I enrolled in a class at the community college here, and I had to get a picture ID made. I hate these things because no matter how much attention I spend on my hair and makeup, the pictures always make me look like a haint.
I first heard that word, haint, from the good natured, funny neighbor of my Grandmother Wheeler in Pulaski, Tennessee, Miz Chapman. Miz Chapman, who my grandmother called, Miz Chat, lived across the street with her daughter, Geneva, and Geneva’s spinster schoolteacher daughter, Barbara Jean. Summer evenings, the widow ladies came out on their porches to sit in their wooden swings so they could sway back and forth enough to cool down after fixing dinner. They’d call hello to each other across the narrow street.
Once, when Miz Chat wasn’t on her porch, we went across the street and knocked on her front door. She answered on the second knock, pushing back strands of faded grey hair and clutching her apron. “Why, come on in, look who’s here, just come on in but oh my, my, don’t I look like a haint to be having company?”
“Miz Chat,” I said, “What’s a haint?” That was the funniest thing she’d ever heard in all her born days. A child that didn’t know what a haint was. “It’s a ghost,” she explained, tossing her head back to laugh. “Or a hag.”
It was a word I took an immediate liking to. I told it to my playmates, and we’d get a silly dialogue going, “You’re a haint.” “I haint no haint, you’re the haint.” “Haint neither.” Making fun of the way country Southerners talked was an infinite source of entertainment when I was growing up. Still is.
Miz Chat was pretty attractive for an old, old woman, I thought. It was her personality. She laughed at everything you said as if you oozed delight. She had a gigantic cat named snowball that coughed up hairballs as big as a lime. The cat lay on the floor swishing its fluffy white tail and you knew it would scratch you to shreds if you tried to pet it, the way that tail danced around. Cats can tell you a lot with their tails, and this one was clearly saying, “Back off and don’t mess with me if you know what’s good for you.”
Whenever I take a bad ID picture, which is 100% of the time, I say to myself, “You look just like a haint.” Right now the community college ID and an old ski pass ID are sitting in front of me out of sheer coincidence. I look like two different human beings, and both are hags. Friends will always ask to see your ID, and you beg off until they insist, then when they look they get quiet, and you say, “I told you I look hideous.” They’ll answer with something like, “Oh, you’re just too hard on yourself.” That’s the sure sign they agree you look hideous, because why wouldn’t they say something like, “No you don’t, you look great.”
No amount of practicing in front of a mirror has helped me improve these pictures. I’ll tilt my head down and grow extra chins. If I remember to lift my head, you can see up my nose. My hair hangs limp, and there are dark shadows under my cheeks and eyes.
Anyone who takes good ID pictures, be very very thankful. Because the vast majority of us haint got a prayer of looking good.
In conclusion, I’d just like to say thanks to Miz Chat, for giving me such a good word. It comes in handy every time I take out my wallet.