If I could tell you this story real slow… it would read like salty tears that just go on
like a big soft hug from Momma Osie, the kind I didn’t want to end when I was so small
that she lifted me off the floor and all I could feel was the pillow of her fullness.
I can still smell her in my mind somehow like the Old Spice after-shave that we used
to keep the mosquitoes off at night and the smells from her kitchen… bacon and eggs,
home-made biscuits and gravy, sorghum molasses and peach cobbler…
Or the smell of the peed-on sheets that we pretended we hadn’t done but if she checked
and she usually did… then there they would be hanging on the clothesline
when we came back from the pasture or the woods where we climbed grapevines
and shot BB guns and if she didn’t check well then we slept on them again
or the smell of salt-water from the ice-cream churn that we took turns cranking
on the front porch or watermelon with salt and fire crackers at family reunions,
or the smell of greasy engines and oil pans in the garage, hay bales and mice in the barn
and the red-hot-tip of a coat hanger burning its way through the pointy end of a sawed-off
cow’s horn that we would blow like a trumpet when it was quiet and we got into trouble,
but it was worth it.
And if you can smell welcome then it smells just like Momma and Daddy Osie’s house,
like the Chinaberries on the tree out back where we climbed out their bedroom window
onto the low branch and then climbed higher to watch the cows and the chickens
and sometimes we jumped just for practice, just in case we were “invaded”
by a foreign country and had to make a run for it.
Those were the days of the Cold War and bomb shelters and McCarthyism
and international paranoia. From up high we could see the horse-apple tree
at the far end of the field and I wondered if horses ever actually ate
those knobby lime-green spheres that we threw at each other like cannonballs
like we were at war, just for practice and just in case….
The septic tank was close by and it too had a smell but it wasn’t that bad
and if we put more than an inch of water in the tub, we might ‘overflow the septic”
so we shared the bath water, if we weren’t too dirty, and Daddy Osie’s razor strap
hung there by the sink and when Momma Osie wanted us to quiet down, she’d say,
“Ya’ll better stop that or I’ll have to get Daddy to use his razor strap on you.”
I don’t remember that he ever did, but we’d get over it, because he would pinch us
with his toes under the kitchen table, looking away, hiding a grin, pretending
he didn’t do it, like he did after he shot us with spit wads and a rubber band,
putting his hand over his mouth to stifle a laugh.
Momma Osie always told him that he was “worse than a child!”
I have a picture of him with his hand over his mouth hiding that same grin,
watching my sons, Carl and Julian, sitting on the back of one of his cows,
him with that hard-hat liner with the ear flaps turned up,
wearing those coveralls from Walls, where Aunt Frances worked.
They’re both gone now, and I think of them every now and then and those memories
stay with me. And sometimes I just let those tears run because I want to tell them real slow
just how much I love them and I’m back up in that Chinaberry tree again, looking down
and thinking about jumping… just for practice and just for fun.