2017 – A to Z… W: Conversations with Mama… The Best of!

2017 – A to Z… W: Conversations with Mama… The Best of!

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I married and moved away from home when I was 19, so I didn’t grow up stopping by mama’s for afternoon chats. Living almost a thousand miles from home, a nightly phone call is how I stayed in touch, as she’s gotten older, it’s how I check in on her. As I became involved in researching my family history, it was often how I heard the family stories. I recorded the usual dates and names, but all the tidbits of family stories…. well where was I going to put them. That was how Conversations with Mom evolved, and I eventually blogged those conversations. What better choice, then to gleam an A to Z of my favorites here to celebrate Mama’s birthday month; she turns a spry 87 this April, but “mums” the word on me spilling her birthday number here!

During the month of April, I’m participating in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge for my 2nd year… both on this blog. I will post each day, except Sundays… using a daily alphabet letter in my theme of “Conversations with Mom… The Best of.” If you’d like to read more blogs, hop over to their Facebook page.

W

W…. Conversations with Mama – The Best of!

W is for… Willie Mae, Weather, Whits grill, WW II, and Watermelons

Willie Mae Walker: 

Had to call mama tonight to tell her about Ella’s first day at kindergarten. She cried at home the night before, and also in the morning before leaving for her first day at school; it was all-day kindergarten, and that meant a long day for her. When she came home that afternoon, she told her parents, “I don’t think this will work for me, I need more rest time… they want us to do too much work.” That was on a Thursday, then on Monday she said, “I think I need a cell phone and could I have a Facebook page?” Her father asked, “what are you going to do with a Facebook page, you can’t read.” “Oh, I can just look,” Ella said. The twins cried all day missing their sister when she began school. Ella doesn’t want to talk too much about school right now. (After a few weeks she settled in, made new friends and now loves to go) Mama laughed and said…”Sounds like me on my first day, I met my best friend Willie Mae Walker (Sisson) and we both looked at each other and said – “I’m not going to like this.”

“When I grew up. the McKinley’s and the Walker’s never liked each other much and always fought. If they were “all” at a dance – at some time – before the end of the night – there was a fist fight over something. Now look who my best friend turned out to be – a Walker! I met Willie Mae Walker on the very first day in first grade. We both looked at each other and said, “I don’t think I’m going to like being here.” We have remained friends from that very first day of school, and even married men who were good friends; although we also both divorced them. I remember asking Grandma Walker one day, “what would you do if Willie and I had a boy and girl who married and had a baby?” She replied, “I wouldn’t let it in my house!”

Mama and Willie Mae posing in the cotton field!

“My girlfriend, Willie Mae, and I often played with each other’s kids. Willie would get down on the floor and play “bugger” with you when you were little. She’d get down and crawl toward you saying, “I’m gonna get you,” and you’d run and hide, then come back for more. I’d take Willie’s daughter, Debbie, and sit and hold her, rubbing the bottom of her feet while rocking her. You didn’t like to be held and petted, you wanted someone to get down on the floor and scare you – then you’d run away and come back for more. Stephen liked that too when he was small, guess he got it from you.”

I asked Mama about her best friend Willie Mae Walker (Sisson) tonight and …. “Willie Mae and I were best friends from the first day of 1st grade. I looked at her and said, “I don’t like this place” and she said, “I don’t think I do either.” That cemented our friendship and we are still friends today. I lived in Siloam and she lived between Siloam and Union Point on her father’s farm. We went to elementary school together in Siloam, but later her parent’s, Bill and Katie Walker, moved to Union Point and she finished school there, while I went on to Greensboro to finish – but we still remained friends. Mr. Bill ran the “city hotel”  in Union Point. Daddy often took me over there on the weekends to stay with her and her father would bring me home. We had a lot of fun at the hotel and that’s where I met my husband – he was the best friend of her boyfriend; they both were in the Navy.”

“Jernigan’s Bridge was an old wooden bridge down from White Plains, and there were several wide flat rocks alongside the stream of water – just right for sunbathing. I remember one time I was down there with my best friends daughters, Pat and Debbie (Willie Mae’s daughters) and we pinned big leaves all over our bathing suits; we looked like we were only wearing leaves! I don’t remember who’s idea that was, but I was just as crazy as the kids back then.”

“I always have had a sense of humor. Willie Mae and I laughed all the time –  at everything. She still enjoys reading through joke books today and can sit and read, and laugh. I used to laugh telling jokes and remembered every one told ever to me when I was a beautician. I told jokes all the time to my customers. Now I can’t remember where I lay anything, much less a joke.”

“I could never give you pills when you were small, but Willie Mae never had any trouble giving Pat and Karen their medicine; I could never get you to swallow pills by putting them in your mouth. The only way I made you take pills was to sit you up on a high counter in the kitchen and tell you that if you didn’t take your pills, I was going to leave you sitting there. You didn’t like heights, and I guess you believed me, because you’d quickly open your mouth like a little bird – and down they’d go. I don’t know why I had such a hard time with you; I’ve never been able to even give any of my other cats pills either.” 

“My girlfriend, Willie Mae, would never sleep over here on the farm, and especially after Daddy died; she believed his ghost was still here. Anytime she visited me here and a cloud came up, she’d have to leave quickly, wanting to go home. I remember one time it was storming and raining really hard, and as she stepped out in the yard, a bolt of lighting hit the ground and she ran back in the house, but soon left anyway. She didn’t seem to care how bad the outside weather was, she’d rather brave leaving, then stay safe in the house.”

I said to Mama tonight that I told Melissa to play old songs at her wedding that some of her guests had danced their “first dance” to. Then I asked Mama if she and Daddy had a song…”I don’t remember any special song, after we married we went to a juke joint called The Richland, just outside of Greensboro and square danced. Willie Mae and Henry came and we danced all night.”

“It seems like, all my life people have made fun of me, like I was a nobody. Even in first grade my teacher, who I’ll never forget, made fun of me… her name was Mae West. I was talking to my friend Kendrick Lewis one day, and as she walked by she said to him, “can’t you find someone better than that to sit with than her?”  Willie Mae and I liked to sing a song about her… “I’m Mae West and I’ll do my best.” We would sing it on the playground and twist around like her and then laugh; she never heard us though. She did try to walk and twist like the movie star Mae West.”

“During the 1970’s we had a lot of snow down here. I remember one night while working at Nathaniel Greene Restaurant in Greensboro we had a few inches of snow; it was when I was back home living on the farm.  I had to ride in the car tracks of other cars to get home that night, but I still couldn’t get down to the farm, so this man with a big truck rode back and forth on the dirt snowy road leading down to the farm; he packed it down and made tracks for me so I could get daddy out. I took him over to Willie Mae’s, but 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.”

“I remember wanting to get out of school so bad that I didn’t know what to do. There were only a few kids in school that the teachers cared about – the rest of us didn’t matter. Willie Mae and I used to beat them up – one of us would hold them while the other one socked ém.”

“I often went to the movies with Willie Mae when I stayed with her at The City Hotel; we’d walk over to the movie house in Union Point – it wasn’t far. Sometimes I went to the movie house in Greensboro, but daddy would have to take me there.”

Whit’s:

I mentioned Whit’s Grill to Mama and… “ They had everything there, legal and illegal. I liked Whit and his wife. Sometimes his wife took me and Willie in the back room and showed us the sex stuff they sold. They had a big doll, the kind the truckers bought… she was called Judy. When I worked at the Holiday Inn as a bartender and overheard the men talking about looking for a woman, I’d tell them they could go get Judy at Whit’s – then I’d fall over on the bar laughing.”

Weather: 

“In the Bible it says before the end of time the seasons will change – maybe that’s why the South is experiencing the difference in climate and weather. At some point, it may be colder in the South than the North.”

Mama told me tonight… “My daffodils are blooming and the narcissus, which are my favorites as they smell so good. If the weather keeps up I’m going to start working on my garden and get it ready so I can plant tomatoes when the weather is good. The apple and plum trees haven’t budded yet, but if they do, and we get a cold snap I’ll lose them. (I told mama that I can’t see my yard yet as it’s still covered with snow)

Mama called me today, she was watching the bad weather in Texas and wanted to know if we were all right… LOL. I told her she was closer to Texas than us… “You could have went outside in your bathing suit today, it was beautiful just like summer. I remember when I liked to sunbathe in my birthday suit when I was about 16 or 17. I’d go out in daddy’s wheat field and beat a path down, then lay a quilt. No one could see me way out in the middle of the wheat field, but it used to make daddy so mad that he could eat ten-penny nails!”

WW II: 

“I remember one day at our bus stop that I’ll never forget. Our stop was at Bryson’s farm – it was the farm right before ours, coming from Siloam. The bus used to pick me up at our farm, but during WWII, to conserve gas for the war, the bus stop was moved and everyone had to walk there. Patriotism was very important during WWI and WWII – not like today.”

I mentioned Liza Askew today (grandmamma’s sister) and… “Yes that was Aunt Liza who married James Marchman, but we called him “Monk” – never knew why. Their son Sammie was in WWII. I remember sitting out on the back stoop with him while waiting to eat – the adults ate first. Sammie would sit there and say, “they’re going to eat all the chick, and were gonna get nothing but the scratchins; back then the kids had to wait on the stoop.”

Just when you think you’ve heard all of mama’s stories, she comes out with something new. I don’t know what I said that jogged her memory, but…. “There were young guys that learned to fly planes during WWII and flew out of a field just outside of town. I remember one buzzing close to daddy out in the field plowing one day… I was sitting on the front steps and he came down so close that he saw me and waved; daddy was shaking his fist at him as he was plowing in the field.” I wrote a blog post called “Just When I Thought I Knew it  All.”

Watermelons:

Stephen told me of a dream he had where him, I and Angel went to look through Kenneth McKinley’s house – he couldn’t remember seeing Melissa but he thought she was with us also. We had gotten permission to go and look through his house, after his death, and as we were walking up the stairs to the second floor, mama saw something and she turned around and we all left. As we were leaving we saw the mailman delivering mail. Mama said, “I wish we knew what I saw in his dream, there’s probably still a lot of his mother Ulma’s painting there. She had a painting of a cut watermelon slice that I always liked.” (I told Mama that I’d like to go inside Ulma’s store in town when we go to Siloam; maybe if we see Charles McKinley he’ll let us go inside. I loved to go to her general store when I was small – she had everything in there.)

Mama called me tonight and told me how it’s boiling hot down there (June 3, 2011). She said she wished she had a piece of watermelon and then… “My daddy had a large watermelon patch by the road near the house. I remember him always turning the vines as they grew – I never knew why but I used to help him walk through the patch and turn the vines the opposite way they were growing. We never cut and ate watermelon like you do today – he actually only grew them for the pigs. He had a lot of pigs as he made hams, sausage and many other things from them when they were killed in the fall. Daddy like pork, we very seldom had beef, as he would have had to buy it. Our cows were only for milking. When we wanted a melon on a hot day, Leroy and I would grab one out of the large pen daddy piled them in by the pig pen, bust it open… eat only the heart, which was always the best part of the melon, then throw the rest over to the pigs. My cousin, Betty Kelley grew good melons in her garden but I’ve never been able to grow them. I started some vines the other year, and I had one melon growing, but when I picked it out of the garden, it was all rotten on the bottom. I had been turning it like I was told, but it rotted anyway.”

I called mama and told her about McKinley saying “I have a bird in my belly and he’s going to fly away.” McKinley keeps talking about a baby in her belly at school. A teacher there is due any day and McKinley told her that there is a big watermelon in her belly. I told McKinley the other day that I’d take her for pizza, she said no, so I said well Ella likes pizza, so I’ll take her – she said, “but what about me.” She’s so thin with flat abs. Mama said… “When I married, I could take my hands and fit them around my waist – I was really thin.”

My mother grew up on a small farm in Georgia, and has more memories of her childhood than I can only dream to remember. If you’d like to follow along from day 1, click on 2017: A to Z… Conversations with Mama – The Best of!

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© 2017, copyright Jeanne Bryan Insalaco; all rights reserved

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