Arnold was born and raised in rural West Tennessee into a hard-working tenant farming family. A retired educator, she earned degrees from Union University in Jackson, TN and from the University of Memphis. She now lives in Jackson, TN with her husband, Bobby and their dog, Louie. She is the mother of two and grandmother to six. She is an avid supporter of local artists and an advocate for improving the livability of her community and the literacy and educational opportunities for locals.
Queen for a Day
The Sylvania screen flickered as Alma tweaked the rabbit ears, trying to get the picture in focus. “Damn piece of junk. Just like everything else in this house. The goddamned stove only has 2 working burners. The busted radio speaker makes it near impossible to listen to music with all that static. Still having to heat this shitty hell hole with a wood stove. And if I complain, I just get my jaw smacked again. I know those hypocrite ladies up at the church know why I wear these long sleeves all year long. I’m sure they know I’m not the clumsiest person in the UMW. And I damned sure don’t intend to apologize to any one of them for how I’m raising my boys. They’re good boys, in spite of all. I don’t owe nobody an explanation.”
Alma settled into her rocking chair for the last few minutes of the day that she would have before the boys got home from school. She tried to have the house cleaned and supper about ready when they got home. She’d hurry them through their schoolwork and have the table set before Lenard got home from the factory. He liked it that way. Supper ready, kids all settled in for the evening. They would eat their dinner in silence, and then he would want to watch the news and then Gunsmoke or Wagon Train or Bonanza. If there wasn’t a western on he would begrudgingly choose another show from one of the three channels they could pick up. The evening was always better if the boys would be really quiet while he watched his shows and not complain. Any little scuffle between the boys could set him off. But for the next thirty minutes or so, Alma could have some peace. No Lenard. No boys. No westerns. Just her and her one and only indulgence.
After a commercial for Lucky Striks, the familiar voice of Jack Bailey began, “Would YOU like to be Queen for a day?” Alma marveled at the luck of the contestants chosen to vie for the crown and the title of Queen for the Day. “”If I could ever get on that show, I know what I’d tell ‘em I wanted. I’d ask for a stove that worked…all four burners and the oven. That’d be my wish. Or maybe a new TV or bunk beds for the boys.”
The first contestant shared her story: “Well, I lost my husband and my oldest boy in an accident a couple of years ago. Then my parents both came down sick and I had to move them in with me to take care of them. They passed away, so it’s just me and my younger daughter. I’ve been trying to find a job so I can make enough money to take keep the house. She’s trying to finish high school and I want her to be able to do that…It’s been my dream for my children to graduate high school.” Jack Bailey asked the woman who by now was visibly sweating and barely able to speak, “If you are the lucky woman chosen, what could we give you that would make your dreams come true?”
The stricken woman replied, “If we could get a set of encyclopedias for my daughter to help her out with her schooling and if I could get a job, I think that would make a new life for ourselves.” Jack Bailey commiserated with the distraught woman about the difficulty of losing her husband and her son, then her parents so soon after.
The next commercial featured a fancy floor buffing machine that promised to eliminate all sweeping, mopping and polishing; certainly something all well kept homes needed. Alma thought, “Hell, I’d just like a broom that didn’t lose half its straw every time I used it…Nothing wrong with a regular old broom and mop…”
The next contestant told her story about her crippled 13 year old son who needed a wheelchair so that they could get him to his doctors appointments. The next wished for diaper service for her new triplets. The last one wanted a long distance phone call with her husband who was in Korea with the Army because they hadn’t been able to talk for almost a year. The eyes of each contestant were always the same. Alma recognized the look. She saw it every morning when she brushed her hair and every afternoon when she quickly freshened her face and applied a little lipstick for Lenard. The nervous fidgets of the contestants felt familiar. The strain in their voices mimicked her own.
The applause meter finally determined that Dorothy from Des Moines would be crowned Queen for this particular day. After all, a mother needs to be able to get her crippled son to the doctor in a new wheelchair. “She deserves it,” thought Alma.
“At least I don’t have a crippled boy to haul around in a wheelchair.”
“This is Jack Bailey, wishing we could make every woman a queen, for every single day!”
One thought on “Sheila Arnold”
As always I was moved by Shelia’s writing. Her insight into the difficult life of this simple woman strikes a chord with me because like Shelia I grew up in West Tennessee during this time period. The ending of the story reminds me of the strength of our mothers who were able to find gratitude even in an almost hopeless situation. I am proud to call Shelia friend and blessed by her remarkable talents.