I was lounging in one of the old Adirondack chairs on our wrap-around-front porch while enjoying a cup of hot coffee. The views of Lake Waccamaw were gorgeous.
Sleepily sipping my cup-of-Joe I suddenly became mindful of the thunder afar, the occasional loud barking (Rain Calls) of the little green tree frogs, and the haunting sound of the mourning doves. The scent of the coffee and the morning sounds, like a time machine, sent my mind back to childhood days in Waynesboro Mississippi and my summer visits with my paternal grandmother, affectionately named "Mam'Maw", who lived in Petal.
Most every summer my parents would pack me off for at least a two week visit with her and her daughter, Aunt Dixie, who had a home next door. Aunt Dixie had two children about my age and we always enjoyed the long hot summer visits together.
In the nineteen-fifties most states, including Mississippi, did not recognize daylight saving time. We simply went to bed early and arose at the first sign of daylight. Of course this made for a very long hot Mississippi summer day and we made the best of every minute.
Almost every day Mam'Maw would take us fishing and swimming at local creeks, usually Big or Green Creek. She taught us how to prepare our fishing poles with a line, sinker, and fishhook. We always dug up our own earthworms for bait and Mam'Maw taught us how to put them on the fishhook and then how to hook a fish.
We nearly always caught a sizable stringer of fish. When we caught one, I would string it onto a stringer and then put them back into the creek. Once I remember lifting a stringer of perch from the dark water to add a fish when noticing that only the heads and pectoral fins were left of a couple. The rest of their bodies were missing!
"Mam'Maw, Mam'Maw look, what do you think happened to these fish", I questioned frantically and bewildered.
"Uh, don't give that no never mind. Probably a water moccasin or two had their dinner of them. It was probably a cottonmouth. Keep an eye out fer them fer they are quite poisonous." she mumbled without further ado.
Now I confess. I do not care much for snakes, especially poison snakes. So, from that day forward, every time a twig or something touched my leg while fishing or walking through brush, I would jump a foot high and do an Indian dance certain that the prick was a snake bite!
Some days when the fish were not biting, we would leave early for Mam'Maw's home.
Roy, my first cousin and I would meander around trying to stay out of trouble. Often we would Lazily stroll down the old country road in front of the house. We didn't have a care in the world and we shared secrets that we would not dare fess up with anyone else.
After wandering and chewing the fat for about a mile we would climb through a barbed wire fence to cut across, carefully dodging cow patties, a huge pasture to Mrs. Birdsong's farm. She was Mam'Maw's nearest non-relative neighbor and she had a Bantam "Banty" Rooster that had a very ornery disposition - to say the least! Banty roosters are smaller than the normal run-of-the-mill chicken-yard rooster and with their small-man attitude, he usually "out-roosters" his standard size counterpart. Mrs. Birdsong always told us, with a roaring cackle of her own, that while the rooster proudly crowed and strutted around the yard, the hens were busy delivering the goods!
I loved 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 lore. Mrs. Birdsong was a childless widow. I sensed that she was a very lonely person. Even so, she was an adorable delightful eccentric gray-haired lady. She loved us boys and would fuss over us as if we were her very own.
"What you boys doing over yonder by my chikin yard," Mrs. Birdsong crowed peering around the screen door, "Y'all stirring up the Chikins?"
"No ma'am. We ain't causing no racket," I answered, "We were looking for "old Banty".
Roy chimed in; "Old Banty is one mean son-of-a-gun for sure Mrs. Birdsong. I think we ought to wring his neck and fry him up for supper." He wise-cracked with an enormous mischievous grin.
"You boys quit riling up my Chikins and git on over cheer Lickety split" she bellowed.
Without delay we double-timed to the back porch. She quietly urged, "Come inside boys. I have something special for you. You can't ever tell your Ma or Pa, now...ye hear."
Intrigued, we scampered inside agreeing to her suggested clandestineness.
Inside the kitchen was a large homemade dining table with six straight-back chairs. The seats were made from the hide of a cow. The hair was turned up but most had been worn off from many years of use. In the far corner was a wood stove with a percolating coffeepot and a couple of stock pots. Near the stove was an ironing board with a Royal Crown (RC) Cola bottle, obviously used as a water or clothes sprinkler, perched on the top. An Iron was heating on the stove with a potholder wrapped around the handle.
The kitchen was hot but we relaxed and gazed at the old lady with anticipation.
"I got some teacakes in the oven and coffee brewing. You boys like teacakes?" She asked.
"Darn tootin'. We love teacakes," Roy blurted out.
"Well, hows 'bout coffee, ever had any?"
Back in those days coffee was strictly an adult brew, but we were willing to indulge; especially since we all agreed to keep it from our parents. We perched as high in our chairs as we could to appear as grown-up as possible and replied almost in unison, "Ain't never had any but like to try it -
always smells so good when percolating".
Mrs. Birdsong, smiling on the side of her face, winked at us and removed the teacakes from the oven. They smelled heavenly! She carefully placed them on her expensive china platter and put them on the table in front of us saying, "Y'all help yourselves".
Roy and I grabbed a cake in each hand and began devouring the delightful treats. Suddenly she put three of her fine china cups and saucers on the table with steaming hot coffee in each. "Enjoy your first cup-of-Joe boys."
She sat down sipping from her cup over which her eyes were smiling at us with the look of motherly affection.
The "coffee" was mostly hot cream with 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 thereafter and many other times during each year we visited with the eccentric gray-haired lady Birdsong to enjoy coffee and teacakes. She loved us and we loved her enormously. It was as if God had given us a bonus Grandma!
One day at home in Waynesboro as I was doing my home 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 with her beautiful blue eyes and rubbing the oilcloth as if it needed cleaning.
"Mike, Mrs. Birdsong told me years ago how you had, in her words "taken a liking" to her tea cakes and coffee." She stated in a matter-of-fact tone. "Yes Ma'am," I whispered realizing our little clandestine jig was up.
"Well, Mam'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 off.
"She what?" I asked as I jerked back to reality and to my Lake Waccamaw home. My eyes were misty and my Cup-of-Joe had cooled.
Mrs. Birdsong had been my first experience with death. I did not understand it then as I do now.
I believe God sent her into my life to teach me that giving love and kindness to another is the greatest and most powerful gift known to mankind. Mrs. Birdsong, who had so little, gave me the best gift possible - love and kindness.
Copyright © 2011 Michael Hollingsworth All rights reserved