Last month, we released issue #48 of our Gravy quarterly, a food-and-crime themed issue guest-edited by Jack Pendarvis. If you are an SFA member, you’re already signed up to receive Gravy in print—yet another great reason to join us! Otherwise, look for it at SFA events, Billy Reid clothing stores, and a rotating selection of restaurants. (You can find the current issue at Highlands in Birmingham and at the Nashville location of Husk.)
“Citizen’s Arrest,” from Gravy #48, was written by singer and songwriter Kelly Hogan. Whether you realize it or not, you’ve probably heard Kelly backing up the likes of Neko Case and Iron and Wine. Her voice shines on its own, too. Case in point: Hogan’s latest solo album, I Like to Keep Myself in Pain. Add one of our favorite tracks, “We Can’t Have Nice Things,” to your summer rotation.
Dad, that old man is stealing plums!
by Kelly Hogan
It is the spring of 1974. I am 9 years old. I am standing behind my dad in the check-out line at our neighborhood A&P on Ponce de Leon Avenue in Atlanta, Georgia. My dad is holding our shopping basket—fish sticks, Corn Chex, Mr. Bubble, Michelob, black Kiwi shoe polish, and a big can of Consort for Men hairspray. It’s taking a long time to get through the line because the cashier lady pushed two buttons at once and jammed up the cash register. She called for a manager on the little bendy microphone, but we’re still waiting.
I concentrate on the racks of candy to my left—candy that I don’t even bother asking for, because I know I won’t get any. My dad came back from flying helicopters in Vietnam two years ago. He says that my little brother and I got weak from living with our mom while he was gone, so he’s trying to make us strong. That means reveille every morning, a duty roster for chores, yes-sir-no-sir 24/7, and zero candy.
When he first came back, my dad tried to act normal. I remember seeing him outside in a lawn chair last summer, studying from a giant notebook labeled “C&S Bank.” The sun was shining on his perfect hair, but he didn’t look happy. Then, new things started showing up around our apartment: heavy black flashlights, wooden nightsticks, handcuffs, and a gun Now my dad is a policeman. He is training my brother and me to live “by the book.”
An older gentleman is in line behind me. He reminds me of my Paw Paw. He’s wearing grey Hush Puppies and a dark blue tucked-in polo shirt with a little white penguin stitched on it. He has a mustache—not bushy like my dad’s, but thin and fancy. Just a line drawn above his lip, like Rhett Butler or Martin Luther King, Jr.—two of my biggest crushes. He catches me staring and smiles at me, just like my Paw Paw would. Then he casually takes a big juicy black plum out of a plastic bag in his cart and inserts the whole thing in his mouth. I can’t believe he just did that. I have to turn around.
Three seconds later, he sets a plum pit, slurped perfectly clean, on the candy rack just at my eye level, next to the Chuckles. Then he does it again. Another wet plum pit next to the first, then another, and another. He’s spreading germs! He’s stealing! I need to report it to the police!
I move forward and tug on my dad’s belt loop and whisper, “Dad! Dad!” He turns around, already annoyed from having to wait in line for so long.
“The man behind us is stealing plums!”
I motion toward the man with my head and point at the collection of sticky pits on the shelf, but my dad only sighs, rolls his eyes, and says, “You need to learn to mind your own business.”
“But! But, Dad!”
He turns around.
I feel burnt. I feel stupid. My cheeks are hot. I’m confused. I’m embarrassed. I’m mad. I sneak a look back at the plum man (who now doesn’t remind me of my Paw Paw at all), but he isn’t looking at me anymore. He’s looking up at the store ceiling like nothing ever happened, humming along to “Billy, Don’t Be a Hero” coming out of the round silver speaker.
Hungry for more Gravy? You can read previous issues here.