Sunday, March 13, 2011

Frog Stew

Tall Georgia Pines provided homage for the pretend home. Three girls clad in frayed denim cut-off shorts, stained t-shirts, and bare feet played. Tiny clouds of dust formed while Rae-Ann, the oldest, cleared the earthen floor of fallen pine needles. The grayed weathered handle of the rake moved back and forth. Her middle sister, Earline, busied herself with making beds out of piles of pine straw and tattered quilts. Tater, the youngest, duplicated Earline’s steps while constantly chattering and asking questions. Earline never tired of Tater’s shadow.

Rae-Anne was proud of their home’s construction. It was her resourcefulness that saw the potential of the old two-by-fours and concrete blocks scavenged from their father’s scrap pile. Arranged perfectly between several pines, the exterior walls of their home were defined. Their furniture was comprised of a ladder-backed chair missing its caning, a faded child’s table with rusted legs, and metal milk crates. They had created a d├ęcor through a collection of treasures only their imaginations could make into valuables.

“Rae-Ann, the beds are made.” Earline stood in the kitchen area staring at the bare shelves of the old wire baker’s rack. The faded green paint and missing leg gave testimony to years of use. It now served as a cabinet for the home’s fine collection of china - an assortment of containers, cracked plates, and cups. “What we fix’n for supper?”

“I dun’t know?” Rae-Anne propped the rake against the pine trunk. “Guess we gotta go find som’thin.” She picked up the dark blue enamel, scarred from years of canning.
Earline took a cracked plastic pitcher from the wobbly baker’s rack. “C’mon Tater.”
Tater grabbed a wicker basket twice her size. She attempted to manage it while hurrying trying to catch up with her two sisters. Her chubby four year old legs moved as fast as they could. “Ya’ll wait up!”

“Hey, here’s some polk salad.” Rae-Anne was already bent over, picking handfuls of the broad leafy green grass. Her long brown braids dangled. “This stuff looks just like turnip greens.”

“These can be potatoes.” Tater held a handful of medium sized white rocks.
“I found some maypops and spider lilies.” Earline held the bouquet. “They’ll look good on the table in that old vase of momma’s?”

Rae-Anne rolled her eyes at Earline’s contribution. “I swear Earline, if we depended on you for food we’d starve.”

“You ain’t gotta be so mean Rae-Anne.” Earline placed her bouquet in Tater’s basket.
Rae-Anne took stock of what they had gathered. “What are we going to do for meat?” Before the last word was spoken, a small frog made its appearance. A wide grin splayed across Rae-Anne’s face. “Hey, here’s a frog.” Without any thought, she immediately bent over and picked up the frog. Her two sisters looked at her with horror on their faces.
“YUCK! Frog!” Earline and Tater protested.

“What’s wrong with frog? Daddy says it tastes like chicken,” Rae-Anne said, frustrated at her sister’s squeamish response. Anyone would have thought she’d picked up a cow patty by the looks on their faces. It was just a harmless toad frog and not like the worms she dug up with her dad for fish bait. “We can put it in the pot. Tater, take that old pitcher go get some water.”

Tater sped off to the side of the house next to the back door steps. Her mom sat on the top step shelling the day’s picking of butter beans. “What you girls up to?”

“Noth’n mom. Just mak’n some supper.” Tater turned the spigot allowing cool water to splash on her feet. Streaks of white flesh were revealed against Georgia red clay.

Caroline smiled at her youngest daughter. She always enjoyed this time of the day, sitting out in the back yard, listening to nature, and the chatter of her three girls. “Whatever it is, I’m sure it’s gonna be good. Make sure you save me some, now.”

“Yes ma’am.” Tater bent under the spigot taking a few quick sips of water before turning off the flow. With the back of her hand she wiped her face. “Gotta go.” Caroline watched Tater’s short legs moving at a hurried pace. An invisible trail was left by the water splashing out of the full pitcher.

Tater hoped her sisters would wait on her before starting to make the stew. She wanted to see everything they did. Her heart sunk at the sight of the pot on the cinder blocks that were their stove. Earline was busy putting broken twigs under the pot. Tater sped up into a run-walk, arriving in time to see Rae-Ann lift the lid, putting in the white rocks. Breathless, Tater held out the half-full pitcher. “Here, Mom wants to know what we were mak’n. So, what are we mak’n?”

Rae-Anne, pouring the water into the pot used a stick to stir its contents, answered, “Frog Stew. Earline, get me the frog.”

Earline’s body went rigid. She shoved her hands deep in the back pockets of her shorts. “I ain’t touching that thing. You want it you get it.”

“I swear Earline. You’re such a sissy.” Rae-Anne picked up the box that she’d put the frog in for safe keeping. Carefully, she opened the lid and reached in, taking out the meat for their stew. Long outstretched legs flailed, protesting being the main event of the evening’s stew. Rae-Anne watched the frog’s futile attempts at freedom from the pot’s contents. “Give me that lid over there.”

“How long you think we oughta let the stew cook?” Tater asked.

“Daddy says any good stew needs simmer’n time.” Rae-Anne answered while tending to the pile of twigs under the pot of stew.

Tater, becoming impatient at the lack of a definite answer to her question, asked, “Well-how long is that?”

A look of worry crossed Earline’s face. “Don’t that mean all day? ‘Cause we ain’t got long the yard light just came on.”

“Ya’ll are such worry warts.” Rae-Anne opened the lid, checking the stew’s contents. The frog stared back at her before making another attempt for freedom.

“Ewww-warts. You know Tommy said if you hold a frog you’ll get warts.” Earline backed away from the pot of stew.

“Rae-Anne is gonna have warts now?” Tater could already see images of her sister looking like one of the old witches in her story books.

“No, silly. I ain’t gonna get no warts from touching a frog.”

“I’m not sure if we should be eat’n frog stew if they give you warts.” Earline grimaced.
“Yeah! Maybe frog stew what’n a good idea.” Tater moved closer to Earline in support. Oversized tears filled her green eyes. “I woulda been fine with mashed taters and polk salad.”

Rae-Anne rolled her eyes. “Tater you’d be happy eating mashed taters every day.”
“We should go ask momma if you gonna get warts.” Earline was sure that there must be some validity to what she’d been told by Tommy. He always sat beside her in Sunday school. Surely, he wouldn’t lie to her about something so serious. “Maybe she’ll put that orange stuff on you. She says it takes care of everything.”

“Well, if it’ll make ya’ll happy.” Rae-Anne grimaced at the thought of being covered in their mother’s cure for all ailments. In a huff she picked up the pot.

“Whatcha do’n with the pot?” Tater asked. She hated it when her sisters argued. All she wanted to do was play house and be the baby. Everyone knew the stew was just pretend food. No one really was going to eat the frog.

“I’m gonna show momma what’s got ya’ll in a tither.” Rae-Anne had already started toward the house, her sisters in tow.

Caroline watched her three daughters. The buzz of the security light continued steadily, marking the end of another hot, humid summer day of gardening. She’d finished the last of the butter beans and was about to call the girls in for the night. The staunch way her oldest was walking with the other two lagging indicated there was a dispute among the three. “What ya’ll got there?”

“Supper.” Rae-Anne announced holding the pot toward Caroline.

“Well, let me see.” Caroline was always amazed at the vivid imaginations of the girls.
Rae-Anne lifted the lid of the pot at the same time Caroline looked over to view its contents. “Accccccck!” Caroline immediately jumped, spilling the pan of shelled butter beans.

“Momma! You okay.” All three girls cried in unison as their watched their mom. Their soft spoken mother had become possessed. The woman in front of them was spitting at the ground and wiping her mouth out with the hem of her apron.

“I think she’s having a fit ‘cause momma don’t like anyone spitting at the ground. She says it’s not lady like or polite.” Tater injected was not sure what to make of her mom’s reaction to their supper.

“Maybe we should go dial the operator for help.” Earline was sure their mom had gone mad. With both hand on her hips, Earline chastised the person responsible for their mother’s reaction.“Rae-Anne look at what you did to momma!”

“Earline – it ain’t my fault.” Rae-Anne hated the way Earline was always quick to blame her for things.

“You the one that caught that frog and showed it to her.” Earline put her hands on her hip and stared at her eldest sister. “Now, look at what you done--done to momma.”

Tater began to whimper. She couldn’t understand how her siblings could stand there arguing and not helping their momma. Caroline had stopped spitting but her face looked a funny shade of green. Frogs were green. Large tears rolled down her cheeks. “Earline, you gonna call that operator?”

“Momma, do you want us to call the operator?” Earline asked.
 
Caroline regained her composure. “No. What was that?”

“Frog Stew – our supper.” Rae-Anne announced with pride. She picked up the pot from the ground, checking its contents. “Oh No! The frog is gone.”

“Where’d it go?” Earline asked checking the ground around her feet.

Caroline swallowed deeply. The memory was still clear in her mind. “Into my mouth.”

The three girls realized the cause of their mother’s fit. Earline, sobbing, turned to Rae-Anne. “Momma ate our frog. Now she’s gonna have warts in her mouth.”

Tater cried. “Look, momma is already turning green like a frog.”

Caroline tried her best to console an upset Earline and Tater. “I’m sure I’m not gonna get warts in my mouth or turn into a frog.”

“But Tommy McCree said frogs gave you warts.” Earline was not convinced.

Rae-Anne rolled her eyes at how gullible her sister could be at time. “Tommy McCree is a liar.”

“Rae-Anne.” Caroline looked at her eldest. The tone in her mother’s voice was warning enough that what she’d said was inappropriate. Rae-Anne dropped her head. “You girls go on and get inside.” Caroline watched each one climb the back steps followed with the slamming of the screen door. She looked at the empty pot and shook her head. Next time she would be not be so inquisitive to what her girls cooked for their dinner.

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A native Georgian, Tori Bailey grew up in a small southern town where she developed a love of books, horses and a fascination with flying. She released her debut novel, Coming Home, last year and is currently working on the second novel in the trilogy- Ethel's Song.  After graduating from Brenau College, she continued these interests.  A die hard Georgia Bulldog fan, Tori, lives in the Athens area with her husband and four cats. She enjoys writing about growing up in the South and her home state.  Visit her website: www.readtoribailey.com for a sneak preview at Coming Home and Ethel's Song. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter