Aside from the two years he’d spent in the army, Leon Madison never left Creston, a small town in Lennix County, Virginia. After the death of his father, Leon, Sr., he dropped out of school in the seventh grade, and began working to help support his family; in addition to his mother, Barbara, there were six children, three boys and three girls. He was the oldest boy, so to ensure the younger ones were able to stay in school, he and Laura, the oldest of all the children, found jobs. He became a dishwasher at a local restaurant and Laura worked four days a week helping a black domestic housekeeper, Phyllis Ball.
In the spring of 1957, twenty-two-year old Leon, who had a large, brown birthmark on the left side of his face, was back in Creston after being discharged from the army a few days earlier. On this particular Friday, he and two of his friends, Lincoln Marshall and Boobie Chichester, had planned on seeing a film at the local movie theater. Unfortunately, when they arrived at the theater, they were informed that the projector was broken and a replacement wouldn’t arrive until the next day. Lincoln and Boobie headed to Brittle Creek, a hole-in-the-wall, black-owned, drinking, dancing and gambling establishment, while Leon decided to attend a local horseshow being held at the Lennix County Fairgrounds.
As he passed by a concession stand, he saw a woman he recognized as Brenda Logan working behind the counter. He’d had a crush on Brenda for as long as he could remember. They had crossed paths on numerous occasions over the years, but it had always been by accident or in group settings. Leon’s inability to approach Brenda directly was compounded by his overall shyness around women. This was due in large part to his birthmark. Ironically, Leon didn’t know that Brenda felt it was his birthmark that somehow made him special, and set him apart from other the boys.
Leon aimlessly circled around the fairgrounds until he was near Brenda’s concession stand again; he moved underneath a tree. Finally, as the twenty-year old Brenda moved about serving customers, he summoned the courage to walk over to where she was working. He stood at the wooden counter pretending to read the large chalkboard menu hung on two wooden posts above her head; she began to laugh, as she moved towards him. Smiling, Brenda looked at him with her marvelous green eyes. Leon returned the smile of this pretty, short, light-skinned, black woman with auburn hair; his heart was racing.
Leon blushed. “Whaa wha what?”
“Whaa wha what?” said Brenda, doing a comic exaggerated imitation of his nervous, quavering voice. She put her hands on her hips and said, “Leon, Ah saw you standin’ ova dere so long nex’ ta dat tree watchin’ me, Ah thought jude have the menu mem’rized by now.”
He blushed and laughed. “So ya caught me, huh?”
“Yep. Sides dat, you useta do de same thang every time when we were growin' up an’ every time Ah’d see you anywair.”
He blushed again.
“Whatchu doin’ out hair,” Leon asked. His throat felt very dry. He self-consciously touched his birthmark.
“Daddy works for da man who has de contrac' for dis stand, so he axed me an' ma cousin, Tina, ta help him out.”
Brenda’s father was William "Hack" Logan, who had a reputation for being one of the toughest men in Creston. Leon remembered stories of how he had knocked men out with one punch.
“Why didn’t you come ova an’ say, ‘hello’ or sumfin?” asked Brenda.
“Ah was tryin’ ta decide what Ah wanted ta eat,” Leon lied. He didn’t want to tell her that he was too timid to do so.
“Well, kind sir, our selection of fine dinin’ is pretty limited,” she said, imitating the formal, pretentious voice of waitresses she’d seen in a variety of movies. “So you can either have a hamburger, a cheeseburger, a hotdog, or homemade cookies, chocolate cake or peach cobbler. There’s also soda an’ hot coffee.” She smiled and he got goosebumps.
“Okay, den, um, you know, um, Ah,” Leon felt like his clothes were suddenly too tight. “Maybe Ah’ll jus’ have a Coca-Cola, den.” His mouth was dry. He had the same feeling of nervous vulnerability and unease as when he sat on a toilet in a public restroom.
She reached for a bottle of soda, wiped the condensation off of it with a rag, removed the top with the bottle opener attached to the cooler, and then handed it to him. He was reaching into his pocket, when she said, “No. Dis one’s on de house for an ol’ fren. Matter of fac', maybe Ah’ll take a break an' join ya.”
“You sho yo’ boyfren won’t git jealous?” Leon asked.
Brenda rolled her eyes and said, “Ah ain’t got no boyfren, Leon. All de men aroun’ here are so daggone sorry. An’ mos’ of ‘em jus’ stay drunk all de time.”
Leon was smiling inside.
Brenda waved Tina over and said, "Ah'ma take a little break an' see dem Fresian horses we were talkin" about earlier." Tina looked at Brenda quizzically, but stayed silent.
Brenda, still wearing her server’s apron, grabbed a bottle of soda, removed the top, and walked from behind the counter. She smiled and said, “Les go, stranger." She put her arm in his and they began walking.
“Why didn’t you write me while you was away? Ah woulda written you back. Prob’ly had a girlfren or sumfin ova dere.”
“Nope,” he said nervously and laughed lightly. “Ma spellin’ ain’t so good an’ my han’ writin’ looks like ants walked ‘cross de paper wif muddy feet or sumfin.”
Brenda laughed softly and put her other hand on his forearm; he could feel its warmth and softness.
"Ah'm surprised you ain't at de movies wif wunna dem man-hungry Creston girls," Brenda said, as she took a sip of soda.
"Naw, Ah usely go by maself or wif Lincoln Marshall an' de uvva fellas. We like western movies,” replied Leon. “But, tanight when me, him an’ Boobie Chichester got up ta de movie theater, dey said de projecta had broke down o’ sumfin. Dey won’t git annuver one til tomorra. So dat put an end ta dat plan."
"Aww,” said a smiling Brenda. “Didjall cry?”
Leon laughed. “Come ta think uvvit, Ah thank Ah did see a tear o’ two in Boobie’s eyes. He loves dem shoot ‘em ups.”
“Ah like a good cowboy pikcha now an' den, too" replied Brenda, with a smile. "Long as it ain't ‘bout killin' Indians."
As they continued to walk, Leon could barely feel his legs under him. He explained to her how Lincoln and Boobie decided to go to Brittle Creek. His mouth kept getting dry despite the sips of soda he was drinking. He was concerned about getting spittle in the corners of his mouth, so he let Brenda do most of the talking. Soon, however, due to his nervousness and the soda’s carbonation, he developed hiccups.
Brenda heard them and laughed. “Leon, are you okay? Cain Ah do sumfin ta help you?”
He laughed and hiccupped simultaneously. “No, Ah’ll be alright in a - - hiccup - - minute - - hiccup.”
“Okay. But try holdin’ yo’ bref ta see if dat helps.”
Although he felt silly standing there with his cheeks puffed out, he did as Brenda advised. After about fifteen seconds, he breathed out and said, “Ah guess dat did de trick”.
As they began walking again, however, Leon’s hiccups returned. “Damn!” He was embarrassed.
She laughed. “Okay. Holt on a minute.”
Brenda stopped walking and turned her back to Leon. When she turned back towards him, she had scrunched her pretty face into an evil grin, was holding her hands above her head like claws and yelled, “Boo!”
When Leon blinked and looked at her as if she’d lost her mind, Brenda said, “Tried ta scare dem nasty hiccups outta ya”.
They both laughed, with Leon’s interrupted by an occasional hiccup. He fell completely in love with her at that moment. He fought the urge to kiss her. Brenda, however, as if she were reading his mind, stood on her toes and kissed Leon on the lips. He was even more startled by this than her attempt to scare him.
Brenda laughed and replied, “You got dat right. ‘Sides dat, maybe a cup uh water will really knock out dem hiccups.
They linked arms and began walking again.
“Ah got an idea,” said Brenda. “Ah thank you should take me ta de movies tomorra night. Unless you don’t wanna make Lincoln an’ Boobie jealous.” She smiled and winked at Leon.
“Naw, ya got me, now, crazy lady,” responded Leon. “Ah’ll check ta see what times de movies are playin’ an’ call ya ta set up sumfin.”
Brenda stopped, removed a pencil from her hair and wrote her telephone number on a page from the food order pad in her apron’s wrap around pocket. She handed the page to Leon; he tucked it in his pants pocket. They resumed walking.
When they finally reached a group of stables, they could see all of them were empty.
Brenda sipped her soda. "Oh, well. Maybe nex' time." They turned and began walking back to the concession stand.
Upon reaching the concession stand, Leon bid Brenda and Tina good night, then headed towards the parking lot.
As Brenda went behind the counter, Tina said, "Girl, you knew darn well that dem Fresians ain't comin’ in til tommora."
Brenda laughed. "Yep. Ah damn sho' did. But, Leon was hair tonight an’ Ah wasn’t lettin’ ‘im git away dis time." She winked, laughed again and hiccupped.
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