August 15, 2007

Big Mama

Big Mama was my grandmother. She wasn't real big, or anything, but when I was a little girl, my mother and I lived with her, and I called them both, "Mama." Now, when I'd say "Mama", either the wrong one would answer, or they would both answer at the same time.

One day when I had called out, "Mama!", my mother answered. She was not the one that I wanted at the time, and since she was much shorter than my grandmother, I said, "I don't mean you...I mean my Big Mama." So from then on, my grandmother became my Big Mama.

Big Mama was pretty. I remember she seemed so tall to me, then, but really wasn't. She was probably just average. She was slender and graceful. Her eyes were dark, and twinkled when she was amused. She had the high cheekbones of an Indian...which she was. Cherokee.

I remember the things she told me about coming to Georgia from Tennessee on a wagon, when she was just a little girl. She said her father had whipped her with a chain when she was a child. I heard later that he was a very cruel-hearted man, and a strict disciplinarian.

Her family arranged a marriage for her when she was only fourteen years old to a grown man, and she had cried, and cried. But he loved her, and was good to her, and they had a good and happy marriage until he died at the age of fifty-one years old, leaving her a widow in her thirties with eight children. One of which was my mother, Sarah HattieMae.

My real grandfather died before I was born, and some years after that, Big Mama married again. I called him, "Papa."

Big Mama was such a lady. So dignified. She always looked dressed-up to me. Always a dress, or a two-pieced outfit, which she made from pretty flowered material. Always shoes with heels, and stockings rolled over elastic garters, to just above the knee.

Everyday I would watch her arrange her beautiful long hair, dark, streaked with silver, around, and around, and around in a circle, over a "rat", finally becoming a neat and pretty bun at the back of her head, secured with lots and lots of hairpins.

Having done this, she would go about her business of the day--cleaning, and dusting, and sweeping--singing all the time, beautiful old hymns.

She always had time for me--and talked to me--and really listened to me when I talked to her.

Some days she would bake several pies, or cakes, or make bread pudding. Everday she would make just for me, "do-lolly", which was red jello with sliced bananas.

On wash day, which was Monday, she would go out into the yard early in the morning, and build a fire under the big, black washpot, and get the water which had been filled with home-made lye soap, boiling and bubbling.

She would put in the white clothes first, punching, and poking, and prodding, with a long, wooden paddle, until they were blindingly white and clean. Then she used the paddle to lift them out into another pot of water, to be thoroughly rinsed before being hung on the line to dry. After the white clothes, came the colored ones, into the same wash water, to go through the same process.

Wash day was an all-day project, and I loved it!

My mother was divorced when I was a baby, and that's why we lived with Big Mama. Mama had to work, and she had to work in a mill in another town, but she would come to see me on her days off.

Papa worked for the railroad, and was gone most of the time, too, so it was mostly just me and Big Mama, and what a great time we had! Sometimes walking to town to go to the show, picking polk salad along the side of the highway, or picking bucketsful of juicy, fat, blackberries for pies, and blackberry jam.

I always had to wear the sunbonnet with the quilted brim when we went blackberry picking, because Big Mama said too much sun on your head gave you sunstroke.

Oh, she was just a storehouse of knowledge and good advice, and she was always passing this good advice on to me--such as "Don't judge a man until you've walked a mile in his moccasins", and "If you don't have anything good to say about somebody, don't say anythng at all," and "You can catch more flies with honey than you can vinegar." And all of that knowledgeable stuff, laced with subtle warning, like "Whistling girls, and crowing hens, always come to some bad end."

I spent a lot of time tying to figure out how many miles I wanted to walk, or how many flies I wanted to catch, or deciding if I wanted to say anything at all--or not! While I was thinking about all of this, I was always on the lookout for a crowing hen. I thought I had found one, once, but it just turned out to be a very effeminate rooster--which was almost as good as, in my opinion!

I also had to remember to draw an "X" in the dust and spit in it, if I had to turn around and go back to the house for something I forgot, and I mustn't forget to go in the same door that I came out of, and I had to remember not to put my hat on the bed while I was there. These were serious superstitions, and not to be taken lightly, if you didn't want to have bad luck!

Sometimes, I would just spend the time pondering the profound things of life, like, "I wonder if cows give chocolate milk, sweet milk, and buttermilk," or "I wonder what makes people get old."

Of course, while doing all of this, I had to be on the lookout for some big, black, sneaky, "coach whip" snake, which at any minute might grab his tail in his mouth, and roll like a hoop, chasing me until he caught me, and wrapped 'round and 'round me, pinning my arms down, and beating me to death with his tail! Besides that, I had to be extra cautious, because running with that good luck penny in my left shoe might have slowed me down some!

And I never knew when, while berry picking, I would come up on a snake wrapped around a tree, who could hypnotize me if he caught my eye, and I didn't run away fast enough!

I was always glad when it was time for supper, because after that, Big Mama read to me the latest adventures of Alley Oop from the funny paper, while I sat on the arm of her big, wooden, rocking chair.

After that, I had to wash my feet, and go to bed, and to remember to ask the Lord to take my soul, in case I died before I woke up, because if I did, I wanted him to be reminded.

Now, I could go to sleep, and all I had to do when I woke up, was not get up on the wrong side of the bed, and to remember not to put my left shoe on first. And I had to remember to keep a pleasant look on my face, and not frown, just in case it came a hard freeze during the night, and my face would be stuck like that.

Now, I know that was an awful lot of stuff for a little kid to have to do, and remember everyday, but I have to admit that I received an answer to one of my very profound questions about life--I found out what makes people get old!

As tired as I was, or as worried as I was, it just all faded away as I drifted off to sleep, listening to my Big Mama pray for her family, or sometimes, listening to her beautiful, sweet voice in the next room, singing, "Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved......"

A Wise Piece of Advice

Someone gave me a wise piece of advice the other day. She said just be yourself, write from the heart, and don't let anyone censor you. She also said, don't let what others think, cause you to censor yourself.
I've been giving that some thought, especially about not censoring myself. I almost did that in a recent reply to a comment on "Ignorance Breeds Ignorance."
But I didn't, and I expressed my feelings on the matter. However, I am sure, that there will be some who may take offense. I hope not. Because there is one thing that you will discover about me, if you continue to read what I have to say, and that is that I do not have a racist, bigoted, predjudiced bone in my body.
Unless, of course, you consideer the fact that I do hate unkindess, mean spiritedness, cruelty, and lack of courtesy in anyone, no matter their color or creed., or their strata of society. The color of your skin, or how many worldly goods you have, or how beautiful you are, are not your value and worth. It is what is on the inside, in the dark recessess of your own self, that place that no one else can see...that is the worth that matters.
It is on this merit that I base my opinion of others. I said "opinion", rather than "judge", because I will judge no one. God is the judge of all mankind, and He will be our ultimate Judge.
I guess what I am trying to say, is that I will express my feelings, and convictions on here, and I welcome you to do the same. I don't hold grudges, either, because that does no one any good...especially to the one holding it.
Now..that being said, I'm fixin' (a southern vernacular) to go fix some fried green tomatoes. I wish you could join me!

Growing Pains

My firstborn.
I stand at the kitchen sink washing dishes, and thinking of my just-turned-seventeen-year-old-son.
Not yet a man.
No longer a little boy.
Thinking of the years gone by.
Thinking of now.
Of yesterday.
Of tomorrow.

I hear his bedroom door close.
Hear his feet on the stairs.

"Hey, where'd everybody go?" he asks, as he comes into the kitchen.
"Dad went to the store. Mike's out playing," I answer.
He spoons instant tea and sugar into a glass of water, and stirs.
Always drinking iced tea.

"What're you doing?" he asks, stirring briskly.
I have to smile to myself.

"Oh, nothing. Washing dishes. Just been standing here, thinking of you. Thinking of what a good son you are."

"I was thinking back over the years, about things that have happened. Of some of the things that we've been through together. Some of the things I remember, I know I wouldn't have made it through, had it not been for you. So many times you had to be the strong one."

I turn now and look at him. Not down, but up. No longer little boy looking up to mother, but mother looking up to son.
"You're a fine son, Terrel, and I want you to know how much I appreciate you."

He sets the glass down, and extends his hand, palm-downward, placing it on my shoulder, not unlike an Indian's gesture of friendship. He steps forward, and takes a quick, sideways peck at my forehead.

"Your mother loves you very much, " I say softly.
His expression is half-pleased, half-embarrassed. He says nothing, but steps back now, retrieving the glass of tea. He takes a long drink, and smiles, brightly.

"Hey, Mom, did I tell you about the plans I'm drawing for that really righteous machine I want to build?"

I turn back to the sink, and to the dishes, and I marvel at the bittersweet mystery of growth.