A whimsical look at life growing up in the small town of Waldron, Arkansas in the 1960s and 1970s, plus occasional observations from the present. Want to start at the very beginning? Click HERE.

Monday, July 4, 2011

I'll See You In A Little Over Six Hours

Long ago and far away, when I was just a little guy, my Mama was a pretty important part of my life.  When life was confusing and didn't make sense, Mama could usually explain it to me.  She was so important, in fact, that I think I lived my life with my main objective being not to do anything that would disappoint or hurt her.  She was a continual source of goodness and calm, and she wasn't reluctant to go out to the hedge and pick off a switch should the need arise.  To maximize the effect of the switch, she would deftly pull it through her closed fingers before each use, stripping off the little hedge leaves that might provide wind resistance while the switch was in motion.  Though rare, her swats got the job done.

When I got old enough for school, I had mixed emotions.  There was no kindergarten available back in those pioneer days, so we started off in first grade.  I was excited about going to school, but a little bit scared too.  I'd have my twin sister Janet with me, of course, but I was still apprehensive about The Great Unknown.  I was quite used to the routine of  home, and I'd never been away for any extended length of time, except the one time when some cousins were visiting from Texas and we spent the night at Addie and Joe's farm.  As the story has been told in the family many times, the next morning Addie asked me if I'd like to spend the night again sometime, and I replied succinctly, "I wouldn't dare."

But, school was important, and my excitement level was a bit higher than my apprehension level, so I made it off to school.  I do have a vague memory, however, of carrying a picture of Mama with me to look at if I ever felt lonesome.  I honestly am not sure whether that happened or not, but it probably did. 

Once I got into the routine of school, things went OK.  Mama would fix us a good breakfast each morning; sometimes we had oatmeal or cereal, occasionally Mama would fix us pancakes (we liked to smear them with peanut butter before pouring on the syrup), and we even had waffles sometimes.  Janet and I had milk in our special Captain Kangaroo plastic glasses that we got out of a cereal box.  When it was warm, we would usually walk to school, and on cold or rainy days we would catch a ride with my friend Randy's dad, Horace Bottoms. 

It occurred to me at one time that even though I missed Mama, school didn't really last that long.  I took great comfort in my calculation that the school day actually lasted only about six and a half hours.  This was a bit of a revelation to me; you weren't really at school all day like it seemed, but only a short time.  So, when my sister and I would leave the house in the morning, after we got our good-bye hug from Mama, I would tell her, reassuringly, "I'll see you in a little over six hours."

Well, every single morning for at least a year (maybe longer), I would make that statement to Mama when I left for school.  But then, I started getting older, and didn't miss Mama so much, so somewhere in there I quit saying it.  She was still important to me, but I was a big kid then, and didn't get lonesome like I did when I was younger.

Life rolled on, of course.  Elementary school gave way to junior high.  By then, our family had gotten a used car from Harris Motor Company, and Mama had "relearned" how to drive.  She had a drivers license in her younger days, but it had long since expired, so she took the driver's test again.  I remember the afternoon that she came in after taking the test; we all asked anxiously, "Did you pass?" and Mama replied, "By the skin of my teeth!"  So Mama started taking us to school then.  I remember one morning when I had forgotten to get any money for my lunch, and when I realized it shortly after arriving at school, I hurried down to the office to call home.  But there was Mama, standing uncomfortably in the school lobby (she hadn't planned on getting out of the car and wasn't dressed up to her usual standard), talking to Mr. Rackley.  When she saw me, she smiled and handed me my lunch money.

My brothers and sister and I were so fortunate to maintain a close and loving relationship with our Mama in the intervening years.  Honestly, I can truly say that I don't believe there has ever been a cross word exchanged between any of us as adults, and that is a direct result of our relationship with our Mama, I think.  If Mama ever had a negative opinion about someone, she kept it to herself.  I don't believe she had it in her to make a harsh comment about anyone or anything. 

So, I got to the point where I could make it more than six and a half hours without seeing her, but it will now soon be four years since we said good-bye.  I miss her every day, and so do my brothers and sister.  We still catch ourselves sometimes thinking we need to pick up the phone and call and ask her something.

I've saved a phone message on tape that she left me one time.  In it, she says, "Billy, if you want to come down, I just fixed a big pot of beans and some cornbread."

Mama's beans and cornbread.  The best meal I ever had.