“TC Medlin Burned it Down,” Mamaw said.
The house. The house where Mamaw (my mother's mother) was raised. The one with wisteria vines and an old well so cold they put jars of milk in it to refrigerate them…Gone. The place was sold when my great-grandmother died, and the new owner had other plans.
“And he bulldozed the old graveyard,” said Mamaw.
Memories…flashbacks…me barely tall enough to reach my Mamaw’s waist…the dirt road…going on and on, past Aunt Gladys’s and the old trailer Mamaw had “escaped” to once, when Papaw was on a marathon drinking binge…
“Come on in, little darlin’! she calls from the trailer door. “I gotcha some maccaroni and cheese!”
I leave my tricycle upside-down, wheels spinning in the air, my bucket of rocks sitting in the driveway…running up steps to grab Mamaw’s pants leg, barely able to contain my excitement ,and then…I smell Spam frying…and pintos…all the smells of home…
Me and Mamaw share a meal—me 4, her 51. It was the year she recovered from her heart attack. She would live 36 more years, spam and fatback and pintos and all…
Perhaps the pintos saved her life. After all, that’s what my buddy Jason told me at play school…
“Eat more beans, they’re good for your heart,
the more you eat, the more you…”
Mamaw lived, in full glory to the age of 87, although she only managed to “escape” to the trailer once in her 49 years of marriage…
ONCE, heart broken and looking to be mended…
ONCE escaping the man who lay drunk in the floor
ONCE—upon a time, when I was only four.
They lived together 14 more years after that. Not until his death did they part. I was 18 when we said goodbye to Papaw. He died sober, thank God—sober for more than 2 years. I had just turned 16, so I could drive them to AA meetings 17 miles away—Papaw, with Mamaw and Brad along in full support.
Yes, he died sober, thank God…
I walked down the old road this morning. The trailer where Mamaw cooked me Spam and maccaroni is still there—wrapped in an exterior of vinyl siding to make it “new,” but stationary—no longer a true “mobile” home. In my heart, I can still see it in its 1950’s fashion, on wheels, with Patsy Cline playing. But I won’t tell you the years of history that trailer had, long before Mamaw used it as a retreat to get away from her husband for a month in 1977. I won’t tell you how my father found Mamaw’s older brother dead there in 1973. I wont’ tell you of the death, murder, suicide, alcoholism, and incest that all happened within steps of where I stand now. No, I’ll just tell you about TODAY…
Little puppy-dogs come up to greet me enthusiastically. Gladys’s and CB’s house up the hill behind me looks exactly the same as it always has—although neither my Mama nor I know who lives there now…nor in the trailer, anymore…
So I say hey to the puppies.
They love on me, although they’re strangers. Some things really HAVE changed, for when I first learned to ride a bike, Mama told me to watch out for dogs. I was terribly afraid of their sharp teeth…and so back then, dogs were my enemies. As a result, they ran after me on my little bicycle and bit me in the ass.
Today, me and the puppies are friends. I tell them, “Get out of the road, little love muffin!” They keep lapping my hands while I say it, until finally, I have to stand up, take a deep breath in the morning sunshine, right in front of the little trailer where I once played with Tonka trucks, and say to myself, with my inner voice…
“Guardian angels, please come surround this little dog and shepherd him out of this road.”
And I FEEL those angels in my heart, and Little Dog moves OFF the road, into the safety of the tall grasses.
AHHH…my heart, body, and pelvis relax.
At night, after the supper my mother and I made together of cubed steak and gravy, Merita bread, tater tots, and pintos with fat back, I sit down on the floor at the foot of her easy chair to touch her feet, her ankles, her calves, her knees—both replaced in operations some years ago. She has asked me if I will rub her neck. I tell her, “Yes, I can help relax your neck and shoulders. I’ll start at your feet.”
And she says, “Remember how you used to do that for me and your Mamaw?”
Yes, of course I do. Why it’s been so long, I don’t know. So I sit down on the floor in front of her chair and do what we have done as a family so many times. So many times, I’ve gotten out the big dish pan of warm, soapy water to soak the feet of my elders. No one else touches their feet. No one else touches their bodies. But when it comes to family ancestry, and the trauma my people have endured, I am committed for the craziness to STOP
And so here, in this house—the same one Mamaw once had to escape in 1977, the one she died in, happy as a lark, I reach down into the soapy water, and I touch the feet of the living, and I say this prayer:
“Great Spirit, Loving God…creators of all which is beautiful in this world, THANK YOU for giving us life, health, vitality, and the safety and nurturance of HOME. We give THANKS for all who have come before us, and all who will come after us, and we ask their presence now, those who are willing, to HELP US.
Please guide this body, these hands, this heart, and this voice, so that we can bring the best possible support, nurturance, and health to each other and this land. THANK YOU, hawks who circle in vigilance, protectors of this place, and deer who find sanctuary here. We are THANKFUL for the safety and nurturance of this home, and for this body, healthy and revitalized, relaxed, nourished, and at peace. THANK YOU. Amen.”