Counting this time, I almost died three times. The first time, before I was born, my twin came out six months early. I managed to hang until the right time to be born and here I am. The next time I was just about two years old. I choked on a walnut leaf, guess I must have thought it would taste good, so I stuffed the darn thing in my mouth. Lucky, our three legged dog, barked so loud that Momma came running. She pulled it out from way down my throat just as I was turning blue.
See, I don’t remember those times, but people in my family talk about it some. I hope this third time don’t become one of them stories. Tell me if you think it might once you hear it, okay?
Right now, I’m taking turns with Gramma sipping coffee from her speckled blue mug with the brown stains that just won’t come out, no matter how many times she pours bleach in it and lets it sit. I’m sitting on Gramma’s lap because I can’t sit on Momma’s lap because she doesn’t have one. That baby in her belly is taking up all the room. So, anyway, here I am, just sitting on Gramma listening to her and Momma talk when Gramma starts spilling the beans.
“That sure was a shaker last night, wasn’t it, Betty?” Gramma says this to Momma.
“It woke me right up, Mom. I practically landed on the ground, it shook so hard. That would have been a sight. I don’t know as I could have gotten up from there without a forklift. I might just have had to lie there and wait ‘til the baby comes. It scared the s. h .i .t. out of me, I can tell you that.”
“Watch your language, Betty. Little pitchers have big ears. Anyway, down at my place, Donna Lee was by me in the bed, snuggled up right beside me like she always does when she spends the night, so close she was almost on my other side. That jolt didn’t even wake her up.”
“Kids, aren’t they sumpthin’? It seems like it takes them forever to settle down at night, but when they do, even an earthquake can’t wake ‘em up.”
“Something did wake her later, though. And me, too.” Gramma looks down at me when she says this last thing.
Oh, no. Gramma isn’t going to tell on me, is she? “Please”, I want to scream, “please don’t tell anybody. Especially don’t tell my momma. Please.”
“Betty, can you turn that song up, honey. I just love that Nat King Cole.” We all turn to look at the Philco sitting on the window sill. “His new one, “Unforgettable” reminds me of when I was a young thing down South.”
While they are listening I think about yesterday. Usually, I just love staying with Gramma. Her house, right down the street from us, is like a free pass on a carnival ride. Lolly, my sister, and me, we get to say stuff and eat stuff and do stuff that we’d never get away with at Momma’s house.
At Gramma’s house, starched stiff crocheted doilies sit under every lamp and every candy dish and every ashtray. Her lamps all tell a story, like the painted palm tree one with little black Sambo standing by it holding the bulb. There’s an hour glass lamp with real sand on the bottom, but you can’t turn it over ‘cause it’ll bend the shade. I know ‘cause I tried it once. The one I really like, but I don’t go too near it, is the black panther lamp with his mouth open like he’s roaring.
It’s sweet at Gramma’s, too. There’s ribbon candy from Christmas melted onto the bottom of most of the candy dishes. You can pick it off and it still tastes good. The Little Red Riding Hood cookie jar has a chimney on the roof that opens up to a room full of cookies. Peanut butter cookies with fork hatches on top. Chocolate chip made with real butter, Gramma says, most of the time. I like those kinda burned on the bottom. You can keep the oatmeal ones for yourself as far as I’m concerned.
But outside in the yard at Gramma’s is the best. Sitting under the big pepper tree, we peel the peppers apart to use the seeds as markers for hopscotch. The best markers are little chains that Gramma gives us when they break off her ceiling fixtures. Mostly, though, we just use rocks. Lolly still beats me at hopscotch but I’m getting better at it.
Gramma keeps yard hens. That ol’ banty rooster always tries to peck those poor little yellow-haired babies to death. When we get between them, he pecks at us instead and gives us red spots that look like measles on the back of our hands.
Yesterday, for something different, Jimmy, my uncle who still lives with Gramma, mowed the lawn and sprinkled the grass clippings like chalk. He made grass lines in the shape of rooms, a kitchen, front room and some kind of playroom. Gramma let us use some of her pots and pans, real ones, from the kitchen. All day long, we pretended Lolly was the mom and I was her little girl and we lived in our little grass house. Lolly was real sweet to me for a change.
We dragged over the car that Daddy had made us from an old cardboard refrigerator box. It has a dashboard with painted knobs to turn, a Chevy steering wheel, a real one, and a cut-out windshield made with see-through plastic that looks like glass. We parked it in front of our grass house and pretended we were driving to get ice cream for everybody in the neighborhood.
Well, I can tell you, we were filthy dirty by the end of it. Gramma plopped us in her big tub that sits on four shiny claw feet. It’s almost deep enough to dive in and long enough for both of us sisters to fit, stretched out leg to leg. I think I may have swallowed too much water. Gramma let us stay in there until our finger tips looked like raisins. She dried us with towels that have crocheted edges, so old and soft you can practically see through them when you hold them up to the light. Then Gramma sent Lolly home cause it was my turn to spend the night.
After our bath, I got to go into Gramma’s hankie drawer. Every hankie is embroidered or tatted or both, with all kinds of flowers, like pansies, sweet peas and roses. They’re edged in lace and starched to within an inch of their lives. We always wrap our dollies in the hankies or tie them into dolly dresses. We use the sachet as pillows for our dollies’ heads. When you hold those clean hankies up to your nose you can smell Gramma, lavendar and hot steam from the iron, even if she is not even in the same room.
So who would have guessed that Gramma, Gramma, of all people, would now be tattling on me, embarrassing me to death?
“Want some more coffee in that milk, Mom? You shouldn’t share your coffee with Donna Lee. She gets too antsy. Look at her try to scoot away. So, what happened then to wake y’all?”
“Well, I’d just gotten back into the bed after the shaker, settled right in, about to doze again when I feel something hot and wet spreadin’ under me. Guess who did what?”
They both look at me like I have something to say that they had been waiting for a million years to hear. All four of their eyebrows raise up, all four of their brown eyes stare at me.
Me? I just about die. I am already 5 and one half years old and too old to be wettin’ the bed. I slide off Gramma’s lap and skedaddle into the other room, bawlin’ like a baby. I can hear them buzzing behind me.
“She’s just tired. Can’t look at her sideways. She sure has some growin’ up to do before this new baby gets here.”
“Just leave her be, Betty. I shouldn’t have said a word. Donna Lee, come on back in here now, honey. Sorry to embarrass you. Help me finish this coffee and then we’ll go feed the hens.”
Well, I got through the other two times I almost died. I guess I’ll get through this one. I climb back up on her soft-as-a -pillow lap and let her put me up under her arm like one of them baby chicks.
Momma just lets us be.