I am sitting on the bed ripping open a bag of pecans and all of a sudden, I am back in Edwards, Mississippi staying in Pollyville. I remember my grandparents. My grandma, Polly, is walking through the house with her handmade apron on. She makes these aprons out of old scraps of materials. The material is always there because when you have 11 kids, there is always someone growing out of something. She has on a skirt like she always does and socks (more than one pair) pulled up to her knees and a pair of my grandpa Dood’s old shoes. Funny, I don’t ever recall her wearing her own.
She is in the kitchen where there are a million pots and pans stacked on top of each other making her famous biscuits and maybe some deer meat (venison for you city folk) and though I have always hated gravy, the smell of those onions boiling down to transparency is enough to warm the coldest heart.
Grandaddy is sitting in his chair. I guess you could call it a ‘man chair’ because he was the only one who ever sat in it. He didn’t purchase it. It is either a gift from one of his kids, or it is something he got from the dump. We went to the dump a lot, and the things we got from other people’s trash was nothing less than amazing. He is ordering us around. We are carrying wood to keep the fire going. There is a stove right in front of the man chair that he keeps going with a big stick. It is the 1980’s, and we are probably the last family to have one of these. He can unlatch that thing, move wood around, and beat an unruly child with that stick. There is a skillet on that stove. No telling what is in the skillet but it doesn’t matter. It will be delicious, and he will give all of us a piece. We are his slaves, but we are too happy to know. He basks in this fact especially when he is in his garden, and we have worked all day for a quarter or less. Again, we don’t care. Sometimes if we are really good, he will give us coffee in bowls, and our parents will hate it because ‘Coffee makes your head hard.’ The coffee might be cold, but just because our parents don’t want us to drink it, it is the next best thing to soda that you can have.
Because it is the holidays, Aunt Lois will come down. She is the second coming of Christ. You don’t know anyone greater than she is. When Shakespeare wrote about a woman gliding, he was talking about Aunt Lois. You love her because she loves you so much. It doesn’t matter that once you get older, you realize that most of the gifts she brings come from a wholesale shop. You are happy to get the body powder that you can spray from a can. These simple gifts are revolutionary in Edwards. She brings you so many plastic necklaces that you could wear a different one every day for at least a month and not repeat. She gives you all coins in a bag. It is only $20 in a Ziploc bag, but in your head, you have just won the lottery.
Aunt Mandy sells candy and cookies, and with $20, you can knock on that trailer door until she gets tired of you ordering fifty cents worth of stuff at a time and swings the door open one good time and yells, “Dangit Fredia, I’m getting tired of you bothering me. I’m trying to finish my cakes.” And because you know that she means these words–and that if you leave her alone for a couple of hours that she will give you a little sample cake. You will nibble on by pinching little pieces in between your two fingers for fear of eating it all too quickly– you go and sit down. Maybe if it is not raining, you might just go from house to house ‘visiting’ because that’s what southern people do and these 13 acres belong to your grandaddy.
Polly has fried a piece of that deer meat, and your momma has made some candied yams. Aunt Mandy has finished the cakes and is sending each trailer their own one for Christmas as presents. Kids are walking around with plates of greens, cornbread, fried corn, biscuits, chicken, deer meat, cake, and old cups filled with sweet tea. The boys will play ball and you might get beaten up by the Drumgoole sisters but it will be okay because they will always promise not to do it again and you know that they are the closest things that you have to sisters because your sister is very small and she pees all the time, and she is getting too old to use as a doll. You will go to sleep thinking that you are the luckiest girl in the world for these three days. You don’t feel poor because there is so much food and the pecans grow on trees, and even if they didn’t, your grandaddy would never let you go hungry. He would go in his back yard and swing a chicken around by its neck until it was no more. And if there were no chicken, there would be a rabbit, and if there were not a rabbit, there would be a squirrel, and if there were no squirrel, there would be frozen catfish from the pond this past summer.
This is maybe 30 years ago. Before I got educated before I knew the woes of that land and way before I realized how poor (by society’s standards) we really were. All I knew is that pecans grew on trees, berries grew on bushes, meat was always plentiful, wearing your man’s shoes was normal, cooking was not a woman’s job-rather an act of passion, sisters sometimes beat you down, and that love could make you build your wife a house from the ground up and that Pollyville was more than a piece of land, it was a nation.