When Chickens Crow…

Be yourself; Everyone else is already taken.

— Oscar Wilde.

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MAMA….Final

The day had turned noticeably colder and darker and storm clouds threatened as the mourners exited the small church. There had not been enough room for everyone inside so consequently, every square foot of the generous church yard was occupied by the standing, overflow crowd. They stood reverently through all the salutations, prayers, songs, and the eulogy. They parted and created a path in perfect symmetry, as first the Pallbearers carrying the coffin and then the family, faces strained and tear stained, followed close behind.

The sorrowful mood inside the church accompanied by the awkward truce Mama had engineered had been stretched almost beyond endurance. Mama’s heart was broken, and she had begun to wonder if she could continue to feign good health throughout the burial ceremony. Her head had begun to ache and there was an odd tingling in her fingertips. Too much…it had all been…too much.

Both sides of the freshly graded but hard packed, red clay road was lined with cars on both sides and had become impassable. It would have been an exercise in futility to have tried untangling what had to be close to a hundred cars, in time to follow the hearse the 8th of a mile or so to the cemetery; the graveside ceremony would have assuredly been over by the time the cars had snaked the short distance and then again sought parking places, so the mourners simply fell in step behind the hearse, the car carrying the Pallbearers and the two cars carrying the immediate family. Not a single car that had arrived that day had carried just a single passenger. Some of the cars carried five or as many as could be squeezed in. Therefore, the parade of people following the hearse on foot was impressively long.

Mama had been relieved to be off her feet again if only for that short distance. She dared not mention her painful headache to Papa because he was still stony-faced and angry with her interference and for allowing that woman into the church. Not just in the church but allowing her to sit with the family! What must he be thinking right now? At least she had not pushed to allow her into the car for the cemetery ride. No, she would not disclose her pain, she would pray and ask God for His help and strength for a little while longer.

The grave which was to receive her baby boy had been dug the previous evening by Papa and his two remaining sons. Mama was pressed upon by formidable grief but still she prayed. She had begun to feel her resolve slip away as they lowered the coffin. Her lips moved wordlessly in a private conversation with God. She heard the coffin touched the bottom of the grave and remembered little else.

With God’s help, she would have told you, she made it through the remainder of the ceremony. She even fulfilled hostess duties by receiving the well wishes and the condolences of the many mourners; there had been so very many. It seemed they came and went for hours. At some point during the evening, someone had taken her by the shoulders, she could not remember whom, and they had guided her into her bedroom. She clearly remembered her hat being removed from her head, what an odd thing to remember, but could not remember who had helped her undress. She recalled asking whoever had been in attendance to her needs to send in her daughter who was overseeing in the kitchen and helping to dispense unending plates of food.

Her daughter found Mama sitting on the edge of the bed rubbing her temples. “Mama, I know you’re not OK, but are you feeling alright?”, she asked. Mama tried to look up into her daughter’s face, but the effort only caused additional pain. The painful throbbing inside her head had begun when the woman had driven up to the church and had not yet subsided. She’d bad headaches before but a couple of swallows of the garlic water she kept in the icebox and a teaspoon of vinegar, usually helped the pain within a few hours. She’d taken a dose right after arriving home, but the pain had only grown worse and the numbness and tingling in her fingers had escalated into pinpricks. Still holding her head down, she asked her daughter for one of those new headache powders people were talking favorably about.

Without hesitation her daughter rushed into the kitchen and returned with a glass of Coca Cola and a little yellow and blue envelop of Standback Headache Powder.  She sprinkled the powder upon the surface of the cola and gave it to her mother to drink. 

They could not have known that the combination of the 845mg of aspirin contained in that package along with the 65mg of caffeine also in that package combined with the additional caffeine of the cola, didn’t cause but helped to hasten the condition Mama suffered just hours after burying her son.

Days later upon awakening, Mama saw her daughter sitting in a chair next to the bed, her head resting on Mama’s left leg. She thought it strange that she couldn’t feel the weight of her daughter’s head. Mama, tried and was successful in moving her right leg, then tried moving the left leg, but could not. Her leg felt wooden as if somehow it was not a part of her body. She attributed the fact that her left leg felt odd due to her daughter’s head lying upon it and perhaps causing the leg to fall asleep, as it were. She looked about the darkened room and realized it was not hers. She allowed her thoughts to travel back a few hours to when she took the headache powder and finally fell asleep, but how had she gotten here and just where was “here”?

She had a moment of panic when she realized that she had gone to sleep the night before without thanking God for bringing her through that awful day. Her heart still ached for her son, his smile, and the way he had teased laughter from her. She wondered if she would ever laugh again, but though her heart still ached, her head no longer did. That powder must have truly worked and for that she gave God thanks. But, what she needed right then was for her daughter to move because she wanted the circulation to come back into her leg. She reached out to touch her daughter with her left hand, but her arm didn’t move. She looked around the darkened room again and this time realized that she was in the hospital! “My God, My God”, she thought, “what has happened?’.

With her throat dry and parched, she called out to her daughter and didn’t recognize the croaky sound that burst from the side of her mouth. She tried again to call out, but instead of Vera, being sounded, something akin to BeerWa, BeerrWaa crashed against her ears! The panic she pushed down moments earlier rushed back and brought with it a dull ache which settled behind her left eye! She knew instinctively that she needed to gain control over her fear…she closed her eyes and concentrated on her prayers. One of her often quoted and favorite scriptures came to her mind, Isaiah 41:10; and she repeated it over and over: Fear not for I am with thee, be not dismayed for I am your God. I will strengthen thee, yea, I will help thee, Yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.

She had silently repeated that verse as she had walked up to the woman’s car door yesterday. She had recited it as when she had entered the church and she’d uttered it again as she stood in the cemetery. She now found herself saying it again and it brought her comfort. She prayed for an extra helping of the strength promised to her in that verse from Isaiah. She felt the fear receding and the pain in her left eye gratefully, followed it. She then prayed and offered her thanks to God for His goodness and mercy. With renewed vigor, Mama tried again to call out to her daughter and was met again with the sound of BeerWa. But this time, her daughter stirred and called out, “Mama, you’re awake!” “Mama, the doctor said that if you didn’t wake up today or tomorrow…you probably wouldn’t.” “Mama, you scared us so badly, thank you God for giving me back my mother.”

Mama waved her right hand around indicating the room and her daughter understood that she was confused by her surrounding and whereabouts. “you’re in the hospital Mama and you’ve been here since the day after the funeral.” “HaaWong, haa Wong?”, how long, Mama tried asking. Anxiety returned unbidden and she closed her eyes and prayed again for strength to face this new issue. She thought rather than say the beloved verse again. It was now her daughter’s turn to panic because she thought her Mother had once again sank into unconsciousness. When Mama reopened her eyes, she saw her daughter’s eyes stretched wide in fear. “My poor child,” she thought, “what have she endured as I’ve lain here?”

After being relieved that Mama had only momentarily closed her eyes, she began to fill Mama in on the past few days, not the hours Mama had thought. “Mama, the doctor said you had a stroke and you’ve been here for almost a week.” She saw Mama’s eyebrows knit together in question and continued with, “Papa’s fine.” “He had been here for the better part of this week until we finally made him go home to rest. “Everything’s going to be fine now Mama,” she assured her. “Just please don’t try and talk anymore, just know that God is answering our prayers.”

*****

Mama had indeed suffered a stroke with paralytic repercussions. The left side of her body had been compromised but once she’d accepted what had happened, she did what she’d always done; prayed, and gave thanks for another day of life. She prayed for her family and she asked God for her own healing, if it was within His will. Six months later, her doctor declared Mama’s recovery miraculous. He could not have been more correct. She had regained the use of her left hand, the droopiness of her mouth disappeared and her speech had returned to normal! The only physical remnant of the stroke, which remained the rest of her life, was her inability to walk without dragging her left leg.

When I was old enough to ask her about her leg but not yet old enough to be discreet, I asked her why if God had healed her, He hadn’t fixed her leg.  She, without missing a beat reminded me that Jacob had been touched in the hip by God and he walked with a limp the rest of his life too.  “Baby”, she said, “When God touches you, something’s got to give!” “Well Mama,” I said, “I sure hope if He touches me, it’ll be with that Mercy and Grace you always talk about and not with that limp that you and Jacob have!”  She smiled and shook her head…I think she started praying for me afresh that day with renewed determination. 

Mama lived without the deep depression and melancholy that engulfs most stroke victims. She reveled in her life. Although I have no memories of what her laughter sounded like, I remember the absolute genuineness and sincerity of her smile. She and Papa contrasted in everything. Papa’s laugh never fully exploded from his body. It seemed more as if he was coughing and trying to clear his throat. His shoulders would shudder, rise and fall and tears would flow from his eyes. I was always afraid that he would be unable to catch his breath. But Mama never uttered an audible sound of laughter. The corners of lips never rose to meet the corners of her eyes. There was always sadness, or something related to it behind her eyes.

During her weeks of recovery and healing, she had reflected upon her children. Her eldest son occupied most of her prayers. Always unflinchingly serious since returning home from the Korean war, he had become a wanderer. Taking jobs that would not allow him to settle in one place for too long. Never truly putting down roots. Her other twin boy loved laughing! He was just like his twin in that regards. But unlike his twin, he was a big man and his mere presence demanded respect. The only person who could make him stand down with a simple look was his father. This son, with his large personality and equally large, not fat, body, ruled every space he occupied. His name suited him perfectly. Her daughter was her support, her caregiver, her constant companion. She was everything one could hope for in a daughter; but her baby boy had been her sunshine and as he had been lowered into the grave it was as though her life had darkened. She fought to find solace and delight in serving God and unsurprisingly, in cooking.

She had always been an excellent cook and people used to say, when they would remember her, that God guided her hands in the kitchen.  She appreciated their thoughts but believed that God guided her hands in everything she did. 

You can trust that Mama, never did anything with lackluster.  She taught Sunday School, and Mission studies.  She cultivated beautiful roses and daffodils. She participated in the BTU (Baptist Training Union) at the church…(I could not tell the difference between that and Sunday School, except that it was held on Friday evenings.) But one of the things I appreciated her doing more than anything, besides cooking, was one of the most colorful event I’d ever witnessed.  I relate it now to the annual hot air balloon festival held in Albuquerque, NM every October. 

Her quilting bee was mind-bendingly colorful. Beautiful quilts where stretched out over the open spaces between the main farmhouse and Mother’s house. At least 50 quilts each on their own frame occupied every bit of space. Twenty or so ladies would come to our farm on the appointed morning and began setting up their frames. Some of them would bring two or three quilts to be finished off with the help of other ladies. The day before the quilting bee, their husbands or other menfolk brought the frames to the farm by truck, wagon, or horseback. They would set them up and hustle back to their own farms to complete their never-ending list of chores. The frames were used to stretch the quilts and hold them in place as the women performed the finishing work upon them. As the men were busy setting up the quilting frames, the ladies, each prepared double helping of their noonday meals for their families to eat the next day while they attended the Bee at our farm.

All of the thousands of colorful squares of fabric had been stitched together the previous fall and winter months. After preserving the last of the harvest, it was time to settle into the long autumn and winter evenings chores, which meant, unfortunately, sewing together the hundreds upon hundreds of patches. Little girls as young as five or six were given their own little baskets or bags of scraps from which to cut squares, triangles, or circles. They were also given needles and thread to practice their stitches. No crooked or overly long stitches were acceptable. Mama would inspect our stitches after we’d been at it for forty of fifty squares (about 2 weeks’ worth of sewing), and if she found stitches that didn’t follow her exacting rules or if any of the stitches were too long and allowed for light to pass through the seams, she would quietly instruct us, mainly me, to remove ALL the stitches and begin again! It only happened ONCE to me!! I declared sewing to be one of the most hated chores ever invented and was sent from Satan to torture me!

But, when summer arrived and the ladies met at random farms to finish off their quilts, it was just about as close as a child could hope to come to being invited into the inner sanction of “grown women’s sacred circles.” A Quilting Bee was everything! If only you could be there without the sewing! There were patterns named Garden of Eden, Crown of Thorns, Double Wedding Ring, the Star of David, and Jacob’s ladder. So many lovely patterns whose names made absolutely no sense to me but brought oohs and aahs and instant recognition as each lady presented their top pieces. I’m convinced, with no proof, that the ladies must have agreed upon which patterns they would be making at some point during the previous fall because not even one of them made a duplicate of another’s pattern.

After the quilts had been stretched across the frames, the ladies began the serious aspect of quilting. Stitching the solid sheets of muslin backing to the quilted pieces, then filling the quilts with batting or wadding and finally stitching the layers together. Some of the more ambitious ladies would sew long diagonal stitches across the layers thereby creating the familiar quilting effect. Other’s would use colorful and coordinating embroidery thread to tack down the batting in strategic places preventing any slippage of any of the layers. Whichever method was used, you could be assured that a quilt, with care, would last several generations.

As the noon hour approached Mama excused herself to prepare lunch for the ladies.  She’d had Papa bring in a ham from the smoke house the previous evening and she, after our own supper, carved paper thin slices of the meat, placed them on a platter and stored them in the icebox.  Early on the morning of the Bee, she baked several pans of light and fluffy homemade biscuits and covered them with tea towel until they were ready to be served.  She also set out several jars of her Blackberry and Peach preserves.  There were teacakes and coffee for those who drank it and a pre-Kool-Aid drink called Poly Pop, grape flavored of course, was made the night before and waited next to the ham to be served.  Sliced tomatoes, green onions and cucumbers with a sprinkle of salt and vinegar were served along side the biscuits and ham.  There was so much chatter and laughter from all the ladies that Papa swore the birds hushed with fear!  The laughter was enthralling and came freely from everyone except Mama. 

I don’t know how many quilts the other ladies had, but Mama had a treasure trove of at least 20 even though she had given many away to newly married relatives and girls leaving home for the first time. A little something from home to bring comfort on cold nights, she’d say. Even after the stroke her tiny, perfectly straight stitches never wavered.

It was during times like the quilting bees when I’d hear many stories of Mama when she was younger. Mama was about 73 when I was born and it strained my imagination to picture her as a young woman. Not that she looked her age, she didn’t, and the only thing that bespoke of her age was her thick, long, wavy and breathtakingly silver hair. Some said that she had gone to bed with inky dark hair the night her first son was killed and had awoken the next morning without a single dark strand of hair on her head. Overnight, as a young woman, her hair had turned snow white, or so it was said.

Those who knew her then also said she had loved to dance! 

WAIT!  MAMA?? DANCE???  WHAT TYPE OF MADNESS WAS THIS????

She was said not only to have loved dancing but was considered the best dancer around!  Actually, she was as well known for her dance steps as she would later become known for her cooking! 

I knew better than to call any of my elders’ liars but I surely thought they must be. But thinking back, I can recall times when certain music with defining beats were played on the radio and Mama’s right foot tapped in perfect rhythm. Well dang!

Beyond cooking, growing roses, quilting, teaching the Bible and praying, Mama dearly loved watching over and overseeing her granddaughters, My sister and me. If I’m to be completely honest, Mama seemed, to my six or seven year old mind, to be quite hawkish in her manner of overseeing. Nothing missed her gaze, at least nothing I did. My sister was the favorite granddaughter out of the many. She was the one who received the coveted nickel or dime that was tied into the corner of Mama’s handkerchief and kept safe in the deep pockets of her ever-present aprons.

My sister could ask Mama for anything and would most often receive whatever had been requested. I, on the other hand, could ask for something remarkably similar and would receive a pat on the bottom and a gentle push to another area. I think, I perhaps had the same effect upon Mama as a puppy did upon an aging adult dog. My kinetic movement and unbounded energy, I think made her nervous. She therefore made excellent use of the phrase, “idol hands are the Devil’s workshop”, with me. Anytime I got “underfoot”, I was handed a series of Bible verse to memorize, I couldn’t then and still can’t remember verses. Or, I’d be given a bushel basket of peas to shell, corn to shuck, clothes to fold, or dishes to wash or worst of all, squares to sew! I learned quickly to love the outdoors! But even when she shooed me away, she would reach into that apron pocket of hers and send me off with a piece of her wonderful hard candies. The only time Mama generally saw me during the day was at mealtime of which I think we were both grateful.

Under Mama’s watchful gaze, I was given invaluable lessons. Not the least those listed above but within those few short years I spent around her and then avoiding her, she taught me that love is irreplaceable, that family was everything and Self was only first when someone else’s love put you in that position. She taught me that prayer was centering and should be as much a part of my life as breathing. She taught me that strength was not noisy and that a lovingly made cake of sugar could weaken a stronger hand quicker than hitting it with a stick! I learned from her to value quiet times. She taught me to hold onto laughter even after the person who’d given it to you had left the room or your life.

I laugh now as I remember Mama at 78 or 79 coming into my sister’s and my bedroom on a Saturday afternoon and with her crippled leg hindering her not at all, crawling into and under a tent we had constructed from a sheet and four chairs. She brought with her to our tent a perfect picnic of Morton’s barbecue potato chips, Sunshine’s Applesauce Oatmeal cookies and Grapette soda. I didn’t even mind helping her to her feet or having to try and recite a Bible verse after she was again steady on her feet.

I remember how although Mama would fall fast asleep almost as soon Twilight fell, she would get up during the night, every night, to check on her sleeping granddaughters. She would stealthily and lovingly replace kicked off blankets, protecting us from the cold in winter and replaced errant sheets in the spring and summer keeping us as free as she could from insect bites, as we slept. If I closed my eyes and allow myself to drift backwards thru six decades and into the stillness of those nights, I would still be able to recall the sounds of her slippered feet as she quietly retreated from our bedroom; the clear tap of her right foot and the shsssss-la sound of her left foot, as she dragged it along the wooden floors. Far from being a sound that brought fear in the stillness, unwavering security lives within that sound instead.

Mama had been so fastidious in her efforts to keep our feet covered while we slept that I find myself now, unable to sleep with uncovered feet even during the hottest of nights. She has to be smiling at that admission!

As I grew older, I devoured any remembered tidbit of Mama that came within my earshot. Cousin Zee, an older relative from by father’s side of the family, took particular delight in sharing a story of Mama on one of her infrequent trips back home. She lovingly recalled how upon one visit, Mama had baked her favorite cake. She’d said that it wasn’t just that the cake was delicious, because it truly was, but that Mama had taken the time to beautifully decorate it. From a large cedar tree that grew in our front yard, Mama had taken some of the tiny cones or buds and cut pieces of fronds, washed them, brushed the buds in beaten egg white, coated them in sugar and decorated the circumference of the cake plate. She had used the fronds to make delicate and lacy impression in the cake frosting, presenting Zee with a one of a kind masterpiece.

But the memories I cherish most of Mama is the look on her face when her brother George and her sister Ola would visit. They would sit in our front porch swing and recall shared memories or their youth. Had I known that I would one day be called upon to record my memories, I would have worked all the harder to remember those conversations between those siblings. Although their conversations are lost to the whispers of time, I do recall the look of contentment on Mama’s soft unlined face as she sat and swung in sing-song rhythm of their voices; and contentment will always be the capstone of my Mama memories. She was always content. Another of her oft quoted scriptures came from Philippians 4:11-13 where the Apostle Paul writes: “…for I have learned…to be content.”

Mama fell asleep too early one evening and could not be made to rouse. An ambulance was dispatched to transport her to a hospital where she stayed for several weeks before her doctor informed us that there was nothing that could be done. He advised us to take her home and make her as comfortable as we could for as long as we could. Another ambulance was used to bring Mama back home. My mother took the care of her mother’s daily needs as a new life’s purpose.

Mama’s comatose state lasted throughout that spring and far into the summer. It was after one of Mother’s daily rituals of bathing, grooming and changing Mama’s bed linens and carefully making sure Mama stayed hydrated by using an eye dropper to put water into the corner of her mouth and then massaging her throat to coax the water down, that Mama spoke to Mother as she was leaving the room, laden with laundry. Mama’s voice elicited a shriek from my unsuspecting Mother and cause my sister and me to go running toward the sound!

Not only had Mama awakened, but was speaking in a clear unencumbered voice! She motioned for the three of us to come nearer as we were all frozen in our tracks! We settled around her bed and she began to tell us the most hauntingly and amazingly beautiful story.

She told us that she’d spent the time away from us in the presence of God. She had been shown her own lovely home there and that it was surrounded by the most glorious flowers. Flowers she’d never seen before and their fragrance was, well…heavenly. She said that the light in Heaven was brilliant but not blinding and that she didn’t have words to describe the sights and sounds she saw there! She told us that she had known a kind of happiness there that could never be found here, even surrounded by the love she knew we had for her. And despite of all of the beauty and happiness she’d found there, she’d asked for permission to return to us to say farewell, but not goodbye.

She reached out to touch her beloved daughter’s face and tried to catch her falling tears. Mama told her there were no tears in Heaven and there was no need to cry for her because she was going to go where she had looked forward to going all of her life. She told us that if we followed the tracks she had tried to leave us, we would see her again, healthy and whole. She reached for my sister’s hand, pulled her close and whispered words not meant for any of our ears. As my sister stepped away, crying uncontrollably, Mama took my hand and told me that I was wise beyond my years and would need that wisdom to guide me through some hard times in my life but, she continued, God would grant me new wisdom with each hurdle if I earnestly sought Him. (I couldn’t have possibly grasped the importance of what she told me that day however, I have come to cherish those gems she bestowed upon me that summer day, although then, I would have preferred she had told me where her stash of hard candies where hidden.)

After Mama had finished her conversations with us, she’d asked if we could push her bed closer to Papa’s, who had also become invalided. My last clear memory of Papa and Mama together was of them, lying in their identical hospital beds, surrounded by the few but treasured mementos spanning over 60 years, in the home they had built together, in the room in which they had brought their children into the world and raised them surrounded by unfaltering love, holding snarled and arthritic hands, saying whatever lifelong partners would say if given the unimaginable gift of a few extra minutes of time as Mama and Papa had been given. I glanced back at the two of them as we left that room and saw for the first time in my life, tears on Papa’s cheek…for the first time in a very long time, I wanted to stay underfoot, instead I ran outside and cried my own tears.

Mama closed her eyes for the last time 4 days later on August 17th, 1964 at 1:45 in the afternoon. Fifty-five days before the 10th anniversary of the day laughter left her life. I was not quite twelve weeks old when Mama stopped laughing and had just turned ten by 23 days when I believed her laughter returned.

That August afternoon had been a bright sun filled day. A day only East Texas could serve up! Known for its typically hot and overwhelming Gulf Coast humidity, that particular day was bathed in with an uncommonly cool breeze ridding the air of excessive heat and oppressive moisture. The breeze seemed to find its way down from the tops of the red and white Oaks, the Ash and Sycamores, the Elms and yes those cherished Pines and its cooling effect helped to soothe the sore heart of the four of us that day.

Papa, Mother and my sister sat together with Mama’s body and waited for the mortuary attendants to arrive and take her away. I stayed from underfoot by remaining outside. I watched to see if the breeze dancing through the leaves was strong enough to lift Mama’s soul and carried it to Heaven. I had convinced myself that the sole reason for that uncommon breeze was there singularly for that purpose. One of Mama’s favorite hymns and one she sang most mornings has a line that says, some glad morning when this life is over, I’ll fly away, to that place where joy shall never end, I’ll fly away…

I was a without doubt, certain that Mama’s soul had ridden the breeze to her new, flower surrounded home. From somewhere inside the house mournful cries reached my ears and I ran…I ran in the direction of the breeze, I ran looking up and waving, assured that Mama waved back as she went higher and higher away from us and this world which had been deprived of her laughter.

For the past 56 years, I know Mama has not experienced a day without laughter. I’m sure she had been met that long ago day in Heaven by her eldest and youngest sons and today, with the exception of my sister and me, they are all together. Before writing these recollections today, I called my sister and asked what she remembered most about Mama…(I had expected her to throw a shot to my ribs by reminding me that she was Mama’s favorite), but she surprised me by saying she remembered most how Mama prayed and loved being in church. I would add only how devoted she was to her family. In that area I’m pleased to say that I am like Mama…nothing gives me as much pleasure as peeking through the cracks and watching the interaction between my sons or watching them at play and in relaxed moments with their own sweet children.

On quiet days like today, a breeze is blowing through my neighborhood making it a day sweetly similar to that long past but enduringly remembered August day. Leaves are dancing on the trees and I think of Mama dancing. The sun, as I write, is high in the sky and shining brightly and I remember Mama describing how bright Heaven was with the only source of light coming from Jesus himself. Oh what laughter she must be sharing with all of her children, many of her grandchildren, great grandchildren and sadly a few of her great, great grandchildren. Mama and Papa, I must believe, is overlooking them all without a backwards glance.

When it’s my time to join in that true heavenly laughter I will follow that gleeful sound and find my place among my family. But until then, I’ll laugh for all the moments Mama could not. I’ll remember her smile and keep hard candy on hand. I will seek wisdom through prayer. I will ask God to guide my hands when I cook, I will keep trying to remember Bible verses…but Mama, I’m going to BUY my quilts!

With every soft breeze, I remember Mama….

Mama

Part One

Over the past months, I have written about various members of my family. Love ones who have made an indelible mark upon my life. Those extraordinarily strong and praiseworthy people who had little to give but gave everything and asked for nothing in return other than we, their progenies, live a life worth of dying for. There was one person from whom all our life lessons were centered. Whether she taught them directly or by example, her quiet reserve, her welcoming smile, her nonjudgmental and truly kind way of dealing with life was always unobtrusive yet always powerful. Her love for family was just as bright as a full moon on a darkened night. And like the Moon, claiming no light of her own, we saw the brilliance of her faith and although she has been away from us for many decades we, those of us blessed enough to remember her, still walk by her light and hope to leave behind us, a flicker of her life.. Please walk with me as I remember Mama.

They had been separated for over a year, but she had not given up hope.  They had broken up and come back together so many times that she had lost count.  Everyone had warned her that she should accept that it was over and go on with her life as he was trying to do.  She was not an idiot; she knew he kept coming back because of the pressure she exerted.  He was such a good man, it simply was not in him to intentionally hurt anyone and if she was going to be completely honest, it was her jealousy that caused their issues.  

Each time they had reconciled and split again, her depression and desperation increased. She knew he had begun seeing someone else after their first separation. He was so much fun to be around. Men and women equally, were drawn to his easy openness and inclusiveness. Whether he had known you all his life or had just met you, he made everyone feel as if they were the center of his universe. He was painfully good-looking yet, there was not a hint of conceit in him. Being a prankster, he loved a good joke and laughter was his first order of the day. He dwelt neither on the past or any disappointments. He counted them as lessons bought and paid for and moved on. She loved all those things about him, and she knew that the moment she had told him to get out, that he would and that he would not be single long.

He had moved on, and she was stuck wishing she could rewind the past 14 months. He had met someone else and they now had a little girl. It was the life she wanted with him. She had longed for a child with him and her secret desire had been to give him a daughter. She knew that a little girl would have been the center of his universe. She could envision the love on his face as he held her but now, that reality belonged to someone else and it was all her fault for pushing him away. But, she felt that there was still a glimmer of hope, even with the baby. She knew that he was not living with THAT woman and “her” baby, so there was still a chance and she was determined to take it, no matter what it cost her.

She wasn’t certain he would come even though he had given his word. She had felt some measure of accomplishment when she determined that it was because of her continued presence in his life that he had not yet married THAT woman. However, she had to admit that all of the times he had come by at her insistence, it had always ended badly. One more time, she thought she had one more time to get him back. She would make him see that they were meant to be together and she would accept the little girl and love her as much as he did.

She waited nervously for him, watching the clock and forcing herself understand that the bad weather raging outside was the reason he was late. The rain was blowing sideways and coming down in sheets. When the storm first began she had pulled out oil-filled lamps and placed them around the room just in case the power was lost. She had begun to pace back and forth in the small kitchen, while keeping an eye toward the front door which she had left unlocked. She prayed nothing would prevent him from coming, even though no one in their right mind should be out in this weather. Just as doubt began to tie knots in her stomach, she had heard something outside the kitchen door and turned toward the sound.

She rushed the two or three steps it took to reach the backdoor and there he stood soaked from head to toe!  Instinctively, she knew his mood would be as heavy as the storm raging outside.  If there was one thing that would darken his mood, besides her pleading, it would be rain.  He hated storms, he had once said that, they never brought anything good with them and almost always brought death and destruction in some way or another.  Just her damnable luck, her last chance and along with all the other odds against getting him back, she would now have to fight against Nature too.

Suddenly, she thought of all the little things she could have done instead of pacing.  She could have made a pot of hot coffee to help take the chill of the weather away.  She could have had a towel warmed and waiting for him or why hadn’t she made dinner?  Any of those little things could have made such a difference, could have softened those hard lines around his lips into a smile.  Still, she hoped he would hear her out and give some serious consideration to what she would ask.  Please God, just let him listen, she might even persuade him to stay until the storm passed, if only.

As she was closing the door a huge thunderclap rattled the house and simultaneously, lightning flashes crackled seeming directly overhead. She was right, his normal jovial, good-natured personality was nowhere in sight. He was soaked and a puddle of water formed at his feet. Even soaking wet and disheveled, he was still the most handsome man she had ever seen, and she had never tired of thinking about how lucky she had felt when she had finally caught his eye.

Their families had known each other long before either of them was born. No one in their families ever foresaw them becoming a couple. He had never ignored her; he had shown her the same amount of genuine interest he had shown everyone. They were total opposite in their personalities. She was pensive, serious, quiet, and given to melancholy. She would watch him from the edge of any group they would happen to find themselves, hoping he would sense how much she adored him,

He was the youngest in his family and was loved especially well. He and his brothers were all deeply handsome, however, she and almost every other young woman thought his parents had saved the best for last! Even as a teenager, people seemed to compete for his attention. He grew accustomed to being the center of attention although he never actually sought it. As a young boy, he would create and recite poems about different neighbors, not necessarily flattering poems nor vicious ones but, he knew reciting them would absolutely cause serious harm to his backside, he did it nevertheless because the thought of doing something slightly naughty and maybe getting away with it was just too tempting a proposition to ignore. He loved the laughter his silliness generated, and he loved making people happy.

She had come to believe that what they had gone through in their relationship was merely an extension of his boyish impetuousness and just like all the other people in his life, she was willing to forgive him anything.

She did not know how or why the conversation had turned so badly.  It felt to her that she had not said more than hello and he was reaching for the doorknob!

“I don’t know why you can’t just let this go. It was your decision for me to leave, so I left.” The second I stopped begging you to put this behind us and start over, you realized I was moving on with my life and you could not stand it! “It was your jealousy that created all this, but you don’t get another chance to tell me to go. We have been over this too many times and if I had known this was why you asked me here I would not have come, especially in this weather! I took my life in my hands trying to get here tonight and for what? Everybody begged me not to come here tonight, this time I should have listened! The only reason I came here is because you said there were important papers here, I should have known when you would not tell me what they were. It’s enough, I’M DONE. I do not hate you, but you need to get on with your life because I have.

There were voices screaming in her head, “don’t let him go, if you let him leave he’s going to go to her, you have to stop him from leaving!” She rushed toward him and reached for his arm and tried with all her might to pull him away from the door! When he wrenched his arm free from her grasp, she slipped in the puddle that had formed around at his feet. White hot anger ripped through her, matching the pain she had felt when her ribs hit the corner of the cabinet. She righted herself by pulling up on the kitchen table. HE WAS NOT LEAVING! SO, WHAT IF SHE HAD TOLD HIM TO LEAVE, SHE HAD APOLOGIZED! SHE HAD ADMITTED THAT SHE HAD BEEN WRONG, SHE HAD AGREED THAT THEIR ISSUES WERE HER FAULT! The last time she had told him to leave, she knew by the look in his eyes he would not be coming back. But the same anger she felt now, she had felt over a year ago when she had seen him talking to THAT woman… He had tried to explain to her that they were not talking about anything, they had not said much more than hello to each other. The woman had been in the parking lot with her twin sister and had asked him if he wasn’t a twin also? He had confirmed just as she had that they were both fraternal twins. Nothing more had been said beyond the rareness of having a second set of twins in their small community.

She had come upon them only in time to hear them laughing. It stung her to hear that wonderful deep chest, all engaging laughter of his being directed at someone else. It belonged to her; it was his laughter that had first attracted her. He just seemed to squeeze every bit of fun and excitement from the air around him and freely shared it with whomever was nearest. She never wanted anyone close enough to him to share in his laughter, it belonged only to her; and that was what brought them here, to this stormy night. She had not heard his laughter since that night so many months ago. She knew she was pushing him too far, but she could not stop herself, not now. Then like now, it was not supposed to happen. She knew her falling was not his fault, but her anger would not yield to reason! As she pulled herself up her hand was mere inches from a large butcher’s knife, his in fact, he worked as a butcher with his father and twin brother and had left his set of knives there when he had left.

From somewhere far away, there was screaming. Terror filled, heartrending screaming! There was blood joining the puddle of water on the floor, actually there was more blood than water! Who had screamed, she wondered? How had she cut herself and how could she be bleeding this much and not feel anything? She was no longer angry; her vision had cleared. Perhaps now when he saw that she was bleeding, he would stay to make sure she was alright. But, he was lying on the floor in HER blood…he must have fallen too.

The knife that had been next to her hand when she had pulled herself up from the floor was now on the floor next to him. She checked her hands and they were covered in blood, but she saw no cuts…the last few seconds seemed like hours as pictures flashed across her mind. As her mind replayed the past few moments she saw herself screaming, and it was not her blood, IT WAS HIS! WHAT HAD HAPPENED? She willed herself to recall what she was sure she would never want to recall. She saw, rather recalled plunging the knife at his face, as he’d turned quickly away the blade of the knife missed his beautiful face and plunged just above his collar bone…THE BLOOD WAS HIS NOT HERS AND HE WASN’T MOVING! His eyes stared unblinkingly and accusingly at her. Blood was pouring both from the wound in his neck and his mouth. Her scream now played in unison with the ear shattering thunder and shivers ran through her, what have I done, what have I done, WHAT HAVE I DONE????

Through some act or mercy an ambulance had been called and the attendants had worked there on her kitchen floor trying to stabilize his bleeding. They’d cut away the vivid blue shirt he had been wearing to reach that awful gaping wound. Somehow they had managed to staunch the blood flow but could give her no assurance as to his chances, he had been bleeding too long and had lost a lot of blood. It had taken them much longer to arrive because of the storm. If he were to have any chance for survival at all, they needed to get him to the hospital without delay!

She never heard anything more. She did not know if he was alive or not. Four hours passed and she, unable to do anything else, drove to the hospital. There was no patient there by his name! He had to be there, maybe he was still in the operating room; he had been brought in because of a knife wound. Could she please check with someone else? The bored and bothered receptionist, explained to her that no patient could reach the operating room without first being registered and since she was the one to register patients, she would know if there was a patient there by his name, and there most assuredly was not! Refusing to be put off, she asked the receptionist to please check her register just in case she had been away when they brought him in. The receptionist told her there had only been two patients that evening, and they were ambulance attendants who had been involved in an accident a few miles from the hospital. Darkness surrounded her, the screaming started again and she heard footsteps running toward her then they too, faded in the darkness.

When she came to, with the aid of smelling salts, she was yelling, HE WAS IN THE AMBULANCE, HE WAS IN THE AMBULANCE!!!! As the nurse and doctor attending her tried to calm her down, she pleaded for their help. She explained that the person she had come looking for had been picked up over 4 hours ago with a knife wound to his neck. She told them that two ambulance attendants had picked him up from her home and was to have brought him to the hospital. The doctor and nurse exchanged worried looks with each other. He instructed the nurse to stay with her as he went to check the condition of the attendants. One, the less seriously injured had been taken to surgery to set a broken shoulder, and had awaken sufficiently enough to question. The doctor relayed the story he had just been told and waited rather impatiently for an answer to come.

The doctor ran back to the lobby telling to the receptionist to call the Sheriff quickly! When the Sheriff arrived, the attendant confirmed the woman’s story. A patient had been onboard before the crash. It was confirmed that he was a stabbing victim. Concern and fear registered upon each of their faces. The Sheriff ran from the hospital pulling on his rain slicker and hat as he went, “when would this damnable rain stop,” he wondered. Reaching the car, he radioed his deputy, the one who had first come upon the accident scene and told him to walk the area around the crash site; there was a patient missing.

With flashlight in hand, the deputy walked about a 25-yard diameter around the crash site and finally came upon what appeared to be the body of a male Negro, approximately 30 years old, face down and thought to be deceased. He had been thrown from the back of the ambulance at impact and had landed several yards and down in a ditch from the actual crash site. The deputy had happened upon the crash scene with no reason to believe there had been a patient onboard and because both attendants had been rendered unconscious, no one knew until the woman had come to the hospital, that a patient was missing.

Miraculously, he still had a weak pulse. No one could explain how he had lived so long after having been stabbed and thrown from the ambulance. The doctor had said he was fairly certain he could have survived the grievous stabbing had he not sustained the additional injuries suffered in the crash. He died 2 days later.

Mama was as close as one could come to an Angel on earth. Born in the first generation of freedmen, she had many reasons to be bitter about life, but she spoke evil of no one or nothing. Her sweet kindness would not allow her to even kill an insect. She had seen so many killings in her life that she felt every life, even that of a insect had value. She would catch any wayward insect who had found itself trapped in her home and release it back outside from which it had come. All of God’s creatures had a right to live and since she had not been given the power over life she had no right to exercise strength over death, neither did anyone else.

Mama had suffered through any number of painful losses. Beginning with the death of her first son. Killed in his late teens by his cousin over a woman who had meant no good to either of them. Nothing was ever done to the man who had killed her son primarily because she could not bear to have her cousin, the man’s mother, suffer the same loss as she. So, she had swallowed her pain, prayed, and trusted God to bring happiness back into her life.

The love of Mama’s life, Papa, had loved her son as his own and had raised him as such. Even when she had become pregnant with their first child together Mama had never seen Papa treat them any differently. And so, they had four children together. A son born in 1919, a daughter three years later in 1922 and 3 years later still, twin fraternal boys in 1925. Many who had known her for years said the laughter had left her soul when her son was killed. Although she often wore a smile, the warmth of which could melt ice, no one could remember hearing her laugh. That was, not until her youngest, impish, nothing too outlandish for a laugh son, the youngest of her twin boys was born. Her prayers had been answered and laughter returned and stayed, until the early weeks of October 1954.

Her precious baby boy, the one who had taught her again to laugh freely, the one who would not leave the house until he had teased her laugh from her, the one who it seemed God had sent to prove she was worth healing. She absolutely loved all her children but there was something special about him and it did not inspire feelings of jealousy among his siblings. On the contrary, they loved him with such fierceness that any punishment he might have earned, they would take for him. He never took advantage of their love for him, he just wanted everyone to be happy and he’d do whatever he thought was needed to make laughter reverberate around their farmhouse, even if it meant trouble for him. And his Mama laughed, just thinking about him made her laugh, until that day, October 11, 1954. The day she learned he had died, 22 days before his 29th birthday.

Mama’s laughter was turned off yet again. I had been born the youngest of 5 the summer before my Uncle died. Since I fell into the same birth order as he, he had seen fit to dote upon me, the youngest child of his only sister. Oh, how he loved teasing her. He often drove her to distraction but the love between them was unmistakable. I was but 2 months and 2 weeks old when he was killed or as his death certificate stated, suffered an accidental death with other significant condition-namely-stab wounds. Be that as it may, Mama mourned, and Papa and his boys fumed.

There was talk and threats of revenge. My deceased uncle’s twin brother and his eldest brother would not listen to reasonable pleas to rethink their plans. But, with Papa not joining his voice to the chorus for calmer heads, they felt emboldened by his silence. Mama rocked and prayed. She did not try to keep busy or present a stoic face, she simply rocked with her arms hugging herself and prayed.

Papa and his remaining sons sent word to anyone they trusted to carry a message that the woman who killed their son and brother would be left alone as long as she stayed away from them. And if she valued her life, she was not to show her face at the Wake or Funeral. If she did, they warned, her destiny would be decided by a fate far quicker than the one my uncle suffered.

Shotguns and rifles had been cleaned, oiled, and loaded. The long guns were to be the accessories to their mourning suits. Surely the woman would not dare come knowing no one would protect her! No one had shown any empathy for her, no one wanted to hear her side of the story, if indeed one existed. Her family members, including her Mother and Father, warned that she would be taking her life into her hands if she had any notion of going near his family. (…and so, began the tradition of loaded weapons attending the funeral of family members. I would not do myself any kindness by admitting to whether I have continued this tradition. However, since it has been more that four decades hence, I will admit that upon the funeral of my second twin Uncle in 1978, I did carry forth the tradition, I had thought perhaps a need might have presented itself. Beyond that, I claim nothing.)

The day of the funeral arrived and as the crowd assembled in the church’s yard, preparing for the possessional inside, a car pulled over just to the front of the church. The window was slowly rolled down and there appeared the face of the woman. Papa and his sons turned toward the car and aimed their weapons directly at the passenger window where she sat. All three were prepared to fire and would have had not Mama stepped from behind her husband, her daughter and two remaining sons and put herself between the long guns and the woman. In defiance of every human emotion she walked toward the car that carried the woman who had for all intents, killed her laughter by killing her son. For the second time in her life, a woman was responsible for taking away a son and her lightness of heart. Many in the crowd wondered if she too carried a gun, perhaps a revolver in her purse. Everyone braced themselves for what was surely about to be a showdown between Mama and the woman who had set in motion a chain of events that claimed her son’s life, but the woman had been warned, no one dared move.

There was created an unnatural hush, a hush quieter than that which usually attended funerals as Mama reached for and opened the car’s passenger door. As the door opened, the woman seemingly had a moment of clarity and shrank back from Mama’s reach. Mama offered her hand and helped the woman exit the car. Once out, she became beside herself, openly weeping in agony in the face of the unimaginable mercy and grace of which Mama offered her that day. Through the quietness everyone could hear the moment Papa’s broken shotgun snapped into working order and was brought to the ready.

Mama, all of 140 pounds and stretching desperately to reach 5’4”, stood defiantly in front of the white hot anger and pain of the remaining men of her family. No one spoke as Mama’s wrapped her arms protectively around the woman’s waist and positioned herself directly behind the casket bearing her laughter and followed it inside the church.

Oh, how I would love to claim to be like my grandmother. How I desire to be able to allow the wonderful attributes of Christ to shine through me as Mama did. Her DNA makes up as much of mine as Papa’s, yet I have to work at forgiveness even though I have been forgiven. I must work at being merciful even though I have been shown mercy. I wish I were as caring, as faithful, as prayerful, as trusting and as strong as Mama…but, I am not.

Mama…to be continued.

YES SIR, ONCE UPON A COW

Papa, Pop-Pee & Mr. W

Papa had very little free time when he was still actively working full time on the farm. It was truly an “early to bed and early to rise” with a couple meals in between life which occupied his days. As his life’s progression pressed upon him and an unofficial retirement was thrust upon him, boredom sought to become his companion. He spent many long hours sitting on our front porch with only the positioning of his arms and head changing periodically. Sometimes he’d sit upright with his hands clasped behind his head, looking off into the distance seeing something I either couldn’t see or was not allowed to see. Other moments he’d sit with his clasped hands resting on his thighs with his head bowed. I’d asked him once if he was praying or if he was sad and he’d pull me inside his arms and say, “neither.” He’d say he was “just studying on things.” I wish now that I had pressed him on what things he was studying. The conversations we might have had if I had been older and had the foresight to enter into what could have been wisdom-filled conversations.

Apparently, Mother had been watching Papa, (her father), studying also. She had the wisdom and forethought that most loving mothers and daughters possessed. Somehow, without asking she diagnosed and prescribed the prefect solution to Papa’s doldrums and she did so without ever saying a word to him or asking his permission because he would have surely vetoed her machinations. Papa had begun to sink deeper into loneliness and isolation. One would think that loneliness automatically sought company, but too often it is quite the opposite. As loneliness becomes a constant in life, it seems to create a natural vacuum of isolation and that isolation becomes a door in which to hide behind or to keep others away. Mother was simply unmatched in reading the needs of those she loved. So, her solution was to call Pop-Pee and invite him to spend the morning indulging in all the coffee and Pound Cake he could handle while whiling away the morning playing Dominoes with Papa.

Pop-Pee & Mr. W

Pop-Pee was the most prickly, grumpiest, lovable little curmudgeon ever to travel the Piney Woods. Born 57 years before me, we were equals in our desire to keep all out except for some family and close friends. Neither of us cared much about making new friendships and was ill at ease with strangers, well, I was ill at ease whereas Pop-Pee simply preferred not to be bothered. A man of very few words but spoke volumes with his expressions. However, none of those expressions said, “Let’s get to know each other.” If he had not known you or your family for decades, there was no need for him to get know you. Even though he wasn’t easy to get to know, once you were reluctantly allowed to crawl underneath his heart, you belonged to him. Standing just barely Five feet four inches, with rich, dark brewed coffee-colored skin, Pop-Pee was a walking, talking enigma.

It was an exercise in futility to attempt to win an argument with Pop-Pee, simply because he wouldn’t argue. He had one pat expression that closed all attempts at reasoning, “No such a thing!” If there was anything or statement of which he did not agree, he would simple utter that phrase and the conversation, for all intents and purposes, was over. No matter the correctness or the logic, it did not matter to Pop-Pee, it was simply, “No such a thing.” The good Lord himself might surely have been stymied and confounded by his own little servant’s resoluteness and outright stubbornness. But stubbornness and all aside…Pop-Pee was my very dear friend. Afterall, how many five-year olds could boast of having had such a wonderful relationship with their very own leprechaun?

Pop-Pee had an insatiable love of all things sweet. His favorite meal replacement was a Honey Bun, which is a fried yeast pastry, containing cinnamon and a sugary glaze. Vanilla ice cream and Pound cake elbowed for second place in his junk food life. Each of these items contained more than a fair share of dairy products, either eggs, milk or butter…none of which Pop-Pee, supposedly, would allow past his lips! So, it was with a smile of resolution when we would serve him heaping helpings of Foremost ice cream sitting atop an inch-thick slice of Mother’s heavily egg and butter laden Pound cake. Everyone else within our family accepted this idiosyncrasy of Pop-Pee’s, everyone except me. I was the child Mother always described as one who would argue with a signpost; my response to that was, “But, Mother, if the signpost is wrong, shouldn’t we argue?” Well, Pop-Pee was my living and breathing signpost. You could present a fact, but the signpost would not change itself, neither would Pop-Pee.

“Pop-Pee, this cake has 10 eggs and a pound of butter,” I challenged him once. “No such a thing,” he answered. “Yes Sir, it does. I got them from the hen house yesterday for Mother and she put them all in the cake!” “No such a thing!” “And Pop-Pee, there’s milk in the ice cream.” “No such a thing,” he had mumbled while shoveling another spoonful of cake and ice cream into his mouth. I don’t know which one of us was more exasperated with the other. Ten out of ten times I would finally just stare at him with all manner of disrespectful thoughts filling my head and he would sit and smile his very tight and contained smile while meeting my stare head on. In all the years that I’d known Pop-Pee, I had never known him to lose himself in laughter, but he always had an ever-present, mischievous twinkle in his eyes. He lovingly put up with me being five and I accepted that he was just addle-minded where butter, milk and eggs were concerned but that bit of oddness was not enough to toss him aside, actually it made me adore him all the more, he changed for no one. We loved each other, that Old Man and me.

I didn’t know Mr. W as well as I knew Pop-Pee but since Pop-Pee allowed him into his small circle of friends then he was O.K. with me. Mr. W was tall and slender, at least he was taller than both Papa and Pop-Pee. Mr. W had a complexion almost completely opposite of Pop-Pee’s, and that was about the extent of my knowledge of him. He was the quietest one of the three and had what I considered to be a sadness about him. There was nothing of which I had any personal knowledge that would account for my assumption of Mr. W and I never had reason to changed it.

Pop-Pee and Mr. W lived less than a half country mile from each other thereby, once a week for at least 2 years, perhaps 3, on Monday mornings, Pop-Pee would pick up Mr. W in his circa 1949-50 Ford sedan in order to compete in a Domino Marathon which took place on our front porch, mostly rain or shine. With Pop-Pee driving at his break-neck speed of 20 mph, the normally 5 to 10-minute trip would take 20 to 30 minutes. But, to compensate for the minutes lost to the drive-time, Pop-Pee would pick up Mr. W at 7:30 in order to reach our farm by 8:00. Mother made sure to keep the coffee hot.

Three of a Kind & Big 6 Down!

Regardless of how long it took them to arrive, Papa had begun to look forward to this break in his interminably long week. There was no need to urge him to rise and shave. He was washed, dressed and prepared to meet his buddies with no prompting whatsoever. He took charge of moving the little wooden table from its resting place in our hallway onto the front porch. He also made sure that the 2 ladder-back, rawhide bottomed chairs were placed at the table along with a wooden bench. All were placed at the far end of our comfortably, shaded front porch. The position he chose held a perfect vantage point to not only greet visitors but also to see any visitor’s advancement toward our property.

In spite of their ages, these elderly men did not dawdle or toddle. Their steps were firm and assured even if their strides were shorter. They would exit from Pop-Pee’s sedan and exercise in a bit of stretching and once all of their bits fell back into place, giving thanks to gravity, they were fully ready to “sit” again and devote themselves to the little domino table.

***

There were no kindergarten classes offered within our school district therefore, school did not begin for us until the age of six, generally speaking. Because of that minor detail in our educational system, I was on hand to witness the slow motion Big 6 Domino Marathon. The game that separated men from boys. The game that allowed for “trash-talking” which held no real danger of being interrupted by fisticuffs. It was a game that challenged one to not only determine which dominoes where being held in the opponents hands but to also anticipate 3 or 4 moves in advance and calculate how the dominoes you held could either end the game quickly by sewing up the game (blocking the board whereby no moves where possible) or by setting up a play whereby dominoing (playing all the dominoes in your hand before your opponents) is assured and scoring as many points as possible while also garnering the points of the other players by counting the actual spots of the dominoes they were left holding. Dominoes is not a simple game of chance; it is indeed a game of mental skill. Scoring is not always the ultimate goal but playing while hopefully, allowing your opponent little to no opportunity to affect the gameplay is ideal. There are many fine nuances to the game of Dominoes, one should not conclude that it is a simple game of matching spots. I would even venture to suggest that the game of Dominoes is the Poor Man’s Chess.

It goes without saying that I was thoroughly fascinated by both the game itself and the manner in which it allowed for opposition and camaraderie, simultaneously. I stood between Papa’s legs, watched his plays and learning the game. I had not yet learned to count beyond 20, but by George, I learned to count the spots on the board and to multiply by 5 all without realizing that these three old gents had taught me third grade math science before I’d learned first grade math skills. I became so adept at the game that often, even after I had started school, I was often absent on Mondays in order to provide a partner to one of the Three. At five, I was officially adopted into the Three Old Men Club and nothing or no one, not even Mother, could challenge my right to sit at their little table! I had full and complete Club rights with the exception of being able to partake in their leisurely cups of coffee…but I did have my own slice of Pound cake. My love of Pound cake goes arm and arm with my love for those Three Old Gents, Dominoes and trash talking.

They taught me so many life lessons without seeming to do so. Beyond the very early and advanced Mathematics education, I learned that men naturally responded in a positive way when spoken to in a particular manner. (It has worked when I’ve applied it in marital situations, but I’ll admit, that it generally grates against my nature, so I only use it when the situation absolutely calls for it and eye-rolling at myself always follows.) I learned that the type of women men generally appreciated laughing with, sharing jokes with and flirting with were very different from the women men ultimately trusted to prepare their suppers and with whom they preferred waking up. Actually, I learned that there was a difference between sleeping with and waking up with a person. Ok, so I learned that waking up with a person was a longer commitment than sleeping with a person, the fine points of which took a decade or so to understand. I learned that Miss Maude, Miss C and my Mama were the kind of women worth waking up to. I didn’t know if either of these three men went to sleep with anyone they didn’t wake up with, and I didn’t yet know how that would be possible but at this point in my life, I prefer believing that they never did, (ok, that eye-roll thing just totally happened without my permission)! Now, the woman who enters the next paragraph, I sort of believe was not the type of woman that any of them would have preferred to wake up to.

Very vividly I recall a Sunday afternoon in the spring of 1960. Unexpected visitors stretched the confines of our farmhouse to its limits. People occupied the TV area, watching and listening to Dizzy Dean and Pee Wee Reese calling play by play of some baseball game or another. Every available space around our huge kitchen table was occupied with one person even sitting in the window which opened to the back of the table. The back porch didn’t escape occupation either, it was mostly taken over by kids of my sister and brother’s age. Even a couple of the bedrooms had become refuge for those who couldn’t force a fit into the TV room or the Kitchen. Only the front porch was spared overcrowding and that’s possibly because Papa and Pop-Pee had staked their claim on that particular territory while sitting at the little domino table, preparing for a three-person game, me being the third person. I found their company infinitely more appealing and chose to remain with them and there I stayed until a mid to late fifties, more than ample, more than full-bodied female walked out onto the front porch without invitation and began talking to Papa and Pop-Pee, ignoring me altogether. I suppose Papa believing something untoward was about to or could happen, sent me on an errand to bring back a glass of water. The female had planted herself firmly within the front doorframe thereby blocking my exit back from the kitchen onto the porch. Undaunted, I backed up two or three steps and entered my Papa’s bedroom which was situated directly off the front porch and had two tall and low hung windows which opened unto the porch. I stepped out of one of the windows just in time to see the female lift her very large dress which revealed fold after fold after fold of wobbly flesh producing a full-frontal visual attack upon both Papa and Pop-Pee!

(I’d since learned that she gained great, howbeit sad, pleasure from the shock value of her actions.) I was dumbstruck! I wondered who and when would someone on this heretofore sacred ground punish this woman for doing something so unholy! I wasn’t allowed to even get out of the bathtub without being fully wrapped, neck to knees! I wondered if she wore no panties because there were none large enough to contain her. Thank Heaven and guiding Angels that her many folds prevented anything else from being revealed! I looked desperately toward Papa and Pop-Pee who were not aware that I had returned to the porch from behind them. Would they chastise this woman? Papa pursed his lips tightly, tilted his head to the left as he squinted and looked askance toward the floor. Pop-Pee came as close as I’d ever seen him come to laughing aloud! Other thoughts were niggling at my mind trying to make sense of this scene playing out in front of me, but my thoughts were interrupted by Pop-Pee’s voice addressing Papa, “Well Bob, have you ever seen anything like it?” Papa, with his head still down and without missing a beat replied, “Yes Sir, I have…Once Upon A Cow!

I can’t be sure she heard Papa’s comparison of her exposed body parts to that of a cow, (Papa long before had a successful career as a butcher, so I trusted his assessment), but her dress went down immediately and she left the porch without delay. Her attempt to either seduce or shock was lost upon those old gents and with that vision, my first and final lesson in “it takes all kinds,” was complete, nothing more needed to ever be added. I didn’t understand all or even most of what had transpired in front of me that day but seeing Pop-Pee almost fall to open laughter made me giggle then and has each and every time that day has come to remembrance and the few times of which I’ve come face to face or face to tail with a bovine of a particular weight, I’ve picked up where Pop-Pee left off and let rip sinus clearing laughter!

It was all so much more than Dominoes and I’ve never found another club worth joining. My Grandmother’s acknowledgment that no one is ever dead who is remembered gives me satisfaction that The Three still lives:

Papa 1881-1968 Pop-Pee 1897-1979 Mr. W 1899-1990 Me 1954 – Still living to tell their stories

Papa, Pop-Pee and Mr. W, I know you don’t like playing a three-person game so save me a seat at your table against the day when I’ll join you again, when our game can resume and remember…No Cows Allowed! I’m sending each of you a table full of my thanks and twice as much of my love.

Just sign me…The Fourth Member of your Three Member Club. ❤️

!Safer at Home!

Thinking of the Thousands, young and old, lost to Covid-19

Tall Tales About a Short Man

Several years before Chinee passed away, while having one of our weekly gabfests in which Papa, our grandfather was the subject, I mentioned Papa’s height as being somewhere around 6’1” or 6’2”. I heard the Chinee’s familiar belly deep laugh spreading across the 1800 miles distance and although I was always thrilled to hear his infectious laughter, I couldn’t imagine the reason for it this time.

When he’d finally regained his composure, he breathlessly informed me that Papa was a “short” man. I could tell by his breathing that he was threatening at any moment to break out in loud guffaws again. I needed to think. I didn’t want to abruptly end our telephone conversation but Chinee could not have known that he’d just sent me into an emotional tailspin. Almost every one of my memories of Papa centered around his physical statue. Surely, a man with such a strong presence, one who commanded and received respect from all races and ages would also have the height and bodily physique to bolster those admirable attributes, wouldn’t he?

Could Hercules have been a hero without the corporeal features we’ve become so familiar with through Greek mythology? Some erstwhile scholars had surmised that Samson, of Biblical fame, was disarming physically because his strength owed nothing to his appearance. Despite the pictures presented to us in early childhood Bible stories, those same scholars reasoned that no one would have been surprised at all by the strength of a towering, muscle-bound hunk of a man. Therefore, Samson must have been a man who, beyond an awesome head of hair, had little to account for his physical strengths. Because of their scholarly assertions, I’ve had to refocus my views of Samson and thanks to Chinee, so did I also of Papa.

Before bidding Chinee a farewell in that particular phone call, I gathered enough nerve to ask him how tall he thought Papa had been. He reasoned that Papa could have been no taller than 5’7” or 5’8” and that might have been a generous approximation. Having reached my full height of 5’5” at around the age of 13, I was just a little crestfallen to think that the Hercules in my life had turned out to be my Samson. No matter, for if Papa were here standing next to me today and I was 6’5” and he 5’5”, I’d still be looking up at him! I hope you enjoy the stories in my next series of tall tales about my short Papa.

It was probably around 10 or 10:30 in the morning because Papa had already made his first rounds of the fields, fed the animals, curried our horse and was, judging by some of the sounds coming from the kitchen, having a second or third cup of coffee and a very lively discussion with Mama. Mama had already visited her kitchen garden and gathered onions, okra and other vegetables to be used in the noon day meal we East Texans used to call dinner. The sounds of their discussion were being spoken in low but agitated hushed tones so I could not make out what they were saying but I supposed that it wasn’t meant for me to hearw. It was summer and Chinee, as normal, was spending part of the summer with relatives some sixty to eighty or so miles away in Beaumont and Port Arthur and my sister was had gone to town with Mother.

At the very moment that my curiosity gained enough confidence to allow me to eavesdrop on Papa and Mama’s conversation, I was liberated from the compulsion by a call of, “Ooo, Con’ Robert, there,” coming from the front yard. I recognized the caller voice as belonging to one of Papa’s good friend, Con’ Gene. Papa’s chair scrape against the kitchen floor as he pushed back to get up from our large, oversized kitchen table. I was all set to join Papa in the long hallway which began directly off our front porch, intersected the main rooms of our house and ended in the kitchen but Papa had chosen a more indirect route by exiting the house via our back porch which was immediately off the kitchen. I had to hurry in order to catch him since he’d already cleared the backsteps and I was only able to catch up to him by jumping off the back porch and avoiding the steps altogether. Mama’s warning for me to stop running made its way to my ears only after my feet had left the porch and before landing a perfect 10 on the ground mere inches behind Papa! Success! I wouldn’t have miss anything that was said between Papa and Con’ Gene after all!

There were few things better when I was growing up than to be permitted into “Grown Folks” conversations especially when you were the youngest and most good things were kept from you either by conspired adult secrecy or as I was later to learn, by adults speaking their Grown Folks language called “Talking Over Their Heads” which could be accomplished by using double entendre or by communicating beyond the level of comprehension of the wayward listener, of which I was on this specific day.

As Papa narrowed the distance between the backyard and the front, I like an overly excited puppy, was right on his heels. Papa was mumbling under his breath, words I’d usually heard him use when the last 10-penny nail he was hammering would bend just as he was trying to finish up whatever project on which he was working, especially if it was the last nail. He’d use the same murmurings when he’d miss the nail entirely and the hammer would land on his thumb instead. I’d also heard him toss out the same rendering when Ole Mack, the farm’s plow horse and Papa’s 1-horse powered transportation, would become temperamental under the bit and behave more like a jackass than a stallion. Oh Yes indeed, in case you’re wondering, Papa could curse a blue streak and shame any country preacher and I’d heard him do so more than once especially when he didn’t know I was nearby. I’m not certain if he had been aware of my presence that day but even so, he was saying something akin to, “Concern, the Concern, the CONCERNED LUCK!!!!” At least that’s what it sounded like to me and whether those were the actual words or not, I have on many occasions adopted their usage when more colorful words would not have been appreciated.

On this particular morning, not only had Papa’s normally light cinnamon colored skin taken on a deeper ruddiness, speaking clearly to the fact that something had him fairly upset and which also served as a warning to most people but his forehead had deep furrows and a frown was sat upon his face. Papa’s normally slow deliberate steps were also different because he was walking with such speed that his one unbuttoned overalls shoulder strap was almost flying horizontally behind him. Something had surely angered him this morning yet, Papa hadn’t been hammering and to my knowledge Ole Mack had been on his best behavior. Maybe his use of those words had more to do with whatever he and Mama had been discussing prior to Con’ Gene’s greeting. They hadn’t sounded angry with each other yet here was Papa overtaking the several yards from back to front in a record few steps and me running to keep up with him.

As I think back, perhaps he didn’t know I was behind him until his sudden stop at the front gate caused me to collide with his backside. He reached out to steady me and then lifted me up in his arms as he exited the front gate and entered the wide driveway of our house.

Con’ Gene was maneuvering his two mules and the slide so that he was now facing back the way he’d come. (A slide was wagon without wheels, usually used to haul heavy items and could save the difficult effort of having to lift items the additional two to three extra feet in height which wagon wheels would add. It was a common tool on farms and was especially useful in field work whereby produce and sacks of feed would not have to be lifted or barrels of water could be easily loaded, filled and hauled into fields to irrigate crops during dry spells. A slide could also be counted on not to get bogged down in soft earth).

I can scarcely remember a time when Con’ Gene wasn’t on his slide, appearing as a Captain upon his bridge, giving commands to Jenny and Black Gal, his two mules. Just as Papa sidled up next to the slide, Con’ Gene yelled out, “Whoa there, Black Gal!” I thought he was making reference to having seen me run headlong into Papa’s rear-end. He and Papa offered gruff sounding greetings to each other which puzzled me. Why on earth did all three adults standing on this farm today seem angry or upset with hardly any words having been spoken? Con’ Gene looked at me, still in Papa’s arms, and greeted me with, “Mornin Big Eyes.” I determined I didn’t like that name any more than I’d liked it when I thought he was calling me Black Gal but since Papa wasn’t frowning anymore I forgave him instantly as Papa slid me back to the ground and just as he did, Black Gal nipped at me! I further decided, then and there, that I didn’t like her…and tried to gather enough nerve to walk around her in order to reach Jenny who seemed to have a nicer disposition, at least she wasn’t braying and pulling against her harness.

I listened as Con’ Gene and Papa talked about their animals, mules and horses, specifically. Their conversation wasn’t exciting enough to keep me completely enthralled although I did manage to pick up snippets here and there. It all sounded so mundane to my, as yet, untrained ears especially owning to my inability at age 5, to decipher the Adults only language.

Con’ Gene mentioned something about another mule at home in his kitchen, (but I thought he only had these two), and why and how if he had another one, would he leave it at home in his kitchen? And why would Miss Allie even allow a mule in her kitchen anyway? That was just almost unbelievable…I’d have to ask Papa about this later because while I had been granted the opportunity to stay with these two men during their conversation, I would not be welcomed to comment on it. I was more than happy to wait until Papa, and I were alone again to ask him about the mule in Con’ Gene’s kitchen. But just as I was about to happily skip away to some other more interesting pursuit, I heard Papa say that his mare wasn’t so wind broken that she couldn’t stir things up in his house too. What… was… he… talking… about??? Neither Mama or Mother had she been home, would have allowed Papa to bring a horse in the house and besides, Ole Mack was a gelding which meant he was a boy and not a mare which was a girl! At this point, I had to agree with a sentiment I’d often heard other women declare, “MEN!” These two men were certainly hard to make sense of although that last comment of Papa’s seemed to have taken the angry edge from both of their voices. As they continued to laugh and talk about their mules and mares, I took great pains to stay away from the working end of Black Gal! I truly believed that it was she who had the bad temper and not the mule Con’ Gene had left in his kitchen! Every time I tried to walk around her to reach Jenny, she would again nip at me. At some point the men stopped talking about their beasts of burden and began watching my antics. I didn’t want to leave Papa’s field of vision, but I dearly wanted to say howdy to Jenny. Frustrated, I blurted out to Con’ Gene as to whether he would please leave Black Gal at home next time and bring the mule he’d left in his kitchen. I don’t know why my question left them both doubled over in boisterous laughter and if my life had depended upon it, I could not have explained what had caused it. But in that very exact moment, Mama appeared on the front porch calling out a greeting and inquiring of Con’ Gene’s wife. “I left her piddlin around the kitchen, so I reckon she’s better since I left,” was his reply. Papa looked over his shoulder toward the front porch where Mama stood and asked her to bring Con’ Gene a dipper of water. Con’ Gene gave his thanks but declined the offer saying he needed to head toward home, or Allie would be upset about having to hold up dinner.

I was sorely disappointed to see them leave so soon because I’d still not had a clear opportunity to reach Jenny and because Papa’s scowl was beginning to return. As Con’ Gene pulled away, Mama told Papa that she had set the table for dinner. She’d said that Chicken and Dumplings, Fried Okra, Cornbread and Buttermilk (Cush-Cush) and blackberry cobbler would grace his table, the frown left Papa’s face and a smile found his lips. Papa picked me up again and we followed Mama into the house and as she had promised, we found the table laden with her wonderful dishes and a basin of warm water, soap and a towel for which Papa and I were to use to wash before feasting.

After we had thanked God for His bounty and asked His benevolence for those less fortunate, and as Mama ladled steaming helpings Chicken and Dumplings onto our plates, I’d asked Papa if he thought Miss Allie would have gotten the mule out of the kitchen in time to cook Con’ Gene’s dinner? Papa almost spit out whatever he had put into his mouth and Mama folded her arms across her bosom and with a mild look of consternation, cast in both of our direction, suddenly and without any reason I could determine, both roared in unmeasured laughter…

…Still laughing, Papa reached over and patted my head and I, after being thoroughly baffled by adults for at least the last couple of hours, decided to be quiet, to be still and just eat. I didn’t want to be laughed at any more today or the week for that matter. Maybe I’d remember to recount my story to my sister when she returned, and I could ask her what she thought had been so funny to these adults today. But regardless of why they had laughed, Papa was no longer murmuring under his breath, Mama was no longer obsessively washing the same pan over and over and HOPEFULLY, Con’ Gene and Miss Allie were enjoying an equally wonderful and laughter-filled supper.

…. Chickens Crowing ain’t always a bad thing is it Papa?

Musings of a Self Imposed Shut-In

Helloooooo from way over here in the isolated section of my bedroom! Nope, I’m not sick, merely self-isolated. If you’re like me and trying to follow the advice of the Scientific Community by Staying In, then you’re probably also like me and maybe just on the verge of needing a half pill of Xanac just to cope with being shut-in! I never desire to do anything as badly as when I’m told I can’t! One of the things I adore doing most is roaming the aisles of grocery markets. Even when traveling, I don’t care much at all about sightseeing; my first stops are always at local markets. And now…that I’m being told to refrain even from that, unless absolutely necessary, I’m very near the point of having my car voluntarily booted and my steering wheel locked to keep temptation at bay. I’ve never considered shopping for groceries a necessity which had to be tolerated and with the exception of Thanksgiving and Christmas, shopping has always been a secretive and guilty if not bordering on hoarding, pleasure.

So now I’m stuck, here at home checking off the supplies that stand sentry on the shelves in my garage and in my makeshift pantry which shares space with my laundry room and wondering when they will be empty enough that I can feel justified by masking up, gloving down and venturing out to my local markets and visiting some of the counter-parts of my fellow blogger, The Grocery Whisperer! By the way, that blog makes for some really enlightening shopping moments. Check it out when you can.

Now that I have shared one of my not so secret pleasures, grocery shopping, I need to really try to indulge in another, writing. I’m finding it really difficult to write with all of this leisure time on my hands. Wouldn’t you think it to be totally opposite? I find having a deadline, even if self-imposed, to be absolutely necessary in successfully creating. But I’ve been quite stymied in my efforts to write leisurely since I have no other place pressing me to be. Even “Papa” and his Friends tiring of my procrastination, suddenly without notice, decided to go on hiatus from my mind and left me scrambling for something, anything of which to write.

With these times being what they are, it’s difficult to walk that fine line between compassion and humor so I decided to forego both…well, sort of. But here goes:

Several people of whom I consider having a close bond, have been stricken by this contemptible plague, (virus seems much too tame a name). Members of my Church’s congregation and family members of friends are being affected either by illness or unemployment. I’ve witnessed weddings postponed, and traditional funeral services denied. Churches have closed and entertainment venues across all spectrums have ceased and I couldn’t help but wonder, why? And then, I gathered up my few working brain cells and decided what matter, why? It is and that’s all. Now what? Put your big girl panties on and deal with it, is what! And my way of dealing with anything of which I have no personal control is to meditate and pray and I have been doing plenty of both…I have the time now. And maybe, just maybe, that’s why for me, this thing could have a silver lining.

I’ve allowed my mind to wander back over comments made by friends and acquaintances as to why they no longer attend Church services and how they feel that Christianity has sunken to a level of hypocrisy of which they could not tolerate, which I don’t mind saying is a bit hypocritical in itself, but I digress. I’ve always tried to exercise tolerance tempered with Truth. Truth after all is the very basis of my blog.

Over the years, I’ve pleaded with many of them to not swipe me with their “So-called Christians” paint brush. (Ok, I feel I must at this point provide a PSA of my own making: I am a certified, card carrying, unashamed, Christ believing, Christ following, Bible toting [E-Bible but still…], unapologetic Sinner Saved by Grace!). Now if that turns some of you off, I understand but please stick around until the end of the post even if only for a cursory, skeptic, agnostic, atheistic value, I don’t mind.

I will admit, that I too feel that God’s House, (Churches) have been assaulted for centuries from people without. However, they have never been successful in bringing down the house of God. Therefore, masterful tactics began being used thousands of years ago to destroy and discredit believers from within, from the “Tear Them Down from the Inside Crowd.

My Lord’s own brother wrote of this passionately, speaking of those who slipped into the Church unnoticed and gained a foothold within its congregation to sow discord and factions. He wrote in the book of Jude verse 14, “certain men have crept in unaware…ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness and denying the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ.” I’ll admit that one of modern-day Church’s major downfall is its failure to fully vet those of whom they put in charge of shepherding and teaching its flocks and that perhaps, is the reason former congregants are levelling their complaints.

When this thing, this plague, first came upon us, I thought maybe it was the work of God. Upon this I vacillated and wondered if it might actually be the work of his Adversary…then yet again, I solidified my bearings and realized that even if this was the work of he who declared himself falsely, equal to God, he could still do no more in this realm or any other without the expressed consent of our Creator. Being absolutely convicted and dogmatic in that belief, I allowed myself to venture a bit further into my meditation of these particular times and the effects of which are now on display.

I thought, “what an absolutely brilliant way to sweep the hypocrites and charlatans from God’s established churches. If my life has taught me nothing else, (and we know that’s not a fact), it would be that the Spiritually Sick will never be found voluntarily around the Spiritual, but Physically Sick. Ohhh, they will show up if there is something specifically of value for them, but rest assured they will never burn oil doing good when there is a danger of them getting burned. Discounting those who had medical reasons as to why attending a physical church was not feasible when this plague began, the first to bow out of services were generally the CEO, (Christmas and Easter Only) attendees, followed closely by the perpetually disgruntled. The ones who don’t attend services to sow good seeds but to make sure that the good seeds sown by others are mowed down before they have a chance to sprout. I am declaring their efforts ineffectual and wasted! The True Church of God will not fail!

I applaud those faithful Ministers, Pastors, Shepherds, Teachers and congregations who desired to March Forward on these past Sunday mornings, Tuesday and Wednesday evenings with Bibles in hand and praises on their lips! They took incoming fire from the ones who had crept in unnoticed and were the first clamoring for closure of the Churches, Synagogues and Temple doors. Where they had failed by infiltration and contrary doctrine, they reasoned perhaps this virus would succeed. They sought to find fault in those Onward Christian Soldiers by calling them fools, as they stood back smugly although wrongfully and thought themselves successful.

It will take more than a pandemic, (over which God is in control) to plow under the True Church of God. Satan played his best hand over 2000 years ago when he reckoned the Cross was his ace in the hole. Oh, but what he didn’t figure was his ace in the hole would not be able to hold Who was temporarily put into a Hole! Because HE GOT UP! HE DIDN’T STAY TOO LONG! HE GOT UP!!!!

Prior to that fallible ace of Satan’s being played against Him, Jesus asked his disciple Peter, “who do men say I am…” At the end of that dialog, Jesus then asked Peter, “but who do YOU say I am?” Peter answered, “Thou art the Christ, The Son of The Living God.” Jesus responded, “Upon this Rock, I will build my Church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” It was upon that glorious foundation of Truth of which Peter spoke, by the unction of the Holy Spirit, where the True Church of God can be found.

This current virus/plague and the others which will certainly follow, may have been unleashed from the pits of hell and whereas it might be successful in temporarily closing brick and mortar Church doors, we all would be wise to remember that the True Church of God is not a Building in which we reside but a foundation of Truth which resides in us, the Believers. The Word of God will forever stand. Long after me, the writer of this missive has left this realm, God’s Word will be carried forward by others and The Son of God will remain always King of Kings!

If I have offended any readers by my declarations herein, I’m afraid offering an apology would be hypocritical. I cannot, will not apologize for doing so. I have always spoken my truth and quite honestly, I would rather offend a reader than offend my Savior.

If this plague or any other becomes the means or the vehicle by which I or some of my fellow Christians are carried to our eternal reward, let it be known that I would still declare: GLORY, GLORY HALLELUJAH; GLORY, GLORY HALLELUJAH, HIS TRUTH IS MARCHING ON!!!!!!

PAPA

As most of you know, this blog began as a sublime conversation with my grandfather. Who, in my eyes, was man who stood second to no one. A person, who every decent man within his bloodline strove to emulate, even if they didn’t know him personally, it was, is, genetic. Papa was all I wished my father had been. As a young child, my days did not begin until I saw his face and many days did not end which did not find me cradled in his arms. In today’s overused vernacular, “He was my Person.” Chinee was my heart and every decision I made was tempered by the overwhelming passion he brought to anyone or anything he cared about. He taught me to care deeply about the things that should be loved. Given time and proper consideration, you’ll find that is not an altogether simple concept.

Papa on the other hand, gave me balance and direction.  As he aged and became feeble only in body, without my knowledge, he guided me gently toward his grandson my brother, and deposited my continued familial education into his care.  Chinee had spent seven years longer than I under Papa’s tutelage and therefore had become his very reluctant student. Papa was a harsh taskmaster with Chinee and the other males under his care because he knew that if his sons and grandson could withstand the weight and pressure, he placed upon them, the world would have an infinitely more difficult time in its efforts to crush them.  Papa’s lessons came from love whereas the worlds’ lessons would come with hate.

The females in Papa’s circle were loved with open arms as he gave all he had and struggled to find more to give, but he was not blinded by our faults or weaknesses.  He was fair in his assessments of us, yet he wasted no effort in pointing out those weaknesses.  He loved us in spite of them and attempted to guide us around the pitfalls we would undoubtedly create for ourselves because of those weaknesses.  However, if anyone attempted to create pitfalls for us, you could almost be certain the bodies would never be found.  If there was ever anyone Papa loved more than his wife, his only daughter and me, I’ve never met them.  (ok, I’m writing this from my perspective…there might be one or two others he loved equally but definitely none more!).  I was that granddaughter who insisted on learning at his knee; who followed him or tried to follow him everywhere.  He was the one to whom I’d toddled when as a young child the thunder and lightning made me quiver in fear.  It wasn’t enough just to have him hold me with those strong and roughly calloused hands, but my utter sense of safety was only to be found underneath Papa’s t-shirt, those sleeveless units of underwear which have for the last fifty or so years, come to be known by the hideous name of “wife-beaters”.  There were few places this side of Heaven which offered as much security as that which I found underneath Papa’s shirt listening to his steady, rhythmic heartbeat, drowning out all other external stridency.

Papa was born in August 1881, sixteen year after the “declared” end of slavery, almost a century before the Civil Rights Act of 1964, exactly one hundred years before the birth of my youngest son (1981) and eons upon eons upon eons before the founding of “true” equality, yet still to be found. But there was one particular event during his early life which shaped him as no other.  

One of two of the many prolific lessons he taught me gave name to this blog, if you are joining me mid-range or even now, please visit the first entry of this site and see how his simple but profound insight into people will leave you in awe. The second guiding point was and is something of which has colored my life; further it is something of which I’ve shared with my sons and believe they have used it on their life’s path as well. There has never been a single day in my life when I’ve not considered this particular statement of his: “Your name is the only thing that you came into this world with and will be the only thing that you will take with you when you leave it so, take care of it because your name will go places your feet will never take you.” I’ve shortened it over the years to: “your name will go places you never will.” This is an undeniable truth. Even within this forum, Readers from the UK, Australia, France and Germany have found their way to this blog. I’ve certainly never been to any of these wonderful places, yet my name and thoughts have traveled there and to my knowledge and prayerfully, I’ve done nothing to reflect negatively upon my name nor more importantly, Papa’s. My grandfather was a man of great wisdom and that’s becoming an increasingly rare commodity.

My Grandfather, like Chinee, was fiercely loyal and no one or nothing was more important than family.  If Chinee was here to lend voice to my assertion, he would agree that it was Papa who instilled in him that loyalty, whether it was an easy installation or hard-fought, I can’t say, but its truth cannot be denied.  Papa was not forthcoming about the early facts of his life. Actually, he was downright secretive.  As open as he was with his advice, love and guidance, he seldom divulged any of the experiences in his life that gave birth to his wisdom.  

He was immensely in love with and loved by his mother Jane, a full-blood American Indian.  He spoke proudly of her long, thick, black and straight hair that hung almost to her knees and how at a few times during his boyhood he had been pressed into the service of helping her to brush it at night.  He spoke nothing to me of his father other than to say that he was or had been a freed slave name Jordan, like the river.  One of the only other few facts that Papa shared with his children and some of his grandchildren was the reason he purposely shielded his past.   

While only in his late teens or early twenties, Papa had been accosted by two men, opposite of his racial persuasion, who thought to make sport of him.  They hurled at him horrific expletives and told him that it didn’t matter whether he called himself a damned Indian or Niggra, he had no business walking around free as if he was as good as they.  They sought to, in their limited diction, put him back into slavery where he belonged.  Their intent, according to Papa, was to make him their personal slave.  

When naturally Papa balked at their threats to return him to his “proper place”, they retaliated by placing a rope around his neck and were almost successful in their attempts to hang him until he freed himself, overpowered and killed them both. To my knowledge, Papa spoke no more than one or twice of this matter the whole of my life with him and probably not many more times than that during the whole of his. He steadfastly resisted any efforts to elaborate on the matter, not for fear of his safety but for ours. The less we knew, he reckoned, the less opportunity for us to speak on it by force or chance, thereby he protected us. Until the day he died at 87, he never told us anymore than that he had killed two who had tried to kill him. To that I say, “Yea Papa!”, because to have not done so would mean that I and hundreds of others of your progenies would not exist. However, that most unfortunate happenstance, created in him two lifelong unmovable stances; first, he would not allow anything tight to be worn about his neck. He refused any attempt or occasion which would have forced him to wear a necktie or forced him to close the top button on his shirt, much to the chagrin of his fellow deacons at church. Papa was Miami Vice cool almost before there was a Miami! He blazed his own trails! The second lifelong stance this incident created in Papa was the fact that he would tolerate no disrespect from anyone who sought to tell him where his place was in life. He allowed anyone a chance to be told something twice and shown once, after that…hmmm. He carried a doubled-barrel shotgun every time he left home, accompanied by a bandolier full of extra shells, in the unlikely event he would need to fire more than the two already locked and loaded barrels. I’ve never heard of anyone, Black or White who ever thought to challenge him. On the contrary, Papa was the only man of his Race and time of whom I had ever heard referred to as Mister by all who addressed him, who were not his relatives. Again, I say, “Yea Papa!”

Papa stood six feet five in stocking feet, in my mind. He was as strong as Hercules, in my mind, and was as tightly wound and dangerous as a coiled Rattler, a fact that does not merely abide in my mind! Papa was a hardworking, earnest living, straight talking, sailor cussing, horseback riding, joke loving, domino playing, wisdom sharing, female aesthete, bestest grandfather EVER.

I hope you will enjoy getting to know him through my eyes over the next few posts.  Not just him alone but also some of his most trusted friends.  I’ll attempt to tell a few of the heartwarming and entertaining conversations that took place between Papa and William Gatlin, (Mr. Bill /Pop-Pee), Gene Ridgeway (Con’ Gene) Hardy Shankle (Con’ Hardy) and Albert Watley (Mr. Orb).  I’m immensely proud to say that because I followed Papa almost everywhere he went and because these men were very often in his presence, each of them all 70 to 75 years my senior, allowed me within their circle without preamble.  (Con’ was a diminutive and colloquial form of the word Cousin used throughout the Southern United States).

Decades would have passed when I, considering some of their conversations, realized they had spoken “between the lines” or talked “over my head” when matters they considered too strong for my ears were discussed. How I still love those old men. How I value the lessons they taught me not so much by design but by example. Except for the place underneath Papa’s shirt during a Thunderstorm, no place felt more secure than in the present of those Giants of my childhood, with my Papa, Mr. Robert (Bob) Allen leading the pack.

See Ya Later, Chinee

I’ve tried, unsuccessfully, for many weeks to continue with the My Brother was My Keeper series. Initially, I blamed the delay on the holidays and in all truthfulness, that was partially correct. However, after my last post which involved my recollections of two families saying goodbye to their brothers, I find myself either facing my cowardice or my inability to write about losing My Brother.

With the understanding that I’ve laid completely bare ”some” of the most humiliating and painful memories of my life within this blog, I admit that I do not have the strength, fortitude or the bravery needed in which to detail the time leading up to and or including the death of My Brother.

I’d like to momentarily pause here and send heartfelt gratitude to the many members of the Bryant, King & Perkins families who took precious time to contact and tell me what the My Solder memoir meant to them. It was truly emotionally overwhelming to know that something I had written from my childhood had touched so many on such a visceral level, because it is that which a Writer hopes to achieve. Thank you all, for making my dream come true.

Throughout this 6 months long process, more than anything, I was hopeful that I would be successful in chronicling the absolute pure and untarnished love Chinee and I shared. Writing about our unique relationship was easy even though the end of each chapter found me weakened with tears and half way through another new box of Kleenex.

I can’t claim that I’ve come anywhere near cornering the market on loss, grief and pain but I’m pretty certain that I have or rather had cornered it on having the most totally involved, the most selfless and most loving brother of all time. From the beginning of my life to the end of his, we shared an intangible love. His love was bound on all sides with the teaching of life lessons. It was never just about football, or planting trees or any number of countless occurrences in our lives. It was always about him teaching me how to choose or providing me a path to follow. My Brother taught me unselfishness, he taught me stoicism, he taught me endurance, he taught me how to love unconditionally, he taught me laughter and at the end of his life he taught me that there is grace and dignity in dying bravely.

He trusted me with his legacy and because of the bit of him I’ve shared in this forum and what I’ve shared with my children, who knew him for a short time as the loving Uncle he couldn’t help but be; I hope I’ve succeeded in presenting him in a manner in which a smile will always accompany a thought of him. I could do no better for his legacy than that.

Although I am choosing not to continue with the My Brother series, it does not mean that Chinee will disappear from my writings, how could he when he is woven into every fiber of my being? But for now, he will take a step back as the focal point. But even this stepping back didn’t come without heavy concern. It caused me to wonder whether or not I was letting him down by prematurely ending his story. But as I have done many times when a difficult decision was needed, I closed my eyes and listened for his voice.

During the last few months of Chinee’s life that evil and depictable disease of cancer stripped him of the ability to walk without experiencing intolerable, nausea inducing pain. Clinically speaking, the cancer had metastasized from his lungs to his supporting bones causing osteolysis. The cancer riddled his bones with so many small holes whereby any pressure applied to a particular joint or bone created multiple fractures, in short, his bones were being pulverized. It also robbed him of his melodic, laughter-filled voice.

During one of my last hospital visits with Chinee, he’d refused to allow me to see just how much pain he was enduring. On a ruse, he’d asked me to go to the hospital’s cafeteria for a soft drink and as I was eager to do anything for his comfort or desire, I hurried away. He used the time I was absent to tell my husband the degree of which he was suffering. Even so, the next day as I visited with him alone, his need to relieve his bladder became urgent yet he refused to use the urinal placed at his bedside. That, in his mind, would have displayed a weakness that he didn’t want me to witness. In one of his last loving, caring and valiant acts to prove to me that I needn’t worry overly much, he denied himself a bit of comfort AGAIN, to allay my fears. By this time, his left shoulder and both ankles had been completely compromised by the cancer, even so, refusing my help, he lifted himself from his hospital bed and walked unaided to the restroom. It took his Doctor’s (who had made his way to My Brother’s room for rounds while Chinee was in the restroom), astounded expression for me to understand just what a feat of improbable, impossibility Chinee had undertaken. Man!!!!!!

I spoke to Chinee of my doubts of being able to exist in a world where he didn’t and in a high pitched whisper, all that cancer had left of his once booming voice, Chinee directed me that I needed to learn and learn quickly to live without him because his dying meant me living to tell his story in a way that he never could or would have. Without needing to give his statement any thought, I knew instinctively he could have never nor would he ever have told his story because he lived his life for others therefore, others would have to tell his story for him. So, in saying that, with a few minor changes I will again use the lines from a song that clearly told “our” story:

We’ve had our share of life’s ups and downs
But fate’s been kind, the downs have been few
I guess you could say that we’ve been lucky
Well, I guess you could say that it’s all because of you If anyone should ever write our life story
For whatever reason there might be
Oh, you’ll be there between each line of pain and glory
Cause you’re the best thing that ever happened to me
Oh, there have been times when times were hard
But always somehow we made it, we made it through
Cause for every moment that we’ve spent hurting
There was a moment that I spent, ah, just loving you If anyone should ever write our life story
For whatever reason there might be
Oh, you’ll be there between each line of pain and glory
Cause you’re the best thing that ever happened to me.

Chinee’s life was told by his smile which turned into laughter…and…there…was…nothing…he…loved…more …than…laughter. His smile was as big as East Texas timbers and his heart bigger than all of Texas combined. That would be what he’d want people to know about him. Much more beyond that would have received his perfectly pat answer when it came to people wanting more from him than he could give, “Eff’em!” With my eyes now wide opened, I’m remembering that he loved to leave’em smiling and he adored a surprise ending and because he wouldn’t have seen that one coming, I join my outrageous giggles with what I know would be his laughter. Please smile with me as I remember, My Brother.

I’m trying my best to leave’em smiling. Thanks for helping me Bro. I still love you & that smile! See Ya later Chinee.

My Soldier

My sincere intentions were to continue with the “My Brother” series this week but, as fate and life would designate, I instead found myself sitting in a chapel attending the farewell service of someone of whose family I lived directly across the street when I arrived in California. Our family connections have crisscrossed over the decades and the neighbors we were became the family we are. That simple reflection caused me to tumble back into the decades and brought to mind another memorial service almost 60 years past.

This recounting is of a shadowy but persistent memory which had followed me like a specter in a dream who always stood sentry but was forever just out of reach. From 1962 until July 2017 I battled with myself wondering whether I was chasing a dream or memory. It was truly as if all of the participants of this particular memory conspired with my dreams to keep me from forgetting. It had become so pervasive that I was often surprised when I would awake without having dreamed that same dream.

Fifty-five years of guarding an uncertain retrospection had taken its toll so, it was in July 2017 when I sought to find the truth of the matter, to find whether my memory was of a fact or just a hauntingly beautiful dream, No one had ever spoken of the event in my presence and although I didn’t doubt the details of my memory/dream, I wasn’t certain if the event had actually occurred or if it was a conglomeration of someone else’s spoken recollection that I had somehow adopted as a memory of my own. It was at the end this time period when a dear and precious cousin provided me the framework on which to hang one of the most beautiful tapestries, sewn together by my memory and which had fought ferociously against Time to prevent it from being ripped apart at the seams.

October 1962: Wiergate High School’s gymnasium seemed overwhelmingly large and quite literally filled to the rafters. There was a slight autumnal chill in the air, but most of it had more to do with the occasion than the weather. The bleachers were completely filled on both sides of the gymnasium and row after row of folded chairs had been patterned neatly across the highly waxed and polished basketball floor, where generally no one wearing anything other than Tennies or Basketball shoes were allowed.

I felt as though we were attending a funeral of a family member, but if so, it was no one of whom I knew personally, therefore the only pain I felt at the loss of the deceased was felt because of the pain I saw on the faces of those I did know. I recognized one person immediately as we entered the gymnasium and that person was the Head Cook in our school’s cafeteria, she was also my grandmother’s niece. As their eyes met, the pain on her face had reflected upon Mother’s face. In fact, every face in that great crowd had a solemnity which surpassed that which was shown upon the faces at other funerals I had attended. However, being only seven or so did not allow for much expertise in matters of obsequies.

I have absolutely no recall of the actual ceremony, i.e., what songs were sung, which scriptures were read, or what eulogy was offered, all of that to me, have been lost to modern-day antiquity. My memory seemed capable of reserving space only for the final viewing and for what came later. As the program portion of the funeral ended and as the mortuary attendants approached the flag draped casket, audible but quiet weeping spread like a wave from the front rows of seats to the back.

As best as I can remember, Mother and I had been seated a few rows further back than center. We stood and followed an usher’s direction when It was our row’s turn to fall in line behind the row immediately in back of ours and we marched a slow progression toward the final viewing of the decedent. Person after person shuffled along wordlessly, unashamedly wiping tears from their slightly bowed heads and it became more than apparent to this seven-year-old, that whoever occupied this coffin, was deeply loved.

Shockingly, I discovered there were a few people in attendance who showed no emotions at all! They wore looks of complete detachment and serious concentration. They stood tall, erect and wore amazingly impressive uniforms. I had become totally absorbed by their mode of dress and deportment. They were a master study in dignity and self-assuredness; they stood in sharp contrast to the people in line with slightly bowed heads. These men who stood with their heads held high and their shoulders squared had just planted fresh seeds of hero worship deep within my core. They, with their crisp, fresh pressed uniforms had more than my respect, they had me! There and then was born my infatuation of men in uniforms! It didn’t matter if it was Army, Air Force, Navy, Marine, Coast Guard or City Trash Collectors…sharply creased, starched and ironed uniforms were my new standards of manhood.

Because I was the shortest person in line, I couldn’t see what was taking place directly in front of us, but I was completely willing and content to keep staring at the handsome uniformed men standing at attention near the foot of the coffin to my right.

Approaching the funeral dais was usually a frightening, knees-knocking prospect for me, one that I would not have undertaken unless I was being pulled along or pushed ahead by firm adult hands. This time though, there was something propelling me which had nothing to do with guiding hands. This was different, curiosity had replaced my fear because there, just in front of me stood a sealed glass coffin. The heart-rending cries of anguish were all but banished from my hearing as I beheld something of which I had thought existed only in fairytale books, Snow White specifically. It was almost exactly as I had envisioned when my sister first read the story to me. The sparkling beauty of the casket contrasted achingly against the still, quiet form lying inside. Wildly rampant floods of emotions washed over me; I had so many questions I wanted to ask immediately, but I knew not to behave in any manner which would have drawn attention away from the family and upon myself. Mother would not have looked kindly at such a show of disrespect, so I closed my mouth and willed my mind to accept and hold onto each new occurrence.

I was fascinated by the scene now directly in front of me, I wanted so desperately to reach out and touch the glass box, to make sure that it was real and that it wouldn’t disappear as Snow White’s did when my sister closed her book. But again, two unmovable forces prevented me from touching the glass: the distance everyone was wordlessly warned to keep as we momentarily paused to pay our respect and the unyielding force of nature, I called Mother. Since I was not allowed to touch the glass my attention was turned to the person inside. A man, also in uniform, a white uniform. WHO WAS HE? I looked up at Mother hoping to maybe whisper my question to her, but I saw an unstaunched flow of tears and knew instinctively not to speak, so I tucked away my question for a better time, of which, as it happened, never arrived. As we followed the slow but orderly processional out of the gymnasium, I picked up snippets of conversations being held all around us but nothing that led to the identity of the soldier in the glass casket. I heard but did not see who had made a comment that the young man had been lost at sea. I quickly discounted that comment because how could he have been lost if he was lying just inside? But the words, “lost young man” made an impression upon me. I added those words to the list of other things I wanted to ask Mother later.

At the Shankleville Community Cemetery, some five miles or so away, the “Lost Young Man” was to be laid to rest. This answered one of my questions, he was indeed family because only family members were allowed to be buried there, at least that was the case at that time.

There seemed to be even more soldiers in attendance here than I’d seen at the school. Perhaps, they were all in the gymnasium and my height disadvantage had shuttered them from my view, but here now they all stood together. I counted 8 unmoving, unwavering and completely focused servicemen.

Mother and I had been in a latter position in the funeral procession from the school to the cemetery and therefore were among some of the last to enter. The graveside service had already begun, and Mother and I had necessarily stood near the back of the crowd. The incessant buzzing that attends a crowd was suddenly hushed when someone at the front of the crowd yelled a command. Although, I had been gratefully holding onto Mother’s hand since we exited the car in which we rode, at the sound of that command, I wiggled my fingers free from her grip and bolted toward the outermost edge of the crowd to my right! I knew there would be a price to pay later but I was compelled to find a spot from which I could see what was happening up front.

I reached a spot near the East facing fence and found that I had an unobstructed view of the action taking place. Just as I arrived, a second command of “Honor Guard, Attention” was given by a soldier standing slightly apart and to the left of the seven others and for the first time I noticed that they were not all wearing the same type of uniforms. I didn’t know what all the different uniforms represented but two of them matched the uniform worn by “the Lost Young Man,” Sailors, that much at least, I was certain. Despite the difference in their uniforms, they all exhibited the same deportment. At the utterance of the next command, “Stand by-Ready,” there was an in unison clicking of rifles, (no self-respecting Texan would call these weapons, guns). The next command given was “Ready” and was executed by each of the soldiers removing his weapon from the safety position. The “Aim” command had them bringing up the butt of their rifles to their shoulders so that the handgrip rested in the palm of their left hand and their right hands grasping the small of the stock with their fingers entering the trigger guard. My unguarded mind immediately noticed that they were all right-handed and wondered off point, as to whether a left-handed person would have been excluded from this particular ceremony.

My wayward thought was riveted back to what was happening when the next command given was “Fire!” all weapons were discharged in ear-splitting unison and they stood awaiting for the next command which followed almost instantly on the heels of the first order to Fire and then the final command to Fire! The last command to “Present Arms,” caused the group as one, to place their rifles with both hands vertically in front of their body, holding the muzzle upward and the trigger side facing forward.

The ceremony was stunningly poignant, and my mind captured and held unto every minuscule detail. I watched as one of them, the one who had given the commands, approached my Grandmother’s seated niece but was too far away to hear what was being said or what exactly was being done. I still didn’t know her connection to the “Lost Young Man.” I made my way back to Mother’s side and suddenly another command was issued, and it seemed that command was taken as the dismissal call for all who were in attendance.

Even though I had rejoined Mother, my attention was still riveted on the men in uniforms. They were the most gorgeous, perfect (in my limited experience) depiction of manhood I could have ever hoped to witness. If clothing made the man, these men were well-made indeed! As I stood drinking in all that was in front of me, staring openly and unapologetically from one serviceman to another, one of them walked toward Mother and I and STOPPED! He squatted down to my level and taking his still gloved hand, cupped my chin, lifted my face and told me how pretty he thought I was. I was struck completely speechless and hopelessly in love! No one had ever told me that I was pretty. I’d been told my shoes were pretty, my dress was pretty and aw hell, even that my sister was pretty – but never had I been told that I was. I didn’t know if I believed him or just adored him, whatever the case, he was intricately and forever linked to my soul, my heart and my memory and in that moment, he became “My Soldier.” He was also irrevocably linked to the “Lost Young Man.” After he stood upright again and left my immediate space, I tried to filter out all sounds except his voice, but I heard another soldier ask him where he was headed next and My Soldier answered, “D.C.” I had no idea where or what D.C. was but what I did now know, was that I wanted to go here too! In that moment I made a childish but sincere vow that one day I would go to wherever or whatever that D.C. was, and I would find My Soldier. My world which had expanded to include this soldier mere moments before had just as suddenly deflated as he walked away. I was crushed but yet, still hopeful.

Five short years later, my own mother would find rest in the same red clay as the “Lost Young Man.” No military honor guard saluted her passing and I was whisked almost 1800 miles away, in the opposite direction of the travels of My Soldier.

I had moved far away from the foundation of my memories and no longer lived amongst people who had shared my day to day memories and therefore could not help bolster or prevent my recollections from becoming milky and doubtful. After so many years, this particular memory was definitely headed toward the land of uncertainty and would have taken root and stayed there had it not been for the advent of Facebook and a Friend request from a distant yet direct family member.

It was an early afternoon in Mid-July in 2017 when the remnant of a recurring dream fought its way to the forefront of my consciousness. It was an especially slow Thursday afternoon so; I took advantage of the lag time and of Facebook and sent my Cousin a message similar to the following:

Hello Cousin…I hope you can help me because there is no one left to whom I can turn. I have a vivid memory of someone who I believe to be a relative of ours, yours and mine. A young man who was either killed or died at sea. My memory is that he was a sailor who drowned. I don’t know if he was a son, grandson or nephew to Cousin Elouise. I was very young, but Mother took me to the funeral which was held in the Gym at Wiergate High and I would swear but can’t be positive that he was buried in Shankleville. Can you please help me fill in the missing parts?

Her reply:

The young sailor’s name was Willie Lee Bryant.  Yes, my Grandmother’s Elouise Bryant’s son.  Your memory is perfect because the military funeral was held at Wiergate High School and he was in a glass casket.  He is buried in Shankleville next to my grandmother and grandfather.  He drowned while serving in the Navy at a very young age, trying to protect his ship.  What made you ask of him?  No one ever ask me about my mom’s brother.  I hope this helps you.  Love you Cousin.  Beverly.

What followed was a conversation that took place over several hours. No one, not even Beverly could have understood the momentousness of her confirmation. What had been an uneasy, uncertain echo was given new voice and meaning. What I had begun to suspect was simply a persistent nightmare had become a beautiful fulfilled recollection. I could not have been more grateful. Everything could have simply ended there and I would have been completely satisfied, but my dear cousin, Beverly J. King-Perkins, went one step further and there in front of me, on my laptop screen appeared a face that I had never known but recognized instantly. What I didn’t tell Beverly then but will reveal now, is just how very much my eldest grandson, (whose Father and Mom both served in the Navy), resembles her Uncle and my Cousin Willie.

Willie Lee Bryant
August 10, 1940
October 7, 1962

I was beyond excited that after decades of referring to him as such, I needed no longer refer to him as “the Lost Young Man.” Here now I will repeat something which has more meaning to me than it could have ever had otherwise and it is something of which I’d heard uttered many times, by our elders: “Blood will out! Blood will always out.”

Cousin Willie, it is so very lovely to have finally met you. Thank you for not allowing me to forget you or the circumstances that brought you to me. I have to admit to you Willie that I have not yet made it to D.C. nor have I ever again met “My Soldier,” but Wille, because I have aged well beyond the years you were allowed to age, because I have been blessed with recollections which have proven to be pure, innocent and detail accurate and mostly because I would now be considered grandmotherly to most young soldiers serving today, I am able to look at every young man in a military uniform and think of them all as “My Soldiers.” I adore each of them. Thank you for those precious gifts Cousin and now continue to rest easy, (I have, ever since your niece Beverly revealed your name to me. You no longer occupy my dreams but you are now and will remain a part of each one of my waking moments). Good night sweet Sailor, Good night. HOOYAH!!!!!!!

They Weren’t all Bad…Final

They Weren’t All Bad…Final

My beautiful new friend was true to her word.  Never did a four-hour span of time pass that she did not come by to check on me, accompany me to restroom breaks, or purchase my meals.  It bothered me that I had no way of repaying her.  

During one of our leisurely meals, she became a bit less reticent in her questions as to how I came to be on such a long train ride alone. The first couple of times she’d broached the subject she had abruptly switched topics when tears begin to fill my eyes. But I felt I owed her something and I trusted her unlike I’d trusted anyone beyond Chinee and Papa. The very least I could do was to share some of my story besides it had also been a very long time since anyone was interested in anything I had to say. It seemed we sat hour after hour with her asking questions and me answering and finally, me asking for her opinions to questions I’d been longing to ask for months. She didn’t have the answers I sought but it was a relief just to be able to share my thoughts with someone so solicitous.

To assume that I didn’t have my own curiosity as to how she had come to be aboard the train alone would be a misguided notion, but when I asked her, I noticed a subtle but definite change in her posture, a stiffening, almost defensive.  I also noticed her right hand switched to a clenched position from a relaxed position on the table.  I understood defensive postures all too well therefore I avoided asking her anything personal again.    

She couldn’t have been more than three to five years older than me, yet she seemed so mature, so aware and so very self-sufficient. She walked with her head held high in total defiance.   I decided that I wanted to be like her, independent and immune to judgmental examinations. She received plenty of those each time we entered the dining car, (at least I believed the glances were meant for her).  I assumed the women who leaned slightly away from her as we walked the aisle, did so because they were jealous of the looks their male companions gave her as we passed them.  I had become very astute in reading body language and assessing precarious situations.  We or she or I were constantly being observed and not in a kindly, caring way.  My new friend paid no attention to the women or the men nor did she seem to pay much attention to just how beautiful she was.  The cinnamon chocolate color of her skin combined with her soft dark wavy hair suggested strongly of a French, Spanish and African bloodline, Creole.  She had the softest Southern accent further suggesting that neither French, Spanish or an amalgam of either was her native language.

Early one afternoon, after my friend had escorted me back to the Sleeping Lady, boredom got the very best of me and I decided to display a little bravery and explore some of the cars alone.  Thus far, I had been no further than the dining car immediately ahead of us.   I knew that we were near the back of the train because of the advantage point we had as we stood on the platform before boarding the train in Beaumont.  Although desegregation was slowly creeping across the South, it had not yet found its way on much of the available public transportation. The Sunset had at least 30 cars and we were most likely in car number 14 or 13 counting from the front.  I had made several attempts to count the cars ahead of us as we rounded steep curves to the left but never reached the same number twice.  We had made several stops along the way, but I’d never left the train, I was much too afraid of being left behind or boarding the wrong car or much worse the wrong train!   

There wasn’t much of anything to see as I progressed forward beyond the dining car, just more of the same. People sitting, people sleeping, and every now and then a baby either crying or giggling. As I was about to enter the next car, a Porter I recognized, came through the same door toward me. He stood there and blocked my path but not in a threatening manner. “You’re a little way away from home aren’t you young lady?” I nodded and said, “Yes,” I got on in Beaumont.” He smiled indulgently and said, “Yes Ma’am, I remember where you got on, but I meant you’re a long way from your car.” “You’re not allowed to go any further forward from here.” I glanced back over my shoulder and realized that the car in which we stood was indeed just like all the others I’d walked through but realized for those few seconds as I’d stood there assessing the situation that the difference was that the people in this car, although Negroes, as we were called in the late ‘60’s, they wore a different style of dress. The kind of clothing that spoke of the better department stores and of dry-cleaned laundry and they wore shoes with taps on the soles to prevent excessive wear. They were, what I supposed would have been called, “well-off.” They had purchased tickets that did not allow them to share seats with the Whites, however, their fare did afford separation from the working-class Negroes who wore their 2nd hand, Sunday best having laundered them themselves with Oxydol and Faultless laundry starch. This was my first-time having exposure to true classism within a Race. I needed to think about this. I turned back to the Porter, thanked him and said goodbye. “I’ll be seeing you Ma’am,” he said showing me no less respect than if my own ticket allowed me passage in this car.

Since my trip forward had ended abruptly and because I was not quite ready to just sit and watch the scenery, I thought I’d backtrack and see what the cars behind mine offered.  As I walked through the car which held my seat, I glanced over at the Sleeping Lady and she was wide awake!   This was a first!  She looked up at me and did not seem to recognize me at all!  I returned the favor!  I walked through the first car and it held people who must have paid the same fare as the people in my car plus about four or five men in Army uniforms.   The car after that held as much cigarette smoke as it held soldiers and so did the car after that and the one after that and the next and the next!  There was another dining car not quite as nice as the one I had been visiting but the food smelled every bit as good and that was where I spotted my friend.  She was smiling and talking to a couple of the soldiers and I wasn’t sure if I should interrupt them to say hello or not.  I had just decided to make a hasty retreat when she spotted me and asked if I needed anything.  I shook my head and told her that I just wanted to see what else was on the train.  She told me she would be by later and to have dinner with me.  

At dinner that evening she seemed very pensive and not her normally talkative self. At every other meal, she had told me stories of different passengers, where they were going, their children, what type of work they did and when they planned or if they had planned to return to wherever they had come. I didn’t ask how she knew; I was just happy to be part of her conspiratorial gossip, because merely from the way she’d told me the stories, I could tell she hadn’t been informed of these things by the women who leaned away from her unintentional touch. Today though, instead of eating with her normal abandonment, she simply pulled the crust from her sandwich and picked at the filling inside. Each and every time we had been together, she would take my hand and slide folded bills into my hands. This time was no exception. Each time, I objected, but she would not listen to my protestations. At last count, my little handkerchief, tucked safely in my front pocket, held over one hundred dollars and the corners had become harder to pull and tie together! I ate quietly, wishing I knew how I could get her to talk to me and wondered what was making her so sad. As I was finishing my last bite of burger she said, “I swear I have never seen a person who loves hamburgers as much as you do.” “I guess they will always remind me of the last time I had lunch with my brother,” I answered sheepishly.

She reached over and handed me what felt like 3 or 4 bills. I asked her why she was doing this, but she asked me a question instead of answering mine. She asked, “how well do you know these sisters you going to stay with?” I told her that my eldest sister was as pretty as she was, and that I had been named for her. I told her that I knew her best because she would come home several times a year. Even though she was sixteen years older than me she didn’t act like other grownups, she was fun. “Humph, People are always fun when they on vacation but get them on their regular day and they can be just as sour as everybody else,” she retorted. “What about your other sister?” “I don’t know much about her. I think I’ve only seen her three times in my life. She got married really young, about my age and moved away. She hardly ever came back home.” “She acted as old as my Mother and treated me like I was one of her children instead of her sister.” “I sure hope you don’t have to stay with her,” she said sadder still and I wanted to ask her why she felt that way but was not really certain I wanted to know the answer. She grew quiet again and said to me, “Look, you gotta really listen to me now ok?” I nodded, suddenly unsure and afraid of what she was about to say. “You had a Mama and other family that loved you, so you got that to build on.” “Don’t let them other people who hurt you make you forget about the ones that loved you cause if you do that, you gonna let them and you down.” “There might come times in your life that might make you do some stuff that you don’t want to do but if it means the difference between living and dying then you do it but don’t live in it and don’t let it live in you, you hear me, Cher?” I blinked hard trying not to cry, I didn’t let any tears fall but dang they stung me in protest to being held onto too tightly. “We gonna be pulling into San Bernardino tomorrow and that’s where I get off, that’s where the lady you been sitting with is getting off too.” I wondered how she knew that since the Lady had not spoken to me since our first night aboard and to my knowledge had never spoken to my friend either. Then it struck me afresh what she’d just said, she’s leaving the train! Fear flooded me! “Where is San Bernardino?” I asked my voice shaking. She squeezed my hand and told me it was about 60 miles or so from Los Angeles and it would probably take about two hours to get to the station there. I didn’t want her to leave. I wanted to go with her, and I said as much. She told me that she had no family to go home to so, she pretty much rode the trains and would get off in whatever town suited her and moved on when she got bored. I asked her why she couldn’t stay onboard to Los Angeles since no one was waiting for her, but she said someone was waiting, they just weren’t family. It was strange how in just 3 days I had become so dependent upon her and so happy to be in her company. I also felt guilty for thinking she was supporting herself by pickpocketing. So, what if she did, she didn’t do it just for the sake of stealing, she had no one to take care of her either and besides that, she’d given me most of what she’d taken. I promised her I would always remember her. She told me not to bother remembering her, but to remember what she had told me. We ended the meal that evening with her telling me to never expect anyone to take care of me. That it didn’t matter that I was only thirteen, there was work I could do and be paid an honest wage for it. She told me to always keep train or bus fare home and to never, ever depend on anybody for nothing. Work for yourself even if you’re working for somebody! Don’t forget that! She told me she was going to say goodbye to me now because we would be pulling into San Bernardino early and she wouldn’t have time to say goodbye. We hugged each other and she did something that I will forever believe to be the most tender, intimate, non-sexual touch humans can share with one another. She took her hand and softly caressed my cheeks first with her palm then with the back of her hand; much the same way my mother always did just before she’d say goodnight to me. I still didn’t cry…I was done crying, but my broken heart found brand new ways and places in which to break.

I sat alone that next morning. It seemed most of the people in my car disembarked in San Bernardino. I irrationally associated a bitter distaste for San Bernardino and from then until now, I’ve never changed my opinion of that city. I didn’t want to sit in that seat alone, so I walked to the dining car and ordered coffee! Coffee!!! She had, so I did. While seated there I heard a woman sitting behind me tell another that she finally felt free to leave their husband’s side for a while since the little la putain had left the train. I had absolutely no idea as to what they were speaking and didn’t care. I was again facing an uncertain tomorrow. As I sat there sipping my overly sweet and heavily creamed coffee, I counted the money that was now barely contained inside my now dingy handkerchief. Inside there was three-hundred dollars and 32 cents! Boy, pickpocketing could sure be lucrative if done correctly, I supposed. Maybe that was what she had meant by doing something bad to live but to not keep doing it once you got on your feet. As the train pulled into Union Station in Los Angeles…somewhere in one of the cars behind me, someone once again began to play the song, Back up Train. How I wished it would.

I kept my promise to my friend albeit not quite as I would have preferred. Within two months of arriving in Los Angeles I was told by my eldest sister that I would be living with my second eldest sister and man oh man my train friend had been correct. It was not ideal to say the least, actually I could say that I had fallen from the frying pan into the fire. But this story is not about my sister, only in as much as I need to tell you that she insisted I would have to earn my keep. She had secured a babysitting job for me with a neighbor, watching her three children on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights and she had applied for both a Social Security card and a job in my name at a local doughnut shop, about a three quarters of a mile from her home. I was warned not to reveal my true age to the owner of the shop and that I would have to walk to get to this job that offered me split shift hours from 3 am to 7:30 am and after school from 4pm to 8pm, Monday through Thursday. Second Eldest Sister further warned that I was not to let my schoolwork, or the upkeep of her home suffer because of my jobs. I suppose this would be a good time to mention that the upkeep of her home, which was a household of six, including me; she was also expecting a new baby in the Spring, but getting back to my duties, they included cooking, preparing her children school lunches, doing laundry—no automatic machines here in this “modern California home, just a wringer washer and a clothesline out back whereby I hung 8 loads of laundry per week in the good old California sunshine to dry. I was also to complete mopping, changing bed linen on 4 beds twice a week, which made me grateful that I slept on a sofa, dishes twice a day and in my spare time, ironing the freshly washed clothing for her family, (I was also truly grateful that I didn’t own many articles of clothing to add to my laundry duties) and anything else that would prevent me from sitting down for more than ten minutes and a page of school work at a time. How had my beautiful train friend known what was ahead for me? But I worked and I saved every dime I could after paying second eldest for my food and board, beyond what the State of California and Social Security paid her for offering shelter to her orphaned sister.

Regardless of the situation of which I found myself in this strange, new place, I still held to the fact that God never left my side and continued to put people into my life who had direct, positive impact upon my life choices.  The doughnut shop owner took me under her wing and taught me her business and gave me my first and detailed lessons in bookkeeping and accounting, in which I would eventually work professionally and retire from after more than 50 years.  Also, during that time at the doughnut shop, I found myself working side by side with a very lovely young woman of French dissent.  She was working her way across the country and had made it from Boston to Southern California and was taking odd jobs to earn enough money to finally settle in San Francisco. Coast to Coast is what she desired most, was her often spoken mantra.    She taught me a few rudimentary French phrases and we giggled a lot between serving up pastries and hundreds of cups of coffee per day.  She reminded me of my dear Train Friend, she made me forget how exhausted I was. 

One morning after she’d completed a sale to a particularly prickly and difficult customer, she’d walked away from the counter calling the woman a la putain under her breath! I asked her the meaning of the phrase and she said the politest description would be a prostitute or whore and she made reference to the New Orleans sex workers. My breath caught in my throat as I remembered the women behind me in the dining car on my last morning on the train. They had been speaking of my young friend. She had once told me that she normally went as far East as New Orleans, her home, and as far West as San Bernardino stopping anywhere along the way and in between. She was not a Pickpocket after all! She made her living working military transport trains! But I wasted no pity on her because she needed none, nor did I change my very high opinion of her. She earned a living the best she knew, hurting no one but herself and by doing so helped this lost young girl. She was my very own Rahab. Not for the first time, God used a prostitute to deliver one of His own and I’ll forever hold my train friend and the 2nd and 6th Biblical chapters of Joshua close to my heart. Despite her telling me not to bother remembering her, I’ve never forgotten her and never will.

My Lord, my Savior, and My Jehovah Jireh, please be attendant to the fervency of this, my prayer. Lord, whether my train friend of whom you so lovingly placed in my life  is still occupying space on this side of your glory or whether she has entered into your eternal presence, I thank you for the love and wisdom you showed to me by placing her and others in my life during the times I needed them most.  I thank you Lord for all your blessings and for what some would call trials.  Nothing you’ve allowed in my life has broken me because you have been my rod and strength.  Lord, if possible, I ask that you allow your obedient servants of times long ago, of whom will be known to me as my Train Friend and as Nurse Nice, until I meet them again in Paradise, to know that I’ve never forgotten their benevolence to me and their obedience to you. And Lord please, look into my heart and see that I’ve always acknowledged Your presence in their lives and mine.  It is in Your matchless name that I declare my humble gratefulness, Amen.   

They Weren’t All Bad…

For the past 5 months or so many of you began a journey with me back to a time and place of which I had come to think of as my new normal. For a few short years, gratefully so, I was cocooned by an extraordinary love given by extraordinary people who had known very little love themselves. The circumstances of my life of which I’ve selectively shared thus far, had for a time, convinced me that I had been ill-prepared to face what was to befall me. Whereas, I had believed that it was simply normalcy to be nurtured by warmth and security, I learned that within my orbit, in that time and space, there were far fewer of those willing to give love freely than there were those who willingly and selfishly took from others merely because they could.

Those who give love and expect nothing except the pure pleasure there is in giving are outnumbered by those who have never given a thought to another being whereby they did not balance what they, themselves would receive from such an engagement first. (I despise the latter.) Before I get sidetracked, I want to reassure those of you who have followed this blog that though I’ve been burned by the unwarranted hatred of others, I have not been consumed by it and that fact has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with me or anything that I’ve done. It does have EVERYTHING to do with the belief, faith and hope that was pushed in me, prayed over me, taught to me and shown to me by those who were sent to prepare me and the God who delivered me and the Christ who saved me.

One of my proven mantras is, “God always sends the right person into your life at the right time”. I challenge each of you to look back at some of the most difficult moments of your life and remember the person or persons who were there to help you through the process. I sincerely declare they were there by divine Providence and not by ordinary coincidence. To this point and because I’m still recovering from last week’s post, I’d like to focus for a period of time on some of those people God placed in my path. Some were bandages for my sore spirit. Some were the laughter that I thought I’d forgotten. Some were a soft spot on a hard day. All were Heaven’s Emissaries.

My dear little friend Fernell and her further influences will be covered more in a later chapter. I’ve written rather precisely of the major affect Mrs. C had upon me but there were others, such wonderfully, undeniably selfless others. Others of whom I would utterly dishonor were I do have allowed the seeds of hate spread at my feet to overtake the love vines planted by the likes of Sammie, a young man 4 to 5 years my senior who took the time to soothe the aching heart of a little girl when adults couldn’t be bothered to do so. Sammie showed me the true size of a mustard seed and what a gigantic plant it could grow into when watered by faith. I am not surprised at all that 25 to 30 years later he followed his heart into the Ministry. Mrs. J. Hubbard, taught me that food shared in love will fill an empty heart to overflowing. Mrs. Arleeza M., sang with such beautiful, Heavenly regard that even sadness would dress itself in melancholy loveliness and tip an upturned heart upright. These names some of you will remember and perhaps they will invoke altogether different or maybe similar recollections and there lies the beauty in looking back. I cherish each of these names and others.

But the name of the person of my next shared memory was never given to me but she was without a doubt the most selfless, the most giving, the most laughter spreading, contagiously charitable soul ever placed in my path and for her, I will always be grateful. One chapter will do her no justice, so please allow me to use this time simply as an introduction to a most wonderful, sadly used, terrifically abused, rescuer of one such as herself, fully discarded by all except God and me. There was a time when I truly wished she had told me her name because had she bestowed that honor upon me, I would have honored her by giving my first child her name in some form. But since I believe that it was not meant for me to know her by name because by doing so I would have ultimately centered all of my thoughts singularly upon her and those memories would have been attached to a name; yet by not knowing her name I am thereby forced to recognize the spirit she shared unselfishly with me and I in turn, desire ever to be that Spirit others see in me. My Papa, in an effort to instruct me in being careful of the impression I left with other, told me that my name would go places that I never would. In this young lady’s case, her spirit will touch unlimited souls in lands her feet never touched. I’m thrilled for the opportunity to share her loving kindness with you.

After The Sunset Limited pulled away from Beaumont’s Laurel Street station and made its first stop some 90 miles Southwest in Houston, it once again gathered its full head of steam and pressed forward toward Los Angeles. There was nothing to see outside except the darkness surrounding the train. The occasional blinking of the overhead amber-colored lights inside created ghostly, elongated shadows of the seated passengers, all of which I preferred not to see. There was exactly nothing to break the gloom that rode in that car with me except the hauntingly beautiful sound of a song that appeared to be playing over and over again from some other place on the train. Every time the person I came to know as the Porter would enter and leave the car in which I rode, the sound of the music would be louder and clearer. I wanted to follow him and find the source of the music but fear and insecurities kept me seated.

I began trying to make sense of the few words I was able to string together. “Got to take my baby, wherever I’m bound…ease the pain…Mr. Conductor…

After someone came into the car from somewhere behind me there was suddenly such a loud chorus of voices demanding in unison to: Back this train up, that it startled me and brought to mind train robberies on Westerns I’d watched with Papa! It was many hours later after I’d heard the same chorus of voices making the same demand when I finally understood that the voices were joining in on the refrain of a new song by new singing artist Al Green! It was October 1967 and Back Up Train was the latest hit song. There could have been no more appropriate song for my first lonely train ride! What’s more, this particular train was occupied by car after car of military troops being shipped West and then to parts unknown and all wanting the same as me, to back the train up!

Hunger, thirst, fear, loneliness and an increasingly difficult to suppress urge to empty my bladder made sleep impossible. The Lady into whose care I had been submitted, had entered the car, exchanged seats with me, ate a piece of fried chicken from her possessively protected, twine-tied shoebox and promptly fell asleep with her head resting upon the window, never saying a word to me. I dared not to wake her to ask where I could relieve myself. I thought it not important enough. I did vow however, that I would ask the next person to passing how one would go about relieving oneself aboard a bunch of moving metal boxes! Trouble was, and I had no way of knowing, it was already well past midnight and no one would be passing by for several more hours.

Somehow, I had falling fitfully asleep and awoke to Bro. Al still pleading with the Conductor and my bladder still pleading with me. Sometime during the period after I’d fallen asleep, the Lady must have awakened and partook again of her precious boxed lunch because she now held a handkerchief which was wrapped around sucked cleaned bones. (I wonder if I would have noticed how totally devoid of flesh those bones were if I had not been so hungry.) I hadn’t eaten since 11:30 the previous day and I couldn’t remember my last restroom visit! I considered briefly asking for a piece of the Lady’s chicken or barring that a piece of her bread but Mother’s admonition of never letting anyone know you were hungry to avoid being taken advantage of, chased that thought away. But I was not above waking her this time to ask about a restroom! Just as I was about to shake her shoulder, a lovely, slender young woman stopped next to me and bid me good morning. Startled, I tried but failed to give voice to a greeting in return.

The previous day’s crying and the lack of water had left me quite hoarse! Gratefully, she didn’t let my croaking dissuade her from talking further. Looking at the Lady still sleeping next to me, she asked, “Is she your mother?” I shook my head vigorously. “Your grandmother?” Again I shook my head. She covered several other feminine relationship possibilities before she finally blurted out, “Well, what the hell you doing sitting here with her?” I didn’t know whether to giggle or cry; giggle was my first choice, but I was too vicariously close to wetting myself to lose myself in a fit of giggles! She told me that she’d seen me sleeping the night before and wanted to talk to me because she had seen me crying on the platform and wanted to know if I was alright. She had come looking for me! I croaked out “restroom” and she said, “lawd gawd, you ain’t peed all night?” Again, I shook my head. “Com’on, let’s go” she said, I followed.

She took me forward to the front of the car and then out. There was about a four-foot, windowed, enclosed area between the cars with a moving left to right floor, it terrified me. She told me that we would have to jump over the moving floor to the next car since neither of our legs were long enough to simply step over. She saw the uncertainty in my face and asked if I’d ever played hopscotch, nodding this time, she said “same thing, we just moving is all”. Nothing except the humiliation of wetting myself made me take that jump and the very next car held a restroom! It had been a very long time since I had been so grateful for anything so basic! After relieving the pressure of my bladder, my stomach was now free to voice its opposition to being neglected. Loud, angry grumbling refused to pay attention to Mother’s admonitions, and she giggled as she asked me which I had been holding longer, my hunger or my water? That time I did giggle, she had such an old manner of speaking, but I didn’t want her to think I was laughing at her. I needn’t have worried, she laughed with me. She told me to follow her and we car hopped to the next car and miracles upon miracles there were people, tables and Food! She asked if I had any money, still unable to speak, I pulled the handkerchief from my pocket with the quarter, nickel and 2 pennies tied into the corner. She looked at me sadly and asked if I was going all the way to California with .32 cents? I knew my meager clothing was nothing of which to brag but I hadn’t realized until then just how poor a picture I presented. My stomach chose that second and growled all the louder. She told me to sit down and order whatever I wanted. I shook my head and she told me that she would tell me to shut up if I had actually said something but, since I couldn’t talk to just sit down and get ready to eat! I did and had what seemed the most wonderful meal of my short life! Sausage, bacon, eggs, biscuits, jelly, potatoes and my first taste of real, fresh-squeezed orange juice, not Tang, and I didn’t like it, but I drank every drop. I didn’t know how far away California was or if I’d have another meal before we arrived. She paid for our food and I hugged her and thanked her profusely. The warm food, water and juice having softened my vocal cords somewhat, I thanked her. I wanted to talk to her, ask questions and find out things about her but the heavy meal and lack of restful sleep was making it difficult to follow my own thoughts. She took me back to my car and the still sleeping Lady, whose cold chicken now just smelled greasy instead of delicious and promise to come back and check on me. I hugged her again, curled up in my seat and joined the Lady in deep, train rocking, satisfying sleep.

True to her promise, she came back and told me to hold out my hand. I did and she pressed a twenty- dollar bill into it. It took me a moment to grasp that this was something she was giving to me. The last time anyone had pressed folded money into my hands was the night Mother died (what had happened to that money). She reached down and closed my fingers around the bill and told me she’d see me later at supper time. She had work to do. I nodded and watched her leave. I fell asleep again in the early afternoon light thinking of her, how old she was, how pretty she was and if she might be a waitress in the dining car. I couldn’t wait to share another meal with her, not for the sake of eating but for the pure pleasure of listening to her.