Scathe meic Beorh
No one, not even myself, will ever convince me I didn’t see my grandmother again that hot June morning.
I loved my grandmother like no one I have ever loved before, or since—except my own mother. My first memories of her are of watching her fry rind bacon at her white gas stove, making breakfast for everybody. Grits and butter, bacon, and toast. And for us kids, water served in a jelly glass.
My Uncle Paul kept her yard up. A silver palm grew there, and to the north side of the house there was a giant pine—some kind of majestic, tall spreading pine, a Monterey maybe, with short leaves, tiny cones that grew along the branches, and a radius of at least one and a half feet. The back yard was a crawdad field—wet and bubbly. Until the late 1960’s, an outhouse sat there. Then my grandmother, whom we all called Big Mama, had one of her two bedrooms made into a bathroom, and she moved her bed and dresser into the dining room—so if somebody were walking from the front room of her house into the kitchen at the back of the house, they had to walk through Big Mama’s bedroom that smelled like liniment and old oak furniture.
Big Mama died after a head injury in January 1980. She had spent the holidays with us in Ferry Pass, and Christmas of 1979 was the last time I ever saw her living. Well, I say that, but...
The old homestead, which had been built by Big Mama’s parents, Ma and Pa Calloway, was razed to the ground either in late 1980 or early 1981. All that was left were Big Mama’s red-painted cement steps, which led up to her wooden porch—always painted green—I guess to match the tin overhang which was green and white striped.
Never have I forgotten Big Mama. Never have I forgotten Big Mama’s house. I have written several pieces about it. The first one I wrote for a college composition class, only months after the old place was torn down. I wrote about how I missed the place, and was sad that it had been torn down. It was the first time I had ever really tried to write anything serious, other than poetry. My English instructor told me it was very good, and said she thought I should become a writer.
In 2005, I was moving to Vermont, I thought, and so I wanted to say good-bye to the South Flomaton, Florida of my childhood... and so many precious memories. I pulled my car down the little paved road next to the Willet’s house, long time neighbor’s of my Big Mama. They, too, have been gone many years.
I felt sad as I walked up to Big Mama’s property—‘heir’s property’ in her will. I had hoped to be able to go onto the lot and find the cement steps, and imagine going up on the porch and hearing it thunder under my feet, open the creaking screen door, walk through the house, the kitchen, going out on the back porch—find the yellow tabby barn cats meowing for fried chicken... and the crawdads in their mucky oblivion.
I had been told by my Cousin Joe that the place, last time he had bushwhacked his way in, was filled with pygmy rattlers. This rattlesnake, I understand, is one of the deadliest. That information was one of the things which halted me that hot June morning. There were others.
Briars big enough to tear clothes. Hundreds of scrub oaks intertwined with bushes and other undergrowth. The whole piece of land, I found, was impossible to enter. A sharp machete and a good pair of high boots would be needed to brave Big Mama’s land. I didn’t have either one.
So I stood at the southwest edge of the land, and I imagined. I saw all us kids playing on the porch, rocking in the rocking chairs, swinging high in the porch swing, going in and out (and in and out) the screen door, begging for water, begging for ice cream money, begging for somebody to watch us cross the highway so we could go play with our cousin Keith...
I saw my tired mother trying to relax after a hard week of school bus driving; trying to spend some time with her brother Paul, her brother Roy, her sister Margie, her Mama.... I saw my dad eye every detail of my grandmother’s house, making sure everything was safe for her. Everything.
And then... as I stood there in that morning heat... my grandmother, my Big Mama, was there. She was on her porch, and she was smiling at me. But... she was also the land, and she was every encroaching vine, every unseen rattler, every bluejay, every scrub oak, every briar... everything. And I knew that she was really there, just the same as I know that I am writing this memoir right now. I did not imagine her, I was not dreaming, I did not hallucinate. My Big Mama was at home again—and maybe had always been there. I cried so hard. I could not believe my eyes. And the love of my Big Mama for me in those sacred moments washed over me so that I will never doubt again the healing power of love.
My Big Mama is on the little piece of property that she loved so much... and so deeply missed when the decision was made that she was too feeble to live in her home anymore. She was moved only a few hundred yards away, across the highway to live in a trailer with her sister Ida—but his move killed her spirit, and she died only four or so years later.
I think she has been on her land, and in her house, since the moment she crossed the veil.
The thought that makes the deepest impression on me that morning was this: My Big Mama is in Heaven—and this is Heaven, or we can be in Heaven, or taken there, when we least expect it.
I went back to her plot of land a year later. It looked even more overgrown than it had on my first visit. I waited at the corner for my Big Mama to come again to embrace me with her love as she had done that magical morning. But, though I knew she was there—I could feel her there still—she didn’t come to greet me as she had before. Yet, I knew she was at home—and when I die, I will take my mother’s hand, and we will both climb those old red cement steps, and we’ll sit with my Big Mama on her porch, and we’ll sing the old hymn “In the Garden” together—and we will love each other, and make one promise that we will always hold true... never again will we leave home, or ever leave one another. Ever again.