Just like the crusty old coots I mentioned in my last post, I’m fond of writing about impertinent women. Leona Sweet fits the bill in The Sweet Spot, the hilltown novel I’m launching in January.
Leona lives next door to her niece, Edie St. Claire, one of the main characters in this novel, and her brother, Alban Sweet, its crusty old coot. She’s up there in years, but that doesn’t stop her from dyeing her hair red and plucking her eyebrows wire-thin.
She has a friendly rivalry going with her brother that’s lasted decades. And Edie is the caring daughter she never had.
She cheats at cards even when she plays with Edie’s seven-year-old daughter, Amber.
But what makes Leona a memorable character is what she says. There doesn’t appear to be a brake on this woman’s mouth, and frankly, what comes out is often hilarious and right to the point, whether it’s about people in town, softball, or sex.
Leona Sweet calls them as she sees them.
But she also has a big heart. She knows when she’s stepped over the line and calls herself on it. I like that about her.
And woe be to the person who ever wrongs her family.
Have I met women like Leona? Sure. Is she based on anyone I know? Nah. She’s strictly from my imagination.
Here’s a scene early in The Sweet Spot. Edie, who is on her way to her in-laws for a Memorial Day get-together, brings Aunt Leona’s mutt, Bob home. The night before Edie hooked up with a guy named Lonny at the local bar called the Do-Si-Do.
Lonny drove by when she was at Aunt Leona’s. He tooted the horn and shouted her name as she dragged the dog from the car.
Edie opened the front door to her aunt’s house and called. Leona sat on the couch, watching TV. She grunted when she realized her niece was inside.
“Edie, it’s only you,” her aunt said.
“Yup, it’s only me.”
“Hell, you know I don’t mean it that way.”
Her aunt brushed dog hair from her housecoat. She lifted her head, her hair a ridiculous shade of red for a woman her age. She had powder on her face. Her eyebrows were plucked thin as wires.
“Got my roots covered, and my face made up. Not too bad for an old broad, eh? Maybe I should go down to the American Legion bar and try my luck. Maybe some of those old soldiers can still salute. What do you think?”
Her aunt joked, but Edie knew what she wanted to hear. She looked better than she felt. She still had a way about her.
Edie kissed her aunt’s cheek.
“I see you brought Bob home. What can I tell you? Bob’s dumb as dirt.” Leona took a quick peek at the television screen. “Who’s the guy?”
“The guy just hollering your name out the truck window. Sounded like a mating call to me.”
“He’s just a guy from the Do.”
“I hope he showed you an extra special time if you know what I mean.”
Her aunt cackled. She was always this direct, but Edie was used to her ways. She lived next to Leona, her father’s only sister, most of her life, and after Ma died, she took over those womanly things Edie needed. Leona was good to Amber, too, never minding she came over when Edie wanted to go out. Truthfully, she enjoyed the girl’s company since she never had children, or as Leona put it, “Something’s wrong with my plumbing.”
When Edie came to visit, she and her aunt played cards. Leona kept a tumbler of something dark and sweet beside her as she gabbed through games of cribbage and gin. Edie stuck to beer.
Her aunt was alone, and she was not the type to be a part of what went on in town, the granny groups, she called them. She liked going to the Do-Si-Do, especially when it had a band, and to bingo at the American Legion in Tyler. She spent the worst months of winter at a trailer park in Florida.
“I’ve got some news,” Edie said. “My first softball game’s Friday. It’s in Tyler.”
“Hell, it’s about time.”
“It’s not gonna be the same without Birdie coaching.”
“Too bad about his ticker. Clean living can kill you.”
Leona pawed the air.
“I didn’t mean anything by it. He was a good man.”
“Still is. His doctor says he just can’t coach anymore.”
“Then they might as well stick Birdie in the ground.”
ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: The view of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains from my yard.