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You never know who's going to turn up in one of Niles Reddick's stories.... a lapsed evangelist working as a motel night clerk, a bargain-hunting father, an aunt who makes peroxide tea, or a seventeen-year-old girl just admitted to a mental hospital.... not to mention wild dogs, snakes, and UFOs! Each one of these short, down-to-earth and often surprising stories packs a considerable punch. Reddick's characteristic humor allows for some revelations as well.
Driving home from work, I noticed some remains on the side of the road. I may not have even noticed the litter dotting the landscape had the radio not announced earlier that the Tennessee legislature was considering the Road Kill Bill, which would give the hungry Volunteers the right to pick-up, cook, and eat animals murdered by cars along the road. I slowed the vehicle from fifty-five miles per hour to thirty-five per hour to see. The obliterated carcass had once been a deer, and the only way I could really tell was because of two legs with hooves, which lay over the white line at the edge of the asphalt. The brief glimpse created a gnawing feeling to pull over and salvage what I could; however, the beeping horn from the car behind caused me to resume speed, curse, and rationalize that I had no gloves with which to collect the road kill.
My Aunt Victoria would be proud of me, I imagined, had she known I even thought about stopping for the road kill. After all, she had collected road kill a lot, not for food but art, and I believed she secretly admired those who were like her, regardless of how much. My mother, on the other hand, would say, “I knew you would turn out like her. I always said you would.”
I wasn’t aware of all my aunt’s eccentric behaviors. I was, nevertheless, cognizant of some of her oddities. When my father’s family would gather for a reunion, I remembered, everyone brought something. Fried chicken, ham, collard greens, macaroni and cheese, pumpkin pie, and fried pies are a few of the morsels which conjure orgasmic memories. My aunt brought tea—peroxide tea. I was the only relative who knew the sweetened iced tea in recycled milk jugs contained peroxide.
“Aunt Victoria,” I had inquired. “How come this tea has a fizz?”
She’d half-smiled, nonverbally complimenting my perceptive abilities, cupped her hand, and whispered, “It’s got peroxide in it. Don’t tell nobody. Peroxide has one extra atom of oxygen. With all the pollution, we need the extra oxygen.”
My inquisitive expression turned to horror. “But won’t it eat the lining of the digestive tract?”
“No. It’s only got a smidgen. I’ve been doing it for years.”
“Oh,” I’d responded, not really knowing what to say and watching as she waltzed across the wooden floors of the lake cabin, filling empty cups and smiling when she was complimented for her tea-making abilities. Personally, I drank Coke, feared a repeat of Jonestown, and longed for a psychology class to help me understand and alleviate my fear of inheriting her genes.
Being unchurched, divorced, and free-spirited were reasons enough for family members to label her nuts. With looks like Anne Bancroft and a personality like Auntie Mame, Aunt Victoria was surreal to me. The black sheep of my dad’s family, Aunt Victoria was often lonely, I believed, because of her convictions, which were contrary to my family’s Christian fundamentalism and precipitated lengthy phone calls about their sadness at her going to hell. A family member would most likely hear from Aunt Victoria lengthy sermons about the reality of Big Foot, aliens, the government cover-up of Kennedy’s assassination, the untapped powers of the human psyche to time-travel and levitate, E.S.P., psychokinesis, reincarnation, and ghosts. To contradict her was to call her a liar, resulting in ostracism till the next family reunion; then, the family member would consume the peroxide tea, compliment her, and all would be forgiven because she’d ultimately won, albeit secretly because Aunt Victoria never gloated.
All in all, 21 stories delivered thoughtfully, sometimes with a sardonic edge, creating a rich, open-hearted collection by a poor everyday fellow who’s forced to conclude, as the title suggests: Life is odd. by John Cummings
Book Publisher: Whiskey Creek Press
No. of Pages: 150
Paper Weight (lb): 6.6
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