June 26, 2005


It was just as he remembered.

From the blazing sun and sweltering heat to the oppressive humidity, not even the air conditioner in his Lexus could deny, it was August in Mississippi once again.

Slowly negotiating his ride onto the narrow streets of his small hometown and despite the many years he had stayed away, with each moment that passed as he surveyed the depression era buildings, he was gradually transported back to his childhood.

Once again, he was the little boy walking barefoot down the back streets holding onto the hem of his grandmother's worn cotton apron as they made their way to the general store so she could barter her eggs and what little produce her family did not consume for dry beans, cornmeal, flour, and a little coffee. While she had had more than one of those aprons over the years, they were all basically the same: rough and thick to the touch with the lettering and design from the flour labels blurred and faded from many, many washings and bleached from days drying on the line.

He was his grandmother's baby. She was the one to whom he had always turned for comfort and direction. He knew his mother and he knew she was his mother because she had bore him, everyone told him so; however, the woman he knew as mother was a sepia colored picture tucked in the family Bible. Her face was fine with high cheekbones, a rather broad nose, full lips, and dark luminous eyes. It was her eyes that haunted him.

She looked very much like his grandmother, only younger and without his grandmother's fire and vitality.

While it was never spoken and no one had ever really told him how he came to be, he just knew. He knew not to ask of his father and certainly no one ever questioned him. It was simply understood.

As a young woman his grandmother worked the fields picking peppers and chopping cane. However, in their small community she had garnered something of a reputation for being a fine cook, especially of pies, and was eventually hired in one of the big houses along the river.

For many years she worked for the Beauchamps. Proud of her position in that household, his grandmother shared her skills with her daughter and only child, Rose.

It was in the house of Beauchamp his mother came of age and blossomed into a young woman. He had heard it tell time and again what an attractive girl his mother was and how many men sought her favor under the watchful eyes of his grandmother.

It was his grandmother who had had high hopes for her only child. She had wanted Rose to learn not only how to cook a proper meal and prepare baked goods that would be remembered long after the last bite, but to run a household so she could eventually gain a post as housekeeper in one of the big houses.

His grandmother's loyalty to the Beauchamps was sadly repaid with violence upon her baby. A spoiled and rabid teenage son of that family fancied the young Rose and shamed her with his unwanted attention. His grandmother heard her daughter's cries and came running only to find her beaten, bloodied, and ravaged. She was dared to confront the young savage and fired for disrupting the household.

Within months, Rose was heavy with child. Not a strong woman before her rape, she became a shell after. She was only fourteen when John was born. Her body weak and fragile, she never recovered from his birth. She lingered for just over a week before the second grave was dug under the trees at the end of the garden.

Over the years he had studied the picture of his mother, then studied his own reflection in a mirror to discern some resemblance. Instead of eyes of deep brown characteristic of both his mother and grandmother, his eyes were topaz, almost golden in color and hue with flecks of green sprinkled sparingly around the center.

Just as his eyes were light, so was his complexion. Looking down at his hands, he did not see the strong long and tapered fingers neatly manicured and buffed, instead, he only saw their light tan coloration, a stark contrast to those of his grandmother and mother.

There had been no men in his early life. His grandfather had toiled in the fields and ultimately laid down and died just where he had worked, long before John was born. To him, his grandfather was a wooden cross made of pickets under a live oak and a pecan tree at end of the garden behind the three room shotgun shack where he was born and lived the first years of his life. There were no letters or words to denote the man he had been.

Perhaps, John thought, that was somehow fitting. He had been told his grandfather knew no words or letters and was only able to make his mark with an "x" when he signed for goods at the mercantile.

His grandmother was the smartest woman he had ever known, but like his grandfather, neither could she read or write. His earliest memories of her were sitting on the front porch in the evenings, just as dusk was falling, holding that Bible in her hands.

He loved her and he loved those times with her. While she was unable to read, she knew the good book and told him with conviction: “Son, these are the Lord’s words. These are the lessons by which good men live.”

She would then captivate him with stories from God’s book, just as she had heard them. They were always the same, every word, every pause, every inflection of speech and tone. He knew those stories in his heart and whenever he needed to feel close to her or searched for the strength to carry him through whatever task faced him, he thought back to those evenings with her and somehow he knew, just knew, things were going to be all right.

Unlike her hopes for her daughter, Gram's dreams for John included an education. She cleaned houses, she picked peppers and peas, she raised chickens, she baked pies, she did whatever she could possibly do to scrape by so John could go to school and not have to work the fields.

He remembered the pride and delight in her eyes when he began to read to her from that Bible. As he grew, it was she who sat captivated with him at her feet as he read the words of God to her. After almost every sentence, she would softly exclaim: "Amen" or "Thank you, Jesus." Even now, his heart swelled and tears pricked his eyes when he thought how happy she was when he read to her.

Watching the folks of this small Mississippi town carrying on their business in the mid-morning sun, he wished he could go back and spend just a few minutes with his grandmother.

He was sixteen when she died. At the time, he did not think there could be a pain more intense or a greater loss felt. She was his world.

When he was a junior in high school he had made the varsity track team. She had encouraged him to try out and made whatever sacrifices were necessary to ensure he stayed in school. He had wanted to work more to help her support them, but she had insisted he not only stay in school, but excel in both academics and sports. She had even given her thin gold band, the only jewelry he ever saw her wear or own, in exchange for a proper pair of running shoes for him.

Back in those days, segregation was suppose to have been a thing of the past with those battles hard fought the decade before, but while the laws had changed, attitudes had not and there were few people of color who participated in organized sports at any school.

One Saturday John had returned home after a spring track meet. He had done well and wanted to show his grandmother his ribbons. As he made his way down the lane to the house, he could see her figure sitting on the porch as the long shadows of the afternoon sun stretched across the front yard. Her dark face was cast in those shadows and he could not tell whether she was awake. He knew it was not her practice to sit down during the day, only in the evening just before bed time.

By the time he reached the edge of the yard, his instincts told him something was terribly wrong. With heart in his stomach, he sprinted to her side completely unprepared to witness her lifeless form. He stopped abruptly before her and dropped to his knees. His voice cracked and his hand shook as he gently nudged her shoulder and spoke her name: “Gram.”

The slight motion released the Bible which had been resting on her lap and it landed on the porch with a resounding thud.

He knew she was gone. Wrapping his arms around her waist, he buried his face in her lap and cried. The one person he loved in the world was gone.

Much, much later, after the preacher was alerted, Gram was laid out on the kitchen table. The preacher's wife and the other ladies had gently cleaned Gram and dressed her in her Sunday go-to-meeting clothes. Half dollars rested on her closed eyes. One of the deacons had volunteered to stay the night to sit vigil over her and arrangements were made for a simple service the following day.

John must have dozed because when he next looked around, Gram's small house was bright with morning light. He last remembered sitting next to the table and Gram bathed in the inky darkness of night, but awoke in his own small pallet on the floor next to her empty bed. The few short steps to the kitchen revealed Gram was gone.

Looking out the screen of the back door, he saw a simple pine box on the ground near the live oak and pecan tree. There were a couple of shovels leaning on the trees. Eyes fixed, he stripped his shirt off and walked straight to one of the shovels and began digging. He was joined shortly by a rotation of men he knew who all respected his grandmother. Several offered to take a turn with his shovel, but eyes down, he continued his work. Something told him: "Tis better to move than think or feel."

The sun was hung well high in the sky when the preacher stepped into the hole and put a firm hand on John's shoulder. With a forceful shake, he silently bade the young man to look at him. John did.

Then he spoke: "That's enough, boy. You done good. Now clean up and we’ll lay this fine lady to rest."

Slowly nodding his understanding, John climbed from the grave and did as he was told.

Within a few minutes, he emerged from the small house with his Sunday best, one of the three sets of clothes he owned, and joined the small gathering under the mighty trees.

A few words were spoken. A few hymns were sung. With a final goodbye, his grandmother, in her plain box, was lowered into her place between her husband and her only child. Physically tired and emotionally spent, John stood and quietly wept as those around him replaced the dirt over her.

Less than a full day since he had found her in her chair, she was gone, they were gone, and he was all alone.

A woman of very, very few possessions, all he really had of hers was that Bible.

Reaching for a large manila envelope from the leather briefcase in the passenger seat, John opened it and pulled out that Bible, her Bible. Two days prior it had reappeared in his life, some nine years since he had last seen it.

It was the catalyst for his return.

To be continued.

Posted by Christina at June 26, 2005 12:30 AM


I am a mountain boy myself, but I smell the dust and sweat of the hot flatlands as longingly as the whine of the lonesome pine in the mist with these words.

Posted by: epador at June 26, 2005 01:29 AM

.. nice stuff.. it'll be good to see which direction he goes...

Posted by: Eric at June 26, 2005 08:26 AM

Very captivating story, Christina!

Posted by: zonker at June 26, 2005 10:04 AM

'Tis beautiful.... so what next?


Posted by: sadie at June 26, 2005 10:57 AM

wow thats nice. your linked but my tackys arent working so my dear, ping.

Posted by: jane at June 27, 2005 05:41 AM


Posted by: Oddybobo at June 27, 2005 09:47 AM

Wonderful, indeed. Sounds like a fantastic start for a book to me.

Posted by: Pammy at June 27, 2005 10:59 AM

Back to Main