Usually we would catch a sizeable stringer. When I pulled one in, I would put it on the stringer and return it to the water. One day I remember lifting a stringer of perch out of the creek to add a fish and noticed that a couple of fish were half gone.
" Maw-Maw, Maw-Maw look! What do you think happened to these fish", I asked excitedly as I held them up for her to see.
"Uh, don't give that no never mind now Mike" she answered, "A water snake or two had their dinner of them." "Probably water moccasins," she added, "Keep an eye out for them. They are quite poisonous."
Now I confess. I cared little for snakes, especially poison snakes and from that day forward, every time a twig or something touched my leg while fishing I would jump a foot high and do an Indian dance certain that a snake had just bitten me.
On days when the fish were not biting, we would leave early and return home. Billy Pat, my first cousin and I would wander around trying to find ways to stay out of trouble. Often we would take strolls down the old country road that ran in front of the house. We didn't have a care in the world and shared secrets that we would not dare share with anyone else.
After walking and talking for about a mile, we would climb through a barbed wire fence and cut across a huge cow pasture to Mrs. Birdsong's farm. She was Maw-Maw’s nearest non-relative neighbor. She had a Bantam "Banty" Rooster that had a very ornery disposition. Banty roosters are smaller than the normal run-of-the-mill chicken-yard rooster and with their small- man attitude, usually "out-roosters" his standard size counterpart.
I love the Birdsong name, and often wondered how and when the name came into being. I never got around to asking and she never volunteered the information. Mrs. Birdsong was a widow with no children and I believe that she was a very lonely lady. She was also a loveable eccentric old lady. One thing for sure, she loved us boys and would fuss over us as if we were her very own children. On my first visit to her house she did something special.
"What are you boys doing over yonder by my chikin’ yard," Mrs. Birdsong crowed while peering around the screen door, "Y'all stirring up them Chikins?"
"No ma'am. We ain't causing no racket," Billy Pat answered, "We’re looking for 'Old Banty'" Old Banty is a mean son-of-a-gun for sure Mrs. Birdsong. I’m a thinkin’ we ought to wring his neck and fry him up for supper." He retorted with an enormous mischievous grin.
"You boys quit riling up my Chikins and git on over here Lickety split" she bellowed.
Without hesitation we ran to the back porch and she quietly demanded, "Come inside boys. I have something special for you. But you must never tell your parents, yea hear."
Intrigued, we scampered inside agreeing to secrecy.
The kitchen had a large homemade wooden table with six straight-back chairs dead center of the enormous room. The chair seats were made from the hide of a cow. The hair was turned up but most of the hair had been worn off from many years of use. In the corner stood a wood-burning stove with a percolator on top. An ironing board was standing close to the stove with an RC Cola bottle filled with water. Obviously it was used as a clothes sprinkler. A clothes Iron was heating up on the stove with a potholder wrapped around the handle. The kitchen was hot.
Billy Pat and I relaxed and looked at the old lady with anticipation.
"I got some teacakes in the oven and coffee a brewing. You boys like teacakes?" She asked.
"You Darn tootin'. We love teacakes," Billy Pat blurted out.
"Well, how 'bout coffee, you ever had any?" She questioned.
Coffee back then was strictly for adults, but we were willing to indulge since we all had agreed to keep it a secret. Billy Pat and I sat up as high in our chairs as we could to appear adult-like and replied in unison that we had never tried it but have always wanted to.
Mrs. Birdsong, with a crooked smile on the side of her face, winked at us and removed the teacakes from the oven. She carefully placed them on her expensive china platter and put them on the table in front of us.
"Help yourselves fellows,"
Billy Pat and I grabbed a cake in each hand and began devouring the delightful treats. Then she put three of her fine china cups and saucers on the table each full of steaming hot coffee.
"Enjoy your first cup of coffee boys," She said taking a sip from hers and smiling at us with affection.
The coffee was mostly hot cream, lots of sugar, and a dash of coffee but it was absolutely delicious as was the teacakes. We swelled with pride and felt as if we had just joined the "grown-up" world.
Every summer we visited with the old eccentric lady and we always enjoyed her coffee and teacakes. She loved us and we grew to love her tremendously. It was as if God had given us a bonus Grandma.
One day at home in Waynesboro as I was doing my schoolwork, my mother came in and sat down on the opposite side of the dining table from me. I looked up to find her studying me and rubbing the oilcloth with a dishrag as if it the tabletop needed cleaning.
"Mike, Mrs. Birdsong told me a few years ago how you had, in her words "taken a liking" to her tea cakes and coffee."
"Yes Ma'am," I whispered realizing I had just been busted for drinking.
"Well, your Maw-Maw phoned yesterday that Mrs. Birdsong was in a Hattiesburg hospital and that she was very ill. This morning she telephoned again...," Mother’s voice drifted.
"And what?" I asked knowing full well what was coming.
Quietly she answered, "She didn't make it through the night"
Jerking back to reality at lake Waccamaw, I wiped away a tear. Mrs. Birdsong had been my first experience with losing a love one. I couldn’t understand it back then but I do now.
I believe that God sent her into my life to teach me that giving kindness and love to another is the greatest and most powerful gift known to mankind. My bonus Grandma, who had so little, gave me the best gift she could possibly give, love and kindness – an absolute priceless gift!
God, If there are teacakes and coffee in Heaven, please place an order for Mrs. Birdsong and tell her how much I love and miss her.