I was born in 1990. Back then my mom had long, red nails and managed an apartment complex called Georgetown across from what would be my elementary school. That’s where she met Kathi Horne. Kathi lived in a two-bedroom, one bath apartment right above the main office with her mother and a few cats. She was a petite woman with short, blonde hair and tan skin. Her vibrant personality and eclectic style seemed to burst from her tiny frame. Kathi was different and awkwardly outgoing. Her energy was contagious. She was the type of person you feel like you can trust the moment you meet them. I can only assume that it’s for these reasons that Kathi became my babysitter – my only babysitter.
I called her TahTah (pronounced with a short ‘a’.) I’m not sure why. I guess the phonics of the name Kathi proved difficult for my grasp of the English language at the time. The memories of my childhood are woven with the adventures I had with Kathi – vivid snapshots of my life that conjure much different feelings than memories with family. You see my family is southern conservative to the very core, like bless your heart, make ya slap ya momma good, don’t tread on me kinda southern. Kathi’s liberal outlook on life and vast open mind was a stark contrast to southern hospitality to say the least, but I liked that the most about her. My Daddy always says that out of all the kids I’m different. I think different. I do things different. I agree.
Kathi and I, we were a team; we did everything together. I would go to her apartment almost every day after school and sometimes even when I didn’t have to. I knew good and well I was not allowed to ride my bike any further than the line in sand at the end of our driveway on 23rd street, but that didn’t stop my mind’s eye from mapping out exactly what my path would look like from the end of that drive to Georgetown Apartments. Most days I wasn’t with Kathi my thoughts wandered to imagine my next adventures with her.
Kathi had weird snacks that we didn’t have at my house. To this day she’s the reason I crave Fresca with handful of semi-sweet chocolate pieces. Or pour just enough low-fat milk over my frosted flakes to cover the bottom of the bowl. We would sit and watch whatever cartoons were on T.V., usually Rug Rats, while I ate a snack on the floor of the living room.
Her extra bedroom was filled with toys, games, books, movies, sewing materials and her mother’s clothes (I would often shut the door and plunder through the closet wondering who would ever wear such strange, marvelous things.) Directly across from the closet, there was a window opening to the street with a small opening in the screen she had rigged up for her cats, Opossum and Nickers and later Princess. Opossum was my favorite. He was dingy white and extremely tolerant of my adolescent mind. I would push him around in a child’s stroller all over the apartment complex. Up one sidewalk and down the other, we covered every inch of in Georgetown. And he would just sit there, perfectly still.
But the times I didn’t spend entertaining myself in the play room, doing God only knows what, or running amuck in the rectangular courtyard just outside the back door, I spent with Kathi. We walked almost everywhere, but sometimes she would push me in an old wheelchair she had. Most people thought this was weird, but it was just another day with Kathi to me. Sometimes we would go to Rotary Park (sidebar: I got gum stuck in my hair over by the swings once and she got it out. Slowly but surely.) Sometimes we would swim for hours at her pool. There was a thicket on the pool deck I loved to catch lizards in and swing from the branches. Sometimes we would go to the public library where her mother worked as the librarian for story time. Sometimes (during the summer) we would just walk across the street to eat Chinaberries that looked like miniature pumpkins, but they were delightful! I still love to eat those and I always think of Kathi.
Anything I did with Kathi was fascinating to me. She was so different from all the other adults in my life. She was totally carefree and spontaneous. She lived life by the day as she wanted to, not as she “should.” Nothing we ever did had any rhyme or reason, really. She taught me to think about things differently – to see the world through different glasses, with an open mind. She showed me how to be creative. She made a place for me in her life, not just her home. She was more than my babysitter; she’s my dear friend. Always will be.