As published in “The Valdosta Magazine” in the Summer 2010 issue.
Do you remember Grandma’s farm? My Grandma’s farm was in Echols County, Georgia in an area known as Mayday, and it was a wonder. Watching a black-widow in the burn barrel out in the back field. Picking up snake skins out of the tall golden grass, counting the rattles and then checking all over because he might still be around. Memories of the farm.
She would show us a plant and give us five names for it. “Mmm, well this is a Pokeweed. Phytolacca Americana. Also known as a Pokeberry, Poke, Inkberry, or Pidgeonberry.” Since we were kids she had to say, “Don’t eat the berries, they’ll make you sick.”
“Hear that bird?” Grandma knew its name too. She could tell you where it nested and what it ate. If you were smart and paid attention, you could learn the world from her. She had books on birds, gardening, travel, as well as a fantastic collection of every Reader’s Digest ever printed. Many subjects were included, but the Bible was her favorite.
Grandma had a lifelong interest in all things outdoors except for killing. No hunting was allowed on her land. If a snake crossed the dirt road, you waited until it passed before driving on. Fishing was the only killing I saw around her house; you didn’t even swat spiders! She believed that every creature has its job, including those that fed us. We painted numbers on the backs of the turtles we came across, so we would know them the next time we saw them. They were not fans of this activity. Some were pretty big and lurched away as you were painting, so they ended up with weird graffiti on their backs.
Organic gardening. Tying up string beans. Wearing the overalls that Grandpa bought for me from Southern Salvage on Ashley Street in Valdosta. Picking and shelling black-eyed peas in the hot shade. Walking down the logging road and making necklaces out of long blades of grass and yellow jasmine blossoms. The Alapaha River ran dark brown, painting the sand golden along its edges. Minnows nibbled at your toes. Grandma knew a lot of poems and sayings, “Dark brown is the river, golden is the sand.” That was from Robert Louis Stephenson. “‘To each his own’ said the old lady as she kissed the cow.” That was from Grandma.
I learned how to sew on her old singer sewing machine with the foot pedals. I broke the bobbin once, but she didn’t even get mad at me. It was easily fixed once they had ordered and gotten the part. I loved her old typewriter. I wrote stories and poems and then submitted them for her approval. She liked the poems. Grandma must have cringed at the amount of paper I went through; nothing she did was wasteful. I always got more paper if I asked for it.
Sunday was an event. Grandma would cook lots of wonderful smelling food to take to church. We’d iron our dresses and curl our hair and put it up. I remember people always came to visit after church and even stayed the night. It was funny to see the preacher in jeans, even funnier to see him out in the garden digging for worms. The adults would sit around the table after supper and talk about composting.
She could teach you a lot about the Lord too, if you’d listen. Everything she said and did reflected His influence in her life. Grandma truly loved the Lord; spirituality was very personal for her. As a child I just nodded and said yes ma’am when she talked about God. As an adult I can understand and am thankful for my own relationship with Him.
Best of all was sitting under the pines in the woods behind the house all by myself in the late afternoon. A soft cushion of pine straw under me. Smells like sap. Even now, I can hear the wind sighing its way through the treetops. In the distance, the Alapaha eddies and swirls. A mockingbird scolds a crow. The roaring silence fills my ears. I breathe in until it feels like my chest might burst with love for this place. I feel so little looking up at the lacy tree tops. I don’t want to get up and leave but there’s the dinner bell. Grandma might take a switch to you if you’re late for supper.