When I was a little girl, in southern Oklahoma, my Nannie (Mom’s Mom) didn’t have a radio. But she would intuitively stand outside and watch the clouds. She would say “I bet we’re going to have a storm.” And she would watch.
Sometimes they came in the afternoon, but mostly at night. When the lightening lit up the clouds, she would watch. And she would suddenly say “Let’s get to the cellar. There’s a big one coming.” Down the clay steps, into the cellar we would go, Nannie the first one in, lighting the kerosene lamp so we could see. Daddy shut the cellar door, pulling on the rope attached to the inside center brace of the corrugated metal door. The rope was for holding the door shut when the winds picked up. Sometimes it took all the grown-ups to hold the door!
The cellar smelled of dampness and earthiness, two cots with pillows and blankets to sit on, next to the shelves filled with jars of canned tomatoes, green beans, black-eyed peas and pickled beets, and bins of potatoes, and onions hanging from the ceiling logs. (When the hole for the cellar was dug, logs were placed close together over the top of the hole, then all the dirt that had been dug out of the hole was piled in a mound on top of the logs.)
I had a box of Crayolas and an Indian Chief tablet to keep me busy, but what I loved most was the stories that the grown-ups told. Stories about the old days, “when your Mama was a little girl . . .” But even as Nannie told her stories, she had one ear listening to the wind. Finally she would say “I think it’s about done. I’ll check and see.” Up the clay steps, pushing up on the metal door, peeking cautiously out, she could tell us in a minute if we could go back into the house, or “we better wait a bit. It still smells a little stormy out there.”
Today’s the day that Mama and James and I are going to see Nannie! I am so happy about that, because I haven’t seen her since way last week, and I sure do love her. Mama said “We have to leave early before it gets too hot.”
So after we eat some biscuits and gravy and pickled beets for breakfast, and after Daddy let the cows out, to go to pasture, and then he slopped the hogs and chopped some fire wood and waved to us as he went to work in the peanut field; and after Mama threw out the leftover biscuits for Daddy’s coon dogs to eat, and after she drew fresh water from the well, and fed the chickens and gathered the eggs, we are finally ready to go.
We set out walking down the section road in front of our house. James is stomping on the ruts in the road and stirring up little clouds of red dust. Mama warns him that he should not do that or he’ll wear himself out before we even get started and then looks at me and winks and says “And we’d really rather not have to get that dust all over us! Isn’t that right, Judi?” And I was so glad she said that.
Mama said Nannie will meet us at Ambert’s store which is on the corner where her road and our road cross.
The sun is already hot and Mama says to James, who is already whining, “Let’s see if we can make it to that big old shade tree up there. Do you see it? Can you see that big stretch of shade there in the road?” And I could see it! I couldn’t wait til we got there because I was already sweating and James was still whining, “Carry me, Mama. I’m tired. I’m hot. Carry me Mama.” James is only three years old, but I’m a big girl and I don’t need to be carried. I’m almost six now and soon I’ll be big enough to go to school!
Mama says we should be thankful for the shade tree, and that God always gives us just what we need. She said “Just listen to those locusts singing. They are certainly thankful for that old pin oak tree. And don’t you think the birds are thankful too?” James listened to what she said and started whining again. “I’m thirsty Mama.” I am thankful that Mama thought to fill a Mason jar full of fresh well water. She put it in a little sack and fastened it to my dress sash so nobody had to worry about carrying it. And I don’t mind at all because Mama has enough to carry when James gets too tired to walk. After we all have a little sip of water, we’re ready to start walking again. There are two more shady spots between here and Ambert’s store.
We keep on walking and then resting in the shade and pretty soon I can see Ambert’s store up ahead and there’s Nannie standing out by the gas pump waving at us! I run as fast as I can so I can be the first to get a hug and James has already climbed down from Mama’s arms and is trying to keep up with me. We’re so lucky that Nannie has two arms and knows how to hug us both at the same time!
“Let’s go sit on the porch and catch our breath,” Nannie says. And Ambert is standing in the door grinning from ear to ear. “How about an ice cold pop?” he says as he reaches into the ice box and pull out three bottles of Coca Cola, snaps the caps off and hands one to Mama and one to Nannie and one to me. We can all share with James because he’s too little to have one all by himself. The bottle is still dripping with ice cold water and it feels so good when I put it up to my face to cool me off. I never had a Coca Cola before. It’s a lot sweeter than ice tea, and it burns my mouth a little – in a good way.
Mama and Nannie are laughing and talking – they’re so happy to see each other and that makes me happy too. James is sitting in Nannie’s lap and I jump down off the porch because I see lots of brand new pop bottle caps, just laying there waiting for me, all shiny and orange and red and green and silver! Last year Mama helped me put some on a piece of crochet thread and we put them on our Christmas tree and it was so beautiful! We also picked up chewing gum wrappers and very carefully peeled off the silver part so we could make them into icicles for the tree.
Mama tells me I can put the bottle caps in the sack with the water jar because we’re about ready to go and I might lose them if I carry them in my skirt.
Me and Mama and Nannie and James are all holding hands as we head on up the road to her house.
I can tell we’ve almost made it to Nannie’s house because I can see the bridge. It’s how we cross the creek. And even cars can cross the creek on this bridge because there are boards for their tires to go on that are on top of the ones that go from one side to the other. I don’t know why they left big cracks between the boards, because they make it very scary to walk! If I’m not careful I might get my foot stuck in one of those cracks! But it’s also fun because you can look down and see the water, way down under your feet. But you mustn’t get too close to the sides though, or you might fall down in the water and then you might hurt yourself!
And on the other side of the bridge I can see Nannie’s house! We don’t have much farther to go! And then we get to walk through those little paths between the hollyhocks and larkspurs and poppies and zinnias and marigolds! “Can I pick a bouquet, Nannie?” “You surely can.” She says, and we’ll put it in a mason jar so we can look at them while we’re eating dinner. I picked a mess of black eyed peas this morning, and okry, and fresh ripe tomatoes. We’ll fry up that okry and I’ll make a pan of cornbread and we’ll just have ourselves a dinner fit for a king!”
I just love the way Nannie’s eyes crinkle and sparkle when she talks.