Conversations with Mama: You never know what she will say and more… #14

Conversations with Mama… and more ~ #14


Mama climbing over the barb-wire fence; cotton field in background

“There was a black woman called Evalina who took care of my mama when daddy was gone. She stayed there day and night and even slept with mama in the back room – she slept on a pallet by mama’s bed. Daddy couldn’t do anything with her when she began losing her mind. She often took her clothes off, so we had to put her clothes on backwards and pin them to keep her from taking them off. Evalina stayed all week and then daddy took her home on the weekend or her husband came to get her. Mama loved Evalina. They walked to the mailbox everyday and mama would say, “she’s so sweet.” She later had to leave because her mother got sick. Daddy then found another young black girl, who mama didn’t like, and mama told daddy “I’m not having a black in my house. Evalina was also black, but no one could reason with her that she was just like Evalina. Mama loved Evalina and I guess she didn’t see her in any color. After that, we had to commit my mother to the state hospital in Milledgeville. We had to go to a hearing to have her admitted – they acted like we were just throwing her away. I even had them live with me for awhile, but I couldn’t take care of them both. My mother needed supervised care – she would wander away if no one was watching her.”

“I’ve been taking care of June’s dog Sadie while she’s gone to California. I went over there about five today and let her out and while she ran around, I swept off the back porch and spritzed the two parakeets June has. They just flitted their wings – loving the water bath. After Sadie came back on the porch, she just looked at me, smiled, and swished her tail. She loves the attention she’s getting from me. Sadie is really a good dog and minds so well. I wouldn’t mind having her, but it’d be too much work for me.”

In talking about Rose and Stephen’s baby (Ella) coming soon, Mama remembered about her first daughter Monica who only lived six months; she was born with spina bifada. “When Monica was born my father made her a small screened-in crib so I could put her out in the yard and no bugs could bother her. She loved to lay in the small crib and watch the dogs we had nearby. I don’t know what happened to it, but I guess in moving around it was tossed in the trash. I remember that you never liked to sleep when you were a baby. You’d stay awake all night while I’d be sleeping. You liked to stand up in your crib at night and talk baby-talk and shake the bed. I guess eventually you fell asleep, but you were a night owl.”

“I  had a baby shower when I was pregnant with Monaco, but I’m not sure if I remember who gave it. I guess it was given by our friends when we lived in Tenn., where your father was in the Navy. I think I had a baby shower when I was pregnant with you too – it might have been at Cleo Sisson’s house. It was at someone’s house in Milltown. She lived next door to Mama Bryan – who had then moved into their new house on Binns Street; they had previously lived in one of the Mill houses too.”

“When you began crawling, you crawled backwards! You’d crawl backward into a corner, then cry – I’d have to go and get you. You were always an oddball! You never liked things other kids did. I kept your crib in our room for a long time. I’d wake up in the middle of the night and find you just sitting there – wide awake, talking baby talk.  You didn’t like to sleep at night.”

“You didn’t like Santa or even Xmas morning. It’d be days before you’d go in and actually see what was under the tree. When you were small and Santa came near you, you’d scream and run away and hide.

I used to put you in your playpen out in the yard during the day, but I’d come back to find you gone. Someone who knew you had come by and taken you off with them. I didn’t have to worry back then about someone stealing you, I just didn’t actually know always who had you.”

“When I was a young girl on the farm I liked to dress up with my mother’s old clothes I found in her closet. She had a skinny flapper-style dress with a hat that you wore pulled down to the side. I loved those clothes! When I watch one of my favorite movies “Oh Brother Where Art Thou (2000)” with George Clooney – the clothes the women wore always remind me of my mother’s dress-up clothes. I never saw her wear the dress or the hat, but it always was in the hallway closet. I loved playing dress-up and wearing the hat pulled down to the side – slicked down to my head just like she told me she wore it. She told me they were hers and had to have been from the 1920’s; I guess it was a flapper-style dress. Maybe it was even the dress she got married in, but she never said.”

“I loved to brush my daddy’s hair when I was young, and he’d even let me roll his hair with paper or curlers, until he said he didn’t have any hair to roll anymore. One time someone came to the house and I had rollers all over his head – he didn’t care, he just laughed about it. You used to brush his hair too when you were little, until the time you hit him hard on the head with the brush. You said you didn’t know why you did it, you just did it. I have always liked for someone to brush my hair. I’d love to lay across the bed right now and have someone brush my hair – it feels so good. You never really liked to brush my hair for me, you’d give me one swipe and then tell me you didn’t want to do it anymore. My mother never liked having her hair brushed or fussed over. She’d pull it up into a ball on top of her head. (I guess I took after my grandmother as I don’t like anyone fussing with my hair or brushing it.)”

“I didn’t look at either of my parents after they died. I just wanted to remember them both as they were. I wanted to remember daddy as I always saw him – sitting in his rocking chair beating the floor with his cane. I know some people were mad when they came and I had the coffin closed, but I had told them if you want to see him, you’ll have to come early as I’m keeping it closed for the service. I didn’t want to sit there and have to stare at him in there.”

“I don’t like to be hugged and kissed now and didn’t even as a young girl. When I was little, people would come to the house and have snuff in their mouth and I’d run and hide until they left. I didn’t want them hugging and kissing me like that. I remember one time in church, some woman just started hugging and kissing on me and I said out loud, “I’m not a rag doll.” I don’t think Daddy took me back to church again after that. He wasn’t an every-Sunday church person; he often said people went to church on Sunday and then stabbed you on Monday. He didn’t work on the farm on Sunday though, he considered it a day of rest.”

In talking about food one night Mama remembered. “We were at the farm one weekend and Allen cooked steaks on the grill, but he had to chase Keith’s dog to get his steak back. The dog stole the steak right off the grill while it was cooking. Allen had turned his back and I guess the dog somehow jumped up and pulled off the steak and the next thing I knew Allen was running after the dog and yelling. Allen chased him down and got his steak back and put it back on the grill. He said he wasn’t going to let that dog have his steak. It was a grill he had made out of a steel drum. We had some good times on the farm. Allen and I were living in Monroe, but we’d go to the farm every weekend. Those were good times. We had a ’65 yellow Mustang convertible we kept there and we’d often go riding around the countryside in the afternoon. Later when it didn’t work anymore, the kids used it to play in. I wish I’d kept that car.”

In telling Mama about the candy table I was planning for Melissa’s wedding, she said. “I like silver bells (Hershey kisses) and I’m sure all the little ‘chillen will like them.”

I was telling mama about all the snow we had this week after Melissa’s wedding and she told me…. “During the 1970’s we had a lot of snow down here. I remember one night when I was back home living on the farm and while working at Nathanial Greene Restaurant in Greensboro – we had a few inches of snow. I had to ride in the car tracks of other cars to get home that night, but I couldn’t get down to the farm, so this man with a big truck rode back and forth on the road down to the farm to pack it down and make tracks for me to get daddy out. I took him over to Willie Mae’s and he was so mad about leaving his house – he never liked leaving the farm. We stayed at Willie’s and he beat the floor with his cane all night long. I still believe he’s there on the farm – when people don’t really want to leave this earth, their souls don’t leave. I believe my mother left the earth and went searching for her son Leroy, but not my father – he’s still on the farm and his soul will always remain there – that is where he was happy and I was too.”

Awhile back I hooked up with a man on Facebook who also lived on Smoak Avenue in Perry the same time we did, but I didn’t remember him and neither did Mama. His name is Jim Beal and lived next door to the Dennard’s; he lived across from Pam Perkins. Next to Pam and on down to our house was Terry Todd, Jimmy Ivy and the Ogletree’s – Lisa and Julie – who lived next door to me. The Lamply’s lived across the street from us, but their son was older. Mama said… “I can’t seem to remember Jim, but the Dennard boys I remember well, they were always at my door wanting a biscuit and one time I raced one of the boys and beat him – I think that got off with him. Most all the neighborhood kids hung around our house. Terry Todd was a popular basketball player and we went to watch him play all the time. Lisa and Julie lived next door and they had a brother Bud, who I used to baby-sit when he was young.”

In talking about TV tonight, Mama said. “Your father repaired TV’s on the side when we lived in Union Point. He worked in that tool room in his father’s car shed. It was the little room between the card shed areas – the room was small, but there was a work bench in there. He mostly repaired them for friends, but they never paid him. I used to go and try to collect some money, but I never could. They brought their TV’s to him and then hung around and drank. We were one of the first people in Union Point to have a TV set. Aunt Chris used to come over all the time to watch TV and it would make your father so mad. (Only about 3 million homes in the early 1950’s even had a TV set and we were one.)

After Mama came home from the hospital (Jan. 2010) she told me one night that her cousin Betty McKinley Kelley had died. “I hadn’t had much contact with Betty in a few years but at one time, for many years, I went to her house on Saturday night for dinner. Betty was a good cook; I always helped to clean up afterward. That was the one night both her boys and their families came for dinner. When anyone was sick, Betty always took food to them, but she never brought me food when I was sick. I have never understood why she treated me that way, especially being such a religious person and knowing that I had no family here.” 

I told Mama last night that I had made one baby crib sheet (Feb. 2010) for Stephen’s small baby crib that he and Rose are going to use – it came perfect. I was shocked. Then I cut out another one and cut it too small. Mama said.. “You can just add strips of fabric to the sides and ends and call it a day! (I did what she said and it came out perfect.) I made crib sheets for you, but I did them my way, not the fancy cutting like you did and adding elastic, as I didn’t know how to do that. (I amazed myself that they turned out so good. Until I found directions on the internet, I had no idea how to make a crib sheet, but it was actually easy.)

“My mama and daddy came to the hospital when I had you. Daddy might have even brought me as they were at the house when I was having pains. My water broke at the house, but I was determined to clean my house first. Mama followed me all around the house as I swept and mopped telling me I’d better hurry up and go to the hospital. And I kept telling her I didn’t want to go. I don’t remember if they took me or your father took me. They say you get a burst of energy before you go into labor – and I guess that was my burst.”

I was talking about baby showers today and Mama said. “I guess it was around the time I was having a baby shower and Mr. Paul (my grandfather Paul Bryan) said, “when my kids were born it didn’t even cloud up, much less shower.” It was pretty funny when he came out with that, as he didn’t talk a lot in conversation – he never commented on too much and it was very unlike him. I still wonder if he understood what “shower” meant in how I was saying it.”

I called Mama tonight and told her that I had went to Jo-Anne fabrics and couldn’t make up my mind what to make as I wanted to make everything at once. She said… “I don’t have that problem – I don’t want to make anything! When you were small and I wanted to sew something for you, I’d sit in bed and make it in my head – even watching myself cut it out. Then I’d get up the next morning and make it. Sometimes I’d make it during the night while you slept, and it would be ready the next morning for you to wear. You often told me you wanted store-bought dresses as you got older. The dresses I made you were so pretty with all the embroidery I added; too bad I didn’t keep at least one of them. I usually passed them to Willie Mae for her two girls – I never thought about saving anything back then. I really wish I had kept my square dancing dresses I made – I sewed hundreds of sequins all over. I even made a matching shirt for your father for every dress I made myself. I wish there was square dancing at the senior center as I would love to do that again, but we don’t even have enough men for partners, and it wouldn’t look pretty unless everyone dressed up in the cowboy and cowgirl outfits. That’s what made the dance look nice on the floor with us all dressed. Those were some fun times!”

I called Mama to tell her I finally received my Heritage of Greene County Book (Feb. 26, 2010) after waiting way over a year for it to finally be published. After telling her some things that were in it she began telling me. “Maybe there will be a picture of the log cabin I was born in – it was on Dr. Lewis’s property. He delivered me along with his midwife, Lena Credille. We lived on their property and daddy farmed his land and shared in some of what he farmed.

In reading more through the Greene County book, I discovered a story on the Rat Hole behind the Hosiery Mill – it was something I never knew of and I asked Mama. “I don’t remember anything called the rat hole.” But once I told her it was behind the hosiery mill and built under the railroad for people to cross through from one side of town to the other when the train stopped on the tracks, she said. “Yea I’ve been through the opening there that separates the town from the other side, but I never heard it called the rat hole. Me and Willie Mae used to cross through it going to town. She walked through it daily when she walked to school, but she was always afraid and usually ran through it.” I called Willie Mae and asked her and … “Oh yea I remember the Rat Hole – I crossed through it daily when I went to school. Sometimes when I ride by it now I look through it.” (While we were in Ga. in June (2010) I rode by and took photos of it.)

I told Mama that one of my stories called “Growing Cotton” was also in the Greene County book – although I didn’t put it in. It was submitted by the Greene County Historical Society – so I guess someone was reading those articles I submitted to the Greensboro newspaper. I felt  honored that they’d liked my article so much that it was remembered for the book.

“The sun was out today, but it’s so cold outside and I’ve been cold all day in the house. You woke me up when you called – I had crawled under the covers and went to sleep because I couldn’t get warm. I remember having ice thick as two or three inches on the ground when I was a child.  We also had some bad clouds back then and it would hail so big that you’d think it was going to break the windows. I remember seeing hail as big as hen eggs back then. It was a lot colder too – in the winter you’d have to put on your hat and mittens to go outside. I never wear them now. When I came inside as a small child, I’d run to the fireplace to warm my front and then turn around and burn my backside. I don’t remember seeing snow much as a child, just seeing ice mostly. But it must have snowed some as I remember Mama making snow ice-cream. You had to find a clean place to take the snow from, but later on they began telling people not to make snow ice cream anymore because of the contamination in the air from all the atomic bomb fall-out.”

In talking about Melissa’s wedding pictures, Mama said. “When it gets warm I’m going to dress up in my dress I had for the wedding and have a picture taken for Melissa’s wedding album. She says she’ll find a pretty antebellum home to take her picture in front of. (I told her to go out to Tara and take her picture. Maybe I can take her picture and cut her out and impose her into one of Melissa’s wedding group pictures for her wedding anniversary present.) I wish I could have been at her wedding, but it just didn’t work out with me getting sick and ending up in the hospital, but Melissa knows I was there in spirit.”

“My mother hated to look at herself in the mirror after she began losing her mind. She would say… “that woman does everything I do – she mocks me.” She wouldn’t let you sleep at night. At nighttime she was not going to sleep and you couldn’t either. But come daylight, she’d crawl under the covers and pull them up over her – and I’d tell her you are not going to sleep now, then she’d say “I’ll be good.”  But she’d go on to sleep. She began calling my father, the old man, and she’d tell me that she didn’t like that old man. She didn’t see him as her husband anymore. She used to always refer to him and call him daddy. My mother was only 14 years old when she married him – he was in his early twenties. I think she always saw him more as a father figure, but they were very close. Everyone said that my mother was very pretty as a young girl with long black hair. I wish I could have seen a picture of her as a young girl, but there never seemed to be any photos of her before she married.”

To be continued…

© 2015 Jeanne Bryan Insalaco




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