Conversations with Mama… and more ~ #2
“Daddy always wore overalls and a Stetson hat unless he had somewhere special to go. He didn’t like to wear dress-up clothes – and he didn’t look like Daddy unless he had his overalls on.”
“I worked at the Holiday Inn as a bartender, after moving back to the farm – after my divorce. My girlfriend, Willie Mae, worked there too as a waitress. I remember once that a movie was being made around there and this same actor came in everyday and ordered a grapefruit and vodka. He always sat at the end of the bar and talked to me while he smoked his cigar. He had been in a series on TV earlier, because I recognized him when I first saw him, but I can’t remember his name now.”
And just the other night she remembered something and said “I don’t think I ever told you this. I was born at home in the log cabin that still stands right outside of Siloam. Mama gave birth to me in the hallway on a home-made mattress of straw; Dr. Lewis and a midwife, Mrs. Credille, delivered me. Daddy kept that mattress in the hallway because he often laid down on it when he came in from working in the fields and wanted to take a nap.”
When Mama was in the 5th or 6th grade in Siloam, she remembers that Coca-Cola costs 3-cents a bottle and candy was only bought by the pound. In Mr. Johnny Jackson’s general store in Siloam, candy was scooped out of barrels and weighed – then put in a sack. She also remembers that ice cream cones and comic books were a whopping 5-cents.
In a phone conversation the other night, Mama told me that her neighbor has a pig, named Alice, tied in the backyard and that led to remembrances about her pet pig. “I had a pet pig that I raised from a bottle – it had been the runt of a litter and I fed and raised it; I even brought her into the house at night and she slept in a box under the kitchen stove; the stove stayed warm pretty much all night. I don’t remember having a name for her – she was just called “pig.” She grew up to be a big sow and even had a litter. One day my mother went into the pen with her and the piglets and after picking up one of the piglets the mama pig grunted loudly and charged toward Mama – who jumped over the fence to get away. I had never seen Mama jump over anything, but she cleared that fence. Since “pig” had always been a pet, we never thought she would go after any one of us, but she definitely went after Mama. Soon after that, Daddy sold her.
In talking to Mama about my story on Siloam she told me: “I remember a medicine man coming around a few times a year. He drove a big truck and sold medicine. At night, to encourage more people to come and listen to his speeches and buy medicine, he set up a big tent and showed movies outside. I always enjoyed going to see the old movies he showed.”
Just last night in telling Mama about how I was trying to teach Kneeko to say “I Love You,” she asked me if I remembered Teddy Bear talking. (Teddy Bear was my Chihuahua I had in Perry.) “Teddy liked to howl and talk, but there was this one time when it sounded like he said Mama. I had to always lock him in the bathroom when this one woman came to the house. I can’t even remember now who she was, but every time she came, Teddy wanted to make love to her leg; it was so embarrassing. Usually before she’d come, I’d lock him up and he’d cry and talk to me – and the talking sounded just like he was crying and saying “Mama.” It really sounded like he was actually crying for me.”
In conversation last night Mama talked about the weather and how she didn’t remember having pollen like we have now. She remembers no pollen on the front porch or steps like she sweeps today – and she said she would have remembered, because she had to keep the porch swept.
Mama talks about her father plowing the fields: “Daddy plowed from early morning, till dinnertime, he’d then come in and eat lunch – lay down for awhile and then go back and plow till dark. It was “gee, haw, you son of a bitch, turn around” as he walked behind the horses. He usually wore two shirts and two pairs of overalls so the sweat would keep him cool. Sometimes he even poured water on himself to keep cool during the hot afternoon.”
I asked about baths and…”I only took a tub bath once a week and that was usually on Saturday; during the week I took a daily “cat bath.” I often took my Saturday bath outside in a tin tub my mother used for our baths. The sun warmed the water for me in the summer so I didn’t have to heat and carry it out from the kitchen.”
This is a continuation of “More conversations with Mama” from Growing Up Southern. After writing many stories, I constantly learn new things from Mama on many of our nightly phone conversations when she says, “Did I ever tell you about?” I now am turning a story I first wrote on her conversations into book form.
I told Mama that I made blackberry muffins today and before I could finish she began….”I remember my mother’s blackberry pies – they were so good, the best I’ve ever eaten. And I remember how she made them too. She first made a crust, and before she put the berries in, she baked it until it was light brown. While the crust baked in one of her deep pie plates, she cooked the blackberries on the stove, only adding sugar to sweeten. After they cooked, she poured them into the baked pie crust and added a lattice style crust for the top. My Mama made the best pies and what I wouldn’t give for a piece of her pie right now. A few years ago, my cousin, Kenneth McKinley, had a family reunion in Siloam, and on the dessert table I spotted a blackberry pie. When I saw it, I couldn’t wait to try a taste; it was made by an elderly woman that came. After my first bite, it felt like I was eating my Mama’s pie; it was hard to not steal it away and just take the whole pie home. I told the woman how much I had enjoyed her pie and how it had reminded me of my mother’s blackberry pie and she seemed to enjoy the compliment. Her pie was made from the old-fashioned small blackberries you pick – just like Mama picked on our farm, not the big seeded ones you buy in the grocery store today. There is a big difference in taste between the small and large ones. The woman told me to go put the rest of the pie in my car, but I didn’t want anyone to think I was stealing it; later that night I regretted not putting it in the car.”
In asking Mama tonight if she had went down home to buy our stew and barbecue yet, she laughed, and said, “ It’ll only take a day, even if it’s the day before you come.” Mama always has Barbecue and Brunswick stew waiting for us, and we eat ourselves silly with it. It’s almost all we eat, except for the fried chicken and okra at Charlie’s. Last year I even brought home (frozen) what we didn’t eat. It was still frozen when I got to Connecticut. I guess I’ll be bringing home more this year – Steve enjoyed his treat of it, as he doesn’t come to Georgia with us too often.
Mama and I talked about old age on the phone tonight, and how to deal with seniors, and what she wanted when she’s too old to live by herself. She wants to come here and live in the apartments by the beach so she can walk the beach daily. Then the conversation turned to her mother and she remembered… “When my mother lost her mind, she became very childlike. One time she wouldn’t mind me and I told her she was being very bad and I was going to spank her. She laughed and told me she’d be good, don’t spank me. I just laughed! I couldn’t get mad at her the way she was. It was better to treat her more like a child and be silly with her – it worked better. Daddy would get so mad and fuss when she was silly – he didn’t like to see her that way and often got upset.”
Talking about the prices of gas on the phone made Mama tell me. “If I had money, I’d love to try and buy back the farm and drill for oil on the back forty of my father’s farm. I just know that there is oil on the property. I used to play in those creeks back behind the barns and I remember seeing the skim of oil on the top of the water. It had to come from somewhere! There was even an oily skim on the creek across from the house, on the other side of the road where the pigs stayed. Daddy knew the oil was there – he never let the animals drink from those creeks.”
I called Mama on the fourth (July 4, 2008) to tell her Stephen landed in Italy and was having a good time. And as we talked she said, “did I ever tell you about Clyde the alligator?” I vaguely remembered, but she began telling me the whole story. “When I worked at the Holiday Inn as a bartender I used to tell the men this story, especially the ones who tried to ask me out. I told them that I had a pet alligator who lived in the pond on the farm named Clyde – and how Clyde loved when men came to visit. There were many who really believed this tall tale! Whenever someone tried to ask me out and wanted to come to the farm, I’d say, “sure come on down, we’ll walk out to the pond and I’ll show you Clyde – then when you put your arms around me you’ll hear a big thump, and I’ll walk away saying, “another man gone!” That story of what Clyde did to my dates, who dared come to the farm, was what I always told them. Often in conversation as I served drinks they’d ask, “how’s Clyde doing?” Those were good times when I bar-tendered at Holiday Inn, I had a great time working there; in fact, I had such a good time that it mostly didn’t even seem like work. It was my social life, and I had many friends that were there almost every night just to talk to me.
“I remember once that a movie was shot somewhere locally around Holiday Inn in Madison – all the actors stayed there and came into the lounge, in the evening, after the days shooting was finished. There was one man who came and sat at the bar every night, smoking his cigar and talking just to me. I remembered him from a series on TV, but I can’t remember his name now.” (He was Richard Basehart from the TV series, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.)
“Before I worked at the Holiday Inn, I worked at Nathaniel Restaurant in Greensboro. I quit one night and just walked out – had enough of the owner. There was also a cop who used to come in and always said he’d get me one day for speeding when I went home at night. He’d say, “I’ll get you missy, just wait.” I always knew where he parked as I drove home, so I’d slow up and wave to him as I rode by. It would make him so mad. One day he came after me, but I cut through a side street and lost him.” He never forgot to remind me that one day he would get me, but he never did.”
I always ask Mama about her day when I call and how things are at the senior center, where she volunteers (and has volunteered for over 20 years) and from that question came “We went to Helen, Georgia a couple of weeks ago, but I forgot to tell you about this town we went through that had scarecrows all over – they were in front of businesses as well as on people’s lawns, they were everywhere. I can’t remember the name of the town right now, but it’s right below Braselton; they were trying to be in the Guinness World Book of Records for having the most scarecrows posted in town. They weren’t regular scarecrows, but more like home-made stuffed scarecrow people, all made from old clothes and accessories; the bodies were stuffed with plastic bags and decorated with hats, scarves and even jewelry. They made heads from stockings and plastic bottles with painted faces and usually had some type of hat to cover the top of the head; some even had hair. They were pretty unique – one garage had a stuffed man bent over a car to look like a car mechanic, complete with tools in his pocket and the famous “plumbers crack.” It was interesting to view all the many “stuffed people” around town, and there were many. We talked about them coming home and decided to make some ourselves using the donated clothes that can’t be sold. We’ll put them out front at the senior center. (The town was Hoschton, GA.)
It was kinda creepy driving through with all these stuffed people on the side of the road. Looking back now, reminds me of the “walkers” on Walking Dead. I’m surprised someone hasn’t gotten the idea to make “walker scarecrows” for Halloween.
© 2015 Jeanne Bryan Insalaco