Celie lived with her six children in a tumbled down company house beside the railroad. Coal dust covered everything within a mile of the track but no dust ever covered Celie. She dressed her family like she dressed herself – in white – and was known for starching and ironing every piece of linen she owned until a line couldn’t stand up straight in it. Women called her wanton, though none were ever willing or able to provide details in support of the accusation. Men called her stout as a bear – she was the only woman in the county to work the mines. Everyone called her Big and said she laughed too much to have any real fear of God or the Devil, though opinion was divided as to whether this was virtue or vice.
Celie was the only person in three states who dared to call Effie Payne by her given name. All because Effie once hinted she had heard that Celie, in her younger years, before she was known as Big, had been one for the bottle. Two days later Celie showed up on Effie’s doorstep.
“I’ll tell you but once, Sister. I don’t take with no liquor. Never have. Never will. And I sure don’t take with people who says I do.”
Effie could still remember the way Celie’s forehead throbbed when she spoke, the way her fists clenched at her side.
“You make sure you understand me real good, EF-FIE,” Celie said the name like it was a swear. “I’d hate to have to come back here and repeat myself.”
Afterwards, Effie tried to have Celie thrown out of the church. The pastor said people had tried before. But when it came to getting done, no one ever showed up to do it.