Pearl and Ruby and Opal are sisters, and one of them is married to my dad’s friend Urban. Can this be right? Urban? Urbin? I never see it spelled. One of the sisters marries Urban, and one of them marries someone named Roy and the last one (Pearl) marries someone named Earl, and that is not even made up. All those guys are old timers.

My dad has lots of friends that are old timers. This is maybe because he started at the trucking company real young and he was part of a union and in those days the old timers in the union helped out the young guys, and so when the old timers retire, you have to go visit them on the weekends and jaw with them.

The manner of how they jaw is mostly needling. They sit around and needle each other. This is a way of showing fondness and respect and gratitude. The old timers are sometimes so old, and have so many health problems that it’s hard to even remember who they are because they aren’t around for long. Like the skinny one with the heart problems and emphysema and maybe cancer too, who has a house in Joplin with an apple tree, and a big sloping lawn. When we go in the house, the kitchen counter is just nothing but those orange bottles of pills with child-proof caps, but huge ones, big as a Pepsi bottle, almost. I am out the back door like a shot when I see that skinny old timer in front of all those pills. I like the apple tree, though. I like all the apple trees because they are more climbable than almost all other trees because the limbs branch up at the base, and you can usually stand in the center of the branches, and that makes it easier to get into the tree. I just want to get into the trees, and it’s harder than it looks, even in the romper because I have no arm strength.

That old timer with the apple tree does not make it long and so my time with the apple tree is brief. The old timers have wives too, and sometimes after the old timer goes, my dad keeps visiting the widow. But the conversations with the widows are rarely needling. I pay less attention. And when I go with my dad to talk to the widows, he likes me to stay close, because I am a distraction for the widows. I don’t get to leave and get into the tree.

But for now Urban is still alive, and he and Opal live in a little house down by the river which has a bench swing on a chain, so when my Dad visits Urban I swing on the bench swing and periodically Opal comes out in one of her flowery dresses and gives me a weird kind of baked thing which is old lady baking, so sort of good but also at risk for having a flavor that is all wrong, like raisin or maple. For some reason I am more respectful of Opal than of some other old ladies. For the most part, I like all the old ladies that my dad likes, but I distrust all the old ladies that my mom likes. Why is that? My dad likes the tough old ladies, while my mom likes the soppier old ladies who run dress shops and hair salons.

When the town floods, which is like every spring, it doesn’t come quite up into Urban’s yard, but you can definitely walk to the flood part without getting out of sight of Urban’s yard, so I am permitted to walk to the edge of the flood part while being watched by my dad or Opal from behind the chain link fence. From here you can see the houses that are under water. I love to look at the houses that are partly drowned. You see things floating, but next to the edge of a roof, which makes the world seem way more interesting. What is taking place under water in those houses? Are fish coming through the living rooms? Are water moccasins? Probably. I am way afraid of water moccasins. I’m right about that one.

Everyone in town is poor, but the flood plain people are the poorest, obviously, or they would know better than to be in their bathing suits playing in the flood water, because that is how you get tetanus and probably ringworm too.

I’m not scared of ringworm. My dad is always threatening me with ringworm. If we go where there is a farm cat and there are farm kittens, my dad will not let me play with the kittens because of ringworm. I chase the kittens under the porch and then hide under the porch and play with the kittens anyway. I do not get ringworm. I do not get it until years later and then I get it from a dojo in Pitcher, Oklahoma and my teacher sprays my hand with athlete’s foot medicine and it instantly goes away. Seriously? I don’t understand about what this worm even is—since it’s more like a scab.

My mom is always threatening me with tetanus and I want no part of this since it involves debilitating shots in the arm, and then I can’t lift my arm for a week.

My dad really doesn’t like it when the old timers go. When Urban goes he looks in on Opal for a long time after, even though I don’t think he has much to say to her. There are a lot of widows in the town. All three jewel sisters are widows before long.

Joanna Howard