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{January 8, 2013}   Aunt Jessie’s Farm

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When I was seven, I spent a week at my aunt Jessie’s farm in Lithia Springs. Because it was summer, there was no school, so my cousin Judith and I would stay up late playing records and singing I’m Henry the 8th, I am or  “England Swings Like a Pendulum Do”.  I’d slather Dippity Do on Judith’s hair and pin roll it with  bobby pins. She’d plait my long hair to make it wavy and then we’d paint our fingernails pink. Judith lived on a real farm with a red barn, aisles of corn, a field of cows, a plow, and an old farmer in dirty overalls who’d sit on the porch swing, playing fiddle tunes and spitting tobacco into a jelly jar. The old man was my great grandfather John, an Irishman who drank too much, fought too much and sired nine kids. John was old so he lived with aunt Jessie and uncle Wes. Uncle Wes didn’t like John getting drunk. Sometimes he’d fuss about him drinking in front of the kids. Judith told Uncle Wes once that she never once saw Granddaddy drunk.  Uncle Wes told her, “Honey, you’ve never seen your granddaddy sober.”  John would start drinking whiskey right after lunch and he’d get out his fiddle and play Cooley’s Reel or Whiskey in the Jar until he almost keeled over. Then, he’d prop up the fiddle in the corner and go to his room for the rest of the afternoon. I always wondered what he did once he was in his room. One day I decided to find out.

We’d just finished Sunday dinner. Aunt Jessie always served a big meal after church–ham, green beans, potato salad, sweet potato pie and iced tea. I didn’t like potato salad but I liked Aunt Jessie so I took a small portion so it wouldn’t hurt her feelings. I usually got away with scraping what I didn’t like in the trashcan without her seeing, but this time I couldn’t. Aunt Jessie looked at my plate and noticed how I ate everything but my potato salad. She told me to try a little bite, because I might find out I like it. So, I took a tiny amount of potato salad on my fork and put it in my mouth, but I couldn’t swallow. I tried to swallow until I gagged and had to spit it out on my plate. Aunt Jessie said she never knew anybody who didn’t like her potato salad. I asked to be excused and went out on the porch where Granddaddy John was warming up his fiddle with Down by the Salley Gardens.  I knew that soon he’d be too drunk to play and he’d go to his room and lock the door. So, I skipped off to his bedroom and crawled under the bed to wait.

I waited a long time before John finally came in the room. On my belly under his bed, I could see him close the door and walk over to the desk and sit in the chair. I thought he might put on his glasses and start reading a book, but he just sat there with his head bowed down. On the desk was a glass of water. John dragged it close but didn’t take a drink. Then, he reached into his mouth and pulled out his teeth and plopped them in the glass. I never imagined that old people’s teeth came out! I squealed, giving away my hiding place. I wiggled out from under the bed and ran out the door as fast as I could. John didn’t yell after me. I guess he figured watching him take out his teeth was punishment enough.

My week on Aunt Jessie’s farm went by fast. My parent’s car pulled up the gravel driveway on Friday night after dinner. Judith and I were watching Alfred Hitchcock Presents  with Uncle Wes while my parents talked to Aunt Jessie on the front porch. Before the show was over, Mother called through the screen door that it was time to get in the car. I told Judith I had a good time and hugged Uncle Wes. After I thanked Aunt Jessie, I got in the backseat. My parents were still talking to Aunt Jessie when Uncle Wes came out on the porch. I looked out the back window and noticed how the yellow porch light circled Uncle Wes’s head like a halo. He looked like a holy man standing under the golden glow of the porch light. He saw my face in the back window and he waved at me. I waved back, staring at his halo. A thought flashed through my mind, “Keep your eyes on Wes. Watch his face as long as you can because you’re never going to see him again.” Daddy started the car and we coasted down the gravel driveway. I kept my eyes on Uncle Wes waving goodbye to him. He waved back with that luminous halo over his head. Soon, the car turned and we drove down the dark road home.

Three days later, Mother told me that Uncle Wes died. I asked her how. She didn’t say, just that he died at home and it was a shock because he hadn’t been sick. I was sad for Aunt Jessie and Judith, but I was glad that I listened to the thought that rose up in my mind. I’d kept my eyes on Uncle Wes for as long as I could while the car pulled away. Now I won’t have regrets. But I’ll always wonder if Uncle Wes knew that I was waving to him for the last time.

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