bored he was angry.  Why did he have to come here to Mammaw’s and listen to idiotic talk and be called Booger?  Why couldn’t he stay home in his room and read his books when it got this hot?  It was all his damn father’s fault.

Last Saturday, he had tried staying home from Kmart, but his father had come in and said, “Boy, get your work clothes on.”

Then he had spent the next four hours cleaning welds with a hammer and wire-bushing the rust off another three-wheeler trailer his father had fabricated from scrap steel and the back axle of a Dodge pickup.

It pissed him off so bad he could barely do the work.  They already had two trailers when they only could ever use one.  Why did they need another spare?

It was always something pointless like that.  They were always doing something like fixing the brakes on the home-made school-bus camper that never went outside the yard or repainting the deer stand with a ladder welded from schedule-80 high-pressure piping and therefore too damn heavy to pull by hand to any tree.

“The high-pressure plow” his uncle had called it, and it was totally useless in the mud of the Delta. The harder you pulled it, the deeper a trench it dug into the mud.  The junk wheel-chair wheels his father welded to the side had warped under the weight and been replaced twice.  It had never been used once, but his father had decided it needed to be repainted.  That was just last year, and already it was getting scratched up again from stacking other junk on top of it.

It made the boy curse in his head.

Spend six Saturdays in a f#cking row sanding and painting some three-wheeler ATV trailer they used four or five weekends a year tops.  Then after he’s had five or six beers, he stands there and sways and talks about how much fun they gone have come deer season.  What an ass.

Why couldn’t he stay in his room and read his books?  Why did he have to get called out to breath dust and cut his knuckles on rusty steel just to help his father build more unneeded and seldom-used hunting equipment?

The man already had so many trailers and shit that just changing and patching the flats and keeping up with that took up a few weekends a year.  Damn it made him mad.  The school-bus camper had three flats changed since it had last been out of the yard.  What an idiotic waste of time.

The boy smiled a hateful smile just thinking about how he had somehow managed to escape helping with all three flats.

But the smile faded quickly. Now he was stuck at Mammaw’s crowded noisy house and just as angry if he had stayed home and his father put him to work in the hot-ass junk yard.

Everything was annoying.  His cousin Cindy had a full diaper and was whining about wanting another ice-cream sandwich. His aunt Gina was trying to talk over Cindy’s whining and raving about some new desert she had thought up from Cool Whip and instant coffee.

“Yall should just see Little Ronny eat that stuff.  He loves it, but they been beggin me down at the day care to keep him off it.  They say he’s just too hyper.”

That was when Aunt Tammy remembered something that she had been urgently trying to remember since she arrived, and she screamed it out suddenly and with no warning like a game-show contestant.

“LORD GINA!” she screams.  “Did you not see them chips they had on sale for eighty eight cents?”

Aunt Gina froze mid sentence like she was dumb struck.

“Gosh Darnit!” she screams.  “I did!  But I forgot to go over there!  And a great big ole bag for only eighty-eight cents!”

“How did you forget?” Aunt Tammy demanded.  “I tole you.  We were standing right there.”

Aunt Gina looked at Tammy like she was crazy.  “You done forgot somebody peeing in their pants right there in the middle of the Kmarts?”

And then they all laughed and looked at Lou-Bug sitting in Mammaw’s lap.  The shock of everyone suddenly looking at her and laughing made the tiny girl cry.

“That’s ok,” Mammaw said and hugged her tighter.  “Hers just wanted a new outfits, so hers Mammaws boughts hers one.” Mammaw smooched Lou-bug on the ear and tickled her softly until she was laughing in spite of the tears in her eyes.

That was when the boy suddenly jumped up from the floor so quickly that it startled everyone around him.

“Where you goin Booger?” Aunt Sheila asked.

The boy didn’t answer her.  Instead he threw his empty plastic cup at Lou-bug and smacked his own sister on the cheek.  The cup didn’t hit Lou-bug, but as soon as he threw it, she began to squall bloody murder.

The boy’s sister slapped him on the back as hard as she could, but the boy didn’t turn around.

“Lord have mercy!  I swear…” Mammaw said.

“What’s wrong with you Booger?” Aunt Tammy asked.

The boy didn’t answer.  Instead he continued toward the front door.  His mother was calling his name from the kitchen, but he ignored her as well.

The boy ran out the door and into the heat of mid afternoon.  There really wasn’t any shade, but he stayed out there for the rest of the afternoon until it was time to go home.

short story by Joe Riverson Smith