Southern Legitimacy Statement: I was born in Michigan, lived in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Louisville, Kentucky, then spent 25 years in Vicksburg, Mississippi, and am now in Florida. I love the south: its people, weather, food, culture, and music.
We figured there was a problem when we saw Granny Wilkerson come down the lane all by herself. She needed two canes; been lame for the last 10 years, almost long as I remember. Ol’ Dobson was with her. In dog years, he is about as old as her. He limped, too. It was awful windy and cold that day, too cold to snow, as folks say. The red clay out front was stiff and crusty, white in places from the bit of snow we had last week.
When Ma saw it was just Granny, she said, “Oh Jesus Mary and Joseph.”
I was eight years old then, four years younger than Lucille, and two years older than Molly and Emily, the twins. Granny Wilkerson wore a long black coat, heavy boots, and her long white hair whipped and snapped around her face like willow branches in a storm. Some of her front teeth got knocked out a while back, and when she talked, put her hand to her mouth. Not so much as you’d notice at first. You might think she couldn’t quite remember what she was about to say or felt a bit of collard or spinach stuck back there and wanted to pull it out but wouldn’t while you was there.
When she come up to the door, Ma said, “You girls skedaddle to the other room, and you, Jeff,” she pointed to me, “Go get your Pa, he’s in the barn milking.”
I ran out to the barn and there was Pa on the three-legged stool alongside Sara Red, the cow we liked best. When Pa saw me he said, “What’s up?” because he knew I was supposed to be in school.
I told him that I didn’t know exactly but suspected it was about Grandpa, because it was only Granny Wilkerson and Ol’ Dobson by theirselves.
Pa whacked his knee with the back of his hand and stood up, and Guinevere, our twelve-year-old Border Collie who’s too old to herd but tries anyway, got up too. Pa and me and Guinevere stepped out of the barn and when the dogs saw each other, they touched noses, sniffed each other, made little barks.
I asked Pa if I should stay outside and he said, “No, come on,” and when we got in, Granny Wilkerson and Ma was on the couch. They were rocking back and forth, hugging each other tight, tears running down their cheeks and onto their dresses. I could see the girls peeking through the doorway. The twins were crying, but Lucille just stood there, her eyes cold and shiny like little black marbles.
Then Ma said to Granny Wilkerson, “You’ll stay with us now.”
Pa told Ma and Granny Wilkerson that they should go back to the house and pack up her things. Me and him would come by later and load it all in the truck. Then he poured himself a cup of coffee from the metal pot on the stove and added sugar and a jot of milk from the pitcher. The twins and Lucille came out to be with Granny Wilkerson.
Pa picked up his coffee cup, took one sip, then slammed it down on the table and told us all to grab our coats and mittens and to put on our boots. He said, “Now we’re gonna tear out that goddamned stone wall.”
Me and the girls grabbed the little ones and Pa got the ones we couldn’t lift. Some were of the size that me and Lucille had to help him roll them to the side. It didn’t take but fifteen minutes to clear the path. One the way back home, me and the twins followed behind Pa and Lucille. Pa had his arm on Lucille’s shoulder, hugged her tight all the way.
I always wondered why we weren’t supposed to go up to their house by ourselves, and why Pa blocked the path. But when I saw that look on Lucille’s face, and how she and Pa walked together real close, I kind of figured it out.
When we got back, Pa’s cup of coffee was gone. Ma or Granny Wilkerson must of poured it out.