A Joanne lookalike from Steve Oatway photographyJoanne Weaver was my favorite friend for as long a while as six or seven year old children have favorite friends. At my sixth birthday party she gave me a brown suede-and-leather pouch with a drawstring. It was my favorite present that year; I loved the shape of it and the way it closed efficiently, in one movement. (That was the birthday year that my father arranged a treasure hunt, leaving written clues to the next location in the trail. "Well, well, well...," the only clue I remember, took us to the hand pump in the back yard where the next mysterious note waited.)
She lived on the second floor of a building that wasn't a house. The first floor was an unoccupied storefront with posts and a worn and saggy-slanting board-floor porch at the front. The second floor where the Weaver family lived had a porch at the back with the clothesline pulleyed from it across the back yard. When I picture the place now my memory is of a crowd of identical freckled Weaver children with bowl-cut hair, all in motion in their dusty yard, all wildly laughing and yelling.
Joanne fascinated me, not least because although she would often confide long exciting tales to me in her hurried breathless rusty-hoarse voice, through lips too busy to manage the saliva that accumulated in the corners of her mouth and was at intervals impatiently hissed up and caught by her teeth, I could barely understand her speech. She used words like "canny" and "nobbut" and "owt" and "nowt" and "ower" for "over." She contracted "the" to "t'" in every instance. "My ma tol' my brudder t'go t'bed," so the last three words sounded like "goatbed." She would finish her story and throw back her head and laugh, raucous, cueing me that it was time to acknowledge a punchline.
I'm sure she was the first person to ever say "take a piss" to me. It wasn't a rude phrase in Joanne's world: it was her language.
When she'd finished telling me a story, she would take a breath and huff it out, close her lips into a slant one-corner-pucker and concentrate on a point far in the distance with eyebrows raised, a fatalistic expression. She was tiny and intensely focused, even in stillness.
Joanne was capable of a perfect adult-style disgust. "Fool! Bah!" as she would turn about and stomp away, washerwoman style, sweeping one nail-bitten hand behind her in dismissal.
Her face could instantly brighten into complete benevolence, too . . . chin tucked down, eyes looking up from under her straight brows, mouth still and crescent-curved.
Joanne evaporated from my world after a year or two.
It's odd that I think of her so often; I knew her for so short a time.
I wonder what ever happened to her.