I have been dead for more than 100 years. Not dead, dead. Not like you usually think of dead, but sort of dead. When I lost my Gris-gris, the Hoodoo put the evil flu on me. My friend Albee knew what to do. She knew how to make me live and become famous. A Gris-gris is a voodoo charm. It is strong magic to keep off the evil and bring the good luck. Good luck on yourself or bad luck on another. My father burned my Gris-gris.
“A person’s a person, no matter how small.” Dr. Seuss
My name is Miranda Marie LaLonde. My mother, she was giving birth to me when the Hoodoo got her. I was almost 13 when the Hoodoo deviled me. A century ago, every American was affected by the Great War. The War to end all Wars. The deep south, way along in the southern tip of Louisiana, was not exempt from the economic and emotional impact of These United States entering the Great War. Businesses suffered. Communities suffered. Families suffered. Hardships do not last. Hard people last.
Fifty years on, Emancipation was something people were learning to accept when the Great War took millions of sons. The Great War was a tragedy but was minor compared to the influenza pandemic of 1918 and 1919. Titled Spanish Flu, the influenza pandemic came in three significant waves, with the second wave being unusually deadly. Unlike prior flu epidemics, the Spanish Flu pandemic was aggravated by the Great War, killing a disproportionately high number of young, healthy adults.
Miranda Marie LaLonde loved the pond and bayou that fed her pond. The smelly water. The mosquitos. The constant cacophony of bird calls. She always avoided the cottonmouth and copperhead snakes, but the alligators did not bother her. The gazebo, down to the other side of the fishing pond, was her sanctuary.
“I was a precocious child.” Pippa Evans
The bullfrogs as long as your arm, sleeping under the shade of the Spanish Moss. Frogs lay dozing and croaking fiercely under the bright moon. Miranda watched the egrets and herons wading in the muck and loved the aromas of lavender, gardenias, mold, and fertile earth. She adored the dragonflies, but the mosquitos were terrible on the days with no breeze.
Miranda may as well have been an only child. Her older brothers, Beau and Earl, leave her alone. Beau is seventeen and spends all his time in his room reading. He focuses on getting into Tulane University on a science scholarship. Earl is sixteen, and the only book he bothers to read isthe football playbook. Earl is going to play football for Louisiana State University. Geaux Tigers.
Miranda was not alone on the sprawling plantation. Her friend, her only real friend, is Albertine Beaudry. Called Albee by everyone, the household servant is almost six feet tall, big as a house, and dark as night. Albee has been the LaLonde family housekeeper and cook for near fifty years. Her imposing stature belies bright eyes, a sharp wit, and a dazzling smile. When Miranda’s mother died giving birth to the headstrong little woman, Albee vowed to Miranda’s father she would care for the child.
From the day she came screaming into the world, any harm headed toward Miranda had to go through Albee. Twirling on the ball of her right foot, trying to make herself dizzy, ten-year-old Miranda is in the kitchen pestering Albee while the cook prepared the evening meal. An afternoon ritual, Miranda came in from spending the day playing amidst the muck on the edge of the pond. “What do the bones say about me today, Albee?”
“Child, same as I told you yesterday and the day before that. And, every other day you asked. They say you ask too many questions. Did you practice your music today?” “Yes.” “Child?” “No.” “Run upstairs and put on some clean clothes for dinner. Don’t forget to wash your face.”
Seeing the chicken frying, Miranda returned to one of her favorite topics. She knew Albee collected the chicken bones cut from the dinner she was preparing. Albee would let the bones dry before tossing them on the butcher block table for a reading. “Albee, how come you never tell me what the bones say?” Stirring the gravy with one hand, flipping a frying chicken breast with the other hand, Albee replied but didn’t bother to glance at the girl four feet behind her.
“Child, why are you pestering me? Your father will be home in twenty minutes, and supper better be ready. Run upstairs and do what I told you.” The ball of her right foot became too hot, causing her to shift to her left foot. The child continued to twirl as if she had not heard her guardian’s direction. “Albee, what was your mother’s name?” “How many times are you going to ask me the same questions? Child, you need to move along before I pull this spoon from the gravy and take it to your backside.”
Using the countertop and the butcherblock, Miranda was able to increase her twirling speed. “Albee, her name was Mary, like my mother.” “Yes, Miranda, my mother’s name was Marie. Some say it was Mary, like your mother. They have both passed. Stop asking about the dead and get cleaned up.”
Succeeding in becoming dizzy, Miranda stopped spinning and grabbed the butcher block to keep from toppling over. She started toward the rear stairs and her room to clean up for dinner. Speaking to Albee while walking away, like most conversations with the child, Miranda dispensed the last word. “Albee, I know the bones are telling you something. Something, I know you don’t want to tell me. “I am going to figure it out. Just you wait. I’m going to learn to read them bones.”