Uncle Virgil wanted a son to name Virgil, Jr., but ended up with a bunch of girls. When the last one came along, Aunt Lillian refused to let the child be named after her father, reasoning that a girl named Virgil would be worse than a boy named Sue. Grudgingly, Auntie agreed to let Virgilene be the child’s middle name. Everybody but me called her Alice, her first name.
Virgilene was as uncomely as they come, and because her buckteeth poked out like a piranha’s, she was so ugly that she’d make a freight train take a dirt road. I not only made fun of her middle name, but also of her frightful fangs.
Virgilene and I played together often, and got along fine until I started teasing her; then she’d run squalling to her mama. An unflappable old soul, Auntie would say, “Now, now, y’all be sweet to one ’tuther and go on ’bout yo’ playin’.”
One day, I was being particularly mean, and chanted that awful name over and over again.
“I’m Alice. Quit calling me that!” she demanded.
Then I took my teasing too far: “With them chompers, you could eat roasting ears through a picket fence.”
She burst into tears and ran home. When she told her mama what I’d said, Auntie talked to Mama, and they decided the only solution was to not let us play together for a while.
Time went by, and I missed my playmate, so I had a talk with my boyhood best friend and mentor Jaybird, hoping he could tell me what I should do to make things right.
“You better quit pickin’ on that girl,” the old black man said. “Wimmen has all got a mean streak in ’em, and if you don’t quit teasin’ her, you’ll find out the hard way that Virgilene’s mean. Go talk to yo’ Aunt Lillian and promise her that you and Alice will come up with a plan to prove y’all kin git along.”
“Aunt Lillian, I promise that from now on I’ll call her Alice, and to prove that I’m sincere, I’ll put my teeth on her nose but won’t bite; then she can do the same to me. That’ll prove that we can get along, won’t it?”
Auntie agreed, as did her daughter and Mama. Gently I placed my teeth across the bridge of my cousin’s nose, but didn’t bite.
“See,” I said, looking angelically at the adults. “I promised not to bite Virgilene, and didn’t.”
Accidentally, I uttered that awful name. When I submitted my nose to the girl I should have called Alice, she placed those dagger dentures on my snout — and bit down with all her might!
“Aaaaaaaaaaagh!” I screamed. “Get her off! Get her off!”
Finally she let go, and glaring at me with a smirk of supreme satisfaction, said, “Mother, punish me however you wish — it was worth it.”
Later on, when I told Jaybird what happened, he said, “What did I tell you? Virgilene’s mean.”
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