Conversations with Mama: You never know what she will say and more… #12

Conversations with Mama… and more ~ #12

Helen new_0014 (517x800)

Mama uptown in Union Point – which is up above

“Did I ever tell you how Boo likes to talk to me? Every morning about 6 o’clock, he jumps up on my chest and does different meows to me. I’ll say, “what do you want, do you want to go out on the porch.” If he does, then off he jumps and runs to the door. Sometimes I’ll say “I love you.” He’ll meow back to me and it seems like he tries to imitate what I said. He doesn’t know he’s just a cat, he thinks he’s human. When he’s on the porch and sees another cat, he gets really intent – he likes to look at cats that look like him – wonder what he thinks!!

“When we lived in Union Point, Willie Mae and I found out one time where your father played poker and went out there – it was at an old house back in the woods. I took his car and drove it home and left him there with no car. When he got back to town he went to the police station and reported his car stolen. They told him later that his car was sitting in front of his house. He was pretty mad when he got home.”

“Do you remember where the poker game was in Perry that I broke up one night? It was behind the P&M Grill. It was down a dirt road which led to a little dinky house. I took the single 22 shotgun with me and laid it on the seat. I went down to break up the game because I was mad at him for not coming home and you were sick. When I pulled up, some drunk came out and asked what I wanted. I told him I wanted everyone out of the house because I was going to run my car through it. When he looked like he didn’t believe me, I revved the motor and he flew into the house yelling that some lady was going to run her car through. They all flew out the windows! I turned around and left – with his car keys. I had already taken them out of his car – he had to walk home. Was he ever mad when he got home!”

“Do you remember the one–seater car I had in Perry? It actually only had one front seat, no back seat. I used to take you to school in it. My daddy bought it from my old school teacher – Helen Camp. She taught me bookkeeping and shorthand in high school. I couldn’t write shorthand, but I could read it well. My friend, Jean Green, and I swapped papers if I was called on to read out loud what we’d written. She could write it well and I’d read off her paper. She was the mother of my pharmacist here in Monroe.”

“I hate people asking me over and over – the same question. Today I went to Walgreen’s and when they asked me the same question again, I told the girl. “I was born in Greene County on April 6th, 1930, on a straw mattress in the hallway of our log cabin. It was the same mattress that my daddy used to lay on in the afternoon when he came in from working in the field. Then I said to them, I’ve told you all about where I’m from, so please don’t ask me again. Another girl there asked me, “why don’t you come to the drive-in window and pick up your prescription instead of having to park your car, walk across the parking lot and then walk all the way to the back of the store.” I told her, No, I don’t want to go through the drive-in, when I talk to someone, I want to look directly in their eyes. I guess she won’t ask me again after my little speech today. I just hate having the same question asked to me over and over again, especially when they have my history in their computer – stop asking me! I never had all these problems when I picked up my prescriptions at Monroe Drugs, everyone there knew me, all the girls smiled behind the counter, and my pills always had the right name on the bottle. I was never given the run around like I get at Walgreen’s. I’ve told them before that they don’t seem to want to cater or help seniors – they just make it harder for us every time we come.”

I asked Mama if she liked Zinnia’s when we were talking about flowers on the phone. “I don’t like Zinnia’s. I remember the old black women calling them “old maid” flowers when I was young. I want to buy some Sweet William seeds to sow, and keep sowing new ones every year so they don’t grow out. I love them – I think they are one of the prettiest flowers. I was all day in the garden separating some lilies. I took some over to June’s, then I came in and chopped off most of my hair – it was getting too long.”

“Did you get the box of bulbs I sent? I sent you some Iris’s – some of every color I have in my yard. They are yellow, white, purple, blue and I think one more color. I also sent an Ola Lilly and Elephant Ear for Melissa and some Amaryllis for whoever wants them. I started to send you some buttercups (Daffodils), but didn’t know if you wanted some. You can always bring home some bulbs in October if you come. Mine have already bloomed and died, so they won’t bloom again until next Spring. Did you know that you have to thin out Iris’s when they multiply in one area, or they won’t bloom so much?”

“I used to dream a lot about eating hair. I can’t stand when I get a hair in my mouth and if I see one on my plate, that’s it – I’m done eating! If I eat out and find one, I know for sure I’d send that plate back and I’d be out the door. I never had this obsession about getting hair in my mouth until I became a beautician – guess I was just around hair too much.”

“When I went to live with your father in Memphis, Tenn., we rented a room from a couple named Tex and Jeff; it was only one room. I had been living with your Daddy’s parents in Union Point after I married and working in the hosiery mill, but I hated it there. Your Daddy told his mother to give me the money he had been sending home so I could come to the base – but she didn’t. My father gave me money for the bus. Clayton had always sent money home to his mother and she didn’t want to let go of it. I think if we had stayed in the service and never came back to Union Point, maybe our marriage would have survived. Anytime he was around his buddies, he couldn’t resist the urge to drink and play poker.”

I asked Mama tonight if she’d heard from her girlfriend Willie Mae lately and she told this story to me. “When you were small and we still lived in Union Point, my girlfriend, Willie Mae and I liked  to take you kids to town and get ice cream – and while ya’ll ate your ice cream, we liked to sit on the bench and watch people and make fun. We always found strange people walking by us on the sidewalks.”

“If we don’t get some warm nights, my garden will never grow. You have to have warm nights to grow your plants. Lately our nights have been cool.”

 “About 3 p.m. today Boo went crazy running all around like a mad cat. He was running like he was spooked – he was even trying to climb the window by the table and then running under the table. I finally got him calmed down. Maybe he saw a ghost!!! Even his tail was quivering – it’s always hard and stiff feeling. He gets these spells sometimes, then he’ll get under me and get as close as possible. Or sit on me and make biscuits with his paws.”

“I went over to feed Sadie today; she’s gotten used to me coming over and becoming very spoiled by me. I wasn’t going to brush her today, but she got right up under me, so I got the brush and brushed her – she loves to be brushed. It’s so hot here – you think it’s hot there baby girl – come on down here and I’ll show you what hot is. There’s plenty of tomatoes on my plants right now, but I think they’re gonna be tough as there hasn’t been enough rain this summer to make the vegetables have juice. If this weather doesn’t change soon, I don’t think we’ll even have any vegetables.  I did have plums on the tree, but they’re just falling off now. I have some big squash vines, but no squash yet. I wish I could cook up some turnips to eat like I used to. I’d bring the greens to a boil, then pour off the juice to get rid of the bitter taste. Then I added fresh water and a piece of ham hock, salt and pepper and cooked till they were tender. I would cook a big pot of them and freeze in small containers.”

“My food tastes keep changing. I used to love black-eyed peas and turnip greens and cornbread and peach pickles and now I hate them.”

“I still can remember how my Daddy planted his crops – he’d check the moon at night and he’d know by the stars nearby. That told him how many days before it would rain again – and that told him when to plant. I don’t know how farmers make a living anymore now. It’s been kinda dry here and way too hot, but it’ll be back to raining again soon. This past week has been close to 100 degrees everyday. You could go out and fry an egg on the cement – and I truly mean that.”

“I have new neighbors who moved into the shotgun house. They look like they came from Tobacco Road! There’s a little bit of all types around here. I guess I’m the petunia in the onion patch on this street!”

 “Today at the Senior Center we had our “brain power” exercises. She asked us all, “if you could go back in time, who would you like to talk to?”  I told them I’d like to go back to the farm and grow up again with my mother and father and Leroy and live again like I once did. I’d like to talk more to them about their lives. And then she asked me who would I like to talk to the most – that would be my father.”

In talking to Mama tonight she said… ‘I remember when Willie Mae would throw change on the ground uptown in Union Point just to watch the little black kids run to pick it up. She always thought she had money as her father made good money. Willie Mae always had new clothes. Her father was a cop in Union Point and later ran the City Hotel; he was always a wheeler and dealer. I always saved my money. I used to save my lunch money just so I could buy new clothes that Daddy didn’t know about. Mr. C. Ashley owned a store in Greensboro and I’d pay him weekly until whatever I put on layaway was paid off. He didn’t do it for everyone.”

“When I was in the 10th grade I was voted Miss Valentine and Mr. C. Ashley voted $10.00 worth of votes at a penny a vote for me. I should have won, but someone else gave money after it was over and they changed the winner from me to them. Mr. Ashley was my cousin Joanne McKinley’s uncle.”

Mama Sayings: “She’s as ugly as home-made soap.”

“Stand too close to me and for a nickel, I’m liable to slap you.”

“I can get really mad, just don’t push my buttons too much.”

In talking about turnip greens, Mama said: “The fresh tender leaves are the small ones. If you get the big ones, you need to cut out the stem down the middle of the leaves. I used to sit down on the floor on a sheet and cut out the stem. It’s a lot of work to cook greens as you need a lot of them to start with. When Mr. Roberts lived next door I’d pick me a mess right out of his garden, but now I can’t eat them anymore.”

“I remember my mother making a cloth filled with a tad of pine tar, kerosene and other things to put on your chest when you had a bad cold. Even Dr. Middlebrooks thought that the only reason you lived was because my mother made those medicinal cloths to put on your chest when you were sick with asthma. He asked my mother one time what was in them because he wanted to try them on his children. I don’t remember if she ever told him or not.”

“Whenever my mother was sick, Daddy would get either Aunt Lou or Aunt Mossy to come and help in the house. They would cook and clean until mama was better.”

In talking about pomegranates one night…. “I remember a girl I went to school in Siloam with bringing them to school and we’d eat them. She had a tree in her yard full of them. I always brought my lunch to school in a brown paper bag – and I had to save it to reuse again. Inside my bag was usually one of mama’s biscuits with a piece of ham, a piece of fruit and a slice of pie or mama’s home made cake. But I would have rather had one of the other girls lunches; they brought a sandwich with store bought sliced white bread. When I think back now, that was probably why my lunch sack was often stolen. At that time I never understood why it was always my lunch bag stolen, but as much as I wished to have a sandwich, they wanted my biscuit and slice of ham and the piece of home-made pie or cake. My mother did make the best pies and cakes I’ve ever eaten.”

“When my sister-in-law, Catherine DeRango McKinley, stayed with us while Leroy was gone, she wouldn’t let blacks work in the kitchen. I even remember at time when blacks were not allowed to touch food in the stores. Catherine would help my mother wash – they had big black iron pots boiling with water to wash the clothes – then after stirring them around with a big stick, they hung them on the fence. After she went back to Wisconsin, Daddy shipped a black and white rooster to her.”

“When I married, it rained cats and dogs that night. I’ve always heard that if it rains on your wedding day, for every drop of rain, you’ll shed that many tears – and I have shed many! I don’t remember what I wore that night, but we went to Richland’s, just outside of Greensboro, to a dance afterward. We came back and spent the night at the City Hotel. Willie Mae’s father, Bill Walker, gave us a free room for the night – we had no money. Then we stayed with his parents in the mill house where they lived. The next day he had to go back to the Navy base in Memphis, TN. His parents took him to the bus stop and I stayed at the house. I don’t know why I didn’t go; probably his mother told me to stay home. I lived with his parents for awhile and worked in the mill where they both worked. His mother would never give me any of the money that he sent home to her. I was suppose to go to Memphis to live with him when I’d saved enough money for the bus from the money he sent, but she never gave it to me. My daddy eventually bought my ticket to go there.”

“The first place we lived at in Memphis was infested with roaches. We lived in about four or five places while we were there. Every time we moved, we walked and carried boxes from one place to the next. I always remember saying that I’ll never want to move again. The last place was with a couple named Tex and Jeff. We rented a room in their house. We stayed with them until we left Memphis.”

To be continued…

© 2015 Jeanne Bryan Insalaco




About Jeanne Bryan Insalaco

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