I was 5, maybe 6, living with my grandmother, Miz Lena, in a small white house at the top of 50 acres, two miles from town in Middle Tennessee. We had left the farm and moved into Columbia. Grandmom …
I was 5, maybe 6, living with my grandmother, Miz Lena, in a small white house at the top of 50 acres, two miles from town in Middle Tennessee. We had left the farm and moved into Columbia. Grandmom intended to tear down the little white house and build her dream home. Zoning was already approved for her to develop the rest of the property into an upscale subdivision.
She did, indeed, build the home that she had envisioned. It was a showpiece. My grandfather, an architect, drew up the blueprinted plans. And, true to form, she succeeded in building 50 houses on the other 49 acres ... veni, vidi, vici.
It was summer. Clarence, a little black man, and I were getting ready to run Saturday errands for Miz Lena. She wrote down the list of things to do on the front of a small brown grocery sack and handed it to Clarence.
She said, "Now, Clarence, I want you to run git me a box of six-penny nails at Mr. Harris's before yuh do anything else. First stop. He's been closin' early, lately. Then do the rest on the list. And, don't let Butch sit up front. Make sure you don't go past the speed limit. It's Saturday. They won't let you outta jail till Monday. And, that bail money's gonna come right outta yore pay."
Clarence had worked for Miz Lena for years. He knew how she was. Sometimes, extreme. Most of the time, really. He always knew what to say. "Miz Lena, ain't nothin to worry 'bout. I take care of it all."
Grandmom looked at me and said, "Butch, Honey, don't you be talkin' to Clarence while he's drivin'. Sit back. And, don't be kickin the back a’ his seat. Yuh'll make him run off the side a' the road, and I'll have to come visit yuh in the Maury County Hospital.
Back to Clarence. "Clarence, stop by Gilly Truelove's and pick me out two good watermelons and a big box of Lipton tea bags. I need to go check on Mama. If you git back home before me, have Elizabeth cut up the melons and stick‘em in the 'fridgerator."
With her omnipresent yardstick in one hand. Her keys and a white hanky, in her other. Fast walking back to the kitchen and out the door. Into the Caddy, and she was off.
Things that needed to get done before supper. We were on the clock. Things to get done before the sun went down. We’d celebrate the coming dusk, Miz Lena style.
Cold watermelon, iced tea, chocolate milk and a slice of banana cake. Sometimes, old people’s ice cream. Strawberry. All rolled out and served, throughout the evening, out on that little white house's back screened porch. It was a big room.
Wood, painted white, up about three feet, on three sides of the porch. Screen the rest of the way up to the roof line. A big wooden screen door at the other end of the porch, down from the rocking chairs and a brass day bed. A big fern on a white wicker stand. And, a black metal fan, pulling in the fragrance of the summer roses and honeysuckle. Spraying them and the night's air, back and forth, across our faces.
Miz Lena had that screen door wired tight. When you pushed it open, the springs made a funny "sproing" sound. When you let it go, it slammed back with a "whack."
No lights on the porch. Only the one, above the sink in the kitchen, behind us. Just enough light so you could see what you were doing. Grandmom used to say that you can hear better in the dark. No TV. No radio. Just the sounds of the summer night, right out in front of us. Southern living at its best.
The first lightning bugs of the night sky-danced with the rhythm of the night’s performing trio. Crickets, June bugs and tree frogs. An occasional distant dog barking at something moving out there. A flock of bright silver stars above.
Only every once-in-awhile, you'd hear the ruffling of the oak trees, out past the fence, signaling there was a welcome breeze coming our way. It was like God had set up the evening, especially for Miz Lena.
Grandmom had learned from her parents, Papa and Mama Sue Harvey, how precious summer nights were. When you’re way out in the country, without much money, you learn to appreciate the simple things. You get closer to nature. Closer to the Almighty. Miz Lena would say, “If yuh just sit back and listen, the Lord’ll entertain yuh.”
She was right. It’s one of those times that can only be experienced in the South.
Fighting sleep, I'd listen to the light-chatter conversations between my grandparents. I could only see a little bit of them. The way the light hit, I saw my grandmother smile at my grandfather. They spoke lovingly to one another. Almost in a whisper. Granddad reached out and took hold of her little hand. In the darkness, they were young again. My grandparents were in love and at peace. That made me happy.
Pretty soon, I crawled up in the day bed. Miz Lena pulled the light blanket back and covered me. She'd let me sleep out there, tonight. The fan. The crickets. The smells of a sweet, soft, southern summer night. I felt the love.
It doesn't get any better.
(About the writer: Bill Stamps may be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook.)
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