All She Wrote: Surrendering the box


by Nicole Crews

Lawyer: Have you closed your mother’s safety deposit box yet?

Me: No.

Lawyer: Why not?

Me: Every time I cross the border into Davidson County “Welcome to the Jungle” comes on the radio.

Strange things indeed happen when I cross over into the land of my people. I’ve seen Maybe Elvis at the legendary burger joint. I’ve seen an el Camino crash into the Dented Canned Food Store. I’ve been to a tented church where they not only handled snakes but where the kids had to load the snake cages onto the makeshift pulpit.

Most recently I saw an old black lady wearing the exact Halston velour “sweat suit” I gave mother years ago in front of the likker store. She was standing next to a skinny white guy wearing a Green Acres Septic Service sweatshirt. It seemed appropriate.

I’m heading to Southern Sisters to meet, again, appropriately enough, a Southern sister — Beth Sheppard Alexander, my childhood pal and now real estate agent.

Me: Hey, looks like Southern Sisters is closed. Shall we head to the S&S Diner to get our Skeenburgers on?

Beth: Sure.

Me: I’m gonna hit the loo. I love the fact that you have to come outside of the bathroom to wash your hands in front of the entire diner. It’s kind of like a prison toilet.

Beth: I forget about all of these details.

Me: I was thinking about that driving into town past Miss Ruby’s church. You’ve never been to a funeral until you’ve been to a black Masonic funeral. Five solid rows of Eastern Star ladies all decked in white with white hats. That day there were at least 16 adult baptisms in an aquarium-sized tank with non-swimmers. It was like biblical waterboarding. And we were there for at least six hours. I was starving.

Beth: That’s why Miss Ruby carried a piece of chicken around in her purse.

Me: Dang, you’re right! With a Camel no-filter and Luden’s cough drop rub. Ha! My friend Julia still laughs about me talking about Ruby’s chicken-stained loosies.

Beth: I still remember your imitation of mother giving my sister her asthma medicine with a cigarette in her mouth.

Me: Miss Ruby used to reward me for helping hang the sheets on the line with a chicken-stained loosie. I was 8. And I’m still smoking and actually, I had a piece of chicken in my purse when I flew to New York recently. I had one of those, “Holy crap, I’ve become Miss Ruby” moments.

Beth: It happens to all of us.

Me: I had two pieces. My New York host and childhood friend George asked his partner Dave, “Where did this chicken come from?” I said, “My purse.”

The next stop is the bank where I get to pry turn-of-the-century documents from the oldest vault number in the county. I have an aversion to banks that I think harks back to a post Freshman Fifteen encounter.

Mother: Nicole, I need for you to go to the bank for me.

Me: Mom! You know how I hate going there. There are always a bunch of old ladies who want to talk about how grandmother taught them piano. It takes for-ever.

Mother: Don’t be such a brat and be nice to them.

Me: Oh my gawd Mom, the last time I was there this lady was talking about grandmother playing in different churches and said, “Your grandmother has had her hands on every organ three counties over.”

Mother: Just go.

Me (entering the bank): Hi. Hello. Hi. Yes, she’s fine. How are you? Hello. Hi. Yes, give her my best.

Black girl I went to junior high with (from across four, six deep bank lines): Nicole Crews?! Nicole Crews!? Is that you?

Me: Yep. How’re you doing?

Junior high friend: Girl you are big! What they feeding you down in Chapel Hill?! Dang. It’s like there is two a you. Haha.

Me (backing slowly out of the bank): Haha. Um, gotta run.

Junior high friend (still hollering): Can ya? What you majoring in — chicken and ribs? Haha! Good to see you girl!

Entering the bank to surrender the safety deposit box, I realize that this may be my last trip to this particular institution. It was like closing the PO box — No. 5, no less — and I wax nostalgic. That is until I see the Porky the Pig stickers on my banker’s fingernails.

Me: OMG, are those Porky the Pig? At first I thought they were Donald Trump.

Banker: Girl there is no way I would have Trump on my nails.

Me: You made the right choice for sure.

Banker: You hungry? You’ve been waiting a while. I’ve got some nabs.

Me: Nah, that’s okay. I have a piece of chicken in my purse.