Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Here's to you, Maw Maw.

Pat and Muriel Underwood Wilson on their Wedding Day
July 26, 1903
My paternal grandmother, Muriel Underwood Wilson, was there the night I came into this world, and she gave of herself until she went out of this world. On April 6, 1970.

A widow since Paw Paw died in 1943, Maw Maw lived only a mile or two down the road. We saw her just about every day as we grew up. She was with us on birthdays and holidays; she was there to help each time a baby was born.  And she was there to help when we were sick. When we all had Chicken Pox at the same time she took Patsy and me to her house, where she spent sleepless nights bathing the lesions, feeding us soup and telling us stories.

Maw Maw always read her Bible each night, and one of my first memories is standing beside her worn leather chair, watching her lips move silently as I waited for her to finish. She loved gospel songs, and one of her favorites was How Great Thou Art.

She also loved The Grand Ole Opry. She listened to it on WSM, Nashville, every Saturday night for as long as I could remember. She turned the radio up loud as we listened to Kitty Wells, the Carter family, Hank Williams and Little Jimmy Dickens. One night when Terry, Patsy, Mary Ellen and I were there, she positioned us around the living room and we all square-danced. She laughed and clapped, swirling around the room like a pro, feet slipping and sliding to the beat of the music. Just for a moment that night I glimpsed the young woman she once was. 
Patsy and I often spent Saturday nights with her, and we loved nestling together in the big feather bed, waking to the smells of coffee perking, sausage frying and oatmeal bubbling on the back of the stove.

We went to Bardwell with her most Saturday afternoons, where she took us to Petrie’s Drug Store on Front Street and bought us ice cream cones, then on to shop at Stockton’s Drygoods Store. When we were older she dropped us off at Milwain's for the picture show, visiting with her Bardwell friends until it was time to pick us up.

She took us to the fair, the circus, and to Cairo, Mayfield and Paducah on shopping trips. Sometimes she prepared chicken dinners for us to eat on the way. We had our own tailgate party there beside the road, biting into crisp, tender chicken legs, digging into potato salad and coleslaw with real silverware and guzzling frosty Pepsis kept cold on ice in a washtub in the trunk.

Maw Maw loved to fish and she loved fish. "Think I'll catch us a mess of Catfish for supper," she said, "Come on y'all." We ran along behind her as she took off at a fast clip toward her pond behind the house. She always caught a big mess, and she had them cleaned and in the frying pan only minutes later. 
She often took us deep into the Mississippi River Bottoms where we spent afternoons picking up huge paper-shell pecans. And one time we weren't the only ones there.
"Who's that over there?" Terry said.
Not far from us was a man who looked as big as the Jolly Green Giant. He had one grass sack full and was quickly filling another.

Maw Maw rushed toward him, we following along behind. “You probably don’t know it, but this is my land,” she said, “So maybe you better go ahead on.”

The Jolly Green Giant dropped both grass sacks and took off down the hollow as quickly as his big chunky legs could carry him.

Maw Maw took us to Vacation Bible School each year, where she always taught a class, and Sunday School and church. She taught a class there, too.

She rose early, those Sunday mornings, and prepared dinner so it would be ready when we got home. We could smell the pork roast as soon as we hit the front steps, along with slow-cooked green beans with hog jawl and boiled potatoes. There was always coleslaw, hot biscuits and sliced tomatoes in season. For dessert there was often apple pie, just sweet enough; just tart enough, with crust so tender and flaky it that melted in your mouth.

“How do you make it so good every time?” I said, “It always tastes the same.”

She smiled, “Oh, just sixty years of practice, I guess.”

She visited the sick and helped people in need. She was a midwife in her earlier years; in bad weather, when the doctor couldn't get there in time, she delivered the babies on her own. Including her nephew. And, at their requests, she helped dress many ladies of Mississippi Baptist Church and did their hair. For their wakes.

Many Sunday afternoons, Maw Maw told us stories about the past, Patsy and I peppering her with questions:

“Why does Miss Nannie go to sleep every Sunday at church?”

"She can’t help it."

“Why does Miss Eda start crying and run out of church sometimes?”

"She can’t stand crowds."

“Why does Mr. Ed look like an owl and wink one eye like an owl all the time?”

“He’s always been that way.”

“What’s wrong with Mose’s neck?” (It was scarred and mottled.)

“That’s just part of his neck.”

Every Christmas Eve, Maw Maw arrived around twilight, the trunk of her car loaded down with presents. She wasn't much for fancy wrapping paper; most gifts were still in their brown paper sacks, the top twisted in a knot and tied with a red or green bow. I’m no good at it either, and each time I struggle with wrapping paper, I think of her.

Christmases were never the same after we lost her. I found myself at the front door, that first Christmas, watching for her Green ’57 Chevrolet. I went out in the yard later that night, looked at the North Star, and sent her a prayer. I have no doubt she heard it.

Not long before she died, Maw Maw gave me a Magic Lily bulb. I didn’t want to bother with it since nothing I planted ever came up. But she insisted, so I took it home to Illinois and planted it. Because I told her I would.
“It’ll never come up,” I told my husband and six-year-old daughter, "Never."

About a month after her death, I opened the back door and there it was, standing straight and tall. In full bloom.

I think of her often. And I'm thinking of her today. It's her birthday.

So here's to you, Maw Maw.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Sunday Night with John Prine

As many of you know, the stories I write are frequently about the past. Most of the time I move right along, sometimes sad, sometimes regretful, sometimes laughing at the hilarity of it all. But occasionally the past moves in on me, crowding out everything else, and I become a little melancholy. Especially on Sunday nights.

That's when I listen to John Prine.

I am a long-time fan of John Prine. His deep, gravely voice puts to words every person's heartaches, regrets, lost loves and painful memories. He sings as though he has been through it all, and he probably has. That's why his haunting songs strike a chord in just about everyone.

For Mother's Day a few years ago, Suzanne gave me a CD of his old and new songs. I love them all, but "Souviners" is my favorite. He co-wrote it with Steve Goodman. This video isn't of the greatest quality, but it will touch your soul.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

What a Woman!

Boy, I'd sure like to jump her bones!
My name is FurGirl. If it's any of your business.
She's a tough one.
But I love a challenge.

If I say you have a beautiful body, will you hold it against me?

Did I say something to offend you?

Hmmm...I sense a little interest. Perhaps I'll give it another try.

Come away with me, dear, and we'll follow our dreams together.

Wow! What a woman!

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

You Gotta Know When to Run

I heard Kenny Rogers' The Gambler on the radio today, and it brought back a memory so vivid that I burst out laughing.
It was 1979, and I had been divorced about six months. Suzanne and I had moved into a duplex in Lone Oak, and I was enjoying being back in Paducah.
One night a group of friends stopped by. They were on their way to Embers. It was the hot spot in town, they said, and asked me to join them.
Embers was a nice comfortable place, and we were soon having a great time, talking, laughing. Reminiscing.
When the waitress appeared, I had no idea what to order. And then I saw someone sipping a drink with a cherry and orange slice in it. I pointed to it, "I'll have one of those."
My Tom Collins tasted pretty good, so when she came around again, I ordered another.
As the lights dimmed and the band began to play, another round of drinks was ordered. A fresh Tom Collins appeared before me, and I drank it. Quickly.
My head was swirling by the time the band began to play a Kenny Rogers song, but I was having a great time, tapping my foot to The Gambler and singing along. I had never really liked the song, but now I loved it.
Suddenly, someone touched my shoulder. I turned and found myself staring into the face of a man who looked exactly like Kenny Rogers.
"Would you like to dance?"
"Go on, Brenda," someone said, "Dance with him!"
Soon I was on the floor. "Are you Kenny Rogers?" I joked.
He laughed, smoothing his neat grey beard and straightening the sleeves of his western shirt, "People do say I look like him."
Kenny clicked his cowboy boots and spun me onto the dance floor, where we were soon gyrating to the beat of Y.M.C.A., Heart of Glass, We Are Family. Before I left Embers with my friends that night, Kenny had asked me to have dinner with him. And I had accepted.
"What?" Suzanne said the next morning, "You've got a date?"
I popped a couple of aspirin and guzzled ice water like it was going out of style. I had a splitting headache. And I was very thirsty. "Yes," I said, "and he's a dead ringer for Kenny Rogers!"
"Gag me with a backhoe," she said, "I can't stand Kenny Rogers!"
The following Saturday night, I had reservations; I had not dated since I was 18, and I felt like I was stepping out on my husband. But I slipped on my peach dress, gold chains, a pair of clunky platform sandals. And Suzanne sprayed me down with my favorite L'air du temps.
As I was heading upstairs to get my purse, I heard Suzanne. "Oh, my god!" she shrieked, "A lounge lizard!"
A what? I dashed down the stairs and huddled behind Suzanne, peering out the window.
Kenny was getting out of a powder blue Cadillac. He was dressed in a blue leisure suit exactly the shade of his Cadillac, and his paisley shirt was unbuttoned to his waist. He was wearing a huge gold medallion around his neck. It glittered in the setting sun as he approached the door.
"I can't go," I whispered as he rang the doorbell.
We looked at each other and turned back to the window. Close up, he looked to be about sixty years old. And aside from his beard and hair, he looked nothing like Kenny Rogers.
We jerked back, but it was too late. He smiled and waved, so I rolled my eyes at Suzanne and opened the door.
As we drove through the streets of Paducah in the powder blue Cadillac, I gazed at Kenny's hands, which were caressing the steering wheel. He was wearing a square diamond ring on one hand, a horseshoe-shaped diamond on the other. Another sparkled from his pinky.
He sniffed the air, "You're wearing L'air du temps," he said. His beard quivered.
"I know women's perfumes."
He turned at the light, maneuvering the Cadillac down Broadway. "I've got a big farm in Missouri," he said, hands still caressing the wheel, "And beachfront property in Florida."
We were pulling into the parking lot of Whaler's Catch now. "And I have my own construction company," he said, "Only commercial." He cut off the motor and gazed at me. "That's where the real money is." He smiled, "Not that I need it."
After we were seated, and the waitress handed us our menus, he smiled up at her, "Thanks, honey bun."
As he dug into his garlic-reeking shrimp scampi and I picked at my scallop dinner, he continued. "I haven't been very lucky at marriage," he said, "But it's because they all married me for my money."
I put my fork down. "I'm not feeling too well," I said.
I got up to call a cab, but Kenny insisted on driving me, talking all the way to my house. As soon as we arrived, I jumped out and ran inside.
I never drank another Tom Collins, and I never saw Kenny again. But, after all these years, I can't help thinking of him when I hear The Gambler.
You gotta know when to hold 'em,
Know when to fold 'em,
Know when to walk away,
And know when to run...!
All words and pictures © 2008 Brenda G. Wooley