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Rated: E · Short Story · Family · #1577007
Short story about my summers with my Grandmother in Alabama. (6,721 words)
My Grandmother puts me in mind of a bird.  Her tiny hands are always flutterin’ and movin’ like bird-wings – they cain’t be still.  She’s a tiny little thing, too, small and delicate.  And she twitters and sings like a bird.  She sings all the time.  She even sings my name.  Ro-biiiii!  Starting down low and ending an octave higher in a wavery, throbbing soprano, she sings my name.  I like it when she sings my name.  She sings while she cooks, she sings while she works in the garden, and she sings while she takes a bath.  She makes up silly songs and twists her voice around the words and notes dependin’ on her mood or the vowel she happens to be taken with at the moment.  I like her songs.

“Grandmother, why do you sing all the time?” I ask. 

She just laughs in her funny way, “Whooo, hooo, hooo!  ‘Cause it makes me laugh!” 

Of course, why wouldn’t that be why she sings?  Did she sing to my momma?  My momma don’t sing.  My momma don’t laugh.  How can Grandmother be so happy and my momma be so sad?  When I sing at home, momma says, “Shut up.”  So, I don’t sing at home.  I only sing when I’m with Grandmother.  And then, I’m Ro-biiiii!  Not Robi.  I’m Ro-biiiii!  I like Ro-biiiii better.

Isaac Gilmore

When the moon shines down on Isaac Gilmore,
His shoes are crackin’,
They need a-blackin’,
And, his ole gray pants,
They need a patchin’,
Where he’s been scratchin’
Mosquotta bites!

“Grandmother, who is Isaac Gilmore?”  I ask after we sing this song with a lot of gumption.  Grandmother says it’s a cryin’ shame not to sing with “gumption.”  We’re sittin’ on the front porch swing snappin’ pole beans and swingin’.

"Oh, Robi RoseAnne, he was this ole colored man that used ta come ‘round here and help out yer granddaddy.  He would come and help out in the yard an’ do other thangs like that.  Yer granddaddy didn’t like’im very much though.  Well, he didn’t like nobody much, but especially not colored people.  I felt sorry for ole Mr. Gilmore.  Law me, he had more chilren than you could shake a stick at, and his pore ole wife, well she was like an ole wrung-out, dried-up dishrag.  Kinda gray and limp and wrinkled.  Like their wadn’t any life ner energy left in her.  Like most colored people in them days, they didn’t have much of anythang.  Couldn’t git jobs except as washer-women or handy-men.  So, yer granddaddy would extend hisself in Christian charity and hire ole Mr. Gilmore to do the stuff yer granddaddy didn’t wanna do or was too lazy ta do.  One day, ole Mr. Gilmore came ‘round to help out cleanin’ out that nasty ole chicken house.  His pants was sa thin, you could see clear through to his skin.  His shoes, they was cracked and had holes in’em.  Yer granddaddy never did pay ole Mr. Gilmore much, but I always managed to give’im some applesauce or dried apples or beans I’d put up.  And he was always so nice and said, 'Thankee, Miz Whitfield.  I shore do ‘preciate that.'  Lord, I felt plum sorry fer that man an’ his family.  I wonder where they are now?  Anyway, yer granddaddy made up that lil song about ole Mr. Gilmore ta make fun of’im.  But I always sing it in remembrance of ole Mr. Gilmore. He was just a pore ole soul tryin’ his best to git by in world that didn’t like him all that much.  At first, I was ashamed of yer granddaddy makin’ fun o’that pore man, but then, I thought, 'Well, Bertha, you ain’t gotta sing the song, but if you do, sing it with gumption and pride for ole Mr. Gilmore.  He shore did deserve better’n he got.'  It’s not a bad thing to have a song made up about you.  Yer granddaddy ain’t got one, but ole Mr. Gilmore does.  That seems right to me."

Grandmother don’t always talk about granddaddy.  I don’t like it when she does.  He was mean.  He was a preacher-man, and he said real long blessin’s before every meal – well at least he did before he died.  And, if us grandkids didn’t sit still with our heads bowed and our eyes closed, Lordy mercy, he’d glare at you with them mean, icy blue eyes o’his.  He never bowed HIS head ner closed HIS eyes when he prayed.  He was too busy lookin’ around to see that everbody else did.  I still won’t close my eyes in prayer ner bow my head.  I always think you should look up with yer eyes wide open at the stars or the blue sky, or even the ole kitchen ceilin’ with the big square light fixture in the middle and the yeller water stains on it.  But why bend yer head down and close yer eyes?  I cain’t understand it.  But, I never did understand my granddaddy. 

I remember when he died, my daddy comes into mine an’ Caroline’s room and tells us, “Yer granddaddy went ta live with Jesus today.”  And I thought, “No he didn’t.  Jesus wouldn’t have him.”  Naturally, I didn’t say this to my daddy, but I thought it.  My granddaddy wadn’t fit to be in heaven an’ that’s the gospel truth, I don’t care if he was a preacher-man.  He was plain ole mean.  But I didn’t say that.  When we went to the funeral parlor to see’im, he just looked like he was sleepin’.  But I knowed he wadn’t.  He was deader’n a doornail.  It was after he died in March  that year that I started comin’ to Grandmother’s ta stay with’er in the summertime.  So, I’m glad my granddaddy died, ‘cause that meant I could stay at Grandmother’s and sing and snap beans and swing as much as I wanted.

Of Peaches and Pink Applesauce

“Ro-biiii,  Girl Mule!!”  I turn around.  Grandmother is walkin’ down the sidewalk in front o’the house with a basket on’er arm.  “Let’s pick some apples, Girl Mule,” she says ta me.  She calls me “Girl Mule” sometimes, but I don’t know why.  I think it’s funny.  She calls my cousin Drew “Boy Mule.”  Sometimes she says funny things like that.  Anyways, we walk across the dirt driveway into the far yard.  There’s a bunch of old gnarly apple trees that was placed in straight lines there a long time ago.  Grandmother says it’s the last of an old apple orchard.  The apples are small and hard and round and pinkish-red, with a lil bit’o sweet and a lil bit’o sour. 

“Why’re we pickin’ apples, Grandmother?”

“Well, Robi RoseAnne, we’re gonna make some applesauce and dry some apples.”

“Tell about that time you was pickin’ peaches when you was a girl, Grandmother.”

“You want ta hear that ole story, Robi RoseAnne?”

“Yes, it’s my favorite.”

  “Alright then.”

"Let’s see, I was about ten years old that summer, and we was pickin’ peaches.  That’s back when we lived in south Alabama.  Law, it was hotter’n blazes in the summertime back then.  There wadn’t no air conditioners ner fans.  And when you went out to pick in the garden, you had ta wear a hat an’ long-sleeves ta keep from gittin’ plum burnt up.  Well, we was pickin’ peaches, my momma, my daddy, my sister Opal, all my brothers.  David and James, and oh, well, everbody.  Anyways, since I was only ten, they had me lookin’ around on the ground for peaches that had fallen off the trees but were still good.  The grass was high because it was gittin’ ta be late summer.  I saw a real purty peach just sittin’ there, so I reached down to git it.  Law, and then I felt the worst pain!  I thought my finger was gonna fall off it hurt so bad.  Then I saw it.  That ole copperhead snake.  Mean ole thing had just up an’ bit me!  I started screamin’ and hollerin’ and cryin’ fit to be tied and everbody comes a runnin’.  Well, when they saw I’d been bit by a copperhead, my brother James kilt the thang and Daddy and David, they rushed to git me home and sent David fer the doctor to come out an’ see me.  Law, by then my arm was swollen big as a tree trunk and I was feelin’ real poorly.  My head hurt and I felt sick and dizzy.  Law, it was awful.  Momma put me in her an’ Daddy’s bed.  They had put a tight bandage ‘round my arm and cut an “X” over where the snake had bit me and Momma was suckin’ the poison out of my arm.  My sister Opal had brought a cold cloth fer my head.  I was seein’ spots.  When the doctor finally got there, well, I couldn’t move.  He tole my Momma and Daddy there wadn’t nothin’ he could do, ‘cept give me some aspirin and put an asafeodita bag around my neck.  He didn’t know if I would die or not.  You know, this was back in 1921, and we lived out in th’middle’o nowhere.  There wadn’t a hospital we could go to.  There wadn’t no medicine you could take fer snakebite.  You just had to hope fer the best.  I don’t know how long it took me ta get better, but it seems like a long time.  I don’t remember a lot of it, I was so sick.  But, I didn’t die.  Almost, but not quite.  Good Lord wadn’t ready to have me come live with’im.  And, it’s a good thang too, else you wouldn’t be here today, Robi RoseAnne."

That last line is my favorite and always sends me into shivery, spooky thoughts about what the world would be like if Grandmother had died when she was bit by that ole snake  when she was ten years old.  My Uncle Darren and my Uncle Dwayne wouldn’t be here, nor my momma neither.  My cousins Drew and Lucy and my sister Caroline.  We’d all just be gone.  Never existed.  I would never be here.  Here, pickin’ up apples off of the ground with Grandmother in the hot Alabama morning, so’s we can make some pink applesauce and dry apples in the sun.  “Come on, Robi RoseAnne.  That’s enough fer now.  Let’s go in and git a cool drink and work on these apples.”

We walk back across the driveway, and I’m thinkin’ a cool drink would be right nice right now.  We tromp through the ole squeaky screen door and into the dinin’ room that leads into the kitchen.  Grandmother gets out some parin’ knives and pours us some strawberry Kool-Aid and we start cuttin’ up the apples.  “Now Robi RoseAnne, we got to cut out the core and git rid’o the seeds.  See, just like this.”  She shows me how to cut the apple in half and then core it.  Once that’s done, we can start cuttin’ up the apples for applesauce and fer dryin’.  Fer the applesauce, we peel them apples.  But fer the dried ones, we leave the skins on.  Grandmother’s singin’ “The Old Rugged Cross” while we peel and cut the apples.  Ever so often we sneak a bite of those sweet’n’sour apples.  They taste like a summer mornin’ after a night’o rain.  Crisp and clean and white and fresh and cool.  Ain’t nothin’ better tastin’ in the whole wide world.  After we finish peelin’ all them apples, Grandmother gits up.  “Come on, Girl Mule, we gotta git these apples out in the sun early.” 

She hands me the big bag full of freshly sliced apples, ready fer dryin’ in the sun.  She gathers two big ole pieces’a plastic and we head out the side door, through the wash room and out into the side yard.  It’s hotter now than it was when we was pickin’ apples.  On top of the old cellar what’s got the tin roof on it, she lays that big ole piece’a plastic down. 

“Alright, Girl Mule, let’s lay out them apples.”  So we spread the apples out over the plastic, even-like, so they all get to sun-bathe.  They smell clean and sweet out in the hot Alabama sun.  After we git’em all spread out, Grandmother puts the other piece’a plastic over the apples and then we’re ready ta go in and make the applesauce.  “We’ll let them set a spell today before we put’em up.”

Grandmother takes all the peeled and sliced apples and puts’em in this big ole grinder.  It’s a hand grinder, and I ain’t never seen one like it anywhere else.  It’s metal and somehow it grinds them apples up lickety-split.  I cain’t do the grindin’ ‘cause Grandmother’s afraid I’ll take off a finger or somethin’ so I just watch.  We’re at the back table in the kitchen, the one right under the big window what overlooks the backyard an’ the garden.  It’s so hot outside, but inside the house it’s cool as a cucumber.  There’s a mess’o big oak trees surroundin’ the house, and they help keep everthing nice an’ cool.  Grandmother grinds them apples up and I smell their sweetness.  Pretty soon, she’s got this big bowl full’o sweet’n’sour chunky applesauce.  It ain’t like that nasty baby-food kind you can git in the grocery store.  It’s chunkier and lumpier.  And it’s pink.  Grandmother likes colorful thangs, so she always adds just a little red food colorin’ to the applesauce to make it pink.  I like the pink applesauce at my Grandmother’s better’n anything else in the world.

Porch Swings and Butterbeans

We been pickin’ in the garden today.  There was butterbeans ready and some juicy red tomatoes and some okra.  Grandmother won’t let me pick th’okra ‘cause it’s got little nettles on it that sting you.  But she lets me pick the butterbeans.  She showed me what the one’s that’s ready to be picked looks like so I don’t pick the baby ones.  Now that the sun’s goin’ down, we can sit on the front porch swing and shell butterbeans.  The front porch just might be my favorite place in the whole wide world.  First off, it’s screened-in, so it keeps the bugs out.  And it’s real big too.  It runs the whole front of the house with one door leadin’ out to the front yard and two doors goin’ in to the house.  You can either go into the dinin’ room or the sittin’ parlor.  There’s rockin’ chairs out here too, and some tables, but the swing is my favorite.  We’re sittin’ in the swing rockin’ slow-like and shellin’ butterbeans.  I like shellin’ butterbeans, but it makes my thumbs hurt.  See, you have to break open the shells with yer thumbs so you can get the beans out fer cookin’ or puttin’ up.  These ones are fer puttin’ up.  And, after a while, yer thumb gets all green and bruised feelin’.  Down on the road, I hear a car go by and see it’s headlights.  Cars don’t come down this road a whole lot.

“Robi RoseAnne, did I ever tell you ‘bout the first time I saw a car?”

  “No ma’am, you ain’t told me that one.”

  “Well, would you like to hear it?”

  “Yes, please!”

"Law me, I guess I wadn’t knee-high to a grasshopper first time I saw a car.  My cow!  Scared the daylights outta me, too.  [Why’d it scare you, Grandmother?]  I’m a gittin’ ta that Girl Mule.  Just you wait.  Anyways, we lived out in the boondocks and didn’t ever git to town much.  One day me an’ my brothers’n sister was playin’ out in the front yard.  Law, I guess maybe I was seven or eight then.  We was playing “kick the can.”  We was having a high-ole time, a runnin’ an’ a hollerin’ like fish-wives.  And then we heard it.  Law, I thought fer sure Jesus was a comin’ back in the Second Comin’ to claim his people and take’em off to heaven.  I ain’t never heard a racket like it!  I was scared!  All us kids, well, we started hidin’.  Of course, the boys got the best hidin’ places behind the bushes in front’a the house.  And Opal, well she run off into the house and hid under her bed.  But I stayed there in the front yard and hid behind a tree.  I was scared, but I wanted to see Jesus in all his glory comin’ down from heaven in his chariot to take me ta heaven with’im.  And then, comin’ down the ole cow trail is this here contraption.  I didn’t even know what ta call it.  It was metal and had wheels on it and there was a man sitting there holdin’ on to a big ole circle that seemed to make the thang go in differnt directions.  Law, but I knowed it wadn’t Jesus comin’.  I was so scared I couldn’t move!  What is that thang?  Reckon it’s one a them horseless carriages I heard my daddy talkin’ ‘bout one night to momma in the kitchen?  He saw one last time he went ta the city.  Anways, the thang rattled and bumped along and I skirted’ round that ole tree truck so’s the man couldn’t see me.  Before long he was outta sight, but Law, you could hear that rackety ole thang fer a long time after he was gone.  Of course, it was just a car.  But it was the first one I’d ever seen.  And I decided I could wait a long time ‘fore I saw another one.  My brothers came out from hidin’ in the bushes and all they could talk about was that horseless carriage we just saw.  It was the subject of much conversation at the supper table that night, I’ll tell you.  Momma thought it was the work of the Devil, making somethin’ go like that.  Maybe it was.  And look here now, they’s everwhere, stinkin’ up the air and makin’ all that noise all the time.  Law, I think maybe it was the work’a the Devil.  And, I ain’t never learned to drive one a them thangs either.  You wouldn’t catch drivin’ one them thangs fer a million dollars."

I decide I like this story.  I cain’t imagine a world without cars in it.  I wonder what it was like to live way back then when all those new thangs were bein’ invented and all?  I look out towards the road.  It’s dusk now, and the crickets are singin’.  It’s cooler now that the sun’s gone down.  What is that?  It looks like a man is walkin’ up the driveway.  “Grandmother, who’s that?”

Grandmother looks up.  “Law me, Robin.  Go inside and stay there.”  She gets up and goes over to the screen door of the front porch and manages to latch it just as the man is tryin’ to push it open.  I scoot inside and I’m lookin’ out from the dinin’ room window.  I ain’t never seen Grandmother like this before.  I think she’s scared.

“I need to see Brother Whitfield!”  the man says.  He’s swayin’ and pushin’ at the screen door. 

“Brother Whitfield ain’t here.  He died last year.” 

“I need to see Brother Whitfield!  I need some money ta feed my kids.”

“I done tol’ you, Brother Whitfield died last year.  Now you just git on outta here, Jack Camp!  Yer a’scarin’ my granddaughter.”  The man starts cryin’.  I ain’t never seen a man cry before.

“Oh Sister Whitfield, Brother Whitfield done died?  What’em I gonna do?”

“Jack Camp, what yer gonna do is go on home and sleep it off before I call the pō-lice. Do you hear me now?  Git on outta here!  All you want money fer is ta buy up some more licker.  Well, I ain’t gonna give you none.” 

The cryin’ Jack Camp turns around and starts wobblin’ back down the driveway from the way he came.  Pretty soon he’s gone and we don’t see him no more. 

“Who was that, Grandmother?”

“Oh, just some ole drunk yer granddaddy use ta help out sometimes.  I always told R.W. that all that man did was take the money and buy more licker, but yer granddaddy would give it to him anyways.  Crazy ole fool.” 

We sit back down and finish shellin’ the butterbeans.  “Come on, Robi RoseAnne, let’s go blanch these beans so we can put’em up in the freezer.”  We go into the kitchen and Grandmother turns on the radio as I watch her start water to boil and worry about cryin’ Jack Camp an’ all them kids he needs to feed as George Jones sings about a pore man who stopped lovin’ some woman today.
Barn Cats and Prancing Horses

“Robin RoseAnne, stop worryin’ that cat!  Am I gone have to get you ta pick a hickery?”  I’ve been holdin’ and playin’ with one of the ole cats that live around here.  I don’t know why it don’t want me to put doll-clothes on it.  I just want to play like it’s my baby.  But the cat is hollerin’ to high heaven and Grandmother’s tired of the noise.  I’m not worried about the hickery.  My momma may switch my legs from time to time, but Grandmother hadn’t ever laid a hand on me.  She always threatens me with a switchin’ when I’m misbehavin’, but she ain’t ever give me one.  There’s so many cats around here and Grandmother feeds’em all.  My momma tells Grandmother she oughtta git rid of’em.  Put out some rat poison or somethin’.  But Grandmother says that ain’t necessary.  They ain’t hurtin’ nobody and cat food an’ table scraps ain’t expensive.  Besides, they’re good mousers.  Most of’em are wild, but Sugar will let you pet her.  She’s the only one that will.  She’s the one I been trying to put doll-clothes on.  The rest of’em just run away when you get near’em.  They’re wild cats.  They used ta be somebody’s pets but then they got put out or ran off and got wild again or somethin’. 

Suddenly, I hear what sounds like a truck.  I put the cat down and she scrambles off under the house.  Fool cat.  I run around back and see the old colored men bringing out their horses.  There’s a big ole pasture out back and sometimes these colored men pay Grandmother a little money to use the pasture to train their horses.  They’re show horses.  One of’ems black and shiny and prances like nothin’ you ever seen before.  But it’s the other one I like.  He’s white with some dappled gray on him.  He’s not like the black shiny horse.  The white one don’t pay no attention to the men, at least not like he’s supposed to.  Grandmother walks out back to where I’m standing on the fence to watch.  I like to watch the men train the horses, but more, I like to watch that ole white horse confound those men.  What happens is, he don’t want to be trained, or rid, or saddled, and as soon as they try to do anything to him, he takes off across the pasture, tossin’ his head and fartin’ up a storm!  That’s the main attraction.  There ain’t nothin’ else in the world quite like seein’ a horse fartin’ on the run.  It’s better’n Saturday mornin’ cartoons fer a good laugh.  Me an’ Grandmother are already laughin’ so hard our sides are about to split.  I hope I don’t pee my pants.  And those ole colored men, they holler and cuss at that ole horse, but he won’t have none of it.  I’m surprised they keep tryin’ to train him.  The other horse, he’s prancin’ as pretty as you please and they have out these long poles with a string attached that helps guide the horse.  But ole Whitey, he’s still a runnin’ and a fartin’.  Good thing we’re upwind from him.

After a while the colored men give up on the white horse and let him be.  They finish workin’ with the black one and then they git’em back in the horse trailer, wave to Grandmother, and drive off.  So much for the afternoon entertainment. 

“Come on, Girl Mule, lets have a picnic.” 

“Yay!”  We go in the house and Grandmother starts gittin’ things together.

“What kinda sandwich do you want, Robi RoseAnne?”

“Anything but peanut butter’n jelly.”

“Law, you ain’t nothin’ like yer sister Caroline.” 

My younger sister, Caroline, she’s what momma calls a “finicky eater.”  What that means is, she don’t like nothin’ but peanut butter’n jelly sandwiches, French fries, macaroni and cheese, and fried chicken.  Me, I like everthang, but Caroline, well, that’s a different story.  Ever night at the supper table is a new adventure in eatin’.  Basically it goes like this.  Momma fixes supper, probably some squash and okra, fresh tomatoes, cornbread, meatloaf.  Looks good to me.  But Caroline?  Here come the tears.  And then her and momma fight it out the rest of the meal.  I’ve taken ta eatin’ real fast so’s I can git outta there before it gits ugly.  I feel sorry fer Caroline, mainly because I think momma makes things she knows Caroline hates.  Why cain’t she just make her some macaroni and cheese and French fries ever night?  Lord, it’d save our eardrums from Caroline’s caterwaulin’.  But me, I eat just about anythin’ except peanut butter’n jelly, raw carrots, and cantaloupe.  There are other things I don’t particularly like, but these three foods are on my ‘will not, under any circumstance, even under torture, will NOT eat.’ 

By now, Grandmother’n me have put together a pretty nice little picnic.  We got cheese sandwiches, apples, potato sticks, and Kool-Aid.  We head off into the woods beside her house with a patchwork quilt and our basket of food and stuff.  We find a nice little clearin’ and spread out the quilt and sit down to enjoy our little feast.  I’m so hot and thirsty, that I’m gulping down my cup of strawberry Kool-Aid.
“Robi RoseAnne, don’t drink so fast when yer hot.  It can kill you.” 

“Really?”  I’m not sure I believe that.
“Yes ma’am, it can kill you.  That’s what killed my daddy.”

“What happened?”

“Well, let me just tell you.”

"I was twelve years old and it was late summer in south Alabama.  Law, you could fry an egg on the cellar’s tin roof, it was that hot.  My daddy, he and the boys were out in the field all day.  They’d been weedin’ and pickin’ ears of corn and other thangs.  We ate some of what we grew, but we sold some of it too.  Anyways, I was in the kitchen helpin’ momma and Opal with supper.  We were cookin’ and talkin’ and settin’ the table, just woman’s work.  It was so hot in that kitchen with the stove goin’ and all.  We always tried to have supper cooked so the men could come in and wash up and eat right away.  They could eat a horse after a day in the fields.  Pretty soon, daddy and the boys, they come home.  I hear’em takin’ off their work boots on the front porch, and my momma tells me to get the water pitcher outta the icebox and pour them all some cool water.  I do and take’em their glasses of water out to the porch where they’re a sittin’.  They’re sa hot’n tired, you can almost see steam comin’ off’em.  Anyways, I hand all of’em a tall glass of cool water, and daddy, he starts gulpin’ his down.  Just as he’s finished, he drops the glass and slumps over!  Law, I’m scared half to death!  The boys jump up and come over ta daddy and I holler for momma.  She comes runnin’ outta the house.  By now, my brother James has done took off fer the doctor.  But it’s too late.  I can tell my daddy is dead.  He’s all pale and purple lookin’.  Momma is cryin’ and hollerin’ and I realize I am too.  Law, it ain’t a good thing ta see yer daddy die right in front’a you.  That’s why you should never drink yer water fast when yer real hot.  It can flat out kill you!"

I think about what it would be like to see yer daddy die right in front of you.  It must be awful!  I hope that never happens to me.  I don’t want Grandmother ta see me die right in front’a her, neither, so I sip my strawberry Kool-Aid real slow like. 

Crazy Mommas and Crazy Quilts

“What’cha doin’, Grandmother?”  I been playin’ outside by that big ole oak tree.  I like to think that there’s little elves that live in the holes at the base o’the roots.  I fix little acorn tea parties for’em so’s they can play when I go ta bed at night.  I make little placemats outta fallen leaves and if you take the caps off of them acorns, you got right nice little teacups.  I pick dandy-lions and weave some pine needles fer decoration.  Sometimes, Grandmother gives me a ole dull knife to whittle with and I make nice long, smooth walkin’ sticks outta twigs fer them elves, too.  I wish I could really see’em.  Anyways, Grandmother’s in the backroom, the one I don’t go into much.  She’s got a big trunk in there and she’s lookin’ through it.

“Oh, Robi RoseAnne, I was in the mood to reminisce a little bit.”

“What’s that mean?”

“Well, it means I’m sittin’ here lookin’ at baby clothes and pictures and other thangs and thinkin’ about my momma and daddy and yer uncles and yer momma when they were babies.  Look here, this was yer Uncle Darren’s baby dress.”  It’s pink!  I cain’t imagine Uncle Darren wearin’ a pink dress, but I try real hard to.  I think that’d be a sight to see! 

“Grandmother, why’d you dress’im in pink?”

  “Oh, in them days, all babies wore pink, even the boys.”  I didn’t know that.  Must’a been a sight to see all them lil babies dressed up like lil girls when they wadn’t.  How’d you tell whether they was a boy or a girl?  Babies look just alike ta me, so if they ain’t wearing blue or pink, I don’t know how their mommas told’em apart.

“Grandmother, were you ever a baby?”

“Well, Law yes, Robi RoseAnne!  We were all babies once!”  I cain’t imagine Grandmother as a baby. 

"You know, Robi RoseAnne, I was born in the winter time.  It was cold in January, even in south Alabama.  My momma’d done birthed a mess’a babies, so my birth wadn’t real hard on her or nothin’ though she wadn’t a spring chicken anymore.  I was the last o’the kids.  It was late at night and I was born right there in my momma and daddy’s big bed.  Wrapped up all warm and cozy like in my momma’s arms.  And then, she did it.  She named me.  Bertha Rebecca.  Law, how she could put two such differnt names together, I’ll never know.  Bertha.  That’s what she decided ta call me.  Law, I ain’t never been resigned ta that name since.  When I got older, I asked her why didn’t she call me Rebecca?  Rebecca.  Now that’s a musical name!  I would say it to myself and imagine my momma and my brothers and sister and daddy callin’ me ‘Rebecca.’  You know what she told me?  She didn’t call me Rebecca because she didn’t like ‘Becky’ and was afraid it’d get shortened to ‘Becky.’  And I thought, well, Law, ‘Becky’ is better’n ‘Bertha’ any day o’the week and twiced on Sunday!  So there I was, stuck with that mean ole name, Bertha.  Law, Robi RoseAnne, if you have a little girl someday, I hope you name her Rebecca." 

I think that’d be nice.  To name my own little girl, if I ever have one, Rebecca.  I think I’ll name her Charlotte Rebecca.  I think that is just the purtiest name.  My other grandmother, my daddy’s momma, her name is Charlotte Ward.  And guess what her momma called her?  Ward!  I just cain’t fathom what people are thinkin’ sometimes when they name their kids.  Are they crazy when they name those pore babies? To be stuck with a name like Ward or Bertha, that must be a hard thing to live with.  I don’t really like my name, Robi, but it ain’t as bad as Ward or Bertha.  Robi sounds like a boy-name ta me.  But Grandmother always calls me Robi RoseAnne, and I like ‘RoseAnne.’  Least I can do fer that favor is name my little girl Rebecca some day.

Grandmother pulls out a bag full’a clothes, old clothes, and bits’a fabric in all different colors and designs outta the trunk. 

“Oh, Robi RoseAnne, this is what I been lookin’ for.  I thought you might like ta learn how ta quilt.” 

“You mean sew?” 

“Yes, Girl Mule, sew!”

“Okay.  But I didn’t do too well when I tried that at school.”

“Well, you didn’t have me as yer teacher.”  We take this bag full’a fabric and old clothes and go into the sittin’ parlor.  Grandmother gets out her sewin’ basket.

“Now, Robi RoseAnne, what you first gotta do is cut up some squares.  We’re gonna make a patchwork quilt cause it’s the easiest to learn ta do.”  We rummage through the bag and pick out fabrics we like.  Grandmother, she likes bright colors, so I ain’t surprised when she goes fer the purples and pinks and reds.  I like blues and greens best, so I pick those kinds’a colors out.  Grandmother gives me a piece’a cardboard, it’s a perfect square, and shows me how ta pin it to the fabric, trace around it with this little chalky pencil and then cut out a perfect square!  Once we got a big ole pile of squares in colors like you wouldn’t believe, we start pinnin’em together so we can sew’em up.

“Now, Robi RoseAnne, this is how you thread the needle.”  This needle’s bigger than ones I’ve seen before.  Grandmother threads that ole needle lickety-split and hands it to me.  Then, she shows me how to knot off the thread and how to make nice little stitches.  This is fun!  We put the blues next to the pinks and the greens next to the purples!  Grandmother said some people call these kinda quilts “crazy-quilts” cause there ain’t no rhyme or reason to’em.  I like that name.  Crazy-quilt.  Grandmother says that when I finish it, I can take it home with me and put it on my own bed.  I think that’s a good idea.  When momma gets real mad at me fer singin’ or runnin’ through the house or talkin’ too much, I can go to my room and put that crazy-quilt around me and think about summers with Grandmother.  Then I won’t feel so alone there at home with my momma.  It’ll kinda be like Grandmother’s right there with me.

Tick-Tock of the Clock

Swingin’ on the porch late at night with Grandmother sittin’ next to me holdin’ my hand and hummin’ is one of the best things in the world ta do.  We’re listenin’ ta the crickets sing and you can hear the transfer trucks all the way from I-20.  In the distance I hear the ole train blowin’ it’s horn as it flies through Clem.  Today was a nice day.  We decided to pay a visit to Grandmother’s neighbors across the street. The Gordon’s are an old couple who live in a stone house made with sandy, rough, yellowy stones.  They have a little dog named “Inky” because he’s as black as ink.  He’s a Shih Tzu, and I like sayin’ it ‘cause it’s almost like gettin’ to cuss.  First time I heard it, I thought Miz Gordon was pullin’ my leg, but it turns out she wadn’t.  Somebody really did name these kinda dogs “Shih Tzu.”  I wonder if it was another kid who wanted to be able to cuss without gettin’ in trouble?  Anyways, we went over to the Gordon’s and we had teacakes and lemonade on their side porch. 

Their side porch is glassed-in and they have air conditionin’.  Oh, it felt so good!  Mr. Gordon took me through the house and showed me all his grandfather clocks. 

“Where’d you git’em all, Mr. Gordon.” 

“Why chile, I made’em!” 

“Really?  How’d you do that?” 

“Well, my daddy taught me how.  I’ve been a clock-maker all my life, and now that I’m retired, I do it all the time.”

“They sure are purty, Mr. Gordon.”

“Thank you, Miss Robi.” 

We walked back out ta the porch and it turns out that Grandmother and Miz Gordon have decided we’re ta go ta their garden.  For some reason, this is a big deal.  So we head out to the backyard with Inky skipping along between our legs and yippin’ ever so often.  They have the biggest magnolia tree I’ve ever seen in my life!  I can walk under it and it’s like being inside a dark room, cool and smellin’ like flowers and dirt and sap.  But, I cain’t stay in there long, ‘cause we’re goin’ to the garden.

Out behind their house is a nice patch a woods with a path that’s been marked off from people walkin’ on it so much.  There’s wooden benches and azalea bushes with big ole flowers on’em all pink and red.  We walk on the path for what feels like forever, and I’m beginnin’ to wonder just exactly where IS this garden?  In Georgia? 
Finally, after what seems like hours we come onto the Gordon’s garden.  It ain’t like other gardens.  They have vegetables and stuff, but mostly they have flowers!  Flowers everywhere!  All kinds of colors and shapes and smells.  I start wandering along the paths beside the flowerbeds and smell the blossoms.  There are red ones, and purple ones, and yellow ones, and white ones, and some colors I don’t even have the words for!  There are bees buzzin’ everwhere and butterflies flutterin’ about.  I think this is the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen.  Miz Gordon brought a basket and some shears and she’s snippin’ flowers and puttin’em in her basket.  Her and Grandmother are talkin’ but I cain’t hear what they’re sayin’, and Mr. Gordon’s pullin’ weeds from around the tomato plants on the vegetable side of the garden.  Me, I’m wanderin’ around gapin’ at all the colors of the flowers.  It’s purtier than Callaway Gardens!  Inky is runnin’ around yippin’ like he’s fit to be tied.  Fool dog.  But I smile at him and laugh when he starts snappin’ at the bumblebees and butterflies.  He better be careful or he’ll get stung for all his effort.

I’m sittin’ here on the old front porch swing thinkin’ about that visit today and that beautiful garden.  Who knew  there could be such places right across the street from you?  A lil piece o’heaven.  We have a whole mason jar full of them flowers Miz Gordon snipped and gave to us.  It was nice having supper tonight with them sittin’ there.  They smelled so good.  I yawn and my eyes feel all itchy and tired.  “OK, Girl Mule, it’s time to hit the hay.” 

I get up and follow Grandmother into the house.  As she turns down the bed, I go to the bathroom and brush my teeth and put on my pajamas.  Really, it’s just a t-shirt and a pair of shorts, but we call’em pajamas anyway.  By the time I get back to the bedroom, Grandmother has on her nightgown and the bed is turned down.  I crawl up and over to my side of the bed against the wall.  The sheets are cool and smell like the outdoors.  Grandmother gets in on her side, reads some Bible verses out loud to me, puts the Bible in the night table drawer, and snaps off the table lamp.  I lay there in the dark, listenin’ ta the crickets singin’ and the tick-tock, tick-tock of the clock and Grandmother breathin’.  Pretty soon my eyes just cain’t stay open no more, and soon, I’m dreamin’ of little black dogs, and flowers in every color you can imagine, and bees, and butterflies, and crazy-quilts, and pink applesauce, and white horses.
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