Publication Information: McMillion, C. P. (2012, Mar / April). Grandmother. Christian Woman Magazine, 28(2), 50-51.
I remember spending many a summer night with my grandmother, Mama Kidd. She was living with Aunt Pernie and Uncle Grady by then, having been widowed some years before. I think they must have added on to the place when she came, because it seems to me that the den, small bathroom, and Mama Kidd’s room were of a slightly different construction than the rest of the house. I don’t know for sure since I was only a small girl then. All I know is that it was a warm and inviting place and I wanted to be there.
Their home was several miles from town on a country road lined with pastures, a few houses, and patches of trees that opened out behind into deep woods. On sultry summer afternoons Mama Kidd, Aunt Pern, and I often sat outdoors on the porch with dishpans full of field peas to shell or beans to snap. Passing cars were fodder for speculation as not many folks passed that way. Who was that coming up the road in the green Buick? It had to be old man Stover on his way to town. Yes, we were right. He threw his hand up in greeting and we returned the wave. His boy was going off to college this fall, did you know? Smart one, that boy. Sure is doing his daddy proud.
I labored over the dishpan but could not sit long without running out to the row of apple trees to gather a few in my shirt. “They’ll give you a stomach-ache,” Aunt Pern would call after me, but they never did, though I routinely ate perhaps a half-dozen at a time. I have not since tasted any so good as those: smallish, green, meaty, warm from sunshine, sweet but not cloying.
I wore my hair in long yellow braids then and played barefoot in the grass with a gentle Shetland pony named Thunder whom we often brought up from the pasture to the yard. I recall climbing onto his bare back and sliding down his neck to the ground, over and over again while he stood placidly grazing, his reins hanging loose. What patience he had with small children.
There were cows as well but I was afraid of them. They left nasty piles in the pasture and followed too closely when Aunt Pern and I went to the barn to pour feed into the troughs. I stayed by her side and tried to imitate her brave manner, but my heart beat quickly until we were safely outside the gate again.
Aunt Pernie was my outdoor aunt and we never ran out of interesting things to do together: shucking corn, fishing, gathering eggs, pulling potatoes out of the soft brown earth, gathering black walnuts, eating slices of watermelon and seeing how far we could spit the seeds.
I don’t remember Mama Kidd ever venturing to the barns or the woods with us, though she did enjoy working in the yard. She grew roses that smelled like the breath of heaven when you buried your face in the blooms. She was small and stooped, wore dresses and sensible black shoes every day, and had a quiet grace, though I have heard tales that she was quite feisty in her youth. She often sat by the den window stitching quilt tops, teaching me how to draw flowers, or listening to preaching on the radio. Sometimes, if I begged long enough, she would pull out boxes of old photographs and tell me about the people in them. There were tintypes of couples sitting straight and solemn, childhood pictures of my mother, uncle, and aunts, and photos of older cousins in all their growing up stages. There were even pictures of babies clothed in white bonnets and dresses, still and silent in their tiny caskets. There were stories in the pictures, some of pride, some of tragedy.
When the day was done, there was supper in the kitchen. I don’t remember the meals, except for Mama Kidd’s unsuccessful attempts to entice me to eat vegetables. That, and my perplexity over Uncle Grady’s teasing that I was pulling his leg. No, I wasn’t, I insisted, bending down to look under the table, I didn’t even touch you.
For dessert there was deep-dish blackberry cobbler, made with fruit that Aunt Pern and I had picked. We had gone out earlier in the day wearing long pants and sleeves for protection against thorns and chiggers. I was cautioned about snakes as well, but I never saw one. It took a long time to fill our buckets, what with me eating nearly as many as I saved. Blackberry cobbler was my favorite, and I am sure that there is nothing better in the world: a warm, buttery, sugar-crusted top, soft fat berries, and thick dumplings purple and sweet with juice.
After supper, after the catching of lightning bugs in the gravel driveway, after the quiet of talk on the porch and Lawrence Welk’s orchestra on TV, it was time for bed. Mama Kidd’s four-poster had a feather tick over the mattress and I always crawled to my spot on the far side, nearest the open window, and then turned back to watch the ritual she performed in preparation for bed. She stood before the dresser, pulled a long white nightgown over her head, modestly loosened her clothes underneath, stepped out of them, and then let down her long dark hair. It had been bound up in a grandmotherly bun all day, but it rippled down her back now in waves like a girl’s. She brushed it out and then climbed into bed, switching off the lamp, and leaving only the moon to shine in on us.
Being a town girl, I was not accustomed to the night sounds of crickets or frogs or of moths brushing against window screens. If a coyote howled in the distance or an owl hooted from a tree nearby, my grandmother soothed my fears. “Chip-fell-out-of-the-white-oak,” Mama Kidd said of the whippoorwill’s call, “Chip-fell-out-of-the-white-oak.” She told me stories of when she was a child. My favorite was about a newborn lamb that was found in the corner of a pasture, bawling and motherless. Her papa brought it home and the children fed it milk from a glove they had fashioned into a sort of bottle. The lamb became a beloved pet, following them about and even sometimes jumping on their beds when it came indoors.
There were other stories I remember from those nights. Two I asked for again and again were about Daniel in the lions’ den and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace. If she tired of the telling, she never let on. She teased me from time to time: “You don’t want to hear that again, do you?” she asked, and I always answered, “Yes, I do!” Then would begin the story, sprinkled throughout with phrases from the King James Bible: “King Nebuchadnezzar made a golden image and commanded that when the people heard the sound of the trumpet, flute, harp and all kinds of music, that they must fall down and worship the golden image that the king had set up. Anyone who refused to fall down and worship would be cast into a burning fiery furnace…”
The Hebrew children’s courage in the face of royal decrees and terrible danger thrilled me. I loved to hear how God had closed the mouths of the hungry lions and delivered the faithful from the furnace with not even a hair of their heads singed by the flames. I could picture it all: the king in his crown and royal robes, the jealous officials plotting against the Israelites, the blast of trumpets, the refusal to worship the golden image or pray to the king, the arrests, the guards tossing the prisoners to what must be a certain death, the king’s astonishment when the young men were unharmed, the issuing of a new decree that everyone in the land should worship the God of the Hebrews. The scenes she painted on the canvas of my mind could not have been more vivid had I seen them with my own eyes.
Mama Kidd’s was the first voice of faith that I remember, the first to breathe life into these ancient stories of God’s dealings with his people.
Like many women of her day, my grandmother had only a grade school education. She married at fifteen, bore six children, spent her life on a farm, and had no truck with the rich or famous. Yet her influence, like that of the great cloud of witnesses spoken of in Holy Scripture, is still being felt generations after her passing.
To the small granddaughter who lay beside her in bed on those long-ago summer evenings, drinking in every delicious word, she patiently handed down tales of valor and loyalty, of strength and faithfulness, of God mighty to save.
The whippoorwills called, the crickets sang, the wind rustled in the trees. All these, but the cadence of my grandmother’s voice, soft as feathers, was more often than not the last night music that fell on my ears.