The following is a true story. Although some of the names have been changed, the characters are real. Conversations are written as I remember and are not intended to be exact quotations. The sequence of events in this story is in a somewhat condensed time frame.
Memories fade. They can slip away like a rain drop sliding off a roof. But the emotions that I feel from my childhood stay with me, cementing some memories into my soul. The embrace of a time and place is comforting like a feather pillow and I tuck those memories all around soothing me, as I remember the time before….before the beginning….before the real life….before the realization of inequities, injustice and harsh realities of adulthood. Sometimes I close my eyes and I can still hear the music and feel the heat. I want to immerse myself into the before….step into it as I would into a warm bath.
Up until the summer I turned 8, I had lived in a bubble of childhood, insulated from the rest of the world, just seeing my little world as a simple, happy time. The sixties would be turbulent, full of radical change and turmoil but that summer of 1960, life was sleepy, relaxed and steeped in attitudes and behaviors that were engraved in the lives of everyone in the south. That eventful summer I would have to face the complexities of life and the realities that most children have trouble understanding. As I sit here reminiscing about the time I lived in South Georgia, tears of my heart still well up with the memories.
It was a time in my life that I thought would always last, but as life does, children grow up and lives change. I can’t remember everything, but the memories that do exist fill me with warmth of my life in a time set apart, unique in history and filled with childhood wonder. We lived in South Georgia in a time when people had certain expectations of each other and any other alternatives were not mentioned. When opportunities existed only for a few. I did not know of the disagreements between political parties or the unrest between class and race. I did not know of temporal relationships. I did not know that time is an existential part of our being and that it breathes change with every second, transforming our lives in a heartbeat as realization dawns in a child as readily as learning the ABCs. As a child of 7, I saw the world only as it affected me, as all children do. And as all children do, I was forced to learn of the things that were all around me that I hadn’t noticed before.
This little light of mine…..I try to remember…..it’s like trying to hold onto a dream… fleeting… wispy. Did it really happen or was it something someone told me? Impressions mostly… details are hazy, then all of a sudden I find myself ‘there,’ sitting in the living room smelling the dusty odors from the burlap on the fan in the window, feeling the floor rumble softly with the vibrations – and I turn the pages of my life.
“Aw, come on, M’Rose. Com’ on out ‘n play.” I sat on the wood floor, picking at a loose edge of the rug.
“No, I’m readin,” came the mumbled reply from behind the thick book. I looked down at my old first grade book and thought “there’s just so many times that I can read See Spot Run.”
I got up off the chair, lifting the heavy weight of my hair off my sticky neck and wandered toward the kitchen. Jim Reeves Christmas songs blared from the record player and Momma jitterbugged the broom across the floor singing “Bluuue Christmasss.” She listened to Christmas music all year, even in the heat of the summer and this was one of the hottest summers in South Georgia.
“Hey, Irene, what we got ta eat?” I hollered.
“Dinner’ll be in a hour. You’ens kin jus’ wait,” Irene patiently responded.
I glanced over to the stove where beans were boiling and the chicken pieces were all floured up just waiting to be put in the grease filled skillet.
“You kin have a piece of potato when I get em peeled,” she promised. “Jus’ let me finish this shirt.” Sweat dripped from under the rag Irene had wrapped around her head. I watched. As one fell it’d leave a shiny path across her dark forehead and another one would pop out to take its place as Irene pushed that hot iron back and forth.
I turned on the faucet to get a drink and reached for one of the new, glasses that came in the box of Tide laundry soap. “’Rene can I have a jelly jar like yours? My own glass that nobody else can drink out of? Jus’ for myself?”
“No, chile. Now go on outside.”
The water tasted warm. I set my glass on the window ledge beside Irene’s jelly jar glass. It was the only glass that Irene would drink out of. “I wish I had my own glass like you,” I said, but Irene didn’t hear me, she was humming along with Momma and Jim Reeves.
I bounded out the back door and as the screen door banged shut I could barely hear Irene say, “An don’ slam the do’!”
I stood just outside the house feeling the hot sun prickle my skin through my thin dress. The wet burlap over the window fan flapped in time to the music. I stepped into the dirt road that ran along beside our house, the dust rising up with every step and settled on top of my bare toes leaving them a dirty red. I could hear Mrs. Hall’s music box tinkling through the open window as I entered her yard next door. Momma’s Christmas music seemed far away.
I pushed aside a low hanging limb and climbed inside its leaf covered arms feeling the cool embrace envelop me in one big hug. Under that big tree, the cool dirt pulled the heat out of my feet and a cool breeze caressed my face. I dropped into my favorite spot and plucked off a big, juicy fig. I bit through the tough skin and the pink fruit filled my mouth with sweet and cool.
“Ah,” I sighed. I ate five squishy figs sitting in the cool shade listening to the tinkling of the music box and Momma’s Christmas music.
to be continued......
This is Me, Marva Rose and Patty in 1956 in front of our house.